Saturday, December 20, 2014

Movie Review - Annie (2014)

At the beginning, the movie sets up a mystery it never intends to solve and it would have been fine if the movie didn't do something somewhat hypocritical at the end.

There is a bright, bubbly, colorful sheen to this film that's very much in line with the Hollywood studio sheen of most movies in this price range. I would put it on the level of Disney's Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and has all the value of Dwayne Johnson in The Game Plan (2007).

Directed by Will Gluck, the film has a very similar conceit. A wealthy and aloof man has a child dropped in his lap and it changes him to be more fatherly. I suppose it would be more appropriate to cite the source material, which arguably movies like The Game Plan borrow, but I never saw the source material, the comic strip and subsequent stage musical of which this is an adaptation.

A film adaptation of the musical was already done in 1982. The ABC network also did a feature for television in 1999. This film is the third iteration. The major difference. The two leads are now African-American.

Oscar-nominee Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) stars as the titular character, Annie, a street-smart, foster kid in Harlem who gets taken in by Will Stacks, a black Donald Trump but only a titan in the cell phone industry, played by Oscar and Grammy-winner Jamie Foxx (Ray).

Creatively, this movie fails to do anything interesting narrative-wise or visually that justifies its existence. It's not as wondrous or dazzling as Sidney Lument's The Wiz (1978), another musical adapted from another with black characters as the leads.

Nevertheless, I did think Wallis and Foxx had good chemistry. Wallis as Annie has all the insight and skills of a hustler but possesses a loveable and personable charm, warmth and compassion, which she gives in spite of what she's given. Foxx as Will Stacks is totally germophobic, dedicated and ambitious, perhaps embarrassed but mindful of his past and where he came from.

Their relationship is boiled down to one simple but effective image. Will's philosophy is that you should be able to love and trust people whom you can count on one hand, yet Will's hand is always closed as a fist. Annie simply wants him to open his hand.

This film is a musical, so there are song-and-dance numbers. None of which are great. The performances in Jersey Boys are better and all of those are just guys standing around singing. The only choreography that was mildly amusing was Bobby Cannavale as Guy, the campaign manager and self-described "cockroach" for Will Stacks. Guy sings "Easy Street" and his dancing is good because Cannavale being a man of Cuban and Italian-descent has some naturally, sexy moves.

Wallis is cute, at times appropriately sassy and she carries a bit of a tune in her performance of "Opportunity," which was newly created for this film. It wasn't taken from the original Broadway musical like most of the songs are.

Speaking of Broadway, everybody with the exception of Cameron Diaz knew that they were in a film. Diaz, however, thinks she's actually on Broadway, meaning she is constantly big and over-the-top in all her mannerisms and line-readings. As such, she's the least funny thing here. Everyone else does get funny moments.

The standout is Rose Byrne who plays Grace, a woman whose job description is never made clear. She's an executive or a consultant or something, but she's great as a socially awkward workaholic. She's lovely as well. Yet, the most hilarious scene has nothing to do with the plot.

Will Stacks takes Annie to a movie premiere for a movie called "Moon Quake Lake." It's clearly a spoof of the Twilight films. There's some commentary about product placement and a jab at other directors. It's a really great comedic and meta-moment. It was the only thing that really made me laugh. The rest of it comedically is rather mediocre.

Going back to the mystery that's setup and then the hypocrisy, that mystery is where is and what happened to Annie's parents. All she knows is that she was left in a basket at an Italian restaurant in Manhattan with a note that they'll be back. This fuels Annie with hope for a decade. Given the wealth at Will's disposal and the NSA-like power of his company, it seems pretty ridiculous that he couldn't find her actual parents.

I could except that mystery never being solved, but through the whole film we watch as this little girl is placed in the home of a man who does not want her and is in fact using her to advance his political career. Over time, he comes to care for her, but it still doesn't change the dubious and manipulative reasons that brought Annie and Will together.

Now, at the end, the movie introduces two new characters who also want to take Annie for dubious and manipulative reasons, yet they're looked at as villains. Perhaps, over time, they would have grown to love her. Who knows? But, it's hypocritical for that couple to be condemned for doing the exact same thing that the protagonist does.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated PG for some mild language and rude humor.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 58 mins.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

TV Review - The Middle, New Girl, The Mindy Project, A to Z, Mulaney & Cristela

New sitcoms like "Mulaney" failed to gain traction
I used to love The Middle, but, at six seasons, it's perhaps been going for too long. What's dissolving it is the idea that it's a family comedy that's built on the strength of all these characters living together and dealing with each others quirks and oddities. At this point, it makes no sense because the children in particular are practically grown and should be over many of their quirks and oddities. The children really should be moving out and moving on with their lives outside the home. Episodes like the Thanksgiving episode this year, which brought the family together for a specific reason, was fine, even though there was a lot of missed opportunities there, but the other episodes felt more forced and straining for a purpose. Missed opportunities include the exploration of sex. The two youngest children are both teenagers in high school. Sue, played by Eden Sher, and Brick, played by Atticus Shaffer, both have a boyfriend and girlfriend respectively. Yet, sex seems to be a topic not-to-be broached with those two.

I was never into New Girl, but I started watching it now that it's in its fourth season. The premiere episode "Last Wedding" was funny, and it hooked me. Yet, since that episode, I'm not sure the series, created by Elizabeth Meriwether, uses its ensemble to the fullest and best. Zooey Deschanel is funny as the titular character, Jess, but I could care less about any of the other characters. Max Greenfield who plays Schmidt is consistently annoying and for Damon Wayans, Jr., the show feels like a consolation prize for the loss of Happy Endings, which used its ensemble, in terms of writing and directing, in far better ways. Yet, Alan Ritchson, the CW's version of Aquaman, who guest starred was briefly well used. Cruel and hilarious to give that gorgeous a guy a micro-penis! Its other guest stars are a mixed bag in terms of how they're used. Jessica Biel was okay but Rob Reiner wasn't.

The Mindy Project is great, particularly now in its third season. I loved the pilot episode, but I felt that the show quickly fell off from there. The second season didn't do much to lift things, but it did lay the groundwork for what is now a fantastic junior year. What's great is that Mindy Kaling who plays Mindy Lahiri and Chris Messina who plays Danny Castellano are finally a couple. It was obvious from the first season that this is where the show was going, so it's nice that it's finally there. Mindy believes she's living in a movie rom-com and the Season 2 finale was the most prime example but better than any that's been in theaters in a while. Now, the show is exploring Mindy and Danny's relationship, and this has yielded gold. Kaling is great as always, but the greatness that is Messina has really been unleashed. He's funny. He's sexy and at times just weird. The ensemble is well used like the rivalry between Jeremy, played by Ed Weeks, and Peter, played by Adam Pally, and it's guest stars are amazing, such as Rhea Pearlman and Mark Duplass.

A to Z is like 500 Days of Summer but as a TV series on NBC. It's also a more adult version of the recently canceled Manhattan Love Story. The premise is that, as Katey Sagal narrates, we're watching the dating period of Andrew and Zelda, which lasts for 8 months, 2 weeks, 6 days and 1 hour. What happens after that, no one knows or that's to be revealed. However, what happens after or even during turns out to be a big, so what? Ben Feldman who plays Andrew and Cristin Milioti who plays Zelda are cute, but there's not much to make me care about these people. Andrew works at an Internet dating company and Zelda works at a law firm next door, and I wish more was focused on their jobs than stupid details of their dating life. There are interesting questions like using Google to dig dirt on people and whether that should affect how you perceive them, but when there isn't any real dirt, then, again, so what? I liked the brief appearance of Christian Gehring (DTLA) and Jensen Atwood (Noah's Arc) but not much else.

Much like Jerry Seinfeld and Louis CK, John Mulaney has made a comedy series that has him doing standup as himself, followed or inter-cut with a sitcom that involves him acting out scenarios or themes from that standup act. Mulaney as a series is nowhere near as good as Seinfeld or Louie, and I think I agree with other critics who think Mulaney himself is not that great of an actor. What's interesting is John Mulaney was a writer on Saturday Night Live and co-created the character of Stefon, played by Bill Hader. Stefon is probably the funniest and by far one of the best characters to run on SNL in about a decade. What Mulaney should have done is made a TV series about Stefon and had Hader star in it.

Finally, Cristela is watchable because its creator and star Cristela Alonzo is great. Unlike John Mulaney who is the creator and star of his show, Alonzo is a much better actress and has a much better screen presence. The cast is great. Gabriel Iglesias plays Alberto, the horny, Mexican friend who wants to date Cristela but keeps getting shut down. Carlos Ponce plays Felix, the sexy brother-in-law who has a love-hate and hate-love relationship with Cristela. Andrew Leeds plays Josh, the sweet but nerdy co-worker at the law firm where Cristela interns who could be a possible love interest for Cristela or her gay best friend. He walks a weird, ambiguous line.

The Middle: Season 6
Four Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-PG-L.
Running Time: 30 mins.
Wednesdays at 8PM on ABC.

New Girl: Season 4
Two Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14-DLS.
Running Time: 30 mins.
Tuesdays at 9PM on FOX.

The Mindy Project: Season 3
Five Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14-DSL.
Running Time: 30 mins.
Tuesdays at 9:30Pm on FOX.

A to Z
Two Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14-L.
Running Time: 30 mins.
Thursdays at 9:30PM on NBC.

Mulaney
One Star out of Five.
Rated TV-14-DL.
Running Time: 30 mins.
Sundays at 9:30PM on FOX.

Cristela
Three Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-PG-D.
Running Time: 30 mins.
Fridays at 8:30PM on ABC.

TV Review - American Horror Story: Freak Show

This is the fourth season or the fourth iteration of the series by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. It's set in Jupiter, Florida, 1952. It centers on a sideshow circus-act, run by a middle-age woman named Elsa Mars, played by Jessica Lange. Elsa lives an existence not unlike Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd. (1950). She thinks herself to be a star, even though she's way over-the-hill. She gets jealous of anyone who tries to take her spotlight. She's desperate for fame. She's not an actress per se. She's a singer. Yet, despite being of her era, that of World War I, Elsa sings songs from the 21st century. In Episode 3, for example, Elsa sings Lana Del Rey's "Gods and Monsters."

It's Murphy and Falchuk utilizing the same technique as in their other series Glee. Yet, it's understandable and appropriate in there. When Elsa sings modern-day pop songs here, it's completely anachronistic, and it's either laziness to find more appropriate songs from that era or to invent new songs that fit.

The bigger focus for the makers of this series seems to be more on the makeup and other special effects. The performers in Elsa's circus act are actors who require a lot of prosthetic makeup or CGI to portray the "freaks" of this freak show. The first and shining example is Sarah Paulson who plays the Siamese Twins.

She's basically a woman with two heads on one body. Paulson plays both heads. Murphy directs the first episode of the season, the first episode in which she appears, and, at first, he frames his camera so that you only see one head at a time, but there are several medium shots that show both heads at once and where CGI incorporates Paulson's two performances at once.

The head on camera-left is Dot and the head on camera-right is Bette. Paulson plays both Dot and Bette. Dot is quieter, more cynical, bitter and private. Bette is more talkative, more personable and not as private. Dot is jealous of Bette because Bette can sing and Dot cannot. Dot dreams of literally cutting Bette out of her life and off her body.

Like Elsa, Dot is probably one of the few freaks who dislikes what she is. The rest of the characters are prouder of their deformities or biological differences. Some are only proud now. Some older ones had rough childhoods where they were ridiculed or shunned. One of which is Kathy Bates who plays Ethel Darling aka the Bearded Lady.

The Bearded Lady is a kind of groundskeeper and stage MC. She's Canadian, a former drunk and has an adult son named Jimmy, played by Evan Peters. Jimmy is known as Lobster Boy because both his hands are deformed and look like the claws of lobsters. Except, when we first see Jimmy, he's dressed like Marlon Brando in The Wild One (1953).

Besides Lobster Boy, Jimmy's other nickname could have been a riff of Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands (1990). Burton could have called Jimmy instead Edward Penis-hands. In the Season 4 premiere, Jimmy is using one of the two, elongated digits that constitute his lobster hand, which arguably looks like a penis as a penis. Jimmy is seen deeply penetrating a woman with his lobster finger.

If you've seen the episode of The X-Files entitled "Humbug," then none of the other characters will be shocking or new. There's Meep the Geek, a dwarf who bites the head of chickens. There's Paul the Seal Boy, a man covered in tattoos who's actually a very tall, handsome and virile, Australian lover who just happens to have short arms that resemble a seal's flippers. There's Ma Petite, the shortest woman alive from India. There's Amazon Eve, the biggest and tallest woman around. There's also various others who don't do much in the first half of the season. There's Legless Suzi and the two Pinheads, for example.

Each episode brings a new threat to the freak show and like with Glee, the freaks or these misfits are meant to be our protagonists or our heroes who we're seemingly meant to champion, as they attempt to face these threats and overcome the challenges and prejudices pitted against them. Yet, it's difficult to champion or root for any of the freaks because at the outset and by the end of the premiere episode Murphy and Falchuk establish that each one is a murderer or willing to defend or be complicit in unjustified murders.

It's not as if it's a case of self-defense or an accidental killing. No, Murphy and Falchuk make them all outright murderers. Not only that, Murphy and Falchuk turn all the freaks into human butchers that do so without batting an eye. I know this series has the word "horror" in the title, so it needs horror, but the premiere episode and indeed the next four episodes already have that well covered.

In addition to the freak show, in the same town, there's also a serial killer who's introduced. The serial killer is overweight and dresses like a dirty clown who wears a nasty mask that covers his mouth. The clown is named Twisty because his signature act was twisting balloon animals. Yet, the first time we see Twisty is in a scene straight out of Zodiac (2007) where he kills a young couple having a picnic in almost the exact same way as the Zodiac killer does.

Twisty kills a bunch of other people in brutal ways. He also kidnaps and tortures children. Given that, you'd think that would be enough horror for this series, but Murphy and Falchuk need over-overkill. The resolution of the Twisty character was unsatisfying as well. It involves a supernatural element that didn't need to be. It's a deus ex machina in the name of Edward Mordrake and to me the whole Mordrake thing was a waste of time.

If nothing else, it helps to inspire a copycat, serial killer named Dandy Mott, played by Finn Wittrock. As a serial killer that we follow, Dandy might be better than the serial killer, played by Zachary Quinto, in Season 2 of American Horror Story. He's not the cold, calculating machine that Quinto was. Wittrock is a petulant child, a spoiled brat with serious mommy issues.

Michael Chiklis plays the Strong Man who's secretly gay. Angela Bassett plays the Three-Breasted Woman who thought she was a hermaphrodite. Denis O'Hare plays a freak collector named Stanley Mansfield who needs the freaks dead and Emma Roberts plays Maggie Esmeralda, the assistant to Stanley who falls in love with Jimmy.

Frances Conroy plays Gloria Mott, the doting mother of Dandy. Patti Labelle guest stars as Dora, the bitter maid of Gloria and Dandy, taking care of their mansion-like home. Gabby Sidibe plays Regina, the daughter of Dora.

The series is more comedic than it is scary, especially after the second episode. Some of the freaks are spotlighted, but the ones in the forefront aren't likeable other than Paul the Seal Boy. It's not because they look odd or are deformed, it's because Murphy and Falchuk again establish them all as murderers or complicit in murders with not much sympathy or empathy on display.

Finally, there's a candy-striper who Elsa meets at the hospital where the Siamese Twins are taken, played by Grace Gummer. The sixth episode has her go up against her super prejudiced father, played by Lee Turgeson. What he does when he realizes his daughter is in love with Paul is ridiculous, which is indicative of the entire show.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-MA-LSV.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Wednesdays at 10PM on FX.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Movie Review - The Kill Team

Specialist Adam Winfield in "The Kill Team"
This documentary tells the story of U.S. Army Specialist Adam Winfield who was charged with murder over an incident that occurred with his platoon in 2010. The movie also focuses on three other soldiers who served in Afghanistan in the same platoon and were also charged with murder. Once these soldiers' crimes are exposed, they become dubbed "the kill team."

Director Dan Krauss practically embeds himself in Winfield's family. A curiously intimate shot inside Winfield's parents' home at night shows how embedded he is and how clearly on Winfield's side Krauss is. The level of access is proof of some complicity or complicit feelings toward Winfield. Krauss seems to have been present prior to Winfield's trial and sentencing. Once the news broke of Winfield's charges, Krauss must have rushed to the family and threw all sympathy and support. He wasn't in the homes of the families of the other soldiers charged with murder, at least not by what we see here.

Winfield's circumstances and situation are more unique than the others and makes him worthy of being singled out and even sympathized. How one can sympathize with someone who is charged with murder and doesn't dispute being involved is the question. The answer is that he's actually not a murderer. Winfield is not a killer. He's a coward. Yet, his cowardice is revealed to be a kind of strength.

Listening to Winfield, as well as Corporal Jeremy Morelock and Private First Class Andrew Holmes, a scary portrait of military culture is illuminated. Yet, it's not necessarily a new portrait. I would point to the Vietnam war films by Oliver Stone for similar portraits, particularly his Oscar-winning Platoon (1986). I would also point to recent documentaries like Ghosts of Abu Ghraib (2007), The Tillman Story (2010) and Dirty Wars (2013).

The portrait that is illuminated is an overly aggressive yet overly frustrated nature within its members. The vengeance-based nature of it is a strong undercurrent as well. It's natural in many ways, but there appears to be no management of it and in so many ways feelings of vengeance is actually encouraged.

Private First Class Justin Stoner who was labeled as a whistleblower, a label he doesn't like, makes a great observation. He says that all of them were trained to be killers, so why is anyone surprised when they do kill?

The documentary also exposes how military justice isn't impartial. We'd like to think that every case is like the one in A Few Good Men (1992) but that's not the reality. Military justice is insular and operates only to protect itself. The Invisible War (2012) was a perfect example of that. This is another. Winfield is dropped in between a rock and a hard place with no way out, and the military and government don't seem to recognize this.

At the end of the day, Winfield did participate in a murder, which he can't ultimately escape, but all the circumstances surrounding it have to be considered.

Following the fear and heartbreak of Winfield's parents is an important aspect here. It's similar to Tillman's parents, but instead of wrenching over something that was done to their son, they wrench over something their son did, and reconciling all that comes with that.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains graphic, violent images.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 20 mins.

Movie Review - Jodorowsky's Dune

This documentary interviews Alejandro Jodorowsky about his attempt to make a film over 30 years ago. He was never able to make the film, but we're supposed to believe how amazing it would have been or how influential it was, and unfortunately I didn't buy any of it.

Jodorowsky is a filmmaker from Mexico who had two films El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973) that brought him a lot of success. The director of this documentary Frank Pavich includes clips from those two films. The images are odd, bizarre and seemingly compelling but they're given little to no context. We're not told what the films are about, their stories or why they were successes.

Even the film critics interviewed here do nothing but kiss Jodorowsky's ass. Regardless, there was something about those films that attracted a following to Jodorowsky. However, whatever support he had probably came from his personality, which was eccentric but passionate. He wrote a script adapting Frank Herbert's book Dune. A basic premise of the story is given but no true breakdown or analysis of the screenplay is provided here.

Jodorowsky then explains his process of hiring or recruiting the people who would help him make the movie. He gets a French comic book artist named Moebius to do the storyboards. He brings on board Dan O'Bannon to do special effects. He also brings H.R. Giger to help with the designs.

He tapped Pink Floyd to do the music. He incorporated his then 12-year-old son Brontis to be an actor, but he convinced David Carradine, Salvador Dalí, Mick Jagger, Udo Kier and Orson Welles to be actors in the film as well.

Jodorowsky wanted to move forward into production but needed $15 million in order to do so. He went to various Hollywood studios for the money but he was denied the funds and support from the studios. Therefore, that was the end of it for him. The usual rant against the studios is heard, but then he just gave up.

What is problematic is Pavich never pushes what I would consider to be obvious questions. If this project was so important to Jodorowsky and he was so passionate about it, then why did he never try to raise the money for the film outside the studios? He seemed to give up entirely after so much effort.

That, and the argument is made that Jodorowsky's Dune came about in other ways. Movies like Star Wars, The Terminator, Flash Gordon (1980), Raiders of the Lost Ark, Masters of the Universe and Contact (1997) all arguably took from Jodorowsky. They point to a shot in Contact that's similar to one that Jodorowsky describes. Yet, in that description, Jodorowsky admits to stealing the idea from Orson Welles' Touch of Evil, so the notion that Contact stole it from Jodorowsky is laughable and isn't really proven.

The only provable connection is the one to Prometheus (2012). It's provable because H.R. Giger worked in that film as he did Alien (1979). However, the intimation is that if it weren't for Jodorowsky, there wouldn't have been all these great designs from Giger, which again is laughable. I have a feeling Giger would have been successful even if Jodorowsky had never been born. To give Jodorowsky so much credit for a film, which he never made, is a step too far. I'm sure a lot of men would love to be worshipped for all the films they didn't make.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for some violent and sexual images and drug references.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 23 mins.

DVD Review - More Scenes From a Gay Marriage

Jared Allman (left) and Matt Riddlehoover
in "More Scenes From a Gay Marriage"
The title to this sequel continues to be as misleading as the previous movie. For the simple fact, the two characters at the center aren't married. The story takes place in Nashville, Tennessee, which doesn't allow same-sex marriages, but gay men can still have commitment ceremonies or domestic partnerships. As far as we know, the two men here haven't done that. They seem to be glorified roommates, or generic boyfriends who live together. For writer-director Matt Riddlehoover, that might be what marriage is, or not much different. Sadly, getting at how Riddlehoover defines marriage for gay people or anyone else is not what this movie is.

Again, the title to this sequel is misleading because there are no scenes from a gay marriage here. Meaning, there are little to no scenes between the two men who are supposed to be "married," if not legally than by default. The two men are Darren and Joe, and, at the start of the movie, the pair announce they're breaking up. The rest of the movie is spent with the two separated, so it's not clear why Riddlehoover titled the movie this or where he was going with it.

Matt Riddlehoover plays Darren whose life we learn nothing about past having quasi-feelings for his ex-boyfriend Leigh. Does Darren work? Does have a job? Does have any passions or interests or hobbies? Who knows? Yet, he decides to go on a road trip with his best friend Luce, played by Thashana McQuiston, and this movie becomes a road trip film with Luce doing the majority of the talking, endless talking and talking, to the point that her relationship with Bruce, played by James Foglesong, is more the focus than the titular one.

Jared Allman (left) and Rodiney Santiago
Jared Allman co-stars as Joe, the building manager or maintenance man from the previous movie. He starts to undergo somewhat of a change, which we don't see. Joe's change is supposedly prompted by seeing Leigh's film about his and Darren's relationship. Joe doesn't like the depiction of himself in this movie-within-the-movie. All of this is dropped in one brief scene, a flashback, instead of, as the title suggests, letting it develop over a series of scenes in a linear fashion.

Riddlehoover pads the movie with scenes from the movie-within-the-movie, which basically replays scenes from the previous movie but with different actors. It's totally unnecessary and distracting. Riddlehoover has an interesting idea when he introduces one of those actors into the lives of Darren and Joe. Yet, the idea isn't used to its maximum potential.

Rett Terrell plays Sam, an aspiring actor, annoying house-guest and possible kleptomaniac who is cast to play Joe in the movie-within-the-movie. Instead of using this character to come between Darren and Joe's relationship and really expose things about Joe that make him insecure, Riddlehoover wastes it by making Sam a punchline for Luce to go on and on about.

Instead of delving into Joe's character, Riddlehoover gives him an insubstantial scene where Joe gets a massage by a hot Brazilian masseur, played by male model Rodiney Santiago. The scene is ultimately pointless. It goes nowhere but to the painfully obvious. It seems to exist only to get Santiago to strip down to his underwear and show off his hot body. Riddlehoover doesn't give them hardly any dialogue and nothing of significance to do.

It's a shame because both Allman and Santiago come from reality TV shows. Allman was in Sundance's Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys and Santiago comes from Logo's The A-List: New York. Riddlehoover could have taken the opportunity to play off that or have fun with that. Plus, he has two of the most gorgeous guys in gay cinema and doesn't at least have them kiss. It was a waste.

I did like the end-credits song "I'll Find You" by Samantha Church. Other than that, the movie is meaningless.

One Star out of Five.
Not Rated but recommended for mature audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 10 mins.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Movie Review - Top Five

Chris Rock stars as Andre Allen, a former comedian who is trying to do serious films. He flies into his hometown of New York City to do promotions for his new film "Uprize" about a Haitian, slave rebellion. He reluctantly agrees to have a female reporter named Chelsea Brown, played by Rosario Dawson, interview him for The New York Times, despite the bad reviews he's gotten over the years from that newspaper.

While Andre does radio and other forms of press, Chelsea follows him and asks him in-depth questions in order to profile him. Andre is upset because no one really cares about his dramatic film. All anyone really cares about are his previous comedic movies from which he's trying to distance himself or the fact that he's about to get married to a Bravo, reality TV star named Erica, played by Gabrielle Union who by the end has the best acting moment of the whole piece.

The entire film takes place all in one day and it's mainly a love letter to New York City, as writer-director Chris Rock shoots a bunch of two-shots of himself and Dawson, while they do a bunch of walk-and-talks. Earlier in her career, Dawson was in Edward Burns' Sidewalks of New York (2001), and it's no secret how much inspiration Burns took from Woody Allen, which Rock also cites as an inspiration. This film, however, feels like a very pedestrian or watered-down version of both Burns and Allen.

It feels so contrived and forced. It's not funny. It doesn't really go anywhere interesting or bold. It doesn't really say anything. As a romantic film, it's really lame and so lacking in excitement and heat. Unfortunately, Rock can't carry it in that regard. He should have hired someone else to play the lead.

There are six comedic set pieces. Only one of which got me to laugh a little, and it was a scene involving the presence of a bunch of other comedians sitting around Rock. The first comedic set piece though is a drug and sex scene, made underwhelming because it doesn't compare to The Wolf of Wall Street.

The second set piece seemed like an excuse to assemble all the black actors from Saturday Night Live. Nothing of substance or significance is learned here. It perhaps stands as a glimpse of black people just shooting the breeze. Yet, the title of the film comes from this scene and I couldn't gather as to what the significance or even relevance was. Andre and his friends and family list what their top five favorite rappers are. What this says about Andre or anyone else I'm not sure and the movie doesn't make it clear.

Ava DuVernay's I Will Follow features a scene of two people talking about rap music that's not only informative about the music itself but also the people talking about it. Rock's scene is rather pointless. His scene takes easy pot shots at Tyler Perry, which is rather weak. His exaggerated radio segments present some interesting ideas but are dull and repetitive.

A whole sequence where Chelsea's boyfriend Brad, played by Anders Holm, turns out to be gay is problematic. First, I don't even know why it's here. It does really nothing for Dawson's character. Second, it makes no sense. I suppose the joke is that despite having gay relationships herself, Chelsea is surprised that her boyfriend is gay and that she missed the signs. If that's the joke, then that's fine, but her reaction seems odd.

The fact that she would be so naive as to not realize is dumb but that she would be upset, given her motives at the end of the movie, is also dumb for Rock's screenplay. Rock's reduction of Brad simply liking anal penetration as the tell-tale to his homosexuality is reductive overall to what homosexuality is.

Andre faces the newspaper's critic who bashed his movies. Instead of having an actual dissection or discussion of why the movies were bad or disliked to the point that such vitriol was printed, Andre and Chris Rock run away from it. A genuine conversation between artist and critic could have been had, but it becomes yet another wasted opportunity.

With the depiction of the movie-within-the-movie being so terrible both in its reception and its creation, it's unclear what Rock is trying to say with it. Is it that he's no good at dramatic work? Is it that he's going into it for the wrong reasons? It's not clear. Then, there is the Louis CK ending where it's as if we're watching an episode of FX's Louie and I'm just baffled.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, crude humor, language throughout and some drug use.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 41 mins.