New reviews: ‘Baghead’ and ‘Boy A’ and a few comments on ‘Hell Ride’

Baghead (dirs: Jay and Mark Duplass)

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Baghead says hi

I love the opening scenes of Baghead, the second feature from filmmaking brother act Jay and Mark Duplass. Two couples are at a little regional film festival, watching a short from a filmmaker who is an old friend of one of them. The film itself, called “We Are Naked,” is almost dead-on as a parody of self-important short filmmaking with a hilariously cliched example of irrational acts to stand in for symbolic gestures, but the crowning touch is the Q&A with an audience that doesn’t have the first idea what to ask and no real motivation to find something. So a question, all too familiar to anyone who has ever attended a Q&A, opens the session: “What was your budget?” The dumb questions and self-important response (not to mention the cliché of a film itself, called “We Are Naked”) made this the greatest film festival from hell screening ever put on film. You wonder how much of that scene comes from the Duplass Bros.’ own experiences on the film festival trail.

From there the film turns into a story of two sort-of couples who spend the weekend in an isolated cabin in the woods to write a script and wind up playing romantic footsie and head games with one another (often while wearing a brown paper bag over their head).

I review the film for the Seattle P-I:

It could be the beginning of a romantic comedy, a character drama or a horror movie. The Duplass brothers manage to embrace all three with the shaggy tone and easy-going attitude all their own. Everyone eventually dons the bag to play practical jokes and head games, a simultaneously absurd and unsettling image.

It starts as an exercise in misguided high spirits to unleash pent-up frustrations, but there are enough unexpected turns to keep you wondering what exactly is going on here.

Most micro-budget character pieces (the Duplass brothers’ previous film, “The Puffy Chair,” among them) tend to shamble along and get lost in goofy detours. “Baghead,” even with its handheld shaky-cam aesthetic and emphasis on uncomfortable turns of conversation, has a deceptively swift momentum. It snuck up and surprised me in all the best ways.

The Duplass Bros. are among the founding fathers of the so-called “Mumblecore” movements, a title that has outlived its usefulness. There isn’t any mumbling here, the images are fairly clean (though not all that beautiful), and it has the feeling of what we used to call American Indie, or even regional cinema.

Read the complete review here.

My “Moment With” interview also runs this week at the P-I.

Boy A (dir: John Crowley)

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Peter Mullan and Andrew Garfield

I also review John Crowley’s film of Jonathan Trigell’s novel about a young reentering society after more than a decade of juvenile lock-up for a crime he committed before he had even turned ten.

Crowley stacks the deck, planting seeds of doubt concerning his guilt and veering from social drama to play out what seems to be, by design, an inevitable tragedy. Yet Mullan’s compassion and paternal protectiveness and Garfield’s buoyant performance as a boy exploring the delights of young adult life light up their dreary working-class milieu and bring a warmth to the otherwise grim drama.

Read the complete review here.

Hell Ride (dir/wr: Larry Bishop)

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Wannabe genre hipster Larry Bishop goes bad Tarantino knock-off in this biker movie with a spaghetti western setting and twanging electric guitar score. It has the look of an ambitious made-for-DVD production inexplicably given a theatrical release. Is it the perceived drawing power of Dennis Hopper, David Carradine and Micheal Madsen that inspired such a risk? The shamelessly gratuitous display of enhanced naked young women fawning over grimy, slimy, unappealing older men in biker togs? Tarantino’s name (and, one assumes, his seal of approval) as executive producer?

There are no good guys, only levels of badness: the tough guys with the unforgiving code of brotherhood and loyalty, and the nasty guys who have no code. Pick your favorite drug-dealing, dirtbag biker gang: the crew that Bishop leads on a mission of vengeance (it includes Madsen and Eric Balfour), or the rival gang led by hardcase Vinnie Jones, who snarls in place of acting.

Bishop tries for that dialogue dance that Tarantino makes look effortless. Nothing deft about his work; he sweats through the words that his cast keeps tripping over, trying to make them seem clever and failing miserably. But he does have the So-Cal biker look, circa 1970, down pat and he glares entertainingly through bug eyes while he croaks out his undercooked dialogue. What he’s not is a strong enough presence to anchor a biker revenge flick, even when Madsen and Hopper are simply going through the motions. Balfour opts to play the angry young biker rebel without nodding to the clichés, and it’s hard to say if acknowledging them would have made him any more or less interesting.

Bishop chops up the narrative in what looks to be a desperate attempt to create some mystery, even after he reveals the twist in the first act (hint: look at the name scrawled on the kid’s bike in the flashbacks). Not that it explains anything. Or that anyone cares by the end of this sputtering trip. The only hell is what the audience goes through.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I’m a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I’ve written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View.

I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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