A compelling family drama with the game of chess at its center, Disney’s QUEEN OF KATWE is this year’s “sports film” under their ESPN Films banner, eschewing physical sports for that of a psychological variety. Based on the true story of Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi (played here by newcomer Madina Nalwanga) and her quest to become a Grandmaster with goals to rise above her poverty-level upbringings in the slums of Katwe, the strength of director Mira Nair’s film lies firmly in the cast of mostly unknown young actors that effortlessly inhabit the true-life characters that lived the story not-so-long-ago. The youngsters are backed by Academy Award-Winner Lupita Nyong’o (STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, 12 YEARS A SLAVE) and Emmy nominee David Oyelowo (STAR WARS REBELS, SELMA) as grownups with adversarial views of what might be best for the children, particularly Phiona in general.
Back in June, I had a chance to get a very early look at Disney's QUEEN OF KATWE, having attended one of the first press screenings during a visit to Burbank. Based on the true story of Ugandan Chess champion Phiona Mutesi, the film is a worthy one - especially for families - in teaching kids that it is possible to achieve seeming impossible goals no matter where you come from. Disney and ESPN Films have issued some new previews and featurettes, all of which can be seen in the player below. Stay tuned, as I'll be sharing more on this one, along with a formal review prior to its big-screen opening, September 23, 2016. Get pre-sale tickets now via Fandango.
Over the past few years, I've had the good fortune to count The Walt Disney Studios among the best friends of myself and the site, a relationship that has thrown open the gates to the "Magical World of Disney" to a big kid from Illinois who grew up loving Mickey Mouse and friends. With each group of new films and projects from the Disney family (Studios/Animation/ABC/Disney Channel/etc), teams of 25 writers/bloggers are welcomed to Los Angeles to get an inside look - and sometimes take part in events that go above and beyond what I would've ever expected. I'm thrilled to officially announce that this week I'm returning to Los Angeles as a guest of Disney to attend the red carpet premiere of The BFG - the new film from Director Steven Spielberg! While there, I'll have a chance to meet with much of the cast and crew, screen the film (twice - once before the premiere), and will be getting a look at the upcoming film QUEEN OF KATWE and Disney XD's FUTURE WORM in what is one of the most tightly-packed three day itineraries that I've ever taken part in. As always, YOU can follow along and interact with our crew LIVE on social media, tweeting/facebooking questions and comments. Check out all the details on #TheBFGEvent below!
Lupita Nyong'o has become a fixture in the virtual pages of THE ROCK FATHER Magazine, I being fortunate to have interviewed her twice in just the past six months - first for STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (in which she plays Maz Kanata) and again for THE JUNGLE BOOK (in which she voiced Raksha). While both of those performances were rooted in CGI and Motion Capture, her next appearance in a Disney film comes on September 23, with the release of QUEEN OF KATWE - a film that finds the prolific Nyong'o in live-action, in a story based on a book by Tim Crothers. The first trailer has arrived, and you can see it below...
When the original STAR WARS Saga (aka "The Old Trilogy") first rolled out between 1977 and 1983, it was a great time to be a kid, though one that seems archaic by modern standards. Back then, viewing STAR WARS was an experience that was reserved as a cinema-only event... unless you were among a very select few that were lucky enough to have an RCA SelectaVision player (video disks that were encased in a square plastic cartridge), or one of the early VHS machines. Even then, you couldn't watch 1977's STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE at home until the latter half of 1982. For our family, it was when HBO scored the rights to STAR WARS in 1983 that we'd get to see it at home on the small, square, screen. In fact, I distinctly remember eating Aurelio's Pizza while watching the film, the brightly-colored wicker paper plate holders still fresh in my mind. For us, the STAR WARS adventures were brought to life and continued daily through Kenner's STAR WARS collection of action figures, playsets and vehicles, with the films essentially recalled from memory. Being there the first time around, it's astounding to think that families in 2016 were able to enjoy J.J. Abrams' STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS at home... a mere four months after its theatrical debut. But like their parents before them, our girls are creating their own STAR WARS adventures daily with Hasbro's extensive collection of STAR WARS toys, and to celebrate the in-home release of THE FORCE AWAKENS earlier this month, our friends at Hasbro sent a box of goodies so we could have a slightly belated premiere party right here at Rock Father HQ. And we did it with pizza... just like back in '83!
As I said upon leaving the World Premiere at the El Capitan Theatre, Disney's THE JUNGLE BOOK is an unexpectedly astonishing and beautiful film, not only in terms of visuals, but in terms of content and weight. To say it must be seen on the big screen and in 3D is an undeniable truth, a testament to the technological marvel created under the direction of filmmaker Jon Favreau (ELF, IRON MAN) - a modern digital film that pushes the boundaries of what can be done with photo-realistic CG to new heights, but also retains the feel of an organic, handmade film. Despite my unabashed appreciation for much of Favreau's back catalog, when the film was first announced a few years back, I must admit that I was apprehensive as to how, exactly, it would play out. As a fan of the 1967 original (reviewed here), and as a moviegoer that's sometimes burnt by the overuse of CG, how could it be done? Fortunately, many of these same issues had been considered and addressed early-on in the process, and the end result is wonderful. Could THE JUNGLE BOOK be every bit as good, if not better than the classic that inspired it? I say yes.