Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Early reviewer calls Spike Lee's "Miracle at St. Anna" a masterpiece!

Early review of new Spike Lee Joint!

Finanlly, we have some e-mailing mole fans here at! This time out it's an early review from “Movie Maniac” of the new Spike Lee Joint tentatively called Miracle at St. Anna (based on the novel by James McBride), which had a first advance screening in Pasadena last night!
Our source tells two very significant things, first, even though John Leguizamo and our favorite Joseph Gordon-Levitt were touted on the bill, they show up in very small roles in the film and two, the flick is Spike Lee's best yet! Check out the whole review (with spoilers) below:

I just came from the first ever test screening of Miracle at St. Anna yesterday in Pasadena, Spike Lees newest joint and it's a two and a half hour tour de force. It's what I've always liked about Lee, who is at his best when exposing the black experience. A man who appears to be an upstanding citizen commits a murder and the investigation starts the story that takes you back to WW II.

What follows is the plight of four soldiers from the all black Buffalo Soldiers Division during war in fascist Italy. After a 'Saving Private Ryan” type slaughter when crossing a river, the four make it to the other side and are then trapped behind German lines. One pair try to recon a farm building and while inside, one soldier rescues a traumatized boy. Joining forces they are stuck with a radio that doesnt work, they are in an area that might be caught in the crossfire in a large scale offensive between the Americans and the rallying Germans. Sticking together, they eventually make their way into an isolated mountainside village of St Anna. Only one person in the village speaks a little English, a young woman whose father is the local fascist. It is the boys rescue that warms the villagers to the soldiers after undergoing occupation by the Germans.

The four soldiers experiences in the village, are the main focus of the film. Resistance fighters join the soldiers and the villagers, along with a captured German prisoner. One of their group is an unknown traitor and collaborator with the Germans. As the story unfolds you find out why the boy survived his villages massacre, because no one would give up the resistance fighters. The slaughter of the women and children is particularly graphic. The soldiers while being wined and dined and two of them start to compete for the booty of the young woman and only one can and does succeed. They get their radio working and between trying to get orders from headquarters and coping with the collaborators sabotage In a third scene of carnage, the Germans overrun the village, soldiers and resistance fighters with the villagers caught in the crossfire. It is gut wrenching stuff to watch. Only one of the four survive and the boy. So we get back to the modern day where the now old soldier is to be put on trial for murder and is bailed out of jail. Reunited with the now grown and very rich boy, there is a real tearjerker ending that I havent seen equaled since the final scene of kisses in Cinema Paradiso.

I think it is a masterpiece. While it may be seen as another war movie by some, it has many complex layers, the brutality of war, compassion and redemption. It shows how far Lee has come with his message that racism effects people on many levels. He doesnt have to use a big angry stick any more. He shows that African American people are like everyone else and this film, more than any of his previous ones, shows the compassion and heroism in them even in the face of previous racism. It is a fitting tribute arriving on the recent 40th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr. - I think this film is this years Black Book and even has a cameo by Waldermar Kobus, typecast as a brutal German officer, as in last years Verhoeven masterpiece. It does for the Buffalo soldiers what Verhoeven did for the Dutch resistance.

The four black leads including Michael Ealy, Laz Alonzo and Derek Luke are all strong, anchored by Omar Benson Millers powerful yet understated performance as Trey. Trey carries a head of an ancient statue from a blown up bridge as one of the spoils of war. The statue runs thru the story and ties the beginning to the end and modern day to WW II. The cast is rich with a variety of characters, listed above. I was interested in almost everyone and found the story to be as riveting as it is visually stunning. The cast cast also includes John Turturro as the cop investigating the initial murder, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a reporter trying to get a story out of it, John Leguizamo as filler and D.B. Sweeney as a military commander. All are cameos only in support of the story and the leads, however it is The Shield's Walton Goggins that steals th show with a powerful turn as a racist military commander.

It has Oscar all over it, an accolade not usually spoken of so early in the year. It will be interesting to see the final cut upon release and to see what is cut and saved for the DVD release or to achieve the box office schedule of less than two hours. Since it was still a work in progress the title may change and the cutting room floor may be littered by graphic carnage, which I think would not only be a shame, but could detract from and water down the emotional impact of the film - I say leave it be and screw the box office.

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