5 Phenomenal Movie Train Scenes

phenom-5

Trains. I mean who doesn’t like trains? Bullet trains, freight trains, model trains. How can you not like them? The movies have certainly had loads of fun with trains. For decades we’ve been give one great train scene after another. Today I’m looking at five of the very best to ever grace the big screen. Now obviously with so many to choose from (and there are TONS) I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. Still I have no problem calling these five movie train scenes absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – “The Fugitive” (1993)

Fugitive

It pained me to leave movies like “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, “Before Sunrise”, and “Spider-Man 2” off this list. That should tell you how much I love the explosive train derailment scene in the 1993 thriller “The Fugitive”. Wrongly accused Harrison Ford is trying to escape from a crashed prison bus laying across railroad tracks. A train barrels towards him and slams into the bus just as Ford flies out of the window. The train derailment that follows is absolutely stunning.

#4 – “Skyfall” (2012)

Skyfall

There is no way to document all of the incredible over-the-top action scenes that have become staples of the James Bond franchise. And it just so happens there is one which is a perfect fit for this list. “Skyfall” opens with one of the coolest train scenes in movie history. 007 uses feet, fists, bullets and even a huge excavator as he fights a mercenary on top of a speeding train. Through tunnels and over a bridge, right up to its big splash finish.

#3 – “Mission: Impossible” (1996)

MISSION

Without a doubt the signature scene in Brian De Palma’s “Mission: Impossible”comes at the very end. You know the one I’m talking about. Tom Cruise’s IMF agent Ethan Hunt atop a speeding bullet train on the heels of the mole (I won’t spoil who) who framed him for killing his team. Oh, and to make it even more electric, the mole plans to escape on a helicopter that’s tailing the train. I’ll leave it there but look it up if you haven’t seen it.

#2 – “The General” (1926)

GENERAL

Exactly which train scene do you pick out of the many featured in Buster Keaton’s silent classic “The General”? I mulled over several of the film’s great scenes before ultimately settling on one of Keaton’s most iconic movie moments. Some have called it the most expensive shot in silent movie history. A Union Army train makes an ill-advised attempt to cross a burning wooden bridge but plunges into the river as the cavalry watches from the bank. The set piece was incredible then and still is today. 

#1 – “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” (2007)

James

The train robbery in Andrew Dominik’s brilliant “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” is not only one of the best train sequences, but it’s one of my favorite scenes ever shot. The great cinematographer Roger Deakins is at his best in the buildup, capturing the dim glow from the bandits’ lanterns, the vibrations of the tracks, the headlight of the train penetrating the forest as it rounds a curve. And of course you get the robbery itself. Simply put, it is sublime filmmaking.

And those are my picks. There are so many great train scenes I hated to leave off. Now it’s your turn to help. Let me know what you think of my list and please share what would have made yours.

5 Phenomenal Quentin Tarantino Characters

PHENOM 5

One of my favorite podcasts Filmspotting recently did a segment highlighting their favorite Quentin Tarantino characters. Prior to the release of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” I had been working on a variation of that very idea, but their show caused me to rethink what I was doing. So I’ve dialed it back to a more traditional thing. Simply put, these are five of Tarantino’s best characters. As a filmmaker QT is known for creating many attention-getting personalities. In light of that I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But there’s no denying that these five Quentin Tarantino characters are nothing short of phenomenal.

#5 – Jackie Brown (“Jackie Brown”)

JACKIE

Tarantino has a history of reintroducing actors and actresses who stars may not shine as bright as they once did. One shining example is the casting of Pam Grier as the title character in his 1997 crime picture “Jackie Brown”. Jackie is a strong, street-smart woman making ends meet anyway she can. Grier pulls from her tough-as-nails 70’s blaxpoitation roles which were full of charisma and grit. Jackie is such an absorbing character.

#4 – Cliff Booth (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)

CLIFF

Brad Pitt has two list-worthy Tarantino characters to his credit. His brutal yet hilarious Aldo Raine from “Inglourious Basterds” would have this spot if not for Cliff Booth. Cliff is an easy-going, multi-layered character from Tarantino’s latest effort who has already drawn a wide range of interpretations (based on how you read the film’s many clues). Pitt absolutely shines as a late 1960’s stuntman plucked right out of a time capsule.

#3 – Jules Winfield (“Pulp Fiction”)

JULES

Samuel L. Jackson is clearly a Tarantino favorite. He has been in more of QT’s films than anyone else. It all started with “Pulp Fiction” and his endlessly quotable Jules Winfield. He’s a mob hitman with a penchant for pondering the meaning of life and enjoying a tasty burger. Much of Jackson’s well-known big screen personality is encapsulated in Jules who turns out to be more than a loud-mouth with a big gun and a nice Jheri curl.

#2 – The Bride (“Kill Bill”)

BRIDE

Throughout the two-movie tale of vengeance that is “Kill Bill” Uma Thurman’s Bride puts on several uniquely different faces. Surely the one that stands out most is the sword-wielding revenge-fueled assassin. But Tarantino gives her several more layers which make her a compelling character beyond the sheer physicality. But don’t get me wrong, watching her slice and dice is nothing short of exhilarating.

#1 – Colonel Hans Landa (“Inglourious Basterds”)

HANS

The opening sequence of Tarantino’s zany revisionist World War II tale “Inglourious Basterds” may be the filmmaker’s very best work. In the scene we are introduced to Nazi officer Hans Landa, a character with hints of absurdity but who can be utterly terrifying. He’s played by Christoph Waltz and lets just say there’s a good reason he won an Oscar for the performance. He’s a character brimming with menace and you can’t turn away from him.

And there is my list. What do you think? Agree or disagree with my picks? Please let me know what you think in the comments section below.

A Halloween Revisit: 5 Phenomenally Goofy Horror Movie Baddies

It’s Halloween so what better time to revisit an older Phenomenal 5 that’s all about the scares. We all know the Jasons and the Freddys of the genre. We are all familiar with Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Mummy. These horror movie baddies have been carving their names into the minds of horror fans for decades. But not every horror movie terror is all that frightening. In fact, there are some that are just plain goofy. Today we’re looking at five of the silliest horror baddies to ever grace the genre. There are so many to choose from therefore I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But I think we can all agree that these are five phenomenally goofy horror Movie villains.

#5 – THE GREEN GOBLIN SEMI-TRUCK (“Maximum Overdrive”)

“Maximum Overdrive” was an odd horror movie about machines coming to life after a comet passes by the earth. Makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? The machines, ranging from vending machines to automobiles, begin attacking people. At a North Carolina truck stop Emilio Estevez and a handful of survivors are trapped inside as a number of “living” semi-trucks circle the building. What’s even goofier is that they have a “leader” – a menacing black semi with a huge Green Goblin face mounted on its front. There’s a big final battle between the human survivors and the trucks (no, I’m not kidding) but ultimately it comes down to stopping the green-faced 18-wheeled evil. This film was based on a Stephen King short story and it marked King’s one and only foray into directing. I think it’s easy to see why.

#4 – KILLER CLOWNS (“Killer Klowns from Outer Space”)

Yes, this is a movie that’s just as goofy as it’s title. Now to be fair, “Killer Klowns from Outer Space” knows it’s idiotic and it does have a little fun with it. But it’s still a horror picture with antagonists that fit perfectly on this list. Do you need proof? Ok, how about this – an army of “Klowns” land on Earth in their circus tent-shaped space ship and begin killing the residents of a California town. We find out these Klowns (and yes they are actually clowns) are here to harvest us as a food source. But the town fights back and soon find the Klowns have one big weakness. Remember how zombies die with a bullet to the head? Well Killer Klowns can be killed by taking out their bright shiny noses. Shoot them in the nose and watch them spin like a top before blowing up into pieces. But it’s not a simple thing to do. They’re armed with everything from deadly ray guns to lethal balloon animals and acid pies. Now do you question their inclusion on this list? I thought not.

#3 – CHUCKY (The “Child’s Play” Series)

I still find it amazing that Chucky was actually part of a multi-film franchise. In case you don’t know, Chucky is a children’s doll possessed by a serial killer. Sounds like a completely rational idea for a horror villain, doesn’t it? Yet regardless of how preposterous it may sound, Chucky gained a strong cult following that resulted in several sequels. This foul-mouthed, murderous, red-haired doll kills indiscriminately and learns to enjoy his new “body”. He’s a tough cookie too. Chucky has been shot, burned, melted, blown up, decapitated, and cut into a million pieces. But despite all of the attempts he keeps coming back. And life has been good for Chucky. He’s met a female doll and married her. He’s even a proud father. Ok, I feel idiotic even typing that. It’s hard to believe that a corny concept like a killer “My Buddy” doll could have had such success. But if you doubt me keep in mind he was rebooted early this year.

#2 – KILLER TOMATOES (“Attack of the Killer Tomatoes”)

It’s obvious that the creators of the 1978 horror film “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” intended to inject a lot of humor into their movie. I mean how could they avoid it with a title like this? If you think about it, how many ways can a tomato actually kill you? But don’t underestimate the proficiency of these vine-ripe terrors. The have many plump and juicy methods including devouring their prey and drowning their victims in tomato juice. Pretty scary stuff, huh? But like every ominous threat, these killers have a weakness. Their kryptonite isn’t a sharp knife or boiling water. No, it’s the song “Puberty Love”. Whenever they hear it they begin to shrink and are easily squashed. There have been three other “Killer Tomato” sequels but none have reached the B-movie cult status as the original. And let’s be honest, are there any other horror villains quite like them?

#1 – ZOMBIE ENTRAILS (“Dead Alive”)

If you haven’t seen Peter Jackson’s earlier film “Dead Alive” you’re probably trying to grasp the idea of zombie entrails. But yet it’s exactly what you think. “Dead Alive” is a nutty, off-the-wall gorefest that soaks the audience in blood and laughs. It takes the zombie and splatter films to new heights and I promise you it’s like nothing you’ve seen before. It all starts when nerdy Stewart’s mother is bitten by a Sumatran Rat-Monkey that’s carrying a rare disease. It ends up turning her into a zombie and you know that there can never be just one. Soon things get way out of hand highlighted by zombified entrails that attack our hero Stewart. The entrails chase him, throw him, and strangle him and it takes his greatest innovation to survive. Sounds terrorizing doesn’t it? This film has been called by some the goriest movie of all time. It’s also very funny and how can you argue with the horror of zombie entrails?

There you have them – the goofiest of the horror villains. I can think of several others that could grace this list but I think these have earned their spots. So how about your choices? Who would you include on this goofy list?

5 Phenomenal Movies from 1990

movie_theatre - Phenom 5

A while ago I did a series of Phenomenal 5 lists looking at the best movies from each year of the 1980’s. I’m not sure why it took me so long, but now it’s time to jump into the 90’s. Of course we begin with 1990, a year that typically doesn’t come to mind as a great for movies. Still there were several films that stood out and while I wouldn’t call this the definitive list, there’s no denying that these five movies are phenomenal.

#5 – “Total Recall”

TOTAL

On the surface it could be easy to dismiss “Total Recall” as another meat-headed action flick from Arnold Schwarzenegger. Actually Paul Verhoeven’s ultra-violent sci-fi romp plays with several meaningful themes and manages to subvert practically every expectation. It’s loaded with great special effects, good humor, a fun supporting cast and just enough satire to set it apart.

#4 –  “Die Hard 2”

DIEHARD2

It’s quite the task the make a satisfying sequel to a movie that many consider to be one of the best action films of all-time. It’s another Christmas and another terrorist attack, this time at Washington’s Dulles International Airport. Thankfully Bruce Willis recaptures all of John McClane’s wit and attitude while several other fun familiar faces from the first film return. Certainly not as good as 1988’s “Die Hard”, but still a ton of fun.

#3 – “Goodfellas”

GOOD

I can hear a lot of people already challenging me for not having this Martin Scorsese crime epic in the #1 slot. I completely understand because it truly is an amazing piece of cinema. Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, and Joe Pesci wonderfully navigate several years of mob life – the ups, downs, the friendships, and the violence. Scorsese’s signature style and trademark characterizations make this one of the quintessential mob movies.

#2 – “Miller’s Crossing”

MILLERS

Speaking of gangster pictures, the third film from Joel and Ethan Coen happened to be one of my favorites from the brothers. “Miller’s Crossing” drips with neo-noir flavor, touches of dark comedy, and showcases some brilliant performances particularly from Albert Finney and Gabriel Byrne. It’s a movie armed with that rich sense of style both narratively and visually that the Coens have sense become known for. I love it.

#1 – “Dances with Wolves”

Dances

Kevin Costner’s Oscar-winning epic has taken its share of low blows. Nonsensical ‘white savior’ accusations and general discontent for it winning Best Picture over “Goodfellas” has soured many opinions. But “Dances with Wolves” deserves better. It’s a gorgeous, sprawling film teeming with classic filmmaking spirit and a grand artistry that captures both the beauty and ugliness of its subject. I’ll stand up for this film any day.

There you have my picks for the best films of 1990. What say you? Agree or disagree? Please hit the comments below and let me know what I got right and what I got wrong. Can’t wait to hear from you.

5 Phenomenal Movie Remakes Which are Better Than the Original

PHENOM 5

It goes without saying that movie remakes are currently all the rage in Hollywood. We’ve gotten many over the last few years and a lot more are slated for the near future. It’s something I generally push back on but there are several instances where remaking an older movie wasn’t a bad thing. Today’s Phenomenal 5 takes a look at remakes that are actually better than the film they are based on. I tried to stick with movies remade from fairly well known originals. So nothing too obscure. As always I wouldn’t call this the definitive list, but there’s no denying that these five movie remakes are nothing short of phenomenal.

#5 – “A Star is Born” (2018)

STARBORN

Here’s a case of a remake that’s actually better than not one, not two, but three movies that came before it. “A Star is Born” tells a story that people over the years have proven to be drawn to. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga form the core of this musical/romantic drama about one music star on the rise, another whose star is fading, and the tumultuous romance they share. It’s a movie full of great performances and even better songs.

#4 – “Cape Fear” (1991)

CAPE

Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro have had several high-profile collaborations. One that many forget about is their remake of 1962’s “Cape Fear”. De Niro takes the role of Max Cady, memorably played in the original by Robert Mitchum. It features a great supporting cast and Scorsese’s signature cinematic craftsmanship. It’s a tense and gritty thriller and a surprising step up from its well-made inspiration.

#3 – “3:10 to Yuma” (2007)

MCDTHTE EC032

I’ve always liked 1957’s “3:10 to Yuma”, but I truly love James Mangold’s 2007 remake. The action, the tension, the stunning cinematography all helps make this a great film. But ultimately it’s the fantastic chemistry between Christian Bale and Russell Crowe that stands out the most. Their performances drive the movie and add a layer of humanity to the already intriguing story.

#2 – “True Grit” (2010)

GRIT

To be honest I’m not what you would call the biggest fan of John Wayne westerns. But I’m a huge fan of the Coen brothers and their stylish 2010 remake of Wayne’s “True Grit” highlights why I believe they are among the greatest filmmakers working today. Their version is filled with Coen brothers signatures: a knack for great dialogue and the use of language, unique and intriguing characters, and their special brand of humor. It’s better than the original in every way.

#1 – “The Thing” (1982)

THING

First off, I’m a big fan of Howard Hawks’ 1951 science-fiction classic “The Thing from Another World”. But for my money it pales in comparison to John Carpenter’s savagely good 1982 remake simply titled “The Thing”. Carpenter (a huge fan of the Hawks film) took the tension and suspense from the original movie and updated it in a variety of ways. It was first met with harsh reactions from critics, but over time it has received a much-deserved critical reassessment. Now far more people appreciate this sci-fi/horror gem and the great genre filmmaking it represents.

And there you have my list. I know there are several I missed and that’s where you come in. Let me know what I got right and what I got wrong in the comments section below. I would love to hear the movies that you would include.

5 Phenomenal Dinner Table Scenes

PHENOM 5

The dinner table is such a great place, right? Think about it – good food (hopefully), family, and/or good friends. What’s not to love. Leave it to the movies the show us the other side. Today we’re looking at dinner table scenes and let’s just say none of these choices are what you would call traditional. As always, with so many choices I wouldn’t call this the definitive list, but there’s no denying that these five dinner table scenes are nothing short of phenomenal.

#5 – “Christmas Vacation”

christmas

Who would have guessed that “Christmas Vacation” would become a perennial holiday favorite? It’s for good reason. The film is loaded with great scenes few better than the Christmas Eve dinner. It’s the culmination of Clark Griswold’s efforts to have a good old-fashioned Christmas. But does anything go as planned when the name Griswold is attached?

#4 – “The Lost Boys”

lost

If I suspected my mom’s new boyfriend of being a vampire what better place to test the theory than at the dinner table? Sam and the Frog brothers try everything – a splash of holy water, garlic disguised as parmesan cheese, even a breath test. It all amounts to a hysterical series of mishaps that cracks me up to this day.

#3 – “Eraserhead”

eraser

Having dinner with your girlfriend’s parents can be a bit nerve-racking on its own. But in the hands of David Fincher it becomes anything but conventional. This specific sequence is bizarre, a bit creepy, and absolutely hilarious. A numb arm, a bleeding miniature chicken, convulsions, weird stares, weirder questions all make me want to stay home and eat.

#2 – “Sicario”

sicario

I’ll try my best to keep this spoiler-free, but this particular sequence comes at the end of this fantastic border thriller. Where the previous picks have had a sense of humor, this choice is deadly serious. Throughout the movie we learn that hitman Benicio del Toro has a very sharp ax to grind with a Mexican cartel boss. It all comes to a head in a dinner table encounter that’s both intense and shocking.

#1 – “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”

texas

It was almost impossible to narrow this list down, but this scene was on my mind from the very start. Tobe Hooper’s 1974 horror classic features the mother of all dinner table scenes. Lots of screams, a hammer, an innocent captive, and a family of sadistic, murderous cannibals. It’s horrific and unsettling but at the same time it’s intertwined with a twisted sense of humor. Truly unforgettable.

So those are my choices. What say you? Please share your thoughts and picks in the comments section below. I’m hoping you all will mention the great many scenes that just missed my list.