A sports doc for geeks? The King of Kong brings it on, now on DVD
The King of Kong (New Line) Seth Gordon's best-of-2007 documentary about the battle for Donkey Kong supremacy remains a work in progress: Billy Mitchell, the longtime titleholder dethroned by Steve Wiebe over the course of this hysterical, thrilling, and occasionally sad little film, recently reclaimed the throne — and Wiebe has vowed to come after him again. And so it goes, on and on and on. Which makes The King of Kong, augmented here by more extras than a Cecil B. DeMille movie, that much more engaging: Gordon, pitting the mulleted Mitchell against the wimpy Wiebe in a battle fought with joysticks, has made a classic doc about how nothing is more exhilarating and exhausting than the drive to win at all costs. Mitchell, emerging as the villain, can be a conniving sumbitch; Wiebe, our softhearted hero, a distracted dad. Worth every last dime — quarter too. — Robert Wilonsky
Monty Python's Life of Brian: The Immaculate Edition (Sony) Not Python's funniest film (but still pretty damn funny), Life of Brian in some ways is more an act of balls than comedy. New Testament humor remains rare today — even more so in 1979, when the English were still handing out jail time for blasphemy; the protests and boycotts got so bad that the troupe needed fan George Harrison to finance the project. All of which makes the new hour-long doc here more interesting than you might expect. Less interesting are the commentaries, which stitch together the voices of five Pythons from separate interviews. Still, if you're the type who yells out "The Judean People's Front!" at random, the deleted scenes and radio ads will be captivating. And stop doing that. — Jordan Harper
King of California (First Look) If DVDs came with a function that allowed you to switch off unnecessary voice-overs, writer-director Mike Cahill's ambling, amiable comedy-drama would be significantly improved. There's an excess of ham-handed narration in this desperately quirky tall tale, about a sober teen (Evan Rachel Wood) whose windmill-tilting dad (Michael Douglas) lures her into a madcap quest for Spanish treasure under the concrete floor of a SoCal Costco. The film is distinguished by the rapport between its stars: Douglas in grizzled-prospector mode, with eyes that give off a mad sparkle, and the wondrous Wood, who wears a McDonald's cap like a halo of responsibility. The familiarity of its lovable-misfit plot is offset by Cahill's emphasis on the desolate poetry of suburban sprawl and chain-restaurant logos. — Jim Ridley
The King of Kong|Life of Brian|King of California|Automatons
Automatons (Facets) "Filmed in Robo-Monstervision" is a great way to start a film — any film. And Automatons delivers, with a look like no other sci-fi pic you've ever seen. Director James Felix McKenney conceals his microbudget with grainy, high-contrast black-and-white, which builds mood when it could have just looked cheap. (What does feel cheap is the dialogue, which was dubbed in later.) The story, about a bunkered girl in a post-apocalyptic world, is simple to a fault: Every day she sends her robots out to do battle with enemy 'bots. It's a never-ending cycle in a war that has lasted her entire life and may not end with the fall of humankind. The war-is-pointless theme is laid on heavy, but the psycho-retro imagery is enough of a marvel to make Automatons worth checking out — and McKenney a director to look out for. — Jordan Harper
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