Mini-Review: A Fuller Life (2013)

fullerlife_1Starring James Franco, Jennifer Beals, Bill Duke, James Toback, Kelly Ward, Perry Lang, Robert Carradine, Mark Hamill, Joe Dante, Tim Roth, Wim Wenders, Monte Hellman, Buck Henry, Constance Towers, William Friedkin

Directed by Samantha Fuller

Expectations: High. I love Sam Fuller!

threehalfstar


A Fuller Life is a wonderful tribute from a daughter to her father. Samantha Fuller hasn’t put together a documentary, but more a concise, visual version of Sam Fuller’s memoir, A Third Face. This approach seems like an odd choice at first, but much like the films of Sam Fuller himself, A Fuller Life carves its own path and succeeds in creating something unique and worthwhile.

The script is composed of selections from A Third Face, read by his friends, colleagues and admirers. Each person puts their own energy and interpretation into the reading, and coupled with the undeniable truth and spirit of Fuller’s words, it plays almost like a final collaboration with the iconoclast. Through their performances, Fuller’s words come alive and transcend the printed page, even for someone like me that has already read the book.

fullerlife_2Not only does this non-traditional style work for this film, it’s perhaps the only way to properly paint a picture of Sam Fuller as vibrant and affecting as the man himself. A traditional documentary might catch glimpses of the fire and the passion of his words, but in A Fuller Life it’s almost like having Fuller himself telling you a quick version of his story and struggles. The material is riveting, and each reader is exceptional well-suited to the passages they read. The film reminded me of everything I love about Sam Fuller, both the man and the director, and this overview of his life allowed me to appreciate even more just how incredible his story was.

If you’re a Fuller fan, it’s definitely worth your time, and if you’re Fuller-curious I’d say that outside of Fuller’s own films, it’s probably the best introduction you could ask for.

A Fuller Life has been recently released to DVD, currently available exclusively on the Chrisam Films website. The DVD has a few bonus interviews, as well.

 

Commando (1985)

commando_3Commando (1985)
AKA Phantom Kommando

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rae Dawn Chong, Dan Hedaya, Vernon Wells, James Olson, David Patrick Kelly, Alyssa Milano, Bill Duke, Drew Snyder

Directed by Mark L. Lester

Expectations: This is one of my favorites movies ever.

fourstar


Before this recent re-watch of Commando, I wondered to myself how I would rate the film. Without question I knew that I would want to give it four stars because this has been one of my most favorite films ever since childhood. If I had to choose, I’d say that it’s between this and Predator for my favorite Arnold film. So clearly I have a great affection for this movie, and only four stars can accurately sum up my feelings for it. At the same time, I’m now 32 years old and while I still watch this movie with a gleeful smile and an unburdened mind, I am able to recognize how some people — especially those who did not live through the ’80s or grow up on Arnold films — could find themselves unable to stomach either the graphic, wanton violence or the highly questionable, completely unbelievable logic of Commando.

Thankfully, I’m not one to let the snark and the bad vibes of those who don’t see the magic of Commando ruin my experience. Without even a moment’s consideration, Commando still ranks as one of my favorite films. It is relentlessly exciting, funny, and even shockingly gruesome at times. Commando is one of the greatest action films of the ’80s. Like its heavily armed, well-oiled lead, Commando is lean, mean and always ready to kick some motherfuckin’ ass!

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Street of No Return (1989)

streetofnoreturn_8Starring Keith Carradine, Valentina Vargas, Bill Duke, Andréa Ferréol, Bernard Fresson, Marc de Jonge, Rebecca Potok, Jacques Martial, Sérgio Godinho, António Rosário, Dominique Hulin, Gordon Heath, Joe Abdo

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: Low.

twostar


Street of No Return is Sam Fuller’s final theatrical film, but unfortunately, in terms of quality, it’s closer to Thieves After Dark than his previous work. But where Thieves After Dark is just plain bad, there are shreds of potential throughout Street of No Return. The story itself isn’t half bad, but what sinks the film from being the exciting, pulpy revenge story that it’s trying to be is that it’s edited like an arthouse film. In A Third Face, Sam Fuller relates that after he turned in the finished film to his producer, Jacques Bral, Bral then spent the next year completely re-editing the film however he saw fit. Who’s to say how Fuller’s cut would’ve differed, but in its released state it’s fair to say that Street of No Return is something of a shambles. Perhaps this has something to do with there being 13 credited people for editing, along with Sam Fuller as “Editing Supervisor.” Sheesh!

I don’t mind a film that obscures its story, allowing it to slowly unfold over the course of the film, but for a film like this with such a straightforward story it doesn’t make a lot of sense. The film opens with an incredibly striking shot of a man getting struck in the face with a hammer, the first hit in a massive race riot on the city streets. Across the way, a wild-haired homeless drunk (Keith Carradine) stares at the liquor store on the other side of the riot. His desire for hooch is strong, but he’s not stupid. He waits until everyone’s cleared out.

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Predator (1987)

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Elpidia Carrillo, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, Richard Chaves, R.G. Armstrong, Shane Black, Kevin Peter Hall

Directed by John McTiernan

Expectations: High. One of my all-time favorites.


OK, I’ve dicked around with enough questionable Arnold films such as Jingle All the Way, Hercules in New York and Batman and Robin. It’s time for the big guns; it’s time for Predator, baby!

I have an interesting history with Predator. I grew up in a family that scraped by any way they could, and in a house of movie lovers, that meant recording as many movies as possible off of TV. I grew up watching Predator in its edited TV form thanks to a broadcast one night on FOX, so after seeing that version 50+ times, the legitimate theatrical version will forever seem like some sort of extended, unrated cut to me. For whatever reason, even though I’ve seen the real version a number of times now, the “new” scenes never make enough of an impact on me to override my memories and therefore they always feel fresh.

Predator kicks off in style with a cool space intro scene (half of which was missing from my original copy), followed by an equally cool scene of Schwarzenegger and his team arriving at a remote HQ by helicopter. There’s no dialogue, instead we hear the thunderous and incredible score from Alan Silvestri. This is absolutely one of my top film scores of all time, and it’s never far from my mind. Every time I hear it, I get pumped to arm wrestle my buddy standing up, to shoot indiscriminately with a mini-gun into the dense jungle, to call an alien an ugly motherfucker. The score’s main theme, which kicks off the film, manages to simultaneously evoke the military team aspect of Arnold and his men, the jungle setting, and the alien predator hunting them down for sport. While I’m tempted to say something about wishing that Silvestri was still delivering scores on this level, after something as amazing as this and Back to the Future, I think he’s given enough. Silvestri has many other strong scores from this period (I’m especially partial to the fun steel drums of the Summer Rental score), but for me Predator and Back to the Future are the pinnacles of his career, elevating their movies infinitely higher than would otherwise be possible.

Continue reading Predator (1987) →

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