Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

Streaming on Hulu | imdb | trailer

Back when this one came out in theaters I was thirteen years old. During the summer my mother would give me $1.50 to go see a movie at the second-run theater at the mall (and to get me out of her hair). I sat through MANY crappy PG and PG-13 films, but this one made me very happy. It’s got martial arts action, monsters, comedy, crazy special effects, lovely ladies, and Kurt Russell hamming up a storm. I revisit it every few years and yep, it’s cheezy as hell, but still a lot of fun. If you haven’t experienced this oddball John Carpenter creation, maybe check it out with the help of your favorite psychoactive substance. Hell, depending on the age of your kids, Big Trouble… just might be fun for the whole family.

Available on Blu-ray from Shout Factory.

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Lifeforce (1985)

Streaming on Amazon Prime | imdb | trailer

An astronaut inadvertently brings back… Space Vampires. This is a personal favorite that nearly qualifies as a guilty pleasure. Lifeforce is very over-the-top, and even cheesy at times, but I think you’ll be too entertained to be bothered. This is one seriously fast-paced blast of an action, sci-fi, horror mashup. Directed by Tobe Hooper, and somehow financed by the Cannon Group with a generous budget, plus the cinematography and makeup effects still look great. They even made a 70mm version of the film, which I’ve seen, and the sound design / score were a delight for my ears. This film also features a surprisingly perfect cast, with a standout memorable moment featuring Patrick Stewart. The last reel of the film is just plain bonkers too. Get ready for a good time if you’ve never had the pleasure.

Available on Blu-ray from Shout Factory.

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RIP Travis Crawford (1970-2022)

As I’ve told you before, I am not a real writer, much less so on the topic of cinema. I bust out my recommendations every week in a matter of minutes before going to work. Travis Crawford was a true writer, as well as an exceptional film programmer. The world of movies was his full-time commitment. Travis suddenly passed away sometime around July 18th, and I felt compelled to write about him here.

In 2001 I was still a newcomer to Philadelphia, and happened to be given an open guest pass for the Philly Film Fest. I grabbed a copy of the massive schedule book from the local video store, and studied it until I settled on six screenings. The highlights were Coffin Joe’s This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse with the documentary The Strange World of José Mojica Marins, plus Dead or Alive, Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41, and The Isle (a pretty great week, no?). Each screening was hosted by a man named Travis Crawford. He was the programmer of the fest’s “Danger After Dark” series. This serious looking man, dressed in black, charmingly rattled off facts like a human film encyclopedia, and also did a fascinating live interview with one of the Coffin Joe doc directors. I liked this Crawford guy. Every time the fest season came up again I made sure to attend one of Travis’ screenings. I have many fond memories from these events, but a personal favorite was when I saw him conduct a Q and A with actor Jeffrey Combs where he wisely said something to the effect of “we would all be happy with you just reading from the phone book all night.” 

As my love of offbeat cinema grew during my years in Philadelphia, I kept seeing Travis’ name pop up. A reprint of his teenage review of Spider Labyrinth in Stephen Thrower’s Eyeball Compendium blew my mind. That was followed by my discovering his DVD liner notes, commentaries, and many print and online reviews. Eventually Travis and I connected through Facebook (his feed was awesome). I had always intended on saying hello to him in person, but never got the chance before moving to Portland in 2014. Not long after that, Travis had some personal issues that lead to him being temporarily homeless. I paid for a couple of nights stay in a hotel, along with many other friends and followers. We spoke on the phone briefly then, and I’d like to think that I expressed my gratitude for his work. What he gave me as a movie fanatic was worth far more than I paid for his room. He eventually got settled into a stable life again, so I consulted him a bit for Anomalous Cinema. He was always quick to help, even though my “writing” must have made him wince in agony when he dared look at it. 

When the news came that he had passed, I was struck by a deep sadness. From what I knew at a distance, Travis was a good, but troubled man. He was funny as hell, and probably the most educated person I’ve known on the topic of cinema. To remain informed about current movies Travis watched new screeners almost every day, often more than one. Many of those films none of us will ever have an opportunity to see. My condolences to all that knew him personally. Their loss must be crushing. He was far too young and talented to leave us so soon. Rest in Peace Travis. Thank you for the incredible movie experiences, and for teaching this amateur cinemaphile so many lessons.

I highly recommend this podcast from a few years back featuring Travis (there are several good links on the episode website as well), and this brief article from Filmmaker Magazine.

Also, to give you an idea of the scope of Travis’ film knowledge, check out this January 8, 2022 Facebook post:

So finally, my favorite films of 2021, in order of preference:

1.) Ryusuke Hamaguchi X2: WHEEL OF FORTUNE AND FANTASY and DRIVE MY CAR
2.) THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD
3.) BAD LUCK BANGING OR LOONY PORN
4.) TITANE
5.) DAYS
6.) PLEASURE
7.) BENEDETTA
8.) THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BOY IN THE WORLD
9.) THE INNOCENTS
10.) STATE FUNERAL

Honorable mention (alphabetically): FAYA DAYI, HOTEL POSEIDON, IN THE MIRROR, LICORICE PIZZA, MAD GOD, THE MEDIUM, MEMORIA, THE NOVICE, RED POST ON ESCHER STREET, RED ROCKET, SEARCHING FOR MR. RUGOFF, SHORT VACATION, THE TROUBLE WITH BEING BORN, THE VELVET UNDERGROUND.

This time, I tried to just focus on films with U.S. distribution (although some won’t be released here until later in 2022), but there are a couple in the “honorable mentions” section that still need to be acquired. Also, actual release years are older on a couple titles, but those saw some form of release in the U.S. in 2021. Feel free to argue, or inquire about omissions.

Thanks to Joseph Gervasi for help with the above.

Thank you. -Jonathan Canady

Christine (1983)

Streaming on Netflix | imdb | trailer

It’s about damned time I recommended a John Carpenter film. His best work is so high profile I figured, why bother? Well Christine is a solid, lesser discussed, movie in his filmography that I enjoy, and just happened to have rewatched recently. You get that awesome JC golden-era cinematography, a very good synth score, plus a good cast, and top notch special effects that still look impressive nearly 40 years on. There’s just one catch here… I never read the original Stephen King book. I’ve read The Shining, The Stand, and the whole damn Dark Tower series, but not this one. So, if you’re a big fan of the book, maybe do some research first, or skip it. If you’ve never read the book, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy this as much as I did. Oh, and some guy is doing a remake. Unless it’s more faithful to the book, a “reimagining” strikes me as a waste of time. You Hollywood people know that there’s a billion original horror movie scripts floating around right? Right?

Blu-ray is available from Sony Pictures.

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Ghost World (2001)

Streaming on Amazon Prime | imdb | trailer

An irreverent girl graduates high school, and needs to figure out what’s next, all while navigating many weird characters in Anytown, USA. Well, not Anytown. It seems like a Middle America mashup of Austin, Portland, OR and a more typical, boring small city. Directed by Terry Zwigoff (Crumb, Art School Confidential, etc.) and based on the graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, this is a wonderfully unique comedy / drama. It manages to feature some hilariously surreal moments that will remind you very much of situations that have happened to you, or stories you’ve heard friends tell. “Man, the STRANGEST thing just happened…” If you have a counter cultural bone in your body, this is essential viewing. My partner and I still reference this regularly. We even named our cat after the lead character Enid. I rate Ghost World among my favorite films, and will never get sick of watching it. Younger viewers please be prepared for some “triggering” situations and dialog, or just skip it.

Available on Blu-ray from Criterion Collection.

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Reign of Fire (2002)

Streaming on Hulu | imdb | trailer

Some executives got together and agreed to green light a $60 million movie that is The Road Warrior + DRAGONS. Yep. As weird as that sounds, it’s pretty damned good. It’s not even rated R, and it’s still an entertaining flick. The CG even holds up 20 years on. Reign of Fire does have some cheesy moments, but all the fast-paced action makes that worth enduring. Oh, and I’m pretty sure that Matthew McConaughey’s look is inspired by Steve Von Till from the band Neurosis

Available on Blu-ray from Touchstone.

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The Girl Next Door (2007)

Streaming on Netflix | imdb | trailer

It would probably be best for you to NOT watch this movie. This is possibly the most extreme horror / exploitation flick currently on Netflix. Are you still reading? Ok, well… this is a fact-based film about a young girl that was tortured and abused back in 1965. I saw this when it came out, and it made quite an impression. Back then I was a much more negative horror maniac, and it cut right through my “I’ve seen it all” bullshit. I didn’t feel titillated. I felt sympathy and dread. This was originally a novel by Jack Ketchum, who was likely the smartest author working in extreme horror. Maybe only Clive Barker’s early work was a match. If the above has not scared you off, and you’re ready to be brutalized for “entertainment”, check out The Girl Next Door. Also look into Ketchum’s books. The ones I read were a big step above most horror fiction.

Available on Blu-ray from Anchor Bay.

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In Order of Disappearance (2014)

Streaming on Amazon Prime | imdb | trailer

This is an excellent Swedish revenge film that was remade as Cold Pursuit with Liam Neeson as the lead. The original stars Stellan Skarsgård, and is just as superior as you would imagine. It’s violent, packed with black humor, and made with a style that borders on art film. Need I say more?

Blu-ray available from Magnolia.

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Bacon’s Arena (2006)

Streaming on YouTube | imdb

Francis Bacon was one of the greatest artists of the 20th Century. He also led a very interesting and tumultuous life, which was the focus of the dramatic bio pic Love is the Devil (worth a watch). You are familiar with his work, wether you know it or not, as it is referenced in popular culture regularly. He is best known for painting disturbing, distorted images of the human face and figure like his “screaming popes.” Bacon’s seated figures were sloppily brought to life by Lucio Fulci in A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (which is an excellent giallo, but Bacon must have despised it). This excellent TV movie is the best biography of the artist I’ve seen yet. The quality is not quite up to current standards, but don’t let that deter you. If you have an interest in counter culture on the dark side, this is mandatory viewing.

Not available on Blu-ray.

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Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

Streaming on Netflix and Hulu | imdb | trailer

This is Sergio Leone’s flawed, but still amazing, final film. Once Upon a Time in America is a wide-ranging epic about a prohibition-era Jewish gangster in New York City. I will spare you all the gory details about what went wrong in the cutting and release (you can read all about it over here). I saw this in whatever the hell version was on DVD around 2005 and loved it. Yes, this film is slow. However it tops Goodfellas in the level of violence and scope. To keep it simple, if you are a fan gangster movies and TV series, you need to see this. The amazing cast is reason enough. Just go in knowing it’s a long slow ride with some seriously bloody sections. Maybe even break it up into two or more viewings for maximum enjoyment (that’s my plan for a re-watch soon).

The domestic Blu-ray is currently Out of Print.

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