Anya-Taylor Joy, Moses Ingram, Harry Melling, and Thomas Brodie-Sangster detail their new Netflix miniseries “The Queen’s Gambit”, which follows orphaned chess prodigy Beth Harmon and her struggles with addiction.
Following the astonishing rise of an unusual chess prodigy, Netflix’s new limited series is a welcome change of pace.
In order to be a truly great chess player — not just a good one, but one of the greats — you need to possess a canny combination of concentration, acuity, and nerve. What seems like a simple board of 64 squares quickly becomes a battlefield; the key to winning the ensuing fight is being able to analyze and anticipate an opponent’s moves without your face betraying a single calculation. Chess is such a mentally punishing, esoteric game — which makes it extremely hard to portray onscreen with half the thrill it might have in reality, especially if the viewer doesn’t know all the rules (and chances are, you don’t). But “The Queen’s Gambit” manages to personalize the game and its players thanks to clever storytelling and, in Anya Taylor-Joy, a lead actor so magnetic that when she stares down the camera lens, her flinty glare threatens to cut right through it. Most crucially, the series uses chess as its engine for a more complicated narrative about female genius, the allure of addiction and the gift of autonomy.
From writer and director Scott Frank (“Logan”), and based on Walter Tevis’ 1983 novel, “The Queen’s Gambit” tells the story of a taciturn orphan whose unflinching demeanor and analytical brain reveal her to be a lethal chess prodigy. When we first meet 9 year-old Beth (Isla Johnston) in Kentucky circa the early ’60s, she’s adjusting to life at a Kentucky orphanage while quietly mourning the sudden death of her mother (Chloe Pirrie). Then, a chance encounter with the custodian (Bill Camp) introduces her to chess, and it’s as if the game unlocks a secret room within her own mathematical mind where everything makes sense, a place where she can be safe and in control. That Beth discovers this about herself at the same time as the orphanage is giving her a daily tranquilizer only intensifies her obsession. She spends years lying awake at night, high as a kite, staring at her ceiling where ghostly apparitions of chess boards appear to let her play as many games as she wants. In these moments, “The Queen’s Gambit” almost becomes an “Alice in Wonderland” story — except in this case, the heroine is an unsettling orphan playing chess on her ceiling through a drugged fog.
The series, written and directed entirely by Frank, sometimes threatens to get overwhelmed by these breaks in reality and format, and the CGI chess pieces are only occasionally as sinister as they’re supposed to be. At the show’s bluntest moments, Beth’s time in the orphanage and early childhood flashbacks often feel like they’re of an entirely different show. But as Beth grows up (and is subsequently played by Taylor-Joy), “The Queen’s Gambit” becomes very shrewd about its choices and keeps the narrative going at an impressively fast clip — making it a sharp, welcome contrast to the all too many lethargic streaming dramas out there.
Unfolding over seven episodes, the limited series follows Beth’s rise to the top of the competitive chess world and all the work she does and the suffering she endures to get there. Growing up, her closest ally is the custodian and her bunkmate Jolene (Moses Ingram); once she leaves the orphanage, her confidante becomes her adoptive mother Alma (Marielle Heller), a lonely woman in need of company outside her spiteful husband. Ingram makes the absolute most of sometimes clunky dialogue (Jolene is the only major non-white character in the series, and it shows). And while Heller’s mostly known for her patient, empathetic directing of films such as “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” she brings the same qualities to her acting here, deepening Alma’s characterization into something so painfully tender she might as well be a walking bruise. Both flesh out characters that most obviously show Frank’s limits as a writer, giving them welcome depth beyond the page.
While Jolene and Alma get the closest to cracking Beth’s heart, she’s otherwise constantly surrounded by men. She resents that fact being pointed out to her with every chess match she obliterates, but with her shock of bright red hair and increasingly glamorous wardrobe (courtesy of costume designer Gabriele Binder), Beth also takes some pleasure out of drawing everyone’s intrigued eye. Along the way to the top, she collects the hearts of men equally frustrated and enthralled by her: a sincere local boy (Henry Melling), a fellow cocky prodigy (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), a kind-eyed writer (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd) who comes the closest to stealing her heart right back. Even the steely Russian champion (Marcin Dorocinski) whose face rarely moves an inch finds himself drawn to this strange girl and her astonishing mind. Countless chess matches begin and end on Beth’s face as she stares coolly across the board at her opponent, waiting for the moment she can strike him down. In most actors’ hands, these scenes would become too boring for words. In Taylor-Joy’s, they’re mesmerizing.
It’d be easy for the show to indulge too much in Beth’s allure and make her some sort of Manic Pixie Dream Genius, and it doesn’t always resist the temptation. But more often than not, it dives deep enough into her psyche and reveals enough weaknesses that she’s never invincible or unknowable. She’s a mastermind, but also an angry obsessive with a healthy ego and a love for obliterating herself before anyone else can do it to her. She wants to win, but more than that, she wants some place — someone — to call home. When “The Queen’s Gambit” gives both Beth and Taylor-Joy the room to tap into the twin veins of her fury and longing, it’s the best kind of bildungsroman. What could’ve just been a clever show quickly becomes a portrait of a special, flawed person that reveres her fire as much as her brilliance.
“The Queen’s Gambit” premieres Friday, October 23 on Netflix.
George Miller has tapped Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Hemsworth and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II to star in “Furiosa,” the prequel movie based on Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa character from 2015’s “Mad Max: Fury Road.”
Taylor-Joy will play title role, a younger version of Furiosa. Miller had said in a May interview with The New York Times that he’d been searching for searching for an actress in her 20s to take over the role. He said at the time he had considered using de-aging technology in order to allow Theron — who’s 44 –to play the part again, but has decided against doing so. Taylor-Joy is 24.
Miller will direct, co-write and produce “Furiosa,” along with his longtime producing partner Doug Mitchell. The film will be produced by Miller’s own Australian-based Kennedy Miller Mitchell banner, together with “Fury Road” partner Warner Bros. Pictures.
In prepping the “Fury Road” script, Miller and co-writer Nick Lathouris developed origin stories for every character, but not much was revealed about Furiosa’s past. In the film, she is a war captain under the cruel leader Immortan Joe, but turns against him in order to free Joe’s concubines. She then forms an alliance with Max Rockatansky, portrayed by Tom Hardy. Miller has directed all four “Mad Max” movies and was nominated for best picture and best director for “Fury Road” at the 2015 Oscars.
Taylor-Joy recently wrapped filming Edgar Wright’s “Last Night in Soho” and is currently filming Robert Eggers’ “The Northman.” She was the lead in the romantic comedy “Emma,” based on the Jane Austen novel. Her additional features include the M. Night Shyamalan thrillers “Split” and “Glass.” She’ll portray a chess prodigy in the upcoming miniseries “The Queen’s Gambit.” She is repped by CAA, United Agents, and Fred Toczek at Felker Toczek Suddleson Abramson.
Hemsworth has starred in the “Avengers” and “Thor” films as well as the recent “Extraction.” His other film credits include “Bad Times at the El Royale,” “12 Strong,” “In the Heart of the Sea,” “Rush,” “Snow White and the Huntsman,” and “Star Trek.” He is repped by CAA and attorney Matt Galsor at Greenberg Glusker.
Abdul-Mateen II played Black Manta in James Wan’s “Aquaman.” He is currently filming the fourth installment in “The Matrix” series and can be seen as Bobby Seale in “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” He will star in “Candyman,” releasing 2021. Abdul-Mateen recently won an Emmy Award for his performance in the limited series “Watchmen.” He is repped by WME, M88, Ziffren Brittenham LLP, Rogers&CowanPMK
Miller’s behind-the-scenes creative team includes production designer Colin Gibson, editor Margaret Sixel, sound mixer Ben Osmo, and makeup designer Lesley Vanderwalt, each of whom won an Oscar for their work on “Mad Max: Fury Road.”
The 28th edition of the Raindance Film Festival will close with the U.K. premiere of “Here Are The Young men,” directed by Eoin Macken (“Cold”).
The film is based on the acclaimed novel of the same name by Rob Doyle, who co-wrote the screenplay with Macken. It follows three Dublin teenagers who leave school to a social vacuum of drinking and drugs, and fall into acts of transgression. It stars Dean-Charles Chapman (“1917”), Anya Taylor-Joy (“The Witch”), Finn Cole (“Slaughterhouse Rulez”), and Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (“Sing Street”).
The film previously played at the Galway Film Fleadh, where it won the Bingham Ray New Talent Award for co-producer Edwina Casey, and at the Giffoni Film Festival, where it was in official competition.
Macken will attend the premiere at London’s Vue West End cinema and participate in a Q&A. The venue will have reduced audience capacity in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines, and masks are compulsory.
As previously announced, the festival will adopt a hybrid model for this edition and will open with David Bowie origin story “Stardust.”
The closing film will be one of six featuring in-person talent. Raindance, which has programmed 50 titles in total, runs from Oct. 28 to Nov. 7.
“The world has changed dramatically. And with these seismic changes has come the once-in-a-lifetime chance to re-invigorate and innovate,” says Raindance founder Elliot Grove. “Raindance brings you an entirely new way to look at and appreciate the very best of independent cinema from around the world. In addition to our online offering, we are thrilled to be back on cinema screens with a select number of films, including both opening and closing premieres. There’s no stopping us.”
Be careful with this one. See Anya Taylor-Joy as Illyana Rasputin in #NewMutants, now playing in theaters.
Against all odds, “The New Mutants,” Disney and Fox’s beleaguered superhero thriller that’s been delayed numerous times in the past two years, might end up being the film that revives moviegoing.
Though Disney has shuffled around theatrical plans for nearly every movie slated for release in 2020 and beyond, “The New Mutants” has curiously stayed put on the weekend of Aug. 28. Many had expected that Disney would continue to postpone it, while others speculated that the film might be exported to Disney Plus or Hulu. But Disney sent exhibitors a lengthy email on Monday outlining theatrical plans, including news that tickets can be sold starting the morning of Aug. 18.
“It’s for sure opening August 28th!” one exhibitor wrote to Variety excitedly
Theoretically, given the fast-changing nature of the pandemic, it’s still possible that Disney could amend those plans. But for now, “The New Mutants” will be the first new theatrical release from a major studio since the pandemic forced U.S. cinemas to close in March. The news is especially surprising, and not just because Disney has done minimal promotion for “The New Mutants.” Over the last few months, Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic “Tenet” and Disney’s “Mulan” have received the lion’s share of attention, with exhibitors and studios alike hoping those two titles could help reignite cinemas after prolonged shutdowns. Now, “Mulan” is skipping U.S. theaters and premiering on Disney Plus, while “Tenet” is staggering its rollout — starting internationally on Aug. 26 before making its way to select U.S. cities on Sept. 3. Russell Crowe’s thriller “Unhinged,” from newcomer Solstice Studios, will debut in theaters on Aug. 21, the week before “The New Mutants.”
Even before coronavirus caused cinemas to shutter and required studios to postpone major movies, “The New Mutants” endured an especially arduous journey to the big screen. Since it was initially slated to open in 2018 under 20th Century Fox, the film reportedly went through extensive reshoots and its release date has changed five times. In a recent ComicCon at Home panel, the studio cheekily addressed “The New Mutant’s” numerous big-screen delays, even putting an asterisk next in the latest trailer and writing “Fingers crossed” next to the late-August date.
It’s unclear where in the U.S. “The New Mutants” will be able to play. Currently, 1,309 of the 6,021 venues in the country have reopened, according to Comscore. Movie theaters in New York City and Los Angeles — the two biggest moviegoing markets in the States — are still closed without a set date to reopen. There’s been speculation that Disney was contractually obligated to release “The New Mutants” in theaters after inheriting the movie as part of its $71.3 billion merger with Fox, which might explain why the studio opted to forge ahead with this release date while deferring titles including the family adventure “Jungle Cruise” and Marvel’s “Black Widow.”
In any case, the release of “New Mutants” comes at a dire time for movie theater owners. Exhibitors that have started to resume business are finding that ticket sales aren’t flowing as freely as they were before the pandemic. That’s partially because there hasn’t been a new movie to show in theaters in months. Though people might be desperate to get out of the house, they’re less inclined to do so to see “Harry Potter” or “Star Wars” for the umpteenth time.
Studios are continuing to grapple with the fact that there is no telling how willing people will be to go back to the movies — making it riskier to debut tentpoles with massive budgets. Instead, many Hollywood companies have opted to scrap theatrical plans for movies like Paramount’s “SpongeBob: Sponge on the Run,” Universal’s “Trolls World Tour” and Warner Bros. “Scoob,” in favor of having them premiere on digital rental platforms or through streaming services. Though exhibitors realize it’s a necessary move for studios during uncertain times, it’s been a major source of frustration for theater owners, who have been left without anything to entice audiences.
Directed by Josh Boone, “The New Mutants” features an ensemble cast — including Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy and newcomer Blu Hunt — as young mutants trapped in a secret facility against their will. The movie is expected to be the final entry in the “X-Men” franchise, the 13-film series that stretched from 2000’s “X-Men” to 2019’s “Dark Phoenix.” For the most part, the superhero adaptations have enjoyed lucrative ticket sales and even an Oscar nomination (in the case of 2017’s “Logan”). But “Dark Phoenix” — which was originally intended to wrap up the “X-Men” universe before “New Mutants” was pushed into 2020 — bombed and lost the studio over $100 million, indicating that after two decades, the franchise is running on fumes.
However, there’s hope that Kevin Feige, the mastermind behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe, can revive an aging franchise now that the characters have a new home at the Magic Kingdom. That could be a heroic ending everyone can root for.
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