IT LOOKED TO ME LIKE A GLASS lighthouse, shining bright in the darkness. The space it was in seemed cavernous to me; there was one complete wall that bowed out of the house to accommodate a baby grand piano. I could be sitting in the dining room yet be able to see the brightly lit curio cabinet in the living room. Whether people were visiting or not, the its light was always on. The cabinet was made of glass and wood that had been washed in a gold paint. The top of it came to a point like a domed roof, with a gold ball that sat right at the pinnacle. There were four glass shelves evenly spaced apart that had a curious mix of things that all fascinated me. However, on the bottom shelf there was a chess set that grabbed my attention the most. Sitting on the thick chessboard were these intricate sculpted ivory pieces my relative called netsukes. I had never seen anything like it. Half the pieces sat on black colored bases and the rest on light colored ones. I would stand at the curio cabinet, its light the only one on in the room, wanting to take the chess pieces out and play with them; but I knew my relative would not approve. The only time I could hold one of the pieces is when my relative took one out and placed it in my hands for only a short moment. Otherwise, they were off limits to everyone. THAT CHESS SET PLANTED A SEED in me because my infatuation with it caused me to learn how to play the game. I received a gift of a travel sized chess set that looked like a large wallet. When I would unzip the sides of the red vinyl rectangular wallet and fold the sides down, it would reveal a square red and white checkerboard. The chess pieces were magnetic dots with each of their tops embossed with the outline of either a white or black chess piece. Except for my relatives with the curio cabinet, I did not know anyone who played chess; so, I would play against myself. I would try different first moves, wanting to give each magnetic chess piece a turn. Luckily, I was finally able to convince a friend to let me teach him and we started playing a few times a month. It was good practice for me I thought; I just did not know practice for what? I was able to plan a few moves out but not anywhere near what the students in this dramatic movie were capable of doing. SOME FROM BROKEN HOMES AND OTHERS FROM different backgrounds, a group of inner-city students found one thing in common; they liked being treated equal in Mr. Martinez’, played by John Leguizamo (Moulin Rouge, Spawn), high school classroom. With Rachel Bay Jones (Ben is Back, Grey’s Anatomy-TV) as Principal Kestel, Michael Kenneth Williams (12 Years a Slave, Assassin’s Creed) as Mr. Roundtree, Corwin C. Tuggles (Detachment, Orange is the New Black-TV) and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. (Bumblebee; Love, Simon) as Oelmy “Ito” Paniagua; this film that was based on a true story provided a feel good experience for me. I thought John was exceptional in his role; he reminded me of a teacher I had back in school. The story did not provide much surprise to it; it followed a typical story line that I have seen before. Set in Miami during the late 90s, I liked the throwback feel of the film. Despite having nothing that stood out as special for me, I thought the story was still moving. And if you decide to see this movie please stay for the credits to see the extra scenes.
2 ½ stars
One of the big mysteries I still struggle to understand is how people gain confidence. The answer is so elusive to me because I see some people who exude confidence; not in a bragging or boastful way, they just seem to have a strong sense of self and more importantly they believe in themselves. The ones who have the skills and knowledge to back up their confidence deserve it in my opinion. But the individuals who do not have the talent or masterfulness in the field they claim make me curious to know why that person feels that way. At the other end of the equation there are people who have the skill or artistry but do not believe they perform it well. I fall into this category. Since I feel that way I have always looked to see if my lack of belief is due to the environment I grew up in or were there other factors that made me feel like I am never good enough for the task at hand. Was it negative comments I received, people’s perceptions about overweight individuals or being forced to blend in with the majority; I just do not know? What I do know however, is the strength inside of me is partially fueled by my desire to prove people wrong or more precisely prove myself wrong. How twisted does that sound? With everything I have just said I am aware that I have been fortunate with the opportunities that were available to me. There is just one other factor that needs to be part of this conversation and that is acknowledging those individuals who were born with a particular gift like being genetically predisposed for a certain set of skills. It does not matter what their environment is like or their circumstances; they simply have the aptitude. But do you want to know something? A person still needs to believe they can do it. SPENDING her days selling maize Phiona Mutesi, played by newcomer Madina Nalwanga, happened to see a game of chess being played. It was a game that came with a multitude of possibilities. This film festival winning movie was based on a true story. With David Oyelowo (Selma, Lee Daniels’ The Butler) as Robert Katende and Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave, Non-Stop) as Nakku Harriet, the acting was incredible. Lupita had such power in her expressions that I thought I saw fire coming out of her eyes; that is how good she was with her character. This biographical story could have fallen into oversweet sappiness, but due to the script and directing the story came across with a solid sense of realness. I have to tell you the story was amazing. I enjoyed the setting and contrasts shown in this picture. Chess is something that is considered refined almost stately in some circles and I loved the fact that it was being played by poor villagers in a town of Uganda. After watching this film all I can say is I wish I had some of Phiona’s strength. Stay for the beginning of the great ending credits.
3 1/3 stars
I called it a goal; my friends said it was an obsession. When I planned this movie review site I decided I wanted to do one movie review a day for the entire year. No matter what holiday, in sickness and in health, even on vacation; I planned to write a new film review each and every day for 365 days. And you know what, I did it. Trust me when I tell you it was not always easy. I remember leaving many social functions to race home and get a review posted. Even after working all day then teaching at night, my classes would even ask me what movie I was reviewing that evening and I would tell them only the title, for they would have to wait until I got home to write it. I never considered this an obsession, though I could see where some people would question my sanity. It was more like a challenge and I wanted to be able to say I posted movie reviews for an entire year. After reaching my goal I have to be honest I was relieved. It was getting to me especially on weekends; trying to figure out the logistics to post reviews, going to movies, meeting friends and family for a meal or activity was driving me to exhaustion. That is when I decided to take the weekends off from writing and if something came up during the week where I could not get a review posted to not beat myself up for it. So you see I do not think I have an obsession, though I know there could be a fine line between it and reality. DURING the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union a battle was brewing over a chess match between American chess prodigy Bobby Fisher, played by Tobey Maguire (Labor Day, Seabiscuit), and world chess champion Boris Spassky, played by Liev Schreiber (A Perfect Man, Fading Gigolo). Based on a true story this biographical drama had a compelling story that revealed more than I remembered about the chess games. I thought the acting was spot on, including Peter Sarsgaard (Black Mass, Flightplan) as Father Bill Lombardy; however the script was somewhat flawed. Where I wanted to sympathize with Bobby’s plight, I felt the script made him out to simply be an arrogant, hard to get along with hole. The scenes were setup in such a way to provide a good dose of tension, but as the movie progressed I grew tired of Bobby’s rants. Maybe they did happen in real life, but I did not find enough background story to the characters. It just seemed as if we were seeing the same “craziness” over and over with little explanation. At the end of the film I came away wondering where Bobby placed on that fine line between an obsessive genius and insanity.
2 3/4 stars
My biggest accomplishment in summer camp one year was making a coat hook and a chessboard. The day camp offered a variety of classes for the campers; I chose wood shop. The first time I tried making a chessboard I got frustrated. My colored blocks of wood that I had cut out were not all symmetrical. Yes, even back then I was already a bit obsessive. Wanting to trash the whole idea, it was the camp counselor who took the time to encourage me to try again, after showing me a different way to cut the blocks out. I was not the only one who received help, there were other kids who received the counselor’s help. It was this individual’s patience and encouragement that made this class my favorite that summer. When a child receives positive motivation, the possibilities are endless for what they can achieve. In this inspirational documentary, the teachers of inner city school I.S. 318 are living proof of what a student can accomplish over challenging circumstances. With 70% of the student body coming from homes that were below the poverty level set by the federal government, the school’s chess team were national champions, the best in the country. They had won more championships than any other school in the nation. To hear these students’ personal stories only made their achievement that more impressive to me. This story followed the chess team as it attempted to repeat its past success, despite looming budget cuts that could eliminate them even before the start of competition. The film makers did a wonderful job of filming, giving the viewers a front row seat to the tension, nerves and fears these students experienced during their matches. If anyone has doubts on how much a teacher can influence their students, they need to see this impressive documentary.
3 1/4 stars