Author Archives: J Caleb Mozzocco

Film Review: The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

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When it comes to documentary filmmaking, there’s probably no better kind of “good” a filmmaker can strive to achieve than “unbelievably good.” Finding a story and characters so compelling and colorful that the audience may have a hard time believing it wasn’t cooked up by screenwriters is a documentary Holy Grail, a best-of-both worlds situation in which it all seems too good to be true, but is anyway.

Seth Gordon finds just such a story with The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, the story of the intense rivalry between the world’s two greatest classic Donkey Kong players and their battle to be the crowned the best in the world at their chosen field.

Gordon, like all documentarians, has the power to mold and shape the truth he shows, of course, and undoubtedly work went into sharpening the contrasts between his players to wring further drama from the event—but there’s only so much massaging that can be accomplished in the editing room. And his “villain” just keeps handing him material with which to fashion him a black hat.

That would be Billy Mitchell, a gawky nerd who mastered several arcade games and racked up a series of world records in the early ‘80s pinnacle of arcade culture. Decades later, his Donkey Kong high score of 874,300, several hundred thousand points above the next closest contender, is unchallenged, and, more so, thought to be unchalleng-able. In a pronouncement typical of him throughout the film, Mitchell compares himself to the Red Baron, who’s number of shoot-downs in World War I was so far above all other fighter pilots of the time, that his is the only name anyone even remembers.

A star in the Twin Galaxies organization, the axis around which competitive arcade gaming revolves, Mitchell has grown into a successful Florida restaurateur and his own line of hot sauce. Now a (relatively) handsome, self-assured man with a short black beard, a menacing mullet, and a predilection for neckties, he waxes philosophically about all the success he’s seen in life, and that if he’s doing this well, then perhaps to equal it out “there’s some poor bastard who’s getting the screws put to him.”

Enter Seattle-based unemployed father Steve Wiebe, a talented but terminally unlucky, extremely earnest Everyman who’s almost had great success in sports and music, but always comes up short.

Until he demolished Billy’s 20-year-old King Kong high score.

Or did he?
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Film Review: The Kingdom

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A message movie that sends decidedly mixed-signals, there are times when The Kingdom seems like it might actually be too high-minded, and could use a few more explosions to nudge it into the genre it leans so hard into. It’s a somewhat schizophrenic GWOTsploitation police procedural-cum-action flick that goes to great lengths to show (via montages and a jackhammeringly obvious coda) that for all our differences, Saudi Arabia and the United States are a lot alike.

The point is explicitly made several times, like when an American émigré points out that Saudis, like Americans, don’t do their own manual labor, but farm it out to immigrants, or when American FBI agent Jamie Foxx and local police chief Ashraf Barhom bond over their mutual love of law enforcement, their sons and ‘70s television like “The Green Beast” and, how you say…Steve Austin?

So similar but so different, what can possibly bring us together? How about car chases, machine gun battles and brutal, brutal knife fights? America—and Saudi Arabia—Fuck yeah!
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Rock star Gerard Way applies for the second most awesome job in the world

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Not content simply being a very successful rock star, My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way is now channeling some of his creative energy into an entirely new medium: Comics.

The first issue of Way’s first book, The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite, was released this past Wednesday.

And it’s good.

Really good.

Sure, some of that has to do with artist Gabriel Ba (De: Tales), and some of it has to do with the contribution of cover artist James Jean (Fables), but there’s no denying the fact that Way’s debut is an awfully accomplished one. Dude knows he’s way around a script already.

You can read previews of the series, about miracle babies who grow into child superheroes who grow into estranged adult superheroes, here and here.

You can read a review of it by the world’s most handsome comics critic here.

Film Review: In the Valley of Elah

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Paul Haggis isn’t exactly a subtle filmmaker.

As a screenwriter, his work tends not only toward the melodramatic, but also the manipulative and downright maudlin (Flags of Our Fathers, Million Dollar Baby and The Last Kiss are among the scripts he’s written).

As a director, he’s best known for Crash, which tackled the thorny issue of racism in modern America by focusing on an ensemble of racist characters, and then setting them up against one another in increasingly unlikely coincidences. The message? Racism is bad, and we really oughta cut that stuff out.

With In The Valley of Elah, Haggis tackles another thorny issue, this one just as explosive, but more specific to this time: The war in Iraq.

Oh boy.
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Film Review: Zoo

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In 2005, a man in Washington state died from internal bleeding due to injuries he sustained from having sex with a horse. You probably remember reading about it, as it’s the only news story you’ve encountered in the last few years in which a man was fucked to death by a horse.

Robinson Devor has made a documentary about the incident. Or, more accurately, he’s made a documentary about the deeper difficult, uncomfortable and, ultimately, important questions the incident inadvertently raised.

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Film Review: Shoot ‘Em Up

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Not since Snakes on a Plane has their been a movie title as literally descriptive as Shoot ‘Em Up, which is, in fact, a shoot ‘em up (Perhaps not coincidentally, the films share prodcuer Jeff Katz).

But it’s not just any shoot ‘em up; this flick takes movies about men with guns shooting other men with guns to the next level, if not the next level beyond that level. It’s a rare minute of this film that goes by in which five to ten people don’t get violently shot to death. If you took all of the gun battles from all of John Woo’s old Hong Kong work, an obvious inspiration (particularly Woo’s Hard Boiled), subtracted all of the slo-mo bird flights and replaced those with even more gun battles, then you’d be pretty close to the contents of Shoot ‘Em Up.

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Film Review: 3:10 To Yuma

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Named for a particular train its characters are trying to catch, 3:10 To Yuma is a much more interesting and exciting film than its title might suggest. That’s because of who it is that is going to be riding the train, and why.

We can blame Elmore Leonard, who wrote the short story that the film’s based on, for that title. The setting is the Old West, the train is headed for a federal prison, and its passenger doesn’t want to be on it, but is given little choice in the matter. Legendary outlaw, stagecoach robber and killer Ben Wade, leader of a small army of followers, got uncharacteristically sloppy, and was captured. In order to get him out of town before his gang find out what happened and raze the place to free him, the lawmen must get Wade to the train and quickly and quietly as possible.

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Film Review: No End In Sight

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There are two essential components to the creation of a great documentary—finding the perfect subject, and then successfully communicating the inherent drama of that perfect subject to viewers.

With No End In Sight, first-time director Charles Ferguson has an important subject, perhaps the single most important subject of them all at the moment—America’s war with and continuing quixotic occupation of Iraq. For all its importance though, it’s hardly a novel topic, or anything you haven’t (hopefully) heard a thousand times before: The United States completely fucked up in Iraq, and the long list of mistakes made created far more problems for the U.S. and the Iraqi people than they solved, and both nations will continue to pay for those mistakes for as long as anyone can see.

While many of the complaints will be familiar, gathering them all together like this has a transformative effect on them; no longer are they isolated, but seem to lead one to another like dominoes. In hindsight, you can watch the administration turning victory into defeat, wining Iraq and the goodwill of the people, only to destroy the country’s infrastructure, and creating out of thin air an insurgency that we must then spend the next four years fighting.

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Film Review: Ten Canoes

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An airborne camera tracks along a pristine river lined with verdant trees, while a narrator begins, “Once upon a time,” and then laughs at his private joke. This isn’t going to be one of those kinds of stories, he tells us.

By “those kind” I suppose he means Western fairy tales, and while the story he tells doesn’t have a prince or princess or wicked witch, and while it lacks the touch of the Brothers Grimm or the stink of Disney, it’s not far off from a fairy tale either.

It is, after all, a story handed down from generation to generation, it just comes from a very different story-telling tradition than those that begin with the words “Once upon a time” and end with “and they all lived happily ever after.”

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Wednesdays with Lech Majewski at the Wex

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The Wexner Center kicks off a three-film retrospective of Polish-born filmmaker Lech Majewski’s works today with his 2004 The Garden of Earthly Delights.

It’s a good place to start, given the way it makes vivid use of the highly hyphenated Majewski’s command of multiple media, and the way one can inform the other. Probably best known for his contributions to 1996’s Basquiat, which he wrote and co-produced, Majewski is himself a painter, a poet, a novelist and composer.

Adapted from his own novel, Majewski’s Garden of Earthly Delights follows Claudine Spiteri’s terminally ill art historian and her odd and highly accommodating boyfriend Chris Nightingale as they move from England to Venice and embark on a peculiar and highly personal quest. The pair are both intelligent, attractive and a little over-angsty doctorate students who have found each other at the turn of the millennium.

He’s devoting himself to ship-building, applying art theories like that of the golden ratio to hull design, while she’s made a life’s study of the titular Heironymous Bosch painting. When it becomes clear she doesn’t have long to live, she has Chris film her interpretations of the painting, complete with meticulously reenacted details from it, which the pair perform themselves. It turns out that Chris is uniquely, if improbably, suited to the task, as he films absolutely everything. Even when she tells him she’s dying and he strokes her face to comfort her, he keeps his other hand on his handheld camera, focused on her face.
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