Reviews

From Other Worlds (2004)

Matthew Stern

From Other Worlds is a comedy with absolutely no edges, it’s incredibly safe, innocent, and homely.


From Other Worlds

Director: Barry Strugatz
Cast: Peter Bartlett, Cara Buono, Isaach de Bankolé, Laura Esterman, David Lansbury
Distributor: Bfs
MPAA rating: Unrated
Studio: Shoreline
First date: 2004
US DVD Release Date: 2007-05-08

What ever became of the heartwarming sci-fi dramedy? It seems like in the mid-‘80s, throwing a robot, an alien, or an alien-robot into a romantic comedy was a surefire way to make a box office smash. Who can forget Hollywood’s biggest octogenarians going swimming and screwing each other, accompanied by Steve Guttenberg, in Cocoon? What about the loveable rapid-fire banter of Short Circuit’s Johnny 5, or those weird flying robot-alien hybrids in Steven Spielberg’s *batteries not included?

There was a time not so long ago when it wasn’t strange for a family film to revolve around an alien or robot-centric storyline, yet still basically focus on the interactions between human characters; their lives, their loves, etc. This erstwhile cinematic phenomenon’s significance and the cause of its demise are probably part of some broader issue that deserves exploration.

Suffice it to say, though, that From Other Worlds would feel at home in this bygone era, had it been made on a big budget. For sci-fi fans expecting something raunchy, bawdy, or otherwise extreme, this film would be an epic disappointment, but it could have something to offer, say, an elementary school audience.

It’s probably no coincidence that this film, the tale of a banal life of a Brooklynite housewife that is interrupted by alien intervention, was written and directed by Barry Strugatz (Married to the Mob, She Devil.) Though his previous screenwriting gigs never contained a loveable alien or robot, his (relative) successes came out in at a time when such films were possible.

Regardless of any subconscious motivation to bring back the spirit of 1989 blockbusters, Strugatz’s film has that feel; despite dealing with interracial relationships, extramarital affairs, and married ennui, From Other Worlds is a comedy with absolutely no edges, it’s incredibly safe, innocent, and homely. It doesn’t have the kind of edge you’d expect from a low budget production, or the kind of intriguing twists and turns you’d expect from a sci-fi film. What it does have going for it, though, is a cast comprised of about 50 of your favorite fun-to-spot character actors from cable television.

Joanne Schwartzbaum (Cara Buono), a Jewish housewife from Brooklyn, is first seen grocery shopping, zombie-like. She picks up her kids from school, serves dinner, all the while becoming preoccupied, for lack of anything else interesting in her life, with the orientation of the black-and-white cookies. Her well-meaning husband, Brian (David Lansbury) is about as unaware of the root causes of his wife’s extreme wedded boredom as the husband in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. Joanne is rescued from her cookie-scrutinizing existential funk by an alien abduction, depicted with special effects familiar to anyone who remembers those commercials for Time-Life's “Mysteries of the Unknown” books.

From Other Worlds’ title sounds like a ’50 b-sci fi throwback, but it’s actually that title that explains both the relationship between Joanna and her family, and the one that emerges between Joanna and her cohort in the search for the truth. Treated like an unreasonable hysteric by medical professionals who promise to make her “minimally functional”, she turns to exploring, and taking seriously, her experience as an abductee.

At a self-help meeting for survivors of alien abduction, most of whom are nuts (played as a familiar brand of kooky, bickering, goofballs by a few character actors who excel in that area) Joanna meets Abraham (Isaach De Bankole), an immigrant from the Ivory Coast who bares the same post-abduction insignia burnt onto his body as Joanna. The two legitimate abductees, though they hail from entirely different worlds (get it?) join together to find out the meaning behind their chance extra-terrestrial dalliances,

After a fair amount of research on the library at Alexandria and a few setbacks, the unlikely duo end up making contact with an alien, wearing a campy Lost in Space-style costume. The alien leaps willy-nilly from one assumed accent to another and breaks the news to them; they really do have a hand in the fate of the human race. Joanna and Abraham’s relationship starts looking like an affair to their respective, traditionalist communities. Abraham’s friends and Joanna’s in-laws each chime in with some expectedly prejudicial commentary. Meanwhile, Steve (Peter Bartlett), an art thief masquerading alternately as an NYU student and a secret agent, tails the duo in an attempt to frustrate their alien-appointed universe saving mission.

For Other Worlds offers an ever-so-simple story. Its jokes are uniformly cutesy and seem targeted at eight-year-olds. The visual metaphors, from the black and white cookie onward, are constantly being you over the head, driving the point home: Other worlds, two different kinds of people, two different ethnic backgrounds, saving the world together, ad nauseam. You realize, after watching For Other Worlds seeking sci-fi satisfaction, that despite its low budget aesthetic and not-ready-for-theaters special effects, it’s a family film, in that mid-‘80s sense. It has a clear, easily accessible moral outlook and jokes that’ll make a little kid laugh and an adult groan.

If kids these days are even open to watching movies that aren’t full of flashy CG, From Other Worlds could very well be something that they enjoy, at least for a while. It feels like one of those films that you could watch as a child and years later wonder if you’d actually seen it, or if it had somehow been fabricated by your youthful imagination. From Other Worlds doesn’t do much to satisfy any of the audiences to which it would ostensibly appeal. It does, however, raise an interesting question; in the world of Direct-to-DVD movies, can a family film succeed with such a low budget look?

4

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

Next Page
Related Articles Around the Web
Film

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Noel Fielding (Daniel) and Mercedes Grower (Layla) (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back in time to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

People aren't cheering Supergirl on here. They're not thanking her for her heroism, or even stopping to take a selfie.

It's rare for any hero who isn't Superman to gain the kind of credibility that grants them the implicitly, unflinching trust of the public. In fact, even Superman struggles to maintain that credibility and he's Superman. If the ultimate paragon of heroes struggles with maintaining the trust of the public, then what hope does any hero have?

Keep reading... Show less

The Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop artist MAJO wraps brand new holiday music for us to enjoy in a bow.

It's that time of year yet again, and with Christmastime comes Christmas tunes. Amongst the countless new covers of holiday classics that will be flooding streaming apps throughout the season from some of our favorite artists, it's always especially heartening to see some original writing flowing in. Such is the gift that Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop songwriter MAJO is bringing us this year.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image