Queen of Katwe (2016)

queen-of-katwe-8

Like any good coach, Robert (David Oyelowo) teaches lessons beyond chess to Phiona (Madina Nalwanga)

It should surprise no one how many movies are made of underdogs in sports, so it is a shame when a movie like Queen of Katwe comes out. It is a movie that is bound to be overlooked, while it is fresh, encouraging entertainment for the whole family.

It tells the true story of missionary Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), who is a coach to some of the kids of Katwe, Uganda in soccer (an injury has sidelined him from play). Other kids are unable to play, so he shows them another game, Chess.

One of the kids is a stand out. Her name is Phiona (newcomer Madina Nalwanga). Along with her brother Brian (Martin Kabanza), they manage to use chess as an escape from their life in the slums with their mother (Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’O). There is also their older sister Night (Taryn Kyaze), who is in and out of the house on the road to a life in the slums.

Basically, it is the same underdog story told in countless other movies, but what makes the film work is, above all, its heart. It really goes all in on the story of a young girl whose only real handicap is where she was born. The performances work (especially Oyelowo and Nyong’O), and the “action” of the games never results in a stalemate of any kind.

Parents, there are some dramatic moments (one character is in a road accident and is taken to the emergency room), but that is it. I don’t recall any swearing (some kissing, but nothing more). This is a feel good family film that deserves more attention.

I would say more, but I want you to discover the film yourself. That, plus I have to revisit my chess app and get practicing again…

 

Overall: Three and a Half Stars *** 1/2

 

Race (2016)

Race

Stephan James stars as Jesse Owens right before a “Race”.

Going into Race, I realized I knew very little about Jesse Owens, other than he went to the 1936 Olympics and was most popular track and field star of all time. The movie does a good job of informing us what happend but not the best job of entertaining us. In the entertainment department, it just barely gives us a bronze.

Jesse Owens is portrayed well by actor Stephan James. We see him start off for Ohio State, and meet Coach Larry Snyder. Snyder is played by comedy actor Jason Sudeikis, who has never been in a dramatic role before. He is talented, but still seems to be adjusting away from comedy. His performance is not memorable, but not to the point of awful.

Basically, we know the movie will end up going to the 1936 Olympic games, helped by the US Olympic commitee’s vote to go there. The man in charge of making sure it happens is Avery Brundage played by Jeremy Irons in a fine performance (then again, whenn does Irons give a bad performance?)

The thing I mainly disliked about the film is the screenplay. It is a formula sports film that gives us the troubled star (I am sure he had more troubles than just race: they never mentio the fact that he was a heavy smoker), a coach with a troubled past, and outside political tensions (we see Goebels, but Hitler is only in the background.

The racing (and jumping scenes) are well done. They are in real time, and not slow motion. Like any track event, they are done before you know it (unlike the film, which is too long even at just over two hours).

Parents, there is swearing, but nothing really sexual (besides one minor dancing scene which is not bad at all). Pre teens and above would be ok, but this is more of a movie to wait till it comes out to watch at home.

I end by restating how long the movie is. Maybe it was because it was a late showing, but the biggest laugh I heard in the theater was a loud snoring. Or, perhaps, it was because the movie felt like a marathon instead of a sprint.

Overall: Two Stars **

Creed (2015)

Creed

Stallone shows Jordan the ropes in “Creed”.

Creed is easily the  biggest surprise to me of 2015. I had a feeling it would be good, but not as great as I thought it would be.

I guess I should not have been so surprised, since it is from director Ryan Coogler (who also wrote the screenplay), responsible for making the wonderful film Fruitvale Station in 2013. Here, he brings the star of Fruitvale Station Michael B. Jordan, proving again he is a wonderful young talented actor.

Jordan stars as Adonis Johnson, who was kicked around youth detention centers as a kid. He never knew his parents, but one day is introduced to Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), the widow of the late Apollo. He is not her son, but the result of an affair that Apollo had (his fatal bout with Ivan Drago in the fourth Rocky movie happend before Adonis was born).

He eventually quits his job (despite a premotion and his mother not wanting him to) because he want to fight. The gym in which his father’s trainer started will not take him anymore, so he has one last idea: go to Philly to see the legendary Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone, in case you did not know who played him).

Balboa now runs a restaurant (called Adrian’s, after his late wife), but never goes back to Mickey’s’ Gym. Eventually, Adonis (who does not want people to know who his father really was, hence the last name change) convinces Rocky to take him under his wing. We all know it will eventually lead to a ending bout with a big time boxer (Tony Bellew). What we get along the way is a character study that deserves comparisson with the original Rocky (I have only seen the first, second, fourth, and sixth from begining to end, with enough bits and pieces from the third to know how it goes. I am told to stay away from the fifth.)

The acting here is stellar. We see great chemistry between Michael B. Jordan and Stallone (who was nominated for an Oscar nearly forty years ago for the role, and may very well be again). There is also nice work from Tessa Thompson as Bianca, Adonis’s love interest who is battling her own life battles as well.

Parents, the PG-13 rating is justified. There is some swearing (I believe I counted one F bomb), and there is a scene of sensuality that does not become too “R” material. Also, there is (obviously) a little violence (I mean, it is a boxing flick!). 13 and over is the right age for the film (although if they know nothing about the original films, they will be not only confused, but robbed of a chance at nostaligic moments).

I end with a comment that is cliche, but I don’t care: Creed is a knockout. It will be on my top ten list of the year.

Overall: Four and a Half Stars **** 1/2