Inside the mind of a movie lover: Inside my holiday break binge

Photo Editor Annabella Ferraiuolo reviews the many movies and shows such as The Queen’s Gambit that kept her entertained during winter break.

Courtesy Netflix

Photo Editor Annabella Ferraiuolo reviews the many movies and shows such as ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ that kept her entertained during winter break.

Annabella Ferraiuolo, Photo Editor

During my busy first few months of school, I found myself barely keeping up with new television shows and movies. During winter break, I kept myself busy with snowboarding and a few dance classes, yet I still had loads of free time to watch more hours of television than I have in the past year. Within the week and a half break, I watched many television shows and movies ranging from a 90s soap opera to a Victorian era drama and everything in between. I decided to review each title from my week and a half long binge to help you all decide which show or movie you must binge on next and which to avoid.

“Tiny Pretty Things”: Classical dancers meet a toned down “Riverdale”

Let me start by saying that this has got to be the best teen crime show ever made. Nevermind the fact that it is the best and most technical dance show or movie I have ever seen (that is not a documentary of course). It is unique, modern and fresh take on the world of teen dramas and ballet. As a dancer, I appreciated the fact that the actors are actually classically trained ballet dancers. There tends to be a lot of non-dancers playing dancers in movies and television. Similarly, a lot of dancers cast in works can’t act. This was not the case in “Tiny Pretty Things.” I was blown away by the talent of these actors and dancers. The story follows teenage dancers at the Archer School of Ballet, a boarding school for ballet dancers in Chicago, after the attempted murder of classmate Cassie (Anna Maiche). During the course of the series, lies and scandals erupt in the wake of this tragic event. 

The dramatics and crime solving elements of the show are appropriately paired with dance scenes and a look into the life of each dancer. The show makes sure to not obsess over the attempted murder. Rather, it spends a lot of time getting the audience to understand each characters’ drive. This is a clever way of saying here is how or why this person could’ve done it, but don’t think about that focus on this person’s struggles and desires. The message of the show goes beyond the typical themes of crime shows and teaches the audience about the life of a dancer and the struggles, brutality and rewards it brings. The way the dance scenes are shot is so effective. Instead of the typical head on wide shot of a dance stage or studio, the camera weaves around the dancers and takes on closer up shots during pieces. This show is extremely binge worthy so get comfy, grab a snack and enjoy. 

Available to watch on Netflix

“Dawson’s Creek”: A toned down version of a telenovela

This 90s soap opera was one I started a few weeks before break, but during the first week of break, I found myself watching it religiously. I had originally started the show for background noise but quickly found myself falling in love with the characters and rooting for couples such as Joey (Katie Holmes) and Pacey (Joshua Jackson) as well as Jen (Michelle Williams) and Dawson (James Van Der Beek). 

While the show is extremely dramatic, it was still semi-realistic. The show takes place in the fictional town of Capeside, Massachusetts and the characters spend much of their time in Boston or their typical Massachusetts town just like ours. I find the acting to actually be believable and not over the top which made it easy for me to fall in love with the characters and their friendships. I also might’ve shed a couple or a thousand tears crying over the characters multiple times throughout the series. The show also breaks barriers considering the time the show was made in. One of the main characters, Jack (Kerr Smith), comes out as gay early in the show and throughout the series, it follows his struggle to fit into society. This show began in the 90s and went into the early 2000s, which was during a turning point in gay rights. I find how this storyline is constantly evolving with the time is an accurate representation of the time. Another character earlier in the series struggles with serious mental illness issues which is another revolutionary thing to see in an older show. I really enjoyed the storyline of the show and I found the show both great for listening to while I was drawing or painting and a great show to lay in bed and watch all day. 

Available to watch on Netflix, Hulu, Pluto TV

“Psych”: “Criminal Minds” meets “SNL”

Another show I began before the break is this loveable light hearted crime show which ended in 2014 with eight seasons. The show follows Shawn Spencer (James Roday), a hyper observant man who begins posing as a psychic to help the police solve crimes. The show, while about crime, is incredibly hilarious with tons of stupid bits and one liners. Every character in this show including the tough head detective Carlton Lassiter (Timothy Omundson) and Shawn’s uptight dad Henry Spencer (Corbin Bernsen) are so lovable. I already miss these characters so much I want to rewatch this show.

When I first began the show, I found some of the flashback thoughts, which are supposed to show what Shawn is thinking, to be a little cheesy. However, after the first few episodes, I got used to it and didn’t even notice these transitions for the rest of the series. Another fun fact about this show is that in every episode a pineapple is hidden within the set or as a prop a character might use. Every episode became a competition with my dad to spot the pineapple first, and let me tell you it is a lot harder than Where’s Waldo. These little quirks make this show so special and different from other crime shows. Another great thing about this show is that it is so light hearted, it’s easy to watch all eight seasons within a month. Yes, I might’ve finished it in less than four weeks. 

Available to watch on Amazon Prime, Peacock

“Ocean’s 11” (and 12 and 13): A movie series that actually works

I had seen “Ocean’s 8” (a followup to the original Ocean’s series released over 10 years after Ocean’s 13) when it came out and while I loved the simplicity, fast paced and comedic format I had wanted to watch the original series for a while. The other Ocean’s movies proved the greatness this comedy crime series holds. I find myself getting bored with movie series after sometimes just the first movie (some examples include The Godfather series and Star Wars). The wild antics cooked up by Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his crew to pull off the biggest schemes of the century are so unique; I want to watch ten more Ocean’s movies. While you can assume they succeed in the end, it’s all about how they pull off these stunts that make these movies so great. 

One of the best elements in these movies is how you’re watching them make all these plans but what you don’t know or realize is that while they are talking about the plans to steal whatever it is they are stealing, they have already put their real plan in motion. For example, in one movie all of the characters are talking in a train station in France. What you find out later is that during this scene, they were putting a crucial part of the plan into motion. They weren’t just talking. Now I would tell you more about this but I’m trying to keep this blog as spoiler free as possible. The audience is hearing and seeing what these criminals want authorities to be seeing rather than what they are really doing. The movies are also very fast paced. They constantly jump from scene to scene, character to character and place to place. This movie format really works and helps keep up the secret of the criminals’ master plan. The cleverness this movie series exhibits mixed with the fast pace of the films make these movies so addicting to watch. 

Available to watch on Amazon Prime

“A Million Little Things”: Slightly more light hearted than “This Is Us”

I only got around to watching the first season of this ABC series, however, it is currently in its third season. I felt like this show is pretty darn good. It was sad yet had comical moments and its subject matter was deep and gut wrenching. In my mind, “This Is Us” is a much better drama surrounding the lives of people affected by a person’s death, however, this is in no way discrediting the potential “A Million Little Things” has. The three main characters in this show, Gary (James Roday Rodriguez), Eddie (David Giuntoli) and Rome (Romany Malco) all go through stages of grief after their friend John (Ron Livingston) kills himself. The acting is so pure and real which makes this show as believable and touching as it is. The friendship the four friends shared is so unique and makes the struggle each character faces so much more difficult to watch without crying. 

While I feel like these types of drama shows are multiplying by the minute ever since “This Is Us” took off winning countless awards five years ago, this show deserves more recognition. This show focuses mainly on the present and what happens to these characters when a tragic unexpected death rocks their life. Other shows tend to focus more on making it dramatic or eventful. The entire first season has many little events but so much more emotional scenes showing what a character goes through. If you’re looking for a powerful and modern show, this show is 100% for you. 

Available to watch on ABC, Hulu, Youtube TV

“Bridgerton”: “Gossip Girl” but with a lot less drugs, a lot more sex and Victorian dresses.

This show was the strangest show I’ve seen in a while. It takes place in a fictionalized Victorian era London and follows young girls who are expected to find a husband and live a “perfect” life. While the storyline of a Victorian era woman must find a husband is typical of Victorian shows and movies, this one was a lot different. While the show touches on sex a lot, it uses this to touch on stereotypes of premarital sex and relationships. They try to show that marriage is something that shouldn’t be forced and living up to these types of traditions may not always be the best way for all. The show in general focuses on the idea of perfection in society which is something we take note of when looking at the past: things were seemingly perfect. This show uncovers the truth and sadness behind the “perfection” of the wealthy in the Victorian era. Similar to “Gossip Girl” where the lives of rich Upper East Siders are ripped apart by an anonymous blogger, these wealthy Victorian family’s lives are torn apart by an anonymous gossip newsletter. While it was interesting how the message is shown, the last few episodes of the show became a little too much for me. There were so many sex scenes it got to the point where I was not so sure how important these were as opposed to a couple in the first few episodes.

One technique that bothered me a little was the use of a narrator who calls themself “the author.” It sounded pretty cheesy which doesn’t match up with the excellent acting in the show. If the narrator wasn’t there I feel like I’d take the show a little more seriously. I loved the message of the show, but I found myself struggling to appreciate that because of the cheesy narration and over the top dramatic sex scenes. Watch at your own risk.

Available to watch on Netflix

“Hillbilly Elegy”: “The Glass Castle” but better

I accidentally added this Netflix original movie to my list a couple of months back before it came out. I started the movie having no idea what it was about, who was in it or how it even got into my Netflix list. By the end of the movie, I was thanking the Netflix gods for putting this gem out there into the world. Based on the memoir written by J.D. Vance, this movie stars Amy Adams and Glenn Close in a role that I believe to be one of their best. With directing by Ron Howard, this movie really can’t fail. The movie is a look back on the hillbilly life of Yale grad student J.D. Vance (Gabriel Basso) who is pulled back to the reality of his life after his mother (Amy Adams) overdoses on heroin. Again. 

Everything about this movie reminded me of a typical rough life growing up memoir or coming of age story. There’s abuse, questionable parenting choices and an odd collection of friends. What makes this movie special is how the story is told. Vance’s life is told through the memories that come up while he heads back home to help his mother and make it back to Connecticut to interview for the biggest internship opportunity in the country. This format shows the two lives of Vance best. The vast differences shown between his old and current life help show rather than tell the lessons Vance has learned in his life. Accepting where you come from and learning to grow from the past is an important concept in this movie, and one that I think makes this movie powerful. While I felt I could sort of predict some things that might happen to Vance, I was glued to the screen hanging on every last word. The length of the movie is appropriate and it went by a lot faster than I expected. I highly recommend this movie if you are looking for a great powerful story in a movie that isn’t going to take you all day to watch. 

Available to watch on Netflix

The Queen’s Gambit: A fresh take on life in the mid 20th century and a free (very confusing) chess lesson

If you are looking for stunning cinematography combined with unique visual effects you have come to the right place. Every scene in “The Queen’s Gambit” looks to be fresh out of a modern art museum. The composition, lighting and color palette of this limited series are exceptional and bring a story that may sound boring to life. When I originally heard of this Netflix show which has been trending since it came out, I thought “a show about chess doesn’t sound like it’s worth my time.” However, I was in for a surprise with this show. After countless people told me to give it a try, I finally gave in. The show details the life of orphan and chess prodigy Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) and her experience with growing up in the chess spotlight while battling drug addiction, alcoholism and family relationship issues. 

For me, the cinematography of this series is what made me like it so much. Beth talks about envisioning the game on the ceiling at night and special effects were used to create this. While it sounds like it could be cheesy, it was quite brilliant and blended into the show seamlessly. While the cinematography was high on my list for why I liked this show so much, I did enjoy how the story was told. When the characters talked about chess and rules that I could not tell you what they mean, I didn’t feel like I was lost. I knew that what they were saying was important and admirable and I didn’t find myself curious to know more. I felt like I could still understand the show despite not knowing anything about chess. I think this is a great limited series that anyone could get into whether you are into chess or are like me and love quirky and exciting cinematography.

Available to watch on Netflix