Bobby Fischer Against The World

YEAR: 2011

DIRECTOR: Liz Garbus

BUDGET: ?

GROSS: ?

 

when i was a kid i played a little chess. i would usually play against a family friend when they came to visit. he was one of those guys that was always competitive and wouldn't even let a little kid win at anything - so, on the few occasions that i won it felt extra good. i also liked to play Battle Chess on my amiga computer - although, i think, for me, it was more about watching the chess pieces fight than actually playing the chess match. anyway, so all that to say, i am not much of a chess player. but you don't have to play chess to enjoy Bobby Fischer Against The World.

prior to watching the film i got caught up reading about chess and the history of the game and found multiple websites that listed their top 10 greatest chess players of all time. and sure enough, in either the first or second spot on every list was bobby fischer!

people that follow chess know this to be true, but i think that maybe the general public who posses only a passing knowledge of it all, and i put myself in that category, i feel like all i ever knew about fischer was that he had gone "crazy" and i never really appreciated how great of a chess player he was.

sports, is filled with those questions of "what could have been?" 

what if ted williams hadn't taken four years off at the height of his talents to go fight in WWII? (how much better would his stats have been)? what if jordan hadn't taken that year off to play baseball?(would they have won 7 in a row?) what if barry sanders hadn't retired so early?(would he have broken walter payton's record?) etc...

what if fischer hadn't virtually retired from chess after winning the 1972 world championship? he was only 29.

unlike other reports or documentary pieces i had seen about bobby fischer in the past, Bobby Fischer Against The World covers his whole life and not just the last couple decades of when he became more and more paranoid and reclusive and angry... all that is still in the film and it is covered thoroughly. but by giving us his full history and really placing his greatness in context, it makes the second half of his life that much more poignant and, for me at least, frustrating.

A Perfect World

YEAR: 1993

WRITER: John Lee Hancock

DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood

BUDGET: ?

GROSS: $31,160,784

 

in 1992 clint eastwood directed the academy award winning film, Unforgiven. in 1995 he directed The Bridges Of Madison County, based on the ginormous best-selling book of the same name. however, what many film goers missed was the film mr. eastwood made in between those two. in 1993 he directed A Perfect World.

in the 1960s Butch Haynes (costner) escapes from prison and during his first few hours on the run, kidnaps phillip, an eight-year-old boy. the new travel partners head off with texas ranger, red garnett (eastwood) and his team searching for them.

not only is this a film that gets forgotten when people discuss eastwood directorial efforts, but the film provides one of kevin costner's best performances of his career (to go along with Bull Durham and Tin Cup). also, being 1993 it was pretty much right in the middle of that 10 year span in which costner was the king of hollywood. from 1987(The Untouchables) to 1997(The Postman - Waterworld was the first big hit to his reign and this one pretty much put an end to it).

the absentee fathers for both characters (haynes and the kid) and the rough childhood for haynes creates an obvious father/son bond between the two rather quickly. and both actors really do great work here.

phillip (t.j. lowther) is quiet and attentive and naive and curious. growing up in a secluded and restrictive jehovas witness household this new freedom that haynes allows him is exciting at first.

as for haynes, costner is able to play the edge really well. we know he would never hurt phillip (he is actually very protective of him and all children). but when any adults are in the picture, we are always aware that things can turn in a second.

while the pursuit is definitely a part of the movie (and an important one), the cops-after-criminals/cat-and-mouse game isn't what this movie relies on. eastwood recognizes that the film really does rise and fall with the relationship that develops between the young boy and costner's character during their time on the run. and that is why the film works as well as it does!

At Home By Myself... With you

YEAR: 2009

WRITER: Ramona Barckert, Kris Booth

DIRECTOR: Kris Booth

BUDGET: $CAD40,000 (estimated)

GROSS: ?

clicking away through netflix suggestions based on my ratings and previously viewed films and randomly browsing through genres i came across a bunch of titles that caught my eye, the first one of which was At Home By Myself... With You. i saw that it was a canadian film and feeling all patriotic i clicked play, streamed it to my tv and sat back on the couch...

now, don't let the "quirky" "romantic" netflix qualifiers scare you off. we all know that romantic comedies - quirky or not - are generally predictable by nature, not always that interesting and often not really that funny." but, it doesn't have to be that way, as At Home By Myself... With You proves.

also, i clicked the "quirky" link and saw that netflix had also tagged And Justice For All, Adaptation and Young Frankenstein with said tag. so, who really knows what "quirky" means to them?

romy is a women who, as we learn from the opening voiced-over animation, has many phobias. from opening boxes to going outside. and by "going outside" i mean literally taking one step out of her apartment - something she hasn't done for six years. then a guy moves in next door... okay, so you know where this is going. but, as predictable as the destination may be, the ride is enjoyable.

the filming style, the voice-overs, that opening animation, the score and the supporting characters all created a feel to the film that is like a children's story - or some kind of fairy tale? a story about the girl stuck in her apartment who falls for the charming and sweet always-on-the-go guy across the hall.

kristin booth (who you may have seen on a really good film i talked about a couple years ago, Young People Fucking) is great as romy. she is sweet and quirky (ya, i said it), but without becoming a caricature. it's interesting: romy is the "oddest" character in the film and yet she, and the guy across the hall, are what keep the film grounded in reality and make the emotional moments valid for the audience.

also, in case you were interested in the quirky-factor, but wasn't sure how it compared. it is a little quirkier than Easy Rider (another film that, for some ridiculous reason, was listed under my netflix "quirky" suggestions).

Loft

YEAR: 2008

WRITER: Bart De Pauw

DIRECTOR: Erik Van Looy

BUDGET: €3,200,000 (estimated)

GROSS: $7,075,161 (Belgium)

i found Loft during one of my browsing-through-netflix movie days. Except for the very brief synopsis i knew nothing about the movie besides the fact that it was a dutch-language belgium film. then it started playing and although there were subtitles, i understood what the characters were saying. did i speak dutch all of a sudden? was i like george in that episode of Sienfeld when he stops having sex and becomes a genius and is able to learn portuguese in a few minutes? nope, i hadn't somehow osmosised the dutch language into my vocabulary... they were speaking french. for some reason, netflix is presenting this dutch-language film, dubbed in french with english subtitles. go figure.

now back to Loft...

Loft is a mystery/crime/thriller about five married friends who share a loft that they use as a place to take their mistresses and female encounters. one day they find a dead women in the loft... what happened? well, i could tell you, but i won't.

the story is told mostly through flashbacks as the men are questioned by the police and the film does a nice job of revealing enough, but not too much too soon. and i will admit that i had certain suspicions, but until all was revealed, i wasn't able to figure out how it had played out. you will be trying to figure it out though.

the story is well put together and it isn't, as is sometimes the case with mystery/thrillers, so convoluted that when certain things are revealed you feel cheated. although, i wasn't sure who had done it, or why, as the pieces came together, i saw that the clues had been there and i had ignored them (actually, i had picked up on a few of them, but then dismissed them and allowed myself to be misdirected). the film builds nicely and the director does a good job of creating an ambience of tension with the score, the editing and the cinematography.

ridiculous language/dubbing issues aside, Loft is worth a look next time you are browsing through netflix wondering what to watch. although, if you could find it in it's original language with subtitles than of course go for that one.

p.s. it looks like there was a 2010 remake of the film made in the netherlands. and an upcomming, 2012, american remake that is being directed by the director of the original film, erik van looy

Hesher

YEAR: 2010

WRITER: Spencer Susser & David Michôd, Brian Charles Frank (story)

DIRECTOR: Spencer Susser

BUDGET: 7 million (estimated)

GROSS: $382,946

 

t.j. and his dad have recently suffered a tragic loss. then one day hesher comes into their lives. actually, he does more than come in to their lives. he literally moves in - without asking.

hesher is a loner with long hair, who lives in his van, listens to heavy metal, smokes cigarettes and pot, likes to set things on fire has a tattoo on his back of a hand giving the finger and one on his chest of a stick man blowing his brains out.

"Hesher is a "feel good" movie that doesn't want to be a "feel good" movie - and that's what makes it so good. it makes the drama and the pain and the laughter genuine and ergo our reactions to it all.

hesher isn't a bad guy with a heart of gold. you can look for the character clichés here, but for the most part hesher doesn't fit them (or at least not the "feel good" movie ones).

he is selfish and pleasure driven and basically, as the tattoo on his back indicates, he doesn't give a fuck! he just needs a place to stay and do laundry and eat.

so, in classic "feel good" movie form, how does he make everything better you ask? well, he doesn't. but he gets things started though. because "getting things started," that's really all anyone can do. you can't fix everything after a tragic loss like this. one person can't come in and make everything better in a week or two. but those that are suffering can have better days and can start to have moments when they see past the sorrow and that's often the hardest step to take. and in the case of t.j. and his dad, one they hadn't been ready to take or even know how to take it.  even if sometimes it is like taking one step forward and two steps back. at least it's steps taken.

it's interesting, because you want to like him. as an audience we like the kid and feel sad for him and his dad and we want to like hesher. we want to relate to him and see him do what we would if we were in that position. we want him to be a jerk with a heart of gold who helps the family. but for much of the movie he is just a jerk.

there is scene after scene where moments are available for him to be a good guy and help out. but he doesn't. sure, there are times when he isn't a total ass and it's obvious that he does grow to like the family. but in a very nice piece of writing, the big cathartic moment he initiates with the family near the end of the film comes from a selfish act on his part dealing with his own pain in the situation. t.j. and his dad just come along in the moment.

the final shot of the film is a great visual representation of all of it. on one side you have a meaningful gift that hesher has left for t.j. and his dad, and on the other side you have a large, self-indulgent sign that hesher has literally left his mark their home.

The Ides Of March

YEAR: 2011

WRITER:George Clooney

DIRECTOR:George Clooney

BUDGET: ?

GROSS: $3,450,000 (as of October 7th, 2011)

 

a couple years ago, after the box office failure of a few films, all the talk was about the death of smart, adult fare. how, no one was going to see these movies and studios were going to stop making them. well, i guess george clooney didn't get the memo, because The Ides Of March is a smart, adult film and a really good one at that!

while i wouldn't call myself a political junkie (what's a step below "junkie?"), i do enjoy politics. actually, i enjoy it and am often very frustrated by it as well. but all that to say a good political thriller is always something that will intrigue me. but notice the word "good" in that last sentence.

the problem with some political thrillers is that they feel the need to really push the "thrill" part and to do so they end up getting convoluted and going to far: a murder and a cover-up and then a leak leads to another murder which brings in a secret uncovered from many years ago, etc... The Ides Of March doesn't fall into that trap.

the film takes us into the world of this campaign and in there we understand how high the stakes are and how important everything is to those involved. and given that, even a small (and believable) transgression can take on large importance and thrills and cause characters to change their views of things and act in ways they might not have otherwise (we don't need two murders and a secret organization to keep us interested or believing).

it also helps that the film is populated by great performances from all involved (clooney, gosling, giamatti, seymour hoffman, evan rachel wood, jeffrey wright marisa tomei). the film is filled with about six or seven one-on-one scenes between these various actors/actresses that had me transfixed to the screen. the performances and the writing create a palpable tension whether it be flirty or suspenseful or confrontational.

and let us not forget the direction here. clooney is quietly becoming on of the better directors out there. with this film, Good Night And Good Luck and Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind (i haven't seen Leatherheads) clooney has shows a real vision specific to each film in how he wants to tell the story and how he wants it to look. and with The Ides Of March he found in phedon papmichael a cinematographer to realize it beautifully.

i know the political thing will turn some people off. but, just to say... you dont have to be a political junkie or even a step below junkie to understand or enjoy this movie. so, don't let that hold you back.

Drive

YEAR: 2011

WRITER: Hossein Amini (screenplay), James Sallis (book)

DIRECTOR: Nicolas Winding Refn

BUDGET: $15,000,000 (estimated)

GROSS: $21,417,373 (as of September 25th, 2011)

i'll admit that i haven't been as frequent a visitor to the local cineplexes this year as i was, say, last year. i say that because that might help explain why it has taken till now to find a film that has definite "top 10 of the year" potential. sure, anything is possible - and i do plan on catching up on movies i missed via the dvd route, but if Drive doesn't make my "best of the year" list this year i will be very surprised.

ryan gosling plays a nameless hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver for hire. he is a man without a past (at least not a past that we are ever told about). he is quiet and a loner. and then he meets his neighbor, carey mulligan, and her son. a bond begins to grow and when her husband gets out of jail and an event occurs that could threaten carey and her son, the driver must take matters into his own hands to protect them.

if the story and the characters sound simple and archetypal, that's cause they are. this is a "super hero" story. and it's funny (not funny ha ha, funny interesting) because just a day or so after i wrote this discussion i heard an interview with the director nicolas winding refn, in which he called the film a super hero story and a fairy tale.

while i get what he was saying about the "fairy tale" i personally kept coming back to the "super hero" thing. and even Unbreakable. now, while Drive doesn't take the same ode to comic books approach that Unbreakable does, both films are playing in that obvious and archetypal playground and doing it really well.

both films are genuine and earnest about it also. they aren't doing the ironic, winking or self-referential regular-guy-turns-super-hero thing like Kick Ass, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World or Super (all films that i like by the way).

i didn't think of it till a few days after i saw the film, but as the whole super hero thing and Unbreakable connection continued to play in my head another moment stuck out. in Drive's final act, as he goes after one of the bad men, he does so wearing this full prosthetic, pull-over face that he had used for some driving scene in a movie he was working on. you with me here? a MASK of course! this "ah ha" moment lead back to unbreakable and the poncho/CAPE that bruce willis is wearing when he finally realizes his climactic hero moment.

it's funny (again, not ha ha!) cause in the interview winding refn talks about his love for john hughes and such films from the 80s that were able to pull of corny and sweet. now, i wasn't thinking john hughes or pretty woman or any such films watching Drive. But it is impossible to miss the 80s reverence in the film. from the bright pink and cursive writing of the credits to the casio keyboard pop music of the soundtrack. ya, it is a little corny at times but winding refn knows it and owns it and is able to make it work.

if i was going to make any director comparisons it would have been michael mann. but not for the Miami Vice-like music and pink writing (actually, doing some web surfing made me realize that Miami Vice didn't have the cursive writing, but GTA: Vice City did - which is an ode to the 80s and Miami Vice so it counts right?). the mann comparison is most evident in how the film is able to capture l.a. at night and winding refn's use of quiet and his ability, one minute, to slow the pace of the film within an action movie and then, the next minute, create intense action and/or tension.

Drive is a film that, not only rises above the "action" genre, but above most other films you will probably see this year.

The Final Destination Series

FINAL DESTINATION: 2000, BUDGET: $23 million GROSS: $53,302,314

FINAL DESTINATION 2: 2003, BUDGET: $26 million GROSS: $46,455,802

FINAL DESTINATION 3: 2006, BUDGET: $34 million GROSS: $54,098,051

THE FINAL DESTINATION: 2009, BUDGET: $43 million GROSS: $66,436,248

FINAL DESTINATION 5: 2011, BUDGET: $47 million GROSS: ?

 

WRITERS:

1: Glen Morgan/James Wong (screenplay), Jeffrey Reddick (screenplay & story)

2: J. Mackye Gruber/Eric Bress (screenplay & story), Jeffrey Reddick (story & characters)

3: Glen Morgan/James Wong, Jeffrey Reddick (characters)

4: Eric Bress, Jeffrey Reddick (characters)

5: Eric Heisserer, Jeffrey Reddick (characters)

 

DIRECTORS:

1,3: James Wong / 2,4: David R. Ellis / 5: Steven Quale

 

up until a couple weeks ago i hadn't seen any of the Final Destination films, but with the fifth one on the horizon i decided this was going to be my next series discussion so i started watching them all leading up to number fives release.

i remember when the first one came out in 2000 and i saw the trailer and i thought, "huh, that looks like a kinda interesting premise, maybe i'll check that out." well, i didn't, but why that is important is that skip ahead to 2002 and the release of the second film and there i am watching the trailer for that one and thinking, "hold on a second. isn't that the exact same premise/story/idea as the first film?"

the same thing happened with the release and trailer of the third, fourth and fifth films, but i didn't believe my eyes. as much as each film, based on the trailers, appeared to be the exact same thing, just with different actors/characters, i couldn't imagine that was actually the case. as lazy as hollywood is and as unoriginal as much of what they give us is, this seemed to take it to a whole other level. so i went in to this marathon viewing of the entire series really curious to see how different the films actually were and how wrong my trailer assumptions had been. now, having seen all five films i can tell you that i was soooo NOT wrong! and when trying to think about how to discuss the films, the first thing that came to mind was mad libs!

the film Final Destination __(film number)__, begins with a __(type of huge accident)___. after witnessing the accident we are brought back to the present moment and see that it was all just a premonition seen/felt by the main character __(name of premonition-having main character)____. however, as the their premonition begin to occur for real they start to freak out and warn people what is about to happen. no one believes them, but in their freak-out they end up saving a few of the others from certain death.

in the days that follow the first couple of survivors end up getting killed by some pretty random chains of events, like ___(random chain of events, another random chain of events)___. at this point the remaining survivors figure out that death is coming after them in the order in which they were supposed to have died in the __(type of huge accident)___. the rest of the film is them racing around trying to stop it from happening while figuring out how to get around deaths plan as more of them are killed in even more random and gruesome chains of events, like __(random and gruesome chain of event, another random and gruesome chain of events)___.

as i watched all five films i had taken notes about things to talk about. things like how the second film makes reference to the accident in the first one. and how, the way the characters figure out how to get around death's plan isn't the same in all the films. also, in some of the films the "premonition" character gets clues as to who the next victim will be and how they will die, but in the other films there are no hints at all. i was also going to mention that the fourth film, called The Final Destination seemed very much like it had been set-up as the last film in the series (the opening credits recap all the various ways people had died in the previous three films. the use of "The" in the title The Final Destination). and there was some more. but to be honest after watching all five movies i couldn't get over how they were basically all the same film.

i talk sometimes about "big cojones" film making. the idea of a film maker taking some real risks with story or characters or style. and how they trust the intelligence of the audience to go with them, when it's done well, and appreciate not being talked down. well the makers of the Final Destination series have shown big cojones, but in the complete opposite way!

rather than do something new or different or go against the grain in some way, they gave us the same film five times! actually, that is going against the grain. i can't think of any other film series that has produced such replica films. they made one movie five times and what makes me even angrier is that it worked. none of the movies were huge hits, but they all made a profit - obviously enough of one that they kept making them.

and its not like they tried to hide what they were doing either. The trailers put it all out there. like i said earlier, i hadn't seen any of them and yet i knew, based on the trailers, that the films were all copies of each other. they were brazen and incredibly obvious about it. now that takes balls!

i picture the film makers/producers/studio like the two old guys from Trading Places making a bet over how many of these Final Destination movies they can make before people realize what they are doing and stop going. then when we, the audience, have wasted our money and time watching the same thing for the fifth time we overhear them talking and laughing about it as one of them hands the other a one dollar bill! (if anything, this should make you want to avoid seeing anymore Final Destination movies and should make you want to go watch Trading Places again).