December 2019 Mini-Reviews – Knives Out to The Witcher (S1)

Somehow, I thought I’d get this set of year-end reviews out earlier… But you know how life gets!

I ended up with just under 400 films & series — 393, to be exact — at year’s end.  I probably could have gotten over 400 if I’d pushed, but, really, aren’t the holidays about relaxing?  And even relaxing, I still managed to watch 34 films/series in December 2019.  Not bad for a year which started off fairly “sparse” for me in filmwatching, because of family stuff going on.  2020 may see me watching more, as I’m already up over 40 films in January 2020.

I also continue watching Naschy werewolf films, though I get stalled waiting for the blu-ray release of #9 in the series — The Beast & the Magic Sword.  Don’t worry, it arrived in January.

Plus, there are a bunch of series wrap-ups — including two of the best TV series of the year, WATCHMEN and THE EXPANSE — and a few Christmas & holiday related things, too.  And THE WITCHER — a great start to a series based on a really interesting series of fantasy books.  Plus a little thing called THE MANDALORIAN.  Oh, yeah, and reviews of the old films in preparation for the release of the final STAR WARS flick — and THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, too.  How’d it turn out…?  Keep reading to find out…

Ratings are out of five stars. Here’s what those stars mean to me…

* – This film is not good. Avoid it unless you tolerate dreck well.
** – A flawed film. You may enjoy it if you like this genre or the folks in it.
*** – A good solid film. If you like this genre, you’ll probably like this film.
**** – A superior film within its genre. Thoroughly enjoyable.
***** – An outstanding film on many levels. A great example of its genre.

Knives Out **** Mystery, suspense, & black comedy mix in tale of the murder of famous author & his greedy family. Super cast.
Disenchantment (Season 2) *** Continues to be an amusing fantasy, but mostly by-the-numbers stuff. Little innovation, still a bit disappointing.
Big Trouble in Little China ***** Smart, funny, & full of action & fantasy, kung-fu fable remains one of my favorite Carpenter films. Kurt Russell, too!
La Bete (The Beast) ** Modern girl betrothed to cursed bestial heir could be erotic fantasy but mostly just strange. Actual horse breeding.
Pyramid, The ** Cop gets tired of brutal & racist police work & becomes interested in New Age & chick with pyramid above bed.
Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith **** The best of the prequels has some great SFX & battles but is still hamstrung by flat acting & dull personal scenes.
Solo – A Star Wars Story **** Easily better than any of the prequels, this Pre-Star-Wars Han Solo story has action, characters, SXF, & heart.
Rogue One – A Star Wars Story ***** Making the grand cosmic war personal, this action-packed, heartfelt prequel shows the price of war even in stars.
Deep Rising *** Silly oceanborne actioner about plot to rob an ocean liner which turns out to be infested with monster tentacles.
Norliss Tapes, The **** Dan Curtis shows just how many scares a TV flick can generate in this story of an author vs. the supernatural.
Master of Dark Shadows **** Dan Curtis biopic spends lots of time on Dark Shadows & some on Winds of War but short changes his TV films.
Image Makers: The Adventures of America’s Pioneer Cinematogrpahers **** From the start of the silent era to the present “cameramen” have shaped the best & most popular films. This documentary looks at a number of the American pioneers of the art, including the founders of the ASC.
Kansas City Princess *** Joan Blondelle & Glenda Farrell are gold-diggers. Thug Rob’t Armstrong pursues Joan to paris. Romantic comedy.
Jungle Queen (Serial) ** Jungle Queen vs. Nazis premise should be a winner, but… Another boring Universal 40s serial. Disappointing.
Watchmen (2019) ***** Sequel to the classic comic is strongly imagined & realized on all levels. A brilliant TV series with a great cast.
The Expanse (S4 2019) ***** Continuation of one of TV’s best SF series ever has the heros caught between colonists & military science expediton.
Inspector Morse 1-1, The Dead of Jerico ***** The Morse saga begins with some of the best TV detective movies ever made & the death of a choir member.
STAR WARS: The Force Awakens **** Both a sequel & a re-start to the franchise features old faves & great new characters. Echoes Episode IV original.
Inspector Morse 1-2, The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn **** Morse investigates the murder of a deaf man at an academy that makes testing papers for foreign countries.
STAR WARS: The Last Jedi ***** Bringing the best of the past into the future, the war escalates, but Rey-Ben’s relationship shines most. Great SFX.
Flipper (1963) **** Ocean photography highlights tale of a boy who befriends a wounded dolphin & clashes with his fisherman father.
Flipper’s New Adventure **** Sequel with Sandy & Flipper running away & help family stranded on an island by criminals. Fun and adventure.
STAR WARS: The Rise of Skywalker **** Not as focused as Last Jedi, the SW finale still has a lot to recommend it including great FX & satisfying arcs.
Bringing Up Baby ***** Madcap heiress sucks paleontologist into her orbit to help take care of “tame” leopard, Baby. Brilliant screwball fun.
Scrooge (1951) ***** There are no better A Christmas Carol movies than this one with Alistair Sim in the title role. A genuine classic.
Die Hard ***** The perfect “Christmas” action movie has the greatest movie villian & scheme of all, vs. iconic Bruce Willis hero.
Christmas Classics Marathon (4 programs) ***** Classic animations. It doesn’t get better. How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town. All made in the 60s, these have unbeatable sincerity.
His Dark Materials – Season 1 **** Strong start covers The Golden Compass + connecting material. Girl & her daemon look for kidnapped friend.
Night of the Werewolf (Naschy #8) El Returno del Hombre Lobo **** Daninsky is executed as pawn of Bathory, but revives in modern day & tries to overcome his past (though still a werewolf) & resurrected Bathory & her vampires. Good entry & wolf vamp battles, slim on connecting scenes.
Mandalorian, The – Season 1 ***** Star Wars story of a mercenary bounty hunter finding his conscience, turning on masters, & finding friends. Great.
Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, The **** Harryhausen classic inspired Godzilla & is still one of the original (& best) giant monster movies. A classic.
Inspector Morse 1-3, Service of All the Dead **** The bodies pile up as Morse & Lewis investigate the murdered body of a church elder after a small mass. Convoluted.
Father Brown – Season 7 (2019) **** Follows the amusing formula for previous seasons with the Father & friends solving cases ahead of the police.
Witcher, The – Season 1 (2019) **** Based on the classic novels & games, the series takes chances with mixing timelines but is a strong fantasy story.

Next month, I finally get to the next Waldemar Daninsky werewolf film, and it’s a really good one.  I also check out some other Naschy flicks I’ve never seen before, plus the “usual” mix of genre stuff, TV series, and the occasional Oscar contender, too.  Stay tuned!

*Note: The version of this first published did not include Watchmen and The Expanse.  That has been corrected.

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