Seen at the Sydney Underground Film Festival
It’s been two years since I’ve been able to go to a film festival, specifically my favourite film festival on earth. The Sydney Underground Film Festival, a festival dedicated to strange underground films that are usually shown in this great little venue that’s clearly not really meant for a film festival but some nutbags decided to put up a projector in a few rooms and boom, you got a festival.
This festival provided 2 previous entries to my “best of” list, that being Greener Grass and Use Me, and I was hoping to get to go again this year but… well, that thing that meant I only got to review Fast and Furious 9 yesterday moved the festival to online only. The upside? That means that for the next month I’ll be able to get through a lot of these films that I might not have been able to see if I was going in person (maybe that’ll keep me sane until this lockdown ends).
So, let’s start this off with a documentary about a guy and his arcade system.
Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest is a Danish documentary that follows local arcade legend Kim “Cannon Arm”, known primarily for his love of the 1983 arcade game Gyruss which he once played for 49 hours on a single quarter. That local arcade is soon due to be upgraded and so, before it does, Kim and a bunch of his friends come together for one last great gaming moment where Kim will try to break his own record by playing Gyruss for 100 hours straight on a single quarter. What might sound easy in theory soon becomes a complicated and dangerous proposition that will require all of Kim’s friends to rally around him to help him achieve this historic gaming moment.
Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest has no right to be as good as it is or as tension-filled as it gets. It’s smarter than you would expect a film about a guy playing a video game for a very long time to be. The first half of the film is spent not only introducing us to this gang of gamers but actually spelling out just how potentially dangerous this simple-sounding task is. They consult with doctors to figure out just what the effects of staring at a screen for 100 hours without sleep could be (spoilers: Not the best plan!) and make sure the audience is fully on board with the potential dangers that come with gaming for this long.
In between talking about the gang and the dangers, Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest also gives us great moments in gaming history lessons, showing the wide array of methods that people use to earn their place in the history books by doing something like what Kim plans to do. It does occasionally venture into the hyper pretentious, with flowery language that really doesn’t fit in a movie about a bunch of guys drinking beer and playing arcade games or references to figures like Alan Turing almost to try and buy some respectability, but for the most part, the extra info given helps paint a broader picture.
This leads to the big part of Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest, AKA the actual record attempt and it is a glorious culmination of everything the film has built up, from the intense friendship to the display of gaming skills to a power nap that ends up being obscenely tense. All this is shown through genuinely brilliant cinematography that pushes everything to be as visually interesting as possible, which is no mean feat considering how much of Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest we spend watching an older man playing an 80s arcade game or sleeping on the floor of said arcade. For that to be turned into something genuinely interesting to watch shows the skill of the filmmakers.
The more that Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest goes on, the more you feel yourself wanting Kim to break the record – and the film plays that emotional connection perfectly. It builds every moment so well, it lets you come to adore this little group of friends and root for them to pull this off. It’s truly so endlessly engaging that you’ll catch yourself holding your breath just out of fear of distracting the game.
Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest is a heartfelt and exciting tribute to friendship and chasing your dreams… told by watching a bunch of guys play an old arcade game. It’s endlessly compelling, filled with genuinely funny and intense moments that make for a great watch. Sure there are times when the attempt to keep things as compelling as possible might lead to a mild case of the film sticking its head straight up its own asshole, but those are few and far between and don’t slow Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest down that much.