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12 O'Clock Boys and The Past deserve your time; Robocop should heed his Mirandas

Short Takes



Director Richard Linklater's Boyhood — a drama shot over 12 years, allowing us to watch the young lead actor age over time — won't be out until later this year. But this imagistic documentary about a subculture of Baltimore dirt-bike daredevils affords a smaller-scaled opportunity to watch its young protagonist grow up on screen — an experience that proves both engrossing and queasy-making. Over three years starting in 2010, director Lotfy Nathan follows Pug, a brash 13-year-old whose ambition in life is to join the ranks of the 12 O'Clock Boys, YouTube-feted legends from the projects who ride in dangerous street-clogging packs and pop wheelies so high they're almost vertical (hence their nickname). It's easy to see why they'd be a pre-teen's dream, especially as Nathan shoots them, in lyrical slow-motion and mythic magic-hour light: They defy police, play to cheering onlookers, and generally look cool as hell. Plus, as a resident observes, they're one of the only options around besides drug dealing. But as Pug trains in earnest to the exclusion of everything else, blowing off school, losing his boyish sweetness and hardening on camera, Nathan quietly questions how smart his goal is — particularly as he introduces news clips of injuries the bikers have caused and jaw-dropping fuck-the-police footage that suggests a city at war. (The death that occurs during filming is all the more shocking for resulting from asthma.) The documentary is rarely less than a visual marvel, and Nathan conveys the exhilaration of the bikers' rebellion and law-flouting freedom — even as he leaves likely the possibility it's just leading to another dead end. (Feb. 13, 16-18 at The Belcourt) —Jim Ridley


A black cloud of familial depression hangs over the latest drama by Iranian tragedian Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, About Elly), which examines the barely sublimated tension caused by a divorce and a suicide attempt. These two singular events reveal just how alienated Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), an Iranian visiting Paris, is from Marie (The Artist's Berenice Bejo), his separated spouse — but their estrangement is only initially the focus of Farhadi's typically complex film. He only discovers that she's formed a new surrogate family without him after he visits to finalize their divorce. Worse still, Marie's relationship with Samir (Tahar Rahim) casts a pall of resentment over Fouad (Elyes Aguis), Samir's son, and Lea and Lucie (Jeanne Jestin and Pauline Burlet), Ahmad and Marie's daughters. Soon everyone's hunting for ways to diagnose and fix each other without revealing their own hurt. The Past is, in that sense, a deeply moving film about the ripples created by individual pains, given time to resound and reverberate under Farhadi's winningly unassuming direction. He allows his actors room to explore their characters — which, as in his towering previous film A Separation, only makes each new revelation and betrayal that much more hurtful. (Opens Friday at Green Hills) —Simon Abrams


Jose Padilha, the Brazilian director of the hostage-standoff documentary Bus 174 and the ambitious law-and-disorder Elite Squad epics, makes a provocative choice to helm a remake of Paul Verhoeven's 1987 sci-fi satire. He even starts promisingly by tearing a page from the original's comic book vision, whisking TV viewers to sunny Tehran for a robostrike waylaid by suicide bombers. If the premise of an '80s cult favorite justified a remake to the drone age — touch John Carpenter's They Live, studio suits, and die — it's Verhoeven's brutally sardonic thriller about a maimed policeman given new "life" as a mechanized law enforcer in an anarchic Motor City of the future. But Padilha, a talented director with an ambiguous take on the toll of societal breakdown versus the costs of hardlining order, lacks Verhoeven's formal discipline, pulpy verve or wicked humor: The parody of quasi-fascist TV punditry (represented by Samuel L. Jackson in declamatory Capitol One pitchman mode) falls heavier than the hero's clanking footsteps. What this version has going for it are Joel Kinnaman's eerily spacy visage as the reassembled hero and overqualified players at every level, from an oily Michael Keaton as the corporate baddie to Gary Oldman as Robocop's morally troubled creator. (Jackie Earle Haley is especially loathsome as the hero's paramilitary nemesis.) The remake tops the original exactly once: the unveiling of Robocop's fleshly remains, a moment of operatic Cronenbergian body horror. Gone, though, is the corrosive, corroded world Verhoeven and his screenwriters detailed around their ghost in the machine, especially the flickers of pop-culture detritus — a grimly prescient warning that cheap entertainment cheapens everything. On that charge, the new Robocop has the right to remain silent. (Opens Friday) —Jim Ridley



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