Red Hook Summer (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Red Hook Summer (2012)

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1Andrew LIKE BannerThere's never enough time.  The credits for Red Hook Summer ended over an hour ago and still the film is a struggle.

Sitting back, it has a lot to do with the scattershot quality of Spike Lee's film career over the last decade.  Through the '90s he was making amazing and challenging films one right after the other with little regard to conventional taste and hemming close to his Brooklyn roots.  Then in 2000 his ambitious Bamboozled flopped and, much like James Cameron looking out into the ocean for the first time, Lee seemed to have lost something.  He made the excellent 25th Hour but then made the incomprehensibly bad She Hate Me.

SHM was the kind of film that Lee's detractors always said he made, filled with ham-fisted racial issues into weird plot holes and a disturbingly angry stance against women and homosexuals.  Then he played it safe for eight years until now, with RHS, he seems to have regained some sense of himself.  But with that rediscovered composure brings complacency and Lee takes great risks alongside so many perplexing alleys that I can't wholeheartedly recommend the film but damn if I don't love thinking about it.

Give just enough of yourself and any sin half-known can be forgiven.

Give just enough of yourself and any sin half-known can be forgiven.

RHS drops us into the plot as unceremoniously as Flik (Jules Brown) is dropped off at his grandfather's for the summer.  There's no reason outside of Flik's nearly adolescent moodiness for this aside from vague notions about the mom needing to get away.  But here we are, along with the stuck kid, looking through the rectangle of his iPad and recording the world.  It's hard not to see Lee projecting a large part of himself into the boy, especially given his recent fondness for using his iPad to record everything.

Life has less technology-driven ideas for the boy through his grandpa, Da Good Bishop Enoch Rouse (an excellent Clarke Peters.)  He is a firebrand on the pulpit and helps out the community in the meantime.  The Bishop reaches out to the local criminal sect, the disabled, and ignores the drunk of the church because he really means well.  All in all it seems that the Bishop is a good man even if he pushes Flik a bit too hard toward the church.  So life goes on, Flik has a sort-of relationship with a neighborhood girl, sermons are given, and songs are sung.

Aside from a questionable late film twist, that's it.  There's no conflict in RHS outside of a secular kid who's happy to stay that way and a preacher grandpa who means well.  In this sense, RHS is a success, but very boring.  Lee fills his soundtrack with jazz and gospel songs while he creates a more welcoming neighborhood than he's shown before.  The intensity of his color grading is tuned down significantly while blue and earth tones dominate the surroundings, especially in the almost subterranean church.  It's just pleasant and little more.

No matter how many films I've seen it in, I still love Lee's confrontational shots.

No matter how many films I've seen it in, I still love Lee's confrontational shots.

But something happens in the last half hour of the film that is indicative of a trend throughout the film.  Lee introduces a plot element that feels too obvious and cheap given what we know about the Bishop, but does it extremely well.  The relevation is revealed through my favorite Lee shot, the slow and steady glide of someone emotionally devestated toward their inevitable ruin.  No matter how many times he's used it, I have a great weakness for the shot, even if it's in the service of a horrible twist.

Many times throughout the film either Lee's instincts as a writer get the better of him or a director while rarely fusing the two together.  Lee himself appears in the film as Mookie, still working at Sal's Pizzeria, and Lee doesn't bring attention to this at all.  As a piece of writing I thought this fascinating, what if the events of Do the Right Thing changed nothing?  As direction it's a useless distraction for casual and hardcore Lee fans since he just walks on, talks for a second, and then walks off.  Then Lee tackles religion, builds to one of his famous quick-cut montages, and just stops.

Lee keeps frustratingly inserting a kernel of a good idea then just can't keep the focus going.  Then, as suddenly as the film begins, it just ends.  Even with the last revelations there's no sense of change, nothing really seems to have been learned or imparted on anyone, and what revelations there are seem easily swept under the rug.

So RHS is a slight mess but it's fun to think about.  There are so many good ideas and well executed moments to keep my attention that it could fuel a great conversation, if not my adoration.  For tonight that's enough.

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TailRed Hook Summer (2012)

Directed by Spike Lee.
Screenplay written by Lee and James McBride.
Starring Jules Brown and Clarke Peters.

Posted by Andrew

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