Film Critics

Tuesday, 30th December 08

Searching for Bobby Fischer - More of a debunk than a review
The Real Story behind "Searching for Bobby Fischer".
  By Rob Reath

  A great film was made on the subject of a young chess prodigy named Josh Waitzkin based on the book by his insightful father. Being something of a chess enthusiast myself and being one of the many who were left flabbergasted by Fischer's incredible domination of the chess circuit in the early seventies. I also played money games of Speed chess in Toronto And along with some hacker friends had conducted our own search for Bobby Fischer during his reclusive years. Sadly we found out some details of just how troubled a man he had become
and a victim of his own views at times as well as some grotesque media exaggeration.

 I consider it a duty of sorts to debunk some of the inaccuracies of the film which certainly based on reality but there a good deal of misrepresented facts that require clearing up. Before I do that, I just want to reiterate that I am a  fan of this film, and I think that given some of the delicate issues at hand any fact tinkering done seems only done out of good sense and in avoidance of any legality risks and it is hard to fault anyone for just being sensible and quite likely sensitive to the real people in that regard.

First, there is the championship match between Josh and seemingly spoiled child opponent named Johnathon Poe in which Josh offers his opponent a draw and Poe refuses before Josh delivers the final blow emerging victorious. 

In actual fact Josh did his opponent thus and offered a draw and his opponent played him to a draw and they shared the championship together. In the film Josh is the sole winner. It is also left out the fact that Sarwer was two years younger and had previously beaten him in their only prior match.

Now there are those who might mistake such observations as being unfavourable toward the real Josh Waitzkin, but allow me to say that I have played the chessmaster game he is involved with I hold him in a very high esteem.  He is bright, insightful and his understanding of chess among other things is infallible. There will be no disrespecting Josh in this review. It Should be pointed out that content decisions are rarely left for the subject of a film to decide.

In fact my motivation is more out sympathy for the his opponent whose real name is Jeff Sarwer. Jeff and his sister Julia were the subject of some incredible life experiences of which was a seemingly lesser event.

Jeff's being a Canadian is never mentioned and it is my personal belief that Jeff was the stronger player at the time, and closer to being the "next Bobby Fisher" in far more ways than Josh ever could and I'll give my reasons. 

First, Josh is from what can only be called a good family that looked out for his well being in every sense of the term, and kept his interests rounded allowing to pursue his choices as they came. He also is accomplished in the marshal arts, and has other interests.

Bobby Fisher was raised by his mother and had a strained relationship with her, and he became so obsessed with chess that all other things suffered, his studies, his respect for the establishment and trust of people in general.

Of course he had good reasons for many of his concerns but there were signs that his psychological state was at least questionable on occasion.

There was an article in Vanity fair by John Colapinto, a very well respected writer, about  Jeff Sarwer and his unconventional family that suggested child abuse and other oddities might be involved, by the homelife of the Sarwers. The Ex-wife of Michael Sarwer may have aided in this view, as I've not been able to get more than a summary of the article, it is unfair to comment further.

In Canada the child Protection Agency hounded the Sarwers over their nomadic lifestyle that valued freedom, independent thinking and did not involve going to public school. Home schooling was less common then and It seems more than fair to say that chess was a fair part of the education as both children were incredibly astute at an early age. Two year old Julia taught 4 year old Jeff how to play.

Bobby Fishcer was at least in some regards a genius. There can be no denying that he was at the very least, a chess genius. He attained a rank of 2785 which at that point in history had not existed before. In twelve game matches against grandmasters , which are easily forced to draws if a GM is losing, he won by scores of 6-0 three times in a row which is as absurd as getting a bunch of your friends together for a pick up game of hockey and then playing for the Stanley cup and winning every game of the playoffs four games straight and taking home the cup, with your friends. It can't be done. In the eyes of most, he achieved the impossible and upped the ante several times.

He was making a mockery of the entire chess world and not apologizing for it. He didn't beat them, he pulverized them beyond recognition. He was destroying careers, and national pride. I always found it to have been a particularly bad year for Russia to have lost the summit series to Canada in hockey and then lose their stranglehold grip of word domination in Chess to an American in the same year. 1972 was probably wiped off several soviet calendars if the behaviour of the KGB is to seen as an example.

So confounded were they by Fischer's dominance, his unprecedented and incomparable dominance, that they went to extreme measures to arrive at a sensible explanation. Measures that were so far reaching but not limited to sealing garbage bags and labelling them as "Air from Stage" to see if the air had been tampered with affecting their players or of the U.S government was communicating messages electronically to Fishcer's brain.

If that isn't proof of genius, I don't know what is.

 I believe also that Jeff Sarwer was a chess a genius. Like Fischer, his creativity and unconventional approach gave people fits, left them confused and so baffled that he became widely known for his exhibitions on Canada day cross the country.  Not attending conventional school probably allowed for more Fischer like chess dwelling time than Josh could afford maintaining the more well rounded upbringing.

Josh also plays a structured game and seems incredibly logical in both his study and application. My personal thought is that while he was surely a "natural" and about as high end a talent as one could hope to find, I believe his studying and analyzing and love of process are the keys to his game. He may differ. I believe that Jeff Sarwer also like Fischer had to suffer some strange and unfair horrors from the media.

Accusations of child abuse in this politically correct era can be more damaging to a person or family that most can even imagine beyond the initial shock. Jeff and Julia were taken from their father's care under all kinds of accusations being conditioned to idolize their father, having Jeff's head shaved once a year as a lesson about about vanity.  This and other suggestions that tend to cause people's imaginations to leap off the deep end and convict without further evidence did enough damage that the Sarvers were on the run and had to assume an anonymous lifestyle.

The problem with the whole child abuse allegation is that once the children were put into foster care, they ran away form them only too eager to return to their own father. Now from all I've ever studied about abuse is the cases of removal rarely involve kids running away to return if there are real problems unless the problems are worse elsewhere. The other problem with the accusations is that the children seem incredibly intelligent and well adjusted as adults today. Personally, I don't buy it.

Jeff seems to feel that the pressure from the media to sell their product results in distortion and lies more often then not and that one can only trust the direct source. Sounds pretty accurate to me.

Jeff has a website that one can search where he answers questions, just search him on Google.

This is just my take and I don't want to be unfair to Josh Waitzkin, who, I think is brilliant so If I were asked who is better, while my gut feeling is to say Jeff Sarwer, I suspect he has played a lot less chess than Josh in recent years as he has his own business. The only real answer I could give is that someone should put up some big money and ask these two brilliant chess experts to settle the last draw, and replay a game as adults.

Posted by ideastorm :: 10:49am :: Take 3 ::Lights, Cameras, Action! :: Add to Memories :: Edit Post

Tuesday, 16th December 08

I knocked up this video of my top ten movies for 2008

Let me know what you think.

Can you name all ten?

Posted by stevelead :: 12:31am :: Lights, Cameras, Action! :: Add to Memories :: Edit Post

Monday, 15th December 08

This Is Your Brain On Anime: Paprika

There is a story of the Chinese sage Zhuangzi that goes:
"Once Zhuangzi dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know he was Zhuangzi. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuangzi. But he didn't know if he was Zhuangzi who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi. Between Zhuangzi and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things."

Though on its face this may seem an almost childish idea to most, if you have ever experienced a lucid dream, or if you really pay any attention at all to your inner life, you may come to realize that there is truth to it. What is more, there is a real terror that can accompany realizing that the ground we stand on, at least figuratively speaking, is not solid. All experience is simply experience, whether it involves balancing your checkbook or talking to the monk levitating above a colossal, marching procession of cymbal-crashing frog men.

Many movies have dealt with this idea. (The Science of Sleep and Vanilla Sky are the first two that come to mind that do it any justice, but there are many more.) However, few have done it with such a brilliant flare for the surreal as Satoshi Kon's Paprika. Like his previous film, Perfect Blue (review here), the animation is top notch, and the script solid, though even the best animes tend to be a little stilted in translation. He also utilizes many of the same techniques in both movies, including breaking that fourth wall nearly every scene. In the case of Paprika, these techniques are being applied for a different purpose, and I would say they are done somewhat more gracefully.

(Read full article on TLA Attacks The Movies.)

Posted by agent139 :: 11:45am :: Lights, Cameras, Action! :: Add to Memories :: Edit Post

Monday, 20th October 08

Drunk For Your Amusement (pt 2)

My stomach still hurts from laughing. This weekend I saw Doug Stanhope at the Trocadero theatre, and I got exactly what I asked for- raw truth and bitterness,
served by a drunken lunatic.

Here are some of the thoughts I had when I first encountered his work. They still hold true, and I'm not a fan of regurgitation...

Read Review

Posted by agent139 :: 03:02pm :: Lights, Cameras, Action! :: Add to Memories :: Edit Post

Tuesday, 14th October 08

Black Christmas (2006 Remake)
The original Black Christmas, made in 1974, was one of the archetypal slasher flicks - a sort-of contemporary of Halloween, and one has to wonder if it's any coincidence that we got two movies wreaking bloody havoc over highly targeted consumer holidays in the midst of the biggest economic slump between WWII and a month ago, but that's a different essay. As were all the proto-slashers, Black Christmas was low-budget, sparse, and effective as much for what it didn't show as for what it did.

The remake, naturally, is slick, highly produced, and well-lit, so of course everyone hates it. That's not a totally unreasonable stand to take, but I'm here to put forward a radical notion - the reason other reviewers hated it is that they're applying the wrong criteria. Black Christmas '06 isn't a classic horror movie; it was just marketed as such because Madison Avenue lacks imagination. If you review it as a critical commentary on modernity, it's both a more interesting story and, frankly, a more credulous review.

Read the whole thing.

Posted by twopiearr :: 06:19pm :: Lights, Cameras, Action! :: Add to Memories :: Edit Post

Thursday, 9th October 08

The Dark Knight on DVD
The Dark Knight is finally available for pre-order at amazon: in four different editions, no less (I vote for the Blu-Ray edition, but unfortunately I do not own the Blu-Ray player).

You can read my review here. Beware of spoilers.

Of course, it might be a great idea to rewatch it in theaters when it will be rereleased just in time for the Oscar race.

Posted by airolf :: 11:35pm :: Lights, Cameras, Action! :: Add to Memories :: Edit Post

Wednesday, 1st October 08

Too Clever By Half

"I'd like to share a film with you that I think is, on the whole, highly underrated. "Too clever by half," as a friend of mine put it. That film is Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.

But before I discuss the movie directly, let me unpack the idiom. Many people seem to feel that if something is "too" clever, "too" smart, it's an affront to their common sense, an assault upon their salt-of-the-earth dignity. I don't know if this belief carries across cultural boundaries, but it seems endemic enough in the states that it even determines the results of elections. The Republican party has made this issue a corner-stone of their assault upon the "liberal elite," a fact well recognized and explored by Sorkin's own "too clever by half" drama, The West Wing.

I'm not entirely sure when being witty became a negative, frankly I don't care. Maybe this just makes me another member of the "liberal elite." But if you're not offended by self-aware satire and snarkiness, you'll likely find Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang one of the most entertaining, funny movies you've seen."

(Read review on TLAblog)

Posted by agent139 :: 01:36pm :: Lights, Cameras, Action! :: Add to Memories :: Edit Post

Friday, 19th September 08

Shock The Bottle, Not The Monkey
And so we find ourselves in the second Dead Zone of the year - that odd period when the summer blockbusters are behind us but the winter awards season has not yet begun, and so we have but a tepid smattering of also-rans with which to amuse ourselves. It is, in other words, the perfect moment to go back and get caught up on those smaller summer hits you just haven't had time for. Like Bottle Shock, a charming festival entry that was one of the few films this summer to receive actually independent distribution.

Read the whole review.

Posted by twopiearr :: 12:38am :: Lights, Cameras, Action! :: Add to Memories :: Edit Post

Thursday, 18th September 08

The TV Set

(2006, 87 min) Let me be upfront by saying that, though I am and remain a straight man, David Duchovny can do no wrong in my eyes. (Alright, he can do almost no wrong.) I have no particular interest in staring at his ass in the Red Show Diaries, but so long as the man is speaking, I’m listening.

I say this upfront because last night I watched The TV Set, and- though I felt like for some reason I shouldn’t- I really enjoyed it. And I think it wasn’t just because David was the lead. Admittedly, the humor was perhaps more lacking than it could have been, and the satire predictable, it nevertheless provided a surprisingly realistic and entertaining portrayal of why most television is an abomination. It also demonstrates what a colossal success it is when a show is actually half-decent- not because creating moving, honest media is difficult, although it is- but because the production process itself is seemingly hell-bent on mediocrity.

(Read Review on TLAblog)

Posted by agent139 :: 06:17pm :: Lights, Cameras, Action! :: Add to Memories :: Edit Post

Tuesday, 16th September 08

It's official - 12/02/08!
The X-Files: I Want to Believe is finally available for pre-order at amazon.

You can read my review here. Beware of spoilers.

Posted by airolf :: 01:26pm :: Lights, Cameras, Action! :: Add to Memories :: Edit Post