Top Five

Paramount Pictures

Rated R for sexuality, nudity, crude humor, pervasive profanity and drug use

Chris Rock Rolls In Romantic Comedy/Film Industry Satire

In Birdman, Michael Keaton played a fading star trying to revive a career that had been in decline since he’d become typecast after playing a superhero in a series of blockbusters on the big screen. That plotline wasn’t all that far off from the arc of Keaton’s real-life fate following an outing as Batman back in 1989.

The similarly-themed Top Five features Chris Rock as Andre Allen, a comedian who has become too closely associated with “Hammy the Bear,” the popular protagonist of a humor-driven film franchise. Consequently, he’s been having a hard time making the transition to dramatic roles.

At the point of departure, we find Andre in the midst of promoting his newest movie, Uprize, an historical drama about a slave insurrection on the island of Haiti. He’s allowed New York Times reporter Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) to tag along for the day, since she’s been assigned by the paper to prepare a profile on him.

Sparks fly, the two flirt, and it’s pretty obvious right off the bat that the two are attracted to each other. Trouble is, he’s already engaged and about to marry Erica Long (Gabrielle Union), a shallow, self-centered reality show star.

It’s equally clear that Andre and his high maintenance fiancée are ill-matched, so anybody who’s ever seen a romantic comedy can figure out where this one’s headed. And while the plot does everything to prevent Andre from wising up until the very end, it simultaneously affords the acid-tongued funnyman ample opportunities to point out show business’ shortcomings.

Besides being peppered with plenty of inside jokes and pithy comments about Hollywood, Top Five is memorable for boasting the most star-studded cast of the year. The dramatis personae includes J.B. Smoove, Kevin Hart, Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld, Cedric The Entertainer, Tracy Morgan, Whoopi Goldberg, Charlie Rose, DMX, Jay Pharoah, Taraji P. Henson, Romany Malco, Gabby Sidibe, Luis Guzman, Sherri Shepherd and Ben Vereen.

As you might imagine, many of the celebs are limited to blink and you missed it cameos, though the production does manage to milk a little magic out of each one’s brief moment in the limelight. Nevertheless, make no mistake, this is a Chris Rock vehicle, and the picture is at its best when the irreverent comic is at his cockiest.

A clever, laff-a-minute adventure worth the investment for the hilarity, even if it telegraphs where the love story might be headed.

 

Excellent (3.5 stars)

Running time: 101 minutes

 

 

Annie

Columbia Pictures

Rated PG for mild epithets and rude humor

Present-Day Harlem Provides Setting For Update Of Beloved Cartoon Classic

Little Orphan Annie was a syndicated comic strip created by Harold Gray (1894-1968) which debuted in the New York Daily News on August 5, 1924. The cartoon revolved around the misadventures of an adorable 11-year-old with curly red hair who’d exclaim, “Leapin’ lizards!” whenever she got excited.

The original strip also featured Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, the millionaire who rescued her from an orphanage; Punjab, his loyal manservant; and Sandy, her adopted stray puppy. The popular serial was first brought to the big screen in 1932, and was adapted to the stage in 1977 as a Broadway musical.

Directed by Will Gluck (Easy A), this fifth film version is very loosely based on that Tony-sweeping production. But the story unfolds in the present at a foster home in Harlem instead of during the Depression at an orphanage located in lower Manhattan. And a few names have been changed, but the roles and motivations basically remain the same.

At the point of departure, we find Annie (Quvenzhane Wallis) and her fellow wards of the state caught in the clutches of cruel Colleen Hannigan (Cameron Diaz), an abusive alcoholic with a mean streak who takes delight in exploiting the little girls entrusted to her care. This predicament inspires the mistreated waifs to do what else but sing about how “It’s the Hard Knock Life” for them.

Meanwhile, Annie futilely sits in front of the restaurant where she was abandoned long ago, praying for the return of the parents who’d abandoned her, so the sun’ll come out “Tomorrow.” However, a ray of hope arrives when she crosses paths with mobile phone magnate Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) who soon invites the grimy street urchin to move into his posh penthouse with a panoramic view and state-of-the-art amenities.

But did the billionaire make the generous overture merely for a photo opportunity to improve his image as a mayoral candidate? Will the cute kid be callously kicked back to the curb once the campaign’s over?

The outcome won’t be much of a mystery to the average adult, though it will probably prove compelling enough to keep tykes and maybe even ‘tweens glued to the edges of their seats for the full two hours. As for the lead performance, Quvenzhane Wallis is quite endearing as the latest incarnation of Annie, right from the opening scene where she ostensibly takes the proverbial baton from a freckle-faced redhead (Taylor Richardson) resembling all the other actresses who’ve previously played the part.

Still, the film has a glaring Achilles heel, a mediocre soundtrack. Jamie Foxx has the best singing voice here, by far. The rest of the cast members give it their all, but simply fail to deliver any show-stopping renditions of either the familiar or new tunes.

A 21st century variation on the age-old theme where an insufferable 1%-er finally gets in touch with his sensitive side with the help of an irresistible ragamuffin representing the downtrodden rest of humanity.

 

Good (2 stars)

Running time: 118 minutes

 

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules:

For movies opening December 26, 2014

 

American Sniper (R for graphic violence, sexual references and pervasive profanity) Clint Eastwood directed this adaptation of the best-selling memoir by Navy Seal Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), the most successful sniper in the history of the U.S. military. With Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes and Jake McDorman.

 

Big Eyes (PG-13 for mature themes and brief profanity) Revisionist history biopic correcting the record about Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), the painter whose husband (Christoph Waltz) became one of the most celebrated artists of the ’50s and ’60s by passing off her work as his own. Co-starring Krysten Ritter, Danny Huston and Jason Schwartzman. (In English, French and Italian with subtitles)

 

The Gambler (R for sexuality, nudity and pervasive profanity) Mark Wahlberg stars in the title role of this remake of the 1974 thriller as a college professor whose gambling habit lands him in trouble with loan sharks (John Goodman and Michael Kenneth Williams) and the casino owner (Alvin Ing) who’d extended him a quarter-million dollar line of credit. With Brie Larson, George Kennedy and Jessica Lange.

 

Into The Woods (PG for action, peril, suggestive material and mature themes) Disney family fantasy interweaving the plotlines of several Grimm Brothers fairytales, including Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Maury) and Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) And The Beanstalk. Ensemble includes Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Johnny Depp, Chris Pine and Tracey Ullman.

 

Selma (PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, and brief profanity) Civil Rights Era saga, directed by Ava DuVernay, chronicling the historic march led by Dr. Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo) credited with pressuring Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965. With Carmen Ejogo, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Tom Wilkinson, Tim Roth, Martin Sheen, Giovanni Ribisi, Common and Oprah.

 

Unbroken (PG-13 for brief profanity and intense brutality) Angelina Jolie directs this adaptation of the Lauren Hillenbrand best-seller of the same name recounting Olympic athlete-turned-WWII hero Louie Zamperini’s (Jack O’Connell) harrowing internment in a Japanese POW camp after his plane was shot down over the Pacific during a rescue mission. With Takamasa Ishihara, Garrett Hedlund, Finn Wittrock and Jai Courtney.

 

Barbecue (Unrated) French farce revolving around a trim and fit, diet-conscious health nut (Lambert Wilson) who decides to throw caution to the wind after suffering a heart attack on his 50th birthday. Supporting cast includes Franck Dubosc, Florence Foresti and Sophie Duez. (In French with subtitles)

 

Beloved Sisters (Unrated) Incestuous romance drama about a couple of aristocratic siblings (Hannah Herzsprung and Henriette Confurius) who opt to share when they both fall in love with the poet, philosopher and playwright Friedrich Schiller (Florian Stetter). With Claudia Messner, Ronald Zehrfeld and Maja Maranow. (In German and French with subtitles)

 

Leviathan (R for profanity, sexuality and nudity) Legal drama about a humble family man (Aleksey Serebryakov) who retains the services of an attorney (Vladimir Vdovichenkov) to prevent his seaside home with a view from being seized for a pittance by eminent domain by a corrupt mayor (Roman Madyanov). Support cast includes Elena Lyadova, Anna Ukolova and Sergey Pokhodaev. (In Russian with subtitles)

 

Tale Of The Grim Sleeper (Unrated) Keystone Cops documentary revisiting the badly-bungled investigation of the case of Lonnie Franklin, Jr., aka The Grim Sleeper, a serial killer whose reign of terror around South Central L.A. claimed at least 10 lives over a quarter-century.

 

Two Days, One Night (PG-13 with mature themes) Slice-of-life drama about a woman (Marion Cotillard) recovering from a nervous breakdown who has to spend a weekend trying to convince her factory co-workers to reverse their vote to have her fired in return for a big bonus. With Fabrizio Rongione, Catherine Salee and Pili Groyne. (In French and Arabic with subtitles)

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