Friday, January 2, 2015

BEST AND WORST OF 2014

      Another year of watching war movies and another mixed bag.  I saw 89 war movies this year and finished the 100 Greatest.  Besides some great movies, I also saw a discouraging number of very bad movies.  But that's my life, so I'm not complaining.  Some of my fondest memories are of truly terrible movies.

THE TOP TEN

10.  Lone Survivor - a balls to the wall "who will survive?" scenario set in Afghanistan involving a SEAL team behind enemy lines
9.    Captain BloodErrol Flynn swashbuckler with plenty of action and some nonmushy romance with Olivia DeHavilland
8.    Go Tell the Spartansearly in the American phase of the Vietnam War, an outpost is defended against a Viet Cong attack while Burt Lancaster deals with the insanity of the war
7.    The Dawns Here Are QuietSoviet film about a male sergeant and five female soldiers who take on German infiltrators in some woods 
6.    Das Bootone ill-fated tour by a German u-boat in 1941 which is the best submarine movie ever made
5.    Born on the 4th of Julythe biopic about disabled Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic from gung-ho warrior to anti-war activist 
4.    All Quiet on the Western Frontthe granddaddy of all war movies based on the greatest war novel
3.    Paths of Glory a drama about the trial of three French soldiers in WWI who are accused of not making a suicidal attack and must be sacrificed for unit morale/intimidation
2.    Tropic Thunderthe funniest war movie comedy ever made which satirizes several famous war movies

BEST MOVIE 2014:  84 Charlie MoPic (1989)
 
                This year the best war movie I saw was an old favorite – “84 Charlie MoPic”.  It won my March Madness Tournament to determine the best Vietnam War movie which means it beat some stiff competition.  Most of my readers may not have heard of it, but it deserves to be better known.  I go way back with this movie.  I first saw it when it first came out.  It was shown on PBS.  (It was one of the first movies I taped with my cutting edge new VCR.  I showed it in my American History class a few times.)  I don’t think it spent much time in theaters and made less than $200,000.  It was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Festival and Best First Feature for writer and director Patrick Sheane Duncan (“Courage Under Fire”) at the Independent Spirit awards.  It was a “found footage” film long before “Blair Witch Project” made that style popular.  The movie was filmed in Southern California on a very low budget with unknown actors.
Who will survive?

                84C is the military designation for a movie cameraman.  The premise of the movie is that 84 Charlie (Byron Thames) is tagging along on a long range patrol to chronicle what happens in the bush.  The entire movie is seen through MoPic’s lens and we only see him briefly at the end of the movie.  The mission of the five man patrol is to locate a North Vietnamese Army base camp in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam in August, 1969.  The mission is being led by a green lieutenant (Jonathan Emerson) who is called LT.  He is looking to get his combat ticket punched for promotion purposes and sees the motion picture (to be called “Lessons Learned”) as a career move.  He is not exactly welcomed by the veteran LRRP squad.  In fact, the sergeant who runs the unit (and continues to run it in spite of the LT) is downright belligerent and disrespectful.  OD (Richard Brooks) is hard core and makes it clear he thinks the presence of LT and MoPic will get his men killed.  The rest of the unit is heterogeneous in the classic tradition of small unit films.  Easy (Nicholas Cascone) is the radio operator who is close to the end of his tour.  He jokes around a lot.  They are the kind of lame jokes soldiers tell.  “I wouldn’t shit you, you’re my favorite turd” is typical.  Pretty Boy (Jason Tomlins) considers himself to be lucky, but is about to crack.  Hammer (Christopher Bergard) is the cocky M-60 gunner.  Cracker (Glenn Morshower) is a hillbilly who is a lifer.  He’s the guy who is usually called “Pop” in war movies.  His best friend is the African-American OD.   The five are very tight knit in spite of their various backgrounds.  The mission is pretty standard for a long-range patrol.  The men hump through the boonies until they reach the enemy camp.  They call in artillery and then move to the egress point.  This is when things get complicated and the movie becomes a “who will survive?” story.


"Some of us aren't going to make it, but the audience
will see us die as though they are here."
                Although the movie is called a “found footage” movie, I prefer to refer to it as a movie that was filmed completely in POV.  This makes it unique among Vietnam War movies.  There are several excellent movies set in the war, but none does as good a job of putting you in the grunts’ boots.  The movie is as micro as you can get, but you will learn more about the soldier experience than any other film.  It is like a tutorial on what a mission behind enemy lines would have been like.  You are on the mission with the men.  The movie is excellent on the details.  There are many small touches that prove that Duncan was a veteran of the war.  For instance, the men use C-4 to heat their rations.  The uniforms, equipment, and weapons are realistic.  The dialogue is authentic and not forced like in many Vietnam War movies.  Duncan throws in a lot of slang (“there it is”) and it helps if the viewer is already versed in how the soldiers talked.  Much of the dialogue is the unit members ribbing each other.  Few war movies are better at portraying the unique comradeship of American soldiers.  Part of the film involves interviews with each of the men.  This aides in character development and gives various perspectives of typical soldiers.  For example, Easy was “volunteered” for service by a judge.  You care about the men and the dynamics in the unit are fascinating.  Although there is some stereotyping, the movie avoids the trope of the incompetent and/or frag-worthy officer.  The conflict between LT and OD is not trite or predictable.  The acting is surprisingly good for such a no-name cast.  Brooks (“Law and Order”) and Morshower (Lt. Col. Matthews in “Black Hawk Down”) went on to respectable careers.  For “cherries”, the cast acts naturally and there are no histrionics. 
               The movie is mostly talking and marching, but so is war.  It builds nicely to the action-packed concluding act.  Easy stops joking as things get really serious and there are some gut-wrenching deaths (including a great twist).  The movie does not pull its punches and can be quite emotional.  Given the budget, the action is not up to other Vietnam War movies, but the “fog of war” aspect of the jungle setting ameliorates this. Besides, the object of the film is more drama than action.
                Most lists of the best Vietnam War movies overlook “84 Charlie MoPic”.  It can be argued that it is not the best, but there can be no argument that it is in the top five.  It is a must-see for any fan of Vietnam War movies. 
GRADE  =  A+ 
a trailer
the whole movie! 
 
THE WORST MOVIES I SAW IN 2014
5.  Heartbreak RidgeClint Eastwood wins the war in Grenada with a motley crew of post-Vietnam Marines
4.  The Boys in Company Ca motley crew of draftees fights the establishment and plays soccer in Vietnam
3.  The Inglorious Bastardsgoing behind German lines with a motley crew of misfits
2.  Tank Battaliona tank crewed by some motleys gets caught behind enemy lines in Korea

THE WORST:  The Steel Claw  (1961)
 
                “The Steel Claw” is a George Montgomery movie set in the Philippines around Christmas time after the Japanese invasion.  That’s right, it’s a Christmas movie!  You couldn’t tell that from the title?  The movie was a labor of love for Montgomery and a gift for his multitude of fans.  He starred, co-wrote, produced, and directed.  The man was the Da Vinci of B movies.  Speaking of producing, it looks like he emptied his wallet to pay for the movie.  I mean literally.  He did have a crate of pineapples that he was able to use to hire some Filipino actors.
 
                It’s Christmas Day in 1941 in Manila.  Capt. Larsen (Montgomery) is visiting a brothel.  He’s a regular.  He is not in a Christmas spirit because he has recently lost a hand and has just a stump.  Now that his playboy persona and disability have been established, it’s off to a special mission.  Larsen has to go into the jungle to hook up with a rebel leader named Santana (Mario Barri).  Larsen is to ransom a captured American general for $5,000 (ironically, the same amount spent on the film).  At the rebel camp he meets a tramp.  Her name is Lolita (of course) and she is the type of girl who feeds the chickens while wearing high heels.  There is some painful to watch flirting accompanied by sappy romantic music.  Before setting off into the wilds, Larsen fashions himself a steel claw using the local blacksmith facilities.  Santana’s band joins a band led by the sexy Rosa (Carmen Austin).  She and Santana have something going on which makes four because Lolita insists on coming along in her high heels.  She is almost eaten by a giant snake and gets a spanking from Larsen.  Frolicking then ensues.   
 
                They ambush a train using Rosa disguised as a sexy water buffalo herder.  The train is used for an assault on the Japanese base.  This results in a wild fire fight with some of the most hilarious deaths I have ever seen in a war movie.  (And that’s coming from a war movie death aficionado.)  As if the action cannot get more intense, we are now treated to a train chase!  The general is rescued, but he is not who he appears to be.  Lolita is wounded and may not make it.  They are in a race against time to reach the rendezvous ship.
 
                When I saw that the movie starred George Montgomery I thought that since I had heard of this actor, the movie might be a step above the kind of WWII movies you can watch on You Tube.  Wrong!  The movie is incredibly bad, but does have the guffaw factor.  I laughed out loud several times, mostly at some of the ludicrous deaths which included a shark victim.  You have to give the extras credit for giving their all in their demises.  The movie appears to have been made without rehearsing and with only one take for each scene.  The acting is wooden with the exception of Barri who brings some panache to his role as Santana.  He outacts the gringo Montgomery.  There is a modicum of homage to the Filipino guerrillas and you do have the female rebel leader so there is some homage there (although I think it was probably due to Montgomery sleeping with Ms. Austin). The dialogue is what keeps the movie from being a messterpiece.  It is actually not horrible.  We do get the memorable line when they are waiting for the ship:  “Keep listening and listen hard.”  Unfortunately there are not too many howlers like that one.
 
                “The Steel Claw” is a must see if you are the George Montgomery fan.  Otherwise, avoid it like the plague.
GRADE  =  F-


6 comments:

  1. I really like your list. I've seen and liked most of those that are among you top ten. I didn't notice your last review - it's a movie I've got but haven't watched yet. I'm preytt sure it's very good. I need to read your review.
    I haven't seen most of your worst movies. With the exception of the Boys in Company C which I liked far better than you. I didn't bother writing a list as I didn't watch enough.
    I hope you will see many more excellent movies this year.

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  2. We definitely disagreed about "Boys". It is a polarizing movie with half the crtics liking it and the other half loathing it. I am not surprised you haven't seen the bad ones. I can't imagine you watching those kinds of movies. I don't remember you reviewing many movies that you knew bef orehand were going to be terrible. At least I didn't have high hopes for the bottom three, but the first two had some promise. I am a fan of Clint Eastwood, but he really laid an egg with "Heartbreak Ridge". The problem with my top ten list was I had seen all but three before starting this blog. It is increasingly rare for me to see a truly great war movie that I have not already seen.

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  3. just blogwalking.. Nice post and have a nice day :)

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  4. The best war movie I saw this year was "The Long and the Short and the Tall", I went into it expecting nothing more than an action flick similar to "Too Late the Hero". It was released under the name "Jungle Fighters" in the USA, which I believe isn't a very good name since there's little fighting, someone described it as a "kitchen sink war movie" and that's very apt. It stars Laurence Harvey (from Room at the Top) and it definitely worth watching.

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