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OVERLOOKED

A battle royale over 'Kong'

January 27, 2008|Sam Adams | Special to The Times

THE smaller the turf, the bloodier the turf war, and it's hard to imagine a territory more microscopic than the world of classic arcade games. In Seth Gordon's documentary "The King of Kong" (New Line, $27.95), newcomer Steve Wiebe sets his sights on the record Donkey Kong score held by veteran gamer Billy Mitchell and finds that the video-game establishment (yes, there is one) is none too welcoming to outsiders.

Wiebe is a perpetual also-ran who took up Donkey Kong after being laid off from his job, and Mitchell relishes the role of the aloof, untouchable champion, a part he has been playing since the early 1980s. Wiebe, a married father of two whose gaming sometimes takes precedence over his family life (one cringe-inducing moment shows him chasing a high score while ignoring his son's pleas for a fresh diaper), seems to believe that conquering the game would turn his life around, a notion Gordon rides all the way to the obligatory "Eye of the Tiger" cue. The movie strains too hard to shoehorn Wiebe's life into a mold, but that doesn't stop you from cheering him on.

There's not much plot to speak of in Aaron Katz's "Quiet City" ($29.95): Stranded Southern girl (Erin Fisher) meets shaggy Brooklyn boy (Cris Lankenau), and they spend a couple of days trading half-finished stories and awkward glances. The movie's New York is not a place of ceaseless bustle but of empty apartments and deserted streets, where a whisper might echo back as a shout.

Like other movies in the mumblecore sub-genre, "Quiet City" concerns itself with characters in their early 20s whose longing for intimate connection and self-definition far surpasses their ability to articulate it. But Katz distinguishes himself by embodying their anxieties rather than merely observing them. Shots of traffic lights changing in perfect harmony or an airplane cutting through a burnt orange sky resonate with a depth of feeling the movie's protagonists can only express in the furtive spaces between words.

The second release from New York-based Benten Films, the "Quiet City" DVD boasts a surfeit of extras: multiple commentaries, short films, and, on a second disc, Katz's embryonic first feature, "Dance Party USA."

The "King of Kong" disc is similarly enhanced with dual commentaries, including one by a pair of smirking video-game experts, for maximum nerding-out.

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