Tag Archives: Joe Morton

The Brother from Another Planet (1984, John Sayles)

Despite being about an alien who crash lands on Earth and finds himself stranded in New York City, The Brother from Another Planet takes its time getting to being a fish out of water story. Even when it does, it’s more like a fish being carefully transported in a cup of water to maybe some more water story. Writer-director-editor Sayles and star Joe Morton create this perfect point of entry–the alien (Morton) who crash lands and discovers New York–and then they entirely ignore that possiblity. Morton’s alien can’t speak. The viewer has his backstory, but no understanding.

So when Morton’s moving into a location, even though the viewer is meeting new characters simultaneous to Morton, it’s flipped because the humans are trying to figure him out just like the viewer. Sayles balances it perfectly. Morton’s calm, silent, which gives Sayles room to fill the soundtrack with conversation and sound and music. As the viewer finds their footing in how Sayles is telling this story, the style changes as the story develops. Brother has an incredibly peculiar structure.

Morton’s in New York, looks human besides his feet, and has magic fixing things (technical and biological) powers. He’s a Black man and he’s in Harlem. He goes to a bar, meets its regulars, and Sayles sets up almost half the movie. Brother’s present action is short–seems like around a week–and Sayles doesn’t pace it evenly. All the setup is also important because the characters all recur. Because in the middle of the first half, where Morton’s a fish out of water but not having that experience (he’s being treated as a human in need, not a marooned space alien), Sayles reveals Morton’s on the run.

He’s on the run from Sayles. And–wait for it–David Strathairn. They’re credited simply “Men in Black.” And they’re aliens too. Only they can talk and screech like angry cats when they get excited. And they run like morons. They’re hilarious. Because Brother’s a comedy. It’s occasionally serious, it’s occasionally scary, but it’s a comedy.

Except when it’s not. Because in the second half, it becomes this gentle romance and also this gritty crime procedural. Only, in the case of the latter, it’s out of nowhere because the viewer isn’t privy to Morton’s thoughts. It’s all guesses. Sayles doesn’t fetishize the mystery either. It’s just part of Morton’s character; despite being the lead, the film isn’t from his perspective. He’s always the lead, but only sometimes the protagonist.

Morton’s phenomenal. He’s got to let the audience in, but never the cast. He actually doesn’t get much to do at the beginning, once opening set piece is done. He gets more to do in the second half and it’s an abrupt, graceful transition. Sayles’s plotting of the film is exquisite. He’s got this big cast and everyone gets a lot to do. They don’t get it all at once, they’re never fighting for room, they just–eventually–all get a lot to do. It does mean sometimes a great supporting performance doesn’t get much more material, but it also means sometimes the great performance comes later in the role. It’s uneven, but graceful. Morton, Sayles, composers Martin Brody and Mason Daring, they all keep the moments consistent, even if there’s a big style change.

Sayles indulges without ever losing track of the story or Morton. His editing is great. The rhythm he creates, once Morton steps into the bar, has so much depth, it fits the supporting cast. And the supporting cast is big and excellent.

The bar guys are Daryl Edwards, Steve James, Leonard Jackson, and Bill Cobbs. They’re great. Tom Wright and Maggie Renzi are social workers. They’re great. Wright is playing the hero of a stranded space alien story, but doesn’t know it and Sayles isn’t interested in doing that story. Wright’s just the more traditional protagonist.

Caroline Aaron, Rosetta LeNoire; great. Jaime Tirelli… awesome. Fisher Stevens, awesome. Then there’s Dee Dee Bridgewater who sets off a completely different rhythm and type of storytelling. It’s like the first act of Bridgewater’s movie got dropped into the second act of Brother. But it works because Sayles has established the irregular pace.

Bridgewater’s great. Of course she’s great.

Good photography from Ernest R. Dickerson. Sayles’s composition is pragmatic and tied into Morton’s narrative distance and the script. Dickerson help makes it seem ambitious.

It’s great. The Brother from Another Planet is another one of those great movies where I just say “great” a lot because I think the repetition, despite employing the same adjective over and over, is also accurate. It’s great. Things are great about it. It’s a masterful delight.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written, directed, and edited by John Sayles; director of photography, Ernest R. Dickerson; music by Martin Brody and Mason Daring; production designer, Nora Chavooshian; produced by Peggy Rajski and Maggie Renzi; released by Cinecom Pictures.

Starring Joe Morton (The Brother), Dee Dee Bridgewater (Malverne Davis), Steve James (Odell), Bill Cobbs (Walter), Leonard Jackson (Smokey), Daryl Edwards (Fly), Tom Wright (Sam), Caroline Aaron (Randy Sue Carter), Herb Newsome (Little Earl), Jaime Tirelli (Hector), Maggie Renzi (Noreen), John Sayles (Man In Black), David Strathairn (Man In Black), and Rosetta LeNoire (Mama).


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Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991, James Cameron)

Director James Cameron opens Terminator 2: Judgment Day with a couple things the audience has to think about when watching the film and isn’t going to see or hear again for a while, so they need to have it in mind to recall it later. Because Terminator 2 is an amazing kind of sequel to the original–it’s calculated but to get its characters (and the audience) to certain places. Only there’s only one character from the first movie in it–Linda Hamilton–but there’s two actors back.

Anyway, the opening is a future apocalypse prologue with Hamilton narrating. Her narration is important later on, but only after a number of things happen, both in the plotting and the character development. You have to think back on it opening the film, which has a lot of emphasis on the Terminator robots, sans Arnold suits. Cameron invites comparisons to the original, he requests them of the audience. It’s bold and seemingly pointless; the first half of the movie has almost nothing to do with Hamilton. It’s Edward Furlong’s movie. Cameron has an excellent tone–he’s got this pre-teen lead who needs to do teen things but also be reduced to damsel in distress because he’s a kid after all. Terminator 2 always wants to emphasize the danger. Cameron’s never specific about how it’s directed at Furlong, but it really is just a movie about this crazy metal killing machine who looks like a cop trying to kill a little kid. Robert Patrick is fantastic as the bad Terminator.

But everyone’s generally fantastic. Furlong has some problems, but improves once the character gets going. Cameron and co-writer William Wisher give Furlong expository dialogue he can’t handle for the first half hour or so, but once Hamilton shows up, he gets much better. He doesn’t even need to be better, because all throughout those weaker Furlong scenes, Cameron is still doing amazing things. Terminator 2 is a celebration. It’s a celebration out of there getting to be a Terminator sequel; Cameron and Schwarzenegger get to have a great time, but they still take it seriously enough to turn in a fantastic film. They go out of their way to show off Schwarzenegger’s ability to handle the more difficult scenes after Hamilton arrives.

When Schwarzenegger and Hamilton meet in Terminator 2, the Terminator’s sunglasses come off and it’s a new movie all of a sudden. Even though Hamilton’s got narration–never too much, always frugal–and she’s in almost every scene (except Patrick’s scenes), she’s still something of a wild card character. She’s not just the mom. She’s got to have her moment. Terminator 2’s ground situation takes away Hamilton’s agency. When he brings it back, he demands the audience think about their expectations of what that agency really looks like versus what the audience wants of it in a Terminator movie.

And then he never does anything with it. He gets the story moving, bringing in Joe Morton (and an awesome S. Epatha Merkerson in a small part). Morton ends up on Team Arnold too. There’s a lot for Terminator 2 to do and Cameron is brisk about it. You need to pay attention. If you don’t, you probably still get a great action movie, but if you do, you get all this weird, wonderful stuff. Schwarzenegger and Furlong are cute together, of course, but there’s this great stuff between Schwarzenegger and Hamilton, Hamilton and Morton, Patrick and the audience. Cameron gives Patrick (and Schwarzenegger) these wonderful observation scenes. They can’t be characters because they’re robots, right? But what if they could be.

Technically, the film’s singular. Adam Greenberg’s photography is never flashy, always pragmatic; there’s a blue tint to Terminator 2, which ought to create narrative distance but instead it just makes the performances connect more. There’s no safe space, character development is going to happen in the strangest scenes. Greenberg’s also got some amazing composite shots during the action sequences; masterful work.

There’s great editing from Conrad Buff IV, Mark Goldblatt and Richard A. Harris. Three different editors–I wonder if they handled the different phases of the film–but it’s never incongruous, always a graceful cuts. The editors help a lot with creating Schwarzenegger’s presence in the film.

Awesome Brad Fiedel score, awesome special effects. Terminator 2 is an assured, exciting, joyous success. Cameron is his most ambitious in the safest moments in the film. He pushes the action, he pushes the special effects, he pushes the performances. It’s a stunning film.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by James Cameron; written by Cameron and William Wisher Jr.; director of photography, Adam Greenberg; edited by Conrad Buff IV, Mark Goldblatt and Richard A. Harris; music by Brad Fiedel; production designer, Joseph C. Nemec III; released by Carolco Pictures.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (T-800), Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor), Edward Furlong (John Connor), Robert Patrick (T-1000), Joe Morton (Miles Dyson), S. Epatha Merkerson (Tarissa Dyson), Castulo Guerra (Enrique) and Earl Boen (Dr. Silberman).


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Home (2013, Jono Oliver)

Home is never inspiring or sentimental. Writer-director Oliver lets sentimentality graze the film graze once–and it’s a film about sympathetic mental patients reintegrating so it’s amazing he was able to get away with a sidewalk picnic without sentimentality–but the realities of the characters quickly reign in any loose tender particles.

The film concerns Gbenga Akinnagbe and his last two week and a half weeks in a New York mental hospital. He’s trying to get an apartment so he can be discharged (hence the title). Even though Akinnagbe has a goal and a set time frame, Oliver takes Home a lot of different places. The script takes its time fully realizing Akinnagbe’s character; the subplots almost seem independent of the narrative’s time limit. They move on deeper layers.

The film’s supporting performances are all stellar. Oliver makes sure all of his cast takes the time to listen–or, at the right time, interrupt–but also to think. Exceptional supporting work from Victor Williams, Frank Harts, Danny Hoch and Judah Bellamy.

Of course, while Oliver’s direction is phenomenal (the composition is quietly stunning and precise) and the film has excellent photography from Sung Rae Cho–Ulysses Guidotti’s editing is singular–none of it would work without Akinnagbe. Home starts with a narrative disruption; Oliver takes a long time to establish the ground situation, which is disorienting. The film relies on Akinnagbe’s character to navigate, even after it reveals Akinnagbe isn’t necessarily the most reliable navigator.

Home’s a striking success.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Jono Oliver; director of photography, Sung Rae Cho; edited by Ulysses Guidotti; music by Gingger Shankar; production designer, Eric Oliver; produced by Daniela Barbosa and Ged Dickersin; released by Entertainment One.

Starring Gbenga Akinnagbe (Jack Hall), Danny Hoch (Dundee), Joe Morton (Donald Hall), K.K. Moggie (Denise), Tawny Cypress (Laura), Victor Williams (Hamilton), Isiah Whitlock Jr. (Samuel), Tonya Pinkins (Esmin), Elena Hurst (Melissa), Frank Harts (Smitty), Adrian Martinez (Hector), Eddie R. Brown III (Travis), Alexander Flores (Thomas), Nick Choksi (Max), Deborah Offner (Sondra), Theo Stockman (Charles), Marilyn Torres (Viveca), Venida Evans (Ginnie), Ananias Dixon (Leo), Judah Bellamy (John) and James McDaniel (Dr. Parker).


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Between the Lines (1977, Joan Micklin Silver)

There are some good scenes in Between the Lines and some good performances… but thanks to director Micklin Silver’s direction, a lot of it feels like a really unfunny episode of a sitcom. “A very special episode” or something. It’s like maudlin moment strung over ninety-some minutes only to bounce up at the end. The film also suffers an aimless, meandering story. There are four subplots making up the film and it manages to go pretty well without a real plot, because the romance between John Heard and Lindsay Crouse, which is aimless and meandering too, but Heard’s good–for the most part–and Crouse is appealing. Micklin Silver doesn’t direct the actors very much and some of takes she went with really shouldn’t have been printed. Anyway, the film pretends it doesn’t have these plots and is somehow anti-plot… which only makes the plots more obvious.

There’s the love story, the young American author and girlfriend, the scandal and the buying of the newspaper. The first one gets a lot of attention, but none of the others get enough. It’s unbelievable, for example, anyone would date Stephen Collins before he signs his book contract and becomes a jerk who wears sunglasses in clubs, much less after. The scandal is stupid, gives Bruno Kirby something to do (like he’s being groomed for when the sitcom’s lead leaves). The buying of the newspaper is what it is–obviously and convenient, since the movie ends five minutes after the scene.

Where Between the Lines is not standard is in how much Micklin Silver shows of people’s interactions with each other. There some great raw scenes in here and there’s a real sense of reality (even if she does earn all those tickets she spends it all on a big dumb teddy bear in the shape of Raymond J. Barry–who is great in his scene, which consists of him, quite unbelievably, wrecking havoc in the newspaper office). So, by the end of the movie where Lane Smith turns out not to be the progressive, free-thinking new boss and is instead just corporate jackass… well, it came as little surprise. The subsequent day dream sequence, on the other hand, was simply inexcusable.

The performances, besides Stephen Collins and Jon Korkes and most of Gwen Welles (except her character is unbelievable), are all good. Jeff Goldblum’s funny, Marilu Henner has a nice small part; the big surprise is Jill Eikenberry, who is fantastic. Joe Morton has a small role and he’s good.

There’s actually an accounting geek in the office who wears bow-ties and is the butt of all the hip people’s jokes. It’s ludicrous and makes the whole movie feel a little like a self-aware farce. Until reality returns and it becomes clear… it isn’t a joke.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Joan Micklin Silver; screenplay by Fred Barron, based on a story by Barron and David Helpern; director of photography, Kenneth Van Sickle; edited by John Carter; music by Michael Kamen; produced by Raphael D. Silver; released by Midwest Films.

Starring John Heard (Harry Lucas), Lindsay Crouse (Abbie), Jeff Goldblum (Max Arloft), Jill Eikenberry (Lynn), Bruno Kirby (David Entwhistle), Gwen Welles (Laura), Stephen Collins (Michael), Lewis J. Stadlen (Stanley), Jon Korkes (Frank), Michael J. Pollard (The Hawker), Lane Smith (Roy Walsh), Joe Morton (Ahmed), Richard Cox (Wheeler), Marilu Henner (Danielle) and Raymond J. Barry (Herbert Fisk).


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