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Monday, December 30, 2013

More Movies You Might Not Know

I'm adding three titles to my Movies You Might Not Know list: "Brooklyn Castle," "The Sapphires," and "The Way Way Back."

"Brooklyn Castle" is a documentary about kids in a public school in New York's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, where 70% of the families live below the poverty line and the population is mostly immigrants and people of color -- but the school keeps turning out chess champions. The filmmakers introduce us to both the kids and their teachers as they travel to tournaments, fight against budget cuts, and impress even chess masters with their discipline, desire, and determination. As someone who played chess at that age, in the era of Fischer-Spassky, it was fun to watch the enthusiasm of both the kids and the community for the game. My wife, who has never played, was caught up in the drama, too. After you watch "Brooklyn Castle," get another one of the titles on my list, "Searching For Bobby Fischer," a fictional story of another young chess whiz, starring Joe Mantegna, Joan Allen, Laurence Fishburne, and Ben Kingsley.

"The Sapphires" is based on the true story of four Aboriginal sisters in Australia in 1968, a time when that country had its own racial problems. The sisters are pretty good singers, though, and after meeting a talent scout (played by Chris O'Dowd) who convinces them to sing soul music instead of folk, they get a gig singing for American soldiers in Vietnam. The soul music angle gives it a little bit of a "Commitments" feel, and the performances are almost as good. That soundtrack plus the winning personalities of the sisters make "The Sapphires" work.

"The Way Way Back" is the coming-of-age story of 14-year-old Duncan, who is dragged by his mother (Toni Collette) and her new boyfriend (Steve Carrell) to a house in a New England beach town. He's bored there until he meets Owen (Sam Rockwell), who runs the local water park with his wife (Maya Rudolph). Between working there, getting to know the girl across the street, and the other adults who populate the area (Allison Janney, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet), the adventures and social situations make for a lot of fun. "The Way Way Back" was written by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who proved they have a knack for writing both sides of the adult/teen relationship in "The Descendants."