The Post’s critics highlight original movies that are being streamed and made available on demand. Here are this week’s picks.
12 O'CLOCK BOYS
The documentary “12 O’Clock Boys,” about a group of renegade dirt-bike riders known for driving in aggressive, noisy packs through the streets of Baltimore, could have gone wrong in so many ways. As an investigation of a largely ignored urban subculture, it could have romanticized its subjects, portraying them as outlaws and folk heroes. Or, in the tradition of “The Wild One” and the juvenile delinquent classics of the 1950s, it could have gone the way of moral panic, tut-tutting over the poverty, parental neglect and frayed social safety net that have produced a generation of kids willing to take reckless, potentially fatal risks with their lives and others’.
To its everlasting credit, “12 O’Clock Boys” does neither of these things — or, rather, it does both, in the most subtle and insightful way possible. Directed with surpassing sensitivity and visual lyricism by first-time filmmaker Lotfy Nathan, this mesmerizing, often wrenching portrait of Baltimore’s meanest precincts packs an enormous amount of information into its tight 72-minute running time. Nathan follows a boy named Pug, who as the film opens is just turning 13 and longs to join the titular dirt-bike group, named the 12 O’Clock Boys because when they pop wheelies, their bikes point straight up, like the hands of a clock.
Nathan follows Pug for three years, during which time he goes from angel-faced child to angry, foul-mouthed young adult, surrounded by a world of hair-trigger violence and explosive tempers. (It’s a given that the constant police presence in Pug’s West Baltimore neighborhood isn’t a source of reassurance but of menace.) The filmmaker also spends time with Pug’s mother, Coco, a former exotic dancer who struggles to bring up five children on her own.
Tragedy befalls Pug and Coco when a family member succumbs, not to gun violence or a biking accident, but asthma — a silent killer among poor communities that doesn’t get nearly the same amount of ink or attention. That’s just the kind of layered understanding that Nathan brings to the entire production of “12 O’Clock Boys,” which was filmed digitally but possesses the magic-hour glow of Terrence Malick at his most poetic. Nathan allows viewers to have misgivings about Pug and his mentors, even while they admire the control and balance they bring to their improvised sport and understand the exhilaration, freedom and dignity they get from it.
“This is our release,” one rider explains and, watching as a group of young men careers through a greensward in a public park, it’s impossible to begrudge them even if, later, they will provoke police in a frighteningly chaotic street scene. With “12 O’Clock Boys,” Nathan has created a fascinating diptych, keeping his eye as firmly on Pug’s wrenching sense of fatalism as on his youthful abandon. As for judging, he wisely leaves that up to us. -- A.H.
Unrated. Contains pervasive profanity. 72 minutes. Available via Amazon Instant, iTunes, Google Play, Xbox, Vudu, Vimeo and on-demand cable.
PERCENTAGE and HOUSE OF BODIES
Last year, Netflix entered into an exclusive agreement with Queen Latifah’s Flavor Unit Entertainment, giving the streaming-video site first crack at any new titles released by the production company founded by the entertainer and her business partner, Shakim Compere. Among its earlier releases, Flavor Unit produced “Beauty Shop” (2005) and the TV movie “Steel Magnolias” (2012), an African American remake of the popular 1989 tearjerker.
I recently took a look at the first two Flavor Unit films to hit Netflix in 2013: the mystery/slasher flick “House of Bodies” and the urban crime drama “Percentage,” a double feature made watchable by the films’ short running times. (Back to back, the movies clock in at only 160 minutes — 20 minutes shorter than “The Wolf of Wall Street.”)
“Percentage” is the clear winner of the two, with strong, entertaining performances by rapper/co-screenwriter Cam’ron Giles and Omar Gooding (Cuba Jr.’s little brother) as a pair of fugitives from the New York law who end up running a credit-card skimming operation in Florida. In a nod to Latifah’s female-empowerment roots, Macy Gray plays crime lord Mama Cash, with a cowboy-hatted Ving Rhames making a funny cameo as her six-shooter-wielding henchman. Though obviously made on the cheap, and with choppy direction by Alex Merkin, the film — which includes plenty of sexual objectification along with Gray’s girl power — doesn’t take itself very seriously, and neither should you.
If you have to skip one of the films, make it “House of Bodies.” Ostensibly “starring” Terrence Howard and Peter Fonda as a detective and a serial killer, the film mostly takes place in a group house, where a cast of 20-something nobodies is being stalked by a killer who seems to have copied the M.O. of the murderer played by Fonda. Also directed by Merkin, the film is sluggish and unscary.
If there’s a reason to watch “Bodies,” it isn’t for the nudity and blood — both of which are plentiful but ho hum — but for the relationship between a hearing-impaired teenager (Harry Zittel) and the young woman he meets in a serial-killer-themed video chatroom (Alexz Johnson). Latifah makes a couple of brief appearances in a minor role, but like Howard and Fonda’s, her appearance seems calculated to capitalize on her name, not her acting.
Both films riff on tired genre clichs. It’s pretty obvious that Merkin has seen a lot of good movies in his life, though it’s not yet clear if he’s able to make one. Flavor Unit certainly has done so in the past. Here’s hoping that Netflix gets a few of them. -- M.O.
“Percentage” (82 minutes, containing violence, obscenity, drug content and nudity) and “House of Bodies (78 minutes, containing violence, nudity and obscenity) are unrated. Both films are available through Netflix; “Percentage” is also available via Amazon Instant.
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