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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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Tsangari: With my next film, White Knuckles, it comes with a budget — it’s going to be a huge new world for me. As always when I enter into a new thing, don’t you wonder how it’s going to be and how much of yourself you are going to have to sacrifice? The ballet of all of this. I’m already imaging the choreography — not of the camera, but the choreography of actually bringing it to life. It is as fascinating as the shooting itself. I find the producing as exciting as the directing. The one informs the other. There is this producer-director hat that I constantly wear. I’ve been thinking about these early auteurs, like Howard Hawks and John Ford and Preston Sturges—all of these guys basically were hired by the studio, and I doubt they had final cut, and somehow they had films that now we can say they had their signatures.  There are different ways of being creative within the parameters and limitations of production. The only thing you cannot negotiate is stupidity.
Filmmaker: And unfortunately, there is an abundance of that in the world.
Tsangari: This is the only big risk: stupidity. Everything else is completely worked out in the end.
~ Chevalier‘s Rachel Athina Tsangari

“The middle-range movies that I was doing have largely either stopped being made, or they’ve moved to television, now that television is a go-to medium for directors who can’t get work in theatricals, because there are so few theatricals being made. But also with the new miniseries concept, you can tell a long story in detail without having to cram it all into 90 minutes. You don’t have to cut the characters and take out the secondary people. You can actually put them all on a big canvas. And it is a big canvas, because people have bigger screens now, so there’s no aesthetic difference between the way you shoot a movie and the way you shoot a TV show.

“Which is all for the good. But what’s happened in the interim is that theatrical movies being a spectacle business are now either giant blockbuster movies that run three hours—even superhero movies run three hours, they used to run like 58 minutes!—and the others, which are dysfunctional family independent movies or the slob comedy or the kiddie movie, and those are all low-budget. So the middle ground of movies that were about things, they’re just gone. Or else they’re on HBO. Like the Bryan Cranston LBJ movie, which years ago would’ve been made for theaters.

“You’ve got people like Paul Schrader and Walter Hill who can’t get their movies theatrically distributed because there’s no market for it. So they end up going to VOD, and VOD is a model from which no one makes any money, because most of the time, as soon as they get on the site, they’re pirated. So the whole model of the system right now is completely broken. And whether or not anybody’s going to try to fix, or if it even can be fixed, I don’t know. But it’s certainly not the same business that I got into in the ’70s.”
~ Joe Dante

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