Monday, November 16, 2020

The Queen's Gambit: My review

I always find it interesting that networks are reluctant to buy period pieces and yet they’re very popular with audiences.   From MAD MEN to more current period (sounds like an oxymoron) fare like THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL, FARGO, THE GOLDBERGS, THE CROWN, and TV’s newest darling, THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT, which is set in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  

One advantage to these trips to yesteryear is they provide a great escape.  And boy, do we need that now.  After being stuck in our homes for nine months, just the thought of being transported is inviting.  And in THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT there’s also a lot of travel.  Remember when you could get on a plane and fly to Las Vegas or Paris (or the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas)?   And when you flew in the ‘60s the blankets were free.  

I quite enjoyed THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT.  Anya Taylor-Joy was riveting as damaged orphan chess genius, Beth Harmon.  Bill Camp, the new Gene Hackman also shined (as he always does).   And the production values and costumes were fabulous.  Great attention to detail.  

Yes, the movie was sort of HOOSIERS with chess but knowledge of chess isn’t necessary for enjoying this seven-hour mini-series on Netflix.  What I appreciated most is that it celebrates intelligence.  You remember intelligence?  People who believed in science, people who accepted reality and didn’t just make up their own alternate universe to suit their needs.   Chess requires complexity and complexity requires smart people.  If you’re losing you can’t pretend your pawn can go diagonally four squares every move and there’s no such thing as checkmate.  That’s how stupid people play the game.  But to play it right, you have to outsmart your opponent, which is tough because your opponent is also smart.  You can’t say “that move doesn’t count” because it wasn’t to your liking.  And you can’t just tear gas him.  

There’s also sportsmanship, and concession speeches.  See why so many people want to get in the Wayback Machine?  

Some are calling this the greatest show they’ve ever seen.  I won’t go that far.  I thought they could cut an hour.  It bogged down in places.  And I had one issue with the storytelling.  But I don’t want to spoil anything so in a few weeks I’ll circle back to this when more of you have seen it.  

For now I recommend THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT.  It’s a series for people who long for that mystical magical place called the real world. 

27 comments :

John Leader Alfenito said...

We enjoyed "The Queen's Gambit," too. Anya Taylor-Joy makes orbital hypertelorism look amazing (eyes too far apart, yes, I had too look that up).
Don't forget how cool the music and costumes were in this mini-series. The chess themes in Beth wardrobe were subtle, but every outfit made a reference...most obviously in the final scene.

Oliver said...

Interestingly I binged through it, but thought afterwards: I won't remember it for very long. Why? Maybe because it was all shiny and entertaining (as you wrote), but not very, how to put it, nutritious? There's only so much repetition I can bear in an female outsider who is underestimated by men again and again and again.

Jim P said...

I haven’t seen this series yet, so I can’t comment on it, but it’s based on a wonderful novel of the same name by Walter Tevis. The book is well worth checking out. I read it many years ago and absolutely loved it.

GZapoleon said...

I'm on Episode 4, and haves loved each episode so far Anya Taylor-Joy is excellent and so is Marielle Heller but there are some really good performances by many of the cast. The spubdtrack was inspired! As a 13 year old kid, The Vogue's "You're The One" was my favorite song when it was current, it sounds amazing here and that scene was one if my favorites. The series ulis definitely worth watching!

Anonymous said...

Oliver “There's only so much repetition I can bear in an female outsider
who is underestimated by men again and again and again.”

I have not seen the series — based on a book by Walter Tevis
(The Hustler; The Man Who Fell to Earth) — but — no offense —
don’t most non-Rom Coms — or, at least, most Action Films —
have male outsiders who — for various reasons — are
“underestimated by men again and again and again?”

Your “review” sounds almost like that your trouble with the adaptation
is that the protagonist was a woman (who, of course, have historically
been underestimated, and legally suppressed, by men since
Fred Flintstone).

Shrill1 said...

Looking forward to seeing this. For more Bill Camp, if you haven't, check out the Manhattan Project series Manhattan (another great period piece), HBO series The Night Of and the Paul Dano movie Wildlife. He's great in all of them.

Gary Conrad said...

I loved The Queen's Gambit. Another period show I loved was "Red Oaks" on Amazon Prime. It's set in the 80s. Has anyone else seen it?....I'm surprised it didn't get more attention, I thought it was terrific.

Tyler Pounds said...

It was bought as a six episode series, and released as a seven episode series. And it never felt more obvious.

thomas tucker said...

Jackie Kennedy also had orbital hypertelorism.

blinky said...

Maybe you were leaving out the end because it was so excellent. Harman didn't find her soul mate in the end, she found herself. Such a good story!

Ted. said...

It's pretty much a hero's journey story, in which a lowly person discovers they have a special destiny, then must overcome great obstacles (and their own self-doubts) to achieve it. She's basically a smarter, harder-working Harry Potter.

blinky said...

Beth Harmon staring into the camera over a chess board is a dazzlingly beautiful sight. With her giant almond shaped eyes she looks like a Pixar character in real life. And she kicks ass. So yeah, good stuff there.

Russ DiBello said...

Yes, excellent show. OT, if it's okay by you: you mention "intelligence".

I generally shy away from network TV shows, especially since in the age of cable and apps, "television" has now morphed into the video art once defined by great filmmaking; commercial network TV must necessarily remain the fast food of video art.

So I was pretty much flabbergasted when I binged "The Good Place". One wrong turn in development, and this storyline easily could have turned into "Gilligan's Island".

This is a very intelligent show. It ropes you in with farcical fantasy, comedy, Ted Danson and eye candy (set dressing, mindblowing digital FX and beautiful-looking humans). Then you discover you're watching an allegory-filled examination of life, death and the details in the weeds of the world's great philosophers, which is actually accessible to us Dummies, as their ideas and quotes are presented in chunks, with explanations of their relevance to the action. Clever, and it works.

Had "The Good Place" been a one-off motion picture, it could have been a Woody Allen joint. Suffice it to say, I still don't understand how Michael Schur could have come up with something this complex and how that could have been greenlit by NBC, let alone become a 4-season hit network TV series. But it does give one hope that the future of network TV isn't necessarily just procedurals.

(SUPER-OT to Guy Z: Yes! The Vogues in all their pop awesomeness, before they went all MOR and Vegas-y! Agree or disagree: after "Five O'Clock World" and "Magic Town", they became schlock?)

Greg Ehrbar said...

Speaking of The Flintstones, there is an episode called "How to Pick a Fight with Your Wife Without Really Trying" in which the two couples play Rockopoly and Fred becomes so obsessive and obnoxious as he amassed wealth and demands payment from Betty, Barney and Wilma that the Rubbles have no choice but to leave.

The superb acting as well as the razor-sharp script laces drama with comedy because Wilma is struggling to sustain her marriage.

Twenty-four minutes and it's practically like watching The Queen's Gambit.

Valerie said...

Ken, as always, on the money. What I loved about this series (a real gift from Netflix, as you point out, during these “stay at home” days) was that no matter your circumstances, how kicked by life, or unfair... if you’re smart and find your tribe you can beat those odds. Your circumstances do not define you.

Troy McClure said...

I hadn't planned on watching this because I didn't think chess would make for interesting drama, but your review has won me over. And I love the digs at moronic Trump supporters. Talking of which, I'm very disappointed to discover that Letitia Wright is a Trump supporter. She hasn't said it in so many words, but on the day Biden was declared president elect, she tweeted that the antichrist agenda runs deep. Not exactly cryptic. It's obvious where she stands. The poor fool believes Trump is a Christian.

Anyway, your review confirms that television/streaming is the home for intelligent storytelling now that the movie studios have abandoned grown up filmmaking in favor of dumbed down superhero sequels and remakes. That's why only Netflix would finance Mank by David Fincher. No studio was going to make a film about the screenwriter of Citizen Kane. You can't do toys or a McDonald's tie-in meal. Well, unless you call it the Big Mank. Thank you, I'm here all week, try the linguine.

stephen catron said...

Very much enjoyed Gambit. Felt it was was of the more creatively directed shows I've seen in awhile. Best show ever? No, but very well done with a skilled cast.

DBenson said...

Period is good, but tricky. Recently happened across what felt like a Canadian knockoff of "Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries". The 1920s was thinly sprinkled over exteriors, and the heroine's casual outfits may have been technically correct but looked distractingly modern. They lost me pretty quickly.

Westerns are period, but for decades we cut a lot a slack and accepted the improbably tidy B movie and television vision: Everybody wears a Stetson cowboy hat, streets look like Frontierland, saloons are big and ornate, and horses are continent. "Twilight Zone" had an episode where a TV actor is transported to the "real" old west, but what's meant to be gritty and realistic used the same sets and costumes as the usual TV western.

myrna said...

This is a fascinating article about Walter Tevis. He enjoyed chess, played the game, but nowhere near the level of the prodigy he created. However Tevis incorporated much of his own life history when he wrote Beth's backstory- orphanage, addiction etc..

https://www.theringer.com/tv/2020/11/9/21555790/the-queens-gambit-netflix-book-walter-tevis

normadesmond said...

I didn't hate the series, but overall, I wasn't thrilled. So forced. Not everyone can be weird.
Using Laura Nyro & Labelle in the final episode helped me to like it.

Pete Grossman said...

Yes, an outstanding show. One of the things I kept saying through the series was, "Man, the music supervisor for this series is so on point. Real sharp, smart stuff. Turns out it's Randal Poster, who's got 155+ music supervisory credits to his name. He worked for a director I worked for many years ago who trusts only the very highly skilled in this, as he's known for the music his pictures. Kudos Randal Poster!

Brian said...

As always, thanks for the review. I just finished episode 1.

ventucky said...

Bill Camp is a treasure. He reminds me of Spencer Tracy and PS Hoffman as a person on screen who appears to be a real person, while everyone else looks like they are acting.

lauramcc said...

just outstanding. I knew I was going to like it early on when the two blokes they set up as minor antagonists in the beginning - and the promo - end up being her more or less posse on and off through the rest of the series, but in a subtle kind of way. My one issue - why plunk it in Kentucky and then hire mostly British actors and then make no attempt at the accents. This is the 50's and 60;s, The accents were heavy. It was enough to take me out of the story from time to time.

MikeKPa. said...

I loved it and have been recommending it to everyone. Anya Taylor-Joy is mesmerizing in every scene she's in. Can't wait until Season 2.

ventucky said...

MikeKPa. It is what is referred to as a "limited series". That seems to mean a one off. So don't expect a season 2. It seemed like the story resolved not leaving much room to continue.

h said...

The thing I loved about this series was that it was unashamedly feelgood. They avoided so many of the well-trod-but-depressing tropes - at one point I thought they were going to suggest her first mentor (Bill Camp's char) may get in trouble for spending time with a little girl, etc; they could have had the drugs cause more serious problems etc... but those sorts of storylines are exhaustively covered in any number of other series.

And the relationship between Beth and her adoptive mother was one of the most delicately and beautifully written and portrayed things I've seen on telly.

The whole show was refreshingly fun and upbeat. I absolutely loved it. Here's hoping they don't try a sequel... :)