Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Well, there’s not much to say about 2020 that’s worth mentioning, and as far as my movie blog goes, there’s not much to write about, either. Last year was an off year for many people, in many regards, and for me this site was no exception: I found myself concentrating more on my baseball site, and then my job, and not so much on the Monolith. I’m not sure why, but whenever I’d sit down to write a review or article, I just couldn’t find the enthusiasm or desire to continue, so I’d get partway done and put it on hold. Hopefully, 2021 will be different, and I’ll post more than the measly three reviews I wrote in 2020.
Like last year, I’ll be combining certain elements from each of the recaps posted monthly and annually by blogging friends Lindsey at The Motion Pictures, Mike at Mike’s Take on the Movies, and Mikey at Wolfmans Cult Film Club, and adding a topic or two of my own. With me not working for half of the year, there wasn’t a whole lot of Blu-ray or DVD purchasing going on, and the scant few books I did buy were all baseball-related (I’ll post those on my other site soon), and the only literary item I bought that was related to movies was a collector’s edition magazine!
So once again, make yourself a bowl of popcorn, sit back in your favorite couch or futon, and enjoy! And don’t worry, this one won’t take long at all to slog through!
Total films watched in 2020: 191
(Total from 2019: 216)
New to me in 2020: 109
Total CM reviews in 2019: 3
Total CM reviews since start of blog: 227
At home: 157
At the theater: 1
At a friend’s house: 33
DVD – 41
Blu-ray – 20
HD-DVD – 2
Beta – 0
Theatrical – 1
Broadcast on TV – 56
Pay-per-view on TV – 2
Digital file on TV – 57
Streaming on laptop – 11
Netflix on TV – 1
1920s – 2
1930s – 11
1940s – 23
1950s – 47
1960s – 19
1970s – 23
1980s – 34
1990s – 4
2000s – 11
2010s – 16
2020s – 1
• I watched 43 episodes of Svengoolie on MeTV.
• I borrowed just three movies from my library (it closed when the pandemic hit).
• I watched two movies twice: Female Jungle and Bunco Squad, both times for gathering review notes.
• My friend Julie and I watched 13 movies during a pandemic ‘stay inside’ weekend visit I’d made to Tucson.
• June was my busiest month, with 21 movies watched.
• I watched six episodes of the new Mystery Science Theater 3000 on Netflix.
• My movies for Halloween night were Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and Evilspeak.
• My Christmas movies were Miracle on 34th Street and Die Hard.
The Last Picture Show
About the time that the world became aware of the pandemic, and about a month or so before everything began shutting down, I’d traveled to Tucson to visit my friend Julie for a few days. For my birthday she took me out to see a movie at a Harkins mulitplex there, a Tuesday Night Classic screening of one of my favorite Hitchcock films, Rear Window. It was my first theatrical movie of the year, and my first since the previous October, when I saw Joker at the same theater for her birthday. That trip to see Rear Window would be my one and only visit to a movie theater in 2020, and with my decision to drastically cut back on watching current movies (basically most anything from the 2000 forward), it could very well be the last time I see a movie at a theater ever again. I’m tired of inconsiderate people in theaters on their phones or playing video games (yes, it happened), I’m tired of ticket prices skyrocketing, I’m tired of assigned seating, and most of all, I’m tired and exasperated with lazy filmmaking and uninspired screenwriting.
My Five Favorite ‘New-to-Me’ Films
With only one theatrical film seen last year (and that one was from 1954), my five favorite ‘new-to-me’ movies of 2020 are all going to come from home viewing experiences, either off broadcast or cable television, or movies I’ve watched on-line. Quite a few were beyond-the-mainstream film noir movies, and most were quite good, so I could’ve filled up the entire list with nothing but noir. But I figured I’d better mix it up a bit, so the handful that didn’t make the cut included Man in the Dark (1953), Abandoned (1949), Sleeping Car to Trieste (1948), The Killer That Stalked New York (1950), and Bunco Squad (1950), the last of which I took off the list so I could save it for a true review, coming soon.
I’m always up for a good zombie apocalypse story, and South Korean director Yeon Sang-ho provides it, with a twist: a zombie outbreak occurs inside a commuter train just as it’s departing a station in Seoul, and a handful of unaffected wind up trapped inside. There’s usually not much you can do different with a zombie film (the zombies…well, attack non-zombies), so it’s refreshing to find one that tries something a bit different. In this case, zombies are still attacking non-zombies, but the question here is, where do you go? You can’t just step off the train, and your hiding places and escape routes are severely limited. And that’s what I liked about it: trying to figure out what these people are going to do. Tense, thrilling, and frightening all the way through, and if you like zombie films or horror in general, it’s a definite must-see.
My Dad had recommended this one to me several years ago, and I finally had a chance to see it on cable. For me, a gripping story with smart direction from John Frankenheimer, and a master class in acting from Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Fredric March, and a handful of other greats. During the Cold War, the President plans on signing a peace treaty with the Soviets; a Marine colonel discovers that the Joint Chiefs of Staff plan on ousting the President, and immediately alerts him. The two then have seven days to try and stop the coup. Based on a book that detailed a similar event that occurred during the Kennedy administration in the early 1960s, it quite often reminded me of what was happening with our most recent President now.
After years of searching, I was finally able to track this one down, when I chanced upon it one night playing on the Movies! channel. And yes, it was as good as I’d always heard, and though the subject matter didn’t necessarily fit into the noir mold, its other aspects definitely did. A young boy, known for telling lies and tall tales, witnesses a murder one night from his bedroom window, and can’t convince anyone of what he saw…they all think it’s just another tale. But the couple responsible for the killing soon discover that the boy is a witness to their crime, and decide he must be silenced before someone does believe him. I’m usually not that big on child actors, but Bobby Driscoll does a commendable job here, and director Ted Tetzlaff really spices the proceedings up with some outstanding noir lighting and camera angles, and ratchets up the tension as you wonder how the boy will escape his predicament…or if he escapes it. Based on a story by Cornell Woolrich, who also wrote the story that Hitchcock borrowed for Rear Window.
For such a small, barely-known film, I thought it had a pretty cool story to tell, and the people involved told it with conviction. A science fiction morality tale where five random people scattered around the globe are brought aboard an alien spacecraft, where a representative of an alien society informs them that his race is searching for a new planet to inhabit, and since their ‘moral code’ does not allow them to kill, the five are given three capsules each, with each capsule capable of instantly destroying all humanity within a 3,000 mile radius of the person using it. His intention is clear: YOU five kill off the world, so we aliens can take over and still abide by our code. The question then becomes, who of the five—if not all of them—will crack open the capsules? As it turns out, things are not that simple. Some neat twists are thrown our way by director William Asher and screenwriter Robert M. Fresco, and the lead actors (Gene Barry, Valerie French, and George Voskovec) help keep the proceedings serious and somber.
I happened upon this while on-line and thought I’d give a try, simply because it was short (77 minutes), and was a good fit for an early-to-bed work night. Like I’ve said in the past, being a fan of film noir, it’s always a treat to find a small, unheralded one that I’ve never seen, and turns out to be much more than I’d expected. I recognized the star, Adam Williams, from his small part as a henchman in North by Northwest, and he did an outstanding job here in the lead, in one of his first acting roles. He plays a seemingly mild-mannered gardener, a nobody who goes unhinged after his wife cheats on him, and as revenge begins murdering blondes throughout Los Angeles using his garden shears. Nice work from director Arnold Laven, who takes advantage of many bygone locations around LA that don’t fit the typical ‘landmark’ mold, and I enjoyed following the two police detectives on the case as they used clues and early forensic-type techniques to track the killer. At times, the subject matter is quite shocking for the early-1950s, but that only made the story more real. A quiet little classic that’s definitely worth a look.
And Three New-to-Me Films That Were Much Worse Than I’d Expected
1. Howard the Duck
2. Two-Minute Warning
3. Day of the Dead
Of the three measly reviews I posted in 2020, one happened to be for a blogathon: Southern Comfort, for the Video Store Action Heroes, consisting of myself, Mikey at Wolfmans Cult Film Club, Mike at Mike’s Take on the Movies, and Greg at Destroy All Fanboys. For the second year in a row, I participated in no outside blogathons, and there were no entries in the Mini Cheese-athon blogathon I take part in with Lindsey over at The Motion Pictures…hopefully this year we’ll get to posting a few.
Additions to the Monolith
I guess the promise I’d made to myself a few years ago to stop buying movies came closer to being obeyed in 2020, when I purchased just two, both DVDs, over the course of the year. I was in a Goodwill store and found the two shown above, and because it was some sort of discount day, both were priced at $1 each…I deal I really couldn’t pass up. Being a fan of SCTV, of course I had to buy Strange Brew, starring Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas as Bob & Doug McKenzie from their ‘Great White North’ skits, and I happened to spot a mint copy of the noir classic The Lost Weekend, so for a buck I grabbed that one as well. The Parks & Recreation set I received as a Christmas gift from Julie, who knew I’d only seen the first few seasons of the show, and was eager to watch the rest.
My Only Addition to the CM Vault
Last year was the 45th anniversary of the release of my favorite film of all time, Jaws, and I discovered that Time magazine was putting out a special edition collector’s magazine to celebrate. It took me three stops at three different stores, but I finally found one at my local Safeway, and it now sits on my bookshelf along with two other collector editions I own, for film noir and Star Trek.
And a Late Gift from 2019
My sister Kelly bought me this for Christmas of 2019, and for whatever reason I failed to include it in last year’s year-end review. Released by Turner Classic Movies, it’s a really fun movie quiz book that, for me, is both simple and impossible, depending on the question and/or category. How many siblings did Rosalind Russell have? Trust me, I have no idea!
As always, thanks again to everyone who visited and/or commented on the CM blog last year, even though there wasn’t that much to see or comment on. I hope to get more content out this year, and I’ve already begun working on reviews and articles that will hopefully be posted soon, and throughout the coming weeks and months. There aren’t many of you CM followers out there, but when I do manage to post something, it’s satisfying and rewarding to see someone has stopped by to take a look, and trust me when I say, I have fun sharing comments with you all. So please, I beg of you…keep coming back!