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The 19th Annual Hot Docs Film Festival

Indie Game: The Movie
Directed by Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky

The most engrossing and flat-out entertaining documentary to come around since Murderball, Indie Game: The Movie details the rise of independent video games in recent years - with a specific emphasis on the development of two highly-anticipated titles, Super Meat Boy and Fez. Indie Game: The Movie has been infused with an impressively accessible feel that consistently belies the geek-friendly nature of its premise, as filmmakers Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky capture the interest of gaming neophytes by initially emphasizing the brief history of (and major players within) the independent video game scene. The film's playful atmosphere is reflected primarily in the off-kilter sound bites from its various subjects (eg one designer recalls playing Spy Hunter back in the '80s, noting that it was "stupidly difficult"), and although there's admittedly a bit of a lull as Pajot and Swirsky explore the childhoods of their subjects, Indie Game: The Movie picks up substantially as the filmmakers delve into the nuts-and-bolts of the continuing efforts by Fez's Phil Fish and Super Meat Boy's Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes to get their respective games off the ground. It's fascinating stuff that's heightened by the disparate personalities of the three men (ie McMillen is personable and outgoing while Refenes is withdrawn and pessimistic), though it's clear almost immediately that Fish is the palpable star of the proceedings. An ambitious yet morose figure, Fish, who remarks that he will kill himself if he can't finish the game, is in the midst of a contentious battle with a former partner that unquestionably provides the movie with its most gripping sequences (ie there's a moment towards the end in which Fish discusses his rage towards said ex-partner that's nothing short of riveting). It's subsequently not surprising to note that one's interest in and sympathy for the exploits of McMillen, Refenes, and Fish grows exponentially as time progresses, to the extent that the three men become seriously compelling and rootable figures in the film's electrifying final half hour (ie we desperately want them to succeed in their endeavors). The end result is a breathtakingly captivating piece of work that's as cinematic as it is fascinating, and it's ultimately difficult to walk away from the movie without wanting to at least try both Super Meat Boy and Fez (which is probably the highest compliment a non-gamer can give the film).

out of

Directed by Chris James Thompson

With Jeff, Chris James Thompson explores the events surrounding the arrest and trial of notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, which the filmmaker primarily accomplishes through interviews with three key figures - the lead detective on the case, Pat Kennedy; medical examiner Jeffrey Jentzen; and Dahmer's friendly neighbor, Pamela Bass. The interviews are, for the most part, undeniably fascinating; though Jentzen and Bass' recollections are somewhat underwhelming, Kennedy, a compelling and personable figure, does a superb job of taking the viewer through the sequence of events relating to Dahmer's capture. Kennedy's dynamic presence ensures that his stories possess an irresistibly vivid quality, with his description of, especially, his interrogatory sessions with Dahmer standing as an obvious (and riveting) highlight in the film. It's ultimately Thompson's wrongheaded decision to pepper Jeff with low-rent, amateurish reenactments that diminishes its overall impact, as the majority of such moments, which are anchored by Andrew Swant's laughably awful turn as the title figure, smack of needlessness and seem to have been included merely to pad out the running time (ie they contribute nothing to the viewer's overall understanding of Dahmer's psyche, as Thompson primarily emphasizes the killer's mundane day-to-day activities). The ineffectiveness of these slapdash reenactments, which would hardly pass muster on a nighttime news program, can't quite diminish the strength of the aforementioned interviews, with the end result a consistently uneven documentary that could (and should) have been much, much better.

out of

Francophrenia (or: Don’t Kill Me, I Know Where the Baby Is)
Directed by James Franco and Ian Olds

An uncommonly obnoxious piece of work, Francophrenia (or: Don’t Kill Me, I Know Where the Baby Is) ostensibly documents James Franco's much-hyped stint on the daytime soap General Hospital - though filmmakers Ian Olds and Franco primarily use the movie as a jumping-off point for a pervasively, aggressively avant-garde exploration of...I'm still not sure what, exactly. There's little doubt that the film immediately establishes its infuriatingly oddball sensibilities, as Franco and Olds open the proceedings with a lengthy and downright interminable stretch involving Franco's arrival at an outdoor set and his interaction with obsequious fans. From there, Francophrenia (or: Don’t Kill Me, I Know Where the Baby Is) grows increasingly wearisome and unwatchable as the directors pummel the viewer with a series of bafflingly, frustratingly pretentious elements - including incoherent narration, footage from General Hospital that's been run through a monochromatic filter, and, in the most egregious example of the film's nonsensical modus operandi, meaningless chatter from the symbols on a men's room door (!). Franco and Olds' continuing refusal to say anything of consequence, even fleetingly, ensures that the movie remains a seriously arduous experience from start to finish, and it's ultimately impossible to recall a more worthless and downright hateful bit of filmmaking from such an otherwise talented figure (ie Franco's disdain for his audience is palpable, which is somewhat baffling given the caliber of his crowd-pleasing output as an actor).

no stars out of

© David Nusair