Tony Talks #19: Happy New Year + 2020 Update!

Happy New Year (and decade) everyone!

Firstly, I’d like to thank each and every one of you who reads this blog when you get the chance. I’ve worked hard particularly in the last few months to keep content rolling on a daily basis and I appreciate any interactions I have with you, whether via likes on posts or comments or on social media. I hope for more of that in 2020 and to get to know many of you better, if I don’t know you already.

This blog has kind of become my central focus point over the last six months ever since I quit my role as co-founder/co-editor of Set The Tape in April. That was a really interesting almost 2 year project that taught me, primarily, that I am not an editor! I am a writer, for better or worse. I have enormous respect for anyone who edits copy and runs a website with multiple staffers and content daily because it is an all-consuming task with little financial reward that can end up quite the grind. It just wasn’t for me, in the end.

Ever since, I’ve been toying with what the future holds as we enter the 2020’s in terms of writing and podcasting and I thought I’d share my musings with you on this New Year’s Day.

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Blu-Ray Review: A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE aka DUCK, YOU SUCKER! (1971)

You would be forgiven for thinking Duck, You Sucker! is an unusual title for what turned out to be Sergio Leone’s penultimate picture, but the absurdity strangely works in the context of this most unusual spaghetti western.

It could be why the title was subsequently revised as the more playable A Fistful of Dynamite, which of course places it as an unofficial fourth companion to Leone’s most legendary work – A Fistful of Dollars, aka the Dollars trilogy. Duck, You Sucker! was a perceived popular American colloquialism Leone was convinced existed, and it speaks to the somewhat perverted lens through which Leone continues to explore the American experience in, what we will call for ease, simply Dynamite from now on. His tale of Rod Steiger’s sleazy Mexican bandit who finds comradeship in James Coburn’s fugitive Irish revolutionary at the heart of the Mexican Revolution of 1913 is messy, explosive and oddly romantic.

This could be why Dynamite has struggled to achieve the cultural or critical reach of Leone’s Dollars trilogy or his final film, Once Upon a Time in America. As much as his first picture, The Colossus of Rhodes, A Fistful of Dynamite is arguably Leone’s forgotten, at times semi-masterpiece.

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Tony Talks #18: New Eureka Blu-Ray Goodness!

Greetings everyone!

As you know, this year I’ve been doing quite a bit of reviewing for Eureka Entertainment, one of the best cult and classic movie labels out there in the UK who have been kind enough to send me screeners of their upcoming films. I’ve seen a bunch of movies I never would have independently watched via this method and it’s been terrific fun.

A stack of Eureka titles all came at once recently and many without the in-depth extras most of their other titles have, so I thought I would badge them up into one post as I clear the decks for this year.

I’m probably going to review less Blu-Ray content in 2020 from Eureka and elsewhere, to be honest, only cherry picking what really takes my fancy. I have Book 2 which I need very much to be getting on with as we enter the New Year and I want to devote time to a few other bits & pieces as well, such as more Scene by Scene film breakdowns & my upcoming 2000 in Film project.

So anyway, here we go. The last (but one) stack of Eureka titles to consider for 2019…

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Blu-Ray Review: THE AFRICAN QUEEN (1951)

After Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness but long before Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, John Huston sailed down river with The African Queen, his charming adaptation of C. S. ‘Horatio Hornblower’ Forester’s novel about a prim British missionary teaming up with the grizzled captain of the titular tramp steamer to combat vicious Germans deep in Africa in World War One.

Who do you cast in such roles? Why, Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn, of course! If you can put to one side the improbability of the southern drawling Hepburn, about as American as can be, playing the sister of the pompous and delightfully British colonial Robert Morley, The African Queen offers much to enjoy. Hepburn had already achieved screen greatness in the 30’s and this would serve as one of several comebacks across ensuing decades, but Bogie was arguably here at the height of a career buoyed by Casablanca and set to be tragically cut short by the end of the 1950’s. Huston nevertheless understands putting these two together is celluloid dynamite; a heady fusion of charismatic big screen prowess as Hollywood sailed into the last decade of its Golden Age of stars, studios and old-fashioned vehicles.

That being said, The African Queen has inspired so much over the last seventy years, it provides a template for the romantic comedy adventure that would be replicated down the decades, be it Robert Zemeckis with Romancing the Stone or even Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Hepburn and Bogart are the classic reluctant pairing thrown together, who fall in love amidst great adversity.

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Blu-Ray Review: FULLER AT FOX – Five Films 1951-1957

By rights, Samuel Fuller should probably be regarded more highly in the annals of mid-20th century American cinema. The fact he made principally the kind of B-pictures evidenced in this comprehensive Eureka Entertainment release is testament to why this isn’t the case.

Fuller at Fox: Five Films 1951-1957 does what it says on the tin, presenting five key pictures from the key cornerstone era of Fuller’s career. While he would again make a critical splash (if not a box office one) in 1980 with his war movie The Big Red One, Fuller’s period working at 20th Century Fox across the 50’s is probably his heyday. Fox head honcho Darryl F. Zanuck tempted him with the promise “we make better movies” and gave Fuller the opportunity to play in different genres while retaining a similar, unique sense of pulp, all-American muscular grit, whether playing war, Western or even international crime thriller. Over these years, Fuller had a run at them all.

This collection presents these films in quite stunning, remastered fashion on BluRay and they arguably serve as a fantastic entry point for anyone looking to explore Fuller’s work. It’s the kind of release long-term fans will go nuts for.

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Blu-Ray Review: High Noon (1952)

While established as a key cinematic text in the history of the American Western, High Noon is also an example of bucking convention.

Fred Zinnemann’s film is one subsumed in ominous dread, as the posse belonging to outlaw Frank Miller early on ride into the small New Mexico town of Hadleyville and declare the intent of their boss, free from prison, to return and kill Sheriff Will Kane, the man who put him in jail. It becomes a picture dedicated to the inevitable final act, in which Will—at the titular ‘high noon’—faces down his nemesis not just to save his life, but spare the soul and existence of Hadleyville and its residents from the oncoming force. High Noon loses nothing from this approach and, indeed, gains much from the tension Zinnemann stretches out of Frank’s impending return.

Gary Cooper imbues Will with a nobility, gravitas and grace as the town lawman who spends much of the film trying to convince his headstrong new bride Amy (the ever radiant Grace Kelly) to leave town, while encouraging the townsfolk to take a stand against the enemy around them. In that respect, High Noon gained a difficult reputation at the time of release and subsequently, deemed as it was a liberal response to the pervasive ‘McCarthyism’ rippling through American politics in the wake of the Korean War, and with the Cold War hotting up. Screenwriter Carl Foreman had been blacklisted by McCarthy’s House of Un-American Activities and John Wayne turned down the role of Will, believing the film to be distinctly ‘Un-American’.

High Noon weathered all this, and stood the test of time, to be regarded as one of the strongest examples of the American Western in cinema history, especially free of the pernicious politics that almost destroyed it.

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Blu-Ray Review: Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982)

Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, is pure, stripped back, character-driven cinema.

After the critical high point of Nashville in the mid-1970’s, Robert Altman struggled with the changing face of Hollywood moviemaking, as the ingenue crowd he joined in bringing to bear the ‘New Hollywood’ wave that replaced the decayed studio system at the end of the 1960’s began to fade under the weight of the blockbuster franchise era. Altman, with his aggressive naturalistic style, his gutsy brand of raw Americana, struggled to find a place amongst the Star Wars and Jaws monster-hits of the burgeoning 1980’s and following the critical failure of Popeye—a film not typically in his wheelhouse—Altman spent the remainder of the 80’s in a self-imposed exile, determined to make the pictures he wanted to make outside of the Hollywood mainstream.

Jimmy Dean—as we’ll refer to this simply as now for ease—is a perfect example of Altman’s two-fingered salute to the New New Hollywood. Set entirely in one location, the titular small-town ‘5 and dime’, with a tiny cast of (almost) all-female characters, and tackling themes and ideas as diverse as social transformation of American life, religious rejection and changing gender, Jimmy Dean is defiantly un-cinematic, almost intentionally. It moves fast, throws a brace of dialogue at the audience from the first moment, and expects you to keep in step with a multi-layered facet of complex, emotionally damaged characters living their own strangely melancholic fantasy.

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