Posts Tagged ‘Tobey McGuire’

PAWN SACRIFICE: 3 STARS. “surprisingly straightforward.”

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 2.06.32 PMThere was a time when one of the best-known sportsmen in the world didn’t wear a uniform, cleats or throw a ball. As unlikely as it seems in the summer of 1972 chess master Bobby Fischer held the world transfixed, battling against Soviet grandmaster Boris Spassky.

Tobey McGuire is Fischer, a child chess prodigy determined to be recognized as the best player in the world. As a young, cocky player he easily decimates his opponents, earning national ranking and the opportunity to play the best players in the world.

At Fischer’s side are Paul Marshall (Michael Stuhlbarg) as a shadowy government figure who sees Fischer’s triumph over the Russians as a Cold War triumph for all of America and a chess whiz priest (Peter Sarsgaard) who provides guidance, both personal and professional.

Between Fischer and his goal is Spassky (Liev Schreiber), a stately Russian genius who thoroughly unnerves the American, highlighting his descent into mental illness and paranoia. By the time to two face off at the 1972 World Chess Championship in Reykjavík, Iceland, Fischer’s obsessions—anti-Semitism (even though he himself is Jewish) and a deep seeded distrust of his Russian opponents—threaten to incapacitate him.

Considering Fischer’s ability to think several steps ahead of his opponents, “Pawn Sacrifice” is surprisingly straightforward. Fischer’s life is divided into major events laid out end to end, from prodigy to world champion to eccentric recluse. McGuire transcends the basic biopic structure with a nuanced performance that breathes life into Fischer’s brilliance and demons. The reason for his torments aren’t examined as deeply as it might have been—his issues with identity seem to only stem from his mother’s taunts about his absent father—which may have deepened the character but McGuire plays him with confidence and vulnerability.

Also strong is Schreiber, performing here in Russian, as the august but human grandmaster.

“Pawn Sacrifice” kicks into gear in its final third as Fischer and Spassky go mano e mano over a chess board as the world watches.

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2: 3 STARS. “the busiest superhero movie in recent memory.”

The-Amazing-Spider-Man-Movie-2_1386682323At two-and-a-half hours the new Spider-Man movie is almost equal parts action and story. The first fifteen minutes contains not one, but two wild action sequences that’ll make your eyeballs dance. If you haven’t had your fill of special effects for the week your thirst will be quenched early on. Then the onslaught of story begins. Jammed packed with plot, bad guys and lots and lots of moony-eyed love, it’s the busiest superhero movie in recent memory.

Fresh out of high school Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is being pulled in two different directions. He loves Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) but is troubled by a promise he made to her late father (Dennis Leary) that he would never let anything bad happen to her.

Meanwhile, Peter’s old friend Harry Osborn (Dane De Haan), heir to the OsCorp fortune, is battling a hereditary genetic disease he thinks can be cured with a dose of Spider-Man’s blood and Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), a low level OsCorp electrical engineer, has an accident that rewires him into Electro, a highly charged villain with the power to control electricity.

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is this is a movie with several well-crafted dramatic moments. Too bad most of them feel like they’re lifted from another movie and dropped into this one as placeholders for the action sequences. Peter Parker is shedding tears over his love life one minute, swinging on webby vines through the streets the next. Both tones are well executed, but they often feel forced together.

Garfield works to distance himself from Tobey McGuire’s Spider-Man. First thing you notice is that he’s not as mopey as McGuire; as Parker Garfield is nerdy and angsty, not downcast and ennui ridden.

Secondly, he’s witty when playing the web slinger. The Sam Raimi “Spider-Man” movies didn’t use Spidey’s comic book sarcasm but Garfield’s Mach 2 version isn’t shy to let loose with some entertaining trash talking.

His portrayal is bright, punchy and more akin to the comic books than anything McGuire or Raimi put on film.

Emma Stone’s football-sized eyes and smart smile rescue Gwen from the simply fulfilling the girlfriend role. She brings some spark to the character and shares some good chemistry with (real life boyfriend) Garfield.

Speaking of sparks, Foxx could have used a few more as Electro. A bundle of neurosis before his electro charged accident, Max becomes one of the rare villains who was more interesting before he got his powers.

De Haan, who was so good in “Chronicle,” is interesting as Harry / Green Goblin. His obsession with finding a cure for his disease is a springboard for his transformation into the Goblin and Da Haan embraces a malevolence that makes the character memorable.

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” has good actors—plus a fun cameo from Paul Giamatti—a love story and some good action—you will believe a man can swing above the streets of New York—so why does it feel somewhat unsatisfying?

Maybe it’s the two-and-a-half-hour running time, or the something-for-everyone mix of action, heartbreak and comedy, or perhaps it’s the fact that it feels like a well made copy of the first Garfield “Spider-Man” movie, which itself was a riff on the McGuire movies.


great_gatsbyJay Gatsby, the doomed millionaire and star of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, is one of the most famous characters of the twentieth century. Representing the ultimate self-made-American man he is, at once, a romantic, fatally idealistic figure and a poseur with grandiose ideas, much like the new Baz Luhrman movie about Gatsby’s short but eventful life.

We first meet narrator Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) when he is at a sanatorium being treated for severe alcoholism and bouts of depression. Part of his treatment involves writing a memoir about the events that brought him to his current state. Flashback to the Jazz Age, early 1920s in New York. Nick is working as a stockbroker in the city while living in a wealthy enclave known as West Egg. His neighbor is the enigmatic Jay Gatsby (Leonardo Di Caprio), whose ornate mansion—more of a palace really—plays hosts to wild weekend parties that attract a mix of the era’s well-heeled and round-heeled.

Across the water is the estate of Nick’s cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), and her husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). She’s a debutant; he’s old money, a sports star with a short temper and a roving eye.

Nick soon learns that Gatsby was Daisy’s first love. That’s not the only secret in Gatsby’s life, however. Turns out he isn’t the aristocrat he claims to be, but the son of dirt-poor farmers who reinvented himself as Jay Gatsby, making a fortune bootlegging alcohol and manipulating the stock market.

Gatsby and Daisy pick up where they left off, but Gatsby proves unable to control the future as adeptly as he created his past.

Baz Luhrman may be the perfect person to retell Jay Gatsby’s Roaring Twenties’ story. Equally at home with razzle-dazzle and substance, he captures the tone of the Jazz Age while still allowing the story’s deeper resonance to shine through the gloss.

The movie’s first hour focuses on the superficial. Luhrman’s restless camera sweeps and swoops, never settling in one place for too long. It’s so over the top it makes the effervescent “Moulin Rouge!” look subdued but it also captures the unbridled optimism of the age. Gatsby’s parties are bacchanals complete with giant champagne bottles that shoot glitter over crowds of scantily clad flappers, gallons of bootleg whiskey served by white-gloved waiters and other “riotous amusements on offer.”

It’s eye candy, pure and simple, and yet the sense of doom that hangs over the beautiful and damned characters in the story is palpable. Without it this would be just another story about pretty people doing pretty-people things, but Luhrman broadens the story to inject some real-life feeling into a mannered story about a life that feels unreal.

He stays quite faithful to Fitzgerald’s book—even including the novel’s famous last line, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” which was noticeably absent from the Robert Redford version—but has structured the story to have a cinematic arc.

As the story changes so does the look and feel of the film—it slows down, luxuriating in the details, not only of the character’s lives, but of their situation as well. It’s an extremely stylish movie, but aside from some curious music choices—like the anachronism of a Jay-Z rap blaring over 1920’s NYC footage—the style doesn’t overwhelm the narrative.

As Gatsby Di Caprio not only makes the best movie star entrance ever—complete with swelling music, fireworks and zooming camera—but also plays a more tortured Gatsby than we’ve seen before. He’s smooth and slick in an “Old sport” kind of way, but bubbling just under the surface is an inner turmoil that trumps the mannered façade.

Maguire and Edgerton hand in effective performances—Maguire is a passive observer for the most part, Edgerton more aggressive—but Carey Mulligan steals the show.

Daisy is one of Fitzgerald’s “bright precious things,” a hothouse flower and Mulligan has a face capable of simultaneously showing great happiness and profound sadness, a duality that serves her character well.  She effortlessly tosses off shallow lines like, “Your life is adorable,” while digging deep to convey Daisy’s conflicted nature.

“The Great Gatsby” is a flashy, in-your-face 3D movie but despite the sophisticated use of special effects it still maintains a classic feel, driven by a respect for the story and interesting performances.


Spiderman 2 movie image Tobey MaguireI’m always wary of movies based on comic books. There have been good ones – Ghost World, Batman, Blade – but the track record is not good. Spider-man is one of the good ones, maybe even one of the great ones. Director Sam Raimi hit the right balance between action and story, between reality and fantasy. Raimi has a steady hand with story – just rent A Simple Plan if you’re not convinced – and knows about action and special effects from his Evil Dead days. He has crafted an old fashioned super-hero movie that made me nostalgic for the days of Christopher Reeves as Superman. I would quibble with the decision to put a Green Goblin mask on Willem Dafoe. Why cover up his expressive face with a cheesy looking mask? Dafoe could have been more effective and twice as scary had we been able to actually see his face. Tobey McGuire nails the socially inept Peter Parker, putting a human face on the superhero that is very charming. This one’s a winner that is sure to spawn a web-full of sequels.


the-amazing-spider-man-movie-4Any movie brazen enough to put the word “amazing” in the title really should go the extra mile to ensure that the movie is, in act, amazing. Otherwise filmmakers run the risk of opening themselves up to reviews that begin like this: “Amazing Spider-Man,” more like “So-So Spider-Man.” There’s nothing that much wrong with the reboot of the Sam Raimi series, but it doesn’t have the oomph I would have expected from a talented director—the ironically named Marc Webb—hitting the reset button.

Like first Raimi film—which was released just ten years ago—“The Amazing Spider-Man” is an origin film. Peter Parker (“The Social Network’s” Andrew Garfield) is a misfit teen who develops superhuman powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider. His spidey-senses tingle when danger is about and, as the song goes, he can “do whatever a spider can.” His new powers put him in the path of his scientist father’s old partner Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), an amputee doctor experimenting with cross genetic engineering to find a way to regrow his arm, and into the arms of Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone), the cute daughter of a hardboiled police captain (Denis Leary).

There are differences between Raimi’s take on the story and the new film. He no longer organically shoots webs, they now come out of a mechanical webslinger. There’s a new romantic interest—Gwen replaces Mary-Jane Watson (played by Kirsten Dunst in the older movies) as Parker’s paramour– a new villain—Curt Connors appeared in the other movies as Peter’s professor—who morphs from human to giant lizard determined to infect everyone with lizard juice and J. Jonah Jameson, the Daily Bugle’s Editor-in-Chief is absent.

The biggest change, however, comes in the character. Spider-Man Mach 1, Tobey McGuire, played the webbed wonder’s human counter-part as a sweet, but awkward and bullied loner. Garfield takes a different approach. His Parker is rebellious, angst-ridden who taunts his enemies with wisecracks and gleefully yells, “I’m swingin’ here!” as he zigzags trough the air supported by his newfangled super webs.

It’s an interesting, fresh take on Parker, which Garfield, despite being eleven years older than his character, pulls off with aplomb. He’s made the character his own, balancing Parker’s nervous energy with Spider-Man’s cockiness.

Emma Stone’s Gwen and Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Peter’s Uncle Ben and Aunt May bring some necessary heart to the story, but this is a summer blockbuster, so the emphasis is on the other stuff; nine-foot long lizards and fight scenes, but despite the large scope of the film it seems on a smaller scale than Raimi’s movies. Or at last as small a scale as a movie about a giant reptile and a radioactive superhero can be.

The visionary rethink that Christopher Nolan brought to Batman isn’t here. It does have the best Stan Lee cameo to date, beautiful photography and more humor than the previous films, but coming just five years after the last Raimi film it doesn’t feel as “amazing” as it should.