The Spike Lee Joint Collection Vol.2 Blu-ray Review

I’m guessing that, due to the various studios he’s worked with, filmmaker Spike Lee doesn’t have a choice of what gets released as part of a home video “collection.” His two greatest films, in my opinion, are DO THE RIGHT THING (Universal) and MALCOLM X (Warner Brothers). Neither of those were included in Volume 1 of this collection, which instead delivered 25th HOUR (a fair film) and HE GOT GAME, a much better offering. This month we get two very different films, both in style and quality, from the New York Knick’s biggest fan.

SUMMER OF SAM – [7/10]

Summer of Sam

SUMMER OF SAM is a well-made period piece that follows the various residents of a New York City neighborhood as they are encompassed by the infamous “Son of Sam” murders of 1977. Rather than focus on the crimes themselves (though the film doesn’t shy away from them), the film looks at how a close-knit group of neighbors can suddenly become untrusting due to circumstances they cannot control or understand. The film features some great work by a lot of young actors and actresses who were slowly making a name for themselves, including Leguizamo (a very underrated dramatic actor), Brody, Mira Sorvino, Jennifer Espisito and Michael Imperioli, who also co-wrote the screenplay for the film with Lee and Victor Collichio. A long time New Yorker (by way of Atlanta), Lee easily captures the sounds and sights of the city, ably helped by a fantastic musical score by Terence Blanchard.

MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA – [4/10]

Miracle at St Anna

Unfortunately, fine visuals and Blanchard’s score are really the only thing worth recommending when discussing MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA. Overlong by a good half-hour or more, the film tells the story of the all-black 92nd Infantry Division, better known through history as the Buffalo Soldiers. MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA centers on the group of soldiers as they find themselves trapped behind enemy lines in Italy during World War II. Based on the novel by James McBride, who also wrote the screenplay, the film suffers from too many characters doing too many things, a problem that results in not really knowing enough about the people on screen to care about what happens to them. Again, visually the film is first rate with Lee staging a few impressive battle sequences. But the film just seems to go on forever, as if Lee was shooting with a “more is better” mentality. I’m not sure if it’s because Lee is working off another person’s script (the weak link on the first Blu-ray collection, 25th HOUR, was also written by someone else) or that he just concentrated more on the action. Either way the result is easily one of the longest and most puzzling films of Lee’s career.

THE SPIKE LEE JOINT COLLECTION VOL.2 BLU-RAY REVIEW

Video:

SUMMER OF SAM: Released in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the transfer is well done. As much of the film takes place at night, there is almost a shadowy feeling. The film also manages to capture the haziness of the summer nights without muting the colors or images.

MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA: The film is presented here in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio and also boasts a beautiful transfer. Lee has always been a filmmaker known for his visual flair and this disc does not disappoint.

Audio: Both films were recorded with the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 process and sound fine. Again, Terence Blanchard’s musical score helps propel both films and does so without overwhelming the dialogue or background noises.

Summer of Sam

DISC ONE – SUMMER OF SAM

Audio Commentary: The disc features an amazingly fun commentary delivered by writer/director Spike Lee and actor John Leguizamo. A lot of attention is paid to Lee’s working process as well as his casting. Lee also explains how co-writer Michael Imperioli, who was cast in the lead, had to drop out due to his commitments to “The Sopranos.” The role went instead to Adrien Brody, who would win an Oscar three years later for THE PIANIST.

DISC TWO – MIRACLE OF ST. ANNA

Audio Commentary: Director Spike Lee and screenwriter/novel author James McBride cover pretty much every aspect of the film’s creation. An informative commentary but it really misses the mark as to explaining the film you’re watching. It’s almost as if they’re talking about another movie.

Deleted and Extended Scenes (21:17): A selection of nine different scenes that would have only made the movie 20 minutes longer!

The Buffalo Soldier Experience (22:31): When I served in the US Army I was stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where the Buffalo Soldiers were first formed in September 1866. So I was certainly interested in watching this very informative feature where Lee, McBride and a few veterans recount the history of the Buffalo Soldier, from right after the Civil War through World War II.

Deed Not Words (17:25): Another feature which highlights both the making of the film and the 92nd Infantry Division, let by Lee, McBride and actual members of the group that served during World War II.

OVERALL 2.5
VERDICT:
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