taxi to the dark side of kong: a fistful of quarters

Somewhere in the world right now, there are prisoners being brutally tormented by U.S. forces without ever having stood trial. Somewhere else, there is a middle-aged man sitting at a vintage video game, trying feverishly, obsessively, to nudge that electronic score higher than it's ever been. And in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Nayana's head is about to explode as she tries to digest both these slices of America in one night.

So Wednesday night, Captain Crash and I attended an advance screening of the Oscar-nominated documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side. As is my preference, I knew almost nothing about the movie before we went to see it, only that it was a documentary about Afghanistan. Yeah. It was a documentary about an innocent taxi driver (in Afghanistan) who had been arrested by U.S. forces, held without trial, and tortured for days until he died. I had already gotten a small dose of the-United-States-tortures-people-now-and-apparently-that's-ok outrage when I saw The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, but Taxi went much more in depth. According to the film, those horrifying pictures from Abu Ghraib that were supposedly the work of just "a few bad apples" reflect a systematic pattern of psychological torture, developed by the CIA, and used on thousands of military prisoners. Yep...thousands of prisoners were (and are) held by the United States, without ever being brought to trial.

It's awful. And it pissed me off. But, to be honest, I (and much of the rest of this country) have been pissed off for quite a while. Remember when I mentioned "outrage fatigue"? That is exactly how I felt when walking out of the theater. To be sure, the film was impeccably produced, and the message is urgently relevant (especially in an election year), but I'm so freaking tired of being pissed off!

So when I got home, I thought it would be a great idea to lighten the mood with The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. It had just come in the mail from Netflix, and I thought, hey, my evening has just been one big bummer. Maybe this will give me a laugh. Boy, did that backfire.

The King of Kong was another very well-done documentary... but it just fell flat with me because of the circumstances. Basically, this really nice guy named Steve Wiebe, who hasn't had a whole lot of luck in his life, sets out to beat the all-time world record for Donkey Kong that was set by Billy Mitchell in 1982. Billy Mitchell, apparently, is not a really nice guy. He's got this whole posse of hangers-on (who seem to have their own sad little lives), sneaky tactics, and a Styx haircut/Jesus beard combo that he was probably sporting when he set the world record 26 years ago. Sure, it was entertaining. It definitely got me rooting for the "good guy"... but the whole time I kept thinking "there are people in Guantanamo Bay being waterboarded right now. Is it really crucial that Mario jumps all the barrels?"

I think I'll have to catch it again sometime when I'm not so utterly bummed out. That's the problem with outrage, I think. It takes away all the joy of the stupid stuff in life. I miss the stupid stuff.
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11 Response to "taxi to the dark side of kong: a fistful of quarters"

  1. Shannon the Movie Moxie says:
    February 8, 2008 at 11:52 AM

    I'm so sorry to hear that the first film bumped you out because King of Kong is soooo good. I hope today is a better day!

  2. Nayana Anthony says:
    February 8, 2008 at 11:56 AM

    You're right, Shannon, it WAS good. I just was so not in the right place for it Wednesday night. I'd definitely see it again, though.

  3. Fletch says:
    February 8, 2008 at 12:22 PM

    Think of it this way: you saw a "Stupid American Double Feature" - they just happend to be on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of mood and theme. ;)

    I'd like to see both of these, but I think I'll split them up to view.

  4. Nayana Anthony says:
    February 8, 2008 at 12:24 PM

    Exactly, Fletch. I think I was trying to find a way to say just that.

    Definitely split them up. They were both good movies; they just suffered with me because of circumstance.

  5. Anonymous Says:
    February 9, 2008 at 12:11 PM

    I was supposed to see Taxi last year at the Chicago International Film Festival, but got sick before the screening. Blaahh!!

    I'd definitely suggest giving Kong another go when you're in better spirits. It's a fun little film, one which has been put on repeatedly half way through a case of beer.

  6. Patricia Perry says:
    February 9, 2008 at 7:30 PM

    I'm with you on "outrage fatigue." I'm tired of being pissed off at the government, yet somehow feel like I should be pissed off a lot more often - and doing more about it, too. You captured those feelings pretty well. Great post.

  7. David Bishop says:
    February 10, 2008 at 1:01 AM

    You know what's a really stupid movie that I'm ashamed to say I really like? She's the Man. I wish I had the courage to watch more meaningful films, but my age limits me. Although, the nerd in me wants to see King of Kong.

  8. Nayana Anthony says:
    February 11, 2008 at 10:20 AM

    CG... half a case of beer, then see King of Kong... I am DEFINITELY putting that on my to-do list!

    pat... this year we CAN do something about it! *cough*(vote Obama)*cough* ;-) But sometimes it gets really tiring to THINK about it, doesn't it?

    Chris... you should absolutely not let your age limit you. I think it has a lot more to do with intelligence than age... and I know you to be an incredibly smart guy. :-) PS I Timothy 4:12, ya know.

  9. Daniel says:
    February 11, 2008 at 9:47 PM

    I did in fact read this the other day, but I couldn't add too much to the discussion. I've been raving about KofK since I caught it on its last day at Lagoon. Definitely not a good follow up to Taxi (for which you know I suffered some outrage fatigue)! Oh well, all need to be seen at some point.

  10. Jess says:
    February 12, 2008 at 11:16 AM

    I'm with you on King of Kong falling flat. It just felt fake and contrived to me. I'm definitely a big nerd, but this just didn't appeal to me, and I watched it in a great mood, expecting a fun little documentary. Don't bother watching it again...your first assessment was probably correct.

  11. Daniel says:
    February 12, 2008 at 12:36 PM

    Uh oh, a dissenting opinion on Kong! I thought it would be universally loved, but oh well, I certainly respect your thoughts, Jess.

    Give it another shot, Nayana...


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