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The King of Kong (2007)
As with many films of this nature, the winner of the competition takes a backseat...
This movie will surprise anyone *expecting* a film about socially-starved geeks toiling over something no one else cares about. While some are found, the film ends up being-- as one other commenter pointed out-- much more Shakespearean than that. I could care less about the video game world but for the 80 minutes I watched/watch this film, I care quite a bit about the people in this movie.
First off, I do not feel this film vilifies Billy Mitchell, holder of the Donkey Kong high score record for over 20 years. Instead, it brilliantly depicts he and record-chaser Steve Wiebe as two men each battling insecurity. As the film starts, Mitchell is completely in control of his insecurity (his then-well-hidden fear that his last record will fall) while Wiebe is completely flummoxed by his (despite being so well-accomplished, he was never "the best" at anything).
As the film plays out, Mitchell's insecurity gradually increases as he sees that Wiebe is a genuine threat. Meanwhile, Wiebe starts meek (he has to be talked into pursuing the issue by friends and Mitchell's enemies). But the more Wiebe pursues it, the more he begins to see himself for the true competitor he is. I won't spoil the film in terms of who gets the record but the big story is: Wiebe gains more piece of mind from showing up for live competition than he does from having his record in a book.
I also recommend watching for more subtle moments that might elude the casual viewer. These moments reveal how even if/as/when Mitchell holds the record, he loses small amounts of respect from his allies, who comprise the inner circle of the gaming world. Even as they pledge their allegiance to him, there are little quotes and gestures of admiration to Steve that demonstrate their recognition that their friend is becoming more cowardly. One of my fave moments is a quick and subtle moment when Mitchell leaves Wiebe sitting playing games and Mitchell's (seemingly) trophy wife glances at Steve for an ever-so-brief second. It seems that even she realizes that it is Steve and not her husband that is proving himself the competitor regardless of who holds the record.
The film does contain those other gestures that make the audience want to root for Steve (his rapport with his family and friends, his 'aw shucks' demeanour and what position is more honourable than that of a teacher?). However, Billy is shown to have positive traits as well-- he is a top notch businessman and motivator. His words of encouragement to an 80+ year old woman pursuing the Q-Bert record show his more positive energy. It's just his misfortune that this film mostly captures an emotionally fragile state in his life. The film (and this is a credit to director Seth Gordon) actually plays with you in this way: while part of you wants Steve to break the record to shut Billy up, another part of you wants Billy to show up for the mano-a-mano so that he can overcome his own insecurity and just have a good honest competition.
The most entertaining competitions, whether it be the Olympics, football, chess, etc. usually tell human stories to make them transcend their otherwise meaningless or unimportant qualities. For 80 minutes, Seth Gordon helps the video game world do just that.
A *real* feel-good movie
As a standard start-to-finish comedy, UHF may disappoint and/or be overtly cheesy for some. This is probably why all of the critics went out of their way to pan it. Their loss.
This film is a hilarious pastiche of zany sketches and humour. It's not one of those "watch it start-to-finish" films but it's a must purchase for the best scenes (the TV show parodies in particular) and the director's commentary (Weird Al is both hilarious and insightful in this role).
What's more, UHF is a comedy that is rare in today's time: it knows it's a comedy and doesn't take itself seriously or try to appear hip. It's unapologetically goofy and that's why it never ceases to make me smile when I watch it. It doesn't matter how cynical I get towards life or TV/movies in general, I watch UHF and laugh & smile. So the critics can go on frowning at this all they like but I'll keep laughing and waiting for something on television to match the hilarity of Uncle Nutzy's Clubhouse.
Time to take a trip to Spatula City...
The Monday Night Wars video is not by any means bad or unentertaining but it could have been so much more. The actual "feature" is about 90 minutes but it could have (and should have) actually been twice that long. They also put too much focus on excerpts from the programs that can be found on other DVDs and videos instead of on the interviews which carry the story.
I also felt the producers went way too easy on BOTH WCW and WWF in terms of the lowball tactics the companies would pull (where was the fake Diesel/Ramon? The Million Dollar contest? Rena Mero's appearance on Nitro strictly as an "audience member"? The Pillman/Austin gun angle?).
The DVD is also a complete letdown as the extras are thoroughly disappointing, the "highlight" being the axing of the entrances from the Hogan-Goldberg match and dubbing in Goldberg's inferior WWE music at the end of the match. Some of the choices for extras are completely baffling as they choose matches that little impact on the "war." Why not show the Rock-Foley match in full? Show more of the nWo angle (instead of the lame "invading the production room" clip they chose)? And hey, how come this feature acts like Sting didn't exist?
And of course, the most annoying feature of the presentation is the WWE's continued insistence on referring to WCW as "Ted"-- as in Ted Turner, the corporate giant whose role in running Time Warner was DRASTICALLY reduced by the time WCW went under. The WWE did beat Turner the entity but Ted Turner the person barely figures into it post-1997. Ted barely mattered in the AOL-Time Warner picture by the time WCW finally capitulated. If anything, if Ted still had serious hand in AOL-TW affairs, WCW still would have been propped up for the sake of cable ratings. It's seriously time for Vince to forget about his long-gotten-old vendetta against Ted. It certainly tarnishes the perspective of this "documentary."
The real highlight of the presentation is the perceptive commentary of Jim Cornette and Mick Foley. Bischoff and McMahon's takes on the situation are also interesting but not because they perceptive. Contrarily, they are often downright laughable (Vince calling down WCW for predatory tactics while completely ignoring that that's how he put Jim Crockett out of business in the late 80s. Eric acting like he was still "making money" when he was fired ignoring that he was foolishly spending money on Master P and The Demon).
In all, the Monday Night Wars is an interesting tale of two companies in conflict but it doesn't capture the full spirit of the ratings war. I only wish that the WWE-owned footage could be used as public domain for an impartial and competent documentary filmmaker. It's a fascinating story that deserves justice.
Friday the 13th (1980)
The Friday the 13th film and series will always remain a sad shadow to its inspiration (Halloween). The first one is certainly not without its merits: in particular, a very creepy and interesting intro (even if the music is a blatant Psycho ripoff), an incredibly psychotic villain, and a very good ending. Alas, the film plods along rather plotlessly and the characters/situations are mindnumbingly dull. Worst of all, the decision to make Adrienne King carry the lead female heroine role was a HORRIBLE one to say the least as she carries absolutely no believability or dramatism whatsoever.
See Part 2 for the only film in the series that you could make an argument for as a horror classic (although that too would probably be stretching it given that it takes forever for THAT film to progress to original footage). It has more jumpy moments and a truly great Friday heroine (portrayed by Amy Steel).
High Fidelity (2000)
A movie that is definitely tailored for a specific audience
High Fidelity entertained me like no movie I have seen in a LONG time but a lot of that has to do with two things:
1) I'm male and while I certainly think that females can enjoy this film, I think it is directed in a large, large degree towards guys so that they can see themselves in certain experiences or relate to the lost loves, etc.
2) I'm interested in music beyond commercial radio, and in discussions about music. That's not meant to be an elitist statement like "I know of Belle and Sebastian and therefore I'm better than you" more so than it is "I have many friends that have these type of conversations about music so this movie is closer to my heart than hearing characters converse about Britney Spears."
The film also does a hilarious job at reassuring "musical elitists" or indy-saavy music fans but not without reminding them of how much they can ruin the day (and I'm as guilty as anyone for having those spells). The scene in which Barry wants to play 80s pop like "Walking on Sunshine" whereas Dick wants to listen to the melancholy of Belle and Sebastian is hilarious. I also especially related to Rob's tendency to rank things a la musical top fives.
It also features Cusack excelling in his speciality of the melancholy lover who floats between periods of terrible self-pity and terrible self-loathing. The classic replication of the guy that is always bitter when he doesn't have the girl yet incredibly befuddled and suspicious when he does. But the character does work through this to discover some meaning in what relationships provide beyond sex and feeling attractive so I think he emerges as a much more likable person as the film plays out.
Overall, I think "High Fidelity" is very funny especially for younger audiences but in order to consider it a classic (as I probably will for my lifetime), it helps to be male and a non-commercial rock music follower as that is obviously what the target audience seems to be.
Forget who's right or wrong, that's not the point
As a long time wrestling fan, I must confess that Wrestling with Shadows is one of the most powerful documentaries that I've ever seen. But it really has nothing to do with being a pro wrestling fan or even with whether or not you choose to sympathize with Bret or chide him as a whiner. What makes this film work is the fact that it is truly a character study.
Over the course of a year, Bret expounds on his feelings on his father and McMahon and how he feels they may be similar. He also talks about the wrestling business and how he got lured into it despite the fact that it wasn't his "dream." As time goes on, he finds his trust in McMahon and the business waning, yet he refuses to let go of that trust perhaps because it is all he knows. The film ends with a confused man who feels betrayed by a father figure and still left un-understanding of a business that he's been in for a long time but at the same perhaps understanding more than any of us ever will.
I should point out there are some continuity errors in the film. Especially when the director tells us that the Canadian Stampede PPV predates the "Montreal screwjob" by a year...in fact, it is only a few months before hand.
But disregard that and forget about viewing this as a "wrestling documentary" (see "Beyond the Mat" for a better example of that), and forget about taking sides on the Montreal issue and enjoy an in-depth study of the man that is Bret Hart.
Way to completely ignore Denny Laine!
I would have enjoyed Wingspan a lot more had I not been misled on the premise. The idea, to me, was to talk about Wings from beginning to end. Instead, it is an interview with Paul about he and Linda over the period of time that Wings existed. Perfectly fine for what it was but totally skewed from the supposed idea (not that I was surprised however). Much like the accompanying CD is misleading: 1/3 of which features songs that are either immediately before or shortly after, but not during, his time in Wings.
Had it been presented the way I would have liked it to be, you would have heard about (and from) the rest of the band more, specifically Denny Laine. He was in the band from beginning to end (and complemented McCartney brilliantly, I might add) and he's just a blip on the radar screen in this supposed documentary. We don't hear enough about the erraticism of Jimmy McCullough that caused him to get sacked as guitarist (McCartney offers a brief anecdote about how he didn't want to play the encore in Seattle).
Wingspan is fun to watch as a McCartney fan (which I am) but you do have to remember that it is PAUL MCCARTNEY'S Wingspan through and through. It is told entirely through his eyes and viewpoint. If you're willing to accept that, than it is a fun trip back in time.
Another Bergman classic
Bergman's greatest triumph? I can't really say much beyond previous posters, but the interplay between nurse and actress studying nurse is a brilliant concept and the concept of merging the facial images gets the viewer thinking. Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann are fantastic in their roles and there is also an underlying eroticism that adds to the tension of the dialog.
Fanny och Alexander (1982)
Bergman is one of the few that could summarize his own career so well
It's been said that this film was meant by Bergman to be the final representation of himself as a director and as an artist. After watching this film, I believe it. It possesses the same strife and internal confusion about spirituality that films such as Shame and the Seventh Seal possess, yet at the same time- it wraps itself with the warmth of Wild Strawberries or Smiles of a Summer Night. The ultimate signification of how good this film is is the fact that these children are not just token "kids" to fulfill the plot- they're warm and wonderful characters. Despite some of its serious content, I found it impossible not to have a warm smile on my face after watching. This is the film that demonstrates that Bergman can in fact work within his own gloomy pathos and create something genuinely heartwarming.
Halloween 5 (1989)
Don't Believe the Hype...
As a fan of the series, I get ticked off when people insinuate that every film in series between Part Two and H20 stinks. They couldn't be more wrong. For one, Part III doesn't count, it wasn't part of the SERIES, it just had the Halloween name. Number two, Part 4 was a very good film with an especially great ending that could have set up YEARS of very good sequels. Watching it the first time, I enjoyed Halloween 5, but I can't deny that it also screwed the series up big time.
*SPOILERS OF PREVIOUS FILMS AHEAD*
The good parts of the film: Michael is a selfish, cold entity yet there are human elements surrounding him. It creates an intrigue that other slasher series lack *cough* Friday *cough*. The fact that Michael's CHARACTER is constantly being explored is interesting. He is pure evil, yet people keep trying to reach him; why? This is the hook.
The Man in Black character adds to that intrigue; it's a blatant sequel setup but hey- it worked on me! The question in the viewer's mind becomes "Who'd want to rescue Michael and why?" when it seems like it's Michael against the world.
The bad: The new characters in this film are so hollow, you don't care when they get killed. In fact, you sometimes ROOT for them to get killed. One of the characters worth caring for, Rachel, disappears quickly. This axes a lot of dramatic tension. Worse still, the Myers house looks NOTHING like the original.
But the most important point: By ignoring the possibility of making Jamie the new "Shape", the producers copped out of a great storyline possibility. The telepathic connection is actually not a TERRIBLE storyline, and it too has potential, but why did the producers have to make it so complicated when the brilliant option of a new, evil shape was right there in front of them? My guess is that they didn't have the fortitude to make a young girl a Hollywood villain. For shame.
So all in all, as a fan of the series, I find it hard to out-and-out knock any of the films in it. I did enjoy H5 but it's still the only film of 1-6 that I haven't seen twice. If you want to identify the film that prevented a great series from being TRULY great, don't look at part 4, look at this film which turned down part 4's possibilities.