Reviews

Spike Lee Is Back in Brooklyn: 'Red Hook Summer'

The movie is obviously a labor of love; made with clear budgetary limitations, it employs thin-looking digital cinematography and vivid colors.


Red Hook Summer


Director: Spike Lee
Cast: Clarke Peters, Jules Brown, Toni Lysaith, Nate Parker, Thomas Jefferson Byrd, James Ransone
Rated: R
Studio: Variance Films
Year: 2012
US date: 2012-08-10 (Limited release)
Trailer
Official site

Red Hook Summer begins as one sort of Spike Lee movie and turns into another. When it opens with 13-year-old Flik (Jules Brown) arriving from Atlanta to visit his preacher grandfather Bishop Enoch Rouse (Clarke Peters) in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook for the summer, it feels like a warm, observational Spike Lee Joint, low-budget and a little rambling. That rambling eventually takes over, though, as the film's focus on social issues doesn't quite come together.

For a while, the movie follows Flik's adjustments to the rhythms of ungentrified Red Hook and his old-school grandfather. At home in Atlanta, Flik lives in a nice house in a middle-class neighborhood; in Red Hook, Enoch scrapes out a living preaching at the Little Piece of Heaven church. Enoch expects his grandson to help out at the church; Flik would rather play with his "iPad 2," as he awkwardly and repeatedly refers to it. Enoch disdains this technology, his old-timer's crankiness and community engagement set against Flik's youthful skepticism and preference for screens rather than face to face encounters.

Flik's edge is softened somewhat when he meets Chazz (Toni Lysaith), a neighborhood girl his age, who shows him around. Brown and Lysaith are both new to acting, and while their unaffected demeanors are charming, they're amateurish too. Lee's screenplay does them no favors, often saddling them with too much dialogue at once, which they over-enunciate and give weird emphasis; they often sound like they're reading their lines in a single live take that will have to make do, an effect exacerbated when Lee gives them theatrical monologues at the movie's midpoint.

Maybe Lee thought their chemistry would carry them through -- and in their own story, it might have. But Peters so fully and memorably inhabits the role of the kind but righteous Enoch that he threatens to take over the movie. Early in the film, when Enoch takes Flik for a walk to meet the neighbors, Lee's camera glides away from his main characters and follows some of the supporting characters, before Enoch and Flik catch up and rejoin the shot. This unbroken take is thrilling in its simulated spontaneity, but the movie never capitalizes on the sense of broader community it evokes. We see a few scenes of Flik and Chazz getting into mild trouble around Red Hook, and some affecting scenes as Flik and Enoch move toward mutual understanding. But by the time Red Hook Summer approaches more serious details about Enoch's past, Peters' strong performance overpowers everything that's been building before, including the kids' story.

Even before the movie reaches that tipping point, it spends too much time observing Enoch in his church. Lee has us listen to three extended sermons at Little Piece of Heaven, with so much singing and organ-playing that the movie seems almost like a musical. During the first two worship sequences, you can feel the hot air and that drowsy, churchy feeling of fighting to stay awake; it's immersive, but also a little stultifying.

When the movie returns to church for a third time, the service feels routine, at which point Lee expertly changes pace, ending the scene with a shocking revelation. This plot turn gives the movie a jolt, and, in its way, prompts reconsideration of what has come before. It also sends Red Hook Summer spinning off in another direction, away from the slice-of-life stories of Flik and Chazz and into melodrama. The experience is equally fascinating and frustrating, and brings to mind Lee's less disciplined films, like the overstuffed She Hate Me (2004).

In the end, Red Hook Summer has more focus and feeling than that movie, even when characters and subplots go underdeveloped. It's obviously a labor of love; made with clear budgetary limitations, it employs thin-looking digital cinematography, as if shot through Flik's iPad 2. Even on a shoestring, Lee makes colors pop off the screen – every character seems to be wearing a shirt in the most glorious, vivid shade possible. But when the camera switches to grainy film for establishing shots or quick montages, recalling the look of his older movies, I wished he had shot more of the Red Hook neighborhood this way, to better contrast the digital and analog styles of Flik and Enoch.

This raises the question of Red Hook Summer's place in Lee's Brooklyn Chronicles. The promotional campaign presents his Brooklyn-set movies -- She's Gotta Have It, Do the Right Thing, Crooklyn, Clockers, and He Got Game, along with the new film -- as a series, and this makes sense, though it may be a retroactive designation (I don't recall He Got Game being heralded as the latest Spike Lee Brooklyn Chronicle upon its release 14 years ago). Red Hook Summer feels more self-conscious about its connections to Lee's past, both in this marketing and within the film: Mookie, Lee's character from Do the Right Thing, even turns up here in a bit part, a nice nod, but so marginalized that it has no clear connection to the newer movie's characters, apart from their Brooklyn residence.

The same is true of the movie itself. Lee's more mainstream films of the past decade or so, like 25th Hour (2002) and Inside Man (2006), say more about New York City as a multitudinous whole than Red Hook Summer can manage about its corner of Brooklyn. It touches on a lot of material -- gentrification, the healing power and limitations of religion, coming of age in the city -- but never settles on a clear theme. That summer-y restlessness is vivid and distinct but, by its nature and possibly by its design, unsatisfying.

5

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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