This crowd-pleasing documentary is the latest cinematic example of the triumph of underdog youngsters in competition, but knowledge of the outcome in advance won’t matter. The film focuses on the students at an inner-city middle school loaded with underprivileged students that has developed a championship after-school chess program, which obviously has numerous benefits, but is threatened with discontinuation by budget cuts. The film’s structure is routine, but the film doesn’t sidestep its more serious issues, while its charming subjects make it a winner both on and off the chessboard. Not surprisingly, a dramatized Hollywood version of the same story already is in the works. (Rated PG, 101 minutes).
Nobody does much of anything else, either, and that’s the problem in this meandering and pretentious low-budget comedy about a young artist (Olivia Thirlby) who moves in with the Los Angeles family of a sound engineer (John Krasinski) when the two collaborate on her short film. They develop a relationship that threatens to upset the dynamic of the family. The film manages some scattered clever and amusing moments, but the script by Lena Dunham (Tiny Furniture) and director Ry Russo-Young is slight and ambiguous in terms of its characters and relationships. It squanders an ensemble cast that includes Rosemarie Dewitt, Justin Kirk and Dylan McDermott. (Rated R, 83 minutes).
Tai Chi Zero
Style trumps substance in this ambitious and hyper-stylized Hong Kong martial-arts saga about Yang (Yuan Xiaochao), a precocious young outsider sent to a small village to learn a highly secretive version of tai chi. Although initially reluctant to pass along their traditions, the villagers eventually see Yang as their hope to prevent a threat from a railroad developer. Director Stephen Fung (House of Fury) employs a wide variety of film styles and references, special effects and visual gimmicks in a cartoonish way that approaches sensory overload. It’s meant either to aggressively defy convention or to distract moviegoers from a story that is pedestrian and predictable. (Rated PG-13, 94 minutes).
We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists
Both intriguing and frustrating, this documentary traces the recent evolution of computer hacking through the story of Anonymous, a worldwide movement that began as a small group of online pranksters before turning its collective attention to activism and protests against perceived threats to free speech, including its controversial support of WikiLeaks. The film offers a compelling and moderately insightful glimpse into the merging of technology and politics, but allows its interview subjects — some of which aren’t named, many of which are little more than self-congratulatory nerds — to smugly narrate the story without any counterpoint. That approach detracts from the worthwhile impact of their efforts. (Not rated, 93 minutes).