Red Hook Summer (Lee, 2012)


After the bloated and disjointed WWII epic Miracle of St. Anna, Spike Lee returns home to the present-day New York City borough of his youth with Red Hook Summer, the director’s fifth entry in his ongoing chronicles of “the Republic of Brooklyn.” A coming-of-age story at heart, the film follows a middle-class Georgia boy named Flick (Jules Brown) who’s forced to spend his summer vacation in the sweltering-hot Red Hook housing projects with his devout Methodist grandfather, Da Good Bishop Enoch Rouse (Clarke Peters). It’s a seemingly straightforward fish-out-of-water scenario, one wrought with miscommunication, generational conflicts, and class division. But Lee complicates this familiar formula by playing against our expectations in regard to character motivation and tone, revealing dark truths beneath the routines of everyday life.

Full Review for Slant Magazine

Best of the 2000’s: #5

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– “The Best of the Decade Project” is an ongoing series of essays written by Match Cuts and The Filmist concerning the finest films of the last ten years.

The weight of costly decisions infuse every moment of Spike Lee’s 25th Hour. During the film’s daylong timeframe these moments add up to an overwhelming sense of regret and unease, amplifying the fragile relationship between character and environment. The singular story of Monty Brogan (Edward Norton), a convicted drug dealer spending his last night with family and friends before beginning a seven year prison sentence, takes place in the tender months following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, exploring deep into the traumatized heart of New York City. Locations become shifting, tormented characters, and Monty’s personal tragedy becomes a bedfellow for a larger often unmentioned day of reckoning. Continue reading

When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (Lee, 2006)

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Certainly one of the definitive documentaries of the decade, if not one of the best films period. Spike Lee’s epic 4+ hour HBO mosaic on Hurricane Katrina, the city of New Orleans, and the horrific aftermath of the event, crosses cultural and economic divides by recollecting stories, lessons, observations, and critiques from a diverse group of first-hand accounts. Everyone from Mayor Ray Nagin to Kanye West to Wendell Pierce to Terrence Blanchard compliment the countless other human voices without celebrity status, those still affected by Katrina in indescribable and innumerable ways. Lee intercuts archival footage, amateur video, and news reporting with direct confessionals eliciting a number of different emotions – anger, heartache, rage, guilt, sadness – and on and on. Lee also manages to get at the complexities of New Orleans itself, a city plagued by terrible infrastructure yet blessed with vibrant culture and sense of identity. The film creates a platform for a logical and justifiable questioning of the Bush Administration instead of pandering to political mongering, letting the facts of their failure speak for themselves. Because of the length and television format, Lee is able to create a strong rapport with each of his subjects, making every story sting with a certain tragedy and hope. After watching When the Levees Broke, recycled “historical facts” of Hurricane Katrina seem inconsequential, moot when considering the actual complexity of how and why New Orleans was nearly destroyed by indifference and lack of government will. We still don’t know, and may never will, the human and psychological toll of this event, but Lee’s film goes a long way toward beginning the process.

Kobe: Doin’ Work (Lee, 2009)

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If you’re a basketball fan, then Spike Lee’s intriguing television documentary Kobe: Doin’ Work provides a special sort of window into the intricacies of the sport. It’s basically a day in the professional life of the Lakers’ superstar, charting pre-game locker room preparations, in-game analysis, and post game ruminations via an audio commentary recorded by Bryant and Lee after the fact. Bryant is surprisingly candid about his passion, displaying a keen intelligence and deep knowledge found in only the most devoted perfectionists of any particular discipline. The fantastic cinematographer Matthew Libatique, with the help of many camera operators, captures the kinetic energy and rhythm of the game, covering from countless angles a game packed with amazing moments of motion and tension. However, because of the sharp professional focus and lingo, it’s hard to recommend Kobe: Doin’ Work to anyone besides NBA enthusiasts.

Miracle at St. Anna (Lee, 2008)

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Spike Lee’s a director who can get consumed by the subtext of his work at the cost of basic filmmaking essentials. His Miracle at St. Anna exudes confidence and ambition, but maybe too much for its own good since the end result is a scattered, bloody mess. Spike Lee’s opus subverts War film conventions and attempts to create a parallel between the role of faith and race in documenting Minority history on film. But characters remain distant on a basic human level, while scenes are strung together with short and jarring flashbacks that often fold onto each other at the cost of clear pacing. There are multiple narrative fronts and strange shifts in tone that never tie together in any meaningful way. It’s like a globe-trotting symphony of cliche pushed on the viewer through exquisite production design, hoping we’ll buy into the film’s simplistic vision of moral comeuppance at the cost of logic or continuity. And it doesn’t help that Spike Lee can’t direct a combat scene if his life depended on it, making the already muddy goals of this film close to impenetrable.

Sucker Free City (Lee, 2004)

Modern day sagas of urban decay and failing social institutions will inevitably pale in comparison to David Simon’s penultimate series The Wire. But Spike Lee’s harrowing glance at gang life in San Francisco does an admirable job interlocking race, stereotype, and economical alliance with interesting characters worth examining, producing fresh clarity on the tragedies of the street. Sucker Free City gets its edge from combining multiple classes as well as ethnicities, showing how dependent each have become on the success and failure of the rest. Anthony Mackie’s lead performance bristles with a fascinating combination of raging intensity and plotting calm, proving yet again he’s an underused force in the movies.