PFR is marking the 500th post by putting up a bunch of DVD extras this week. This guest paragraph review is from Fogs at Fogs Movie Reviews; an awesome review site that generates a LOT of discussion about films.
Searching for Bobby Fischer: Directed by noted screenwriter Steve Zaillian (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Moneyball, Schindler’s List), “Searching for Bobby Fischer” is an intimate look at the challenge of growing up “gifted”. It’s the story of young Joshua Waitzkin (Max Pomeranc), and what happens when it’s discovered that he’s a chess prodigy. Joe Montegna and Joan Allen play young Josh’s parents, and the two do a great job of showing the pride, anxieties, and inner conflicts involved in raising a brilliant child. How far do you push him? How much time do you have him dedicate to his gift vs a “normal” childhood? As they begin to train Josh and enter him in competitive events, he meets two very different mentors. One is a “speed chess” hustler in Washington Square Park (Lawrence Fishburne), and the other is a very exclusive, private, traditional tutor (Ben Kingsley). The two clash over the boy’s training, as you might imagine, but the true conflict of the film revolves around just how hard a child should be pushed to grow up, to compete, and to hone a killer instinct that might jeopardize the innocence of youth. With such a great cast (it also features small roles by William H. Macy, Dan Hedaya, and Laura Linney), and such a compelling story, “Searching for Bobby Fischer” winds up being a very moving, heartfelt film. It’s sitting at 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, Roger Ebert gives it four stars, and I myself recommend it very highly.
Safe House: a neglected CIA rookie sees a chance to prove himself when his safe house is attacked and he’s left to protect & contain a notorious rogue agent. Both Denzel and Reynolds are on good form, although neither’s particularly stretched given what they can do, it’s definitely easy money. In saying that, having these two does mean the characters are a bit deeper than standard action stars would be. The focus here is on straight-up, balls-to-the-wall action – about 1/2 the runtime is chase, shootout or fighting scenes, which makes for some great popcorn gawking. There are a couple of ultra-shaky cam moments where they’d have been better drawing black and white stick men hitting each other, but for the most part the action’s alright to follow. Unfortunately, this doesn’t put much thought on the plot, the story is the definition of unambitious and you can predict everything from the initial set up, right down to the final scene. Safe House may not be a particularly engaging or deep movie: “Post Bourne entry political thriller” just about sums this up, but with its eyes firmly fixed on the CrashBangWallop, it delivers ample in this department.
Evidence: while shooting a documentary four young campers find themselves in the middle of an increasingly creepy situation. The opening half is front-loaded with the standard box o’ tricks to pull you through the slow, familiar, setup – dead animals, tits, lesbian kissing, howling, mysterious sightings, jumps… no trick is left unused and it’s all a bit ‘meh’. Hand-held found footage documentary style is an instant disability these days for several reasons: 1) it’s a hard sell to viewers. 2) Plenty shaky, out-of-focus or focusing footage. 3) Characters constantly drawing attention to camera. 4) What they go through, nobody would drag a camera around. 5) First person in the woods, just screams Blair Witch… Despite all of this, the second half is where it picks up, the action kicks in, the critters come out to play. No monsters is left unrepresented: critters, ghosts, bigfoot, rabid zombies, lurching aliens (very Attack the Block-y) all chasing after the campers. This section is solid horror, and reminded me most of the first few Resident Evil games – the docu cam also works best here as it plays out like a rapid pace first-person shooter. Technically, the film’s decent given the budget; the picture is sharp when it has to be and the scares / jumps work well. Having a boring setup and killer payoff split the film down the middle, but it is worth sticking to the end of this.
Buried [Blu Ray]: An American truck driver in Iraq wakens up in a coffin with a Zippo, Blackberry phone and a few other items; his shit has hit the fan. From Reynold’s instant panic at the blacked out start, and with the entire film playing out inside the box, this is very claustrophobic and unbelievably suspenseful. As time ticks down, and the story snakes forward it’s impossible not to get whipped up in the boiling tension – especially during the latter half when bigger events unfold. It’s not often that black humour can lighten the mood but when a film is this intense, being put on hold or flippant sarcasm does take the edge off – momentarily. Technically, it’s superb – the camera work, varied lighting and sound maximise the intensity, and for the Blu Ray, while the picture’s not particularly ‘worthy’, every single scratch, movement, phone tone and background noise punches through. The only limitation of the film is that if you don’t buy in, it will only ever be ‘a guy stuck in a box’. With a scope this tiny, you’d think 90 minutes would be a long stretch, but Buried is quite the opposite – hyper-dramatic to the very last frame – it’s amazing how much Cortés forces out of this concept, and kudos to Reynolds, who took yet another gamble on a left-field movie. Proof that a tiny, tight project can be just as good as any ‘tent-pole’ picture.