While Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan helped define the style of a modern day war film it was his HBO mini-series Band of Brothers that truly captured the World War II experience. The multi-part saga dealt with every nook and cranny of the US military's involvement in the war from large scale battles to intimate character details. The new movie Red Tails developed and produced by Spielberg's Indiana Jones collaborator and Star Wars mastermind George Lucas attempts to cover the same ground for the sprawling tale of the Tuskegee Airmen—albeit in a two hour compressed form. The result is a messy handling of a powerful story of heroism. The good intentions make it on to the screen...but the drama never gets off the runway.
Red Tails assembles a talented cast of young actors to portray the brave men of the 332nd Fighter Group a faction of the Tuskegee Airmen. The ensemble is reduced to a jumble of simplistic one-note characterizations: Easy (Nate Parker) the do-gooder with a dark past; Lightning (David Oyelowo) the suave rebel who never listens to orders; Junior (Tristan Wilds) the fresh-faced newbie ready for a good fight; and the rest a nameless group of underwritten yes men all with just enough backstory to make you interested but never satisfied. Thankfully with the little material they have to work with the gentlemen excel. Rapper-turned-actor Ne-Yo is a standout as the quick-witted Smokey overshadowing vets Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. (who spends most of the movie chomping on a corn cob pipe and grinning).
With the plethora of characters comes too many plot threads and Red Tails stuffs its runtime with everything from epic flyboy dog fights romantic interludes (Lightning finds himself infatuated with a local Italian woman) office politics alcoholism and even a POW camp escape. If there was a true lead character the movie may have succeeded in stringing the events together in a coherent narrative but instead Red Tails is choppy and uneven. The aerial battles for all their CG special effects nastiness are incredibly exhilarating but when the movie's not tackling the intensity of a battle (which it does often) it comes to a near halt. That mostly comes down to history standing in the way—the crux of the story focuses on how segregation caused the military's higher ups to avoid utilizing the Red Tails in true battle. Meaning there's a lot of talk on how the team should be fighting as opposed to actually doing it.Director Anthony Hemingway tries to do this important historical milestone justice but the execution flies too low even under made-for-TV movie standards. Red Tails is a dull history lesson occasionally spruced up with Lucas' eye for action. The charisma of the the main set of actors goes a long way in keeping the film tolerable but they can't fill the gaping hole where the emotional hook belongs. This is a movie about heroes yet not once are the filmmakers able to pull off a moment that feels remotely brave. Which is unfortunate—as it's a story of the utmost importance.
S10E3: Here we go again, another audition episode and things are really hitting their crazy, ridiculous stride in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Steven Tyler is really getting comfortable and loosening up with his fellow judges. Oh, you thought he was loose before, did you? Well, he’s really let himself go now. His facial reactions and emphatic gestures are loud enough on their own but he still opens his mouth and says something crazy almost every time. While I want to hate him I can’t help but enjoy the insanity – even if it does mean shamelessly plugging his own music and forcing Randy to attempt to sing “Sweet Emotion.”
“Well hellfire, save matches, fuck a duck and see what hatches.” –Steven
The first batch of Idol hopefuls was a bit of a mixed bag delivering us a down-home, old-fashioned country singer, an aspiring radio D.J. who should probably stick to talking, and a 15 year old who cried her way to Hollywood.
First up is Scott McCreery, the 16 year old baseball-loving kid who somehow has the country-singing voice of a much older man. He sang two country songs for the judges with a rich, deep, twangy voice and earned himself a golden ticket – even though this is generally a pop music competition, not a country music jamboree. Still, the kid’s got talent, and his singing made Steven utter that bit about fucking a duck, so you know he’s good.
From the good, to the bad and the downright ugly we go. Joe Repka trekked from his college in Toledo, Oh. to bond with Ryan Seacrest over their mutual love of talking on the radio and then there’s that pesky audition process too. Before Joe jumped into his painful rendition of “For The Longest Time,” Joe’s granny admitted to Ryan that she’s tone-deaf. I guess it runs in the family because the kid could not carry a tune and he’s apparently hard of hearing too, because while the judges were telling him what’s up, he kept singing. Really? Go home, dude.
Before this batch had run its course, we found ourselves listening to the stylings of 15 year old Emma Henry who sang a sweet, raspy version of “True Colors.” She was alright, but as Randy pointed out, she’d get swallowed up in Hollywood. I don’t know how accurate his claim is that Idol is the greatest “talent competition in the world” though, especially after the girl cried so hard they gave her a ticket anyway. Simon would not approve.
“What was terrible?” –Rejected Contestant
“Pitch, tone, sound…everything about singing.” – Randy
It wouldn’t be an audition episode without a montage of crazies and there were plenty to go around this time. First we had the terrifying woman in a floor length black coat which was open enough to reveal hot pants, a bandeau top, and knee-high black boots; no, she couldn’t sing. Then we had the confrontational guy, the guy who massacred “Bad Romance” and then thought it would be cute to ask Randy for a sip of coke (not cool, dawg), the guy who did a back flip into a cameraman, and of course the crazy dude in a silver, shiny outfit and a giant toothbrush. Come on. That’s not even funny. NEXT.
“All of the isms jumpin’ off.” – Randy
“None of the wasms.” -Steven
Alright, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this next girl will probably come close to winning this entire competition because, to put it bluntly, she rocks. I was a little put off when her little pre-audition vignette got a tad melodramatic – Naima Adedapo is a great singer but cleans toilets at a concert venue instead of performing – but once she started singing “For All We Know” my apprehension was gone. She’s got a strong voice and sounds like an actual singer that should get paid to sing.
Next, in the wave of goodies is Jerome Bell, the babely bar mitzvah singer who sang “Let’s Get It On” and went straight to Hollywood with no ifs, ands, or buts. Then, the auditions got into a wave of 15 year olds, which of course led Ryan to explain that Idol changed the age to 15 so that they could potentially find the next Justin Bieber – really? That kid can barely sing a song with more than 6 different words in it (and I accept that I may now receive Twitter death threats from his fans). Thia Megia started off the streak with a bluesy, strong, mature performance of “Chasing Pavements” as a montage of other 15 year old golden ticket winners gained musical accompaniment from Taylor Swift’s “Fifteen.” How original.
“I actually think he’s going to point the gun at me. I think he’s going to shoot me.” – Ryan
Okay, things didn’t get suddenly serious on this episode of Idol, but they did take a nose dive for a bit. Is anyone else bothered by the fact that these contestants are coming in waves of bad and good? Remember when we could play the guessing game about who’d be great and who would suck, and sometimes we’d be completely wrong? Where is that game? I want it back, American Idol.
First up is a man who has to be doing this to get on television, Nathaniel Jones the Civil War reenactor. Nevermind the part about how his dad can’t be a hippee because “hippees believe in sex,” the dude went on TV and pretended he couldn’t tell present day from the 1860s and then sang “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” in a ridiculous falcetto voice (though, he was actually in tune). This guy knew he’d get on TV, so he went crazy. Case closed, moving on.
Quickly, because it was just sad, another dude, Mason Wilkinson, was so bad he had to be faking. He had to turn around for 15 seconds to compose himself before he could sing the worst thing I’ve heard in a while. Steven said he “didn’t know people were like that,” and it’s because they’re not. Dude was faking. Next.
“I’m in love with this president. Not in a Monica Lewinski, Bill Clinton, intern sort of way.” –Contestant
Mary DeWolf Swenson, whose name sounds made up and is good at everything so she can withstand me making fun of her name for two seconds, is a Harvard grad, White House Intern and now one of the contestants going to Hollywood. She sang beautifully, she’s tall, blonde, pretty, smart. Boom, White House Barbie goes to Hollywood.
Next is Tiwan Strong, who despite his ridiculous all-white linen getup, sang beautifully and like the contestant from last week, had a John Legend-esque quality to his voice and according to Steven “a sparkle in his eyes.” Now you’re hitting on dudes, Steven?
Then came the friend-less singing certified public accountant who sings for fun at weddings and FUNERALS. Talk about depressing; this guy wasn’t crying but his story was not pretty. I’m on the fence about his actual vocals because his voice is a little creepy even if he is technically a good singer. Once again, I agree with Steven who said he was “disturbingly great.” I cannot hate Steven no matter how much I try. Damnit.
“I wanna fucking punch those people in the fucking face.” –Rejected contestant
Before we get to the last three happy faces of the night, I’m going to round up the rest of the baddies, starting with the most explosive of them all, Vernika Patterson. First of all, I want to take credit for calling this one. A contestant sang Minnie Ripperton’s “Loving You” and like I said before, was delusional enough to think she could sing it. The sad thing is that her vocals weren’t even the ridiculous part. When the judges told her no, she indignantly insisted that she’s better than half the singers out there (yes, because half of them were selected because they are so bad; where have you been for the last 10 years?) and then accused the judges of eliminating her for not being “skinny like half of these females” before storming out of the audition. No, sweetie. They said no because you suck, not because you have the wrong body type.
This of course leads into a montage of rejected people crying and yelling and screaming and cursing as camera men try to follow them after they’ve had their dreams crushed. I thought this bit was a little fucked up; sort of like the producers just sitting around laughing at the misery their audition process has created. But then again, did I turn it off? Nope. I watched every last second. Mission accomplished, Fox.
Two more bad auditions to go. Second to last was Albert Rogers the 3rd…yeah okay. He claimed to be a cross between Usher and Luther Vandross but sounded more like a tone-deaf toddler in the bath. Sorry dawg, you’re not going to Hollywood.
Last but not least, Fox found their golden promotional ticket in Green Bay Packers super-fan, Megan Frasier. She gave them an opportunity to mention the Super Bowl on Fox and fulfilled the necessary element of any stop in Wisconsin: a visit with a cheesehead. (That’s what they’re called, I’m not that mean.) She also sang “Baby” in an operatic voice. This is where I throw my hands up. It’s auditions like this that make me feel played.
“You look like one of my…nope. Not gonna say it.” –Steven
Finally, we’ve got the last three good ones, and they’re good. First up is Scott Dangerfield a student teacher with an awesome name. He’s wiry and geeky, but packs a punch, belting out tunes with a strong, bluesy voice. I’m looking forward to hearing more from him in Hollywood.
Then we have the Steven Tyler superfan, Allyson Jados. She’s the one who looks like one of Steven’s – well, he’s not going to say it – but I will. GROUPIES. She’s a pretty good singer, even if the only words she knows from “Dream On” are “dream” and “on.” Steven sang with her, gave her a hug and thanks to Randy’s “no” gave the deciding vote to send her to Hollywood. How many other people can say they got that kind of treatment from their Idol? Not many.
“What kind of a guy would I be if I left her when she needed me the most?” –Contestant
In true Idol fashion, they saved the most emotional contestant for last. Chris Medina is a Starbucks barista and a SAINT. His fiancé, who was also a barista when they got engaged, suffered a horrible accident that left her permanently disabled and with brain damage, yet he stays by her side day in and day out. After his audition, the judges wanted to meet his fiancé and while it was touching, it was a bit odd because they weren’t quite sure how to act around her. Even so, the story is truly sad and I’m sure there will be lots more about the saintly Mr. Medina in the weeks to come.
Whew. Didn’t think you’d make it to the end did you? These episodes are long for sure, but just think; the more audition episodes we work through, the closer we get to Hollywood week and the closer we’ll be to the actual competition which is kind of exciting, right?