5 Phenomenal Movies from 1986

movie_theatre - Phenom 5

It has been a while so today I’m continuing my look back at the movies from the 1980s. I grew up on these films and I’ve been making my way through them year by year. Today we stop in 1986 to look at five of the best films from that year. The mid-80s were loaded with fun movies that still stick with me today. 1986 was an interesting year. It brought unique comedies, great science fiction, corny but fun blockbusters, and much more. Now with so many great movies to choose from I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But I firmly believe that these five films from 1986 are absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – “Top Gun”

Top Gun

When it comes to big summer blockbusters built for the masses, “Top Gun” is the blueprint. It’s a bit corny in places and it’s full of lightheaded summer time fun. But it’s also a really good movie and one that I grew up loving as a kid. Tom Cruise found himself on nearly every teen girl’s wall and many of us guys loved the military fighter pilot aspect of it. The late Tony Scott gave us exciting action, cool and pretty people, a steamy romance, and a lot of fun. Throw in a great supporting cast and an awesome 80s soundtrack and you have a fantastic blockbuster that I still enjoy.

#4 – “Hoosiers”

HOOSIERS

Sports movies are notoriously hit or miss. Rarely does a sports film hit every mark and blow me away. “Hoosiers” was one of those rare treats. Led by a fantastic performance by Gene Hackman, “Hoosiers” tells the story of a former college coach who comes to the small town of Hickory, Indiana to take over their basketball program. He wades through small town politics, a nervous school system, and anxious parents to take the team to the Indiana state tournament. Everything in the film works from David Anspaugh’s direction to Angelo Pizzo’s script which deals as much in humanity as it does sports. I love this movie.

#3 – “Platoon”

Platoon

Amid the indulgences and occasional heavy-handedness, “Platoon” gave us arguably the most visceral Vietnam war film ever made. Director Oliver Stone received criticism aimed at his motivations behind making the movie. I wouldn’t completely discredit them knowing Stone’s history, but as an individual piece of cinema, “Platoon” is amazing. It puts so much focus on its characters led by pre-Tiger Blood Charlie Sheen. And then there is the great work from Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger. “Platoon” is a movie that stands proudly on a soapbox. But it’s also an addictive cinematic experience and I have to watch it anytime I come across it.

#2 – “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”

FERRIS

One of the quirkiest and most infectious comedies to come out of the 80s was “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. Written and directed by the late and great John Hughes, the film has a most unique sense of humor. Matthew Broderick’s Ferris Bueller character became a cultural phenomenon and I remember everyone talking about this film. Simply put, Ferris Bueller skips school on a beautiful spring day with his friend Cameron and girlfriend Sloane. But Principal Rooney (played by the hilarious Jeffrey Jones) is hot on his trail. This is such a 1980s movie but it’s remarkable how well it holds up today.

#1 – “Aliens”

ALIENS

Easily, without hesitation, and without a shadow of a doubt, my favorite movie from 1986 is James Cameron’s “Aliens”. Not only is it my favorite movie of that year, it’s one of my favorite science fiction films and one of my favorite sequels of all time. This modern classic mixes horror, sci-fi, and military action to give us an amazing follow-up to Ridley Scott’s 1979 groundbreaker. Sigourney Weaver gives us one of the strongest female characters in movie history. There’s also a great supporting cast featuring the likes of Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, and Bill Paxton. The look of the film is amazing, the action is intense, and there are so many memorable lines and scenes. I absolutely love “Aliens”.

So there are my five phenomenal movies from 1986. Did you see something I missed? Is there one you disagree with? I’d love to hear your thoughts or your picks in the comments section below.

5 Phenomenally Heartbreaking Movie Set Tragedies

movie_theatre - Phenom 5

A lot of my Phenomenal 5 lists have been fun, playful, or downright silly. Others have focused on actors, actresses, or different movie years. This week I’m taking a more somber tone and looking at some of the saddest moments in filmmaking. So much time and effort are put into making the movies that we watch and talk about. Unfortunately there have been instances of real life tragedy that makes us wonder if it’s all worth it. The five tragedies caught headlines and changed lives. Unfortunately there were several of these to pick from so I won’t say this is the definitive list. But the sad reality of these 5 movie set tragedies is most certainly heartbreaking.

#5 – “DELTA FORCE 2”

Delta Force 2

I liked the original “Delta Force” movie with Chuck Norris and Lee Marvin. But as was the case with many films in the era, there just had to be a sequel. “Delta Force 2” had some pretty good action scenes but overall it wasn’t a good movie. During filming in the Philipines there was a horrible helicopter crash that took the lives of four crew members and the pilot. Sadly, the crew was only a few days away from wrapping up shooting. The crew was set to do some filming when eyewitnesses said the chopper veered left before crashing into a ravine. It’s said shots of the helicopter was used in the film. To add another layer of tragic mystique to the story, this was the second Chuck Norris movie that experienced a fatal helicopter crash in the Philipines.

#4 – “TOP GUN”

Top gunOne of the signature movies of the 1980’s was Tony Scott’s “Top Gun”. It was all the buzz and it put Tom Cruise on the bedrrom walls of teenaged girls everywhere. But the movie was also scarred by a tragic accident during the filming of one of the many air combat scenes. Art Scholl, one of the most renowned aerobatics pilots of the time, was killed after putting his plane in a flat spin for one of the movie’s key scenes. While getting some camera shots himself, Scholl would radio in that he had a serious problem. He was unable to recover and his plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Neither Scholl or the plane was ever recovered leaving the full cause of the accident still in question. It was such a tragedy and the finished “Top Gun” movie was dedicated to Art Scholl.

#3 – “THE CONQUEROR”

ConquerorRegarded as a huge flop, “The Conqueror” remains a shining example of what not to do when making a film. It starts with the terrible casting decisions most notably John Wayne as Genghis Kahn. But the film would be remembered for something far more tragic. “The Conqueror” was filmed around St. George, Utah less than 150 miles from a government nuclear test site in Nevada. For weeks the cast and crew worked within the vicinity of the tests. It wasn’t until later that the effects of the tests would be revealed. Despite the government’s assurance, 91 cast and crew members died from cancers that are believed to have resulted from nuclear fallout. All of the main cast including John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead, Pedro Armendariz, and John Hoyt were cancer casualties as was director Dick Powell.

#2 – “THE CROW”

CrowBruce Lee was an amazing martial artist and action movie star. Sadly his life ended early on a movie set. Years later his son Brandon Lee, also an accomplished martial artist, found a place in the action pictures of the late 80’s and early 90’s. His most popular film was “The Crow” from 1993. It would turn out to be his last movie. With only eight days of filming left Brandon Lee was killed when a gun prop fired a live round. The accident occurred during an action scene involving a shootout. A lodged live round was mistakenly fired which struck Lee in the abdomen. He would die a short time later after the bullet lodged in his spine. Many called the accident a Lee family “curse”. I think it’s simply a horrible tragedy that took the life of a great up and coming action star.

#1 – “TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE”

TWILIGHTIn 1983 Steven Spielberg and John Landis co-produced “Twilight Zone: The Movie”, a collection of four shorts bookended by a prologue and epilogue. It was based on the classic TV show and I remember seeing it in the theater. But the movie was forever scarred by a gruesome and horrific accident that took place on the set. In a segment about a racist who ends up in the shoes of the different groups he hates, the great actor Vic Morrow and two young children were tragically killed in a scene where they were fleeing from a helicopter. Pyrotechnics caused the pilot to lose control of the low-flying chopper and it crashed on Morrow and the two children he was carrying. Both Morrow and one of the children were decapitated while the other was crushed. Scandal followed after it was learned the use of the two children broke numerous rules including several of California’s child labor laws. Landis never took any kind of responsibility for the accident which forever soiled his relationship with Spielberg. Most importantly is that three people lost their lives in a heartbreaking tragedy that probably could have been avoided.

There are 5 heartbreaking movie set tragedies that will forever be linked to their movies. What are your thoughts on these sad moments in moviemaking history? What are some others that come to mind? Please take time to share your thoughts below.

5 PHENOMENAL MOVIE SOUNTRACKS *

Music can make a huge difference in movies. So this week I decided to look at 5 phenomenal movie soundtracks. But to be clear, I did set some restrictions. These are soundtracks featuring a collection of songs that work incredibly well with the movie they’re in. I’m not including in original scores in this list (that will come a little later). These are all soundtracks with songs by various artists that helped make the movies they were in unforgettable. I tried to pick soundtracks that are so memorable it would be hard to imagine the movie without them. Now all movie fans have soundtracks that strike a chord so I wouldn’t say this is the definitive list. But for my money these are 5 movie soundtracks that are absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – “TOP GUN” SOUNDTRACK

It could be argued that the “Top Gun” soundtrack is better than the actual movie. That’s an argument for another time. One thing that isn’t debatable is how much the soundtrack added to the movie. I mean can you imagine “Top Gun” without Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone”? And then you have Berlin’s Academy Award winning “Take My Breath Away” which was a #1 mega-hit. Loggins also sang “Playing With the Boys” and Cheap Trick did the energetic “Mighty Wings” which I still enjoy. Classics “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”, “Great Balls of Fire”, and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” were added later to the deluxe edition. All of these songs and several others helped make the late “Tony Scott’s “Top Gun” and 80’s classic.

#4 – “O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU” SOUNDTRACK

First off, this is not my kind of music. But there is no denying that the music in the Coen Brothers’ “O Brother, Where Art Thou” is an absolute perfect fit. The soundtrack features bluegrass, country, folk, and gospel and scatters it all through the movie. The soundtrack featured new songs and old classics from artists such as Ralph Stanley, Alison Krauss, Harry McClintock, and The Fairfield Four. But the song that people will always connect to the film is “Man of Constant Sorrows” sung by George Clooney and company in the movie but by “The Soggy Bottom Boys” in real life. The soundtrack won several awards and became incredibly popular and I can’t imagine this movie without it.

#3 – “PULP FICTION” SOUNDTRACK

Quentin Tarantino has a deep affection for music and how it contributes to his films. Perhaps the best example of this is with the fantastic assortment of tunes in “Pulp Fiction”. Tarantino carefully chose a stylish mix of soul, classic rock-and-roll, and even guitar driven surf music from the legendary Dick Dale. The song choices went from Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” all the way to The Statler Brothers’ “Flowers on the Wall”. But the best scenes of the movie feature the best music. I love the famous dance contest at Jack Rabbit Slim’s to Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell”. I also love Urge Overkill’s remake of Neil Diamond’s “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” which plays during the apartment scene. And who can forget Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man”? What a great variety of music.

#2 – “AMERICAN GRAFFITI” SOUNDTRACK

I love the music and the use of it in George Lucas’ “American Graffiti from 1973. But there’s a very interesting story behind it. Lucas understood that music was a huge presence in the summer of 1962. So he spent tons of money securing the rights to use the original material. In fact, he used up all of his budget therefore these classic oldies are the only music in the entire picture. But would you want it any other way? It was the perfect decision because you couldn’t go cruisin’ on a weekend in the 1960’s without the radio playing Del Shannon, Buddy Holly, The Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, The Crests, Billy Haley & the Comets, and so many others. “American Graffiti” is a movie that owes a part of its success to this great selection of classic rock and roll tunes.

#1 – “DAZED AND CONFUSED” SOUNDTRACK

Let me simply say that I love the soundtrack to Richard Linklater’s coming of age picture “Dazed and Confused”. This 1993 comedy was set in 1976 during Lee High School’s final day of school and then a night of hanging out and cruising the town. As with “American Graffiti”, the music of the time is huge in making this movie work so well. And it’s not just the songs themselves, but it’s also Linklater’s management of the music. The soundtrack is an incredible collection of 70’s rock music including ZZ Top, Kiss, Alice Cooper, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. We get some great songs that we hear playing in cars and in the local arcade such as Rick Derringer’s “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo”, War’s “Low Rider”, and Foghat’s classic “Slow Ride”. Several other great tracks are perfectly used to help make this feel like a genuine 1970’s picture. I love the music, but even more I love the way Linklater makes the music as essential to the movie as it is to those kids cruising the streets.

There ya go, 5 Phenomenal Movie Soundtracks not including original scores. What do you think of the list? What did I miss. Please take time to share what you would have included.

“THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123” (2009) – 2 1/2 STARS

I bet these guys didn’t expect their day to go like this? That seems to be a reoccurring question in Tony Scott’s “The Taking of Pelham 123”, a stylish but sometimes preposterous remake of the 1974 film. At its core this is a pretty formulaic, run-of-the-mill action thriller that takes no chances but also never wastes a moment. It moves at a quick and fluid pace which makes overlooking it’s shortcomings a little easier but not impossible.

“The Taking of Pelham 123” has all the bells and whistles of a Tony Scott production. The quick camera jerks, clever angles, and showy pyrotechnics work well to create an intense environment. In fact often times his camera adds more tension than the screenplay can muster. Scott has a recognizable style and can sometimes be called self-indulgent. He flirts with that label here but as a whole his high-tech machinations work just fine. It often times overcomes the story which is pretty basic material.

The movie starts with four heavily armed men walking into a New York subway station and taking control the Pelham 123 train. The film won’t do anything to enhance your view of post-911 security. There’s no elaborate well executed plan at work. The hijackers simply walk in and take the passenger-filled train. The leader is a man we come to know as “Ryder” played by John Travolta. Sporting a crew cut and fake neck tattoo, Travolta is clearly having fun with the role even though he goes a little over the top sometimes. “Ryder” soon contacts the Subway Control Center and connects with dispatcher Walter Garber (Denzel Washington), a middle-aged husband and father of two who ends up completely out of his element. Washington has played some rough and tough roles but he also has a wonderful knack for playing these “everyday man” characters. Here he’s subtle yet expressive and I loved watching how he handles the role. John Turturro is good as a head hostage negotiator and James Gandolfini is fine as the mayor even though his character is pretty poorly written.

Pelham

While the story is fast paced and it does have its moments of tension, sometimes it’s just plain silly. For example we get a key scene involving an accidental sniper rifle discharge due to a rat bite and there’s a head-scratching sequence involving the cops transporting ransom money through the city. It’s beautifully filmed but utterly ridiculous. The story is also fairly conventionally and predictable. But the movie is also let down by a really flat and lifeless ending. It seems hurried and it packs absolutely no punch whatsoever.

In spite of the movie’s flaws, Tony Scott manages to pack some entertainment into this linear, straightforward action thriller. Washington and Travolta’s CB radio chemistry is compelling even if they aren’t saying much and Scott’s cinematic style gives the story energy and drives the tension in the scenes that do work. But the sub par material is too much to overcome. I especially hate to see such a strong Denzel performance go to waste but in reality there just isn’t enough here to make this anything more than an average movie.