Spike Lee returns to Brooklyn for Red Hook Summer, his impartial film that focuses on religion, our economy and a handful of current hot topics that weigh down on our youth of today. Lee’s been out of the mainstream eye for a few years now, but Red Hook Summer is a strong reminder why we’ve all learned to know his name. The film is as hard-hitting and as relevant as Do the Right Thing was back when it saw release in the late 80s, only this time around Lee chooses to focus on an even smaller group of characters as he spreads his film out across one hot Brooklyn summer.
Flik (Jules Brown) goes to visit his grandfather for the first time over his long summer vacation. Up until this point young Flik has only experienced the finer things in life, like his iPad 2 and living in a very nice home. He’s never really been exposed to his grandfather’s old ways, which include preaching the good book vigorously. Bishop Enoch (Clarke Peters) is one of Brooklyn’s finest spreaders of the good word and it is his determined will and faith that keeps him in peace while he struggles with financial problems that are laid on the church.
There’s instant retaliation from Flik after being forced into his grandfather’s world, but like any young kid Flik decides to give it a shot and see if his grandfather has anything worth teaching. Along the way he encounters a new friend named Chazz (Toni Lysaith) and the two share an eventful summer that will forever be instilled in Flik’s memory.
It’s no surprise that director Spike Lee returns to Brooklyn with such heart and passion. Red Hook Summer is a much smaller production than what we’re used to when seeing the latest Spike Lee joint, but it never loses that warmth and at-home personal feeling that Lee brings to each and every film. His characters are always so dynamic and real, which helps push the story above and beyond anything you’d think it could achieve.
Lee approaches the religious angle of the film with an impartial eye and one that is always teetering on both sides of the fence. There are many scenes that show people in church being perceived as good and the ones outside as troubled and lost souls, but Lee does this to help build up his grand finale.
Red Hook Summer acts as an innocent coming-of-age tale thanks to its two unknown stars Toni Lysaith and Jules Brown. Both performers reveal unhampered with energy that always feels like their real-life genuine reactions to any given scene. Brown introduces Flik with normal stubbornness, but then he literally changes in front of your eyes as Flik goes from slightly spoiled and narrow-minded child to understanding and aware young adult. Flik learns life lessons over the summer that can only be experienced and not taught or read on one’s own electronic devices.
Same goes for Toni Lysaith’s Chazz. She’s more accustomed to Brooklyn and its gospel ways, but she too shows room to grow and stretch into her own individual. Between the two of them and Spike Lee’s writing you’re given a first-class ticket to our modern youth growing up in a religion-heavy neighborhood with many of lives problems literally at their front doors.
Watching a Spike Lee movie almost always means that you’re in for a very personal and near-to-heart film. Red Hook Summer almost feels like a spiritual sequel to Do the Right Thing, not just because of Mookie’s reappearance, but because of everything that has happened to film and to Spike Lee since Do the Right Thing impacted audiences so many years ago. Lee’s learned a lot of as a filmmaker and he uses that information to tell one of 2012’s most under-appreciated films.
Red Hook Summer is a film full of love and joy by way of Spike Lee’s always personal and still inventive direction and Toni Lysaith, Jules Brown and Clarke Peters‘ lively performances. Lee uses his strengths as a filmmaker to direct something that hits on almost every relevant base in today’s society, with topics ranging from religion, our economy and growing up in today’s world. Not once does Lee focus single-handedly on one topic for too long. He instead chooses to shift and change as the story progresses into its own film.
Red Hook Summer was shot almost completely on digital and not once does Lee let the cameras get the best of him. The film is still very much an artistic example of Lee’s impressive skills behind the camera without ever comprising that trademark look and feel of something shot digitally. Lee uses the cheaper and more efficient way of making films to get some marvelous shots and the Blu-Ray transfer from Image is a shining achievement of shooting indie films that look just as good as the rest of ’em.
The film features strong detail in up-close shots, with lots of warm reds and oranges looking strikingly clear. Skin tones are rich with detail, sweat, blood, dirt and all. I witnessed no juttering or unfocused shots, despite a lot of the film being shot with constant camera movement.
There are a few scenes shot on Super8 that look grainy, unfocused and lack strong detail, but those must be looked at for what they are. Lee shot these scenes intentionally and they look as good as they’re supposed to.
The film is primarily a dialogue piece, but that doesn’t mean the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracker suffers from silence. Sermons are loud and project from the front channels right into the back and general conversations breakup between channels with ease. I was overly impressed with how well the mixing was done. Conversations would shift around channels and always keep your ears actively listening and following as characters moved from indoor environments to outdoors. It’s just another layer of detail that helps make the film feel that much more authentic.
Here’s a list of bonus material found on the disc:
- Audio Commentary: Director/producer/co-writer Spike Lee gives another informative and personal commentary experience that should be listened to if you consider yourself a fan of his work or even indie filmmaking in general. Lee always offers up an enormous amount of information in his tracks and this one isn’t any different.
- Behind the Scenes (HD): A 27-minute piece that shows various scenes in-the-making as Lee interacts with his performers and crew. This is just further proof of Lee’s undying commitment to making films with all of his heart and soul injected directly into the source. Lee can be seen working shots, giving actors encouragement or just shooting the shit with ongoing people watching from the street.
- Music Video (HD): A music video that cuts together lots of the behind-the-scenes footage as well as stuff used in the actual film. The song is called Desperation and it was performed by Judith Hill.
- Teaser (HD): A short video that doesn’t really act as a teaser trailer, but more so a footage reel that shows you what you’re in store for. It uses most of its footage from the music video.
I’m incredibly pleased to know that Spike Lee hasn’t lost “it”. The man is a more than gifted filmmaker and I look forward to each and every new film that he makes. Red Hook Summer is definitely one of his more personal films that shares many traits, but isn’t exactly like Do the Right Thing.
I wouldn’t call it as monumental, but it’s certainly just as important. The subject material is much more personal and focused, but the overlaying messages that can be taken away are equally powerful and moving. Red Hook Summer is a performance-driven film that also excels in all aspects of production. The Blu-Ray holds up strong and gives the viewer a premium quality video transfer and a surprisingly efficient audio mix. The special features aren’t overwhelming enough to keep you occupied for too long, but there’s enough spread out across the disc to make it worth a purchase.
This review is based on a copy of the Blu-Ray that we received for reviewing purposes.
Spike Lee's Red Hook Summer is the director embracing the change of filmmaking while still being able to capture personal, yet completely relevant stories unlike anyone working in the field today. The story is stimulating, the performances are moving and deep and the direction remains of the highest quality, despite Lee's shoe-string budget. A miracle if I've ever seen one.