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MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

January 30, 2009 by  



“Fantastic!  A story about the the U.S. Army’s all-Black 92nd Infantry Division, the Buffalo Soldiers, who fought in World War II with a storyline that is heartwarming, gripping and overall enjoyable.  A fictional story with real elements.  The Blu-ray pays homage to the Buffalo soldiers of World War II.  Overall, an enjoyable and extremely entertaining film worth watching!”

Images courtesy of © WDSHE. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA

DURATION: 160 minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (2:35:1), English 5.1 DTS-HD (48 khz/24-bit), French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, English SDH, French and Spanish

COMPANY:  Touchstone Home Entertainment

RATED: R

Release Date: February 10, 2009

Directed by Spike Lee

Based on a novel by James McBride

Screenplay by: James McBride

Produced by Roberto Cicutti Luigi Musini and Spike Lee

Executive Producers: Marco Valerio Pigini, Jon Kilk

Director of Photography: Matthew Libatique, ASC

Editor: Barry Alexander Brown

Costume Designer: Carlo Poggioli

Original Music: Terence Blanchard

Casting: Kim Taylor Coleman CSA, Beatrice Kruger ACI

Cast:

Derek Luke as 2nd Staff Sergeant Aubrey Stamps

Michael Ealy – Seargeant Bishop Cummings

Laz Alonso – Corporal Hector Negron (Young/Old)

Omar Benson Miller – Private First Class Sam Train

Matteo Sciabordi – Angelo Torancelli (the boy)

Valentina Cervi – Renata

D.B. Sweeney – Colonel Driscoll

Pierfrancesco Favino – Peppi “The Great Butterfly” Grotta

Kerry Washington – Zana Wilder

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Tim Boyle

From Touchstone Pictures comes the powerful and uplifting World War II epic “Miracle at St. Anna”, directed by acclaimed filmmaker Spike Lee (The Inside Man).  Experiencing it on Blu-ray puts you right in the middle of the intense battles.

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, its’ filled with exceptional battle scenes and action made even more gripping in Blu-ray High Definition.

From Left to Right: MATTEO SCIABORDI, OMAR BENSON MILLER, MICHAEL EALY, DEREK LUKE and LAZ ALONSO.

Fantastic!  I was deeply touched by “MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA” and its fictional story by James McBride and directed by Spike Lee.  But moreso for using the Blu-ray as a way to educate people of the African Americans who fought in World War II and many before that time.

For so long in America, there has not been too much said about the 92nd Infantry, the African American regiment in the military also known as the “Buffalo Soldiers” and what we have is the first World War II film about the 92nd Infantry Division which was deemed back then  as the “colored” division and a test to utilize African-American soldiers and deploy them to a foreign country.

When you think about the time period, these men fought for our Country during the time  the country was segregated.  They did not have the same rights as the Caucasian soldiers.  Were unable to share the same facilities,  nor were they treated with any respect but what McBride and Lee managed to come up with, it’s definitely a fantastic film.

The film starts off in the 1980’s.  An older African American man (played by Laz Alonso) is watching an old World War II film featuring John Wayne and saying “We fought for the country too!”  You see him working at a bank as a bank teller but once an Italian man walks into his section of the bank, the older man shoots and kills him with what appears to be an old pistol.

The police then search the man’s apartment and learns that he was a soldier in World War II that has a Purple Heart.  Has no arrests or anything bad on his record.  But in his closet laying in a bag is  a sculptured head.  It appears the head is of Spring, one of the figures of the 450-year-old Florentine Ponte Santa Trinita that is worth millions and had been lost in Italy and assumed was stolen by the Nazi’s.

Reporter Tim Boyle (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) visits the older man in prison and asks why an upstanding citizen would kill a man.

We are then taken back to World War II.  The 92nd Infantry Division are marching across a river in Italy.  You are introduced to some of the soldiers but one big soldier named Private First Class Sam Train (Omar Benson Miller) who carries the statue head believing it has given him good luck.  While advancing on the river (which the Nazi’s are waiting for them), the soldiers make it across and as the soldier’s radio back to their headquarters that they made it across, the general in charge of the 92nd Infantry Division doesn’t believe them and thus orders an attack where the 92nd Infantry Division is and essentially the soldiers crossing the river are caught in the fire of the Nazi’s and the US Army.

Train and Sergeant Bishop Cummings (Michael Ealy) seem to be the only two alive.  As they move up the hill, they encounter a barn and inside is a little boy who has parts of the roof collapsed on him as Nazi’s continue to fire that direction.  Train manages to save the boy but the boy talks as if he’s in a different world and looks at Sam Train as a “Chocolate Giant” there to save him.  Train ends up saving the boy’s life.

Meanwhile, two more of the 92nd Infantry Division who were crossing the river appear to be alive.  2nd Staff Sergeant Aubrey Stamps (Derek Luke) and Corporal Hector Negron (Laz Alonso).  The four then go on a long trek in the hills of Italy and end up in a village and go to the home that has a light where a woman named Renata (Valentina Cervi) and her family are living.

The soldiers plan to leave the boy Train found with the family but it appears the city is surrounded by Nazi.  After radioing back to headquarters, they are told by the General that their job is to capture a Nazi.   So, the four know they need to stay with Renata and her family much longer.  Throughout the film, we learn more about the four soldiers:

Private First Class Sam Train – The gentle giant.  Believes in God and believes that the statue head and the boy has led him to survival.  He eventually develops a strong relationship with the boy like father and son.

2nd Staff Sergeant Aubrey Stamps – Leading the four, he dreams that because of his service in the military, Blacks and Whites can co-exist in a better world.  He also develops an attraction towards Renata.

Sergeant Bishop Cummings – Cocky and a man who cares nothing but money and women.  He stays close to Private First Class Sam Train because Sam owes him $1,400.  He’s the total opposite of Stamps.  He thinks the White man don’t care about the black people.  He also has an attraction to Renata but more of having sex than anything.  He and Stamps are always at each other’s throats.

Corporal Hector Negron – The man who is the communications officer and also translator (can speak and understand Italian).  He doesn’t get involved in Stamps and Cummings squabbles but he starts to believe Train when the boy seems to help them out when in a bind and starts to believe he is special.

The Boy/Angelo Troancelli – It is not known why he was by himself during the battle but he appears to have received so much trauma that he talks to an imaginary friend (or ghost) named Arturo and looks at Train as a Chocolate Giant (and also the soldiers seem to have a lot of Chocolate on them).  He has become attached to Train and goes where the soldiers go.

Meanwhile the Nazi’s are after one of their own.  It is not known why but they are after him.

As for the Italian village, they are not in good shape.  Especially those in areas that have been ravaged by war.  They have no food and they have no one fighting for them.  There are those who are anti-Nazi and and some who were Fascists and believed in Mussolini are now angered that he became a puppet of Hitler.  But because the four soldiers from America are there, the Italians are rather supportive of them.

The soldiers talk that how being in Italy, unlike America, they can walk around and they are just people.  Talk to anyone and they are talked to.  The children will play with them and they are treated like equal humans.  And they realize how being in a foreign country, they are treated much better than they are at home.

Meanwhile, a group of renegade former Fascists captures the escaped Nazi bringing him to Renata’s home and the Fascists and the four soldiers confront each other with their weapons in attack mode.  The boy appears to know who the Nazi is but he is scared of one of the Italian men.  Meanwhile, Hector makes a call to their General and are told that must get the Nazi soldier for interrogation and thus the US Army will be there to meet with them.

What the US soldiers and the Italians and even the Fascist group don’t know is that there is a traitor among them.  Someone who is working with the Nazi’s.

And you get to learn more about the boy, Antonio’s background and why he had become so traumatized and why he fears the traitor so much.

“MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA” is truly an epic film that definitely is worth watching!

VIDEO & AUDIO:

The film is presented in 1080p high definition (2:35:1).  Overall, the picture quality is very good.  Most of the scenes are all outdoor shots and the sunlight and the rain showers and the different weather patterns were featured well on video. Shot in a beautiful Italian village with the mountains in the backdrop, lush surroundings.  Really good location in terms of where they shot this film.

And of course, the film is full of action.  Similar to “Saving Private Ryan”, the film has its share of violent moments and dismemberment.    Some scenes such as one part with the Nazi’s talking on top of a mountain, displayed quite a bit of noise in the background, but that scene is fairly short, so nothing to worry about.  But all in all, very good picture quality.

The sound is featured in English 5.1 DTS-HD (48khz/24-bit) audio.  The sound is incredible.  From the battle scenes of hearing the multiple gun shots, missiles starting up from the rear channels of your speakers and then flying towards the sides and then front speaker channels and hearing the blast.  And then the subtle moments of hearing the rain all around you.  Those were well done and similar to the video, you definitely get very good audio quality as well!

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA” comes with three features and personally, I felt that the two major features are important because they interview African American Veterans who fought in World War II but also showcased the history of the “Buffalo Soldier”.  Included in the special features:

  • Deeds Not Words – Director Spike Lee, Writer/Screenwriter James McBride and several veterans who served in World War II in Italy in a live roundtable discussion (about 18 min. long) in regards to their experiences in World War II and being in Italy, how they were treated and then how they were treated back home.  But to see how far African Americans have come and also talking about Obama being the next President (obviously, shot before he won the election).  Very good special feature!
  • The Buffalo Soldier Experiences – Learning the history of the Buffalo soldier.  A very informative documentary that is about 18 minutes long and went as far back from the Civil War to the present.  Also, a woman who talked about how she bonded with one of the men and has always wondered what has happened to the two guys that stayed in her village, not knowing if they lived or died.  But will always be grateful for their heroism.
  • Deleted Scenes – There were several deleted scenes and extended scenes.  Some that were rather important and wish they kept in the film but then again, with the film at 160 minutes already, it’s going a bit long.

From Left to Right: MICHAEL EALY, LAZ ALONSO, DEREK LUKE and OMAR BENSON MILLER

“MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA” is an epic film which I enjoyed a lot. In fact, after the film, I really felt it was fantastic.

But there are a few things that prevent it from being excellent.

Granted, compared to other war films and fictional and a bit far-fetched at times.   The death of the Italian man in the beginning of the film by an older Corporal Hector Negron is surprising that he’s had a gun in his possession near the bank check out area where he works and waiting for revenge 40+ years after World World War II is a bit far-fetched.

As for timing, at 160 minutes, it is long and for some, the love triangle focusing on Renata, Stamps and Bishop may have tacked on some additional minutes which some may seem uncalled for.  But I actually felt the film needed it.  Because the truth is the Italians didn’t have the racial intolerance towards Blacks like how things were in the U.S.   This village was the home of poor Italians, they didn’t have TV.  They looked at the 92nd Infantry Division as heroes.    And thus, the men were treated as equals and some had relationships with the Italian women in the village.

If anything, I think that the storyline of the Italian Fascists who capture the Nazi was difficult because they are thrown into the movie with not much character development.  Were we supposed to care about these men?  Obviously one is a traitor but would one really go as far to have his countryman killed for revenge?

And then the use of characters such as reporter Tim Boyle (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Enrico (John Leguizamo) or Colonel Driscoll (D.B. Sweeney).  Men that would seem to have an important part in the film but they don’t.  If anything, they were used as transitional phases for other points in the film.

But I’m sure I can nitpick and find what could be edited or not be edited but personally, I was satisfied with the film.  It is a tearjerker.  These four characters that have different personalities, you do care for them but the adventure from beginning to end, I was left speechless.  Omar Benson Miller as Private First Class Sam Train was indeed the gentle giant and he had a wonderful performance.  As did the other three men, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso and Derek Luke.  Great performances by these four men!

“MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA” was really a fantastic film.  It had a good balance from action, heartwarming moments and scenes that captured your attention.  And the fact that you have a Blu-ray that does go into the Buffalo Soldiers and interviewing those who fought in the war and also those who were villagers in Italy in contact with the soldiers validating certain parts of the film and their experiences, it was great to have all that included in conjunction with the very good picture and audio quality in the Blu-ray.

Overall, “MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA” is a fantastic Blu-ray release that I recommend wholeheartedly!






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Comments

  • Chad

    A few things about your review. I have yet to see the movie but a few of the things that you nitpick are elements in the book. Hector keeps the gun for so long, not for the specific intent of revenge but for protection. The book explained this rather well and the fact that the revenge was not planned and merely a reaction to seeing the face of the traitor who got Hecor’s buddies killed. Also, the Italians that capture the Nazi are Seperatists, NOT Fascists The Fascists were allies of the Nazis.

  • Greetings Chad,

    Thanks for explaining the situation about Hector. In the film, it’s not explained at all. (he doesn’t talk to anyone after the shooting) but it just happened at the beginning of the film with no explanation. If you watch the film, please let me know if the book is worth reading afterwards. I would imagine that there were much more details in the book that didn’t make it into the film.

    Thank you for clarifying the “Separatists” and “Facists”.

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