Thursday, January 8, 2015

Top Five [2014]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars) (3 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

BET coverage
Ebony coverage interview coverage

Top Five [2014] (written, directed and starring Chris Rock) is an appropriately R-rated, often quite funny (and in my position often quite frustrating to review) film about "a(n important) day in the life" of Andre Allen (played by Chris Rock), a (black) comedian trying to be taken as _more_ than "just a comedian."  (Arguably, the film covers similar ground as the Michael Keaton starring Birdman [2014] ;-)

So Andre Allen's portrayed in this film as having written, directed and starred in a _deathly serious_ 12 Years a Slave [2013] like Epic called "Upri^se" about Haiti's War for Independence, the largest and most successful Slave Uprising (the slaves _won_) in history since Spartacus or The Exodus.  This "important day in the life" of Allen was the day in which this film was to have been released to the theaters ... But was a film about a vast number of very upset, machete wielding black people putting-down / slaughtering thousands upon thousands of terrified white people really gonna be a "big draw" in the United States today ...? ;-) -- think Apartheid-era Zulu [1964] in reverse ;-)

THIS WAS PART of what 's on Andre's mind on this, very important, day.  The OTHER part was the, a few days hence, the "reality show wedding" that he's consented to do with his reality show star / fiancee' Erica Long (played by Gabrielle Union). 

But the reality show wedding IS "a few days hence" (though at the end of the day he has to "drop by" a (scripted?) "reality show bachelor party" - with friends / comedians Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld and Whoopi Goldberg expected "to be present").  IMMEDIATELY before him was an interview with New York Times whose reviewer had previously HATED Allen's STUPID but INCREDIBLY SUCCESSFUL Allen in a head-to-toes-bear-suit "Hammy the Bear Superhero / Comedy" films.

To Allen's relief, the NYT reporter who steps out of the cab to meet him was not the 50+ year old white-anglo-male-patrician blowhard that he expected but a young/earnest African-American reporter named "Chelsey Brown" (still a very anglo name, but less threatening ... played by Rosario Dawson).  She asks if she could "shadow him" for the rest of the day so that she could write her piece about him at the end.  Having no particular reason to reject someone who was both attractive and seemed to be someone who probably would give him a fair-shake, Andre consents to this "shadowing-style interview."

The rest of the movie ... that (as per reviewer Susan Wloszczyna) _does_ feel A LOT like the "Before Midnight" series of films (great insight there!) ... ensues.

The banter / conversation between the two, often more sexually graphic than it needed to be (again, the R-rating is certainly deserved as are the CNS/USCCB reviewer's concerns), is nevertheless often very, very good and both of the characters seem quite real.  But then, what exactly is "reality" here?

"Chelsey" turns out to be a young, hustling African American woman (of Latin American, hence Catholic heritage), a once teenage now still unwed mother and recovering alcoholic, who's still having all kinds of trouble with men, writing (quite successfully actually) for all kinds of magazines (amusingly from "Cosmo" to "the NYT" ;-) though under _all kinds of pen-names_.  (When was _she_ going to be able to "step-out" into the world under HER OWN IDENTITY?)

Allen began his life "in the projects" (there's a scene where his dad shakes him down for money) who had succeeded in first becoming a stand-up comedian, then a comedic actor (even if he had to _cover his own face_ to do so ...) and now was trying _really hard_ to become a serious actor even as he's getting married to a "reality show" star WHO HE ACTUALLY DID FEEL SOMETHING-FOR BECAUSE SHE _DID_ ACTUALLY HELP GIVE HIM DIRECTION EARLIER IN HIS LIFE WHEN HE WAS "LOST".

So portrayed is an intriguing and often quite honest-looking, multi-dimensional "mess" and truth be told, a story whose elements are not altogether far from what one continues to hear in the Confessional ;-).

So while I do wish that some of the dialogue and _some of the situations_ were "a little bit cleaner," nevertheless I do think that the film is quite good and deserving of many of the critical accolades that it has received.  So over all, good job folks, good job!

And I'd like to END BY THANKING Rosario Dawson for first _keeping her stage name_ ROSARIO and then allowing her character in this film to remain Catholic.  Yes, her character still had some "issues" (don't we all...).  BUT IT WAS NICE TO SEE that in her character's quite orderly (4 years in AA) apartment a Crucifix and a statue of Mary in places where one would expect them to be in a nice orderly Catholic home of today.  This may seem like "a little detail," but I certainly caught it AND APPRECIATED IT.  So again, good job there Rosario, good job! 

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