Red Hook Summer



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.


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.


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

Rock & Rule



Directed by Clive A. Smith

Produced by Michael Hirsh and Patrick Loubert

Screenplay by John Halfpenny and Peter Sauder

Back in the 1980’s there were three notable animated movies that hit the theaters. Well, actually two of them as the movie we’re talking about now, ROCK & RULE never had a real American theatrical run. Reportedly the American distributor, MGM, really didn’t care for the movie at all and had zero interest in any kind of promotion for it. They had it badly recut and some voices re-dubbed, threw it into theaters for about a minute and that was it. Most people like me saw ROCK & RULE either on HBO or Showtime which usually ran it late night on Fridays and Saturdays. But what ROCK & RULE had in common with “American Pop” and “Heavy Metal” was the heavy marketing of their soundtracks. In fact, the rock soundtracks of “Heavy Metal” and ROCK & RULE was blatantly the selling point of both of those movies and not the story. But it’s not hard to see why. ROCK & RULE features the vocal talents of and songs by Cheap Trick, Debbie Harry, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Earth, Wind & Fire so why not use them to sell your movie?

I watched the Canadian version on YouTube which Wikipedia tells me has a completely different opening narration from the American version. The Canadian narration neglects to inform viewers that there was a nuclear holocaust and now the world is inhabited by mutated humanoid dogs, cats and rats. Which isn’t a good thing because 90% of the cast goes through the movies either with no noses at all or they’re shaped like bananas so if you have no knowledge of how this world got this way, you’re liable to watch the movie wondering what’s wrong with everybody’s noses. And actually there’s really no good reason I could see for the filmmakers to throw that in as all the characters act like humans and display none of the characteristics of the animals they’re supposed to be mutated from. Except for Mylar (Martin Lavut) the sleazy owner of a bar who is quite obviously a rat.

Mok (Don Francks/ singing voice by Lou Reed & Iggy Pop) is the last great mega-star rock and roller in the world. Mok’s overwhelming artistic desire is to craft a final performance that will make his career immortal. To accomplish this he has created The Armageddon Key, a musical incantation disguised as a song that will open a portal to another dimension and allow a nightmarish demon of staggering power entry to Earth. The last thing Mok needs is a very special voice to sing his apocalyptic song.


Mok discovers Angel ( Susan Roman/singing voice by Debbie Harry) who is the keyboardist in a four-man rock band. The leader of the band, Omar (Greg Salata/singing voice by Robin Zander) cares only about being a rock star, even at the expense of keeping Angel down. He’s got a good voice but Angel has a great one and Mok intends to use it.  Mok makes for an entertaining villain as he acts more like a Marvel Comics or James Bond supervillain than an aging rock star. One enjoyable scene shows that part of his elaborate mansion can detach from the rest of the building and fly by means of an inflatable blimp. Mok also employs advanced technology to make it seem as if he has magical abilities, hence his nickname of “The Magic Man”


Mok is certainly more enjoyable to watch than the guy who we’re supposed to root for, Omar. He’s a spoiled man-child who is solely motivated to go to Nuke Yawk not to save Angel from Mok’s dastardly clutches but because he’s pissed off that Mok wants to make Angel a star and not him. Omar’s sidekicks, Dizzy and Stretch are boring characters who contribute nothing to the story except tired comedy relief but they’re not as bad as Mok’s trio of roller-skating goons, the Schlepper Brothers who are nowhere near as funny as the filmmakers obviously thought they were.

I wish I could say that the movie has a kickass soundtrack to make up for its shortcomings but outside of Lou Reed’s “My Name Is Mok” Debbie Harry’s “Angel’s Song” and Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Dance Dance Dance” there aren’t any other songs I can say I enjoyed or found worthy of toe-tapping.

The animation itself is quite good and easy on the eye. It’s very much like Ralph Bakshi’s style of animation. In fact, the movie looks so much like a Bakshi movie that supposedly there were bootleg VHS tapes sold at comic book conventions that did have Ralph Bakshi named as director.

So should you see ROCK & RULE? If you’re an animation fan I would say so. ROCK & RULE has attained a legendary status due to its troubled production history and it becoming a cult movie thanks to HBO and Showtime. It’s nowhere near the masterpiece that some people I know claim it is but neither is it a movie that deserved the throwaway treatment it received from MGM.  It is available on DVD and a Blu-Ray edition was released in 2010. The Canadian version used to be available on YouTube. I don’t know if it’s still up but it’s worth the search. Enjoy.

Silver Linings Playbook



The Weinstein Company

Screenplay and Directed by David O. Russell

Executive Producer: Jonathan Gordon

Produced by Bruce Cohen and Donna Gigliotti

Based on the novel “The Silver Linings Playbook” by Matthew Quick

The first twenty minutes or so into SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK I fidgeted, I admit it. But that’s because I couldn’t tell which way this movie was going to go with its characters or their story. I didn’t know much about this movie outside of that it starred Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro, who had previously worked together in “Limitless.” But it vaguely looked to me like a romantic comedy and I’m leery of that genre. Which I shouldn’t have been. I’ve watched romantic comedies like SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK that actually are intelligent, character-driven and don’t follow the silly, sappy paint-by-the-numbers plots of most romantic comedies. And this movie isn’t all comedy. There’s just as much drama as comedy here and the story goes in directions that can’t be anticipated because of the unpredictability of the characters. Even the ones who aren’t crazy.

After eight months of treatment for bipolar disorder in a mental health facility, Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) is released into the care of his parents (Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver). His intention is to get his life back on track and a large part of that is reconciling with his wife Nikki (Brea Bee) That’s a situation that is going to take a whole lot of work since Pat tried to beat to death the man Nikki was having an affair with and she has a restraining order against him. Pat attends his court mandated therapy sessions with Dr. Patel (Anupam Kher) and tries his best to stay out of trouble. But since he refuses to take his medication that leads him into several situations where it seems as if he may have to go back to the facility.

It’s through his friendship with Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence) whose emotional trauma following the death of her husband caused her to become addicted to sex that Pat sees an opportunity to communicate with Nikki. Tiffany agrees but only under the condition that Pat will be her partner in an upcoming dance competition. I would not dream of telling you how the outcome of a Philadelphia Eagles football game is tied into the dance competition. I’ll only say that it’s a nifty plot twist that I did not see coming and once it did I was grinning like a fool.


And I guess that’s the main thing I can throw at you to recommend SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK: it’s determination not to be a typical romantic comedy. There is simply no way to predict how the movie will end and to enhance your enjoyment of it, I advise that you don’t even try. Our two main characters have certifiable mental/emotional problems but that doesn’t mean that everybody else in the movie is a model of stability, either. In fact, as I got more of an insight into the history of the relationship between Pat and his father I understood more and more why the father was so patient and understanding of his son’s problems.

The acting in this is top-notch. Bradley Cooper continues to be an interesting actor to watch develop. I enjoyed him in high-octane, big budget franchise movies such as the three “Hangover” movies and “The A-Team” and he’s proven that he can hold his own in character driven dramas such as “The Words.” Here in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK he mixes comedy and drama and acquits himself well.

Jennifer Lawrence is flat out terrific in this one but so far I’ve loved her performance in everything she’s done. Even though I couldn’t stand “Winter’s Bone” I always recommend the movie based solely on the strength of her performance which is outstanding. Equally outstanding was her performance in “X-Men: First Class” and while I felt that “The Hunger Games” was just a so-so movie, again she gave the performance that made the whole movie worth watching.

Julia Stiles has a small role in this and I always enjoy seeing her work as she’s just plain fun to watch. I was disappointed that Chris Tucker didn’t have more to do as for once he actually gets to play a human being instead of a live-action cartoon as he usually does in movies like the awful “Rush Hour” series. Robert DeNiro can do no wrong in my eyes and I’m embarrassed to say that I went through the entire movie thinking that the wonderful Jacki Weaver was Sally Struthers until I saw her name in the end credits.


So should you see SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK? If you want to see a romantic comedy-drama that doesn’t waste your time with boring idiot characters or a story you’ve seen played out in a dozen other romantic comedies, absolutely. It’s a great date movie. Enjoy.

Rated R

122 minutes