MMT Quick Review: “Queen of Katwe” by guest contributor Carolee Houser Dunn

Queen of Katwe

I had the privilege of attending an advanced screening and post live simulcast q & a of QUEEN OF KATWE thanks to MMT. The film tells the story of Phiona Mutesi, a young lady from Katwe, Uganda who, along with other children known as the Pioneers, is taught by Coach Robert Katende how to play chess.

They soon discover Phiona is not only good at the game, but a prodigy. The moment she realizes that life is more than where she lives truly stands out. Chess being a game of strategy and thinking ahead for the best solution is also used as a metaphor for life as a whole. A signature line from the film notes, “Sometimes the place you are used to is not the place you need to be.”

This is not only a must see film, but one of the most brilliant I have seen this year. Kudos to Disney for stepping up to make this incredible movie the way it should be made. By choosing this story (based on Tim Crothers ESPN article and book); basing it on Phiona’s perspective; choosing a female director of color in Mira Nair; filming on location in Katwe; and using mostly locals as cast and crew, Disney’s choices are admirable, and “outside the box” of Hollywood’s norm. Films being made like this will continue to create the necessary change towards diversity.

Mira Nair’s vision was best expressed during the q & a when she said, “The beautiful imagery of art imitating life, but it is life. This is true, this is happening now.” She also noted that,” You could see the respect the actors showed the real people they were portraying.”

The majority of Mira’s crew is from Maisha Film Lab (emerging East African filmmakers) associated with the Maisha Foundation she created in 2004 – after working in the region on another film, “Mississippi Masala.”

The casting for the film was on point. David Oyelowo’s portrayal of Coach Robert Katende showed his true range as an actor, as he took you on the journey with him, all aspects of it. Lupita Nyong’o portrayed Nakku Harriet, Phiona’s mother with depth and just made you hurt and feel joy with her.

Also during the q & a, newcomer Madina Nalwanga (of Katwe) shared that (while filming) she felt like it was her story and it showed. The other children, and many extras, were also from Katwe and a similar neighboring town.

The real Robert Katende taught each of the child actors how to play chess. All of the original Pioneers had another role in the film. All of these things bring an authenticity to what’s displayed on-screen.

Since it was filmed on location, you also get to see the not-so glamorous side of life – in addition to the vibrant culture and landscape.  And the music chosen also added to scenes. My favorite selection is “Back to Life” by Alicia Keys, which is a true reflection of the film.

“Queen of Katwe” will inspire you and leave you wondering what else you can accomplish in your own life. The range of emotions in the film, and the journey you take while watching, will truly fulfill you.

QUEEN OF KATWE opened in select theaters on Friday, and opens nationwide Friday, September 30th.

caroleeCarolee Houser Dunn is a Philly tastemaker, jewelry designer, and faithful friend and subscriber to the MMT. You can check out her previous review for POMPEII right here on MusicMoviesThoughts!

GIVEAWAY: special screening of QUEEN OF KATWE and live Q&A with director/cast on Monday, September 19 (Philly, PA)

Queen of Katwe

Happy Thursday MMT Fam! MMT is excited to giveaway passes to the Philly special screening of QUEEN OF KATWE – taking place next Monday, September 19 in Center City. The screening will be followed by a live-streamed Q&A with stars Lupita Nyong’o, David Oyelowo, and director Mira Nair.

To try your luck at an admit-two pass, you must be subscribed to this website and send an email to with the subject line “Queen” and your full name in the body. 25 winners will be selected and notified on Sunday, September 18.

You can read the synopsis and watch the trailer below, and get updates on the film on Facebook here. QUEEN OF KATWE opens in select theaters September 23rd (Expands wide on September 30th).

Good luck!

 QUEEN OF KATWE synopsis

“Queen of Katwe” is the colorful true story of a young girl selling corn on the streets of rural Uganda whose world rapidly changes when she is introduced to the game of chess, and, as a result of the support she receives from her family and community, is instilled with the confidence and determination she needs to pursue her dream of becoming an international chess champion. Directed by Mira Nair (“Monsoon Wedding”) from a screenplay by William Wheeler (“The Hoax”) based on the book by Tim Crothers, “Queen of Katwe” is produced by Lydia Dean Pilcher (“The Darjeeling Limited”) and John Carls (“Where the Wild Things Are”) with Will Weiske and Troy Buder serving as executive producers. The film stars Golden Globe® nominee David Oyelowo (“Selma”), Oscar® winner and Tony Award® nominee Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”) and newcomer Madina Nalwanga.

Follow QUEEN OF KATWE on social media at Facebook or Twitter!


The Jungle Book

Happy Thursday MMT Fam! Wanted to make sure you knew about this cool virtual reality experience that’s set-up at select AMC locations across the country for the highly anticipated film THE JUNGLE BOOK.

From AMC and IMAX, in this real-time rendered Oculus Rift Virtual Reality experience you are placed high-up on a tree in the middle of the jungle, surrounded by lush trees and dense fog. You suddenly hear a voice in the distance. Where is it coming from? Who might it be? Suddenly, your surroundings start to move. A chill goes through your body. Before you know what’s happening, you see her… Kaa, the snake. Coiling around the trees, she approaches you slowly but surely…

Jungle BookYeah, my fear of snakes rules me out from this one! LOL, but if you’re not a chicken, unlike myself, and this is your cup of tea, take a look at the list in the pic above to see what cities are hosting, and get additional details about activation times at the AMC website here.

For those in or near the Philly area, this experience can be found at the AMC Neshaminy location as follows:

AMC Neshaminy

660 Neshaminy Mall

Bensalem, PA 19020

Friday, April 8th 1 PM – 10 PM

Saturday, April 9th 1 PM – 10 PM

Sunday, April 10th 1 PM – 8 PM

You can preview the experience using Facebook 360 here. THE JUNGLE BOOK in 3D opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, April 15.

Let me know your thoughts if you go and see the world #ThroughMowglisEyes family!

Until next thought, Thomasena


Directed by Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”), based on Rudyard Kipling’s timeless stories and inspired by Disney’s classic animated film, “The Jungle Book” is an all-new live-action epic adventure about Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi), a man-cub who’s been raised by a family of wolves. But Mowgli finds he is no longer welcome in the jungle when fearsome tiger Shere Khan (voice of Idris Elba), who bears the scars of Man, promises to eliminate what he sees as a threat. Urged to abandon the only home he’s ever known, Mowgli embarks on a captivating journey of self-discovery, guided by panther-turned-stern mentor Bagheera (voice of Ben Kingsley), and the free-spirited bear Baloo (voice of Bill Murray). Along the way, Mowgli encounters jungle creatures who don’t exactly have his best interests at heart, including Kaa (voice of Scarlett Johansson), a python whose seductive voice and gaze hypnotizes the man-cub, and the smooth-talking King Louie (voice of Christopher Walken), who tries to coerce Mowgli into giving up the secret to the elusive and deadly red flower: fire. The all-star cast also includes Lupita Nyong’o as the voice of the fiercely protective mother wolf Raksha, and Giancarlo Esposito as the voice of wolf pack’s alpha male Akela. “The Jungle Book” seamlessly blends live-action with photorealistic CGI animals and environments, using up-to-the-minute technology and storytelling techniques to immerse audiences in an enchanting and lush world.

A Quick Review of ’12 Years A Slave’

12 Years A Slave (Fox Searchlight)

What’s new MMT family?  Well, last week I screened the critically acclaimed Steve McQueen directed vehicle 12 Years A Slave, and I agree completely that the hype is well deserved. Because the film has been the center of much discussion throughout the past year, toured the festival circuit while receiving significant amounts of praise, and officially opened in limited release two weeks prior, there is very little that has not been said/written about this ‘based on a true story’ film. Nevertheless, here are a few of my thoughts regarding it and the passionate portrayals displayed.

Let me start by saying that in my review of Django Unchained last year, I’d mentioned that “my biggest problem with Django is slavery is too heavy a topic for me to view intertwined with fantasy.” The lack of previous major motion pictures regarding the subject, from an African-American point of view, made the movie extremely hard for me to digest.  The beauty of 12 Years A Slave is that the script is adapted from a narrative (same title) written by Solomon Northup, who is portrayed in the film by the magnificently dynamic Chiwetel Ejiofor.  For me, it is also the reason this film was so gripping.  The audience watches as Northup, a free man, is deceived, drugged, abducted and sold into a life of horrendous abuse and torment.  I haven’t read the actual book 12 Years A Slave, but several writers who’ve read, and commented about the film, have shared this movie follows it pretty closely.

With respect to all the reviews posted, I don’t even know if there is anything left to remark on regarding Ejiofor’s performance.  But I will simply say this: his performance is expressively raw and emotively brilliant.  I don’t even want to attempt to imagine where he must have drawn from for this role, but whatever he did worked.  There is no doubt in my mind that Chiwetel Ejiofor will be lauded with Best Actor nominations come award season; and the same goes for Steve McQueen who will certainly be in the running for Best Director.

The performance that I pray isn’t overlooked come award season was given by Kenyan actress/filmmaker Lupita Nyong’o, who plays a slave named Patsey.  Nyong’o executes a range of emotions with precision as the audience watches Patsey evolve from innocently carving dolls out of corn husks (early on in film) to agonizingly receiving one of the worst lashings I’ve ever seen portrayed on-screen big or small. Again, I cannot imagine from where she also must have drawn energy/influence, but it was no pleasant place to say the least. Correspondingly, Michael Fassbender who portrays the cruel slave owner Edwin Epps, had no easy feat in portraying a malevolent, abusive and sexually violent character, yet he definitely brought his A game to this film.

I am extremely excited to think what could happen early next year with award season.  If I had my way, we would see 1) Best Director nods for Ryan Coogler, Lee Daniels, and Steve McQueen, 2) Best Actor nods for Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Forest Whitaker, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, 3) Best Actress nods for Octavia Spencer and Lupita Nyong’o and 4) Best Picture nods for 42, Fruitvale Station, Lee Daniels’ The Butler and 12 Years A Slave.  I reserve the right to add Idris Elba with his performance of Nelson Mandela in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom once I’ve been able to view!

You can click on the film titles in the above paragraph to read previous posts/reviews about those films respectively, and get insight into why I chose the directors, actors and actresses listed. You can also get additional info and showtimes in your area for 12 Years A Slave by clicking here. The movie opened in limited release on October 18 and in additional theaters, including the Philadelphia area, last Friday, October 25.  It will continue to open nationwide through November 1.

Make sure you stop back and share your thoughts about the film.  Very curious to read what you think about this one!

Until next thought family, Thomasena