Tag Archives: Marielle Heller

The Queen’s Gambit (2020) Review

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The Queen's GambitTime: 393 Minutes
Cast:

Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon
Isla Johnston as young Beth
Bill Camp as Mr. Shaibel
Moses Ingram as Jolene
Christiane Seidel as Helen Deardorff
Rebecca Root as Miss Lonsdale
Chloe Pirrie as Alice Harmon
Akemnji Ndifornyen as Mr. Fergusson
Marielle Heller as Mrs. Alma Wheatley
Harry Melling as Harry Beltik
Patrick Kennedy as Allston Wheatley
Jacob Fortune-Lloyd as Townes
Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Benny Watts
Marcin Dorociński as Vasily Borgov
Director: Scott Frank

Set during the Cold War era, orphaned chess prodigy Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) struggles with addiction in a quest to become the greatest chess player in the world.

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I was quite interested in The Queen’s Gambit. The main reason was Anya Taylor-Joy being cast in the lead role, she’s one of the best up and coming actors working today, and I’m always interested in whatever projects she takes on. Additionally, a mini series about chess sounded quite interesting. I had high hopes for The Queen’s Gambit and it turned out way better than I thought it would. It is an excellent miniseries, well made on every level, and with another great lead performance from Anya Taylor-Joy.

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The Queen’s Gambit consists of 7 Episodes ranging from 45 minutes to just over an hour in length. That’s pretty short as far as shows go, but it was the perfect length for this story. None of the episodes or moments in those episodes felt like they were filler. A lot happens in each episode too, even the episodes that aren’t an hour long. The first episode doesn’t feature Anya Taylor-Joy as lead character Beth Harmon outside of the opening scene, as it’s mainly Beth at age 9 when she’s at an orphanage and learns about chess. While that episode is pretty much just her at the orphanage, it is nonetheless a very important episode with plenty of things that it sets up for the rest of the show to continue on with. I’ll say that if you watched the first episode and weren’t as engaged as you would’ve liked to have been, the second episode is definitely where things advance a lot more, as it moves beyond the orphanage. I won’t give too much story details beyond that, but I’ll say that it’s very engrossing watching the lead character, the places she goes and everything she goes through. You’re really engrossed into what’s happening over the course of the story, the characters are well realised, and Beth’s story is quite compelling. The Queen’s Gambit is actually based off a fictional novel, but if I didn’t know that going in, I would’ve thought that it was a biopic, that’s how well made the show was. When it comes to chess, you don’t need to be an expert on chess in order to love the show. The Queen’s Gambit doesn’t even try to really explain the whole game to the audience, and that works. You can still follow along with what’s happening with no problems. Additionally, I’ve heard that a lot of chess experts has said that the portrayal of chess in the show is very accurate, so take that how you will.

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The acting is great by everyone. Anya Taylor-Joy gives one of, if not her best performance yet as Beth Harmon. She really portrays this complex character very well, it’s such a nuanced performance that conveys so much with very little. She definitely makes it convincing that she’s a genius level chess player, who is going through lots of issues throughout the show. Also, Isla Johnston deserves some praise as the younger version of Beth (mainly in the first episode). The supporting cast are all great too. Marielle Heller plays Beth’s step-mother, and that relationship between the two was one of the biggest surprises, as it went in a different direction from what I expected from it. I know of Heller as the director of The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Can You Ever Forgive Me and It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, but she’s shown here that she’s great at acting too and shares great chemistry with Taylor-Joy. Other performances such as Bill Camp as the janitor who teaches Beth chess, and Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Harry Melling and Jacob Fortune-Lloyd as other chess players also add a lot to the show.

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Scott Frank directed all the episodes of the show, and he did a fantastic job with them. It’s an incredibly well shot show, the cinematography is great, and so is the production and costume designs. The costumes that Anya wears in the second half of the show particularly stand out. It really does well at placing the show in the time periods of the 50s and 60s. Chess is a big part of the show as you can tell, and that aspect is portrayed very well. Even the visuals of chess on the ceiling that Beth occasionally imagines in her head could’ve come across as a bit cheesy but actually ends up working. The editing is excellent too, not only working to make the chess matches thrilling and suspenseful, but also keeping the flow of an episode going. Everything that’s in each of the episodes actually has a reason to be there, while not feeling way too trimmed down. One of the aspects that really stood out to me early from even the first episode was the score from Carlos Rafael Rivera, which was really great and fitted the show perfectly.

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The Queen’s Gambit is an enthralling show with a great and entertaining story, and is incredibly well made. Acting across the board was also all solid but it’s Anya Taylor-Joy who stands out, giving another fantastic and compelling lead performance. This show was one of the biggest surprises from 2020, definitely worth checking out as soon as you can.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) Review

Matthew Rhys (Finalized);Tom Hanks (Finalized)

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Time: 109 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Medium level violence
Cast:
Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers
Matthew Rhys as Lloyd Vogel
Susan Kelechi Watson as Andrea Vogel
Chris Cooper as Jerry Vogel
Director: Marielle Heller

Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is an investigative journalist who receives an assignment to profile Fred Rogers, aka Mr. Rogers (Tom Hanks). He approaches the interview with skepticism, as he finds it hard to believe that anyone can have such a good nature. But Roger’s empathy, kindness and decency soon chips away at Vogel’s jaded outlook on life, forcing the reporter to reconcile with his own painful past.

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I never really grew up with Mr Rogers but last year I really got to learn about him from the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a movie I highly recommend checking out. I was then aware of a movie being made about him (this one), I like Tom Hanks and I like the director Marielle Heller, there were some talented people involved. However I didn’t really know what to expect from it. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a lot better than what I thought it would be, and it’s quite great overall.

Tom Hanks (Finalized)

First of all, I have to say that the marketing for this movie was poor and misleading. It made it look like the most basic version of a Mr Rogers movie you could possibly make, and was misrepresentative of the movie. It made Rogers look like the focus of the movie, and while he plays a big part, it’s not really his story. This movie is about the journalist who goes to interview Fred Rogers, and it’s his story. You can tell pretty early on that this isn’t the absolute feel good movie of the year the trailers have been portraying it as, in fact it’s a little more mature and serious than you might think it would be. However ultimately it’s a heartwarming movie, and is genuinely touching and personal. There are some important messages in there that aren’t just surface level. You don’t need to even know who Mr Rogers is to love the movie, he’s definitely portrayed as how he’s usually seen, but it never loses sight of what story it’s trying to tell.

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Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers was a simultaneously fitting and rather boring casting choice for Fred Rogers. While he is talented for sure, the casting made me feel like he was cast also because he was really likable. However this is Hanks’s best performance in a while, he’s truly great here. Sure he doesn’t really look like Rogers at all, but he completely embodies the spirit and character of him, and he’s really compelling. It could’ve been so easy for him to just be an impression of the real man, but Hanks managed to keep him seem human and grounded. As I said before though, this movie isn’t about Fred Rogers, it’s about the character of Lloyd Vogel, played by Matthew Rhys. I haven’t seen Rhys in really anything but he impresses here as an incredibly cynical person who’s outlook in life slowly changes after his meetings with Fred Rogers. Other supporting performances like Susan Kelechi Watson as Llyod’s wife and Chris Cooper as his father also work very well.

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I’ve liked Marielle Heller’s work from Diary of a Teenage Girl to Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and she definitely shows herself once again to be a director to really pay attention to. On paper you wouldn’t think that it would just be directed in a standard way, but Heller makes some certain choices that pay off and really stand out in a great way. The film opens with seemingly a recreation of Mr Rogers episode, but it then it actually makes this movie look like it’s one whole Mr Rogers episode. And it’s not just in the bits where you see Hanks’s Rogers on screen performing on the show, some of the exterior shots of the actual movie are recreated with the miniature models used in the show. On top of that, from watching the documentary I was pretty familiar with the setup for the filming of the show, and the models, props, aspect ratio of the camera and overall look of the recreation of the scenes were on point. I think there was one dream sequence that came across a little too weird for its own good, but it doesn’t take away too much from the movie, it’s just that when it initially appears it really takes you out of it briefly.

Tom Hanks (Finalized)

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is sincere, heartfelt and wonderfully compelling, Marielle Heller’s direction is unique and elevated the movie even further, and the performances from Matthew Rhys and Tom Hanks are great. It’s a surprising biopic that’s a lot more than it initially appears to be. Don’t let the weak trailers sway you, it’s definitely worth seeing.