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REVIEWS:

* The Avengers (5/6/12)  * MEMORIAL DAY 2012 – Red Tails, Memphis Belle, Flyboys, The Blue Max (5/28/12) 
* Prometheus (6/11/12)   * The Amazing Spider-Man (7/9/12)   * 42 (4/17/13)   * Iron Man 3 (5/9/13)  
* Godzilla – 2014 (5/18/14)   * Jurassic World (6/21/15)   * Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2/18/16)
* Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice (6/21/16)   * Captain America: Civil War (5/13/16)

* Kong: Skull Island (3/12/17)




VIEWS ON FILM BY CEJ -
 
The GRINDHOUSE: Reviews




                    

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SPECIAL MEMORIAL DAY 2012
HOME VIDEO REVIEW:


RED TAILS:
Emphasis On High-Flying Derring-Do

by CEJ
(posted 5/28/12)


RED TAILS
(2012)
(LucasFilm / 20th Century Fox)
GullCottage rating (*** on a scale of 1 - 5)

Dir. by Anthony Hemingway &
George Lucas (reshoots: uncredited)
Prod. by Rick McCallum, Charles Floyd Johnson
Ex. Prod. by George Lucas
Screenplay by John Ridley, Aaron McGruder
Story by John Ridley
Dir. Of Photography: John B. Aronson
Edited by: Michael O’Halloran, Ben Burtt
Music: Terence Blanchard
Running Time: 125 mins.




Cast:

Cuba Gooding, Jr. (Major Emanuel Stance), Terrence Howard (Col. A.J. Bullard),
Nate Parker (Martin “Easy” Julian), David Oyelowo (Joe “Lightning” Little),  
Ne-Yo (Andrew “Smoky” Salem),  Elijah Kelley (Samuel “Joker” George),
Tristan Wildes (Ray “Ray Gun” Gannon - “Junior”), Kevin Phillips (Leon “Neon” Edwards),
Marcus T. Paulk (David “The Deacon” Watkins),  Michael B. Jordan (Maurice “Bumps” Wilson),
Daniela Ruah (Sofia), Bryan Cranston (Col. William Mortamus), Method Man (“Sticks”),
Lars van Riesen (“Pretty Boy”), Gerald McRaney (General Luntz), Andre Royo (Chief “Coffee” Coleman)


            


     Prejudice is a destructive force.  And not just the ethnic kind, but “creative prejudgment” as well.  Back in September '97 when director Mimi Leder’s globetrotting George Clooney / Nicole Kidman nuclear chase thriller THE PEACEMAKER was set to open, frequent Spielberg cohort Tom Hanks predicted the bulk of critics would most likely review it not “as a film” in and of itself, but rather as “the first film from DreamWorks” - the (then) new studio joint venture between entertainment powerhouses Steven Spielberg, Jeffery Katzenberg and David Geffen.  And guess what? - he was right.  Many of those reviews were of the negative sort, and not even negative about the film itself per se. Years later many would come to enjoy (and even respect) THE PEACEMAKER as the lean, mean, intelligent DAY OF THE JACKAL-esque thriller it was always intended as.  But at the time, Michael Schiffer (CRIMSON TIDE)’s script was met by many a reviewer with an almost disillusioned “is that all?”, almost as if they were let down that a huge rolling boulder,  light-spangled “mothership”, or at least massive G.I. JOE-like firefight failed to make an appearance during the film’s downtown Manhattan climax.  After all Spielberg was connected to it, right? ... and the other two guys!  At the time, not unlike one of those souvenir “t”s, “My Brother visited the Grand Canyon, … And all I got was this lousy shirt”, all the 1997 film audience got with THE PEACEMAKER was a bunch of military and Feds running around with ear transceivers, trying to nail some foreign fellow on the streets of New York toting a nuclear device in his backpack: a scenario now truly terrifying in the post 9/11 era, but amazingly to many back then, not so much so.  The lesson for us movie geeks? ... I mean, aficionados: sometimes, in order to fairly separate a film from the hype (positive or negative) surrounding it, one must (as we love to say at the Cottage) “see CONGO twice”.  Huh?


                           THE PEACEMAKER (1997) - a damned good film once removed from the media hype
                         

     Michael Crichton’s 1980 “Lost World” novel CONGO (a high tech throwback to R. Rider Haggard’s KING SOLOMON’S MINES) emerged as one of our all time favorite books, a stunningly clever, robust and intelligent read just a’ screamin’ for cinematic interpretation.  But when Frank Marshall’s film version arrived 15 yrs. later in June ’95, we (as many fans) were dumbstruck at just how “dumb struck” the big screen rendition had become.  In fact it was so bad we knew it had to be us and not the film.  Obviously we’d built such high expectations within our minds over 15 years which NO film could have ever lived up to.  So, in the same way one (against a friend's advice) revisits a former relationship for the sake of closure, we saw the film again two days later.  And "lo and behold", it wasn’t us.  It really was that bad.  But at least we now knew for certain.  We’d managed to separate our own subjective expectations from what the film actually was and intended to be.  All of which brings us to RED TAILS … which is a good film by the way.  In fact a darned good film


RED TAILS (2012 - theatrical trailer 2)


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     A fictitious action / adventure, utilizing as it’s jumping off point the true story of WWII’s 332d - the USAAF’s (United States Army Air Force) first African American fighter pilots, RED TAILS (the nickname from the painted fins of their  P51 Mustangs) opens in Italy, 1944 as Major Emanuel Stance (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) holds the morale of his pilots together amidst rumors that their Colonel, A.J. Bullard (Terrence Howard), has gone to Washington to keep their operation (the famed “Tuskegee Experiment”) from being shut down because of propagandish "studies" claiming black soldiers have neither the mental nor physical capacities for aerial combat duty.  While in D.C., Bullard is able to secure an assignment for the 332d to fly aerial support for the Allied landings at Anzio; and in so doing his unit manages eight confirmed aerial kills as well as the destruction of a primary Luftwaffe airbase.  Having now “lit up the board” in D.C., the “Tuskegee” flyers are next assigned the task of fighter protection/support for a series of “heavies” (B-17 Flying Fortress) bombing runs; a major foray/salvo eventually into the heart of Berlin itself, all leading to a confrontation with the military world’s newest super weapon - the Luftwaffe’s revolutionary Messerschmitt  262s - the first active service fighter jet.  During their trip into the annals of American history, individual members of the “Red Tails” battle personal demons, prejudice within their own service, and the pangs of first true love striving to find it's place amidst the horrors of war.    

  David Oyelowo as Joe "Lightning" Little



     RED TAILS managed to receive short riff from a number of critics back during it’s initial theatrical run in January 2012 precisely for what it “wasn’t” - a searingly serious period-era tract on racism, told in the most harrowing PATHS OF GLORY, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and GLORY kind of manner possible.  You know the tone: replete with sweeping camera moves, Oscar-baiting diffused cinematography, and choral requiem mass score to remind us just how much “Dante-esque hell” war truly is. 

     Most seemed to concur with Variety's
Peter Debruge in that perhaps “… a far more effective strategy might have been to tell a compelling, personality-driven story that just so happened to take place among the Tuskegee Airmen” rather than the TOP GUN-ish action-based yarn peppered with high-flying Industrial Light & Magic CGI dogfight sequences obviously designed to lasso in that younger audience.  Alas, Stanley Kubrick and Erich Maria Remarque were surely spinning in their graves, no? And oh yes, TAILS would also take a drubbing for what many considered it's “playing a little fast and loose with actual history”.   Let's take a look at both charges. 




     From a commercial standpoint, perhaps Debruge was correct, for in retrospect RED TAILS failed to ignite the box office as hoped.  But also alas, being the “heavy character drama” was never the film’s intent.  And “intent” is the point at least of our review: intent and the successful (or not) execution thereof.  And RED TAILS was indeed designed and executed to “lasso in that younger audience”. 


    
Nate Parker: Flight Leader Martin "Easy" Julian

     Both director Anthony Hemingway's and producer George Lucas’ stated desire was to “not make a film about victims“, but rather an old school action drama about heroes.  And this they accomplish to worthy effect.  HBO’s THE TUSKEGEE AIRMEN (1995) - starring Laurence Fishburne, Malcolm Jamal-Waner, Andre Braugher, John Lithgow, Daniel Hugh-Kelly, and RED TAILS’ Cuba Gooding, Jr., would prove a more sober rendition of the true life story.  The same for Gregory Hoblit (PRIMAL FEAR, FALLEN)’s underrated and little seen gem, HART’S WAR (2002) - with Bruce Willis, Colin Ferrell and RED TAILS’ Terence Howard, in the story of a downed 332d pilot (Howard) and the tensions arising when he’s placed within a POW camp with a group of U.S. soldiers more racist it seems than the prison’s own commandant (THE PEACEMAKER’s Marcel Iures).  


     RED TAILS on the other hand was created with the express purpose of getting X-Box addicted 12 yr. old boys to drop their control boxes when another bad-assed dogfight ensues, to afterwards say, “Whoa! I’ve got to learn more about these guys!”; then get them to dash off to their local library.  Well, okay, maybe not to the library, but at least Google “Tuskegee Airmen“ to learn more about the actual story.   Not an ignoble aspiration for a film, and as such TAILS is of a kind with other “composite” war era recreations (wherein archetypal fictitious characters play out a piece of real history) such as John Sturges’ THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963), 1990’s MEMPHIS BELLE (with Matthew Modine, Eric Stolz, Billy Zane, Harry Connick Jr., and John Lithgow), Tony Bill’s WWI "Lafayette Escadrille" adventure - FLYBOYS (2006), FLYING LEATHERNECKS (1951), and even the grand dame of such “flyboy flicks” - 1927’s silent era classic WINGS, which won the first ever Academy Award for “Best Picture".  Those familiar with Lucas' love of classic cinema will certainly recognize LEATHERNECKS and WINGS as the two templates of which RED TAILS' narrative and tone are most closely reminiscent. 






     As for “playing loose with history”,  it should in all fairness be noted that all of the aforementioned historical war dramas similarly took heat for their so-called “Hollywood-i-zation” of facts.  Add to that list other “lambasted by scholors” classics such as THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, BATTLE OF THE BULGE, THE BRIDGE AT RAMAGEN, VON RYAN’S EXPRESS, KING RAT and even PATTON.  THE GREAT ESCAPE in particular continues to this day to receive brick bats from historians because of it’s “compositing” of characters, timelines and chronology in the slimming down of the events of the actual escape (previously detailed in Paul Brickell’s 1950 book) into a three hour film populated mostly by Americans  … while the primary participants in the actual escape were British!  Which is not to say Lucas and Hemingway use that as an excuse to not give a damn about staying faithful to historical detail. 


                      Lars van Riesen as the mysterious German war ace (nicknamed) "Pretty Boy"



    On the contrary.  The bulk of “controversy” surrounding RED TAILS accuracy had (and still has) more to do with the debatable accuracy of actual military records on which the script is based (number of bombers lost during a run; number of fatalities within the 332d, etc.) than with the actual historical achievements of the Tuskegee Airmen depicted within the film.  With it’s “introducing the young action crowd to history” agenda, Lucas and Hemingway’s high-flying adventure is also very much a companion piece to Lucas’ earlier / similarly themed THE YOUNG INDIANA JONES CHRONICLES TV series of the mid 1990s, wherein naïve soldier “young Indy” meets over the course of his WWI exploits numerous historical figures such as Carl Jung, Lawrence of Arabia, Albert Schweitzer, Theodore Roosevelt, Sydney Bechet, Ernest Hemingway, Mata Hari and others. 


     As with all of the aforementioned war films, RED TAILS is guilty as charged in dragging out of the old duffel bag of male-bonding military film tropes (clichés like the “love / hate brotherhood between the straight & narrow commander and his fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants wing man",  the “sensitive green recruit",  the "self doubter", etc.) and giving them another vigorous workout.  A bit “old school” hackneyed and corny?  Uh huh.  And is there a little too much “speechifying” taking the place of actual dialog?  Yup.  Oh yeah, and is David Oyelowo’s arrogant fighter jock “Lightning” Little here sort of the WWII version of Tom Cruise’s “Maverick” from TOP GUN?  Oh, good Lord, yes!  Not to mention also that in the post Zucker / Abrams / Zucker wake of 1991’s HOT SHOTS! (remember, “I love you, Dead Meat!”?), to  attempt another “flyboys flick” is an uphill battle as fraught with unintentional laughs as any western campfire sequence after BLAZING SADDLES.  But, clichés aside, RED TAILS manages to handle it's tonal as well as historical "juggling act" quite entertainingly, and with a nice degree of sincere emotional engagement.


Daniela Ruah as Sofia, the love of Joe Little's life

      It’s a fine line to walk.  While not as dark or socio-psychologically probing as Kubrick’s PATHS OF GLORY or Spielberg’s SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, TAILS at the same time isn’t nearly as goofingly corny as say those enjoyable WWII fan faves, HANOVER STREET (1979) and FORCE 10 FROM NAVARONE (1978).  While primarily an action/drama, it takes it's subject matter a bit more seriously, and as such enjoys a more comfortable niche alongside those other “flyboy” yarns - WINGS, MEMPHIS BELLE, FLYBOYS, and even John Guillerman’s THE BLUE MAX (1966).  Of that particular handful of films, RED TAILS is certainly neck and neck with MEMPHIS BELLE as the best of the lot. 


     From a technical standpoint, the film’s production values are stunning.  The cinematography of frequent television DP, John B. Aronson (CROSSING JORDAN, WITHOUT A TRACE, AMERICAN HORROR STORY), is both crisp and lush at once.  Not that one needs much help in making Portuguese / American actress Daniela Ruah (GUIDING LIGHT, NCIS) look more stunningly beautiful.  In an age of “digitally realized environments” however, an imperfect marriage of practical on location lighting (and here the locations are the U.K., Czech Republic, Croatia, and Italy) and CGI can “tip off” the audience as to the “fake-i-ness” of the efforts. 
RED TAILS uses a great deal of CGI imagery (courtesy of Pixomondo and Lucas’ own ILM) to recreate Italy 1944; and the results are seamless and full of exquisitely detailed depth.  As for the computer rendered dogfights and B-17 “Flying Fortress” bomber runs, much has been said of their “indebtedness” to STAR WARS.  But this isn't Michael Bay's PEARL HARBOR.  And the fact is to date RED TAILS gives us the most realistic depiction of aerial combat yet realized on screen.  Oh yeah, and we dare you not to s*** your pants when the Messerschmitt 262s (those Luftwaffe jet fighters) pop up for the film’s hair-raising climax.  Hemingway's and Lucas' film is a wet dream come true for cinema tech heads as well as aviation history buffs.





     If there are two debits hard to ignore, they are surely the movie’s narrative “detour” into a German POW camp (and subsequent climactic moment arising from it), along with parts of the film’s score by jazz maestro / composer Terence Blanchard.  We’re huge fans of Blanchard, from his early days with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, to his emergence as a film composer of formidable talent and resource responsible for sterling cinematic works such as MALCOM X, PRIMAL FEAR, DARK BLUE, INSIDE MAN and others.  But with RED TAILS the experimental combination of contemporary rhythms and orchestra just doesn’t quite blend as well as obviously intended.  Surely a condescending attempt to “lasso that young crowd”.  





     When Blanchard sticks to straight ahead orchestral story-telling (with a smattering of contemporary flourishes) - especially in the quieter moments, the emotional result is one of powerful understatement.  When the dogfights kick into gear, and that electronic percussion motif returns, it's ear-arresting to be sure, but we notice it and other synth effects entirely too much.  As is, the most stirringly effective piece of music in the entire score is Blanchard’s bluesy horn solo rendition of  “America The Beautiful” heard in the later part of the film’s end credit sequence.  In the musical accompaniment department at least, George Fenton’s MEMPHIS BELLE, Treven Rabin’s FLYBOYS, and Jerry Goldsmith’s THE BLUE MAX, have it all over Blanchard’s RED TAILS, ... at least this time around. 




     All in all, RED TAILS is a far better cinematic experience than early 2012 reviews may have lead you to believe.  As it's now available on various platforms (Blu-ray, DVD and On-Demand) perhaps it's time to give it a flight check rundown.  You’ll find it to be two rather exciting (and yes, uplifting) hours well spent.  

                         CEJ     






For more (video interviews and behind the scenes footage)
go to
THE FILMAKERS TALK: GEORGE LUCAS AND THE CAST OF "RED TAILS"
 

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MEMORIAL DAY 2012 HOME VIDEO RETROSPECTIVE:
"FLYBOY" TRIPTYCH





MEMPHIS BELLE
(1990)
(Warner Bros. / Enigma)
GullCottage rating (***½  on a scale of 1 - 5)


Dir. by Michael Caton Jones
Prod. by David Puttnam, Catherine Wyler
Written by Monte Merrick
Dir. Of Photography: David Watkin
Edited by: Jim Clark
Music: George Fenton
Running Time: 107 mins.


Cast: Matthew Modine, Eric Stolz, Tate Donovan, D.B. Sweeney, Billy Zane, Sean Astin, Harry Connick Jr., Reed Diamond, Courtney Gaines, Neil Guintoli, David Strathairn, John Lithgow


      A bridge of sorts between Scottish director Michael Caton Jones’ earlier indie hit SCANDAL (1989), and his later emergence as “A”-list Hollywood wunderkind (DOC HOLLYWOOD - ‘91, ROB ROY - ‘95, THE JACKAL - ‘97), MEMPHIS BELLE is split down the middle as a combo of the two.  The first half - very much a stage play like character-based chamber piece, gives way in the second to an at times brutally visceral, nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat, roller coaster thriller chronicling the final bombing run (#25) over Germany of the crew of the legendary B-17.   Particular kudos to George Fenton's rapturous musical score, as well as to Aerial Coordinator James Davies and Special FX / Model Supervisor Richard Conway for a blend of actual B-17s in flight (half a dozen working planes collected from around the world) and miniatures used for combat footage so seamless, it's at times difficult to tell between the two.   





      Co-produced by David Putnam (THE KILLING FIELDS, THE MISSION, CHARIOTS OF FIRE) and Catherine Wyler, the daughter of legendary director William Wyler, the film is a fictitious adaptation of her father’s 1943 documentary MEMPHIS BELLE: A STORY OF A FLYING FORTRESS, and is also dedicated to him. 


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FLYBOYS (2006)
(MGM / Electric Entertainment / Ingenious Film Partners / Skydance)
GullCottage rating (**½ on a scale of 1 - 5)


Dir. by Tony Bill
Prod. by Dean Devlin
Screenplay by Phil Sears, Blake T. Evans,
David S. Ward
Story by Blake T. Evans
Dir. Of Photography: Henry Braham
Edited by: Chris Blunden, Ron Rosen
Music: Trevor Rabin  
Running Time: 107 mins.


Cast: James Franco, Martin Henderson, Jean Reno, Jennifer Decker, Abdul Salis, Phillip Winchester, Tyler Labine, David Ellison


      Prior to official U.S. involvement in WWI, a small group of Americans, for various personal reasons, enlist in France’s “Lafayette Escadrille” 124th Air Fighter Squadron to defend her against Germany.  Among them a Texas rancher (James Franco), privileged New York swell (Tyler Labine), and African-American boxer (Abdul Salis). 








      Privately financed by STARGATE / INDEPENDENCE DAY producer Dean Devlin and pilot David Ellison (the son of Oracle Computer Corp.’s Larry Ellison), the film took heat for a few things fair (certain historical liberties) as well as unfair.  Amongst the "unfair", it was assumed by many critics that the inclusion of Salis' African-American character, Eugene Skinner, was “Hollywood-ized” cow-towing to political (and commercial) political correctness.  But Skinner is in actuality based on real life African-American expatriate pugilist Eugene Bullard, who actually joined France’s Lafayette Flying Corps., an off-shoot unit of the Escadrille.  


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THE BLUE MAX (1966)
(20th Century Fox)
GullCottage rating (*** on a scale of 1 - 5)


Dir. by John Gullerman
Prod. by Christian Ferry
Screenplay by David Pursall,
Jack Seddon, Gerald Hanley
Adaptation by Ben Barzman, Basilio Franchina
Based on the novel by Jack D. Hunter
Dir. Of Photography: Douglas Slocombe
Edited by Max Benedict
Music: Jerry Goldsmith  
Running Time: 156 mins.


Cast: George Peppard, James Mason, Ursula Andress, Jeremy Kemp, Karl Michael Vogler, Anton Diffring

      A common-born German trench fighter (Peppard) on the Western Front, determines to claw his way, by hook or crook, up the social ladder by enlisting in the aristocratic German Air Service and securing the branch’s highest military honor - the “Pour le Merite” (nicknamed “The Blue Max”) for which he must accumulate 20 confirmed aerial kills. 






      Critics of the day chaffed at some of the more soap opera-ish ground based elements (Peppard carries on an adulterous affair with Andress, the wife of superior officer James Mason) in this adaptation of Jack Hunter’s popular WWI era novel.  But everyone agreed the airborne combat footage set a milestone (and still does today) for practical stunt flying before the era of CGI digital manipulation.  Wanting to be as authentic as possible, Peppard learned to pilot then did much of his own flying for the film.  The daring “under the bridge” stunt flight however was performed by veteran British ace Derek Piggott (THOSE MAGNIFECENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES - ’65) , who in 1987 was awarded the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) for his services to gliding and aviation. 
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