Movie Review: Queen of Katwe

In life, there are only three ways a person can be declared a child prodigy. These are music, mathematics and chess. The odds of anyone having any one of these 3 gifts as a child is extremely rare and when it does happen, it is a unique anomaly of the capabilities of the human brain.

There have not been that many top chess prodigies in the last 300 years that stand out among all the rest. The top two were Bobby Fischer and Paul Morphy, both from the United States and both went on to achieve the title of world champion but both of them also went insane during their adult life as have several other chess Grandmasters over the years. Chess is the most taxing thing you can do to the human brain and the main reason is that there are so many combinations of moves, even within the first 10 moves of any game. In chess, it’s so easy to make a subtle mistake and lose a game very quickly, which is why so many great chess players become very paranoid. Chess requires extraordinary memory and pattern recognition ability and especially stamina because a 40 move chess game during a tournament can take as long as 5 hours to play which is a very long time to remain very focused and in great stress.

Over the years it has been rare to see many movies that are specifically about chess or a chess player. Searching for Bobby Fischer is probably the most famous example when it was released in 1993, followed perhaps by last years Pawn Sacrifice about the insane life of Bobby Fischer. This latest movie “The Queen of Katwe” is a very good chess movie about Phiona Mutesi who is a female chess prodigy who came out of a dirt-poor village in Uganda and very quickly at a very young age she became a chess champion even though she could not even read. The story is a good one, and the reminders of how poor a country Uganda is come up throughout this 2-hour movie. Considering where this young girl grew up it’s a miracle a chess set was even available for her to learn the game in the first place.

As far as the movie, Phiona is played very well by newcomer Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo plays her chess coach in a very good performance and recent Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o plays Phiona’s mother in another very strong performance that might earn her another Academy Award nomination. As a chess player myself, the movie does a very good job showing the moves of some of the games and some mating combinations, the most famous one shown in the film was a
“smothered mate”
. The film also does an impressive job showing all the highs and lows of trying to be a competitive chess player and at one point in the story, Phiona almost gives up on her quest to become a chess master after a bad loss to a Russian woman player during a tournament in the Soviet Union. Losing a chess game is as humiliating as is the euphoria of winning a game.

This is a very good movie about chess and a rare chess prodigy from one of the poorest countries on earth. Whether or not you are a chess player this is a must see movie and I do recommend it.

The Queen of Katwe: One Girl’s Triumphant Path to Becoming a Chess Champion

Past Movie Review: Road House

Released in 1989 and probably Patrick Swayze’s biggest hit in terms of box office and long term popularity, this movie is now considered to be a cult classic and has been shown on Cable TV stations probably more than any other movie in the last 30 years. There is nothing really special about the story because it’s a formula we have all seen many times before. A mentally sick egomaniac rich businessman, played by Ben Gazzara thinks he can own people in an entire town with all of his money and forces them to pay him for protection from the criminals he hires to threaten them. The character of Dalton, who is a bouncer in nightclubs is played by Patrick Swayze, comes into town to rescue yet another nightclub that is being slowly destroyed by nightly violence and vandalism. Some of the famous lines from this movie are, “Be Nice” as Dalton explains the best way to handle some thug in the nightclub. The logic of this makes sense. If a nightclub has to constantly replace damaged and destroyed equipment due to bar fights, then the owner of the nightclub is going to go out of business pretty quickly. The concept of taking the fight outside sure makes a lot of sense but unfortunately, way too many fights still take place inside the nightclub despite the famous “be nice” and “take it outside” mantras Dalton gives during his lecture of how to be a good bouncer. The other way overused line in this film is, “I thought you would be bigger”, which over the many years since this movie was released is now a highly recognized movie line.

One formula that always works in movies like this is the presence of someone who embodies pure evil, from his looks and the things he does in the movie. The part of Jimmy, who is Brad Wesley’s top goon is played by Marshall Teague and does a great job at being a criminal major lowlife throughout this story. The other part of the formula involves a love story between Dalton and a doctor he meets in an emergency room after one his bar fights, played by Kelly Lynch. This relationship would make no sense in real life because why would a doctor be attracted to a bouncer who wanders the country breaking up bar fights? The fight scene between Dalton and Jimmy towards the end of this movie is one of the best I ever seen. You just had to admire the weeks it probably took to choreograph this complex fight that ends with Dalton pulling Jimmy’s throat out with his fingers, which of course is ridiculous and probably not even possible to do.

Another huge flaw in this story is how quickly Dalton’s doctor girlfriend so quickly forgives Dalton from witnessing this murder and doesn’t even call the police after Jimmy is killed. A good deal of this story is ridiculous and is nothing more than a series of scenes that are excuses for another bar fight or action scene but the point here is the movie formula and nothing that would actually happen in the real world or make sense. Sam Elliot  plays Wade Garret, Dalton’s best friend and is a bouncer from another club who visits Dalton at the midpoint of this movie and his presence is the final part of the movie formula. Their friendship leads to more bar fights and more insight into Dalton’s past, that includes a story of another fight he had where he pulled a man’s throat out of his neck. The ending of this movie is completely absurd and leads to more fights and murder which once again is never reported to the police. Like all Hollywood movies, the ending scene shows that Dalton and his girlfriend are in love and back together again, despite the fact that he just committed multiple murders.

The major part of this film that stands out for me more than any other is the fact that Patrick Swayze chain smoked throughout the entire film and wound up at only age 57 dying of Pancreatic Cancer. The contrast between his chain smoking and the fact that he was in such fantastic shape during this film, shows once again why smoking should never be allowed in movies. Ben Gazzara also died of Pancreatic cancer in 2012 at age 81. The blind singer in this movie who had some of the corniest lines in this movie including, “Gentleman, Wade Garrett”, died of lung cancer at only age 41, which is yet another example of the dangers of smoking.

Road House is a stupid but entertaining movie and if you can forget you have a brain for about 2 hours it can be very entertaining. Overall, despite some reservations and a stupid ending, I do recommend it.