Queen of Katwe

This 2017 movie is based on a book by Tim Croniers, which is based on a true story. I’m not sure if the distributors are slow at bringing in the film or if this would not be shown here because of some religious overtones. Anyway, it is not the first time I find such gems at the library@esplanade.

The film opens with the 2011 Chess Championships in Uganda before the credits come on, then it flashes back to 2004 and shows scenes of the street vendors and villagers at the marketplace, speaking the Ugandan language.

A girl, Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) is not allowed to join her brothers and other boys in playing football but is soon introduced to chess. At first, she is badly teased for smelling like a pig. But Phiona is stubborn and is determined to learn to play the game well. She washes up becomes and quickly becomes one of the best. (Here, there are more scenes of the colourful village.)

In chess, the small one can become the big one. It is where you get to use your mind and follow your plans. When Phiona starts winning, the boy who had always been the best, exclaims: What I’m seeing can’t be true!

Meanwhile, Phiona’s mother, Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o) has misgivings about her daughter playing chess, and it takes a lot of  convincing from the coach, Robert Katende (David Oyelowo): Chess is not gambling; It takes discipline and mental skills, determination and intelligence; It is a game of strategy that strengthens our minds.

Eventually, Harriet allows Phiona to go to the “rich man’s city” to play in the National Schools Chess Championships. Phiona gives up half way through the game when she thinks she is trailing. Katende reminds her ‘not to be too quick to tip your king‘ and that she must never surrender.

The following year, she enters the National Junior Chess Championships and wins. Coach Katende realises that Phiona can see eight moves ahead and thinks that maybe she can enter the international championship one day.

When she participates in the International Chess Tournament in Sudan (her first flight and she sees amazing sight of the clouds), she learns that one can be a Master (and win money – very useful for someone living in poverty) if one wins at least 50% of the games in a FIDE approved tournament, like the Olympiad in Russia.

Of course Phiona wins the championship and life changes for her. Now that she has tasted something different, she cannot rest nor go back to her previous life. Since she has the talent of a prodigy, she will make use of this gift. She wants to buy a house for her mother and family to live in.

At 14 years old, Phiona leads a team to Russia, playing a Canadian in the Finals. She does not win; but her coach reminds her that losing does not mean she is a failure. It just takes time. Things are changing, and she is the youngest player ever to take chess to the Olympiad. She eventually wins and the entire village gives her a rousing welcome.

Two years later, a book is written about Phiona, by the same author who wrote about her feat in a magazine feature. (She gets paid for this too.) She buys a beautiful home for her mother. The expression of surprise and joy on Harriet is priceless!

Besides the wonderful visual effects, especially seen in the village of Katwe, there is a lot of traditional African music (among 30 songs, some of which are pop and rap), involving the use of African flutes, Indian wind instruments, real Uganda musicians, female vocals and rapping in the Ugandan language.

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Ratter

A ratter is someone who hacks personal devices to stalk their victims’ lives. This 2015 cyber-suspense movie stars Ashley Benson as the victim, Emma Taylor, a young graduate student who has just moved from the Midwest to New York, excited to be on her own for the first time in a big city.

Like many young people, Emma has her e-devices such as the mobile phone and laptop/computer switched on every moment of her day, even when sleeping at night. While she looks at the screen (even when she does not), there’s someone looking at her, destroying her privacy.

This story tells how false our sense of security can be. When such e-devices are on, someone could be watching us the whole time…

 

 

Is This Fair?

 

I saw you

on Facebook –

I was surprised:

you were wearing

a gold wedding band.

You told me –

and I know –

you weren’t married –

and never would –

because there’s no need.

He’s married

to someone

for thrity years

and wouldn’t ever think

of divorcing her.

Is this fair?

For you too

have allowed him

to live with you

for twenty-odd years.

Why do you

give so much,

when he doesn’t appreciate you

but take you for granted?

Denial

I saw the trailer for this 2017 movie several times and told myself I must watch it. However, I was down with a very nasty flu when it was shown. So I was very happy to find the DVD on the library shelves earlier this week.

It is based on the book History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier by Deborah E. Lipstadt (played by Rachel Weisz), a professor of Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Atlanta, who has also written many other books.

War is a bloody business; how do we prove that the Holocaust happened? How do we know that so many people were murdered? At one of her public lectures, a Holocaust denier David Irving (Timothy Spall) raises a different opinion and threatens to sue her. Their battle for historical truth begins when Irving files a libel suit at the High Court in London. He will be his own counsel and Lipstadt is represented by a team of attorneys and barristers engaged by Penguin Books Ltd in London because they’ve failed to withdraw the book.

Lipstadt’s legal team consists of eight lawyers, including Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott), Laura Tyler (Carin Pistorius) and leading counsel Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson), the team who defended D. H. Lawrence and Salman Rushdie.

The case takes them to Krakow, Poland and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp and the State Museum, which lends authenthicity to the story. The actual locations and the dialogues between the characters bring back vivid memories of when I visited the place with my students on a history tour. Appropriately, the music used here includes Chopin’s Largo from his Piano Sonata No 3 in B minor.

Two other notable pieces of music used to enhance the mood and atmosphere of the story are Mozart’s Dies bildnis ist bezaubernd schon (“This image is enchantingly lovely“), an aria from his opera The Magic Flute, and Schubert’s mournful and gloomy song cycle, Die Winterreise.

The trial took 22 days, costing over three million pounds, and the judge took four weeks to consider judgment. The verdict was not disclosed at the end of a 334-page document distributed to all present, but only after the pages have been read out in court.

The press conference that follows the verdict is very moving. I did not expect to be in tears at the end.

The Magnificent Seven

I saw the trailer of this 2016 movie at the cinemas and thought it wouldn’t be my cup of tea, so I didn’t not watch it despite a friend’s high recommendation. After watching it yesterday on DVD, I’m very glad I made the correct decision then.

The story is set in 1879. The Seven are men who fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. They are John Faraday (Chris Patt), Goodnight Roricheaux (Ethan Hawke), Jack Horne (Vincent D’omefrio), Billy Rocks ( Byung-hun Lee), Vanquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), who are recruited by their leader Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington). They have been hired by Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) who seeks righteousness after her husband is fatally shot on the order of a businessman, Bartholomew Bogue ( Peter Sarsgaard), who has come to take full control of the town of Rose Creek . They are Magnificent because each man stands for courage and honour, and they fight to win something to help others, to win something that doesn’t belong to them.

The people of this town are farmers, hardworking people who are being driven from their homes. Others are simply slaughtered in cold blood. Women and children go without food or essentials. All because Bogue wants to mine the valley and take it from them.

There are many scenes involving special effects and I must say the visual effects are good, and so are the stunts. However, Westerns are just not my cup of tea, no matter who the lead actors are.

The Station Of No Return

The Station Of No Return is Xiaohan’s third publication. It is a collection of ten short stories, mainly fantasy and sci-fi. At the same time, they also remind the young people to appreciate and treasure their parents, as many youths today are over-protected. They are inspirational, and there is even a sense of realism in one of them.

Each story ends with a short explanation of the source of her inspiration and the lyrics to a different song recorded by singers such as Rainie Yang, Tanya Chua, Eason Chan, Jam Xiao and Valen Hsu.

Count Less Happiness

It took me longer than her first collection of essays, but I enjoyed reading Xiaohan’s novel tremendously. For almost three decades, I have not picked up a Chinese novel (not counting memoirs and essays) to read for pleasure. I’m glad I started with this one; it may encourage me to read more Chinese novels.

First and foremost, I find the title a very clever one: if the first two words are not separated, it becomes ‘countless’. And the story is both about counting less happiness and countless happiness.

The novel is written in the first person, but the protagonist is a young lady called Higby Giselle Williams, aged 23. Her mother is Giselle Larsen, a piano teacher and her father is Martin Williams; ‘Higby’ is the last name of the great jazz pianist Barbara Higby, whom the mother once emulated.

Higby is born with only five fingers. She does not have a left palm but a stump with no fingers. A normal person has ten fingers: the five fingers on the right hand plays the  main melody while the left hand can play the accompaniment. Would a person with no finger in the left hand be unable to play a complete piece, and hence can’t hope for happiness? On the other hand, people say that happiness slips through the fingers like sand; thus, does it mean that if there is no space between the fingers, it would be easier to grasp hold of happiness?

Higby hopes other people will judge her successes and failures like everyone else; she has five fingers on her right hand, and can play the melody and can decide if her life is a sad nocturne or a lively tune. She can’t clap but she can tell herself to put in extra effort, as long as she can hear herself. Her situation reflects how ignorant some people are about those with disabilities.

Her mother, Giselle, played the keyboard in a band at bars and music lounges, where she met a scholar from Virginia Technological University, Martin Williams. He wooed her with prose by Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and poems by Emily Dickenson (1830-1886) and Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861).

From a young age, Higby could tell her mother’s moods by the music she played – songs from cartoons tell Higby that she is loved, a piece like Mozart’s Alla Turca says she’s generally okay though slightly annoyed, a piece like Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata says she’s thinking of someone.

There is a significance in naming each chapter after every finger, as the plot/sub-plots would revolve around what the finger supposedly imply, for example the middle finger is associated with rudeness, the ring finger is associated with love and the little finger is associated with promises.

The book reveals how well-versed Xiaohan is in music, language, literature and science. If only Science concepts were explained in such an interesting way when I was studying, I might have fared better in my exams!

The book is entirely in Chinese, even the quotes from John Gray’s book “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus“. Two other quotes I like (translated into Chinese) are from:

Karen Blixen (Danish, 1885-1962) – The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears or the sea;

Gustave Flaubert  (French, 1821-1880) – Love is a springtime plant which perfumes everything with its hope – even the ruin to which it clings.

I am sure Xiaohan spent a long time to write this novel, and it would be some time before she pens another one. The next book I’m reading consists of short stories, and the one recently launched is also not a novel.