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Queen of Katwe Review (2016) | Chess Prodigy Phiona Mutesi Finds a Great Movie

Mira Nair’s movie Queen of Katwe is a stunning sports biopic that rhymes with the life of Phiona Mutesi, the chess prodigy with an impoverished devastating childhood. Phiona belonged to one of the largest slums of Kampala, so you can imagine how destitute she really was, growing up.

A powerful brain like that of hers was dying in that dreamless muck without any self-realization, selling maize and trying to earn an elusive livelihood. It was only until one day Phiona found her interest piqued by a game of chess that left her at her life’s biggest turning points.

still of Madina Nalwanga as Phiona Mutesi in Queen of Katwe movie

Queen of Katwe is the story of Phiona Mutesi’s gradual rise, from the hollows of abysmal conditions to a place where dreams get helmed. Of course none of it would have been possible if it were not for Robert Katende, the coach who never gave up on her, and saw her through every hurdle.

THE BEAUTY OF CHESS

Chess is hands down one of the most highly addictive games ever made. It makes you smarter and better. It presents you with a keener decisive brain. The brushing up it does is simply profound. Chess remains eloquent too. Its pieces speak of ideas that promise to mould you into a winner with time. In a way it reflects life itself. To choose to make a movie on something so vast was a winning move per se.

Queen of Katwe uses illustrations galore from the 64 blocks vague labyrinth where wars are fought invariably. William Wheeler uses plenty of lines that work in sync with the game to embellish the sport further. For example, this doesn’t go unnoticed when little Gloria tries to explain Promotion in chess.

“I call it Queening. In chess, the small one can become the big one. That’s why I like it!”

image of gloria played by Nikita Waligwa in queen of katwe movie

MOVING PLIGHT

The movie appalls you when you look at the lifestyle of the Ugandan slum. To impart you a drastic angle, in comes the very brilliant and convincing portrayal of Nakku Harriet, performed by Lupita Nyong’o. She lets you witness evil manacles of poverty and shows you the blunt ugly side of her fate, trying to raise four children all by herself. You can’t help but feel extremely sorry for her. The destitution that grows on upon her family is really unfortunate to watch.

But Phiona fights it all, fights it with the army she retains on a sheer board.

“Chess is a game of fighting. These pieces are my army.”

Madina Nalwanga‘s portrayal of Phiona Mutesi is brilliant too. A dream of becoming the Grandmaster that breathed in her mind comes alive when she goes on a conquering spree. It is nerve-racking to see her break down when she finds her dreams being crushed by privation. Also, the time when she shatters on falling from a mountain of overconfidence tingles your eyes. All of it has been beautifully depicted.

At the same time, you cannot ignore Robert Katende played beautifully by David Oyelowo. He remains the soul of Queen of Katwe movie trying at all times, his level best to uplift lost spirits. There is a teacher in him that constantly bellows streams of potency letting his children “The Pioneers” stand against the world. For that he is ready to make even colossal sacrifices that compels to you shower all accolades on him. He is a true champ!

If you wish to pre-order the movie DVD from Amazon, you can do it from here:

DIRECTION OF QUEEN OF KATWE

Mira Nair is quite a director, you must say. Not for a moment does she dwindle as she progresses towards the finish line. Eventually she ices it all with a pragmatic depiction of real life characters standing next to their actors. A subtle way of paying homage!

still of lupita nyong'o as nakku harriet in queen of katwe movie

SOME DOWNSIDES

If you try hard to look at the downsides I would say the first one is its language. Since, actors were forced to speak broken English things start appearing a tad contrived. Also, as mentioned above, chess is an amazing game. The beauty of the sport never really comes out talking in the open. This was primarily done in order to avoid indifference coming from non-playing audience. But, really we could have done with a proper nail-biting depiction of one game at least. Also, it scores a tad less in dramatic horizons considering titanic tears the script demanded.

At the same time, movie isn’t all bleak either. If you scour for hilarity you will find Benjamin another prodigy, played by Ethan Nazario Lubega as one of the most fun characters in the movie. The little fella brightens you up whenever he comes on screen.

THE FINAL VERDICT

Queen of Katwe is too good a movie for a Disney movie. We have seen how medicore Disney results have been in the past. But this Mira Nair beauty beats them all. It is also one of those rare great sports movie that puts your faith back in games again. Do watch!

Check out the trailer of Queen of Katwe here:

The Unpredictable Academy: Snubs and Wins (2015)

Every year the Academy slips in a frowned spurn at a movie that is on everybody’s mind. This time ‘Boyhood’ became the bait. The coming-of-age tale that spread brilliantly over the span of 12 years, was a sure shot per se. But alas! the Oscars have a reputation in doing the unthinkable. ‘Birdman’ beat Linklater’s panache not only in Best Picture and Original Screenplay categories but also in Best Direction. The latter managed to hold its ground thanks to Patricia Arquette’s Supporting Actress win.

Not long ago when the Academy had pressed its Oscar sheet, the snubbing of great movies like ‘Foxcatcher’, ‘Big Eyes’, ‘The Lego Movie’ and great actors like Amy Adams, Jennifer Aniston, David Oyelowo, Helen Mirren, Bill Murray, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ralph Fiennes and Christoph Waltz, had caught a lot of moss. Putting out Selma flame was a big rebuff this year since people claimed it to be a distinction on Academy’s part, not to mention the fact that a majority of voting members in the Oscar team are white.

Apart from the biggest surprise of the night, some more were strewn all along the event. Academy chose to ignore the ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ franchise once again giving precedence to ‘Big Hero 6’ in the animation department. Best Editing went to ‘Whiplash’ which again was a pie in the face for ‘Boyhood’. ‘American Sniper’ losing to ‘Whiplash’ in Sound Editing was another one. ‘Interstellar’ managed only one out of its five nominations. Surprise was Zimmer’s stunning score bowing down to Desplatic rhythm. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes overlooked in the Visual Effects department came as a big blow. However, it was a close call since Interstellar’s visuals were quite brilliant as well. It was great to see Glory glorified and Feast winning the Best Short Film Animated category. Winston just had to win 😉

Here is a short summary of what happened:

  • The Imitation Game (had 8 nominations, bagged 1)
  • Boyhood (had 6, bagged 1)
  • American Sniper (had 6, managed 1)
  • Birdman (had 9, got 4)
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel (had 9, got 4)
  • Whiplash (had 5, got 3)
  • Interstellar (had 5, got 1)
  • Foxcatcher (had 5, received none)

‘Foxcatcher’ was overlooked big time. Given the amount of work Bennett Miller had put in to create the beauty, he needed a little Academy respect and attention. Steve Carell’s transformational looks as John du Pont at least deserved a Makeup and Hairstyling accolade.

Rumours have continuously surrounded the Academy owing to its big decisions which seem pretty biased sometimes. The one that exemplifies the obvious perfectly – Incessant snubbing of Leonardo DiCaprio despite outstanding performances throughout his life. Academy even failed to recognize exceptional knacks of Wes Anderson and Richard Linklater last night. Both are yet to bag an Oscar, and that is just sad.

I picture Academy as one old crude witch, who just loves to see the world burn. If you have a favorite the Academy would snub it and shout “In your face!” in your face. Mainstream movies never even make it to the list.

Whatever the hammer says hardly bothers us though. We know for sure, nothing is really lost. The shattered are still celebrated. We still have incredible movies to watch thanks to sensational efforts put in by excellent directors, actors and the remaining crew.

If you didn’t make it, we don’t really care. Academy is just a bunch of people with their scathing point of view. If you consider all of us – people who watch you from every corner of the world, who care about every single thought you conceived to carve something beautiful, who praise your extraordinary efforts to create what we can only imagine, those who really love your work, who really encourage you do the exceptional, the real movie buffs, for us, you are still our winners! You will never lose! Let us raise one to that!