This week, Cineast offers previews of Chris Rock’s Top Five and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice.
At last we get to see the reason behind Chris Rock suddenly being all over the media. Glowing profiles in The New Yorker and New York have allowed Rock to attempt to recast himself as a serious actor (and filmmaker and producer), but as Rock himself has pointed out, it won’t mean much if people don’t go for his new film. Top Five, which Rock himself wrote and directed, heads down a fairly risky path in that respect, based as it partially is on the film Stardust Memories, the semi-serious 1980 film by Rock’s comedy hero Woody Allen. Allen’s Stardust Memories, while fairly well received by critics, did not endear itself to broad audiences expecting something along the lines of Annie Hall or Manhattan. Like Stardust Memories, Rock’s Top Five is about a comedian (named Andre Allen in tribute to Woody) who seems to have left comedy behind. “I don’t feel funny,” he says by way of explanation, which is a line straight out of the Allen film. Unlike Allen’s film, though, Rock’s film is reportedly hilarious, and it features a cast brimming with multiple generations of African-American comedians—Tracy Morgan, Cedric the Entertainer, Kevin Hart and Whoopi Goldberg to name a few. Top Five premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, and was greeted with such enthusiasm that a bidding war broke out over who would get distribution rights. Maybe Rock is ready for his next act.
Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights) takes on Thomas Pynchon in Inherent Vice. The film is like a reimagining of film noir, with the sleazy characters and the inexorable progress toward woe and doom, but here transplanted to the late ’60s and taking on the sickly colors of a bad LSD trip. Anderson’s films often seem like kinder, gentler forays into Quentin Tarantino territory, and it seems pretty clear that Anderson’s entrée into the world of feature filmmaking was prepared by the earlier successful genre-film pastiches of Tarantino. In Boogie Nights, Anderson portrayed the sleazy, drug-addled world of the ’70s porn film industry as teeming with caricatures—Mark Wahlberg, for example, played a kind of cartoon character porn star, larger than life in more ways than one—in a way that was fun and somehow also reverential. His reverence was not only for the era he was depicting, but also for the Hollywood films of that era and, indeed, for the classic long-form porn films of the ’70s. In Inherent Vice, Anderson gets to pull off the trick of saluting the muted shadings of film noir while also referencing the wild styles of the late ’60s. You’ll come for the story, but you’ll stay for the sideburns.