random reviews, recollections & reminiscings

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

REEL REVIEW: The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters ****

Rated PG-13 (for a brief sexual reference)
84 min.

produced by: Ed Cunningham
directed by: Seth Gordon

In 1982, I was ten years-old and going nuts over movies like "Raiders of the Lost Ark", "E.T." and "Tron". I was also wasted plenty of time playing Mattel's Intellivision home video game console! Yeah, that was their answer to Atari and I remember how nuts I was when my father came home with one (much to my mother's dismay). Although it was entertaining enough for me at that age, home consoles were certainly primitive back then. The real video game experience was outside the home in the arcade. Yeah, back then the arcades were still the place to be for video game junkies but also it was the place to hang out. Well into high school, I vividly recall that wherever I lived I knew where the best arcade was. It wasn't until Nintendo came out in the late 80's that my time in the arcades died down. But, oh the memories.

That's exactly what this new film is hoping to appeal to....your memories and nostalgia for video games in the 80's. Ah, it was such a simpler time. Scrounging around for quarters and peddling my bike over to the Arcade where everyone else was. No questions asked, you were understand amongst so many junkies! I was never a big
Pac-Man or Centipede fan, I got into games like Galaxa, Jungle Hunt (or King), Contra, Defender, any movie-related game (like the Tron, Return of the Jedi and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom games) were awesome. But the game I loved the most was (in my mind) the King of them all....Donkey Kong!

I knew I wasn't alone but this new documentary by Seth Gordon confirmed that
Donkey Kong and other classic arcade games are still life-defining for some people. In fact, watching this movie you will see a world of which you probably never knew still existed. It just so happens that some of those pimple-faced, video game junkies you knew of in the 80's are still going at it. Some are wearing weight-lifting gloves to master their mad skills and some are working at Twin Galaxies while others can be found wasting away time in New Hampshire's Funspot. And one of those top score junkies is now a hot sauce mogul named Billy Mitchell living in Hollywood, Florida. But back in the day (1982) he and several other gamers made the cover of Life magazine next to their arcade obsession of choice.

Billy Mitchell in Picturehouse's The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

Steve Wiebe (pronounced Weebee) of Redmond, Washington is married with two children. Currently, he works as a middle school science teacher but before that, back in 2003, he was layed off from a job at Boeing and was looking for work. He occupied his nights playing a Donkey Kong arcade game in his garage, One day Steve was online and decided to look up video game high scores and came across Billy Mitchell's 1982 high score of 957,300 for Donkey Kong. He decided to beat that score and eventually challenge Mitchell, who had not only in his own mind but also a messiah to other vidiots.

That's what this movie is essentially about....Billy vs. Steve. Most of the scenes in this movie made me shake my head and drop my jaw in disbelief. I mean, I was serious in my game playin' days but never anything like what I saw in this film. After all, there was the dilemma of running outta quarters. Other scenes made me burst in laughter, mainly cuz I knew people like this and they've probably wound up like these guys. Still, the geekiness of all these quirky characters still addicted to those classic 80' arcade games is almost endearing in a bizarre way. Let's face it, we all "geek out" about something, it could be food, shoes, comic books or um, video games. Everyone has something that they're crazy about, I suppose.

Steve Wiebe and his son in Picturehouse's The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

Regardless of his hot sauce success, the mullet-sporting, bearded Mitchell is not really a guy I'd like to call friend (at least based on his devious ways shown here). He's pretty egotistical, prideful and quite insecure. I did feel for Wiebe though, he just seemed like one of those guys, who despite his musical and athletic talents hasn't really found success in life. I can relate to Wiebe in a way, it's been hard to find something to do with my life. I've found though that what really maters is not what I do but who I am. This movie does touch on that as Wiebe realizes what's most important through the process of his quest to become a high score record-breaker.

Even if you were never hooked on video games or never had an interest in them, go see this movie. You'll have a good time and ultimately feel better about yourself! Well, either that or you will be inspired to purchase an arcade game, close yourself off from the real world in your garage while trying to beat someone's high score. In watching documentaries, it's hard not to get a certain opinion or agenda. Sometimes it's great if you just get an education, but this time all I got was a good time.

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

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