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The 15th Annual Hot Docs Film Festival

S&M: Short and Male
Directed by Howard Goldberg

At a running time of almost 90 minutes, S&M: Short and Male is quickly revealed to be at least an hour longer than necessary - as evidenced by the almost absurd degree to which director Howard Goldberg has padded out the proceedings. There's subsequently little doubt that Goldberg's efforts at probing the supposed bias towards men under a specific height fall flat, with the filmmaker's penchant for going off on random tangents certainly not helping his cause (ie he meets up with a Frenchman who portrays Napoleon in war reenactments). And while Goldberg has sprinkled the movie with a few interesting tidbits - including a cringeworthy yet compelling look at the consequences of one diminutive fellow's decision to undergo a painful limb-lengthening procedure - S&M: Short and Male has been primarily infused with mind-numbingly banal anecdotes and egregiously light-hearted stories. The final insult comes with the baffling omission of any reference to Randy Newman's controversial pop ditty "Short People," which surely cements the film's place as an entirely needless endeavor that proves not every subject under the sun can be used as fodder for a feature-length documentary.

out of

Beautiful Losers
Directed by Aaron Rose and Joshua Leonard

While it's certainly not difficult to envision the film garnering a legion of loyal fans, Beautiful Losers - which profiles a number of obscure avant-garde artists - ultimately possesses few elements designed to lure in viewers with minimal knowledge of the do-it-yourself scene. Directors Aaron Rose and Joshua Leonard have infused the proceedings with an unexpectedly cinematic sense of style that initially seems to hold some promise, as the pair have seamlessly blended the film's various interview sequences with off-the-wall animated interludes (it subsequently comes as no surprise to learn that Rose himself has been involved with the low-rent art scene for years). There does reach a point, however, at which newcomers to this world will find themselves struggling to work up the same level of enthusiasm towards these exceedingly quirky figures as the filmmakers, with the distinctly uneven nature of the movie's structure (ie some of these people are far more interesting than others) only exacerbating this feeling. And although it's impossible to deny the effectiveness of several of the movie's sequences - an interview with Harmony Korine, in which he laments the transformation of a sketchy park into a "place for joy," is an obvious highlight - Beautiful Losers suffers from an egregiously "inside" sensibility that ensures neophytes will periodically be left scratching their heads at the whole thing.

out of

Second Skin
Directed by Juan Carlos Pineiro

Second Skin is an intriguing yet undeniably overlong documentary revolving around massively multiplayer online role-playing games (or MMORPGs) and the dedicated folks who play them, with a particular emphasis on Everquest 2 and the colossally successful World of Warcraft. Director Juan Carlos Pineiro follows several gamers over the course of about a year and tracks the impact that their obsessive hobby has on their personal lives, though the filmmaker also examines the various periphery facets surrounding the world of MMORPGs (ie gold farms). For the most part, Pineiro does an effective job of populating the proceedings with surprisingly compelling figures - as the majority of the film's subjects come off as normal, well-adjusted guys with wives and kids (ie these folks are far from the stereotypical shut-ins that one generally associates with hardcore gamers). The movie also contains a look at the darker side of MMORPGs, as Pineiro profiles a young man whose addiction to Everquest 2 cost him his job and his girlfriend - with his efforts at getting his life back on track eventually leading him to a halfway house exclusively for gamers. Pineiro's penchant for dwelling on elements long after one's interest has worn off ensures that the movie ultimately overstays its welcome, however, and there's no denying that a much shorter running time would've been apt. Still, as a primer to a subculture most folks know exceedingly little about, Second Skin proves itself a worthwhile endeavor that's accessible enough to appeal to even the most fervent luddite.

out of

Daddy Tran: a life in 3-D
Directed by Siu Ta

Daddy Tran: a life in 3-D is a low-key and sporadically compelling documentary revolving around 65-year-old Vietnamese Canadian Hai Tran, with a particular emphasis on his lifelong passion for vintage cameras and three-dimensional photography. Director Siu Ta also explores Tran's tumultuous upbringing within his homeland of Vietnam and his subsequent efforts at integrating himself within Canadian society, and it certainly goes without saying that the emotional heft of the movie (what little there may be) comes as a result of this sporadic emphasis on Tran's hardscrabble early years (ie his family was forced to live in a Hong Kong refugee camp at one point). With the exception of a surprisingly intrusive musical score, Daddy Tran: a life in 3-D generally comes off as an agreeable (if entirely innocuous) look at a relatively interesting figure - although there's simply no denying that the whole thing often just feels egregiously slight (ie the film periodically plays like the sort of thing one would watch at a friend's retirement party).

out of

© David Nusair