Tuesday, April 25, 2017

2016 Movies from Worst to Best

It always seems like there are not very many war movies coming out these days, but when I looked back at 2016, it turns out there were more than twenty that were released. In fact, most of them I had not even heard of until I started this project. I saw #10, 9, 8, 3, 2, and 1 in theaters when they came out. Granted, most of them did not make it to theaters, but that is still an acceptable amount of war movies. It’s just a shame that more of them were not good and only one of them was very good.

18. Dad's Army - “Dad’s Army” is a sequel to the beloved Britcom. In this extended episode, a comely German spy masquerading as a journalist (Catherine Zeta-Jones for God knows what reason) is determined to ferret out the location of a D-Day preparation site. This could change the outcome of the war. All she has to do to ensure that Germany wins the war is to dupe the Home Guard of Walmington-on-Sea. She does this by flirting with the two leaders of our bumbling crew of geezers and geezer-brains. Comedy hijinks ensue and guffaws result if you are a septuagenarian who refuses to admit the original series was not all that funny and thinks a remake was an excellent idea. Sorry, elderly Brits, this movie is a steaming pile of crumpets. F-

17. U,S.S. Indianapolis: Men of Courage- If you watch a movie starring both Nick Cage and Tom Sizemore, you are an “Audience of Courage”. This “based on a true story” flick attempts to do justice to the men of the ill-fated USS Indianapolis. As anyone who has seen “Jaws” knows, the Indy was sunk by a Japanese sub after delivering the atomic bomb to the “Enola Gay”. Sharks feasted on the survivors. The movie feasts on our eyes. While fairly accurate, the acting and pitiful effects dilute the historical significance. F  Netflix Instant

16. Beyond Valkyrie: Dawn of the Fourth Reich - “Beyond Valkyrie” has one thing in common with the Tom Cruise movie. I’ll give you a hint – it’s not Tom Cruise. If you want to see Cruise’s excellent take on the attempted assassination of Hitler, make sure you do not put the word “beyond” on the front of your Netflix request. This “sequel” has something to do with a mission behind enemy lines to rescue a plotter. Straight-to-DVD action and acting take your mind off the mindless plot. The reason why this movie is slightly better than USS Indianapolis is it has only Tom Sizemore in it. F

15. Sniper: Special Operations - Continuing the trend of bad actors making bad movies, this movie stars Steven Seagal. Part of the venerable “Sniper” franchise (try saying that out loud at a film festival), this episode has our heroes trying to rescue a Congressman being held hostage by the Taliban. Meanwhile, a laconic sniper (Seagal) is holed up behind enemy lines in need of extreme rescuing. Bang! Bang! Boom! Boom! USA! USA! You get what you expected. D

14. Guernica - A cynical, hard-drinking journalist (how original) hooks up with a government censor (opposites attract) for a romance set in the terror bombing of a Spanish city during the Spanish Civil War. Tragedy and romance – a war movie staple. Supersize to love triangle. Evil Soviet (not Nazi, at least) and the Red Baron’s son. Plus plenty of bombs! The actual bombing inspired Picasso to paint a famous mural that is on the opposite end of the artistic spectrum from this movie. But it does set the tropes in an obscure historical event and Nick Cage, Tom Sizemore, and Steven Seagal are nowhere to be found, so it is not the worst war movie of the year.  D

13. Operation Chromite - If you weren’t so focused on America’s role in the Korean War, you would be aware of a mission by South Korean commandoes to steal the plans to the mine fields off Inchon. By watching this movie, you will still be totally in the dark about Operation Chromite, unless it was slap-ass crazy. This is a below average Korean combat-porn movie. What makes it stand out is the usual gonzo Korean leading man has been replaced by a Liam Neeson as Douglas MacArthur. He actually does an acceptable overrated military genius. Unfortunately, the movie does not do an acceptable rendition of Korean combat-porn. You don’t have to be drinking to be drunk by the end of the movie.  D

12. Sniper: Ghost Shooter - How does the Sniper franchise manage to put out two movies in one year? That is like two Star Wars in one year. In this entry, our snipers (plural because more is better and essential at this stage) are tasked with defending a pipeline in the Middle East. There is a jihadi sniper who is better than all of them and he has their coordinates somehow. Don’t worry, their plus/minus will be reversed big-time in the climactic snipe-off. And our designated focus sniper has gone through his redemption arc from refusing to shoot a kid to killing for our cause. And he gets the hot spy babe. Stick around to the end to get your fill of jihadi slaughter. C- 

11. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - How genius is it to contrast the home front to what went on with our troops in Afghanistan? How about if we throw in a what-really-happened-in-the-incident scenario? Okay, but what if we film it in some radically different cinematography that distracts from the plot? To tell the truth I was not distracted from the plot because I saw this movie in the boring regular format that forced me to concentrate on how lame the plot is. If you don’t want your movie to be a disappointment, why would you set it in a Dallas Cowboys game? C-

10. Allied - “Allied” is a high wattage WWII espionage/romance that greatly improves on “Shining Through” but still requires a lot of suspension of belief. It is a movie for the masses who want to watch two beautiful people (Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard) ooze sexual chemistry. The plot developments deftly connect the dots in ways unknown to the real world. Not bad, just forgettable. C

9. The Free State of Jones - “Free State” is another sincere effort to bring a forgotten historical event to the nonreading public. During the Civil War, a county in Mississippi refused to go along with secession. They were led by a charismatic anti-planter named Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey). The movie is more of a biopic than a war movie. It is competently done and relies a lot on McConaughey’s star power to overcome its piousness and civil rights activism. And it is admirably accurate. The big problem is it is too long and insists on covering the anticlimactic Reconstruction period. C

8. Hyena Road - This is a movie that highlights the involvement of the Canadian army in Afghanistan. Did you know the Canadians killed a lot of evil jihadists there? Paul Gross (of “Northern Exposure” fame) brought this “based on several incidents that could have happened” story to a couple of screens in Canada. The action is decent and the romance is female-appealing, but the movie is average. C Netflix Instant

7. Jarhead 3 - The third in the series and the second to not grace a theater. “Jarhead 3” is not a cult classic. It is a competent actioner and better than could be expected. It is not in a league with the similarly plotted “13 Hours”, but if you have seen that movie and want more ass-kicking and a happier ending, see this one too. C+ Netflix Instant

6. Siege of Jadotville - It was a good year for obscure incidents. This movie highlights the heroic efforts of a green unit of Irish peacekeepers in the Congo when it was going through the usual African turmoil. The men are led by a commander who is unflappable and a quick learner. Unfortunately, they are besieged by a horde of warriors tempered by French mercenaries. Throw in slimy politicians and you have a movie that is micro (the siege) and macro (the United Nations efforts). The action is cyclical and similar to “Zulu” although clearly inferior. The historical accuracy is high. B- Netflix Instant

5. Anthropoid - If people still don’t know the story of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, perhaps this seventh rendition of the story will do the trick. The movie tells the tale of the two Czech special operatives who took out the Nazi bigwig in the streets of Prague. Naturally , the two have to find romance. Although the strained attempt to appeal to the female audience is a weakness, the movie is noteworthy for its recreation of the assassination in real time. Then it adds the siege of the assassins in a church that sates your need to see many Heydrich peons blunder into bullets. B

4. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot - This is a Tina Fey vehicle set in Afghanistan. It is based on the experiences of Kim Barker. It is our most recent addition to the war journalist subgenre. In that respect, it maintains the usual clich├ęs of hard-partying, cynical reporters trying to scoop each other. The film is surprisingly not political and actually is pro-military. If anything, its message is that the war is just a mess. The cast is top notch and has Margot Robbie as a slutty news bunny. Fey is very good. There is some good action and interaction between the journalists and the military. It is a dramedy with the snarky humor you would expect from Fey. B

3. 13 Hours- This is a Michael Bay film that is not a load of hooey. It tells the story of the military contractors that defended the State Department and C.I.A. personnel in Benghazi after the killing of Ambassador Stevens. It falls into the “last stand” subgenre. The action is intense and although the body count is enhanced, the movie sticks to the facts for the most part. Amazingly, it does not weigh in on the controversy and did not become a Republican propaganda film. It is red meat, not for Hillary-haters, but for war movie lovers. B

2. Hacksaw Ridge - Why did it take so long for Hollywood to tell the story of Desmond Doss? Doss was a conscientious objector who won the Medal of Honor for his efforts in saving the wounded during the conquest of Okinawa in WWII. It is better as a biopic than as a war movie. Andrew Garfield is fine as Doss (although not worthy of an Oscar nod) and his religiousness is not overplayed. The movie is an accurate take on Doss’ life, but that is diluted by the ludicrously over the top combat. The juxtapositioning of standard biopic with combat porn is whiplashing. The action is Korean style and has some LOL moments for anyone familiar with what combat is actually like. But that is what the public wants and at least they learn about a legit war hero. B

1. Rogue One - The latest Star Wars movie is the best in years and ends a string of disappointments. I consider it to be the third best installment after the first two. It is also the most war movieish of them all. In fact, the final battle is one of the greatest ever filmed. The plot has a variety of well-worn themes like the vengeance-minded lead (refreshingly a female this time), the quest by the motley crew of rogues, the multi-faceted battle. And the return of one cinema’s great villains. What’s not to like? 

There were several movies that I was not able to track down. I am confident none of them would have made the top five. If anyone wants to make a case for any of them, feel free.

The Yellow Birds
Railroad Tigers
The King’s Choice
Alone in Berlin
Sand Castle
Land of Mine
Kamp Holland
Harlem Hellfighters


  1. Respectfully disagree with Rouge One at your top spot. Don't get me wrong, I really like Rouge One. And the combat action was intense. But, right in the middle of the action we get a science fiction movie cliche that totally took me out of the movie: the air shaft with the opening/closing "something" that would cut you in half if you mistimed your jump. WTFrack???

    For me, that would drop Rouge One down a few notices on the list.

    1. Since I expected more cliches than that, I was more forgiving.

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  5. I actually thought 'Jarhead 2' was pretty good, especially Cole Hauser. But while watching 'Jarhead 3' I couldn't help but think that only male models were allowed to be Navy Seals.


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