HOT DOCS 2012 (Toronto): Indie Game: The Movie Review (Kirk Haviland)

HOT DOCS 2012 (Toronto)

Indie Game: The Movie

Directed by Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky

The world of independent game design has been growing exponentially over the last five years. The implementation of Xbox Live Marketplace and the Playstation Network have made the distribution of these games much more user friendly and thus easier for indie game developers to actually make money from their games without having to worry about how they will distribute the games to stores. When Braid was released in 2008 it was a game changer. One of the highest rated games ever on Xbox Live Marketplace, Braid was a giant financial and critical success and opened the doors wide for many others to follow.

Indie Game: The Movie follows three games and the creators behind them: Jonathan Blow, creator of Braid; Tommy Refenes and Edmund McMillen are the creators of Super Meat Boy and we join them through the saga to finish the game and distribute it to the masses; lastly, Phil Fish the long suffering developer of Fez, a game first announced in 2008 that has lingered in development hell.

Phil has lost a partner, gone through multiple programmers and a tidal wave of negativity over the non-release of the game. Blow became so obsessed with protecting the “integrity” of his game that he would pop up almost instantaneously whenever anybody commented about the game online. This earned him the reputation of being a megalomaniac, but during the personal interviews he comes off much less intense. We meet Tommy and Edmund months before the launch of Super Meat Boy and they continue to pour over code and perfect their game. Edmund’s long suffering wife Danielle’s only desire after they become rich is for a hairless cat, it’s clear she keeps Edmund grounded during the tough times. Tommy still lives with his parents and uses them for support. Disaster almost strikes as launch day sees the game missing from Xbox Live for hours. But this is only a small hiccup. And then there’s Phil, who finally finishes enough of Fez to demo it at one of the biggest game expos, PAX 2011. But as he arrives he has to make a life altering decision – oh and the game starts malfunctioning of course.

Indie Game is a success due to the subjects it follows. Blow comes off as guarded because of the wash of negativity he’s already dealt with. He’s fast at work developing the sequel for Braid. Edmund and Tommy are the loveable geeks still living out their lives in basements in front of their computers. We revel in their happiness as Super Meat Boy becomes the best-selling indie game of all time. And yes, Danielle gets her cat – two of them in fact. Phil is the most intriguing of them all as we see his struggles and turmoil as he desperately wants to finish Fez and not be the guy who promises yet never delivers the game. Watching him deal with the constant highs and lows of PAX is mesmerizing, and the fact that the film leaves Phil’s situation unfinished leaves you anxious to discover the ending for yourself.

A very accomplished documentary, Indie Game: The Movie is a strong recommend. It starts a theatrical run at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on May 25th. You won’t be disappointed if you decide to check it out.

Till Next Time

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HOT DOCS 2012 (Toronto) – The Language of Love/Theo Fleury: Playing with Fire (Double-bill) Review (Kirk Haviland)

HOT DOCS 2012

The Language of Love

Starring Stephen Lytton

Directed by Marie Clements

Theo Fleury: Playing with Fire

Starring Theoren Fleury

Directed by Matt Embry and Larry Day

Language of Love and Theo Fleury: Playing with Fire are teamed together at Hot Docs this year to make a very grim and difficult to watch double-bill. Both films are about sexual abuse and how the survivors of these abuses cope with their emotions and how long after the incidents still shape their actions today.

Language of Love is nothing more than a short interview piece, but the interviewee is the real story here. Stephen Lytton is a graduate of the residential school system of the 60`s on the native reserves in Canada. Stephen was repeatedly molested during his 16 years in the school as he was an easier target for the men running the school. You see Stephen suffers from cerebral palsy. Stephen goes into graphic detail of his attacks and how he has learned to cope afterwards. Language of Love is a very effective character piece.

Theo Fleury is a Stanley Cup Champion and an Olympic Gold Medalist for Canada. He`s also a substance abuser and recovering alcoholic who was abused repeatedly by his junior coach Graham James. We follow Theo after the release of his book, Playing with Fire. Theo takes us through his daily routine and his speaking engagement tour. He takes us on a tour of the places he played, where he is denied admission to Madison Square Garden in New York and the United Center in Chicago, all while describing his descent further down the path of drug abuse. Theo describes some truly scary things he has done in the past to procure drugs. Back in Calgary, Theo makes a truly sickening discovery amongst some old boxes while moving stuff around.

Theo Fleury: Playing with Fire plays like one of those TSN versions of an ESPN documentary. Very effective in parts with Theo’s interview and recollections, particularly in the after-hours wanderings through New York and Chicago, as he awaits the decision from the charges he has pressed against James. Ultimately the film lacks the theatrical sensibilities of the ESPN films, it was of no surprise to find out the film had been designed and optioned for a television release only.

If you know nothing of the story, or unfortunately know someone who has gone through similar circumstances then this film could serve as a very influential document. While I agree the message is extremely vital, Playing with Fire has more theatrical fizzle than fire. Theo Fleury: Playing with Fire makes its debut on HBO Canada on May 9th at 9 pm EST.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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HOT DOCS 2012 (Toronto) – Soldier/Citizen Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

HOT DOCS 2012 (Toronto)

Soldier/Citizen

Directed by Silvina Landsmann

After three years of mandatory military service, a group of Israeli soldiers are informed that they will have to take certain classes to graduate high school. A higher ranking officer, no older than the ones he’s supervising, tells this group that there are harder classes like seven or nine week math courses. Some of these young adults become nameless subjects of the documentary Soldier/Citizen, who have to take a three week civics class. And even from someone who has armchair knowledge of Israeli and Middle Eastern politics, three weeks are not enough.

For most of this festival two elements have been important to me in liking what I’m watching and I’m sure this is applicable to both documentaries and fictional films. I have to like the way the subjects are portrayed and it really helps if I like the subjects themselves. Admittedly, certain prejudices hold me back. First of all is my leftist stance to be wary of the Israeli government’s activities and policies while treating the Palestinian inhabitants of their country, despite knowing that there are Palestinian individuals who are anti-Israel. Second is ageism, that I’m assuming that twenty year-olds’ perspectives are innately uninformed about politics, even thinking that their firsthand experience with the conflicts aren’t valid information to support their opinions. Which they are.

There’s the teacher who, despite being a liberal apologist, still has gaps in his lesson plans that would make his students understand the concept of human rights more fully. There are also his students, a few radical and many moderate, who show slivers of hope in understanding the Palestinian side of the conflict. Although I’m not sure if it matters if I fully like or dislike the movie’s subjects for reasons I stated above. It makes it uniquely palatable and informative on seeing the Middle Eastern conflict on their personal level and accepts what they already know – that both war and peace can’t solve all of the problems of a conflict between two religions. Or at least, not yet.

Soldier/Citizen is shot on full screen instead of the widescreen format that has dominated in this year’s Hot Docs. The camera is also passive and voiceover-less, not just bound to the classroom but during the soldiers’ intimate yet mundane moments of their pre-graduation bliss. For example there’s a scene when we watch a young soldier dance to his iPod’s music, as Silvina Landsmann gives the soldiers and her audience time to breathe. Stylistically these elements give the movie a DIY feel but it also makes sense with its claustrophobia, its raging voices, and its yearning for the reason we all desire.

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HOT DOCS 2012 (Toronto) – Sexy Baby Review (Kirk Haviland)

HOT DOCS 2012 (Toronto)

Sexy Baby

Directed by Ronna Gradus and Jill Bauer

The Relationship Doctrine of Don Blanquito

Directed by Roger Nygard

Don Blanquito and Sexy Baby are teamed together this year at Hot Docs because of the subject matter of both docs – sex. Although the oversexed antics of Don Blanquito and the serious exploration of the subject in Sexy Baby could not be further apart.

Don Blanquito is a Los Angeles born rapper who upon visiting Rio De Janeiro fell in love with the Brazilian city and its women. Blanquito decided to stay and make Rio his home leading a hedonistic lifestyle that dominates the subject of his lyrics. In this 7-minute short we are treated to a hilariously over the top barrage of Blanquito’s twisted take on love, lust and sexual nature. This short had me laughing hysterically and is one of the funniest things I saw at Hot Docs this year.

Sexy Baby takes a more serious approach to its subject matter, but that does not mean it doesn’t contain laughs of its own. Sexy Baby focuses on the stories of three females: Winifred, a 12 year-old at the start of filming, starting to discover and play with her sexuality and how sexy she may appear; Nichole, former Porn Star Nikita Klass, who after years of having sex for money is now desperate for a child with her husband; and Laura, a girl in her 20’s who is utterly embarrassed over the look of her vaginal “lips” and desperately wants a labiaplasty to fix them. Winifred is a cantankerous young girl with a quick wit and a burgeoning sexuality that scares the hell out of her separated parents. Mom and Dad find themselves in a constant struggle to keep Winifred from the negative influences of social media while still trying to allow her to grow up without being stifled. Nichole and her husband, also a porn veteran, are desperately trying for their first child after many failed attempts and one miscarriage. Laura, an assistant kindergarten teacher is embarrassed by the overly large vaginal opening she has and claims it ruins her sexual confidence. She feels that she needs to get the labiaplasty to rectify this issue.

Sexy Baby uses the three stories to explore the way women choose to exhibit their sexual independence in our current electronic age. Winifred is the standout here, her personality is infectious and you are captivated by her story, while wanting to grab her and shake some sense into her at other times. Nichole finally get her wish and she seems to be the most level-headed of the three, an older wiser version of what we hope Winifred does not become. Laura is probably the girl who comes off worse, sometimes shallow and possessing a deluded version of beauty. Ultimately its Laura who comes of as the promiscuous one, shown out picking up some random guy at a club after her surgery is successful. The film could have easily focused on Winifred and been successful, but the three stories combined prove to be more of a conversation piece.

Sexy Baby succeeds in its goal and is a strong recommend.  A memorable double-bill for very different reasons.

Til Next Time,

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HOT DOCS 2012 (Toronto) – Beauty is Embarrassing Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

HOT DOCS 2012 (Toronto)

Beauty is Embarrassing

Directed by Neil Berkeley

Beauty is Embarrassing also shares the same title with one of the paintings of its subject, Wayne White. That particular piece of artwork belongs in the phase where his supposed ‘shtick’ is being to superimpose pastel-coloured block letters over kitschy landscape paintings. Hopefully I haven’t said it yet but this is the closest I’ll get to the festival with having seen a straight-up biopic. It interweaves two major ‘plots,’ one is a linear portrayal of his life through archive footage and interviews of people he knew and still knows. The other is his homecoming, this quasi-reluctant Angeleno experiencing a homecoming to his provenances of Alabama and Tennessee.

We don’t even notice these conventional forms when we hear his voice, saying hilarious non-sequiturs given life but his art of many mediums. He seems naturally made for this kind of art world fame. He tells the camera that he has felt more Southern moving out to New York and LA than he would have had he stayed. But that’s not the only reincarnation he’s had, as he’s known in his home states as one of the puppeteers in the seminal show Pee Wee’s Playhouse. I also didn’t know how much his work has touched me and children who grew up in the 90’s and early 2000’s, his resume including a show I used to watch when I was a teenager – the equally wacky and informative Beakman’s World. His work, in his ‘Hollywood’ and ‘art’ stages, can be classified as surrealist, a natural tendency that takes the kitschy art that he grew up with to another crazy level, and the movie keeps up with him and the energy levels of the other creative people in the different stages of his fascinating life.

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