BP Double Bill: Only Angels Have Wings (1939)/Major Dundee (1965)

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Now, the men here eat first, understand?

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I can’t quit you. . .

What we have here are two sides of same coin. Or perhaps both sides of the coin share the same image, a device used in Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings.

These are movies about men and the manly things they do. Angels is a about a ragtag group of commercial pilots on a rundown airstrip in South America. Dundee is a Civil War movie that features Native Americans, the French, Mexico, Confederates, swordfights on horseback, tequila, whiskey, brown skinned temptresses, questions of honor and, for sure over the top enjoyment, scenery chewers Charlton Heston and Richard Harris, who spend most of movie threatending to kill each other “when this is all over.”

Dundee was an early effort from Sam Peckinpah, whose career was largely defined by establishing a new level of hyperrealistic violence in Westerns. The legendary (and loathed) Peckinpah was not a subtle filmmaker. His masculine code is telegraphed througout his body of work. Men drink, fight, and die, in that order, and maybe they’ll stop a moment for a pretty girl, but she had better not get in the way. And of course, the women will never, ever understand.

Hawks, on the other hand, is one of the most celebrated directors of all time, one who could work comfortably in any genre. But he, too, created worlds of masculine energy, where men set the rules in the strongest possible terms. Angels is certainly representative. In probably the film’s most famous scene, the pilots drink after one of their own, Joe (Noah Beery), goes down in a fiery crash. When the token female on the premises, Jean Arthur, expresses her horror at the cavalier attitude of the pilots, she is ridculed by Cary Grant. “Who’s Joe?” he snaps.

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BP Double Bill: Burn After Reading (2008)/The Man Between (1953)

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I often find myself watching movies consecutively that share some sort of connection, even if it wasn’t my plan to begin with. So it was last evening when I screened the latest Coen comedy, Burn After Reading, and then simply flipped over to TCM, to find the Carol Reed film The Man Between. They, oddly enough, make natural companions.

(I only guessed it was a Reed film, because of its similarities to Reed’s The Third Man, especially the prominence of bombed-out Berlin as a backdrop. I was pleased to find myself correct.)

Burn After Reading took a lot of heat, so to speak, from critics who deemed it an unworthy followup to No Country For Old Men. And there’s no doubt the latter movie is superior–although frankly, I would be fine if I never saw it again. But the Coens’ high standards are frequently held against them. What struck me the most about the film was how comfortably it fit in the moment. While the Coens may populate their movies with exaggerated characters, they are undeniably inhabit the world around them. The Coens see the world as absurd and exaggerated. Their characters only follow suit.

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BP Quick Hitter: All the President’s Men (1976)

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Just get the byline right. The rest is automatic.

Director: Alan J. Pakula

Writers: William Goldman (and Bernstein and Woodward, naturally)

Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Jason Robards

Didn’t so much create the concept of investigative journalism but canonize it. Still, nice to revisit a time when reporters were considered to be heroes, as opposed to craven opportunists or self-promoting prospective franchises. What struck me while watching this film again, however, is how much has changed. Woodward and Bernstein operated the old-fashioned way, with phone calls and shoe leather, largely because they were more sophisticated–and more committed–in their methods than those they were pursuing. This was a time when you could call government officials and politicos on the phone and they’d talk to you, not hide behind spokesmen and talking points and counter-information. Watergate, in part, gave rise to the modern public relations state, where every action is focus-grouped, field tested and downscaled for easy consumption.

With the current popularity of Frost/Nixon, is it finally a time for NixonMania? The historical reassessment he always craved?

BP Quick Hitter: The Wizard of Oz (1939)

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I hope we don’t end up sleeping at the Port Authority.

Director: Victor Fleming

Writers: Noel Langley. Florence Ryerson

Starring: Judy Garland, Florence Hamilton, Ray Bolger, Burt Lahr, Frank Morgan

I don’t have much to say about this movie, except this. For something that is supposed to be a building block for every child’s cultural mythology, I realized while watching it that it’s entirely possible I never paid much attention to it before. And what I discovered (unsurprisingly I am sure to most) was a much more complex and emotionally engaging film that I ever remembered.

That’s part, I suppose, of the magic of reliving films with your children. You see them in new ways, as an adult, but  also through the eyes of the child. You can witness the wonder, the pure joy, that films like this can provide even in our jaded 21st Century. Since we watched it the first time, my daughter has watched it four or five more times, preferring it often to much more modern and sophisticated entertainments from the Disney/Pixar assembly line.

BP Quick Hitter: In the Valley of Elah (2007)

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I need to know something. Can you pick up the check?

Director: Paul Haggis

Writer: Paul Haggis, Mark Boal

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron

A largely quiet meditation on the fractured nature of perception. Army vet Jones’s son goes AWOL upon returning home from Iraq and Jones takes it upon himself to investigate, with the help of taciturn police detective Theron. (These two together don’t produce heat, just the opposite; their lived-in resignation in the face of inalterable truth puts the entire film under a cloud.) There is something wonderful, if not novelistic, in the movie’s march toward its conclusion, one that refuses to tie anything up neatly, but has much to say about pressures soliders face. Jones knows more about himself, his son, and his country by the end of the movie. But to him, there isn’t much reassurance there.

BP Quick Hitter: The Kingdom (2007)

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I know this isn’t the time, but damn if you aren’t one fine FBI agent.

Director: Peter Berg

Writer: Matthew Michael Carnahan

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Chris Cooper, Jason Bateman

There was real hope here for awhile. Director Peter Berg was responsible for the sublime (albeit still bombastic) Friday Night Lights. And in its early reel, the film takes some pains to detail the inacessible nature of Saudi society. And more hope in the form of supportings Chris Cooper, Jeremy Piven, and Jason Bateman (as an FBI agent? Really?). But all of that flies out the window as things begin to explode, rockets fire, and automatic weapons rattle. Syriana for Dummies. Black Hawk Down for, well, those who never tire of urban shoot-ups. I blame Jamie Foxx.