Film Review: CB4 (1993)

Release Date: March 12th, 1993
Directed by: Tamra Davis
Written by: Chris Rock, Nelson George, Robert LoCash
Music by: John Barnes, various
Cast: Chris Rock, Allen Payne, Deezer D, Phil Hartman, Chris Elliott, Charlie Murphy, Khandi Alexander, Art Evans, Theresa Randle, Willard E. Pugh, Rachel True, Richard Gant, Stoney Jackson, J.D. Daniels, LaWanda Page, Tommy Davidson (uncredited), Shirley Hemphill (cameo), Issac Hayes (cameo), Ice-T (cameo), Halle Berry (cameo), Ice Cube (cameo), Flavor Flav (cameo), Shaquille O’Neal (cameo), Eazy-E (cameo), Butthole Surfers (cameo)

Imagine Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“You ain’t tough. There are real some kids out there that are going to kick your narrow ass. You ain’t from the street, I’m from the street. And only somebody who wasn’t would think it was something to glorify.” – Albert, Sr.

When I reviewed Fear of a Black Hat several months ago, I brought up how similar these two movies were and how one may be ripping off the other. I also said that I preferred that one slightly but now, after revisiting CB4 for the first time in quite a long time, this picture just slightly takes the cake.

I think that over time, my memories downplayed how clever this movie was. While Fear of a Black Hat is more gritty and certainly more indie, CB4 feels like it has a better grasp on the material and it is much more refined and is a better complete body of work.

While some of the jokes and gags, almost thirty years later, may be over some people’s heads now, I still think that this aged well and it carries a good positive message. The gist of what the film tries to communicate is still very apparent, despite outdated references to a time when rap music was much better than whatever this modern mumble rap garbage is today.

Chris Rock was great in this and I have to say, it’s my favorite picture where he is the star. He’s relatable, he’s likable and his character is very human despite getting lost in the glamour, glitz and bullshit of trying to make it in the early ’90s rap game. Ultimately, even if his spirit is corrupted, it’s the goodness within himself (and his two best friends) that wins out and makes things right in the end.

One thing I really loved about this movie was the music. While most of it is parody of what was the gangsta rap of its era, it’s all really damn good. I actually owned the soundtrack in my teen years and used to bump it quite regularly.

Even though this came out very early in Chris Rock’s career, I still feel as if it is his magnum opus as an actor, comedian and writer. Sure, he’s always been funny but something about CB4 just felt like it was real personal for him and it’s something that truly comes out when you watch the film.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: a movie that’s very similar, Fear of a Black Hat.

Film Review: Boyz N the Hood (1991)

Release Date: May 13th, 1991 (Cannes)
Directed by: John Singleton
Written by: John Singleton
Music by: Stanley Clarke
Cast: Ice Cube, Cuba Gooding Jr., Morris Chestnut, Larry Fishburne, Angela Bassett, Nia Long, Tyra Ferrell, Redge Green, Dedrick D. Gobert, Regina King, Jessie Lawrence Ferguson, Whitman Mayo

Columbia Pictures, 112 Minutes

Review:

“Why is it that there is a gun shop on almost every corner in this community?” – Furious Styles, “Why?” – The Old Man, “I’ll tell you why. For the same reason that there is a liquor store on almost every corner in the black community. Why? They want us to kill ourselves.” – Furious Styles

Boyz N The Hood was a movie that had a pretty big impact on me in my middle school years. I was going into 7th grade when it came out but by the time it hit video, I rented it a lot.

What lured me into it was the edge the film had with Ice Cube in it, a rapper I listened to almost daily back then. But beyond that, I was pulled into John Singleton’s unique knack for storytelling. While this is well acted, a lot of the story and emotion comes through in more of a visual way.

Unlike many of the “gangsta” films that came out after and were inspired by this and Marion Van Peebles’ New Jack City, this one is truly a masterpiece on just about every level. And, once seeing this, it is easy to understand how this film gave birth to a new genre in the early ’90s.

To start, the acting by just about everyone in this picture is superb. The main cast delivers their performances with passion and gusto.

I love how in your face Ice Cube can be but there is a subtle gentleness under the surface that really comes out in his final scene, which is still maybe the best he’s ever been onscreen.

Cuba Gooding Jr. gave a somewhat understated performance that worked really well for his character and when the point comes in the movie for him to show real emotion, it has an impact that might have been lacking without his cool and chill demeanor leading up to it.

I also like Morris Chestnut, who is mostly just a regular guy here. He’s got issues but he’s a guy with a bright future, which makes his fate in the film extremely tough to process no matter how many times you’ve seen this play out.

The real scene stealer is Laurence Fishburne and while that shouldn’t be surprising, this was pretty early in his career and even though he’d been in many films before this, it is his role here that put his career path on a strong upward trajectory.

It’s also worth pointing out how beautiful and perfect Stanley Clarke’s score is. The music conveys real emotion and it grounds the drama in a way that the mostly hip-hop soundtrack can’t on its own. There is a great balance between hip-hop, soul and the score itself. However, in contrast to what became typical of this style of film after Boyz N the Hood, this doesn’t use a ton of rap music. It’s there where it needs to be but this wasn’t a movie that was trying to sell soundtrack tie-ins like everything that copied it. And it’s not that that’s a bad thing and I didn’t even notice it back in the day but seeing this film now, it was kind of refreshing knowing that the filmmaker relied heavily on his composer to assist with the tone and the movement of the plot. Side note: Stanley Clarke’s first score was Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, which got him an Emmy nomination.

This is a heavy and emotional film; it works because it feels genuine and real. It has aged tremendously well and is kind of timeless, even if it is set in a specific era that comes with its own stylistic and cultural tropes.

Singleton, with Boyz N the Hood, crafted a perfect motion picture that deserves to be called a masterpiece and is still above all the films that came along and tried to emulate it. Not bad for a first time director.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Menace II SocietySouth CentralColors, Baby Boy, Higher Learning and Poetic Justice.

Film Review: Ghosts of Mars (2001)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars (complete title)
Release Date: August 24th, 2001
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter, Larry Sulkis
Music by: John Carpenter
Cast: Ice Cube, Natasha Henstridge, Jason Statham, Pam Grier, Clea DuVall, Joanna Cassidy, Robert Carradine, Wanda De Jesus, Peter Jason

Storm King Productions, Screen Gems, 98 Minutes

Review:

“…Friday night, the whole place should be packed. A whole twelve hours before sun up and there’s money to burn, whores to fuck and drugs to take.” – Melanie Ballard

Well, this was the only John Carpenter film I had never seen. That is, until now. I just remember that when it was coming out, I thought it looked terrible. My friends that did see it only confirmed my reservations about it and in fact, they were harsher on this film than I expected. So I never really wanted to give it a watch but hey, I review movies and this was on my Starz app, so I figured I’d torture myself for 98 minutes.

I wouldn’t quite say that it was torture though. It was stupid enough to entertain me but it didn’t do much to excite me. And it’s not like John Carpenter did anything wrong, it’s just that this proved that his style had become dated. Had this script been shot by him in the late ’80s, this could have been a film that was remembered more fondly because it would’ve fit that era better.

A big issue with it though, is its reliance on poorly shot and constructed miniatures, very confined sets and going the digital route in places where practical effects would’ve probably worked better. Also, it definitely lacks in the violence department, at least in what one should expect from a Carpenter film.

It’s also kind of a boring movie, for the most part. The villains are pretty shitty and this is really just a movie with space zombies that understand how to use primitive weapons. Also, the main villain just looked like any generic horror monster from the late ’90s that was trying to be a scarier version of Marilyn Manson but just ended up looking like a goth kid without a good Halloween costume.

The acting in this is terrible too. Ice Cube can do better but he really just plays himself and dialed it in. Natasha Henstridge was okay and at least believable in her role but she looked bored. Statham was pointless in this, as was Clea DuVall, who can deliver a good performance when given the right role.

This isn’t an unwatchable movie but I can’t recommend it. I think that most people will actually hate it, even though I found it okay enough to kill 98 minutes during a tropical depression.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: Later John Carpenter films, as well as other films from the era that dealt with Mars: Red Planet and Mission to Mars.

Film Review: Trespass (1992)

Also known as: The Looters (working title), Die Rap-Gang (Germany)
Release Date: December 25th, 1992
Directed by: Walter Hill
Written by: Bob Gale, Robert Zemeckis
Music by: Ry Cooder
Cast: Bill Paxton, Ice-T, William Sadler, Ice Cube, Art Evans, De’voreaux White, Bruce A. Young, Glenn Plummer, Stoney Jackson, T.E. Russell, Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister, John Toles-Bey, Byron Minns, Hal Landon Jr.

Universal Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“That’s the beauty of gold. It never tarnishes. Lasts forever, too. You can twist it, pound it, even piss on it but it’s always the same gold. It was here long before we were and it’ll be here a long time after we’re gone. I bet you a lot of men have died for the gold that’s just in this one piece.” – Bradlee

Man, I used to have a really high opinion of this film circa 1993 when I copied the VHS tape after I rented it. I mean, you’ve got two of the best gangster rappers of the era along with Bill Paxton and William Sadler, who forever won my admiration after playing Death in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, a year or so earlier.

Plus, this was directed by Walter Hill, the guy that did The Driver, The Warriors, The Long RidersStreets of Fire48 Hrs., Another 48 Hrs. and Red Heat. Additionally, the film was produced and written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, the creative force behind the Back to the Future trilogy.

But strangely, this just isn’t that great. Sure, it’s definitely okay for killing some time on a rainy day when you want an action film to help you with your low T. I don’t have low T though, my plums are solid and full of octane.

I do like this as more of a novelty thing though. You get to see both rappers named Ice come together at a time when they were both effectively breaking into movies. Ice-T killed it in New Jack City and Ice Cube gave a tremendous performance in Boyz N The Hood. You also get a solid cast of other up and coming black actors from the time: Tiny Lister, Glenn Plummer, Stoney Jackson and De’voreaux White. Also, I have always liked Art Evans, he was great in Fright Night, and this may be my favorite role he’s done.

But still, this just falls really flat.

The plot is about these Arkansas firefighters that acquire a map to a stolen religious treasure. The treasure is hidden in an abandoned factory in East St. Louis. They travel there to look for the long lost gold but quickly find themselves in over their heads as they witness a gang murder. The two firefighters then find themselves holed up in a locked room with a hostage, the head gangster’s little brother, and a homeless man. The rest of the film is mostly a standoff that plays out in a lot of different ways but ultimately, the building is set on fire and we get some solid gun play.

Trespass is certainly watchable and makes for a better than decent early ’90s action flick but there isn’t much to make you care about it. It’s not a classic, by any means. But my problem with it, is that it should have been a classic. Look at the talent in front of and behind the camera.

I do still like this film but for Walter Hill, it’s one of his weakest.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Other early ’90s hip-hop heavy action films: Judgment NightGunmenSurviving the Game and Deep Cover.

Film Review: Fist Fight (2017)

Also known as: Combat de profs (France, Canadian French title)
Release Date: February 13th, 2017 (Regency Village Theater premiere)
Directed by: Richie Keen
Written by: Van Robichaux, Evan Susser, Max Greenfield
Music by: Dominic Lewis
Cast: Ice Cube, Charlie Day, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, Christina Hendricks, Kumail Nanjiani, Dean Norris, Dennis Haysbert, Kym Whitley

New Line Cinema, Village Roadshow Pictures, 21 Laps Entertainment, Wrigley Pictures, Warner Bros., 91 Minutes

Review:

“Snitches get stitches.” – Strickland

I have always loved Ice Cube. Well, at least since I was a 7th grader and in 1992, spent some of my Christmas money on my first CD, Ice Cube’s The Predator album. I also bought that first album by Ice Cube’s group Da Lench Mob at the same time.

Charlie Day is another guy I have always liked since first seeing him on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, well over ten years ago now.

Seeing these two guys come together in a film that is going to show them actually duke it out in a fist fight is kind of exciting. Plus, the film has Tracy Morgan, Kumail Nanjiani and Mad Men‘s Christina Hendricks.

I didn’t see this in the theater though, as I usually don’t watch comedies on the big screen unless it looks like something pretty exceptional. I did check this out though, as soon as it dropped on Cinemax.

You have to suspend disbelief in this picture, which is fine, as it is a goofy comedy. The reason being though, is that Ice Cube’s character is so irrational that it really doesn’t make a lot of sense. Like why does that nut job even have a job around kids? In this day and age, teachers have their hands severely tied by the system and by helicopter parents who have to pin ribbons on their loser kids and always encourage them to continue sucking at life while coddling their feelings and probably still breastfeeding most of them. I’m pretty sure a lot of teens today do legitimately breastfeed still.

Anyway, that was a weird tangent.

The film is amusing. I like the relationship and rivalry between Day and Cube and I’m not going to lie, seeing them come together again for a follow up would be cool.

The big fight at the end of the film was bigger than I expected but it played out well with some good twists and turns. I kind of just expected Day to walk out and get knocked out with one punch. The fight was the highlight of the film and it was worth the wait.

Another highlight was Day and his daughter performing at a talent show. This was one of the funniest moments in modern comedy.

This was a movie that ended up being a bit better than I had anticipated. Day pretty much kills it in anything and I’ll always enjoy Ice Cube, as long as he isn’t in some kids’ movie.

Rating: 7/10