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It's great to see this odd and remarkable film finally getting a worthwhile DVD release. BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET is among the few John Sayles films I've seen, and watching it again makes me want to check out what else I might have missed.
Blending sly topical humor with science fiction, BROTHER FROM... superficially resembles ALPHAVILLE or MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH as it explores various themes: assimilation, perception and identity; and technology and control; along with less abstract but equally serious issues like drug abuse and urban despair. This fantastic film is notable for its' dry humor and complex observation of urban problems, and is also notable for Joe Morton's astonishing, expressive performance in a mute role, which - though helped by Morton's theatrical training and his overall attractiveness - still has to be seen to be believed.
Crash landing his tiny space ship in Harlem, our silent hero tries to make sense of his surroundings, moving from fear and puzzlement to relative comfort. Because of his dark skin, certain assumptions are instantly made of him, even as his silence gives no one anything to hang a stereotype on. It quickly becomes apparent that 'he ain't from around here.' The edgy humor turns on this (pay attention for great spoof quotes from TERMINATOR and TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE/BLAZING SADDLES) - not so p.c. at the surface, but still broad-minded and intelligently observational, with an intriguing viewpoint - that of a very disoriented immigrant dropped into the American subculture he's expected to most easily fit into. Simultaneously, his quiet and graceful manner of dealing with the world around him implies an unquestionable conviction that every human ought to be considered with some kind of respect and dignity, even as day-to-day realities might necessarily modify this ideal (another of the key themes here).
A short subplot involving a nightclub singer touches vaguely upon Harlem's celebrated past, making apparent Sayles' belief in the contemporary value of history, and his awareness of the importance of context even in a fantastical story. Likewise, a second subplot - though a tad clumsy - deals with Harlem's more recent history - a struggle to survive and preserve identity through an avalanche of drugs, potential violence and despair.
As a runaway slave from another world, themes of technology, surveillance and control (shown in the eyeball/flashback scenes, and the great capture scene near the end) are also introduced, even as Sayles' references African-American history at unexpected moments throughout ("My people built this country. Ever heard of South Carolina?...") - implying to a degree that technology can easily be manipulated to make slaves of us all, or at least that technology hold the potential to divorce us from our history.
With all of the varied themes and subplots, BROTHER FROM... could've easily become overloaded or didactic, but Sayles' loose stylishness and light touch as a director (along with the skill of the cast) makes it all work well, even with a very modest budget and a tight shooting schedule. The cinematography throughout is remarkable - lots of long takes, with characters woven into the fabric of everyday life. The pacing is slow and methodical (Sayles is always very meticulous in developing plot and characters), but never dull.
This is a great film - below a hip and ironic surface, the covert intellect and graceful sweetness of this film links its' numerous themes into a seamless and unique fantasy/parable. This cult classic from the mid-80s deserved a wider audience at the time, and still does - I strongly recommend it.
When Rod Serling created the classic "Twilight Zone" TV show, he presented
it as a harmless fantasy/SF show when it was actually a series of morality
In this film you have John Sayles' take on the same concept. He talks a standard SF cliche -- the stranded ET -- and uses it as the jumping-off place for a story about something altogether different. He doesn't appear at the end, like Serling, and tell you what the moral or message was.
Rather than talk about all that (art appreciation and interpretation is pretty much a subjective affair), I would like to say a word or two about the performance of Mr. Joe Morton as the eponymous character:
The Brother is totally mute. And yet Morton's performance knocks the poop out of any piece of acting you could name. Human and humane, empathetic and sympathetic. This guy will have you laughing and crying right along with him.
An incredible performance. Well worth the price of the rental, and the popcorn, and the gas that you burned up picking it up and...
This is one of the best and most underrated movies I have ever seen. This is a brilliant black comedy with great social commentary on racism and classism. I loved it the first time I saw it, and it held up when I bought it on DVD. This is definitely worth the time it takes to watch it, and you will find yourself quoting the movie later. The "Beer . . . on the Rocks" quote is my personal favorite, but the card trick is a close second. Have fun with this little known, early John Sayles Masterpiece.
This is a very strange film to watch, but easy to do so despite the
fact that the plot is only added to near the end of the film with the
men in black. It's no masterpiece at all, not even on a low budget
standard, but one thing that brings above a lot of other films is a
great performance by Joe Morton as The Brother, not an easy role to do,
but his mute performance is pulled off so charismatically, that we
can't help but be drawn into to The Brother's adventures. The film is
at times very witty, very clever and very charming. John Sayles
(writer/director) did well at adding in just enough subtle comedy. Most
of the way through, the film is not really a science fiction film, it
just happens to contain an alien. If I were to hazard a guess at how
Sayles came up with the idea of The Brother From Another Planet, I
would assume he started with the idea of; what if everything was kind
of new and unfamiliar to you, as if you were born again, he probably
started with that and worked from there to form this delightful film.
One down side is the ending, because; as I mentioned before, 80% of the
film is not really science fiction like, but the ending is very much
science fiction, but it doesn't spoil the picture too much.
I give this gem a firm 8/10.
The Brother From Another Planet, is about an African American alien who crash lands on Earth in Harlem, in New York City. The brother does not speak English (or any language at all) but he can understand others and soon makes friends at a local bar and gets a job fixing things. He also gets a place to stay, lodging with a single mother. Many things on Earth seem unusual to the brother and he encounters many unusual people and situations. Soon we also find out about two men in black who are after the brother and want to get rid of him. He also shows his many alien talents during the film. Winner of The Caixa de Catalunya Award for Best Actor (Joe Morton, who plays the brother) and Best Screenplay (John Sayles, who also directed and edited the film) at The Catalonian International Film Festival. The Brother From Another Planet, has good direction, a good script, a good performance by Joe Morton, as well as a good supporting cast, good original music, good cinematography and good film editing. The Brother From Another Planet, takes a little while to get into but gives us an entertaining story, a likable main character and likable side characters, interesting situations and the script is filled with good dialogue, good character development, is full of smart satire and unusual characters and lots of unique situations and plot twists. The film is quite enjoyable and entertaining and is deliciously different. I enjoyed this film quite a bit and it is a nice clever sci-fi/comedy.
1st watched 6/6/2007 - 7 out of 10(Dir-John Sayles): Strange and unique quiet drama about a man who lands on earth as an escapee from another planet where he was apparently a slave. Joe Morton, as this brother from the other planet has no dialogue but effectively portrays a true illegal alien. He really is a frail being who just wants to do good and be needed. He is being hunted by what appears to be his owners but he affects everyone he comes across in such a positive way that they get behind him 100% and keep these thugs from getting him. He eventually earns his money by fixing things with his otherworldly powers(once he realizes that stealing isn't right) and even gets to the point of hunting down a drug dealer in Harlem who has caused the demise of a young one in the neighborhood. This character is probably the most likable alien that has ever been put on the screen(next to maybe E.T.) and it's definitely a departure from most films. The low production value is certainly evident but the character and the storyline keeps you interested and rooting for this unlikely hero from another planet. These were the type of quiet independent movies that were made in the 80's when it was truly "seen" that the budget was low, but the makers only cared about creating a worthwhile project and John Sayles definitely did that with this one. This 80's relic is not to be missed by a true cinemaphile or anyone who wants to see the benefits of good deeds even if it's coming from someone with feet a little different than ours.
I love this film! Lots of laughs, lots of humanity. It's awesome that such an unknown cast can deliver such a great performance. The guys in the bar are hysterical. Every scene is a gem, but the card trick on the subway is one of my all time favorites. Go rent this movie today. 10 out of 10.
What I love about Sayles is that he never forgets that first and
foremost, movies should tell stories.
This one is a real gem in the rough. It has the irreverence and SciFi conventions of Barry Sonnenfeld's MIB but with social commentary instead of a budget. Also, instead of merely clever comments on NYC life, Sayles shows his characteristic political side by highlighting little tableaux of real life. Slipping in the Harriet Tubman subplot was pure Sayles.
I especially loved his usage of music and the chemistry of the barroom regulars. That fight with the MIB was a hoot! Sayles, a Corman vet, knows that special effects shouldn't be used for the sake of having them.
The only Science fiction movie that is better than this is ``The Day the Earth Stood Still''. This is just a great movie. This is a thinking mans movie. If you want Star Wars this is not for you. As with all the best Science Fiction this is a movie about human kind in the present and not alien life-forms in some distant future.
A mute, three-toed, super-sensory humanoid (a fine performance from Joe
Morton) arrives on Earth, appropriately landing near Ellis Island and
taking up residence in Harlem, where his African American appearance
helps him to blend in with the locals. The inquisitive alien sets about
exploring his strange new environment, absorbing the unique sights and
sounds of '80s New York with the help of his otherworldly sense of
touch and his removable eyeball, but his journey of discovery is
interrupted when he finds himself being hunted by two mysterious men in
Although writer/director/star John Sayles' strongly suggests that Morton's character is an escaped slave and makes references to class divide, racism and America's history of slavery, he ensures that The Brother From Another Planet doesn't ram a moralistic or political message down the viewer's throat, focusing instead on examining the human condition though the use of interesting characters, quirky dialogue and intriguing situations. The film is all the better for ita somewhat bizarre but fun sci-fi adventure on the surface, but one that can be dissected, examined and discussed on a deeper level if so desired.
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