Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Year of Film- Part 1: King of Kong

I'm going to try to keep myself a little busier this year.
Oh, first of all, happy new year!
Now, I'm going to try to keep myself a little busier this year. I'm going to do more movie reviews. Yeah, I know everyone does movie reviews, but the goal here is to do them a little differently. I'm not sure how yet. I'm just going to dick around and see what happens.
The rules? I'm only doing movies I'm seeing for the first time. That means it could be in theaters, on DVD, on Betamax, whatever. I just have to be seeing it for the first time.

To start off this new-tradition-that-might-get-old-quick, I bring you "King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters," which has to be one the most pun-filled pop culture-y titles of all time. (Date watched: 1/1/11)

In "King of Kong" we get a look into the competitive world of video gaming. And I don't mean bullshit "Black Ops" rounds. I mean the old shit. 8-bit awesomeness.
You see, back before X-Box Live, there was this thing called an "arcade." In these strange buildings there would often be pool tables, pinball machines, and giant video games. Not like those enormous clunkers your grandparents used to put in the NES, but giant games. And people would have to stand to play them. It's amazing people even bothered running electricity into their caves.
Back then, video games didn't really have an ending. The whole point was to accumulate points until you died. After the game over, if your score was high enough, you'd be able to put in your initials--three letters long--on the score board for everyone else to see until the game was unplugged. You may remember an episode of the TV show "Seinfeld" that used this as a plot point. "What's 'Seinfeld,'" you say? Well, I'm afraid that's another story for another day.

At any rate, one of these arcade games was Donkey Kong. You may remember him from things like the video game episode of "Futurama" and what it is "On like."
Donkey Kong was one of these games with a high score. In the 80s, a man named Billy Mitchell grabbed the high score of DK and that record stood until about 2006 when average schlub Steve Wiebe became a part-time dad and made his kid wipe his own ass for a change in order to beat the score.

With any good story you need your protagonist and your antagonist. Documentaries are no different and it easily casts Wiebe as the underdog hero and Mitchell as the Cobra Kai of video games. Legend has it that years ago on the planet Krypton, Jor-El sent his last tie collection to Earth just as Krypton was about to explode. This tie collection made its way to Billy Mitchell and he became a true video game villain. He isn't aggressive, he's passive aggressive. Billy just comes off as a smug asshole who looks like Jesus, which makes his face just that much more punchable. You really don't want to like this guy. Don't believe me? Do a search for him on Google.

Yes, he makes his own hot sauce, too.

The rest of the movie plays out like a "Rocky" film, complete with "You're the Best Around" during a "training montage" in what might be my favorite bit in the movie. Wiebe keeps playing "Donkey Kong" while Mitchell stays in the shadows, be a passive-aggressive douche. It comes down to a pretty great finale which is up there with the likes of "Hoosiers" and "The Mighty Ducks 3."

the documentary may not be fair to Billy Mitchell all the time, but he's just so easy to dislike that you really want to root against him, so I can't fault them on that. As Weibe's family gets invested in his strive for the high score, we do too. If it was just two guys trying to save Pauline, we wouldn't care. The cast of characters around them, from the old prospector-like proprietor of Twin Galaxies to Mitchell's former-nemesis-turned-associate. It's definitely worth a watch for a look at a great video gaming underworld that not even I knew about. And also so you'll dislike Mitchell as much as me.

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