December 2021 Mini-Reviews – Torchy Blane in Chinatown to Coco

2021 is over, and 2022 is going so fast that we’re almost through with January, and I haven’t managed to either publish this or get a January newsletter (subscribe at right) together yet.  Yow!  Where is the time flying?  (And why won’t it take the pandemic with it?!)  Things were running so quickly by year’s end that I didn’t even have time to log what I’d been watching before the middle of January.  (I keep a notebook as I watch.)

I finished up 2021 with a bunch of Edgar Wallace crime movies (who knew he wrote things besides King Kong?), more Torchy Blane mysteries, some faves old (Cowboy Bebop (anime)) and new, and the return of some beloved series — Lost in Space, Masters of the Universe, and The Witcher — amid an impromptu marathon of fantasy series including Shannara and Wheel of Time, and serials, OMG, serials!

Add to that The New Mutants and Hawkeye from the various Marvel factions, plus Pixar to end the year on a high note.  Dive in and see the cappers for 2021!

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.

Torchy Blane in Chinatown *** Torchy & Steve (Farrell & MacLane) try to protect businessmen targed by Chinese gangsters. Decent mystery; some 1930s racism.
Silver Streak **** Gene Wilder, Jill Clayburg start a romance on a train trip in this Hitchcock-like mystery comedy. Richard Prior is genius. Funny.
Case of the Frightened Lady *** Fairly standard Edgar Wallace mystery where a lot of people are in a big house with one suspected of murder.
Four Just Men: The Battle of the Bridge *** Origin story for the short-lived TV series, based on the Edgar Wallace story. Four soldiers team up to right wrongs.
White Spider, The *** Euro-crime film. Wife gets insurance boon when husband suddenly dies, but were similar deaths the work of the White Spider?
Fellowship of the Frog *** Edgar Wallace’s crime drama, made in Germany about the hunt for a master criminal who hides behind a frog-like mask.
Crawling Eye, The **** Creepy tale about people stranded on an alpine mountain dealing with monsters that lurk in a cloud. Dig the cheesy monsters, too.
Torchy Runs for Mayor *** After getting tangled up with corrupt politicians, Torchy Blane ends up running for mayor, must to the displeasure of cop Steve.
Stepfather, The *** Terry O’Quinn makes story of serial killer with serial families interesting as title characters. Otherwise, usual ’80s slasher stuff.
Masters of the Universe: Revelations (Pt.2) **** The 2nd part of Kevin Smith’s adaptation of Masters continues the fun with more unexpected but respectful twists. Good fun!
Lost in Space (S3) **** The new series wraps up with the kids & Robinsons reunited against the robot menace headed for Alpha Centauri. Worth seeing.
Last Picture Show, The ***** Peter Bogdanovich’s moving McMurtry adaptation about growing up in 1950s Texas with Timothy Bottoms, Sybil Shepard, & co.
Locke & Key (S2) **** The Locke family battles against Dodge, the demon that has infiltrated their family, as more history & magical intrigue unfold.
Cowboy Bebop (original anime) ***** Classic anime about rag-tag group of bounty hunters (Cowboys) dealing with making a living, their pasts, & hijinks. Great series.
Carnival of Souls ***** Possibly the best low-budget horror movie of all time, Carnival comes off like a long Twilight Zone episode full of creepy touches.
Ghoul, The *** Boris Karloff is worships Egyptian gods whom he expects will resurrect him when he dies. His his heirs want his fortune. Slow.
Strangler of the Swamp *** The vengeful spirit of a hanged man haunts a swampland ferry, killing those responsible for his death & others who get in his way.
Mutations, The (aka Freakmaker) *** Donald Pleasance tries to mix humans & plants to better human race while Tom Baker (!) runs freak show full of his rejects. Fun.
Outrage, The (1964) *** Rashomon comes to the Wild West in adaptation with Paul Newman, William Shatner, Edgar G. Robinson, but not up to original.
Wicked Stepmother *** Bette Davis is the title character, a witch who marries into a family only to loot (& shrink) them. Barbara Carrera is her alter-ego.
Castle of the Living Dead *** Traveling theater troupe entertains Christopher Lee’s, unaware that he likes to embalm living creatures. Atmospheric.
Fury of the Wolfman *** Naschy’s 3rd outing as a werewolf has sub-par makeup & is a hot mess, but has so much packed in that it’s still great fun.
Crypt of the Vampire *** Somewhat confused take on Carmilla starts with witch reincarnation before switching to vamp mode. Christopher Lee. Well shot.
Borrowed Wives *** Heir needs to bring his wife to an Old Dark House before he’s actually married. Fiancee is busy so he hires another for mixup fun.
Ghosts on the Loose *** First of the future Bowrey Boys haunted house pictures has Bela Lugosi as a Nazi plotting trouble with ghosts as a cover story.
Drums of Jeopardy **** Warner Oland as Boris Karlov (!) a mad scientist out for revenge against Russian nobles who impregnated & dumped his daughter.
Perils of the Darkest Jungle (The Tiger Woman – serial) ***** Bad guys try to prevent South American tribe led by Tiger Woman from getting an oil deal while, at the same time, trying to kidnap TW, who is actually heiress to an American fortune. Linda Sterling excels as bloodthirsty Tiger Woman in a great stunt-filled serial.
Zorro’s Black Whip (serial) **** Linda Stirling bends Zorro’s gender in this action-packed western serial where she inherits the mantle to fight bad guys. Fun.
Flash: Armageddon (S8.1) *** Despite some interesting twists & turns, the Flash still relies on the CW trope of ginning up conflict by the characters withholding vital information from each other. Ugh. But at least we got Despero, Reverse Flash, & some other fun.
Wheel of Time (S1) *** The fantasy trappings are pretty standard & the best fight is the 1st one, but Rosamund Pike as the sorceress & Daniel Henny as her Warder (bodyguard) make this start to the prospective series totally worth seeing. Hopefully, S2 will move away from tropes.
Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism *** Christopher Lee is the evil count back from the grave to take revenge on those who executed him. Some fun torture, magic.
Castle of the Living Dead *** Christopher Lee is a nobleman who invites a traveling circus of the macabre to his castle, where they start dying for real.
Challenge the Devil ** AKA Katarsis, a group of delinquent/hippie-types break into Christopher Lee’s castle & get trapped inside. Too arty & incoherent.
Time Tunnel (S1) *** The 60s classic TV show is full of adventure & has more SF elements than I remembered. Still heavily movie clip reliant, but fun.
Witcher, The (S2) ***** Geralt, Ciri, Yennefer, Jaskir & the rest are back in a largely off-book series as Ciri trains to be a witcher, war continues to rumble, & various political factions (& monsters) plot against each other & in some cases the human race. Really fun second season.
Matrix: Resurrections, The **** Part sequel, part re-boot, I enjoyed this new film both for nostalgia & for it correcting some “errors” in original series. More = good.
Shannara Chronicles, The (S1) *** Nearly all the characters are under 30 in this adaptation of the famous book series. Elves, humans, druids, apocalypse. Okay.
Shannara Chronicles, The (S2) *** Second & final season (so far?) picks up the threads from S1 with more romance, more betrayal, more druid magic. Still okay.
Hawkeye (S1) ***** Avengers archer gets sucked away from family Christmas by an underground auction selling some of his old equipment & a socialite archer protege, & things just get crazier & more complex from there. Includes some great guest-stars, action, & a musical!
Magnificent Ambersons, The **** Welles directed, but it’s Agnes Moorehead who steals this show about a spoiled rich boy growing into spoiled man. Classic.
Dolomite *** Low budget blaxploitation film about a parolled pimp who takes on those who wronged him with karate sisters & crazy stuff.
Truck Turner *** Isaac Hayes is the title character, a skip tracer who tracks down those responsible for his partner’s death, inc. Nichelle Nichols.
Undead, The (Sven) *** Corman tale of witchcraft & reincarnation involves psychiatrist returning to past to save woman from witch, imp, & devil. Fun.
Torchy Blaine… Playing with Dynamite *** Jane Wyman does better than you’d expect as Torchy who deliberately goes to jail to get close to moll & her gangster boyfriend.
New Mutants **** Marvel’s junior X-Men characters get an origin while confined in a claustrophobic training school. Not what you’d expect.
Coco ***** Boy whose family hates music steals guitar & winds up in land of the dead trying to get home & save his family honor. Great stuff.

The Tale of the Tape 2021…

This is it!  The final count of 2021!  I watched 46 movies/series/note-worthies in December, making the…

Grand Total for 2021: 653

That’s a HUGE number — though I’m still a ways away from averaging 2 movies per day across the whole year.  (Though certainly if I stopped watching series, I’d have a better chance at it!)  But astoundingly, that does not beat 2020’s record-setting number of 715.  (Which was damn close to 2 per day!)  Honestly, I’m not surprised, as I’d totally forgotten 2020’s massive total.  I still don’t know if I’ll ever beat that number, certainly not if I keep bingeing series.  And speaking of that…

Next Month: If you’ve been with me for the five years I’ve been doing these mini-reviews, it should be no surprise that the movies and series keep coming in January 2022.  But it is surprising that this next month I discover 2 series which now number in my favorites of all time.  What are they?  Stay tuned and find out!

Stay Safe!  Get Vaccinated!  Tell your family & friends! Let’s End the Pandemic!

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