The 18th Annual Hot Docs Film Festival
The Bengali Detective
Directed by Philip Cox
Directed by Philip Cox, The Bengali Detective follows India-based private detective Rajesh Ji as he and his team of investigators attempt to solve a series of crimes - with the film also detailing Rajesh's ongoing efforts at both caring for his ailing wife and rehearsing for a pivotal dance competition. There's little doubt that filmmaker Philip Cox does an effective job of initially establishing an atmosphere of appealing quirkiness, as the movie opens with a fairly exciting pursuit sequence that's immediately followed by TV-style opening credits. It's only as Cox begins to egregiously emphasize Rajesh's various cases that The Bengali Detective becomes a progressively tiresome piece of work, with the experience of watching the film all-too-often akin to watching a run-of-the-mill network police procedural (ie think Law & Order: India). The underwhelming vibe is compounded by Cox's inability to transform Rajesh into a wholeheartedly compelling figure, which ultimately does ensure that the stretches revolving around the man's personal issues tend to fall flat - with the dance competition stuff faring especially poorly (ie such moments feel like filler to pad out the running time). And although it's difficult not to derive some entertainment out of the movie's up-close-and-personal look at India's seedier side, The Bengali Detective is ultimately a sporadically compelling yet hopelessly overlong documentary that probably would've fared a whole lot better as a short.
Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
Directed by Morgan Spurlock
A typically irreverent yet entertaining documentary from Morgan Spurlock, Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold follows the filmmaker as he attempts to both convince several sponsors to fund the movie and chart the evolution of advertising over the years. There's little doubt that Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold fares best in its opening hour, as Spurlock immediately captures the viewer's interest by stressing his various meetings with potential advertisers - with the inherently compelling nature of such scenes heightened by Spurlock's natural charisma. The compelling atmosphere is perpetuated by the behind-the-scenes look at just how the contemporary product placement industry operates, which inevitably does ensure that it is, in the movie's early stages, easy enough to overlook Spurlock's shameless efforts at hawking his advertiser's products (eg he points out the benefits of his shoes during an interview with Ralph Nader). It does become clear, however, that Spurlock simply doesn't have enough material to sustain a full-length feature, as the Super Size Me director begins to emphasize elements of a decidedly (and disappointingly) underwhelming nature - with the stretch detailing the extent to which advertising has impacted a Floridian school system certainly the most obvious example of this. The increasingly uneven atmosphere ensures that Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold does fizzle out substantially once it passes the one-hour mark, and it's ultimately impossible to label the film as anything more than a watchable disappointment.