5 Phenomenal Movie Bank Robberies

Man it has been a while since my last Phenomenal 5. Long-time readers know that this was once a weekly feature on this site. But with more and more movies to review I’ve kinda been slacking. So what better time than now to fire up a new Phenomenal 5 and I have a fun one – movie bank robberies. You may not realize it, but there have been a lot of banks knocked off throughout cinema history. And some of the best scenes weren’t just about the actual robbery itself but the buildup and the aftermath. There were so many good ones that came to mind and for that reason I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But there’s no denying that these five movie bank robberies are nothing short of phenomenal.

#5 – “Point Break” (1991)

There are two fantastic bank robbery scenes in Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 action thriller “Point Break”. In the film Patrick Swayze leads a band of surfer robbers known as the Ex-Presidents. A little over halfway into the movie the gang knocks off a bank and are about to make their escape. Enter FBI agents Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey. What follows is a thrilling car chase followed by one of the best foot pursuits ever put on film. The robbery that happens near the end may be the better scene. But in terms of pure adrenaline and excitement, I’m sticking by my choice.

#4 – “Raising Arizona” (1987)

Ok, I realize there are probably “better” bank robbery scenes out there, but none are funnier than the one we get from the Coen brothers in “Raising Arizona”. From the moment John Goodman and William Forsythe bust into an old country bank with two shotguns, two bags, and a toddler in a baby carrier you can’t help but laugh. The entire scenario is preposterous (in a great way), but it’s the Coens’ wacky dialogue that makes the scene so good. I love it and there was no way I could leave it off the list.

#3 – “For a Few Dollars More” (1965)

It may be the lesser recognized of the three Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns, but it just might be the best of the trilogy. It also has a terrific bank robbery sequence. This pick is a prime example of how both the buildup and the getaway are crucial to the scene’s greatness. Clint and his partner Lee Van Cleef know the bandits are going to hit the town’s bank. They just don’t know how it’s going down and they’re completely caught off guard when the gang blows the back of the bank building, yanks the safe into their wagon, and then races out of town. Leone’s signature tension-building setup is terrific and the great Ennio Morricone’s score during the escape is unforgettable.

#2 – “Heat” (1995)

In Michael Mann’s killer crime thriller “Heat” Robert De Niro and his crew are all set for their last big robbery. With Elliot Goldenthal’s brilliant score pulsating in the background, they hit a bank in downtown Los Angeles. Meanwhile Al Pacino’s LAPD detective gets wind of the robbery and dispatches the precinct. What follows is one of the most intense shootouts in cinema history, fueled by Dante Spinotti’s kinetic cinematography and a stellar sound design. Combined, the robbery and the gun battle make for some edge-of-your-seat stuff.

#1 – “The Dark Knight” (2008)

“The Dark Knight” stands out for so many reasons. It’s the greatest superhero movie ever made (subjective, I know). It’s one of Christopher Nolan’s best films. It also has a bank robbery scene that provides one of the best movie openings and one of the best character introductions you’ll see. TDK opens with Heath Ledger’s Joker robbing a bank full of mob money. As the meticulously planned heist unfolds, the Clown Prince starts knocking off each of his crew until he’s the last one standing. The pulse-pounding sequence gives us a good taste of the character’s twisted madness and of the incredible Oscar-winning performance that would follow. Everything about the scene sizzles.

And those are my five picks. See something I missed? Agree or disagree with any of my choices? Share your list in the comments section below.

5 Phenomenal Action Movie Tough Girls


It seems like it has been forever and a day since I last did a Phenomenal 5. But with Sundance and awards season (mostly) in the bag what better time than now? There are countless action movies that feature tough guys. In fact, in the 80’s and 90’s an entire action genre centered around muscle-bound beefcakes. But we do a disservice if we fail to recognize that there have been some tough-as-nails women who can hold their own with ANY of the fellas. So why not give these women their due by listing five of the coolest and toughest? To no surprise there were several tough girls to choose from so I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But there’s no denying that these 5 Movie Tough Girls are most surely phenomenal.

#5 – Furiosa (“Mad Max: Fury Road”)


There were so many glorious surprises in George Miller’s nitrous-injected thrillride “Mad Max: Fury Road”. Near the top of that list was Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa. Tom Hardy’s Max is a key character and he’s who the movie is named after. But in many ways Furiosa is the lead and this is her story. And when the two pair up in one particularly ferocious fight scene, she most certainly gets her licks in. Furiosa is tenacious, determined, and as tough as the come.

#4 – The Bride (“Kill Bill: Volume 1 & 2”)


Fueled by an insatiable thirst for vengeance, Uma Thurman’s Bride slices and dices her way through countless baddies as good as any, better than most. And it’s telling that she is arguably the toughest character you’ll find in the entirety of Quentin Tarantino’s hyper-violent filmography. That’s saying something. Thurman delivers the whole package: brains, brutality, grit and moxie. Oh, and she does the bulk of her damage with her custom-made Hattori Hanzō samurai sword. Tough? Without question!

#3 – Sarah Connor (“Terminator 2: Judgement Day”)


In the first Terminator picture, Sarah Connor was essentially a girl running from danger. Boy how things change in “Terminator 2”. Linda Hamilton bulked up and gave Sarah a grittier edge with a hardened militaristic personality. Knowing the war that’s coming, Sarah fights alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger every step of the way. Whether it’s with her fists or a wide assortment of weaponry, she blasts away at anyone who gets in her path human or robotic. This new Sarah Connor certainly left her mark on the movie landscape and has to be on this list.

#2 – Princess Leia (“Star Wars” Series)


When watching the original “Star Wars”, it doesn’t take long to see that Princess Leia is much more than some damsel in distress. In the franchise’s earliest scenes we see her open rebellion against the evil Galactic Empire and her unwillingness to compromise. It also doesn’t take Han and Luke long to see that she’s a no-nonsense woman who tells it like it is. She’s handy with the laser blaster and she doesn’t mind putting herself in danger to help others. She plays a pivotal role in saving Han’s life and it was Leia who killed Jabba the Hutt. Carrie Fisher’s Leia is as surly as any tough guy and she has more smarts than most.

#1- Ellen Ripley (“Alien” Series)


It may be unfair, but any time I see Sigourney Weaver, I automatically think of Ellen Ripley. I absolutely love this character and her toughness is a key reason. In the first “Alien” picture (SPOILER) she was the only survivor of her ship’s crew and she single-handedly killed the alien. In the second film we see just how tough Ripley is. She uses grenades, flamethrowers, pulse rifles, and even a robotic crane to kill more aliens, even their queen. In the third film she takes more drastic measures to quell an alien spread. Throughout the series Ripley encounters a variety of so-called “tough guys”. Isn’t it interesting that she is the one who actually survives. Sounds like she’s the one who’s truly tough.

There you have it. There were several others that I considered but these stood out the most. Do you agree or disagree with my list? Do you see someone who I left off? Who would you include on your list? Please take time to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

5 Phenomenal Christmas Movie Santas

Christmas is here which means Christmas movies are everywhere. In the spirit of the season I thought it would be fun to look back at an older Phenomenal 5 that I originally published in 2013. One that focuses on a signature yuletide character. Of course I’m talking about Santa Claus. So today I’m revisiting five of the very best Santas from cinema. Now obviously with so many to consider I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But I have no trouble recognizing these five jolly old elves as nothing short of phenomenal.

#5 – Tim Allen (“The Santa Clause”)


While I’m not a big fan of this series of movies as a whole, I do really enjoy the first film. “The Santa Clause” tells the story of a selfish father named Scott Calvin who through a nutty accident inherits the position as Santa Claus. Of course a lot of things come with that role – a big round belly, a snow-white beard, etc. Allen is great showing us his character’s transformation from a self-absorbed slug to a loving, caring father and ultimately Jolly Old Saint Nick.

#4 – Ed Asner (“Elf”)


He’s certainly not the main draw in “Elf”, but Ed Asner’s performance as Santa Claus is a key ingredient to this movie’s success. Asner never winks at the camera. Instead he seems completely invested which accounts for some really funny moments. He not only looks the part but he carries himself just as you would imagine his character would. There are several good moments as he manages things at the North Pole but also when his sleigh crash lands in Central Park. Fun and fitting – that is how I would describe Asner’s portrayal.

#3 – Tom Hanks (“The Polar Express”)


I know some people have problems with Robert Zemeckis’ motion-captured animated film “The Polar Express”. Not me. I’m a fan and it has become one of our holiday favorites. And while he doesn’t appear until the very end of the film, Tom Hanks is a wonderful Santa Claus. What makes him such a great Santa has a lot to do with the buildup. The film truly creates a larger than life, jaw-dropping perception of Santa and we the audience see him through the awe-struck eyes of those children. The animation is gorgeous and Hanks fits the picture perfectly.

#2 – Jeff Gillen (“A Christmas Story”)


How can a movie Santa Claus who only appears for 3 minutes of a film have such a prominent position on this list? Easy – when he gives us such a hilarious and utterly timeless scene. This is what Jeff Gillen does in the modern holiday classic “A Christmas Story”. His tired and grumpy department store Santa grows more and more irritable as he approaches the end of his Christmas Eve shift. Grumbling elves and Gillen’s bored and dismissive delivery doesn’t provide young Ralphie with the best experience, but it sure is a load of fun for us.

#1 – Edmund Gwenn (“Miracle on 34th Street”)


Let’s be honest, who else could be number one? In my book Edmund Gwenn’s fabulous portrayal of Santa Claus is the perfect blueprint for how to play the character. Gwenn’s Oscar-winning performance still stands out today and from the first moment you see his Kris Kringle you can’t help but be drawn to him. He has the demeanor, the cheer, the charisma, the childlike exuberance. And with the exception of one old grump, he makes everyone around him happier and every circumstance better. Edmund Gwenn embodies the character to absolute perfection and he is unquestionably the best movie Santa Claus.

So what do you think of my list? Agree or disagree with my choices? Please take time to share your choices in the comments section below. And of course…Merry Christmas!

5 Phenomenal Movie Presidents


It seems that the end of this exasperating election season is mercifully in sight. And as partisans delude themselves with grandeur, the rest of us brace for impact. In the meantime I thought it would be fun to slip away from the curdled political landscape and look at some of my favorite movie presidents. It goes without saying that the movies have used the office of the presidency in a myriad of fun ways and here are some of my favorites. In light of that I wouldn’t consider this the definitive list. But there’s no denying that these five movie presidents are most certainly phenomenal.

#5 – President Benjamin Asher


Ok don’t laugh, but this one is admittedly a guilty pleasure. Aaron Eckhart’s President Benjamin Asher was a key part of the corny but fun shoot-em-up “Olympus Has Fallen” and the best part of its forgettable sequel “London Has Fallen”. Eckhart ends up being a great fit, bringing what the role needs most – physicality and believability. And that’s saying something in movies where believability is more-or-less tossed out the window.

#4 – President Thomas J. Whitmore


I mean President Whitmore from “Independence Day” has to be on the list right? I mean a leader who can give that kind of speech during a global alien invasion is pretty much a lock. Bill Pullman’s Whitmore not only says the right things but he puts his money where his mouth his, entering the fight against the invading alien forces and saving the earth as we know it. If that doesn’t earn his a second term nothing can.

#3 – President James Marshall


This pick could have easily been #1 on my list. Harrison Ford became everyone’s president when “Air Force One” came out back in 1997. Ford is terrific as President Marshall – tough, determined, and not too fond of hijackers taking over his plane. Don’t believe me? Just ask Gary Oldman. There’s a vulnerability to Marshall but also a firm resolve to save his staff members at 35,000 feet. Who wouldn’t cast their ballot for a guy like that?

#2 – President Merkin Muffley


I make no apologies for having President Merkin Muffley from “Dr. Strangelove” this high on my list. In fact he could’ve easily taken the top spot just for his hysterical phone call with Dimitri, his Russian counterpart. President Muffley is one of three parts Peter Sellers plays in this Stanley Kubrick classic and it’s easily my favorite. His sly mix of humor and sincerity really anchors this 1964 Cold War black comedy and watching his War Room jostling never gets old.

#1 – President Abraham Lincoln


For a while I was tempted to limit my list to only fictional movie presidents. But during the entire time I was putting this thing together, I couldn’t quit thinking about what may be the preeminent portrayal of a president ever put on screen. Daniel Day-Lewis’ Oscar-winning performance in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” is a master class on bringing detail and utter commitment to a role. It’s stunning work from one of our greatest living actors.

And there is my list. What do you think? What would have made your list? Please let me hear from you in the comments section below.

5 Phenomenal Michael Keaton Movies


Few actors have the wild-eyed charisma and off-beat charms possessed by screen vet Michael Keaton. His career took off in the early 1980’s, dried up in the late 1990’s, and got its second wind in 2014. I’ve always loved seeing Keaton on screen so what better actor to highlight in a new Phenomenal 5. Narrowing down his film roles to the five best was as tough as I expected, but those are the rules. So while I wouldn’t call this the definitive list, there’s no denying that these five Michael Keaton movies are nothing short of phenomenal.

#5 – “The Dream Team”


Ok, so you could call this a more sentimental choice but I absolutely love “The Dream Team” flaws and all. It’s a 1989 comedy about four mental patients loose in New York City after their field trip to Yankee Stadium goes bad. Keaton is great as the snarky and mischievous self-appointed leader of the patients as they set out to save their doctor/chaperone from some crooked cops. “The Dream Team” wasn’t a huge hit, but it was a great showcase for Keaton’s explosive personality.

#4 – “Beetlejuice”


If you could have seen the look on my children’s faces when I first told them about a movie called “Beetlejuice”. Tim Burton’s 1988 horror-comedy is just as wacky as its name suggests. And despite its fun and completely game cast, the film works so well because of Michael Keaton. This is one of those roles where you can’t imagine anyone else being able to pull it off. He’s utterly ridiculous, weirdly charming, and an absolute riot from the first moment he hits the screen.

#3 – “Spotlight”


Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight” was my #1 movie of 2015 and it still stands as a powerful reminder of the importance of free, unbiased journalism. Michael Keaton plays the leader of a small team of investigative journalists working for the Boston Globe. The film follows the Spotlight team as they slowly uncover and ultimately blow the lid off of a massive wide-spread sex abuse scandal within the Catholic church. Keaton gives a perfectly calibrated dramatic turn as an editor fighting for his team’s right to publish their story regardless of the costs. A much different performance from the earlier two films on this list, but a pivotal one nonetheless.

#2 – “The Founder”


Easily the most underrated role on the list and arguably the most underrated role in his entire filmography. Michael Keaton’s starring work in “The Founder” went largely unseen by audiences and apparently by awards voters, but it’s easily one of his best. The film tells the story of Ray Kroc and how he created the multi-billion dollar fast food juggernaut McDonald’s. It’s a meaty role for Keaton, blending his skills with straight drama and dry humor. Chances are you missed this one when it came out in 2016. It’s definitely worth catching up to it.

#1 – “Batman” 


If for some reason you needed more evidence of Michael Keaton’s enormous range as an actor, I present to you 1989’s “Batman”. Yet another collaboration with Tim Burton that sees Keaton playing the Dark Knight before superhero movies were all the rage. I remember being a bit unsure about his casting, but that didn’t stop me from standing in line for over an hour anxiously awaiting an opening weekend viewing. And Keaton didn’t disappoint. “Batman” is very much a Tim Burton take on the Caped Crusader, but Keaton brings his own wit and charm. You never doubt him either as Bruce Wayne or the crime-fighting vigilante in a cape and a cowl. Jack Nicholson received most of the attention for his sparkling work as Joker, but Keaton proved to be crucial to the film’s massive success.

So those are my Michael Keaton movie picks. What say you? See something you agree or disagree with? Please let me know in the comments section below.

5 Phenomenal Movie Foot Chases

As an action movie fan I love a good chase regardless of the kind – motorcycle, car or even on foot. It may surprise you just how many great foot chases there have been in movie history. So I decided to give some love to five great movie foot chases. I left out a few that certainly deserve mention, but these five were musts. Now as usual, I wouldn’t dare call this the definitive list. But there’s no denying that these 5 movie foot chases are absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – “Fast Five”

Vin Diesel star as Dominic Toretto in Universal Pictures' Fast Five.

The “Fast and Furious” series has made it’s reputation on fast rides and some ridiculously wild car chases. Who would have thought that one of the coolest scenes in 2011’s “Fast Five” would have been a foot chase? After meeting up at a safe house in Rio de Janeiro, Dom, Brian, and Mia find themselves boxed in by a crime lord’s armed thugs on one side and Special Agent Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and his team on the other. The three groups take off on a foot chase through the cramped, densely populated, hillside streets, running through tight alleys and jumping from rooftop to rooftop. It’s a high-octane edge-of-your-seat sequence.

#4 – “Point Break


In what was one part free-spirited surfer movie and one part gritty heist film, “Point Break” was a popular action romp from director Kathryn Bigelow. As Keanu Reeves’ undercover FBI agent gets close to arresting Patrick Swayze’s surfer bank robber the latter takes off on foot. Utah chases him into a neighborhood, over fences, through backyards and living rooms, and finally down a ravine where Reeves hurts his knee and Swayze gets away. It a furious chase with tight, close quarter camera work and even a touch of subtle humor.

#3 – “The Bourne Ultimatum


The third film of the Jason Bourne series featured the same intense, spy thriller action and around the world globetrotting that the series is known for. One of my favorite sequences is in Morocco. Bourne (Matt Damon) and his contact Nicky (Julia Stiles) is targeted by an asset sent to take them out. Nicky runs away, the assassin follows her, Bourne follows assassin. The three run through the crowded streets of Tangier and through a series of close, cramped houses before ending with the best fight scene of the entire series. It all comes together to make for one spectacular scene.

#2 – “Raising Arizona



Leave it to Joel and Ethen Coen to give us not only one of the best foot chases in movie history but by far the funniest. In 1987’s “Raising Arizona” Nicholas Cage’s H.I. McDunnough gives in to his addiction and holds up a convenient store while his wife and kid are in the car outside. Once she realizes what he’s doing, she drives off leaving him behind. With the police arriving and the store clerk pulling out a .44 magnum that would make Dirty Harry proud, H.I. takes off on foot, lunatic cops and rabid dogs hot on his heels. Through suburban backyards, living rooms, and supermarkets. H.I. runs into an assortment of funny characters and hilarious obstacles. It’s hard to beat.

#1 – “Casino Royale”

It was director Martin Campbell’s “Casino Royale” from 2006 that officially made me a James Bond fan. Daniel Craig’s 007 brought a gritty more realistic Bond to the big screen. and I absolutely loved it. It doesn’t take long for the action to crank up in “Casino Royale”. We see Bond in Madagascar where he has tracked down a wanted bomb manufacturer. When his partner botches the apprehension, the suspect takes off on foot with 007 right behind him. I recently rewatched this scene preparing for this list and it still blows my mind. The chase takes the two to a high-rise construction site. They leap up scaffolding, run along steel girders, and fight on sky-high cranes. Then the chase takes them back to the ground, through the busy streets and finally to the Nabutu Embassy where it has an explosive ending. Even though it’s close to 10 minutes long, this chase keeps you glued to the screen. It’s beautifully shot, masterfully edited, and it serves as a wonderful introduction to this new era of Bond.

There you have it – my 5 Phenomenal Movie Foot Chases. See something I missed? Disagree with any of my choices? Please take time to share your favorite movie foot chase below.