September 2023 Mini-Reviews – Colorado Territory to One Piece

September is my birthday month, which often brings a nice bit of relaxation, but at the end of this September, my wife and I also attended her college reunion — the first big public (well, semi-public) event we’ve gone to the since the start of the pandemic, more than 3 1/2 years ago.  We had a great time (despite a shabby hotel), and wore ourselves out discovering how to go out safely in public again, having good food, and hanging with old friends.  (Thanks to Kathy, Dennis, and everyone else!)  But, the 4-day trip did cut into my film viewing time at month’s end.

That may not have had as much effect on my totals as you might think, as I watched some “old friends,” discovered a new Netflix series that I really liked (now watching the anime and reading the manga versions, too), and of course ran through a number of fab Midsomer Murders episodes.  Am I halfway through that fabulous mystery series yet?  I’m not sure, because they’re still making them.  I did, however, watch the final episode of (retiring) Detective Tom Barnaby — though even that proved trickier than expected.

On with the fun!

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.

Colorado Territory (1949) **** Joel McCray stars in a western remake of High Sierra. Outlaw takes one last job to make his fortune, with usual results. Excellent.
Last Voyage, The *** Robert Stack must save his trapped wife & young child as the ship they’re on starts to sink. Filmmakers sank a real ocean liner for this flick!
Indiana Jones & the Dial of Destiny **** Indiana Jones returns to rescue a supernatural artifact from the Nazis, then must face them, & his own mortality again thirty years later. A surprisingly strong return to the classic character with engaging new characters, good action, & a twist or two along the way.
Escape from LA *** Carpenter & Snake Pliskin are back, but the satire seems a little forced & on point as LA is turned into a prison by a televangelist President who, once again, sends Snake into the forbidden zone to obtain something he needs to further his political goals. Fun but not like the 1st.
Journey of Radiance (Young Indiana Jones Chronicles 1-5) **** As a boy, Indy travels to India where he strikes up a friendship with a boy of similar age who is prophesied to be the Theosophist messiah. Then, after seeing the Great Wall of China with his mother and tutor, Indy falls sick & his mother must decide whether to trust the local doctor’s medicine or hope that a white doctor will arrive in time to save her son’s life. Another interesting mix of history & adventure.
Land that Time Forgot, The **** US crew of a sunken ship takes over a German submarine in WWI, but they get lost & end up traveling through an Antarctic tunnel only to surface in a tropical land filled with dinosaurs & other perils.1st of the Doug McClure adventure/dinosaur pictures & one of the best.
Midsomer Murders 13-1 Made-to-Measure Murders ***** A series of murders seem to revolve around a local tailor’s shop & the killings have been committed with a missing pair of cloth sheers. Also, Tom Barnaby & Jones consider getting bespoke suits made for themselves.
Murder in Mesopotamia (AC Poirot 8-2) **** While on an archeological dig, a woman is gruesomely murdered in her room & the suspects seem to have airtight alibies. Clever.
Sad Cypress (AC Poirot 9-2) **** Poirot helps a woman who belives people are out to swindle her invalid aunt of a fortune. First the aunt turns up dead & then another person,& Poirot’s friend is convicted of the crime. The detective must race to solve the mystery before his friend is executed.
Invincible Barbarian, The ** Starting with Ray Harryhausen dinosaur clips from 1 Million Years B.C. practically guarantees you have nowhere to go but down from there. Naturally, it starts with a prophesied birth (of twins; one light one dark) and the destruction of their village. Later, the brothers fight to determine who will be the Chosen One. The dark one loses, tries to betray them to their enemies and, surprisingly, is beheaded. Fairly standard fare from there, with the hero avenging his family, a pretty girl, some nudity, and an under-developed lion-woman/goddess character. Goddess/Amazon types show up & kill everyone but the Big Bad at the end, leaving him for our hero. Annoying (and cliché) rapey stuff, goofy narration, and slow-mo combat loses it a star.
Midsomer Murders 13-2 The Sword of Guillame **** Local suspicious are aroused by a business proposal between a Midsomer community & a costal town where Barnaby’s cousin, John works as police detective. But things take a grisly turn when one of the shady businessmen is beheaded in a funhouse ride.
Flash, The (2023) *** The Flash goes back in time to save his monther from being killed when he was a boy & prove his father’s innocence — like we haven’t seen Flashpoint in the TV show (& an animated movie) before. What makes this movie special is both Ben Affleck & Michael Keaton as Batman. What makes it not-so-special are wildly erratic quality to the SPFX, a story by committee & producers, & the fact that we’ve seen it all before. It has amusing moments, exciting moments, but in the end it’s just an okay superhero film.
Midsomer Murders 13-3 Blood on the Saddle ***** A traveling wild west show gets a lot wilder than expected when the dunk tank witch is shot dead in the middle of a western performance. Another performer is dragged to death by a horse & Barnaby & Jones must face down the killer Old West style before it’s all over.
Midsomer Murders 13-4 The Silent Land ***** Traveling home late one night, Joyce Barnaby believes she hits someone with a her car. At first, no body turns up, but when one does, it seems for a while that Tom Barnaby may have to prosecute his own wife. Naturally, the incident turns out to involve a lot more suspects.
Midsomer Murders 13-5 Master Class ***** When a piano student thinks she sees a woman jump from a bridge, it threatens her chance of winning a prized musical scholarship, until it’s learned the death occurred decades ago, but naturally that cold case isn’t the only murder in this creepy tale for Barnaby & Jones.
Midsomer Murders 13-6 The Noble Art **** A local boxer wins the championship & returns to Midsomer (late one night) for an exhibition bout recreating an old bare-knuckle fight. But when his manager turns up dead it leads Barnaby & Jones to uncover a long trail of corruption.
Jurassic Games, The *** Pretty much what it sounds like: The Hunger Games with dinosaurs. Sure, it’s all done in a simulation — which maybe helps excuse the places where the CGI looks a little ropey — but it’s still fun & does fairly well with its “bread & circuses” capital punishment theme.
Spider-Man Across the Spiderverse **** Spider-Gwen & Miles Morales’ Spider-Man are back, along with about a jillion other spider-men, -women, -pigs, etc. in this exciting & highly amusing continuation of the spiderverse saga. They interreact with many of their fellows, including a very amusing Indian Spider-Man. Of course, there’s a multiverse-threatening problem, & our friends are supposed to NOT change history to prevent it. About the only thing wrong with this film is it’s just Part 1, & it’s a little long, but it’s exciting & action packed & looks beautiful.
Dinosaur Project, The (2012) **** A team of documentary filmmakers & scientists goes to Africa to find the mokele mbembe, a crypto creature living in the jungles & swamps, and rumored to be a living dinosaur. And in this film, they actually find a whole lost jungle area full of CGI dinosaurs that look amazingly good for a relatively low budget film. (Shot in South Africa.) The “found footage” aspect of the film is occasionally annoying, but other times enhances the realisim of the action. Probably the best found footage film I’ve seen since the original Blair Witch — and at least this one didn’t make me motion sick. I bought a digital copy for only $2 & it’s well worth that.
3-Headed Shark Attack *** Yes, it’s similar to the 2-Headed Shark Attack film, of course it is. The heads just multiply. This time, the beast has escaped from an “island” which it then proceeds to devour, along with the isle’s scientists & other inhabitants. Silly, gory fun, with a bit of nudity.
Maleficent – Mistress of Evil *** Maleficent’s adopted daughter, Aurora, is getting married to a prince, but something is rotten in the prince’s kingdom that threatens both the young lovers & Maleficent’s kingdom of woodland faeries & possibly all faerie kind. Not a bad sequel, if somewhat predictable.
She (1987) *** Sandahl Bergman is the titular queen in this VERY loose adaptation of the classic story. This time, the setting is a dystopian future & She wanders out of her own kingdom across the wasteland with a band of companions in a surreal odyssey that reminded me of the Road Warrior smashed together with odd British comedy of The Bed Sitting Room or The Last Days of Man on Earth. Missed opportunity.
Death on the Nile (AC Poirot 9-3) ***** David Suchet & company remake the classic story & film with their usual panache & high production values. A jilted woman pursues newlyweds on their trip through Egypt, annoying them at every turn, until someone turns up dead. Naturally, it will take Poirot to untangle it.
Midsomer Murders 13-7 Not in My Back Yard **** A controversial modern house in Midsomer sets the conservative locals on edge. There are already rumors of corruption in the planning of a development project involving the house’s desiner. Soon enough, people connected with the project start turning up dead.
Midsomer Murders 13-8 Fit for Murder ***** Tom & Joyce go to a spa for a relaxing weekend, that turns out to be anything but, before Tom’s annual police physical. When a client turns up dead in Joyce’s flotation chamber, Tom’s worries & memories of his father, who died at Tom’s age, cloud our hero’s judgement. Though eventually he solves the case, of course. It’s an emotional farewell for Tom Barnaby, who resigns as DCI in a moving coda to the story that is (foolishly) edited out of many reruns of the story. After 13 years of solving some of the toughest cases in England, it’s time for Cousin John to take over the reins of DCI of Midsomer — murder capital of the British countryside.
Midsomer Murders 14-1 Death in the Slow Lane **** The desiccated corpse of a famous racing driver turns up near an exclusive girl’s school. New DCI John Barnaby & Detective Scott must sort through years of history & multiple suspects, plus the killing of a local DJ, to wrap up the case. Good start for our new main character.
Bergerac (S2) **** Bergerac’s French girlfriend has left between seasons, so our tough cop hero gets a slightly more swinging persona in S2 along with typical 80s-style crime adventures shot on location in the English colony of Jersey, off the French coast. Enjoyable.
Journey to the Center of the Earth (1977) **** European adaptation doesn’t stand up to the James Mason classic, but it follows the Verne story very closely in places, has some rubber dinosaurs that aren’t quite up to the standards of your typical Doug McClure film of the era, & is overall a charming family-oriented flick.
Warlords of Atlantis **** Speaking of Doug McClure, he and his treasure hunting crew run afoul of a lost undersea kingdom that drags them off of their ship & into a forgotten world filled with psychic Atlanteans & monsters that aren’t quite dinosaurs. The monsters are the real fun here, including a couple of pretty great scenes with a giant octopus. While not as good as Land that Time Forgot or At the Earth’s Core, still a fun film.
Two Undercover Angels *** Two women who are bests friends are also “detectives” in this rambling film about finding missing models. Features werewolf-like villain.
Kiss Me, Monster *** There are no monsters here, but the women detectives from Two Undercover Angels are back for another rambling Euro adventure. This time they’re moonlighting as strippers on tour & end up involved with gangsters, murder, & sunny exotic locations.
Ghosts of Mars **** John Carpenter’s take on the Red Planet is kind of a zombie-action film with some archeology & supernatural stuff thrown in. I love it.
Mothra ***** The classic Japanese giant monster movie has two tiny women, the Shobijin Twin Fairies, kidnapped from their atomic-bombed island & brought to an evil country as a TV attraction. This doesn’t sit well with the ladies’ god, a giant caterpillar who turns into a huge, city destroying moth, Mothra. The message, direction, & action are fine, but it’s Tsubaraya’s special effects that make this a standout kaiju film.
Hollow, The (AC Poirot 9-4) ***** Poirot’s stay at an estate is interrupted when a philandering husband turns up dead, his wife appears to be holding the gun that killed him, & everyone on the estate seems to have a movie & clues pointing to them.
Sahara (2005) **** Matthew McConaughey is Dirk Pit in this action film that involves both searching for a lost Civil War ship with a fortune in gold aboard & a ruthless corporation tyring to control resources by poisoning the inhabitants of a Saharan country. Feels pretty James Bond. Fun.
Fool’s Gold (2008) *** McConaughey is a (different) treasure seeking slacker, trying to find the gold & make amends to his now ex-wife in this action-comedy.
Midsomer Murders 14-2 Dark Secrets **** When a local social services inspector turns up dead in an apparent canoeing accident, John Barnaby & Jones focus their attention on a reclusive rich couple who’s family is into horse breeding & perhaps some shadier activities as well. More murders follow.
Last Unicorn, The *** Lovely animation by future Studio Ghibli highlights uneven adventure tale of a unicorn who becomes human while seeking her own kind.
Street Fighter (1995) *** Over the top & absurd, yet I enjoyed this game-based Van Damme vehicle that (sadly) was Raul Julia’s last role. Lots o’ fighting & color.
Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge (2020) *** Super bloody origin story for Scorpion along with the game’s usual Mortal Kombat multi-dimensional death match. Good for fans.
My Man Godfrey **** William Powell is Godfrey, a man rescued from a shanty town by Carole Lombard’s flighty heiress in this classic screwball comedy. Great.
Lake, The (2022) *** Monsters are coming out of a lake to rescue their egg, accidentally stolen by a girl. Lots of mayhem & people getting maimed &/or killed in this Thai film version that combines Gorgo with The Host. The CG is decent, the practical monster FX spectacular, but the story isn’t well developed enough for all of it to completely hang together.
Return of the Vampire (Sven) ***** Bela Lugosi is the vampire Armand Tesla in this stylish vampire picture that is an unofficial sequel to Dracula. Has a werewolf, too! Great!
Secret of the Incas *** Charlton Heston is someone who looks amazingly like Indiana Jones — 30 years before the 1st Indy film. He’s looking for the lost treasure of the Incas, a bejeweled golden sun dial hidden in Machu Pichu. Slower than the IJ films, but you can see their roots here.
Mystery of the Blue Train, The (AC Poirot 10-1) ***** When a socialite & her friends take a train trip across Europe, one of them — who was carrying on an affair — turns up murdered & nearly unrecognizable, But was she the intended victim, or was it her friend who switched rooms who was to be killed. And what does a fabulous piece of jewelry have to do with the murder. Elliot Gould co-stars as an American millionare & father of the murdered girl. Poirot, trains, & murder seem to go together.
Midsomer Murders 14-3 Echoes of the Dead **** The creep factor is very high when a woman’s roommate turns up murdered in a bathtub & messages written in lipstick indicate that the murders to follow are related. John Barnaby & Jones have to step around a lot of pools of blood in this one.
Midsomer Murders 14-4 The Oblong Murders ***** When a woman disappears, Jones goes undercover to infiltrate the “free love” cult she belonged to & gets tangled up with two attractive women, even before somebody turns up dead. An interesting change of pace for MM, with some nice character bits for Jones & more info & personality from the new DCI Barnaby.
One Piece (S1) ***** Straw-hat-wearing Luffy looks like a goofy young adult who wants to be King of the Pirates. Chased by the authorities, he begins gathering together a crew of outcasts with unique abilities, including navigator Nami, swordsman Zoro, & more. This fun adaptation of the manga & anime features good acting, interesting characters, & high production values in its fantasy world. Charming. I can’t wait for Season 2.

So, that’s it for September 2023.  This month’s viewing was curtailed by some travel, but the numbers still ended up respectable enough — 49 movies and series viewed for an ongoing total of  487.  Not bad for the first 9 months of the year.

NEXT MONTH:  It’s Halloween Season, and you know what that means… A month full of monsters!  But maybe not more Sword & Sorcery… Although we shall see.  Stay tuned!

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