Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Brother From Another Planet (1984)

Oh, brother.

This John Sayles' effort from 1984 has its moments, but boy it's a tough slog.

Characters talk, talk and talk some more. Some of the dialogue is very funny and touching. The repeated references along the liknes of "out of this world" get a little tiring.

But The Brother (Joe Morton) himself doesn't speak. He's an alien who has crash landed in New York City, Ellis Island to be precise. Nice touch.

He endears himself to just about everybody he meets. Many folks are quick to guess where he's from and share their problems with him. Hey, he's a good listener. The Brother earns a living with his natural ability to fix things. He falls for a blues singer who's enjoyed better days on the charts. The Brother is also being chased by two bounty hunters who want him back from wherever he came from (director Sayles and David Strathairn).

He hears the stories of a police officer, businessman who pushes drugs on the side, a single mom and two white guys who end up lost in Harlem.

A nice payoff from watching The Brother From Another Planet is keeping an eye on the cast. Some of these folks have 100+ credits each. Strathairn appeared as William Seward in the Oscar nominated Lincoln. Minnie Gentry only appeared in about 20 roles in her film career, but she's an early standout as a fed-up Mrs. Brown. Employment counsellor Sam, who helps The Brother find employment, appeared as a Sugar Leonard lookalike in Seinfeld. He was also in two episoldes of 24. Bill Cobbs appeared in everything from The Cotton Club and The Color of Money to A Mighty Wind and The Bodyguard.

I give Sayles marks for trying a different type of science fiction film. But be warned, there's a lot of talk, and very little action, with The Brother From Another Planet.

The Odd Couple (1968)

Now this is a comedy.

This movie fan wasn't overly impressed with a recent viewing of Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys. It felt like a rehash of The Odd Couple's premise. Plus, Walter Matthau was irritating. He yelled a lot. Bright lights were hard to find in the supporting cast.

The Odd Couple, also penned by Simon, is a more comfortable fit of two mismatched friends on the big screen.

Felix Ungar (Jack Lemmon) could kill himself. Really. His wife wants a divorce after 12 years of marriage. He can't imagine life without her or their two children. Efforts to end his life instead aggravate his back. Old friend Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau) invites him to live in his large New York City apartment.

It's a generous invitation, but these two are worlds apart when it comes to domestic happiness. Oscar, who's also divorced, wants to embrace his bachelorhood to the fullest. He's a slob who can't rub two nickels together. Ungar is a neat freak and dedicated cook. He makes sure everything has its tidy place. Oscar is driven to frustration by his buddy's personality. "The only man in the world with clenched hair," is how Oscar describes his friend at one point. The breaking point comes when he tries to put the moves on two English sisters, Cecily and Gwendolyn Pigeon (Monica Evans and Carole Shelley), who live in their building. There's some real venom in Oscar's words when he hurls Felix's dinner against a kitchen wall.

Felix isn't ready to mingle with the ladies and breaks down talking about his ex and his children. The Pigeons are touched by his emotional nature and give the cold shoulder to any night-time activities planned by Oscar.

The Odd Couple works because of a solid cast and some very funny lines. The Sunshine Boys focused a lot on Matthau's anger towards George Burns. We didn't learn much about their relationship when they were close. Here we see two men who have a close friendship, get frustrated over how different they are on the home front, but also appreciate the good they bring out in each other.

The Pigeon sisters are a hoot. They make their appearnace near the film's end and are great fun to watch. There's a suggestion they enjoy the company of men. They giggle. A lot. Oscar can't wait to score. Felix can't wait until the night's over. The Odd Couple also boasts fine support work from Felix and Oscar's poker buddies. Vinnie (John Fiedler), Murray (Herb Edelman), Roy (David Sheiner) and Speed (Larry Haines) are, depending on the night they're playing, concerned about Unger's well-being, irritated by his clean-loving ways or grossed out by Oscar's housekeeping.

The Odd Couple is a solid comedy with a fantastic cast and solid laughs. It's neat to see a glimpse of New York City in the late 1960s too. Watch it.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Iris Adrian appears briefly as a waitress. The veteran actress, who earned her first credit in 1928, died in 1994. She appeared in a string of Disney films in the 1970s including Freaky Friday, The Shaggy D.A., The Apple Dumpling Gang and Gus.

Director Gene Saks helmed screen versions of several Neil Simon plays including Barefoot in the Park and Last of the Red Hot Lovers.

You'll likely recognize John Fiedler once you hear his voice. He was the voice of Winnie the Pooh's friend, Piglet, for many years.

David Sheiner is one of the few actors who can claim to have appeared in The Gong Show Movie. He was also James the Elder in The Greatest Story Ever Told.