Tag Archive: best war movies

Review by C.J. Bunce

Something about a film created contemporary to the World War II years automatically lends itself to a greater level of authenticity than the modern attempt at an epic war film.  Dunkirk is one of those modern large-scale productions, falling in line behind the likes of 1998’s Saving Private Ryan and 2001’s Pearl Harbor.  Dunkirk is better than both, and although it doesn’t have the gravitas of 1993’s Schindler’s List and is not as nail-biting as something like 1981’s Das Boot, Dunkirk still provides some good nuggets of emotion as we hone in on a dozen soldiers, sailors, and civilians attempting to get to the end of a week during the Battle of France–May 26 to June 4, 1940.  Dunkirk doesn’t tell a story full of intrigue like 2008’s Valkyrie, but its reflection of the war seems all the more reality-based despite not using film methods like that of Steven Spielberg, who tends to film historical settings with filters that make audiences feel more like “we were there.”  The most important lessons of history can be found in the study of World War II so any World War II film is a success if it can tell a story of brave leadership, brave soldiering, and accountability of the citizenry as Dunkirk does.

Dunkirk comes closest to Saving Private Ryan, presenting a believable wide-scope, giant battlefield, then bringing viewers into the brief encounters and interactions of a few.  Compelling roles are shared evenly in the three stories by actors young and old–most importantly is newcomer Fionn Whitehead playing a soldier who barely makes it to the battlefield and then seems to have nothing but bad luck as he must make life-and-death choices at every step to try to get closer to home.  From the older set, Mark Rylance (Wolf Hall, The BFG, Ready Player One) is a stoic Brit civilian who has his own reasons to try to bring some soldiers home.  And Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road, The Dark Knight Rises) plays the key fighter pilot, whose fuel gauge is broken and his assistance from other squadrons is nil.  The aerial dogfights aren’t the exciting stuff of war movies of the past, but the story doesn’t really call for that.  The theme is in the numbers:  Can any individual beat the odds with the German fighter aircraft returning for further attacks on the beach, on the escort and attack vessels, and against the three British airplanes?  Who will make it home, and who will not?

Director Christopher Nolan engages a unique story device, telling three stories simultaneously.  The first begins a week before the finale that follows the fate of 400,000 British ground forces (with a few French soldiers) waiting to be picked up on the beach in Dunkirk for transport back to England after the failure to secure France (or picked off by enemy strafing).  The second story begins one day before the finale, as a man, his son, and a friend answer the call in England for civilian boats to head across the channel to Dunkirk to transport troops home.  The third story begins one hour prior to the end, and follows three British pilots trying to stave off a German aerial assault on the beachhead.  Despite the spliced intersections of three clocks, Nolan makes it work.  Astonishingly the audience is reeled into the story even if we learn almost nothing about the backstory of any character in the film.  The best takeaway?  The relative value in war of one man in a single fighter plane vs. 400,000 ground troops.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

How can a movie get better on repeated viewings?  What makes that possible?  After three viewings of the home release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story–the Digital HD edition, the Blu-ray, and the 3D Blu-ray–it’s apparent the film on repeated viewings is indeed as good as the initial theatrical viewing if not better, a rare feat in any genre.  Naysayers who didn’t like the CGI effects of Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia–the primary criticism of the December theatrical release–should find even a home theater big screen television will mask any distractions seen on a 30-foot theater screen.  The Blu-ray and 3D Blu-ray provide the best, clearest picture and sound of any prior Star Wars release.  The 3D transfer is as good as any 3D Blu-ray release to-date, and the special effects, clothing details like stitches and seams are clear and vivid, as is the weathering (or lack thereof, when logical) on props.  As with most 3D movies, outdoor scenes, like the Scarif ground battle, are even more vivid with sharp foregrounds and backgrounds.  Check out the complete review of the film from December here.

The special features disc includes a version of the bonus features viewable together as an entire documentary and also viewable by chapter.  The extra disc available through Target stores only includes two short extra chapters, and although the creature shop feature is excellent the two extras wouldn’t normally be enough to tilt a buyer toward the Target edition–costs being the same–and some may instead opt for packaging, like Steelbook boxes (Best Buy only) or Connexions cards (available only in the Wal-Mart edition).  Fun bits in the features to look for include Bodhi actor Riz Ahmed’s audition tapes for Edwards, a feature documenting many Easter eggs from the show even the best eye likely never identified, and interviews with motion capture actors Guy Henry (Grand Moff Tarkin) and Ingvild Daila (Princess Leia), both who look little like Peter Cushing or Carrie Fisher, proving that simply using lookalikes or prosthetics would not have been a realistic option for re-creating these characters.  The standard bonus features included with the bundles are K-2SO: The Droid, Baze & Chirrut: Guardians of the Whills, Bodhi & Saw: The Pilot & the Revolutionary, The Empire, Visions of Hope: The Look of Rogue One, The Princess & the Governor, Epilogue: The Story Continues, and Rogue Connections (the Easter eggs list).

Rogue One easily merits ranking as the third best film in the series after Star Wars: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back–but truly in a league with those two films.  One of the best war movie stories put to film, the best prequel or prequel that is also a sequel (yes, even considering the great Godfather II), the best space battle, the best use of spaceship filming (director Gareth Edwards avoids 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Trek: The Motion Picture-era overly-long ship takes and instead uses his imagery only as necessary to drive the story forward), while featuring one of the all-time best heist movies.

It really has it all.

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In honor of servicemen and servicewomen this Memorial Day weekend, today we’re recommending ten classic war movies as selected by retired U.S. Navy third class petty officer and electrician’s mate Milton L. Bunce, Jr. who served aboard the USS Goodrich DDR 831 in the Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea and the USS Hancock CVA-19 in the Pacific before and during the early days of the Vietnam War.

If you’re looking for some realism and detail, he’s picked some great classics and any one will hit the mark for you this weekend.

The Wings of Eagles

The Wings of Eagles is director John Ford’s 1957 biopic about his friend, U.S. Navy pilot Frank “Spig” Wead, considered one of the best biopics committed to film.  It stars John Wayne, Dan Dailey, Maureen O’Hara, and Ward Bond, and provides a splice of the history of aviation’s role in combat.  Keep an eye out for the great early airplanes in the aircraft carrier scenes.  And the character of Captain Hazard was based on real-life U.S. Army Air Corps Reserve officer Jimmy Doolittle.

Twelve O'clock High

Twelve O’Clock High is a 1949 Darryl F. Zanuck production about the U.S  Army’s Eighth Air Force flying daytime bombing missions against Nazi Germany and occupied France during World War II.  It’s one of those dramas that will soon be on your list of best films if you haven’t seen it yet.  These airmen are realistically portrayed keeping up the good fight against a seemingly never-ending battle where failure was not an option.  Check out some outstanding acting by star Gregory Peck.  This film is on the Library of Congress National Film Registry.

guns of navarone

Based on an Alistair MacLean’s 1957 novel that was inspired by the Battle of Leros during the Dodecanese Campaign of World War II, the 1961 J. Lee Thompson film The Guns of Navarone is an epic adventure war movie like no other.  The filming location in and around Athens, Greece and top-notch acting by the powerhouse trio of Gregory Peck, David Niven, and Anthony Quinn add to a suspenseful movie about a multi-national team attempting to destroy a mountain fortress.  And it’s a great action movie.  (Milton was on liberty in Athens in 1960 where he visited some of the filming locations around the time of production).

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