Reviews

SXSW Film Day 3: It's All About Crime

Films about crime abound, but where they take us and what they say is what really matters. 12 O'Clock Boys and LICKS both have the potential to contribute something new to the discourse on poverty and crime in society, but only one succeeds.


SXSW Film Day 3

City: Austin, Texas
Venue: Paramount Theatre & Violet Crown Theatre
Date: 2013-03-10

SXSW Film 2013 offers up plenty of crime-related programming from documentaries to narrative features to horror films. Of the selections that deal with inner-city drama, two were hotly anticipated: Lotfy Nathan's documentary debut, 12 O'Clock Boys, and Jonathan Singer-Vine's Oakland-based drama, LICKS. Both films deal with young black men trying to make their way in violent, impoverished neighborhoods, but their similarities end there. These compelling pieces demonstrate the diversity of films at SXSW as well as the very different paths that filmmakers take to tackle classic urban themes.

Lotfy Nathan's 12 O'Clock Boys seems relatively simple at the outset: 13-year-old Pug will do anything he can to be accepted by Baltimore's 12 O'Clock Boys, an illegal dirtbike crew who ride the streets and do wholly vertical wheelies (hence their name). At the beginning of the doc, we're introduced to Pug and his mom, Coco. We immediately see that young Pug simply doesn't have many recreation opportunities where he lives. Inner city Baltimore is notorious for gang violence, drug abuse and extreme tensions between police and citizens. This is where Pug lives.

12 O Clock Boys

Somehow, Nathan takes what seems like a simple boyhood dream of belonging to a group of dirtbike riders and turns it into a documentary that is impressive in both its emotional power and in its cinematic achievement. 12 O'Clock Boys is one of the most beautifully shot documentaries I've seen in the last five years—and I'm including all the docs I've watched at home during late-night "I want to know the truth!" binges. Pug is the perfect subject for the documentary because his ghetto-honed sharpness is balanced out by a certain naivety. We feel compelled to root for him even if we don't really think he should be out riding a four-wheeler or dirtbike on the streets of Baltimore illegally.

What makes 12 O'Clock Boys so effective is that Nathan is able to differentiate between illegal and criminal. Yes, the dirtbike riders of Baltimore are breaking the law. But in a city plagued by gang violence, street fights and regular stabbings or shootings, we have to wonder if what they're doing is entirely wrong in the moral sense. Nathan doesn't answer that question for us, which makes the film more credible. Instead, he uses interviews with Baltimore residents, business owners, and a handful of police officers to help us understand the utter polarization of the ghetto. The residents distrust the cops; the cops distrust the residents. They don't even need reasons anymore: That's just the way it is.

* * *

LICKS, a new film by Jonathan Singer-Vine, also deals with this inner-city polarization. The narrative film is the story of D, a young man who is released from a two year bid in prison and must navigate life on the dangerous streets of Oakland. The film starts out strongly with an exposition of the crime for which D was sent to prison. The cinematography is particularly striking in this part of the film; gorgeous shots are mixed with an excellent soundtrack to draw viewers in. Unfortunately, much happens between the bookends of the film that doesn't quite live up to what Singer-Vine is clearly capable of achieving.

The movie's premiere began with substantial audience enthusiasm that flagged about 40 minutes into the narrative. For a movie set in the ultra-dangerous ghettos of Oakland, it moved surprisingly slow. I don't believe that crime movies must always occur at Tarantino-like speed, but there's no narrative sense of the very real panic and pressure that D is feeling. But then there were moments of absolute clarity in the film that rewarded the viewers that stuck it out, like a scene in which D makes a life-changing choice about whether or not he's going to become a pimp. Koran Streets, who plays D's friend Rell, shines as a character who elicits both disgust and sympathy from the audience.

LICKS

Aside from excellent, quiet performances, the middle hour of the film doesn't seem to be headed anywhere. And then, magically, the last 15 minutes of the movie are simply amazing. They can't make up for the slowed-down narrative pace of the rest of the film, but they do allow us to see what Singer-Vine was trying to do with his story. There are tears and redemption at the end, but there's also tragedy. It's true to life on the streets to some degree, which is no small feat.

LICKS and 12 O'Clock Boys are very different films: one is a narrative, the other is a documentary. Yet despite the line between fiction and reality, they are trying to show us what life is really like in the inner city. They make us stop and think about the chances and choices that we get in life—or don't. Unfortunately, LICKS suffers from a story that is simply too slow and whose twists don't happen quickly enough (literally, in terms of scene length) in order to really hit us where it matters. If you're looking for a great story about how inner-city youth survive, check out 12 O'Clock Boys instead.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image