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SXSW 2012: Indie Game: The Movie and The Babymakers

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SXSW 2012: Indie Game: The Movie and The Babymakers

Whether or not you care to classify video games as art, Indie Game: The Movie, an extremely polished and absorbing documentary profiling a handful of ambitious independent game developers, makes a strong case that, at the very least, the types of gaming experiences offered by these one- or two-man shops reflect the personalities of their creators in the same way art does, acting as extensions of their fears and desires. Filmmakers Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky seem genuinely invested in their subjects’ personal journeys through game creation, and it reflects in the film’s contemplative and relatively muted tone. Though Indie Game utilizes slick and stylish animation to illustrate some of the more abstract thinking that goes into complex game design, it does so tastefully without ever being overbearing, and the directors always keep their focus on the people, not their products. The film’s greatest quality is the way it enables these notoriously reclusive and incessantly busy minds to open up about their passions, revealing a desire simply to connect with others through their creation.

Indie Game follows two development teams clocking unnatural hours to complete their respective games before they run out of money and sanity. Designer Edmund McMillen and programmer Tommy Refenes of Team Meat hope to finish their platformer, Super Meat Boy, in time for its release on Xbox Live Arcade in just a matter of months, and developers Phil Fish and Renaud Bédard of Polytron simply want to complete Fez, a game infamously drifting in perpetual development after a promising 2008 tech demo earned it much hype. The film also extensively interviews Jonathan Blow, creator of Braid, a downloadable independent game already enjoying the kind of success Team Meat and Polytron hope their games will eventually find.

Blow’s interviews tend to be more philosophical as he imparts the wisdom he’s gathered from his experience developing and releasing Braid, but one of his most unexpected insights comes when he reveals that, despite the rave reviews for his game, he became depressed after its release. He was devastated that people only noticed surface-level characteristics of his game, praising its mechanics and style but missing the soul that he worked so passionately to give it. Indie Game underlines this common desire among those in an industry characterized by technical specs to connect with others in a more profound way.

In a wonderfully thoughtful segment, Edmund of Team Meat traces the origins of one of his earlier games, Aether, to therapeutic childhood drawings he created for his grandmother in which he was able to express and confront many of his fears, particularly of rejection and abandonment. As he describes how his anxieties translated into elements and worlds in a video game, the film does its due diligence of juxtaposing Edmund’s drawings with the final artwork for Aether, however the point of his story is never lost as the filmmakers allow us to see a vulnerable Edmund tear up when speaking of his ceaselessly supportive grandmother and the type of personal release she (and Aether) helped him achieve.

The most intriguing of Indie Game’s subjects is Fez creator Phil Fish, who’s feeling compounding pressure as, with each passing year, his unfinished passion project begins to inch closer and closer to the Vaporware Hall of Fame. Suffering more setbacks than Coppola’s production of Apocalypse Now, Phil finds himself overworked and underfunded but unable to abandon the creation he’s now built his entire identity around (he candidly tells the camera that he no longer sees himself as Phil Fish, only as “the guy who makes Fez”), going so far as to claim he’ll kill himself if he can’t complete the game. After a somewhat successful demo of the still-in-production Fez at a gaming conference, the audience must exhale on Phil’s behalf because he simply refuses to, never one to revel in the little victories. As Indie Game closes, we’re left wondering if Phil will ever break through and find peace and relief in the completion of Fez, or if he’s doomed to toil away at his unfinishable masterpiece year after year like Caden Cotard. Neither outcome would be surprising.

Though The Babymakers is billed as a “sperm bank heist film,” it starts out as a passable and occasionally funny, if randomly crass and highly derivative, romantic comedy about a happy young couple, Tommy (Paul Schneider) and Audrey (Olivia Munn), and their newfound struggles getting impregnated. As with most Broken Lizard movies (though technically this isn’t a Broken Lizard film despite the participation of several of the comedy troupe’s members), the jokes in The Babymakers are uneven, but they occur so quickly and frequently that the weaker ones become easy to overlook.

Unfortunately, as Jay Chandrasekhar’s film moves along, it begins to linger on its jokes more and more so that by the time the film introduces the aforementioned plan to steal sperm that Tommy donated to a bank five years prior, The Babymakers is spending painfully long minutes on one poorly written and ill-conceived gag after another, starting with the appearance of Chandrasekhar himself as Ron Jon, a former member of the Indian mafia enlisted to aid in the heist. The character’s humor is derived almost exclusively from his thick Indian accent, naturally leading to lengthy monologues packed with shouted curse words and lines like, “Let’s roll!” to really get the knee-slapping going. The occasional spark of cleverness comes and goes (Ron Jon’s ridiculously elaborate plan for the heist being the film’s all-too-brief high note), and Chandrasekhar’s cluelessness to his film’s strengths and fatal weaknesses becomes clear when the audience is thrice treated to the comedic gold of a character struggling to gain his footing on a sperm-slicked floor.

SXSW runs from March 9—18.

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Let Your Sanity Go on Vacation with a Trip to the Moons of Madness

If you dare, ascend into the horrors of the Martian mind and check out the trailer for yourself.

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Moons of Madness
Photo: Rock Pocket Games

The announcement trailer for Moons of Madness opens with an empty shot of the Invictus, a research installation that’s been established on Mars. The camera lingers over well-lit but equally abandoned corridors, drifting over a picture of a family left millions of kilometers behind on Earth before finally settling on the first-person perspective of Shane Newehart, an engineer working for the Orochi Group. Fans of a different Funcom series, The Secret World, will instantly know that something’s wrong. And sure enough, in what may be the understatement of the year, Newehart is soon talking about how he “seems to have a situation here”—you know, what with all the antiquated Gothic hallways, glitching cameras, and tentacled creatures that start appearing before him.

As with Dead Space, it’s not long before the station is running on emergency power, with eerie whispers echoing through the station and bloody, cryptic symbols being scrawled on the walls. Did we mention tentacles? Though the gameplay hasn’t officially been revealed, this brief teaser suggests that players will have to find ways both to survive the physical pressures of this lifeless planet and all sorts of sanity-challenging supernatural occurrences, with at least a soupçon of H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmicism thrown in for good measure.

If you dare, ascend into the horrors of the Martian mind and check out the trailer for yourself.

Rock Pocket Games will release Moons of Madness later this year.

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Watch: Two Episode Trailers for Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone Reboot

Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes.

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The Twilight Zone
Photo: CBS All Access

Jordan Peele is sitting on top of the world—or, at least, at the top of the box office, with his sophomore film, Us, having delivered (and then some) on the promise of his Get Out. Next up for the filmmaker is the much-anticipated reboot of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, which the filmmaker executive produced and hosts. Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes, “The Comedian” and “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet.” In the former, Kumail Nanjiani stars as the eponymous comedian, who agonizingly wrestles with how far he will go for a laugh. And in the other, a spin on the classic “Nightmare at 20,0000 Feet” episode of the original series starring William Shatner, Adam Scott plays a man locked in a battle with his paranoid psyche. Watch both trailers below:

The Twilight Zone premieres on April 1.

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Scott Walker Dead at 76

Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde.

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Scott Walker
Photo: 4AD

American-born British singer-songwriter, composer, and record producer Scott Walker, who began his career as a 1950s-style chanteur in an old-fashioned vocal trio, has died at 76. In a statement from his label 4AD, the musician, born Noel Scott Engel, is celebrated for having “enriched the lives of thousands, first as one third of the Walker Brothers, and later as a solo artist, producer and composer of uncompromising originality.”

Walker was born in Hamilton, Ohio on January 9, 1943 and earned his reputation very early on for his distinctive baritone. He changed his name after joining the Walker Brothers in the early 1960s, during which time the pop group enjoyed much success with such number one chart hits as “Make It Easy on Yourself” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore).”

The reclusive Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde. Walker, who was making music until his death, received much critical acclaim with 2006’s Drift and 2012’s Bish Bosch, as well as with 2014’s Soused, his collaboration with Sunn O))). He also produced the soundtrack to Leos Carax’s 1999 romantic drama Pola X and composed the scores for Brady Corbet’s first two films as a director, 2016’s The Childhood of a Leader and last year’s Vox Lux.

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