Friday, October 21, 2011

Movies My Brother Showed Me

My brother and I aren’t close.  Never have been.  We’re two very different people with very different interests.  We’ve spoken once in four and a half years, a fact that I carry with genuine apathy.

Despite our estrangement, I have a handful of pleasant memories of him.  Most of them, it may not surprise, relate to film.

If you read my Four Year Anniversary post, you know that movies have played an integral part in my life.  My fascination with film started early and has only grown since.  Growing up, I often saw movies before my brother did, which tended to annoy him, given that he’s three years older.

To make up for this, he would constantly rent movies that he thought I had never heard of.  This was done for a number of reasons, competition chief among.  He was playfully trying to find great, modern films before I could get a hold of them.  This often meant slogging through dozens of straight-to-video films that never saw the dark of a movie theater.  The movies were, by and large, utter crap.  But amidst the abominable waste, there were a few hidden gems, which I’ve highlighted below.
Me, Mickey and my brother, circa 1994
My brother is 29 today, and this is, quite frankly, the best (and only) way I know to wish him a happy birthday.  Maybe he’ll read this, maybe he won’t.  Maybe he’s never seen my blog, maybe he reads it often.  Regardless, these films have impacted my life for various reasons, which wouldn’t have been possible if my brother hadn’t shown them to me.

The Monster Squad (1987)
If I kept count of how many times my brother and I watched this movie on Saturday and Sunday mornings, it’d be in the hundreds.  No bullshit.

We loved everything about The Monster Squad.  It’s hilarious (“Wolfman’s got nards…”), it’s clever, and, to a six year old, it’s scarier than all hell. 

To this day, the old school Tri-Star intro (the one with the giant pegasus running toward the screen) still terrifies the shit out of me.  How’s that for Pavlovian psychology?

Drop Dead Fred (1991)
My brother and I watched Drop Dead Fred every Christmas Eve for 10 some odd years.  Why?  Who the hell knows.  Tradition is tradition.  At some point, you realize that ending a tradition would be far more unsettling than simply sitting through an absurd, yet absurdly funny, screwball comedy once a year.

I haven’t watched Drop Dead Fred since our tradition lapsed.  Maybe I’m afraid it won’t be as funny as I remember.

American History X (1998)
Now we’re getting to the serious stuff.  I’ll never forget the afternoon that my brother came to my room, in a silent, shaken funk, and told me that I had to come downstairs and watch the movie he’d just finished.  The next two hours were equally insightful and distressing.  We sat stunned and awestruck, like driving by a horrible car accident; we shouldn’t look, but we can’t take our eyes off it.

I remember seeing that final shot of the beach, and just sitting on the couch, staring at the ground, trying to catch my breath.  American History X makes no apologies for the kind of film it is, which is why I respect it so much. It’s honest, raw, and brutal.  And, in my opinion, essential viewing for anyone who makes judgments about others based simply on how they look.

Any Given Sunday (1999)
I’ve seen Any Given Sunday many times, but the most memorable viewing was when my brother took me to see it in the theater (it was my second time, his first).

We bought two tickets to… Galaxy Quest, I believe, and strolled with confidence into Oliver Stone’s hard-R football epic.  I was 15, my brother was 18.  It was a Sunday evening, and there were about 20 other people in the theater.  Seconds after sitting down, while the trailers were still running, we were approached by a theater usher who couldn’t have been older than 18. 

The ensuing conversation went a little like this:
Usher: Can I see your ticket stubs?
Brother: We don’t have them.
Usher: If you don’t have stubs, then I have to ask you to leave.
Brother: We had tickets, how do you think we got past the dude who tears them?  We just threw them away by mistake.
Usher: He said you had tickets to another movie.
Brother: (looking at the screen) Shows what he knows.
Usher: I’ll have to ask you to—
Brother: (interrupting) Can I talk to you outside?

Minutes later, my brother returned to the theater, sat down, and told me to enjoy the movie.  Later, I found out that he convinced the usher that we were brothers (true) whose parents weren’t around much (false) and that he was pretty much raising me (false).

It worked.  Which set up a whole new method of continual manipulation.  In fact, that’s the exact same shtick he pulled to sneak me into…

American Psycho (2000)
…a film that deserves to be credited, along with Pulp Fiction and The Big Lebowski, as the most hilariously quotable film of contemporary cinema.  In fact, I believe American Psycho to be one of the most brilliantly sardonic pieces of American film written in the past 20 years, based on one of the most brilliantly sardonic novels ever written.

American Psycho is one of my favorite movies to show to those uninformed about Patrick Bateman.  I love watching their faces as Christian Bale moonwalks across his apartment in a raincoat, ax in hand.  Or the nervous chuckle that is often produced by lines like, “I like to dissect girls, did you know I’m utterly insane?”

So sure, showing the movie to people is always a blast, but it never tops the experience of being in the back row of a movie theater as a hysterical, jaw-dropped 15-year-old.

Chopper (2000)
A few days ago, I described in detail my fascination with Andrew Dominik’s hilariously warped character study.  A fascination that began in my childhood living room.  Sitting there with my brother, laughing our asses off at the sight of ol’ Chop slicing his ears off with a razor blade.  It was the best of times.

There’s a scene in Chopper soon after Eric Bana testifies against his former cellmate.  Instantly, with no warning, we jump cut to a slow motion shot of Chopper walking down a crowded street as a free man.  When the brief scene was finished, my brother rewound the DVD and hit pause.  “Who the fuck would let a guy like that out of prison?” he asked through tears of laughter.  He pushed play and we finished the movie, as we usually tended to do.


  1. I would've thought after seeing American History X with him, you would've gotten closer with your brother.

  2. Yeah, that would've been an interesting parallel.

  3. Liked the Drop Dead Fred Mention. My Sister and I always watched Home Alone every Christmas to the point that we knew every line. We are just as close!

  4. Haha good stuff. Thanks so much for commenting!

  5. This is a really passionate and nostalgic recount, Alex.

    I'm sorry to hear about your relationship to your brother, but you two certainly shared some memorable experiences at the cinema. I hope you two will have the opportunity to share more in the future.

  6. hope your brother reads this. I'm sure its a great tribute. later bro.

  7. Thanks so much, Andy. That is really kind of you to say.

  8. This post reminds me of a very tumultous friendship I had when you and I worked at the theater. (McK-remember?)

    It was because of him that movies became my pillar of faith, my raison d'etre...

    Your blog never seizes to amaze me alex.

  9. Oh yeah, I remember. Life time ago.

    Also, you are too kind, my friend. Too. Kind.

  10. Wow, what a personal and revealing post. I have two siblings, an older sister and younger brother. I'm very close with my sister, but I'm probably not as close with my brother as I should be. He lives a few towns away but he usually stops by when he visits here. I've had some great times with my brother, but we're two quite different people so we've understandably grown apart a bit. My fondest film-related memory of him was one day when I was nine or ten and he'd snuck a video of THE EVIL DEAD from my dad's video cabinet and we both watched it. I remember being freaked out so bad! But yeah, even when he does stop by we rarely watch movies, simply because we have such different tastes (he wouldn't watch a foreign film to save his life). But we have a good relationship, I think.

    Great post. I don't think you ever forget the movies you watch in childhood. They stay with you longer than all others.

  11. This is a great post. Equal parts poignant and insightful. I don't have any brothers but I have three sisters and I know how it feels to bond over movies.

    Never saw Monster Squad as a kid but it's been growing on me over the past few years.

    Haven't seen Drop Dead Fred in a long time. Heard about a remake coming with Russell Brand.

    American History X - great film. Curb stomp is a great scene. Haven't I heard that the original intended finale was Norton shaving his head all over again in the bathroom at the end?

    Never seen AGS. The story about your bro talking to the usher sounds like it could be from a movie.

    I need to watch AHX again. One of my favorite parts is the ATM/kitten scene.

    DAMMIT I need to see Chopper.

    Again, great post. Hope your brother reads it.

  12. @Tyler, thanks so much for sharing and saying the nice things you always say. I used to sneak videos as well, but after a while, my parents just gave up and let me watch whatever I wanted. good stuff.

    @Robert, thanks for your kind words. You're right about AHX. I've heard that the original ending is what it is now, but during filming, Kaye rewrote the ending you mention, without telling Norton. Once Norton found out, he got control over the movie and was actually given final cut. Norton and Kaye had a huge falling out (it's funny to Google articles of Kaye ranting back then), but now Kaye admits that Norton was right. Yeah man, you HAVE to see Chopper. It's far out.

    @EVERYONE, I wasn't sure how people would react to this post, but I am deeply touched by all of your kind words. thank you thank you thank you.

  13. That was a great post Alex- happy birthday to your brother! Oh, and indeed, American History X is a fantastic movie, I basically had the same reaction when it was finished!

  14. thanks so much, Aziza.

    Yeah, that flick is a real ass kicker.

  15. I enjoyed reading your trip down memory lane, even if you are not close to your brother.

    For me, I was the one introducing film. My sister was late getting into movies, so you can imagine what she gets for xmas: dvds recommended by me! Unfortunately I haven't had much luck watching some of my favourites together with her, Muholland dr, Before sunrise, etc, me and her don't share the same taste in film. I try my best to find things she'd enjoy!

    I have better luck sharing a memorable cinema trip with friends ( :

    On a family level, I think I have more of a bond with my dad showing me film as a kid ( : the sting, bridge over the river kwai, 2001 a space odyssey, etc. Now that I am older (and a cinephile), I think the tables have turned and I'm the one doing the introducing ( :

    Its strange how films can mean more if someone recommends it first, a high school friend introduced me to American Psycho the book, and she couldn't stand the film version and thought it was too safe, and that a man should have directed it. I liked the film, though agree with her that the book is more haunting and chilling. The amazing performance by Bale however was the best thing about it. Look out for my review of American P (the film) at some point !

  16. Thanks so much for sharing your stories. I do agree that the American Psycho film is much safer than the book, but if it was a literal, page-by-page adaptation, it probably wouldn't have been made, or at the very least, NC-17.

    I love the film and agree that Bale is the best part of it. Look forward to your review!

  17. Really nice post this and I do hope your brother is reading your blog.

  18. Thanks so much, Joel, that's really kind of you to say.