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TOUCHSTONE

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Spike Lee
Cast:
Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso, Omar Benson Miller, Pierfrancesco Favino, Valentina Cervi, Matteo Sciabordi
Writing Credits:
James McBride (and novel)

Tagline:
World War II has its heroes and its miracles.

Synopsis:
From Touchstone Pictures and A Spike Lee Joint comes the powerful and uplifting World War II epic, Miracle at St. Anna, directed by acclaimed filmmaker Spike Lee. Stationed in Tuscany, Italy, four members of the U.S. Army's all-black 92nd Infantry Division, the Buffalo Soldiers, are trapped behind enemy lines after one of them risks his life to save a traumatized Italian boy. Separated from their unit, they find themselves in a remote Tuscan village where they experience the tragedy and the triumph of war. Based on the highly praised novel by James McBride, and filled with exceptional battle scenes and action, it's a gripping and inspiring story drawn from a real incident that will touch the goodness within us all and never let go.

Box Office:
Budget
$45 million.
Opening Weekend
$3.477 million on 1185 screens.
Domestic Gross
$7.916 million.

MPAA:
Rated R

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Closed-captioned Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 160 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 2/10/2009

Bonus:
• Sneak Peeks


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Miracle At St. Anna (2008)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 2, 2009)

Throughout a long and varied career, Spike Lee has made many kinds of films, but 2008’s Miracle at St. Anna takes him into new territory: the war film. The flick examines African-American soldiers during World War II, though it starts in 1983 with a shocking event. An elderly postal clerk named Hector Negron (Laz Alonso) abruptly shoots a customer (Sergio Albelli) who comes to his window.

Cub reporter Tim Boyle (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) wants to find an interesting angle to the story, so he follows cops to Negron’s apartment. There they discover a valuable 450-year-old statue head that went missing from an Italian bridge about 40 years earlier. Boyle decides to investigate how Negron came to possess it and gets the story of the head.

From there we head back to WWII. The statue starts with US soldier Sam Train (Omar Benson Miller). After a deadly German assault, he takes shelter in an Italian farmhouse. There he discovers a wounded eight-year-old local boy named Angelo (Matteo Sciabordi). Train rescues the boy and reconnects with the rest of his unit. This group includes radioman Negron, Train’s pal Bishop Cummings (Michael Ealy), and ranking officer Aubrey Stamps (Derek Luke). They take Angelo to a nearby village for help and end up involved with the locals. The film follows their interactions with the Italian civilians along with connected subplots.

Lots of connected subplots, in fact. Miracle bogs down its basic tale with various semi-related elements, and why? That I can’t tell you. If the movie stayed focused on the American soldiers, it might prove more effective – maybe not original, but better.

Unfortunately, Miracle feels like Lee’s attempt to be a Big Important Epic, so he overreaches. Through this pursuit of so many topics and characters, the movie develops a “Cliffs Notes” feel. Screenwriter James McBride based the script on his own novel, and I’d be curious to know how much he needed to pare from his original text. My guess would be that lots of information got the boot; as a film, Miracle feels jerky and expurgated.

This means we barely get a taste of the characters and scenarios involved. The four nominal leads never develop into anything more than basic war flick stereotypes. Though the tale ostensibly comes from his point of view, Negron remains a cipher; he’s there for the events but rarely has much to do. Train is the big dumb one with a heart of gold, while Stamps is the noble leader and Cummings is the angry one. We’ve seen them all before, and the movie doesn’t bother to develop them in a satisfying way.

At least the four lead soldiers get some development. Unfortunately, all the others – mostly the Italians – have a few moments and that’s about it. We get to know little about what makes them tick, and the movie doesn’t seem to mind. It wants to pursue its 27 different plot threads – who cares if any of these elements work?

After the satisfying Inside Man, I hoped maybe Lee would continue to embrace films without a racial or political agenda. While I don’t think Lee needs to become a “gun for hire” who pursues no personal projects, I did think it was nice to see him do something that cared more about storytelling and movie craft than making a Big Racial Statement.

Unfortunately, Miracle takes us back to the same old Lee with an axe to grind. I won’t argue that in the President Obama “post-racial society” that we need to forget about racial injustice, but I’m not sure that Miracle offers the right time and place for another screed on the subject. Racism really has little connection to the movie’s true theme. Lee’s attempts to involve racial issues feels forced and never quite matters in the greater scheme of things.

Miracle would feel more progressive if it presented the black soldiers in a more matter of fact manner. One could argue this would be unrealistic, and they might be right. Racism was absurdly alive and well in the WWII armed forces, so Lee might view it as intellectually dishonest to ignore that side of things.

However, given the level of fantasy and the number of absurd moments found here, I don’t think that would matter. Tremendously scattered and inconsistent, Miracle often makes little sense. Indeed, you’re likely to wear out your hand from all the head scratching. This reaches a peak during the film’s befuddling and bizarre climax, but it doesn’t end there. You’ll find many a perplexing moment in this flick.

At 160 minutes, Miracle feels both too short and too long. It’s too brief because it so rarely evolves into anything more than character and story sketches. Everything comes across as clipped and abbreviated, so I wonder if the film would prove more satisfying if given more room to breathe.

On the other hand, the product we see is too darned long. After all, it runs nearly three hours, and it’s more than slightly frustrating to find such a stilted, awkward product when it goes for such an extended amount of time. One doesn’t expect to find a 160-minute movie that suffers from so many holes, especially given the fairly simple story at its heart.

And if Miracle had stuck with its basic tale, it could’ve succeeded. There’s a decent movie buried underneath all the muck, I believe. Unfortunately, it never gets a chance to emerge. Instead, we find a flat, confusing half-baked Saving Private Ryan wannabe.


The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio B+/ Bonus D-

Miracle at St. Anna appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though not a poor transfer, the presentation seemed erratic and disappointing.

Sharpness became one issue. Much of the movie displayed reasonable delineation, but more than a few exceptions occurred. In particular, wide shots tended to be a bit ill-defined, a factor that was exacerbated by some edge haloes. No issues with shimmering or jagged edges materialized, and source flaws remained absent. However, the movie turned awfully grainy at times. It was tough to tell how much of this stemmed from production design, but the grain created occasional distractions.

In terms of colors, Miracle went with the standard Period War Movie Palette. Tans and olive drabs ruled the day, as the flick portrayed an understated set of hues. These looked fine for what they were; they never stood out as memorable, but they weren’t meant to impress. Blacks were somewhat inky, and shadows created problems. The movie featured lots of low light scenes, and these often seemed rather dense. They were impenetrable, but they obscured information too much of the time. All of this left the transfer as a watchable but bland “C+”.

At least the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Miracle worked fairly well, though one shouldn’t expect fireworks of Saving Private Ryan dimensions. For a war movie, Miracle actually didn’t include a ton of combat, so general atmosphere acted as the main component. That side of things seemed fine, and music offered fine stereo imaging.

During the smattering of battle sequences, the movie came to life in a more compelling way, though again, one shouldn’t anticipate stellar material. The more involving scenes still remained focused on the front speakers, and they didn’t use the rears to tremendous effect. Oh, we got decent information from the back speakers, but the soundscape simply wasn’t particularly memorable – at least not in the manner we expect from a war movie.

Audio quality satisfied. Speech was natural and concise, without edginess or other issues. Music seemed lively and full, and effects were positive. Those elements sounded dynamic and accurate. They also boasted solid low-end material that gave the track good range. While not a spectacular track, this one was solid enough for a “B+”.

The DVD opens with a few ads. We get promos for Blu-Ray Disc, Blindness, Doubt and Confessions of a Shopaholic. These appear in the Sneak Peeks area along with ads for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and Happy-Go-Lucky. No trailer for Miracle - or any other extras – appear here.

With Miracle at St. Anna, Spike Lee takes on the epic war film genre. He aspires to make his own Saving Private Ryan, but the movie ends up as a tedious, predictable mess. The DVD provides good audio but comes with mediocre picture and no real extras. Expect a drab release for a flawed movie.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 9
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51:
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main