Nightstream Review: Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest (2021)

Featured image: Kim Cannon Arm in Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest. (Courtesy of Cargo Releasing.)

Directed by Mads Hadegaard. Written by Mads Hadegaard. Runtime 97 min. Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest is currently playing at Nightstream through Oct. 13.

Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest follows a group of friends who are united by their love of video games and the Bip Bip Bar. They’re also united by the loss of a friend named Thomas who committed suicide some years prior. At the centre of the friend group is our main character, Kim Cannon Arm.

A video game legend, Kim is known for playing the 1983 arcade game “Gyruss” for 49 straight hours on one coin. Obviously a very long time, but for further context, the average game of “Gyruss” lasts 3-4 minutes. Even crazier, Kim sets out to be the first person to play an arcade game for 100 hours straight.

It’s surely an interesting adventure to be invited on, as filmmaker and narrator Mads Hadegaard dives deep into the preparation to attempt such a feat. We see Kim go for a medical checkup, as well as learn all the friends will be all hands-on-deck to help achieve this. It only gets more complicated learning about how they’ll manage his in-game lives, as well, which is interesting from a game theory standpoint.

The film dives deep into the technical aspects, spending some time on one friend, Carsten, and how he studies the music patterns of Bach. The link is that arcade games involve many patterns, but the way it’s discussed is dull and it’s more about Bach, and it’s overwhelming with the amount of information. As well, we also talk about Alan Turing and codes, and how sometimes video games have cheat codes. These moments feel like complete filler, stretching to connect other aspects to video games; and, to me, made the film feel unfocused.

13_Kim in the arcade
Kim Cannon Arm in Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest. (Courtesy of Cargo Releasing.)

For a film very much about friendship, there’s tons of time spent on that tech side. Then, when we focus on the friendships; I didn’t feel entirely connected to them, though they’re a relatable friend group. This is perhaps Kim is a man of very few words; despite his likable smile and being easy to root for, we never know him that well. We’re told, for exaggeration, he might speak 255 words on a good day when the average human speaks 16,000 words.

We kind-of rely on his friends to give a limited insight into Kim, but even then, it’s surface level. We see at one point that he collects arcade cabinets in boxes in his garage, and this is glossed over throughout a narrated scene. It would have been really neat to see his collection, the other games that he plays, but instead we quickly move on.

About the video gamers, one interesting aspect of the film is that these folks are seen as super heroes because of what they can do, with the mind power and concentration involved for people like Kim to play these games. Some of the film features Billy Mitchell, the great villain in video game documentary King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.

It’s interesting seeing Billy Mitchell make an appearance here, where he’s admired before being disgraced. Mitchell’s appearance also made it apparent why a film like King of Kong works better: There’s something easier to root for in that film with the fascinating rivalry and competition, and here, Kim is just really playing against himself and trying to beat his score.

The competition and stakes don’t feel as compelling, with much of Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest feeling anticlimactic and many scenes and its information feeling inconsequential, where 20 minutes could have easily been cut out here. Though, it’s important to note that this film still has its moments, especially visually. For instance: Kim taking a nap between playing and we see a game of “Gyruss” being played on his head. There’s also some sharp and amusing edits, like when the team celebrates with confetti at each 24-hour interval, and then it smash cuts to six hours later when the celebration’s over.

A high point is also meeting the characters, and at his first on-screen appearance, Carsten looks off into the distance and says, “Sorry, I’m not so good with eye contact.” The humour is dry and somewhat bizarre, but it really works. Even when it misses, it still will work for some people as it’s just a bit too subtle. For instance, as the narrator says the feat to beat 100 hours will take a long time, at a pace that is very difficult: “At 60 minutes per hour.” Still processing that one.

Score: 50/100

Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest is currently playing at Nightstream through Oct. 13.

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