Welcome to another installment of Movies, Movies, Movies! There are some real gems this week.
The Queen’s Gambit (2020) netflix limited-series
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Chloe Pirrie, Bill Camp, Marielle Heller, Marcin Dorocinski, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Moses Ingram, Harry Melling, Isla Johnston, Dolores Carbonari, Janina Elkin, Matthew Dennis Lewis, Russell Dennis Lewis, Patrick Kennedy, and many more
Director: Scott Frank
Synopsis: Beth, who is orphaned at 9, is sent to a girl’s orphanage. She happens upon Mr. Shaibel, the janitor, playing chess against himself in the basement and is quickly fascinated by the game. Mr. Shaibel becomes her mentor. Beth becomes better and better. Her trajectory is to the top, where she competes against the best known chess minds of the world. At the same time, she is haunted by flashbacks of a mentally unstable mother and a rejecting father.
Impressions: Beth is a female prodigy in a sport/game dominated by men. I love the way she navigates the chess world and how she is assimilated into it. The men don’t care she’s female; it’s all about how well she plays. The acting is excellent. Standout performances for me were Taylor-Joy, Brodie-Sangster, and Heller. Set in the 1960’s I love the costumes, vehicles, and home décor.
Etc.: Filmed almost entirely in Berlin, Germany (surprising!)
Awards: too soon
Trivia from imdb:
According to a New York Times article, Walter Tevis’s novel on which this TV series is based depicted Beth Harmon as a female Bobby Fischer. Fischer was very dismissive of female chess players himself.
The Impossible (2012) available on netflix
Starring: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Oaklee Pendergast, Marta Etura, Sonke Mohring, and many more
Director: J.A. Bayona
Genres: disaster, history
Synopsis: A family of 4 begins a lovely resort vaca in Thailand. On 12/26/04, a tsunami called “the deadliest tsunami on record” hit the South East Coast of Asia. The entire movie shows when it hits and how the family who were separated from each other use every last fiber of their being to try to find each other.
Impressions: Looked and felt what I imagine it would really look and feel like. Difficult to sit through a movie’s worth of it. Couldn’t imagine having gone through it and lived to tell the story. Holland, in his feature debut, is just a kid in this. He does a great job.
Etc.: filmed in 10 different locations in Thailand and Spain; many of the extras were actual survivors of the tsunami.
Awards: 28 wins and 69 nominations
Just Mercy (2019)
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Michael Harding, Christopher Wolfe, J. Alphonse Nicholson, Adam Boyer, Jacinte Blankenship, Bryan G. Stevenson, Brad Sanders, Charmin Lee, Brie Larson, Tim Blake Nelson, and many more.
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Genres: biography, courtroom
Synopsis: Based on a book by world-renowned civil rights defense attorney Bryan Stevenson, the focus is on how Stevenson (played by Jordan) works to free a wrongly condemned death row prisoner (played by Foxx.) The story walks the audience through not only how he works to get him exonerated but looks at all of the evidence there – and not there – that was used to convict. It also looks at the power keg the fresh Harvard graduate walks into of historical injustice in the criminal justice system against those of color in small town AL.
Impressions: Jordan and Foxx both shine in their roles. Anyone who watches this and doesn’t feel sorrow for those wrongly convicted still rotting in Death Row cells has no heart.
Etc.: from imdb:
Monroeville, where the movie is set, boasts that it was the hometown of Harper Lee and inspiration for the fictional town in To Kill a Mockingbird. In that book, the sheriff’s name is Heck Tate. In Monroeville, it is Tom Tate.
Awards: 10 wins and 11 nominations
Bonus video! From the “60 Minutes Archive,” watch “the true story behind ‘Just Mercy’:
WARNING WARNING WARNING on the next one. In the year or so I’ve been doing this feature, I do my best to warn of disturbing themes, graphic violence, etc. The next movie is so far outside of the bounds of civilized expectations, it warrants an extra level of warning. The themes and images associated with them risk giving the reviewer aftershocks that will continue long after it’s over. I would advise those with mental health struggles of a temporary or chronic nature not to watch this one, or at minimum with care. Please remember, if you do watch it, you have the ability to close your eyes, look away, or simply fast-forward through some scenes. Under no circumstances should children under the age of 18 (or really, anyone under the age of 30!) see this film.
The House that Jack Built (2018)
Starring: Matt Dillon, Bruno Ganz, Uma Thuman, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Sofie Grabol, Riley Keogh, Jeremy Davies, Jack McKenzie, Ed Speleers, David Bailie, Mathias Hjelm, Yoo Ji-Tae, Emil Tholstrup, Marijana Jankovic, Carina Skenhede, Rocco Day, Cohen Day, Robert Jezek, Osy Ikhile, and many more.
Director: Lars von Trier
Genres: crime, horror, drama
Synopsis: Jack (played by Dillon) has compulsions. One is OCD and one is killing people. There are flashbacks showing Jack as a kid and getting started young with his sickness. This is a killer who will not stop until someone stops him. Jack has a voice in his head, a counselor, if-you-will. As Jack’s OCD subsides, so does his caution about getting caught. You know he must be stopped, and you pray it will be soon.
Impressions: Matt Dillon is perfect in this role! Matt, WOW. The way it is pieced together, you only understand the format towards the very end. There is a running dialogue between Jack and the inner counselor that reads like a classic philosophy challenge between two masters. The methods and graphic images depicted of the murders made me literally nauseous and I had to look away at times. The film sends a very clear message (at least to me) about those who depict serial killers in movies/books/media as funny, glamorous, redeemable, worthy of sympathy, or any other “user friendly” manner: STOP IT. What you get in The House that Jack Built is the uncensored, raw truth about them and the intricate rationalizations they use to continue. They are not human anymore. They truly are the physical manifestation of evil.
Etc.: In English language, but filmed in 14 locations, including Sweden, Denmark, Italy, and the UK.
Awards: 11 wins and 20 nominations
Pirate Radio (2009) aka The Boat That Rocked
Starring: Michael Hadley, Charlie Rowe, Lucy Fleming, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tom Sturridge, Ian Mercer, Bill Nighy, William Adamsdale, Tom Brooke, Rhys Darby, Nick Frost, Katherine Parkinson, Chris O’Dowd, Ike Hamilton, Stephen Moore, Kenneth Branagh, Michael Thomas, Bohdan Poraj, Sinead Matthews, Tom Wisdom, Gemma Atherton, Jack Davenport, Ralph Brown, Rhys Ifans, Talulah Riley, Emma Thompson, David Sterne, and many more.
Director: Richard Curtis
Genres: comedy, history
Synopsis: In the 1960’s, the BBC radio would play only an hour of rock and roll a day. The government felt threatened by this new music, fearing too much of it would lead to anarchy. Instead of accepting that oppression, ships anchored off of the coast of England and played rock and roll 24 hours a day. The plot focuses on the rocking crew of one pirate radio ship and the ways the government tries to shut them down. Based on real history.
Impressions: I loved the story and learning about pirate radio in the 60’s. I also very much enjoyed the cutaways showing the listeners on shore in various settings and how the music – and the threat of it being silenced – affected them. All-star cast with great chemistry between them. I was surprised at how many familiar faces are in this. Soliloquy by Philip Seymour Hoffman is poignant in light of his early passing.
Etc.: UK film. Of course it has a dynamite soundtrack! One of those ships is still anchored offshore. Listen here.
Awards: 2 wins and 9 nominations
Trivia from imdb:
As in Good Morning, Vietnam (1987,) where the Beatles “Help!” album is shown at least twice, there were many references to the Beatles in this movie. That time frame was when the Beatles were at their hottest. But because of copyright issues still in place at that time, no Beatles songs were ever played.
The Aura (2005) original title El Aura
Starring: Ricardo Darin, Dolores Fonzi, Pablo Cedron, Nahul Perez Biscayart, Jorge D’Elia, Alejandro Awada, Rafa Castejon, Manuel Rodal, Walter Reyno, Alejandro Gance, Daniel Alejandro Ovando, and many more.
Director: Fabián Bielinsky
Genres: crime, drama
Synopsis: Esteban (played by Darin) is a reticent taxidermist who is good at what he does. He has epilepsy, which he describes at one point in the movie as an aura, which is where the title comes from. The story begins where Esteban’s reticence has lead to his wife’s leaving him. It coincides with an acquaintance asking him if he wants to go for a weekend of hunting. Reluctant at first, he decides to go. Esteban is pulled into extraordinary circumstances that put his survival skills to the test. Better not to go into too many details.
Impressions: It’s been a long time since seeing a plot so well-constructed! Darin is an Argentine actor I’ve seen in one other movie (Everybody Knows, with Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz.) He is a powerhouse here! If you like intricate plots involving crimes and surviving in dangerous situations, you will love this movie. Probably what I like best is the intelligence of this film and how Darin channels the character of Esteban.
Etc.: Made in Argentina; English subtitles; better to go into this cold. I’ve borrowed two more of his movies from the library, so you’ll be seeing more of him in the next week or two.
Awards: 11 wins and 7 nominations
Trivia from imdb:
The Aura is the last movie directed by Fabián Bielinsky.
To the Lake (2019) original title Epidemiya TV Series S1 on netflix
Starring: Kirill Karo, Maryana Spivak, Aleksandr Robak, Viktoriya Isakova, Eldar Kalimulin, Natalya Zemtsova, Viktoriya Agalakova, Michael C Pizzuto, Yuriy Kuznetsov, Shelby Young, and many more.
Writers: Yana Vagner and Roman Kantor
Genres: Nature, Survival, drama
Synopsis: Seems to be set in the present, where Moscow has been struck with a terminal virus that turns victims crazed then blood spews out from their mouths and they die in agony. Moscow locks the whole city down, only allowing food trucks in and out. The series tells the story of a few families lucky enough to avoid the virus, corrupt looting police gangs, and the barricades to get out of Moscow and head for a lake where one of the people has shelter for them to live. The story is set in Russian winter which makes surviving their journey all the more challenging. The characters are all ages and personalities. There are dramas of various kinds going on also between them and with the various others they happen across on their trip.
Impressions: To The Lake is a refreshing change of pace from the usual zombie survival story in a couple of different ways. One is that it’s set in the middle of serious snow weather. Another is that it seems extremely realistic in who they come across and practical ways of surviving in those circumstances. It can be a little heavy on the drama, but when you’re fighting to avoid catching the plague and surviving relentless volumes of cold and snow, tensions can run a little high.
Etc.: Russian made, set in Russia, and Russian language, but dubbed with English (and dubbed very well I might add!) Only one season available on netflix, but! it has been renewed for a second season! Yes!
Awards: 5 wins and 11 nominations
Warnings:There are sporadic scenes of gruesomeness but they are never gratuitous. There are some extremely erotic scenes with brief nudity. Scenes of forced cannibalism.
Trivia from imdb:
The series was shot in 66 production days. Out of these, only six shifts were carried out in Moscow, only three in a studio, and only seven indoors. The rest was shot outdoors in the country. The nearest location was 14 miles away from Moscow. During the shooting, the temperatures dropped as low as -15°F.