#368. Howard Hawks

It is rare to find a director who can direct across the spectrum of film genres. Often, a director’s style will dictate their genre. I mean, we’re not likely to see a horror film by Michael Bay. And while versatile directors like Christopher Nolan can span many genres, there are still a few that are outside of their style. That being said, I wouldn’t mind seeing a Christopher Nolan comedy, as I’m sure it would be mind-bending and visually stunning. Stephen Spielberg might be the one modern director who can successfully direct movies in any genre, but back when the film industry was just getting started, a few directors could “do it all.” One of these directors was none other than Howard Hawks. Back then, the ability to direct across all genres was likely more out of necessity than it was for resume padding. This week’s two films highlight some of Howard Hawk’s versatility as a director.

Sergeant YorkSergeant York
Year: 1941
Rating: Approved
Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours

Despite a large number of notable films, Howard Hawks never won an Oscar for Best Director during his career. He was nominated once for Sergeant York (1941), likely due to the peak of his career. In the lead up to the war movie that is Sergeant York (which itself was nominated for Best Picture), he directed two comedies, Bringing Up Baby (1938) and His Girl Friday (1940), as well as the drama, Only Angels Have Wings (1940). Of course, he directed many other classics after Sergeant York, including the musical, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), the western, Rio Bravo (1959), and the John Wayne adventure, Hatari! (1962). Hawks even managed to direct a sci-fi film with The Thing from Another World (1951), thus proving that he can direct pretty much any major genre that exists.

While Alvin York’s (Gary Cooper) hellion lifestyle has caused his mother much consternation, once he met Gracie Williams (Joan Leslie) he started to turn his life around. Promising to marry her once he can obtain a farm, Alvin works relentlessly at raising the necessary money, only to have his hopes and dreams dashed when the offer is pulled out from underneath him. Before he can go right the wrong, Alvin is struck by lightning and finds God in the process. Shortly afterward, Alvin is drafted into the Army for World War I, despite his newfound abhorrence to killing. However, in the heat of battle, Alvin realizes he must kill in order to save his comrades. Using his skill as a sharpshooter, he saves the day and returns home a hero. After he turns down offers to cash in on his fame, he finds that his hometown bought the farm he was eyeing and gave it to him as a gift.

 

ScarfaceScarface
Year: 1932
Rating: Passed
Length: 93 minutes / 1.55 hours

What’s interesting about Howard Hawks, aside from the numerous genres he could direct, was that his career started back in the silent era. Being able to successfully transition from the realm of silent films to the “talkies” is no small feat, especially considering how many directors and actors from that time failed to adapt to the technology that was permanently changing the way audiences experienced movies. While he only directed seven silent films, they also shared the diversity in genre he kept up during his career (four comedies, one drama, one romance, and one film noir). When sound became available, it wasn’t long until Hawks was directing classics like the crime drama, Scarface: The Shame of the Nation (1932). In fact, this film was so well made, the 1983 remake was partially dedicated to Howard Hawks.

During the prohibition era in Chicago, Antonio “Tony” Camonte (Paul Muni) is helping mob boss Johnny Lovo (Osgood Perkins) to take control of the south side of the city. While Tony is an excellent lackey, he eventually goes against Johnny’s wishes and starts to take on the Irish gangs that control the north side of Chicago. As his success continues, Tony’s confidence rises enough to the point where he starts wooing Johnny’s girlfriend, Poppy (Karen Morley). Of course, with Tony’s out-of-control ambitions left unchecked, Johnny sends an assassin to kill him. Escaping the threat on his life, Tony and his friend Guino Rinaldo (George Raft) kill Johnny, making Tony the new leader of the mob. Unfortunately, when Tony learns Guino is with his sister, he kills his friend, setting off a series of events that has him hiding in his house and fighting the police. Will Tony live long enough to make the world his?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 highly-praised Howard Hawks classics

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#367. War Heroes

In war, nobody wins. However, each side inevitably has those extraordinary people who went out of their way to show heroism in the face of the odds against them. These are the true winners of war: the war heroes. Often, it’s much easier to “run away to fight another day,” than it is to stand up to an enemy force. When individuals and groups of people go against that instinct, the most probable outcome is death. However, if these war heroes can cheat death, they can turn the tide of a battle, which itself could turn the tide of the war at large. Nobody ever sets out to become a war hero, but the character and determination ingrained within them before their moment of heroism is what leads them through to victory. This week’s two films highlight some unique individuals and the selfless actions they performed to become war heroes.

DunkirkDunkirk
Year: 2017
Rating: PG-13
Length: 106 minutes / 1.77 hours

Heroism can come in many forms, but the crux of it boils down to saving lives. In war, we can often equate killing the enemy to saving the lives of our soldiers. After all, if there’s less of them to kill us, then we have therefore saved at least some of our troops. However, some of the more admirable heroes are those who save lives by not killing others. This attribute was best displayed in Hacksaw Ridge (2016), which took place on the battlefield. It can be difficult to save your fellow soldiers when the enemy is actively trying to kill you. And yet, even civilians can be war heroes. For example, Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) from Schindler’s List (1993) was a civilian who saved numerous lives from the Holocaust associated with World War II. While Schindler wasn’t on the front lines, the civilians who assisted with the Dunkirk evacuation came very near to the active battlefield.

When over 400,000 soldiers found themselves pinned down on the beach at Dunkirk, many accepted their fate that they would die there. After all, the German forces were continuing to advance on their position, and everyone needed to wait to be evacuated. These soldiers were sitting ducks, waiting for the next sniper or bomber to take them out. To make matters worse, there are not enough military transports to get everyone to safety, and the ones that do exist are torpedoed and bombed from above. With no other options left, the British Navy conscripts a contingent of civilian vessels to travel across the English Channel to save these soldiers. These civilians head into battle with fishing ships and pleasure yachts, with nothing but a few Spitfires to cover them from above. Will they survive the round trip? Will they manage to save any soldiers in the process?

Sergeant YorkSergeant York
Year: 1941
Rating: Approved
Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours

Heroism often comes down to a single moment. When the situation is dire, and everything is falling apart around you, the “fight or flight” response kicks in. These situations frequently happen in war, but what an individual does in these moments can make the difference not only between heroism and cowardice but also life and death. Furthermore, these war heroes are the ones who not only save themselves via their actions but their brothers in arms as well. While some soldiers are conscientious objectors to war, being unwilling to kill another due to their beliefs, sometimes death is necessary to save lives. In fact, certain military professions, like the snipers seen in American Sniper (2014), are designed to kill the enemy to protect the troops fighting the war on the ground. Another famous sniper, who was also a conscientious objector was none other than Alvin York.

Alvin York (Gary Cooper) is not exemplary in many things. In fact, his frequent drinking and brawling worry his mother (Margaret Wycherly) to no end. All this changes when he falls in love with Gracie Williams (Joan Leslie). Not only does he clean up his act, but he sets out to raise enough money to buy a farm so he can marry her. As the financial deadline approaches, Alvin calls upon his one skill, marksmanship, to win a target-shooting contest, but fails to purchase the farm due to an underhanded deal on the part of the owner. Despondent, he heads out to kill this man, but has a Damascus road experience and finds God. Unfortunately, when World War I starts, Alvin is drafted as a sniper, which goes against his “no killing” beliefs. In a moment of peril, Alvin realizes his ability to kill the enemy will save his comrades, and he sets about to single-handedly turn the tide of battle.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 heroic feats

#366. World War II

Unlike the Anglo-Zanzibar War, World War II is likely to be the war with the most films featuring it as part of their plot. There are numerous reasons for this, including the rise of Hollywood during the same timeframe, as well as a distinct “good guy vs. bad guy” conflict. Unlike the Civil War, World War II was not a historical event for those individuals who were affected by it. Furthermore, unlike the Vietnam War, World War II was a war popular with the public sentiment (even despite the unpopular idea of war in general). Consequently, of the multitude of World War II films, at least eight of them have won the Oscar for Best Picture, which doesn’t even include the numerous nominated films that covered the same subject. This week’s two films highlight some of the best World War II movies ever made.

Saving Private RyanSaving Private Ryan
Year: 1998
Rating: R
Length: 169 minutes / 2.82 hours

The effects of war can spread far from their source of origin. In a global conflict like WWII, there can be prisoners of war in Burma being held by the Japanese (like in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)) as well as in Germany (like in The Great Escape (1963)). Of course, the impact of a war is often felt on the home front as well. Soldiers have families back home and often have to work hard at reintegrating into a post-war society (like in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)). That’s assuming these soldiers even make it back at all. Some generals like Patton (1970) throw their empathy out the window when giving orders, especially if they produce results. However, there are also occasions when the leaders in charge realize a single soldier’s life is significant, especially if it means that soldier can return home to a family that has already lost so much.

During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln sent a letter of condolence to Lydia Bixby after her five sons died fighting for the Union. To prevent this tragedy from happening again, General George Marshall (Harve Presnell) orders that James Ryan (Matt Damon), a soldier missing in action, is found and returned home safely. Ryan’s three brothers were also soldiers, each one of them confirmed dead by the end of D-Day. While it takes some time (and the lives of two men) to track Ryan down, Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) is reluctant to return empty-handed. Unfortunately, while Ryan’s biological brothers are dead, his brothers-in-arms are still alive and protecting a strategic bridge. Captain Miller reluctantly agrees to help defend the bridge with Ryan, which proves to be a daunting task as a German Panzer Division arrives to take back control. Will anyone survive to return home?

DunkirkDunkirk
Year: 2017
Rating: PG-13
Length: 106 minutes / 1.77 hours

Just like war can affect those who are on the home front, the civilians left behind still have plenty of capability to resist the evil present in a global conflict like WWII. Sure, you might be a nun helping a family escape German-controlled Austria (like in The Sound of Music (1965)). You might even be a German industrialist saving the lives of numerous Jews from the Holocaust by employing them in his factories (like in Schindler’s List (1993)). Nevertheless, the little things add up to help defeat the enemy. While plenty of Europeans resisted the advancement of the Nazis, the Americans in Hawaii were completely taken by surprise (like in From Here to Eternity (1953)), but still did their part to win the war. Of course, when the war is in your backyard (like in Mrs. Miniver (1942)), it’s much easier to step up and help the war effort directly.

With the Germans advancing through France, allied troops gather at Dunkirk in the hopes of being evacuated. Unfortunately, there are not enough military transports to take the hundreds of thousands of troops away from the French port. The soldiers who are trapped on the beach begin to realize that there isn’t enough transportation and come up with ways to get on the boats that are leaving. Of course, as they are still in enemy territory, even these boats face torpedoes and aerial gunfire from German forces, sinking in the process. Meanwhile, across the English Channel, civilians are being conscripted to head over to Dunkirk and use their small boats to evacuate the soldiers. Overhead, Spitfire planes are engaged with the enemy to help pave the way for a safe return home. The tension of the situation remains high as each second ticks by, dwindling away the time left for people to escape.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 well-made WWII movies

End of Act Seven

The end is in sight, folks! 2018 marks the last full year of Cinema Connection posts. There will still be some more connections to come in 2019, but it won’t last until the end of the year. While the end of this blog is nigh, I just want to remind you that the book form of all 400+ connections will also be coming out by the end of the year. With this being said, which movie was your favorite for this last year? Or was your favorite from Year 1, 2, 345, or 6?

Dog Day Afternoon
Network
Nightcrawler
Broadcast News
Terms of Endearment
The Apartment
Some Like it Hot
All About Eve
Being John Malkovich
Pacific Rim
Cronos
Hellboy
Anastasia
Doctor Zhivago
Star Wars: A New Hope
American Graffiti
National Lampoon’s Animal House
Revenge of the Nerds
The Count of Monte Cristo
Unknown
The Bourne Identity
Salt
The Tourist
True Lies
Predator
Alien
Blade Runner
Raiders of the Lost Ark
National Treasure
Cool Runnings
42
In the Heat of the Night
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
Father of the Bride
A Place in the Sun
Giant
The Dark Knight
Batman
Iron Man
The Iron Giant
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
Spaceballs
Airplane!
The Naked Gun
Magnum Force
The Boondock Saints
Oldboy
The Housemaid
The Sound of Music
La La Land
Whiplash
Saving Private Ryan

Just like I mentioned at the start of 2018, I look forward to creating the same “connection” experience in physical form as I have in this digital one when I release the Cinema Connections book in September. If you sign up for my newsletter on my main website (www.benjamin-m-weilert.com), you can be kept up-to-date on the progress toward this book’s publication.

#365. Dedication

With the New Year fast approaching, it’s time to look back and see what resolutions we accomplished in 2018. While many factors contribute to successful resolutions, including realistic goals with measurable results, the most significant factor that can lead to success is dedication. Even the most impossible of resolutions can be accomplished with enormous amounts of dedication. Those who are dedicated to their goals and dreams can frequently overcome the odds stacked against them through persistence and focused effort. As many of us gear up to set our New Year’s resolutions, we need to assess how dedicated we are to accomplishing them. Of course, dedication can take some extremes as well, and there’s no better place to see extremes in action than at the movies. This week’s two films highlight dedication in its various forms.

WhiplashWhiplash
Year: 2014
Rating: R
Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours

An often-referenced metric from Malcolm Gladwell states that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. This timeframe is usually tied to learning how to play an instrument, but it can be applied to other skills as well. However, what if you’re in a competition for that mastery? Since Gladwell came out with this expertise metric, studies have shown that dedication is only part of the equation (if not an entirely inaccurate measuring stick). Sometimes natural talent can put some individuals above others, even with the less-talented being more dedicated to their craft. This is why we find young prodigies, who aren’t old enough yet to have reached those 10,000 hours, to be inspiring. Of course, trying to overcome this talent disparity with dedication alone can sometimes prove detrimental to one’s health. It’s at these points when you have to ask yourself, “Is this a hobby, or an obsession?”

Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) wants to become one of the best drummers in existence, so he dedicates himself to practicing his craft. This dedication grabs the attention of Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons), the conductor of a competitive jazz band, leading him to bring Andrew on as a backup to the lead drummer. While Andrew is dedicated to his drumming, Fletcher is an extreme perfectionist, often resorting to violence to get his point across. Undeterred, Andrew manages to usurp the lead drumming position through the memorization of one of the band’s pieces, thus not requiring the missing sheet music. And yet, when another drummer is brought in to be Andrew’s backup, his dedication goes into overdrive, sacrificing his relationships and body, but still coming up short. After a series of events that leads to both Andrew and Fletcher’s dismissals, Andrew has one last chance to show his dedication to Fletcher.

Saving Private RyanSaving Private Ryan
Year: 1998
Rating: R
Length: 169 minutes / 2.82 hours

Sometimes the concept of dedication can be a life-or-death choice. If the firefighter is not dedicated, people can die. If the doctor is not dedicated, people can die. If the soldier is not dedicated, people can die. As you can see, many professions rely on dedication to get the job done, but also to ensure the greater good of society is maintained. While there are often situations where these professionals will find the deck stacked against them, they can usually incur scandal upon themselves for not being dedicated enough to their job when something disastrous happens. After all, quitting is easy, but dedication produces results. These results might never be publicly recognized, but they are important to someone, namely the person who was saved by these individuals’ dedication to their challenging careers.

Even though the World War II allies gained a strategic foothold in Europe during D-Day, it also resulted in numerous deaths. Of four brothers, James Ryan (Matt Damon) is the only survivor of the war so far. This prompts the War Department to extract him from the front lines to prevent complete tragedy for the whole Ryan family. Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) is tasked with retrieving Private Ryan, which proves to be difficult in the chaos that is war. Eventually, Captain Miller and his team manage to track down Ryan, who refuses to leave because he is currently involved defending a vital bridge from German attack. With no way to convince him otherwise, Miller and his men join Ryan in defense of the bridge from German Panzers. Most of these men die in the fight, but will Ryan survive to return home safely?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 dedicated dudes

#364. Damien Chazelle

It is sobering to realize how little you’ve accomplished in your life when you start to compare yourself to individuals like Damien Chazelle. While he’s only eight months older than I am, he’s already become the youngest individual to win a Best Director Oscar. Not only that, but he won with a mere two films under his belt, both of which were nominated for Best Picture. Of course, instead of bemoaning the fact that I haven’t won an Oscar for Best Director (I also haven’t graduated from Harvard, which is probably part of it), I am awaiting each successive movie directed by Chazelle. It is already clear he has a penchant for creating fantastic films, even if most of them have revolved around jazz. This week’s two films highlight the opening of Damien Chazelle’s career in filmmaking, signaling the start of a fresh vision in Hollywood.

La La LandLa La Land
Year: 2016
Rating: PG-13
Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours

One of the most daunting of movie genres, the musical requires much more than just acting. Choreography and music need to be seamlessly integrated into the plot of a film for the musical numbers to not seem out-of-place. It is then an impressive feat that Damien Chazelle’s second film was the musical, La La Land (2016). Even if it narrowly missed being named Best Picture for that year, it was clear that Chazelle did his homework on the film, creating a colorful and loving homage to the golden age of musicals from the 1950’s and 1960’s. One can only wonder what a departure from music-themed movies with this year’s First Man (2018) will mean for Chazelle. The Oscars do love a good biopic, and there’s nobody more interesting than the first man to set foot on the moon: Neil Armstrong.

After a few, brief encounters, Mia Dolan (Emma Stone) and Sebastian Wilder (Ryan Gosling) have come to the realization that they’re in a love/hate acquaintanceship. This all changes when they both open up to each other and reveal their dreams. Mia has been struggling as an actress, having to resort to work at a studio coffee shop for employment, while Sebastian bemoans the state of jazz and wants to open a club where “true jazz” is played. When both of them finally admit that they care for each other, they both support each other’s dream. Of course, for Mia to put on a one-woman show, Sebastian takes a job as a pianist for a band he does not consider in line with his views of jazz. After her show was poorly attended, Mia gives up on her dream, only to have Sebastian chase her down with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Will this potential success fulfill their dreams, or will it destroy their relationship?

WhiplashWhiplash
Year: 2014
Rating: R
Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours

If Damien Chazelle’s love of jazz wasn’t made clear in his breakout film, Whiplash (2014), then La La Land (2016) merely enforced it. Of course, you don’t get to make a big-budget Hollywood musical like La La Land without proving yourself first. Whiplash is an intense and unyielding look at competitive jazz competitions that not only revealed Chazelle’s visual style, but also his ability to create captivating characters who are driven by their ambitions. While it didn’t receive the record-tying number of Oscar nominations like La La Land did, Whiplash earned a respectable five nominations, of which Chazelle was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. The fact that Chazelle could create a Best Picture-nominated film at age 29 is certainly as incredible as winning the Best Director Oscar two years later.

When conductor Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons) discovers drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) practicing in a music room at the Shaffer Conservatory, he invites the freshman to join his studio band as a backup to the lead drummer. Andrew sees this as an opportunity but soon realizes that Fletcher’s style of leadership is filled with verbal and physical abuse. Despite all this, Andrew continues to practice, even going so far as to memorize entire pieces of music, which comes to his advantage when he’s put in as the lead drummer when the former lead forgot his sheet music. Meanwhile, Fletcher brings in another freshman as Andrew’s backup, leading to a brutal late-night audition between the three drummers. Andrew is soon fired from his spot, thus leading to his confession about Fletcher’s abuse, resulting in Fletcher’s firing. Fletcher thinks he has the last word, but Andrew shows his dedication in a public display of skill.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Damien Chazelle classics

Bacon #: 3 (Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench / Anna Chazelle -> La La Land / Ryan Gosling -> Crazy, Stupid, Love. / Kevin Bacon)

#363. Music

Victor Hugo once said, “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” There is something innately powerful about music that allows us all to express ourselves. Whether it’s dancing to a song in the middle of the street (like in West Side Story (1961)), or being able to play an instrument with supernatural skill (like in Shine (1996)), music makes our lives that much more interesting. Nearly every movie that has ever been made has music accompanying the action on screen, but fewer of them have music as a central piece of its plot. Sure, some movies visually synchronize with a playlist, whether intentionally (like Baby Driver (2017)) or unintentionally (like The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon), but these are not the ones where music is almost its own character. This week’s two films highlight music as a significant plot device.

The Sound of MusicThe Sound of Music
Year: 1965
Rating: G
Length: 174 minutes / 2.9 hours

It’s easy to see how music can feature prominently in a musical. And yet, many musicals pull their songs from the mundane, singing about common things and situations that help to propel the plot. In fact, sometimes you can cut the music out entirely and still have an excellent film. Pygmalion (1938) works just as well as My Fair Lady (1964), and at half the length. However, My Fair Lady won Best Picture and Pygmalion did not, much like West Side Story won, and the non-musical Romeo and Juliet (1968) did not. Clearly, music adds something to these movies. The Sound of Music (1965) cannot be separated from music and maintain its plot. Heck, “music” is right there in the title. The music in this film is powerful enough to warm the hearts of children who have lost a mother, as well as help a family escape the oppression of an invading force of Nazis.

When Maria (Julie Andrews) is given an opportunity to be a governess for a local widower, she jumps at the chance partly because the stodgy discipline of Nonnberg Abbey stifles her free spirit. However, upon arriving at Captain Georg von Trapp’s (Christopher Plummer) house, she finds the seven children waiting for her to be cold and mischievous, likely due to their father’s parenting style. Through songs that she teaches these children, eventually, they come to respect and love her. Maria’s presence in the family changes the children so drastically that it takes some time for their father to come around. When he does, he marries Maria just as the Nazis start to invade Austria. Using the family’s singing talents to be part of a talent show, Georg and Maria use their connections to escape during the performance and evade capture just long enough to make their way into Switzerland.

La La LandLa La Land
Year: 2016
Rating: PG-13
Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours

If we’ve learned anything from Damien Chazelle’s first two, critically-acclaimed films, it’s that he likes music. From the brutal world of competitive jazz competitions in Whiplash (2014) to the realities of success in the realms of music and acting in La La Land (2016), Chazelle shows the audience how intense music can be. In La La Land, particularly, we see how music is a creative and free force that helps individuals express themselves, but at the cost of not being nearly as commercially viable as other forms of music. While La La Land is itself a musical (albeit with fewer songs than the musicals we’re used to), the influence of music on the plot is undeniable. Not only can you hear how music sets a variety of tones between parties and thoughtful walks on a pier, but you can hear the difference between music from the heart and music for a paycheck.

Sebastian Wilder (Ryan Gosling) is trying to make ends meet as a talented musician. However, while the gigs he gets pay the bills, they are far from the improvisational jazz he wants to play. In fact, he is fired from a gig at a restaurant for expressing himself musically, instead of playing the required Christmas music. As he stormed out of the restaurant, he literally ran into Mia Dolan (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress who is also relegated to a barista job on a movie lot until she finds her big break. The two of them are initially irritated at each other’s quirks but soon fall in love. While both Sebastian and Mia pursue their dreams to own a nightclub and become a successful actress, respectively, it soon becomes clear that Sebastian must take an opportunity to play in a band to support them both. Putting his dream on pause, Sebastian supports Mia, and eventually, she earns an audition which starts her career. Years later, Sebastian has realized his dream by creating a nightclub that features jazz, but at what cost?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 musical masterpieces