MCN Columnists
Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt Pratt@moviecitynews.com

DVD Geek: Red Hook Summer

Once Spike Lee made Malcolm X, he seemed to lose all of his relevance as a filmmaker, thus reinforcing the adage about being careful what you wish for.  But he really has only himself to blame.  His first films were genuinely edgy, exciting, and revelatory.  Other than his documentaries, his later films have all been flailing around in the dark, trying to find any kind of edge at all.  His 2012 feature, Red Hook Summer, available from Image Entertainment on Blu-ray, is heartbreakingly bad, because it almost isn’t.  If he had thought the story through a little bit more, if he had cast slightly better actors in a couple of key roles (although several others are excellent), and if he would permanently latch back onto the flamboyant style that is only seen in all-too-brief flashes, he might have had a genuinely gripping and dazzling movie.  Instead, it is a confused and uncomfortable one.  It begins as a promising kid’s story, about a young Atlanta boy who, for reasons that really demand more of an explanation than is given, has to spend his summer with his grandfather in Brooklyn.  The boy has not been brought up in the church, but his grandfather is the pastor of a small congregation, and the boy is dragged along to all of the church functions, which he doesn’t mind after he meets the daughter of one of the parishioners.  There is then a surprising and fairly horrific revelation, which upends the boy’s stay.  At its best, the film captures the free-spirited enthusiasm of its youthful characters while also exploring the differences in spirituality each older character has come to value.  Running 121 minutes, it could use a little trimming (Lee needs somebody he trusts to stand up to him and enforce discipline more than has been happening), but more significantly, it needs more consideration.  It feels like a rough draft or out-of-town tryout.  It has potential, but it requires more effort than was exerted, polishing its flaws and streamlining its dynamics.

 

The letterboxing has an aspect ratio of about 1.85:1, and while there is at times a viable, makeshift feel to the colors, they pop out wonderfully on the BD when the lighting is right and Lee is striving for that effect.  The DTS sound has an excellent directional mix that contributes significantly to a viewer’s engagement with the entertainment.  There are English and Spanish subtitles, a trailer, a music video and 27 minutes of passable behind-the-scenes footage.

 

Lee also supplies a commentary track, though he somewhat runs out of steam for a while in the second hour, and spends most of his time discussing the characters, the cast and the story.  He does address the plot’s most significant anomaly, and admits that it is the question he gets asked most often about the film, citing his reasoning for going ahead with the concept.  Since he is talking about the mutability of human nature, he is technically correct in his validation of the character’s actions, but good drama requires an emotional momentum that the viewer can comprehend, and Lee’s choices fail that test.

 

2 Responses to “DVD Geek: Red Hook Summer”

  1. GDA says:

    I’m in near-total agreement. I come out maybe slightly on the more positive side for “Red Hook Summer” because I’d still rather see a filmmaker take more risks for the sake of an imperfect picture than sit through any five more “successful” movies while they coast along the mid- to lower range of ambition.

    I’m really curious to watch the Blu, too, because in the theater where I saw it the music seemed awfully intrusive in many scenes; songs with lyrics cranked up so loudly they actually interfered with the dialogue–and I’m hoping that was peculiar to the venue somehow and not a fault of the film.

  2. bsanders says:

    I agree with the reviewer. There some good things in the film but it bogged down by bad acting by the two young leads and an underdevelop script. Like what was the reason for the mother to sent her son to her father when they (the father)had a falling out. Why would she sent her son into a dangerous situation. I was at a lost with this movie,and people say She Hate Me was bad, Red Hook was worst. I usually can find something good in his films but this one I couldn’t I don’t know what Spike Lee was thinking. I hope Oldboy put back on track.

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“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
James Gray

“I’m an unusual producer because I control the destiny of a lot of the films I’ve done. Most of them are in perfect states of restoration and preservation and distribution, and I aim to keep them in distribution. HanWay Films, which is my sales company, has a 500-film catalogue, which is looked after and tended like a garden. I’m still looking after my films in the catalogue and trying to get other people to look after their films, which we represent intellectually, to try to keep them alive. A film has to be run through a projector to be alive, unfortunately, and those electric shadows are few and far between now. It’s very hard to go and see films in a movie house. I was always involved with the sales and marketing of my films, right up from The Shout onwards. I’ve had good periods, but I also had a best period because the film business was in its best period then. You couldn’t make The Last Emperor today. You couldn’t make The Sheltering Sky today. You couldn’t make those films anymore as independent films. There are neither the resources nor the vision within the studios to go to them and say, “I want to make a film about China with no stars in it.”Then, twenty years ago, I thought, “OK, I’m going to sell my own films but I don’t want to make it my own sales company.” I wanted it to be for me but I wanted to make it open for every other producer, so they don’t feel that they make a film but I get the focus. So, it’s a company that is my business and I’m involved with running it in a certain way, but I’m not seen as a competitor with other people that use it. It’s used by lots of different producers apart from me. When I want to use it, however, it’s there for me and I suppose I’m planning to continue making all my films to be sold by HanWay. I don’t have to, but I do because it’s in my building and the marketing’s here, and I can do it like that. Often, it sounds like I’m being easy about things, but it’s much more difficult than it sounds. It’s just that I’ve been at it for a long time and there’s lots of fat and security around my business. I know how to make films, but it’s not easy—it’s become a very exacting life.”
~ Producer Jeremy Thomas