Monday, December 29, 2014

TOP FIVE -- my review

Everyone is saying that Chris Rock’s new movie TOP FIVE is his ANNIE HALL. It’s actually his ANNIE HALL meets STARDUST MEMORIES. A grown up romantic comedy with incisive observations, lots of laughs, and a lead character whose central problem is that he’s a comic who wants to be taken seriously. Not the most universal dilemma. I’m sure if someone else (who wasn’t a bankable movie actor and studio favorite) wrote this it would remain forever on the BLACK LIST pile of great unproduced screenplays.

TOP FIVE not a perfect movie. It’s a little long and at times repetitious. But on the whole it’s a huge step forward for Rock as an artist, writer, and director.

But here’s why it’s number one in my TOP FIVE comedies of the year – the laughs come from CHARACTER. They come out of ATTITUDE. They’re grounded in REALITY. What a pleasure after all the R-Rated stupid, implausible, loud, forced, immature, schticky unfunny yuckfests that Hollywood currently pawns off as comedies. How refreshing that the protagonist isn’t some slothy man-child acting like he’s 13 stuck in a Tom & Jerry cartoon. “Duuuuuude!”

Why is Hollywood so afraid to make these kinds of smart adult comedies anymore? I know they’re slavishly pandering to teenagers but do they really think that little of them that they can only laugh at Seth Rogen vomiting on himself? Do they think Millineals will flee the theater en masse if there is a scene of two adults walking down the street just talking?

Chris Rock is very funny in this movie… when he wants to be. But there are times he doesn’t. And those moments work too. In fact, some of them work better. And he’s surrounded himself with a great supporting cast. Cedric the Entertainer KILLS. Kevin Hart rocks. Jerry Seinfeld is hilarious. Tracy Morgan delivers. Adam Sandler is even funny for the first time in ten years. And DMX steals the picture.

The only weak link for me was Rosario Dawson as his love interest. Again, personal taste, but I just don’t get it.

TOP FIVE is very satiric. It skewers Hollywood film-making, reality television, and our pop culture society. But it also speaks to relationships, battling personal demons, and finding meaning in your life and work. The existential issue isn't the fraternity next door is too loud. 

Warning: the language is a little blue. Yes, the movie is sort of like ANNIE HALL if Jews said “motherfucker” every five words.

Critics are absolutely ga-ga over TOP FIVE, which is fine except they might create unrealistic expectations. No, it is not a masterpiece. But in today’s landscape, a comedy that is genuinely funny even SOME of the time is considered one.

Go see TOP FIVE.  Even the North Koreans agree it's better than THE INTERVIEW.

Tomorrow:  Another movie review.  Hey, they're all coming out at the same time.


Scooter said...

Then why is the trailer (at least the piece of it I keep seeing on TV) so utterly devoid of anything that might make anyone think they'd ever want to see this movie in a million years?

...And is this part of the reason no one wants to make this kind of mature comedy?

Scott O. said...

Anything has to be better than The Interview. That may have been the worst move I've ever seen.

Covarr said...

Adam Sandler is interesting to me because he's an immensely talented actor and comedian when he puts forth a legitimate effort (See: 50 First Dates, Click, and arguably even Mr. Deeds), but he so frequently doesn't even try that it's easy to forget this. It's nice to see him in a supporting role where he's got a chance to shine instead of leading in something designed to pander to what he thinks his audience wants (even though they don't).

Hamid said...

DMX steals the picture? Really? He must have progressed as an actor since Exit Wounds, where even the permanently wooden Steven Seagal managed to emote more than DMX.

blinky said...

I dragged my 20 year old son to see it opening day, first show. He resisted, "What the hell dad? You want to go see a Black movie, Are they going to dress up like fat old ladies?" But he actually liked it.
Great effort by Mr Rock. Nice ending.
The only thing I noticed is that when he went to visit all his black friends/relatives the shooting style changed dramatically from the rest of the movie. It went to super closeups and hand held. I wonder if that part was done all improve and they had a different camera man?

normadesmond said...

i SO wanted to love this picture.

rosario was wrong.
i never really bought rock.
yes, the cameos were good.

maybe i'll need to watch it again with far lower expectations. it is not annie hall.

goodman.dl said...

DMX's scene was among the funniest things I have ever seen on camera.

Anonymous said...

Re: Adam Sandler

I really enjoyed The Wedding Singer, but that was probably because Drew Barrymore was so darn cute. 50 First Dates was good, but again, Barrymore. Just have never understood his appeal.

Pam, St. Louis

Between a Rock & a hard place said...

I too wanted to like this movie. And I was disappointed enough to walk out an hour into it. It struck me as supremely talky in a clunky on the nose way, too Rock-centric (Annie Hall seemed to me to be more observational about the world around Alvy whereas this was too much about a character I didn't yet care about, and one whose importance seemed ramped up from what it would be in the real world of show business) &, from the get-go, centered on unlikeable ranting. Throw in the obnoxious sex scenes. Just one man's opinion.

charlottesometimes said...

I've got a Friday question about this previous Friday question & answer:

In episode "Fade Out, Fade In" part one and two you and your writing partner are listed as Story Editors. Was that your first jobs on MASH? And just what did the job entail?

That was our first job. We were essentially staff writers. Others above us made the creative decisions. We broke stories and rewrote scripts. However, in that same season (6), the head writer left midway through and David and I took his place. So despite still maintaining the position (and salary) of story editor, we were now essentially the head writers.

I was soooo thrilled to have that job I didn't even care about the money. But don't tell 20th.

My follow-up Friday question is:

Why is it that on primetime network TV series the job title/credit "Story Editor(s)" for writers means what you described (ie. entry-level), but on so-called "daytime" TV series (regardless of what time a show actually airs first-run), the job title/credit "Story Editor(s)" is 100% synonymous with the term "Head Writer(s)" (ie. the polar opposite of entry-level!)? This is particularly true of animated TV series. Why the lack of consistency, do you think? Such an EXTREME dichotomy in the meaning of that job title/credit from show to show (seemingly arbitrarily) must be so confusing for everyone in the industry! (Literally the difference between a beginner and the boss!) But I suppose there must be a good reason behind-the-scenes that viewers are just not privy to?

Roger Owen Green said...

Listen to this video at 4:25. EXACTLY what Ken, and others, have aid about expectations.

cadavra said...

Actually, what it is is Rock's SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS. Even the ending is essentially the same. And if you don't "get" Rosario Dawson, check with your mortician, because you might be dead.

One other thing: In a world where everybody walks on tiptoes, it was actually quite refreshing to hear the N-word thrown about so casually. People need to understand that words themselves aren't offensive; it's the context and intent. And TOP FIVE provides plenty of both.

Kevin J said...

Thank you for this review, Ken.

100% agree. If Chris Rock didn't make the splash that he made in stand-up, this script would not get made.

It can be daunting to go to film school and hear many wannabe comedy writers talk about how they love Seth Rogen or Adam Sandler movies simply because they (immature college kids) relate to those immature characters.

Todd Everett said...

I saw both Top Five and Big Eyes today; as different as they are in many respects, I really had a great day at the flicks.

And I thought Rosario Dawson was fine as a newspaper reporter, though there was an aspect of that (you know what I'm talking about) that I found difficult to buy. Not her fault, though -- I wouldn't have bought it if her were Rosalind Russell.

Paul said...

I think the knocks against Seth Rogen comedies in general are pretty unfair and comparing his work to Adam Sandler - as much as I like Sandler - is really not very accurate, except perhaps in the very broad sense that they have both dealt in vulgar humour. As big as his movies can get he delivers a pretty consistently high level of comedy, even while rooted in a physical/vulgar style of comedy.

The implicit knock against Judd Apatow's stuff is surprising considering that his movies and subject matter have more in common with Jim Brooks and Albert Brooks than anything approaching gross out/low grade teen comedies.

cadavra said...

Paul? Jim Brooks on line 1 and Albert Brooks on line 2. They seem pretty upset about something.

Johnny Walker said...

Thanks for the review. Looking forward to seeing this. Rock is a huge Woody Allen fan, I wonder if Allen gave him any tips or if this was just Rock's personal attempt at following in the steps of someone he admires.

Paul said...

cadavra: I think the comparisons are mostly fair, in spite of Apatow having more of a touch for extreme/absurd/improv comedy. Albert Brooks did some harsher, stranger stuff in his films. Saying that there is a connection between say Modern Romance and Knocked Up is not really that strange.

Apatow cares about his characters and the things they go through are real to them, even if the scenarios are sometimes strange or full of vomit. The 40 Year Old Virgin is actually a very smart and perceptive movie about relationships and all of the fears that are put on people because of their ability to navigate their sexuality in a socially acceptable way. The real heart of that movie and the comedy in it involves sending up the idiots around Carrell's character and the completely idiotic things people do to fit in.

I think there is A LOT of Jim Brooks' sensibilities in everything Apatow has done, particularly the weight he puts on establishing friendships and love as of real importance, even as you're going for a big laugh.

Anonymous said...

I had no idea all those people were in the movie too.