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Movie Talk: Real-life patriotic feeling brings movies to mind

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I n the past this space has cast a suspicious eye at propagandistic films devoid of nuance.

Tom Hanks (left), Kevin Bacon (center) and Bill Paxton reminded us of how America can overcome great odds in Apollo 13. The Ron Howard-directed film won two Oscars.   Associated Press/File
Associated Press/File
Tom Hanks (left), Kevin Bacon (center) and Bill Paxton reminded us of how America can overcome great odds in Apollo 13. The Ron Howard-directed film won two Oscars.

There are times, however, when the niggling and nay-saying melt away, and the jingoistic id feels free to run wild, domestic beer in one hand, Stars and Stripes in the other, singing and chanting and carrying on.

These times are -- and should be -- few and far between. The Fourth of July. A football tailgate. A celebration honoring service members.

On an otherwise quiet Sunday night a short time ago, occasion for such unrestrained nationalism appeared from seemingly nowhere, much like, well, stealth helicopters packed with Navy SEALs.

As the news of Osama bin Laden's death spread from phone to phone, baseball fans in Philadelphia chanted "USA!" and college kids did what college kids do. For most of us, though, the quiet Sunday night turned back into a quiet Sunday night.

Which got me thinking: What movie can I pop in to help portray and fuel this rabid patriotism?

Here are five as proud as a Lee Greenwood song and as subtle as a bullet to the head.

ROCKY IV (1985): I'm not ashamed to admit that of all the films in the Rocky franchise, this is my favorite. Released at the height of Reagan-era cinema ridiculousness, Rocky IV sets the mood when Apollo Creed, dressed as Uncle Sam, dances into the ring while Augusta icon James Brown sings Living in America .

When steroid-filled Soviet freak-show Ivan Drago kills Creed with a punch, it's up to Rocky to avenge his death. Cue the montage, the mumbling and the heroic heroism so heroic that by the end, even the Soviet Union is recognizing American awesomeness.

TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE (2004): In 50 years, if someone were to ask you what things were like in 2004, your best bet is to point them to this profane puppet show. While no one, from right-wing hawks to left-wing peaceniks and terrorists, escapes the stinging judgment of the South Park duo behind this movie, the caricatures are incredibly funny.

But Team America warrants inclusion merely for the satirical song, let's call it America, Heck Yeah! for printing purposes, whose more vulgar three-word title will forever be invoked when something such as bin Laden's death occurs.

THE PATRIOT (2000): The title pretty much says it all, doesn't it? Loosely based on the exploits of South Carolina's Francis Marion, The Patriot is a violent tribute to our fight for independence, starring freedom-loving crackpot Mel Gibson.

While England is on the brain: If only bin Laden were killed a few weeks earlier, we could have been spared some of the "royal" wedding nonsense. Either way, I'm suddenly more sympathetic to a well-thrown tomahawk connecting with a Redcoat.

INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996): The movie that celebrated the day when the Fourth of July went from being an American holiday to a world holiday. You're welcome, world! Once again we've saved everybody!

APOLLO 13 (1995): A two-hour-long paean to American ingenuity, starring quintessential American Tom Hanks (not to mention Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon).

A key moment comes late in the film, when a NASA worker predicts the rescue operation will end in disaster. Ed Harris, as Flight Director Gene Kranz, sternly corrects him: "With all due respect, sir, I believe this is going to be our finest hour." It still gives me chills.

I was reminded of that scene when President Obama said, "We are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to."

Whether it's beating Russians, terrorists, English, aliens or the odds, I say you're damn right.


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