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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Spike Lee

Spike Lee's 'Red Hook Summer' headed to theaters, but in what form?

April 25, 2012 |  3:54 pm



“Red Hook Summer,” Spike Lee’s polarizing coming-of-age movie that prompted fierce debate at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, is headed to theaters.

Executives at the boutique distributor Variance Films have reached an agreement with Lee to release the film theatrically beginning this August. The director financed the movie independently and shot it in secrecy on Brooklyn streets over a period of 19 days last year.

In an interview, Variance President Dylan Marchetti told 24 Frames that the movie will aim to play in as many as 30 markets, “and not just one theater in each market.” Variance is a small New York-based distributor that has previously released the Michael C. Hall and Brie Larson indie "The Trouble With Bliss" and the Chinese action pic "Let the Bullets Fly."

“Summer” centers on a boy who arrives in a Brooklyn housing project to live with his preacher grandfather. For about two-thirds of its running time, it’s a gritty and music-heavy street drama about an assortment of neighborhood characters, with the occasional reference to Lee’s seminal “Do the Right Thing.” But the film in its last section takes a turn to the shocking, as a main character is revealed to have committed a heinous act that involves sex and Bible scripture.

The shift elicited arguments that ping-ponged around the theaters and restaurants of Sundance after the film premiered. (The initial screening was made even more controversial when Lee took to the stage and engaged in an outburst in which he said that he made the movie independently because Hollywood studios “know nothing about black people.”)

Asked if any of the controversial moments of the film have been changed, Marchetti said he couldn’t comment and referred all requests to Lee. The filmmaker was traveling and not available for comment.  [Update, 5:12 p.m.: Marchetti followed in an email to say that the movie has "been tightened up a bit since the Sundance showing, but no key scenes have been removed. It's still as powerful and controversial as what you saw at Sundance, if not more so."]

The author James McBride, who wrote “Red Hook Summer” with Lee, had previously told Lee he didn’t believe the provocative scene involving the Bible and the sex act should have been included in this way.

Lee, however, remained defiant. “It was one of the most difficult scenes I’ve ever done,”  he told 24 Frames at the festival. “But I knew it had to be done. It would have been cowardly and gutless and punkish to not deal with it straight on.”

The announcement continues a spate of deals for Sundance movies that has continued long after the festival ended.

More than 40 movies that played the Park City, Utah, gathering have come out or will come out in theaters. Even in the last month, several films, including Jonathan Kasdan’s youth romance “The First Time” and the teen documentary “China Heavyweight” received deals, from Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions and Zeitgeist Films, respectively.

It remains to be seen, though, how many of the Sundance deals will bear box-office fruit; a number of them come from small distributors and will get only token releases.

Marchetti said he had yet to settle on all the details for the release for “Summer,” and also was undecided on whether to submit the movie for a rating with the Motion Picture Assn. of America. “We don’t need to do it, so I’m not sure that we would,” he said. “But even if we didn’t, we’d make sure to warn people in some way about the adult content.”


Sundance 2012: Spike Lee says studios 'know nothing about black people"

Sundance 2012: Spike Lee made 'Red Hook' because Hollywood wouldn't

Sundance 2012: Spike Lee's co-writer joins the race conversation

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "Red Hook Summer." Credit: 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks.

Sundance 2012: Spike Lee's co-writer joins the race conversation

January 26, 2012 | 12:21 pm


Spike Lee caused a stir at the Sundance Film Festival this week when he said Hollywood studios "know nothing about black people." Now, James McBride, the co-writer  and co-producer on his latest film "Red Hook Summer," is adding his voice to the discussion.

In an open letter posted Thursday on Lee's 40 Acres & a Mule Filmworks website, McBride draws a line from President Obama's State of the Union address, to the Oscar nominations for African Americans Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer (playing maids in "The Help"), and back to Lee's comments.

He concludes: "Nothing in this world happens unless white folks says it happens. And therein lies the problem of being a professional black storyteller, writer, musician, filmmaker. Being black is like serving as Hoke, the driver in 'Driving Miss Daisy,' except it’s a kind of TV series lasts the rest of your life: You get to drive the well-meaning boss to and fro, you love that boss, your lives are stitched together, but only when the boss decides your story intersects with his or her life is your story valid. Because you’re a kind of cultural maid."

PHOTOS: Spike Lee's controversial quotes

The full letter is below. Tell us what you think in the comments section.

Continue reading »

Sundance 2012: Spike Lee made 'Red Hook' because Hollywood wouldn't

January 23, 2012 |  2:13 pm


A day after he provoked a Sundance Film Festival crowd by telling it that studios "know nothing about black people," Spike Lee sounded a more contrite note—sort of.

“My wife told me when I left this morning ‘You’re defeating the purpose. Just talk about the movie,’” he told The Times while sitting at a Park City, Utah, cafe on Monday morning. The movie Lee was referring to is “Red Hook Summer,” his new film about a preacher and his grandson in a contemporary Brooklyn housing project.

Lee said he’d prefer not to elaborate further on his belief about why studios couldn’t handle a black coming-of-age story. “I’m not here to condemn Hollywood—even if it may sound like that,” he said, giving a small laugh.

PHOTOS: The scene at Sundance

Lee had stunned an audience of as many as 1,000 people at the festival’s Eccles Theater into silence on Sunday when, responding to an audience question from Chris Rock, he said that "they [studios] know nothing about black people ... and they're going to give me notes about what a 13-year-old boy and girl are doing in Red Hook? [Shoot] no," he said, repeating it several times, only without saying “shoot.”

On Monday, Lee said he made the film because he felt Hollywood had shirked its duty when it came to portraying young people of color. “One of my favorite films is ‘Stand by Me.’ But there’s no black person in it. It’s a great film, but where’s the African American version? You know, kids growing up. It doesn’t have to be all ducking bullets and.…”

Lee's new movie tells the story of a young Atlanta boy named Flick who is sent to live with his preacher grandfather over one hot summer. In its look at a young man coming of age on the streets of Brooklyn, it is a companion piece of sorts to his 1989 classic “Do the Right Thing.” There are all sorts of callbacks to that film in “Red Hook,” including several scenes in which  Lee reprises his role as the iconic Mookie, updating the audience on how his life turned out. (He’s still delivering pizza, though things didn’t work out with Rosie Perez’s Tina.)

PHOTOS: Spike Lee's controversial quotes

“Red Hook” also deals with issues in contemporary Brooklyn, including gentrification, black poverty, the strong influence of religion and sexual abuse.

The movie takes an unexpectedly dark turn in its final half hour, prompting some in the audience to say they felt whiplash. But Lee was unrepentant. “They have these certain rules that you can’t do this or that. Who says that?”

Lee also remained defiant  about the most controversial element of the film [Spoiler alert: please skip ahead to the next paragraph if you'd rather not know]—a scene in which a preacher molests a young boy while having him read the Bible. The moment has generated a backlash among some in the media and at the festival. Entertainment Weekly called the film “ranting” and “shocking” as a result

“It was one of the most difficult scenes I’ve ever done,”  Lee acknowledged on Monday. “But I knew it had to be done. It would have been cowardly and gutless and punkish to not deal with it straight on” (that is, by just referencing it without showing it, as Lee said co-writer James McBride had preferred).

"And here’s the thing. It’s my money. I financed the film because I didn’t want to have notes and didn’t want people to tell me there’s no audience for this film so we need to change this or that.”

The movie does not yet have a distributor, but Lee, who hasn't made a feature in nearly four years, said that he was confident it soon would and that it would be released to theaters this summer.


Sundance 2012: Spike Lee says studios 'know nothing about black people'

Sundance 2012: In 'Shut Up,' the enigma of LCD Soundsystem

Second for second, the most cinematic experience in Sundance

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Spike Lee at the Sundance Film Festival. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

Sundance 2012: Spike Lee: Studios 'know nothing about black people'

January 23, 2012 |  7:00 am

At the Sundance Film Festival, Spike Lee premiered "Red Hook Summer," his new Brooklyn movie that has echoes of "Do the Right Thing"

Film festival screenings can take some unexpected turns. But unexpected is an understatement for what happened when Spike Lee took the stage Sunday night at the Sundance Film Festival to field questions about his new film, "Red Hook Summer."

After introducing the cast and principals of the low-budget independent -- about a bible-thumping preacher and his intelligent but alienated grandson in the titular Brooklyn neighborhood -- Lee then fielded a query from an unlikely audience member. "Hey, it's Chris Rock," actor Jules Brown, who plays the grandson, said from the stage.

And indeed, there was Rock, asking a reasonable question about how the movie would have looked had it been made at a studio. ("Would you have blown things up?" he deadpanned.)

PHOTOS: The scene at Sundance

Lee, who had already been moving freely about the stage riffing about everything from the New York Giants' playoff win to the lack of black people in Utah, came back with what he would later acknowledge was a "tirade" about the studio world. Most notably, he said that "they [studios] know nothing about black people ... and they're going to give me notes about what a 13-year-old boy and girl are doing in Red Hook? [Shoot] no," he said, repeating it several times, only without saying 'shoot' and without sounding like he was joking. He also seemed to call out Universal for dithering on a planned sequel to "Inside Man."

He then defused the moment -- somewhat -- by calling the comments a tirade and trying a joke that "my wife is looking at me like I'm crazy."

It didn't help -- or, rather, it made things more surreal -- that the voluble Lee had just shown what was by any standard one of his most audacious films in years, a movie that had been shot in ultra-secrecy over just 19 days on a few Brooklyn blocks. For about two-thirds of its running time a gritty and music-heavy street drama about an assortment of neighborhood characters (with religion instead of race as its main Lee preoccupation this time around), the film in its last section takes a turn to the shocking.

PHOTOS: Spike Lee's controversial quotes

Without giving too much away, we'll just say that a main character is revealed with little warning to have committed a heinous act. A scene involving a sex act and the Bible is involved, and we won't sugarcoat it -- it will be polarizing even to hardened viewers. In the lobby afterward, normally jaded festival-goers were arguing over whether the movie, which does not yet have U.S. distribution, was hateful and/or misanthropic. Even the actors admitted some scenes were hard for them to watch.

But it was also, undeniably, Lee doing what he does best: using low-budget filmmaking and street-friendly storytelling as a means of provocation.

The film also had plenty of Easter eggs to "Do The Right Thing," with Lee's Mookie appearing in several scenes (he's still delivering for Sal's Pizza; apparently it had been rebuilt) and sly references to famous lines from the 1989 classic, such as "And that's the truth, Ruth."

But Lee, who's been saying the movie is simply another one of his nearly half-dozen films set on the streets of Brooklyn, wasn't eager to embrace the comparison.

"Please," he said, pleading with the attendees who would be talking about the movie with their friends, "tell them it's not a ... sequel to 'Do The Right Thing.'"


Sundance 2012: In "Shut Up," the enigma of LCD Soundsystem

Second for second, the most cinematic experience in Sundance

Sundance 2012: A 65-year-old takes on disability and sex in "The Surrogate"

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: A scene from "Red Hook Summer." Credit: Sundance Film Festival

‘Pariah’ director Dee Rees' odd path: bunion pads to Spike Lee

January 5, 2012 | 11:00 am

Dee rees
Film directors come from a wide range of backgrounds. But not many can say they spent their formative career years marketing panty liners and bunion pads.

Dee Rees, the writer and director behind the new lesbian coming-of-age film “Pariah,” did just that, working for Procter & Gamble and Dr. Scholl’s before a chance encounter prompted a career change.

The Times caught up with Rees, 34, a protégé of Spike Lee’s, about her New York-set film, as she took a break from working on her next projects (an HBO series set in the education world that stars Viola Davis, a thriller feature titled “Bolo” and a movie about a fiftysomething female insurance adjuster enduring a midlife crisis, among others).

A hit at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, “Pariah” tells of Alike (Adepero Oduye), a teenager struggling with her sexuality amid a quilt work of friends, enemies, romantic partners and family members — some of whom are more understanding than others. The microbudget drama was acquired by Focus Features and opened commercially in late December.

You’re a young black lesbian making a movie about a young black lesbian. How autobiographical is this film?

A lot of people think it’s ripped from my life. But I have to preface the answer by saying I’m from the Nashville suburbs. Hip brownstones aren’t my world. I changed it because I’m not sure this story could have happened in Nashville. There’s a lot of anonymity and freedom in New York [where Rees later went to film school] that you don’t have in Nashville.

What were the thematic similarities to your life?

I very much related to the idea of sexual identity and how it doesn’t have to be black and white. When I first came out, there would be butch people in baseball caps, and that wasn’t me, and then there were girls in heels and dresses, and that didn’t feel like that was me either. But after a while I learned there’s a lot of ground in between.

There’s a lot of tension in the film, whether it’s between Alike and her conservative mother (Kim Wayans) or other girls in the lesbian community. Where did that come from?

When I came out [at 27] I never experienced physical violence [like Alike does]. But I still had a long way to go. My parents thought sexuality was a choice. A lot of my coming-out was helping them see that it wasn’t.

A black female protagonist is pretty rare in film, and a black lesbian is even rarer. Did you watch any movies with characters like Alike when you were young?

Growing up I was very aware that there weren’t many people like me on the screen. My only queer reference was from a few scenes in “The Color Purple” — and I had to leave the room for them. My role models came mainly from books, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker and a lot of others.

How did you become a director then?

I came to films secondhand. I got an MBA in Tallahassee, Fla. My first job was working at Procter & Gamble marketing panty liners, where you’re basically selling insecurity. You’re asking women, “Are you sure? Are you really sure?” I thought it was a way to do something creative while making a lot of money.

I soon realized that all the really creative stuff in marketing happens at ad agencies. So I left. But I went to work at a company called Schering-Plough, where I was working for Dr. Scholl’s. I was marketing bunion pads and wart removers. Another glamorous job. [Laughs.] And then one day I went on a commercial shoot for shoe insoles. And I’m like “I like this.” So I asked someone on the set, “How do I do this every day?” And he said, “You go to film school.” And that led me to NYU.

While you were there, you struck up a relationship with Spike Lee, who wound up serving as an executive producer on “Pariah.” How did your relationship with him evolve?

Spike is a professor who teaches a master class [in directing] at NYU. I would sign up for office hours all the time. So it started as a kind of personal mentorship. Then I interned with him on “Inside Man.” And then when he needed an intern on “When the Levees Broke,” I applied again. And he started informally mentoring me on the script of “Pariah.”

How did he influence what we see on screen?

He would just give me a lot of feedback. I would bring him drafts of the script, and I would ask him if a scene was working. His biggest thing as a director is that you don’t get to give footnotes to the audience. You don’t get to stand up and say, “The truck didn’t show up that day.” He would say things like, “This may be clear to you as a writer, but it’s not clear in the scene.”

Has he seen the finished film?

After we edited it we showed him a rough cut. He was brutally honest. He would say things like, “These moments are redundant. Do they really need to be there?”

When you make a movie about a social topic, people are inclined to see you as some kind of symbol. Do you view “Pariah” as a movie that can advance a political cause?

I think the themes are universal. It’s about identities and how you see yourself. But I also think the reaction to “Pariah” says that audiences are progressive; they want to see different kinds of stories. We did the [2007] short film that the feature is based on, and we went to 40 festivals and won 25 awards. That wasn’t just the choir speaking up.


Movie review: 'Pariah'

Sundance hit 'Pariah' heads to theaters [video]

'Pariah': Actress Adepero Oduye relates to the outsider status of Alike

— Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Dee Rees. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times.

Sundance hit 'Pariah' heads to theaters [video]

November 19, 2011 |  3:00 pm



One of the breakout films at this year's Sundance Film Festival, the lesbian tale 'Pariah" hits theaters on Dec. 28. Dee Rees' coming-of-age story was shot on a shoestring budget but made a splash in the snowy precincts of Utah earlier this year, where it was picked up by Focus Features.

Rees, who was mentored by Spike Lee on the film, tells of a young black woman named Alike (Adepero Oduye) grappling with her sexuality, an unforgiving mother and other complexities as she grows up in a New York neighborhood.

In this exclusive clip, Rees shows Alike arriving home after a night out and her mother's tentative, clumsy attempts to bond with her daughter.



A Spike Lee acolyte joins the fold

Spike Lee to direct Park-Can Wook's 'Oldboy'

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Adepero Oduye in "Pariah." Credit: Focus Features

Spike Lee to direct remake of Park Chan-wook's 'Oldboy'

July 11, 2011 |  2:00 pm


 Spike Lee has signed on to direct “Oldboy,” the English-language remake of Park Chan-wook's hyper-stylized South Korean thriller.

A revenge tale about a man who is kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years and doesn't know why, "Oldboy" is based on a Japanese manga series. The original film became a critical hit, earning the grand jury prize at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival and taking in just under $15 million at the box office worldwide. 

Mark Protosevich, who wrote the genre movies "Thor" and "I Am Legend," has adapted the screenplay for Mandate Pictures, with Lee coming aboard after multiple attempted reboots fell apart, including one with Steven Spielberg and Will Smith attached.

The "Oldboy" gig is one of two Lee projects in the news this week. According to the website Blackfilm, Lee is directing another feature film called "Red Hook Summer," in which he'll reprise the role of Mookie he played in his 1989 career breakout hit, "Do the Right Thing." Lee's reps at CAA did not immediately return a call to confirm the project.

The director's most recent work has been in the TV documentary space, on the post-Hurricane Katrina HBO miniseries "If God is Willing and da Creek Don't Rise," and the ESPN film "Kobe Doin' Work." His last feature film was the 2008 World War II drama "Miracle at St. Anna."

Lee appears eager to be back in the feature directing saddle. This morning he tweeted, “Wake Up. I been up since 430am. On the way to the set of THE NEW SPIKE LEE JOINT.Today is 1st Day of Shooting.Awwwwwwwwwwww Sheeeeeeeeeeeeet.”


Oldboy auteur Park Chan-wook could make his English-language debut ... directing Carey Mulligan

Movie shot on iPhone 4 by Park Chan-wook to hit South Korean theaters [Video]

Park Chan-wook: The South Korean director gets dialed in

-- Rebecca Keegan


Photo: Park Chan-wook. Credit: Matt Douma / For the Times

Sundance 2011: 'Pariah' director (a Spike Lee acolyte) joins the fold

January 21, 2011 | 12:30 am


This Oscar season, many pundits have lamented the dearth of female and black filmmakers. But it may not stay that way for long if a Spike Lee protege named Dee Rees has anything to say about it.

The writer-director unveiled her debut feature, a lesbian coming-of-age story, "Pariah," at Thursday's  opening night of the Sundance Film Festival to a hugely enthusiastic reception. The semi-autobiographical tale follows a soft-spoken black teenager named Alike as she begins discovering her own sexuality. Through a series of complex relationships with a butch teenager, a free-spirited female friend, a quietly confident father and a disapproving mother, Alike's odyssey teases out insights on identity and family, while eliciting a surprising number of laughs from the packed Eccles Theater in Park City, Utah.

A standing ovation followed the screening, and while the movie avoids the melodrama of a "Boys Don't Cry" or a "Precious" (a hit here two years ago), it was hard for some in the audience to resist the comparisons.

Rees' back story is almost as specific as the story on the screen. While working as an intern for Lee on the set of "Inside Man" six years ago, she would go off during breaks and scribble a screenplay -- scribbling that soon turned into 140 pages of script material. She then whittled it down for a short that went on to win acclaim on the festival circuit -- including at Sundance and the Los Angeles Film Festival -- before developing it into a full-blown feature, with an assist from the Sundance Institute.

Lee got involved when Rees was writing the script, offering notes and slashing lines that he didn't think belonged. "'Corny, corny,' like a sharpie, killing it," is how Rees described the process. He then offered  similar feedback after watching cuts of the film.

The director acknowledged her movie doesn't have the most commercial premise. "You say, 'black' -- 'Oh no,'" she said recounting a (hypothetical?) meeting with financiers. "You say, 'lesbian' -- 'Oh no.' You say, 'coming of age,' they're like, 'Next meeting.'"

Given the reception Thursday night, though, it's hard to imagine people in Hollywood -- including the numerous agents who had turned out to scout Rees -- skipping many meetings with her.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: A scene from "Pariah." Credit: Sundance Film Festival


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