January 2023 Mini-Reviews – Shadow of the Thin Man to Midsomer Murders: Dark Autumn

Holy cats, it’s almost the end of February — and I haven’t even gotten out my January 2023 reviews out yet!

There’s a good reason for this… I fell behind, way behind in transcribing what I’d watched from my little notebook into my new 2023, spreadsheet.  Okay, maybe that’s not the best reason, but in the midst of life’s travails, including running my first book Kickstarter in years and a 23-hour blackout where my wife and I were forced to retreat to a hotel for warmth after an ice storm.  Anyway, I’ve been busy.

Not too busy not to squeeze a bunch of movies in, though, including a little Pam Grier film fest, the first of a great series of Deconstructing the Beatles films, and of course my continuing pursuit of the movie-length Midsomer Murders series.  Plus, one of the most moving documentaries I’ve ever watched about a world-renowned surfer.

The first batch of 2023 awaits!

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.

Shadow of the Thin Man (1941) **** Nick & Nora get swept up with murders at a racetrack that a reporter friend gets caught up in. Wit, banter, & some funny lines + detecting.
Don’t Look Now (1973) ***** Human drama, suspense thriller, a hot sex scene, and a touch of the supernatural make this story about a couple in Venice trying to recover from the death of a child a classic. Venice has never looked so spooky!
Abbott & Costello Go to Mars (Sven – 1953) *** The boys accidently get into a space ship that’s supposed to go to Mars, but ends up in New Orleans & then Venus. Standard A&C silliness.
Reluctant Astronaut, The *** Don Knotts is a carnival space ride operator who, through a mix up, ends up working at NASA and then going to space. Family fun.
Thin Man Goes Home, The (1944) **** Nick & Nora return to Nick’s hometown & get wrapped up in murder on the family doorstep. A good variation but misses the drinking.
Song of the Thin Man (1947) *** The final in the series has Nick & Nora involved with murder, jazz musicians, & a gambling boat. Powell & Loy make it worth watching.
Midsomer Murders 2-3 Dead Man’s Eleven **** A mysterious death near a quarry results in Barnaby & Troy looking into past deaths & a (usual) web of lies & deception.
Midsomer Murders 2-4 Blood Will Out **** A band of Irish Travelers (gypsies) complicate matters when a local magistrate is murdered in his own library amid tangled relationships.
John Wick Chapter 3 Parabellum **** The Wick saga continues with John on the run from pretty much everybody… And ninjas. Some great action including stunt dogs.
My Demon Lover (’87) ** Woman with bad luck dating hooks up with homeless man who’s part demon. Lots of 80s-style horror comedy that almost works.
Sphinx (’81) *** Woman Egyptologist looking for lost treasure gets swept up in crime, espionage, & romance in standard action-suspense flick set in Egypt.
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (’71) **** Minor horror classic about mental patient who moves into an old house with hippy friends, one of whom may be a vampire. Eerie.
Yotsuya Kaidan (Pt.1 – 1949) *** Classic Japanese ghost story about woman betrayed by her unfaithful husband. Part one concentrates on the story’s setup.
Yotsuya Kaidan (Pt.2 – 1949) *** The classic Japanese ghost story continues with more twists & betrayals, murder, & finally a ghostly climax. Well made but slow.
Midsomer Murders 3-4 Beyond the Grave ***** The slashing of an ancient portrait in a local museum precipitates a series of ghostly events that end in murders for Barnaby to solve.
Cat & the Canary, The (1939) **** Bob Hope is his usual funny self in this adaptation of the classic story/play that, despite the humor hews closely to the original mystery.
Willow (S1) **** Warwick Davis (& others) reprise their roles from the 80s film as a new generation sets out on a quest & to fulfill the original prophecy. Fun.
Titans (S2) **** The 1st season wrap up is super brief, but the 2nd season stories have a better & more entertaining villain. Good despite goofy end.
Midsomer Murders 3-1 Death of a Stranger **** A retiring superintendent arrests a pocher for the murder of a tramp, but Barnaby thinks he’s got the wrong guy. Naturally, this are more complicated than they first appeared, & when the superintendent ends up dead, too Barnaby must put all the pieces together.
Shin Ultraman (2022) **** Retelling of the story of Ultraman with modern effects made to look like rubber suits. A lot of fun in the vein of Shin Godzilla.
Adventurous Blonde (1937) **** Jealous rival reporters plan a fake murder for Glenda Farrell’s Torchy to solve. But the fake turns real in this entertaining series entry.
Blondes at Work (1938) *** Torchy (Glenda Farrell) “bugs” cop boyfriend Steve’s (Barton MacLean) driver to scoop the competition & solve a murder.
Invisible Man, The (Sven – 1933) ***** Horror mixed with dark comedy, the hallmark of James Whale, plus Claude Rains’ title performance makes this film a classic.
Alphabet Murders, The (1966) ** Tony Randall’s Poirot is more has some of the character’s traits, but the comedy touches harm the story & make this almost unwatchable.
Midsomer Murders 3-2 Blue Herrings **** Barnaby’s aunt becomes involved in a series of mysterious deaths at a nursing home that may be related to a mysterious stranger lurking around the property & one or more of the nurses at the facility. Suspenseful.
Cleopatra Jones (1973) **** Tamara Jones’ Cleo is a black James Bond working for the US government in this action filled & entertaining 70s blaxploitation flick.
Midsomer Murders 3-3 Judgement Day ***** As residents prepare for the “Perfect English Village” contest, a local ladies’ man & thief (Orlando Bloom) is murdered with a pitchfork. Of course, things just get more complicated from there.
Pale Blue Eye, The (2022) **** Local woodsman enlists Edgar Alan Poe to solve a series of murders at West Point. Moody & compelling mystery with good twists.
Midsomer Murders 4-1 Garden of Death **** The impending destruction of a public garden brings out the worst in a village including murder & revelation of old affairs & secrets.
Monkees, The (S2) *** The “Pre-Fab Four” make some great music & their counter-culture antics remain fun. But the focus is erratic in their 2nd & final season.
Midsomer Murders 4-2 Destroying Angel ***** When a hotel manager with a love of mushrooms is killed, it sets of squabbling among his heirs, most of whom don’t seem trustworthy & many of whom start dying off one by one. Naturally, Barnaby & Sgt. Troy have to sort all that out..
Automat, The (2022) **** Entertaining doc about the famous Automat restaurants in NYC & Philly where you got great food from a compartment for a nickel.
Sheba, Baby *** Pam Grier (Sheba) is a Chicago detective who returns to the south to help her father against gangsters. Blaxploitation chaos ensues.
Coffee **** Pam Grier goes on the bloody trail of vengeance for her dead junkie sister & crippled cop boyfriend. The action level is high & the body count piles up in this above average Blaxploitation flick. Revenge is a dish best served multiple ways.
Kiss of the Vampire (Sven – 1963) **** Honeymoon couple stop in the wrong castle in the wrong town, because the place is full of vampires. Some good Hammer fun here.
Lost World, The (1960) *** This Conan Doyle classic adaptation has good cast & looks great but the dinosaurs are gussied-up lizards with hard-to-watch battles.
Deconstructing the Beatles: The Birth of the Beatles ***** Teacher, musician, & Beatles lover Scott Freiman chronicles the early days of the Fab Four in the first of his series of film-length lectures.
Foxy Brown *** Pam Grier is out for revenge again, posing as a prostitute to root out corrupt officials, sex slavery, & drugs. She gets more than her share.
Midsomer Murders 4-3 Electric Vendetta ***** When a man turns up dead in the center of a crop circle, Barnaby must figure out if that & subsequent deaths are the result of UFO activity, or if a much more earthly agency is responsible for both the crop circles & the murders.
Black Mama, White Mama (’73) *** Pam Grier & Margaret Markov escape from women’s prison in an exploitation version of The Defiant Ones with 70s revolution thrown in.
HAWAIIAN The Legend of Eddie Aikau ***** The life story of Big Wave surfing legend Eddie Aikau who helped reclaim Hawaiian heritage in surfing, became the first lifeguard at the notoriously dangerous big surf Waimea Bay, saved 500 lives, won surf contests, & sacrificed his life trying to rescue a stranded expedition. The surf contest in his honor is only held when the wave heights in the Bay reach 40′ (from trough to tip) or higher consistently. So, it is not held every year & surfers come the world over on 48-hours notice to compete. A brilliant, heartfelt documentary about a Hawaiian hero.
Violent Night **** A drunken Santa Claus (the real one) gets stranded in the house of a rich family being threatened by terrorists. Hilarious violence follows.
Midsomer Murders 4-4 Who Killed Cock Robin **** After a party, a local doctor runs down a man at the side of the road, but the may/body mysteriously disappears, only to lead to more murder — plus the usual lies, deception, & long-burief secrets. Naturally, Barnaby & Troy are up to pulling together the clues — well, Barnaby at least.
Cronos (1993) *** Early Del Toro film about an antique dealer mixed up with an artifact that can bestow a type of immortality. Dark comedy, body horror.
Gigantis the Fire Monster (’55) *** The 2nd Godzilla film was renamed (& recut) when it came to the US, with less success than King of the Monsters. Original version better.
Poirot (S3) **** David Suchet is so comfortable in the role of Poirot in this series, it’s now hard to think of him as an actor & not the detective himself.
Godzilla, King of the Monsters (Sven – ‘ 56) **** The original Godzilla film (Gojira – 1954) was re-cut & combined with new footage featuring Raymond Burr when it came to the US. Surprisingly, the film still works really well, & is a classic in its own right. Honda’s direction, Tsuburaya’s effects, & Ifukube’s music stand out.
Mouse on the Moon (’63) *** In order to get some foreign aid from the US, Grand Fenwick pretends to get in the moon race & actually beats the US & USSR. Fun.
Midsomer Murders 4-5 Dark Autumn **** Lothario postman is murdered during his morning mail delivery, but that only starts the murders Barnaby, Troy, & local cop Jay must solve.

So, that’s the first set of reviews for the new year of 2023.  49 entries for a Grand Total of… 49!  (What did you expect, it’s the start of a new year!)

NEXT MONTH: More Midsomer Murder!  More Beatles!  A couple of sequels to classic flicks that really disappoint.  And plenty of monsters, as usual.

The Pandemic is sadly still with us!  Let’s End It for Good!
Please…  #VaxUp! #BoostUp! #MaskUp!

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