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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: Sophie Nélisse

Pawn Sacrifice (2015)

How Bobby Fischer was everyday of his life, is exactly how I get when I enter a movie theater.

Ever since he was a little boy, Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) has always loved the game of chess. He’s also been incredibly paranoid about everything, too, but that’s done more to enhance his skills as a chess-player than actually hinder it. As he got older, Bobby became more and more known as a genius and gained a whole lot of notoriety – most of which, he wasn’t able to deal with. But the peak in his career/life came during the rise of the Cold War, when he challenged the Soviet Union and their best player, Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber), to a series of chess matches. Though the Russians agreed, Bobby still felt as if the games were being rigged in ways that went against him and it’s what ultimately made him a tragic-figure in the media. Though everybody wanted to tout him as an “American hero”, Bobby just wanted to be left alone and pushed away from the rest of the society he viewed as “Commies”. This not only pushed away those who were most close to him, but also ruined his skill as a magnificent chess-player.

He's crazy.

He’s crazy.

The crazy, unusual life of Bobby Fischer is an interesting one that, sadly, not too many directors have tried to tackle. It seems as if because his antics were so erratic and controversial, that to just make a movie solely based on him and his antic tirades would lead to be nothing more than just that. However, Edward Zwick and his crew of writers (Steven Knight, Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson) try to make amends for that mistake in giving us a sorta-biopic of Fischer, his upbringing, and his momentous chess bouts against the Soviet Union.

There’s a slew of other characters to pay attention to, of course, but still, it’s Fischer’s story we get.

And as Bobby Fischer, Tobey Maguire is solid. Maguire gets a bad rap for not being the best actor out there, which isn’t something I wholly agree with; while he’s definitely not shown a huge amount of range over the years, he’s still proven to be a fine presence in movies that he’s just coasting-by in (the Great Gatsby), or when he has to act like a total and complete nut (Brothers). His performance as Fischer is a whole lot more of the later and it works; once we see Fischer grow up into becoming Maguire, he’s a whole heck lot more frantic, manic, and strange, and it’s something that Maguire can play quite well.

You’d think that three movies playing someone as nerdy and straight-laced as Peter Parker would make Maguire into a dull specimen, but thankfully, for him, as well as the movie itself, it didn’t.

Everybody else in this movie is fine, too and ensure that Maguire doesn’t steal the whole movie away from them, even if he does occasionally get the chance to do so. Peter Sarsgaard plays Catholic priest William Lombardy, one of Fischer’s fellow chess experts, who also served as one of his teachers, and gives a humane-look inside a guy who isn’t exactly what he appears. Sure, he’s wearing the same outfit that a priest would wear, but he swears, drinks, smokes, and is able to hang around Fischer, even when he seems to get so erratic, nobody in their right mind would stand-on by.

Michael Stuhlbarg shows up as Fischer’s manager of sorts and while you know he’s someone that’s not to be trusted, there’s still a feeling that he has Bobby’s best intentions at heart. He may not at all, but Stuhlbarg keeps us guessing as to what it actually is. Lily Rabe shows up as Fischer’s sister who tries to help her dear brother out as much as she can, but eventually, it becomes all too clear that the man is just too far gone to be helped, talked to, or aided in any way – which is actually a pretty sad that the movie doesn’t really touch on until the end of the movie. And though he doesn’t get a whole bunch to do, Liev Schreiber still does a nice job as Boris Spassky – someone who had no clue what to make of or how to handle Fischer, except to just play him in chess and hope for the best.

And honestly, the performances are all that’s worth to discuss here because they’re the reasons why this movie works as well as it does. Everything else about Pawn Sacrifice is as handsome and nice as you can get with a biopic, but really, that’s all it is and stays. Nothing really leaps out at you as any sort of insight into Fischer’s character or persona; he was just a wack-job that, yes, was great at the game of chess, also had plenty of issues when it came to interacting with others, his own psyche, and how to handle all of the fame that had totally blind-sided him. This, if you’ve ever known a thing or two about Fischer himself, is obvious, but the movie still tries to find other aspects to his character that haven’t been touched on yet.

He's not.

He’s not.

Problem is, they all have. So there’s nowhere else to go.

Zwick may seem interested in the political landscape surrounding Fischer at this time in his life, but he never goes anywhere further with it; there are constant conversations about Communism and conspiracy theories, but really, that’s just all of Fischer talking and no one else. Whether or not any of these accusations held true, are never said, which leads it to all just seem repetitive. Don’t get me wrong, there’s something enjoyable about watching and listening to Maguire ramble on about how the Jews, the Russians, the White House, and practically everybody else on the face of the planet, are out to get him, but after awhile, it becomes a bird that I would have been pleased to stop hear chirping.

And of course, there’s a post-script about Fischer’s later-life, how far away from society he had gone and where he had been living before he died, but it’s all too late. The movie had already focused so much time on Fischer’s life when he was younger, alive and successful – everything else was, as it seems, added-on filler. Which is a bit of a shame because this later-half of Fischer’s life would have been very interesting to see portrayed, but it doesn’t seem like the budget or time allotted it.

Shame. But I guess there’s another biopic to be made another time.

Consensus: Thanks to great performances from the cast, especially an unhinged and edgy Tobey Maguire, Pawn Sacrifice is an enjoyably, mildly interesting, but never seems to rise above being that.

7 / 10

The end.

The end.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

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The Book Thief (2013)

WWII occurring right outside your window? That’s okay! Get away from it all through reading!

Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nélisse) is just a young girl when her brother dies, and her mother runs-out on her. Sucks, but at least she has two foster parents, Hans and Rosa (Emily Watson and Geoffrey Rush) that are more than willing to take her in, take care of her, look after her and make sure that she follows their rules, as if she was their own child. Hans takes more of a liking to Liesel than Rosa, but that’s only because the latter’s a bit of a meanie and doesn’t take anybody’s crap, but she does mean well. After much time, Liesel eventually gets used to her new surroundings where she gains a new friend, Rudy (Nico Liersch), and actually becomes quite involved with reading and stealing books, all because this was during the Nazi-Germany era, and books were considered “wrong”. And since this was Nazi-Germany, that also means that plenty of Jewish people were usually captured, taken away and put “somewhere” they had no clue of, nor did anybody else around them. This is when Liesel meets the runaway Jew that Liesel’s family is hiding (Ben Schnetzer), whom she actually strikes up a friendship with. But being that this is in and around the time of the war, things weren’t always so smooth and relaxed in Germany, and more often than not, Liesel and her foster-parents run into a bit of problems with the paranoid law.

"Ugh! Like you're so annoying, blond-haired German boy!"

“Ughz! Like you’re so annoying, blond-haired German boy!”

Oh, and before I forget to not even mention this, the whole story is somewhat narrated by what is supposed to be considered “Death”, but is also voiced by the highly-entertaining Roger Allam. I tell you this because not only is it the most appropriate usage of voice-narration I have ever heard, but it’s also one of the many reasons why this movie isn’t that good. Not meaning that it’s total and utter “Oscar-bait” , and nothing more, but do know that there is a reason why this movie was released around Thanksgiving, is about the WWII, features a lot of talk about the Holocaust and even has a score by John Williams.

I mean, come on people! It’s obvious that this just has every ingredient for the recipe that is “Oscar-bait”! However, it isn’t terrible, and here’s why:

It’s pretty clear what this movie set-out to do right from the beginning: Put a human-face on those who were on the side of the Germans during WWII. We rarely ever see this in movies, but when we do, it’s usually by a German film company, or some low-budget, independent production that wants to get their message out, clear and fair. However, this is a pretty big-budget flick, with some heavy-hitters involved with it, so you can definitely be curious about how director Brian Percival handles this material; and for the most part, he does some good things. But then again though, he also does some very bad things that truly do ruin this movie from being a little bit better in hindsight.

What I liked the most about Percival’s direction is that he definitely gets into the eyes and mind of our protagonist, Liesel. Not only does she not fully see the real, actual horrors that are going on all around her, but she refuses to really accept them for what it is that they really are. That’s why when you see little kids like her, her friend Rudy and countless others, all “heiling Hitler” because it’s what their “parents told them to do”, it’s a bit sad. Yes, it’s a no-brainer that kids are influenced by what it is that they see elders around them do and preach as “being the correct thing to do”, but it’s a bit more disconcerting when those kids in fact are from Germany, and are being influenced by elders that are, from what we usually see, Nazis.

And most of the time when Percival is getting right down to being what his movie is about and painting this little village in the heart of Nazi-Germany as something out of a fairy-tale, as if it all played inside of Liesel’s head, it’s somewhat interesting. It’s still a kids movie that has more for the adults, than it could possibly have for them, however, it’s smart in some of the directions it takes and why. But then comes the bad moments when this movie does in fact realize it’s about a war-torn Nazi-Germany, when everybody was in fear of if they were going to get suspected next of some evil, wrong-doing that would label them as a “Communist”, and have them go away for a long, long time.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that seeing this so many times in countless other movies makes this seem a bit “boring”, because that’s just wrong, but I will say that it definitely didn’t have me reeling with emotions like those countless other movies have. There’s plenty of ham-handed moments in which the movie tries to make a political-statement; and then at other times, tries to discuss the reality of humanity, and what lengths one will go to ensure it stays the moral; and then, lastly, there’s always that crutch of making this a crowd-pleasing, easy-going movie for the whole family to see, despite it also being around and during one of the more disturbing periods of any country, let alone Germany. I get the fact that it’s a PG-13 movie that’s trying it’s hardest not to offend or fully scare anybody half to death with the images they could have definitely gone so far as showing, but there seemed to be too much sugar-coating here, and less actual “realism” thrown into the proceedings.

"And the cow j-j-j-jumped over the-the-the moon...."

“And the cow j-j-j-jumped over the-the-the moon….”

And on top of that, the movie just juggles too much, that by the end, when the whole “gotcha!” ending does happen, you won’t be able to find yourself caring too much. That’s not to discredit the actors in this movie at all either, especially since they are all fine with what they’re given, no matter how small or big. Geoffrey Rush feels fun, full-of-life and vibrant as Hans, the type of guy that wouldn’t quite work-out fully as a daddy, but is a nice enough guy to charm even the blackest of holes; one of those “blackest of holes”, also just so happens to be Emily Watson’s Rosa, who is a bit of a hard-ass, but still heartfelt enough to see that she really does care and support others when they need it the most; and child-actress Sophie Nélisse does a relatively nice job as Liesel, especially considering that a lot of this movie depends on her to have a wide-range in which she has to go from happy and joyful, to absolutely scared, at the drop of a hat. She’s not always good, but she’s a kid, so I’ll give her time where time is due.

Anyway, like I was saying, it’s not all their faults, because they’re all fine and dandy; it’s just that when the movie ends, there doesn’t seem to be much learned, thought-of or even point to the whole proceedings. Yes, I am sure that there were plenty of German citizens that felt awfully terrible during this time of war, but what else is there to that? Not much else, and you’ll probably be wondering if this movie ever really needed to be made, or if made, made with a stronger, more compelling heart at the center of it, cause quite frankly, a family movie isn’t going to fully cut-it when it comes to a story like this. Then again, I didn’t read the book, so what do I know? No seriously, somebody tell me. I need all the help I can get!

Consensus: Some interesting and rather compelling choices were made on the behalf of the Book Thief to give it that extra “oomph” it so clearly needs to be more than just another story about Nazi-Germany, the Holocaust and WWII, all played to the fine tuneage of Mr. John Williams himself.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

MCDBOTH FE003

Obviously took place before the arrival of the iPad.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net