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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: Stephen Sapienza

Top Five (2014)

Man, sometimes I wish that more people other than my mom thought I was funny.

Mega-superstar Andre Allen (Chris Rock) has a lot going on in his life right now. For one thing, he’s got a new movie coming out that may, or may not, signal his change from being in/apart of “comedies”, and doing more dramatic, emotional pieces that show him in a serious-manner. He’s also supposed to be getting married to his rich and famous fiancee, Erica (Gabrielle Union), even though some of it seems like it’s all being made up for the reality show they have on Bravo. And, to make matters slightly a bit worse, Andre’s now got to promote his new movie in this one weekend, where he’s going to be interviewed and accompanied by New York Times writer Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson). Though the two don’t get along at first, they eventually start to hit it off where they learn more and more about one another, and eventually, try to help each other with their own respective careers. Even if both of them feel like they don’t need much help to begin with, whether they realize it or not.

If Charlie Rose thinks you're funny, then hell, you must be!

If Charlie Rose thinks you’re funny, then hell, you must be!

I’ve said this once and I’ll say it again for any of you out there keeping score at home: Chris Rock is by far one of the funniest comedians we have working today. Sure, the man has had his flops and has definitely gotten a bit too comfy and cozy with the likes of Adam Sandler as of late, but for the most part, when Rock brings his A-game, the laughs just never end. Take for instance, his relatively recent SNL hosting gig where, during his opening monologue, he went on and on about such controversial topics as 9/11, the Boston Marathon,the Freedom Tower, and guns. While some cried foul and felt as if it was in poor taste from SNL to let somebody like Rock not just go on about this, but to do so with his own writing.

For me though, it was a hilarious monologue that yeah, may have definitely been a tad bit uncomfortable to sit through at times, but that’s sometimes where the best bits of comedy comes from. If somebody says something you’ve been thinking your whole life, but had never mustered up the courage to actually get out and say yourself, it’s automatically hilarious. Not because what the person said is actually funny, but because they’re bringing out something within you that you’ve been keeping bottled-up inside for so very, very long, and it was about time that it got out there for the whole world to see.

However, that was nearly a month ago and now, we have Rock’s new movie, Top Five, which, once again, proves my point to the rest of the world out there: Chris Rock is one of the funniest comedians working today.

And because this is Rock’s baby right here (he wrote, directed, starred, and made love to this movie), this is a huge aspect in judging how much one person can enjoy this movie. Because while, on paper, it seems like what Rock is doing is trying to make bygones for all of the silly decisions he’s made over his storied-career, it’s more of a piece that shows us why he still deserves to be taken in by the current mainstream audience and not just forgotten about. Rock wants us to remember the simple fact that he’s still got the funny in him, and he spends nearly the whole movie showing us this.

Thankfully, too, it all works. Without ever seeming desperate or as if he doesn’t have his own laugh-track, Rock allows his Andre Allen character to be a perfect example of what Rock does best; the guy riffs on everything around him, and seems to never ever take anything around him seriously. However, he still wants to be taken seriously – not just as an actor, but as a person. While this could have definitely been another one of those “oh great, here we go” moments we normally see in these kinds of movies, Rock steers clear of this and actually seems genuine when he’s being dramatic. He doesn’t try too hard, but more or less, allows himself to just be seen by the audience, picked apart as much as they choose to do so, and looked at in a different light. This doesn’t mean that Rock spends the whole movie just moping around, begging people to love him like it was New Jack City all over again, but he’s more or less utilizing some of those dramatic-skills of his that may have been there his whole life, and we’re just finding out about now.

But I don’t want to make it seem like Rock makes it all about him, his specialties, or even what he wants to get across, because this here movie is a joint-effort and it’s nice to see Rock sit aside and let the rest of his star-studded cast just take matters into their own hands and see what magic can happen. It’s a sign that not only is Rock a lenient director, but that he’s also a nice guy who is willing to let his fellow friends and confidantes take over his show. Even if it is for only slightly a bit.

Rosario Dawson gets the biggest role out of the whole supporting cast and does a great job as Chelsea Brown – the kind of journalist that makes some people, such as myself, who are in that line of profession a bit sick, but is still charming enough, that it’s okay to get past many of the unethical journalistic moves she makes throughout. What’s so interesting about the way in how Brown is written, is that, on paper, she seems conventional; she’s the simple, easygoing gal that’s going to save the big time Hollywood actor from all of the spotlight, glitz and glamour. But while she may seem like this, at first, Dawson builds her to be something of a genuine character with hopes, feelings, and emotions that wants nearly as more from life as Andre does. The movie never tries to look down upon her, or even the sort of effect she’s having on Andre, as much as it just looks at them two together, smiles, and lets them do their thing.

The perfect Hollywood romance. Somewhere, I know there lies a sex tape.

The perfect Hollywood romance. Somewhere, I know there lies a sex tape.

Which already means that yes, Dawson and Rock are great together and seem like they’re actually good pals off the screen. Whatever the inspiration may have been behind Dawson’s casting for Rock is definitely interesting, because she fits into this role perfectly and it becomes abundantly clear whenever the two are walking around the streets of New York City, talking about life, romance, kids, sex, parties, and yes, their top five favorite rappers. But, like I said before, it isn’t just Dawson and Rock’s show, as they’re more than willing to share the spotlight and let the rest of the cast do their thing, shine a little bit, and continue to allow the movie to move on as it so pleases to do so.

J.B. Smoove plays Rock’s bodyguard/assistant and is great in a role that has him being the guy who hits on every woman he sees, in the most casual, innocent way possible; Gabrielle Union plays a character that seems very shallow and one-dimensional at the beginning, but actually has one scene where we see her for the person she truly is and it’s not only a surprisingly effective dramatic scene here, but puts her whole character into perspective and allows us, the audience, to gain just a smidgen of sympathy for her; Cedric the Entertainer also shows up here and reminds everybody that he’s still funny, especially now that he’s away from that strange Who Wants to be a Millionaire? gig; current SNL cast-members, Leslie Jones, Michael Che and Jay Pharoah all make it clear why they should get better material to work with every time we turn on the tube to see them; and last, but certainly not least, Tracy Morgan’s here in a very comedic-role that shows him being the big, lovable goof that he was, making it all the more of a travesty that we may never get to see him acting like this again.

But while I may have only touched upon a few or so people here from this cast, I can assure you, there’s plenty more where these ones came from (especially an amazing cameo from a personal hero of mine). Which is hard for me to not go into further detail about, because everybody who shows up here is, in one way, shape or form, funny. Some of it seems like they’re funny because of what Rock has wrote for them to be funny with, but some of it also seems like they’re all just riffing with reckless abandon. While this would seem pretentious and almost too self-important to be considered “entertainment”; it’s not only just that, but assures us that Rock, along with his very funny friends, are here to stay.

Thank heavens.

Consensus: As ambitious as it is thought-provoking, Top Five finds Chris Rock not just back in his comfort-zone as a comedian, but as a guy who is willing to remind people of the very hilarious talents that are out there, just waiting to be discovered, or at least found again.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

Subway romance: So cute, but please, shut up so that I can rock out to my RATM before work.

Subway romance: Cute and all, but please, shut up so that I can rock out to my RATM before work.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

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A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014)

Stay away from graveyards, people. They’re creepy enough as is.

Former NYC cop Matthew Scudder (Liam Neeson) used to be a total alcoholic. He’d wake up, go to his local bar, have a coffee, and then down two shots of liquor. However, one fateful day, that all changes and eight years later, he’s regularly attending AA meetings, living alone, eating at diners, and also turning in some work as a non-official private eye. One night he gets an offer and decides to seek it out: Find a group of serial killers that are kidnapping rich drug-dealer’s wives/loved-ones, ransoming money off of them, and yet, still taking the liberty of hacking these women up to little pieces. To them, it’s all fun and games, so when an actual drug-dealer (Dan Stevens) calls on Scudder to do this job for him, he doesn’t back away from it. After all, getting rid of a few serial killers in this world is a job well done, no matter how you do it. But Scudder eventually realizes that this job is going to be a bit more difficult and nerve-wracking than he would have liked, which is why he, whether he likes it or not, gets some assistance from a local homeless kid by the name of TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley).

And yet again, here we are, people, another “Liam Neeson kicks ass” kind of movie where he, yes, is a certain man, with a certain level of skills, takes it upon himself to go about utilizing those skills, shows that he’s a nice guy underneath the sometimes questionable-decisions he makes and, well, of course, tells the villains to, for lack of a better term, “fuck off”. Yes, these are the kinds of movies we can all expect from Liam Neeson right about now and while some can say that they’re bored by this and want him to go back to making Oscar-caliber films with the likes of Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen, or Martin Scorsese, the fact is, nope, Liam ain’t too bothered with any of them.

Is this cat trying to interrogate Liam? What? Is he freakin' nuts?!?!

Is this cat trying to interrogate Liam? What? Is he freakin’ nuts?!?!

He is, as they say in the biz, striking while the iron is hot and rather than trying something daring to make sure his “arthouse”-ish crowd is pleased with him, Liam is just going to stay and continue to make these typical, run-of-the-mill action-thrillers where he, yes, kicks plenty of ass.

However, that’s not to say any of them are bad and because most of them aren’t, I’m quite happy for Neeson. He’s the type of actor who, with his tall-frame and soft, yet still intimidating Scottish-accent, deserves many movies to be made where he’s, typically, the center of attention. Which is why he seems to be a perfect choice for Matthew Scudder; the type of troubled, somewhat crooked-cop that isn’t the nicest, nor the most moral of guys, but wants to see that he gets the job done, in the most efficient way possible. Meaning, that he wants to ensure no innocent people are killed while he is completing his various shady tasks.

But Scudder isn’t just a well-written character in the way that he’s well-rounded, he’s funny and shows a charming side to his sometimes grim personality that we know Neeson is capable of high-lighting every so often. To say that Neeson is great here, would almost be too obvious for me to even state, but here I am, stating that Neeson is great here and practically carries the movie on his own two, long, lanky shoulders.

That said, the rest of the movie isn’t all that bad, because while Neeson helps it get through some rough patches (whenever the serial-killers pop-up, they’re pretty conventional and spend most of their scenes just being strange, in almost too-serious way to be not kidding), it’s writer/director Scott Frank who really makes this movie work. Something about this flick’s tone, the way it’s so hush-hush most of the time and how it doesn’t seem to glorify it’s over-the-top, grisly violence, yet still shows it in a derogatory light that he makes it seem like more than just “movie violence”, is what really made me think that Frank should make more movies. The dude’s already written my favorite Steven Soderbergh movie (Out of Sight) and actually had a pretty stellar directorial-debut of his own not too long ago (the Lookout), so why wait any longer, Scott? Let’s keep this a train a-goin’, man!

Anyway, like I was saying, Frank’s direction here is really genius and it brings a smile to my face knowing that there are certain film makers out there who still care about giving us genuinely tense, sometimes unpredictable thrillers. Thrillers that, mind you, don’t necessarily rely on how many times a gun is shot, or even how many bones are broken in a particular brawl – much rather, thrillers that take time to not only build the story it is trying to tell, but also give us some context in how we’re supposed to think of these characters as. Not all of these characters are great people here (most of them, drug dealers), but the movie doesn’t simply judge them on who they are, much more than on what it is that they do.

"I'm used to saving Jews and/or family members of mine, but I guess you'll do."

“I’m used to saving Jews and/or family members of mine, but I guess you’ll do.”

For instance, take the character of TJ who, in a lesser-movie, would have been the stereotypical smart-aleck-y, rather adorable kid that Liam Neeson’s character not only stumbles upon by pure chance, but even takes under his wing and make his new sidekick. Add on the fact that TJ is in fact black, and you’ve got yourself a walking, talking, breathing cliché just waiting to ruin your goddamn movie, not to mention your time! But somehow, TJ, nor anything surrounding him, seems to be written that way; he’s a simple orphan kid that is a bit punk-ish, but is still curious enough about how this world Scudder surrounds himself with, not just works, but how he can be apart of it without getting him, or anybody else killed. Not to mention the fact that this young guy, Brian “Astro Bradley, is very good in the role, making you feel sorry that he’s sort of left all by his lonesome, but also happy that he may, or may not, have a future hangin’ around this tall, New Yorker, with an Irish-accent.

I know I’m getting into this a bit more than I maybe should, but there was just a feeling I got with this movie that I haven’t gotten with a thriller in quite some time. Okay, that’s actually a lie, because a little bit of time ago, when I saw the Drop, I felt sort of the same way: A crime-thriller that takes its time to build momentum, as well as character-development. While those movies seem sort of neck-and-neck in my eyes, they’re both clear-as-day examples of what can happen when you take a simple story revolving around thugs, doing thuggish-like things, and make it as detailed as humanly possible, without ever overly-boring the audience, nor giving them enough to where they can expect everything to happen as clearly as they may have predicted it as being straight from seeing the advertisements for it.

So, once again I say this: Scott Frank, continue to make movies. You’ll make me a very happy man and most of all, a very happy movie-goer.

Consensus: With extra-attention paid to the look, feel, and characters that inhabit its slightly unnerving story, A Walk Among the Tombstones is, yet again, another winner for Liam Neeson and his seemingly unfazed streak right now, except a lot smarter and wiser this time around.

8 / 10 = Matinee!! 

"Great. Gotta fuck more shit up today, I see."

“Great. Gotta fuck more shit up today, I see.”

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images