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"The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters"

Directed by Seth Gordon.
Release Year:  2007
Review Date:  8/31/07


Two old-skool video game movies in the same year?  It must be luck; after watching the incredible "Chasing Ghosts" at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, I was all over the new film "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters" since it featured a different angle of the rivalry between former quarter-chomping experts that was worthy of a new documentary.

"The King of Kong" follows just three people, really.  First, there's Billy Mitchell, the internationally renowned "Video Gamer of the Century" for his work with Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, and Donkey Kong back in the early 80s.  Then, we get Steve Wiebe, Some Guy back in Redmond, Washington who--despite a lovely wife and two kids and work that loves him as much as he loves it--simply is a Man with No Luck.  Back in 2005, Steve randomly decides to buy a Donkey Kong machine to put in his garage, and while playing it obsessively, learns that Billy has the high score for the game and then begins his quest to take down the champ.  The third major player in the movie?  Walter Day, the Twin Galaxies genius who still, EVEN TO THIS DAY, runs the Twin Galaxies website to make sure that gamers have one source to determine who's the best in the ultra-competitive world of gaming.

This documentary is a mix between truly great comedy (Mitchell is quite the character, much as he was in "Chasing Ghosts") and a hint of drama as Steve attempts to claim the record.  It's also fantastic for anyone who has played older games and especially if you've played Donkey Kong, which for my money is still the single-hardest old-skool game ever made.  (You know how even the worst gamer can beat that first level of Pac-Man, or Robotron, or Defender?  Donkey Kong is so hard that many people lose their three "men" in under a minute.)  Watching Steve try to master the game, especially when you have played it yourself, really sits on you as you try to imagine the crazy number of hours that he neglected his family to try and get good at the game.

Director Seth Gordon is wise to mix things up during his short 80-minute film, since no one wants to just watch Steve play Donkey Kong for 80 minutes.  He pulls interviews with Steve's family & friends, other experts in the gaming community and from Twin Galaxies, and just gives the nerd in all of us plenty to soak up during the film.  The film drags badly for about 20 minutes during a sequence at Funspot (a famous arcade in New Hampshire) where Steve attempts to break the world record; otherwise, it clicks along at a great pace and was surprisingly entertaining for my roughly-fifty-person crowd last night.  Hopefully, this will whet your palette for "Chasing Ghosts", if they ever find a distributor.

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09