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Movie Review: Pawn Sacrifice


Pawn Sacrifice is a psychological biopic and character study about troubled chess prodigy, Bobby Fischer. Fischer took to chess from an early age, adopting the sport with a swagger and arrogance that would suggest he could go all the way. During the Cold War, it was the Russians, who dominated the chess world. Together with the on-going space race, the game's parallel with intellectual agility, gave the perception that the Russians had the edge on the Americans.

On its own, Fischer's story would still be remarkable... the rags-to-riches tale of a young American boy, whose chess skills could only be rivaled by grandmasters. While cantankerous and more difficult to please than a drunken rock star, he managed to become an icon and figurehead for the quiet and timeless game. His infamous attitude was spurred on by his mental instability, which made him even more squirrelly, the deeper he went into his craft.

However, it's difficult to rally alongside an arrogant, unstable and paranoid person, which probably explains why this biopic took so long to emerge. To give the character and story another dimension, Pawn Sacrifice has been aligned with subversive American-Russia battle of perceptions during The Cold War. Fischer was their secret weapon, sent to inflict maximum damage on the pride of a nation in an attempt to gain the upper hand.

Pawn Sacrifice

"Dress down man... it's the beach man, not the opera."

Director Edward Zwick, screenwriter Steven Knight and actor-producer Tobey Maguire have conspired to get away with a story about an arrogant brat, a sore loser and a brilliant, yet deranged mind. We've seen A Beautiful Mind, The Imitation Game and Ali, which all dealt with brilliant yet troubled individuals, who shaped and changed society and pop culture. Instead of slipping into the inspirational historical biopic mold, they've brought in a fresh political angle, which gives this fascinating biopic another layer.

Zwick has delivered a finely crafted film in Pawn Sacrifice, filled with old news reports, footage and detail from the age that make it a real rewind. We're immersed in the life-and-times with visual flair and enough colour to keep things upbeat. Steven Knight's script juggles an unlikable central character, who we can only really sympathise with, trying to keep a level of story integrity without derailing the film. He pads the troubled chess genius with enough likable supporting characters to help him cross the finish line as he competes against a series of honourable gentlemen by association.

Maguire is well-cast as Bobby Fischer, embracing equal doses of boyish charm and haunted affliction. He's the spiralling lone ranger, whose only redemption is found in championing national pride and sticking it to the communists. His squirrelly performance is counterbalanced by a Rodriguez-inspired take from Liev Schreiber, whose role as Fischer's nemesis, makes the film seem on the cusp of tipping into an Austin Powers meets Despicable Me style comedy about evil masterminds. Peter Sarsgaard's level-headed and understanding supporting role anchors the drama as a colleague and priest, alongside Michael Stuhlbarg's slow to chide and eager-to-please lawyer.

Pawn Sacrifice is entertaining, but fairly joyless and not quite as compelling as you'd hope. We're drained by Fischer's dysfunctional "spoilt brat" rants and depressed by the weight of the international scenario. The seriousness of the situation and mental condition sap any perceived levity and it becomes clinical and difficult to wade through, the echoes making you wonder how Christopher Nolan would've directed it.

It's not as distinctively different or compelling as its contemporaries and we're forced onto the back foot without a likable lead, making the film a process rather than an experience. It's solid thanks to the talent, quality of the ingredients and human interest factor, but makes for a challenging piece of entertainment.

The bottom line: Adept


 
Top Ten Movies with... Greg Kriek


Greg Kriek is an award-winning actor, producer, social entrepreneur and star-on-the-horizon. His international break came in the fast-paced action thriller Momentum, playing Mr. Monroe, opposite James Purefoy, Olga Kurylenko, and Morgan Freeman. The talented and in-demand actor is currently working on three upcoming international feature films in Blood and Glory, Bypass and Shussh!

The 'acting bug' bit following a series of awards at national acting competitions in South Africa. After completing his degree in Global Business Leadership, Kriek trained at the esteemed Larry Moss Acting Studio in Los Angeles. He returned to South Africa to play the lead role in the inspirational feature film, Born to Win, with a number of performances in The Unexplained Files, Dominion, Mooirivier, Somewhere in Africa, Quinn, Adrift and SAF3.

Kriek's been mentored by renowned Hollywood producer, Adam Schroeder and South African TV veteran, Patience Stevens. His first full-length feature film, Last Ones Out, was selected as part of the South African delegation to the Cannes Film Festival this year. Greg's directed on Top Billing, one of Africa's leading and longest running entertainment shows, and also had the privilege of working on international feature films and television projects with 20th Century Fox, Universal, Disney, History Channel and Discovery Channel.

Selected as South Africa’s ambassador for the One Young World Summit 2013, one of South Africa's Brightest Young Minds in 2010, one of the first selected protégés for The Chosen Leading CEO Council and a member of the International Golden Key Academic Honorary Society, Kriek's poised to reach his full potential as a leader to impact and empower those around him.

With a flourishing film career and a bright future ahead of him, we are pleased to feature Greg's Top Ten Movies interview...

"I pretty much wanted to be Macaulay Culkin when I was young."

I can't watch movies without...

- I’m pretty chilled when it comes to watching movies - my taste is pretty broad- I love learning about various styles and genres but I guess if I absolutely had to choose then I can't watch movies without a proper storyline, substance, action, romance and some intrigue. I love it when it's both visually and intellectually stimulating.

In general, give me Some DiCaprio, Pitt, McConaughey, Cruise, Scorsese, Spielberg, Nolan, DeNiro, Fassbender, Oldman, Pacino and I’m there.

Which famous people share your birthday?

- Kate Winslet, Jesse Eisenberg, Guy Pearce, Sir Bob Geldof, Ray Kroc and Bernie Mac. (5 Oct)

What is the first film you remember watching?

- Home Alone. I must have watched this about a hundred times - I pretty much wanted to be Macaulay Culkin when I was young- it was also the movie responsible for most of my hidings in life. It taught me how to set traps and make proper use of marbles, wood glue, fishing gut etc. It also made me secretly wish I could be left home alone for Christmas, but being the only child that was never going to happen...

Jurassic Park was probably the biggest influence that made we want to be in the movies - the first time I ever remember acting was taking my father’s Ray-Bans and re-enacting the scene where Sam Neil sees a dinosaur for the first time and takes off his shades in disbelief. The whole movie was nothing less than iconic!!!

What's the worst movie you've ever seen?

- Sharknado, I mean it's so bad it's good. It’s the kind of film you should show in film school as an example of "how not to make a movie" --- no no no this is next level "bad"- even for someone who's never watched a movie before!

Which movies have made you tearful?

- The Lion King, I think this the ultimate test to see if a person has a soul - see whether they cry when Mufasa dies. If not, run for your life... My Sister’s Keeper, The Land Before Time, The Pursuit of Happyness are also tearjerkers of note.

Who is the most famous movie star you've ever met?

- Morgan Freeman, Joaquin Phoenix, Sean Penn, Charlize Theron and Will Smith. One of my biggest career highlights to date is having one of the main supporting roles in Momentum, a movie with Morgan Freeman, James Purefoy and Olga Kurylenko.

What's your favourite movie line?

- "Every man dies. Not every man lives." ~ Braveheart

Who would you choose to play you in your biopic?

- Leo DiCaprio playing my older self would be a great fit.

If you could produce a movie, what would it be about?

- I have produced my first film recently, but if I could get my hands on a proper budget it would be a political action thriller set in South Africa.

Finally, your top ten movies of all-time...

- Good Will Hunting ...just hit the ball out of the park with a story so well told, characters I could relate to, and a healthy combination of drama and comedy. Loved the way the psychological mysteries of the 5 main characters were explored- genius filmmaking and inspiring that Matt Damon and Ben Affleck co-wrote this screenplay that kick-started both of their careers.

- Birdman ...was one of the most daring and bold movies I have ever seen in my life. Every part of the film set a benchmark for me. Technically it was a seamless extravaganza with continuous shots that I have never seen before. It also had such a layered storyline and tremendous raw and real performances that I could relate to as an actor and as a person. It inspired me to want to be a filmmaker and actor all over again!

- Inception ...was visionary, thrilling, cleverly mapped out and really reminded me how much I love a movie that is both visually and intellectually stimulating! "Layerrrrrs", as Donkey would put it.

- Interstellar ...another Christopher Nolan masterpiece that was thought-provoking and ridiculously bold in its execution of the story. Let me not start on how brilliant the performances were...

- American History X ...is one of the most powerful and provocative films that I have ever seen. A performance by Edward Norton that I will never forget and an overall reminder of the power of film.

- Jurassic Park ...as mentioned it's one of the ultimate inspirations that led me to being in the movie business! BENCHMARK, DARING, Spielberg, bringing dinosaurs to life. I mean need I say more? I’m sure everyone feels the same....

- Shawshank Redemption ...is the ultimate classic that I believe will remain timeless for years to come. To me it was an uplifting and inspirational drama that hit all the right beats and taught me about the power of dignity.

- Gladiator ...another of my all-time favourites! "What we do in life, echoes in eternity." ...if that doesn’t get you revved up to conquer the world- then I don’t know what will!!! The themes of dignity, true freedom and bravery really hit home!

- Braveheart ...okay by now you’re probably sick of seeing my list of epics! Sorry can’t help it... the soundtrack, the romance, the story, the cause, the acting, all those good things that make this the kind of film I can watch over and over again.

- The Dark Knight ...is probably on everybody’s list... This movie will remain unforgettable, complex, thrilling and set a standard with a performance in The Joker that I believe will be very tough to beat for years to come. Absolute cinematic history!

Top Ten Movies with... is a people series on SPL!NG, featuring a host of celebrities ranging from up-and-coming to established personalities from all industries including, but not limited to: Internet, Radio, TV, Film, Music, Art and Entrepreneurs. It's a chance to discover who they are, find out where they're at and to get a fun inside look at their taste in movies.


 
Talking Movies with Spling - Ayanda, Necktie Youth and Serena


Spling reviews Ayanda, Necktie Youth and Serena as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.

 
Movie Review: The Martian


The Martian is a Ridley Scott film. While the director is best known for Alien, and less so for Prometheus, he's gone for a much more scientific space film, undertaking the adaptation of Andy Weir's novel. It's been accurately described as "Apollo 13 meets Cast Away" as the realism of the NASA lunar misadventure is coupled with the spirit and tenacity of the stranded survivor drama.

We're thrown in the deep end as a mission to Mars is aborted and botanist, Mark Watney, is left for dead. As the resourceful astronaut makes a surprising recovery, he soon realises the extent of his predicament, counting the days and trying to send a distress signal to his distant compatriots.

Matt Damon has been entrusted to carry the weight of what would've been a Tom Hanks performance 20 years ago. You get the impression the first choice may have been Mark Wahlberg, given the cheeky nature of the character. Damon is more than up to the challenge and delivers an emphatic, human and well-balanced performance that ranges from laugh-out-loud funny to deeply affecting. His casting echoes his pivotal role in Saving Private Ryan.

Damon headlines a sharp ensemble including: Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean and Chiwetel Ejiofor. While the supporting cast share the other half of the screen time, they ground the film with the weight of personal guilt or scope of concern surrounding the recovery of Watney. Chastain is pensive and altruistic as Lewis, Daniels is grand as political bigwig Sanders, Wiig is amusing as Montrose the "campaign manager" and Ejiofor provides level-headed diplomacy in all the panic as Kapoor.

This isn't an existential drama, but more of an entertaining science class and scouting expedition on defying the odds with available resources.  At it's core, it's "Magyver in Space", as we find a likable guy performing everyday magic, using practical know-how and his intellect to execute the unthinkable. Instead of wallowing in a hopeless situation, Watney faces the Red Planet head-on, armed with his wits and mental resilience.

The Martian 2015 Movie Review

"So... help is only 225,000,000 km away?"

Scott swathes us in a film that effortlessly moves from the dusty wastelands of Mars into space and back to Earth without flinching. The visuals are seamless, transporting us to a very real survival scenario and then zooming out to a more political drama playing out back home. The deep space scenes may not be quite as revolutionary as Gravity, but we're captivated, whether Watney is moving slowly on Mars or the space crew are gliding from compartment-to-compartment.

The Martian has many contemporaries and parallels. Gravity is the most obvious contrast, as another deep space survival drama plays out with first-rate visuals, compelling drama and cinematic precision. Then, we're reminded of Moon as our hero finds himself operating alone and isolated as the sole inhabitant of a makeshift space colony. The escalation of tension, entertaining tone and stars-and-stripes recall ArmageddonThen, the scientific detail and NASA politics of Europa Report come to mind as the situation becomes more desperate, while the time frame and casting echo Interstellar.

The Martian is a finely-crafted film that blends elements from science-fiction across the ages. The Magyver tricks and dexterous genre-mix make it stand out from the crowd as we're fascinated by the science of our hero's enterprise, empathetic towards his stay positive frame-of-mind and amused by his flippant do-or-die attitude.

At 140 minutes, The Martian is a lengthy but rewarding investment, yet the central criticism stems from the original story itself. We're acquainted with the American bravado surrounding the sentiment of "leave no man behind" from many Vietnam war movies, but the realism is underwritten by an invisible budget. Would a federal agency (or crew) spend or risk billions of dollars on an iffy mission to rescue one man in space, when it would better serve millions back home? Thankfully, the film's enjoyment is not dependent on this fundamental issue, but the irony is thought-provoking as a haunting residue.

The bottom line: Entertaining

 
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