Brother to Brother is a beautiful, lyrical film that delves into the legacy—acknowledged or not—of our artistic, cultural and sexual forebears. It stars Anthony Mackie, in a star-making performance, as Perry, a young African-American in the midst of personal and creative turmoil. Kicked out of his family home in New York City for being gay, Perry, is filled with self-loathing and is at a loss about how to move forward emotionally.
Still, though Perry is bruised but full of creative yearning, we also see that he's tough enough and smart enough to hang onto the college scholarship that will open doors to another life. He's just not quite sure what that life will be. He dabbles in painting, pours out his feelings in a journal and seems to have only one friend, Marcus ( Larry Gulliard, Jr. ) , who is straight, funny, brash and a poet in training. There does seem to be a great deal of sexual tension between Perry and Jim ( Alex Burns ) , a white, rapper type that he meets in class, and soon that leads to a physical involvement though Perry seems wary of any emotional entanglement.
Then one night, through a chance encounter, he meets Bruce ( Roger Robinson ) , an older Black man who quietly quotes some verse at he and Marcus and just as quickly disappears ( literally in a puff of cigarette smoke ) . Perry is intrigued, even more so when he comes across a short story by Bruce in a collection by writers of the infamous Harlem Renaissance. When Bruce ( who is based on the real Bruce Nugent, who died in 1987 ) shows up at the homeless shelter where Perry works, Perry tentatively reaches out to the older man.
Soon, via Bruce's reminisces, we are being transported back to the glory days of the Harlem Renaissance group's heyday in the 1920s—and a sweeter variation on Bill Condon's Gods And Monsters mentor-neophyte relationship between Ian McKellen and Brendan Fraser plays out. The renowned 'Niggeratti Manor' brownstone where the group worked and played ( as we are vividly shown ) is rife with communists, gays and lesbians, and all manner of free thinkers, i.e., the creative but disenfranchised.
Perry, naturally, is enchanted with the spellbinding stories of the erudite Bruce, his effortless sophistication and lyrical, simple wisdom. At one point he tells Perry, 'All these things live inside you until you make peace with them' and slowly Perry begins to find his center and realize that by honoring the past, he has opened a new emotional future for himself. Clearly, though, it's not going to include Jim—who has made the mistake of enraging Perry by commenting on his 'beautiful, black ass.' Perry, who's obviously been objectified before, suddenly seems ready for an emotional commitment that Jim surely isn't going to provide. But as Bruce has made clear, the whole world is waiting for him.
Brother to Brother is the first feature for writer-director Rodney Evans and it's a remarkable achievement. The film deftly inserts archival footage as segues into the flashback scenes with the rowdy, bawdy core of the Harlem Renaissance group ( portrayed by Aunjanue Ellis as the ferocious Zora, Duane Boutte as the young Bruce, and the preternaturally gorgeous Daniel Sunjata as poet extraordinaire Langston Hughes ) . This lively crop of vivid actors helps Evans make the roaring '20s scenes jump and buzz and offer a great counterpoint to the quiet, somber present. Evans knows when to let the emotion of a scene linger or to cut away and the film is expertly paced. Both the leads give glorious performances with Mackie transcending the archetype of the Angry Young Man and bringing out the genuine pathos and pain of Perry. The stage-trained Robinson, in his first film ( playing Bruce ) , is an amazing find and plays with a simple authority that is quite astonishing. Note must also be made of the tender, forlorn jazz score by Marc Anthony Thompson ( and kudos to Evans for using the sumptuous 'Too Many Rivers' by Cassandra Wilson over the end credits ) . Opening Friday at the Landmark Century for one week only.
Holiday Movies 2004
It's been 21 years since 1983's A Christmas Story, the last certifiable holiday classic; 21 years!?! What gives? What's with all the coal that Hollywood's been putting in our stockings with their holiday movie offerings these past few seasons? I'm still pissed off about the travesty that was The Grinch ( and imagine Dr. Seuss haunting those responsible—his widow, director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer on alternate nights ) and depressed that this year the makers of one of my favorite Christmas books, The Polar Express, felt the need to diffuse the effortless magic of the source material. Why couldn't the adaptors have ignored the focus groups and resisted the urge to plump up the movie with stock cliffhanger scenes and topical references and characters ( of which Steven Tyler as a freaky elf is the epitome ) and trust the audience a little more?
The Polar Express steps up in class, however, compared to Christmas With The Kranks, based on the slim novel by writing machine John Grisham. A thin premise to begin with, the picture is this year's Jingle All The Way ( the hideous, 'warm' 'family' 'comedy' starring Governor 'I'm Not Girlie' Schwarzenegger ) . For inexplicable reasons, Tim Allen has carved out a second career for himself starring in holiday movies and takes the lead here. Fine comedienne Jamie Lee Curtis is wasted by Joe Roth, a good producer but terrible director and the film is so loud and obnoxious that it makes a mall full of rabid Christmas shoppers seem peaceful. You notice that I'm not even mentioning this year's other misfire, Ben Affleck's latest disaster, Surviving Christmas, perhaps because this turkey disappeared of its own accord—audiences again sensing rotten meat.
I don't mean to come off as a Scrooge because I actually love Christmas movies. A lot. Enough to look forward to a future Christmas season when Hollywood ( or a canny independent producer ) again produces another original as timeless as It's A Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, Christmas In Connecticut, and the little known but sweet Remember the Night. I have faith. I can wait. I can hope.