A few weeks ago I reached (and, thankfully, passed) one of those horrific chronological landmarks that remind us of our inevitable, coming-soon-to-a-crematorium-near-you demise. About the same time, The Expendables 2 – the sequel to 2010’s unforgettable muscle-fest The Expendables – opened in cinemas nationwide. Coincidence? I think not.
The characters in the series are, after all, played by long in the tooth, well past their prime action stars that should be collecting Social Security instead of truckloads of stolen plutonium. As for me, I’m an over the hill film critic who should probably be spending his golden years watching old Nelson Eddy-Jeanette MacDonald musicals instead of over the top shoot ‘em ups. (Anyone wanna buy me a ticket for the next TCM Classic Cruise? Mickey Rooney’s gonna be there!)
One horrific thought festered in my mind as The Expendables 2 began: I could succumb to a fatal heart attack at any moment. Could there be a less dignified death than popping one’s clogs during a matinée screening of a film in which the bad guy’s last name is ‘Vilain’? Dear Lord Baby Jesus, Great Tree Spirit, or Ever Expanding Black Hole of Nihilistic Non-Belief, I silently begged, please don’t let it happen to me!
The good news is that fate postponed the inevitable (perhaps I’ll join the choir invisible during The Expendables 3). The better news is that, if you’ve ever wondered if it were possible to drive a jet ski into a cargo plane or if Albania had a good oldies station — or even if Jean Claude Van Damme’s head could fit neatly into a small burlap sack — all your questions are answered herein. I’ll forgive director Simon West’s foolish decision not to soundtrack the film’s climactic throw-down between Stallone and The Muscles from Brussels with Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s Get It On’, and give The Expendables 2 (currently playing at the UA Berkeley 7) a steroid-filled syringe up.
For something a little more highbrow, you can’t do better than Spike Lee’s Red Hook Summer (opening Friday, August 31 at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas). A love song for Brooklyn with vaguely autobiographical overtones (Lee, like the film’s protagonist, moved to New York from Atlanta as a child), the film features a bravura performance from Clarke Peters as the pastor of a small, debt-ridden church in the borough’s gentrifying Red Hook neighborhood.
New to the ‘hood is young Flik (Jules Brown), sent north for the summer to spend time with his grandpa Bishop Enoch (Peters). Overwhelmed by culture shock, vegan atheist Flik has difficulty adapting to his grandfather’s meat-eating Christian ways. A testy friendship with teen churchgoer Chazz (Toni Lysaith) helps makes the transition a little easier, but iPad-snatching bad boy Box (Red Tail’s Nate Parker) makes life difficult, and a disturbing late in the game revelation further complicates matters for all concerned.
Set in the same neighborhood as Lee’s classic Do the Right Thing (you’ll be delighted, or perhaps shocked, to discover that Mookie is still delivering pizzas for Sal’s Famous), Red Hook Summer is much less frenetic than previous Spike Lee joints. Its low-key tone takes some getting used to and the acting is inconsistent: while Peters and co-star Thomas Jefferson Byrd (playing the church’s alcoholic deacon) are brilliant, the kids are, to put it charitably, a bit wooden.
Nonetheless, I found Red Hook Summer a sharply written, deeply moving, and thoughtful piece of work. It probably won’t win any awards, but it’s Lee’s best film since Bamboozled.
Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly.
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