Review - 'Red Hook Summer' (An Attempt To Make Sense Of Spike Lee's Trip To Wonderland)

Reviews
by Tambay A. Obenson
August 9, 2012 3:23 PM
29 Comments
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Well, after first seeing the film at the Sundance Film Festival in January, I wrote a lengthy piece sharing my many reactions to what I saw then; skip ahead almost 8 months later, when I saw the revised cut of the film at a press screening about 2 weeks ago, and, despite it being 15 minutes shorter, my reactions were still exactly the same as the first time I saw the film.

So I see no reason to write another review of Spike Lee's Red Hook Summer.

I have the same questions I had after the first screening - questions that I hoped I'd get answers to during the film's press day here in NYC, earlier this week.

However, S&A's RSVP for Red Hook Summer's press day was denied, so we had no representation there to pick Spike's brain, and thus I continue to remain in the dark, in that regard.

It opens in very limited release tomorrow, so many of you won't get to see it for another week or more, as it expands to other cities after opening weekend. But I'm certainly looking forward to the conversation the film inspires; so if you are one of the few who'll get to see it this weekend, please come back and share your own thoughts; we'll revisit this in another week or two, when more of you have seen it.

And without further ado... my Sundance reactions:

I agonized over this for awhile, and actually almost decided not to even write anything about the film; but I eventually reached a compromise.

So consider this more of an inquisition than a traditional film review.

I intentionally didn’t read any reviews of the film written by those who saw it at its Sundance Film Festival premiere on Sunday evening, knowing that I was scheduled to see it a day later. Why? I didn’t want any interference whatsoever; I wanted to go into it as blank and open as possible. Of course I couldn’t completely escape all the chatter on Twitter (primarily) that followed that initial screening of the film; but thankfully all I really learned from what I read and heard was that the post-screening Q&A was intense, and that the film would likely divide audiences sharply. No surprise there; it's a Spike Lee film, I thought.

I say all that first because my recommendation would be that you do the same, as difficult as that would be, given that Spike Lee previously announced that the film would be released this summer, meaning you'd have to wait another 6 months (at least) until you CAN see it, which might present a test of willpower (unless it screens at other film festivals between now and then, and one of those festivals happens to be in your backyard).

I would've liked to (and still would like to) have a conversation with Spike Lee after now having seen the film. I know there was a general Q&A that followed its Saturday premiere for which Spike was physically present, and just prior to writing this, I read transcripts of the session, hoping to gain some insight into Spike's intent with Red Hook Summer; alas, I didn't learn a lot, though some of the very few revelations were puzzling to me, notably the extent of co-screenwriter James McBride's contribution to the script (Spike co-wrote), and the specific portions of it that he was assigned to write entirely on his own. I'm being cryptic here for obvious reasons. But there was something about Spike's deferral to McBride when he was asked specifically about the film's heavily religious bent and its relation to Spike's own personal faith, saying "Alllllll the church stuff came from Mr. James McBride," almost as if to transfer the burden of whatever the consequences of that dominant element of the film are, squarely onto McBride's shoulders.

I certainly could be misinterpreting; there was no further elaboration on Spike's part after he dropped the mic in McBride's lap (so to speak), as he (McBride) went on to tackle the religion question, with a rather personal answer.

I mention this particular revelation because, as already noted, *religion* (an umbrella term that encompasses so much) is a significant component in the film's narrative, and so, as a Spike Lee joint, I'd expect that he would have a thorough understanding of every single piece of the work (or at least his own interpretation), why it’s there, and how it fits into the overall puzzle that is its story, given that he co-wrote the script; they worked together on it. And I wouldn't expect him to just simply hand questions about that aspect of the story over to his co-screenwriter to address any questions about the unmistakably dominant force that's driving the narrative. It's not like it's just some aside; it IS the movie.

So I would've loved to hear or read what his intentions there were - other than, as he said in that same Q&A, "This film is what I call another installment in my own chronicles of Brooklyn."

Ok, but too broad. And I got that part of it anyway; his love for the borough (Red Hook, BK in this specific case) is obvious. But there's clearly so much more going on here (at least I want to believe there is) than just a paean to a city that's dear to him, and I wish he'd given us something far more insightful that would assist in our understanding of the film.

I'm certainly not the dumbest guy in the world, but I know that I'm also not the smartest in the world, and I'm continuously learning what I don't already know, or putting myself in positions that challenge what I do know. So after seeing the film, and letting it sit with me for a little bit, the questions I kept asking myself, and that I'm still asking are: did I just miss something here? Is there more to the film than what I understood it to be after screening it, that maybe just went completely over my head? Is it an allegory? Something metaphorical? What does it all mean? What's the point of it all? Should I even care? Does the filmmaker himself care whether or not I care?

You have no idea just how much I'd been anticipating this film since Spike first announced its production last summer; I wasn't even planning to come to Sundance, and the film's premiere at the festival was certainly of significant influence on my decision to make the trip. Yes! Spike's return to form - the expectations by many of what this film would be.

So I really wanted to like the film; I was willing to give Spike the benefit of the doubt, because he's Spike Lee - an intelligent, savvy, bold, fearless human being, who happens to be an artist, and I respect him for all those reasons, and more.

And so I kept/keep digging, looking for some further meaning to all that I saw (reading other reviews - especially those few that were positive - now that I've seen that film, hoping that I'd be enlightened by them, but I wasn't), trying to make sense of how a filmmaker of his years and experience could deliver something so, dare I say, sloppy, at times incoherent, heavy-handed and even tedious.

It's baffling to me, and, believe me, I want to be wrong about this. Really, I do. So if you're here at Sundance, and you attended any one of the screenings of the film, and you actually loved it, please, by all means, chime away; I'd love to read your thoughts on what you saw and heard, and your own interpretation of it. It's a shame that most of you can't yet join in the conversation, because I can only imagine how impassioned the comments would likely have been.

It's only because of the name that follows the "directed by" credit that I actually stayed for the entire 135-minute running time of the film, otherwise, I likely would've joined the mass evacuation of the theater about an hour into it. Many others didn't afford him that courtesy (of staying through the entire film).

The screening I attended was initially packed; there wasn't an empty seat in the house, clearly demonstrating a respect for Spike and his work. However, the seats started emptying about 30 minutes into the film; and just about every 30 minutes after that, so much that by the end of the screening, the theater was maybe half-full! No applause; instead, just some laughter from a few of those who saw it all the way though. I just sat there in disbelief, starring at the end credits, wondering what the hell I just saw.

So, imagine my utter disappointment; If I could relieve what I felt in that moment, I would say that I felt robbed, Spike; I really did (just incase you're reading this, and I'm sure you are :)). But seriously, I did. And I hope you'll eventually address (in whatever format you prefer), not just my confusion, but also those of the many others who saw the film and shared my sentiments, and in some cases, based on what I read and heard, had far worse reactions to your film than I did.

It's one thing to be provocative with one's art, but it's best if that provocation is supported with substance, or with an intent that goes beyond just the act of provoking. Otherwise it just falls flat as pointless. I'm not sure if this was Spike's agenda; but the negative reaction to it (mine anyway) isn't even because I felt provoked; not even close. I'm not pissed off at the content of the film because it challenges some steadfast belief system of mine. I'm annoyed (or actually more astonished) because all that anticipation for the work felt like it was ultimately unwarranted.

So I need help here Spike; maybe I don't deserve it, but I'm asking anyway.

I think the only way this film works is if you watch it as something other than a straightforward narrative (it's a catastrophic failure otherwise, IMHO), where everything isn't exactly as it seems; and, again, giving Spike the benefit, wanting to believe that the film's meanings run far deeper and are much more profound than the obvious; that there is indeed a method to this madness that we call Red Hook Summer; some order in all that chaos; I'll attempt to introduce a few of those possible, alternate intepretations of the film.

This film, in trying to be topical, addresses so many societal ills (often via lengthy awkward speeches that don't even pretend to hide their bias, or the fact that they are calls to action, as the film's characters just seem to serve as mouthpieces for Spike's ideologies); and so it's like a mosh pit of ideas that haven't been fully thought through and developed, which makes the work feel amateurish, and definitely not of a veteran.

There just seems to be this "I-don't-give-a-fuck" air about the film, which is why one of the questions I've been asking is whether or not Spike even cares that I (or we, the audience) care about the film and its characters; and if his intent was to deliver some core message, it's not really clear what that could be exactly.

And I can actually try to understand that "I-don't-give-a-fuck" air about the film, because, if you're privy to the occurences at the aforementioned Q&A session that followed the film's debut, you'd know how furious and enraged he reportedly came across at certain moments, especially when talking about the the business of film; he criticizes everyone and everything in Red Hook Summer, even Obama, for whom he very recently held a rather pricey fundraising dinner in New York City.

So it's quite possible that in making the film, he was in a state of resentment, for having to continue to struggle to get his projects financed, upset not only with the studio execs in suits, but also with us, the audience (maybe specifically, the black audience) for the part that we play in influencing this cycle of financing/production/distribution/exhibition of cinema, as he, a veteran of industry has to stand by and watch as one of his fellow black filmmakers (one he has already expressed an amount of contempt for) continues to thrive, produce and release multiple films every year, unwaveringly supported by black audiences, generating enormous wealth for himself, while still being able to maintain creative control over his work.

Of course I'm talking about Tyler Perry.

So maybe Red Hook Summer is one big Spike Lee kiss-off, given that he hasn't seen the kind of support from black audiences, nor the financial success, nor wield the kind of power Tyler Perry is currently enjoying.

He even takes a swipe at Tyler Perry in the film; I won't say how, but you'll see it when it happens. It comes quickly, but it's unmistakable. The audience I saw the film with immediately got it, and many laughed.

One could further say that all of Red Hook Summer, with its simultaneous critiques and exaltations of Christianity, is in some twisted way, an elegy to Tyler Perry movies, minus all the melodrama. But I'd really hate to believe that the impetus for Spike creating this film was almost entirely based on his contempt/envy/whatever for this one man. And even if it is, it doesn't work as a critique, praise, or whatever of Tyler Perry.

Is it an unfocused, far-less disciplined companion piece to Do The Right Thing (DTRT), even though Spike has repeatedly said that it's not a sequel to that seminal 1989 film? It's hard not to make that connection when he revisits Mookie (played again here by Spike), 20+ years later, still delivering pizzas for Sal's. Also, the film is loaded with a cast of eclectic characters, like DTRT, who interact with one another throughout the film, culminating in a shocking final act - in the case of Red Hook Summer, a revelation; although unlike DTRT, the *pay-off* here, after almost 2 hours of a rambling, wearisome buildup, is contemptible and just doesn't feel *earned*.

Or, as bizarre as it might read, in watching the film, I actually kept thinking of Alice In Wonderland of all things; the story of Red Hook Summer, in short, centers on a teenage boy sent by his single mother to spend the summer with his preacher grandfather in Red Hook, BK; Red Hook here being Wonderland, and the teenage boy as Alice. His small world in Red Hook is populated with several colorful characters, many of them seemingly just a bit off; almost cartoon-like actually. Even in moments of dread, you never really feel the danger.

The teenage boy interacts with every one of these characters, usually individually, but at times also in groups, with his ultimate desire, as he states repeatedly throughout the film, being to simply go back home to his mother - not-so unlike Alice's mission to find her way home, or even Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz, also surrounded by a colorful cast of characters, who's also trying to get back home.

As in Alice In Wonderland, it's quite possible that Spike's intent with Red Hook Summer was to combine logical and absurd elements to challenge conventions (in this case cinema) and reasoning. And what results of this conflicting combo is an abundance of meaning; which is partly why Alice In Wonderland is one of the most analyzed and dissected stories in literary history; interpretations are wide and varied.

But the similarities really end there, because what begins as a film centered around the life of kid, takes a sharp turn in the final act, shifting its focus squarely onto the preacher grandfather, making him the center of the narrative, and pushing the boy into the periphery. It makes you wonder whose story it is exactly the film is telling here.

So there's a lack of focus and cohesiveness to the narrative; as I said earlier, a mosh-pit of ideas, and none of them really gets up on stage and shines.

But does that mean Spike's film is one that might inspire a wealth of intepretations as well? Have you been reading this post? :)

OR... finally... maybe it's just NOT a very good movie, and there's absolutely NOTHING more to it than that; an unadulterated failure, suggesting that Spike needs to partner up with a much stronger writer, one that will be fearless enough to challenge him during the process, in the interest of producing better films.

He's 0 for 2 with James McBride, in my opinion; and I'd actually say that Miracle At St. Anna is a superior work to Red Hook Summer. Yes, I really would.

I'll end it there... abrupt, I know, but I could probably write forever, addressing every single piece of this seemingly nonsensical work. But a man's gotta rest. Plus it's hard to talk about the film without giving away plot points, which I'm really trying to avoid, and it would be a much more interesting conversation if many of you had also already seen it, so that we could really dissect it; although I just wonder if it's even worth dissecting.

But it's something you need to experience for yourselves.

As for distribution prospects... I think Spike might be going this one alone, also with his own money, just as he did in financing the film.

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29 Comments

  • Wise | August 27, 2012 6:26 PMReply

    Bottom line: Both kids were terrible. There's no way Spike could have been satisfied with ANY take they did. I actually didnt think the writing was bad as much as delivered poorly. I was also distracted by all "The Wire" cameos, but whatev. I choose to accept the film as a continuum in Spike's portraits of Brooklyn. But as such, I was disappointed to not see more of the borough. I felt claustrophobic trapped in the interior scenes. I didnt think the music fit either. Too slow, and made me so hyper-aware of the contrast btwn it and the "DTRT" Public Enemy-powered soundtrack. The pace of the film mirrored Mookie's gait, slower and deliberate with flecks of grey.

    It's hard not to make TP comparisons, but I found "RHS" to be miles ahead in its handling of church and social issues. I didnt feel beat over the head with the messages (!) and found the characters realistic in delivering them.

    I was by no means satisfied with it - as a matter of fact, after the first scene with Flik I knew it would be a chore watching him for 2 hours - but I didnt feel robbed either. But I also see no reason to ever watch it again. It's thought-provoking and bizarre, which is a bad thing...unless you consider a general audience obsessed with a man in a fat suit.

  • artbizzy | August 17, 2012 5:17 AMReply

    Spoiler Alerts! I really tried not to talk directly about this film but it’s hard not to and I think that Spike Lee’s courageous effort is being misunderstood and dismissed. And I think it would be a shame if more people were discouraged from seeing it because of that. I thought this film was really solid. I appreciated the larger than life characters and all of the strange, didactic speeches and its commentary on gentrification in Brooklyn. It certainly was “Big” acting more reminiscent to some extent to early films where the acting was bigger and more theatrical. Religion is such an oppressive yet redemptive force in this film especially when we are dealing with an individual who has a disturbing past that “seems” in the past as this person does “seem” to be a changed person yet their past does come back to haunt them. This was also a commentary on the Church and the corruption that keeps being uncovered and how much the church has participated in covering up such corruption. This film deals with what we consider one of the greatest ills in modern society but shows how religion can be complicit yet forgiving but also not enough to deal with this problem. Yet it does reflect some measure of hope as dark as it seems. Very layered and complex! Much like the problems of inequalities based on race and class and how gentrification amplifies these problems. Here we have the point of view on gentrification from different voices in the housing projects all to some degree under the umbrella of religion. And also out of the mouths of young people. Young people! Young black people! Thank you! Is God the answer? How much has God helped black people, poor peopl get out of poverty? Does God have anything to do with it at all? My favorite part of the film is in the scene between the Reverend and Sister Morningstar played by the beautiful Heather Simms where she talks about how times have changed and how we have to be their for our children and trust God to come through that rather than just preaching the word of God to our children and leaving them alone. And how the church is emptying out. Church isn’t so popular anymore – at least that is the perception. Especially among our youth. Many people are disillusioned by it. It seems like an embarrassing relic from the past kept alive by foolish people who cannot think critically about what’s going on around them enough to stop what’s going on that they don’t like. But are they so foolish after all, is the question? Spike’s use of modern technology I thought was spot on. From Skyping to the Ipad and then the disturbing flashback to the 90’s where the kid is playing with a game boy. Spike does like to pack so much in to his films and I tend to actually like that about him for the most part. I’m surprised that so many people saw this film as lazy and sloppy and that many people walked out. It certainly didn’t have the build-up and angst of Do The Right Thing but it didn’t need to in my opinion. The real 1980’s Brooklyn of Do The Right thing had that kind of tension and angst. Today’s Brooklyn has a very different feeling. It’s not without its angst but it is a feeling that is much harder to define because of all of the changes. Some of which the movie addresses. More black people being priced out and moving back down south, the still ever existing crime balanced by a reduction in crime in certain areas, dealing with one’s more newer, more privileged neighbors. It is a borough in flux in the midst of a world in flux and I think that Spike shows that well with this complex film that seemingly shows just a slice of life. The reality is that despite anybody’s prayers and well wishes so many black men have been incarcerated since Do The Right Thing Was released back in (I think) 1989. And how many black people have died from HIV/AIDS before their time (not to mention other diseases that plague the black community) since then? Why did I just bring this up and what does this have to do with the movie? I’m not sure, lol. But I am still digesting this film. However, it seems important to think about when reflecting on this film because, generally speaking, culturally we have been and continue to be a spiritual people. Despite what many of us may believe in or not believe in today, religion and spirituality is historically part of who we are in this country and how we’ve managed to stay strong and also a huge part of where many of us were stolen from. But how well does religion mesh with the world we are in and the pressures it serves up when so many of us continue to get the shaft resource wise, health wise, etc? So many thoughts and questions. Be patient with this film. These are the films we need to see and promote more because of it’s creative approach (lovely cinematography) accomplished with a low budget look and it’s timely, political messages. The storytelling is not traditional but it tells a very universal story about the human condition. Red Hook was thought provoking art and I am going to see it again.

  • Chess | August 15, 2012 4:03 AMReply

    I hate how drawn out this article was for you to literally say the same thing over and over again. Tough to take the subject matter seriously, especially the critique on another writer, when you seem to lack a bit of finesse and maturation yourself. Not to be rude, but I imagine that I was far more frustrated reading about your frustration with the film. I almost didn't finish it. Lol. You and Spike are kindred spirits apparently. Damn.

  • Mark & Darla | August 13, 2012 10:35 PMReply

    Spike Lee has become a troll that lives under the Brooklyn Bridge. He comes out at night to bites white people in the head.

  • jeremiah jahi | August 13, 2012 2:00 PMReply

    I caught this movie on Friday. Although, it is not a flawless film by far, I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It started slightly slow. The first thirty minutes were tough, but as I continued with the story, it all worked out for me. I think to grasp a lot of the what many would call the over zealous or heavy handed religious notions, one would have to understand in a great way the storefront baptist/pentecostal culture. Mr. Bride surely understands it because of his very nature of growing up in the culture. In many ways, I will say its beyond the wider mainstream Black American norms. It's a resident alien type culture to the outside world. Having said that, I think alot of this story was quite accurate in terms of the heaviness of Jesus Jesus Jesus by these people in this world. I could go and on, but I will stop. I will say Clarke Peters was amazing, Thomas Jefferson Byrd as well. The music was terrific and the visuals were nice. In my opinion this was vintage Spike Lee. The story was a bit too long.

    Finally, I think he addressed the desire for a balance between the hear and now and the other worldly characteristics of the church of this ilk. I do think its difficult to be a Christian in this day and age and Christians are part of the blame for that. In the end, I think this movie deals with humanity and the notion of being able to forgive yourself and move on. For me, Spike redeemed himself from Miracle at St. Anna. Also, he solidifies his genius as a champion of the Black American traditions, even if they are popular or not. This one isn't popular anymore.

  • Hassan Fuckry (@DLYDJ) | August 12, 2012 5:28 PMReply

    I heard all the hoopla about the film festivals and Spike's revamping on the project, and like you, Tambay, I went into it with open eyes and no expectations. Afterwards, I felt robbed of the time I let slip through my fingers, confused by the M. Night Shymalan-esque twist, and angry that he would allow one of his most beloved characters be reduced to footnote status in another installment of Lee's "Brooklyn" films.

    Other people left, I stayed to see the wreckage, and I exited the screening feeling that if Spike mishandles "Oldboy" to a magnitude like "Red Hook Summer" then Tyler Perry will be laughing LOUDLY at how hard the mighty have fallen.

  • Joseph G. | August 12, 2012 2:04 PMReply

    This has nothing to do with Spike doing a rendition of a Tyler film. Stop bringing Tyler into everything. All of Spike's movies usually takes a little more thought from an audience than usual. I think today people's minds are lazier. So, the reaction doesn't surprise me.

  • JGee | August 12, 2012 10:19 PM

    A little thought is what Spike could've used in a sloppy, expositional, cliched script. Worse, his treatment of "black religious" or the christian faith tradition in general plays like pure conjecture, i.e., what he *thinks* (or projects) faith community to be like rather than how many -- across many denominations and cultures -- actually function, live out, wrestle with, and grow in reality, in practice. Obviously, for audiences that might not no better, this portrayal feels "real."

  • Allison | August 12, 2012 9:57 AMReply

    This entire movie seemed like a Tyler Perry dig. Jokes on Spike. If he hadn't been speaking afterwards I would have walked out as well. The dialogue (mainly the style) was hard to listen to (offensive? Still mulling that over) and there should have been a lot more rehearsals for the children than there was. The storylines weren't cohesive and some of the scenes (you know which ones) were gratuitous and unnecessary. It looked great though, the cinematographer should be proud. The music was also great... I really wanted to love this. I'm very sad that I didn't.

  • JGEE | August 15, 2012 11:58 AM

    @Leo -- Who said anything about Tyler. My expectations for Spike are in line with HIS expectations for the studio system -- he seems to repeatedly preface his remarks for the making of RHS with the "studios don't know anything about black people." Truth. So he took matters into his own hands, implication being, doing your homework, have credibility and legitimacy in your portrayals and reject shallow, projected and cliched stereotypes.

    By his litmus test then -- and his own admission (at Sundance, Spike explicitly said he left all the "religious stuff" to his co-writer --- can say the same about this framing of faith communities, and not just African American. His portrayal of the "baptist tradition" mixed with a little bit of charismatic/pentecostal worship was pretty reductive. Does it exist? Sure, there's just way more nuance on the denominational spectrum, way more subtlety, doctrine, sacramental practice, etc. He didn't and couldn't have covered all bases, but for someone who's such a stickler for fidelity to detail, yeah, he could've done infinitely better.

  • Leo | August 15, 2012 4:09 AM

    @JGEE and what portrayals seem to capture black faith/religion without the slightest blemish?? I think your expectations for Spike in that respect are insurmountable. Surely you don't think Tyler and the many wannabes in his path have a better handle on portraying black Christians accurately... Or do you?

  • Jon | August 11, 2012 2:22 PMReply

    I caught the 7:10 screening at the BAM and was pleased with this effort. I don't know how anybody can say that there weren't any good performances and not note Clarke Peters as Bishop Enoch. Especially during the last sermon, when he looked up at the camera and addressed the false prophets. That sent chills down my spine w/ the visuals of the cross on the ceiling pierced into his eyes. Yes, Toni Lysaith was HORRID in this film. She was really the lone flaw of the film. The message was direct, got to the point. I think people are too conditioned to be told how to feel instead of making sense of what they saw. That's the problem.

  • David | August 11, 2012 12:11 AMReply

    Also caught a full house screening in Spike's hometown republic; very disappointing. The best way to sum up the experience of this film, and much of Spike's latter work, is to analogize him to an aging athlete (ever the sports fanatic, Spike can surely appreciate this) whose prior achievements and talents blind him to his diminishing skill.

    Nobody doubts Spike's pioneering impact and prolific body of work. But, maybe, in his obsession to keep getting work out -- and battle to stay relevant -- he's swimming in his blind spots, esp. when it comes to the vital element of spotting talent and getting real and believable performances. RHS had neither, especially from the two kids. Peters was fine, but the story hinged on an urban rites of passage as seen through the eyes of an adolescent; once his performance seemed like he was reading fed lines, the film lost me.

    The broader issue with this film, and Spike's oeuvre, too, is how much exposition and didacticism there is. In the 80s and 90s, that was necessary -- we needed his voice and conscience and needed it explicitly. Today, in an age of irony and near parody, it rings hollow. Scorsese's work had similar challenges but he seems to have adapted well. But Spike's work continues to remain one-note that way, almost anachronistic.

  • justsaying | August 12, 2012 12:16 AM

    I hear you. I was caught off guard with that reveal and ending... Those are all great questions...I think the synopsis should be revised to suggest a more objective point of view is offered in experiencing the film. I felt like Flik was more of a sound board than anything else, and it really wasn't solely or mainly about him. This is not a coming of age tale but rather a coming to terms tale. Yes, that side story really came out of nowhere, but it did widen my pupils.

  • David | August 11, 2012 5:58 PM

    @JustSaying -- I'm with you on the "over theatrical" reactions of those kids. It's hard to believe that Spike, as you put it (and well), "meter" their performances. Not sure what to chalk that up to -- his loyalty (to a fault) to the script, his writer McBride, the indie aesthetic...

    The narrative, too, just had major holes. I don't think Spike's work has ever been known for perfectly crafted, and tightly structured narrative, but this was just too much: just the fundamentals of unfinished character arcs, plants and payoffs (that end spoiler came out of nowhere; almost like a "deus ex machina" to add melodramatic heft to his thin narratives), etc. Also surprised, in his post-screening Q&A's response re: the reason why Flik's mom drops off her son in the first place: Spike chalked it up to: "audience needs to do its part concerning subtext." Thought that was a a pretty sly cop out. Given that the Rev. had this seedy past, was his daughter aware of it? Was that the single reason their relationship was strained? If so, why was she persuaded, now, that he was a changed man? Was she persuaded enough to send her only son to LIVE with him in such close quarters over the whole summer?

    Also, the narrative and POV shifts: was this Flik's story? The Rev's story? Flik really served no dramatic purpose. He almost seemed like a static device, not a wrestling and questioning adolescent, and really didn't change by story's end. The side story of Blessing came out of nowhere: just not seamlessly integrated into the narrative peaks and valleys from the beginning.

  • Justsaying | August 11, 2012 1:31 PM

    I think Spike needs to team up with an agressive writer who is more skilled, more clout/pull, and Spike should focus on the directing. He is a director that has written material to direct. I think the kids in this film were only trained for theater because they were doing things BIG and projecting way too much when they were like a foot away from each other on screen. But I also think that can be attributed to their lack of FILM experience and not crafting the skill of acting for the camera. I blame Spike for that - because he is watching the takes and he should have metered their performances a lot better. But hey - I hear he doesn't give much feedback from take to take so what you see is what you get. Casting is 90% of the movie a lot of times, and he ignored the fact that they didn't have acting for the camera experience. They needed coaching! Their performances were weak, one tone, and loud, especially the girl...ugh. And the boy was too disrespectful to his grandfather for noooo reason....lmao spoiled and too expressive of what he wanted. He was more than a spoiled brat...more like a walking-talking OBJECTIVE. "I want to go home!" I think this would have worked MUCCHHHHH better as a play on stage where the monologues and grandiose behavior would have filled the house of the theater in a different way and the live feedback from the audience would have altered the experience of receiving the story. I agree that it was way too much exposition and didacticism - same as in Miracle of St. Anna and there was a little bit in Inside Man but Clive Own made it work a little better by using his acting craft. I've always had a problem with these didactic speeches in Spike's films and appreciated his documentaries a lot more... The characters in "Do the Right Thing" were a lot more colorful, varied in age, and distinct in their way of being. They were indeed heightened characters that communicated what they believed in colorful ways, and the characters in this film just talked... Martin Scorsese stop writing material for his films a long time ago and focused more on directing . I don't think that Spike was doing a rendition of a Tyler Perry movie. Poor plot, undeveloped characters, and loose story telling are just qualities of a poor straightforward narrative film, not just a Tyler Perry movie. As much as Tyler Perry put out, he still doesn't have that on lock...Anyone can have dibs on that label unfortunately. ;)

  • Nadia | August 10, 2012 11:29 PMReply

    We caught a screening tonight. Packed house which was good. Laughing when there wasn't supposed to be any, and perplexed folks walking out from the theater when it was over, which was bad. The film is an absolute mess. If this were a film by a young filmmaker with little experience, it would thought of as highly flawed but promising for a newcomer. But from a veteran like Spike Lee, it's downright embarrassing. Go and see it first and then come back and talk about it.

  • David | August 11, 2012 12:13 AM

    I was probably at that same screening. The applause during the rolling credits was lukewarm at best.

    It almost seemed, for a sec, that Spike was doing his rendition of a Tyler Perry movie. Doubly ironic, given his criticism of Tyler.

  • Justsaying | August 10, 2012 8:35 PMReply

    Before the film is addressed, Tambay, you need to be addressed on your approach in “reviewing this film”/providing your inquisition, interpretations, and reactions and then sharing it with your audience. I think your **anticipation** of the film has placed you in a weird position as a critic/film reviewer and dare I say YOU SET YOURSELF UP. I find your statement “I really wanted to like this film;” a bit problematic. First off, it seems like you were trying “to do” from the beginning and IMHO that conflicts with your ability to receive the film fully. I don’t understand how you can call someone a savvy, bold, fearless human being, but struggle with the idea that they can **dare** to create something that is “ sloppy, at times incoherent, heavy-handed and even tedious.” Those great characteristics that you feel Spike has don’t guarantee that he will produce a masterpiece. What did you feel robbed of? What did you have that someone took from you? Did it belong to you in the first place? This film was an attempt at a straightforward narrative. No need to try and think of it any other way. In fact I think you do yourself a disservice by even going down that road because you are reaching and again setting yourself up…It is fair to say that this is not a “very good” film. It’s ok, has a lot of things that needs work and plot development problems that shouldn’t be present in a film directed by someone who brought you Malcolm X , but hey it is the reality. And it doesn’t make any sense trying to bend, stretch, and contort to make this film work beyond the potential it reaches. It’s a disservice to the craft of reviewing films. I agree that the films tries to address topical ills but I think you need to step back in suggesting that it seems to be a mouthpiece for Spike Lee’s ideologies. This film was co-written, and just because there are strong and heavy-handed opinions on issues within the film that Spike Lee himself may be passionate and opinionated about, doesn’t mean or even suggest that THESE VIEWS are representations of HIS or the co-writer's opinions. The only thing we know for sure is that they are the beliefs of the characters, who happen to be poorly developed/one dimensional characters and thus they do not communicate their perspectives on life in a skillful manner, but rather comes off as didactic or preachy. But it is not fair to attribute these opinions to the director even if they are strong and heavy-handed. I disagree with the “I-don’t-give-a-f*ck” air about the film and I think it's simply a poorly developed plot and story…lol I feel you are getting personal/touchy with your interpretations and are missing opportunities to use the jargon of the film craft to communicate the faults. The film DOES NOT criticize Obama. Just because a character within the film references having a black president and his observation of the reactions of his community to the president on a more intimate level DOESN’T MEAN the film is criticizing Obama. Again, you’re getting personal comparing character device within the film with real life activity of the director by mentioning Spike’s fundraising party. Stop reaching! And I think you reach even more with trying to connect his struggles with getting films financed to his deliberate choices as a director with this film. Filmmakers have struggles along the way, but he is a veteran. I think we owe him enough respect to go into the film with the idea that he can fully emerge himself in his film project and make artistic choices based on his VOICE as a director and not decisions that appear to be reactions based on his struggles as a Black filmmaker. Stop reaching! An elegy to Tyler Perry movies? Reaching again! Forget Alice In Wonderland, and just deal with what you saw on the screen. I think its just not a great movie, and there is nothing more to it than that. He needs a better writer and should step away from writing as well. It’s hard to give away plot points… because the plot is meager. I was happy to see black preteens on screen interacting with each other, but the acting between the two was more theatrical than cinematic. The music is great, and the colors are beautiful. And when more people see it, I will chime in about the details of the film. But I think you set yourself up on this one Tambay...

  • 2tone | August 10, 2012 10:35 PM

    You're right on point, @Justsaying

  • Wise | August 10, 2012 6:23 PMReply

    A very different take: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/movies/2012/08/red-hook-summer-the-image-of-the-spirit.html

    Looking fwd to its DC release in a couple weeks.

  • sm23 | August 10, 2012 6:46 PM

    Thank you, Wise. I have not yet seen the film but the differences in people's opinions about it are doing nothing more than excite me to go see it when it comes to my area. It kind of makes me wonder if it was Lee's intention in the first place to cause this conflict of criticism. More people are talking about it, that's for sure. I'm not going to say Spike Lee's a genius but I love how he thinks. But more than that, I LOVE his work.

  • Marie | August 10, 2012 11:35 AMReply

    It's interesting that you thought this film BETTER than Miracle at St. Ana because I think that's Lee's one completely unwatchable film (I turned it off after a half hour.) Everything about that film was awful—the music (the cliché "rat-a-tat-tat" military-like music made my eyes roll to the back of my head), the acting (the big, dumb oaf, stuttering character? Really?), the dialogue. "So there's a lack of focus and cohesiveness to the narrative; as I said earlier, a mosh-pit of ideas, and none of them really gets up on stage and shines." This has always been a problem with Lee's movies—too many ideas not coming together—but despite this, I've never had a problem sitting through a Lee movie (with the one aforementioned exception). I look forward to seeing this film and comparing my reactions to yours.

  • Bev | August 10, 2012 7:49 PM

    The way I read it was that the author stated, "that Miracle at Saint Ana" is a Superior work to "Red Hook Summer" in his opinion. He did not say this film is BETTER than "Miracle at Saint Ana?.

  • ALM | August 9, 2012 11:14 PMReply

    Half the theater walked out? Wow. I want to ask why, but that would probably mean that spoilers would be revealed. :(

  • Masha Dowell | August 9, 2012 8:24 PMReply

    I saw the film at Sundance as well. I loved that he packed the BIG theater of 1300... I did not really like the film. I am sure others will have other opinions.

  • clarity | August 9, 2012 4:22 PMReply

    Or at least explain how the Wizard of Oz parallel works beyond the protagonist wishing to go home?

  • clarity | August 9, 2012 4:21 PMReply

    Unclear why you thought the film was so terrible because your description of the plot is so vague. I know you don't want to give away spoilers, which is respectable, but without giving us any kind of idea what is going on in the story, it's hard to see why you find the story to be unworkable/unfulfilled.

    Could you compare this to another film so we have some kind of idea what we'd be getting into if we bought tickets to see this?

  • ALM | August 9, 2012 11:16 PM

    @Clarity: I was wondering something similar. All I know about the film now is that it is about a young man traveling across the country to spend the summer with his family.

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