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last update 9.Jun.11
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Bobby Fischer Against the World
dir Liz Garbus
prd Stanley F Buchthal, Liz Garbus, Matthew Justus, Rory Kennedy
with Bobby Fischer, Henry Kissinger, Garry Kasparov, Anthony Saidy, Russell Targ, Gudmundur Thorarinsson, Susan Polger, Larry Evans, Harry Benson, Sam Sloan, Shelby Lyman, David Shenk
release US Jan.11 sff,
UK 15.Jul.11
11/US HBO 1h32

ediburgh film fest
Bobby Fischer Against the World Strikingly well-assembled, this straightforward doc chronicles the chess champ's life using first-hand reminiscences and a wealth of historical footage. It's surprising, involving and ultimately very moving.

Fischer emerged as a 9-year-old chess prodigy. By 15 he was the 1958 US champion, and he soon set his sights on the world champion Russian players. At the height of the Cold War in 1972, both countries had their reputations staked on the showdown between Fisher and Boris Spassky in Reykjavik. After Fischer's paranoid, diva-like behaviour almost derailed the match, he emerged the victor. And then he disappeared, failing to defend his title. Years later, he emerged for a controversial rematch with Spassky in 1992 Yugoslavia, resulting in his exile from America.

The film frequently refers to but only briefly outlines Fischer's childhood, including his relationship with his iconic communist-friendly mother. Instead, the main focus is on Fischer's mental state as he obsesses about chess, which centres on being paranoid about the opponent's potential moves. But Fischer clearly takes this paranoia into his personal life. He was unable to make a decision or trust any officials, and in later years he isolated himself from everyone, bitter about government conspiracies he saw on all sides.

All of this is covered with a razor-sharp attention to detail, covering each increasingly eerie turn of events from a variety of perspectives as interviewees recount the story and extensive video footage shows us how it happened. Most interesting are the archival interviews with Fischer himself, from age 9 right up to his 2008 death at age 64. All of this is skilfully edited in a style that feels intriguingly seamless, even as it travels through Fischer's ups and downs.

Yes, the film focuses a bit intensely on Fischer's dark side, but it also vividly portrays his genius. And we also see that the people who knew him really cared about him, against all odds. So watching him succumb to his inner demons is genuinely painful: this is the greatest chess player who ever lived reduced to a lonely, angry man. And yet the filmmakers find dignity even here, which is no mean feat.

15 themes, language
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Born to Be Wild 3D
dir David Lickley
scr-prd Drew Fellman
narr Morgan Freeman
with Daphne Sheldrick, Birute Mary Galdikas
born to be wild release US 8.Apr.11,
UK 17.Jun.11
11/US Warner 40m
born to be wild 3d This beautifully shot Imax documentary tells the story of two remarkable women who run programmes to rescue orphaned animals and then eventually help return to the wild. And the strength of the material overcomes the somewhat simplistic editing.

For several decades, Dame Daphne has been rescuing baby elephants whose mothers were killed by poachers in Kenya. She raises them in such a way that they retain their instincts, so eventually they join a herd of fully grown elephants in a protected reserve. Meanwhile in Borneo, Dr Galdikas is doing the same thing with orangutans in the rainforest. Both of these women have dedicated their lives to this work, and their children and grandchildren are also involved. And the most remarkable thing about these projects is how they are so centred on the animals themselves.

Through interviews and voice-overs, the film explains the painstaking processes both women have gone through to develop their programmes, from finding the right milk formula for elephants to building the right kind of jungle gyms to help orangutans learn how to swing from trees. The dedication of these women and their teams of trainers is seriously inspiring, and their contribution to animal conservation is invaluable.

Of course, watching these young animals on screen is also a lot of fun, especially when it's filmed in razor-sharp Imax 3D. Their childlike personalities shine through in mischievous activities, temper tantrums and playful interaction with both other animals and their human companions. And it's especially thrilling to see them re-integrated into more natural environments, with the orangutans swinging through the branches and the elephants running with the herd.

That said, there's not much to the filmmaking. It simply switches back and forth between the two stories, with Freeman's soothing-knowing narration providing the glue that holds it together. So it's a good thing that there's some astounding footage in here, as we get to watch these animals in ways we've never seen before. Especially on this huge screen. And of course there's the important issue being addressed here as well, slightly overstated, that if humans are making these animals orphans, then we have a responsibility to help give them the best chance at a normal life. Hopefully these aren't the only two women doing this kind of work.

U some themes
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5/5   MUST must see SEE
dir-prd Dominic Allan
with Jean Marc Calvet
calvet release UK Jun.11 eiff
11/France 1h26

edinburgh film fest
calvet Beautifully shot and edited, this documentary tells the powerfully resonant story of Nicaragua-based painter Jean Marc Calvet, tracing his astounding journey from rough streets in France to New York art galleries. And the central theme resounds: "Never believe you've played your last hand."

Jean Marc (Marco to his friends) tells his story to camera while retracing his steps. With disarming openness, he recounts each twist and turn in his life, blending in sharp humour and earthy emotion he describes his introduction to drugs and a horrific attack at age 15 after running away from his bickering parents. From here he gets into crime and worse, including a stint as bodyguard to a mob boss in Miami, whom he robs before fleeing to Costa Rica. There his experiences as a club owner and drug abuser nearly kill him. On the brink of death, he discovers the power of expression through painting.

Through all of this, Calvet yearns for the son he fathered in France after his stint in the Foreign Legion; he's wracked with guilt over abandoning his wife and child, and his pain fills his work. So with the cameras rolling, he decides to make contact, even if it means rejection. And the film's final third focuses on what Calvet knows doesn't deserve to be called redemption. But it's the only thing he can do.

Filmmaker Allan assembles this in a way that often feels harrowingly intimate. The scene of his epiphany in Costa Rica is very hard to watch, as Calvet narrates a period of paranoid violence and chaos that came from hard drug use. Much happier scenes with his wife and stepdaughter in Nicaragua provide contrast. Sure, Calvet looks like a beefy, tattooed and pierced bouncer, but we also see his tender soul. And we witness how he's unafraid to stare down his demons and open up about his horrible experiences and awful decisions.

As Calvet recounts each episode, the film goes through stages of comedy, tragedy, crime thriller, hellish horror and catharsis. And he's such a compellingly likeable man that we willingly experience everything along with him. Remarkably, Allan achieves this without mythologising Calvet or pumping the sentimentality. By simply letting us hear this man walking through his own life in such a frank, honest way, we are utterly gripped to every scene. And the emotional kick is pretty extreme for us too.

15 themes, language
15.Jun.11 eiff
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The Flaw
3.5/5   Markets, Money, Mortgages and the Great American Meltdown
dir David Sington
prd Stephen Lambert, Christopher Hird, Luke Johnson
with Robert Shiller, Robert Frank, Joseph Stiglitz, Andrew Luan, Dan Ariely, Robert Wade, George Cooper, Jim O'Neill, Nell Minow, Steve Pennington, Sarah Ludwig, Ed Andrews
the flaw release US Jan.11 sff, UK 3.Jun.11
11/UK 1h18

the flaw The title of this America-centric documentary refers to the flawed belief that markets can increase in value indefinitely. Besides violating the laws of nature, this is so clearly fiction that we hardly need a movie to tell us. Even so, it's a lucid, gripping doc.

At a Congressional financial hearing, Alan Greenspan admitted that there was a defect in his theory that markets would function better if unregulated, because people turned out to be untrustworthy. And also because the hypothesis that the market determines fair value has actually resulted in unfair competition. The film traces various bubbles, including the build-up to the crash of 1929, the stock market in the 90s and the events of 2007, noting that property booms (like in the 20s and 00s) are far more dangerous, because they involve so much debt.

It also explores why the 50s is seen as America's golden decade, when people had money to make their lives better. This was a time when then gap between the rich and poor was at its smallest, so everyone was prospering. By contrast, the 2000s were like the 20s, with much greater income inequality, higher debt and prosperity limited to bankers. Average people had to borrow money for bigger houses to keep up with the wealthy and have better schools for their kids. So money was transferred from people who couldn't afford it to people who couldn't spend it.

The film is nicely shot and edited, with a snappy score and witty vintage cartoon clips. Besides being amusing, the cartoons are hugely informative, as are graphics that put the situation into clear context. Interviewees - bankers, experts, developers, estate agents - are cogent and engaging, holding our interest by making everything relevant.

Seeing just how banks used the system to manipulate and deliberately rob and ruin average people is fascinating (and horrifying), although director Sington gets bogged down in the details. In the end, the most telling point is that the standard of living over the past 30 years has decreased for everyone except those at the very top. So if capitalism is only creating wealth for very few people, it's no longer working.

U themes
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