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Archive for the ‘Top 5 favorites’ Category

If you’re like me, you’ve seen and heard jokes and morning show conversations about how unsafe it is to travel with Tom Hanks. This has come up with the release of Sully, inspired by the notorious Miracle on the Hudson emergency plane landing and the events which followed. With this, Tom Hanks has been in at least two major releases where a character he plays deals with a plane crash.

So yes, maybe flying with a Tom Hanks character isn’t the greatest of ideas, but imagine the story which you would walk away telling. Hanks always chooses, or at least almost always, interesting stories and projects, so if all you have to deal with is a little plane crash, so be it.

This, and the release of the latest Dan Brown book-to-screen adaptation of Inferno with Hanks again as Robert Langdon, led me to start thinking about Tom Hanks movies in general, and great subject to ponder. This guy went from the TV show Bosom Buddies, which is where I first was exposed to him, to some of the best films of our time. Thus the inspiration of my latest Top 5 Favorites post.

Before I get into my personal favorites of his film career, let me review how I remember Tom Hanks coming to power. Since I am a child of the ’80s, my first exposure of Tom Hanks was on the TV sitcom Bosom Buddies where he and fellow actor Peter Scolari had to dress as women to get a decent rent-controlled Manhattan apartment in a building for only female residents. After that, I believe the first movie I saw him in, on VHS of course, was Splash (1984). I was a little over 10 years old and barreling towards puberty, so to be honest it took many years for me to realize Tom Hanks was even in that film, since all I payed attention to was Daryl Hannah as a mermaid.

After that, Hanks went on to star in a series of screwball comedies, some better than others, but it wasn’t until I saw Nothing In Common (1986) on HBO as a teenager that I knew this screwball actor had a major amount of talent and range. Punchline (1988) followed that and I remember watching it with my folks on VHS. During the infamous–in my book–scene when Hanks’s character does his Singing in the Rain performance outside that diner having been romantically rejected by Sally Field’s character, my dad uttered a simple, “Wow, that guy is GOOD.”

Multiple projects later as an actor, producer and director including back-to-back Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role during the mid-1990’s, and Tom Hanks has carved himself a niche as being one of the great actors of my generation.

Without further haste, here are my selections for what are my Top 5 Favorite Tom Hanks movies thus far. The are listed from No. 5 to No. 1.

Subjected for your approval.

poster_savingmrbanksNo. 5 – Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

One icon of cinema playing another icon. Tom Hanks gets to portray Walt Disney, pre-popsicle of course. This movie was so delightful for so many reasons; the cast, the rehearsal scenes, the dynamic Hanks and co-star Emma Thompson (Stranger Than Fiction) created between Disney and the creator of the Mary Poppins literary franchise, P.L. Travers, as the two worked to bring the books to the big screen. Hanks has two great scenes for me; first, when he opens up to Travers about his father forcing him to run his paper route and learning the meaning of forgiveness. The other was the scene where, while in rehearsal, Travers demanded the film not have the color red in all the exterior scenes of London.

The film was extremely informative from a Hollywood historic standpoint, particularly in the fact that Disney never acquired the intellectual property rights to adapt Mary Poppins to screen until well after pre-production had begun.

However, Thompson and Hanks really carried the film with an amazing supporting cast, and Hanks as Disney was a prime example of how this actor is a true chameleon. Among the actor’s research and preparation for the role, Hanks visited the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco several times and spoke with family members including Disney’s daughter Diane Disney Miller. Supposedly, Hanks himself is a distant cousin of Walt Disney, but I could not find any reliable source on the web to confirm that little tidbit.

To read my full review of Saving Mr. Banks, click here.

poster_castawayNo. 4 – Cast Away (2000)

The beauty of this film is how Tom Hanks can say so much with his physical performance and non-verbal representation without having hardly any lines. The story is about how a FedEx executive whose world is ruled by the clock and having no time to meet goals suddenly finds himself stuck on a remote island when his flight crashes in the ocean, now he has all the time in the world for the next three years until he finally figures out a way to try and escape to freedom or die in the process.

To this day, any time I build something with my own hands, like our dog house or change out a light fixture, and it works, I throw my hands in the air and shout, “YES! LOOK WHAT I HAVE CREATED!” This refers to one of the more memorable scenes from the movie where Hanks’ character, Chuck, figures out how to start a fire in the wild of the island, probably having never done so in his life. The moment shows Chuck reaching a new level of his own masculinity and is comical since we’ve all had moments of acting like a total tard when no one was looking.

The moment which shows Hanks as a master for me is when Chuck has finally escaped the island and floating out at see with his volleyball co-hort Wilson, who became the only “person” for him to talk to for his years of solitude. However, while napping on his raft at sea, Wilson comes loose and drifts out into open water with Chuck unable to rescue him. Chuck loses his only friend for the previous three years and the next scene shows him sobbing like a child who lost their best friend. That moment brings me to tears every time, and it is all because Hanks does such a superior job of selling it to the viewer.

Hanks gave an interview in 2000 about his preparation for the role, from which he stated the hardest part was losing so much weight to show Chuck three years after being stranded. He said not eating French Fries during that process was torture, I agree it would be. Regardless, his pre-production work paid off in the final project helping create one of his greatest roles and pictures.

There is only one moment of the movie I disliked. During the reuniting of Chuck and girlfriend Kelly, played by Helen Hunt (As good As It Gets), when she is catching him up on events he missed over the past three years, she mentions Tennessee not only has an NFL football team in the Titans, they went to the Superbowl and almost one the game but came up short by one yard; one yard away from winning. That’s actually inaccurate. In that Superbowl game, the Titans were down by a touchdown and they needed to reach the end zone to tie the game and send it into overtime. On their last play, the were one yard shy of the goal line. It was one yard to tie, not one yard to win. That has always bugged me for some reason. Maybe Kelly just didn’t understand the game.

poster_punchlineNo. 3 – Punchline (1988)

This movie is not only one of my favorite Tom Hanks films, it is one of my favorites of all time. It follows the plights of two comedians; Steven (Hanks) who is a med-school flunkie and peppered stand up comic and Lila (Sally Field) who is a New Jersey housewife who is trying to break into the craft. She enlists Steven into a sort of mentorship role while Steven eventually falls for Lila. The picture culminates into the lauching of Steven’s career because of Lila’s sacrifice.

The movie in general is a small story from the life of comic Barry Sobel, who was quite popular during the late ’80s and early ’90s. However, Hanks was nothing like Sobel. The actor made the character his own. He was hilarious but also quietly sad, being virtually homeless and emotionally helpless, that is until Lila comes into his life. This is also possibly the best performance I’ve ever seen from Field. Between her and John Goodman (Coyote Ugly) playing her husband, her home life creating adversity for her outer motivation was so well scripted.

Back to Hanks. Like I mentioned in my preface, the Singing in the Rain scene shows how trying to be funny can truly give you a glimpse at a character’s sadness and depression. I just don’t know how Hanks pulled that scene off but it is truly masterful.

In preparation for this role, Hanks–and Fields for that matter–enlisted the aide of actual stand up comics to help them. Helping Hanks was none other than his character’s true-life inspiration Barry Sobel. Sobel and comedian Randy Fetcher teamed with Hanks to help write his character’s stand up routines for the film. Both Hanks and Fields took their learnings to random stand up clubs to get comfortable with the craft prior to filming.

David Selzter (Lucas), writer and director, was a fan of comedy clubs which helped inspire him to write this loosely adapted from true life plot. His work on this project was truly a great example of writing, directing and performance choices working together as a team. That is one of many reasons Punchline is one of my favorite movies of all time and one my favorites starring Tom Hanks. To read my full review of Punchline, click here.

poster_savingryanNo. 2 – Saving Private Ryan (1998)

I think it’s amusing only one movie directed by Steven Spielberg appears among this list, while two appear directed by Robert Zemeckis. I felt the ensemble performances within the eight men of the rescue squad was what made this picture so entertaining. It will take a long time to put an ensemble THIS strong together again.

However, Tom Hanks as Captain Miller was the cornerstone of the casting. Hanks had so many great aspects to his character including the neurological tick which made his hands tremble at times. Also, the script included an interesting game among Miller’s men who kept guessing his backstory but wasn’t really sure until one of the film’s most tense moments. The speech of that scene was actually much longer, and Hanks pleaded to Spielberg to shorten it since Miller wouldn’t be interested in telling his men that much about himself. Spielberg agreed.

The special effects, going hand in hand with the picture’s production design, was flawless and captured the destruction and the era of the German occupied regions of France depicted throughout the story. Two-time Academy Award winning director Spielberg and two-time Oscar winner Januz Kaminski really knocked the visuals of the film out of the park. Overall, you can’t get a better World War II set movie than “Saving Private Ryan.” I have yet to see anything come close, and I doubt I will in the remainder of my lifetime.

One note to Tom Hanks integrity to the craft was a six-day boot camp each of the actors were asked to endure prior to filming. Since the boot camp was terribly physically challenging, one actor voted the team quit, but it was Tom Hanks, who reputed enjoyed the experience, who decided to stick it out in preparation of his role, thus inspiring the rest of the cast to see the camp to its end as well.

To read my full review of Saving Private Ryan, click here.

poster_forrestgumpNo. 1 – Forrest Gump (1994)

This is my second selection directed by Robert Zemeckis which won him the Academy Award for Best Direction in 1995; however, it is my first selection among favorite Tom Hanks starring pictures.

Forrest Gump is just a man who looks to keep things simple, thinks simple and loves a gal who is anything but. However, it is the numerous sequences where Gump’s presence is added to pivotal moments in American history and at times causes them is what makes this picture a delight. That, and of course his friendship-relationship with Jenny, played by Robin Wright (Unbreakable), is what pulls the heart strings and makes this movie an American classic.

My favorite scene to show Hanks’ chops is when he is reunited with Jenny, after she has given birth to her son, also named Forrest. She tells Forrest Sr. the son is HIS from their one night together years before. Hanks’ physical response to the news, knowing he now has a son and concerned for the kid’s mental abilities showed two things. One, there was an emotion of utter fright which Hanks conveyed without using any dialogue, and two, this was the first indication that Forrest was cognitive of his own mental limitations and fearful it was hereditary.

This is of course an ironic notion since it shows a level of sharpness we hadn’t been shown from Gump prior to that moment. The moment gets me in the feelie-goods every time and shows the immense amount of talent Hanks has for his craft, and that scene–in my opinion–won Hanks the Academy Award.

This performance is also one of the best and unique accents Hanks had developed from the film. Watching the DVD extras, Hanks gives an interview where he credits the accent was developed from the natural accent of Michael Connor Humphreys who played Gump as a young boy. Hanks said he had such a great southern accent which “came from his backbone,” he decided to adopt it for his older Gump character. To do so, Hanks sat and listened to Humphreys describe the plot of his favorite movie to him. The movie? Jurassic Park.

Another reason I felt this production was special for Hanks, since the visual effects of the film and locations were demanding on the film’s budget, the A-List actor, whom already won one Academy Award walking on set by that time, agreed to not be paid for his role. Instead, he accepted percentage points as compensation which allowed him a $40 million dollar payday and his second Oscar. Sometimes, Hanks knows it’s about the craft first and the money later, and this brilliant work is a prime example of that. This is just one of many reasons why Forrest Gump is my favorite film in Tom Hanks’ list of productions.

Of course, when you review Hanks’ list of films, choosing a mere five to select as your favorites is extremely hard if not impossible. He has performed in so many absolutely great films, not good but GREAT films, selecting only five to write about can’t be done. Therefore, I have selected–as I do with all my Top 5 Favorites posts–five honorable mentions which almost made the cut.

Bridge of Spies (2015)

Tom Hanks’ character of Donovan is where the message of this film sits. Compromise is about “Give” and take not “Give Up” and take. His resolve and refusal to compromise his negotiation stance helps the audience get behind him as a protagonist. Hanks is as well as he always does in a leadership type roll. I also like how they gave his character a cold during the entire trip to Berlin for negotiations. For some reason, it made him more human. Now, Hanks is always a great addition to any film, but this is the one film where Hanks doesn’t necessarily carry the film. They carry each other. To read my full review of Bridge of Spies, click here.

Captain Phillips (2013)

This is such a great story and well made film, but half of it occurs in such closed quarters, the film becomes a complete study in using one’s face to convey inner motivations and fears. Tom Hanks and Academy Award nominated supporting actor Barkhad Abdirahman, the leader of the Somalie pirates. Hanks is perfectly the man for that kind of trade. The film is intense and the moment when Phillips, the title character, is about to be executed by his captors and he screams out to his family back in New England for even having left them, my heart breaks each time I’ve seen. In addition, after the Navy Seals finally take down the bad guys and Hanks is rescued, his breakdown in the medical unit equally heartbreaking but far more satisfying.

Catch Me If You Can (2002)

This was moreso a great notch on Leonardo DiCaprio’s resume, but Tom Hanks as a nemesis character on the side of the law is a perfect addition to the dynamic of the film. DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale Jr.–whom I’ve actually interviewed in real life, the true life-inspired character not the actor–serves as an anti-hero, breaking the law and swindling money just to support himself as a runaway. However, Hanks as FBI agent Carl Hanratty is the man attempting to bring justice to the story, so even though he’s the nemesis for the main character, he’s the “good guy.” This makes the film unique and one of my favorites with Hanks on the bill. To read my full review of Catch Me If You Can, click here.

Apollo 13 (1995)

What can I say about this modern classic about one of the most terrible moments in NASA history which turned into one of its finest hours of rescue. From the moment the Apollo 13 mission to the moon is derailed by a faulty coil which blows up an oxygen tank once the three-man crew are in outer space, the film is one of the most intense stories of rescue and government teamwork. Hanks is wonderful as the lead role of astronaut Jim Lovell who was captain of the mission vessel and it’s not only one of my favorite Tom Hanks movies, it’s one of my favorites from director Ron Howard.

The Terminal (1999)

Barely edging out The Green Mile among my honorable mentions is The Terminal about a foreigner (Hanks) who is detained and stranded at New York’s JFK international airport while on a mission to honor his late-father’s memory. However, after a coup in his homeland while flying to the U.S. leaves him without a country to pass through immigration checkpoints, Hanks’ foreign character Viktor uses his time making friends, learning to speak English and battling the strangely anal adversity of an extremely well-written nemesis character in Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci). Albeit the romance between Viktor and Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) got convoluted at times, this slice of life picture directed by Steven Spielberg was enjoyable from start to finish and there is no reason to consider it one of my honorable mention favorites starring Tom Hanks. To read my full review of The Terminal, click here.

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What better, more appropriate theme for the days leading up to the 2016 general election, including the call for a new U.S. President, than that of movies relating to the presidency itself.

For months leading up to this October, I’ve been excited to examine what constitute my favorites in this genre for a couple reasons; one, movies involving the U.S. Presidency comes with a mystique about it for me. If it involves the oval office, figuring I’ll never actually see it with my own eyes, it’s the equivalent of seeing Neverland for myself, or Mars. I’ve been close, however. As a child, I was taken on the White House tour, but the oval office still remains a mystery for me.

The second reason is, the U.S. Presidency has been a vehicle for great stories for multiple decades and genres and doesn’t come with any kind of parameters because of this. Therefore, my Top 5 Favorites list involving the U.S. Presidency involves titles in a variety of genres; drama, docudrama, comedy, romantic comedy, etc. Their plots range from “inspired by actual events” to far-fetched fiction.

Lastly, in an election year a rotted as the last apple in the barrel, it’s more than consoling to me to review what my favorite movies are involving the U.S. Presidency and races for it.

Subjected for your approval, these are my Top 5 Favorite U.S. Presidency movies, listed from No. 5 to No. 1.

poster_daveNo. 5 – Dave (1993)

Directed by Ivan Reitman

This movie is a subtle comedy which sort of turns into a semi-romantic comedy in its subplot. This story of a political impersonator who is asked to stand in for the actual president after the Commander in Chief falls into a coma after an outside-marital affair.

There are several elements of this picture which I adore, particularly in the writing. Among them is how Dave, played by Kevin Kline (De-Lovely), discovers the corruption behind the leaders of the present administration and attempts to set things in motion to right what he feels are wrongs. I also loved the dynamic between himself and the first lady, played by Sigourney Weaver (Gorillas in the Mist), especially when she discovers, and HOW she discovers, Dave is an imposter.

Another great aspect? The supporting cast including Frank Langhella, who appears in THREE of my Top 5 Favorites selections in some capacity, Kevin Dunn, Ving Rhames, Laura Linney, Charles Grodin, Bonnie Hunt and a late entry from Ben Kingsley as the U.S. Vice-President all added to the overall value of the production with their own nuances. Langhella provides a strong nemesis character for the story.

My favorite scene from the movie was when Dave and the first lady get pulled over during a casual drive around D.C. by street cops, who start to freak out about the fact they pulled over America’s No. 1 power couple. However, Dave explains to them not only he but both of them are presidential impersonators and give them a little performance on the side of the road to win over their trust. When Sigourney Weaver starts joining in the singing, it cracks me up every time.

poster_13daysNo. 4 – Thirteen Days (2000)

Directed by Roger Donaldson

I wasn’t alive during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 while John F. Kennedy was in office. However, this movie is so well produced, acted and written, it sure makes me feel like I lived it right there in the White House.

This picture is so intense, as it starts high from the beginning when a U.S. spy plane discovers a nuclear missile site in Cuba, parked there by the USSR, and it leads to the moment the White House and the Kremlin came to a resolution all the while the two superpowers teetered on the brink of civil war.

Inspired by actual events, which adds to the overall engagement of it with any American viewer with any interest in our nation’s history, the role of John F. Kennedy was played by Bruce Greenwood (Dinner for Schmucks) and is maybe my favorite portrayal of that president. Kevin Costner (Mr. Brooks) played Kenneth O’Donnell, a special assistant to Kennedy and good friend, whom along with younger brother and U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, the threesome was known as the Irish Mafia.

The dynamic between Greenwood, Costner and Stephen Culp who played Robert Kennedy as the “mafia” trio helped sell the film from the White House level. Dylan Baker also had several great moments as U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.

Overall, if you are looking for a thriller that isn’t a murder mystery or involve a bunch of bikini teenagers getting hacked at a summer camp, this is your thriller.

poster_americanpresidentNo. 3 – The American President (1995)

Directed by Rob Reiner

I love this movie by all non-political reasons. It is a spry romantic comedy between two characters who have no business falling for each other and have the world pushing against them. This basic premise has been done before in that genre, but when you add the high concept vehicle of the U.S. Presidency during an election year, now the comedy has plenty of chances to do something different.

I loved the character of President Shepherd, played by Michael Douglas (Ant-Man). He thought with his heart, which allowed us to understand his infatuation for lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade, played by Annette Benning (American Beauty). I also liked how it left his re-election future in the air. The climax of the film was simply Shepherd’s decision to fight back the mudslinging he and Wade had taken for months. However, it would stand to reason the damage had been done and Shepherd would not have earned the presidency. That part is irrelevant to the actual story.

What I didn’t care for was the representation of the Republican camp. With no bias of my own as a middle-aisle independent, Republican’s were depicted as these evil beings, sitting in dark smokey rooms, planning ways to assassinate the President’s character and play on the voter’s disrespect and fear. It was too much. It was very one-sided. I understand the movie needs a clear-cut nemesis, but to have it so over the top makes it difficult to buy into a plotline which is already far-fetched.

It was a risky move, but I fell for the movie nonetheless and that’s why it’s one of my top favorites involving the U.S. Presidency. Another reason I love this movie so much is the score. Marc Shaiman’s work on the soundtrack for this production are some of my favorite tracks on my mp3 player.

10290A_UNI_FNX_DOM1sh_Spread_R4No. 2 – Frost/Nixon (2008)

Directed by Ron Howard

I am still impressed how a movie can be so entertaining and engaging when it’s only about two people sitting down and talking. With a handful of amazing performances, this film is without a doubt a solid No. 2 in my list of favorites.

First of all, Ron Howard (The DaVinci Code, A Beautiful Mind). This guy is almost Yoda level of his craft. If it wasn’t for the existence of Steven Spielberg, I would say he is a true master. Visually, with the aide of top notch production design to represent the year 1977, David Frost, played by Michael Sheen (The Queen), sitting across from former president Richard Nixon, played by Robert Langhella (Dave), under TV lights in two comfy chairs couldn’t have been more thrilling.

The writing of the picture was credited to Peter Morgan who also penned the Broadway stageplay it was based on. The outer and inner motivations of the principal characters as well as its high quality supporting cast was award-worthy all around. The biggest surprise came from Kevin Bacon (Apollo 13) as Jack Brennan, Nixon’s former Chief of Staff and closest adviser. The moment when Brennan was almost brought to tears prior to the final climactic interview was an amazing moment for the former Footloose actor.

Langhella’s scene when Nixon calls Frost late in the night, drunk, prior to the final day of taping was also Academy Award worthy. Langhella earned a nomination for this role that year after having won the Tony Award for playing Nixon in the Broadway production.

I love how the movie depicts a retired, memoirs promoting Nixon as being very smart and crafty, always being able to bend a situation to his own interests. It also shows the advantageous implications of the David Frost interviews for both he and Nixon, but only if the interviews went in one or the other’s favor. Everything to gain or everything to lose, so the two and their respective teams get entangled in this sort of game of cat and mouse, each attempting to find success out of the situation.

It’s intense, well written, comical in spots and all around one of the top two best productions involving the U.S. Presidency. Read my full review of Frost/Nixon here.

img_0767No. 1 – All the Way (2016)

Directed by Jay Roach

I know it’s odd from my No. 1 selection to be a movie never released to cinemas and based on previously published Broadway material, but this film is so interesting showing how American politics can be a war in and of itself. That, and it involves one of the biggest transformations by an actor I’ve seen in quite some time. Brian Cranston (The Infiltrator), as President Lyndon B. Johnson, gave the performance of his career thusfar as far as I’m concerned. There was no Cranston, there was only Johnson.

Director Jay Roach has surprised me with a handful of productions. This one however was so well crafted and maybe his best. He is the director of two titles which appear in this post. For All the Way, he gave the film a familiarity which was special and made it feel large despite having such a small scope.

It also amazes me and shows this director.s range to have come from absurd productions like the Austin Powers saga (which I love by the way) and move into high-political stories like Recount, Game Change and others which I will be reviewing individually as part of the theme for this month.

Anthony Mackie (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) also gave the performance of his young career as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Frank Langhella appears once again on my list, in this production as Johnsons’s mentor and fearsome opposition. Another supportive role I enjoyed was Bradley Whitford (Billy Madison) as eventual Vice President Hubert Humphries depicting his role in getting Kennedy’s posthumous civil rights bill passed with Johnson as its leading voice. Stephen Root (Office Space) also turns up as J. Edgar Hoover and has few scenes but it’s interesting nonetheless when he’s on screen.

There are so many great, strong scenes in this production, it’s hard to pick just one. But possibly my favorite is when Johnson is moving into the oval office, getting sized for new suits and changing the decor. There’s so much coming at him, and it shows how ready he is for his new position as President with the civil rights bill as his biggest goal for the first act. However, by the time he’s come to the Democratic National Convention seeking relection, he’s a blubbering mess in act two. The dynamic between the two types of Johnson’s is interesting and very engaging. Melissa Leo shows her chops during those blubbing scenes as Lady Bird Johnson.

If a perfect movie had been released in 2016, I would have to say All the Way is the closest to it. Read my full review of All the Way here.

Of course, movies depicting the U.S. President or the oval office have been around since actor Joseph Kilgour played George Washington in two different films in 1909. So it stands to reason naming only five as my favorites is almost impossible. The following is my traditional list of honorable mentions which are some of my favorite films of this unique genre which didn’t quite make the top five of my selections. They are listed in no particular order.

JFK (1991)

It’s the murder mystery of all murder mysteries. District Attorney Jim Garrison’s hunt to find those whom conspired to assassination John F. Kennedy and discover the true killers is obviously a vehicle for great intensity. But there were two things I loved about this film. As a murder-mystery, it’s purely amazing. It keeps you wide eyed almost the entire time and is very well paced and crafted from its foundation, the screenplay. I also liked how it poked at all five major conspiracies behind who killed JFK, rather than pick a conspiracy to harp on. It basically said there’s something sinister surrounding this event, not didn’t exactly point fingers. The arguments were so convincing, I would whole heartedly believe their was a conspiracy which killed Kennedy not involving Lee Harvey Oswald. However, I’ve actually been to Dealey Plaza in Dallas where Kennedy was shot, and if you’ve seen it too, you’d see how these grassy knoll conspiracies simply aren’t valid.

Primary Colors (1998)

This movie is wonderful for its performances mostly. Based on a book from an anonymous author who supposedly worked on the Bill Clinton presidential campaign, this movie examines the behind the scenes antics between idealistic campaign volunteers putting their hope in a southern Democrat president with a history of putting his dick where it doesn’t belong. John Travolta (Hairspray) gives his best Clinton impersonation, while Emma Thompson (Stranger Than Fiction) throws in her version of the Hillary side of the story. The supporting class its well put together, including a great showing from Kathy Bates (Misery) who earned an Academy Award nomination for this role. The best part of this film was it feels balanced politically for the most part. Read my full review of Primary Colors here.

The Contender (2000)

This title is what I use as an example of a non-thrilling thriller. It’s an all-out political war between the President, played by Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart), trying to get senate committee approval of his candidate to assume the office of Vice President after the ticketed VP had passed away. His candidate? Laine Hanson, played by Joan Allen (Nixon), a female senator who takes a ton of flack about supposed sexual events in her past by the committee opposition, led by senator Shelly Runyon, brilliantly played by Gary Oldman (Robocop). Although Hollywood’s representation of the Republican opposition to Hanson and the President was heavily one-sided, at least the arguments Oldman made against confirming Hanson as VP were valid and gave at least a LITTLE balance to the political representation of the characters and plot. It’s engaging and you’ll learn a lot about about our executive process in that situation. Read my full review of The Contender here.

Lincoln (2012)

On production design alone, this movie is well worth seeing. However, there are two main reasons why I enjoy watching Lincoln whenever it is on; Daniel Day Lewis as the title character and Sally Fields as first lady Mary Todd. Daniel Day Lewis completely gave himself over to this role and it was all too difficult to see him and not the former U.S. President during the political war to pass the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Steven Spielberg has always churned out wonderful period pieces that are politically driven. Although I feel the movie represented Lincoln in a too-heroic fashion, I love how it showed him and his supporters buying votes with federal commissions and outright political guilt. Basically, the film represented Lincoln’s political genius well while showing to get what you want in politics, you have to give and pull favors just to even do the right thing.

Game Change (2012)

The main reason to see this movie? It is hands down the best performance from Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights) which won her a Golden Globe. Moore plays Sarah Palin in a story of how senator John McCain, played by Ed Harris (Apollo 13), and campaign manager Steve Schmidt, played by Woody Harrelson (The Hunger Games), bit off more than they could chew by selecting the Alaskan Governor as McCain’s running mate during the 2008 Presidential election. The down side is, the story is very difficult to accept as fact entirely. There are moments when Palin is depicted as having almost schizophrenic moments from the stress of the campaign trail and receiving dirty shots at her family by the opposition. But false historics aside, if these characters were completely fiction, this movie grabs you and keeps you in its face with several moments of me blurting “Oh crap!,” or “Holy shit!” at random intense moments. This is simply a well made-film with three great principal performances, lead by the best performance of Moore’s resume.

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If you’re like me, you’ve fallen for a movie and it has become one of your lifetime favorites, especially if the movie was released during your childhood. I’m a child of the ’80s, and many of my favorites are also the favorites of men who are now hitting their mid-life crisis.

But now imagine that same lifelong favorite motion picture being deconstructed, chewed up and re-produced by today’s filmmaking standards and box office favorites simply because mainstream Hollywood may have grown devoid of any original ideas and plotlines. For me, a good instance would be Hollywood suddenly announcing it was doing a reproduction of 1984’s Cloak & Dagger, which I named one of my Top 5 Favorites from the ’80s. My love for that movie is so engrained, just the announcement of a remake would make me immediately hate the new version. And it would more than likely justifiably suck.

However, every so often, there is a remake to comes along which proves itself worthy of continued fanship. In some cases, the remake may even be better than the original or at least honor it well enough. My list of Top 5 Favorites, having discussed the qualifications with movie writing cohort Brian G. Felts, is unique in that not everyone may remember or ever knew these selections were inspired by a previous motion picture. Brian and I have ruled out movies which were born from a television series or small-episode event.

However, to broaden the spectrum of possible selections, we decided our lists would also include reboots which kicked off a new take on an old series such as Batman or Spider-Man sagas. To include both these types of projects, we’ve dubbed them “revamps.”

Below are my selections for my Top 5 Favorite Revamps in cinema history. Many of these are even better than the original films by which they were inspired, and at the least they did justice to their muse. They are listed from No. 5 to No. 1.

Subjected for your approval:

poster_sommersbyNo. 5 – Sommersby (1993)remake of: The Return of Martin Guerre (1982)

I remember seeing this movie at a $1 theater after it pretty much didn’t do well at the box office. However, when I saw it I cried my eyes out. It was emotionally engaging and the mystery of the story was very well done. It’s basically about a guy named Jack Sommersby, played by Richard Gere (Primal Fear), who comes back to the family farm after serving in the civil war. His wife can barely recognize him and soon starts to suspect this man is not actually her husband. Meanwhile he turns their small town around by allowing the slaves of the land to earn their own land by growing tobacco and pulling the community out of extreme poverty…and of course the KKK has else to say about it.

It’s pretty involved in the anti-slavery message and the mystery as to whether Jack is the true Sommersby or just a kind-hearted imposter. Ultimately, his wife, played by Jodi Foster (The Accused), discovers he is an imposter but loves him far more than she ever did her husband. He is later discovered as a war deserter and is hung, even though he is not the right man. I balled. It got to me hard and every time I have shown anyone the movie, man or woman, they have cried terribly as well.

The movie is based on a French-made film called The Return of Martin Guerre which I tried to watch but was bored and could not get through. Years after Sommersby came out, Broadway came up with a musical version under the title of the original. I don’t know if it was any good and I don’t care, but Sommersby with Foster and Gere was excellent and makes the No. 5 spot on my list of favorite revamps.

poster_meetjoeblackNo. 4 – Meet Joe Black (1998)remake of: Death Takes a Holiday (1934)

Every movie from the 1930’s pretty much sucks ass, therefore the odds of this remake of Death Takes a Holiday had “great revamp” pretty much in its favor from the beginning. Basically, Brad Pitt (Fight Club) is run over by a couple cars after meeting a girl. Then Death, as a character, uses his body to take some time off from taking souls just to experience existence for himself as a vacation, and shadowing tycoon William Parrish, the girl’s father, played by Anthony Hopkins (The Remains of the Day), as his guide prior to having to take Parrish to the afterlife.

Eventually, Death falls in love with Parrish’s daughter, played by Claire Forlani (Mystery Men), and decides they will all die and be family in the afterlife, to which Parrish attempts to convince him otherwise and taking his daughter’s life just because he has fallen for her is selfish and goes against everything for which existence was designed.

This film is truly is a great romance, a great drama and very well adapted by an atrocious number of writers and director Martin Brest (Scent of a Woman). It also involves one of my favorite scores from composer Thomas Newman (Finding Nemo, Wall-E).

I could watch this movie endlessly and never get tired of it, however the scene I could put on repeat is the scene where Death tastes peanut butter for the first time. The comedy is subtle in that scene but I laugh out loud ever time I see it. The scene where Pitt gets pummeled like a rag doll in the car accident was also intense and memorable. Given this production is such an improved on the 1934 snooze-fest which inspired it, Meet Joe Black makes the No. 4 spot in my list of favorite revamps.

No. 3 – Father of the Bride (1991)remake of: Father of the Bride (1950)

This movie has evolved several times over since I first saw it. When I first saw it, I thought it was a super cute and well written production with an amazing cast lead by Steve Martin as an obsessive overprotective father whose only daughter announces she’s getting married. Today, it still is all those things but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found my neighbors resemble the parents of Brian Makenzie, the daughter’s fiancée, and I become more like George Banks (Martin), especially with two daughters of my own.

Prior to having kiddos, I mostly remember laughing out loud when I’d think of Father of the Bride. Now when I think of this production of the 1950 classic, I think of how I get choked up when Annie, played by Kimberly Williams (We are Marshall), calls her father from the airport after the wedding after he has situationally missed out on every big moment of the celebration and was feeling unimportant to her. That call made the movie for me.

Director Charles Shyer has a bunch of stinkers in his list of credits but this movie is the one gem on his resume. Nancy Myers, however, has written a ton of fantastic films and always swings for the fences when it comes to heartstrings material.

I can’t love this movie enough and that is why it has earned the No. 3 spot on my list of favorite revamps.

 

poster_littleshopNo. 2 – Little Shop of Horrors (1986)remake of: Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

The reason this is my No. 2 favorite revamp is because it was so much more entertaining and had much better production value than its original inspiration. Based on a cult-followed movie from legendary crap-monster-movie maker Roger Corman, Little Shop of Horrors was a revamp of the original which incorporated aspects of the Broadway version of the story by Howard Ashman, who also wrote the screenplay for the 1986 version. The only thing the original movie gave us was a unique premis and an introduction to Jack Nicholson, who had a walk-on role and one of his first movie appearances ever.

Rick Moranis (Parenthood) was cast as Seymour and performed it perfectly on a couple levels. With this version being a musical, his simple voice fit Seymour like a glove. Ellen Greene (Talk Radio) played Audrey, Seymour’s love interest. I had a bit of a thing for Greene at the time, so of course I thought what she gave was perfect for the movie. However, with breakout performances like Steve Martin (Father of the Bride) as the crazy dentist and Bill Murray (Ghostbusters) as the patient who loves pain, the cast was virtually perfect.

However, it was the songs and production which made this version of the story so much better than the first. The musical numbers are catchy beyond catchy. I’ve even done a couple as audition pieces. I simply can’t think of any other reason why 1986’s version of Little Shop of Horrors wouldn’t take the No. 2 spot on my list of favorite revamps.

img_3726No. 1 – Ocean’s Eleven (2001)remake of: Ocean’s 11 (1960)

What can I say about this fucking movie. Let’s start with the fact that it was so good it spawned two sequels. Let’s follow that up with the fact that it’s possibly the best confidence-game driven plot in a movie in probably the last 20 years. Let’s wrap up with the fact that it comes chuck full of superstar power each of whom truly gave to film and made it as brilliant as director Steven Soderbergh (Crash, Magic Mike).

This story was so well crafted from beginning to end. It had great anti-hero’s in George Clooney and Brad Pitt; anti-hero’s because they are planning a major crime. The best part was the big reveal of how the 11 pulled of the heist as well as lured Tess, played by Julia Roberts (Pretty Woman), away from casino mogul Terry Benedict, played by Andy Garcia (When a Man Loves a Woman).

Usually, I find Soderbergh’s style muttled and rough. His visions always seem unfinished when it hits the screen, including too much handheld camerawork and nothing comes organically. Magic Mike is one perfect example. However, this movie is a polar opposite to the director’s usual fare. As an example of things coming organically, the final Las Vegas scene was perfect, where the team was standing outside the Bellagio watching the infamous fountain show, looks at each other and one by one walks away from each other without saying goodbye. Soderbergh told the cast he wanted Pitt to leave first and Saul, played by Carl Reiner, to leave last. The remaining members were asked to depart in an order which felt comfortable. The scene is one of my favorite in the movie because of how natural it felt.

The original Ocean’s 11 was simply Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and other Rat Packers making another movie as an excuse to hang out. This version of Ocean’s 11 was far more exciting, engaging and satisfying. That’s why it makes the Top of my list of favorite revamps.

Of course as Hollywood goes through lulls where no original ideas come out of it for years, quality revamps are almost a given to appear from time to time. The following is my honorable mentions of productions which didn’t quite make my Top 5 list but still made their mark in this genre. They are listed in no particular order.

Total Recall (2012)

You would think I would have hated this movie given its a remake of an Arnold Schwarzenegger started ’80s classic. But it came as a big surprise to me to find out this reboot is actually very well done and almost as enjoyable as the original. I enjoyed the entire diversion from “Mars” as its own character in the original movie, but it was replaced with a vehicle which worked just as well in my opinion. There was nothing about this remake I didn’t like. Although it wasn’t strong enough to make my Top 5, it made smart diversions from the original without insulting it. That’s a rare thing to do.

The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

The original version of this movie was drawn out and boring while this revamp was layered in so many ways. It was political. It was a mystery. It was a great cast and a great script which usually spells greats movie. My favorite scene is the climax when Denzel Washington pulls the trigger on Liev Schrieber and Meryl Streep. It was tough moment but the writing really didn’t allow the character to get out of the story any other way. It was very organic and worth making an honorable mention to my list.

The Birdcage (1996)

I remember when this movie came out, the production and Nathan Lane took flack for bathing in homosexual stereotypes with his character Albert. However, having been involved in the theatre for many years, I can say I thought he was spot on for some of the more theatrical dames out there. In fact, most of my gay friends agreed, but there’s always someone whose feelings are going to get hurt because their parents didn’t raise them to realize the world is mean and you have to have thick skin to endure it. That being said, this movie is hilarious and well updated from the original French movie La Cage aux Folles, which became a Broadway mega-hit. My favorite scene was with Robin Williams, where he was attempting to get Agador’s stew out to his conservative dinner guests. Williams slipped on the set during the take, and instead of stopping, he played it off and made the end of the scene that much more hilarious. If you watch closely, you can see Williams almost start giggling when he starts to recover. I’m so glad they kept the incident in the final film.

Scent of a Woman (1992)

Arguably Al Pacino’s best performance and thusfar his only role to win him an Academy Award as Colonel Frank Slade. Also directed by Martin Brest, this movie almost doesn’t count as a revamp, since it’s based on a novel by Giovanni Arpino. However, the French–always the French–produced a film based on the book first. Then of course Hollywood copy cats the idea but produces one of the best movies made that year and an Academy Award nominee for best picture. The movie has a lot to say and so many strong scenes. If it wasn’t such a long slow paced film, it would have made my Top 5 for sure. My favorite scenes include the first meeting between Charlie and Col Slade, the family dinner which Slade crashes, the ride through Manhattan in a borrow Ferrari with blinded Slade at the wheel, the scene when Charlie wrestles him when Slade goes to shoot himself and obviously the big final speech from Slade on Charlie’s behalf at the assembly at the Baird School. These were just a handful of examples of the strength the movie brought in its storyline. The score from Thomas Newman was also one of my favorites in this composer’s catalog.

Father of the Bride 2 (1995)

Not only was Father of the Bride a remake, so was its sequel, Father of the Bride II, based on the classic film Daddy’s Little Dividend. This was actually the first one in this series starring Steve Martin, Diane Keaton (Annie Hall) and Kimberly Williams, and in my opinion it is funnier than the original. However, the original is just a slightly better made movie overall. The storylines between the mother and daughter being pregnant at the same time, preceded by George Banks’ midlife crisis made for a ton of situational comedy which cracks me up every time I see it. This feature is time tested for me, and if Part II hadn’t relied so much on the first film for developmental aspects, it would be Father of the Bride 2 among my Top 5 and the first Father of the Bride movie finding its way in my honorable mentions.

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It’s funny. One of the reasons I love my wife Heather is because she doesn’t exactly find herself attracted to chick flicks. I rarely find myself dragged to the latest fruity hearts and flowers Nicholas Sparks bullshit movie. In fact, the mysterious copy of The Notebook which found its way into our DVD collection is a constant source of argument since we blame each other for bringing it to the relationship. Neither of us seem to remember ever owning a copy. But there it is…but I digress. One of the reasons I love her so is her love for an unusual genre of movie–especially for women, the disaster movie.

So since I earned the chance to establish parameters of mine and movie corner cohort Brian G. Felts‘ cinema writing challenges for the month of June 2016, I decided to have us focus on this unique genre. As I began to learn who my wife was, I realized some of her favorite movies were directed by Roland Emmerich. I introduced her to this man, and now anything that comes along to the cinemas with his name on it, she is interested. Many of my own favorites for the following list were also directed by Emmerich, but when planning the parameters of this June, I wanted to ensure Brian and I were not limited to the same five movies.

So in hopes of a wider spectrum of selections for our respective Top 5 lists, we decided to open the parameters a bit. For the sake of this post, we are considering Disaster Movies as a genre which includes films which depict the following…

A massive loss of life. Obviously, disaster movies would show this. There isn’t a certain body count involved except to say a non-countable amount of victims are involved.

By Natural, unnatural and/or supernatural means. We are not considering only natural disasters to be the catalyst for disaster movie plot lines. Viral infections, alien invasions, foreign military attacks on American soil…these are all plot vehicles which would qualify for our lists.

The disaster must be within the plot’s actual timeline. Movies which show a world post-disaster like The Book of Eli, Mad Max or Waterworld would not qualify. Our selections MUST show the disaster actually happen or happening in the movie. It cannot be inferred. The actual disaster has to have screen time.

No zombies. Although our two prior parameters may leave things open to include zombie movies, I told Brian we should omit them as potential selections. Since Zombie movies have become so emerged in pop culture and popularity those films should have their own genre and be ruled out as a disaster movie, at least for our purposes as our Top 5 list.

Now given these parameters, the door is open for all sorts of interpretation. However, my selection of favorites is awkward since I have been hyper critical of some of these titles in the past. However, over time and as I get older, my pretentiousness tends to thin out and my enjoyment of said selections grow, especially with a wife who considers them her favorites. Does this make me a movie writing sell out? Maybe. But I must say I’d rather have a wife making me watch Independence Day repeatedly than one who makes me watch The Notebook endlessly, even if in the past I’ve been critical of Independence Day. If those are my options, by necessity, I start to find value in watching Independence Day.

That being said, here are the selections for what I feel are my Top 5 Favorite disaster movies, listed in order from No. 5 to No. 1.
Submitted for your approval:

The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

Directed by Ronald Neame

If I had to narrow it down to one scene which hooked me for this movie for what has been a life long fanship, it would have to be the scene where Shelly Winters’ character passes away. Having grown up seeing this movie on TV and VHS rentals, the capsizing of the ocean liner, the eclectic cast including Gene Hackman (Runaway Jury) and Ernest Borgnine (Marty) and the great plot structure which could be used as an example for screenwriting students were all amazing aspects of an otherwise dated feature, but that sequence when Winters draws from her youth swimming skills to help save everyone but her body gives out on her after doing so is simply a level of heart wrench rarely organically built in a disaster movie.

If I had another scene to choose as my favorite, it would be as Reverend Scott (Hackman) sacrificed his life to allow the remaining survivors to make it through the last leg of the movie. Imagine that scene, if you recall it, seeing it as a kid. Scott hanging there from that valve, with no chance to getting his feet back to safety, yelling at the others to keep going and keep fighting to survive before he lets go of the valve and falls to his death was a scene I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get out of my head. I can’t un-see it.

Between that and Shelly Winters’ heroic scene, I couldn’t tell you what else is in the movie. Those two scenes define this feature for me. On a side note, Winters earned herself a Golden Globe Award win for supporting actress for her work on this, and she was presenters an Academy Award nomination for the same.

The movie itself notched a shit ton of Oscar nominations including most production design and technical categories. The infamous John Williams had a nomination for the score and it even won for Best Song but who the fuck cares about an original song in a disaster movie? Not this guy.

War of the Worlds (2005)

Directed by Steven Spielberg

I so wish I could despise every movie Tom Cruise (Collateral) has appeared in, but every so often he picks a great project and doesn’t screw it up. This most recent version of War of the Worlds is one example. However, I would say the pleasure of the movie was left in the hands mostly of director Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List, Raiders of the Lost Ark).

There are several great sequences. The coming electrical storm starting with the wind blowing TOWARDS the clouds and the family jumping under the table when the lightening bolts started crashing was masterful. However, when the alien ships were born from underground and started vaporizing people, I was in holy shit mode for at least the next 20 minutes.

The boat scene where refugees are trying to escape by see and an alien ship pops up from under the water gives me anxiety and the following scene where Dakota Fanning (Man on Fire) has to go pee and finds a private spot by a river. There she sees the victims’ bodies of the boat attack floating by in the water. The scene is chilling.

Finally, the scene in the basement with Tim Robbins (Mystic River) could not have been better. Robbins’ character was frightening. And the moment when Cruise’s character knows he must kill this wacko to save his daughter was pure haunting material. There is simply too much good about this movie for me not to place it on my list of Disaster Movie favorites. Click here to read my full review of War of the Worlds (2005).

The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

Directed by Rolland Emmerich

My wife Heather loves this movie so much, we put it on in the bedroom for bedtime regularly. I don’t know why she can sleep so well to the sound of so many people dying in a natural disaster, but whatever–like I said before–I’d rather sleep to this than The Notebook every few weeks.

When this movie first came out, again I didn’t care for it. But after so many sleepy nights with the opportunity to review it over and over, it’s come to be one of my favorites in genre. The science of the film is cheesy. Global warming brings the Earth into another ice age for most of the northern hemisphere. However, the writing does a decent job of trying to sell it. It’s hard to believe, but it’s just believable enough.

For me, this film was also a small comeback of sort for Dennis Quaid (Wyatt Earp) whom had a handful of quality roles in the 80’s and seemed to disappear come the ’90s. This film allowed Quaid to show range as a non-respected scientist, a panicked father, a small scale action hero and it showed him saving the day in the end, kind of. I was more than pleased with his presence on the film.

Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain) also held the movie together for his end of the story. But I think the best part of the film was the sequence when the wall of water crashes the east coast and saturated Manhattan. Those are always the best parts of natural disasters and for some reason, if it’s a natural disaster involving water, it’s that much more intense for me.

The Day After Tomorrow has many faults but there is no way I cannot have this title on my list of favorites. Click here to read my full review of The Day After Tomorrow (2004).

2012_MONK_InTheaters_1sheet2012 (2009)

Directed by Rolland Emmerich

If the faults of The Day After Tomorrow were an itch on the back of disaster cinema history, than 2012 would be the rash. I have to include this among my top two favorite disaster movies, as proposterous as the material is, because my wife would probably divorce me if I didn’t. It again it one of her unusual bedtime favorites but if you look at it, this film has so many natural disasters going on in it between earthquakes, tornados, tsunami, volcano and I think there was an avalanche of you look real close at the background.

John Cusack (High Fidelity) was a perfect leading man for this role and again allowed him to show range as a desperate father and reluctant action hero.

However, the ridiculousness of this movie is its downfall. At one point, one of the arks built to save humanity from extinction, is hit by a drowned and underwater Air Force One during a tsunami and loses power as it helplessly barrels towards Mount Everest. What? Seriously? There is no way in any cinematic universe there could ever be this much coincidence. Ever. Period. But you know what? It is sure fun as shit!

One of the best things about the film is the cast of names in small parts; Woody Harrelson (The People Vs Larry Flynt), Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), Amanda Peet (Somethings Gotta Give), Thandie Newton (The Pursuit of Happyness), Oliver Platt (Simon Birch), Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon), George Segal (TV’s Just Shoot Me), Oscar nominated director Tom McCarthy (Spotlight) and wouldn’t you know it they dug up and dusted off good old Lance Hendrickson (Aliens). The list goes on. So with this wide spread cast of notables, there is almost a guarantee you would see at least one of your B-List favorites.

Basically, between the multiple natural disasters which occur in it and the multiple faces in the cast, this movie is a load of fun and easily makes my top two among my favorite Disaster Movies.

poster_dayafterThe Day After (1983)

Directed by Nicholas Meyer

What? A Made-for-TV movie made the No. 1 spot on my list of Disaster Movie Favorites? You’re damn right. Why? Because this film fucked up me like a one-eyed bully behind the school. I was nine years old when I saw it broadcast on TV, and I’ve rented laster through my late teens and occasionally through my ’20s. The effect it had on me never changed…fucked, me, up.

Since it is older and more obscure, here it basically what it’s about. The film wanted to show the horror of what nuclear war would have on our country. Set in the Midwest, we follow a handful of characters, played by Jason Robards (Parenthood), Steve Guttenberg (Cocoon), John Lithgow (Cliffhanger), Amy Madigan (Field of Dreams) and many others, during nuclear tensions and eventually the drop of a nuclear attack on the United States. Then we get to follow the after effects of such an attack for those who survive the initial blast.

The movie was so real for me. It had this older production style which spoke to me as reality for some reason. The special effects for the big blast were incredible. The scope of the film was fairly big, and so was the cast obviously so the lower end of the budget was in the production quality, so for this movie to have such a frighteningly glorious nuclear explosion in it truly helped sell the film past its limitations.

Plus the science of the attack was particularly believable which also made the material haunting. This was the only movie depicting a nuclear blast which actually showed how an initial electromagnetic pulse would occur rendering all electronics and vehicles useless just moments before seeing a blinding flash and the eventual mushroom cloud. Then, there’s the most destructive part, the concussion, which tends to be Hollywood’s favorite part to spend money on. However, the rest of the movie shows what radiation sickness does to people and how those who survived have it worse off than those who were killed in the initial explosion.

The truth of the film is what still fucks up me to this day. I won’t even watch this movie anymore because it takes weeks for me to try and get it out of my head. If the movie has a downfall, some of the make up showing people with radiation sickness is less than impressive. The other fall from the film, it’s actually pretty darn long. It was only two hours but felt longer.

This was the only major film from director Nicholas Meyer whose career mostly has writing credits including a couple of the original Star Trek movies and Sommersby (1993) which I actually loved. Edward Hume is credited with the script for The Day After and wasn’t his only Disaster Movie screenplay credit. He was wrote 1998’s Flood: A River’s Rampage.

In closing, given how real this movie was to me, how well it sold itself as a potential reality and how it has completely fucked me up over the year to where I refuse to watch it again, there is no other place to put this movie on Top 5 Favorite Disaster Movies but in the top spot.

With more disaster being depicted on film, and a fair amount of them being decent to watch, I was able to come up with a series of honorable mentions which didn’t quite make the final cut but would arguably be deserving of such distinction. My honorable mentions are not listed in any particular order.

Deep Impact (1998)

There two parts of this movie I really enjoyed…actually three. One, the sequence when all the astronauts, whose mission it was to blow up the comet barreling towards Earth for an extinction level event, have achieved a fraction of their goal enough to save most of the planet, with exception of a good portion of the U.S. eastern coastline. The astronauts have saved millions of people but it came at the cost of their own lives. So the movie spends some time allowing them to say good bye to their loved ones via video chat. The sequence is heart breaking and very effective. The second part I like the most is the actual disaster. When the comet strikes and takes out the east coast and waves drown much of that region all the way into the northern Appalachian mountains was one of my favorite disaster sequences of all. I just wish the rest of the movie was AS entertaining and this may have made my actual Top 5 list instead of being an honorable mention. Lastly, I’m sorry, any movie which casts Morgan Freeman as the President of the United States is simply COOL.

Independence Day (1996)

This movie is some of the dumbest writing known to disaster movies. However, there are several saving graces which starts with the cast. Will Smith (Ali), Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park), Bill Pullman (Spaceballs) and even Harvey Fiersten (Mrs. Doubtfire) added greatly with comedy and subtle nuances to an otherwise disaster of a script. However, when the aliens attack, the movie is beyond awesome. When the allied forces mount their attack having found a way to bring the aliens’ shield down, the movie is beyond awesome. Alternate however, I HATED Pullman’s speech before the big July 4th offensive to defeat the aliens. It was not inspiring like it should have been. It was lame and nothing like something former U.S. General George S. Patton would have given as motivation or from former England Prime Minister Winston Churchill during WWII. It was weak and contrived at a moment when the President needed to appear his strongest. Other than that and most of the story writing, I’ve grown to appreciate this movie instead of carrying the utter contempt for it I once had. Lastly, although Randy Quaid’s (Christmas Vacation) character is a oaf and annoying for most of his screen time, his final moment going kamakazee, giving his life to take down the alien ship with his last on-board missile which failed to deploy still chokes me up. A movie this terrible to continuously pull that kind of response from me must be worthy of at least an honorable mention. Click here to read my original review of Independence Day (1996) where I torch it.

Twister (1996)

What is not to like about this film? Bill Paxton (Frailty), albeit still a terrible actor in anything he appears in, and Helen Hunt (As Good As It Gets) made a great pair of storm chasers, surrounded by a great supporting cast, including Cary Elwes, Jami Gertz, the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Alan Ruck, Todd Field, among others made this movie for me. That and the magnificent effects involving the category five tornado which makes up for the last act of the story. Even though some of the live effects were hoaky, like when Bill and Jo (Paxton and Hunt) blast through a foundation-detached house rolling across their country road with their pick up and we see a stuffed animal bounce off the windshield. It’s cheesy but fun. For the most part, the story is fairly strong. Done before as some disaster movie plots go, but for the most part, the writing was on point. There is enough goods about this film to outweigh the bads, therefore its in my honorable mentions.

The Birds (1963)

As Alfred Hitchcock movies go, this one is one of my least favorite. As Disaster Movies go, this is one of the best, and it’s mostly due to Hitchcock’s production style. Weird, right? I loved that Melanie, played by Tippie Hedren, was so annoying as a rich-bitch socialite when The Birds attacked her, I was actually pleased. Rod Taylor as the man Melanie pursues to California was stiff but ultimately the movie’s appeal is the camera tricks Hitchcock used to film the bird attacks, earning the film an Academy Award for Best Special Visual Effects (as they used to call it). Also, Hedren’s performance was awesome, mostly because by legend Hitchcock had a reputation for obsessing over his leading female actors, and he apparently drove Hedren insane during the production. She was even injured by one of the real birds used during filming in the loft scene. That’s commitment. However, the infamous scene where the Taylor and Hedren are walking through that flock of seagulls who are all just hanging out quietly, well spoofed in the Pixar movie Finding Nemo, is so haunting and is the one scene I think of when I think of The Birds at all. Taylor said in an interview, the birds in that scene were fed a mixture of wheat and whiskey and was the only way to get them to get them to simply stand around so much. Awesome, I love it.

The Perfect Storm (2000)

This movie barely skirted in to my honorable mention. The only reason I would’ve left it out is because the amount of deaths in the film isn’t quite what I would describe as massive as far as disaster movies go. However, the death toll did include six fishermen on one boat and a Coast Guard diver, it’s substantial and more than some horror movies involving Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees. So it makes my honorable mention. I love this movie because it does remind me of where I grew up. The special effects of the storm are incredible. The story involving the fishermen is simple and easy to follow, and you always know where everybody’s coming from. So the character writing for the film was very good. The only thing I didn’t really like about the movie was George Clooney (Hail, Ceasar!) sticking out like a sore thumb since he was the only actor who didn’t have a south Massachusetts accent. Even Mark Wahlberg, originally from Boston, had a believable accident as well as Diane Lane (Under the Tuscan Sun), John C. Reilly (Chicago), Michael Ironside (Total Recall), Mary Elizabeth Mastriantonio (The Color of Money) and every C-List actor surrounding them. Why not George? It was annoying. Other than that, I would almost say this movie is a Loopty for me. I have never gotten tired of it and that is why The Perfect Storm is going to round out my list of disaster movies. Click here to read my full review of The Perfect Storm (2000).

 

 

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The month of May for those of us writing with Brian and Benn’s Movie Corner has been deemed a Salute to U.S. Armed Forces since this month contains both Armed Forces Day and Memorial Day. So with this as our theme, it makes sense Brian G. Felts and I would take a look at what each of our Top 5 favorite movies involving the U.S. Armed Forces as a sort of tribute to the American men and women who continue to live stories of heroism and tragedy for the sake of others and their nation.

The first motion picture in history to depict a war involving the United States was a silent film titled The Birth of the Nation (1915). It was a pro-Union Civil War propaganda film which somehow linked the conflict of the Civil War to the founding of the Klu Klux Klan. Since then, war and those in service during these war have been a part of film history so much, it could have its own genre.

In while compiling my list of Top 5 favorite U.S. Armed Forces movies, not war movies because not all my selections involve an actual war. All of my top selections do involve legendary directors who are accustomed to projects on an epic scale. My selections also have in common a large cast of either all-stars or soon to be all-stars. However, the branch of the military which is involved with my selections and the time periods have no connection to each other.

So without further pause, below are my selections for my Top 5 Favorite U.S. Armed Forces movies. As usual, they are listed from No. 5 to No. 1.

poster_gloryNo. 5 – Glory (1989)

Directed by Edward Zwick

The civil war isn’t exactly what one would think of when looking to list movies which tribute the American military, especially since both sides of the conflict were American. However, the Union Army was the central hero in this film so I’m making it count. This movie was informative from start to finish about one the first all-AfroAmerican regiments of the Union Army and it was the first to see actual battle. It’s cast had a handful of names but for the most part it cast people still proving themselves.

One of those “names” was Morgan Freeman (Bruce Almighty) who became the first non-commissioned officer of the regiment, since the U.S. Army didn’t commission “black” soldiers. Morgan was a natural leader as he is in most of his roles. Denzel Washington (The Equalizer) won his first Academy Award for this role and his quick mouthed character had his best moment for his performance after going temporarily AWOL to get a warm meal. He was captured as a deserter and disciplined with lashes.

Washington kept eye contact with Matthew Broderick (The Producers), who played the Colonel of the regiment, while a single tear rolled down the ex-slave’s face during the lashing. It was maybe the most powerful moment of the whole movie and proves Washington was an upcoming master of his craft.

Edward Zwick (Legends of the Fall) directed this and made best use of the material at every decision. The scope of this film was incredible given the needs to portray the Civil War era. The music score for the film from James Horner is haunting yet patriotic and one of my longtime favorites.

Of all films set during the civil war, this was my favorite and one of my favorites involving the U.S. Armed Forces in its history.

poster_uncommonvalorNo. 4 – Uncommon Valor (1983)

Directed by Ted Kotcheff

Not many people remember this little film from the late ’80s, but I happened to see it in the cinemas when I was a kid. In fact, when my family and I we debating what movie to go see, I wasn’t in the mood for a war film and I was being a brat about it. “If I hear one damn gunshot, I’m leaving the movie,” I told my mother. Well, as sour as I was, the movie turned out to be one of my favorite POW fictional movies ever.

Basically, a retired Marine Colonel, played by Gene Hackman (Runaway Jury), decides to put a private team together to rescue Vietnam War POW’s 10 years after the colonel’s own son went missing in action.

The movie had great heroism and Hackman is obviously great in a leadership role. It also started my interest in actors like Patrick Swayze (Red Dawn), Fred Ward (Road Trip) and a great but not talented actor from the 80s Randall “Tex” Cobb. The cast was great, the story was great especially when the team learns of the colonel’s son. The whole production was exciting and extremely engaging once the team was deployed on its mission. I think despite its production set backs, this set up director Ted Kotcheff (First Blood) as a filmmaker who has always taken great care when working with material regarding the Vietnam War.

I really liked how the mission was fool proof and how everyone had to improvise to achieve his objective. A couple even give up their lives to save the objective and the others in it. The film was a good tribute to the POW/MIA movement despite its dates production value. Moreso than other POW related films like Rambo: First Blood Pt 2 or Missing in Action. There is no way the movie could be left off my Top 5 list.

Read my full review of Uncommon Valor by clicking here.

poster_blackhawkdownNo. 3 – Black Hawk Down (2001)

Directed  by Ridley Scott

This movie was basically an extraction mission which went terribly bad from the word go. It focuses on the story of over 100 soldiers who are sent into Somalia to extract two warlord lieutenants from a highly populated marketplace where American soldiers have no friends.

Black Hawk Down has a ton of name actors like Josh Harnett (Sin City), Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge), Tom Sizemore (Saving Private Ryan), Eric Bana (Troy), Sam Shepard (The Pelican Brief), William Fichtner (The Perfect Storm), Jason Isaacs (The Harry Potter saga), Ron Eldard (Deep Impact), Tom Hardy (The Dark Night Rises), Jeremy Piven (The Kingdom)…I mean the cast is immense and so are the number of characters.

If there’s a fault to the movie, it would have to be the viewer having to keep up with so many characters, and once they have all their gear on and the mission is in full swing, it’s difficult to keep track of who is doing what, who is injured, who is lost, whose black hawk is down, etc.

However, the action is incredibly engaging, credited to director Ridley Scott (Exodus: Gods and Kings, The Martian). The details of the military actions make your feel like you have combat experience by the end of it. Between the action, the heroism and the theme of watching “your brothers” back make this movie easily one of my Top 5 movies involving the U.S. Armed Forces.

poster_bornonfourthjulyNo. 2 – Born on the Fourth of July (1989)

Directed by Oliver Stone

I’m not exactly sure if this movie counts as a tribute to U.S. Armed Forces in it’s entirety. However, I think it honors the Vietnam veteran quite well and thus I have included it on my list. The fact that it is such an engaging and well written movie is my its my second favorite among this genre; plus, its one of the best performances from Tom Cruise ever.

Born on the Fourth of July is a lengthy tale of Ron Kovic, an upstate NY competitive Catholic boy who volunteers for the U.S. Marines on the cusp of the Vietnam conflict. There, he experiences the horrors of war, especially that one, and his life after returning from the war, dealing with his PTSD and a nation split divided between wartime supporters and protesters. Eventually, Kovic becomes one of the biggest anti-war advocates and lead a group of disabled veterans who protested/rioted at the Republican National Convention in 1972. He was later invited as a guest speaker to the Democratic National Convention four years later.

Biggest thing I love about this movie is Oliver Stone’s visual work. At home in upstate New York, the entire film is beautiful and vibrant. In Vietnam, things are difficult to make sense, attempting to match Kovic’s experience which led him to accidentally killing a fellow solider with friendly fire. In the care of the VA, things got slow and painful, and when Ron gets back home, things just are dark and not as vibrant. Stone’s choices were masterful and earned him an Academy Award that year for best director. The movie also earned a Best Picture nomination.

What I liked most was, Stone, an outspoken Democrat, used the material to criticize the Vietnam War but at the same time pointed out the senseless and undeserved disrespect Vietnam veterans received for over a decade after they returned home. That’s not easy, and made the film far more balanced than what it could have been.

From the first scene when Cruise’s Kovic was in high school and in a wrestling team dual, he WAS that main character. As his character developed and was influenced by both sides of the conflict back home over the war, Cruise showed amazing ability to present a conflicted character with a great dynamic. His character didn’t blindly yell all the time to express his aggravation. He yelled, he cried, he laughed, he whispered. His performance really ran the gambit. Between Cruise’s performance, a great cast of walk on roles, Stone’s direction and one my favorite music scores from the legendary John Williams, this movie is my second-favorite honoring movies fitting into our theme for this month.

poster_savingryanNo. 1 – Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Directed by Steven Spielberg

This is the one. This is my favorite tribute to U.S. Armed Forces. This is my favorite war film. This is one of my favorites from Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. This is it.

The movie starts with what seems like an endless and brutal demonstration of the first wave of U.S. soldiers attempting to take Normandy Beach in German-occupied France during the second World War for the first 30-40 minutes of screen time. It’s a gut-wrenching, bloody mess of American soldiers dying in a sad variety of nonsense until forces can regroup on the beach and attack the defending Nazis. Once that happens, the movie turns to its actual story of a group of men who attempt to search for one soldier who was lost in country. The story is loosely based on a handful of brothers who were drafted and three of them were killed in action while serving in the same unit.

The best aspect of this movie for me was the variety of characters. The playful mystery behind Tom Hanks’ character Cpt. Miller, the smart mouth from Brooklyn Pvt. Reiben (Edward Burns), Pvt. Mellish the jew (Adam Goldberg), Pvt. Jackson the god gifted sniper (Barry Pepper), T-4 Medic Wade (Giovanni Ribisi) and of course Corporal Upham the translator (Jeremy Davis). Let not forget Tom Sizemore (Paparazzi) and Matt Damon (The Martian) thrown in there as well. Plus a couple little cameos from Ted Dansen (TV’s Cheers), Dennis Farina (Get Shorty) and Paul Giamatti (Lady in the Water). I could keep going. The cast is immense but their characters are equally well crafted by writer Robert Rodat (The Patriot, Thor 2). I don’t think I’ve seen a better ensemble cast prior or since, especially not one in a war movie.

Of course, Spielberg always knows simply the most perfect way to shoot a scene, and this is a perfect example of that. Spielberg (Schindler’s List, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark) won the Academy Award (his second) and rightfully so with this film, which he dedicated to the memory of his father, also a WWII veteran. The movie, although nominated, didn’t win Best Picture. That honor went to Shakespeare In Love of all things.

The visual effects also was a huge strength recreating the historical look of that war in that region. They went hand in hand with the production design. The only thing I didn’t care for was the bits involving the Abe Lincoln letter. I simply didn’t “get it.” Other than that, you can’t have a better war movie or a better tribute to the men and women whom have served in the U.S. Armed Forces during WWII than Saving Private Ryan.

Read my full review of Saving Private Ryan by clicking here.

Of course, since war movies have existed since 1915, it would be nearly impossible to choose only five to use as a tribute to those in service portrayed in them. So, also as usual, below is my list of honorable mentions which didn’t quite make the cut. They are listed in no particular order.

Pearl Harbor (2001)

Maybe its the sappy love story, but for some reason not a whole lot of people liked this movie. But I thought it was epic, exciting and the love triangle story didn’t exactly take away from it because it was peppered with scenes of tension between the U.S. and Japan, leading up to the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor. Only a part of the movie was the love story, a part was the actual attack and the last part was the initial retaliation against Japan. It was long but very well shot. The music was fitting and one of my favorite scores in my collection. The acting wasn’t the best, but it was nice to watch Kate Beckinsale (Click) for most of it. The visual effects were amazing during the attack scenes. Other than some melodramatic acting in spots, and a PG-13 rating which took away from the film when compared to Saving Private Ryan, I can’t come up with a reason not to love this movie.

Read my full review of Pearl Harbor by clicking here.

Platoon (1986)

Born on the Fourth of July was the second movie Oliver Stone directed with a story involving the Vietnam War. Platoon was the first, which DID win the Academy Award. Platoon was loosely inspired by Stone’s personal experience with his platoon while serving in Vietnam, and the platoon splinter into two while one group of soldiers stood behind one sergeant and the rest stood behind another when the two officers had a conflict. Stone wrote an original script embellishing the situation to the point of murder, intimidation and war crimes among the platoon told through the eyes of an idealist who volunteered for duty, played by Charlie Sheen (Money Talks). The movie was intense and extremely well shot. If you research how Stone prepared a handful a young Hollywood actors including Johnny Depp and Corey Glover how to look and feel like they’ve been “in country” for months/years, you will see why this film is so real and well made. It’s definitely hard not to include it among my favorites involving the U.S. Armed Forces.

Crimson Tide (1995)

This movie is another stretch when listing movie which tribute Armed Forces men and women. However, since both sides of the conflict involved in this U.S. nuclear submarine action thriller where loyally attempting to do what they thought was the right thing for the country and their loved ones, it shows a prime example of devotion of service. When things get going, and we realize the predicament of the two commanding officers, Crimson Tide is marvelous ride. Director Tony Scott (Top Gun, Unstoppable) put up his best work with this project, as far as I’m concern, and it is one of my favorites from both Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman.

First Blood (1982)

Another great action movie and story of a Vietnam veteran being misunderstood and falls into trouble with local law enforcement. Respect is the theme here, which is no surprise when director Ted Kotcheff is at the helm with material related to the Vietnam War. A drifter is pushed to hard by local law enforcement and he pushes back. Soon even the national guard is after him as he is holed up in a mountain side, trained to disappear and live off the land. That drifter? None other than Sylvester Stallone as John J. Rambo. This kick off to the Rambo saga captured my interest as a kid and it’s never let go. It’s directed well, written well and overcomes its dated production values. Talk about a tribute to veterans with PTSD, this one is exactly that. The scene where Rambo breaks down crying to Colonel Troutman, played by Richard Crenna, is heartbreaking. This piece of action is absolutely worth mentioning among my favorites in this genre.

The Hurt Locker (2008)

This was an independently-made war time movie set in Iraq with a super low budget. It won the Academy Award for Best Picture that year, but the reason I loved the movie was two fold. One, it showed how war can actually become an addiction for some soldiers. It also shows how those of us at home may never understand that. Two, I LOVED the dynamic between the characters of Sergeant James, Sergeant Sanborn, played by Jeremy Renner (Avengers: Age of Ultron), played by Anthony Mackey (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), and Specialist Elridge, played by Brian Geraghty (TV’s Boardwalk Empire). I believe this was also the first time a female director, Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break), had taken on this genre involving an actual U.S. War. The scene when James finds the eight bombs wired together in the sand was maybe the greatest shot of the entire movie. It was simply intense and extremely effective. Bigelow’s follow up in this genre was Zero Dark Thirty (2012), which I have not seen but would have to do huge things for it to be better than The Hurt Locker.

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They are loud. They are far fetched. Bodies seem to fall from the sky. And he was of course impossible to understand in half of them and somehow he manages to pronounce California with seven syllables, but without a doubt the films of Arnold Schwarzenegger, prior to becoming governor of California, have left their own ring on the tree trunk of cinema history.

As my movie corner cohort Brian G. Felts challenged us to examine the best works of Schwarzenegger as our theme for the month, I remembered we had actually produced an episode of our MP3 show years back, listing our favorite films from The Governator. So, I knew resembling a list of my personal Arnold fav’s wouldn’t be impossible. Listing WHY was another story.

poster_arnold

Arnold Schwarzenegger; courtesy of schwarzenegger.com

It’s hard to argue certain aspects of Arnold’s movies tend to follow the same linear creations. He’s huge, so any character he plays is going to stick out like a sore thumb. He can’t exactly play a CIA agent undercover in Israel, but for some reason, he’d still be cast in that role and no one would think the wiser. Another staple we see from almost every Arnold movie is body count, especially those movies released prior to the age of political correctness which came during the administration of US President Bill Clinton. It was this age which suddenly made Hollywood feel bad for showing so much death in its”art,” and action movies changed forever. With these aspects constantly in place, one could argue Arnold’s films are redundant and predictable.

But somehow, if you examine his body of works, you can find differences which set them apart from each other and adds value to he presence in them. So listed below is my list of favorite motion pictures starring Arnold Schwarzenegger prior to him becoming the Governor of California. Why that benchmark? Because productions with his name on it became few and far between once he entered this political role, attempting to turn the State of California around. It hasn’t been until the last couple years Arnold movies began to surface again on a regular basis. My favorites are listed in order from No. 5 to No. 1.

Submitted for your approval…

poster_lastactionheroNo. 5 – Last Action Hero (1993)

I may be the only person in existence who actually likes this piece of shit. The reason I like it is not the story, which is stupid. It’s not the acting, which is terrible. It’s not the action, which is done before. The reason I like this film is how it tends to make fun of big budget action movies of the 80’s and 90’s. Every chance it gets, it makes fun of all aspects of how contrived and predictable these types of films can get. At one point, it even makes fun of Arnold’s catch phrase, “I’ll be back.” The fact that Arnold would allow himself to be the butt of a joke he’s actually involved in pleased me to no end.

This is the movie when a kid is given a special movie ticket which allows him to get sucked into the latest installment of his favorite action movie series, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as Jack Slater. Eventually, Slater helps the kid get back to real life but not without sucking a couple villains from the movie into the real world where, as the movie points out, “Bad guys can win.” From there, the movie gets very funny and very ridiculous.

My favorite part of the movie was when real life Arnold came face to face with Jack Slater Arnold during a red carpet event and attempts to recruit himself for promotional public appearances. In that same sequences, pop rapper of the time MC Hammer attempts to hustle a conversation with Arnold, as Slater, regarding an appearance on the soundtrack for the following Slater movie.

This movie came out at a time when I truly despised these kinds of action films. So to have a pop action movie with Arnold as the star making fun of movies just like it pleased me to know end. I think it may have even allowed me to start looking at these films differently, with a more light-hearted view, and not take them as serious entries into the human condition. With that alone, Last Action Hero has value.

poster_predatorNo. 4 – Predator (1987)

This was one of many movies from Arnold Schwarzenegger where the poster was simply him with a big gun, and that’s all the film needed to be a hit. If we are talking about 80’s action movies with Arnold, any dead bodies continue to fall from the sky in them, this one is a little different. The only persons who end up dying is Arnold’s character’s (Dutch) platoon mates. However, the manners in which they are killed are what lives up to the brutality of 80’s action films.

Basically, a military platoon stumbles across the hunting ground of a predator from another galaxy in this movie. The reason I think this film works with Arnold as the star is the story did an amazing job at setting up the Predator as being completely undefeatable even for Dutch. That is until Dutch discovers the one way to gain advantage over the alien being. The story in this one is extremely intense, engaging and it goes without saying…memorable.

Another aspect which ties this action masterpiece and Last Action Hero together is director John McTiernan (Die Hard), who helped shape the face of action films during the 80’s and 90’s. The cast was also a main reason I loved this film. Bill Duke (Hoodlum), Carl Weathers (Rocky series) and former WWE pro-wrestler Jessie Ventura (The Running Man) were all among those victims in Dutch’s platoon. Now that I think about it, since Ventura was later elected to be Governor of Minnesota, this movie had two state governors in it. However, one proved effective for his time in service and the other was Arnold Schwarzenegger; but I digress.

Between the intensity, a great plot and a smoking hot machine gun which made every child of the 80’s want to fire one, Predator is one of my favorite Schwarzenegger films ever. Read a full review of this film from my movie corner cohort Brian G . Felts by clicking here.

poster_terminatorNo. 3 – The Terminator (1984)

This one put Arnold on the map, as well as director James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar), and Arnold hardly had to say a word to make it memorable. I first saw The Terminator via motel room HBO in 1986 when my entire family was moving out to Colorado. I don’t remember what state it was in, but I remember I was I think 12 and I was exhausted. But once I started watching this scifi favorite, as exhausted as I was, it held my attention, kept me awake and I watched the entire thing.

Basically, a man goes back in time to present day (1986) to protect a flesh-wrapped killing machine, who traveled back ahead of him, from killing the mother of who would eventually become the leader of the resistance against the machines in the future. The concept is lofty, but writer-director James Cameron once again pulled it off. SciFi is one of my least favorite genre’s, but this film is one of the top in that genre in my book.

As for Arnold, his stoic, silent, badass style combined with his size makes this the perfect casting for him. Cameron also did an amazing job and making it seem The Terminator was NEVER going to be destroyed and Reese, played by Michael Biehn (Tombstone), and the mother Sarah Connor, played by Linda Hamilton (Dante’s Peak), would ultimately be destroyed. After a while, we felt The Terminator would be destroyed and the good people would prevail, but Cameron kept us guessing how exactly that was going to happen.

My favorite scene was immediately after Arnold utters what eventually became is catch phrase, “Ill be back.” That catch phrase ultimately is meaningless unless Schwarzenegger says it. If he says it to you, it means you are getting your ass kicked when he does. In The Terminator, he destroyed an entire police station, starting by running whatever car he had stolen through the front of the building. There were so many strong scenes in this movie, it is no wonder why it has become a cult classic and has sparked the existence of four other cinematic-released movies and a television show.

poster_totalrecallNo. 2 – Total Recall (1990)

You know you have a special movie when its cult following can recognize it by one line of dialogue: “Get your ass to mars.” Would you also believe I was in the same room with Ronny Cox, who played Cohaagen. I saw him on set during an on location shoot of an Eddie Murphy movie titled Imagine That set outside Denver. During that shoot, I stood in Murphy’s eyeline and he glared at me. It was fun. Anyways…Yeah, Total Recall.

It’s odd to think this movie was directed by Paul Verhoeven who also helmed Basic Instinct and Showgirls. However, the guy was pretty versatile in his day having also directed Robocop and Starship Troopers. Basically, set in the future, a working man uses a service which uploads a bunch of memories into your head to make you think you went on vacation when you actually didn’t. With this, you can have a theme added to your vacation, giving you a different persona. In this case, Quade (Schwarzenegger) decides he wants to adventure as a secret agent. From that moment on, the viewer doesn’t have a clue what is real and what is part of the memory implants. Neither does Quade, and that is part of what makes this movie so good, the mystery as Arnold’s character pieces together who he really is and what is his true purpose.

For me, when I think of Total Recall, I think of how much of a fuss was made over this movie when it first was released to cinemas in 1990. It had set a record at the time for body count. Apparently, it had broken the previous record–I believe set by Commando–for showing the most people dying by gun fire. Body count is all that counts for action movies in those days. As a younger guy, I remember enjoying the underbelly of society on Mars–when Quade finally got his ass to Mars–and the makeup on all the mutants there. This movie was a staple for me for action movies, SciFi movies and Arnold movies entirely.

poster_trueliesNo. 1 – True Lies (1994)

Another example of a movie poster where all you have to do is print Arnold’s big head and a big gun on it, even if it doesn’t tell you anything about the movie, and you have an instant hit; just add water.

Hands down this is my most favorite Arnold movie and one of my favorites from director James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar). The scope is huge, the believability is low, the comedy is high but it’s best quality is its consistency. Any flaws the film has is intentionally made throughout the film. Cameron rarely puts out films littered with carelessness.

Even though it’s a story with Arnold as a secret government agent who stands out like a sore thumb because of his size, Cameron ensures us this action movie will be of the highest quality in sequences and timeline. And to be honest, this is the only Arnold movie besides The Terminator which I could understand every line he had.

My favorite scene is the chase with Arnold on horseback. Probably because there is a moment when Arnold and the horse are to attempt a major rooftop-to-rooftop jump following a known terrorist who is on motorcycle. The horse and Arnold charge to the edge of the first building and the horse panics and decisions to stop short. Arnold falls off the horse holding onto the reigns to save himself. That moment was awesome.

Had Cameron allowed the horse and Arnold to make that jump safely, I would have thought less of the movie. Instead, it made a joke of action sequences like the one we were watching and demonstrated the film had a limit as to how ridiculous it was willing to get. Of course, we have to believe Arnold’s character has been trained in horseback-riding enough to chase down a terrorist on a motorcycle through a crowded mall, or whatever it was. The moment when Arnold and the terrorist are going up separate glass elevators across from each other, glaring at each other as they are headed up is hilarious.

This movie is fun, action packed and hilarious and whenever anyone asks what movie defines the Arnold Schwarzenegger catalog, this is my immediate response.

Now of course, Schwarzenegger had many more movies than just these favorite five. And because Brian is who he is in this challenge, and to keep my posts of Top 5 Favorites consistent, I have included a list of Arnold movies I also enjoyed but just not as much. They are listed below in no particular order.

Red Heat (1988)

I thought this was the perfect role for Arnold. He was the straight man to Jim Belushi who was the comic relief. I also find it funny that Belushi was more the lead role but Arnold’s fat head took up most of the poster and far larger than Belushi’s. However, Arnold was fitting with a Russian accent, or at least his best attempt, given he has an Austrian accent and adopting a Russian tongue does not require many adjustments.

Commando (1985)

This movie was simply ridiculous, but there is so much badassary (that’s my word, don’t steal it) involved with Schwarzenegger attempting to save his held-hostage daughter played by a very young Alyssa Milano (Tv’s Charmed). The band Drowning Pool’s song Let the Bodies Hit the Floor could have been written about this film because of the amount of death for which John Matrix (Schwarzenegger) is responsible. My favorite moment was when Matrix breaks out that huge ass four barrel bazooka looking thing. I was 11 when I saw this movie and seeing that piece of weaponry probably made me have to change my underoos. The movie is dumb, but man its fun and one of my favorites in Arnold’s catalog. This is the first movie in which both Arnold and Bill Duke are both cast. The second was Predator.

The 6th Day (2000)

Again, let’s put Arnold’s fat head on a poster and watch it sell. This isn’t exactly what you call a “legendary” piece of Schwarzenegger cinema, but I really got engaged with the storyline. Maybe more than most of Arnold’s films. It was a mystery. It was somewhat political. It was a conspiracy. Adam Gibson (Schwarzenegger) meeting a clone of himself and uncovering a conspiracy to have clones take over the world. The concept got lofty in spots, but learning what was going on along the way was great fun.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

James Cameron outdid himself with this picture. The special effects were ground breaking especially with the character of the T-1000, played by Robert Patrick (Walk the Line). It also had a ton of camera magic like using Linda Hamilton’s twin sister for a scene involving a mirror. It has The Terminator visage from the first installment now trying to protect young John Connor, played by Edward Furlong (American History X), and Sarah Connor instead of destroy. It’s so much more fun to have Arnold shooting up bad guys than good guys. The other aspect of this film was its fear factor. It holds the threat of nuclear war over the viewer’s head constantly, which added to how intense it was. The dream sequence of the nuclear bomb going off and Sarah Connor is at the chain link fence shouting to warn people it was coming and she burns up in the blast still haunts me and is to this day hard to watch. For its time, I would say this film was an action movie masterpiece. However, it we are talking personal favorites, the original The Terminator movie I liked just a bit more between the two. Oh, and again, let’s put Arnold’s fat head on the poster and watch people flock.

The Running Man (1987)

If you liked The Hunger Games (2012), then there is no reason why you shouldn’t like The Running Man. Basically, it’s the same premise; people running around killing each other for TV ratings. Arnold and handful of other criminals are released into the world of a game show where cons are hunted by professional killers. The entire thing is televised. The winner earns his or her freedom. This is another movie in which the former governors of California and Minnesota (Schwarzenegger and Ventura) appear together. The different killing styles of the game hunters are fun and hilarious in spots. However, the best part of this movie is Richard Dawson as the game master and producer of the show. Dawson for years was the loveable game show host of The Family Feud, so for him to be cast as a game show host and a total villain and asshole really took him outside the box for both himself and viewers of that time. The story is well set up and as the truth surrounding Ben Richards’ conviction (Schwarzenegger) comes to light, the film delivers quite well. It’s a little more primitive on the production side of things, but it doesn’t keep it from being at least one of my honorable mentioned favorites from Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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tomcruise

photo courtesy of tomcruise.com

Tom…sigh. What an adventure this guy has led us on. From his early days in Taps and Risky Business to his descent into Scientology and keeping Katie Holmes locked in his basement wearing lace panties and chained to a broken water pipe–I have absolutely no facts to back that up by the way. And then, miraculously, he somewhat emerges from the rectum of L. Ron Hubbard to produce a handful of respectable works and stops opening his mouth to the media about his “religion,” trying to make the rest of us feel beneath him because we didn’t bother to read Dianetics.

As you may be able to tell, my love-hate relationship with the works of one of Hollywood’s biggest has been bitter over the years, but the guy still does great movies for the most part. However, over the course of his career, he has produced a lucid collection of stinkers. This is what I plan to examine as a challenge from my movie corner co-hort Brian G. Felts. Below is my Top 5 Favorites list of what I feel are the worst movies in which Tom Cruise had a major role.

Let me start by remembering when I was first introduced to a movie which had Tom Cruise in it. I don’t. He just sort of showed up one day in Top Gun and the rest was history. Kidding. I actually saw the movie Taps (1981) in the cinema when I was seven years old. It was about a bunch of kids who standoff to save their military academy from being taken over by a condo developer. It was junk. The next time I saw Cruise I believe was the infamous dancing in his underwear scene in Risky Business (1983). But what drops people’s jaws the most is when they find out I didn’t actually see Top Gun until I was about 32 years old. I was 12 when it hit theaters but for some reason despite its popularity I never saw it. The first I actually saw it was in the cinemas however during one of those throw back classic promotions at a local movie house. Top Gun clearly put Cruise on the map and projected him to A-List notoriety or at least put him on the fast track to it.

Then he had to go and marry Nicole Kidman, whom I had a major celebrity crush on for I think a decade, and this started my low despise of the Cruise ship. That’s when I started to notice, not all Tom Cruise movies are actually any good. So here is my breakdown of the Top 5 fails on Tom Cruise’s resume as an actor. They are listed from No. 5 to No. 1.

 

poster_valkyrieNo. 5 – Valkyrie (2008)

I’m not sure with whom to blame blame for this movie; director Bryan Singer? (X-Men, The Usual Suspect). But regardless, Tom Cruise carries the film as Col Claus con Stauffenberg who help implement a plot to assassinate and overthrow Adolf Hitler during the height of Nazi Germany. The film includes an all star cast and to be honest the story itself is great.

The production however was terrible. Every character was supposed to be German but the majority of the cast had their natural British accents in tow and Cruise had no attempt to conceal his American dialect. I don’t think anyone in the cast sounded remotely German, so this very engaging historical story was ruined by a total lack of authenticity.

As for Cruise, I simply didn’t think he was able to pull off a character who was a disabled war veteran. Again, the authenticity just wasn’t there from his performance, his choice or those of the actors around him. Like I said, can’t exactly blame Cruise for the level of blah this movie brought since its problems were across the board and not just with Cruise’s role or performance.

poster_collateralNo. 4 – Collateral (2004)

What was with Tom Cruise’s grey hair in this film? Cruise’s makeup job in this picture appears to try and represent him as an older gentlemen, but Cruise’s physical and vocal characterization of Vincent is still younger and athletic than his look. My assessment is, Vincent, as a professional hit man, has died his hair this way so if any witnesses attempt to identify him, cops will be searching for an older man and not someone who looks like he would normally. However, there’s no text in the movie to support that, so Cruise’s look is consistently unusual, almost distracting.

The movie itself again wasn’t terrible. It got very cluttered in the second act with misguided sequences and lengthy random shots from director Michael Mann (Heat, Ali) showing the “driving” between Vincent (Cruise) and Max (Jamie Foxx). These shots were lacking reason and I thought it dragged the movie on. Act Three fell victim to a few cinematic conventions, which was disappointing after such a lengthy build up.

My biggest problem with the movie is its title. I just don’t see how the word “collateral” has anything to do with the story. I don’t see the relevance. Oh well. Click here to read my full review of Collateral.

poster_lionsforlambsNo. 3 – Lions for Lambs (2007)

My last three selections for worst movies involving Tom Cruise each have a high w.t.f. factor. The worst thing about this movie is its muddled messages. Is it pro-war? Is it pro-activism? Is it pro-education? Is it anti-military? I really can’t decipher the damn thing. As for Tom Cruise’s part as a young senator named Jasper Irving who works a media connection, a reporter played by Meryl Streep (Into the Woods), to announce a new military action, win favor with the press and gain public popularity.

Eventually, we find Cruise’s character to be this Paul Ryan-type young republican who is just desperate to “take the big toys down off the shelf” as reporter Janine Roth (Streep) puts it. If this is a little unclear of its meaning, she means these young republicans are too eager to nuke an adversary and start World War III just to compare dick size.

At every turn, this movie was convoluted at every corner. The influence of Professor Malley, played by Robert Redford (Sneakers), over his apathetic student played by Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spiderman). The political influence of congressman Irving over Roth, and more so her editor’s motivations. The ideologies of Malley’s two students who join the military to prove a point and get injured during a covert military action against terrorism. There are so many storylines which are supposed to intersect, but ultimately they don’t. Not directly. So the whole thing is confusing and pointless.

And Cruise’s presence doesn’t help this stinker one bit.

poster_vanillaskyNo. 2 – Vanilla Sky (2001)

What. Was. That? If there is an award for most confusing and clouded storyline by an established and talented filmmaker, it’s Vanilla Sky. Let’s start with the poster, shall we? It’s Tom Cruise’s fat head on a one sheet looking like he just woke up and unclear what’s going on. That;s pretty much how I looked after trying to watch this movie.

This was director Cameron Crowe’s (Jerry MaGuire, Almost Famous) worst movie ever. Two hours and 16 minutes just to watch Cameron Diaz (In Her Shoes) get upset Cruise blew a load in her mouth and then tried to dump her. What? “You came in my mouth. I mean, that means something!”-actual line from Diaz in the movie. What?!

Basically, if I understand it correctly, is Cruise plays this influential publisher who lives in privilege until he is in this car accident with this jilted lover (Diaz). Then his life, which we never really gave a crap about in the first place gets thrown around like a rag doll. So what. Who care? Talked about being emotionally disconnected from the material, Vanilla Sky is the perfect example of poo on a stick.

poster_eyeswideshutNo. 1 – Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Oh boy. Here we go. Time for every guy who saw this movie to chastise me for saying this. Eyes Wide Shut sucked so bad, it literally makes me want to cry. Is it Tom Cruise’s fault…surprisingly, no. It was the last fully completed project from director Stanley Kubrick (Full Metal Jacket, The Shining), of whom’s work I completely despise.

Why does it make me want to cry? Because the one film which shows Nicole Kidman completely naked multiple times I SOOOOOO wish was actually a movie worth watching. However, just like all of Kubrick non-sense productions, it is slow and senseless.

Again, let me see if I have this straight. Cruise plays this doctor who finds out his wife cheated on him. So pissed off at her and looking for payback, I think (wasn’t really made clear), goes on this nightlong sexcapade where he never actually has sex, but does run neck deep into this secret society of swingers that scares the crap out of you with the hollow piano score. It was painfully slow. It was painfully misdirected in story. In fact, there was no story. It was Tom Cruise. Walking around New York City finding himself in awkward situations which had something remotely to do with sex.

In the end, we realize the movie could have been wrapped up in 30 minutes to share its final message of “Don’t cheat on each other.” Kubrick, and naked Kidman in a shitty movie and having the watch a confused Cruise try to make sense of the story…and possibly a reason why he even agreed to be in the picture. This is in my opinion the worst Tom Cruise starred movie on his resume. Click here to read my full review of Eyes Wide Shut.

To be fair, I will briefly share some the films I feel were Tom Cruise’s best, but unfortunately their greatness are attributed to other talents involved in the production. They are listed in no particular order.

 

Born on the Fourth of July (1989)

This picture won Oliver Stone his second Academy Award for directing and rightfully so. This was also one of the best films I’ve see Tom Cruise do. If fact, no matter how many times I’ve seen it, Cruise melts away and I am watching the real Ron Kovic. It’s masterful in performance and production. This was also nominated for Best Picture that year.

Jerry MaGuire (1996)

Although a Cameron Crowe-directed movie appears on my worst list, this one would be on my best list. It’s one of the best films for Crowe and for Cruise. Maybe even one of the best films of that decade. This was also nominated for Best Picture from the Academy Awards that year. Click here to read my full review of Jerry MaGuire.

Minority Report (2002)

Let’s credit Steven Spielberg for this. It’s simply awesome and I am NOT a fan of science fiction, but the mystery involved in this film and the concept of a cop’s name coming up in their future criminal’s system was interesting. It was exciting and perfectly told…again, to Spielberg. Thank you Tommy boy for not screwing it up with your presence.

The Color of Money (1986)

Cruise was a supporting role in this. Paul Newman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) was the true star, of which his performance won him the Academy Award that year. It is also one of the best films directed by Martin Scorsese (The Departed, Goodfellas). The cockiness of Cruise’s character fit perfectly with the coolness of Newman. This was maybe the first evidence of Tom Cruise being able to hold his own with heavy-hitting actors like Newman. This was another hopeful for Best Picture that particular year. Click here to read my full review of The Color of Money.

Far and Away (1992)

It’s Irish and it’s Ron Howard (Apollo 13, The Davinci Code) directing a story from his own family history. THAT is why this movie is so good…oh and it has Nicole Kidman to look at. The movie itself is pop-Irish at best, but given it’s based on the romantic story of Howard’s great grandparents meeting and coming to America together and reunite at the Great Oklahoma Land Race makes the movie far more interesting than otherwise. Click here to read my full review of Far and Away.

A Few Good Men (1992)

Let’s blame Aaron Sorkin’s writing on this great film, based on his stageplay, as well as the direction from Rob Reiner. However, This was maybe the best movie Tom Cruise ever put his name on. It is a great mystery. It is a great courtroom drama. It’s a great story of growth for Cruise’s character, and with Demi Moore standing next to him, he isn’t the worst thing in the movie. PLUS, it has Jack Nicholson in a very badass role which also gained him a supporting actor Academy Award that year. The movie itself was nominated Best Picture.

 

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