Reel Reviews

‘Queen of Katwe’

A-II – adults and adolescents


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Triumph of mind and spirit

The glorious “Queen of Katwe” (Disney) applies the traditional formula of an uplifting sports drama to the real-life story of a Ugandan chess prodigy.

The film then goes in unexpected directions to expose the scars horrific poverty can leave on the human soul.

The principal characters are all presented obliquely as Christian, and Phiona Mutesi’s (Madina Nalwanga) first exposure to chess comes through a sports ministry. But religious faith and practice aren’t really shown here.

The hero is Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), a missionary and former soccer player who starts a chess club in an abandoned church in Katwe, a shantytown outside Uganda’s capital city, Kampala.

He turns down an opportunity to pursue a lucrative career in engineering so he can teach the village children a skill that will enable them to expand their minds. “This is a place for fighters,” he tells them.

Phiona is illiterate, since her widowed mother, Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o), a vegetable peddler, can’t afford to send her children to school. Her older sister, Night (Taryn “Kay” Kyaze), has temporarily escaped the shantytown squalor by living with an older man who provides her with money that she passes on to Harriet.

Phiona’s introduction to chess is a simple explanation from another girl who tells her what each piece does, finishing with “They all kill each other.”

Phiona’s an outcast even among other poor children; they’ve decided that she smells bad. She faces further scorn any time she defeats a boy.

In adapting Tim Crothers’ book The Queen of Katwe, director Mira Nair and screenwriter William Wheeler don’t attempt to explain the vagaries of chess, other than to demonstrate, in one scene, Phiona’s particular talent with three-dimensional thinking. Instead they concentrate on her relationships with the people around her.

The scrappy poor kids of Katwe eventually take on wealthy, educated youngsters at a college tournament, and from there on, Phiona’s exposure to the outside world grows. It’s accompanied by a sudden outbreak of low self-esteem, however, as she realizes that her life has had severely limited possibilities.

From this point on, the story picks up speed as it observes the sports-film formula. Phiona has a major defeat at a Russian tournament, suffers from despair, successfully wrestles with her inner demons and steels herself for future victories.

There’s no condescension to the poverty, which is shown matter-of-factly – and without a trace of self-pity. The result is a remarkably inspirational movie about the strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity.

The film contains references to cohabitation. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II – adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG – parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

By Kurt Jensen, Catholic News Service

‘Deepwater Horizon’

A-III – adults


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A gripping drama of real life

A forceful, fact-based chronicle of calamity, “Deepwater Horizon” (Summit) is an admirable and well-crafted spectacle for grownups – with the background assets of a solid, positively portrayed marriage and some incidental religious elements. Nonetheless, it’s not an easy picture to watch.

About the 2010 loss in the Gulf of Mexico of the Deepwater drilling rig, the movie focuses on a quartet of notables led by Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), the vessel’s chief electronics technician. Kate Hudson plays Felicia, Mike’s worried wife back on shore; Kurt Russell is Jimmy Harrell, aka “Mr. Jimmy,” the craft’s respected crew commander; and Gina Rodriguez fills the role of Andrea Fleytas, the young officer responsible for keeping the vast, free-floating structure in position.

The tense opening scenes find visiting corporate executive Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich) pushing back against the safety concerns expressed by both Mike and Mr. Jimmy – only to find himself, in short order, caught up in one of the worst man-made catastrophes in history. Following the “blowout,” the race for survival against shooting flames, sudden explosions and deadly flying debris is fueled by self-sacrificing heroism and courage.

The bloody wounds and wrenching situations to which viewers are exposed along the way are no doubt faithful to reality, but they involve some harrowing sights. There is compelling acting from both Wahlberg and Rodriguez, each portraying an ordinary person suddenly forced to cope with destruction on a titanic scale.

Mike is shown blessing himself as he starts the helicopter ride that will bring him out to the rig for his three-week shift. There’s an irony in this since the dangers of flying turn out, of course, to be the least of his worries. Additionally, the movie’s wrap-up includes a spontaneous recitation of the Our Father by all the survivors.

Between these two faith-tinged moments, however, we’re reminded that people facing imminent death tend to use the S-word a lot.

The film contains pervasive, sometimes gory, disaster violence, a scene of nongraphic marital lovemaking, about a half-dozen uses of profanity and frequent crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III – adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Monthly List of Recent Film Ratings (June 2015)

CNS classifications: A-I: general patronage; A-II: adults and adolescents; A-III: adults; L: limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling; O: morally offensive.
MPAA ratings: G: general audiences. All ages admitted; PG: parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children; PG-13: parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13; R: restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian; NC-17: no one 17 and under admitted.

The Age of Adaline, A-III (PG-13)
Aloha, A-II (PG-13)
Avengers: Age of Ultron, A-III (PG-13)
The Awakening, A-III (R)
Begin Again, A-III (R)
Chappie, L (R)
Child 44, A-III (R)
Cinderella, A-I (PG)
The D Train, O (R)
Danny Collins, A-III (R)
The Divergent Series: Insurgent, A-III (PG-13)
Do You Believe?, A-II (PG-13)
Dream House, L (PG-13)
The DUFF, A-III (PG-13)
Ex Machina, O (R)
Far from the Madding Crowd, A-II (PG-13)
Focus, L (R)
Furious 7, A-III (PG-13)
Get Hard, O (R)
The Gunman, L (R)
Home, A-I (PG)
Hot Pursuit, A-III (PG-13)
It Follows, O (R)
Jupiter Ascending, A-III (PG-13)
Kingsman: The Secret Service, A-III (R)
The Last Exorcism Part II, L (PG-13)
The Lazarus Effect, A-III (PG-13)
Little Boy, A-II (PG-13)
The Longest Ride, A-III (PG-13)
Mad Max: Fury Road, L (R)
Marie's Story, A-II (not rated)
McFarland, USA, A-II (PG)
Monkey Kingdom, A-I (G)
Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, A-I (PG)
Pitch Perfect 2, A-III (PG-13)
Poltergeist, A-III (PG-13)
Project Almanac, A-III (PG-13)
The Pyramid, A-III (R)
Run All Night, L (R)
San Andreas, A-III (PG-13)
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, A-III (PG)
Seventh Son, A-II (PG-13)
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, A-I (PG)
Tomorrowland, A-II (PG)
The Trip to Italy, A-III (not rated)
True Story, A-III (R)
Unfinished Business, O (R)
Unfriended, O (R)
The Water Diviner, A-III (R)
Woman in Gold, A-II (PG-13)

Copyright (c) 2015 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops