Friday, January 20, 2012

'Red Tails' and 'Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close'

INCREDIBLY, “Red Tails” is the first widely released feature film based on the story of The Tuskegee Airmen. HBO’s “The Tuskegee Airmen” (1995) enjoyed a very limited release in theaters, but only after its debut on cable.

For those scratching their heads, the flyboys in question is the U.S. Army Air Corps' 332nd Fighter Group, the all-black combat unit trained at Moton Field in Tuskegee, Alabama around the time of the WWII. They served and fought heroically in a segregated military.

The George Lucas-produced “Red Tails,” which opens today, picks up the action in Italy where the airmen are grounded 100 miles behind enemy lines except for meaningless flight exercises. It is an important film because it puts the spotlight on a piece of American history and military history that continues to linger in the wings. Even today – in the 21st century – one still hears through the grapevine the occasional story of a university history professor, for instance, asserting that no black pilots served during WWII.

If for no other reason in a culture where books are increasingly falling out of favor with the masses, “Red Tails” should be required viewing. The service of these young men to their country should be as well-known to the general public as the number of days Kim Kardashian was married.

While “Red Tails” is important viewing, it is aside from some spectacular fight sequences not an engaging film. In fact, it has many cringe-worthy moments … More shortly.

Also opening today is “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” another film based on true events.

Specifically, it is adapted from Jonathan Safran Foer’s best seller about precocious and extremely curious 11-year-old Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn in his acting debut) who finds a key left behind by his father Thomas (Tom Hanks) who died in one of the Twin Towers on 9/11. Oskar sets out across the boroughs in an Alice in Wonderland-like pursuit of the item that the key opens.

As with the book, many reviewers are ambivalent. Whether they like the film or not, they cite the nature of the material, wondering whether it is exploitative; some disdainfully dismiss it as cloying. The tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001 is still fresh in the psyche of many Americans, particularly New Yorkers and those in the Tri-state area. It is sacred territory on which one must tread extremely carefully, lest s/he upset tender sensibilities. Generally, reviewers based in the Northeast are a bit more circumspect than those from other regions.

There is almost universal agreement, though, that the film is well-acted. For his turn as Oskar, TH is getting a lot of positive notice in a cast that also includes Sandra Bullock, Viola Davis, John Goodman, Max von Sydow and Jeffrey Wright.

“Red Tails” is rated PG-13 for some sequences of war violence. “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" is rated PG-13 for emotional thematic material, some disturbing images and language.

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