12 O’Clock Boys (2013)

12 O'Clock Boys (2013)

Original Theatrical Release: January 31, 2014
Director: Lofty Nathan

Pug, a young man from a dangerous block in Baltimore, Maryland is enthralled by a band of people who partake in illegal street riding calling themselves the 12 O’Clock Boys. When his older brother, Tibba, dies – Pug looks to the Boys for guidance, much to the worry of his mother, Coco, and others in Pug’s family. Pug must weigh his obsession with bikes and this group against a rising police response to the riding and his inner desires to become a veterinarian.

To be clear – I kind of accidentally stumbled into this documentary. I went with my girlfriend to a place called the Space Gallery in Portland, Maine – and we were supposed to be going to a women’s writer group Q&A seminar. As we sat down and waited, we wondered why the audience was overwhelmingly male. We had our answer in a few minutes as the documentary started. We had come on the wrong day, and we already paid so we stayed – and I’m glad we did.

First off, the style was fresh and kinetic. Lofty Nathan, the director, filled the frame with choice morsels that assisted the narrative in telling the deep and complicated story that is Pug’s life and upbringing. Not once did he delve into stereotypical urban characters – but let each person identify themselves through their own ways. Some were gangsters, some were struggling parents, some were police officers, some were just kids.

Rather than glamorize the dangerous lifestyle led by the 12 O’Clock Boys, Nathan portrayed them as human beings in a tough situation relying on what they feel is their only release other than gang activity, drugs or other less-positive things. Through Pug and his own tough life, we understand that belonging to a group and being good at something (even if it’s just being able to wheelie really well) is what we all strive for. We all secretly want to be a 12 O’Clock Boy.

A good documentarian holds a mirror up to the rest of us and says “Look. This is you – this is your reality” and makes us reflect on it, think about it. I felt that way when watching this film. I do love documentaries but this is one of the better ones I’ve seen in a while. Lofty Nathan does not insert himself directly into the narrative as is sometimes the case with other documentarians, but we see through his eyes the disarray that this suburb, inner-city culture has become and all the problems that stem from it.

In Pug we have someone who is truly likable and easy to care about. We see his struggles and we want him to get on that bike. We see him training and we root for him as he gets better and better at riding and doing wheelies. We see the danger and we wish someone would stop him before he gets in over his head. It’s a really complicated emotional response evoked, at least in my case. Pug starts out somewhat innocent but then slowly evolves (or de-volves, possibly) once his world view perspective is changed over and over again.

On the other side of things, just visually it’s entertaining to watch. There are many dynamic shots and kinetic images on display for the visually-oriented folks out there like me. There are lots of slow-motion shots of the riding as well as fast-paced chase scenes and tension-ridden conflicts between police and the Boys.

12 O’Clock Boys is the total package. Go watch it.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For 12 O’Clock Boys

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Machine Gun Preacher (2011)

Machine Gun Preacher (2011)

Sam Childers (Gerard Butler) is a real-life hero formed from the virtual ashes of a hardened criminal who found God and became a construction worker. While on the job, Childers meets a priest from Africa and is inspired to visit, ending up in Sudan and Northern Uganda, where he helps to build an orphanage and ultimately moves on to becoming a liberation fighter trying to save Africa’s children from the clutches of an evil warmonger who uses them as children soldiers in his army.

Machine Gun Preacher is based on the true story events of the real Sam Childers, who endorses the film. The movie is more drama than the trailer and cover art depict, and less action, but there is not enough action OR real-life documentary-style filming to make this as interesting as it could have been. Gerard Butler is passable in the role but looks nothing like the real Childers (not to mention his accent slipping through more than once) and the filmmakers could have dealt more with the more interesting side of Childers’ story which saw him pitting his Christian faith against acts of violence. If they had explored that side of the equation, then the movie could have been great….but as it stands, the movie is just sort of ho-hum with no real staying power. It doesn’t really distinguish itself from other generic action films and there are much better dramas out there to boot.

Still, I think it’s at least worth watching once, if only for your introduction to Sam Childers himself, so you can know a bit about his back story if you’re so inclined. Michelle Monaghan is nice to look at and it was cool to see Michael Shannon as well.

JOE Rating: ★★★

Breaking Bad: Season 1 (2008)

Breaking Bad: Season 1 (2008)

Original Air Date: January 20, 2008
Stations Airing: AMC
Number Of Episodes In Season: 7

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is a high school chemistry teacher who discovers that he only has two more years left to live because of his unexpected stage III cancer. With nothing left to lose, and no other means to provide for his family, he enlists the aid of Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), a bright but broken junkie and former student to help him distribute some crystal meth, which “Walt” is very proficient at creating. Soon, the duo find themselves not only at odds with each other but also crossing paths with heavy-duty drug dealers like the insane and violent Tuco (Raymond Cruz) as Walt and Jesse shoulder in on the meth-dealing business.

I had been extremely excited for this show upon seeing the original trailers on AMC back when I had cable. When it finally came on, I was not disappointed. I missed most of the original airing, but recently caught up on all the episodes using Netflix.

Right off the bat, the series and season one starts off at a decent pace, and you really get to both fear and love Walt by the end. I would say that the beginning half of the season is a nice segway into the dark, frenetic and chaotic second half with episodes like Crazy Handful of Nothin’ where Walt shaves his head and begins to really embrace his inner gangster. The dichotomy of Walter White, chemistry teacher with an extreme illness and Heisenberg, the meth-producing hard-ass is amazing and I can think of no better-written show in memory that could stand up to this series.

The relationship between Walt and Jesse is really, extremely well-done and is the subject of discussion even now among some of my friends. One of my friends, actually, (if you’re interested at all) has many theories about the show, especially when it comes to color symbolism. Check her out, but be careful because there might be spoilers if you haven’t seen the entire series yet. She makes some good points and observations, for sure, though. Her name is Erin Enberg and her website is HERE.

Breaking Bad has inspired so much conversation, between things like plot and characters, to other things like color symbolism. It’s that good. Do yourself a favor and check it out if you haven’t already. Just be prepared to become addicted to the show and not see the light of day until the series is over.

And even if you’ve already followed the show through to its satisfying conclusion, I found that it’s best to re-watch the series again right away from the beginning. You’ll really see how the characters have changed, mostly for the worse. Now get out of here and go watch it.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Trailer For Season One Of Breaking Bad 

Everything Must Go (2010)

Everything Must Go (2010)

Original Theatrical Release: October 14, 2011
Director: Dan Rush

Nick Halsey (Will Ferrell) is an alcoholic struggling to kick the habit, but when he falls off the bandwagon, his wife has had it and throws all of his belongings out onto the front lawn in addition to having the locks to the house changed, and she goes away for a couple weeks. Unfortunately, this happened on the same day he was let go from his company, also mostly because he is an alcoholic. Forced to face the failures in his marriage and personal life, he must sleep amid his belongings and try to sell them off so he can start over.

This movie is based on a Raymond Carver short story that I’ve never read titled Why Don’t You Dance? I wasn’t aware of that until a friend pointed it out to me. (I’ll have to read it soon.)

Now, you wouldn’t think that Will Ferrell starring in a Raymond Carver story adaptation would be that great, but he was a very good choice for the role. People like to give Will Ferrell a bad rap, but he has proven himself in other films like Stranger Than Fiction and Melinda And Melinda, and so he doesn’t always have to be typecast as the normal, over-the-top roles he’s most placed in. He does have some acting chops. Rebecca Hall was okay as Samantha, but her role didn’t seem to add much and her character was pretty formulaic and seemed to exist just as a counterpoint to Ferrell’s character. I would have been more interested in seeing less of her character and more of the neighborhood kid, Kenny (Christopher Jordan Wallace) and his relationship with Nick.

The movie went along at a decent pace, and I really felt like Nick was a real person. Ferrell’s mix of seriousness and humor was a great blend. Dan Rush’s direction was great, but I’ll have to read the short story to see how well his adaptation matched up. I also happened to catch this film at the right time, having been through a recent separation and divorce myself, as well as ending up having to get rid of a lot of junk so I could move on. (I still have some work to do on that front)

If you’re expecting a lot of normal, Will Ferrell-style laughs like he’s given us in Step Brothers or Starsky and Hutch, you won’t find a lot of that here. Instead, you will find a lot of heart, though there are some laughs to be had.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Movie Trailer For Everything Must Go