Friday, June 20, 2014

Four Chess Movie Reviews

I've been watching the chess selection on Netflix. Unfortunately the selection is rather narrow and the quality quite variable. I already reviewed Queen to Play, which I really liked. Here's a brief run-down of four other chess movies I have seen recently.

Brooklyn Castle is a documentary following Brooklyn's Intermediate School 318 (I.S.318) chess team as it competes through the 2009 and 2010 chess tournament circuit and struggles with school budget cuts. I had caught glimpses of the players through coach Elizabeth Vicary's blog, but having a coherent narrative was quite compelling. I give it four stars out of five for compelling documentary subject matter and high production value.

Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine is a documentary about the 1997 rematch between Garry Kasparov and IBM's Deeper Blue in which the machine beats the human. It was nice to see a large collection of interviews from numerous prominent figures on all sides: Kasparov's team, IBM's team, and the chess commentariat. I felt that the documentary owed a lot to the controversy surrounding the match on whether Kasparov was out of line to accuse IBM of cheating and whether IBM was out of line in its de facto use of psychological warfare on Kasparov in a "friendly" match. The 1996 match probably only generated one hundredth as much press. I think the movie relied too heavily on splicing in footage of "The Turk" and it seemed that they lingered too many times on Kasparov's pained facial expressions. I give it three stars out of five for compelling documentary subject matter and medium production value.

Pawn's Move is a fictional story of a young man who apparently inherits a fortune in his mentor's pawn shop and decides to run away from a gold-digging girlfriend to a small town refuge. He finds new friends, but eventually problems catch up to him and his new friends. The movie has a strong religious theme which seems to dovetail with chess in that it preaches personal responsibility for one's decisions on and off the board. I give it two stars out of five for a mediocre story in a mediocre production.

Checkmate is a fictional story of a young man who is offered a chance to get to law school if he wins a chess tournament. This movie is the tail-ender of the group in ranking. The production seems to be the stuff of film school with bad sets, bad writing, and bad acting. The opening premise is ridiculous and the ending is equally pedestrian, only of interest in that the contestants replay the moves of Morphy's Opera Game. I give it zero stars out of five for a lame story and poor production value.

No comments: