Bobby Fischer Against The World

YEAR: 2011

DIRECTOR: Liz Garbus




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.


The Rocky Series

ROCKY: 1976, BUDGET: $1,100,000 (estimated), GROSS: $117,235,247

ROCKY II: 1979, BUDGET: $7,000,000 (est.), GROSS: $85,182,160

ROCKY III: 1982, BUDGET: $17,000,000 (est.), GROSS: $124,146,897

ROCKY IV: 1985, BUDGET: $30,000,000 (est.), GROSS: $127,873,716

ROCKY V: 1990, BUDGET: $42,000,000 (est.), GROSS: $40,123,474

ROCKY BALBOA: 2006, BUDGET: $24,000,000 (est.), GROSS: $70,261,813

WRITER: all films written by Sylvester Stallone

DIRECTOR: John G. Avildsen (Rocky, Rocky V), Sylvester Stallone (Rocky II, III, IV, Rocky Balboa)



up until a few months ago i could have only said with certainty that, of the six rocky films, i had seen the first (Rocky) and the last (Rocky Balboa). as for the four in the middle, i knew i had seen at least one of them and probably parts of others. but i couldn't be sure what i had actually watched and what i thought i knew because of how those films have engrained their way into popular culture and been made reference to by many people i have known over the years. so, that being said, i came across the entire collection in a well-priced box set a little while back and decided it was time to watch all of them in order. and that is what i did...

but where to begin? rather than just discussing each film separately i feel that the series needs to be discussed as a whole. because it really is one complete story told in six parts. and, although some of those parts are a whole lot better than others, they all play their role in the Rocky saga. but lets start with the best of the six parts. Rocky

released in 1976, it was the first in the series and is the only academy award winning film of the bunch. now, whether it deserved to win that year, given the competition, is another story. but, it can't be denied that this is a great film and shouldn't be diminished because of how bad some of the sequels were, or because it has almost become a template for so many, much lesser, movies that have followed over the last three decades.



the first indication of how attached all these films are to each other comes right when the second film begins. Rocky II begins right where the last film left off. (the films begin with the last scene of the previous film in order to set things up - like on tv when they do a "previously on..." recap). and this is how each of the next movies start also - except for the sixth film, Rocky Balboa.

what i really appreciated about the rocky story is the character arc over the course of all six parts. looking at each film on its own doesn't really do justice to the story and character stallone created here. there is a real growth to rocky over the course of the six films. he becomes champion, he loses the title, he deals with fame and money and heartbreaking loss and brain injury and coming to terms with getting older.... and stallone as an actor really does shine here.

say what you will about his acting abilities outside of the Rocky films, but rocky balboa is one character that he nailed. maybe because he felt so close to the character because he brought so many personal elements to it and the films (especially the first one which, like rocky's title fight, was like his big - and probably - last chance). but whatever the reason, the development of the character and even some of the subtle changes throughout the films are wonderful. he is a real person and stallone encompassed him brilliantly. it isn't all good though...



like i said before, i don't want this to be a discussion/recap of each film individually, but Rocky IV bares mentioning as not just the worst of the Rocky movies, but as an outright really bad film!

for those of you who don't remember (or have tried to forget) Rocky IV is the "cold War Rocky" as i like to call it. it is the one where he fights ivan drago the russian. the film begins with an american boxing glove and a russian boxing glove colliding into each other and exploding (and that is maybe the most subtle symbolism/moment in the film). and don't forget the end of the film where rocky - through his determination and his will not to get knocked out by the more powerful drago, actually wins over the tough russian crowd and knocks drago out. and if that isn't bad enough, he gives a final "why can't we all just get along" type speech and earns a round of applause from everyone - even the serious and tough government officials. just writing about it is making me laugh/cringe!



stallone wrote all six films and he took over as director after the first one and directed the rest of the films save for the fifth. and what is interesting to see if you watch all the films back-to-back like i did, is stallone's growth as a director...

earlier, i made a little joke about the lack of subtlety in the opening sequence of Rocky IV (and the entire film in general). however, that can be said about much of stallones film making throughout the series. the films are very obvious - which is in interesting contrast to the rocky character that stallone created. while he is a big character there is also some genuine subtlety and nuance to his journey over the course of the series...

it almost feels like stallone's real interest was the rocky character and his evolution and journey and that the stories and situations around him were just a means to an end. at least for the middle films (which all came out three to five years apart). the first one stallone didn't direct and had obviously spent the most time writing and thinking about. it was his baby. his last chance - and it shows in how complete and great the movie is.

the next four movies all came out over the next 14 years (Rocky was released in 1976 and Rocky V came out in 1990). it then took 16 years (2006) before he made Rocky Balboa. and again, this time with the material and thinking about the character and himself later in his life made for another really good movie (the second best of the saga).



i hadn't thought about it till just now, but it is interesting to notice that the two best films in the series (the first and last film) are the ones where rocky doesn't win the fight at the end. which opens up a whole other conversation about when the films were made.

the first one came out in the 70s when auteur film makers ruled (coppola, scorsese, friedkin, lumet) and broke many of the standard rules of story, endings, film making, etc... look at the ambiguity at the end of The French Connection. does anyone really win at the end of Apocalypse Now? etc...

then came the 80s and the tone of america and of films changed. the cold war was heating up again. and after the recession of the early 80s, it was "morning again in america" to quote ronald reagan's 1984 campaign slogan. greed was good, america was strong and the "good guys" were heros and they always won. no matter the odds (look at the rambo movies, the chuck norris films...). ROCKY II thru V were released between 1979 and 1990.

then with the late 90s and 2000s we have entered what i see as a melange - excuse my french - period of film making with film makers working with and against conventions and long held ideas. and it is here that we get Rocky Balboa in 2006 going back to its roots and having rocky lose the fight, but emerge victorious by just going the distance.

it is as though in breaking with the classic hollywood formula of the victorious hero (that stallone had relied on for Rocky II, III, IV and to a certain degree V) stallone found a deeper truth of character and story.



you can visualize the complete Rocky saga as a "V". the first film is one of high points of the "V". Rocky II isn't as good (therefore going down one side of the "V"). Rocky III is worse than the second and the fourth film - the worst of the series - is the bottom point of the "V" (you get the idea: Rocky V is better than the fourth and Rocky Balboa is the other high-water mark of the series).

watching all six films in a row over a short period of time did two things...

1: it had the effect of making the problems with the films more obvious: if you wait three or fours years between movies you might not remember that the last film followed the exact same underdog, train hard, montage, win fight formula as the one you are watching. and some of the obvious/hit-you-over-the-head dialogue and script devices might have been forgotten from the last movie.

2: it made it much more obvious what was so great about the series: If you had seen the films in the theatre when they were released it would have been 30 years from Rocky to Rocky Balboa. with that much time passing you are probably not going to notice how well rocky develops as a character or the arc he takes throughout the saga. watching them spread out makes each film much more of an individual entity and the over reaching story of this man that stallone is telling, probably can't be appreciated in the same way.


Magic & Bird: A Courtship Of Rivals

YEAR: 2010

DIRECTOR: Ezra Edelman


did you know that basketball was not a very popular sport back in the late 70s going into the 80s? the tv ratings weren't great and even the championship games were broadcast on a tape delay. do you know who saved basketball? if you said michael jordan, not only would you be wrong, but you would make bryant gumble very angry. no kids, the two guys who saved basketball were larry bird and magic johnson. learn all about that - and so much more - by watching the great hbo documentary Magic & Bird: A Courtship Of Rivals.

it began in 1979 with the ncaa college basketball championship game where magic took round one by leading his michigan state team to victory over bird and indiana state. the next year they both entered the nba as rookies and the rivalry continued throughout the decade..

okay, so i'm sure some of you are thinking, "i'm sure its a good film, but i am really not a big basketball fan so it doesn't interest me." but then i say to you, "you don't have to be a basketball fan to enjoy/appreciate this film." then you say... okay that's enough of that, but the point is correct.

sure, a basketball fan, someone that remembers watching the bird/magic rivalry play out during the 80s will find the film very interesting, but even if the only basketball you know is tossing a crumpled up piece of paper into your waste basket at work so you don't have to get out of your chair, Magic & Bird: A Courtship Of Rivals is worth seeing.

the film goes beyond the basketball court and shows us who these guys really were and are. it tracks their friendship (which took a very long time to happen) and it tracks them individually over the years. and it does it in their own words. while the comments from all the sports writers and other players are great, it is the words from the two men at the center of it all that are the heart and soul of this film.

we get inside their heads and find out what they were really thinking at the time and how they really felt about everything that was going on around them at the time. Then, watching their relationship develop over the years and seeing the respect the two had, and still have, for each other is great.

you don't have to be a basketball fan to be moved when magic talks about how much it meant to him that bird was one of the first people to call him after he was diagnosed with hiv. listening to the two of them take us through their careers and relationship on and off the court reveals such human drama and emotion.

the fact that these two greats came along at the same time (just when basketball needed them) with such opposite personalities, and ended up on the two most storied teams in nba history, fighting each other for championships multiple times is really just almost impossible to believe.

basketball fans and those that remember watching the sport during the 80s have to see this documentary. but, if you aren't one of those people, but you walk into the room and your friend/spouse/lover/roommate/random dude/grandparent/sibling/etc... are watching it, then just sit down and check it out. you might be surprised.


2009 Oscar Predictions

 here i go again...

Will Win: Bold

Did Win: Big




MY SCORE: 19/24


"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Reader"
"Slumdog Millionaire"


Gus Van Sant ("Milk")
Ron Howard ("Frost/Nixon")
David Fincher ('Benjamin Button')
Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire")
Stephen Daldry ("The Reader")

Kate Winslet ("The Reader")
Angelina Jolie ("Changeling")
Melissa Leo "(Frozen River")
Anne Hathaway ("Rachel Getting Married"
Meryl Streep ("Doubt")

Mickey Rourke ("The Wrestler")
Brad Pitt ("The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button")
Sean Penn ("Milk")
Frank Langella ("Frost/Nixon")
Richard Jenkins ("The Visitor")

Amy Adams ("Doubt")
Penelope Cruz ("Vicky Cristina Barcelona")
Viola Davis ("Doubt")
Marisa Tomei ("The Wrestler")
Taraji P Henson ('Benjamin Button')

Phillip Seymour Hoffman ("Doubt")
Michael Shannon ("Revolutionary Road"
Robert Downey Jr. ("Tropic Thunder")
Josh Brolin ("Milk")
Heath Ledger "(The Dark Knight")

"Waltz With Bashir" (Israel)
"Revanche" (Austria)
"The Class" (France)
"Der Baader Meinhof Komplex" (Germany)
"Departures" (Japan)

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Screenplay by Eric Roth, Screen story by Eric Roth and Robin Swicord
“Doubt” (Miramax), Written by John Patrick Shanley
“Frost/Nixon” (Universal), Screenplay by Peter Morgan
“The Reader” (The Weinstein Company), Screenplay by David Hare
Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), Screenplay by Simon Beaufoy

“Frozen River” (Sony Pictures Classics), Written by Courtney Hunt
“Happy-Go-Lucky” (Miramax), Written by Mike Leigh
“In Bruges” (Focus Features), Written by Martin McDonagh
“Milk” (Focus Features), Written by Dustin Lance Black
“WALL-E” (Walt Disney), Screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, Original story by Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter

“Changeling” (Universal), Tom Stern
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Claudio Miranda
“The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.), Wally Pfister
“The Reader” (The Weinstein Company), Chris Menges and Roger Deakins
“Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), Anthony Dod Mantle

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
“The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.), Lee Smith
“Frost/Nixon” (Universal), Mike Hill and Dan Hanley
“Milk” (Focus Features), Elliot Graham
“Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), Chris Dickens

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.),Alexandre Desplat
“Defiance” (Paramount Vantage), James Newton Howard
“Milk” (Focus Features), Danny Elfman
“Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), A.R. Rahman
“WALL-E” (Walt Disney), Thomas Newman 

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Duchess"
"Revolutionary Road"
"The Dark Knight"

“Australia” (20th Century Fox), Catherine Martin
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Jacqueline West
“The Duchess” (Paramount Vantage, Pathé and BBC Films), Michael O’Connor
“Milk” (Focus Features), Danny Glicker
“Revolutionary Road”

“Down to Earth” from “WALL-E” (Walt Disney), Music by Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman, Lyric by Peter Gabriel
“Jai Ho” from “Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), Music by A.R. Rahman, Lyric by Gulzar
“O Saya” from “Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), Music and Lyric by A.R. Rahman andMaya Arulpragasam

"Kung Fu Panda"

“The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)” (Cinema Guild), A Pandinlao Films Production, Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath
“Encounters at the End of the World” (THINKFilm and Image Entertainment), A Creative Differences Production, Werner Herzog and Henry Kaiser
“The Garden” A Black Valley Films Production, Scott Hamilton Kennedy
“Man on Wire” (Magnolia Pictures), A Wall to Wall Production, James Marsh and Simon Chinn
“Trouble the Water” (Zeitgeist Films), An Elsewhere Films Production, Tia Lessin and Carl

"The Conscience of Nhem En"
      A Farallon Films Production    Steven Okazaki
"The Final Inch"
      A Vermilion Films Production    Irene Taylor Brodsky and Tom Grant
"Smile Pinki"
      A Principe Production    Megan Mylan

"The Witness - From the Balcony of Room 306"
      A Rock Paper Scissors Production    Adam Pertofsky and Margaret Hyde

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Greg Cannom
“The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.), John Caglione, Jr. and Conor O’Sullivan
“Hellboy II: The Golden Army” (Universal), Mike Elizalde and Thom Floutz

“La Maison en Petits Cubes” A Robot Communications Production, Kunio Kato
“Lavatory - Lovestory” A Melnitsa Animation Studio and CTB Film Company Production, Konstantin Bronzit
“Oktapodi” (Talantis Films) A Gobelins, L’école de l’image Production, Emud Mokhberi and Thierry Marchand

“Presto” (Walt Disney) A Pixar Animation Studios Production, Doug Sweetland

“This Way Up”, A Nexus Production, Alan Smith and Adam Foulkes

“Auf der Strecke (On the Line)” (Hamburg Shortfilmagency), An Academy of Media Arts Cologne Production, Reto Caffi
“Manon on the Asphalt” (La Luna Productions), A La Luna Production, Elizabeth Marre and Olivier Pont
“New Boy” (Network Ireland Television), A Zanzibar Films Production, Steph Green and Tamara Anghie
“The Pig” An M & M Production, Tivi Magnusson and Dorte Høgh

“Spielzeugland (Toyland)” A Mephisto Film Production, Jochen Alexander Freydank


“The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.), Richard King
“Iron Man” (Paramount and Marvel Entertainment), Frank Eulner and Christopher Boyes
“Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), Tom Sayers
“WALL-E” (Walt Disney), Ben Burtt and Matthew Wood
“Wanted” (Universal),Wylie Stateman


“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Mark Weingarten
“The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.), Lora Hirschberg, Gary Rizzo and Ed Novick

“Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), Ian Tapp, Richard Pryke and Resul Pookutty
“WALL-E” (Walt Disney),Tom Myers, Michael Semanick and Ben Burtt
“Wanted” (Universal), Chris Jenkins, Frank A. Montaño and Petr Forejt

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Eric Barba, Steve Preeg, Burt Dalton and Craig Barron
“The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.), Nick Davis, Chris Corbould, Tim Webber and Paul Franklin
“Iron Man” (Paramount and Marvel Entertainment), John Nelson, Ben Snow, Dan Sudick and Shane Mahan

The Wrestler

The wrestler Year: 2008

Writer: Robert D. Seigel

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Budget: $7 million (estimated)

Gross: ?

darren aronofsky's The Wrestler is the story of an aging ex-pro wrestler, randy 'the ram', about 20 years past his prime, as he works his way through the independent circuit, works in a grocery store and tries to reconnect with the daughter he estranged years ago.

the idea of a character past their prime and dealing with aging and loneliness and used up fame isn't a new one and i couldn't help but think of the last rocky movie, Rocky Balboa, and i mean that in a good way.  while the rocky franchise had become kind of a joke, Rocky Balboa was actually a pretty good film that really tried to deal with a good man who was once great and now really only had his past to keep him company.

however, in the tradition of the Rocky franchise, stallone went a little different way with Rocky Balboa then independent filmmaker and director of Requim For A Dream darren aronofsky did with The Wrestler. and i have to say, while it worked with Rocky Balboa, the same kind of grandness and 'happy ending' wouldn't have worked in The Wrestler.

now, i can't talk about The Wrestler without talking about the incredible performance from mickey rourke.  he had a little bit of a 'come-back' with his performance in Sin City a few years back, but this one could do for him what Pulp Fiction did for travolta, if the film ever gets seen as much as Pulp Fiction did (which it wont).

rourke's performance is excellent, and in a year with some great performances it stands among the best.  he doesn't play randy 'the ram' as a pathetic washed up ex-wrestler. or a guy looking to be the greatest again, or any of those stereotypes.  rather he is a sweet man who has really ever only been great at one thing, wrestling.  it is where he feels the most comfortable and appreciated and where he feels sure of himself.  there are definitely stereotypical elements to him, but are there not such elements in all of us? of course there are, and it is how rourke uses them in creating his character that makes it feel so true and honest.

i really liked this film when i saw it and i like it even more now that i have sat with it and thought about it over the last few days.  it is a simple story, but a very engaging one that doesn't all work out in the end the way one might expect, or even want, but it does work out the only way it really ever could have, which is the way it should be.


The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters

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Year: 2007

Director: Seth Gordon

Budget: ?

Gross: $677 925

there have been some great rivalries in the history of sports and some epic battles among champions.  there was the ali v. foreman rumble in the jungle, there was aarons quest to pass babe ruth's career home run number, the epic 2008 wimbledon finals from a little while back between federrer and nadal and then there was steve wiebe and billy mitchell.

if those last two names don't really sound familiar i can tell you that they are the two greatest donkey kong video game players who have ever lived. The King Of Kong is a great documentary about these men and their rivalry to be the best ever.

mitchell is the babe ruth/muhammad ali/bill russell/etc... of classic video games.  he has held numerous records and his donkey kong record (considered by many to be the hardest game ever) has stood for over 20 years. 

wiebe is a guy who, when he lost his job, went looking for something he could control and found out about the donkey kong record and set out to beat it.

if you are thinking that you don't care about video games and therefor wouldn't like the film, stop thinking that right now!!!  this movie and its cast of characters is completely awesome and almost shakespearean in some of its elements with the twists and turns and rivalries and sabotage and conniving plans.  it is so much fun to watch and the way the filmmakers made the film so that it was very much about the characters and the quest and didn't go the make-fun-of-the-people-who-take-this-stuff-so-seriously route was even better.

this is the story of one man taking on the system.  it is completely fascinating, totally unpredictable and a great documentary.


When We Were Kings

When_we_were_kings get When We Were Kings

Year: 1996

Director: Leon Gast

Budget: ?

Domestic Gross: $2 666 118

it was muhammad ali's birthday a couple weeks ago and watching all the birthday stories and tv specials made me think of a movie that somehow i had forgotten to write down on my list of films i wanted to talk about on filmed but not forgotten.  no, i am not talking about the micheal mann film Ali with will smith (although i thought it was a good movie).  i am talking about the great documentary When We Were Kings. When We Were Kings tells the story of the 1974 fight in zaire between the powerful george foreman and the underdog ali.  it was coined 'the rumble in the jungle' and what a rumble it was. 

i just want to say that people should not be turned off of the film if they are not boxing fans.  personally i am not a boxing fan, but i loved this movie.  yes the film is about the fight and the events leading up to it, but it is also about a time and a man, ali, who is considered by many to be not only one of the greatest fighters of all time, but one of the greatest human beings.

being a child of the 80's and early 90's i never got to see ali fight in his prime and to be honest i never understood what all the fuss was about.  not only about his fighting but about who he was and why everyone was so enamored and in awe of him.  then i saw this film and not only did i come to appreciate boxing somewhat, but i finally began to understand ali's greatness as a man.  ali's charisma and persona are also just so wonderfully contagious and powerful and take over whenever he is on screen.

almost all the footage was filmed back in 1974 by the director leon gast, but it took him 22 years to finally get the movie made (partly because the negative and rights to the film were entangled in civil suits involving the liberians who financed the movie's making).  i think however in this case it was meant to be because, the film that is now, is not what the film would have been back in 1974.  ali's legacy has had time to grow and the film does a great job of putting you back in the time but with a sense of history about it, looking at what ali had done prior to the fight and has done since.  it is also interesting to see george foreman as this powerful brute of a fighter and not the grill toting lovable man he is today.

the 'talking heads' in the film are also great.  spike lee has some interesting things to say about ali and his importance, and right there you have one person who obviously couldn't have been in the film if it had been made two decades earlier. also, norman mailer and george plimpton are fantastically literate and engaging as they describe what was going on and their impressions of the weeks in zaire. they also do a great job of taking us through the actual fight round by round and relaying to the viewer the technique and the strategy that was taking place - this is the fight where ali used the famous rope-a-dope in which he just took foremans blows round after round up against the ropes until george had tired himself out and then ali struck back.  it actually made me appreciate boxing as an art and a sport rather then the greedy, corrupt show it seems to be these days.

When We Were Kings is a film for all generations.  it will bring back memories for those that remember the era and ali when he was 'the greatest', and it will do its part to show those that came of age later, who ali really was and why he is still talked about with such high regard by everyone from all walks of life.

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