Saturday, January 5, 2013

Film Review: Spike Lee's Red Hook Summer

Remember when Spike Lee used to make good movies, even great ones on occasion?  Yeah, me neither.  Okay, okay, I do remember, but hey, it has been awhile.  I would say it has been at least a decade, since 25th Hour, that I have been generally thrilled with one of Spike's joints - and even longer if you try to reach back to his early days of great prospect.  The man that once gave us such revolutionary work as Do the Right Thing and Jungle Fever, now gives us the pandering Miracle at St. Anna, and the dreadfully boring, and the dreadfully cliché, She Hate Me.  Granted, the man's docs are still interesting, and I am looking forward - with quite a bit of anticipation, mind you - to his remake of Park Chan-wook's Oldboy, but I must say that the guy just doesn't seem to have it anymore.  The spark, so to speak, has gone out of his fireworks.  This becomes achingly evident during the first two acts of his latest film, Red Hook Summer.  

The story of a teenage boy from Hotlanta, Atlanta, who is sent by his single mother, to spend the summer with his estranged preacher grandfather in the Red Hook area of Brooklyn, is a film that tries to take on the ideas of spirituality and the absurdities of religion.  As we see this iPad-toting, vegan, effeminate thirteen year old, making his way through this newly dangerous world of Brooklyn (are we to believe he had no previous problems in the crime-riddled Atlanta?), befriending a neighbour girl, who at first berates him for "talking white" (is his explanation of having gone to a private school, meant as an apology for having dared to not fall into the linguistic wasteland that is inner city youth culture?), and getting threatened by the most generic of drug dealing neighbourhood hooligans (see, even Spike Lee, a man who blindly berates other filmmakers for supposedly mocking his culture, can jump on the stereotype bandwagon), we are left quite unmoved.  Having to sit through the quite ridiculous dialogue written by Lee and co-writer/producer James McBride, we become painfully aware that Lee's black youth culture sounds just as silly as Diablo Cody's white counterparts.  But, these kids, with such affectatious monikers as Flick Royal and Chazz Morningstar (we are not suppose to take this seriously so much as fantastically), are first timers, so we should at least give them a break.

The performance of The Wire star Clarke Peters, as Flick's obsessively preachy grandpa, Da Good Bishop Enoch Rouse, manages to hold the film together quite well - even when everyone around him seems either a joke or a stereotype, or both.  But as this film moves on, this insular world we see them living in (replete with multiple walk-ons by Lee himself, reprising his role of Do the Right Thing's Mookie - still delivering pizzas nearly twenty-five years later), begins to grow on you.  When we finally get to the obvious and inevitable third act, even though it is seen coming the proverbial mile away, it comes as almost a redemption of the rest of the film.  Much like the souls that Da Good Bishop wants to save, Lee saves his own cinematic soul by having it be reborn in the final act - an final act that is an emotionally brazen half hour or so, and makes us remember why we fell in love with Lee's early films in the first place.  Granted, the film already looked quite spectacular (Lee has always been one to use the entire colour palette to its fullest advantage - sort of like a Brooklyn-based Nick Ray or Stanley Kubrick, or even Godard), and even though its script is less than desirable, this final act brings it all home again.  I suppose, I must admit to having enjoyed the damn thing after all.  So there.

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