Poignantly written and artfully directed by Chris Rock, “Top Five” never misses a beat from beginning to end. Sure, it is frequently profanely funny, but it puts Hollywood’s rich and famous lifestyle under a microscope with dazzling consequences.
As an outline, Rock plays Andre Allen, a celebrity who gained fame from a series of idiotic films where he played “Hammy the Bear.” Parts of those films are shown, and they have all the allure of “Hangover III” and “Horrible Bosses 2.”
In any event, Andre is trying to re-establish his career as a serious actor, this time promoting his starring role in a film about the Haitian slave revolution. On top of that, his upcoming marriage in L.A. to a reality TV star (Gabrielle Union) is being stoked by her to the point that it resembles the marriage of Kanye West to one of those Kardashian sisters.
As Andre wrestles with his past, the movie takes off with the appearance of Rosario Dawson playing New York Times reporter Chelsea Brown, who wants to do a lengthy interview with him. Their spirited relationship involves mocking each other, and it provides one of the highlights of the 2014 movie season.
Dawson is a captivating actress as displayed in both “Sin City” films (2005 and 2014); “Cesar Chavez” (2014); “Trance” (2013); and the unforgettable “Death Proof” (2007). Here, she is perfect as a single mother whose boyfriend is hiding some unfortunate sexual secrets, and she simply wants Andre to be truthful in her interview. Truth is not Andre’s strong suit.
The film’s swipes at Hollywood also include a debate over whether Tupac would be appearing in Tyler Perry movies if he was alive today. Let’s just say that it is doubtful that Perry will be fond of this film.
Ironically, Rock’s attempt to escape his past in “Top Five” resembles Michael Keaton’s similar struggle in “Birdman.” While it was clear that Keaton’s role reflected much of his actual life in Hollywood, the same applies to Rock when you think of his willingness to appear in such miserable films as “Death at a Funeral” (2010) and the lamentable “Grown Ups” films (2010 and 2013).
Several actors make some hysterical contributions to this film, including Kevin Hart, Tracy Morgan and Cedric the Entertainer. All of them are a scream, and you are likely to be laughing as hard as those around you. Also, watch for the appearance of several actors playing themselves, such as Jerry Seinfeld, Whoopi Goldberg and Adam Sandler. Sandler even allows himself to be skewered when his proposed seat at Andre’s upcoming wedding is moved behind other more prominent stars.
This is not a movie you should miss. Without giving the conclusion away, it centers on Brown’s attraction to the story of Cinderella and a fate dictated by leaving behind a slipper as she flees. It is a moment that will cause you to love both of our stars.
“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”
Director Peter Jackson brings to the screen everything that I love about the movies. There simply has never been a better series than his “Lord of the Rings” films (2001-2003), and “The Hobbit” prequels rank a close second.
In the “Hobbit” finale, you go in knowing that it is going to be one constant battle for survival. The film begins with the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) torching a small town and its inhabitants. It is quickly followed by powerful scenes where dwarves, humans and elves have to decide whether they are friends or foes.
The legendary Ian McKellen recreates his role as the wizard Gandalf. While he doesn’t dominate as in the other films, it really doesn’t matter given the performances of numerous others.
Richard Armitage takes center stage as Thorin, the leader of the dwarves. Tragically, he dances on the edge of a madness known as the Dragon’s Curse when he takes control of Smaug’s castle and the huge amount of gold inside. You embrace Martin Freeman as he plays Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit holding several secrets, one pertaining to the special ring that played such a big role in the original “Rings” trilogy.
Additionally, Orlando Bloom recreates Legolas, the elf who is exceeded by no one with a bow and arrow. Joining him again is Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel, a beautiful elf emulating Legolas’ archery skills while also wrestling with her forbidden love of the dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner). Luke Evans is also unforgettable as Bard, the human with a small family who duels with Smaug. Not to be overlooked are the brief appearances of Cate Blanchett (Galadriel), Hugo Weaving (Elrond) and Christopher Lee (Saruman) in roles you will recognize from the “Lord of the Rings” series. And any orc fighting them is overwhelmingly likely to be a dead orc.
Interestingly, the film would never work without the performances of Manu Bennett, as the orc villain Azog, and John Tui, his wicked first lieutenant. It is a breath of fresh air to have a film pay this much attention to villains lacking any moral code or compassion of any kind.
However, it is the ending of both of these film series that seemingly reached out and wrapped its arms around many viewers. Years ago, I cried unashamedly when Frodo had to tell Samwise Gamgee goodbye as his contamination from the ring forced him to join Gandalf and journey by boat to a mystical kingdom. Here, Tauriel and Bilbo suffer losses that leave them both in uncontrollable despair.
So let me say a tearful goodbye to the “Hobbit” series. It may be gone, but never forgotten in my aging heart.•
Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis. When he is not in the courtroom or working diligently in his Pennsylvania Street office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.