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.

 

Quick Takes: Nightmare City, Your Highness, The Foot Fist Way

nightmare-city-poster-161Nightmare City [Incubo Sulla Cittá Contaminata] (1980)
AKA City of the Walking Dead

fourstar

Starring Hugo Stiglitz, Laura Trotter, Maria Rosaria Omaggio, Francisco Rabal, Sonia Viviani, Eduardo Fajardo, Stefania D’Amario, Ugo Bologna
Directed by Umberto Lenzi

I’ve had Nightmare City on my radar for a while, but the arrival of Tom Savini’s crowdfunded remake-to-be gave me that extra little push in the right direction. Simply put, Nightmare City is a fuckin’ blast. I’ve always been a firm supporter of traditional, walking zombies, with the focus on the incessant nature of the never-tiring horde instead of the more immediate threat that running zombies deliver. But Nightmare City, the first film to use running zombies, proved to me that they can be just as fun, if not more. Director Umberto Lenzi crafts a film with scene after scene of pure balls-out madness, and the way it all bursts forth and inundates the unsuspecting viewer is incredible fun. One moment I was in tense apprehension for what might be behind that aircraft door, and then WHAM! A fucking horde of mud-faced, bloodthirsty fiends runs out, and the rest of the movie never lets up. The running zombies work here because Lenzi still embraces the overwhelming nature of the horde, while also delivering more fun than I think I’ve ever had with a zombie movie. It’s firmly a B-Movie, though, so many will scoff at its low-budget FX, but I say fuck all that and just have a good time with it!

yourhighness_1Your Highness (2011)
threestar

Starring Danny McBride, James Franco, Rasmus Hardiker, Natalie Portman, Toby Jones, Justin Theroux, Zooey Deschanel, Charles Dance, Damian Lewis
Directed by David Gordon Green

Not sure how to review this one because it’s the kind of movie you pretty much know how you’ll feel about it before you watch it. If you liked Eastbound & Down and you’ve come on a quest for more Danny McBride to put in your head, Your Highness is a hoot. It helps if you also have an affinity for ’80s movies, specifically ’80s fantasy flicks like Beastmaster or Conan the Barbarian. If you’re not that person, I can’t imagine this being anything close to entertaining. But for me, I’m firmly in the first group, so I really enjoyed seeing Danny McBride in a fantasy setting. The ’80s-style CG lightning was also a quick way to my heart, but I think the perverted, Yoda-like Wise Wizard, brought to life by a puppet, really sealed the deal. Where a lot of ’80s throwbacks just feel like modern movies, Your Highness actually gets the spirit of ’80s sword-and-sorcery movies down pat, and it’s got more than its share of hilarity if you’re in the right frame of mind.

foot_fist_way_xlgThe Foot Fist Way (2006)
threestar

Starring Danny McBride, Mary Jane Bostic, Ben Best, Spencer Moreno, Carlos Lopez, Jody Hill, Ken Aguilar, Collette Wolfe
Directed by Jody Hill

Your Highness got me in the mood for some more Danny McBride, which naturally led me to The Foot Fist Way. McBride plays a Tae Kwon Do instructor that is every bit the foul-mouthed blowhard you’d expect him to be. The character is not as defined as McBride’s Kenny Powers role on Eastbound & Down, but you can clearly see the beginnings of that idea in The Foot Fist Way. Fans will definitely enjoy this one, but as this is the roughest of the McBride films, it’s not one to show everybody. Of course, I love me some martial arts, so the parody of that environment and the characters that inhabit it hit very solidly with me.

Quick Takes: Ride Along, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Afternoon Delight

ride_along_xlgRide Along (2014)
threestar

Starring Ice Cube, Kevin Hart, John Leguizamo, Bruce McGill, Tika Sumpter, Bryan Callen, Laurence Fishburne, Dragos Bucur, Gary Owen, Jacob Latimore, Jay Pharoah, Benjamin Flores Jr.
Directed by Tim Story

Like many action comedies, it would be easy to rip Ride Along for having a dumb plot and sequences where our heroes would never survive if it were real life. But action comedies aren’t real life, so as long as I’m laughing more than I’m not, I’m happy. Ride Along made me happy. Ride Along has gotten fairly dismal reviews from almost everyone, and while I can’t defend it as some great piece of cinema, it’s definitely more fun than the consensus makes it appear. What it comes down to is that I think Kevin Hart is funny, and I also love me some Ice Cube. Together they make a great comedy duo. The action could have been shot better, but this is a small complaint in a quick, fun, entertaining movie. Clear your mind for a night and just ride along with it.

a92058kywgvRise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
threehalfstar

Starring James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, Tyler Labine, Jamie Harris, Ty Olsson, David Hewlett
Directed by Rupert Wyatt

I love the original Planet of the Apes films, but after seeing Rise of the Planet of the Apes I think it might be hard to go back. I’m shocked how much I enjoyed this one. You really couldn’t ask for a better modern take on the Planet of the Apes saga, although I do wonder if they’ll stick with CG for the more evolved humanoid apes if they continue the series. I suppose they will, but Rick Baker’s makeup from Tim Burton’s 2001 remake was so good I kinda wish they’d do that again. Anyway, if you’ve been on the fence for the last few years, definitely watch this one! By focusing the story on a single ape, we are able to feel for the character, right down to the point of cheering the apes on during the film’s climactic (and awesome) final act. I can’t wait to see the sequel!

afternoon-delight-posterAfternoon Delight (2013)
threestar

Starring Kathryn Hahn, Juno Temple, Josh Radnor, Jane Lynch, Jessica St. Clair, Michaela Watkins, Josh Stamberg, John Kapelos, Keegan Michael Key, Annie Mumolo
Directed by Jill Soloway

Afternoon Delight walks a thin line between drama and dark comedy, delivering both very well and remaining engaging throughout. At least for me. I can imagine this one will split people, as it’s pretty much nothing but spoiled white people problems. They are problems nonetheless, and something as life affecting as being unhappy in a relationship shouldn’t be trivialized. Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) is the unhappy one in question, and her life changes course when she visits a strip club with her husband and another couple. Rachel becomes somewhat obsessed, or at the very least highly interested, in getting to know McKenna (Juno Temple), the stripper she connected with. One thing leads to another and McKenna is living in Rachel’s spare bedroom. What makes Afternoon Delight so interesting to me is how much director Jill Soloway seems to be saying with the film, without actually saying it. There’s so much to dissect about the character relationships, revealing insightful takes on truth, trust and the relationships that shape our lives. Kathryn Hahn is superb as Rachel, giving a raw, emotional performance that deserves acclaim, and Juno Temple is a perfect, confident complement to Hahn’s nervous energy. Very good, but definitely not for everyone.

Video Book Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of Planet of the Apes: The Art of the Films

What’s this? That’s right, I did a video review! I’ve considered doing things like this, as well as appearing on podcasts, for a while now, and this art book presented a perfect opportunity to try out the video review thing. It’s a completely foreign thing for me to do, and surprisingly I recorded it all in one take with no edits! I also did all my own stunts. Paper cuts are a real concern when you’re doing something like this. While I was unable to secure the insurance necessary for the shoot, I threw caution to the wind and shot it anyway! Take that, you bastards in suits!

Anyway…

WATCH as I nervously try to think of what to say next!

SEE as I fumble with turning pages while on-camera!

LISTEN as I go on tangents about CG ruining film and make jokes about apes!

READ what is probably the longest post title you’ll ever see, unless I’m intentionally trying to make one longer!

Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of Planet of the Apes: The Art of the Films was released by Titan Books on July 8, 2014 and it is available now via Amazon and other book retailers! If you’re a fan of the films and are also interesting in filmmaking, definitely consider picking up a copy (preferably by clicking that Amazon box above)!

Disclosure: Titan Books provided me with a review copy of Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of Planet of the Apes: The Art of the Films.

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.

Continue reading Oz: The Great and Powerful (2013) →

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