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Monday, February 25, 2013


scene from red tails

Today's movie was a WW2 fighter pilot movie, RED TAILS, a black fighter plane squadron stationed in Italy, flying into Germany for combat. At the beginning a big logo came up saying it was a Lucas Film. I'd been wondering if the film would be any good. This logo heartened me, thinking of George Lucas of the Star Wars films. Right away, however, I began having doubts. Computer visual effects of WW2 fighter planes darting around shooting at each other, exploding, etc. I don't like computer visual effects, the worst in my memory being THE PERFECT STORM and 2012. Nonetheless, when I get used to the computerized scenes in the sky, the visuals become less  objectionable. Also, being a Hollywood film, it had an abundance of explosions and destruction. The worst was a plane flying straight toward an oncoming locomotive, the plane shooting whatever caliber bullets it was shooting at an iron horse. In my imagining, the bullets would bounce off the steel engine, but they exploded the train engine like it was a barrel of dynamite. By then I was used to the silliness of all the explosions. The times they shot up an airfield, every time one of their bullets hit a parked plane, the plane exploded, again like it was a box of dynamite. Whenever one of their bullets hit something it exploded. When bullets hit our boys flying, they put a small hole in the canopy and had little more effect than a .45 might.

Explosion movies completely turn me off. Hollywood finds ways to get explosions into even romantic comedies and the worst of all was the movie K2, about climbers on the mountain K2. Of course, American-style the climbers carried massive explosives and had to make an explosion near the top of K2. Ho-hum. Hollywood producers. I expect they see explosions as a million dollars per explosion in their pockets. They're right. They know the boxoffice. Hollywood is about mindless, easily manipulable boxoffice. This is why I mostly watch foreign films. Those countries have their boxoffice entities, like the kung-fu films in China; on netflix I can never find any really fine Chinese films that I know are there for all the cheezy kung-fu films, their equivalent of our explosions and guns going off. American independents and independents from the countries all over the world are the ones that make films I want to see. The worst in today's Red Tails was the climax explosion when one of our guys (almost wrote "boys") went into a death-defying duel with a new German jet fighter. He flew straight toward it and it flew straight toward him, both shooting like crazy. He gets hit a few times, the other plane explodes and he flies through the explosion celebrating his victory. My thought: where are all the plane parts? Seemed like flying into the explosion of a plane would be like flying into a shotgun blast of plane parts. No, the whole plane vanished in a computerized fireball.

The acting throughout was largely inexperienced actors and what I took for an inexperienced director unable to get any feeling out of the actors. Everybody spoke their lines that were fairly well written lines, but spoken like the actors were reading them. By about half way into the film I am used to the way they spoke their lines like the way I get used to Shakespeare language as the film goes on. It seemed to me like a WW2 movie made not like WW2, but like WW2 movies. It was a rehash of the WW2 fighter pilot movies, no concessions made to realism. The language was pathetic. They talked like white guys. The script writers were evidently white. The characters had attitudes of white guys. They struck me as white guys covered in walnut stain the way they used white guys with ManTan and braided wigs in 50s Indian movies, the way Sheena of the Jungle rode a white horse painted with black stripes to look like a zebra, not. Those are the ways the film was most like 50s movie imitations. The funniest part of the script's awkward moments was when the white pilots were talking about the black pilots, calling them in the early 40s negro and colored. Colored was used then in polite company. Definitely not when it was just men. Nobody white ever said negro. Southern boys would have said nigra and everybody else would have said niggers. There was no political correctness in that time. Television wasn't even new. In that time nigger wasn't thought about at all as anything other than calling a horse a horse. Same as calling an Englishman a Brit. No big deal.

The comedy for me in the film was seeing how the script writers danced around sensitive racial language. The film was definitely not made for black people. It's totally made for white people. When black people are together, they laugh, make jokes, pick at one another. These guys acted like white guys that never bent over laughing at anything. The white guys were portrayed speaking in good grammar, no slang, not even WW2 slang, and stiff as 2x4s, officious together. I don't recall an emotional human interaction between any of the characters. It was all scripted, especially the love affair between black pilot Deke and an Italian woman, Sofia. It was so utterly scripted and directed like a high school play that I laughed through it. Sofia's mother looked Italian, but she was American. I believe it was a made for TV film. It was so cliched and predictable it could not have done anything by boxoffice. If black director, Antoine Fuqua of Replacement Killers, took hold of this story, it would have been quite different and even sometimes believe able. He can work the unbelievable with suspension of disbelief that allows whatever happens. Red Tails did not know how to use suspension of disbelief. In Replacement Killers, Chow Yun Fat is in a white tile hallway with somebody wearing black shooting at him down the hallway with an uzi. Chow rolls around dodging the bullets. I laugh, but it doesn't matter. It works. By the time Deke flew into the exploded plane no suspension of disbelief had been established yet, except for Hollywood excess.

Nonetheless, I can't say it failed to entertain me. I did enjoy the computerized aerial dogfights, seeing the red-hot bullets zip through the air, planes do tricks in the sky. Interesting aerial activity like in those WW2 film footage tv shows of the early 1950s; The Big Picture of the Army and Victory At Sea of the Navy and Marines, then later, You Are There with Walter Cronkite. I watched so many of those programs that seeing squadrons of bombers with flack clouds popping around them and the enemy fighter planes shooting at them took me back to those films I adored in childhood. Perhaps they had something to do with my attitude that war is stupid. Seeing grids of German cities from the air and bombs blowing up the whole cities pained me. I did not look at it from the perspective of the plane it was filmed from, but saw it from the ground, shuddering in cellars, tremendous explosions overhead tearing up your entire life, because your ignorant politicians saw financial gain for themselves and their sponsors having a war. They took the deep plunge and lost. This film, Red Tails, was so devoid of depth of character that it felt to me shallow as a sitcom or morning talk show. I never took an interest in any of the characters. It was a "visual effects" testosterone rush. That was it. I really would like to the see the same story directed by an experienced black director, who would make human beings of the black men and the white men. A white man's rendering of a black man's story took the life out of it like Steven Spielberg demolished The Color Purple with a white man's perspective. I went into Red Tails not expecting much and came out of it disappointed. A lifeless visual effect extravaganza. The visual effects were the sole purpose of the film.

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