Queen of Katwe (2016)

Its been a long time since I’ve caught a new release at the theatres. But I got a free early screening of Queen of Katwe on Wednesday so I freed up some time to go. Especially since I’m those people who like these inspirational Disney movies. To be honest, I’ve only heard about this movie and how it was about a child and their journey to become a chess champion. I really didn’t know much about it but taking a quick look at the cast already made me want to go check it out.

Queen of Katwe (2016)

Queen of Katwe

Director: Mira Nair

Cast: Madina Nalwanga, Lupita Nyong’o, David Oyelowo, Martin Kabanza, Taryn Kyaze

An Ugandan girl sees her world rapidly change after being introduced to the game of chess.-IMDB

 Queen of Katwe is a Disney real-life based on a true story inspirational story. What makes this one better than all of the rest? It has a powerful cast which delivers outstanding performances and a setting that we haven’t quite seen before. Call my world of movie viewing small (because there are still a lot more movies to discover, I know that), I have never seen a movie that exposes the raw hard lives as such in any Disney movie before. Our main character here is a real child who lived through these events called Phiona who lived in a rural city of Katwe in Uganda. She lived in below average standards and can’t go to school in order to help her mom sell corn along with her siblings to keep up with their lives and maintain a roof over their heads. While this is about hard times as her and her family gets hit by one thing after another, its a story about her years of perseverance to achieve her dreams. It was brought by someone who saw the best in her when no one else could, her coach who took the time to introduce her to the game of chess and her mom’s views on it as well to promise her a better future.

queen of katwe

I can discuss how great Madino Nalwanga is at her role playing Phiona and capturing the changes she went through as she achieved success at a young age. She started judging where she came from and wanting more. She lost a bit of herself and eventually found it back. She felt despair when things went bad, and joy when she felt like she could do more and that there was somewhere for her. Phiona’s journey to her success was a hard one but also saw her learn a lot from it. Madino Nalwanga captures it all fantastically. The same goes to Lupita Nyong’o who plays as Phiona’s mother. You can see her pain and worries even as she stays strong for her family. Her character may not be educated in the books but she is educated by her life experiences and for that, she has self-respect and takes care of her kids primarily. Its a beautiful performance. The same also goes to David Oyelowo who plays the coach. These characters come to life because of their humanity and that they aren’t sugar-coated. These were their lives and we can believe that it was.

Queen of Katwe

However, the strength of these inspirational Disney movies lie in the fact that they carry an uplifting message. In a world where we talk about all the bad, its nice to see that despite this being still a less than fortunate situation in the beginning and we all go through hard times (some more than others), there is still a light at the end of the tunnel.  Our future is in our hands.  Maybe to some, it seems corny and silly but Queen of Katwe is heartwarming to watch even if its only small downfall is such a long run time. The best part about Queen of Katwe is seeing how Phiona grows as a person: how her successes change her and how she adapts to these changes. It is seeing her find her passions and realizing that our dreams don’t come because we are smart. Some of us need perserverance, challenges, road bumps to over and to take the time and effort to improve. Our dreams and success don’t happen in one day. It takes hard work and those who fight for it the hardest are those who never let themselves believe they are at the top (aka confident but not overconfident). I’m sure there’s a different message for everyone who watches Queen of Katwe. While it still suffers from many predictable moments, it also never quite loses its believability and authenticity.

Overall, Queen of Katwe is really good. With great performances, even the kids who I didn’t mention each and every one of, were a joy to watch. They put light into a story like this one particularly. This movie is inspirational with many great messages. It is going to be an emotional ride through the few years of Phiona’s life from her discovery of chess to learning to excel at it.

Netflix A-Z: Grace Unplugged (2013)

We’re back with the letter G in our Netflix selection.  I had to make a little switch because the original choice was The Great Gatsby and I’m trying to not have overlapping genre and The Great Gatsby is very much a romance which I just did in The Fault in Our Stars.  I don’t frequently make these changes and they shouldn’t occur again since I gave a quick look over the first round of Netflix A-Z remaining.  G had some choices, but I ended up choosing a smaller movie because The Fault in our Stars was a pretty known and popular choice.  Netflix has a lot of hidden gems so part of this is to try and dig those out.  My choice is Grace Unplugged. No idea what its about but it said inspirational and music and I like both of these sorts of movies.  I’m kind of a sucker for them.

Let’s check it out!

Grace Unplugged (2013)

Grace Unplugged

Director: Brad J. Silverman

Cast: AJ Michalka, James Denton, Kevin Pollak, Shawnee Smith, Michael Welch, Zane Holtz

Grace Trey is the ideal Christian teen who is also a phenomenal singer. But at the tender age of eighteen, after she gets the music break of a lifetime and is thrust into the “real world” – her faith is put to the test. – IMDB

Just in case you happened to land on my blog and reading this and I don’t dive in my religious beliefs, I’m not Christian.  I have no religion but I believe that there is a higher force.  What it is, I don’t know yet.  But I respect different religions and I have family that are Christians.  But to me, religion is really a belief and putting your faith in someone.  You can disagree, its fine.  I’m not here to disagree but that is what I’m saying is that even if you aren’t Christian, you can understand a movie like this one, Grace Unplugged.  There is not other way than to make these movies formulaic but for whatever reason, not even Grace discovering that she really was just lost in her faith and beliefs, it touched me.  Grace UnpluggedOne of the contributing factors of what makes Grace Unplugged engaging to watch is the very good cast.  I don’t know a whole lot of the cast in other movies, except for Kevin Pollak and Zane Holtz who both play a supporting role and Shawnee Smith and James Denton look incredibly familiar.  Oh, and who can forget Michael Welch who was in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane.  Regardless, they all held cliche but convincingly good roles.  AJ Michalka plays Grace Trey who wants to be more than just the sidekick of her father in their church band.  She wants the world to know her ability and that she is more than the shadow under her father who was a one hit wonder who lost his path to drugs and alcohol back in the days and then fell out of the music business.  She wants to prove that she can do more and share her talent with the world.  Its a journey to like Grace’s character and that is all because of how the character is developed.  Like I said, it is a very formulaic sort of inspirational story for her but Grace starts off as a girl who is naive and doesn’t know much in the world and somewhat spoiled and stubborn is anything and she can be frustrating to watch but as you watch her character grow, even if it might be a little rushed and the turnpoint is not even complicated, she does grow and becomes someone we want to root for.

Grace Unplugged

As her parents roles, we have her father, John played by James Denton who plays a much more important supporting role.  Mom, Michelle is played by Shawnee Smith.  Mom plays a much smaller role in this movie than the father figure and just his influence to Grace.  In a way, I think this movie meant a little more to me because of the father-daughter relationship it had. I guess it brought back some feelings I had as I was growing up.  Let me tell you, the father daughter chemistry here is done pretty well and it convinced me enough that it made me a little emotional about the whole thing and I even got a little misty, no tears but just watery eyes, you know.

Aside from the characters being formed by a strong cast, Grace Unplugged has many good themes embedded in it. While it looks like a movie about belief and faith (for Christians) and its about being inspirational, there are themes of a family, authority and just dealing with all the issues we have in a coming of age story.  It forces in a little side story about love and the values of the music business.  Deal is: its about finding yourself and that is the true message in this movie.  Its finding who you are and not the value that other perceive you as and being true to who you want to be regardless of anything else.

Am I saying Grace Unplugged is perfect? No.  I’m just saying that its a decent inspirational movie with some good music that carries an effective message. Plus, its about finding where you belong in many ways and having the courage to face who you are and where your beliefs/faith lie. For me, the family angle was the most inspirational part of Grace Unplugged.  Sure, its a little cliche and follows a very simple formula that most inspirational/music/religious movies might follow but this one carries very good and believable performances that worked for me. I definitely think its worth a chance 🙂

Have you seen Grace Unplugged? Do you enjoy watching music-related and/or inspirational movies?

Any guesses for the H selection? Think adaptations from a novel.

Two Wolves by Evan Sanders

Evan Sanders is a fellow blogger and writer who runs The Better Man Project, an extremely inspirational blog and also one of the first blogs I followed.  A few years ago, he launched his first book called The Better Man Project based on what he has learned and hoping to inspire others even a little bit.  If you haven’t read that book, its really worth your time.  I reviewed it right HERE!

I’m starting to think that I need little breaks between reading novels so Two Wolves have been launched a month or so (I can’t remember the exact time) but I’ve been wanting to read it.  If its anything as inspirational as the first one, this will be good.

Two Wolves

by: Evan Sanders

two wolves evan sanders

Two Wolves is a 64 page inspirational read.  What Evan does great is that he talks about what happens in his encounters that highlight and provoke the thoughts that lead him to being motivated and becoming the best of what he can be.  With a book like this, there isn’t much to review but rather reflect.

The best way to give a little summary of why its called Two Wolves is as Evan explains:

Two Wolves is about the balance between light and darkness in each of us. From the deepest darkest corners of our hearts where our secrets are held to the brightest moments of happiness and achievement, we all are subject to the full range of human emotion…The greatest lesson I have learned is how to make a choice to feed my world with light despite the constant battle going on inside me– (Two Wolves, page 9)

There’s something about reading Evan’s writing that makes me think back to myself.  When he starts this book, he talks about how he started in high school resenting writing because he wasn’t really good at it.  It reminds me a little of myself because I still don’t think that I’m improving but writing has always helped me sort through a lot of my thoughts seeing as I like to bury things inside instead of talking about it to others. First step to making something inspirational is making it relatable and Two Wolves does that. What makes me think was when he wrote this:

…I think writing gives me faith… Faith to me is about believing in something that you cannot see and also knowing that whatever your dreams or goals are, they can be achieved. Faith is about the understanding that we are capable of so much more than we can even begin to imagine (Two Wolves, page 8)

Aren’t we constantly battling light and dark? I can relate to that.  That battle is long and crazy and sometimes there are slip-ups and I fall back a little.  But its always important to remember, and reading Evan’s writing is always a reminder to remember that we need to keep going towards the light.  The dark may be attractive but once you fall in there, its another arduous journey back, even if you sometimes need to go there before knowing how to bounce back.

While reading Two Wolves gave me a chance to reflect and relate, there are still little things that make me think about how to reconsider a few things.  One thing I’ve been thinking a lot about is being trusting others and when to stop rewinding and thinking back to certain things that happen before.  I mean, reflecting is good but I sometimes sit there months and months and it just pops back into my mind. He’s given me a different perspective that I’ve been putting some thought into.  It sure would make life a whole lot lighter and happier.

When something ends now, I give myself one time to go back and play everything out.  I allow myself to do whatever it is I feel like I need to do to get rid of it.  I write, talk it out, discuss it, curse at it, blame it, get emotional over it, and everything else in between – but when I feel like I’ve put it all out there, I won’t go back to it. There’s no point anymore. – (Two Wolves, page 32)

Two Wolves is really something special.  Its relatable, encouraging, thoughtful and inspiring.  Even though life is busy and ever changing, I’m actually in a pretty good place this year and even with this, Two Wolves still helped me filter a few little things.  It might just help me rest a few little issues sitting in that deep dark corner.  If anything, its a good read to shed a little light to stay positive.

For that, I end with a final quote from Two Wolves:

The day you achieve something big will be the day that you will feel overwhelming pride in yourself, a surplus of belief, and an excess of passion that almost seems to drip from your body.  But something else completely separate happens…the chances of something bringing you down because they can’t see what you see diminishes significantly. – (Two Wolves, page 60)

If you enjoy this sort of book and want some positive outlook, I definitely recommend giving Two Wolves a read. 🙂