Knight at the Movies ARCHIVES
Mentors and Where Have all the Good Holiday Movies Gone:
Brother to Brother, 2004 Holiday Movies
12-8-04 Knight at the Movies column
By Richard Knight, Jr.
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 twenties 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 as 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).
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.
Rodney Evans' lyrical debut and the last great holiday movie is 21 years old