The Queen’s Gambit: A Review of the Netflix Miniseries

I was taught the game of chess as a child and still remember the joy and fun of playing chess with my grandfather.  But for some chess is not a game, it is their career and livelihood.  Many top tier chess players are regarded as geniuses and boast impressive memories and knowledge surrounding the theory of chess.  However, in the case of the Queen’s Gambit a lack of chess knowledge will not hold you back and will certainly not take away from the viewing pleasure garnered by the show.

The Queen’s Gambit is a new limited series on Netflix and its presence has surely shocked the chess and streaming worlds alike, having been viewed by 62 million households after airing on October 23. 

Orphaned Beth Harmon, portrayed by Isla Johnston.

The story follows the life of Beth Harmon, a female chess player who is orphaned after a tragic car accident when her mother is killed in 1957.  It is as much a chess series as it is a coming of age film for Beth.  We see Beth grow from a young girl to a grandmaster level chess player as she struggles with addiction, depression and family problems along the way.  The writers for the show cannot get enough credit for taking Walter Trevis’s long novel and turning it into an entertaining bite sized work of art. 

The filming and acting in the show were remarkable and the portrayal of life in the 1960’s was realistic and well done.  Mini skirts and bell bottoms along with some Beetle’s references made the 1960’s come to life.  Filming and the soundtrack made the intense chess matches easy to follow although they could have done with more close up shots of the chess boards to help audiences understand the positions.  The music was done by Carlos Rafael Rivera and he did an amazing job so props to him.  The sound of dancing violins paired with the soft piano worked so well that every scene felt extremely real.  It was also used for montage shots of the chess game and even though they could last for ages they felt quick and very intense. 

The 1960’s come to life. Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon (left) and Harry Melling as Harry Beltik (right).

Part of this success is due to how easy and binge worthy this show has become to many people.  The show is seven episodes each lasting around an hour.  These shorter runtimes feel like mini movies and don’t drag on as many Netflix Series have in the past.  Netflix truly did an amazing job picking this series and I hope there is no sequel or spin off in the future.  This series set out to entertain audiences and make them captivated with the world of chess and that’s what it did.  There have been rumors of Netflix renewing the show but I believe this should never happen. It was an amazing show and all of the story lines are happily finished.  From the characters, the acting, music, and cinematography the story felt extraordinarily rich at its peak, while extremely sad and melancholy during Beth’s lows.  I urge anyone with a Netflix subscription to give The Queen’s Gambit a try and see what the world of Beth Harmon can bring to the metaphorical chess table.

Gabriel Pribilski

My name is Gabe Pribilski and I am a lover of fascinating films from Tarantino to Kurosawa as well as a sports fan. I am currently pursuing an associates in science at Harper College and haven’t decided on a major.  I am simply a college student who hopes to get the most out of Harper and continue with my love for film and sports while doing so.

The Trial of the Chicago 7: A Review of the Netflix Film

            Among the sea of Netflix content, one may run across a kernel of hope that lies in the vast mediocrity of the Netflix platform. One such film is The Trial of the Chicago 7, a 2020 Netflix original film directed by Aaron Sorkin. The film is a dramatic reenactment of the infamous 1969 trial of the same name in which seven social justice activists lead anti-war protests during the 1968 Democratic Convention held in Chicago. They were prosecuted for allegedly starting the ensuing riots. A realistic documentary style of presenting the case may have proven tiresome to watch for most audiences, so instead the film takes on a dramatic tone involving excellent acting and editing.

Left to right: Jeremy Strong as Jerry Rubin, John Carrol Lynch as David Dellinger, and the quintessential hippie Abbie Hoffman played by Sacha Baron Cohen.

The cast plays to the story wonderfully, with my personal favorite character being Sacha Baron Cohen’s Abbie Hoffman. Cohen’s performance elevates an already complex character into one that the audience grows to respect and understand. Part of this of course is Abbie Hoffman being already a character himself, putting on an act in a sense to build support for his cause, so Cohen’s ability to character act so well truly shows how complex Abbie Hoffman was. 

The yin to Hoffman’s yang is the other main activist in the story, Thomas Hayden, played by Eddie Redmayne. Whereas Hoffman is the quintessential hippie, Hayden is a much more institutional activist rather than cultural. This dynamic becomes one of the more played up and interesting parts of the story, so much so that its message tends to eclipse the simpler message provided by the trial. Does revolution come from the culture into the system or can the system be worked within itself as intended? This conflict boils over part way through the trial in which Hayden’s moral foundation is shown to be much less solid than previously thought. Unfortunately, in this brief moment of moral complexity there was a simple matter of grammar misunderstanding and Hayden is immediately cleansed of doubt, followed by him and Hoffman coming together in classic movie fashion for the climaxing story.

Social solidarity and justice versus an unjust system.

I’m unsure how close this adaptation is to the real events, but the flat resolving of Hayden’s moral dilemma was a letdown for me. It offered the only real moral complexity in the story since there is nothing complex to feel about a bigoted judge, a rigged system, and an unnecessary war.

Story simplicity aside, the development of the characters follows along with the messaging of the plot, one of social solidarity and justice versus an unjust system. As the trial continues, we see exactly how unjust the system was in 1969, with a portrayal of an incredibly inept and biased Judge. Again, I’m unsure how close to reality the film truly is, but for me the heavy-handed decisions the judge makes seem almost too cliché, providing an easy out for a physical villain within the story. If the judge was genuinely so incredibly biased throughout the trial as the film suggests, perhaps the message is more of continued futility in the hope of change rather than the immediate gratification of winning the trial.

Does revolution come from the culture into the system or can the system be worked within itself as intended?

The trial’s end, and thus the film’s, does mark a significant turnaround in the moral of which can be appreciated. Besides the wonderful acting, the film’s editing brings to life what would otherwise be a boring court drama with tragic implications. The editing brings the viewers onto scenes as they are being described by multiple characters, providing a quick tempo that occasionally crescendos into full transitions.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is an enjoyable watch and can be related to current social unrest in today’s turbulence. It offers a well-executed glimpse at what social justice was during the Vietnam War, its multifaceted perspectives, and allows the audience to speculate what can be done in today’s climate.

Written by Damon Rios

Damon is an amateur writer and professional media consumption artist. Movies, music, games, and books are all on the table. He is working towards a bachelor’s in communications and hopes to go professional in any writing capacity. As stated, Damon’s habits rotate from music consumption, to movie consumption, and everything in between.

The Liberator: A Review of the Nexflix Miniseries

Animation and war movies seem to be the farthest opposites of movie genres, yet they come together in the Netflix mini-series The Liberator in a unique, fascinating, and unexpectedly complementary way.

This four-part miniseries, released on Netflix a little over a month ago, tells the heroic story of Captain Felix Sparks as he lead his battalion of Cowboys, Mexican Americans, and Native Americans to fight for the allies in WWII—and yes, it is animated.

Cartoonish is the farthest thing from this style of animation.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this series childish or skip-able, a glance at the trailer will show you it’s not. Cartoonish is the farthest thing from this style of animation, it’s more reminiscent of those simple sketches, pencil on paper, that somehow manage to capture the utter essence of a person with a few lines; the simplicity keeps you wondering how so little can portray so much. The series was acted in live-action in front of blue-screens (the behind-the-scenes photos are worth looking up if you’re curious) and the animation was drawn over the actors, keeping all of their actions and facial expressions completely in-tact. This fascinating blend of live-action and animation/CGI was enough to make me start watching, but they were not the only reason why I stayed. 

The violence in this war series is as graphic as it can be with animation—which is to say not very. Yet even though the animation style does sanitize the images of war somewhat, the film still manages to get across the tragedy of it in different ways. There is a lot of death in the series, realistic for war, though the realism of having so many die sacrifices the chance for the audience to feel deeply for any one death. The tragedy is not so much seen in the individual deaths themselves but more through Felix Sparks’ reaction to them. Though it doesn’t focus for more than a minute on an individual, the series does a good job of taking away the familiar faces one by one, leaving the audience with a sense of loss and letting Felix Sparks’ reaction do the rest.

The other horrors and handled much the same way, with enough details shown to inspire grief, while the true horror the audience feels is inspired by Felix’s reaction to it. This puts a lot, basically the success or failure of the show, on the shoulders of actor Bradley James who portrays Sparks, but James proves he’s well up to the challenge.

James’s performance as Captain Felix Sparks is superb. With a clench of the jaw or a couple of words he vividly portrays the difficulty of his positions—whether it be fighting against the odds to complete impossible tasks or calling for surrender. With such subtly in his performance, the moments where he breaks down over the loss he’s experienced are immensely powerful, not overdone or dramatic—just realistically moving.

Able Gomez as portrayed by Jose Miguel Vasquez

Though there are strong performances from the whole cast (Jose Miguel Vasquez as Able Gomez and Martin Seinsmier as Samuel Coldfoot particularly stand out) James’s Sparks is the most consistent face of the show and truly the beating heart of it.

One complaint I have about the series regards, not so much the show itself, as the promotion of it. The teaser trailer that was heavily promoted, implies the series is focused on Felix Sparks and the men of the 157th Infantry Battalion, a fascinating story of an integrated group of cowboys, Mexican Americans, and Native Americans as they fight against racism and bond together. Though the men do feature heavily in the story, the series is really about Felix Sparks himself. Though there are definite moments of development for the men and scenes as they gain respect, Netflix oversold how much the story was focused on them. Despite this, Felix’s story is well worth watching, I would have no complaint if it were not for the slightly false advertising.

Does The Liberator tell a completely unique story from the other war films out there? No. You’ve probably seen films with at least similar elements to this story before, but all of these stories are true acts of heroism and bravery committed by real men. Just because we can’t honor every hero from WWII, just because some of their heroic actions may have been similar, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t tell as many of their stories as we can, and Felix Sparks’ story is well worth telling. Sometimes, in times of upheaval and stress (as this past year certainly has been) it’s good to hear stories of bravery, heroism, and good men; this series certainly fulfills that need.  

The series is the perfect length for a Saturday/weekend binge—three approximately 43 minute episodes and one hour-long one—though the subject matter and tone of the show are so heavy (to be expected for a show about WWII) that it might be best to break it up over two days as I did. Regardless of how you watch it, it’s unlikely you’ll regret it.


In the end, though the timeless story of heroism and bravery is nothing new, it’s refreshing to return to it in 2020, and combined with the unique style of animation and Bradley James’ performance, The Liberator worth the watch.

Written by Koryn Koch

Koryn has enjoyed writing from an early age, her first work being a story about a unicorn. Since then she has become a marginally better writer and gained an appreciation for film as well. She is pursuing a degree in Digital Marketing and when not busy she enjoys spending time with her nine siblings.

Harper Talks: The Harper Alumni Podcast

Tune in on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on the Harper College website!

This is an article originally posted on harpercollege.edu by the Harper College News Bureau on November 10th, 2020.

Harper College alum and 2020 Outstanding Recent Alumnus honoree Scott Lietzow didn’t know where his path would take him, but one very important stop along the way was Harper College.

Lietzow tells his story of being a Marine, then enrolling at Harper, working in politics and now at Allstate in a conversation with Assistant Professor of Communication Arts Brian Shelton for the inaugural episode of the new podcast series, Harper Talks: The Harper Alumni Podcast.

The monthly podcast invites Harper alumni for a conversation and to share their stories, experiences and life journeys with host Shelton. The episodes focus on how key factors such as education, career successes and failures, and human connection have impacted each alum along the way.

“We hope that the podcast will be inspiring to current students, an interesting and educational listen for our alumni and provide a window to the student and alumni experience for the wider community,” said Shannon Hynes, director, alumni relations which is a co-producing Harper Talks with WHCM 88.3 Harper Student Radio.

Radio students, under the supervision of faculty advisor and podcast host Shelton, will have a hand in producing and editing monthly episodes.

“This provides a great opportunity for our students to work on not only the production end of the program but experiences of working with the multiple podcast aggregators and distribution systems,” Shelton said. “This really goes beyond what is done in the classroom and brings it to the real world.”

In the inaugural episode Lietzow (pictured right) shares how he believes his willingness get involved at Harper helped him find his way forward.

“At Harper, there is so much more than just going to class,” Lietzow tells Shelton, “and I think that students that are not getting involved are missing out on a whole different type of learning experience.”

Listen and subscribe to Harper Talks: The Harper Alumni Podcast on all podcast platforms including Apple and Spotify, and the Harper Alumni website, http://harpercollege.edu/alumni.

Questions or know an alum who might fit the bill to be featured? Email alumni@harpercollege.edu.

Mike Jeffers Interview!

The full-length interview can be viewed by clicking this link.

Mike Jeffers is interviewed for Dexter’s Radio Hour. The Chicago Jazz magazine editor and drummer discusses what it takes to be a jazz professional, and build a multi-media business.

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