I had the pleasure of seeing three films at the cinema on Friday and had high expectations for them all, albeit it for different reasons.
I’ve reviewed all three together here today; hopefully after you've read each one individually, you will understand my reasons why.
Let’s starts with the first – Red Tails.
A 2012 war film produced by the legendary film maker George Lucas, the man behind Star Wars and the Indiana Jones’ series, under his production company Lucasfilm.
The film is a fictionalized portrayal of the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African American United States Army Air Force (USAAF) servicemen during World War II.
Filmed in 2009, Red Tails was directed by Anthony Hemingway from a screenplay by John Ridley, with additional material shot the following year with executive producer Lucas as the director and Aaron McGruder as writer of the reshoots. Red Tails is the first Lucasfilm production since the 1994 film Radioland Murders that is not associated with the Indiana Jones or Star Wars franchises. The film stars Cuba Gooding, Jnr. (who previously starred in The Tuskegee Airmen, an HBO made-for-television film about the same group of pilots) in his first theatrical film in five years, and Terrence Howard (who had also portrayed a Tuskegee pilot in Hart's War).
Now I don't normally mention the cast of a film in detail but on this occasion I’m going to do just that. Why? because I want you to know who is featured this being a film that has broken norm in that it is a Hollywood Production that departs from the norm in that the Black actors in the film are not supporting actors in the film but the main.
Cuba Gooding, Jnr. as Major Emanuel Stance
Terrence Howard as Col. A.J Bullard
Nate Parker as Martin "Easy" Julian
David Oyelowo as Joe "Lightning" Little
Ne-Yo as Andrew "Smoky" Salem
Elijah Kelley as Samuel "Joker" George
Tristan Wilds as Ray "Ray Gun" or "Junior" Gannon
Kevin Phillips as Leon "Neon" Edwards
Marcus T. Paulk as David "The Deacon" Watkins
Michael B. Jordan as Maurice "Bumps" Wilson
Daniela Ruah as Sofia
Bryan Cranston as Col. William Mortamus
Ryan Early as Captain Bryce
Lars van Riesen as "Pretty Boy" (the German antagonist pilot)
Method Man as "Sticks"
Gerald McRaney as General Luntz
Henry Garrett as Hart
Robert Kazinsky as Chester Barnes
Rick Otto as Flynt
Lee Tergesen as Col. Jack Tomilson
Andre Royo as Chief "Coffee" Coleman
Leslie Odom, Jnr. as Walter "Winky" Hall
Jermaine Johnson as "Sneeky"
Edwina Finley as "CeCe"
Stacie Davis as Mae
Aml Ameen as "Bag O'Bones"
Rupert Penry-Jones as Campbell
George Lucas began developing Red Tails around 1988, after hearing of the Tuskegee Airmen from his friend George Hall, a photographer. At the time, the film was scheduled for release in 1992, with Kevin Sullivan writing the screenplay and Thomas Carter directing.
Lucas originally conceived of the film to be a long, detailed narrative similar to Lawrence of Arabia, to be produced a trilogy. But after multiple script drafts, he decided to focus on the combat portion of the story. He compared it to Tucker: The Man and His Dream as "a story too good to be true". In researching the film, Lucasfilm invited some of the surviving Tuskegee Airmen to Skywalker Ranch, where they were interviewed about their experiences during World War II.
The producers were also given access to the original mission logbooks used by some of the pilots. A number of writers worked on the project until John Ridley was hired in 2007 to write the screenplay. Lucas held discussions with Samuel L. Jackson regarding the actor possibly directing and acting in the film. Although Jackson praised the script, he did not commit to either role. Anthony Hemingway, a former production assistant for Lucas' The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles TV series, was ultimately chosen to direct in 2008.
Pre-production began in January 2009, with location scouting having taken place in June 2008 in Prague, Czech Republic, Italy and Croatia.
Production began in March 2009 with high-definition Sony F35 cameras used for principal photography, which took place in the Czech Republic, Italy, Croatia and England over a period from August to December. While shooting in the Czech Republic, the actors also underwent a "boot camp" program, during which they lived in similar conditions to the actual Tuskegee Airmen.
Harking back to his early work on Star Wars, where he had studied World War II aerial footage to create the space aerobatics performed by Rebel X-wings and TIE fighters, Lucas was familiar with World War II aerial combat.
The Lucas template for photographing computer-generated imagery (CGI) dog fighting "involved lots of action, continuous motion, moving camera, streaks, loops and rolls, and all of the things aerial photography allows you to do in live action."
Aerial scenes in Red Tails involved actors sitting in a gimbals-mounted cockpits (and mock-up fuselages and wings), in front of a green screen, rocked back and forth by production crew members. In order to achieve a realistic reaction, actors were flown in actual P-51 Mustangs at the Planes of Fame in Chino, California, to experience the forces involved in dog fighting.
Editing began while the production was in Prague.
In April 2009, Tuskegee Airman Lt. Col. Lee A. Archer Jnr. was selected to be an advisor for Red Tails. He died in 2010 while the film was in post-production and the final credits bear a tribute to Archer.
Lucas covered the cost of production with his own money, and provided a further $35 million for distribution. In an interview on The Daily Show on January 9, 2012, he revealed that the long delay in the production of the film was because major film studios balked at financing and marketing a film with an "all-black" cast and "no major white roles."
He went on to explain that studios receive "60% of their profit" from overseas, and the studios feel there is no market there for films with all-black casts. Red Tails was the first film to use Barco’s Auro-3D 11.1 surround sound system.
The film received predominantly negative reviews from film critics, currently holding a 36% "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes; the consensus states: "Despite a worthy fact-based story and obvious good intentions, Red Tails suffers from one-dimensional characters, corny dialogue, and heaps of clichés."
Stephen Holden in The New York Times review, noted: "In structure and tone, Red Tails proudly harks back to the 1940s and ’50s, when good guys were good, and bad guys bad."
In rebuttal, co-writer Aaron McGruder commented on the film's tone: "Some people are going to like this tonal choice and some people are going to say, 'oh it should've been heavier and it should've been more dramatic.' But there's a version of this that doesn't have to be Saving Private Ryan. We can be Star Wars, as crazy as it is."
Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times review, stated: "Red Tails is entertaining. Audiences are likely to enjoy it. The scenes of aerial combat are skilfully done and exciting."
In the face of media criticism of the portrayals of the Tuskegee Airmen in Red Tails, a number of activists had taken to social media to protest against what was thought to be a racially-tinged effort to denigrate the contribution of the wartime fighting unit.
Beginning with statements to support the film made by surviving Tuskegee Airmen who had seen the film in previews, and spurred by the comments made by Lucas in the interview on The Daily Show regarding the difficulties of trying to get Red Tails made over the past 23 years, a Facebook campaign was started to raise the film’s profile.
In the Oakland, California, premiere, two sold-out screenings were a testament to the success of the campaign. Effie Tesfahun, one of the organizers, explained: “When [Lucas] said Hollywood does not want to touch black films, it really hit me … I thought we should get together and all go and support [this film]. Regardless of what Hollywood thinks, we all want to see positive messages of black people in the movies ... We need to speak, and speak loud, and speak with our dollars, because that’s where people pay attention, when you start talking with your money," Tesfahun said. "We are sending a message that this is what we want.”
Red Tails portrays largely fictional events based on the exploits of the Tuskegee airmen, although many viewers were left with the impression that the film was entirely historically accurate. Through a series of three webinars, entitled: "Tuskegee Airman Webinars - 'Was the Movie Accurate'?" sponsored by the Commemorative Air Force's Red Tail Squadron, surviving Tuskegee Airmen Colonel Charles McGee and Colonel Harold Brown provided perspectives related to the film's interpretation.
Although discussions as to use of equipment and dates were mentioned, three claims made in the film were the most contentious: the number of losses suffered by bomber crews under escort, the encounters with Luftwaffe jet fighters and the overall record established by the Tuskegee Airmen.
Although the film had a general UK cinema release on the 8th June, it was released on DVD and Blu Ray/DVD combo, as well as via digital download, on May 22, 2012. The Blu Ray/DVD combo includes Double Victory, a companion documentary to the film that debuted on January 13, 2012 on H2. It details the full real life story of the Tuskegee Airmen, and includes interviews with many of the surviving members. The Blu Ray/DVD combo also includes several featurettes that focus on the film's cast and crew. The only bonus feature included on the regular DVD edition is a series of "highlights" from Double Victory.
Although the film is preluded with a note that it is based on actual events, the characters are fictional and do remember this fact when you watch the film. Also bear in mind that The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African American military aviators in the United States armed forces.
As an aside, YM Angela Bailey (ask her what YM stands for, I dare yah (angee.Bailey@hotmail.com) has just finished making a documentary about Black G.I Soldiers who came over to the UK during WW2, had babies and returned stateside leaving their young Mixed heritage children behind and how they coped with being "different" in the "Alf Garnet" era.
Remember, this period was over 5years before Black people from the Commonwealth were allowed into the UK in significant numbers.
The film epilogue states that the Tuskegee Airmen hold one of the best fighter records in World War II, and that 66 Tuskegee pilots were killed in action. Remember, this is a dramatised film and not a documentary. If you want both then get the DVD as mentioned above.
Hats off to Mr George Lucas for putting his money where his mouth is........
"What's the 411?"
You know it makes sense!!
Article by @gmanzen / 11th June 2012
Leave a comment