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Racism in Reviews: The Miracle at St. Anna Advance Buzz

 

 
http://www.metacritic.com/film/titles/miracleatstanna
http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/miracle_at_st_anna/

 
As of this moment, Metacritic has Miracle at St. Anna at 23, ranked beneath My Best Friend’s Girl, The Love Guru, and Babylon AD. Rotten Tomatoes has Miracle at St. Anna at 15, making Nights At Rodanthe the more critically acclaimed film of the weekend, and meaning nearly 3 times as many critics recommended The House Bunny. Not all of the reviews have come in, but many of the major outlets, including New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, New York Observer, and Variety have already gone in on Spike’s war epic.

I have not seen Miracle at St. Anna. It might be the worst movie ever (doubtful), or it might just be a flop (possible). But for it to get more roundly panned than some of the other tripe listed above (and that’s a mere smattering of the surefire formulaic crapfests that will end up receiving a higher percentage of accolades than Spike’s film) made me suspicious, so I read every review that’s out right now, and I found the following 5 things located in damn near every review: 

 
a) Spike shoving the horrors of war in our face
b) Spike’s war movie being too long
c) Spike’s ambition being too high
d) Spike trying to outdo other great war flicks
e) Spike’s vendetta against Clint Eastwood

 
While all of these could be valid arguments if properly explicated, I found myself wanting to know more, that just hearing these comments isn’t enough to turn me off from the film. The horrors are shoved in my face? Hmm, I don’t recall Spielberg getting flak for making me watch a man scoop up his own intestines in Saving Private Ryan. It’s too long? I’d need more than two hands to count the number of Best Picture winners that are longer than Miracle at St. Anna. He’s too ambitious? I get that, but why can’t he get some credit for his ambition? Everyone praises the cinematography, they say the score is epic, the actors all do good work… so why is this film so much worse than the others? To crush a film’s possibilities at making its money back by slamming it harder than the studio-produced drivel is to discourage directors from making passion projects (and investors from backing them). If it’s a purely bad film with no redeemable qualities, then fine. But no one ever shat on Kubrick, Malick, or Coppola for being “too ambitious”– in fact, some of their best films are undeniably flawed due to too much ambition, but we still elevate them to God status.

 
He’s trying to outdo other war flicks? This is where my eyebrow raises, along with the Clint Eastwood references. In some of these reviews, you can see the critics smirking, saying, “This is what you get, Spike, for trying to hang with the big boys.” And perhaps he can’t hang, when it comes to this genre… but again, why fault an ambitious, passionate filmmaker for trying? Why does every critic universally sharpen their knives when Spike Lee has a new flick coming out? Perhaps this comment is too inflammatory, but how come recently he gets his best reviews for the films with white men as the leading character? How come Do The Right Thing, in my opinion the best film of the last 25 years, doesn’t get nominated for Best Picture, but the main white character gets a nomination? How come the same year, Driving Miss Daisy, a movie about an elderly white woman and her black driver, wins universal accolades and Best Picture? I’m rambling, and this is 20 years ago now, but when an “important movie about race” finally does win Best Picture a couple of years ago, and it’s directed by an LA-based white man, is that supposed to be some indicator of progressiveness within the Academy, when they still roundly ignore the ambitions of a NY-based black man who’s never pandered and has always followed his passions? Maybe– and I suspect I’m not alone in thinking this– they wish he was more like Morgan Freeman in Driving Miss Daisy after all.

 
This is merely a rambling stream-of-conscious regarding my reaction to these reviews. Hopefully the number will go up when every critic’s review is finally put in. Hopefully the film isn’t as bad as people seem to believe it is. Hopefully even if it is bad, it makes enough money to allow Spike to make another passion project, because he is certainly one of if not the best and most important director of his generation. And hopefully next time, the big-name critics will go harder at a Dane Cook movie that we’ve already seen a million times than at an ambitious, original Spike Lee joint. But who knows, maybe that’s asking too much.

 

EDIT: If you’d like to see the type of review I’d been hoping to see, read Roger Ebert’s review. He praises Spike’s ambition, calling his passion important, while still acknowledging the flaws in the film. I know one can’t expect every reviewer to be as fair and insightful as Ebert, the best movie critic alive… but one can dream.

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~ by russellhainline on September 25, 2008.

9 Responses to “Racism in Reviews: The Miracle at St. Anna Advance Buzz”

  1. you just mad

  2. A.O. Scott gave a pretty good–but not a glowing–review in the NYtimes…in my opinion he’s just about the only man in the biz you can trust. And, if anything, he says that the movie either isn’t long enough, or should have kept to one or two of the narratives…other than that he praises it. I haven’t read the other reviews you mention, but I don’t see the harsh criticism you’re talking about in his. And the little blurbs on Rottentomatoes.com don’t come off as offensive as you make them to be. I dunno man…I think you might be stretching here. (not that I’m saying it’ll be worse than the Love Guru, but these movies all try to do different things, and from the sound of it, Lee falls prey to the genre conventions just as much as the movies you listed in the first paragraph).

  3. Fricano, most of the reviews I’ve read mentioned that the downfalls of the film were the reasons I listed. And you’re right, very few reviewers are trustworthy, BUT they do have a big impact on the box office of movies such as this one. It’s not the offensiveness of the pans, it’s how widespread the pans are. And there have been several ambitious failures Spike Lee has made that have been ripped to shreds worse than the worst Dane Cook movie… and I often times wonder why. Because the most offensive Spike Lee movie has 100 times more merit than any studio Dane Cook comedy.

    And Basa… yes, yes I am mad.

  4. And Matt, check my edit. I think Ebert’s review is the type of fair shot I always hope all critics give Spike’s film. Most critics are unusually swift to dismiss his passion and vision.

  5. Please, racism? Spike is held to a higher standard because he is one our generation’s best. But he is also coddled. The only point I would take issue with is that Lee was too ambitious. He is pompous about what Eastwood does with his films and he did try to outdo Eastwood. But overambitious this was not. It was junk. What you are seeing, Russell, is some class A coddling. The reviews could, maybe should, have been a lot, lot worse. If every director did get the same treatment, the reviews of this clunker certainly would have been.

  6. Jack… so he tried to outdo Eastwood’s Oscar-nominated films (which is a contentious point, since this project has been in development since before Spike would have seen Letters For Iwo Jima), yet it’s not ambitious? Those seem to be conflicting points you’re making.

    And I’d argue that reviews of a war film, when getting worse overall reviews than Dane Cook comedies, CAN’T get worse.

  7. Haven’t seen this movie yet and look forward to it. Just wanted to say I enjoyed your tag about Crash. It sucked hard and pissed me off. High five!

  8. Dat Basa…what the fu#k are you talking about? You just mad. No, maybe he’s not mad maybe he’s right. Ironically I keep seeing advertisements for the Godfather trilogies on Blu-Ray. And people praises this type of violence and don’t acknowledge the true violence in war. What the hell do you want Spike Lee to do. Say “oh this is war, let me hold the critics di#k and not show what war is truely about. Are you fu#king kidding me. People hate to hear the truth about things. And thank GOD for Spike Lee being one of the few directors that is not going to dunn down his projects just so he can get a better review from these so called critics. There fu#@#ng paid anyway. Get someone who doesn’t get paid to review a movie or who was in wars or who has been racially ignored or disregarded for human life. You don’t think what happen in this movie really happened? Like Spike Lees (School Daze) scene says “WWaakkee Uuuppp” Or you will find yourself sleep on the reality of things. I praise Spike for the horror of this movie (even though it brought a few tears to this mans eyes). But what do you think mothers are doing while their sons and daughters are getting killed in Iraq for this same kind of violence. Long story short. Spike is a BLACK MAN. A man, man of GOD. And God is the truth and the light. So, the next time Spike Lee or anyone else chooses not to tether the reality of the sh!t that goes on in life you better get your pen and your paper and learn something. Until it’s done to you or you experience first hand, you will always be in the dark about it. But that’s fine because thats were the devil and his demons love to dwell. Ronal

  9. Dat Basa…what the **** are you talking about? You just mad. No, maybe he’s not mad maybe he’s right. Ironically I keep seeing advertisements for the Godfather trilogies on Blu-Ray. And people praises this type of violence? And don’t acknowledge the true violence in war. What the hell do you want Spike Lee to do. Say “oh this is war, let me hold the critics **** and not show what war is truely about. Are you fu#king kidding me. People hate to hear the truth about things. And thank GOD for Spike Lee being one of the few directors that is not going to dunn down his projects just so he can get a better review from these so called critics. The’re paid anyway. Get someone who doesn’t get paid to write review of a movie or who was in wars or who has been racially ignored or disregarded for human life. You don’t think what happen in this movie really happened? Like Spike Lees (School Daze) scene says “WWaakkee Uuuppp” Or you will find yourself sleep on the reality of things. I praise Spike for the horror of this movie (even though it brought a few tears to this mans eyes). But what do you think mothers are doing while their sons and daughters are getting killed in Iraq for this same kind of violence. Long story short. Spike is a BLACK MAN. And if he bleached his skin to turn white 10 years ago and made the films he has made since then. Oh, the reviews would be different. Trust me. In America, a black man gets no credit. They have to fight hard for it. But in other countries we are loved as humans like everyone else. But the U.S. is a deadly virus in itself. It spreads bad news, idol worshiping and lies about who we really are. The richest country in the world? We’ve been hearing this for how long. And, no the we’re not. Russia and Chyna (to name a few) are. But could you tell nonbelievers this 5 or 10 years ago this. No!! But now it’s coming to light. We’re broke and owe these countries money and just for our own greed needs 700+ billions of dollars to bailout of a small peice of the financial crisis. That’s what I’m saying (your disillusion will keep you from being honest). And it’s sad. A man, man of GOD. And God is the truth and the light. So, the next time Spike Lee or anyone else chooses not to tether the reality of the what really goes on in life you better get your pen and your paper and learn something. Until it’s done to you or you experience it threw someone you really love first hand, you will always be in the dark about it. But that’s fine because thats were the devil and his demons love to dwell.

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