You Should Watch Films

A celebration, meditation, rumination, and examination of the movie-going experience.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Red Tails: The Legend of the Tuskegee Airmen

RED TAILS is a very important film, but almost entirely for political reasons. African-American history is full of struggles and triumphs, pain and glory. A film which mythologizes that history has an extremely delicate balancing act to pull off. MALCOLM X. GLORY. ROOTS. All works of great length, gravitas and grit. So, how does a 2-hour action adventure fit into these? Not easily.

Hemingway and Lucas essentially co-directed this film, with a great cast that does their best to craft the Tuskegee Airmen story into a modern legend. However, should this story be treated like, say THE UNTOUCHABLES treated Ness vs. Capone, or Westerns and other genres treat historical figures? I think it can be pulled off, but Lucas' brand of myth and the 332nd's fight for respect is an uneasy mix.

I was thrilled by the dogfighting, and I can't remember seeing an all-Black film with a production value this high. The film is almost retro in its characterization, dialogue and simplification of the battles of the Airmen, akin to war films of the late 40's and 50's. But will a modern audience accept that? Will they watch a big-budget, sanitized Black war film (and should they)? Can they have fun while watching what is essentially a Civil Rights action movie? I sure hope so, because I did.

Red Tails is exactly the film it sets out to be. The film is intentional in its presentation, and frankly it's up to the filmmakers to make sure that the audience understands the tone. Unfortunately, Red Tails may be ill-served by its marketing, as even Black audience members will be expecting a film with more grit and anger, which this film is not.

In fact, some may say that a kinetic, adventurous tone is unfit for a story such as that of the Tuskegee Airmen. The great thing about cinema is you can tell any story any way you please. An Italian comedy about the Holocaust. A drama about the making of Facebook. A farm boy leading a rebel alliance against an evil empire. Only thing is, you better be pretty damn good at it.

I'm triply biased towards Red Tails; Hemingway (TREME), McGruder (THE BOONDOCKS) and Lucas. The crew attempted to make a Black film for everyone to watch, and they succeed, for the most part. This is the Legend of The Tuskegee Airmen, the Tale of the 332nd. I recommend it, but not without a number of caveats. Yes, it can be cheesy, at times. Yes, the dialogue can be pat and wooden, at times. And yes, there are hits and misses. But dammit if I wasn't inspired by the end of it.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why The Prequel Trilogy was a Good Thing

George Lucas basically sacrificed the prequel trilogy in the name of digital filmmaking. Shooting with the Cinealtas. On-set motion capture. Fully CGI characters. Digital backlot environments (overdone, yes).

Wooden dialogue and rushed plotting aside, Lucas didn't let anyone else direct the films because, and here's what sad (very sad), the stories weren't the point. Anyone who tried to make a legitimate story out of the prequels would have only interfered with George's true aim: ushering in a new age of digital cinema.

The Star Wars films did this single-handedly. No Jar-Jar, no Gollum. No Sony F3 Cinealta, no James Cameron 3D rigs. You get the picture. The prequels are bad to the point that they make you question your own sense of taste and moral compass. Unless you look at them only as what they are: science experiments.

Granted, Lucas gave it his all on Episode III, which is still rated Fresh on RT and Metacritic (so take that, motherfuckers), going so far as to enlist Tom Stoppard on dialogue and Steven Spielberg on 2nd Unit. But by that point, Lucas had accomplished what he set out to do: allowing films to use a completely digital workflow.

So, now with effects technology having broken down all barriers (cloth, fur, hair, skin, water, fire, you name it) and possessing the ability to make ultra-realistic CGI planes or Iron man suits or whatever, George can make Red Tails or Koyaanqatsi 4 or whatever. It took tearing his Star Wars universe in two, literally, and alienating a major swath of fans, but now Lucas can do anything he wants.

Yeah, I'm pissed about the original trilogy's original versions being only available on VHS or as a bonus on the limited edition DVDs. I'm pissed that Lucas makes Vader moo at the two most important moments of his life. But whatever. Those movies are still a part of me. Watching the Special Edition in theaters with my family. Playing Super Star Wars on Saturday morning. Reading Tag & Bink, and the New Jedi Order trilogy. This is what we do.

So, either go see Red Tails, or Phantom 3D, or fucking not at all. It doesn't matter. The landscape has been changed forever. 48 frames per second, that's next. Feature films shot on iPhones and 5Ds. VFX of the same caliber on film, television and gaming. You have one man to thank for that. Okay, several. Several hundred in fact, but the point is Lucas played a big hand in that.

As for myself, I'm gonna go check out Red Tails. I'm anxious to see what a Lucasfilm production looks like without Indy or Jedi. Peace out, and stop hatin'. Jeez.

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