Cinepub


Documental: King Of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters by Jamie

It’s Christmas time and what’s the true meaning of Christmas? Video games of course! Yes, the giving and receiving of video games. Alright, fine. It’s also got something to do with the birth of a baby a couple of thousand years ago or something. I don’t know, I’m an atheist. Still, video games play a lot into the Christmas experience, especially for anyone in my age bracket. Who doesn’t remember receiving a NES at Christmas? Well, I don’t because I have a shitty memory but I did own one and I’m sure it can’t have been a birthday present. No way, not for just one of us. It must have been a combined Christmas present between me and my brother Jason. Maybe Jordan as well but he was born in 1989. Might have been a bit young. On the other hand, I’m sure we all thought that the NES would be the only console there would ever be, something that would last for our entire lives, so maybe it was for all of us

So yes, for as long as I can, and apparently can’t, remember, video games have been a part of Christmas for me. And so it is with this tenuous link that I segue into today’s review, ‘King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters’. It’s a tale as old as time, a tale of rivalry, a tale of conspiracy, a tale of competition between two men. A tale of Donkey Kong.

And what a tale it is. This film is so brilliant in it’s simplicity. At it’s core its about nothing more complex than one guy trying to beat another’s score on Donkey Kong but it’s the intricate events and characters that surround it that makes it so much more. There are three major characters who are at the forefront of this story. There is Steve Wiebe (pronounced Wee-bee), the challenger, Billy Mitchell, the mulleted champion and Walter Day, the referee and an old friend of Billy Mitchell.

Steve is a man who’s life has been beset by failure. Every time he’s gotten close to even tasting the smallest bit of victory or success it’s been snatched away from him. Maybe that’s not fair. He does have a wife, two kids and a nice job as a high school science teacher but in terms of things that men care about such as sporting victory or musical accomplishment, despite being talented in these areas, Steve hasn’t gotten where he’d dreamed he’d be. The main problem seems to be that Steve has, as his brother puts it ‘a few social hang-ups’. In other words he seems to be quite shy and is also incredibly nice. The kind of nice that actually becomes a problem because you allow people to walk all over you. So what better achievement for someone with such social hang ups to aim for than a high score in a video game. Steve also has another thing going for him and that’s that he has a very, very analytical mind. He can detect patterns and find solutions to things that I, someone who has an incredibly poor mathematical mind, find truly astounding.

Billy Mitchell is essentially the polar opposite of Steve. He’s achieved success in his life, both with video games and with his hot sauce business ventures. He’s had the high-score on Donkey Kong ever since the 80s and is basically an idol to the small group of hardcore classic arcade gaming nerds who surround him. Scratch that, he’s more than an idol, to them he’s like a living God. He’s the embodiment of Neo from the Matrix movies if the Matrix had the graphical capabilities of an Atari. As such, Billy Mitchell has a very inflated sense of self-worth. He’s uber-patriotic, uber-egotistical and an uber-arse hole. He’s one of the greatest screen villains I’ve seen in recent years and what’s terrifying is he’s a real person… well, that and his hair. The scene where Billy and Steve are finally on screen together is one of the most tense and heart breaking scenes in any film, documentary or otherwise.

You can’t deny, however, that Billy has a talent for success. He clearly strives hard and works towards achieving his goals, sometimes using questionable means. There’s one scene which shows him in a supermarket, moving another brand of hot sauce out of the way and pushing more of his own into the spare space. What a man.

Walter Day is a bit more like Steve Wiebe. He’s also incredibly nice to the point of it perhaps being to his disadvantage. He seems to be a refugee from the love generation, an aging hippy who somehow found himself in the arcades during the 80s and never managed to find his way out. He’s the founder of Twin Galaxies, an organisation that collects and ranks high scores and acts as it’s official referee during live events. There seems to be the suggestion, however, that because of his nature, Twin Galaxies has been almost high-jacked by the gamers themselves, Billy Mitchell in particular. Most of the other people who make up TG also seem to have high scores and there are times when it seems as though they are doing everything they can to stop Steve Wiebe from removing their king from his throne. Of course it could just be that the only people qualified to check if people are cheating or not or if a score is valid are the people who have truly mastered those games. It’s the nature of the beast.

It’s these other people who surround the situation that add yet another layer to this film and it’s interesting to see the juxtaposition between the two worlds, the very ordinary world of Steve and his family and the very odd and sheltered world of Twin Galaxies and the people it’s made up of. Some of these people, such as Robert Mruczek who watches every taped high score attempt that comes in, have given their lives over to the past time. It’s really quite sad to see though I suppose they can be admired for their passion. Maybe.

So what’s left to say about the film without giving too much of the story away? Well, it has an awesome soundtrack. In particular their use of the ‘You’re The Best’ from the Karate Kid, ‘Eye of the Tiger’, ‘In The Hall Of The Mountain King’, Leonard Cohen’s ‘Everybody Knows’ and one particular track that Steve Wiebe composed himself are all brilliant and just add to the feeling that this is just like watching a film about boxers, karate masters or any other physical contest between two men… I dunno, wrestling or something. It has the feel of a true sports underdog story.

So to wrap up, I love this film and I haven‘t really covered too much of the plot because I don‘t want to spoil it for anyone. I honestly think that it might be perfect and I can’t see anyone not enjoying it. Go and buy it right now and by several more copies for your friends and loved ones for Christmas. It’s only £3.98 at amazon.co.uk and $15.99 at amazon.com. You can afford that! Actually, Americans might wanna buy it from amazon.co.uk… It’s probably cheaper even with the postage and packaging. And don’t just download it. You need the DVD and the two brilliant commentaries that come included on it, especially the one with Chris Carle and John M. Gibson. It’s hilarious. Seriously, buy this film. You won’t regret it. Even if you don’t like video games, you’ll enjoy this film. I showed it to my mum and before she said “What? A movie about Donkey Kong? That sounds stupid! You’re stupid! I wish I’d never given birth to you!” Ok, she didn’t exactly say that but she thought it sounded stupid but afterwards she loved it. And so will you. That’s a promise. Look, here’s the link:

King Of Kong DVD

No more arguing, go buy it. I give this film five pints out of five. Laterz. Buy it.



Last Year In Film: Milk by Jamie

As a straight, white male I don’t think I can claim that I have ever been oppressed. In fact in the entire history of my people you might have to go all the way back to the Roman invasion of Britain to even attempt to make a claim of oppression and a fairly flimsy claim it would be too. What hardships our people faced when the Romans brought us roads, sanitation and mosaics. To be fair though, they did call us wild savages and laughed when we painted our faces blue. That had to sting. Bastards.

So it’s with some trepidation that I come to Milk, the story of 70s gay rights activist and politician. It’s the same problem with films about black civil rights. I can empathise with the people in these films, be disgusted by the actions of the oppressors and I certainly believe that every one is entitled to the same rights as everyone else, regardless of race or sexual orientation but as a member of the group who’s never really had to deal with fighting for our rights, I find it kind of hard to relate to these films sometimes. Not the fault of the films of course, just a circumstance of birth.

With Milk it was even more challenging because, in general, the history of the gay civil rights movement isn’t as extensively covered as that of the black civil rights movement. I could probably name you quite an extensive list of films covering that topic but for films about the gay fight for equality, I could name two and they are both about the same person, this film and the documentary that preceded it, The Times of Harvey Milk, and I’ve only seen one of them.

Anyway, on with the film. It opens with archive footage showing the police raiding several gay bars during the 50s and 60s before going onto the story of Harvey Milk, a gay man living in New York during the early 70s on the day before his 40th birthday. A chance encounter with Scott (James Franco), a younger gay man, leads them both to move to San Francisco for a change of scene. It’s here that Harvey first develops an interest in politics and a hope for the improvement of the lives of gay people in America.

After several unsuccessful attempts to be elected to the position of city supervisor for his district, Harvey finally achieves his goal and becomes the first openly gay man elected to public office. It’s at this point that he meets Dan White (Josh Brolin) a man who he seems to get on fairly well with at first and the men come to an agreement to back each other during votes, in particular White asks Milk to support him on preventing a mental health institute from being built in his district. Harvey changes his mind after finding out more details about the proposition and White becomes determined to oppose him at every turn, leading to his own political downfall. Meanwhile Harvey goes on to greater and greater things, successfully leading the opposition to Prop 6 which would have banned gay people and those who support them from becoming teachers which further deepens Dan White’s feelings of failure. I won’t spoil the ending but if you know the true story at all, and chances are you probably do, then you know what’s coming anyway.

So what is there to say about this film? Well, the performances for one were all brilliant. From Sean Penn to Josh Brolin (who I think I’ve liked in everything I’ve seen him in since The Goonies) to every supporting character. Each actor brings something great to their role, no matter how small it is. The big question is, of course, should Sean Penn have won the Oscar for best actor? Well, I’m still not to sure about that. I’m kinda torn between him and Frank Langella as Nixon at the minute. Penn definitely deserved to be recognised for his portrayal of Harvey Milk but there’s just something that Langella brings to the former President that I feel would have been equally justified had he won the award.

Perhaps the most important thing about the film is the impact it had on me. Well, it certainly made me appreciate the struggle of the American gay community during those tumultuous times and provided me with enough history to help me understand just why the world is the way it is today and the part Harvey Milk played in that. And the ending is incredibly touching, particularly when mixed in with the archive footage. Which brings me to another good point. Throughout the film the action is interspersed with archive footage from the time and it’s far, far less jarring than the faux documentary interviews in Frost/Nixon. That being said I still think Frost/Nixon just beats Milk by a tiny margin as a slightly more enjoyable film. All in all, I certainly recommend Milk and I’ll give it four pints out of five.



Last Year In Film: The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button. by Jamie

Today sees the beginning of a new recurring segment on Cinepub, Last Year In Film. The concept is fairly simple, watching and reviewing all the Oscar and Razzie nominated films of 2008. And I do mean all of them. It’s going to be a massive undertaking and I hope that I can manage to pull it off before the end of the year. With that in mind let’s begin with the backwards-aging, Gumpesque saga known as The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button.

Directed by David Fincher and starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, Benjamin Button tells the strange tell of the titular character who is born with what appear to be the signs of old age. His father, horrified by the baby’s appearance and the fact that it caused him to lose his wife during childbirth, abandons the baby on the steps of a New Orleans old folks home.

It soon becomes clear that Benjamin isn’t just one of those children with that extreme aging illness. Rather it seems as though he is actually aging backwards. Throughout his backwards life he has encounters with many interesting character’s and experiences the odd important historical event. He also experiences loss from a slightly different perspective and seems to gain a unique outlook on death, told as he was how he would die when he was a very young child.

The first thing you notice about this film is just how much it’s like Forrest Gump because that’s pretty much what it is but instead of being a little slow, the protagonist ages backwards. The similarities are striking. There’s a love interest who’s a free spirit who just wants to enjoy youth and not be tied down by their stodgier male counterpart until the good times have to come to an end (In Jenny’s case a son and terminal illness, in Daisy’s a severe leg breakage that ends her dancing career.), There’s the kindly mother figure who will try and do anything for their son and there’s the gruff alcoholic who he goes to war with whilst also being a boat captain and who seems to truly treasure his friendship. Fuck, there’s even a scene where Benjamin declares how he managed to get paid doing something he’d gladly do for free.

Despite all that, however, I really, really enjoyed this film and I think most of it is down to Brad Pitt and the character of Benjamin himself. In Forrest Gump, the character seems to stay exactly the same, almost oblivious to the changing world around him. Benjamin, on the other hand, seems to change quite a bit over the course of the film and, probably due to his odd condition, seems to adapt better to the changing world around him than anyone else. As Benjamin gets younger, he retains the knowledge that he has accumulated over the years and so, when he finally ends up looking like he’s in his twenties, there’s a wisdom in him that his appearance belies. Just like Benjamin himself says when he replies to Daisy’s comment about how young he is: “Only on the outside,”

There is, however, one major problem with this film that I cannot let go of. If you knew a dude who aged backwards is that the kind of thing you’d keep to yourself until you were on your deathbed? Hell no! You’d tell everyone you goddamn knew or at least I would. It’s like surviving the Titanic and never telling anyone about it until some treasure hunters decided to look for some precious stone that nobody knew you owned. Seriously.

Anyway, the special effects are great, the story’s pretty good if somewhat recycled and the acting is pretty much awesome all round and you’ve always gotta love a film that lets you hear the Louisiana accent for prolonged periods of time. I had a little trouble following it at first, unaccustomed as my ears are to it and the fact that my laptop speakers are shit, over the course of the film I got to grips with it. So there you have it. I’m sure some people will find the film a bit slow, maybe even tedious but it kept me pretty much hooked all the way through and the ending where Benjamin is finally going through childhood is truly, truly bittersweet. I’ll give it four pints out of five.

Laterz.




%d bloggers like this: