Tag Archives: Bill Cobbs

Air Bud (1997)

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Okay, so I like “Air Bud.” What can I say?- I was a 90’s kid. Unfairly maligned because of its truly awful sequels, “Air Bud” certainly isn’t the best ‘boy and his dog’ movie out there, but you could do worse for a rainy Saturday afternoon with the kids. Sure, there’s more slapstick than a “The Three Stooges” episode (rule of thumb- if there’s a decadent cake introduced at the beginning of a scene in a children’s movie, said cake will be fallen into before the sequence is done,) but there’s genuine heart  too. Maybe I’m seeing it through the distorted lens of a former soppy, dog-loving preteen, but I believe it’s there.

12-year-old Josh Framm (Kevin Zegers) is having a rough year- his pilot dad died in a plane crash, he’s starting up at a new school, and the bullies have picked him as the target for mild but annoyingly insistent bullying.) Josh has probably been struck by the puberty fairy too, though the more sensitive implications of this have not been touched on for obvious reasons. He’s moody, distant, and unresponsive to his mother (Wendy Makkena)’s attempts to reach him.

Into Josh’s life walks Buddy, an abused, highly intelligent Golden Retriever on the run from his children’s entertainer owner, Norm Snively (Michael Jeter) who’s not a very nice man at all. Buddy takes some urging due to his fear of people, but ultimately proves to be a good and loyal friend to the lonely Josh. Soon, it is revealed that Buddy has a secret- he can play basketball!- and the lovable dog serves as an icebreaker to help Josh get over his shyness and play sports with his classmates.

I really like the late Michael Jeter as a character actor- unfortunately, he doesn’t have much to do here except be knocked into everything. Still, he’s fine in the role he was given, and offers a few laughs (mostly to very small children.) Nevertheless, “Air Bud” is a cute movie with several good subplots going for it. One of these concerns Arthur Chaney (Bill Cobbs,) a former basketball star who now works as a simple janitor at Josh’s school, and offers his friendship and guidance to Josh and ultimately, to the team.

The heart of the film is Josh and Buddy’s relationship, which is carried out effectively for this kind of movie. By allowing plenty of scenes of Josh and Buddy simply spending time together, the movie lets us root for their friendship- which is threatened when the dastardly Norm returns on the scene. I like the way Buddy is allowed to act like a dog, despite his extraordinary sports-playing talents, and I like how Josh has to win his trust by laying down a trail of vanilla pudding containers.

Frankly, I still like this movie from when I was a kid and I enjoyed watching it with my 11-year-old sister and listening to her laugh. “Air Bud” isn’t a great movie by any means, but it’s cute and charming and fun. Let me just save you the time and tell you not to watch the sequels. If your kids have any sense, even they will hate them.
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Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

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I know I’m completely in the minority here, but I am not a big fan of the classic “The Wizard of Oz” movie. No, I don’t get nostalgic about it, It’s not a big part of my childhood, and I don’t understand why other people, including my mother, make such a big flippin’ deal about it. In my opinion, it’s a watered-down, sentimentalized adaptation of a good book with a cop out ending (it was all a dream, really?!)

That said, not giving a hoot about the original makes it easier for me to enjoy this reimagined prequel, which, despite lukewarm critical reception, was well-received by me and my family. There are a fair amount of flaws- James Franco’s somewhat over-the-top performance as the titular wizard, as well as some forced humor, come to mind, but for every lame joke there is an effective one, there are delightful characters and genuine emotion, and damn it, the CGI-generated colors and backdrops look so dang pretty on the big-screen TV.

Oscar (James Franco) is a flim-flam man operating in Kansas as a ‘magician,’ smooth-talking young girls, and lacking appreciation for his partner Frank (Zach Braff) at every turn. After a particularly poor show, Oz is blown away in a hot air balloon by a twister and (segue from black-and-white into color, as a nod to the original) lands in the radiantly beautiful but potentially deadly land of the as-yet unnamed Oz.

No sooner as he landed there than Oscar meets Theodora (Mila Kunis,) a wide-eyed witch who falls for his charms. Theodora believes Oskar is there to fulfill a prophecy that will bring peace to a land plagued by a wicked witch. Lured by the promise of gold and riches, ‘Oz’ leads Theodora on to believing he is the chosen one, and is aided by a strong-willed and somewhat annoying china girl (voiced by Joey King) and cute n’ furry bellhop monkey Finley (also voiced by Braff) on an epic quest where being a epic-scale bullshitter might just be the thing that makes Oz the man for the job.

In true ‘Oz’ form, people from Franco’s Kansas life reoccur in different forms in the land of Oz. Among these are Glinda the Good (Michelle Williams,) who appears to be the double of Oz’s old flame Annie who he can’t admit he loves, Frank the assistant AKA Finley the monkey, and a wheelchair-bound girl from Kansas (King) who is the voice of the orphaned china doll.

James Franco is a mix of appealing and charismatic-enough and hammy, pulling potentially cramp-inducing smiles and not above scenery-chewing. Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis are appealing as beautiful witch sisters. Michelle Williams, who is typically a wonderful actress pulls a performance similar to that of Anne Hathaway in Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” that is so wishy-washy it makes you go so what? Williams is not bad, as Hathaway was, but seems to be trying too little just as Franco is trying too hard.

This film is done by Sam Raimi, the man behind the “Spider-Man” and “Evil Dead” trilogies. And do you know what? I think for the most part he does a good job. Nothing beats hearing your little sister’s delighted laughs at a certain scene reverberate across an empty theater, and she wasn’t alone in her enjoyment. “Oz” is no masterpiece, but it’s funny and cute and it might just behoove you to ignore the critic’s opinion on this one.

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