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Red Hook Summer.

Spike Lee has been, if anything, consistent. For whatever reason, even though I still like him a lot, and for the most part I check out whatever he puts out, he has been consistently flat of late. There’s no denying Do The Right Thing is a fantastic film, a true American classic in my view, and in the following years he put out some great work. The visually and sonically gorgeous Mo’ Better Blues and the wonderfully shot and acted Malcolm X for example. But since about 1996, his deeply personal films such as Girl 6, Bamboozled, and She Hate Me were misfires in tone and texture. Now comes Red Hook Summer, and despite it’s obvious desire to recapture some sort of the spark and neighborhood feel of Do The Right Thing, Lee’s lack of focus gets the best of him, again and disappointingly. The film’s heart is in the right place at the beginning, and his love of a new Brooklyn neighborhood was intriguing and welcome, but what is he trying to do here? When he seems unsure himself of what he is trying to accomplish, he moves towards shock, almost to distract. I like aimless movies. When the atmosphere is enveloping it pulls you into a world without effort – a time to stand in their shoes and see their world from their point of view, and this movie starts off that way. We get to know the young boy from Atlanta who moves to Red Hook to spend the summer with his grandfather, who is a local Baptist minister. We get to know the grandfather and his team at the church. It pulls you in and it works to a point, despite the choice of actors and their overwhelmingly stiff and wooden performances (sans Clarke Peters as the grandfather, who is really good), and despite the flat digital camera look of the cinematography. It’s far from perfect, but my overall feeling was it was nice to be there. It was nice to see this neighborhood and what it’s like to be there. But then Lee does it again – he doesn’t just let it drift like the hot summer day trance he starts with. No tensions boil, no mysteries unravel, yet Lee abruptly changes the plot and tone, bringing up subject matter that is not only despicable on it’s own, but unsettling after getting to know these people and their surroundings. It could work, if it didn’t come out of nowhere and if he had something to say, but one moment it’s day, and the next moment it’s a very, VERY dark evening. Lee’s willingness to trash his own characters, to turn them into monsters and leave them for dead is very unsettling. When you question a filmmaker’s love or understanding of their own characters, you know you are in trouble, and from what he put on screen he doesn’t seem to in the least. At one point in his career Lee was asking people to Get On The Bus, but now he seems all too eager to throw his own characters under the bus just to get a film completed.

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