This little review appeared in different form, elsewhere on the internet, quite a while back.
I saw The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters when it was doing a one-week run at the Nuart, and I laughed my ass off.
I mean, there was only a little bit of ass left back there. It’s since grown back (with a vengeance), but the fact remains that this is a very, very funny movie.
Long story short: Just as historic underdogs like Rocky Balboa and Daniel LaRusso had done before him, suburban schoolteacher Steve Wiebe takes on the world when he goes after the recognized champion. But instead of boxing or karate, Steve’s chosen sport is… competitive Donkey Kong. Apparently, the world of competitive classic arcade video gaming is very real, and very much still an ongoing realm of controversy, aggression, and spite. Sure, Steve is a little bit nutty, but by the standards of humanity introduced by this movie, he’s shockingly normal, the kind of generous and likeable all-American everyman you probably know and root for in your own life.
Meanwhile, the Donkey Kong world champion is a guy named Billy Mitchell, and he is an absolute douchebag. I could sit here (on my drastically-reduced-and-since-regrown ass) and at length explain why, but instead I will show you Billy’s picture, which is what you would find in a dictionary if you looked up the word “douchebag.”
Billy seems like the kind of guy who pays for weekend seminars with Frank T.J. Mackey.
I feel like Kevin Bacon would play him in the live-action remake.
But anyway, back to Billy.
Note the too-tight black jeans, the maroon blouse, the garish tie, the feathered mullet, and the judgemental “you’re an asshole” expression he constantly wears.
See, Gloria knows what I’m talking about.
Life isn’t as simple as movies, and it’s probably true that Billy Mitchell is nowhere near as nastily geeky as he comes off in this movie. It’s true that even a documentary filmmaker can have a heavy bias, and by the very nature of introducing a camera to reality you are never entirely capturing reality anymore.
But the fact remains that Billy Mitchell couldn’t come off much worse in The King Of Kong, and pitting him against the underdog Steve Wiebe is very much the archetypal high school movie come to life: popular kid versus new guy in town, although ironically Steve is the jock and Billy is the nerd. But Billy is also relatively wealthy, with his own hot sauce business, an obedient wife with comically huge breast implants, and the devotion of a small army of King Kong acolytes who hang on Billy’s every sneer. It is so amazing to watch Billy be such an unrepentant dick, and to watch how all the beta-nerds flock around this mulleted alpha-nerd. Do these guys have mirrors?
I am forever fascinated by people who have absolutely no self-awareness or self-doubt. There’s a certain purity to people who have no idea how ridiculous they look or sound, and it’d even be a respectable quality if this kind of insistence on self above all else doesn’t so often lead to wrongness. You have to be able to laugh at yourselves, folks. No one is right all the time; not even your humble narrator. Well, I swing a more righteous bat than most, but I’ll still cop to being wrong several times a day. You have to. Or you don’t, but then you run the risk of being a guy like Billy Mitchell, which means that someone might someday make an unflattering documentary about you.
Also, Billy Mitchell talks about himself in the third person, which is very amazing.
Since The King Of Kong first came out, it has justly grown in reknown as one of the more entertaining documentaries of recent years. It’s led to a lucrative TV and feature directing career for its director, Seth Gordon, who still periodically suggests that a Hollywood remake is forthcoming. I think the documentary is great enough on its own, but if they make it, I recommend Kevin Bacon as Billy Mitchell, Jimmy Fallon as Steve Wiebe, and Robert Duvall as Walter Day.
This movie is worth searching out. Trust me. By the time those credits roll, it’s as satisfying a movie experience as you could hope to see. I feel like standing up and cheering every time I watch this thing, and I don’t even give a shit about video games. The best part about it, if the story captures your interest, is knowing that the debate over Donkey Kong world champion still rages on to this day. Steve and Billy and tons of nerds like them all over the world continue to fight for the all-time high score on Donkey Kong, and every once in a while you will hear brief news stories about who has overtaken who. Isn’t that somehow reassuring? The story never entirely ends, and there are still battles to be fought and won. And so it goes, good versus evil, on and on as we march towards Valhalla.
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