June… June… June… Where did June 2023 go?
It went to watching a whole lot of stuff, apparently — including the original Godzilla anime series, most of the Indiana Jones series, a bit of Young Indiana Jones, the new (and final) series of Endeavour, and ending the month with my usual celebration of Ray Harryhausen’s birthday.
But the reason that this post got delayed beyond July was that when I normally would have posted it, from the middle to the end of the month, my plans intersected with Shark Week, and my tradition of reviewing every new show from that… And my wife and I going on our first honest-to-God vacation since before the start of the pandemic.
But all that’s next month. For now, we’ve got a whole lot of shows to talk about. Here they come…
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.
Note that some shows I’ve given a parenthetical star rating, either adding or subtracting stars, depending on how your amusement may differ from mine. I’ve explained the meaning in the reviews themselves.
Bug (1975) *** William Castle’s final production. A crack in the earth releases pyrotechnic bugs to wreak havoc, which a scientist makes worse. 70s odd.
X from Outer Space, The *** Oddball SF movie where an expedition from space brings back a seed that turns into silly kaiju Guilala with ping-pong ball antennae.
Midsomer Murders 10-1 Dance with the Dead ***** A teen is found dead of apparent suicided at an old airfield in a vintage car. But when it turns out he was dead before the carbon monoxide got to him, Barnaby & Jones must determine whether it was a suicide pact gone wrong or what really happened. Lots of nice twists & turns.
Man-Made Monster (1941 – Sven) **** Early Lon Chaney shocker with Lionel Atwill turning Lon’s lovable sideshow schlub into deadly electrical menace. Chaney makes it work.
Godzilla (1998) ***(*) Emmerich’s giant monster epic has tons of fun stuff, if you’re willing to ignore that he called it “Godzilla,” which it ain’t. If you can ignore the title, you can enjoy a lot of Emmerich-brand chaos & monster action & give it that extra star in the ratings. Or take 1* away if a G-purist.
Love & Mercy **** Biopic of Brian Wilson’s life has different actors for young and old Brian, both excellent, framed by story of Brian’s 2nd wife. Great music.
65 (2023) *** Alien Adam Driver crashes on prehistoric Earth with one other survivor & then must battle dinosaurs to reach escape rocket. Good fun.
Midsomer Murders 10-2 The Animal Within ***** A woman arrives in Midsomer to visit her uncle only to discover that he’s told everyone that she died years ago. Not only that, but he’s now missing, soon found dead, & then people start turning up with wills naming him/her as sole beneficiary. Plenty for Barnaby & Scott to solve.
Creepshow (S1) *** Based on the movie, this series has 2 tales every episode & quality varies wildly, some good, a few super good to make it worth seeing. Personal favorites include a haunted doll house, Halloween trick or treaters, & the Lake Champlain monster. 2 series follow.
John Wick 4 ****(*) Is this the epic end of the John Wick series? It’s certainly epic enough. If you like the series, there’s plenty of stuff for you here — maybe more than enough. But it’s hard not to admire the excess, as well as the amazing action scenes. So, 4 or 5 stars, depending on your preferences. If you’re a Donny Yen fan, you’re probably gonna wanna give that extra star, because he & his character are amazing!
Midsummer Night’s Dream, A ***** Max Reinhardt’s masterpiece adaptation of the Shakespeare comedy has an all-star cast, top-notch production & music. The best.
Calling Philo Vance *** Philo Vance is called in to untangle a plot involving espionage & stealing plans for a new type of airplane. Standard spy-detective fun.
Animal World, The ***(*) Irwin Allen’s take on life on earth includes science & a bit of the Bible. Dated in many ways, but Harrhausen-O’Brien dinosaurs get it an extra star for those who love dinosaurs & stop motion work. Be aware that the narrative features actual, old-style animal & insect fight footage, where living creatures were definitely harmed. But at least there was a surpising end to the bullfight.
Giant Claw, The *** Once you get over the fact that the title monster puppet is one of the most rediculous special effects of all time, GC is a pretty good SF film.
Night Monster (1942 – Sven) *** Eerie mystery with old dark house setting has mysticism & murder & Universal production. Lugosi should have been mystic, not butler.
Dragon Murder Case, The **** Philo Vance must solve the disappearance of a man who dives into the Dragon Pool & never surfaces. More unexpected than usual fare.
Hannah, Queen of the Vampires a.k.a. Crypt of the Living Dead ** Euro Horror meets American TV movie ethic, looks pretty but never quite meets its promise. Story is thin & not quite enough horror.
2012 (2009) *** Rollicking, absurd roller coaster ride of an Emmerich disaster flick reshapes the Earth but hits very standard action-heroic notes. Enjoyable.
Mrs. Davis (season) ***** A nun goes on a quest to find the Holy Grail & destroy the AI that’s running people’s lives. Unexpected & funny from beginning to end.
Twister (1996) **** The SPFX are looking a little dated, but a super-strong cast & pretty good science still bring the thrills in this disaster epic.
Philadelphia Experiment, The *** Strong acting makes this SyFy movie about the infamous “covered up” experiment entertaining as WWII ship appears in modern day.
Hellzapoppin’ (1941) **** Wacky comedy based on vaudeville show has surreal moments, including the opening musical number set in Hell which it never tops.
Robot Monster *(***) New blu-ray restores this $16k budget SF tale to all it’s goofy 3D glory. Most of Earth is wiped out by aliens wearing helmets & gorilla suits. Often classified as “so bad it’s good,” this is a film that you can really grow to aprreciate, even as you laugh at it. 1 star, 4 if you like cheese.
Office, The (S2) ***** The second season of this sitcom really finds its groove with characters you love, love to hate, and/or sympathize with. Very funny stuff.
Midsomer Murders 10-3 King’s Crystal **** When the local crystal factory is facing layoffs, the workers blame the owners, except for the one whose car blew up ona recent trip to China. Then one man ends up killed by a Masonic knife & of course that’s only the start of the troubles Barnaby & Jones must solve.
Outpost Earth *** Brett Piper’s stop-motion & Barbarella-like SPFX outshine his direction in this story of Earth overrun by aliens & “pets.” Decent acting, too.
Midsomer Murders 10-4 The Axman Cometh **** When one of Barnaby’s favorite rock-blues bands, the detective finds himself caught between nostalgia, the fact that some band members aren’t very nice people, & the fact that someone seems to be killing them, one by one. Usual buried secrets ensue for our heroes to solve.
Queen of Outer Space ** Zsa Zsa Gabor heads the rebels willing to risk their lives battling their evil mutant queen for the love of sexist earthmen that crash land on Venus in this 1958 amalam of cliches, many now cringeworthy. Costumes borrowed from better flicks. Some say it’s “so bad it’s good” but…
Satan’s Triangle (1975) ***** Fishing trip in the Bermuda (Satan’s) Triangle goes badly wrong in this little-known supernatural thriller that’s one of the best TV films ever.
Hercules, Sampson, & Ulysses **** Mythic heroes team up to battle an evil tyrant (as usual) but not before they have a ruins-destroying fight! One of my fave peplum films.
Curse of the Demon (Sven) **** US cut is 19 minutes shorter than the UK “Night of the Demon,” but it’s sitll one of the best supernatural thrillers. Skeptic runs afoul of self-styled warlock who places him under the titular curse, with only 2 weeks to live, unless he can figure out how to reverse the curse.
Sister Boniface Mysteries (S1) ***** Yes, I enjoyed this series so much I just watched it again. I thought maybe I hadn’t paid enough attention to a couple of episodes during my first watchthrough. And though maybe I was wrong about that, it never hurts to re-watch a good show & this is excellent.
Deconstructing the Beatles: The White Album **** Because this is a double album, but the film/class/lecture is still only 90 minutes, it feels like this Beatles album gets a bit of a short shrift in this examination. Still, what’s there is, as always, a fascinating look inside the Beatles & the album’s genesis & development.
McQ *** John Wayne’s old-style cop goes rogue to track down who shot his old partner in the back. Usual cop corruption, but Wayne is watchable.
Women of the Prehistoric Planet ** John Agar low-budgeter about astronauts returning to a colonized planet has ambitions for race/class struggle but too cheap to pull it off.
Maximum Overdrive *** Stephen King’s “moron movie” about possessed trucks trying to take over the world vs. people in a truckstop is stupid… but fun.
Endeavour: Prelude (9-1) ***** Endeavour returns from drying out only to discover his old love engaged & a past case haunting him & the station. (Season-long arc.) Also, the lead violin of the local orchestra suddenly drops dead in the middle of an important performance & that’s just the first killing…
Blue Water, White Death **** Classic documentary about trying to find & film the never-before-filmed Great White Shark. The photography is beautiful, but the 1971 approach to dealing with wildlife may be disturbing, particularly following a whaling ship to find sharks attracted to the kill, that may be difficult or disturbing for modern audiences. Still, that’s the way things were back then, and t hank God they’ve changed. Strong film.
Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, The 1-1 My First Adventure **** The original TV series has been put into chronological order & cut into a series of 90-minute movies. Sadly, this means that we’ve lost the mix of young Indy & teen Indy that the show originally had. It also means that we have to get through all the “gentler” young Indy episodes before what I remember as the more action-oriented teen Indy episodes. Which is not to say these early eps/movies are bad, just that they’re perhaps quieter than you’d expect. Because the series was also made to be educational, we get to meet a lot of historical figures (& learn about them) in every segment. I this first “movie,” Indy & his parents go to the Valley of the Kings where they investigate a newly discovered mummy & a missing artifact. (Sadly, this “case” is solved in the teen series.) Then Indy & a new slave-boy friend go AWOL & are taken captive by slavers who intend to sell the pair for profit. Given the country’s current tenor, I wish more people could see the “slavery sucks” episode. Maybe this series still has edu cational value today!
Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, The 1-2 Passion for Life **** On safari in Africa, the Jones family meets Teddy Rosevelt & Indy makes friends with a Masai boy & teaches the former president a lesson about preserving animals, rather than shooting them. Then, Indy & the young Normal Rockwell pal aroud paris with Degas, Pablo Picasso, & some pretty women models who are surpisingly naked for kids’ TV & appear positively shocking by today’s blue-nosed standards.
Midsomer Murders 10-6 A Picture of Innocence ***** The rivalry in a Midsomer village between traditional (film) photographers & digital photographers is running high even before one of the old-timers turns up dead. With plenty of suspects Barnaby & Jones are kept busy trying to stop the killings, even before Barnaby is framed.
Midsomer Murders 10-7 They Seek Him Here **** A low-budget remake of The Scarlet Pimpernel brings a film company to Midsomer & naturally murder follows as well — gruesome murders centering around a prop guillotine. Can Barnaby & Jones track down the killer before the final “off with their heads”?
Garden Murder Case, The *** Philo Vance investigates the strange “suicide” of a jockey during a horserace followed by more strange suicides… or are they murders?
Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (a.k.a. Monte Carlo or Bust) *** Racers rally all across Europe to meet up in Monte Carlo for a final race to the finish. This slapstick comedy is similar (but inferior) to Blake Edwards’ GREAT RACE. Still, there’s plenty of fun to be had as Tony Curtis & Terry Thomas compete for control of their car company.
Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom *** Spielberg’s motto in the 1st Indiana Jones sequel seemed to be “everything… but more.” Thus, the thrills are turned up to 11, some of them just as absurd as the “fridge” episode in the 4th Indy film. However, there’s still a lot of fun to be had & Short Round really should have been given his own movie series or TV show. Also, this is the film that gave us the PG-13 rating, which has sadly dissauded the industry from making movies for grown-ups. (Movies now aim for that golden PG-13 raiting rather than risking an R, or even a PG or G.)
Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade **** Happily, Spielberg seemed to understand that the 2nd IJ film went too far over the top & reined this quest back to less outlandish practical effects & the often more-James-Bond-like feel of Raiders. We still get plenty of thrills & evil villains, plus Sean Connery as Indy’s dad.
Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull *** People make fun of the “fridge scene,” but it’s not much more absurd than raft escape from the 2nd film. Still, Spielberg seems to have gone back into over-the-top mode, possibly spurred by CGI. But he should have stuck to practical FX, even when dealing with crystal skulls, deadly ants, mighty waterfalls, & possible space aliens. We get Indy’s long-lost son, but also, happily, Marion Ravenwood.
Beach Blanket Bingo **** I have an absurd love for this particular beach movie with its skydiving & pretty mermaid & many shaking, dancing nubile bodies. It also has one of Buster Keaton’s last performances, Paul Linde, Don Rickles, & the Hondells, plus Frankie & Annette, of course.
Endeavour: Uniform (9-2) ***** As the danger from Morse’s old case deepens, a dead uniform officer & a set of apparent thrill killings (a hobo & an artist) soon turns out the entired department. Complicating things further, a TV show has come to town to film the final season of a popular detective show.
Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, The 1-3 The Perils of Cupid ***** First, young Indy falls in love with a princess who happens to be the daughter of Archduke Ferdinand (who’s assassination started WWI). Then, when Indy’s Dad is away, Indy’s mom falls under the spell of composer Puccini. Heartfelt emotional conflicts make this one special.
Intruder Within, The ** A deep sea alien-like creature takes over a drilling rig in this TV movie. Good cast but sadly shoddy FX until the final alien, which is okay.
Superman & Lois (S3) ***** The third season of this CW show features a good re-cating of one of the Kent boys (who now seems to better resemble his brother), but it’s the cancer story & other personal stories that really make this season a standout in the lives of Superman & family. Stakes you can feel.
Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle (Anime 2) * See my re-evaluation of the first film in this series. The second film in the Godzilla anime trilogy features the same boring characters talking endlessly about what they’re going to do, what they’re doing, and what they just did. The pseudo-science bullshit is piled high and the movie entirely wastes the premise that the premise that the “corpse” of Mecha-Godzilla has grown to the size of a very boring looking space city. The visuals are pretty slick, but it’s almost too much to call this animation. And the 3rd film doesn’t get any better.
Skull Island (S1) **** A group of people including a mysterious young woman & her monstrous dog get stranded on Skull Island, trapped between the deadly sea monster that put them there, the idlands dangerous fauna, and of course Kong himself. Fun animation & decent story. Worth seeing.
Murder in the Private Car *** An eccentric detective (Charles Ruggles) tries to save a newly found heiress from killers & a gorilla during a train trip. Crazy ending.
Godzilla: The Planet Eater (Anime 3) * Having failed to kill Godzilla conventionally, some space returnees turn to worshiping King Ghidorah, hoping the three-headed monster (more 3 big snakes here) will finish the big G. And I’m sorry, I just made this super-talkie film sound way more interesting than it actually is. Like the rest of the series, it’s blab, blab, blab, with trite futuristic visuals & a Chosen One story we’ve all seen too many times before. Then, when you get to the end, you get a sudden turn away from the resolution to an arty shot of floating flower pedals. I call bullshit. Oh, and there’s a worthless after-credits scene, too. See my re-evaluation of the orginal film in the series, which follows immediately. Bad film.
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters (Anime 1) ** (Re-evaluation) Finally watching the 2nd & 3rd films in this series has made me go back and re-evaluate the original. I’d been generous in giving it 3 stars in 2018, probably swayed by the fact that having an anime Godzilla film seemed like a good idea then. It sitll seems like a good idea, but the films we got from that idea are in no ways good. You could probalby cut all the best scenes from the three into a much more interesting half-hour to hour show. There are some good ideas here, to be sure, but the execution of all the series–of which this is the best–is overlong, incessently talky, filed with pseuco-science & quasi-mystical techno babble, & just plain B-O-R-I-N-G. Here, refugees from Earth return from space to find the planet taken over by Godzilla & Godzilla-like lifeforms. Sounds cool, right? But it’s not. It’s just contstant babbling on about things that could have been SHOWN (not TOLD) in half the time. And to add insult to injury, we get the damn Chosen One (this is your destiny, boy!) subplot/theme slopped onto the top of the rest. Maybe the Japanese find all this bullshit “deep,” but I call ’em like I see ’em. This series is a serious waste of time & the ONLY films in the nearly 80-year-long history of Godzilla that I have NO desire to ever see again. This gets a 2nd star for seeming unique when I first saw it. I though the series would get better from here. It didn’t.
Jurassic World: Dominion **** I thought I was watching the extended version of the film, but the streaming gizmo screwed up, which explains why nothing seemed very different to me. Still, I enjoyed watching this film again. There’s plenty of action & plenty of dinos in it. But I just watched the start of the Extended Cut & it has even more dinosaurs. You can never have too many dinosaurs! In this the dinos are out in the world but so are Jurassic locusts. Can science save the world? It’s still great to see the main cast from the original series teamed up with the new cast.
Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, The ***** Ray Harryhausen’s first solo film kicks off my celebration of Ray’s birthday this year. A giant dinosaur thaws out of the Arctic ice & then leaves a mysterious trail of destruction down the coast while scientists & the military try to keep up. This film not only inspired Godzilla and set the template for many 1950s SciFi monster films, It remains a great of the genre & a portent of great things to come from Ray.
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers **** Still the best flying saucer film ever made, the Ray Harryhausen SPFX are what makes this great. The saucers have personality, the aliens are ruthless & mysterious,& the attack on Washington DC is memorable nearly 70 years later.
20 Million Miles to Earth **** The Ymir, a strange creature brought back to Earth by the first expedition to Venus, grows to monstrous size & runs through the Italian countryside as the authorities try to catch up & stop it. Finishes with a memorable rampage in Rome. Another Harryhausen great.
7th Voyage of Sinbad, The ***** Classic Ray Harryhausen Arabian fantasy is one of the greatest fantasy films of all time. When his princess fiancée is cursed, Sinbad must return to the island of Colossa to battle a cyclops, a dragon, a two-headed roc, an evil magician, and an animated skeleton. Perfect.
Valley of Gwangi, The ***** Cowboys discover a hidden valley containing creatures long thought extinct including the legendary titular allosaurus called Gwangi — the Evil One. Harryhausen’s dinosaur SPFX in this film are still studied as high marks in the genre, & are exciting fun for viewers of all ages.
Golden Voyage of Sinbad, The ***** John Philip Law might be the best Sinbad ever, & Tom Baker (Doctor Who) is worthy evil foe as they both seek treasure in the lost island of Lemuria. But it’s Ray Harryhausens creatures, including a centaur, a griffon, and a multi-armed stature that make this film great.
It Came from Beneath the Sea **** Harryhausen’s giant octopus only has 6 arms, but it still causes plenty of chaos in San Francisco as scientists & the military try to stop it.
Saint Meets the Tiger, The (1942) *** After a dead man shows up on his doorstep, Simon Templar, the Saint, tries to track down criminal mastermind The Tiger. Standard.
Plan 9 from Outer Space **(***) Perhaps the most famous “so bad it’s good” film of all time. Space Aliens resurrect the dead to take over the Earth. Director Ed Wood’s ineptness makes the film unintentionally hilarious, but its sincerity is endearing. Bela Lugosi’s last (test) scenes incorporated into the film.
So, that’s it for June 2023. It seems like a whole lot of reviews as I’m posting them now, and some of them are considerably longer than I usually post. The actual total for the month of movies and shows is 67 new entries, which is a truly monstrous number! That brings us to a total of 320 reviews for 2023. Should be plenty for you to choose from there, but we’re just halfway done!
NEXT MONTH: The series finale of Endeavour, the first 5 days of Shark Week 2023, and a whole lot more! Be there or be square!
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