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Endless, unbearable. Italian actors overacting shamelessly and Spike Lee losing track of his own talents. The self indulgence mixed with the confusion made this "epic" one of the most difficult films to sit through in long, long time. During my visit to Los Angeles I was invited to a few screenings but this one was the one I longed for. Terrible let down. It's been a long time since "Do The Right Thing" and I have the feeling that it has to do with Spike Lee's vision of himself as a filmmaker. There is a lack of humility that blurs everything he does and "Miracle At St Anna" is a perfect example of that. In a way "The Inside Man", his genre commercial outing, was more honest and disciplined than anything his done of late. I can't imagine this film making any money so maybe Mr Lee will have the space to reflect. I certainly hope so because I'm sure he still has some aces up his sleeve.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
2nd Staff Sergeant Aubrey Stamps: I know, I'm the only one left who
I know this is too easy even for me but the true miracle at the center of Spike Lee's latest joint, MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA, is that I was able to sit through it without screaming out of sheer frustration over how hollow the whole affair was. I don't feel so bad about taking that oversimplified stance, seeing as how Lee himself didn't seem to have any concerns about dumbing down this important history lesson. Lee is an accomplished filmmaker and MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA is an ambitious project, even for him. He prides himself, as well he should, on telling stories from an African-American perspective that is rarely taken in mainstream film. In this case, he chose to shed some much needed light on the soldiers known as the Buffalo Soldiers, all black regiments in the U.S. army. He wanted to give the world a fresh take on the World War II epic by using an unfamiliar voice but all he accomplished was minimizing their plight by weighing down his film in tired convention and never committing to any one point of view.
I don't mind long movies when the story warrants the time spent. MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA opens in 1983. A postal worker (Derek Luke) has just shot and murdered a man who bought a stamp off of him for no apparent reason. A statue head, one with incredible value both financially and historically, has been found tucked away at the bottom of his closet. News of the statue's recovery spreads across the globe and an investigative journalist (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is determined to understand why a seemingly law-abiding citizen would commit such a random act of brutality. This goes on for about thirty or forty minutes until the postal worker finally agrees to tell his story. It all started in Italy during the second world war. My question is, if it all started then, why did Lee waste so much time with a pointless excuse to get to the actual story when the story in question needed no excuse to be told? This all too tired Hollywood convention needs to cease. People need to start getting to the point.
The story, adapted from James McBride's novel of the same name by McBride himself, follows a foursome of Buffalo soldiers who survive a German attack, find a young Italian boy in need of medical attention and eventually set up camp in a small village while they wait for reinforcement. During their stay, the soldiers make friends and enemies with the townspeople, which challenges the inherent racism of all involved. It isn't a bad story; it is just written in such a false and incredible fashion that undermines the film's credibility. There is no time for one liners when you are being attacked on all sides by the German army but yet somehow McBride felt that quips between gunfire would alleviate the intensity, as if that were necessary. There is also apparently no time for real character development. Bringing an untold story to light means putting faces to characters that had none before. Without development, these soldiers are nothing but black soldiers instead of real people. Somehow, by forcing us to face the colour of their skin, Lee made it so that is all we end up seeing.
Spike Lee makes important movies but sometimes, he makes them with the knowledge of just how important they truly are. MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA is at times horrifying and at others, beautiful. Mostly though, it is tedious and disappointing. It is not so much disappointing that Lee wasn't able to pull off such a huge endeavor but more so that if anyone could have done it the justice it deserved, it would have been him. Now, the story has been told but the point was never made.
I attended the world premier of Miracle at St. Anna at Toronto International Film Festival. Unfortunately as much as I respect Spike Lee as a filmmaker I thought the movie was a bit dull and kind of boring. At 166 minutes I found that the movie was overlong and dragged too much. I became restless after awhile as the movie progressed. The story didn't seem to go anywhere, was uninteresting and I had trouble connecting with it. It was hard to follow at times as well. The movie jumped all over the place at several points to different years in the history of the characters. I found this to be jarring and irritating. Spike Lee should have taken more time to edit his film because each of the scenes went longer than they should have. It's not the worst movie I have ever seen although it could have been better. My expectations were high. I came away somewhat disappointed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
See, I hate that. I hate movies that deal with real, historical, often
terrible facts and yet can't resist the temptation to "spice them up"
with bogus love stories (Pearl Harbor, Captain Corelli's Mandolin),
bogus mysteries (like in Miracle at St. Anna), all while pompously
claiming to be "based on true events". I hate tedious, overwrought
narrative frames that serve no purpose whatsoever apart for giving the
viewers a modern, known setting with which, supposedly, they can relate
more easily before the flashbacks kick in.
12 august 1944: German soldiers killed 560 people, including women and children, in a small Italian town. You'd think such an awful event would deserve to be treated in an understated manner, without the need to add fictional details, clichés (which here reach an almost toxic level) or other useless stuff. But race-obsessed filmmaker Spike Lee isn't really interested in the massacre, but rather in the (fictional) story of four afro-American soldiers. See, it's not that there isn't an interesting movie to be made about the Buffalo Soldiers; the problem is that using a real-life massacre merely as a scenario, a backdrop, is callous to say the least. The St. Anna tragedy deserved its own movie.
Besides, infuriatingly, the movie falsifies history, changing some crucial circumstances which lead to the massacre, blaming it on the (invented) betrayal of a partisan.
It should also be noted that, possibly because of the language barrier, Italian actors are unconvincing, including some who have given excellent performances elsewhere.
"Miracle at St. Anna" brings up a very interesting point about black
soldiers during World War 2, primarily that they were actually there.
Sure, Spike Lee wrongly and probably strategically went after Clint
Eastwood for not depicting as many black soldiers at Iwo Jima in his
two films, but that whole controversy led me to discover things I had
not originally thought of about segregated units. And isn't encouraging
people to think about race exactly what Spike is all about? Now he's
directing "St. Anna" from a screenplay from James McBride (who also
wrote the novel), the first movie I recall that focuses on an all black
unit during the war. I love hearing stories about a director who puts
his actors through a grueling, depressingly miserable boot camp before
filming. I think it shows a lot of heart from everybody involved. It
also sounds like it worked to their benefit. Advanced word has it that
this movie is masterful and destined for some award recognition and
after "Inside Man", Lee is already flying high. But you always wonder
with Spike. Are you going to get a provocative flick like "The 25th
Hour" or are you going to get something long and rambling that doesn't
really go anywhere like "She Hate Me?" So can this movie get the
audience and the awards, or will it fail on both accounts?
Spike Lee's film has gone from powerful Oscar contender to merciless dud in the course of 2 short days. There is nearly nothing to latch on to in this movie and yet it's jammed full of three hours worth of random material. The bloody battles are there, complete with bullets and explosions flying through the air and limbs being torn from bodies. The racism and bigotry of white America towards black America is alive and well, including one scene where a diner serves German soldiers but refuses to serve coloreds. We get many side characters including a German traitor and a group of Italian revolutionaries. There's a cute sub-plot about the relationship between Private Sam Train and an Italian boy and another subplot where a love triangle arises between Bishop, Stamps, and Renata. And then there is the folklore stuff about "The Sleeping Man." But what's the point of all this? I started thinking about the significance of saving one man or the significance of one picture defining an entire war and how those films by Spielberg and Eastwood (you know which ones I'm talking about) managed to engage us and then I started thinking about this film. Out of all that's happening in Italy, what exactly is it that we're supposed to hold on to here. What makes these soldiers and their story special other than them being black? It all just feels like melodramatic filler to me.
It also doesn't help that the characters seem like types instead of real personalities. Most don't come through as memorable or terribly compelling and you really have to blame the script for giving them such bland characterizations. There's the guy that Derek Luke plays, filled with honor even though he knows America still will not accept him. The guy Michael Ealy plays, a suave but selfish ladies man. And the wide-eyed innocent giant that Omar Benson Miller plays. These actors do what they can with one-dimensional roles but the characters and scenes they're given never allow them to show any range past the very short character descriptions they're given. Laz Alonso is really the only one out of the four who gets to show any real emotional depth, and that's only because of the beginning and ending of the film take place in 1984 and there seems to be a much more exciting and rich opportunity for drama in those few scenes than in any of the two hours spent in the Italian countryside.
And another thing I wondered about this movie was whether it was really trying to be a true to life account of heroism during the war or if it was some kind of over-produced WW2 action film. There were times when I really thought Lee was making a war film reminiscent of "Indiana Jones." One scene that keeps nagging at me is the introduction of a Nazi general, complete with over-the-top ominous score to announce him by composer Terence Blanchard. As the movie gets more soap operatic with betrayals and hidden secrets, this only made that feeling grow more and more. I also didn't care for the movie trying to be funny at certain points, feeling that those moments disrupted the tone entirely.
"Miracle at St. Anna" disappointed me tremendously. I was expecting something along the lines of "Glory" but what I got was something overblown with material and execution but still so short on actual depth or emotional impact. It's not all Spikes fault. A lot of it also has to be laid at the feet of screenwriter James McBride, who really should have showed some restraint when it came to adapting his novel cause 3 hours of this is too much. When you're going to make something that long, it's got to be air-tight (ex. "The Dark Knight) but unfortunately this movie just doesn't hold together at all. So if you're keeping score. Get the red marker out, cross this off your awards list cause its done.
I am so very disappointed. Spike Lee, why? You know how movies have
little scenes that don't make sense at the time but then all tie in at
the end and they give you this awesome "OH!" feeling? This movie had
those, but failed at the "OH!". The entire beginning sequence did not
belong in the movie. The loose, boring, and un-original tie-in it
provided was completely unnecessary to the plot. In fact, if they had
skipped the first half hour of horrid over-acting it would have
enhanced the plot.
I get it. War is horrible. African Americans were treated like dirt in the 40s. Everybody prays to the same God we're not so different. This movie even failed at making these very easy to portray messages resonate.
Every horrible death/war scene made you feel disgusted and sad and you wanted so badly for everyone to live. Exactly the feelings they should have been going for. BUT THEN they overlaid almost every one of these scenes with a joke! Or some stupidly funny remark or scene. In the end it made you feel disgusted with yourself for laughing while good men are laying dead on the screen. I'm pretty sure making an audience feel disgusted with themselves is not the goal here. And if it was, I have news for the producers/writers/director - we didn't need that lesson. Instead of making me think, it made me wonder what a sick person the writer must be to joke about death and war in such a manner.
Not to mention that the whole middle of the movie was one big black soldier joke. COME ON. Seriously? You seriously needed to through in all those lame silly stereotypes to make us feel for the characters? Your that bad at making movies? It was just an all around bad flick. Even the ending was completely awkward, which ruined any sentiment that should have been there.
A very poorly made and written film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Spike Lee dropped the ball in so many ways. Casting that brought in mostly weak actors. Jerky scenes that have no bearing on the story line. What was really annoying was the "hook" in this film. The head that is continually carried throughout the entire film that was uneventful to the storyline. The over dramatic scenes of racial confrontations were preposterous. I really wanted to find this movie worth the 7 bucks that I dished out but alas! It was not the case. If Spike Lee would go back and watch Eastwood's film "Letters From Iwo Jima" again he would learn the elements of war were much better presented. If Spike Lee thought he was going to set the record straight about blacks serving in WWII he missed the target terribly. Many scenes fell apart. One example that stood out was the scene where a Nazi officer spares the life of one of the black soldiers and then hands him a loaded Lugar hand gun. Really now...Anyone going to buy that ridiculous scenario?
Let me begin by saying that this movie was okay. But it could have been
The story itself is great and kept me interested until the end, but it's execution could have been much better. Throughout the movie, some of the acting ranged from good to bad to downright lame. Jon Turturro's cameo as a detective was extremely disappointing, for instance. The acting picks up when the flashback begins, but every so often it rockets down.
The battle scenes were, for lack of a better word, comical. They were over the top and stereotypical of any other war movie, complete with bodies being flung from explosions in an exaggerated fashion and people sobbing over amputated rubber limbs.
The characters were all over the place on the sympathy scale. Stamps and Trey (or is it Train?) elicit plenty of sympathy, whereas Bishop and whatever the girl's name was only brought out anger from me.
The worst part of the movie is the editing, though. Some of the battle scenes are choppy, and there are entire cuts to different scenes for split seconds that we could have done without (they serve no purpose whatsoever).
My biggest problem was the stereotypical racism of the white characters in the movie. The only American white people in the movie are shown as black-hating jerks who's ignorance leads them to destruction.
Overall, the movie was good. Not amazing, not great, definitely not a masterpiece, but it wasn't terrible or bad or crappy. It was a great story, but it could have been executed much better.
Length is a factor for this film, and it's not the normal action driven war film. I was lucky enough to attend the premier in NY and from the perspective of a Cadet at West Point, I would say that I respected this film BECAUSE it "jumped around." It showed all perspectives and that there were people with good intentions on all sides. The bad intentions were included as well, and though it doesn't grab you the entire time, it tells an interesting tale. Sadly, most people don't go to see a war film for this reasons, they all want Saving Private Ryan these days. But that's not what war is always about, and this film shows the other aspects. The black soldiers are each equally representative of varying perspectives that these men had. With a lot of duality also represented, this film leaves a lot to think about if you watch it with the right eye. It seems most people I've talked to have a problem with length and action, but if you don't pay so much attention to that and just enjoy it, you'll find a nice film that takes a different approach.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
First I'd like to say that I've been one of Spike Lee's biggest fans for as long as he's been around and would be greatly surprised to find that there's anyone out there who's more disappointed than I in seeing "Miracle at St. Anna". Having served in the military and majored in film while in college I may be a little bit more critical than most viewer's but none the less felt the film to be cartoonish, poorly acted, technically flawed, and historically inaccurate. I actually feel embarrassed for Spike Lee when I think about how he came out and attacked Clint Eastwood during Cannes for his crafting of his war movie "Letters from Imo Jima". In comparing the two films you have to think that Spike was simply trying to get some free publicity because if I didn't know any better I would have thought that Roger Corman had made "Miracle at St. Anna". In fact I find it hard to believe that Spike even had any military technical advisor's let alone any with knowledge of WW2 for this film. The mixing of genres, War, Drama, Comedy, Spiritual, and Supernatural didn't work for me at all. The acting was very, very, very bad. Derek Luke seemed to be reading off of cue-cards and many of the scenes shocked me in being the best available take and the one that actually made it to the screen. The film is so bad it's hard to believe that any scene was shot using more than one take. In Spike's defense and not to totally bash him, it's evident the budget for this film was super low and limited any effort at depicting a modern war film of superior standards such as done with "Saving Private Ryan" or "Letters of Imo Jima". Budget does account for the lack of depth and visual detailing of the film but is no excuse for bad story, acting, and sad to say directing. In also being some what of a student of black history I was extremely disappointed in Spike Lee's stereotypical view and depiction of the black soldier of that time (WW2). One would think by seeing this film that black soldiers in WW2 were simply given uniforms and told to go fight. The film also depicts black soldiers as undisciplined, cowardly, and just plain stupid along with any other stereotype they fought so hard to dispel. If this film is in the least bit accurate in how it depicts black soldiers of WW2 it would mean that the majority of the white stereotypes of the time were justified. My advice to Spike Lee is the same to what I would give Steven Spielberg and to take a nice long look in the mirror and go back to what you use to do best. Lately they both have been loosing their edge and cranking out crap. Just as "Saving Private Ryan" was the last great movie of Spielberg, "He Got Game" was it for Mr. Lee. Unlike Steven Spielberg who has unlimited studio backing and has no reason for churning out a bad film, Spike should understand he was great when he understood his standing with the studios and didn't try to hit an home-run when all he had was double pitched to him. Woody Allen has had one hell of a career knowing this and has never felt that he had to try his hand at making a big-budget blockbuster and staying true to his style. Spike Lee has a style and needs to "please baby, please" re-find it. "Miracle at St. Anna" was garbage and amateur film-making.
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