If you were to accuse me of knowing nothing about movies, you would not be the first. It is true that I am what might be called "self trained," which means I taught myself to watch movies. When I was a kid, the local movie theaters would run a Saturday double or triple feature of usually very bad movies. Admission was 25 cents. There really wasn't a better way to spend Saturday afternoons than getting the guys (and sometimes Molly who was the neighborhood tomboy) together to watch and comment on the latest Godzilla or Vincent Price horror movie.
You cannot sit through hundreds of movies and not learn something. You can't ... can you?
At any rate, I was in the Piker Press offices one day, and the editor was waving about some copy and saying that an idiot could write better movie reviews than what she had been given. I stepped forward and told her that I could prove her right if she would just give me the chance, and thus began my career as a movie critic.
The other day, she saw me and said, "Can someone please tell me what he's doing here?" I was flattered that she wanted to have someone do a piece about me and discuss my work, but since I knew myself better than anyone else, I thought it would be best if I explained myself.
Generally speaking, when I watch a movie I look for four things:
- Art: How does the movie look? Is it pretty? Do the sets and costumes contribute to the story?
- Innovation: Is there something that you've never seen in a movie or never seen done so well before?
- Writing: Is it a clever story and/or is it told very well?
- Acting: This one's pretty obvious, either it's there or it's not.
- Girls in scanty outfits.
I did say I look for four things, didn't I?
Well, Sand and I went to see Red Tails this past week as did most of the people here at the trailer park since the theater was about three quarters full, a bit unusual for a Friday morning showing. Red Tails is the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, the Fighter Group that consisted of all African-American pilots. This story concentrates on the skills of the pilots and their wait for the opportunity to prove themselves in combat. It is set in 1944, near the end of the war, and after many years of struggling by African-American men against the segregation and open bigotry of the American military establishment. The story of that struggle is intriguing and much darker, and while it is touched upon in Red Tails, it is not the focus of this story. Red Tails is a story that celebrates the valor and the skill of an extraordinary group of men. The highlight of this film is not the story on the ground as much as it is the story in the air. This is not so much a story of how black men became pilots as it is about pilots who became heroes.
This is a good movie. The art is impressive. It is easy to imagine yourself at a forward airbase in Italy in 1944, and you know that it is one of the ones that got none of the good supplies. The men live in shacks, the commander's office is in a dilapidated building, and everything is cobbled together. But there is some incredible detail. The entire area is makeshift, with wood pallets used to make walkways through the mud, and then there is an airstrip constructed (as it properly would have been) of Marsden Matting . And the aircraft themselves! When the new P-51's are delivered to the airfield, you could believe that they had just been delivered from the factory. There are less than 150 air-worthy examples of the P-51 left in the world, and you might have believed that all of them were used in this movie.
This is a pretty conventional war movie in many ways; however, the aerial footage of the dog fights was spectacular, and by far the best depiction of air combat I've ever seen.
This is a good story, but I will concede that the writing could have been a bit better. The dialogue, especially early in the movie is a bit stiff and forced, and I could have wished for a better development of the Col. Bullard character (played well by Terence Howard), but what we get is, as they say, sufficient unto the day.
The cast was good, and in fact, the cast was able to pull more out of this than the script might have allowed on its own.
I have read that it took Lucas more than twenty years to get this film made because he could not get anyone to put up the money for movie that had a mostly black cast. Bigotry is not gone in the world. But in the midst of the struggle, there are some things worth remembering, some things worthy of being held up and honored.
Red Tails is a fitting tribute to men who risked their lives in a war that for them had two fronts -- the insanity of Hitler and the bigotry of their homeland. But they did it very, very well, and they deserve to be remembered as heroes. This movie remembers them as heroes, and in the process, provides us with a great deal of entertainment for our buck.
See this movie if you get the chance.
Yes, Bernie said everything that I was going to say about Red Tails, although I would probably have added that the pacing of the movie was great, and although I knew the history of that time period, the movie was still exciting to watch.
I'm very glad that Lucas made this film.