Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade (2007). During some down time this week, I caught this documentary on Netflix streaming. It’s a sleeper, similar to the acclaimed The King of Kong (many of the same figures appear in both). Chasing Ghosts tracks down the World Videogame Champions of 1982, a diverse group of geeky boys who gathered in a tiny Iowa town to be photographed for Life magazine (the year-end issue, a mag that I personally remember well). The film catches up with the men, now mostly in their 40s and 50s, and their laid-back, hippie-ish mentor, Walter Day, the first person to coordinate and track high scores on the early coin-op arcade games on a nationwide scale. The director, Lincoln Ruchti, seems to enjoy highlighting the eccentricities of the guys – and yet they always appear natural and grounded. Surprisingly, most of them drifted away from videogaming after their early ’80s day in the sun. Personally, I wasn’t much into coin-op back then (being an Atari kid and all), yet this one inspired a lot of nostalgia. The film is a bit schizophrenic at times (it’s sort of admiring and patronizing at the same time), but I enjoyed it all the same.
A Fine Madness (1966). Ever wonder what Sean Connery was doing in between James Bond flicks? One of his outside efforts was this “kooky” comedy with Sean as an unhinged Scottish poet living in New York City. Connery’s boorish mannerisms alienate everyone except his coarse wife (Joanne Woodward), who has him hook up with a celebrity psychologist (Patrick O’Neal) to cure his writer’s block. Connery’s eccentricity and swarthy appeal grabs the attention of O’Neal’s colleagues, but it gets a little dicey when he goes after the doctor’s icy but beautiful wife (Jean Seberg). This was listed in Entertainment Weekly‘s 1991 issue spotlighting great films that “you’ve never heard of.” I’d apply a lot of words to this one; “great” ain’t one of them. How about shrill (especially Woodward’s shrieking performance), stupid, unfunny, pointless and obnoxious? It does have some nice shots of mid-’60s New York, and Connery is quite handsome, that’s about it.
The Gang’s All Here (1941). Another cruddy yet somehow fascinating old b-movie from my Comedy Kings public-domain-o-rama DVD set. With a title like that, you might expect a barrel ‘o laughs, but in actuality this is a rather straightforward, leaden-paced truck driving melodrama bolstered (slightly) by youthful stars like Frankie Darro, Marcia Mae Jones and Jackie Moran. Darro and pop-eyed Maintain Moreland are job seekers who land a produce-hauling job with a firm that has had tussles with a rival trucking firm. This was pure product from poverty row studio Monogram, sticking together pairs of proven actors (Jones and Moran had played apple-cheeked lovers before, and Darro and Moreland also headlined a few buddy comedies) and hoping things would somehow click. They often didn’t work out (like in this one), but the films were so cheaply and quickly done that it really didn’t matter. That slapdash quality was part of what made them interesting.
DVD Talk reviews:
Pete’s Dragon: 35th Anniversary Edition (1977) – Rent It
Waterloo Road – Series 1 (2006) – Recommended