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Tag Archive: war movies


Review by C.J. Bunce

When Brad Pitt has another winning performance you find you’re glued to the screen.  From Twelve Monkeys to Meet Joe Black, Ocean’s Eleven to Inglourious Basterds and Moneyball, Pitt has range, plus the charisma and presence that translates to star power.  As with Tom Cruise and Johnny Depp, if you can strip away the celebrity and focus on the performance, Pitt seems like he just can’t fail.  Pitt is just as mesmerizing as any character in his past body of work in the new film War Machine.

In another time War Machine would be a theatrical release–it carries the production values, cast, script, and studio support as much as any other movie, and is produced by Pitt’s own Plan B Entertainment, the same company that garnered a Best Picture Academy Award for 12 Years a Slave.  But we’re now in No Man’s Land.  With Netflix making not only its own competitive, award-winning shows for the small screen, it has moved on to the theatrical film that simply isn’t intended for a theatrical release.  War Machine is based on Rolling Stone writer Michael Hasting’s book The Operators, a biographical account of now retired General Stanley McChrystal that was expanded from the piece he wrote when he was embedded with the general and his men.  You’ve heard the story, the one that took down the general’s career as he was attempting to gain traction in his efforts in Afghanistan in 2010.  McChrystal’s was an American story, one that has plagued leadership in wartime notably since World War II– how do you win a seemingly unwinnable war?  You’ll be hard-pressed not to find story elements from Vietnam days in War Machine, but also echoes of the Persian Gulf War, and other actions where data, facts, politics, economics, miscommunication, and personalities muddled direction and purpose.  Only War Machine isn’t about McChrystal really–Brad Pitt’s character is only based on McChrystal.  For storytelling purposes it’s close enough, and fortunately allows the viewer to enjoy the fictional story being told without the effort of comparing the story to the real events the underlying book was chronicling.  So throw out your own politics for a few hours and get ready for an interesting character study.

Were War Machine released in theaters, there’d no doubt be discussion of the film as the next chapter in a line of films with Twelve O’Clock High, The Best Years of Our Lives, Apocalypse Now, Patton, Full Metal Jacket, and Born on the Fourth of July.  Pitt’s General Glen McMahon is Pitt aged a decade or so, sporting gray hair and a fixed sideways sneer, a raised eyebrow, and a stature (especially when running exercise laps before the other troops awaken) that makes him almost unrecognizable.  McMahon is smart, fierce, determined, and strong–the perfect selection for someone who has been appointed to complete an impossible task–in essence, do all that needs to be done to fix Afghanistan and get ready to leave without bringing in more troops–when he should have known he was doomed to failure from the beginning.  Don’t we want our generals to be confident, strident, and to a certain extent, bold risk takers?  McMahon is quirky, just a little bit off, while exhibiting a bravado and charisma–albeit awkwardly packaged–that entrenches the picture in believability.  Pitt believes in his character so we do as well.  This includes the loyalty of his men, which begins to form the movie’s all-star cast, including McMahon’s obnoxiously loyal, angry, and mouthy#2 man played by Anthony Michael Hall (the film’s take on then-Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, who served 24 days recently as national security adviser) and an image guy played by Topher Grace.  The cast is rounded out on all sides by Ben Kingsley as President Karzai, Alan Ruck and Griffin Dunne as Administration policy wonks, Tilda Swinton as a German politician, and Meg Tilly taking on the role (brilliantly) of McMahon’s wife (plus a nicely handled cameo by Russell Crowe).

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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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Review by C.J. Bunce

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story finally answers the question of what kind of movie you would get if Hollywood would only, finally, let a diehard fan direct a major franchise film.  For all the great cast of actors and heroic characters in this unique tie-in film that falls outside the episodic trilogies, the real hero turns out to be director Gareth Edwards.  Edwards does so many things right with Rogue One you’ll lose count, and the best of this is surprise after surprise of what is at the next turn.  And if you watched all the trailers that seemed to reveal all too much, surprise again, you ain’t seen nothing yet.  This is, without exception, the most fun movie in the franchise since The Empire Strikes Back, despite its equally dark tone, and it has all the action of the original Indiana Jones movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

With Star Wars: The Force Awakens, fans immediately jumped at the chance of finding its place in the list of the best and worst of the prior six films.  Is Rogue One better than The Force Awakens?  In many ways, yes.  In other ways, such as the use of too many jumps between geographic road marker titles along the way and tightness of story plotting, Rogue One is probably a bit behind.  What fans really want to do is compare Rogue One to the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back.  So how does it compare?  It really is too soon to tell.  The hype and excitement of any new blockbuster in a franchise you love makes you want to heap on the high praise.  Is The Force Awakens as good as we thought a year ago?  Fans will never agree.  But the fact Rogue One is worthy of the comparison to Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back should be praise enough.

churrut

The best thing about Rogue One is CGI and motion capture technology improvements.  The best kept film secret in several years should be kept for all to experience, and later we can all chat about it once everyone has had a chance to see the film.  Prepare to be impressed.  Technology is finally catching up with Connie Willis’s future Hollywood novel Remake.  Rogue One also has great writing–an issue that haunted the prequels.  The dialogue is smarter than probably all the past episodes.  The space battles aren’t superfluous like in Return of the Jedi and all of the prequels.  Every step in the film is in furtherance of the goal–find the plans to destroy the Death Star.  This is not a mere MacGuffin, this mission has gravity for everyone.  Delivered like an epic World War II era film, Rogue One is the best war movie of the franchise.

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the-sand-pebbles

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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George Clooney;Bill Murray;Bob Balaban

Review by C.J. Bunce

It could have been a more serious film for fans of Ocean’s Eleven.  It could have been The Dirty Dozen.  Unfortunately, writer/director George Clooney missed plenty of opportunities to place The Monuments Men alongside the shelves of great World War II movies of years past.  With a cast including Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Bob Balaban, and Matt Damon (along with Clooney) this should have been an easy victory.  So where’s the miss?  Clooney couldn’t decide which movie he wanted to make: a World War II biopic or a comedy.  The blend of both results in a merely watchable film, but comes in below the cast’s past works.

If you’ve seen any documentaries on the actual events that inspired the film, you already understand the guiding principle of the story:  It is absolutely worth fighting and dying for to preserve those artifacts that define your culture.  The Monuments Men is the story of a handful of art experts turned soldiers at the end of WWII who tried to assemble and return to their owners–repatriate–prized works of art, some religious, some by renowned art masters, some paintings, some sculptures, and other cultural artifacts, despite the Nazi efforts to squirrel away and often destroy vast cashes of these looted spoils of war.

Blanchett and Damon in The Monuments Men

The best element of the real-life story is not about any particular Monument’s man, but the actual account of Rose Valland, a French art scholar who covertly kept a log book of where the Nazis in France shipped stolen art.  She allowed The Monuments Men to fulfill their mission of returning so much art to rightful owners after war’s end.   Like the Valland-inspired Claire Simone, played by Cate Blanchett in the movie, Valland worked in the Jeu De Paume museum in Paris during the Nazi occupation, which was used as the German base of operations for hoarding Europe’s art treasures. Unknown to the Nazis, Valland spoke German, and used this to chronicle the details of the Nazi’s operation.  Unfortunately, Valland’s story becomes only a secondary plot to the men of The Monuments Men, and her account is never as exciting as the real-life Valland.  In fact, the foreign language intrigue of Valland’s story is completely ignored in the film.

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Stalingrad US poster

Someone’s marketing was a bit off.  Russian director Fedor Bondarchuk’s Stalingrad, a visual effects-packed World War II film that set records in late 2013 in Russia, would have been better timed for a U.S. release during the Olympic Games.  What better time to check out what Russia’s biggest box office winner is–what our friends in Russia are excited about outside of the big Olympic show?  Instead it will premier in the States a little later, on February 28, 2014.

Stalingrad was Russia’s submission for Best Foreign film for the 86th Academy Awards, but was not selected.  Critical acclaim has singled the war movie for its quality visual effects, and they do really come through in the newly released trailer. Stalingrad also is notable as being the first Russian film produced with IMAX 3D technology, and the first non-American film using the IMAX format.  The film’s website includes a pretty rousing soundtrack and some other features (in Russian).

Check out this preview for Stalingrad:

Definitely some great panoramic battle recreations as well as nice shots of fighter planes, bombers, and tanks.

Stalingrad is targeted for a U.S. release February 28, 2014 (February 21 in the U.K.).

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

Bill Murray not in Stripes

It’s not a title that, by itself, will draw crowds to the theater.  But how often does a movie have much more than one reason to get you into the theater to see it?  Maybe its an actor you love, a genre, the fact it is based on a book or property you’re interested in.  The Monuments Men, with its first trailer released this past week, has almost too many reasons to see it to count.  “In a race against time, a crew of art historians and museum curators unite to recover renowned works of art stolen by Nazis before Hitler destroys them.”  Yep, it’s not about Mount Rushmore.  So let’s take a quick look at what this movie has to offer, to bring in viewers for different reasons.

Everyone is always trying to make a war movie that’s not a war movie, add some twist to the genre to make it slightly different to entice new crowds to give war movies a try.  Saving Private Ryan tried it, making a war movie into more of a kidnapping film with the modern trend toward challenging the components of war vs the old Frank Capra-type pro-nationalism films.  And how unique was Quentin Tarentino’s Inglourious Basterds?  In fact, if Brad Pitt hadn’t starred in that movie, you’d think he’d have been a shoo-in for The Monuments Men.  Why?  Because with George Clooney and Matt Damon in pursuit of a seemingly impossible goal, this looks like Ocean’s Eleven all over again.

John Goodman Monuments Men

And speaking of impossible goals, this also looks like The Dirty Dozen, although the trailer tells us there’s eight soldiers engaged in this mission.  Who isn’t ready for another movie of the Dirty Dozen variety?  Remember how good the beginning of Captain America: The First Avenger was with Tommy Lee Jones as a general in the World War II recruitment scenes?  Or go back to Bridge on the River Kwai and recruiting William Holden to go back to the battle.  Of course these are all plays on the original Western recruiting warriors film, Seven Samurai.  And just look who gets recruited for this new mission.

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