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Red Hook Summer (2012)

DVD Cover (Image Entertainment)
Genres: Coming-Of-Age, Drama
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Director:
Spike Lee Spike Lee
Starring:
Limary Agosto Limary Agosto
Sumayya Ali Sumayya Ali
Turron Kofi Alleyne Turron Kofi Alleyne
De'Adre Aziza De'Adre Aziza
Jonathan Batiste Jonathan Batiste

5.0 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by bluemeanie
Added: September 13, 2012
I don't really care for Spike Lee as a film-maker. Never have.

Wait, wait, wait - let's back up a moment. That comment always gets my into trouble with cinephiles and I think further elaboration is required to not sound like a total, ignorant moron. I have a difficult time separating my dislike of Spike Lee (the person) with my enjoyment of his films. I find Spike Lee to be an ass, quite simply - an arrogant, entitled, racist ass. Then how did I enjoy Red Hook Summer?

Maybe I'm growing up a little. Maybe I'm softening on Spike Lee a little. There was every reason for me to dislike this film - it's one of the preachiest pieces of film he's given us in a long time. Also, his choice to shoot the picture so low-budget does affect the overall quality (i.e. an obviously digital Statue of Liberty that isn't really even needed). But, for some reason, Red Hook Summer got to me.

The film stars Clarke Peters (The Wire) as Da Good Bishop Enoch Rouse, the pastor of Lil' Peace of Heaven Baptist Church in the Brooklyn hamlet of Red Hook. The film opens with Da Bishop's grandson, Flik (newcomer Jules Brown), coming to stay with him for the summer. Flik has never met his grandfather and to say they come from two different worlds would be an understatement. As expected, Flik seems rather miserable in Red Hook until he meets Chazz Morningstar (Toni Lysaith), a young girl with asthma whose mothers seems to have feelings for Flik's grandfather.

Most of Red Hook Summer deals with the combative relationship between Flik and Da Bishop, while also giving us a glimpse into the daily lives of the people who live in Red Hook. Lee has such a knack for taking us into communities, creating these vibrant characters and really letting us see what they see and feel what they feel. We learn which areas of Red Hook are safe, which areas should be avoided and we start learning the lay of the land - Red Hook Summer is like a cinematic Google Map of the neighborhood.

Then, about two-thirds of the way into the picture, Red Hook Summer gets real. What begins as a simple and breezy little picture turns powerful and shocking. Lee telegraphs very little but the events that transpire do not feel forced and suddenly make all the sense in the world. In one powerful sequence (brilliantly shot and edited), we fully understand that Spike Lee is the same button-pusher he's always been. And it's that sequence - that event - that looms over the rest of the picture and carries it to fruition. Lee doesn't give us any easy answers about it - he doesn't really give us any answers about it. Different characters react in different ways to the incident but Lee sits on the outskirts past judgment.

Much praise should be paid to Clarke Peters. His character carries Red Hook Summer and he inhabits the role of Enoch Rouse with tremendous fire and purpose. He is electric when he's on-screen and easily conveys the complex emotions required in the latter part of the film. Most people will remember Peters from his work on The Wire but this film takes his career to a new level entirely. This is the role Oscar nominations were created to honor and I hope he sees some much-deserved love for this picture.

Newcomers Jules Brown and Toni Lysaith have very little (if any) acting experience and that's pretty evident, but they are so naturally likable that you soon find yourself not even thinking about it. You still manage to believe everything they're saying and doing and credit has to be given to Lee, who always has a knack with younger actors. In Red Hook Summer, he entrusts a great deal to them and they do not disappoint; nor does Arthur French as Mr. Curtis, the janitor at the church. Mr. Curtis gets some of the most kinetic monologues in the film and he handles them with ease. Is it an insult to say he does crazy well?

If I had one complaint with the film - one real, rock-solid complaint, it would be the decision to have Spike Lee reprise his role of Mookie from Do the Right Thing. For me, it was a distraction. That is such an important and powerful character in cinematic history that it almost felt cheap to just toss him into this film in such a lackluster way. And the character adds nothing to the film. I assume it was just a fun throwback to the earlier film and something Spike Lee fans might smile about. I'll admit - I smiled when I saw him too, and then frowned when I realized that was pretty much all I was going to get from him.

Thank you, Spike Lee, for making me dislike you a little less. I will probably always despise the man's attitude and arrogance, but I can't deny his talent as a film-maker. Red Hook Summer was a nice surprise that turns into an unforgettable piece of cinema in its final act. The film is getting mixed reviews but I encourage you to take a chance and give it a shot - Red Hook Summer is the real deal. 8/10.
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