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Monday, September 8, 2008

Ruh Ro....

A review from Variety on Spike's 'Miracle At St. Anna' (warning-some spoilers) thanks sergio:

Spike Lee loses the battles and the war in “Miracle at St. Anna,” a clunky, poorly constructed drama designed to spotlight the little-remarked role of black American soldiers in World War II. Clocking in at 160 minutes, this is a sloppy stew in which the ingredients of battle action, murder mystery, little-kid sentiment and history lesson don’t mix well. Nor is it remotely clear who the audience is meant to be; the R rating pretty much rules out younger students, and extensive subtitles will deter action fans, who would be bored anyway. Best B.O. will likely be in Italy, where most of the melodrama takes place.

Pic is a particular disappointment after Lee’s reputation-restoring previous feature, “Inside Man,” which saw the director working imaginatively within an established genre. Same can’t be said here, as Lee has imposed no discipline on novelist James McBride’s script, which trudges from digression to digression to the detriment of any dramatic focus.

It remains a wonder that no one, from Lee to the various producers and studio execs, demanded that someone whip this story into more sensible shape before the cameras rolled, so obvious are its excesses and indulgences. Yarn starts with a murder case -- a sixtysomething black postal worker, a devout man and recipient of the Purple Heart, shoots a man who comes to his window to buy a stamp. News of his arrest, and the fact he is in possession of a piece of Italian statuary worth millions, has weird repercussions in Italy, whereupon the action flashes back to Tuscany, 1944, where the Yanks are putting the hard press on dug-in Nazis.

Focus falls on the Buffalo Soldiers, black soldiers within the 92nd Infantry division in the segregated American Army. A number of grunts are sent to ford a river beyond which Germans are thought to wait. The way they’re mowed down reinforces the notion that “Eleanor Roosevelt’s niggers,” as they are derided by racist white officers, are regarded as little more than cannon fodder. In one of the few successful touches, the troops’ river crossing is accompanied by a propaganda broadcast from Axis Sally (Alexandra Maria Lara, in an outstanding reading), who goes on about how their country doesn’t care about them and even says the Nazis have nothing against the blacks.

Making it across the river and, shortly, up to the small medieval village of Colognora, are Second Staff Sergeant Aubrey Banks (Derek Luke); Sergeant Bishop Cummings (Michael Ealy); Cpl. Hector Negron (Laz Alonso), the man charged with murder 40 years later; and PFC Sam Train (Omar Benson Miller).

Train, a large man with little military discipline and a preoccupation with religious superstition, saves a 7-year-old boy, Angelo (Matteo Sciabordi), and thereafter watches over him. This sort of heart-tugging, and very Italian, story strand hasn’t been seen in an American war movie in years, maybe even decades, and one can see why; it’s embarrassing.

The other three guys are made of sterner stuff, but the film comes down with a case of severe lethargy once the men hole up in the village. Issues surrounding a fascist father, his lovely daughter, Renata (Valentina Cerri), whom Bishop gets the hots for, internecine quarrels among the local partisans, and the wait to figure out where the Germans are reduce the picture to the speed of a lumbering tank; two successive scenes of dreadful slaughter put the nail in the coffin. A coda blatantly attempts to pull the heartstrings, but it’s not earned.

Beyond the dramatic deficiencies, the writing for character is not good, so that even at the protracted running time, the men don’t emerge as strongly etched individuals. Train stands out because of his size and blubbery vulnerability, Stamps is notable for his courage and ability to speak Italian, and Bishop is the randy, gold-toothed one -- but fully dimensional they’re not. Lee breaks up the slow flow by plugging in little episodes to dramatize discrimination, notably in a flashback in which German prisoners are allowed to eat in a Southern diner but black G.I.s are not.

"I love Italy. I ain’t a nigger here,” one of them later says to further underline the point. Too bad the film wasn’t better written to make the sentiment implicit rather than needing to be said.

Production values are OK without being particularly notables, and Terence Blanchard’s score drones on virtually throughout. Lee’s early-career cinematographer, Ernest Dickerson, handled second-unit chores.

From IW: Hmmm....I've been watching Black film long enough to know I need to judge for myself, unless it stars Ice Cube. Still, an interesting read.


sdg1844 said...

I'm still going to see it for myself.

The Maven said...

I will be checking it out also. My glasses have a different lense.

Nic said...

I want to see it for myself.

It seems as if OUR stories are only told rightly if they are done by non-black directors...if you let the critics tell it.

clnmike said...

The4 job of a critic is to critique, not enjoy. I'll check it out for myself.

Invisible Hand said...

I've always been tough on Spike. Which I'm starting to admit has been wrongheaded. Still, the review hits at exactly what I think is Lee's fatal flaw. He has trouble reigning himself in. So the comment about the number of digressions REALLY has me worried. How many times have you watched one of his movies and thought how much better it'd be if Spike put a little less of himself in it or edited it some? For me, a lot. I think that's why I like his documentaries so much more. He just allows his ability to use a camera to craft a story do the work.

Skoolboi Krush said...

This review makes me want to see it more than ever. I'm a devout Spike fan and I have never read a good review of one of his films.

DB said...


Spike has mad some bad flicks in his day so maybe it is bad.

but i won't ever NOT see a movie because someone says it's bad.

unless it stars Ice T, Malik Yoba, Whoopi Goldberg, Master P, Paris Hilton, that english dude with the accent that makes those chick flicks or the english dude that doesn't really talk, just kinda grunts.

baka-S.G. said...

"....heart-tugging, and very italian, story...."
can you please define "very italian"?

Invisible Woman said...

@sdg1844 and the maven: me too....

@nic: right? our black stories also seem to need to be told through white eyes in the film as well in order to be valid. Last King of Scotland, for example.

@clnmike: i don't believe they are mutually exclusive....Roger Ebert seems to be the only non-Black reviewer who I trust on Black film, and he's not afraid to admit if he really enjoyed a film, Black or non.

Invisible Woman said...

@invisiblehand: if you look in my archives, you can see I was absolutely no fan of Spike's earlier work. I have changed my mind as of late, then again, a lot of what he has done lately has others' mark on it (writing, etc.).

I hope he is not creeping back to his old ways of heavy handedness. And I know what you mean about leaving himself ruined Mo' Betta Blues to me, and also made me side-eye the beginning of Malcolm X, which was so much better after his scenes.

@skoolboi: i think you may be right. the only decent reviews i've ever seen were for inside man....could it be because it starred non-black hollywood?

@db: "unless it stars Ice T, Malik Yoba, Whoopi Goldberg, Master P, Paris Hilton, that english dude with the accent that makes those chick flicks or the english dude that doesn't really talk, just kinda grunts."

LMAO! Is the last one Mr. Bean? Cause if so, I hate him 5 times! I HOPE they are referring to the days of the Italian Neo-realism films (vittorio de sica, etc). If not, they have some 'splainin to do.

Yobachi said...

"How many times have you watched one of his movies and thought how much better it'd be if Spike put a little less of himself in it or edited it some?"

Personally, never. The only Spike Lee movie I didn't like was Girl 6 (and I've seen all of his features except 2) and a number of his movies are my all time favorites.

I find the negative critiques of Spike Lee's movies have to do with not liking him personally, more than with the actual movies themselves - or with what I see as a ridiculous notion of them being too "preachy" (which is to say they have a point of vie different from the norm, rather than be from broad normal societal ideology). At least that's been what I've gotten out of just about any review of his films that I've read or heard before, whether it was from a professional or an amateur; though I didn't read much of this one because I don't want to be spoiled; as I am definitely going to see it.

Yobachi said...

Also, a promising He's Got Game went askew half way through and fizzled out.

But let it come on cable, and I'll still watch.

Invisible Woman said...

@yobachi: I got what you're saying, and I know that Spike's earlier work touches many...I'm just not one of them, haha :-) And yes, I did find a lot of it overbearing and preachy....I guess I enjoy a lot more subtelty.

I liked He Got Game solely for the visuals and Denzel's performance. I thought both were beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Roger Ebert Liked it.

25th Hour, Do the Right Thing & Malcolm X got great reviews from White critics BTW.

Invisible Woman said...

@ anonymous: 25th hour wasn't really a "black" story just like inside man, and the reviews i read of malcolm x were half and half. what has always eluded me tho, is the love for do the right thing. if i don't know by now, i guess i'll never know.

if roger said he liked it, that makes me glad. i usually agree with his opinion.

Anonymous said...

Really well a lot of the reviews I read from White critics seem to lean towards the positive for Malcolm X. Plus it has a 95% on Rottentomatoes. So IDK 40 positives and 2 negative reviews.

Well, I'm from the Chi and Roger did a little preview of movies he saw in Toronto ( In our newspaper) and he was very positive about Miracle and Omar Benson's performance. So I don't think he has an official review yet, he's probably waiting til it's released.

Invisible Woman said...

That is really good to hear--I hope the good reviews outweigh the critical ones.

Don't get me wrong, I loved Malcolm X personally, but check out the critics' round-up sidebar to the left of this:

I remeber staements such as too long, disingenuous, blah blah.

Invisible Woman said...

btw, anonymous--your opinion is very welcomed...

Anonymous said...

Thanks, I understand where you are coming from though with the critics and Malcolm X.

Invisible Woman said...

Thanks! :-)