Tag Archive | movies

Movie Review: The Queen of Katwe

I spend almost more time looking for and reading reviews of movies than I do watching them. I don’t have the time to waste on a bad movie during the school year, and though I have more time at home during the summer never do I want to watch something that will be blasphemous, offensive, or pass before my eyes things I can’t unwatch. I know you feel the same.

Here is a synopsis and review of a movie I feel is worth watching for the entire family (tweens and up): Queen of Katwe. The movie summary says: A school-drop out named Phiona (pronounced like Fiona) living in the slum of Katwe sells maize along with her brother to help her family survive. Her older sister has already succumbed to the lure of being a kept women and the widowed mother is wearily but with dignity striving to instill in her remaining children hope where it seems that life is hopeless. At this moment in their family life Phiona is discovered to have an agile and highly advanced mind and is a genius at chess.

(Common Sense Media’s review & synopsis here.)

That this is a true story and in fact it has recently occurred, which makes it all the more compelling. At the end of the movie you will see each character and what has become of them. In addition to the themes noted above by Common Sense Media is one that is often overlooked: the cycle of poverty.

The slum outside Kampala Uganda known as Katwe is one of the largest and most dire of slums in that country. The overwhelming filth, poverty, and dense living conditions are not glossed over in this movie produced by Disney. As Phiona rises through the ranks in chess championships and her world gradually expands, eventually she must come to terms with who she is and if her origins define her character or if her character will define her character.

The interplay of rich v. poor, impoverished origins v. entitlement impact the girl greatly. It’s a similar theme shown in My Fair Lady. As Eliza Doolittle rises from Cockney impoverished flower girl to genteel lady she wonders where she belongs and who she is if she is no longer “poor” and has to struggle for survival. Will Phiona take the daring leap into the unknown or retreat into what she is used to, even though that means remaining a cog in the grinding cycle of poverty? At points, the outcome is by no means certain and the movie deftly shows why.

For family viewing, several scenes are mildly intense. Phiona’s brother is run over by a motorcycle and Phiona’s desperate near-helplessness to get him to a clinic and obtain the medical services he needs are gripping. Throughout the movie I’d wondered why the slum shacks are entered by walking over planks or pallets situated over a deep trench. The flood scene showed me. Monsoon rains are beyond heavy and Phiona’s toddler brother nearly dies in a flood that sweeps through their derelict home. I read later that Katwe’s seasonal floods are so bad that people sleep on their roofs – if they have a roof – so as not to drown at night.

The scene that most affected me is when the chess team has traveled to a fancy championship location and they are put up in dormitories for the night. The youth pastor who leads the sports ministry, including this chess team, is momentarily startled when he arrives at their room to tuck them in, all the beds are empty and all the bedding remained where it was at the first, neatly folded and piled on the end of each cot. A momentary panic rises in his eyes until he sees all of the children huddled up on the floor in the corner, slum family style, their own clothes and brought scarves and fabrics for covers. It was what they were used to.

The movie does not gloss over the entrenchment of the cycle of poverty the difficulties in rising out of it, and the lingering issues that haunt those who do, including prejudice of the entitled against the poor. Though one of the main characters is a youth pastor, and his chess club is part of a sports mission, no mention is made of Jesus or what denomination he is from or any religious discussions at all. However, he is depicted as a trustworthy man fighting for his charges with love and devotion. It’s produced by Disney so the production values are excellent. Recommended.

Discernment in entertainment is really cultural discernment, and we need it

theater sign

We are told to be in the world but not of the world. What this means is we have to know the world if we’re in it. Not love it. Not cater to it. Not compromise with it. But we have to be aware.

so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. (1 Corinthians 2:11).

Be sober-minded and alert. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. (John 17:14-15).

Because being IN the world means you take in a movie once in a while, or read a book, or attend a poetry slam, or visit an art museum…Entertainment is a fact of life, sometimes a quite nice fact!

Here are three resources to keep in mind for when you take in the messages of the world. Movies, for example, are not non-theological. They do have a message. These resources help you discern that message and how to combat it as you make your entertainment choices.

#1- Start with this short article from Ligonier:

TableTalk: Discerning Entertainment
by Burk Parsons

Entertainment of all sorts can be a wonderful way to rest and recuperate from the busyness, noise, and struggles of life. … But we must always guard our eyes and our hearts. For we cannot even begin to understand all the ways that Hollywood has affected us. Entertainment affects our minds, our homes, our culture, and our churches. Consequently, we must be vigilant as we use discernment in how we enjoy entertainment—looking to the light of God’s Word to guide us and inform our consciences.

#2- Professor Grant Horner is professor at The Master’s University and has written a book on discerning entertainment called Meaning at the Movies: Becoming a Discerning Viewer. This first one is a link to an article discussing his 2011 book.

It’s All About the Fall

Author Grant Horner believes every film is ultimately about the human condition—and that watching movies is serious business that requires solid discernment. The article asks Horner the following questions and more.

Your book doesn’t list movies we should or shouldn’t watch as Christians. Why not?
But is there a standard or a cutoff point you go by?
Many people limit “discernment” to avoiding the negatives: If a film doesn’t have sex, violence, or bad language, it passes the test. Anything wrong with that approach?

Here is a link to Dr Horner’s book:

Meaning at the Movies: Becoming a Discerning Viewer
This is a purchaser’s summary of the book:

This is the best book I’ve read on the intersection of faith and film. The first chapter, which gives a biblical and theological explanation of art and culture, is worth more than the price of the book on its own. Horner uses Romans 1 to explain that all human production is characterized by both a knowledge of God and his truth and also the suppression of that knowledge. For this reason, Horner argues, we must be discerning when we watch movies. We can enjoy them and learn much from them, even when the film has been crafted by a non-Christian. But we also need to be discerning (even when the film has been crafted by a Christian). Horner’s book is well written and his arguments are persuasive. The last half of the book features an insightful look at a handful of important film genres, and in each case Horner gives a wonderful discussion of the genre itself, along with a theological look at why we find that particular genre appealing. This book should be required reading for anyone interested in faith and film, and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to understand the arts in general.

Here is part 1 of a ten-minute Youtube interview from the Full Circle Ladies with Grant Horner regarding his book on movies and discernment. And here is part 2.

#3- The Gospel Coalition has some things to say about discernment and teenagers, this nations’ largest consumer of entertainment.

Teach Teens Discernment
by Jaquelle Crowe
We cannot grow without discernment. Yet discernment isn’t a sort of hyper-criticism that turns you into an embittered watchdog sniffing out others’ mistakes. Instead it’s a holy call to discern what is pleasing to God and what is not (Rom. 12:1–2). It frees you to relish what’s beautiful and true, and to reject what’s ugly and false. Discernment equals growth.

The article deals with the following issues:

  • How to Explain Discernment to Teens
  • How to Help Teens Pursue Discernment
  • No In-Between

It’s high summer…may your entertainment be light and your days be long. 🙂

Discernment lesson: how secular writers of Biblical material manipulate your emotions

Filmmakers are always looking for fodder to make their productions and of late they have discovered the narratives in the Bible. Since the people writing and producing these movies and shows are not saved, of course they get it wrong. This is because In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4).

In the recent series The Bible, there came a moment when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were faced with a decision. Would they bow to a false god statue, or would they stand for Yahweh, thus losing their lives (as Nebuchadnezzar had aid those who disobey his decree to bow will die, Daniel 3:6).

It’s a dramatic moment when you see it in full visual force. Look, here is the clip:

It is not so dramatic when you hear it though. First, read what the men really said, from the real Bible. It is all from Daniel 3. That’s the first part of the lesson- always compare to scripture.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

The pagan man always seeks to elevate man and diminish God. See how the writers put very different words in the mouths of the three men when they answered to King Nebuchadnezzar.

[Azariah] With all our hearts we follow you. We seek your presence. With all my heart I follow you. I fear you. I seek your presence. Lord hear my cry, though death entangle me, though the anguish of the grave consumes me, do not ignore my tears, I’m overcome by sorrow. I call upon the name of the Lord. Lord save me! Hear my prayer, oh Lord. Hear my cry.

The prayer of the men were self-centered, not God centered. There is a big difference between ‘I will not serve your gods’ and ‘Lord, I seek your presence!’ In the Bible the men accepted the consequence of their fate, because as long as glory was being given to honor God they were satisfied. The TV show could not be more opposite to the actual statement the men made in the real Bible.  That’s the second part of the lesson. Once you compare what you’ve read or heard to scripture, test  it to see if it gives glory to God only and aligns with His character.

God decided to manifest a miracle in the fire and He saved the men. In the TV show, since the men had prayed to be saved, when they were saved, it looked like it was their own prayer that saved them rather than the sovereignty and power of God.

In the TV show, when the men were delivered from the fire, they emerged declaring “God is with us! People of Judah, rise!” Again, ‘me’-centered.

In the real Bible, honor to God in the highest was given by Nebuchadnezzar.

The hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them. 28 Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside[f] the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.” (Daniel 3:27b-29)

I mention this because the scene where the men do not bow, and the scene where the men are delivered in the furnace are well done and moving. In between, though, when the people speak, it is not with Bible words and a humble God-centeredness.

The point here is, do not let emotion cloud your judgment when you absorb non-biblical material. You will most likely be emotionally manipulated when you read a book written by a non-Christian, (The Shack was well done and emotionally engaging for the first 70 pages) or a movie. The scenes in The Bible are moving and close enough to the Bible, but close enough is not good enough. Be wary of letting emotion override the truth with any material you watch or read. Besides, the real word of God is emotional enough!