Queen of Katwe Review (Spoilers)

queen-of-katwe-posterOne of my favorite trends in the house of mouse is their live action sports section. In my opinion, they have made one great inspiring movie after another including Miracle, Million Dollar Arm, The Rookie and most recently McFarland USA which I especially loved.  Some may view these films as trite and cheesy but I love them. They are the only thing keeping Disney small. Oh how I wish they would have a similar small animation department. Their recent entry, Queen of Katwe, cost only $15 million and it is very special.

queen-of-katwe-8I said on twitter about Queen of Katwe “If you like this kind of thing you will love it. If you don’t like this kind of thing, you might still love it”. I don’t know if it is just because it is about chess but if there was ever a sports movie that could please everyone this is it. Sure it hits the predictable ‘inspirational true story’ notes but then it also went places I didn’t expect it to go.

Queen of Katwe tells the true story of Phiona Mutes (Madina Nalwanga) a young Ugandan girl who becomes a chess master. She grows up in the slums of Katwe where she sells corn and other vegetables to make ends-meat rather than going to school. Her mother Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o) is a widow and trying desperately to keep her family together both spiritually and physically.

nullOne day Phiona comes across an after school type group set up by Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) and she starts learning how to play chess. As she grows in her skills she also is taught by Katende’s wife how to read and think for herself. The movie does a good job showing the how hope can be a good and bad thing and how Phiona’s life isn’t anything but peaches and rainbows after her successes in chess.

The slums aren’t sterilized for a Disney audience like you might expect. There is a landfill close and there is a devastating scene where a flood comes through and nearly takes Phiona’s brother away in the water.  There is another scene where Nakku sells her mother’s dress to a skeevy man who propositions her, which I thought was pretty brave for a Disney film. disneys-queen-of-katwe-champion

Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakku is not the perfect mother you might expect from this film. She is scared, gritty and weak at times. There is a brutal scene where her son is in a hospital and she can’t afford to pay the bill so she removes the IV and sneaks him out only to come to their shack and be evicted by the landlord. If that doesn’t pull at your heartstrings you have more self control than I do. It’s not just that these events happen but that I felt for these people. They felt real and whole with flaws. lupita-grabMadina Nalwanga is also excellent as Phiona who goes from shy and awkward to a bit of a diva to completely devastated and back around in the film. There is a devastating scene where she asks David Oyelowo’s Robert Katende if good things are for the city kids because things hadn’t changed and then he tells her about losing his mother. It was really moving stuff! queen-of-katwe

Some will say this film is predictable and by the numbers but at least for me it went places I wasn’t expecting it to go. We learn about Phiona’s sister Night (Taryn Kayze) who is basically with a pimp for the lifestyle perks. Nakku is spiritual but not preachy. She is prideful but also weak, particularly when it comes to Night and Phiona.

There’s a great scene where Nakku thinks her children are being trained to gamble instead of competing in chess. Nyong’o’s ferocity in that scene is awesome. David Oyelow is also tremendous as the chess coach who is real but also ready to give the pep talk.

There is also basically no time spent with the rich kids bullying the Katwe teams. That was very refreshing. Also we get only a brief scene of the ‘jerk governing body embarrassed by the poor team’ like you typically get in these movies (think John Candy ‘they’ve earned the right’ speech in Cool Runnings).  There are also basically no white people in the cast except a couple briefly seen chess competitors. So no white savior storylines this time around.

Director Mira Nair has done a wonderful job taking the inspirational movie formula and creating something special. Go see it. I know you will love it!

Also, I normally hate the ending scroll text in these movies telling you the rest of the story because it takes me out of the movie, but in this case I thought they handled it just right.

Here is the trailer to give you an idea for the film:

Overall Grade- A

Oscar Noms Reactions- 200 posts

86th Annual Academy Awards - Red Carpet

Hi guys! Just a quick post this morning and it is my 200th post!  Can you believe it! Thanks for making this such a fun part of my life. My other personal blog http://smilingldsgirl.com is just about to get 1000 posts (and has 500 followers!) but I’ve had that for 7 years.  This has only been since August  Crazy!

Just thought I would give a little response to the Oscar noms, not that these awards matter that much.  Still, it is nice to see quality praised.

I’m still working on seeing the nominated films and of the Best Picture noms I’ve seen Boyhood, Grand Budapest Hotel and Selma and they all deserve their noms.  Probably the surprise was only 8 noms this year when they can have 10 (the best picture nomination process is so convoluted and ridiculous).

I’m going to see Whiplash on Saturday so excited for that and should get to everything else in the next couple of months.  What’d you think of list?

Best Picture:
American Sniper
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

The biggest surprise is no nomination for Lego Movie. This is probably the result of it being an early 2014 release and it being a comedy.  The academy tends to praise dramas at the expense of comedies which I think are in many ways harder to pull off especially for kids.  It was also a definite tip of the hat to hand drawn with Tale of Princess Kaguya and Song of the Sea both getting nominated.

The fact is it was an incredibly competitive year in animation.  I know a bunch of you disagree with me but I still think this is the strongest year in animation since the 90’s.  Just my opinion but for a movie as inventive, creative and funny to be off the list as the Lego Movie says something about the strength of the year.

While I haven’t seen Song of the Sea it looks amazing, so I can’t argue with the 5 on the list. They were all great. Of the one’s I saw I gave them all A’s.

Best Animated Feature:  (click film for link to my review)
Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How To Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Other surprises-  no nom for Life Itself which I thought given Ebert’s popularity would be a shoe-in but it is kind of appropriate as the documentary branch consistently let Ebert down (example- Hoop Dreams not being nominated in 1994).

No nom for David Oyelowo for Selma is a big surprise because it is a great performance and typically the academy loves actors who portray famous people well.  Also it would have been one non-white nominee (amazing how non-diverse Hollywood can be?).  All the 20 nominees for acting are white.

Surprised but not surprised with a Meryl Streep nom for Into the Woods.  She is great and it was a fun performance, but at this point her getting nominated has become such a bore. I almost wish she’d just take herself out of contention.   I would be stunned if Patricia Arquette doesn’t win in that category.

Robert Duvall is kind of the same way with his nom for The Judge which I haven’t seen but didn’t hear great things. I am also a little surprised Ethan Hawke got nominated but happy.

No nom for Gone Girl (or its director David Lynch) which is a surprise although I haven’t seen that yet either.

Tom Hardy deserved to be nominated for Locke.  I mean who else can say they kept audiences transfixed talking on a car phone for 84 minutes? Oh well. Not enough room on the list.  I’m surprised no love for Nightcrawler which I probably won’t see because of the violence but heard is pretty great.

While not a surprise, disappointing to only have 1 nom for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes for visual effects. Andy Serkis deserves to be recognized for the amazing ACTING he does.  Apes really affected me and made me think about life and conflict. It was a fun blockbuster but with something to say.

My prediction is it will be a big night for Boyhood.  It certainly was the movie that impacted me the most in 2014.  I think it will win picture, director, and supporting actress.

I also think Big Hero 6 will win for best animated movie.  It’s a battle between it and How to Train Your Dragon 2. Both deserving.

What did you guys think? What surprised you?

To 200 more posts!