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Posts Tagged ‘Bill Camp’

Anna Taylor-Joy

“THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT”  My rating: A- (Now on Netflix)

Anya Taylor-Joy has been an indie “it” girl ever since 2015’s “The Witch”; she cemented her reputation with this year’s “Emma” (and took a half-step back with the widely reviled “New Mutants”).

But true blow-out mainstream stardom now has arrived for her in the form of “The Queen’s Gambit,” a personality study masquerading as a sports movie (well, sort of…the sport here is chess).

Scott Frank’s seven-part Netflix series (he directed and wrote or co-wrote every episode) allows the 24-year-old Taylor-Joy to exploit everything in her acting arsenal, from her eerie looks (those HUGE eyes, those rosebud lips) to explosive physicality to a sort of studied inscrutability that is her character’s dominant trait.

Along the way the series (adapted from Walter Tevis’ 1983 novel) tackles issues of feminism and paternalism, Cold War tension, substance abuse and Sixties hedonism.  Oh, yeah…and  you’ll learn an awful lot about the world of competitive chess.

The first chapter introduces us to young Beth Harrison (played as a child by Isla Johnston) in the wake of the suicidal car wreck that killed her single mother (Chloe Pirrie, who keeps popping up in flashbacks scattered throughout the episodes).

Little Beth is consigned to a church-sponsored orphanage where she’s fed a steady diet of religion and tranquilizers (the beginning of lifelong addiction issues), is befriended by the older malcontent Jolene (Moses Ingram) and finds an unlikely mentor in the school’s reclusive janitor (the great Bill Camp) who in the dingy cellar introduces her to the game of chess — at which she excels. 

“The Queen’s Gambit” follows two distinct but frequently intersecting paths.

The first is Beth’s rise to the highest ranks of international chess, starting with state competitions (she knows the game, but is indifferent to the attendant proprieties), through state championships and on to the nationals. Frank and team pull out the stops in recreating the milieu of chess fantacism.  By the time you’re finished you’ll have been given a crash course.

The second plot is a more personal one. It’s about Beth as damaged goods, a loner who gets by on ego, skill, booze and pills;  a teen who seems unable to establish the  usual connections and friendships.

Beth is adopted by a couple whose motives for becoming parents are mixed at best;  the father almost immediately bails, leave Beth to deal with his depressed, alcoholic and delightfully loquacious wife, Alma (Marielle Heller). You can say this for Alma…despite the constant drinking she’s knows how to monetize Beth’s chess skills; before long the teenager is popping up on the covers of magazines. (more…)

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Mark Ruffalo

“DARK WATERS” My rating: B+ (Opens wide on Dec. 6)

126 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

If in the New  Year America’s landfills are suddenly overflowing with discarded cooking paraphernalia you can blame “Dark Waters,” Todd Haynes’ fact-based examination of how DuPont, in developing Teflon, pretty much poisoned the world.

This legal procedural follows a decade long effort by Robert Bilott, an attorney whose firm counts DuPont as one of its major clients, to determine why first the cattle and later the people living around Parkersburg, West Virginia, began exhibiting bizarre birth defects, horrendous tumors and unexpectedly high death rates.

This isn’t the first time that Haynes have gone off on an environmental tangent. in 1995’s “Safe” he examined the plight of a woman who is literally allergic to just about aspect in modern life. But “Dark Waters” is unique in that it is the most straightforward, unambiguously non-artsy film in a directorial career marked by titles like “Far from Heaven,” “Velvet Goldmine” and “I’m Not There.”

In fact, the artsiest thing in the movie is its gray/blue palette…surely the sun sometimes shines in West Virginia?

Bilott, played with quiet intensity by Mark Ruffalo, is a big-city lawyer whose job is to defend chemical companies.  Then he’s approached by farmer Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp), an acquaintance of his grandma, who demands that the high-priced attorney investigate the death of more than 100 of his cows after they drank from a stream on his land.

The Tennant property  abuts a decades-old DuPont waste storage facility; almost from the get-go Bilott (and those of us in the audience) knows where this is going. The problem is proving it.

Matthew Michael Carnahan and Mario Correa’s screenplay (adapted from Nathaniel Rich’s magazine article) simultaneously focuses on Billot’s long search for answers and his personal journey, using what’s he’s learned representing chemical giants to go after them.

At the same time his singleminded devotion to the case threatens his marriage to Sarah (Anne Hathaway) and his job at a big Cincinnati law firm, where the partners (led by Tim Robbins)  only give him leave to pursue the Dupont matter in the hopes of getting a piece of a massive settlement.

(more…)

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