I'm convinced Tobey Maguire has never been a strong actor. He's all crazy eyes and smirk, both aggressive and meek (how is that possible?). Arguably, only Ang Lee and Curtis Hanson have been able to tame his insufferable eagerness to express things. Nowadays The Ice Storm, Ride With the Devil and Wonder Boys, which arguably contain Maguire's best roles, seem like light years away.
Those feel like even murkier memories after watching Maguire ham it up as chess prodigy and anti-communist Bobby Fischer in Edward Zwick's haphazard biopic, Pawn Sacrifice. As the arrogant and volatile young man wigs out during his much-publicized duel with Russian nemesis Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) in 1972, the film flashes back to tell Fischer's story growing up in Brooklyn and rising up the ranks of his sport.
Montages of Fischer's victories are intercut with archival footage of the Vietnam War, the space race, and other critical historical events. When things do get personal, Zwick and Maguire have no idea how to make this character seem anything but domineering and exceptionally simplistic.
Eventually the film catches back up to where it began. Fischer and Spassky trade strategic barbs on the chessboard, a sparring match with deep ideological implications in the Cold War. But as a sports film, Pawn Sacrifice, which opens Friday, Sept. 18, doesn't achieve even the most elemental of thrills usually associated with its genre. There's nothing at stake in this telling of the story, since every conflict between Fischer and his various opponents gets vocalized in the most overt ways.
Peter Sarsgaard shows up as a brooding priest/coach for Fischer, and Michael Stulhbarg steals multiple scenes as a wormy promoter and government stooge. Both of these talented actors can only watch as Maguire turns Fischer into a caricature. Zwick and his fellow filmmakers don't seem to mind.
A Brilliant Mind: A teenage math prodigy discovers that friendship is attainable when he lands a spot on the British squad competing at the International Mathematics Olympiad.
About Ray: Elle Fanning plays a teenager who decides to transition from female to male, a decision that causes a rift with mother Maggie (Naomi Watts).
Black Mass: In this true-crime biopic, Johnny Depp plays Boston gangster Whitey Bulger, who ascends to the highest level of power by striking a deal with the FBI to eliminate his competition.
East Side Sushi: When Juana lands a position as a kitchen assistant at a local sushi restaurant, she shakes things up with her fresh perspective on food and flavor. Screens through Thursday, Sept. 24, at the Digital Gym Cinema.
Everest: Based on a true story, a group of extreme hikers are trapped atop Mt. Everest after a brutal snowstorm strikes. Stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke and Keira Knightley.
Mala Mala: This formally inventive documentary tells the powerful story of transformation through the eyes of nine trans-identifying individuals in Puerto Rico. Screens through Thursday, Sept. 24, at the Digital Gym Cinema.
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials: A desolate and hot dystopia awaits those who brave “Gladers” who escaped the maze. Sounds like a fun time.
Pawn Sacrifice: Tobey Maguire does his best to overact as paranoid chess prodigy Bobby Fischer who really hates Communists, Jews and telephone receivers.
Slow Learners: Two awkward romantics band together to stop their losing streak in love. Screens through Thursday, Sept. 24, at the Digital Gym Cinema
One Time Only
The Lady From Shanghai: Orson Welles makes a very bad decision and decides to be
Rita Hayworth's stooge on a boat trip that may end in murder. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 16, at Scripps Ranch Public Library.
Pearl Peep's Viewer's Choice: It's your night to help Pearl choose a film. Yay! Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 16, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
The Impossible Railroad: Local filmmakers Marianne and Michael Gerdes' documentary looks at the dramatic story of the 13-year struggle to build a railway from San Diego to Yuma. Screens at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla.
Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films: This insanely entertaining documentary tells the true story of Cannon Films, a production company that helped Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson become international action stars. Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17, at the Hillcrest Cinemas.
The Godfather, Part III: Come watch Sofia Coppola try to act her hardest in this final chapter of papa Francis' gangster saga. Screens at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 17–19, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Tangerines: An elderly Estonian man helps two wounded soldiers from opposite sides heal after a violent altercation. Screens at 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 19, at St. Paul's Cathedral in San Diego.
Frozen: The Sing-Along!: Parents bring your kiddos and sing those all too familiar songs yet again. Screens at 1 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20, at The Balboa Theatre in San Diego.
L'âge d'or and Un Chien Andalou: Two classics of experimental cinema from the great filmmaker Luis Bunuel. Your eyes will pop! Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 21, at the San Diego Public Library in East Village.
Tupac Resurrection: Nominated for an Academy Award, this is the first authorized documentary about the famous rapper who led a dynamic and tragic life. Screens at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 21, at The Balboa Theatre in San Diego.
If You Don't, I Will: In this French comedy, a couple faces a potentially insurmountable challenge while hiking in the forest. Screens at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 22, at the Point Loma / Hervey Branch Library.
Stop Making Sense: Jonathan Demme's immersive and groundbreaking documentary on The Talking Heads needs to be seen on the big screen. Screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 22, at The Balboa Theatre in San Diego.
Viridiana: A young nun on the verge of taking her final vows pays a visit to her widowed uncle in Luis Bunuel's masterpiece. Screens at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23, at the Mission Valley Pulbic Library.
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck: Go behind the scenes of the Nirvana front man's life and tragic death. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23, at The Balboa Theatre in San Diego.
The Goonies: Sloth love Chunk. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.