Micro-Review: Andrew Niccol’s IN TIME

From the man who brought us GATTACA all those years ago comes IN TIME, a disappointing science-fiction entry that begins with a promising premise and then devolves into predictability. Written, directed and produced by Niccol and starring Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried, the film centers around the idea of swapping literal currency for time: the more you have, the longer you live, and when your time runs out after the age of twenty-five, you die. It’s a clever premise that opens the door for all manner of ridiculous social commentary, and Niccol seizes the opportunity at just about every turn, giving us absurd dialogue such as Timberlake’s proclamation that he has no time for a girlfriend (emphasis: his). And, unfortunately, the film doesn’t ever strive to be anything more than than the haphazard political commentary that it is; Niccol seems more interested in class struggle and the financial crisis than exploring the far more interesting, existential concepts that the premise suggests. What we’re left with is a film containing embarrassingly heavy-handed dialogue, unbelievably blunt, allegorical themes and a plot that essentially boils down to another half-baked, high-concept Robin Hood rip-off.

Still, there are a few scattered moments of excellence that keep the film afloat, including some truly captivating and mesmerizing images (such as Timberlake and Seyfriend swimming in the ocean at night, their faces illuminated by the eerie, green glow of the time stamps on their arms) and a few choice moments of wisdom, though they are buried deeply beneath the surface of the obvious metaphors. The world building is also quite satisfying, and Niccol obviously spent some time constructing this living, breathing future that feels surprisingly honest and grounded; one simply cannot help but wish that he had taken the time to make his story something more worthy of the world’s fascinating premise. There is a terrific story in here somewhere; he just didn’t find it.

5.5/10

d.a. garabedian

Advertisements

And For Once in His Life, It was Quiet: John Mayer’s BORN AND RAISED

It’s safe to say that John Mayer is in the middle of some kind of midlife crisis. His recent personal life aside (which features all manner of public outbursts, including talking about his sex life and more than his fair share of questionably racial comments), he seems to continue to move his musical career laterally instead of forwards. After releasing a handful of poppy albums, Mayer’s career culminated in the one-two punch of TRY! (provided by his blues side project, the John Mayer Trio) and CONTINUUM (his third full-length effort). Indeed, it could be argued that his 2008 live album, WHERE THE LIGHT IS, is the creative peak of the musician’s career thus far; featuring a three-part set that focused on the three main pillars of Mayer’s creative output – his poppier, acoustic side, his Trio set and his full, eight-piece band – the album demonstrated the versatility and range of his incredible talent. There was nothing that the singer-songwriter could not do: his melodies were as impeccable and universally accessible as his guitar playing was endlessly impressive. There seemed to be no limit to his musical prowess.

Then, something happened. Whatever it was that happened to Mayer in his personal life – discussions of his break up with Taylor Swift and various other unimportant-to-his-craft stories furiously circulated – it had a notable impact on his creative output: if WHERE THE LIGHT IS was the peak of his breadth of his musical ambition, BATTLE STUDIES was the sound of the balloon finally popping, a reactionary record that aimed to strip things back to their intimate essence. And to that end, the album was successful, even if the more musically inclined shook their heads and wondered where the incredible soloing, phrasing and blues influence had gone; the album reverted back to Mayer’s early days, when he was merely a heartthrob for mother’s and their daughters alike rather than the musical icon that was heralded as the most promising up-and-comer in the blues genre. But there was very little to be concerned about, in the end; this was a reactionary record, after all, and most reactionary records do not mark a permanent stylistic reversion.

Enter BORN AND RAISED.

Co-produced by Don Was and Mayer himself, BORN AND RAISED does what every good follow-up to a reactionary record does: it shifts the style and tone violently in a different direction. For many aficionados who had their fingers crossed for a return to the bombastic and excellent blues stylings of CONTINUUM, the album will undoubtedly have them scratching their heads rawer than BATTLE STUDIES did – many may even throw in the towel on the man altogether. It seems that instead of reverting back to his former style, Mayer has opted rather to take a jarring (but appropriate) left turn into the territory of folk; and, god forbid, a touch of country. Though we still get fleeting glimpses of the John Mayer that we all once knew and loved – particularly on the restrained but undoubtedly bluesy “Something Like Olivia” and the elegant “Love is a Verb” – and even some of the John Mayer that most found themselves entirely indifferent towards – “Speak For Me” and “If I Ever Get Around to Living” both would have fit nicely alongside the rest of the STUDIES sessions – what we ultimately wind up with is an album that favours acoustics to electrics, harmonica solos to guitar solos and an overall tone of Americana to anything else.

Somewhere in the midst of the first three tracks, it becomes increasingly obvious that this is an entirely different John Mayer to the one that we’ve grown accustomed to over the past decade: countrified melodies, organs and a bigger reliance on pianos than ever before. It’s almost as if, somewhere along the way, Mayer took a leaf out of Matt Bellamy’s book and decided to focus on the arrangements instead of any one instrument, to the (unfortunate) detriment of his incredible skills on the guitar. The result, however, is a refreshingly intimate and powerful listen that melds Mayer’s love of dense, stringed arrangements with his romantic, ballad-based tendencies. And though one laments the loss of one of his six-minute guitar solos that so deftly weaves amongst the progressions, it’s hard to argue with the results: this is one fantastic album, through and through.

It also happens to feature one of the finest tracks that Mayer has committed to record post-CONTINUUM: the brilliantly-titled “Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967”. A beautiful and tragic story, the song follows the titular Walt Grace as he dies trying to reach the ocean floor with a contraption that he built in his basement. Opening with a haunting trumpet solo over a lightly-picked guitar line that somehow calls to mind both a solitary, undersea adventure and a funeral procession, “Walt Grace” is the poster-child for BORN AND RAISED: a folky, storytelling track that perfectly encapsulates Mayer’s current instrumental and spiritual state-of-mind. It may be Mayer’s greatest lyrical achievement, to boot, shaking him from his romantic comfort zone and pushing him into a narrative perspective that would make the classic folk artists of old nod in approval: “And for once in his life, it was quiet / As he learned how to turn in the tide / And the sky was a flare, when he came up for air / In his homemade, fan-blade, one-man submarine ride”, he croons, seeming all too familiar with the idea of burying one’s self alive and finding life again on the other side, even if it’s only for a moment.

BORN AND RAISED is peppered with other gems, too (such as the song that immediately follows “Walt Grace”, “Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey”, another earnest folk track that ends with Mayer pulling out a legitimate harmonica solo) and has the added benefit of starting strong and ending stronger: the final song – a reprise of the title track that appears earlier on the album – is one of the few unabashedly country-esque songs on the album, and it’s a refreshing and bold way to close the record.

Fans who miss the John Mayer of his CONTINUUM days may not be particularly happy with his latest outing, but those with an open mind will find a lot to love here. Mayer not be back to what he’s does best, but it turns out that he’s just as effective a folk musician as he is a blues one. And it doesn’t hurt matters that this album conveniently drops just as summer is about to arrive; this may be the best cruising album of the year so far, and it should be in constant circulation in your car for the next few months.

Standout tracks: “Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967”, “Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey” and “Something Like Olivia”. (And “Queen of California”. And “A Face to Call Home”. And all of it.)

8.5/10

d.a. garabedian

Micro-Review: Tim Burton’s DARK SHADOWS

Tim Burton’s DARK SHADOWS – a remake of an old television show from ’60s – is not a good movie. It’s not that it’s horrible; it’s just painfully lackluster in just about every way imaginable. Marking his eighth collaboration with Johnny Depp, DARK SHADOWS doesn’t seem to know what it is – and while a more original or adventurous duo might have used this opportunity to create a unique tone and voice, Burton and Depp play it safe and wind up with even less than the sum of the film’s parts.

After an excellent prologue and a very solid first act, the film devolves completely into a generic “man-out-of-time” story with mild gothic overtones. The arcs are indistinct, the characters are thinly drawn and the story seems to meander around with no clear purpose or danger. Our would-be protagonist, Victoria Winters – played adequately by the beautiful Bella Heathcote – practically disappears for what feels like the entirely of the second act, and yet somehow maintains an integral role and purpose in the final proceedings; which, by the way, make almost no sense and seem to come out of nowhere. The final act is almost entirely unnecessary and nonsensical, and takes the film from “adequate” to “bad”.

The film is (somewhat) salvaged by its appropriately pleasing art direction, which is to be expected from a Burton film, but is never supposed to be the only thing going for one. Depp phones in his role in his typical, quirky fashion, and manages to get a few mild chuckles, while everybody else just pays their dues and does what is required of them. The film is ultimately just a mess, and there is very little to praise or even enjoy here.

DARK SHADOWS isn’t funny enough to be a comedy, clever enough to be satire or competent enough to be good drama. It’s a waste of a lot of talent, and feels like it was slapped together at nearly every stage except for pre-production. Skip this one.

4.5/10

d.a. garabedian

Micro-Review: The Fuck Off and Dies’ SONGS IN THE KEY OF FUCK

That’s a whole lot of fuck for just the title.

The brilliantly-named Fuck Off and Dies are unapologetic punk in the grandest fashion. With a 17-track debut that clocks in at only 34-minutes, this band is all about getting in fast, hitting them hard and getting out even faster: at an average track length of two minutes and with a third of the total number of songs coming in at under a minute, SONGS IN THE KEY OF FUCK is unrelenting from start to finish.

Fronted by Story of the Year vocalist Dan Marsala, there is something delightfully and hilariously ironic about the thematic content of The Fuck Off and Dies – as a branded straight-edge musician up until fairly recently, it’s positively exhilarating hearing Marsala croon so passionately about beer. Because, in the end, that’s all this album really is – a party-fuelled ode to sex, booze and skateboarding – and it’s a refreshing, fun listen for that reason alone. Seeing as Marsala’s vocabulary here consists almost entirely of the words “fuck”, “beer” and, well, “fuck” again, the album is digestible and, quite frankly, a fucking blast. With songs titles like “WTF (There’s No Beef Left)” and “F.U.C.K. We’re Going On a Holiday”, and featuring lyrics that could be memorized and repeated back before the first listen is over – I’ll give you a hint: most of the lyrics are contained entirely within the songs’ titles – there is a lot to love here, and I expect it’d be a hit at just about any rager you could find yourself in.

As a punk record, the songs are stripped, simple and energetic in the best way possible: straightforward rhythms behind palm-muted power chords dominate the entire running time, interrupted occasionally by a few arpeggiated riffs. Which, of course, gives Marsala – and the bassist / backup vocalist known only as Mark Attack – a chance to scream and swear and wax existential on running out of beer after the store closes for the night, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Luckily, Marsala isn’t afraid to also pull from his impressively deep pool of melodic talent, and several of the tracks, including “I Fucking Love Her” and “Last Fucking Call” feature some legitimately excellent hooks that help balance out the sheer madness.

SONGS IN THE KEY OF FUCK is a terrific contemporary punk album. It’s simple and concise, but, most importantly, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Here’s hoping that they keep this project going for a long time while the rest of the Story of the Year boys are off on their various side-projects.

“You better wise up / And open up your eyes / If your favorite band is not / The Fuck Off and Dies.”

Standout tracks: “I Fucking Love Her”, “Last Fucking Call” and “WTF (There’s No Beer Left)”.

8/10

d.a. garabedian

I’m Always Angry: Joss Whedon’s THE AVENGERS

A mere four years ago, Marvel unveiled a plan that would alter the landscape of superhero films forever. Rumours flooded the internet that there was a “secret scene” following the credits of IRON MAN; that there was something special waiting at the very end of the film that would get fans very, very excited. They weren’t wrong. As Samuel L. Jackson – playing the infamous Nick Fury, of course – strutted out of the shadows in Tony Stark’s apartment to declare the formation of the Avengers Initiative to the world, millions of nerds the world over cried out in joy. It was too good to be true: that the long-accepted comic book practice of crossing over various superheroes into a single story could possibly make the leap to the big screen seemed impossible. It was too crazy, too difficult, too brilliantly simple. Whereas DC was busy using Nolan’s glorious but thoroughly-contained-within-its-new-medium Batman revival as the pinnacle of their branding, Marvel had decided to go in the opposite direction: revive all of their most notable superheroes individually and then bring them all together again in a single, monstrous film, embracing the spirit of their original medium in ways that had heretofore never been attempted. And this weekend, their half-decade, five-film experiment came to fruition in the form of THE AVENGERS.

Put simply, THE AVENGERS is the single greatest achievement in the history of the superhero genre. Though it cannot match THE DARK KNIGHT in terms of objective, cinematic qualities – its story, cinematography and themes are all a bit too haphazard to compare to the great Nolan – it is such a successful, ambitious experiment that it simply does not matter: this is what superhero films have wished that they could be since the dawn of the genre. Director / screenwriter Joss Whedon has set the bar so high in terms of pure, spiritual reverence and execution that from this day forward, Nolan’s universe will be considered the exception, rather than the rule; no longer will superhero films need to be “dark” and “gritty” in order to be powerful and excellent. In fact, THE AVENGERS succeeds because it is the exact opposite of those things. This is a fun, exciting, fist-pumping blockbuster that’s firing on so many cylinders that one can practically feel J.J. Abrams getting green with envy.

I am no Joss Whedon fanboy. He has done some things that I have enjoyed (including his contributions to the impossibly excellent CABIN IN THE WOODS, released only last month), whereas I have been less taken with the majority of the rest of his work. Still, it’s hard to argue that this is the franchise that he was born to be a part of, and his natural talents – his impeccable dialogue, his insane knack for ensemble-based character dynamics and his overall unique wit and charm, to name a few – are all on full display here. But what’s key is that all of these things that make Whedon the filmmaker that he is are the things that make THE AVENGERS what is is; without all of these elements that are naturally inherent to the man behind the curtain, the film would fall apart so gloriously that Marvel may have never properly recovered from it. It cannot be stated enough times that Whedon makes this film what it is. He took the absolutely impossible task of synthesizing the tones, stories and baggage of five films (not to mention their respective all-star casts) and not just distilling them down, but combining them into something that is exponentially greater than the sum of its parts. Taking the worlds and characters of IRON MAN, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, THOR and CAPTAIN AMERICA and making them all fit into a single universe should have been impossible – Whedon doesn’t just make it look effortless, he makes it feel like it was meant to be this way from the start. He will make you a believer.

And he doesn’t just stop there. It’s not enough to take the wildly different tones of Kenneth Branagh’s tongue-in-cheek THOR and Joe Johnston’s satirical, propaganda film CAPTAIN AMERICA and mesh them together into something logical. Whedon actually introduces even more characters to the mix: Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow finally gets a real chance to shine here, as does Jeremy Renner’s barely-seen-previously but impossibly-awesome Hawkeye. Plus, we get Cobie Smulders (of HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER fame) as Agent Maria Hill and a brand new alien race that both ties in previous villains and sets up new ones (make sure you stay through the credits – there are two post-credits scenes this time around, as is Marvel’s new trademark). But what’s most impressive about Whedon’s inclusion of these new characters isn’t that they don’t just feel like window dressing: I came out of THE AVENGERS wanting a solo S.H.I.E.L.D. film more than I wanted a sequel to any of the other major players. I wanted to see Black Widow and Hawkeye team up with Fury and Agent Hill in an all-out espionage film, and I’m certainly hoping Marvel delivers it.

Because, really – why the hell wouldn’t they at this point? They’ve amassed such a stunning cast and such an organic, alive universe that there is literally, literally no end to the spinoffs and sequels they can have going at any one time. New entries for Thor, Captain, Iron Man, S.H.I.E.L.D. and, yes, even the Hulk are all possibilities at this point, not to mention The Avengers themselves – that’s six independent (dependent?), simultaneous franchises going at once, and it wouldn’t be difficult to open up the world even further. With Edgar Wright’s ANT-MAN looming ever closer on the horizon – not to mention the rumoured entries for Doctor Strange, The Guardians of the Galaxy that THOR and THE AVENGERS’ extraterrestrial dabbling may make possible – there is seemingly no end to what their new universe can accomplish. Because as much as THE AVENGERS feels like a culmination of everything that came before it, it feels even more like the start of something new – the dawn of a new age. That’s not something that many films can boast: a redefining of their genre in such a critical way that everything that comes after it will be expected to at least attempt to reach its ambitious heights. Any way you cut it, this is a good year for Whedon, who did the same to the horror genre with CABIN only three weeks ago.

What made me happiest about THE AVENGERS is that it feels like a culmination for Whedon, too. There is no doubt that the man has some serious talent when it comes to writing and directing dialogue, and there is simply no other filmmaker who understands group dynamics in the way that he does, but I haven’t felt emotionally connected to any of his previous work in the way that I’ve wanted to. I’ve recognized his skills, but felt that there was something lacking. Not so here. On THE AVENGERS, all of those skills come to full and glorious fruition, making him into the filmmaker that I always knew that he could be. The sparkling, beautiful dialogue is something truly amazing to behold, and Whedon – not to mention the unbelievably stacked cast – makes it seem so unbelievably natural that most viewers won’t even recognize its silky smoothness. It just feels right – the quips, the wit, the interplay, it’s all perfect. Whedon and Robert Downey Jr. were born to work together, and Joss’ script makes use of Downey’s commanding grasp of Tony Stark in a way that makes even his solo outings seem tame.

More importantly – in fact, most importantly – are the character and group dynamics. Every character gets their chance to shine, and the film’s 142-minute running time flies by with perfect pacing as a result. Based around the idea that bringing together all of these characters from various worlds (and, more metaphysically, tones and films) should be impossible, THE AVENGERS makes the characters work for it – there is an abrasiveness to the characters’ interactions that is really refreshing and genuine. It’s completely natural and expected that Chris Evan’s moralist Steve Rogers would find fault with Stark’s punk-rock attitude, or that Stark would find it personally offensive that Bruce Banner (played this time by Mark Ruffalo, who takes over the mantle of Bruce Banner from both Ed Norton and Eric Bana with expert precision) is so terrified of allowing himself to reach his full potential, even if it means getting his hands dirty. Appropriately, there is actually more fighting between the heroes than there is between the heroes and the villains; Thor is introduced into the film with a full-out brawl between himself, Stark and Rogers. All of that bickering climaxes in a dazzlingly intimate argument scene between every single character that seems almost impossible to fathom in this genre, and makes it all the more rewarding when the full team-up finally happens in the final act.

(Speaking of Ruffalo: I was most surprised by his version of Hulk than anything else in the film. It seems that Marvel, Ruffalo and Whedon have finally nailed the character, and I’m excited to see more of the Hulk in the future.)

And what a final act it is. The climax of THE AVENGERS is the finest, most impressive action sequence ever executed in a Marvel film. It’s not just that its scope is impressive, or that it’s a ton of fun; it’s that every character is always accounted for, and that every single one of them – at this point, the count is at Captain, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye – gets their moment. They are integral to the execution of their defences. They are all important cogs in the Avengers machine, and that’s what keeps every single one of them relevant in a way that could have easily been screwed up. But Whedon never allows it, most impressively in a sequence that features a single shot that floats from character to character throughout the battle. And even when the guns start blazing and the CGI starts flying, Whedon never ignores the humanity and the humour of the moment – some of the funniest moments in the entire film take place in the middle of this epic battle.

THE AVENGERS is everything that Marvel needed it to be. Whedon, together with his amazing cast, have crafted something that has raised the bar for the entire genre. And not just the genre, either: this is one of the most ambitious projects in the history of cinema. Period. Nothing like this has ever been attempted before, and it fills me with joy to know that it succeeded so flawlessly: five films make way to one unified world with a cast that includes Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Stellan Skarsgard, Tom Hiddleston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Clark Gregg and Cobie Smulders (wow.). If Natalie Portman had shown up, I think the film may have imploded.

See this film, then go and eat some shawarma. Trust me.

It’s a good day to be a nerd.

9/10

d.a. garabedian

Micro-Review: Jesse Peretz’s OUR IDIOT BROTHER

OUR IDIOT BROTHER is, unsurprisingly, less about Paul Rudd’s titular character and more about the people around him. Even less surprisingly is the fact that, as it turns out, Rudd’s Ned isn’t really an idiot after all – he may just be the wisest of all of the characters. Luckily, Jesse Peretz – known primarily for his comedic television work in the last few years – doesn’t hammer that fact too hard, even if the film walks a dangerously thin line in doing so. After all, everybody knows somebody who is at least a little bit like Ned: a man (or woman) whose eternal optimism and clarity of vision (despite a remarkably smoky, er, hazy facade) are as much a beacon of light as they are abrasively obtrusive for those around them.

It follows, therefore, that the film should follow not just Ned, but his entire family in almost equal measure; each character gets their own arc and almost as much screen time as Rudd, making this something of an ensemble piece. Wisely, the casting for OUR IDIOT BROTHER is impeccable – Elizabeth Banks, Adam Scott, Rashida Jones, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Moritmer and TJ Miller all round out the film, each giving their own hilarious and unique vantage point on Ned. And the more we see from the people around him, the more charming and loveable Ned becomes; though he may be the odd man out in the family, it’s not hard to wish that his natural charisma was the rule, rather than the exception.

The script never really reaches for anything too transcendent in its final act, to the film’s detriment, but that doesn’t stop OUR IDIOT BROTHER from being a very human, very funny movie. Paul Rudd’s performance is gleefully infectious, and every member of the cast helps make the film an enjoyable experience. Though not overly memorable, you could certainly do worse as far as comedies go, and Rudd is heartwarming enough to make it a worthwhile watch for just about anybody.

7/10

d.a. garabedian


A Boy Without Skin, Vulnerable to Everything: Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky’s INDIE GAME: THE MOVIE

From first-time filmmakers Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky comes INDIE GAME: THE MOVIE, a bold documentary that seeks to shine a light on one of the most tragically misunderstood art forms in contemporary society: video gaming. Filmed from three distinct vantage points – Jonathan Blow (creator of BRAID), Phil Fish (creator of FEZ) and “Team Meat”, consisting of Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes (creators of SUPER MEAT BOY) – INDIE GAME takes all of our romantic notions about the struggling artist and throws them out the window, instead opting to show a more human, realistic depiction: pale, isolated nerds in front of computer screens that have poured their hearts, minds and souls into line after line of code, all with the single-minded goal of reaching out and connecting with the rest of the world. Because that’s what this film is really about: the inherent need that every artist has to form some bond between themselves and the audience – to feel useful, and needed, and relevant. And, to this end, Pajot and Swirsky succeed in spades, crafting a triumphant story that’s fun, heartbreaking and inspiring, all in equal measure. As Fish himself declared at the Q&A after the film (which was simulcasted to almost 40 screenings nationwide through HotDocs): there will be children today who watch this film and decide that what they want to do with the rest of their lives is make games, and that’s amazing.

What’s remarkable about the film is how it doesn’t treat video games like some oddity to be dissected and explained. Instead, Pajot and Swirsky opt to simply thrust us into the lives of these four programmers, giving us access to their dreams, their fears and ultimately their reason for getting up in the morning. Marriages and social lives are sacrificed, lawsuits are filed and emotional stability is in constant flux as the artists (for artists they are) beat themselves bloody against monitors and keyboards, the only canvas they know how to see themselves in. And as I watched these men laugh and cry and scream in frustration, I found myself wanting nothing more in the entire world than to see them succeed against the commercialized, corporate bullshit that constantly seeks to crush them. I wanted to shake down every fanboy who spouts anonymous hate on the internet at any of these well-meaning men, to show them what their nonchalant comments can do to the psyche of a fragile, isolated artist.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the internet plays a massive role in INDIE GAME. It was mentioned in the Q&A how fan forums and the general web of online information essentially play the fifth character in the film – one of three true antagonists (the other two being the monopolized corporations and the artists themselves, though Fish has the unpleasant fourth hurdle of being in a lawsuit with his former, unnamed business partner). And though it starts innocently and funnily enough – a montage of excited user comments from a fan forum, championing and celebrating one of the impending releases – things quickly turn hostile and vicious, with fans calling out the programmers for not getting the games out in time (or because they decide that they don’t like what they see) and leaving our heroes to wallow in despair as they do their very best to please thousands of people they will never meet. It’s a depressing and eye-opening reality that many consumers will never truly understand: that their tendencies towards negative anonymity has a real, tangible effect on the people who are just trying to make them happy. That this is more than a business transaction to them; they’re trying so, so hard to connect to other people through the only outlet they can. And what they get instead is a sea of falsely entitled whiners, many of whom will never actually appreciate how much blood, sweat and tears goes into the product that they’re stamping their feet over for one reason or the other. Even in spite of the amazing reviews that BRAID receives upon its launch, Blow still spirals downwards into depression, shouting desperately for somebody to understand the game – not just play it. To see the man behind the code. To understand the man behind the code.

And if dealing with belligerent fans and one’s own demons weren’t enough, our heroes still have to overcome the nearly impossible hurdles that are the big corporations of the video game industry. In this way, INDIE GAME becomes something of a parable for all contemporary art as it becomes commercialized and distilled down. Fish and co. spit out facts with obvious rage, trying to plead their case for how much the deck is stacked against them: while the newest GRAND THEFT AUTO game took five years and a staff of 1000 (one-thousand!) to complete, Fish has spent a similar length of time working on FEZ with one other person. One. Still, the fans violently clamour for more, threatening to move on to greener pastures as their attention wanes. And it’s not just limited resources that hold them back, either; Microsoft is shown explicitly screwing over “Team Meat” in their launch day marketing campaign, proving how little big business cares about the little guys.

Is it all worth it? Maybe. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that the film gets a (mostly) happy ending, as all of the games (with the exception of FEZ, which hadn’t launched yet at the time of the film’s completion – it has since gone on to find huge success) find great success, both critically and commercially. Yet the turmoil that these artists undergo is ongoing, and the validation of their hard work is treated as a true victory by some and a false, unreality by others. But, then again, if they weren’t struggling, they wouldn’t be real artists – would they?

INDIE GAME is a huge success of a documentary, and despite its obvious appeal to gamers, it’s a triumphant story for artists of any medium. It’s a rare, optimistic look at how contemporary artists can still overcome the absurd monopolies of their respective industries, and it should be celebrated for that alone.

Everybody loves an underdog story.

8.5/10

d.a. garabedian