Review: Top Five

Chris-Rock-and-Rosario-Dawson-in-NYC-in-Top-Five-Movie-Film-2014

DIR/WRI: Chris Rock • PRO: Eli Bush, Barry Diller, Scott Rudin • DOP: Manuel Alberto Claro • ED: Anne McCabe • MUS: Ludwig Göransson, Ahmir-Khalib Thompson • DES: Richard Hoover • CAST: Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union

Chris Rock’s latest film Top Five incorporates elements of Woody Allen, Richard Linklater and Noah Baumbach. However, it is not so much the comedian’s taste in auteurs that makes this his most valiant effort as a director as it is the fact that it’s his most personal, which helps it  transcend to something more special. Shot on location in New York, we are dropped into the day of a life of a comic star named Andre Allen (Rock), who rushes around the city in an attempt to plug his new motion picture. He is shadowed by journalist Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), who tries to pick his brain for the day. A former stand up turned hack actor, Andre has fallen victim to the celebrity culture that has poisoned the docile masses. It was wise of Rock not to delve too deep into social commentary regarding media sensationalism because it leaves so much room for his strengths; observational comedy and character.

 

Top Five flaunts an eclectic group of characters; an inquisitive journalist, a bodyguard with a fetish for XL ladies, a seedy Texan concert promoter, a drunken sad-eyed father and a boyfriend who’s a finger enthusiast. It’s as if a compilation of Richard Pryor characters migrated from the stage to the screen and the way the dialogue is spoken you can tell that this flick was penned by a stand up. It’s conversational comedy that flows so naturally with a range of topics ranging from an outlandish Planet of the Apes theory to Charlie Chaplin to the top five rappers (the premise for the film’s title).

 

Although the movie is reminiscent of Funny People, which also portrayed another stand up turned Hollywood hack (Sandler’s version hit a little more close to home), it is nowhere as ambitious or complex as Judd Apatow’s opus. However, this doesn’t exactly hurt the movie because Rock isn’t as seasoned a filmmaker as Apatow and he wisely keeps it simple, which is the charm of this film. Top Five certainly borrows many themes from Funny People, but because Rock brings his own flavour and pace to it, the movie works. The idea to set the film around one day creates a sense of authenticity for the audience, making us feel that we are hanging with these characters as they roam through the hustle and bustle of NYC.

 

Top Five utilises two great sequences to great effect. The first is an anecdote from Andre describing to Chelsea when his alcoholism reached rock bottom. He illustrates how a night in Houston transformed from an erotic dream come true into a seedy soaked nightmare (literally) involving two four legged hookers and a sleazy concert promoter (played wonderfully by Cedric the Entertainer). The events are raw in their raunchiness, but not done in bad taste giving Andre’s conclusion.

 

The second sequence is a masterful stretch when Andre visits his friends and family in the projects where he spent his childhood. It’s a rich sequence of comedy, character and naturalistic dialogue that feels like it is in no hurry to end. Rock brings the audience on a detour, taking a break from the plot and Andre’s busy schedule, allowing us time to enjoy the small talk. We get a glimpse into Andre’s roots that evoke memories of a simpler time of his life before the media frenzy and artistic pressures.

 

Andre and Chelsea stray from his entourage and ramble through the streets by themselves welcoming in the city’s vibrant atmosphere. Their relationship grows throughout the day and a connection begins to surface. They are both recovering alcoholics, which is depicted in a hazy scene when the two saunter slowly through a liquor store brushing their fingertips across the bottles that contain their inner demons. The way it was shot reminded me of Godard’s portrayal of outcasts floating through the cracks of normal society. A nicely fitted third act twist stagnates their oncoming attraction, allowing for some space and an introduction of great cameos from three comedians and a growling rapper before climaxing with a Cinderella story ending.

 

Here’s a movie that indulges all my obsessions; cinema, hip-hop, stand-up, and is done in such a casual and authentic manner that it doesn’t feel forced. It’s well written, boasts an array of fantastic dynamic characters and above all it’s very funny. After a second viewing it grew on me even more as I focused more on subtle poignant moments like when Andre meets his father or when his fiance desperately explains to him that her lack of any talent propels her to do reality television. It would appear that third time’s a charm for Chris Rock, finally finding his cinematic venom. Guess there’s only one more thing for me to say:

 

  1. DJ Quik
  2. Ghostface Killah
  3. Nas
  4. Ice Cube
  5. Kool G Rap

Cormac O’Meara

16 (See IFCO for details)

101 minutes
Top Five is released 8th May 2015

Top Five – Official Website

 

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Tinkerbell and the Legend of the Neverbeast

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DIR:  Steve Loter • PRO: Makul Wigert  • ED: Margaret Hou • DES: Dan Hennah • MUS: Joel McNeely • CAST:Ginnifer Goodwin, Mae Whitman, Rosario Dawson
 

Well, it must be December. Not because the Christmas lights are up, or because it’s getting cold. No; another year, another Tinker Bell movie just in time for the holidays. This time around, the story once again follows not-the-title-character as Fawn (Goodwin) stumbles across and befriends the NeverBeast due to her fascination with its strange, curious ways. There’s also an ancient legend that seems to imply that some form of monster, fitting the titular creature’s description is destined to wipe out their society (and curiously *only* their little society, localised entirely on a small island) unless they find and contain the Beast. But Fawn is convinced that the creature is friendly and needs to be hidden from the heavy-handed fairy border-control and so elects to help the creature and hide it. With the legend seemingly coming true and time running out, has Fawn made a grave error and doomed her species? Well since I’m sure next year’s instalment is no doubt already in production, you can probably guess for yourself.

Let’s get the basic review out of the way. No one over a certain age will be actively seeking this movie out. If you’re going to see it, it’s because you’re either one of its target demographic or the parent of one being dragged along. To the parents, take solace in the fact that this entry in the franchise is both shorter and more tolerable than last year’s. There are actually some cool(ish) visuals near the end when the whole thing goes full apocalyptic fantasy and, while wholly unoriginal, it was pleasantly surprising to see a movie in this particular series take that direction. The NeverBeast itself is essentially one of the Colossi from Shadow of the Colossus; being a (relatively speaking) giant, ancient guardian that acts as a check against an evil, gas-based malevolence that will destroy the world. While the climactic action sequence is exactly the same as that of Avengers Assemble, with a large portal in the sky that needs to be closed, characters making a final, suicidal lunge to close it and then plummeting, unconscious, back to earth once the task has been accomplished. Unoriginal, but refreshing in that you’d expect Tinker Bell movies to be suffocatingly entrenched in perceived generic and gender ‘norms’.

Indeed, in addition to completely ignoring the perceived boundaries between what would likely be seen as ‘girl movies’ and ‘boy movies’ by marketing execs, the film is, in its own way, fairly progressive. The main character’s entire motivation is a very Doctor Who-esque, optimistic quest for knowledge, while worrying about the consequences later. There’s a nice variety of characters and the roles they fulfil in the world and while, yes it’s all dressed up in quite “cutesy” language and job descriptions, it’s nice that it doesn’t feel the need to only show male fairies doing all of the science or guard work (in fact, you see hardly any of the male fairies). It’s not much to write home about but it’s nice to see that these films are at least aware that they’re being made in the twenty-first century and not just catering to a 1950s toy salesman’s view of what “little girls” want.

Now, let’s talk about fascism. While last year’s Pirate Fairy brought up some troublingly classist undertones, they were largely absent this time around. The question could still be raised as to why in this liberal wet-dream of a society, where everyone appears to be on level pegging, there’s no visible monetary system and everyone is content to do whichever job they like; why there’s still a monarchy? I suppose the border patrol have to answer to someone but it’s curious. Anyway, on to that border patrol…

Pixie Hollow (or whatever it’s called) is almost hilariously fascist. The plot kicks off with Fawn trying to smuggle an injured baby hawk out of fairy territory (they don’t take kindly to their kind ‘round them parts) and being caught, almost leading to hawk being killed. Then when she discovers the NeverBeast, the same thing happens. It just seems odd in this rainbow coalition of broadly drawn stereotypes (including the most borderline offensive “nerd” stereotype to have escaped a 1980s frat-house comedy) that such a troublingly small-minded, fear on an Other should be so prevalent.

Amusingly, the only genuinely interesting or even remotely decently written character in the film is the head of this Fairy Death Squad, Nyx (Dawson). Yes, by the end of the story she seems to have learned her lesson that their little kingdom doesn’t need to be protected with quite that level of “us or them” morality and that maybe not all foreign(er) creatures are the same and you know what, perhaps she should stop being quite so gung-ho to murder their young on sight, just because they happened to have been born within fairy borders but still, for most of this film, she is fiercely uncompromising in fulfilling her duty to eliminate outsiders. She seems especially disgusted at Fawn early on when she displays compassion for such a creature. It’s yet another odd quirk of the society in these movies. The overall setup; a lefty’s utopia. The military arm; fiercely right wing.

Fascist undertones aside, it’s all perfectly insipid. The running time is mercifully short, the animation is still too clean and sterile-looking and there’s that inevitable, offensively bland pop song that has to be in it for synergistic reasons that gets repeated at least one too many times and feels like nails down your mental chalkboard. The writing is rubbish, the supporting cast is wasted (Lucy Liu was apparently in this somewhere and even Tinker Bell has only about seven minutes of screen time), the jokes fall painfully flat if you’re an adult and even the young kids in the screening remained silent at most of the punchlines. Still, the plot isn’t terrible, the NeverBeast design is kind of fun once he starts to transform, there’s a couple of nice action scenes and the actual score is pretty ok in places. I’m not going to recommend it but hey, if you find yourself being dragged along to it, it could be worse.

Richard Drumm

G (See IFCO for details)
76 minutes.
Tinkerbell and the Legend of the Neverbeast
is released 12th December

Tinkerbell and the Legend of the Neverbeast  – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Trance

DIR: Danny Boyle • WRI: Joe Ahearne, John Hodge  • PRO: Danny Boyle, Christian Colson • DOP: Anthony Dod Mantle • ED: Jon Harris •  DES: Mark Tildesley • CAST: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel

Memory’s a tricky subject to study in film, and the complex workings of the mind are even trickier. Danny Boyle, surely one of the most ambitious and thematically ambidextrous filmmakers working today, here takes his shot at making a real mind-bender, following in the footsteps of Christopher Nolan, Satoshi Kon, David Cronenberg, Jean Cocteau and Luis Buñuel. Surprisingly, the director of Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire finds himself struggling with these mental gymnastics, producing a film that looks, but never feels, the part.

James McAvoy stars as Simon, an art auctioneer with serious gambling debts who winds up in trouble when a heist goes wrong – he’s the only one who knows where the £25 million painting is, but a bash to the head means he can’t remember. Vincent Cassel and his cronies try to torture it out of him, but to no avail. Enter Rosario Dawson’s expert hypnotherapist, Elizabeth, whose attempts to mine the corridors of Simon’s subconscious turn up unexpected secrets, and put her in a position of power over both Simon and Cassel’s Franck. Mental and sexual manipulation is never far off.

Opening with a superb, jauntily paced heist sequence that feels like an MTV version of Inside Man, Trance never recaptures the energy of its pre-credits sequence. Spurred forward by a pulsing soundtrack by Underworld’s Rick Smith, it descends into a lot of sitting around watching McAvoy sleep and Vincent Cassel becoming oddly less frustrated. A whirligig of twists in the final act reveals so many character reversals that it becomes difficult to decide whose side you’re on, who the main character is and whether or not you actually like any of them to begin with.

In the same way Inception never felt properly like a dream, Trance rarely feels like a nightmare, and shies away from symbolism or other techniques for addressing with real emotional issues. This is a film which pseudo-poetically discusses the virtues of female pubic hair, while using Austin Powers-esque camera angles to cloak the two male leads’ members from the audience’s gaze.

However, the cast are all in top form. McAvoy is full of the charisma that once shot him to the top of the game; that he gets to use his real accent for once is a plus. Cassel makes a very likeable villain. Dawson, whose 25th Hour promise has been time and again dampened by poor subsequent roles, plays the mysterious, dominant female with plenty of class, and remains watchable even as the material of the film collapses around her.

Boyle’s regular collaborator, the genius cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, has created a stunningly glossy, red-stained palette for Trance. The images are crisp throughout, with some clever cycling of focus, but there’s very little cutting-edge imagery on show here to add to a portfolio already packed with 28 Days Later, Slumdog and 127 Hours. Editor Jon Harris ties it all together as best he can, but is hindered by Joe Ahearne and John Hodge’s front-heavy screenplay.

Despite some unpleasant body horror (of which finger-nail torture and genital squibs are only mild examples), Trance never manages to notch up the tension effectively. It is never as disturbing as the cold turkey scene Boyle’s Trainspotting, nor as demented as the video game trip in The Beach. This is all due to the script and its inconsistent characters.

Trance has a number of fine moments, but it never amounts to anything more than a cleverer-than-average thriller. And it’s not nearly as clever as it thinks it is.

David Neary

16 (see IFCO website for details)

101mins
Trance is released on 29th March 2013

 

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