Top Five

Posted on December 11, 2014 at 5:59 pm

MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, crude humor, language throughout and some drug use
Copyright 2014 Paramount Pictures
Copyright 2014 Paramount Pictures

Why is it that we love to talk about our top five? Is it because it gives us a sense of order in the midst of chaos? Is it because we feel that if we can somehow distill the whole world into a definitive top five (with a possible but un-canonical sixth position just to make it interesting), that will reveal something essential about the person doing the ranking?

Writer/director/star Chris Rock plays Andre, a stand-up comic turned wildly successful movie star, with a series of dumb comedy blockbuster hits where he plays Hammy the Bear, an ursine cop with a gun as quick as his wisecracks and catch phrases. Like the director in “Sullivan’s Travels” and the stand-up comic turned actor and filmmaker in “Stardust Memories,” Andre wants to do something serious and meaningful. He has made a new film called “Uprize,” a drama based on the real-life slave rebellion in late 18th century Haiti, and he is on a publicity tour to promote it. He is also about to get married to a reality star (Gabrielle Union as the exquisitely airbrushed and relentlessly determined Erica), who has made every element of the wedding and their lives together a branding opportunity. And he has agreed to spend the day with Chelsea, a New York Times reporter (Rosario Dawson) who begins by asking him why he isn’t funny anymore and wants him to describe what it felt like to hit bottom before he became sober.

Andre and Chelsea travel all over the New York, visiting the inner city neighborhood where his friends and family jockey between pride and resentment. The girlfriend who was there at the beginning is sorry she quit before he hit it big. The old friends tease him about how he was never the funniest one in the group and remind him to keep it real. Andre also has a talk with some older men on the street. One calls him “Hollywood” — but asks for money. We learn his relationship to Andre. It is understated, but significant.

No one is buying tickets to “Uprize.” And “everyone in the barbershop wants to see in the bear costume” for Hammy 4.

Rock has often seemed awkward or uncomfortable on screen, even in “Head of State,” which he directed, especially in scenes with women. But here he shows a welcome naturalness and confidence. We got a glimpse of those qualities in his best previous performance, “2 Days in New York,” which has a similar intimate, improvisational vibe. This time, playing a central character who shares some of his experiences — and some of his friends, with Adam Sandler, Whoopi Goldberg, Jerry Seinfeld making cameos — Rock’s performance is nuanced, thoughtful, very, very funny, and touching as well.  It is the funniest movie of the year, in part because it is so sharply observed.  Andre may think the best way to deliver a message is with a serious drama, but Chris Rock knows better.

Parents should know that this film has extremely strong, explicit, and crude language including the n-word, extremely explicit sexual references and situations, and very crude humor, substance abuse including drugs, and mild comic peril.

Family discussion: What will Andre do next? Would you go to see his movie about the slave rebellion? What is “rigorous honesty?” Who’s in your top five and why is it fun to try to rank your favorites?

If you like this, try: “Sullivan’s Travels,” “Stardust Memories” and Chris Rock’s stand-up performance films and television series

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Comedy Movies -- format

Enjoy Some of This Year’s Best Indies On Demand

Posted on July 2, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Some of the best movies of the summer will not play in theaters in most areas but you do not have to wait for them to be available on DVD or cable to see them.  Increasingly, video on demand is the distribution channel of choice for lower budget films.  Be on the lookout for these films, which come with especially good word of mouth from showings at festivals.

Man in the Glass: The Dale Brown Story




2 Days in New York
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What to Expect When You’re Expecting

Posted on May 17, 2012 at 5:54 pm

No matter how carefully you plan and how diligently you read books like What to Expect When You’re Expecting, pregnancy is guaranteed to be different from whatever you think it is going to be.  I wish I could say the same for this movie.

These all-star ensemble cast mash-ups are beginning to feel as thin as the old television show, “Love American Style.”  It doesn’t help that there isn’t one pregnancy cliche that is overlooked, no matter how many dozens of movies, sit-coms, and cute greeting cards it has already been done and re-done and re-re-done in before.

There is a celebrity fitness coach and reality dance competition show contestant (Cameron Diaz) who becomes unexpectedly pregnant just a few months into a romance with her dance partner (“Glee’s” Matthew Morrison).  There is a loving but financially strapped couple hoping to qualify for an Ethiopian adoption (Jennifer Lopez and Rodrigo Santoro).   The husband is nervous about being a father so after his wife offers him a very special sex act to motivate him he starts to spend Saturdays with “the Dudes,” a bunch of stroller-pushing, Snugli-wearing, diaper-bag toting dads whose idea of supporting each other is a Fight Club-style commitment to this decade’s most vapid catchphrase: “no judging.”

Elizabeth Banks plays a woman with ideas about pregnancy so idealized that she has a store devoted to breast-feeding (“The Breast Choice”) and has even written a children’s book about it that is creepier than the infamous Time Magazine cover.  She and her dentist husband (Ben Falcone, “Bridesmaids'” Air Marshall Jon) have been trying to get pregnant for years.  He is also about to become a big brother.  His father is a loudmouth NASCAR champ (Dennis Quaid) married to a decades-younger bride (bright spot Brooklyn Decker) who is pregnant with twins.  And there is a pair of rival food truck chefs (Anna Kendrick of “Up in the Air” and Chase Crawford of “Gossip Girl”), whose impulsive encounter apparently did not permit consideration of the importance of birth control.

The movie reads like an extended Caroline Hax “Tell Me About It” column of petty complaints so stunningly self-involved, irresponsible, and selfish that what the movie needs most is a representative of Child Protective Services to take all the babies to better homes.  This is one long, loud slog through morning sickness (barfing on live television!), twins, an iPhone app that maps fertility cycles, stretch marks, debates over circumcision, baby names, and combatting the feeling that everyone is doing it better.  Serious problems like pregnancy loss and financial concerns are handled as though there is a laugh track and trivial issues like a baby shower are handled as though they actually matter.  The big moment comes when Banks’ character confesses to a bunch of future mothers that — insight alert! — “making a human being is really hard.”  In yet another tiresome cliche, the clip of her “honest” meltdown goes viral.  And then we get to see everyone in labor, making “Exorcist” faces (except for the trophy wife, who sails through labor as she has through the entire pregnancy).  “But I typed out my birth plan!” one of them whines cluelessly when it turns out that delivery is not going as she wanted it to.  It is another measure of the movie’s disregard of its audience that we go back to the Dudes so they can reverse everything they said the first time.  It is not that they have learned anything.  The movie is just lazy enough to hope some warm “parenting is wonderful” comments will erase the synthetic waste of celluloid (pixels?) that has gone before.  No such luck.

Parents should know that this movie has comic and serious references to reproductive issues including infertility and pregnancy loss and some strong language

Family discussion: Which of these couples will make the best parents?  How do you know?  Ask your family for some of their pregnancy-related stories.

If you like this, try: “He’s Just Not That Into You” and “Knocked Up”

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