“Lil Poison”: To the Victor Go the Spoils

“Lil Poison”: To the Victor Go the Spoils (photo)

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12 year old Victor DeLeon III goes by an alias that strikes fear into the hearts of gamers everywhere. In the professional competitive gaming circuit, he goes by the name Lil Poison, and he’s been the youngest pro gamer in the world for the last half-decade. The peculiarity of a tweenager pwning players twice and thrice his age got the attention of the New York Times, ABC News and other major media outlets.

It’s also spawned a new documentary called, fittingly, “Lil Poison,” which just premiered at the New York International Latino Film Festival. Over the last three-and-a-half years, filmmaker Beth Earl followed Lil Poison and his father Victor DeLeon, Jr. — aka Papa Poison — to the Major League Gaming promotion’s tournaments, chronicling the pre-teen’s career. What emerged isn’t just a portrait of a kid’s improbable victories, though. The doc comes upon the DeLeons as the parents’ marriage crumbles and focuses on a tween who’s trying to fulfill his father’s vicarious dreams of fame and success.

That father, Victor DeLeon, Jr., works as a night manager when the film opens and his relationship with his son’s talent forms the crux of the movie’s arc. As he gleefully shuttles Lil Poison from competition to competition, he says, “Tournaments are where I feel respected.” But, of course, viewers will ruefully note that he’s not the one doing the winning. Papa Poison proves to be the worst kind of manager/coach, too, by using threats and guilt to attempt to motivate his son into exhausting practice sessions.

The child’s mother pipes in every so often to voice her displeasure at her son being treated like a cash cow, but the film places her on its fringes. You get to shuddering when she’s on screen because the pattern quickly emerges that what she’s saying won’t be heeded or that an ugly argument with her ex-husband is about to start. More warm scenes of her with Little Victor would’ve gone a long way to girding the film’s emotional structure.

Some of the device Earl uses are way too twee, as well. The grade-school notebook scribbles and earnest voiceover by Little Victor force the issue a bit too much. We know he’s a kid who just wants a normal life; it’s there in just about every scene he’s in. Another of the films flaw.s comes from its overlong gameplay sequences. It’s always been tough to convey the drama and tension of playing a video game on film and, despite some clever graphical tricks on Earl’s part, it remains quite boring to watch gamers chase each other around a Halo multiplayer map.

Even if “Lil Poison” lands on predictable territory sometimes, the raw material still tugs at your heart. The heartache of a boy whose sense of self-worth is tied up in making Dad feel good, the elder Victor’s deep insecurities and the wince-inducing confrontations between Mom and Dad will make you squirm.

Tears well up in both Poisons’ eyes as Little Victor loses a key match in an important tourney, and it’s almost too much to bear when Dad shoots Little Victor in a real-life birthday paintball match, sending him down to the ground writhing in pain. The pain from the somewhat accidental shooting passes quickly but the entire audience will be guaranteed to be thinking, “Haven’t you already done enough?!”

It’s almost enough to make you forget the talent driving all of this. It seems at times that Little Victor’s skills runs at odds to his personality. Here’s a kid who could live every grade-schooler’s dream and play violent video games that he’s not supposed to all the time. But he doesn’t want to. His hamster, Wii Sports sessions and classical music mean more to him.

That paradox puts the lie to the hysteria of video game addiction. Early on in the film, the camera holds tight on the super-intense look of laserlike concentration on Lil Poison’s face. Where the film winds up is in a place that lets you believe Victor DeLeon III’s singular talents may be being nurtured in a baggage-free environment.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Byrning Down the House

Everything You Need to Know About the Film That Inspired “Final Transmission”

Documentary Now! pays tribute to "Stop Making Sense" this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection

This week Documentary Now! is with the band. For everyone who’s ever wanted to be a roadie without leaving the couch, “Final Transmission” pulls back the curtain on experimental rock group Test Pattern’s final concert. Before you tune in Wednesday at 10P on IFC, plug your amp into this guide for Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Hailed as one of the best concert films ever created, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the energy and eccentricities of a band known for pushing the limits of music and performance.

Make an Entrance

Lead singer David Byrne treats the concert like a story: He enters an empty stage with a boom box and sings the first song on the setlist solo, then welcomes the other members of the group to the stage one song at a time.

Steal the Spotlight

David Byrne Dancing
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Always a physical performer, Byrne infuses the stage and the film with contagious joy — jogging in place, dancing with lamps, and generally carrying the show’s high energy on his shoulders.

Suit Yourself

Byrne makes a splash in his “big suit,” a boxy business suit that grows with each song until he looks like a boy who raided his father’s closet. Don’t overthink it; on the DVD, the singer explains, “Music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head.”

View from the Front Row

Stop Making Sense Band On Stage
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Demme (who also helmed 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia, the inspiration for this season’s Documentary Now! episode “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”) films the show by putting viewers in the audience’s shoes. The camera rarely shows the crowd and never cuts to interviews or talking heads — except the ones onstage.

Let’s Get Digital

Tina Weymouth Keyboard
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense isn’t just a good time — it’s also the first rock movie to be recorded entirely using digital audio techniques. The sound holds up more than 30 years later.

Out of Pocket

Talk about investing in your art: Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone that the members of the band “basically put [their] life savings” into the movie, and they didn’t regret it.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Stop Making Sense when “Final Transmission” premieres Wednesday, October 12 at 10P on IFC.

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