Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Long before I ever became an official movie critic, I fell in love with the Nickelodeon.

Back in my student days up at UCSC, I saw most of my movies on campus, either at student-generated film series (Film Noir! Swashbucklers!), or at any one of the six individual college dining halls where double-or triple-bills seemed to be playing every night. But when my best friend Jan moved to town in 1974, and we rented our first little downtown apartment in Beach Flats, I had to find some other way to feed my insatiable movie habit.

That way was the Nick.

Original owners Bill Raney and JoAnne Walker Raney had operated an art house movie theatre in San Francisco before they migrated down to open the Nick in 1969. The University was just getting started, so UCSC and the Nick sort of came of age together. The United Artists theatre chain owned basically all the other movie houses in town, showing a steady diet of Hollywood fare, but Bill had other ideas.

The original theatre had only one screen (what's now known as Nick I). An old-fashioned nickelodeon machine sat roped off in a place of honor in the lobby. The snack counter was dominated by its vintage popcorn popper, and contained such marvels as a bag of Swedish mints (round chocolate mint balls coated in pastel candy), which quickly became my drug of choice. Price was, I believe, 45 cents.

As if the regular fare of new foreign-language films by Bergman, Wertmuller, Fellini, and Truffaut (always subtitled, never dubbed), and non-mainstream American independents were not blissful enough, there were afternoon programs like a ten-week series of classic French New Wave. Jan and I went to all of them. People ask me where I acquired my "background in film." I say: at the Nickelodeon.

In 1975, I started reviewing movies professionally (ie: in some place other than my journal) for Good Times. Okay, it was awhile before I actually got paid for it, but I knew I had arrived as a real critic the day that Nancy Raney, Bill's second wife, invited me to my first press screening at the Nick.

It was 1976, and the movie was Francois Truffaut's L'Histoire de Adele H (The Story of Adele H), starring the beauteous Isabelle Adjani. I took along my posse—Jan and my brother, Steve—and we got to watch an entire movie with only a couple more people in the audience. (I had no idea who they were at the time, and I was too shy to ask, but it was probably Dale Pollock from the Sentinel, and whoever was reviewing movies for City on the Hill that week.)

What an illicit thrill! A private screening in the middle of the day for a movie that wouldn't be open for the public for another week—it was surreal! Little did I know that would be my new reality for the next 38 years.

Nancy was the consummate hostess. When the Nick screened Almodovar's Women On the Verge (Of a Nervous Breakdown), where gazpacho figures prominently in the plot, Nancy served everybody cups of gazpacho in the lobby.

 When Bill and Nancy bought the three-year-old Sash Mill Cinema in 1978 from its owner, Rene Fuentes-Chao, Nancy was able to use the adjoining Sash Mill Cafe for "dos," as she called them, wine-and-munchies receptions for the press to meet visiting filmmakers. (For Les Blank's doc, Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers, she even served up garlic popcorn.)

But she really outdid herself in 1987, promoting the Danish film, Babette's Feast, in which a Frenchwoman prepares and extravagant meal for the dour inhabitants of a 19th Century Danish village. Yup—you guessed it! In cahoots with Casablanca Restaurant, Nancy had Babette's entire feast replicated for about a dozen members of the local film-reviewing press, whose ranks had swollen over the years. (And you can see why!)

The point of all this was to get people talking about the movies and the little-art-house-that-could, that kept bringing the best of world cinema to our little burgh. And, oh, how it worked! Bill and Nancy opened a second screen at the Nick in 1976, and added two more in 1981.

While the Nick spread the gospel of indie and art films to the public at large, the Nick screenings pretty much begat local movie culture. I met so many folks (and made so many friends) in the Nick lobby at screenings, I probably can't remember them all. Morton Marcus came to Nick screenings regularly; he was so famous, I was afraid to talk to him for years!

I'd known Buz Bezore up at UCSC, but it was at Nick screenings that I got to know the other alt-journalists—Christina Waters, Michael S. Gant, Tom Maderos, Geoffrey Dunn —who would be staffing Buz's string of alternative weeklies for years to come.

Vintage me, vintage Nick lobby, ca 2004. My home away from home.
Bruce Bratton was writing his column for Good Times when I started at the paper, and was one of the most loyal screening attendees. UCSC film prof Vivian Sobchak was a regular, and, occasionally, her colleague Eli Hollander. I got to know all the various Sentinel film critics over the years—Dale Pollock, Rick Chatenever, Catherine Graham. And while I can't recall the movie being screened, I vividly remember the day I met the "new kid" at the Sentinel in the Sash Mill Cafe, at one of Nancy's dos—Wallace Baine. He was there with his wife, Tina, and he had their infant daughter in a baby carrier over one arm.

Early in my tenure at GT, I went to a screening of one of Bill Raney's favorite movies, the obscure, utterly impenetrable 1965 Polish epic, The Sargossa Manuscript. (He was bringing it back as a classic revival.) This time, there was only one other person in the theatre, and as he and I staggered back out at last into the light of day, laughing and utterly flummoxed, we bonded over the fact that neither one of us had a clue what the movie was about. This was the first time I met Jim Schwenterley, who was then writing for the Cabrillo Log.

Soon, Jim was working for Rene Fuentes-Chao, programming the eclectic repertory double-bills at the Sash Mill. When Bill bought the Sash Mill in 1978, Jim became part of the Nickelodeon family. When Bill and Nancy were ready to retire in 1992, they sold the business to Jim. Who else loved movies as much as the Raneys, or was better suited to maintaining the Nickelodeon legacy?

Jim and his then-partner, Chuck Vowiler, were responsible for bringing the dilapidated Del Mar under the Nickelodeon umbrella, and restoring it to its Art Deco glory. Next came stewardship of Aptos Cinema—to the delight of Aptonians starved for Nickelodeon-style film content down in South County. More recently, Jim and partner Paul Gotlober undertook the massive project of switching the theatres over from film to digital.

Now, after 23 years of savvy, challenging, and entertaining film programming, Jim and Paul are ready to step down. The Nick has been sold to Landmark Theaters; yes, it's a theatre chain out of Los Angeles, but its theatres specialize in art-house and independent films.

The current plucky staff of Nick, Del Mar and Aptos employees are being retained to do what they do best: continue bringing the best movies out there to our community. The theaters will be dark on December 17 and 18, then rise, Phoenix-like on Friday, December 18, in time for the holiday movie season.

Here's looking at you, Nick. Let's hope the fabled Nickelodeon legacy continues!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


David Ledingham as Sky Masterson, & co
JTC inaugurates new Tannery space with spirited Guys and Dolls

The second production in Jewel Theatre Company's eleventh season is more than just an evening of theatre. It's an invitation to come check out the company's spanking new performance space, the Colligan Theater, at the Tannery Arts Center.

Enter the complex from the main parking lot, and the Colligan is the first building to your left (next door to the Radius Art Gallery). With raked seating for 200 patrons above the stage (the incline is gradual, not nosebleed-steep), there are no bad sightlines.

And while the space seems enormous compared to JTC's previous venue, the microscopic Center Stage, it still feels intimate in terms of the viewer's relationship to the performers.

Christopher Reber and Julie James
 To inaugurate this new space, JTC mounts a production of the crowd-pleasing, vintage musical, Guys and Dolls. Originally produced in 1950, but set in the '30s, the show is based on the short stories of Damon Runyon, and populated by his usual cast of lovable Broadway denizens on the outskirts of respectability—gamblers, bookies, and chorus girls.

The JTC production is a bit slow out of the starting gate, but picks up steam in the second lap and gallops to a strong, exuberant finish.

The show features the ever-likable Christopher Reber as Nathan Detroit, David Ledingham as gambler Sky Masterson, Cornelia Burdick Thompson as straight-laced Salvation Army captain Sarah Brown, and JTC Artistic Director Julie James as showgirl Miss Adelaide (having a high old time with her Bronx accent and racy stage numbers like "Take Back Your Mink.")
Diana Torres Koss: Runyon-esque
But the best coup is casting JTC veteran Diana Torres Koss in the male sidekick role of Nicely Nicely. Her Runyon-esque patter, dialect, and attitude are perfect, and she delivers some of the best songs.

The property is a bit dated at times. Viewers may cringe at the comic subplot of Sky getting Sarah drunk to loosen her up (she thinks she's drinking a milkshake). But this is a family show, so he doesn't do anything but beam at her indulgently when she sings her big epiphany song.

Likewise cringe-worthy is the wheezy idea put forth in the ladies' duet ("Marry the Man") that all a woman wants to do is force a makeover on her man the minute he puts a ring on it.

But otherwise this lively production successfully launches JTC's new home.
(Read complete review in this week's Good Times)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


Full disclosure: Meryl Streep is only in one scene
Hey baby, it's cold outside, so you might as well go to the movies. Here are a couple of good ones you should try to catch up with before they're gone!

Women who defied social convention to join the "suffrage" movement, campaigning for women's right to vote, risked family rupture, public ridicule, and physical violence. 

Known by the vaguely demeaning name, "suffragette" (based on the Biblical sense of the word "suffer," as in "to allow"), these women on the front lines of the struggle for equality considered themselves warriors, especially as their protests became more disruptive, and the reaction of the authorities more brutal.

Their story is told in Sarah Gavron's illuminating drama, Suffragette a fictional story woven skillfully into the fabric of real-life history about the radicalization of a working-class Edwardian woman into the cause of voting equality. Carey Mulligan plays a marginalized laundress recruited into the movement by Helena Bonham Carter's crusading pharmacist.

Rallied to ever more defiant public acts, the women are routinely beaten with billy clubs, arrested, and brutally force-fed in prison when they try to publicize their cause with hunger strikes. But as police methods become more draconian, the press becomes more and more sympathetic to the women and their goals.
Uppity women campaign for voting rights
The film is very clear about personalizing what these women are fighting for. In their daily lives, they get paid less than men (sound familiar?), and have virtually no legal rights over their own bodies, their property, or their children.

Gavron and scriptwriter Abi Morgan want us to understand how courageously these women fought for something so easy to take for granted now—the chance to have even a tiny political stake in their own destinies. (Read more)

Boy meets Mac: Fassbender as Steve Jobs
Leave it to scriptwriter Aaron Sorkin to come up with a punchy, comprehensible way to distill the complex story of the visionary who invented Apple computers into a feature film. In Steve Jobs, Sorkin's sharp, literate script, and the propulsive energy with which director Danny Boyle tells the tale makes for a hugely entertaining biographical drama.

They choose to focus on three crucial moments when Jobs’ career, celebrity and personal life intersect, literally, on the public stage: at the press launch for the Macintosh in 1984, the press launch of the ill-fated NeXT Cube in 1988, and the press launch for the first iMac in 1998—which was destined to revolutionize home computing forever.

Factor in three Oscar-bait performances—Michael Fassbender, mercurial, infuriating, and fascinating in the title role, Kate Winslet (left, with Fassbender), as Jobs' no-nonsense gal Friday, Joanna Hoffman, and Seth Rogen as stoically truth-telling Steve Wozniak—and the result is just about irresistible. (Read more)

Don't believe those naysayers calling this film a disappointing failure. It's a great movie, full of fast, funny dialogue, and emotional complexity. Don't be the last kid on your block to see it!

Sunday, November 8, 2015


The promise of books!
The readers website Goodreads is democracy in action. Any reader can post a review, assign stars, and gush great billows of praise—or snark— about a book she or he has read. Every review, from zero to five stars to dnf (did not finish) carries the same validity, and nothing is ever censored for language, grammar, content, or opinion.

I've occasionally heard of a reader launching a vendetta against an author (or vice versa). But Goodreads is a mostly useful place for an author to find out what the Public—as opposed to your friends and family—really think about your book.

The first thing an author learns about Goodreads is there's no such thing as a consensus of opinion. Reviews are all over the map, criticism-wise, at least for my books.

For all the readers who complained about the flashbacks to Captain Hook's past in Alias Hook, there were just as many who loved the historical backstory. For those who accused me of the dreaded "Insta-love" in the love story, there were others who claimed things finally perked up as soon as the romance kicked in. Some thought the thrilling finale made up for the book's dreary, boring beginning, while others thought the drawn-out finale went on forever.

Still, the canny author might discover certain trends threading through these disparate reviews. In my case, the trending theme was reader expectations. Alias Hook was not what they expected.
What do readers want?

Why not? Most of them were expecting it to be a YA (young adult) novel.

Never mind that it was never promoted as YA, that my publisher, Thomas Dunne Books, doesn't even have a YA line. Never mind that it says "adult fairy tale" right on the dust jacket. The subject is Captain Hook and Peter Pan, the genre is fantasy, ergo, according to the prevailing rationale, it must be YA.

This was not necessarily a bad thing. Sure, some readers were indignant about it, as if they'd been purposely hoodwinked. But others praised the difference between my book and the YA genre fantasies they're used to. (Usually in multi-volumes, with kick-ass heroines battling their way through fantastic family legacies, dystopian futures, or sci-fi/fairy tale landscapes.) Many commentators were also pleased by their ability to rise to the challenge of reading it. (One reader—who loved it—proudly proclaimed "this was the first adult novel I've ever read!")

But here's the thing: an author, scribbling away in her bubble, can't possibly know—let alone write to—a reader's expectations. It's out of our hands. Alias Hook was not written with any particular genre, focus group, or reading demographic in mind; the story unfolded the way it wanted to be told as I went along.

Scribbling away in the bubble...
As most books probably are. The whole idea of YA is a fairly recent construct in the centuries-old publishing biz, this odd notion that a book has to be pitched to a very narrow window of age levels. ("Children's," "Middle-grade," and the very recent "New Adult" are also thriving sub-genres, at the moment.)

Books have not always been so strictly stratified. Once upon a time, a book was released into the world without labels, to find its own readership, regardless of age group.

Consider these literary classics: Huckleberry Finn, Moby Dick, David Copperfield, To Kill A Mockingbird. All are read by teenagers in high school today. Would they have been published as YA, if that category had existed back in the day? Would readers have been expecting Ahab's Daughter: Blood Feud (Moby Dick #2)?

Back over at the Republic of Goodreads, reader expectations color reviews on every page. (One reader complained that because the word "alias" was in my book's title, she was expecting a spy novel. And was, of course, sorely disappointed.)

Neither authors, nor readers themselves, can control readers' expectations. When I switch into critical mode myself, to review a movie or a book, I'm as guilty as anyone else in that department. I feel the pain of those disappointed GR readers. If one's expectations aren't met, it's hard to review the entity in front of you, and not the one that might have been.

(Above top: Childrens Book Week poster, N. C. Wyeth, 1928)
(Above middle: Beautiful Reader by Christian Schloe)
(Above bottom: Art Nouveau poster advertising ink)

Saturday, October 17, 2015


Profile in courage: Malala Yousafzai in He Named Me Malala
Teen's courage profiled in powerful doc 'He Named Me Malala'

The word "inspirational" is highly overused. It's come to denote an entire sub-genre of books and movies, mostly devoted to Christian themes or underdog sports stories.

But for real-life inspiration of jaw-dropping proportions, look no further than Malala Yousafzai, the teenage Pakistani schoolgirl who spoke out for the rights of girls to be educated, nearly paid with her life when she was shot in the face by the Taliban, and survived, to continue her work on behalf of women's rights around the globe.

In 2014, she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace—at age seventeen.

The amazing story-so-far of this incredibly poised young woman and her family is told in the moving, informative documentary, He Named Me Malala. Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) chooses this title for a good reason: the "He" refers to Malala's father, schoolteacher and activist Ziauddin Yousafzai, who is revealed to be an influence and inspiration for his daughter. But as Malala points out in the film, "He named me Malala, but he didn't make me Malala." Guggenheim's film is the fascinating story of Malala inventing herself.

Let's start with that name. In a voice-over, accompanied by lovely, animated pastel images (which are used throughout the film), Malala tells the story of her namesake, a legendary 19th Century heroine from Afghanistan called Malalai. When the Afghani troops were in flight from invading British forces, Malalai climbed a hill above the battlefield and rallied the troops, crying "It's better to live one day as a lion than spend the rest of your life as a slave." (Read more)

Now an international advocate for girls' rights to an education, we see Malala in Kenya, talking to schoolgirls in a remote village classroom. When she asks what they are studying toward, every student says she wants to be a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher. Malala's battlefield is the classroom, and this is how she wins her war—one girl at a time.

Monday, October 12, 2015


A cool images from "Pan," but it comes at the very end
All flash, no fun, in shipwrecked 'Pan'

Full disclosure: I went to see Pan with extreme prejudice. As someone who has cheerfully adulterated J. M. Barrie's classic for her own devices, I'm leery of anyone else trying to do the same. And I'm very possessive of the way "my" characters (let alone Barrie's) are portrayed onscreen.

I wish I could say I was pleasantly surprised by Pan. But it's even worse than I imagined, in every way that matters: a story that makes any kind of sense on its own terms, characters we're invested in who share a sense of camaraderie, fresh dialogue, and, you know, fun. Pan comes up goose eggs in every department, opting instead for insanely huge and irrelevant CGI effects that pummel the fun right out of it.

Director Joe Wright can do literary adaptations (the Keira Knightley Pride and Prejudice; Atonement). But Jason Fuchs' script is an ill-conceived origin story that makes hash out of the original's time frame and sensibility. Not that Barrie's world of perverse feral children isn't ripe for a little tweaking, but Fuchs' revision is a clumsy, derivative mashup that steals from other, better sources, like Oliver Twist and Star Wars.

Neverland tribes: don't call them native Americans
12-year-old Peter (wide-eyed newcomer Levi Miller) grows up in a London orphanage run by ferocious nuns. One night, during World War II, while the Nazis are bombing the city, Peter and some other boys are snatched up into a flying pirate ship that whisks them away to Neverland. There, they join the ranks of captive child slave laborers mining the caverns for "pixium" (ie: pixie dust), which pirate captain Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) has been using to rejuvenate himself for the past 220 years.

It's not much of a life for a pirate—no women, no plunder, and nothing to spend it on, so why he wants to sustain it eternally is just one of the many things that doesn't add up. Tipping on a precipice one day, Peter astounds everyone, including himself, by flying across the gorge; turns out there's a prophecy that Blackbeard will be defeated by a boy who can fly. This is big news to the native tribes that live in the lush greenbelt over the hill from the mine, who need to stop the pirates before they despoil the entire island.

Indiana Hook and the kid. Before it all went wrong
There was much ado in the media when Rooney Mara was cast as native princess Tiger Lily. But it's clear in the film that the tribes are not Native Americans, just a bunch of mixed-race exotics speaking in vaguely British accents.

Not so James Hook (Garrett Hedlund); in this version, Barrie's well-spoken Etonian is a blond American  laboring in the mine, spouting a line of trite, patently "cocky" dialogue that would make Han Solo cringe. He befriends Peter (Hook calls him "kid"), and they steal an extra pirate ship that happens to be floating around and fly off to join the princess in her fight against oppression.

Did I mention there's an entire flotilla of flying pirate ships hovering above the island? Why do they fly? Who knows, but evidently that's not what they're using the pixie dust for. But if every ship is airborne anyway, what's the big deal that Peter can fly?

Jackman: Darth Blackbeard
 The story of Peter's birth might have had some resonance, but it's told in a confusing underwater animation sequence that's too murky to understand. And the only reason for bumping up the time frame to the 1940s (from the turn-of-the-century original) is so one of the flying pirate ships can have a dogfight with the Luftwaffe. No, I'm not kidding.

You know a movie is in trouble when not even Hugh Jackman, stomping around in black leather as a sort of steampunk Darth Blackbeard, can liven things up. He cruises around in a flying ship whose figurehead is a massive sculpture of his own head in its pompadour wig, which is a funny image for a couple of frames, but the script never gives Jackman—or anyone else—an actual character to play.

Who is this movie is aimed at? Wright says he made it for his son, but it's hardly magical enough to enthrall kids (and it's way creepy when the pirate ships blast through the Fairy Kingdom with flamethrowers), while adults will feel bored and/or bludgeoned (often at the same time). The wheezy plot won't interest young hipsters—not even (especially) in 3D. It's a shipwrecked extravaganza for an audience that doesn't exist.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


Veteran Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou is the master of emotional nuance. In haunting, deeply textured films like Raise the Red Lantern and The Road Home, he suggests oceans of feeling roiling beneath the surface of the slightest glance or gesture. His new film Coming Home, is a spare, simple-seeming, deeply resonant story whose life-sized characters will break your heart.

Scripted by Jingzhi Zhou (from a novel by Yan Geling), the film tells a moving story of love, loss, and attempted reconciliation beginning in the final years of Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

As in most of Zhang’s work, the ongoing political turmoil of 20th-century China is a huge factor in the lives of ordinary people just trying to scrape by and survive. This film makes cataclysmic political events personal by exploring their impact on individual lives.

Lovely Gong Li (Zhang’s longtime muse) stars as Yu, a teacher, whose husband has been in a labor camp for so long, her 13-year-old ballet dancer daughter, Dandan (the excellent Zhang Huiwen) doesn't even remember him. When the Cultural Revolution is declared over, prisoners are released.

But the happy homecoming Yu's husband, Lu (the wonderful Chen Daoming) yearns for is shattered when he finds Yu suffering from a  form of amnesia and doesn’t recognize him.

To make things more poignant for Lu, his wife knows that her beloved husband is coming home and goes every day to the train station to meet him, but she’s unable to see in Lu the man she loves.

Zhang plays the material as a chamber piece for three voices, full of small, resonant notes to be savored. (Read more)

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


Happy news on the book front: my agents have just made their first sale of foreign-language rights for Beast: A Love Story to Poland!

This is a big deal to me. Foreign rights have not been sold to any of my books since my very first novel, The Witch From the Sea, came out in a gorgeous, hardcover German-language edition (as Die Heimliche Piratin)—three years before it was published in the US.

It's so typical of my backwards career that foreign rights sold way before the book ever came out in a language I could actually read! Beast—so far, at least—seems to be following a more traditional publishing path.

No word yet on a date that Beast will be available from HarperCollins Polska. But I'll keep you posted on this, and any future foreign editions!

Saturday, October 3, 2015


Art Boy welcomes you to his 25th Open Studio!
Hey, kids, what time is it?

Ten points for Gryffindor if you said Open Studios time!

Artists all over Santa Cruz County are standing ready, as we speak, to throw open their doors to you, The Public, for the next three weekends. And it all begins today.

For those of you who came in late, here's the deal: participating artists countywide are divided geographically. North County artists (basically from the Yacht Harbor to Davenport) open their studios this weekend. South County artists (between the Yacht Harbor and Watsonville) will be open next weekend, October 10-11.

The following weekend, October 17-18, is Encore Weekend, meaning artists from both sides of the county can be open for one last hurrah. If they want to. It's not mandatory to do a second weekend, so if you're putting off visiting your favorite artist until Encore, check the catalogue first to make sure he/she will be open.

(A word top the wise: North County ceramicist, painter, and jewelry-maker Beth Allison Gripenstraw, a favorite here on the blog, will only be open this weekend. Beth doesn't just show art, she creates entire environments—including, in recent years, Alice's Mad Tea Party, an African safari, and Paris in the 1920s. This year' she's promising a voyage down the Amazon—without the bugs. Or, if there are bugs, they'll probably be made of papier mache! Or perched on a vase, like these froggies!)

Speaking of the catalogue, it's now a slick, glossy magazine format, with much larger images of each artist's work. And this week only, it's free, free, free inside the Good Times! Otherwise, you can pick one up at any of the usual outlets around town for the ridiculously cheap price of $5! (I suggest you get one at the Art League and stop in to see the show featuring one piece of artwork from each of this year's participating OS artists.)

And to get in the mood: look who's the lead story in the Arts & Entertainment section of GT this week! Yes, it's Art Boy (aka: James Aschbacher, above), juggling paint cans and ideas with equal dexterity, in this great photo by Chip Scheuer. Click here to read the profile by the one and only Christina Waters.

Then grab a catalogue and an art buddy, and chart your personal art adventure!

Thursday, October 1, 2015


Fischer vs. Spassky in Cold War chess thriller 'Pawn Sacrifice'

The Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union was waged on many fronts. One of the most intense and memorable confrontations took place not on a battlefield, or in a congressional hearing room, but in an indoor sports arena in Reykjavik, Iceland.

At this venue in 1972, the temperamental American chess phenom, Bobby Fischer, duked it out with defending Russian champion Boris Spassky for the World Chess Championship, an event publicized at the time (and still thought of) as the Match of the Century.

There's a lot of drama here—Fischer's eccentricity, political agendas, the "big game" motif—most of which is used to good effect in the fiction film Pawn Sacrifice. While the plot revolves around the famous 1972 match, through canny use of select flashbacks (along with a harrowing glimpse into the future via newsreel footage at the very end), the film provides a long view into the unorthodox life and times of Fischer, forever teetering on the crumbling border between genius and madness.

Scripted by Steven Knight, the film is thoughtfully directed by Edward Zwick, veteran of TV's Thirtysomething and many other screen credits. In the starring role, Tobey Maguire has to ratchet down his innate likability to play Fischer in all his abrasive, paranoid complexity. Nobody (including the filmmakers) understands Fischer any better at film's end, but Zwick and company successfully reconstruct the context within which he rose to fame. (Read more)