QUEEN OF KATWE

Review by Carla Renata for UBNRADIO.com, TheCurvyFilmCritic.com and MsInTheBiz.com I don't know about you, but when I hear the word chess, automatically the name Bobby Fischer pops into my head.  It's generally not a game I identify with African-American players.

Although, there have been several players of color.  In 2014, Cuba Gooding, Jr starred in Life of a Kingabout Eugene Brown.  Brown started a chess club for inner city students in Washington D.C. after he had been jailed for 18 years.

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Maurice Ashley is a Jamaican American chess grandmaster, author, commentator, app designer, puzzle inventor, and motivational speaker. In 1992, he shared the United States Game/10 chess championship with Maxim Dlugy.  Fédération Internationale des Échecs or World Chess Federation (FIDE) awarded him the grandmaster title in 1999,making him the world's first Jamaican chess International Grandmaster.   Ashley is well-known as a commentator for high-profile chess events, spent many years teaching chess and On April 13, 2016, was inducted officially into the US Hall of Fame along with Chess Grandmaster Gata Kamsky.

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Enter Phiona Mutesi, a girl from the streets of Kampala, Uganda whose world rapidly changes when she is introduced to the game of chess by soccer coach and former missionary Robert Katende.  As a result, she is encouraged to pursue her dream of becoming an international chess champion. Queen of Katwe is Phiona's story of discovery, love, sacrifice and developing the heart of a lion king while accomplishing a feat even she thought was impossible.

In 2012, at the age of 16, at her second Olympiad, she became a Woman Candidate Master, the first step towards Grand Master. Earlier this year Phiona graduated from St. Mbuga Vocational Secondary School and is now applying to college and hopes to become a doctor or lawyer.

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Played majestically perfect by Madina Nalwanga, “Phiona’s story is like my story,” Nalwanga says. “Her background is like my background, but for her it was chess that changed everything and for me it was dancing and singing.”

It was refreshing to see that Disney made a huge effort to keep this story's authenticity by casting actors from Uganda and South Africa. Both David Oyelowo as Robert Katende and Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o seemed destined to be part of the project.

The role of Harriet was written for Nyong’o, whom director Mira Nair has known for years. “I thought of Harriet as a young Mother Courage, and that is the strength and beauty that is in Lupita,” says Nair.   A child of East Africa, an alumnus of Maisha Film Lab and an intern at Nair’s production company Mirabai Films in New York, Nyong’o shot to fame with her Oscar®-winning performance in “12 Years a Slave,” which she followed with roles in “Star Wars: A Force Awakens” and “The Jungle Book.”

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“I have a daughter and I want her to watch this film and feel like she can do anything because she is worthy of it, because she applies herself, as we see Phiona do,” says David Oyelowo.   My hope is that some girl in Iowa who wants to be a pilot will watch this film and be inspired to do what she wants to do.”

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Queen of Katwe is an inspiring, uplifting film that reminds its audience that anything is possible with a little hard work, support, love, self-confidence and belief in one's self.

Produced by Disney,

Queen of Katwe

opens in limited release on September 23rd and nationwide on September 30th.

 

SILICON COWBOYS

Review by Carla Renata for UBNRadio.com and TheCurvyFilmCritic.com

 

Being s self-proclaimed geek, one Christmas, my Mom gave me a handheld computer for Christmas.  It was revolutionary, not bigger than the palm of my hand and this device could literally do everything my desktop could with  a series of apps.

The only reason I eventually bought an iPhone was strictly for work purposes.  I discovered there were apps that I could use that would allow me to never miss another voice-over audition or job.

With the invention of social media and popular apps like Facebook, Twitter, Apple iPhones and a little series on AMC called "Halt and Catch Fire", one forgets that compatibility was virtually impossible before Compaq computers appeared on the scene

"Silicon Cowboys" is a documentary that breaks down the wild-west mentality of the personal computer industry from Compaq to IBM and beyond, but is basically a story of the rise and fall of Compaq Computers.

IBM had an arrogance and confidence that controlled the marketplace making it the 6th largest industrial company in the United States.  IBM was literally selling a computer unit a minute..

Meanwhile, Compaq developed its first portable computer that weighed only 27-28 pounds and was the first computer to be compatible with the IBM PC..  Compaq answered the need of those people who wanted to finish their  work over the weekend at home and their portable computer was perfect.  However, Compaq only sold 53,000 compared to 750,000 PC's that were being sold at IBM.

Right on its heels as Steve Jobs and Apple in 1984, who to this day reigns supreme over smart phone and laptop technology.

Silicon Cowboys is fascinating in the respect that it show that "nerds" can go in hard for what they believe in and want to fight for.  Like any other business driven industry  computer geeks would pull out all the stops with Celebrity endorsements, smaller and better version of their product  and like a true fight to the finish the best product would be left standing in tact.

Ultimately, that did not end up being Compaq, who would eventually merge  with another technological giant Hewlett-Packard.

If you love technology and am as fascinated as I am about its origins, you will love Silicon Cowboys..

Released on September 16th nationwide in 12 markets and nationally of all digital platforms and directed by Academy Award nominated Jason Cohen Silicon Cowboys serves as  refreshing alternative to the familiar narratives of Jobs, Gates and Zuckerberg.  It also features interviews with Compaq founders Rod Canion, Jim Harris, Bull Murto, Alec Berg,- Executive Producer of HBO's "Silicon Valley" and co- creator of AMC's :Halt and Catch Fire"  Chirs Cantwell.

 

The Light Between Oceans

by Carla Renata for The Curvy Film Critic.com and UBNRadio.com

When I learned Academy Award winners Rachel Weisz and Alicia Vikander and 12 Years A Slave/Steve Jobs nominee Michael Fassbender had a film release based on the novel of one of my favorite writers M.L. Stedman, I knew this was a must see.

Stedman’s “The Light Between Oceans” was published in the U.S. in July 2012. Immediately embraced by readers and critics alike, it landed on both The New York Times and USA Today’s bestseller lists, as well as,  Amazon’s Best Book of the Month for August of that year. Since then, it has been translated into over 35 languages.

Having said that, I often thought that the "light" referred to the lighthouse, which is a staple fixture of symbolism in the novel and the film.  However, after seeing the film I realized the  "light" symbolizes love, loss and the secrets that bubble to the surface.

You know that old saying..."What's done in the dark comes to light"?  Well, baby what comes to light in this film affects everyone on-screen and is emotionally wrenching.  It just goes to show you that love is an emotion that sometimes transcend all reason and common sense.  After all, you only have to forgive once.  Resentment takes too much work.

Michael Fassbender as Lighthouse keeper Tom Sherbourne is a tortured soul.  When asked about Tom, the actor commented, “These things happen in life where you have to make a choice that has no simple or right answer. The story’s not about judging who is good and who is bad. It’s really about how we deal with the outcomes of our choices, and to me that is what defines us as human beings."  Fassbender is a chameleon when it comes to inhabiting characters, which is the thing great actors are made of.  His vulnerability is admirable, yet sad and pathetic all at once.  I adore him.

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Alicia Vikander as Isabel is beautiful, spirited and determined.  Very much like her character from her Oscar-winning turn in The Danish Girl, complete with tears.  I love her, but Im'ma need her to do a drama without crying through the whole film.

Rachel Weisz was right on the money as Hannah Roennfeldt.  Every emotion she spoke through her actions and not necessarily with words.  Like Vikander, most of her scenes were extremely emotionally heart-wrenching.  Weisz is a class-act and one of her most intense scenes comes in Hannah’s first face-to-face encounter with Isabel after her daughter (Lucy)returns. “It’s two devoted mothers facing off,” describes Weisz, “And it’s highly charged.”

Set in a remote part Western Australia, following the devastation of the Great War, the imagery is absolutely gorgeous and made me want to go find a lighthouse on the beach to live in far away from the noise of today's society.

The Light Between Oceans is a beautiful love story of relationships and what one does when faced with a choice to do the right thing...or not.  Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures for Dreamworks, The Light Between Oceans is released in a theatre near you on September 2nd.

https://youtu.be/w51IR_BFGyc

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RIP Gene Wilder

by Carla Renata

 

As a kid, I couldn't wait to see Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. What's not to like about a factory full of chocolate??!!  What about those Oompa Loompas? What about those iconic roles in the Mel Brooks films, The Producers, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, which earned him numerous Oscar nominations.

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Wilder_Young Frankenstien
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YoungFrankensteing_Wilder

For me, it was his performances opposite comic genius Richard Pryor in Stir Crazy, Silver Streak and See No Evil - Hear No Evil and the many films he Co-Starred in with his wife and SNL Superstar - Gilda Radner that solidified my love of his humility driven comic genius.

Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor in Silver Streak, 1976.
Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor in Silver Streak, 1976.
Pryor and Wilder in Silver Streak
Pryor and Wilder in Silver Streak

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Born Jerome Silberman in Milwaukee, Wilder began studying acting at the age of 12. After graduating  U. of Iowa in 1955, he enrolled in the Old Vic Theater school in Bristol, where he honed his  acting technique and fencing.

Wilder caught his first big break playing a small role in the off-Broadway production of Arnold Wesker's "Roots" and followed quickly with his Broadway debut as the comic valet in "The Complaisant Lover" (both 1961), for which he won the Clement Derwent Award. His other Broadway credits included "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1963, with Kirk Douglas), "The White House" (1964, with Helen Hayes) and "Luv" (1966), but it was a 1963 Broadway production of "Mother Courage and Her Children" that altered the course of his life forever. In its cast was Anne Bancroft, who was dating Mel Brooks at the time, and the relationship established between the two men eventually led to Wilder's becoming part of Brooks' most celebrated actors.

With nominations for The Producers with Zero Mostel and Young Frankenstein, it seems Wilder's film career was unstoppable.. However, it was his collaboration with Richard Pryor that makes him unforgettable in my book.

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His first association with Pryor had come on Blazing Saddles, when Richard Pryor (co-screenwriter) lost his bid for the Cleavon Little role. Pryor and Wilder first acted together in the commercially successful Silver Streak  and  Stir Crazy , but their later efforts were mediocre.

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Ironically, Hanky Panky, Wilder's first of three films with his late wife Gilda Radner, originally was written to pair him with Pryor again, but Richard Pryor's unavailability necessitated rewriting the part for Gilda.

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Gilda and Wilder

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Two years after Gilda's death, Wilder married Karen Boyer.

Mel Brooks spoke on the death of his longtime friend and movie collaborator, who famously worked with Wilder on a long list of films and  took to Twitter to remember the movie legend, who died today from Alzheimer’s disease at age 83.

“Gene Wilder-One of the truly great talents of our time. He blessed every film we did with his magic & he blessed me with his friendship,”

-Mel Brooks

Wilder and Brooks
Wilder and Brooks

For me, Gene Wilder will always be that unusually handsome, comic genius with the piercing blue eyes and a heart that seemed to be as golden as a ticket from the Willy Wonka Factory.

https://youtu.be/SVi3-PrQ0pY

Sundance 2016: Norman Lear - Just Another Version of You

 Who can forget all the ruckus flushing a toilet on network television during "All In The Family" caused the sensors? What about JJ Evans declaring in every episode that he was the one and only "Kid Dynamite" or when "Maude" became the first network sitcom to tackle the subject of abortion?   The creative genius behind all those characters, shows and memorable moments came from the magnanimous mind of multi-Emmy winner...Norman Lear.  Directed by Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing, this masterfully and beautifully shot doc captures the childhood imagination of  Norman Lear, the King of Sitcoms!  At the height of his career, he was the show runner for 6 out of 10 shows on network telelvision.  At 93 years young, he is at it again with a Latino re-boot of "One Day At A Time", which made household names out of Bonnie Franklin, MacKenzie Phillips, Valarie Bertinellii and the recently deceased Pat Harrington , Jr..

Lear, who attended the Q&A afterwards, wearing his favorite garment (his signature white hat) revealed the secret to what contributed to his success was his ability to "never lose a children's view of the world".

More than being a love letter on celluloid, watching it sent me right back to those days of watching television when you couldn't tape it on a DVR or stream it online.  If you missed it, you had to wait and hope that your episode would be re-run before the new season began.  Norman Lear pushed the envelope and made the audiences think  about and discuss subjects that were considered taboo.  Subjects like feminism, abortion, race, single-mothers, drug-addicted teens.  You name it - Lear wrote about it.

Peppered throughout the doc are scenes and interviews from all his various shows and its stars - John Amos, Esther Rolle, Bea Arthur, Rob Reiner and Carroll O'Connor to name a few. My favorite moment was a reunion of sorts between Lear, Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner.  It was like watching a sketch routine being rehearsed for the Catskills Mountains - it was fan-freaking- tabulous!!!!

One would wonder how  one man could tap into so many emotions and yet make us laugh right through the tears.  Well, it should come as no surprise that the greatest comic geniuses of our time came from the most tragic and unliklely of circumstances.  Richard Pryor grew up inside the walls of a Peoria, Illinois whorehouse.  Jim Carrey was homeless and living in his car.  Robin Williams suffered from depression.  Jim Belushi dulled his pain with booze and pills.  Norman Lear grew up watching his Dad carted off to prison - not knowing why or if he would ever see him again.  The brilliance of  these men gave us memories and laughter for a lifetime.  It's unfortunate that they all paid such a high price for that trade-off.

 From selling tickets on Coney Island to still hitting it at 93 with a wife  and tribe of six kids, it's clear that Norman Lear may just out live us all.

I had te opportunity to thank him and ask if he thought television and the world was just a little over sensitive and ultra PC (politically correct).  He remarked simply "Yes...when George Jefferson in an episode of "The Jeffersons" used the "n-word" it caused shockwaves across network television...it's a disgusting word but it exists". He continued, "We have to discuss and not ignore in order to see change...we need to have the conversation to understand the humanity in order to bring us together".  " When asked about #OscarsSoWhite, Lear simply said, "Don't think of diversity as a social handicap, but as a strength...we all need each other...we need that diversity".

George Jefferson Say the "N-Word"

The 2016 Sundance Film Festival runs through January 31 in Park City, Utah.