FlixChatter Review: Queen of Katwe (2016)

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When I first saw the trailer, I was so moved by it that I actually teared up. Well, the film proved to live up to its preview, it’s the kind of feel-good, inspiring film that will make you want to get up and cheer.

The story follows its protagonist Phiona Mutesi (newcomer Madina Nalwanga), a young girl growing up in the slums of Uganda called Katwe, hence the name. She’s shown helping her single mother do house chores and sells food, that is until one fateful day when she’s introduced to the game of chess. It turns out she’s naturally gifted in the game, and under the tutelage and encouragement of Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), a missionary with Sports Outreach Institute who organized the chess games with the kids from the slums.

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Director Mira Nair collaborated again with the writer of The Reluctant Fundamentalist William Wheeler, which peppered the script with humor as well as poignant drama. It’s perhaps one of the most diverse Disney film ever featuring mostly people of color (in fact the White actors barely got any speaking roles) The kids in the chess games are apparently comprised a mixture of South African and Ugandan youth, and they’re simply adorable! The interactions between Phiona and the other kids are funny and heartwarming, they definitely adds so much charm to the film.

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The film also didn’t shy away from showing the harsh life conditions that Phiona’s mother Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o) and her baby brother had to go through, including a flood that washed away their makeshift home. This film admirably highlights the strength of women, especially in Nakku who endured so much but remained principled and refused to take shortcuts to an easy life. The touching mother/daughter story makes this film so much more than about an unlikely chess champion.

In the end Phiona prevailed against all odds, and became Woman Candidate Master after her extraordinary performances at World Chess Olympiads. As with many based-on-a-true-story films, it’s bound to be predictable and even formulaic, but yet there’s so much heart in the story to overcome it.

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Nalwanga had never acted before and it shows at times, but she’s got screen presence and natural charm. Having two of the best actors working today, Oyelowo and Nyong’o, their excellent performances certainly elevated the film. Mira Nair certainly has a gift for storytelling, as I was completely engrossed in the film despite its rather long running time. All the more proof that we need more women filmmakers telling stories about women. I also love the vibrant color of the film and the fact that it’s filmed on location in Uganda, it certainly makes the film feels authentic. Oh, and you’ve got to wait for the end credit sequence, it will definitely make your eyes swell up and your heart soars.

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Have you seen ‘Queen of Katwe’? Well what did you think?

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Everybody’s Chattin’ + First Look of ‘Queen of Katwe’ + ‘Free Fire’

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Happy Wednesday everybody! I’m still high from seeing the first look of my dahling Sam Riley in Ben Wheatley’s new movie (more of that below). It’s been ages since I see anything new with him on social media… ah the peril of loving an underrated actor. But y’know what they say, you can’t choose who you love.

So about those links…

Jordan reviewed a terrific film Mia Madre, that’s perfect for Mother’s Day [or any day]

Everyone’s fave series Game of Thrones is back, and so is Margaret‘s awesome episodic reviews!

Steven lamented on Brian de Palma’s Bonfire of the Vanities

Speaking of lamenting, Mariah posted her thoughts on the whitewashing in Hollywood, most recently the casting of Ghost in the Shell

Thursday Movie Picks are still going & going… Dell just posted on his three fave droids/cyborgs

Eddie‘s entry to the Rob’s Genre Grandeur series talks about how Fast Five holds up 5 years later

Now here’s a real head scratcher, Paul asks which body of work you prefer Michelle Pfeiffer vs Meg Ryan

Mickey reviewed one of my fave films out TCFF last year – Room

Last but not least, don’t forget to stop by Mark’s blog on Monday for his Decades Blogathon!


Time for a couple of First Looks…

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Ok so I’m a sucker for inspirational true stories. This one is based on a book of the same name by Tim Crothers. Though there have been films made about chess champions before, I actually haven’t seen any of them. The fact that this one tells a non-American story makes me more interested in it. The film, shot in Uganda and South Africa is directed by Mira Nair (a female director is always a plus in my book!) I had only seen Vanity Fair and The Reluctant Fundamentalist from Nair, but most people are probably more familiar with her famous film Monsoon Wedding.

Here’s the synopsis per Screenrant:

The film tells the true story of Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga), a chess prodigy from Uganda who earned Woman Candidate Master status in 2012, following the deaths of her father and brother.

I love both David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o, so that’s another big plus. It’s one of those stories you likely can predict how it’ll turn out, but still intriguing nonetheless. I’m already tearing up watching the trailer so I’ve got to bring tissues when I do watch the movie.


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I’m still so very giddy just from seeing the first photo of this gangster flick, I don’t know what I’ll be when the trailer comes out!

I had already heard of this when Sam mentioned it in a couple of Pride + Prejudice + Zombies interviews. He called it a 1.5 hour gang shootout, which sounds epic cool! The filmmaker du jour Ben Wheatley, fresh from all the buzz of High Rise is directing this, AND it’s executive produced by Martin Scorsese!

The synopsis per EMPIRE:

Free Fire is set in Boston in 1978. The story, which Wheatley is pitching as a muscular crime flick in the spirit of Melville, Hawks, Scorsese himself and Walter Hill, charts the fallout from a gun-running hook-up orchestrated by Larson in a deserted warehouse. At its centre are two Irishmen (Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley), on a connect with a pair of arms traffickers, Ord (Armie Hammer) and Vernon (Sharlto Copley), but soon wishing they’d given the whole enterprise a wide berth when the bullets start flying.

The film also stars new Oscar winner Brie Larson, Noah Taylor and of course, my darling Sam Riley!

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Look at the mustaches + 70s outfits on these guys!

Per EMPIRE article: “The idea for Free Fire came from my love of hard-boiled crime movies,” Wheatley tells Variety. “The Asphalt Jungle, The Big Sleep,The Killing and The Big Combo through The Driver, Le Samourai andThe French Connection, to the modern cycle of GoodFellas, Casino,Hard Boiled and Reservoir Dogs.”

“It will take you and stick you in the middle of the action,” he elaborates. “I want the film to have the stylish, no-nonsense feel that you get in [Sam] Peckinpah’s The Getaway. It’s a modern ‘70s movie. Muscular, tough and spare.”

Hmmm, I actually didn’t care for The Getaway, but maybe because I didn’t really like Steve McQueen who’s just so damn smug, but I do like the cast here and it looks more of an ensemble piece than just centered on a single hero. And of course seeing Sam Riley (with 70s ‘tache AND glasses? Oh my!) on the big screen again is a major plus! A24 has acquired the US rights, so I can’t wait to see a trailer soon.

Both of these films are scheduled to be released later in the Fall.


So what do you think of either one of these new films?

Indie Weekend Roundup: The Reluctant Fundamentalist review

It’s the last weekend of MSPfest and it’s been great watching a bunch of indie films. Saw The Hunt last night and this is my initial reaction:

Now, two of the last three films I’m reviewing this week happen to be are directed by women. It’s interesting that they’re two VERY different genres, this one is a dramatic thriller and the other one I’m finishing up on, In A World, is a comedy, but both are highly recommended.

Anyway, on to the review:

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

ReluctantFundamentalistPosterA young Pakistani man is chasing corporate success on Wall Street. He finds himself embroiled in a conflict between his American Dream, a hostage crisis, and the enduring call of his family’s homeland.

I happen to see the trailer just a week before I saw the MSPfest schedule so I signed up to see it right away. This is the kind of film that will likely raise some eyebrows and some people might have strong feelings about it, whether good or bad. I guess that’s to be expected given the subject matter involves terrorism, though this film is not so much about an extremist attack, but the reaction when such a heinous event occurs. This film also works as a character study of an intriguing character named Changez, who like many immigrants, often is (or feels) torn between two worlds.

The film opens with the kidnapping of an American college professor off the street in Pakistan, and somehow Changez, a fellow university teacher, appears to be right in the middle of the Pakistani/American conflict. That’s what Bobby, an American journalist, alludes to when he interviews Changez at a cafe. “I only ask that you please listen to the whole story, not just bits and pieces…” Changez said to Bobby, to which the journalist agrees and as the tape recorder rolls, we’re taken to Changez’s life ten years prior. We saw that he came from a rather privileged background in Lahore and that he was as a prodigious student at Princeton. With the potent combination of extraordinary intellect and tenacity, it’s no surprise he soon attain the American dream when he’s hired at a high-powered consulting firm Underwood Samson. He seemed to have it all, even his love life seems to be going well when he met a free-spirited American girl Erica. But then, 9/11 happened, and from the moment Changez witnessed the footage of the plane hitting the twin tower, things aren’t going to be the same for him.

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Now, there have been countless films on that subject, but I feel that The Reluctant Fundamentalist manages to tackle the side not often explored but certainly worth telling. As an immigrant, I empathize with Changez even if I don’t necessarily agree with his decisions. In fact, the whole time I was watching the scenes of him literally being harassed by counter-terrorism officers and TSA agents simply because of his nationality, I kept thinking of a Pakistani college friend of mine who actually share a very similar background as Changez. I’d imagine watching this film would perhaps hit too close to home for him.

I appreciate that the film doesn’t really take sides, in fact, it challenges me to put myself in someone else’s shoes, and to see a complex human emotion at play where things aren’t always so black and white. In the midst of such a tense story though, I also find the film to be surprisingly witty and humorous. Changez making a droll reference to CSI Miami to Bobby and the one that got the most laugh, his nonchalant quip about wanting to be a dictator of a middle eastern country with nuclear capabilities when his workmates ask him about what he wanted to be in the next ten years. Even in its humor though, the filmmaker is well-aware of people’s natural prejudices when faced with a character like Changez.

I was very impressed with London-born Riz Ahmed as Changez. The Oxford-educated actor is also a rapper under the name Riz MC. Apparently I had seen him before in a small role in Centurion, but this is the role that really showcase his talent as an actor. He’s effortlessly believable as an intellectual, a charismatic leader, and a romantic lead, which is a testament to his versatility. Ahmed’s melancholy yet expressive big, black eyes say so much, and I can’t help being drawn to his character up until the very end.

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Brunette Kate Hudson is quite good here as Erica, herself a tortured soul because of a past incident that killed her former boyfriend. The two have a convincing chemistry, though from the start it’s clear the relationship is built on feeble ground. Kiefer Sutherland and Liev Schreiber offer decent supporting performances. It’s interesting to see Mr. Jack Bauer NOT playing some CIA officer in a story that could’ve easily been an extended episode of 24.

Overall, I’m impressed with BAFTA-winning Indian director Mira Nair‘s film adaptation from Mohsin Hamid’s novel. How one receives this particular film is likely going to vary from person to person, but I do think it’s well worth a watch as a cultural drama about a subject that’s sadly always going to be timely.


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Thoughts on this film yet? Is this something you’re intrigued to see?