Spike Lee

Red Hook Summer

red-hook-summer-teaser-poster-usa_mid

2012

40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks/Variance Films

Directed and Produced by Spike Lee

Written by Spike Lee and James McBride

I’ve watched RED HOOK SUMMER three times now and I still can’t honestly say what I think of it. Which in a way I think is supposed to be the point. I’ve always admired Spike Lee as a filmmaker in his insistence on telling stories that don’t have Hollywood resolutions and endings. That’s because the issues Spike raises in his movies don’t have nice tidy endings where everybody rides off into the sunset happy and joyous. Spike Lee’s movies are about the issues that most of us don’t like to talk about honestly. Race, how the media contributes to the corruption of intelligence, creativity and spirit and urban crime just to name a few. I remember how much trouble he got into with the African-American community when “School Daze” hit the theaters as a large part of the movie’s story dealt with racism among African-Americans regarding skin tone and having “good” and “bad” hair. Black folks were ready to hang Spike behind that one as they felt that was an issue that should stay within the black community and not for public knowledge.

He’s always been a controversial artist and is well known for his public disagreements and arguments with other filmmakers. But he’s got passion for his work. Even in movies like “She Hate Me” and “Girl 6” two films of his that I have not the slightest idea who he thought would be interested in seeing. And there is a whole lot of passion in RED HOOK SUMMER but there’s also a lot WTH as well.

Flik Royale (Jules Brown) is brought to Brooklyn’s infamous Red Hook housing project by his mother Colleen (De’Adre Aziza) to spend the summer with his grandfather, Da Good Bishop Enoch Rouse (Clarke Peters) Flik is a spoiled, arrogant little snot who openly displays disrespect and contempt for the situation he’s in. Having been brought up in Atlanta he knows nothing about the streets, something that his grandfather continually warns him about. It doesn’t help that Flik wanders around past the neighborhood drug dealers and gang bangers with his iPad in front of his face constantly, obsessively recording everything he sees.

trailer-red-hook-summer-11093

Bishop Enoch puts his grandson to work at The Lil’ Peace of Heaven Baptist Church where Flik meets Chazz Morningstar (Toni Lysaith) who will become his best friend during the course of the hot Brooklyn summer. But just when I thought that this was going to be a movie about a young man’s coming of age and spiritual awakening, Spike Lee quickly changes gears so fast that I had to rewind the movie back a bit to make sure I hadn’t missed something.

red-hook-summer-image-3

Now, I can’t tell you what shakes up this movie so dramatically just in case you decide to see it but let me say this. That one event drastically changes everything and will cause you to ask: “Well, if Character A knew this about Character B then why put Character C with Character B in the first place.” And that’s as close as I can come to what happens without spoiling it. Most of the time I don’t give a poobah’s pizzle about spoilers (A pox on The Spoiler Police, says I and damn them for puking clackdishes) but in this case, spoilers are warranted.

This is one odd movie in terms of when it’s supposed to be taking place. Except for Flik’s iPad there is no other sign of modern technology in this movie. Carmelo Anthony is prominently mentioned but there’s no cell phones, no flat screen TV’s, no iPhones. No brand name designer clothing. Chazz speaks in 1970’s slang that she definitely could not have heard from other girls or boys her own age or from adults. In fact, everybody dresses like they were from the 1980’s and the movie could easily have been set during that period.

What’s not odd is the powerhouse performance of Clarke Peters. Before this, I only knew his work on “The Wire” and was impressed there. But in RED HOOK SUMMER he’s way more than impressive. He’s downright nuclear. If you decide to watch RED HOOK SUMMER for any reason, Clarke Peters should be it.

I was also delighted with the performance of Toni Lysaith. No, she’s no Cicely Tyson but she’s adorable and obviously having a lot of fun acting in a movie. She’s a lot better than Jules Brown who runs the emotional acting range from pissed off to even more pissed off. He just doesn’t have the acting ability, taught or natural to hold my attention, especially when he has to do scenes with acting powerhouses such as Peters or Thomas Jefferson Byrd who plays Deacon Zee here and many of you will recognize as the father mandated by a judge to be handcuffed to his son while on their way to The Million Man March in 1996’s “Get On the Bus”

And no other filmmaker can so convincingly put Brooklyn on the screen than Spike Lee. I know Red Hook and in just about every shot of RED HOOK SUMMER I recognized where he had filmed.

What else can I say about RED HOOK SUMMER to wrap up this review? Oh, there are two cameos in the movie, one amusing and the other troubling to me. The amusing one is by Tracy Camilla Johns who is introduced to Flik as “Mother Darling” and it wasn’t until talking about the movie with Patricia later on that I realized that Ms. Johns was reprising her Nola Darling character from “She’s Gotta Have It.” I wouldn’t dream of telling you how she shows up in this movie.

The other cameo is by Spike Lee himself, playing Mookie from “Do The Right Thing” Mookie is obviously older, sporting a gray beard and hair but he’s still delivering pizza. To be honest, I’d have liked to have seen Mookie as a businessman owning his own pizza parlor or even a chain of them. Apparently the character has not improved his lot in life since 1989 and that saddened me because I wondered if Spike Lee saw so little in what is one of his most beloved characters that he could not envision any sort of productive future for him or if this was Spike Lee making a self-commentary on his own life. Or maybe a cigar is just a cigar.

So should you see RED HOOK SUMMER? It feels to me strongly like a work still in progress. The screenplay could have used some tightening up of the screws and nuts here and there. But at the same time it’s sheer rawness and sometimes sloppiness of acting and plot has its own power that cannot be denied. Like I said at the beginning of this review, I’ve seen the movie three times now and still can’t make up my mind if I like it or not. See it for yourself and then we’ll talk some more.

Rated R: There is a scene involving the seduction of a young child that while it isn’t graphic it leaves absolutely no doubt as to what is going on.

121 Minutes

Better In the Dark #60: Fight The Power: A Celebration of Spike Lee

Spike_Lee_1

 

Tom and Derrick team up with their Hip Hop Maestro, Kelen ‘B Hyphen’ Conley as they discuss one of Brooklyn’s favorite filmmaking sons, Spike Lee! Join the trio as they discuss a quintet of Spike’s films, from the seminal dramedy DO THE RIGHT THING to the utterly savage satire BAMBOOZLED and the controversial relationship dramas SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT and JUNGLE FEVER. Plus Tom and Kelen commiserate over the present fate of the Oakland Raiders, Derrick recognizes his co-host as The Blue-Eyed White Devil and Kelen tries to explain how he wouldn’t make out with Sasha Grey! It’s time to wake up, so get to clicking!

http://www.betterinthedarksite.com/episode-archives/eps-51-60/

Bamboozled

2000

New Line Cinema

Written and Directed by Spike Lee

Produced by Kisha Imani Cameron, Jon Kilik and Spike Lee

The last credit we see at the end of BAMBOOZLED is a dedication to Budd Schulberg.  It’s a dedication that I found most appropriate because Budd Schulberg wrote the screenplay for “A Face In the Crowd”.  A movie I’ve seen maybe nine or ten times and I still see new things in it every time I see it.  There’s a lot of “A Face In The Crowd” as well as “Network” in BAMBOOZLED.  In fact, I recommend you take a Friday or Saturday night and watch all three movies  together as thematically they’re the most scathing of indictments on the dangers of television ever committed to film.  They’re all satires, they’re all comedies, they’re all dramas and they’re all true tragedies as well.  Especially BAMBOOZLED in that the situation created by corporate and personal greed as well as the maniacal hunt for ‘The Next Big Thing’ and higher ratings lead to a truly frightening bloodbath that always leaves me stunned when I get to the end of this powerful movie.

Pierre Delacroix (Damon Wayans) is in a whole lot of trouble.  His job at the Continental Broadcasting System is in serious jeopardy.  The network is in last place and Pierre’s boss, Thomas Dunwitty (Michael Rapaport) insists that Pierre come up with a television show that will appeal primarily to African-Americans.  Dunwitty is an idiot who thinks that because he’s married to a black woman that gives him the right to use the word ‘nigger’ freely.  He has pictures of black athletes on the walls of his office and claims he understands black people more than the uptight, Harvard educated Pierre.  Pierre conspires with his assistant Sloan Hopkins (Jada Pinkett Smith) to create a show that is so overwhelmingly racist and offensive that Dunwitty will have no choice but to fire Pierre who can then go to another network.  He hires two talented street performers, tap dancer Manray (Savior Glover) and the comic Womack (Tommy Davidson) to star in a show called “The New Millennium Minstrel Show” The show is to be set in a watermelon patch on a Southern plantation and all the performers will appear in blackface.  Womack is horrified, but Manray, eager to make the big time at last agrees to star in the show.  Womack reluctantly goes along, not willing to leave his partner.  And he hopes that maybe he can make some changes by being on the inside.

Now here’s where things get interesting: Dunwitty actually loves the show and puts in on the air where it becomes a mega hit and a cultural phenomenon.  So much to the point that the multi-racial studio audiences begin showing up wearing blackface themselves and proudly proclaiming themselves to be ‘niggers’.  Sloan and Womack are disgusted and horrified by the show’s popularity but Pierre and Manray embrace their success wholeheartedly, even though prominent African-Americans such as Al Sharpton and Johnnie Cochran denounce the show.  The situation is complicated by Sloan’s brother Big Blak Afrika (Mos Def) and his politically oriented rap group, The Mau Maus who hatch a plan to kidnap Manray and execute him publicly on a live Internet web cast in protest.

BAMBOOZLED isn’t going to appeal to a lot of people.  I’ll be honest here: Spike Lee isn’t exactly the most subtle of filmmakers when it comes to making his point.  The images of blackfaced actors shuckin’ & jivin’ in a watermelon patch to the music of a group called The Alabama Porch Monkeys (played by The Roots) is one that a lot of people won’t want to see.  And I can understand that.  BAMBOOZLED is a hard movie for me to watch and I have a tremendous amount of liking and respect for the film.  So I can imagine the impact it’ll have on people who don’t like Spike Lee or this kind of material.  But I remember watching some of the so-called ‘comedies’ featuring black actors on UPN or TBS and I realize that “The New Millennium Minstrel Show” really isn’t that far from what they air.  We get the message but Spike Lee really goes out of his way to make sure that we get it.

The visual style of the movie goes a long way to selling the story to me.  Spike Lee shot the movie using digital camcorders that you or I could go into any Best Buy or Wal-Mart and buy.  This method gives the movie a documentary-like feel that I liked.  What else did I like?  Jada Pinkett Smith has never really impressed me all that much as an actress outside of her roles in “Low Down Dirty Shame” and “Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight” but here she plays a wonderfully detailed character who is truly horrified by the situation she finds herself in.  I remember Tommy Davidson from the old “In Living Color” TV show where he always struck me as one of the most consistently talented performers.  He doesn’t seem to get a lot of work and I don’t understand why.  Here he shows a definite talent for drama.  As does Savior Glover.  Sure, we know he can dance good enough to make angels weep but he also can act.  I ended up not liking his character and think that he deserves his eventual fate but I sympathized with him and understand why he made the choices he did.  Damon Wayans makes some odd choices in his playing Pierre Delacroix, including using a really odd, nasal way of speaking and an unusual way of using his hands while talking.  But I appreciated seeing him do something different.  I’ve always liked Damon Wayans and his easy going manner of acting in comedies.  I’d like to see him in more dramas.  And any movie that has Paul Mooney in it automatically gets my attention.  Paul Mooney is probably the funniest man who has ever lived.  This cat wrote for both Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle and if I have to tell you any more than that then you just don’t get it.  And I really liked Mos Def in this one as well.  If you’ve ever seen “Something The Lord Made” then you know that Mos Def really can act.  That was made in 2004 but even in this 2000 movie you can tell he’s got the chops.  He and Jada Pinkett Smith have a wonderful scene where they discuss how black people are portrayed in movies and television that is so compelling you feel like you’re eavesdropping on an actual conversation.  Michael Rappaport does an excellent job of playing a character that is totally unlikable but yet, you can’t wait for him to show up on screen to see what he’ll do next.

So should you see BAMBOOZLED?  Well, I certainly think you should if you’re in the mood for heavy social satire. In fact, Netflix BAMBOOZLED, “A Face In The Crowd” and “Network” and watch ‘em all back to back.  BAMBOOZLED is not light entertainment at all.  In a lot of ways it’s a highly offensive movie where negative images of African-Americans fill the screen and shove themselves into your face.  And if you’re sensitive about the use of the n-word then you should stay away because it’s used often here.  But I recommend BAMBOOZLED if for no other reason than Spike Lee dared to explore how African-Americans are used and exploited by television and popular media and did it in such a thought-provoking manner.  You may love it or hate it but BAMBOOZLED, like “A Face In The Crowd” and “Network” should make you think and question about what you watch on television and why you watch it.

Especially now.

Rated: R

135 Minutes

Be advised that there is no nudity in the movie and no violence until the last fifteen or twenty minutes but the language throughout is mighty raw.  And the n-word is used enough to make even Quentin Tarantino blush.  So if you’ve got sensitive ears, don’t say I didn’t warn you.