Tag Archives: Chris Rock

Marching Orders


by Hope Madden and George Wolf

In 2020, filmmaker George C. Wolfe used theatrical set design combined with snappy, rhythmic editing to contextualize the mournful, defiant music of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Wolfe’s style remains much the same for his biopic of trailblazing civil rights activist Bayard Rustin. And once again, the drama sings.

That’s much thanks to a soaring performance by Colman Domingo. A character actor known for decades of memorable performances, Domingo takes the lead in Rustin and owns the film from frame one. Vulnerability and resolve pass across Domingo’s face in a performance the should absolutely be remembered this coming award season.

He’s not alone. Support work from Audra McDonald, CCH Pounder, Glynn Turman, Aml Ameen and a scorching cameo from Jeffrey Wright bring enough acting mastery to make Chris Rock’s turn seem a bit out of out of place.

Rustin was a key figure in the 1963 March on Washington, battling racism and homophobia as he mobilized scores of volunteers, advocacy groups and sometimes competing interests.

Ands Wolfe, working from a script by Julian Breece (When They See Us) and Dustin Lance Black (Milk, When We Rise), keeps his film grounded in the political realities that not only mark American history but American present. Fueled by an electric performance, Wolfe’s production saturates that history with undeniable life and passion.

The film consistently moves with the energy and staging of a musical. It’s an approach that should help hold sustained interest for home streaming, but one that results in a broad-brushed, sometimes hurried feel to the important matters at hand.

But Rustin should invite further study about a man who deserves it. And while doing so, it reminds us that the fight for equality doesn’t end until it includes all of us, and that every victory depends on the day-to-day groundwork of warriors we may never get to know.

Plus, Colman Domingo. Get to know him.

Or Did the Case Solve Us?


by Hope Madden

It’s been five years since we’ve had a new episode in the Saw series.

I know! You thought it was longer, right? That’s because the last iteration, 2017’s Jigsaw, was so lackluster and forgettable that you forgot it.

Well, what if they go in a new direction? (Not really, but at least there are name actors.)

What if they bring in filmmakers from the series heyday? Not James Wan and Leigh Whannell. I mean, they have bigger fish to fry. But Darren Lynn Bousman, the guy who directed Saws 2, 3 & 4, is on board. Along with the scribes who penned Jigsaw, Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger.

To summarize, the guys who wrote the worst episode in the Saw franchise have returned with a middling director to take a borderline novel direction for the 9th chapter.

But Chris Rock!

He’s not enough. Neither is Samuel L. Jackson.

We open, as we must, on the first victim. We wander with him into what he doesn’t realize—although we surely do, unless you are very new to this franchise—is a trap, and one that will not end well.

So far so good, to be honest. If this is the kind of horror you enjoy and you aren’t sick beyond words of it just yet, the opening gag is serviceable.

Then we cut to Det. Zeke Banks (Rock), undercover and getting off a couple funny lines concerning the Forrest Gump universe. Nice. But don’t get comfortable because within minutes we’re dropped into Zeke’s precinct, where the coppiest of all the cops vie for most obviously borrowed cop cliché.

Undercover without backup?! You’re off the rails!

Do not team me with a rookie. You know I work alone!

You’re too close!

And so many more sentences articulated with need of an exclamation point. Zeke is, indeed, teamed with a rookie (Max Minghella), the only cop in the precinct who doesn’t hate him for what he did years ago…

Sam Jackson’s kind of fun, though. And it’s hard not to hope that the excruciating opening act exposition and cop grandstanding is all a way to quickly build the world in which these cleverly planned, torturous games are played.

It is not. It is the whole movie. And it isn’t clever, it isn’t fun, it isn’t gory, it isn’t scary.

It isn’t necessary.

Rocky Top

Top Five

by George Wolf

Just a few minutes of Chris Rock’s standup act will tell you he’s one of the funniest people alive. Read one of his interviews and you’ll see he’s also smart and thoughtful. His work on the big screen has delivered uneven results, but with Top Five, his talent and his vision are finally in perfect sync.

It’s Rock’s third feature as writer/director/star, and he finds gold in the old adage “write what you know.”

Stand-up veteran Andre Allen (Rock) has left the clubs behind for success in Hollywood, thanks mainly to the “Hammy the Bear” franchise where he stars as a wisecracking, crime-fighting Grizzly (catch phrase: “it’s Hammy time!”) But Andre has come to a crossroads, in both work and life.

He wants to be taken seriously as an artist, but his new film about a Haitian slave uprising is having trouble finding an audience. Meanwhile, he’s engaged to a reality TV star (Gabrielle Union) who feels anything out of camera range doesn’t matter.

So Andre is in no mood for an interview with the New York Times, a paper that has a long history of trashing his work. Ambitious reporter Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) softens his stance, and their interaction grounds an insightful look into what’s on Chris Rock’s mind.

It’s a lot: celebrity culture, race relations, sobriety, fame, love, sex, even Angry Birds are in Rock’s crosshairs, as he riffs from one topic to the next and back, not unlike a tightly packed monologue. Rock shows much growth as a director, and his confident, often out-of-sequence approach not only keeps the pace feeling brisk, but it makes sure the cheesy sequences (and there are a couple) don’t get the time to take root.

Chris Rock the actor still suffers some unsteady moments but has never been more appealing. Dawson helps. She has the talent to lead without upstaging, and they create a comfortably sweet rapport.

Even before Adam Sandler show up as himself, you’re reminded that this might be what he and Judd Apatow wanted Funny People to be, until that film dissolved into a self-indulgent overreach.

Top Five is obviously a very personal statement, but it’s also got the heart, and the smarts, to become universal.

Funny and entertaining? That doesn’t hurt, either.