Tag: Marielle Heller


Why You Need To Watch The Queen’s Gambit Right Now

February 13, 2021
The Queen's Gambit - Anya Taylor-Joy

While Netflix started off as a streaming platform whose primary focus was on streaming film and series, its goals shifted to making original content and especially series. While we had top-rated series such as House of Cards, Stranger Things and The Crown, the most influential one was last year’s The Queen’s Gambit. The limited series about chess prodigy Beth Harmon didn’t only set some audience records but it also rose the popularity in chess. If you haven’t seen The Queen’s Gambit yet, then you better start watching the series. Here’s why!

More than just a series about chess

The title of this series refers to one of the oldest chess openings you can use to start a chess game and The Queen’s Gambit itself is based on Walter Tevis’s 1983 novel with the same name. Chess is the main ingredient of The Queen’s Gambit, but that doesn’t mean the series only focusses on the game. There’s also a lot of focus on each character’s emotional arc, going after your passion, defining the odds, human relationships, etc. Even if you’re not into chess, you will connect with the characters because of these topics.

Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Benny Watts and Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon in The Queen's Gambit
Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Benny Watts and Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon in The Queen’s Gambit // Credit; Netflix

Anya Taylor-Joy as the stunning female lead

She already shone in movies such as Thoroughbreds and Split, but The Queen’s Gambit was the most impressive performance from Anya Taylor-Joy without a doubt. She portrays Beth with such flair, dignity and emotional depth and she takes this series to an entirely new level. During the chess games, she oozes cleverness, wittiness, and when she talks to her opponents, it becomes even better. Taylor-Joy is being surrounded by a superb supporting cast. First, there’s Isla Johnston as the young Beth. Her performance involves a lot of innocence, intelligence and sweetness, and she’s just a thrill to watch. Can’t wait to see Johnston in her upcoming short movie Unmourned and television series Ray James.

Another strong performance comes from Marielle Heller as Alma Wheatley, the woman who takes orphan Beth under her wings. Heller’s performance is hugely diverse. At first, she makes you feel uneasy about Wheatley, especially because you get the feeling that Wheatley’s intentions aren’t honest and sincere, but thanks to Heller her warm and emotional performance, you open up to Wheatley more and more throughout the series.

The male cast you know from somewhere else (but just can’t put your finger on from where)

There are also amazing performances by the male cast of The Queen’s Gambit. Thomas Brodie-Sangster (who hasn’t change a lot since his days in Love Actually) also gives a two folded performance. In the beginning, as the harsh, distant and relentless Chess champion Benny Watts but when the story of Benny continues, and more scenes involve Brodie-Sangster and Taylor-Joy, his performance becomes much more likeable, open and heart-warming.

There’s also Harry Melling (yes, Dudley Dursley from Harry Potter) as the state champion and Beth’s friends Harry Beltik and Melling certainly know how to portray both the competitive spirit as well as the poignant side of Beltik. Last but not least, there’s also Bill Camp as Mr. Shaibel, the withdrawn but caring custodian at the Methuen Home for Girls and Beth’s chess teacher. Camp brings much sweetness and emotions and the scenes between him, and the young Johnston are just so joyful.

Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon and Harry Melling as Harry Beltik in The Queen's Gambit
Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon and Harry Melling as Harry Beltik in The Queen’s Gambit // Credit: Netflix

The magical combination of stunning cinematography and astonishing editing

The excellent performances will draw you to the screen but the extraordinary cinematography from Steven Meizler and the impressive editing by Michelle Tesoro take this series to a whole new level. There are the many long takes used that show the audience the powerful and confident appearance of Beth. Think about Taylor-Joy entrance and walk through the Vegas hotel and Mexico City hotel. The most emotional and impressive long-shot is, without a doubt, the one right at the end of the series. The way Taylor-Joy walks amongst the other chess players while being filmed with a handheld camera brings so many emotions.

However, while the long shots are awe-inspiring, the most extraordinary scenes are certainly close up ones during the chess games. You can feel the tension, the pugnacity and the hunger for a victory from every player in a way and not only because of Meizler’s cinematography. No, also the editing of Tesoro’s heightens those emotions. The fewer chess pieces are on the board, and the higher the stakes become, the faster the editing becomes, and the more excited the audience feels! We’re pretty sure that you will get that thrilling feeling instantly when watching The Queen’s Gambit!

What’s next for The Queen’s Gambit?

So far there are no plans for a second series, but there’s “Creating: The Queen’s Gambit”, a documentary that gives you more insights into the making of this spectacular series. Watch it now and don’t forget to practice your chess moves, might come in handy at some point.

The Queen’s Gambit (Official Trailer)

Also Read: It’s time To Talk About Marielle Heller

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Review: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

February 5, 2020
Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers

If you were a child living in America between 1968 to 2001 or if you had children during that time then you probably will fondly remember the American children’s television presenter Fred Rogers. For decades, he graced our television screens with his Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. That television program became extremely popular all over the States because of Rogers’ openness, heart-warming and extraordinarily kind vibe. The way he cared for children and talked with them about difficult themes such as divorce, family and friendship was praised immensely. Now, this wonderful man is being celebrated in director Marielle Heller‘s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Her third full-length feature film is as touching, beautiful and sweet as Roger himself.

A real-life authentic story with a twist

For this movie, Heller could count on the impeccable writing skills of Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster. Starting from the original Esquire article about Fred Rogers written by journalist Tom Junod, they decided to give their twist to it. While Rogers (Tom Hanks) is a big part of this story, the main focus is on Junod himself. In A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Junod is renamed as the fictional Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) but still with the same profession: Being an investigative journalist who works for Esquire. After delivering award-winning pieces, his editor demands him to write 400 words on Rogers as a feature for the special edition about ‘heroes’. Not very keen on writing this puff piece, Vogel is doing initial research into the life of Rogers and starts to wonder whether Rogers is the wonderful, nice and loving man everyone thinks he is.

Vogel’s journey takes him to the set of Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood, the show during which Rogers invites his young audience to join him. It’s not only to meet the main characters but also to discuss rough topics such as death, divorce, and doubts. Some of those issues are sadly also the ones Vogel is confronted within his own life such as the difficult relationship with awful father (Chris Cooper) and his insecurities about being a new dad with his wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson). Rogers had already a massive impact on children’s lives but which impact will he have on Vogel’s?

Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers and Matthew Rhys as Lloyd Vogel in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.  (Source: IMDb)
 Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers and Matthew Rhys as Lloyd Vogel in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.  (Source: IMDb)

Oscar-worthy performances

On the 22nd of January, Tom Hanks got nominated for an Oscar for “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role” and it’s totally understandable why. Hanks (The Post, Inferno) just lights up our screen with immense love, empathy, excitement, and kindness, just like the iconic television host himself did. We couldn’t see someone else playing the role of the warmest television personality than the most kind A-list star himself.

What elevates the marvellous performance of Hanks even more, is the chemistry between him and Rhys. Rhys (The Report, Burnt) is fantastic as the smart, hardworking but also broken and lost Vogel. The emotional journey his character is going through is being brought to the screen very beautifully. Whether the grief, anger, love, and doubt he feels regarding his private life or the pressure, confusion, and bitterness during his profession, we can feel it all thanks to Rhys’s captivating and emotional performance.  What a shame that Rhy’s (and this film in general) doesn’t get the award nominations he deserves.

A remarkable crew

Not only the amazingly talented director, excellent writers, and the terrific cast are making sure that this movie is elegantly coming to life. No, the entire crew does that as well. First of all, it’s cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes whose work transports us back into time. With bright colours and vivid wide shots, this film really oozes that welcoming, cheerful and gentle vibe Rogers created on the set of his program. The most beautiful work is the way she re-creates and integrates those openings sequences of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in this movie. She also shot the film as it would pre-HD television. There’s also the calming and amusing soundtrack that’s provided by the director’s brother, Nate Heller. Both elements really lift the authenticity of this film to a higher level.

Heller delivers again an outstanding film

After delivering the critically acclaimed Diary of a Teenage Girl and the Oscar-nominated Can You Ever Forgive Me?, it became clear that Heller certainly knows how to make a beautiful film. With this latest one, she does that again. Whether A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a trip down to memory lane for you or whether it’s the first time you meet Mr. Rogers, this movie is all you could ask for. A heart-warming, authentic, and gorgeously made film with a cast that delivers Oscar-worthy performances.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Also Read: It’s Time to Talk About Marielle Heller

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It’s Time to Talk About Marielle Heller

February 2, 2020

On the 13th January, Issa Rae, the creator and star of HBO’s Insecure, announced the directing nominees for the 92nd Academy Awards. ‘Congratulations to those men,’ Rae jibed as the names of the depressing all-male line-up loitered on the screen. Moments like this have appeared more frequently over the past few years. At the Oscars in 2018, presenter Emma Stone proclaimed ‘These four men and Greta Gerwig created their own masterpieces this year’ shortly before revealing the (not-so-surprising) male winner. A few months prior, Natalie Portman, at the Golden Globes, prefaced her announcement with ‘And here are the all-male nominees’. Routinely, presenters, notably actresses, have taken their moment on stage to voice the frustration at the numbing lack of female nominees amongst what the academy denotes as the year’s best, as worthy and important.  

In 2015, Maureen Dowd’s piece for The New York Times called ‘The Women of Hollywood Speak Out’ hit the newsstands. The article was built on interviews with around 100 women who worked in the film industry from directors, to actors, to writers, and producers. It’s spark? The routine elevation of male filmmakers to the big leagues while female filmmakers are left clambering for recognition from the industry at large. Specifically, the news that Colin Trevorrow’s admirable, but average, debut indie comedy Safety Not Guaranteed had yielded a coveted gig: to direct Jurassic World with a $150 million budget. It was then followed by news that he would helm the ninth Star Wars movie (something that would not actually materialise). As Dowd wrote, ‘That kind of leap — from indie to blockbuster — is almost exclusively reserved for young guys in baseball caps who remind older guys in baseball caps of themselves.’

Wedged in amongst the other quotes was writer and director Marielle Heller. ‘In some ways, I think women are perfectly primed to be directors,’ she told Dowd, about the nurturing required by actors on sets. Her debut, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, had premiered at Sundance that past January to strong reviews, earning it a ‘fresh’ 95% on aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes. The film followed Minnie (a jubilant and doe-eyed Bel Powley) as she begins a journey of sexual discovery in San Francisco during the seventies. It took what could have been a tricky and challenging story, that saw Minnie, a 15-year-old, enter her first sexual relationship with Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård), a significantly older man. It allowed Minnie agency and feminist authorship of her own story that lent the film a mature and fascinating vantage point. 

Director Marielle Heller and Melissa McCarthy on the set of CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? Photo by Mary Cybulski.
Director Marielle Heller and Melissa McCarthy on the set of CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? (Photo by Mary Cybulski.)

Now, five years after that debut, and the article, Heller has released two films within a year of each other. Can You Ever Forgive Me?, her sophomore feature starred Melissa McCarthy as Lee Israel and premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in 2018. A story of loneliness filled with wit and darkness dealt with an acidic queer writer in self-orchestrated isolation who begins forging notes by famous writers. It deftly honed in on the fragments of Israel’s isolation that resonated deeply with audiences and critics. Richard Brody called it a ‘movie of endings, a mournful film, suffused with an air of doom’ in The New Yorker. While Emily Yoshida wrote, for Vulture, it was ‘one of the most visceral depictions of loneliness [she had] seen in a while.’ 

Her third feature, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, has its roots in that 2015 article. Heller, at a children’s birthday party, found herself in conversation with Tom Hanks (Heller was close with Hank’s son, Colin). It had not been long since the publication of Dowd’s piece, and Hank’s had been moved by it. So began a series of events that led to kismet: Hanks, a powerfully empathetic actor, working with Heller, a powerfully empathetic director. 

Director Marielle Heller and Tom Hanks on the set of TriStar Pictures' A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD. (Photo by: Lacey Terrell)
Director Marielle Heller and Tom Hanks on the set of TriStar Pictures’ A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD. (Photo by: Lacey Terrell)

A Beautiful Day the Neighbourhood is a quintessential Heller film. It’s an exploration of people and the complex nature of good and bad. It’s about forgiveness, nihilism, daddy issues, family, kindness, cynicism, and rage. It’s driven by a stormy performance from Matthew Rhys as a journalist assigned to interview Mister Rogers (Hanks) and is visually compelling, quirky, and vibrant. At its core though is Heller’s profound empathy, something that reigns in all her films. An anthropologist of the human condition, finding every shade and facet of her characters, Heller creates a greying portrait of manhood, of forgiveness, of the aggressions we hold inside us. 

In 2020, Heller is one of many female filmmakers that have been overlooked and ignored by The Academy, but there is something about her omission that feels so glaring. Not only did she direct Hanks to his first Oscar nomination in twenty years but there is something in her style of filmmaking that stands face-to-face with ‘the old guard’. Her brand of filmmaking is emotional without melodrama, wit without cruelty, nuance without broad strokes. It’s what allows a saintly American icon of children’s television, a sour queer woman, and a euphoric teen on the precipice of sexuality equal space and importance. 

Smaller films, bathed in compassion and understanding, are ignored when they’re showcased next to the machismo and violence displayed by this year’s directing nominees. It’s what denied Gerwig a nomination for her masterful helming of Little Women, it’s what kept Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers off the board entirely, and it’s what keeps Heller from taking her rightful place as one of the most talented and consistent directors working today. Against the barrage of war films, violence porn, and movies about fucking cars we need to refocus our attention. We should turn our eyes away from the deeply repetitive boredom of awards season sexism and put in the legwork, start conversations about the merit and style these filmmakers demonstrate, and people will have to listen. So folks, with that in mind, it’s time to talk about Marielle Heller.  

Also Read: The Biggest Financial Film Flops

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