Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Queen of Katwe

Queen of Katwe
seen @ UA Kaufman Astoria 14, Astoria, Queens NY

I don't recall when I first learned chess. I suspect it was sometime in junior high. I have a mental image of an adult, probably a teacher, explaining the rules to me. I'm fairly sure I didn't learn it from my father. He was more of a checkers man - that and cards.

I never had any great desire to master the game. Video games were more my speed as a kid, and as an adult, I'd rather play gin rummy. Put a chess board and pieces in front of me, I'll play you, but only for fun.

It's a very competitive game, that's for sure. Whenever I go to Washington Square Park, I see dudes playing each other on tables at the southwest corner, arranged in semicircles near the entrance. They tend to be friendly games, but with a fair amount of trash talking. At a Panera Bread near me, I often see several dudes who regularly go at it, tooth and nail, when they play. They seem to be pals, too, but their competition is cutthroat. They slap the clock timers furiously and argue over moves.

Chess ain't for dummies. Remembering how each piece moves, being ever-conscious of protecting your king while searching for a hole in your opponent's line of defense to exploit - it's demanding. Even a casual game requires attempting to think one or two steps ahead at the least.

I tend to play defensively. I don't wanna come on so strong I wind up slaughtered because of defenses I should have taken when I had the chance. It doesn't matter. I still end up losing when I play the computer on my laptop.

Chess doesn't strike me as a sport the way baseball is a sport, yet Queen of Katwe is labeled a sports movie anyway, so whatever. ESPN Films co-produced it, so I guess it counts. Chess doesn't lend itself well to film - there are only so many furrowed brows
and close-ups of chess pieces you can make - yet there have been a small amount of chess films. Tobey Maguire played Bobby Fisher recently, for example.

Mira Nair is a good director. I enjoyed The Namesake and Mississippi Masala. I was conflicted when I first saw she was making this one for Disney, but this isn't as saccharine as you might expect. I did think her editor had a heavy hand. Editing should never call attention to itself, but from the first post-opening credits scene, it did. I also thought the film was a bit longer than perhaps it should have been; just when you think Phiona Mutesi is about to win that Big Tournament, something sets her back and she has to win another Big Tournament. Still, it was pleasant to watch. David Oyelowo continues to impress me in everything he does. I like him a lot. And Nair did a wonderful thing at the end by bringing out the main cast, one by one, for a "curtain call" with their real-life counterparts.

So the last time I spoke about Lupita Nyong'o, I challenged Hollywood to capitalize on all the goodwill built by her Oscar win and make her a star. It's been a mixed bag at best so far. Yes, she was in The Force Awakens, but as a CGI character. Ditto The Jungle Book. And did anyone even bother with that Liam Neeson plane movie? She's had better luck on Broadway. Jen told me she saw Nyong'o in Eclipsed and loved it.

Katwe is the first real film showcase role for Nyong'o since 12 Years a Slave. She's excellent, but I admit I had a hard time imagining her being old enough to have had four kids, two of them teens. Eh. I'll let it slide.

So I saw the movie with my friend Sandi, who I've been itching to finally tell you about. I met her a year and a half ago at the Newtown Literary reading. Her poetry was published in the same issue as my short story. In talking to her afterwards, she had said she was trying to start a sci-fi/fantasy writers group. I had some old sci-fi material that either never saw the light of day or was never properly critiqued or both, so I decided to join up. I spent the next eight or nine months meeting with Sandi and these two other girls at her place in Astoria. It was helpful, but being in two writers groups at once became a strain, so I had to leave.

Sandi and I, however, have stayed in touch. Katwe was only the second movie we've seen together, after Kubo and the Two Strings, which we also liked. She actually got a little teary-eyed over Katwe. She's the type that likes to stay for all the credits at a movie's end, unlike me, so I've learned to indulge her. I don't mind it  so much if I'm with someone. Besides, the day before was her birthday.

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