Red Tails (2012) The Story of the Tuskegee Airmen Re -Told

Maybe it’s good to watch bad movies in order to be able to appreciate the good ones more? With that premise in mind, I’d say, Red Tails is highly effective. Still I find it deplorable that it couldn’t be any better and at the same time, I don’t know why this had to be remade. The 1995 TV version The Tuskegee Airmen is really good, I liked it a great deal and although it is sentimental in places it’s not as corny as Red Tails. Geroge Lucas’ justification for this remake, according to an interview,  was CGI and that the use of it allowed him to show the dog fights like they haven’t been shown before. Maybe but…

The story of Red Tails, unlike the older version of 95, starts only when all-black fighter squadron 332 is already in Italy and waiting for an important assignment. Although highly trained and some of the best fighter pilots the US Army has, they aren’t allowed on important missions. All they do is shoot trains and small targets. The frustration is high and when they are finally given the opportunity to escort a bomber crew they are happy and do an oustanding job.

If you’ve never even heard of the true story of The Tuskegee Airmen, Squadron 332, then you will find it very interesting. Even a notorious moaner like Spike Lee approved of this production which may not be surprising as his Mircale at St. Anna has one of the corniest endings ever.

What’s my problem then? There were many.

Foreboding – It’s handled extremely heavily, no casualty or twist was not foreseeable from the beginning.

Music – This was one of the wost scores ever. Too much, all of the time and in some instances some weird techno type music which may appeal to a CGI crazy generation but is highly unrealistic in a WWII movie.

CGI – Overdone and tacky looking. I didn’t find it convincing at all.

Cast and Characters – Many of the actors did a good performance but not Cuba Gooding Jr. He dragged the movie down and was responsible for more than one unintentionally funny scene. He grimaced his way through this movie, it was painful to watch. His attempts at looking like an authority figure which he tried to achieve smoking a pipe, didn’t work at all.

Back story – There is no back story and I feel that’s really missing. the TV production took much more time and is therefore more efficient in its anti-racism message.

Emotion – As corny as it was, it wasn’t moving. I was very moved when I saw the 1995 version but this one left me cold.

Love Story – An awfully, awfully, trite and forseeable story.

Racism – I felt it only touched on the main topic of racism because, as mentioned above, the back story was cut off. The CGI and the silly love story detracted from it. Furthermore the atmosphere of the military in Italy was also shown better in the TV version.

I won’t deny that roles for African-Americans in war movies – and other movies – are sadly scare and this movie certainly offered a great opportunity. Notably many actors known from TV shows like The Wire got a chance to perform in this. The story of the Tuskegee Airmen is an important story for African-Americans, something to be really proud of. Being excellent and doing your job better than anyone else despite being ridiculed and not taken seriously is no small feat. Still, I can’t help it, I would have preferred if it had been a good movie.

Glory (1989) A Tale of the American Civil War

When I first watched Glory it made my Top 10. Many movies later and after having seen it for the second time, it doesn’t make the Top 10 anymore but it is still one of the very best war movies ever. I would even argue it’s flawless. The acting is superior, cinematography is beautiful, score is great, themes are interesting. I suppose it’s accurate as well. It’s a 5/5 movie but… for me to really like or rather love a movie it needs to have something more than perfection, something like complexity. I decidedly have no problem with Matthew Broderick but I’m not very familiar with him. Some people criticized this choice because they saw him in other movies and thought he was too young at the time.

The movie tells the story of the 54th all black Union regiment led by Col Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick). This is the first all black regiment ever. The whole regiment is composed of volunteers who are eager to join, train and eventually fight. It’s not easy to train these men, many of them are former slaves, runaways, analphabets and all in all an unwieldy bunch. Especially Private Trip (Denzel Washington) isn’t one who easily takes no for an answer. If Shaw wasn’t such a truly humane, kind and just leader and if he hadn’t the support of his friend Major Forbes and the ever so wise older soldier Rawlins (Morgan Freeman) maybe the whole enterprise would have been a failure. Luckily it isn’t or we wouldn’t have this highly watchable movie in which people can be seen how they overcome the worst adversity.

Shaw has to fight hard to earn recognition and justice for his men. They are lacking everything, shoes, uniforms, weapons and when finally they get their equipment and have undergone a successful training they lack the opportunity to show that they are worthy soldiers.

There are a lot of infuriating scenes in this movie, after all it deals with racism. Racism has many faces but at the end of the day, whatever face it has, it’s an ugly one.

It’s uplifting to see the suppressed overcome obstacles and all the more because it’s a true story. Glory is based on the letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (you can find them here Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw)

I haven’t seen many Civil War movies, I think only three so far. While I had a hard time to follow Gettysburg, I thoroughly enjoyed this one but the one I prefer is Ride with the Devil.

How about you? Any preferences?

Spike Lee’s Miracle at St.Anna (2008) The Story of the Buffalo Soldiers and the Massacre at St. Anna

I would say that Miracle at St.Anna is one of the best American war movies and the best American WWII movie of the last ten years. I was surprised to see how good it is, as critics and public have been equally harsh. I assume they are biased because of its director. The end is corny but overall it is absolutely excellent and tells a lesser known story in a very engaging way.

The movie starts somewhat surprisingly in 1982 New York. A modest post-office worker kills a man who buys stamps from him. He shoots him with a German Luger. The incident attracts a lot of attention, even more so when they discover the head of an Italian Renaissance statue in his apartment.

Next we are in Italy, in 1944. The 92nd company, the so-called Buffalo soldiers, a company consisting almost only of African-American soldiers gets under heavy German fire. A small group is separated from the rest and makes their way to a little mountain village that is surrounded by Germans.

One of the soldiers, a huge man, saves a little boy who seems to be ill and slightly crazy. He takes the disturbed little kid with him, all together they find refuge in the house of some Italians, one of them a Fascist. The Germans aren’t really looking for the Buffalo soldiers, they are hunting Italian partisans. And the partisans are hunting them. The Italians know, and so it seems does the little boy, that there is a traitor among them.

While they stay at the village, some of the soldiers realize that the Italians treat them much better than the white people back home. And they also treat them better than some of the white American civilians living in Italy. There is a particularly infuriating scene with an American bar owner who doesn’t want to serve black people. They fight for their country but their country doesn’t appreciate them.

The core scene of the movie is the massacre at St. Anna, a true story, in which hundreds of Italian civilians got killed by the Nazis because the Partisans have killed some of the Germans. The Germans have been told by their command that they have to shoot 10 Italians for one dead German.

Miracle at St. Anna is very rich. It combines a multitude of elements and many stories that circle around different relationships but still feels like a whole. It’s sad, it’s moving and it is very suspenseful as it also works like a thriller. We really want to know why the guy killed the other one. There aren’t many good WWII movies showing the African-American participation and there aren’t many good ones on Italy during WWII. This covers both. And there is also some fighting, for those who want this from their war movies.

Miracle at St. Anna is also part of the Children in War Movies List and African-American Soldiers in war movies.

For those of you who like to watch TV series, the actor who played Shane in The Shield and the guy called “Omar” in The Wire are in this movie.

This is a highly watchable and very original movie that can be named together with other great WWII movies like Saving Private Ryan or The Thin Red Line. 5/5

Ridley Scott’s G. I. Jane (1997) Navy SEALS, Military Life, Sexism and a Whole Bunch of Unanswered Questions

Ridley Scott’s G. I. Jane is an extremely entertaining movie. I just need to enumerate who’s in it and you might be tempted to watch it if you haven’t done so yet. Demi Moore, Viggo Mortensen, James Caviezel, Anne Bancroft. The story is interesting if somewhat implausible but certainly providing us with some food for thought about different things.

Lt Jordan O’Neil (Demi Morre) is an ambitious young woman. She would like to climb the career ladder no matter what it takes. Being pretty sure this will need some combat experience she is willing to go the whole way. Only women aren’t really allowed to undergo combat training. Senator DeHaven (Anne Bancroft) is equally ambitious. Sensing that supporting the admission of women to the Army might boost her career she does everything to get permission to let a test candidate, G.I. Jane, undergo training. To make matters worse the people against her and this undertaking decide to choose the hardest possible training, namely the Navy SEAL training.

The selection of the right candidate takes some time. Senator DeHaven doesn’t want a masculine looking woman, she doesn’t want a homosexual woman either as this could undermine the exercise. When she sees as picture of beautiful Jordan O’Neil, she knows, it is her and no other that she wants for this test run.

What follows is one of those stories that show us how a resilient human being can fight even the most adverse circumstances, overcome weakness and prove her strength.

Jordan undergoes the SEAL training and where many men fail, she excels. She makes it through the initial week and the following weeks. During this time she is closely supervised, challenged and in the end also brutalized by the Master Chief (Viggo Mortensen). Of all the boot camp bastards that we get to see in this type of training focused movies he is by far one of the most complex and interesting. Not just because he quotes poetry but also because he changes considerably and ultimately because he isn’t a bad sort at all. He has to be mean. Sure, there is this one scene in which he overdoes it but doesn’t he have his reasons?

The movie shows 2/3 boot camp and 1/3 actual combat. This las part is highly fictionalized and serves mainly the purpose to show how worthy a soldier Jordan has become.

The movie is a bit on the sentimental side and – yes – it is stretching quite a few things but I like it and have watched it before. I think Demi Moore was a terrific choice and it is one of Viggo Mortensen’s best roles. Also Anne Bancroft as a real b**** is great.

Does it say much about women in the military? It certainly does look at the adversity a woman would have and does face, it looks at the prejudices and preconceptions. Jordan has to start to do it exactly like the men before she is only half accepted. It shows also that it isn’t only that men think women can’t do it but that men are constantly tested by the presence of women. Temptation as well as compassion play into it. Seeing a wounded female soldier might be harder to take than seeing a wounded man. And what If she has to rescue you and she is a slender woman while you are a big, bulky man, weighing twice as much?

My top favourite scene is when a bunch of soldiers, one of them of African-American origin, discuss if a woman should be admitted to this type of training and the African-American soldier points out that his grandfather was only allowed a s a cook during WWII. It is obvious that the prejudices African.Americans had to face were similar to those women had and have to endure.

Don’t watch it, if you are looking for answers, watch it when you want great entertainment and a probably very realistic look at the Navy SEALS training.

I am left with quite a lot of questions. Are there women today in the Navy SEALS? Is it in any way a realistic movie or not at all? Why exactly did the Master Chief mistreat her like this?

Answers anyone?

Pork Chop Hill (1959) or The Best Korean War B-Movie?

Lewis Milestone’s Pork Chop Hill is based on the eponymous book by military historian S. L. A. Marshall and depicts the fierce Battle of Pork Chop Hill. Towards the end of the Korean War the U.S. Army’s 7th Infantry Division and Chinese and Korean Communist forces fought for this strategically unimportant hill.

The year is 1953, while the Panmunjeom cease-fire negotiations continue, a company of American infantry was to recapture Pork Chop Hill from a larger Communist Chinese army force. Successful but highly decimated, they were ready for the large-scale Chinese counter-attack which they knew would overwhelm and kill them in hand-to-hand fighting.

This movie is bothering me quite a lot for many reasons. I can’t say I did not like watching it as that is not true. (Maybe I am secretly an infantry combat war movie buff. At least no questions about whether this is a war movie or not. That seems settled.)  Unfortunately there are a lot of questionable elements in it. I can still hardly believe that the very same man, Lewis Milestone, who did All Quiet on the Western Front did this thing too.

This was my first US movie on the war in Korea. I read articles and list and it seemed as if there are not so many great ones. Gray Freitas terms Pork Chop Hill the best B-Movie. Aha. Others call this one of the better ones…

I hated the end. This was not the battle that finished the war. I hated that we have no clue what it is all about. And I hated that they had to choose an African-American soldier to play the part of the treacherous coward.

I did appreciate the battle scenes. They way it was shown how battle takes its toll. Those soldiers were so tired… It captured nonsensical high command orders very well. I also like the relationship between Gregory Peck and the Japanese-American officer. And I think Gregory Peck is very good in this movie.

I will post another, more general post on the war movies depicting the Korean war. And I will certainly need to review Tae Gu Ki aka Brotherhood.

I must honestly say, after watching Pork Chop Hill and reading a few things about US movies on this war, I am not extremely keen on watching any other ones. Maybe M.A.S.H.

Feel free to share your opinions and ideas on the topic.

The trailer will tell you that the DVD cover is misleading as Pork Chop Hill is a black-and-white movie.

Antwone Fisher (2002) or How One Man Was Saved by the Navy

Some movies don’t work for some people. This one did not work for me. If I hadn’t been so tired yesterday, I would never have promised a post. Maybe no one cares if I keep my promise. I don’t know, but I care. Just one little thing about the statement on the DVD cover “This is a film that can change people’s lives”. I agree. I slept incredibly well afterwards.

I am a bit sorry for being this sarcastic. Antwone Fisher tackles a topic we need to talk about, namely child abuse. If this movie manages to raise awareness, then I am sorry for my comments, but for me this was done in such an over-sentimental way… Insufferable.

Antwone Fisher is based on a true story. Antwone wrote the script himself.

Antwone (Derek Luke) was born in prison, shortly after his father had been shot dead by one of his girl-friends. The boy was taken away and given in foster care. A hellish place. He was beaten and abused. Sexually and psychologically. At 16 he is sent to a men’s shelter but he does not stay. He flees and joins the Navy. He likes it there a great deal but he has problems fitting in. He has what we term today “an Anger Management problem”. Lucky Antwone has a very kind superior officer and is sent to a Navy psychologist (Denzel Washington) with issues of his own. At first he won’t talk but then he opens up and has a real chance to heal. The psychologist urges him to find his family and in the end he does. During the sessions with the psychologist we hear the truly awful story.

There is also a love story involved. It is ok. I did not mind it as much as all the other corny details.

What is actually more interesting than the movie  - which is frankly a total failure what might explain why I hadn’t heard of it – is the extras on the disc. The real Antwone tells that the Navy was his first real home. It gave him a chance and opportunities to build up self-esteem and confidence. This is a picture of the Navy that we seldom get to see. At least over here in Europe where we are highly suspicious whenever anything to do with the American military is mentioned. It is still widely believed that the military is a place for those who have no other choice and where they might get worse than they already are. The film director is also interviewed and says that all the officers they met on the ships were kind and intelligent people and nothing like the abusive bastards we often get to see in movies.

All in all, thanks to the extras, this soppy movie has broadened my horizon a little bit.

One last element I would like to mention before finishing this post. Antwone is an African-American kid. His foster family is African-American and so is the psychologist. What the psychologist actually tells Antwone in the beginning is that the abusive behavior (the beating, not the sex) is an inheritance from the slavery days. It is passed on from one generation to the next. Rightly Antwone protests, saying that this sounded like an easy excuse. I believe, this is giving the wrong message. Child abuse is universal. Sadly it is extremely common everywhere.

I am glad for Antwone that he survived his childhood and became a very gentle and creative person. He writes poems, draws and, as already said, wrote the script himself.

Antwone Fisher

Friday Night Watching: Antwone Fisher (2002)

Until last week I had never heard of this movie before.

In order to be a 100% sure if Antwone Fisher is good or not I will have to watch it. And that is what I am going to do tonight. And hopefully I will post a review tomorrow.

The Tuskegee Airmen (1995) or The True Story of the 332nd all Black Fighter Squadron

The Tuskegee Airmen is one of those brilliant HBO TV movies that is far too less known. How often do you watch a war movie that leaves you cheerful at its end? Well that´s what will happen should you watch The Tuskegee Airmen. It is fun. It is uplifting. It is a tale of heroism, determination, skill and overcoming the biggest obstacles that you can possible face: ridicule, racism, discrimination. Watching this movie is also infuriating like any story belittling others for their race, color, gender, social background etc. The Tuskegee Airmen is a true story that has almost a fairytale ending. I am not saying it doesn’t have its very sad moments, no true war story goes without them, but all through the movie we admire the spirit of those who do not give up, no matter how intense the adversity.  They are winners in the end.

At the beginning of the movie a group of young black Americans is boarding a train to Tuskegee, the base where future fighter pilots are trained. Some of them are already experienced pilots, others are aspiring pilots. They join because they share a passion for aircraft but also because they want to serve their country. But the moment they arrive in Tuskegee they face racial discrimination of the worst kind. They have to take the tests they already took  again because the result were too good. And when they prove that they know more than other pilots they are still not taken seriously and told that they don’t have a country, that they are not welcome. After several months of training and outstanding results they are not allowed to go overseas as there are still so many people, including politicians, who think it is unacceptable a black person should fly a highly sophisticated aircraft. Only after Mrs. Roosevelt flies with one of them, are they finally sent off to Africa. In Africa the same story repeats itself all over again. White pilots are sent on missions, while the Tuskegee Airmen  are being held back and ridiculed. Finally they are given a chance and  are told to escort a bomber squadron. They do this so well that the white bomber pilots do not believe that black pilots flew the planes. In the end the bomber squadron has to accept that the finest American pilots are black pilots and ask especially for them to escort them when they fly an attack on Berlin. It is said that in none of their missions did they lose one single bomber. An outstanding result.

I read that this movie and the story behind it filled many an African-American viewer with pride. I can sure understand this. There are so many glorious moments in this film and it really cheers you up when those brilliant pilots are finally acknowledged and rewarded with medals.

The cast was well chosen. Laurence Fishburn stars in one of his more likable roles. Cuba Gooding Jr. is in it, as well as Allan Payne, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Courtney B. Vance and Mekhi Phifer.

I think, you can easily tell, how much I enjoyed this movie.

Should you be interested in the topic of African-American Soldiers in War Movies, please read my post.

Hart´s War (2002): A Dubious POW Legal Melodrama

There are numerous movies I could have watched while lying in bed with a cold the other day. I have a big “soon-to-be-watched” DVD pile and choice is far from scarce. There are many war movies and – believe it or not – a lot of non war movies to choose from. I didn’t really feel like watching anything too heavy so Hart’s War seemed like a good option.

It actually still seemed like a very good option more than half an hour into the movie but then it started to dawn on me that this was one of those hybrid movies, that are neither this, nor that nor anything else. Yeah well, seems as if disappointment is the daughter of bad choice and false expectations.

To cut a long story short: it was not my cup of tea. Although I appreciate the subgenre of the legal drama, this came across as a pseudo legal drama that I found less than convincing.

One good thing: Hart´s War is another movie that can be added to the small list of WWII movies with African American soldiers in it (see my post on African American Soldiers in War Movies).

Apart from that, you watch it and forget it and think: Too bad it could have been good if… If what?

What’s the story? A young law student, Lt. Hart (Colin Farrell), get’s captured by a German patrol while driving someone through the woods and ends up as POW after having been tortured before  giving away some information. The highest ranking officer among the prisoners in the camp, Col McNamara (Bruce Willis) immediately dislikes him as he despises him for lying about the fact that he has collapsed after a few short days under torture. As a sort of punishment he is not allowed to stay in the barracks with the other higher ranking officers but must join the barracks of the privates and the lower ranks.

This does not work out too bad until the day two black American pilots (Terrence Howard and Vicellous Reon Shannon), two of the Tuskegee Men in fact, appear and things get nasty. Full-blown racism hits them. Hatred and aggression follow until one is executed and the other one falsely accused of the murder of a white soldier.

Even though he has only been a second year law student before the war, Hart gets appointed as the defence attorney but after a while it gets clear that it is all a sham. Secret things are happening that need a cover-up. I found the justification of what is happening morally dubious. The end does not always justify the means.

The rest of the movie is a pathetic illustration of pride, honour and glory. Highly melodramatic.

The two black actors are good, Colin Farrell is quite all right but Bruce Willis is a parody of himself. Or maybe he had something in his eye. The height of his acting seemed to consist of standing there with one eye half closed and trying to look super imposing. (Just to make things clear, I do normally like Bruce Willis.)

Meaningless pseudo-court-drama with a melodramatic ending. 2.5/5 points (2.5 points are for cinematography, choice of the topic racism in the military… Forget the rest).