In Review!: “Queen of Katwe”

Without an ounce of the kind of poverty porn cheap sentimentality that has come to define contemporary American cinematic takes on third world struggles, Queen of Katwe is a triumphant piece of mainstream filmmaking.

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From the true story chronicled in an ESPN Magazine in 2012, Katwe centers on the rise from poverty of local Ugandan girl Phiona (newcomer Madina Nalwanga) once she joins a local chess class and goes on to compete in global tournaments. The story becomes close to a three-hander, expanding its sights to Fiona’s hardened and skeptical mother Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o) and her sacrificing teacher Robert Katende (David Oyelowo). Phiona is the film’s center but the expanded point of views extrapolate on the Ugandan setting, broadening the scope beyond her experience through a focus on character.

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: “Julia”

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There is enough distance between the present and claims of author Lillian Hellman’s embellishment and falsifications for the origin story of Julia to see the story for itself. One wonders if a contemporary viewing audience would even know who the hell Hellman is (for shame), likely surprised that it was based on a portion of her memoir. Though the film does put her on the pedestal of self-important, suffering artist, if not the story’s hero, you can see how the narrative served to puff herself up. The film was released before authenticity lawsuits were brought up, so its original audience perhaps viewed it differently.

No, now we view the film primarily through the lens of its terrifying depiction of rising fascism. It’s not just the current election the makes it seem all the more real, but the rise in nationalism elsewhere in the world today that’s all too familiar to the fifty years leading up to the events in the film.

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: “Looking for Mr. Goodbar”

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Had I heard that Looking for Mr. Goodbar wasn’t very good or that it was just dated? For some reason, I remembered it carrying a certain scattered and hokey reputation that the film proved wrong when I caught up to it.

The feminist themes of the film may be more eloquently discussed today since the film is closer to the women’s liberation movement’s infancy, but it’s passionate observations still connect to our contemporary point of view. Even if it seems passe to have a film hinge on a woman’s sexual liberation, that’s only a sense of contemporary entitlement convincing you that women don’t have it as bad as they always have. The conversation may have evolved, refined, and gained nuance, but we’re still fighting for the same old crap.

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: “Islands in the Stream”

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Unfortunately I’ll be following up my favorite of this week’s mega-Hit Me With Your Best Shot with my least favorite. Islands in the Stream is the most forgotten of 1977’s Best Cinematography Oscar nominees, so I’d been hoping for a surprise that never came. The least visually interesting of the bunch, you kind of wonder if the Academy was just taken with the film’s landscape or if this was the result of some carryover love for Patton with Islands reuniting director Franklin J. Schaffner and director of photography Fred. J. Koenekamp (who won the cinematography Oscar in 1975 for The Towering Inferno).

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”

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This week, Hit Me With Your Best Shot is getting the jumbo treatment with each of the Best Cinematography nominees of 1977 receiving a daily installment. First up is the Spielberg classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Recently with the start of Netflix’s Stranger Things and the misfire of The BFG (I’ve yet to partake either) have reignited talk about Spielberg’s aesthetic its weaker would-be descendants. Encounters remains the perfect prototype for the true Spielberg formula: primal fear, emotional resonance, and a sense of earned awe. Thematically, it’s also possibly his best in dealing with social outsiderism and daddy issues.

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