September 14, 2007, - 1:06 pm
By Debbie Schlussel
This weekend features a couple of good picks, among them an unlikely Donkey Kong documentary, and a few stinkers:
* “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters“: This is my favorite movie among this weeks movie releases. A hilarious, clever, entertaining, light, and enjoyable flick, it’s about the quest to be the world record holder in the classic video game, “Donkey Kong.” Unlike most movies, I had fun watching this one. And after “In the Shadow of the Moon,” it’s the second best documentary of the year and in my top ten movies of the year.
If you grew up in the ’70s or ’80s, you’ll especially like this film. But even if you did not, you’ll like it anyway. It’s not so much about video game competitors, as it is about good guys finishing on top and the battle of wills in competition where the odds are sometimes unfairly stacked.
Steve Wiebe is a laid-off sensitive guy and former baseball sensation. But he’s discovered a new talent. He’s great at Donkey Kong and set the world record, via videotape, from the Donkey Kong machine in his basement. Or did he? Billy Mitchell, the movie’s bete noir–the reigning Kong record-holder–is not about to allow his record to be conquered.
Mitchell, who resembles a young Chuck Norris, looks like he just walked out of the ’70s, with his long mane of feathered black hair, tight black jeans and cowboy boots and leather jacket. The only thing missing is the comb in his back pocket. This restaurant owner and hot sauce salesman set the unbeaten world record as a teen in decades past. And he has his minions of fellow Donkey Kong nerds travelling the country to protect his record. He’s not only the reigning King of Kong, he’s the Pacman champ, too. And he’s the antagonist in this movie, which blatantly takes Wiebe’s side.
The movie shows us the contest between the sensitive, nice guy Steve (now a science teacher) and the villainous Billy in the battle to keep the Donkey King crown. This is not rocket science. It’s far more important to the men of “King of Kong.” They’re also fighting for Guinness Book of World Records accolades. And we watch how Wiebe’s supportive wife and family try to help him reach his Donkey Kong dreams.
The characters we meet are entertaining and multi-dimensional. There is Walter Day, the aging hippie and Charles Manson look-alike, who runs Twin Galaxies, the website that keeps score of world records in all of the ’80s Video Games (now called “classic video games”). He maintains order and rules in video gaming competition. It’s serious business.
There are referees who watch video of people playing the video games and setting records. Gamers and referees come out to people’s homes to take apart and inspect the games on which the high scores were achieved. If you thought examining chads on ballots in the 2000 Presidential election was rough, you ain’t seen nothing when it comes to verifying classic video games scores.
We meet the Donkey Kong champs of the ’80s and see what they are up to now, which is protecting the old Donkey Kong King from his new rival. We meet Donkey Kong geeks and stooges like Brian Kuh, who retired at 30 (unfortunately, the movie didn’t say from what; would love to know–Google? AOL?) and is a stooge of Kong King Billy Mitchell. And we see Donkey Kong gadflies who want to help newcomer Wiebe break the record, including one who talks about chumps who “chumpetize” themselves. It’s such a serious business there are restraining order involved.
And sometimes there are outsiders who bring them back to reality. Wiebe’s perspicacious young daughter tells him:
The Guinness Book. Some people sort of ruin their lives to be in there.
Aside from the entirely entertaining aspect of this movie, I learned needless but interesting trivia about Donkey Kong. There’s a kill screen in every classic video game, beyond which you can’t go. In Donkey Kong, it’s the 22nd screen. Even though you are winning, Mario just suddenly dies.
I cannot say enough about this entertaining, witty, and fun movie. You can take your whole family to this pure, likable film. It’s what the movie experience is about–escapist and light. A plus: The movie is under 1.5 hours. On the silver screen, shorter is almost always better.
* “The Brave One“: This latest remake of “Death Wish” is far superior to the recent “Death Sentence.” While “Death Wish” still reigns supreme, this one is good enough–actually, pretty good–for 2007, though I could have done without the overwrought angst and Lifestyle Network-esque emotional drama and upheaval we see in “The Brave One.”
Jodie Foster plays a left-wing national public radio hostess in New York City (a case of art imitates life for far-left Foster, whose next movie glorifies Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl). Then, one evening, she and her fiancee are brutally attacked by thugs in Central Park. She survives. He does not. And what once was a liberal talk show hostess spouting meaningless verbiage about trees and leaves and other sounds of the city is now a vigilante with an illegal gun.
Fed up with a broken “justice” system and police who are overwhelmed with cases, she tries to buy a gun the legal way. But who wants to wait 30 days for a permit when your fiancee’s just been murdered and you’ve been in a coma for three weeks?
And Foster’s character, Erica Bain, doesn’t choose to kill criminals. They choose to attack her . . . at least at first. That’s the part that strains credulity. What are the odds of three violent attacks on you in a month? Is New York really still that bad?
Still, it’s a great movie. You cheer when Foster shoots the thuggish criminals that dominate the city scene, just as you cheered when liberal-turned-vigilante Paul Kersey did the same in Charles Bronson’s “Death Wish.” They deserve the crude but swift justice they get.
The real star of the movie, though, is not Foster. It’s Terence Howard, who has really developed as a great actor now that he’s left pimp and race-baiting films for more mainstream releases. He sparkles as the police detective who is charged with finding the vigilante killer and unwittingly (at first) befriends Foster’s vigilante character in the process.
As I said, this one’s not nearly as good as “Death Wish” and doesn’t even come close, but it’s good enough to be okay.
* “Mr. Woodcock“: When a movie promoters give out promotional favors consisting of a ruler measuring the second syllable in the title and car deoderizers depicting and smelling like used jock straps, you know the movie’s a stinker. Clearly, Susan Sarandon needed the paycheck and Billy Bob Thornton sold out, too, in doing this tasteless, stupid movie I thought would never end. His talent is squandered immensely here.
“Woodcock” starts out with an intriguing premise: A successful self-help guru/author (Seann William Scott, “Stifler” of “American Pie” fame) returns to his hometown in Nebraska to accept an award. He soon discovers that his most hated, eternal nemesis–his cruel gym teacher (Thornton)–is seriously dating his mother (Sarandon).
But the movie spirals downward from there. We watch as the author ruins his career and embarrasses himself throughout town in trying to expose the gym teacher and break them up. Yes, there are some funny lines and scenes. I did laugh several times. But most of the jokes are just groanworthy and juvenile. And what began as a great premise degrades into a non-stop Saturday Night Live skit that went on too long.
That said, there is one funny character who is underused–a hilariously aggressive book agent, played by Amy Poehler. She garnered most of the deserved laughs.
The only good thing here is that the movies is under 1.5 hours. Still, it’s a waste of that much of your life you’ll never get back. Skipworthy.
* “In the Valley of Elah“: This one is out in some parts of the country today, the rest of the country in the next two weeks. It’s sad that such an interesting murder mystery relies so heavily on defaming our troops. But, unfortunately, that’s the tone of “Elah”. With a cast consisting of uber-lefties Tommy Lee Jones, Susan Sarandon, and Charlize Theron, that shouldn’t be a surprise. But I was hoping for better.
Jones plays a retired career Army military police officer whose son is AWOL after returning from a tour of duty in Iraq. His son’s body is soon discovered dismembered and burned beyond recognition, with no sign of what happened to him. Despite evasive military police who are uninterested in his son’s fate and a local police detective (Theron), who derisively dismisses Jones’ theories, we learn what actually happened, intermixed with video repeatedly defaming our troops in Iraq.
We’re treated to phony video of American soldiers repeatedly “playing doctor” with wounded Iraqi civilians–asking them where it hurts, then sticking their fingers inside the injuries to torture them for sport. We see Iraqis writhing and screaming in agony. That’s only bested by video of American soldiers who put funny stickers on the burned, mangled faces of dead Iraqi civilians. Oh, and we’re also told that the soldiers also buy and use illegal drugs and pay prostitutes to perform oral sex on all of them as their “night out on the town.”
Yes, this is based on a true story of an American soldier who was murdered by his fellow homicidal/suicidal soldier after returning from Iraq. But is serving in Iraq what made a mentally ill soldier murder a fellow troop? There’s no evidence of that. And if true, we’d have a lot of homicides on our hands at the hands of returning troops. And the stickers on dead Iraqis and the deliberate torture of wounded ones has no basis in fact. Sorry, but this isn’t Lynndie England stuff. It’s far worse and never happened.
It’s sad, too, because the Jones character in the movie is sympathetic and good. He’s a sympathetic, working-class man who loves his country. He served and lost two sons serving in Iraq. He loves his family, and wants to get to the bottom of the mystery.
If only that weren’t used as the basis to falsely defame those who actually serve as I wrote this and who are risking life and limb so Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, Susan Sarandon, and writer/director Paul Haggis can continue to make tripe like this.
* “Across the Universe“: This one is also out in some parts of the country today, rest of the country by the end of the month. Been there, seen this. It’s called “Hair.”
As if we need yet another anti-war movie, like “Hair” this is a musical using Beatles songs. It takes place during the Vietnam war, and the message is that America’s wars are bad, America sends its boys to die and get maimed, and we need spoiled, rich left-wing activists to show us the way. Hmmm . . . sound familiar. It’s called Hollywood.
Marilyn Manson’s girlfriend, Evan Rachel Wood plays Lucy, a young girl from a rich family who loses her boyfriend, killed serving in Vietnam. She drops out of school, moves to New York, and becomes an anti-war activist. She also falls for an illegal alien from Britain, Jude. He’s the illegitimate son of an American World War II vet who is now a janitor at Princeton. We follow Jude, Lucy (surprise!–the convenient namesakes of Beatles songs), and her brother, who drops out of Princeton and tries to dodge the Vietnam draft–all through a musical journey, which celebrates the ’60s counterculture. Because we all know the ’60s brought us such great stuff like AIDS, rampant polygamous relationships, drugs, and failed everything. Also features two characters apparently modeled on Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, and equally as brain-addled.
Aside from the plot, equally annoying is the cameo by Bono, who really belonged in that decade and out of ours.
Although the singing and sets in this movie are well done (and I’m no musical devotee), the anti-war message grows tinny and tired. What was a 2.25-hour movie seemed like more than four hours.
* “The Hunting Party“: Yet another limited release this weekend, this one will be rolled out to the rest of the country next week and beyond. Starring Richard Gere and Terence Howard, this film is a dark comedy from the maker of “The Matador“. It’s about how a washed up former network TV reporter (Gere) and his high-flying former network cameraman (Howard) go in search of the #1 Serbian Christian war criminal, risking their safety, having apparently already lost their sanity. They are on a quest to capture the man, when they are mistaken for CIA operatives and everything goes haywire. Are they risking their lives for the $5 million bounty, regained journalistic respect, or justice?
Although I found this movie to be well-acted, funny, and entertaining, I also found it to be heavy on anti-Christian Serb propaganda, while almost completely sympathizing with Muslims in Bosnia. There is much about Christian rape, torture, and murder of Muslims, but very little (almost nothing) about what was actually perpetrated by the other side–ie., where Muslims committed plenty of bloody atrocities against Christians.
Recently, I met with and interviewed Writer/Director Richard Shepard (“The Matador”) and he admitted that his movie was one-sided against Bosnian Serbs and in favor of the plight of Muslims in what has now become an Al-Qaeda breeding ground. But, he says, it was based on a true story, an article that appeared in a men’s magazine.
Still, he concedes that much of the movie is fictionalized and changed from the original. The Richard Gere character never had a Muslim, female love interest murdered in cold blood by Serbs. And other scenes are urban legend. And he admists that one of the journalists involved in the magazine article story is now married to a Muslim woman he met there. Yes, there is bias in the movie business, and sometimes, pillow talk is the most effective form of free speech.
Tags: Across the Universe, AIDS, al-Qaeda, America, American Pie, Amy Poehler, anti-war activist, AOL, author, baseball, Billy Bob Thornton, Billy Mitchell, Bosnia, Brian Kuh, Britain, cameraman, career Army military police officer, Central Intelligence Agency, Central Park, Charles Bronson's "Death, Charles Manson, Charlize Theron, Christian Serb, Chuck Norris, Coma, cruel gym teacher, Death Wish, Debbie Schlussel, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong King, Erica Bain, Evan Rachel Wood, Federal Reserve System, Google, great actor, gym teacher, Hair, I, In the Shadow of the Moon, In the Valley of Elah, Iraq, janitor, janitor at Princeton, Jimi Hendrix, Jodie Foster, King, liberal talk show hostess, local police detective, Marilyn Manson, Matador, Mr. Woodcock, national public radio hostess, Nebraska, New York, New York City, Paul Haggis, Paul Kersey, Police Detective, reporter, restaurant owner and hot sauce salesman, Richard Shepard, science teacher, Seann William Scott, self-help guru/author, Starring Richard Gere, Steve Wiebe, Susan Sarandon, Terence Howard, The Brave One, The King of Kong, The Matador, Tommy Lee Jones, USD, Valley of Elah, Vietnam, Walter Day, Woodcock, Writer /Director