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.