HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Queen of Katwe
HTS Overall Score:88
Disney has made an art form out of bringing real life inspirational sports stories to the big screen. There’s no shortage of ACTUAL real life events to inspire mankind and they have gotten it down to a science with hits like “Remember the Titans”, “McFarland”, “Secretariat” and several other genre films. Put up some real-life struggle, show the underdog actually coming out ahead, cheer, then profit. Some have fared better than others, but most manage to make a pleasing impact on the viewer in some way, shape, or form. The latest on this list is a rather unique entry into their sports underdog category. “Queen of Katwe” is not your usual sports team come to life on the big screen in some rousing display of physicality. Instead it’s a movie about one of the most visually boring sports on earth, chess. Based off of a true story written about in ESPN magazine, “Queen of Katwe” is more than JUST a movie about chess. Instead of being cold and clinical, where you see eccentric, but brilliant, grandmasters battling it out or screaming their head off neurotically, we get to watch a tale of survival and sacrifice unfold. Something I really wasn’t expecting and actually ended up appreciating more than most other Disney sports movies as a result.
Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) is a young girl in the village of Katwe, Uganda. Daughter of a poor widow named Nakku (Lupita Nyong’o), she is destined to be another villager who eeks out a living selling fruit until she stumbles upon the local soccer coach who is trying to bring some of the less athletically inclined kids in the village into the world of chess. Taking a natural affinity to the intellectual battle on a board, Phiona soon stands out as something truly worthy of respect and watching as she stomps over all of the village people and even makes it in a big city tournament. Her coach, Robert (David Oyelowo) knows that she is destined for something much much greater than beating a few yokels at chess. Scraping everything he can together, he gets her into a national championship where she thrashes the opposition, opening up her life to the wonderful world of international chess.
However, the road to greatness is never easy. Phiona recognizes her own greatness rather quickly and soon becomes cocky as she wins an all African tournament. With chances of going to Russia and being labeled a chess master, her cockiness starts to grow and take root, changing the relationships she has with her sister, her mother Nakku, and even her brother. Changes that are not always good either. As fate would have it, her first attempt at a championship in the international arena is a failure, but we all know that out of failure comes opportunity and drive. A drive that pushes Phiona forward (with the careful guidance of Robert) towards her destiny.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=89906[/img]“Queen of Katwe” stands out from the rest of the Disney sports film with a fairly dramatic change from the typical formula. The elements are all there for the formulaic rise from poverty and obscurity to greatness, but director Mira Nair takes a different approach. Instead of spending a majority of the time on the sport itself, she crafts a tale of compassion and survival. Much of the films run time is taken up by watching Phiona adapt and change to her new surroundings. This isn’t just a story of “poor” Americans who are trying to be recognized. This is a girl who lives in REAL poverty in the middle of Uganda who has a chance at becoming something different. The thing is she can’t just have some nice rich coach come in and give her all the tools to succeed except for her own energy. She has to still put food on her mother’s table and live in a world where their very next meal may be the last she ever eats. The same goes for her opportunities. Getting some money to make it to the tournament is one thing, but she’s an uneducated Ugandan trying to make it in a world that is so foreign to her that she might as well be from another planet.
Much of the themes that run through the film focus on these changes and life altering run-ins with differing cultures. Lupita Nyong’o is simply FANTASTIC as the torn Nakku, desperately seeking something better for her daughter while living in fear of losing her forever. David Oyelowo is just as magnificent as her very obviously Christian coach (although it’s never mentioned there are some very strong hints that he’s working as a local ministry outreach to the village of Katwe). However, its Madina Nalwanga who completely steals the show as Phiona. There’s a sense of naivety and vulnerability about her that is superbly realistic and she handles the changes in mood and personality quite nicely as the film requires. There’s a few moments near the center of the film where things slow down a bit, and you wonder what’s going to happen as Phiona gets a bit TOO cocky for her own good, but the end of the film is done exquisitely and makes for one of the best family movie watching experience of Disney’s recent history. I also have to comment on how organically the credits gimmick worked at the end by bringing in the real life people to stand beside their actor counterparts. It added a little something to the experience and made it feel that much more heart warming.
Rated PG for thematic elements, an accident scene and some suggestive material
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=89914[/img]Disney is a legend when it comes to day and date titles, but some of their live action “children’s” works haven’t always been 100% perfect. “Queen of Katwe” stands as a picture perfect digitally shot film that just screams quality from the rooftops. IMDB nor my other sources can confirm that it was digital, but the image looks AMAZING on Blu-ray and wreaks of the typical digital shoots of modern day cameras. The amazing colors of Africa just pop off the screen at every turn, with eye catching oranges, reds, purples and dark blues to capture the eye. Dusty streets of Katwe are brown and earthy, making the bright primary colors bound off the screen that much easier. Black levels are deep and inky in the huts and hovels of the simple village, and contrast levels are well within reason. There are distinct visual styles throughout the film, ranging from the dusty and orange soaked villages to the brightly light and honey warmth bathed Sudan, to the cool crisp whites and blues of Russian snow. Simply put, this is a marvelous encode and a demo disc down to the very core.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=89922[/img]The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is a bit more reserved than the video, but no less actual quality. Being the genre of film that it is “Queen of Katwe” tends to lean towards the dialog centric style of audio mixing and thus has a slightly front heavy mix. That isn’t to say that the surrounds don’t get activity. In fact, there’s quite a few moments where they are alive with the hustle and bustle of the village of Katwe, or the barely audible background hum of a chess tournament. The main focus of the movie STILL is the use of vocals, and the dialog is well rendered and perfectly intelligible at all times. LFE is tight, clean, but fairly reserved, really only coming out to play with the score or to add a few honks and crashes from automobiles and the Boeing plane half way through the film when they leave for Sudan.
• Queen Of Katwe: Their Story – Discover the stories behind the people who came together to bring the film to life, and how they reflect the vibrant community, culture and spirit it celebrates.
• A Fork, A Spoon & A Knight – Director Mira Nair's short film about Robert Katende, a boy who grows up to transform a Ugandan city into a globally renowned chess sanctuary.
• In The Studio With Alicia Keys – Go behind-the-scenes with Alicia Keys for an inspiring look at the song's recording.
• Alicia Keys "Back To Life" Lyric Video – Sing along with on-screen lyrics.
• Young Cardamom & HAB "#1 Spice" Music Video – The Ugandan hip-hop duo bring the flavor in a music video directed by Mira Nair.
• Audio Commentary – With Director Mira Nair.
• Deleted Scenes (8) – With Introductions by Director Mira Nair.
- Graduation – Robert is alone at his graduation.
- Job Application - Robert checks in on the status of his job application.
- Dancing and Rent - Phiona joins in dancing with local girls before the landlady pulls her away.
- Entering the Hospital - Harriet tries to look presentable as they rush Brian to the hospital.
- Escape from the Hospital – The family sneaks out of the hospital.
- They Can't Go to Budo – Robert second-guesses taking the kids to the competition at King's College Budo.
- Flood (Extended Scene) – A nearly 7-minute scene before, during and after the house is flooded.
- Phiona's Chess Club - Phiona comes full circle as she teaches a little boy the same lessons Robert taught her in chess club.
“Queen of Katwe” is a fantastic story of love and conquering what life has put in your way. Disney live action inspirational stories can sometimes be a bit clichéd and syrupy, but “Queen of Katwe” is a great story that is just inspirational. The real tale of Phiona and her rise to the top is every bit as spectacular and heartwarming as the movie adaptation and Disney has gone to great pains to make the film fairly accurate to the original ESPN news article. The Blu-ray is superbly done and the extras are definitely more than ample in today’s extra starved world of home video. Definitely a great family watch.
Starring: Lupita Nyong'o, Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo
Directed by: Mira Nair
Written by: William Wheeler (Screenplay), Tim Crothers (Based on the Magazine Article by)
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, French, Spanish DD 5.1
Studio: Disney/Buena Vista
Runtime: 124 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: January 31st, 2017
Buy Queen of Katwe On Blu-ray at Best Buy
Recommendation: Great Watch
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