Saturday, December 3, 2011

Luis Landivar's RED HOOK BLACK: It's a love/hate letter to the B'klyn neighborhood


RED HOOD BLACK, I'm afraid, does not belong in a theater. It belongs on a shelf in its filmmaker's room, to be shared, if requested, with friends and family. If this film had opened two weeks earlier, around the Thanksgiving holiday, I'd have chosen it for Turkey-of-the-month, if not the entire year. (But, no: That crown is still held by The Abduction of Zack Butterfield, which opened last May, and proved so ridiculous that some of us are still giggling.) Red Hook Black does not come close to the entertaining heights of unintentional "camp" as did the Butterfield business. It's just, sadly, not very good on any level.

Adapted and directed by Luis Landivar (shown at left) from a play of the same name by José Landivar (a relation, no doubt, but I could not find the actual connection), the movie tells the present-day story of two old friends from the neighborhood, Marco (Kyle Fields, below left) and Damian and their currently difficult times. Why these two would remain friends into adulthood is hard to fathom, as Marco is one singularly annoying, unpleasant clod, married to a sick wife (she's got Multiple Sclerosis) and soon leching after his nubile niece, who is more than happy to oblige. (According to the film's web site, inspiration here came, but did not rub off, partly from Arthur Miller's play A View from the Bridge.)

For his part, Damian (played by James Jackson, shown below, left) is saddled with a no-account younger brother who deals drugs and has zero sense of responsibility. Damian is also suffering post-traumatic stress from a fairly recent divorce.

Having neither read nor seen the play from which the film was adapted, I can't remark on its quality. But the movie, from the first, offers some terrible, clunky dialog about sparkling eyes and a sparkling blouse (!) with reams of exposition and repetition. "I'm sick, Marco. I'm sick!" And soon after, "I can't take it, Marco. I can't take it!" When it's not repeating, the dialog alternates cliché with near-non-sequitur. Notes the toast at the finale ("What doesn't kill us makes us stronger." Gee, we've never heard that one before!) or wifey asking hubby "Were you building a spaceship?" when he finally appears after a long absence. Huh?

Further, all this is spoken by performers who are not professional enough to know how not to call attention to the bad dialog. Instead they go for it, both barrels blasting. The pacing is usually "off," as well: too fast, too slow or just too many small but unnecessary pauses so that nothing quite seems natural. (The wife, above, is played by Victoria Negri, while the role of the niece is taken by Danielle Lozeau, below.)

TrustMovies does not enjoy giving a notice like this one. But Red Hook Black -- so obvious is so many ways that it soon becomes boring -- should not be let off the hook. It is not an easy film to sit through, despite its relatively short running time of 87 minutes. Mr. Landivar not only adapted and directed the film but co-produced it and wrote the lyrics to many of the songs on the soundtrack (the music, listenable if not very original, is probably the best part of the experience).

According to the IMDB, Landivar has also made another, earlier film about Bushwick, Brooklyn, so this one on Red Hook may lead to more films set in the borough's various communities. If so, let's hope that his filmmaking skills improve with each new location. For now, Red Hook Black -- the title of which refers to the days in which oil was found under this particular neighborhood -- will open for a week's run in New York City at the Quad Cinema this coming Friday, December 9.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

My teacher made this movie. The songs from the Red Hook Black soundtrack sound really good and having only seen the trailer on IMDB, the movie looks great. I'm waiting to see if the other critics agree. Kyle Fields is hot!

James van Maanen, said...

Well, then, Anon, you should be primed to see this film (unless you're too young. I am not sure what's the movie's rating is -- probably "R"). I wish I'd liked it better, but, yes, Kyle Fields is definitely hot. What a body he has! I, too, will be interested in what other critics have to say. Thanks for your comment.