Film Review: "Red Hook Summer"

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    With “Red Hook Summer,” Spike Lee, one of the greatest American filmmakers in the history of celluloid, has written and directed one of his strongest films to date, more about the film with From the opening sequence with Flik Royale (Jules Brown) aiming his Ipad at the Brooklyn projects/Red Hook buildings of NYC from inside a moving vehicle--we are immediately drawn into the young man’s world.

    Flik records the street and anything else that happens to happen around him. He has left his home in Atlanta for the summer to visit his Jesus mad grandfather in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. Grandpa is a preacher man in every sense of the term; he is also a profoundly difficult/troubled soul whose rejection of the devil and acceptance of Jesus is as destructive as it is compelling.

    Bishop Enoch Rouse (a stunning must-see performance by Clarke Peters) is a galvanizing grandfatherly presence in any given scenario. His sermons rock the little church in Red Hook with a force capable of making believers out of the most unreachable of atheists. He jaws and spews the bible with the compulsion of a man shocked out of reality by his incessant demons. His biggest doubter is his own visiting grandson (whom he hilariously/mercilessly tries to convert). The dangerous backdrop of Red Hook and the nearby projects are the hotbed on which two generations must unite and make their peace. Lee’s feverish lightning rod of a film is pre-occupied with justice and salvation. The movie throttles the audience out of its social networking torpor and steadily aims for your faith--questioning its strength--testing its limits with every frame.

    We’re in good hands. Lee is a cinema icon with an immediately recognizable film rhythm. Spike Lee Joints are distinct--they range from energetic features (1986’s “She’s Gotta Have It,” 1989’s “Do the Right Thing,” 1992’s “Malcolm X,” “25th Hour” in 2002 and 2006’s “Inside Man”) to street-smart documentaries (“4 Little Girls” in 1997 and his amazingly detailed “When the Levees Broke--A Requiem in 4 acts” in 2006). Lee is an accomplished writer, director, producer, actor, public speaker (I once saw him speak in Kansas City, Missouri and he commanded a mammoth auditorium with total ease) and he’s widely regarded as one of the single most important voices of African American culture in the last half century.

    The trick an aging auteur (a lot of the masters are 60 or over--Lee is 55) must cultivate is the under-everyone’s-radar maintenance of a unique and beneficial cinematic voice in a time when unique and beneficial does not seem to be marketable. The ever-youthful Martin Scorsese has demonstrated this skill for years now (see 2006’s “The Departed”-- same themes, characters, codes, dilemmas of his 1973 film, “Mean Streets”: which Spike Lee has reportedly seen numerous times).

    With “Red Hook Summer” Lee has accomplished the rare feat of reclaiming his youth while making a vivid, exciting, contemporary, and bold film. The image of Lee floating through “Red Hook Summer” as “Do the Right Thing’s” Mookie the pizza delivery guy serves as a reminder that the director’s staying power is not to be undermined by naysayers. Spike Lee Joints still have the power to awaken even the most numbed/narcotized of sensibilities.

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