Review: Top Five

TopFiveThey say three times a charm, and that could not be more accurate for famed comedian, Chris Rock, and his directorial experiences. After two mildly successful comedic films, he hits back after a seven year hiatus with Top Five. Rock has clearly picked up some tricks of the directing trade during his time off and it shows. Here he adds a level of maturity to his direction style, but was still able to keep that edge that we have come to admire about his comedy with no compromises in the end product. Top Five tells the story of Andre Allen (Chris Rock), a highly successful comedian who is at the top of his game. However, he decides that he is done being funny and wants to do more serious films, namely one about the Haitian slave uprising. After playing a talking bear who wields two guns and is a cop its a tad difficult for his fan base to take his new found film identity seriously. Of course the role of Andre Allen reflects Chris Rock’s career pretty directly, and the careers of some other Black comedians in Hollywood. This connection ingratiated me with the character almost immediately. There was no sense for getting to know Andre, we know him by another name so we can move quickly to the meat of the plot. On the eve of Andre’s wedding to reality starlet Erica Long (Gabrielle Union), Andre is asked to be interviewed by a reporter from The New York Times named Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson). Chelsea is a go getter who requests to follow Andre around and do an in depth report with him about his life and changing career. Andre reluctantly agrees and goes about his day promoting his film. Chelsea, who is a fan of Allen’s, presses him on why he doesn’t seem funny anymore. She presses his button in the exact way no one has in quite some time. Her uniqueness is what causes him to open up to her and he divulges stories of his past. A story his tells about his early days of “making it” are easily some of the film’s funniest. However, I found the entire film experience to be a laugh out loud good time all the way through.

Rock makes an effort to include up and coming comedians and his friends who are old warhorses in the comedy game as a large part of the film. There have been many films that have tried to do this mix as of late and it frankly hasn’t worked; see the Grown Ups and The Expendables franchises. However, Rock absolutely nails it and utilizes the new and the old crews in the best of ways. There are some stellar cameos that were thankfully not spoiled by over zealous trailer editors. The movie feels, in many ways, to be a reunion of your all time favorites in new and interesting locales. Speaking of locales, the film takes place largely in New York City. This time around, Rock really shows off some incredible cinematic shots of the city. On his day long interview with Chelsea, Andre revisits his old neighborhood and some upscale spots around the city. Rock is able to make each spot feel unique; from gritty to high brow. In the same vein as 2 Days in Paris (Rock was in the sequel, 2 Days in New York), we get to watch Chelsea and Andre truly discover each other over the course of a day. A sweet story that has been told many times, but here it has a flair and style that keeps it fresh.

Earlier I mentioned the film’s level of maturity, and the take on the common story is where that really shines. Just to be clear, that doesn’t mean this movie doesn’t have Rock’s signature no holds barred humor, quite the contrary. However, he is able to weave a story that keeps it from just being a silly exercise. He is able to elevate such a common story to the level of actual freshness, and for that he should commended. Rosario Dawson’s Chelsea has a real sense of depth, mystery, and sadness to her. In the end, she is a woman that we are, know, or are becoming; she feels genuine. Chris Rock’s Andre Allen is a clear reflection of himself and his interesting critique on his own career trajectory. Never taking himself particularly too seriously, he works to just be himself in front and behind the camera. If you are looking for a smart, ill-mannered, and absolutely hilarious movie then Chris Rock’s Top Five is the no-brainer choice.

[easyreview title= "Review of Top Five" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="5.0" overall= false]

Review: 2 Days in New York

2 Days in New York

The follow up to the critically successful 2 Days in Paris (2007) brings us stateside but manages to hold on to its European charm. 2 Days in New York is a quirky romantic comedy written, directed, and starring Julie Delpy. Replacing the unforgettable performance by Adam Goldberg (Jack) is comedian, and indie movie newcomer, Chris Rock. Delpy has been called the female Woody Allen and to date I don’t think that is an outlandish claim in the least. 2 Days in New York is a great re-introduction into Marion’s (Delpy) manic world, and the inclusion of Mingus, (Rock) her new boyfriend.

When last we saw Marion she was working things out with Jack and the couple seemed to live happily ever after. 2 Days in New York opens with Marion confiding in Mingus that she is contemplating leaving Jack, and in classic Marion fashion she becomes single soon after. Like clockwork Mingus and Marion get together and that’s where the story really starts moving. After what seems like a fairly normal life together with their two kids from previous relationships, Marion and Mingus look like a typical New York couple. However, things begin to go off the rails when Marion’s father Jeannot (Albert Delpy - Julie Delpy’s real life father), her sister Rose (Alexia Landeau) and Rose's boyfriend Manu (Alexandre Nahon) come to visit from France. When this group of Parisians gets to town its just a series of culture disasters. From the sensibilities that the French have with nudity to the assumption that an Indian guy is Kumar from the Harold and Kumar movies Jeannot, Rose, and Manu drive both Mingus and Marion up a wall. In the 2007 film Marion was constantly trying to keep Jack at ease in her native country. However, in the 2012 follow up Marion is constantly berating her family for their uncompromising French ways. Its nice to see they went in a slightly different direction and didn’t fall into the trap of rehashing the same material from the first film.

Chris Rock’s Mingus is as nuanced as Jack’s character. He is a normal guy thrust into an untenable situation. His life is going as planned until these people walk in and make him question Marion’s background and mental stability. Mingus is the vessel in which we see Delpy's well constructed world. I found myself thinking how I would react and it seemed pretty close to how Mingus responds. In the end, Mingus is the every man and Rock’s own personality shines through. At times, I would swear he was ad libbing and in a film like this it does/would work perfectly.

As a newcomer to the indie movie world, Rock did very well. Conveying a vulnerable side of himself, which made for an easy character to connect with. Julie Delpy once again shines as the de facto neurotic French woman. She drives you crazy with her manic moments but she is so endearing that those times just melt away. Albert Delpy, who is/plays Julie’s father returns and delivers at the same level he did in the previous film. His insatiable appetite for the bizarre and kink make him the perfect character. The characters of Rose and Manu are not as explored as I would have liked. I thought Rose’s character had such great potential but seemed to be squandered this go round.

I would definitely recommend 2 Days in New York to anyone. If you have seen the previous film than you owe it to yourself to finish out the story of Marion. The setting of New York made everything feel very comforting and personal, which played well when Marion and Mingus were in pre-Parisian invasion mode and added tension once their annoying house guests arrived. Go see 2 Days in New York and thank your lucky stars that you don’t have family like Marion.

[easyreview title= "Review of 2 Days in New York" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="3.5" overall= false]

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