Things were back to normal in my movie-viewing world in 2021. Numbers for me were way down this year from 2020 but that’s because I spent the whole year actually going to work. While the quantity may have been down, I experienced many highlights, some were of such impact that they dictated my viewing for the year and some may have altered my choices going forward.
Although the numbers were understandably down from 2020, I’m happy they were up from 2019. In 2021, I watched 270 movies, down from 2020 but up from 2019. I’m happy that the number of movies that I watched for the first time went up, too; it was most of them actually – 159 or 59%. As much as I love revisiting my favourites, I also love discovering new ones, checking much anticipated titles off my list. I’m still happy, though, that there are many films out there I have yet to see.
I made it to the theatre 9 times starting in July with F9: The Fast Saga which boggled my mind. My son and I went just to go to the theatre when they opened back up and I was staggered that this is the type of film that young people watch nowadays. These people who used to race in the streets at night are now zooming across the world fighting terrorism and taking almost 2-and-a-half hours to do it? Insane. And bad. Kurt Russell?! Cry Macho, The Many Saints of Newark and Don’t Look Up were middle-of-the-road with Copshop and House of Gucci being a notch above and The King’s Man was OK but all about Rasputin for me.
Two obsessions for me in 2021 were (the very white) Pre-Code films and (the very black) blaxploitation films. Right in a row, hunkered down in my basement in the winter, I watched Night Nurse, Strangers May Kiss, Story of Temple Drake, Bad Girl, Bombshell and Blonde Venus – all very enjoyable and I really like this genre of film; sexy without being explicit.
As I related in my two articles on blaxploitation released in February, when Cecily Tyson died at the end of January, one of the things she was praised for was never having made a blaxploitation film. This seemed odd to me. What about Jim Brown? I asked. Is this inspirational figure to be denigrated for having starred in many “urban action films”? After some research I came up with a sound theory that I feel is legit. What else I found to be legit were some of these films. Low-budget in the extreme, some are fantastic in an edgy, outlandish way and a few became my absolute highlights of the year.
Thanks to Tarantino, every year since 2019 I focus some of my leisure time on fifty-year-old films. In 2021, I celebrated Cinema ’71 by watching eleven films – down from Cinema ’70‘s 18 – and had varying degrees of success. Summer of ’42 had been on my list to watch for years and it was a highlight of the year for me. An incredibly touching, nostalgic, thought-provoking film, I wrote it up and had much interaction with many of you about it. The Andromeda Strain was excellent and, interestingly, I found on DVD/BluRay, watched and enjoyed Vanishing Point, The French Connection and Sometimes a Great Notion. Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song – as bonkers as it was – set me on my blaxploitation trip.
Once again, my youngest son, Palmer Wells, released a compelling film called To Whom It May Concern, definitely a highlight for me. He’s spending the 2021-22 school year at Vancouver Film School where he is excelling. He no doubt has a bright future in the industry.
And by the way; just for kicks, I’ve joined Letterboxd. Mostly for the fun of rating the movies I watch. Check me out here if you’re so inclined. Here are the rest of the highlights and lowlights of the films I saw for the first time this year.
Three the Hard Way (1974) — This gem was able to put together all the elements of blaxploitation that I love. Perhaps of a higher quality than many of these films, there are many names here that make this one so good. First of all the three stars are the biggest male names of the genre; Jim Brown, Fred Williamson and Jim Kelly. The rest of the cast features recognizable faces including the gorgeous Sheila Frazer (Super Fly), Jay Robinson (Caligula in both The Robe and Demetrius and the Gladiators), Alex Rocco (Moe Greene in The Godfather), Irene Tsu (Paradise, Hawaiian Style) and a young Corbin Bernsen. Corbin’s dad, Harry Bernsen, produced Three the Hard Way and it was directed by Gordon Parks, Jr., who’s legendary dad had directed Shaft among other accomplishments.
This film was co-scripted by Eric Bercovici, who’s father had written The Bishop’s Wife. Eric’s name pops up often as writer of episodes of Hawaii Five-O. Though Curtis Mayfield was off on his own by this point, his former group the Impressions, make an appearance and provide the excellent soundtrack. What you get from this movie is everything that is great about this genre in one film. Millions of bullets fired with nary a reload, explosions and martial arts. The plot, too, is significant. A white supremacist nut job teams with a scientist (played by Richard Angarola, the slimy French film producer in Valley of the Dolls) to poison the water supply of three cities with a toxin that will kill only African Americans. This repulsive scheme gets the viewer firmly pitted against the enemy and you can’t wait to see these honkies get theirs.
Then Came Bronson (1969) — Probably my favourite of the films I saw for the first time this year. Learn all about this film at my review which was part of a trilogy of articles on Michael Parks. The movie – a TV series followed – contained that magic element I love so much; two strangers, played by Parks and Bonnie Bedelia, are thrown together by circumstance and love blooms. A wonderful, charming and poignant film. Read my article here.
No Time to Die (2021) — The big theatre-going event of the year, though, was by far No Time to Die. In the tightest of nutshells, the film was fantastic and I emerged with a deep respect for its courageous purging of the Bond universe. While I assumed the character to be no more, later all the talk was of who would be “the new James Bond”. Honestly, No Time to Die released me from my servitude to the franchise. I feel OK now about not caring about future films claiming to be “James Bond movies”. I was blessed with Daniel Craig and the type of films that were made with him as 007; the chances of them being able to reboot things to suit my vintage-based tastes are low and so I will happily set up housekeeping with Connery, Brosnan, et al. and be quite happy, thank you. No Time to Die, though was a compelling and fitting finale.
Other highlights include: One Night in Miami, the honest and apolitical story of the friendship between Sam Cooke, Malcolm X, Jim Brown and Muhammad Ali, this started – and maintained – some balls rolling for me, Slaughter, Coffy, Truck Turner, Shaft in Africa, these four are maybe the finest examples of blaxploitation, Sybil, I had to buy on DVD this excellent TV movie featuring a stunning performance by Sally Field, one that broke her out of sitcom prison, The Reckless Moment, an excellent noir I stumbled on, Earthquake, Wild Seed, Calling Dr. Death, a surprisingly good Inner Sanctum mystery with Lon Chaney, Copshop, Who Killed Teddy Bear, a creepy flyer of a thriller with Juliet Prowse and Sal Mineo, Blacula, The Las Vegas Story, Highway Dragnet, The Shooting, featuring a gorgeous, older Millie Perkins, Pandora’s Box, that I was turned on to by Forever Louise Brooks on Twitter.
36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) — As the Beatles once said, I should’ve known better. At one point this year, I entered the wonderfully overwhelming world of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill saga. This made me want to seek out the “martial arts film”. I looked up films that may have influenced Kill Bill and did enjoy Lady Snowblood but I learned that – aside from Enter the Dragon – the Asian martial arts films of the Seventies may not be for me. Shame to pick on 36th Chamber but it was one that came highly recommended but fell flat for me. I gave it a try due to the fact that star Gordon Liu was in both Kill Bill‘s and played two different roles. It also heavily influenced the members of The Wu-Tang Clan and their debut album; a sterling recommendation if there ever was one. But, no. Sorry, Quentin, but, no, not for me.
Hot Potato (1976) — If you mess with the bull, you may get the horns. Like my beloved beach party movies, blaxploitation movies can be risky. They are either magnificent or repulsive. Jim Kelly got his chance to star in the fantastic Black Belt Jones but this sequel is the prime example of what eventually killed this genre; subterranean production values and ridiculous attempts at comedy. This mess was made in Thailand. Both of these first two Lowlights were risky to begin with; not surprising they were busts.
Night on Earth (1991) — The autumn often finds me revisiting a favourite of my youth, Tom Waits. His music has meant so much to me. The fact that he has appeared in some excellent films is a bonus. I have long wanted to see him in Down By Law and to watch Night on Earth – both films by Jim Jarmusch – to hear his score. I chose the latter film and was hard-pressed to find where I could watch it. I eventually did but the service didn’t provide sub-titles. Which proved a problem when I realized that Night on Earth is five stories that take place in different global cities. The first one featured a cool Winona Ryder playing an LA cab driver. Three of the other five stories take place in Paris, Rome and Helsinki; and they are presented in French, Italian and Finnish. I sensed that the last two vignettes were particularly compelling. In Rome animated cabbie Roberto Benigni yammers on to a priest and in Finland a hack sobers some drunks with a sad tale. But I had no idea what was happening! The film itself should perhaps come with built-in subtitles. I mean, can everyone but me understand all these languages? No so three-fifths of your film, Jim, is lost on me. Long movie, too. Frustrating.
Other lowlights include: Da 5 Bloods, seems Spike Lee can’t make a film without bludgeoning you with his ideology. I don’t care for that in the movies I escape to. Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, Gigot, I may have gone into Jackie Gleason’s big attempt at filmmaking with a jaundiced eye owing to what I had learned about the man from a biography but the film in which he channels Chaplin did not move me, Black Shampoo, Night Moves, not sure if I can get behind ’70’s-looking Gene Hackman or Elliot Gould, Breaker! Breaker!, Women in Cages, Spiker, the nadir of Michael Parks’ career, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week, I have no idea what was wrong with Ron Howard’s look at the Fab Four. This odd doc just seems…broken.
|Year||Watched||1st Time (%)||1940s & before||1950s||1960s||1970s||1980s||1990s & after|
|2019||242 (+37)||125 (51%)||44||30||62||22||28||55|
|2020||337 (+95)||170 (50%)||53||39||60||58||30||97|
|2021||270 (-67)||159 (59%)||49||22||44||72||21||62|