Have a read of this SPOILER-FULL article: Cameron Monaghan On The Joker
SPOILERS AFTER BREAK
Sadly, not linked to anything Agatha, a personality test. This is what I just got:
I a little surprised by how how I scored in extraversion; I am a musician and I am very social but I know plenty of drama students who make me look like a trembling wallflower.
And I thought I’d score higher on neuroticism.
A lot of my personality is classic kid-who-was-bullied. I’m very emotionally manipulative as I’m basically trying not to get beaten up or have stones thrown at me.
If you fancy having a go, the test is here. 😀
I’ve *just* finished watching this (the credits are still rolling) and I want to get my review down while it’s all fresh…
PICO VERSION: good romcom with actual rom and com. See it!
Now, onto the long version.
Chris Rock is Andre Allen, a hugely successful comedian. The trouble is that his success is based upon a character her plays called Hammy The Bear (in full bearsuit). Hammy is huge. Hammy is the guy. Wherever Allen goes, people shout Hammy at him.
But Allen wants to do serious work. He has the lead role in a film just opening which is about the Haitian slave rebellion. He’s doing his best to push the film and thus ends up being interviewed by Chelsea Brown of the NYT (Rosario Dawson).
Through a patchwork of interview questions / answers and flashbacks, we learn more about Allen’s career and recent sobriety. It’s obvious that Andre and Chelsea connect and here there’s a lovely lightness of touch ~ there’s no trembling eyelash moments or hands lightly touching bullshit, this is adult romance where it’s all about the micro-second pause, the feint and the parry of flirtation. It’s all light as a souffle and I welcome any romantic film that so successfully doesn’t make me throw up in my mouth a little. As a couple, Chelsea and Andre are believable and, more crucially, likeable rather than punchable.
So, well done on the rom.
The com part… well, what the fuck. We’re talking about Chris Rock here, one of the funniest human beings on the planet. You could get run over by a lorry, body smooshed across the road, have your intestines wrapped around your face as you scream in agony and Rock could pop a one-liner that would make you giggle like a baby. I am not surprised when Chris Rock makes me laugh.
What is delightful is the ensemble that Rock builds which serves to shore up the character history and also provides the best comedy in the film. The Top Five of the title is what Rock asks everyone: top five rappers. In one of the best scenes, Allen visits his ex and his old set of mates in their flat and there are moments here that you can tell are Rock ad-libbing like fuck and making the other actors lose it. I mean, later in the stand-up part of the film, you see actors acting at laughing: in this front room scene, it’s just people laughing, they aren’t acting. The scripted dialogue is as sharp as fuck and the un-scripted surpasses that. Rock’s badinage with the ever-lugubrious Tracy Morgan is pure joy.
The same kind of scenario is repeated in the later Bachelor Party scene but this time we have Whoopi Goldberg, Jerry Seinfeld and Adam Sandler shooting the shit, all giving the stupidest marriage advice possible. And they’re all, obviously, great, this is no stretch for them. There’s a kind of sweet, cosy warmth to seeing these comedians riff off each other, I suspect they weren’t sweating the acting.
Well, shenanigans take place, as they have to do in romcoms but it’s not the biggest surprise in the world when Chelsea and Andre end up kissing. What is nice is the ambiguity of whether they will get properly together, left until the very last shot of the film. Which is a neat way of avoiding the cheesy romcom ‘LOOK THEY ARE HAPPY AND WILL BE FOREVER, DIVORCE DOESN’T EXIST!’ ending shot.
Pico review done, normal review done… now onto the wanky analysis. Don’t forget, I put the anal in analysis.
Top Five when reviewed was compared to Birdman, Funny People and other highly-meta films. But all those numbnuts are wrong: Top Five is Stardust Memories. And it’s also the kind of Woody Allen film you would get if Spike Lee travelled back to 1983 and directed Allen.
I mean, COME ON, the central character’s last name is Allen! Rock knows exactly what he’s doing. Stardust Memories is a film about a famous comedian tired of doing comedy, wondering what the point of being a comedian is at all. He goes to an out-of-town film festival in his honour (”I love all your films, especially the early, funny ones!”) where he has a slight break with reality and his girlfriend. Throughout, we see flashbacks of his earlier life and we’re also treated to clips of his new SERIOUS FILM which both the studio and the public hate. Sound familiar?
What’s surreal is that a lot of Top Five is Rock and Dawson wandering around New York, just the same as Allen’s characters did in proto-romcom Annie Hall. But this is the New York that Spike Lee famously groused about in regards to it never being depicted in Woody Allen’s work: this is a racially diverse, real New York. I mean, I’ve only been to New York once but I can tell you, based on that, it isn’t a city whose streets are only populated by white, middle-class people.
We’re now in a bizarre AU where Chris Rock is basically playing a young, black Woody Allen in a brundlefly of Stardust Memories and Annie Hall.
And you know what?
I’m fine with that.
Top Five gave me a feel-good glow I haven’t had for a long while. Certainly not while watching a romcom. More commonly, I sit with my sphincters tightened, waiting for the inevitable bathtub of corny ickiness. Damn, it felt good to not hate a couple falling in love! Remember that? That feeling where you’re actually rooting for the couple to get together and go ‘awww’ when they kiss? It’s nice, innit?
On top of that, Rosario Dawson is a peerless actress. I cannot honestly remember her ever phoning it in or, conversely, chewing the scenery. As Chelsea, she creates this deep, strong character that you just want to hug, even when you find out she’s a big, fat liar. I want more Dawson, please. In everything.
Chris Rock is relaxed and loose and good. I’ve seen some reviews saying that he’s not acting in this but that’s patently bullshit: Rock is probably acting for 90% of his waking life. He’s a comedian, for fuck’s sake. I mean, I’m a musician, most musicians live and die unknown in poverty. Below us in terms of shitty jobs comes actor: your work relies on the approval of scores of strangers and you can’t succeed without the press. And the next level below that in terms of shitty job is comedian. You’re like an actor BUT you’re way more needy AND you have to try and make idiots laugh, on demand, whatever you’re feeling.
So, when critics have a go at Rock’s acting, I think they’re missing the point and they’re fools. This film is easier for Rock than stand-up: he gets takes here. If he flubs a line, hey, let’s go again! No problem! Stand-up, you flub a line and the whole crowd may turn on you and slice your skin off with razorblades. Of course Rock turns in an assured, believable performance – he isn’t new to this.
If you usually avoid romcoms, give this one a go. It’s way less forced and frenetic than the genre norm and so it’s a breath of fresh air. It also has the added bonus of being fucking funny.
Oh, and my Top Five:
1. KRS-1 / BDP
2. Public Enemy
3. Tribe Called Quest
4. Ice Cube
And my six is: Masta Ace
I was recording till around 6am last night so I woke late and the first thing I saw on Insta was pics of Bowie. My heart fucking sank as I unplugged my phone from the charger.
You know when you’re trying to will something to not be true?
Then, once I got my laptop out, I saw all the obits and outpourings of grief. Well, I’m no-one famous and I never got to meet Bowie or even see him live but his music means a lot to me. Bowie made a space that was welcoming for the freaks and the geeks. Bowie, much like Wilde, re-defined the different as what was interesting, the deviant as divine.
I medicate myself with music. The way others use drugs and alcohol, I use songs. Bowie was my pusher, that fucker had a song for everything. Feeling down? This ditty Kooks will pick you up! Too manic because you’ve not slept in forty hours? Here’s Sound And Vision, it understands. Stressed the fuck out and want the world to fuck the fuck off? Suffragette City on stupidly loud on your headphones helps.
He was the whole deal. Impossibly good looking in a consumptive-android-from-the-future way, he created worlds that were way more fascinating than sitting in double French for fifty years trying to recall what VAST RED MAP stood for. Here was an escape hatch from everything banal and ordinary and bonecrushingly teenage. Bear in mind, the first Bowie I heard was Ashes To Ashes and then I worked my way back from there: I’m not claiming to be a diehard year zero fan.
I was trying to explain to a friend why I’ve been so upset at Bowie’s death today. I think it’s because Bowie was Bowie: while he was here, I knew there was a musician, an artist, who was always trying, always pushing to be creative. It didn’t matter if I didn’t like it all, that’s actually a sign he’s doing his job well. Every now and then, I’d check on what he’d been up to and it was always some mad shit that I’d go ‘Oh! Okay…’ and then like or dislike. But now he’s not here, who will be doing that?
I never knew him, I’ll miss him.
Today, I’ve been posting up comedians who were stars 30 or 40 or more years before I was born. So far, there’s been The Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton. I expect I’ll get into Laurel and Hardy next.
I saw most of those stars when I was a little kid. BBC2 would stick on their films at peculiar hours and back then there were only three TV channels in Britain so you kind of watched what was on. So, I quickly got into black and white / silent film. The same with subtitles as they’d often lob a Renoir or Cocteau into the mix.
Because of this early exposure, I grew up thinking that all of the 20th century (and some of the late 19th) was local to me, there was no real strangeness or distance. And I grew up thinking of those people from those times as living, breathing people. How can you not when you hear a Groucho one-liner or see Ollie give Stan that look.
The history of film starts in the 1890s. So, I have no favourite film stars from the 1870s. Nor do you. Nor has anyone. I do, however have favourites from every decade of the 20th century and, now, the 21st.
It’s about the same for recorded music, it all kicks off properly in the 1880s, Edison’s phonograph appearing in 1877. With photography, it’s a tad earlier: here’s the earliest surviving photograph:
Enhanced version by the Swiss Helmut Gersheim (1913–1995), performed ca. 1952, of Niépce’s View from the Window at Le Gras,(Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin)View from the Window at Le Gras, the first successful permanent photograph created by Nicéphore Niépce in 1826 or 1827, in Saint-Loup-de-Varennes (Saône-et-Loire, Bourgogne, France). Captured on 20×25 cm oil-treated bitumen. Due to the 8-hour exposure, the buildings are illuminated by the sun from both right and left. (Source)
So, at a push, if you’ve being a wanker, you might say you have a favourite photgrapher from the 1830s and his name is Nicéphore Niépce. But, really, photography as a popular art form didn’t grow until much later.
Okay, let’s be strict here, we’ve got around 125 years of film and recorded music to admire and, at a stretch around 175 years of photography. In 2016, that’s it.
I think it’s possible for the average fan to get a handle on that. If you’re a music fan, it’s pretty easy to chart your way back to the 1930s at least, it’s all out there. There is continuity. The same for film and photography. If you’re an old music geek like me, your life + the history of what you live can pile up so I can list these names:
Prince Paul, Al Bowlly, Crispy Ambulance, Helen Kane, Sandhya Mukherjee, Jimmy The Hoover, Akira Kiteshi.
and they all belong to me. They’re all part of me, whatever decade they come from originally.
But that’s now. What happens when the history of recorded media exceeds what the ordinary human can comprehend in even a simplified timeline sense? Obviously, it’s been like that with books for hundreds of years. At one stage in human history, there must have been a time when a single human could read everything that any human had ever written.
We’re a long way from then.
Imagine yourself a teenager in 3016. You’ve got over a thousand years of music, film, photography, painting, sculpture, videogames, VR, AR and whatever other art forms are yet to be invented to investigate. You’re connected to an information structure that is as far ahead of the web as the web was of the pony express. But even with this fantastic, intelligent agent that is capable of indexing yottabytes of media in an eyeblink… how can one human absorb it all?
Inevitably, this future viewer will start compacting centuries the way we do decades. The ‘90s in pop culture is now just Britpop and lads mags. But it wasn’t. The ‘80s is A Flock Of Seagulls and yuppies. But it wasn’t.
One day, will someone look back at the 21st century and round it all into one lump? I’m pretty sure they’ll take time to unpack the 20th century as it was the first complete century of mass media.
But us? We’re the lucky fuckers! We’re close enough to the start that it’s possible for us to have at least a hazily accurate view over all these art forms.
Get stuck in.
I’m just watching Attenborough’s biopic of Charlie Chaplin. It’s an embarrassment of riches.
The first is, of course, a young, impishly handsome Robert Downey Jr. As Chaplin. Now, if you’ve only seen RDJ in his more recent roles, it’s not like he’s got any worse as an actor; he’s tremendously assured and mature. Possibly only one of a handful of actors who could justly be labelled a “star.”
But this is Downey at 27, this is a young, mercurial Downey in the role that got him and Oscars nom for Best Actor.
He is beautiful as Chaplin. And, yes, it’s silly and illogical but part of why I find him so compelling is that I know Downey the man was as complex and often hounded as Chaplin the man. In Downey’s case it was the tabloid media hounding him for his drug abuse and the actuality of said drug abuse and how it derailed his career. With Chaplin, you have his traumatising childhood of workhouses and extreme poverty, followed by huge success and then being made a target of the FBI and repeatedly smeared and vilified as part of their campaign.
Around Downey, Attenborough has assembled a wonderful supporting cast including Chaplin’s actual daughter, Geraldine, playing her own grandmother. Dan Ackroyd is a perfect fit as Mack Sennet and look at that suave young cameraman / editor… it’s David Duchovny, a year before The X-Files.
Special mention for a baby-faced Paul Rhys who you might recognise as Vlad from Da Vinci’s Demons or Ivan from Being Human. He plays Charlie’s older bro, Sydney and is perfect. Makes me want to see both of them acting in something now.
If you haven’t seen it, check out Chaplin. And if you have but it’s been a while, give it a re-visit. You won’t regret it!