August 2023 Mini-Reviews – Annihilate All Humans to The Black Shield of Falworth

August started off with a road trip to see our first in-theater movie since the start of the pandemic, and ended with a minor medieval swordplay movie that does not contain Tony Curtis saying the line “Yonder lies da castle of my fodda.”  (Though I thought it did.  Apparently even in Son of Ali Baba he doesn’t say it, just something close.)  In between, there were a lot of movies.

I even caught up with the rest of Shark Week, that we missed doing live while we were gone.  Plus, I continued my Sword & Sorcery movie quest… A quest that remains, as yet, unfinished.  I also rewatched the great 1990s Gamera series, plus the original one.  I also continued the marathon of watching Midsomer Murders and also picked up the series John Nettles starred in previous to MM, Bergerac.  Plus, The Witcher is back for Season 3, so what more could you ask.

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.

Annihilate All Humans **** While General Castle & the scientists are away, mysterious aliens conduct test attacks on Earth to discover human weaknesses. The latest film by Christopher R. Mihm has lots of flying saucer special effects & human disintegrations. Good script but a little slow at times. Fun.
Silencers, The **** Dean Martin as the suave, hard-drinking secret agent up with the back-firing gun against a band of criminals bent on world domination. Plenty of pretty girls decorate this film that’s part hardboiled, part James Bond parody. Possibly the best of the series.
Shark Week 2023 Friday **** Finishing the SW reviews after my vacation. Tropic Jaws ****, Deadly Sharks of Paradise ****, The Haunting of Shark Tower ****
Shark Week 2023 Saturday ***** Dawn of the Monster Mako *****, Megasharks of Dangerous Reef ***** This makes 2023 one of the best Shark Weeks in recent memory.
Leviathan **** Peter Weller & the crew of an undersea rig accidentally contaminate themselves with a monster from a sunken sub. Like Alien underwater.
Hustler, The ***** Paul Newman wants to be the best pool player of all, faces off against Minnesotta Fats, & learns some hard lessons of life & love. Brilliant.
Shadow of the Cat, The (Sven) *** Murderous heirs try to destroy the family cat who they feel will betray them to the police, but they all die, one by one. Feline fun.
Gamera, the Giant Monster **** The original giant flying turtle movie is MUCH better without the added US scenes. Gamera is dangerous in this, despite saving a kid.
Gamera: Guardian of the Universe ***** When bloodthirsty giant Gyaos “birds” appear, super flying turtle Gamera shows up to battle them & save the earth. One of the best.
Gamera 2: Attack of Legion **** Bug-like Legion tries to overwhelm Gamera, but the ancient super weapons fights on. This film only suffers next to the 1st & 3rd in series.
Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris ***** The final entry of the ’90s Gamera films focuses on the human impact of a monster bent on saving not humanity, but the planet at any cost & what that has meant for a little girl who finds a mosnter of her own. Naturally she raises “Iris” to get revenge on Gamera for her loss. Great finale.
Ridley (S1) **** Detective Ridley comes back to work freelance on the police force & solve mysteries after the murder of his wife & daughter. Strong series.
Grantchester (S8) **** Rev. Tom being an asshole early on hurts this series, but it all swings around by the end with good mysteries & character work.
Air Force (1943) **** Howard Hawks’ story of an air crew that is helpless witnessing Pearl Harbor who then fight their way across the Pacific War. Good action.
Poirot (S6) **** 4 90-minute-ish mysteries let David Suchet show off his superb portrayal of Christie’s detective. Dumb Witness a highlight.
Hail the Conquering Hero (1944) **** A man washed out of the army because of hay fever hooks up with returning vets from WWII who portray him as a hero — much to his chagrin & embarrassment. A find Preston Sturgis comedy with the usual social commentaries & strong characters. Midsomer Magazine & a local hotel figure prominently in a murder that brings Barnaby & Jones into a tangle of past & present marriages & relationships.
Bergerac (S1) **** John Nettles (future star of Midsomer Murders) is the titular detective working on the British Isle of Jersey off the French shore on the kind of crime & murder cases that you might expect in a 1980s detective drama in an exotic locale. He’s not perfect & doesn’t always win.
Secret Invasion (S1) *** Jackson’s Nick Fury is back from outer space to prevent the shape-changing Skrulls from taking over Earth. Slower than it should be.
Blood Tide *** An American couple go to a Greek isle where James Earl Jones is hunting for treasure, despite a little-seen monster lurking in the water.
Dementia 13 (Director’s Cut) **** Story of a gold-digging girl marrying into an old family with a dark secret has trimmed all the fat in the directors’ cut to its betterment.
Lake Placid **** A giant alligator is discovered it the titular body of water & wreaks havoc & amusing deaths on the hapless locals. Betty White stands out.
Revenge of the Virgins *** Ed Wood scripted this weird amalgam of western with nudie cutie as topless “Indian” maidens protect their territory from cowboys. Not bad.
Teenage Zombies ** Teenagers get stranded on island where mad doctors are turning people into mindless slaves. Not enough real zombie action to be good.
Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat (1989) **** A modern western town is inhabited by vampires trying to “go straight” with artificial blood, but when an engineer comes with his family to check out the blood plant the town is ripped by a civil war between new & old vamps. Funny & gory with some actual ideas.
Barbie (2023) ***** Barbie lives in a perfect, pink, woman dominated world, but Ken doesn’t realize how unhappy he is until… Super-smart funny, brilliant.
Super Mario Bros. Movie, The *** The Mario Bros. are plumbers sucked into a fantasy world to protect a princess against a villain who wants to marry her & his army. The animation is good, packed with fan-service moments for game players that I didn’t totally get, but despite the cliché set up, still enjoyable.
Witcher (S3) **** The season starts a little slowly then kicks into high gear at the halfway point, during the convention of sorcerers before racing toward the end in what is a surprisingly faithful adaptation of the Witcher books. Hopefully, a new star as the Witcher next season won’t slow it down.
Serpent of the Nile, The *** William Castle directed this color story of Anthony & Cleopatra that’s surprisingly unsympathetic to the queen & her lover.
Barbarians, The **(+*) Starts like a horse-drawn Road Warrior, morphs into Conan-esque tale of twin brothers separated early in life & trained to fight in the arena. Naturally, they battle, then team up to take down the evil warlord that harmed their traveling-circus-like family. The production values are very strong throughout & the derivative story elements aren’t too bad. Plus, if you like beefcake, there’s that in spades (and a little cheesecake, too). If you’re not into cheesy S&S, you might even consider it bad. If 80s Euro-fantasy/S&S is your bag, it gets another star. If you get the blu-ray, the commentary will add to your enjoyment of the film, which is what it should do.
Barbarian Queen II (The Empress Strikes Back) ** Princess resists an evil king & his brat daughter & hides in the woods with rebels. Plays like sadistic, occasionally topless Robin Hood. Evil little princess is kinda fun, until she magically grows up; then she’s just another (dim-witted) villain. At least it’s enthusiastic. No empress.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (S3) ***** This season picks up where the 1st left off & goes on strong from there with some of the best Trek stories since ToS & a surprisingly good musical. The focus is on the whole cast, rather than just the top 3, which makes for a strong mix. Actors are uniformly excellent.
Outlander (S7-A) ***** Claire & Jamie struggle through the American War of Independence while in the present their heirs run into weird events. Excellent series.
Black Scorpion (Sven) **** A Mexican volcano looses giant scorpions on the countryside in this Willis O’Brien-Pete Petersen stop motion classic.
Vera 1-1 Into the Depths **** Dowdy police detective Vera must solve the connection between a boy accidentally drowned, another made to look like a suicide, & a dead young teacher in this kick-off to this long-running British mystery series that falls more to the noir side than cozy.
Midsomer Murders 11-5 The Magician’s Nephew ***** A magician’s assistant is locked in a cabinet full of knives, but rather than disappearing, she dies, which brings Barnaby & Jones into a circle of people who combine stage magic for kids with ritual witchcraft-style magic for adults. Lies & deception abound.
2-Headed Shark Attack *** Sexy young vacationers are trapped between a boat & an unstable island & a 2-headed shark looking to eat them. Better than you’d think.
Bulldog Drummond (1929) *** Ronald Coleman had his first speaking part as Drummond, who becomes bored with life & advertises himself to help solve problems.
Midsomer Murders 11-6 Days of Misrule **** The new police chief drags Barnaby (& Jones) into military-style team-building exercises, while local guardsmen are also training. Then, a warehouse explodes, a guard is nearly killed and it’s all downhill from there until our heroes untangle & solve the case.
Midsomer Murders 11-7 Talking to the Dead ***** When two local couples mysteriously disappear from their cottages, does it have anything to do with the reputedly haunted woods, or the visions that a bombastic medium claims to have? And when bodies start turning up in unnatural ways & our heroes get lost in the woods, everybody’s in for a spooky turn as our heroes work to solve the case before more people die.
Broken Lance (1954) *** Robert Wagner is rancher Spencer Tracy’s youngest son, sent to jail to cover his father’s faults & the excesses of his three brothers who don’t feel they get enough respect from the old man. Fairly standard western ideas are uplifted by Tracy’s performance.
Midsomer Murders 12-1 The Dogleg Murders ***** When an unpopular golf tout is murdered on the links, Barnaby must not only solve the ongoing crimes, but has to put up with knowing less about golf than Jones or their annoying boss. Naturally, there’s more than one murder & a clever solution.
Hundra ** Starts with the standard villainous raid of Hundra’s village, raping & killing everyone but her. Naturally she vows vengeance & rides through the country meeting more misogynists before trying trying to liberate a kingdom’s female populace. Joint US-Euro production might look good in a better print, if you can find it, but the rape stuff seems particularly nasty & the payoff not strong enough to make up for it.
Arrowhead **(*) Charlton Heston is a racist Indian scout trying to stop the army from being ambushed by Jack Palance’s (!) Apache comrades. Despite the immense charisma of its stars & the backstory concocted for Heston’s character & the fact that Palace’s character is awful & most of the Indians are not, the racist aspects of this film make it really hard to take. For Heston and Palance fans, only. They get the extra star.
Final Destination (2000) **** When this film first came out, I missed the fact that it’s a suspense-horror film that’s also a black comedy. So the absurd Rube-Goldberg-like contrivances that happen as Death tries to reclaim each of the characters who avoided death by getting off a doomed plane seemed just stupid to me. Now, more than 20 years later, horror-comedies & I have a better relationship & I can enjoy this series for its over-the-top wacky deaths & “quality kills” (as horror fans say). Started a whole series of films I hope to review soon.
Travels with Father – The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles 1-4 **** As a boy, Indy goes wandering Russia with Tolstoy & then ends up on a peripatetic journey with his father through Greece, resulting in a near disastrous visit to a monastery that can only be reached by a makeshift rope elevator. A good compilation.
Devil Bat, The **** Lugosi is delightfully devilish in this low-budget classic about a perfume scientist taking revenge with a trained giant bat.
Phantom, The **** The best superhero movie you’ve never heard of, Billy Zane is pitch perfect as the classic comic strip hero, “The Ghost Who Walks.” The Phantom battles his way from the African jungles to the streets of New York city. Played straight with a loving wink.
Rocketeer, The **** Aside from making Betty a starlet rather than an adult model, this is a pitch-perfect of Dave Stevens’ classic comic book hero. Pilot Cliff Secord loses his plane but picks up an experimental rocket pack, which he then uses to battle nefarious Nazi villains. Great score, too.
Flash Gordon (1980) *** Brightly colored sets & music by Queen enliven this camp recreation of the classic comic strip & serial hero. Lots of good, clean fun.
Murder of Roger Acroyd, The (Poirot 7-1) **** Poirot’s retirement to the country fails to materialize when an industrialist friend, who no one else seemed to like, turns up dead in his own study, shortly after a woman he loved commits suicide on the anniversary of her husband’s death. Naturally, suspects abound.
Midsomer Murders 12-2 The Black Book ***** The appearance of a rare landscape painting at auction incites unexpectedly high bidding, putting it out of the price range of the local historical society & someone must be even more angry as very soon, people associated with it start turning up dead.
Midsomer Murders 12-3 Secrets & Spies *** A former secret agent is murdered in a Midsomer community that turns out to be filled with the brim with ex-spies, including Tom Barnaby himself who must buck government & systemic secrecy — & a number of old acquaintances — in order to solve the crimes.
Wizards of the Demon Sword (1991) ** This Fred Olen Ray film is supposedly meant to be a parody of fantasy films, but it comes off as just a not good one, with Lyle Waggoner (Buck Rogers) as an evil tyrant bent on controlling a magical weapon & opposed by brave heroes. “Star” Russ Tamblyn is barely in the film.
Midsomer Murders 12-4 The Glitch **** When a professor discovers a flaw in his own world-changing computer chips, it sets off a kerfuffle amid the company hoping to make millions & threatens to up-end a local cycling event. Plus of course there is murder & a variety mayhem.
Devil’s Sword, The **(*) Wacky magical sword fights highlight this tale of a hero who helps a bride rescue her husband from the evil Crocodile Queen. Zany fun. While this is a 3-star film for me, the craziness of it may make its mileage vary for you.
Pit & the Pendulum, The (1961) *** Early Corman Poe film has Vincent Price driven to become a mad torturer by the belief that he has had his wire buried alive. Good.
World War Weird (S1) **** Documentary show focusing on the strange aspects of the World Wars starts strong like the War That Time Forgot but fades as it goes.
Midsomer Murders 12-5 Small Mercies **** A dead body laid out & tied down like Gulliver in a local model village is just the first of the murders that Tom Barnaby & Jones must solve.
Truth Is Out There, The (S3) **** The third season of this “true paranormal” show examines videos of weird phenomenon with admirable skepticism, except for occasionally pandering to the “I want to believe” UFO & bigfoot crowd. Shows like this know, if you told them it was all fake, they’d stop watching.
Torpedo Run (1958) **** Glenn Ford is a submarine commander & Ernest Borgnine his XO who must decide whether to risk torpedoing a prisoner ship with Ford’s wife & children aboard which has been placed to shield parts of the Japanese fleet & what happens after that. Tough, realistic, & emotional.
Escape from New York ***** One of John Carpenter’s low-budget masterpieces. Kurt Russell is Snake Pliskin, a criminal sent into Manhattan, which is now a maximum security prison, in order to rescue the President of the US & the secret formula he’s carrying. Memorable characters & action.
Five Little Pigs (Poirot 9-1) ***** Poirot agrees to help a woman whose mother was convinced of murder & hanged years earlier. A letter sent to her daughter seems like it was a confession — but was it? Luckily, Poirot is in the case to untangle all the past (& present) crimes.
Black Demon *** A huge shark, possibly supernatural, traps a family & workers on a Baja oil rig to kill them one by one. Decent low-budget shark film.
Lord Edgeware Dies (Poirot 9-2) **** Lord Edgeware’s wife wants a divorce & gets Poirot to agree to help secure it, but the lord claims to already have agreed to the proceedings — & then he turns up dead. Naturally, there are plenty of suspects to the killing.
Midsomer Murders 12-6 The Creeper ***** A brazen but gentlemanly local cat burglar, the Creeper, has Midsomer in a tizzy for his bold crimes. But when one of the theft victims is smothered in his bed, it turns out the Creeper is now either the killer, or perhaps a witness to the killing.
Evil Under the Sun (Agatha Christie’s Poirot 8-1) ***** The David Suchet Poirot series converts to an all-movie style format & becomes “Agatha Christie’s Poirot. “This episode remakes the classic story & film with the usual high standards of production & action as Poirot must solve a clever murder at a beach resort.
Midsomer Murders 12-7 The Great & the Good **** When a teacher begins to sleepwalk & screaming bloody murder, at first the locals think she’s nuts. Then people start turning up dead, & the questions becomes whether she’s the perpetrator of the crimes or perhaps being gaslit as a future victim.
Oklahoma Kid, The (1939) *** James Cagney is a good guy who strays over the edge of the law & runs up against Bogart as a nasty western badguy. Typical fun.
Takeshi’s Castle (New S1) ***** Classic Japanese game show returns in a slightly higher-production-value revival. Contestants pretend to be assaulting the titular castle by competing in a series of wacky tests that often end in being wet and/or covered with mud. The Japanese narration is pretty much as funny as the old MXC show, which used clips from the original to make crude jokes & innuendo. This 10-episode season ended too early for us.
Tarzan’s Fight for Life *** Gordon Scott’s semi-literate Tarzan runs up against evil native witch doctor trying to drive white doctors from the jungle & kill his enemies.
Tarzan’s Three Challenges **** Wiry 44-year-old Jock Mahoney as Tarzan must save a young king from assassination & compete in grueling rituals. Really entertaining.
Oppenheimer ***** Excellent biopic follows the famous A-bomb scientist through his life story as he’s forced to testify to a hostile government committee.
Black Shield of Falworth, The *** Tony Curtis is a dashing young prince raised as a commoner & Janet Leigh the royal woman he loves. Standard competent actioner.

So, that’s it.  The long stretch of summer with a long stretch of movies and shows, some of them very good.  And we managed to do Barbenheimer, despite only going back to the movies in person this month.  Total for the month is an astonishing 73 films and shows — no idea how I managed that only counting Shark Week as 1 for each day — and total to date for 2023 is 438.

NEXT MONTH:  Finishing up John Nettles’ run on Midsomer Murders, diving into the 2nd season of Bergerac, and plenty of other cool things — maybe even some Sword & Sorcery.

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