Each week, I'll bring you brief reviews of my recommendations to watch. Consider it a primer to be becoming a docuphile. I encourage you to leave your favorite documentaries in the comments or tweet at me at @robinhardwick. This week, people with incredibly unique talents: playing Donkey Kong and impersonating missing children.
What: The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters (2007)
Who: The story of two men, Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell, fighting to be the reigning Donkey King champion of the world
Why it's intriguing: I have no idea, it doesn't sound like it would be. Arcade games? Who cares? However, the story unfolds as a classic underdog story. Billy is the long-holding world record holder, is a pompous ass, with slickly styled eighties hair and a chain of restaurants and hot sauce, and Steve Weibe is the down-on-his-luck unemployed guy who tries to reach the record to give his life a purpose and defeat the goal. A fictional story could not have invented a better villain and an underdog.
There's also Walter Day, an arcade game enthusiast and founder of the company Twin Galaxies, the official organization for officially recording world record holders, who is the nicest nicest human alive. He created the company as a labor of love. He provides the narrative and structure for the story, and provides the viewer with the backstory. The story heats up when we learn that the Guiness Book of World Records will include the next person to get the highest score.
By the end I was at the edge of my seat seat. Billy refuses to play the game in person, preferring to provide a video only of his one million+ score, perhaps out of fear of losing and losing his reputation as a superstar. Will Billy show up at the world championships (held at a small arcade in Hollywood, Florida)? Will Steve beat him? I never thought I would care so much about who would win an arcade game.
Worth noting is the charming moment in which Steve Wiebe is recording his high score, and his young son is in the background yelling "Dad! Dad! I need you! I have to poop!". He couldn't redo it, so that's how his high score is recorded. The full movie is available on YouTube.
What: The Imposter (2012)
Who: Frédéric Bourdin, a man who has repeatedly impersonated homeless teens to gain access to youth shelter services, and who, in 1997, impersonated a missing Texas teenager and was taken in by the family.
Why it is intriguing: Thirteen year old, blond-haired, blue-eyed American teen Austin went missing. Three years later, the family received a call from Spain saying that they had him. Despite dying his hair blond and getting the same tattoos as Austin, he looked very different and had a French accent. The family, surprisingly, believed him and brought him home. You will have the same thought I did: "What the f-?"
This case happened several years ago, so the documentary utilizes interviews with the missing teen's family and family members, and dramatic recreations of the events, which are done well and subtly when needed, not in a delightfully farcical Rescue 911 sort of way.
Bourdin, as the Texas teen, claimed that he was kidnapped and sold into a child sex slave ring, so the FBI is called in to investigate. The FBI agent, being the FBI, saw many holes in the story and ultimately exposed him. Is this a case of just wanting to believe your son has been recovered so badly, or was there an ulterior motive? I don't want to spoil the story, but there is more to this family than it seems.
The Imposter's subject matter is so much more exciting than anything you could watch on TV, it's hard to believe the events actually happened. Rarely do you have the criminal so open to talk about their motives. Bourdin's pride in his crimes is both startling and fascinating.