REVIEW: Top Five

22 12 2014

Too bad for “Top Five” that the title “The Interview” was already claimed for 2014.  Chris Rock’s film, a starring vehicle which he also wrote and directed, gets its narrative motor from a day-long conversation between his character Andre Allen and the probing New York Times reporter Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) for a newspaper profile.

Chelsea happens to catch Andre, a successful comedian struggling for credibility as a dramatic actor, on a particularly stressful day.  Not only is it the opening day of his new film about a Haitian slave rebellion, which resembles “12 Years a Slave” more than “Django Unchained,” but it is also the weekend of his marriage to a Kardashian-style Bravo reality star (Gabrielle Union).  That much pressure all at once is about enough to make him relapse into the alcoholism he has controlled for years.

Rather than chew out his publicist for such horrific planning, Andre responds to the stacked schedule by baring his soul in responses to Chelsea (in a manner similar to Rock’s own refreshing candor on the “Top Five” press tour).  He rambles on about moments both somber and hilarious from his career, and Rock usually captures the back-and-forth in a two-shot.  This character arrangement, perfect for verbal volleying like in “Before Midnight,” allows the simultaneous enjoyment of Andre’s outrageous delivery and Chelsea’s often dumbfounded reaction.

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REVIEW: Good Hair

1 05 2013

You could be forgiven for thinking that Chris Rock directed the documentary “Good Hair.”  He produced it, narrates it, and essentially acts in it.  Heck, the movie is even attributed to him on the poster as if he directed it!

Technically, Jeff Stilson directed it.  But Rock’s fingerprints are clearly all over “Good Hair,” and his loud personality makes its way into the deepest recesses of the film.  And I’d say that’s not for the better.

The movie traverses the world in an attempt to find an answer to a rather sweet and seemingly innocuous question posed to Rock by his young daughter: “Daddy, why don’t I have good hair?”  The documentary waxes sociological as it looks at the root causes for why African-American women spend thousands of dollars on their weaves or hours putting the extremely dangerous chemical compound known as “relaxer” in their hair.

“Good Hair” actually does make some pretty fascinating discoveries.  Why is this multi-million dollar industry of hair-care products for black women run nearly exclusively by whites?  Where is all this hair from weaves coming from?  Are weaves putting strains on the African-American community?

While I wanted the film to delve deeper on some of these fascinating questions, it always stops its analysis far too soon.  Rock keeps it cursory, explaining a few shocking details and then making a remark or comment that cheapens the entire section.  With his presence always known, this “infotainment” piece goes heavy on the entertainment value.

It even frames the discussion within the bounds of an absurd hair competition in Atlanta, almost as if it were an ESPN hour-long special.  This might have made for an interesting side show or tangent, but it distracts from the main purpose and discussion of the film. When “Good Hair” concluded, I was left thinking more about the ridiculous hair styles on display than the serious issues raised.

Then again, I’m a twenty-year-old white male.  This information was interesting to me, but what can I really do with it?  If Chris Rock and the filmmakers felt like the way they made the documentary was appealing and engaging to African-Americans, that’s what matters.  They are the ones who need the knowledge disseminated in “Good Hair.”  I just worry the film lacks a significant call to action or arms.  C2stars





REVIEW: Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

23 06 2012

I had just finished sixth grade when the first “Madagascar” film came out, and I must say, I enjoyed it probably as much as the six-year-olds in the theater.  Then I was in tenth grade when “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” hit theaters, and I disdained it like a ten-year-old who thinks he’s too cool for school and animated kids entertainment.  Now, I’m heading into my sophomore year of college while “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” is taking over screens in three dimensions.  Regardless of your age watching this movie, if you can just accept the inherent childishness of the series, you can enjoy it.

DreamWorks Animation found a way to reclaim what they do best (and thus separates them from their main competitor, Pixar): providing a family movie experience that creates a bottom line of ridiculous, zany antics for the kids while also littering the film with very sophisticated wordplay and adult humor that flies right over the little ones’ heads.  Pixar tries to level the playing field and get child, parent, and grandparent to view the movie from the same viewpoint; that’s what makes “Up” one of my all-time favorites.

But only DreamWorks provides maturely humorous animation that you can watch the tykes around, and it’s pretty ingenious how they can create two totally different intellectual experiences.  I know you probably don’t expect to hear intellectual tossed around in many reviews of the “Madagascar” series, but it’s a smart way to make money and maybe turn that ticket stub into a DVD purchase.

If you can’t handle Chris Rock’s ludicrous “Circus Afro” song or any of the New York Zoo crew’s antics, then maybe your appetite for humor will be met by their numerous pot shots at Europeans.  Kids aren’t going to get all the jokes about European labor laws and culture, but if you’ve tuned into CNN in the past year, you might get a kick out of it.  (Seeing this just two days after coming back from Europe sure made me chuckle – these movies may ask you to suspend reality, but they sure nailed Europe.)  I’m not saying that any sort of comedic brilliance exists in the DNA of “Madagascar 3;” however, I will say I think you’ll be hard-pressed to sit through the movie without having a few good laughs.  B /





REVIEW: Death at a Funeral

3 09 2010

It’s a funny thing, the remake of “Death at a Funeral.” The British original in 2007 turned the title, which implied the melancholy proceedings of a sacred ritual, into something totally unforeseen – a laugh riot.

There are those of us who think two decades is too soon for a remake, but Neil LaBute turns around the hilarious original for a Hollywood treatment in under three years. Essentially, there’s no reason for this remake to exist other than to make the script more digestible to a mainstream audience. Nothing new is brought to the table, no retooling or adding is done. It’s practically a shot-by-shot remake, claiming that swapping accents is enough to warrant the millions of dollars to produce the movie.

It’s a strange experience to watch these often funny stars, including Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, and Tracy Morgan, running around doing a half-hearted version of the original movie.  In fact, it’s almost like an out-of-body experience as we watch them utter virtually the same lines and run through the same motions as the British actors did – but never come close to matching their comedic brilliance.  Surprisingly, the funniest member of the ensemble is James Marsden, who truly embraces the farcical nature of his character and plays it up to hilarity.  However, we only get to see glances of the zonked Marsden, never prolonged scenes.

I find there no reason to watch this movie when a clearly superior alternative exists.  Sure, this version has a few laughs and is hardly unfunny, but why choose chuckles over the howls that you can have watching the original?  If you had the choice between a rotting apple that looked nice and a fresh apple with a little bit of dust on top, which would you eat?  This “Death at a Funeral” looks nice on a poster, but at its core, the movie is pretty rotten.  There’s no reason NOT to go off the beaten path to watch the British version.  C /





REVIEW: Grown Ups

19 07 2010

In “Grown Ups,” Adam Sandler and friends have three stages: childish, adolescently juvenile, and grown up.

When they are childish, the movie is old and trite.  We’ve seen all the bathroom humor, boob humor, fat humor, hot girl humor, and racial humor Sandler can throw at us.  It was funny in the ’90s whenever movies like “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore” were rocking the comedy scene.  But Sandler hasn’t changed his game much since then, and it’s time to move on from the silly and stupid just to get a quick laugh.  In fact, I usually just groan now.

When they are adolescently juvenile, the movie takes flight.  I assume that a lot of this is outside the lines, improvisational stuff.  I felt like I was watching them brainstorming one-liners for SNL in the writer’s room.  It’s like they are reaching out and including us in these creative sessions as they just rattle off joke after joke.  They have some clever wordplay and witty situations when they are at this level, and it’s where they should dwell more often.

When they are grown up, the movie is corny and laughable.  There’s that obligatory “oh, we’ve been joking the whole time, let’s grow up quickly and have a lesson” scene towards the end that derails all the comedic momentum the movie built up.  And this one is so bad and so out of place I can only hope Sandler and pals meant it to play off as a giant joke.

All comics are not created equal, as the movie shows us.  Sandler writes the best for himself, making he and his wife, played by the gorgeous and incredibly out of place Salma Hayek, the only normal ones.  Compared to him, the successful Hollywood agent, we are supposed to assume that everyone else is a loser in comparison to him.  There’s the Mr. Mom played by Chris Rock, the obese therefore butt of jokes played by Kevin James, the creepy bachelor played by David Spade, and the just plain creeper played by Rob Schneider.  Spade’s bits are stale, Rock is fair, Chris Farley’s doppleganger James is good enough not to make us yearn for the late star, and Schneider is as good as he’s ever been – which is to say that he wasn’t funny then and he’s not funny now.

So in the end, it’s that creative spark that comes from just reeling off one-liners and playing off each other that saves the movie from being a total disaster.  It’s that more refined immaturity that we don’t get nearly enough of that keeps us coming back to Sandler’s movies.  Because we don’t want Adam Sandler to grow up so much as just move on.  C /