‘Top Five’ Movie Review 0 19


Having spent much of the last decade or so lending his voice to big budget animations like Madagascar and Bee Movie or making terrible Grown Up “comedies” with his mate Adam Sandler, comedian-turned-actor Chris Rock is back with an altogether more personal film that’s part-cathartic vanity project, part-exploration of fame, celebrity and the self-obsessed inanities of the entertainment industry.

Rock plays Andre Allen, a formerly very successful stand-up comedian and star of a series of awful “man in a bear suit” cop comedies that have become the bane of his existence. Years after hitting rock bottom due to drug and alcohol abuse, he decides to accept an interview with a spirited reporter (Rosario Dawson) who wants honest answers about his past and his potential future with a reality show star (Gabrielle Union) who wants to broadcast their wedding on TV.

Rock is one of those actors who can never really break away from his own persona – much the same as Russell Brand in that way – and thus sometimes making it hard to see anything but Chris Rock the comedian in whatever role he happens to be playing at the time. The great thing here, however, is that he’s essentially playing a thinly veiled version of himself and the film plays up to that in a fun, self-aware way.

From the terrible-looking “Hammy the Bear” franchise – perhaps akin to something Rock has been offered before or even a sly dig at the Madagascar franchise? – to the types of self-important “message” films he has probably thought of doing in an attempt to be taken seriously by critics and the Academy, the film has a knowingness about it that allows it to stand above the generic trappings of the rom-com genre.

The film opens with Rock and Dawson walking down the street discussing, for example, the legitimacy of having a black President in bringing about real lasting change, immediately making a statement to the audience that the film is going to be taking a swipe at all sorts of topics instead of being just another rom-com with big names. Sometimes it feels like Rock just flapping his gums with cod philosophical observations about modern life but there’s an admirable quality to the film that it at least has a go.

The dialogue fizzes and pops as you’d expect from such a talented comedian – even though it occasionally gets a bit too preoccupied with crass sex jokes and light misogyny – and the material is elevated by likeable performances, not just from a charismatic Rock but the always-watchable Dawson who together make their otherwise trite will-they-won’t-they romance not only palatable but very watchable.

Rock’s film plays like a visual representation of one of his stand-up routines, putting emphasis on the outrageous and shocking to get the “I can’t believe he just said that!” type laughs that were once his bread and butter. As a risqué comedy there are moments that work better than others – a scene where he tries to get a radio recording right is brilliantly executed, a flashback scene involving a horrendous coke-fuelled sexual experience less so – and there are certain last act twists and turns that feel like Rock overreaching. I don’t think it’s as deep and meaningful as it likes to think it is but there’s something to be said about a film that tries to give that little bit extra and does it in an engaging, upbeat fashion.

Previous ArticleNext Article

I’m a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features.

I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Movie Review: Home Again 0 353

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 380

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10