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Top Five

Top Five

Let's walk around for a while and who knows what might happen

dir: Chris Rock

2014

Oh, how hard it must be, to be rich and successful! Doesn’t your heart go out to the struggling celebs, whose lives are irretrievably destroyed by the wealth and the constant temptations of the flesh that most of us will never know of, let alone imagine?

I know mine does. Each morning and before I lay me down to sleep on my bed of nails, as I dutifully put on my hairshirt, I pray to the sweet Lord above and below that He look after all those successful comedians who are struggling to be taken seriously as dramatic actors. Then I wipe a tear away and sleep the sleep of the wicked.

Chris Rock directs and stars in a film where he seems to be playing a thinly veiled variation on Chris Rock. Well, maybe that’s not entirely accurate. At least he calls his character “Andre Allen”. And this “Andre Allen” character is way more famous than Chris Rock is. This Andre Allen is like Brad Pitt – Katy Perry – Angela Lansbury famous, being mobbed on the streets and being driven everywhere in limos.

There are key differences, though. The character he plays here is in recovery, is afraid of comedy, and desperately seeks the approval of some film critic called James who hates his work with an unholy passion. I wonder if circumstances will present him with an opportunity to get back at his nemesis?

Their keenest similarity (between Rock and Allen) is that they look the same, they’re very funny, and they both have some fairly reactionary ideas about women and relationships.

How a person feels about Chris Rock really determines whether this light and slight flick will be enjoyable for them or not. If you hate Chris Rock, or don’t find him funny, then this would possibly be the worst movie you could ever watch. If you enjoy watching movies with Chris Rock in them (what a strange person it would require for the following) but don’t really like his stand up or his work as a comedian, then this could be a slog.

If you think he’s probably one of the funniest comedians America has ever produced, and you love Rosario Dawson, and like the thought of the two of these people hanging out and talking for a couple of hours, then this will be purest gold for you.

I fall safely into the latter category, having watched and listened to his stand up specials endlessly, and having a healthy regard for Rosario Dawson as well. Also, with my limited expectations and a love of movies where two characters talk while walking around somewhere, movies like this are perfectly within my wheelhouse.

And it helps, it helps a lot that they have such wonderful chemistry. To characterise this flick as one of those flicks where two people walk around talking about the world would misrepresent the flick, because while there’s a lot of walk/talk, there’s plenty of other stuff going on as well. Also, I’m aware that a lot of people are bored shitless by that Richard Linklater / Eric Rohmer style of movie, whose editing or lack thereof puts many a person into a deep, restful sleep.

Not me, though. I love that stuff. To make the point I was making earlier, yes, this mostly is a flick where two people chat about whatever, but there’s also plenty of other stuff going on, and a bunch of other characters.

Still, if you don’t like Chris Rock, the whole experience will be insufferable.

On the eve of Andre Allen’s latest film premiere, and that of his wedding to a horrible reality television monster (Gabrielle Union), he decides reluctantly to do an interview with a journalist from the New York Times. I say reluctantly because another film reviewer from the Times has savaged his films repeatedly, calling him the visual equivalent of cancer/AIDS (or something along those lines). For whatever reason, and mostly out of desperation about the new film Uprize, which is a very hard sell, he agrees to it.

As well, Andre happens to be megafamous, and a recovering alcoholic, and he feels less than loved and respected by the world. Sure, everyone recognises him and hits him up for autographs or money or some such, but there's that thin line between being famous and being randomly cursed out by people on the street for no good reason.

His most famous character is portraying a bear in a series of cop comedy action flicks where he plays Hammy the Talking, Crime Fightin’ Bear. I have no idea what Hammy is referencing in Rock's own life. Sure, the thing most people around the world have seen him in is probably the animated Madagascar films where he voices a zebra, I think. I very much doubt Rock has people coming up to him in the street, yelling out the zebra's name (is it Alex?) and asking him to sing his greatest hits from that role. Something about polka dots and afros, maybe?

I understand that it may be hurtful to a person's feelings to be incredibly wealthy but also to feel typecast, or reduced, in the public's mind, to one action, to one character, to one thing. Wait a sec, actually I have no idea what that must be like and think it's ridiculous that anyone would ever complain about something so ridiculous. People would give their left nut or ovary for a chance to experience such miseries for themselves. Give me a crack at it, and I'll report back as to the pain and suffering that comes with it, purely for sociological purposes, naturally.

Even hacks and jerks want to be taken seriously, no matter how hacky or jerky, and Andre is no different. His stab at credibility comes from doing a prestige biopic that also has him playing the Haitian leader of an uprising that leads to tens of thousands of deaths.

But why? Why does a hellishly successful comedian / actor / reality star want also to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor? Why?

Because they're just that greedy. Or maybe... addiction to approval? I'm not sure on this score what the flick is saying about all this. In a lot of ways the Rosario Dawson character exists almost as the distaff part of the conversation a crazy person (like Gollum) has with themselves about their own motivations and actions. I'm not implying she's a figment of his imagination. This story is his, though, and mostly she's there to reflect his own ideas back to him or call him out on his own bullshit.

They are talking at a million miles a minute and despite the precarious setup, which has way too much going as an overarching construct, it's the stuff they talk about and the places it takes them that's far more interesting than any of the stuff going on around them (it's hard to care about the impending / looming marriage, because we are given not a single reason why it will either happen or is a good idea).

The effect of Chelsea and Andre getting to know each other is that it makes it sound like they are genuinely fascinated by each other's lives. Regardless of whether Andre is the famous one, Chelsea isn't going to know the elements of his life that have shaped him away from the cameras, or the reasons for many of his contemporary anxieties.

That gives Andre the opportunity to tell the story of how/when he hit ‘bottom’, the recovery / AA concept where once you hit it, that’s when you can start climbing out of your self-created pit of shame. It’s a funny story that builds to a very disappointing punch line, but it generally gets to balance outrageous hilarity with utter grossness. If a scene involves a mostly naked Cedric the Entertainer, that’s about the best you can hope for.

It is far from my favourite scene in the movie. My favourite scene in the movie happens when Andre, for no real reason, goes back to his old hood to hang out with non-Hollywood family and friends. Of course some of hose people are pretty famous themselves (Leslie Jones is on Saturday Night Live, and Tracy Morgan, the drunken lunatic and notorious homophobe Tracy Morgan shouldn’t need any introduction after so many years on 30 Rock).

The part of the scene I love is where Andre remembers a small hipflask of whisky or some dark liquor that he’d hidden behind a radiator a long time ago. The bottle itself is covered in dust and looks poisonous. Yet he still has to take a sniff, and for a second it looks like he’s going to drink it, just for old time’s sake.

It’s strange that that scene sticks out, since there are plenty of others that are far punchier and more dramatic, and even one that’s pretty horrific from a sexual perspective (though pretty funny, as it involves a tampon and a bottle of hot sauce). Of course the scene where Chelsea and Andre get their hands caught in unlikely places is probably even more of a standout, but you don’t praise scenes like that without seeming like a pervert.

The one emotion Rock has difficulty with as an actor in this flick is ‘anger’. He can represent a whole bunch of other ranges of emotion, but the scene where Andre faces his reviewer nemesis seemed like basic acting skills flew out the window. Maybe the director should have had a word with him. It’s only brief, and the rest of the flick carries on like it didn’t really happen, so maybe we can ignore it.

Much as it pains me to say this, because I love the man, and love his comedy, there is this kinda sorta level of misogyny that persists not as an overt theme, more like a thin undercurrent throughout the actual story being told, that bugs me, it really bugs me. Even Chelsea, who’s the only female character that gets any play, is compromised in the screenplay with the use of the Cinderella motif, which I won’t go into, but I will point out it’s as regressive here as its use in Pretty Woman, for crying out loud.

In and of itself you can dismiss it as a one-off, but when you couple it with the portrayal of other grasping, mercenary women in Andre’s life, and when you’re told flat out by his fiancé that the whole wedding thing is solely about her, something she has earned for herself by doing things sexually that she hates (blowing Andre) and that she is entitled to her wedding, it represents a fairly dim view of women in general and all these women specifically.

What can you argue, since Rock wrote the screenplay and directs and stars in the film, about what it represents about how he feels about women? If Andre Allen is a thinly veiled version of himself, then, honestly, what’s going on there?

Regardless, though it really bugged me, I really enjoyed the flick overall. Rock and Dawson’s chemistry is undeniable, and they chatter and carry on like the classic banter movies of old (like something out of a Billy Wilder flick, just with more delicious swearing). Thoroughly enjoyable and light, with a bit of substance, though not too much, with an unhealthy serving of sexism thrown in for good measure. Enjoy!

7 times people calling out their own name during sex is always, always funny out of 10

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“I got tired of waking up with strange dicks in my face” – we all get tired of that eventually – Top Five

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