Top Five (USA: 2014): Chris Rock in his Zone

“Top Five” is Chris Rock’s third pass in the director’s chair and first attempt at a more serious movie. It is a comedy, but relatively low key one for Saturday Night Live alums. It tells intertwined stories, both of which are well-worn. One is a straightforward romantic comedy about man having second thoughts about a pending wedding after meeting a much better match. The second is of an actor, Dre Allen (Rock), whose star is starting to fade a little, who is trying to stretch his career in a new direction, framed as an interview with a reporter. That the reporter (Rosario Dawson) happens to be the new potential love interest for Dre makes for a rather choppy narrative, but nonetheless one with many comedic highlights.

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Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (China: 2013): Demon Hunter Hustle

Stephen Chow returns to the director’s chair for the first time in seven years to create a prequel to the oft-filmed and always beloved Chinese classic novel, Journey to the West. Chow is probably best known outside of the China-zone for Kung Fu Hustle (2004) and Sholin Soccer (2001), but he has had a long career portraying comedic heroes. After Kung Fu Hustle, he surprisingly went relatively quiet, with only 2008’s CJ7 on the docket as a starring vehicle. I was pleased to find out that he was back, although he doesn’t make an appearance in the film. Last years Journey to the West is apparently the all time box office record holder for a Chinese language film, and I probably would have sought out the movie because of that. However, Kung Fu Hustle established Chow as a comedic director worth watching and I was curious to see if he would showcase those skills again and if he’d spent that time off extending himself.

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National Gallery (USA: 2014): Wiseman’s profile of an art institution

It has always been difficult to locate the audience for Frederick Wiseman’s documentaries. They are institutional profiles that capture moments of activity. There isn’t a call to action or requests for engagement. Any emotional connection that the viewer walks away with are his or her own. There is structure and maybe a narrative without much in the way of a climax in his documentaries. In the case of National Gallery, that narrative isn’t immediately apparent. It is a movie for the patient who enjoy learning facts serendipitously.

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REC (Korea: 2011): The night belonged to them

Rating:

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The trailer I found actually isn’t very helpful to understanding REC, Joon-moon So’s 2011 short film about two men on their fifth anniversary. Young-joon (Sam-dong Song) and Joon-seok (Hye-hun Jo) have rented a hotel room and in their own little world, make a video recording of their night. They joke that in gay-relationship years, one year equals ten years of heterosexual marriage, so in a sense, they have outlasted most marriages. In the first half of the movie, they are happy, a little too playful, even. Beyond a record of their sexual encounter, they interview each other about their feelings. Joon-seok’s disappointment with his partner is that he never gives in for choices of restaurants and movies, a fairly common complaint for all couples. His biggest fear however comes from the fact that even after five years, Young-joon still believes that this relationship is only temporary. That offhand joke about gay relationship equivalent years isn’t actually so funny in that context.

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