Ed (1996)

Starring Matt LeBlanc, Jack Warden, Jayne Brook, Bill Cobbs, Jim Caviezel, Valente Rodriguez

Directed by Bill Couturié

Expectations: Low.

On the general scale:
twostar

On the B-movie scale:
twohalfstar


It’s that time of year when the sluggers and the slingers come out of the dugout to play the great game of baseball. But Ed isn’t so much a celebration of this time of year, instead it pays homage more so to the time-honored traditions of fart jokes and slapstick humor. Not that it does either of those especially well, although I will confess that I chuckled rather heartily when Ed farted so boisterously that he literally launched himself off the couch a good six or so inches. What can I say? The kid inside me lives on.

You might wonder why out of all the many baseball movies under the sun I chose this one. I could go on for a little while explaining the minutia of why, but I’ll cut to the chase: it has a monkey. Going in, I thought it was a real monkey, but I was pleasantly surprised to find out it was a guy in a suit/animatronics. Y’see, a totally fake monkey in the role of Ed allows the filmmakers greater freedom to create wild monkey hijinks on-screen. To be honest, they could’ve done a lot better in this regard, but I can’t deny that the film was entertaining enough and the monkey provided a few good laughs (most notably when he drives a drunk Matt LeBlanc home, all captured in near-psychedelic fast motion as the chimp goes wild in the driver’s seat).

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Demolition Man (1993)

demolitionman_3Starring Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Sandra Bullock, Nigel Hawthorne, Benjamin Bratt, Bob Gunton, Glenn Shadix, Denis Leary, Bill Cobbs, Grand L. Bush, Pat Skipper, Steve Kahan, Paul Bollen

Directed by Marco Brambilla

Expectations: Very high. I used to love this one.

threestar


Demolition Man is a movie without much middle ground. You’ll either come down on the side of the supporters or you’ll be left scratchin’ your head as to why anyone would enjoy it. In many ways, this is exactly the type of movie that should never be reviewed. It’s not one that stands up to harsh criticism, nor is it one that you could really sway anyone’s opinion on by pointing out specific scenes or intricacies the other person may have missed. This isn’t Bergman, it’s simply an action movie you either enjoy or you don’t.

The film opens in the war-torn streets of the future Los Angeles of 1996. Shit has most definitely gotten real, and mastermind sadistic criminal Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) has kidnapped a bus full of civilians and hidden them somewhere in the city. That’s exactly the kind of stuff that will not stand in an action movie, so in drops John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone) from a helicopter overhead. He’s a no-nonsense cop nicknamed the Demolition Man, and he’s ready to kick some serious ass. But when Phoenix outsmarts him, they both wind up in cryo prison while the world moves on from violence and abhorrent behavior.

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Oz: The Great and Powerful (2013)

ozgreatandpowerfulStarring James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Bill Cobbs, Joey King, Tony Cox, Stephen R. Hart, Abigail Spencer

Directed by Sam Raimi

Expectations: None. I would never willingly choose to watch this, even if Sam Raimi made it.

onestar


A Sam Raimi fan would hope that if he actually wanted to remake Army of Darkness, he’d at least do so interestingly. It’s a bit of a stretch to call Oz: The Great and Powerful an Army of Darkness remake, but there are way too many parallels between the stories to ignore. I have to wonder if these elements existed in the script prior to Raimi getting the job, or if they tailored the film to his perceived strengths; I imagine some executive yelling at a cowering assistant, “Get me Raimi! He knows fish-out-of-water stories!” Raimi’s strengths, if you were going by this movie, are first-person shots of stuff flying directly into the camera, coaxing horrible performances out of his actors, an ability to craft fun “getting stuff ready for the battle” montages, and short snap zooms (as opposed to the more prevalent long snap zoom that you might see in a Shaw Brothers movie, or more recently Django Unchained). That’s about all the Raimi directorial stamp there is on this bombastic, overstuffed mainstream offering. And yeah, I realize that this is for kids, but that doesn’t excuse it from being horrible.

Oz: The Great and Powerful is not based on any previous work, instead drawing elements and inspiration from the books of L. Frank Baum to create something of a prequel that never existed to The Wizard of Oz. We follow Oscar as he rides a tornado into Oz, finding himself smack dab in the midst of the fantastic world of Oz. Aspects of this story sort of fly in the face of what happened in the original film too, so purists will want to turn their brains off completely (or better yet, watch something else). Also, Disney doesn’t own the rights to the iconic 1939 film version of The Wizard of Oz, so they are legally forbidden from directly referencing the events of that movie or using any similar designs. This is arguably a moot point, as the designs they ended up with for the Emerald City looked close enough for me to believe that they were the same city. The rest of Oz… not so much, but when you’re making an over-the-top fantasy film in 2013, that is to be expected.

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New Jack City (1991)

Starring Wesley Snipes, Ice T, Allen Payne, Chris Rock, Mario Van Peebles, Michael Michele, Bill Nunn, Russell Wong, Bill Cobbs, Christopher Williams, Judd Nelson

Directed by Mario Van Peebles

Expectations: Moderate. I’ve always wanted to see this.


I think if I had seen New Jack City back in 1991, I would have loved it. It’s an interesting tale filled with sex, drugs and hip hop, but coming at it now it seems a little dated. Not that the tale itself is no longer relevant, it’s just so steeped in ’90s hip hop and fashion that it’s impossible not to notice it. For me, this is a good thing as I grew up in and remember the ’90s vividly, but for others it might be a different story entirely. But fuck all that, it’s Ice Fest baby, and we’re ringin’ in the event with a very enjoyable, modern Blaxploitation film.

New Jack City was Ice T’s first major role, and here he plays a reckless cop who’s out to bust the city’s crime lord played by Wesley Snipes. Snipes has taken over the Carter Apartments, creating a fortress to house his crack empire, and it’s up to Ice and his cop buddies to infiltrate it any way they can. New Jack City tells a layered story, more disjointed than the traditional narrative elements might suggest. Much of the story here is told through editing, and the audience is never treated as if they’re stupid. When we inexplicably cut to a wedding attended by Snipes and his troop, the next cut informs us who’s getting married and eventually why the scene is important. It’s hard to tell a compelling story this way, but New Jack City does a relatively good job at it.

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