Slamdance Reviews: "Red Without Blue," "Bad Boys of Summer," "The Saddest Boy In the World"

by | February 1, 2007 | Comments

Sundance isn’t Park City’s only first-class film festival. While the films may be smaller at Slamdance, there are still plenty of goodies to be found. Here are short reviews of "Red Without Blue," a wrenching but ultimately hopeful family portrait; "The Bad Boys of Summer," a remarkable doc about a prison baseball team; and "The Saddest Boy in the World," a witty, visually stunning short.

A wrenching, deeply empathetic documentary, "Red Without Blue" tells the story of a troubled Montana family. Identical twins Mark and Alex struggled throughout their teen years with substance abuse and depression, but their bond is tested to the limit when Alex decides to live as Clair, and considers gender reassignment surgery. At first Mark is crushed, because he feels Clair is trying to rid herself of the connection they shared, and her change is somehow a denunciation of him. (The title refers to the colors the twins wore as children.) But Mark is searching for himself as well; unlucky in love, he finally meets a really nice guy and seems to grow in confidence. Each family member speaks with remarkable candor onscreen (including the twins’ mother, who has an unconventional relationship of her own), and the camera doesn’t flinch, even when it appears full-fledged arguments are about to break out. But there’s catharsis to the film, and it leaves the impression that everyone is ultimately going to find themselves and live with a measure of stability. "Red Without Blue" is an extraordinary portrait of a family’s search for identity and love.

Black and white and "Red Without Blue".

"The Bad Boys of Summer" is a remarkable documentary about a very strange baseball team: the San Quentin Giants, whose home field lies within the walls of the famed Bay Area correctional facility. "Bad Boys" works as both an underdog sports movie and as an examination of life behind bars; the film doesn’t skimp on the conflicts between prison gangs (the instructions that other teams are given as they enter the prison are casually chilling as well). The players speak candidly about their misdeeds, and the filmmakers wisely frame them with a dispassionate eye; there are no halos to be seen, but you’ll find yourself rooting for these guys, in spite of their monstrous crimes. But there’s a lightness in these prisoners’ voices as they talk about the baseball season. It’s a way of escaping the grind of prison life, of making contact with people on the outside.

"I wish for a PS3, a skateboard, and the sweet release of death."

Jamie Travis is carving out a distinct cinematic world with his wry, highly stylized short films. "The Patterns Trilogy" was a weird and wonderful brew of romantic longing, boldly modish set design, and loopy musical interludes. Now, with "The Saddest Boy in the World," Travis plumbs slightly darker territory, telling the story of Timmy, a glum, antagonized child with few friends and constant thoughts of suicide. While the material may sound grim, Travis’ filmmaking is witty and deadpan, and it showcases the director’s sharp eye for colorful, retro décor. Get this man the budget for a feature, and I can only imagine what he’d do.