Starring: John Leguizamo, Michael K. Williams, Rachel Bay Jones, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Angel Bismark Curiel, Will Hochman, Corwin Tuggles, Jeffry Batista, Zora Casebere, Ramses Jimenez
OUR RATING: ★★★½
Bio-drama directed by John Leguizamo. Based on a true story which follows determined high school teacher, Mario Martinez (John Leguizamo), whose unwavering belief in his students sets in motion the rise of the Miami Jackson chess team from the city streets of 1998 Miami, to the spotlight as national champions.
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Our Favorite Quotes:'I do not know how or when, but from a street I was summoned.' - Mario Martinez (Critical Thinking) Click To Tweet 'The universe is like one huge street, full of things we can never explain. One day you're walking down, thinking the s**t you're in is never going to pass. And the next, it does.' - Sedrick Roundtree (Critical Thinking) Click To Tweet 'We are born into things that we don't have to become.' - Sedrick Roundtree (Critical Thinking) Click To Tweet
Mario Martinez: Now, people, this is going to be very basic for some of you, but for the fish, or the newbies, as I like to call you, this is going to be eye opening, because what you’ve got is sixty-four squares, thirty-two pieces. It doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are, what Ivy League school you may go or you may not go to, what prison you hopefully never set foot in, because chess is the great equalizer.
[explaining chess to the students]
Mario Martinez: Okay, now in the opening, white always moves first. Now, I wonder what old white guy thought of that rule, right? I know you hear me. So, white has multiple openings, depending on his opponent’s strength. Then black is going to counter with a choice of defenses, and then you’re off to the races, my friends.
Mario Martinez: My class is not detention, Miss Kestel.
Principal Kestel: No?
Mario Martinez: No. No, I’m running a legitimate elective here, okay? These kids have real potential.
Principal Kestel: As long as their ranking, and our GR goes up, you can have them playing marbles for all I care. And I got you this elective. So, if I need a babysitter because some kid is messing with another kid’s chances of actually graduating, I expect you’ll accommodate me.
Mario Martinez: I do. I do. I got your back. I do.
Principal Kestel: And as attendance has been your one area of true greatness, I’d suggest you focus more on the fact that it’s dipped this past month.
Mario Martinez: Well, a student was deported. I’m sorry, but Immigration has a way of messing with attendance numbers.
Principal Kestel: Just keep the bodies in the seats.
Mario Martinez: Well, look, if you hired me just to fill up bilingual quota, you’re underestimating me, okay? And more importantly, them.
[Kestel turns and starts walking away]
Principal Kestel: Just keep the bodies in the seats.
Mario Martinez: You know, I’m a good teacher. I am a good teacher.
Mario Martinez: You’re going to start a fight, you’re going to put a beat down on your classmate because he won’t pick up your queen? Come on, Ito, man. Come on, think it through, buddy. Think it through, okay? Best case scenario, he picks it up for you. Worst case scenario, he gets a black eye, and he picks a vendetta against you for the rest of your life, man. And the rest is consequences, okay? Like chess, a game of consequences. How about that, huh? Come on, Ito, Overtown is not a place you want to bring out consequences, buddy. You’re a smart kid.
[after one of his students was shot]
Principal Kestel: It’s like a war out there.
Mario Martinez: Yeah. Except this was a kid just walking home from school.
Principal Kestel: We’ll have counselling available for your students if requested.
Mario Martinez: Well, thank you. Thank you for that.
Principal Kestel: I will say, well, unfortunately, it’s not a total shock anymore.
Mario Martinez: Hey, do you guys know about Pablo Neruda?
Cornelia: Um, from Family Matters?
Mario Martinez: No. No, no. That’s Urkel. And how I know that’s what you meant is beyond me.
Mario Martinez: Every time a young person is killed around here, it makes me think of the words of Mr. Neruda, who wrote, “I do not know how or when, but from a street, I was summoned.” And, I don’t know. I think the poem is about, you know, being liberated, and just breaking loose, and finding that thing, you know. And now, there’s so many times I think about it with its relation to the violence around here. I don’t know, but it helps me.
Mario Martinez: Alright, people, listen up. Listen up. We got a tournament coming up in a couple of days. We need four players to qualify. So we need to start really considering if we’re serious about what we’re doing here or not.
Sedrick Roundtree: We’re serious, Mr. T.
Mario Martinez: Then we start by showing up.
Sedrick Roundtree: Listen, I was thinking maybe I could go talk to Gil about coming back to the class.
Mario Martinez: You mean the guy who quit when you punched him in the face after he stepped on your brand new sneakers. You mean that guy?
Sedrick Roundtree: Yeah. I was still going to ask him anyway.
Mario Martinez: Go give it a shot, Mr. Roundtree. Good luck with that.
Sedrick Roundtree: I’ll let you know how it goes. Later, hater.
[after Sedrick apologizes to Gil, referring to his sneakers]
Gil Luna: It’s not like they were Jordans.
Sedrick Roundtree: [chuckles] Yoh, Nike Air’s moving up tempo and s**t. Watch.
Sedrick Roundtree: Look, we need you back. I’m serious, man. Look, me, you, Ro, Ito, we can be something special. All four of us, that’s a team.
Gil Luna: Alright. But can you not punch me, please?
Sedrick Roundtree: Promise. It won’t happen again.
[after Gil wins his chess game he starts rapping]
Gil Luna: Man, I’m back on the scene, if you know what I mean. And I can show you how to mate with just a king and a queen.
Mario Martinez: Alright, class. Today, we’re going to look at the most beautiful game in chess history, and it is called the opera game. Authored by Paul Morphy. Now, Morphy was an American, born in New Orleans in the 1800s, who once said…
[he puts on a wig and points to the picture of Morphy]
Mario Martinez: Hey, we’re twins. We’re twins. Who said, “If the chess board superseded the poker table, then all Americans morals would change like that.” And Paul Morphy played this game in 1858 in a real opera, watching a real opera, against two opponents, a duke and a count.
[referring to the Philidor Defense]
Sedrick Roundtree: Who the hell is that?
Mario Martinez: “Who the hell is that?”
Sedrick Roundtree: Yeah. Who the hell is that?
Mario Martinez: Only one of the greatest French creators of modern chess, who said, “I like the pawn because the pawn is the soul of chess.”
[as he’s explaining Morphy’s opera game]
Ito Paniagua: That was a killer move, no doubt, but I just feel like Morphy was more of like a finesse player. You feel me?
Mario Martinez: That’s right. That’s right. Man, that’s right. Because he was an artist. Morphy was an artist, not a butcher. He was more interested in development than he was in material gain.
Mario Martinez: So, you see, Morphy sacrificed all his pieces, and still won against a whole entire army, because material advantage is not everything, people, and certainly not in chess.
Mario Martinez: This is that whole thing I keep telling you guys about history. That thing in history, man.
Sedrick Roundtree: Written by winners.
Mario Martinez: Or the people with the means.
Rodelay Medina: Oh, snap. Mr. T about to drop some vitamin K, huh?
Mario Martinez: Oh, you best believe. Because, you know, there was this great Latin chess player, Raul Capablanca, known to be the greatest chess player by all chess players. And yet, how come we don’t know about him? How come we know that chess was invented in India, perfected in Persia, but not know that it was modernized by a Spanish guy named Maura?
Mario Martinez: But I’m going to ask you. I’m going to ask you that whenever you don’t see a familiar image that you feel like you can relate to, and whatever it is that you’re moved by, that you dig deeper than your dusty, old Britannica Encyclopedia.
Sedrick Roundtree: Word, Mr. T. For real.
Mario Martinez: Because we, people of color, have been everywhere since time immemorial. And if you pick up one of these bad boys, and you open it up, and you don’t recognize yourself, I hope you realize that this was their oversight, that this was their mistake to paint you out.
Principal Kestel: The board’s rejected our bid to pay for the Regionals.
Mario Martinez: Our bid?
Principal Kestel: Your bid.
Mario Martinez: So the board is fine spending four hundred dollars on footballs, but not with sending kids on a road trip to improve their minds? Right? It’s not a question. I just wanted to hear it out loud, that’s all.
Mario Martinez: I mean, kids like this, from places like Dade County, don’t ever make it to team Regionals.
Principal Kestel: Then it shouldn’t be too hard for them to swallow.
Mario Martinez: Really? Really? What the f***’s the matter with you, huh? You know, one of these days something’s going to happen that’s going to make me feel like maybe I don’t need this bulls**t job. And you know what? That day is going to really suck for you, okay?
Principal Kestel: Is that a threat, Mario?
Mario Martinez: No. No, it’s not.
Principal Kestel: You could start a drive. I see kids outside the supermarket doing this sort of thing all the time.
Mario Martinez: Wait. Wait. You’re serious? You’re serious? I mean, these kids just had a deported player, another kid murdered this semester, and you’re giving them f***ing chocolates?
Principal Kestel: This is what I have.
Mario Martinez: Well, fine. You know what? Give up on them. Let their parents give up on them. Let the whole system give up on them. But you know what? I sure as s**t ain’t, okay? Aren’t.
Principal Kestel: You’re done?
Mario Martinez: Not with them.
Principal Kestel: Good. Then don’t be. Because once that fire goes out, it never comes back.
Rodelay Medina: I’m sorry, but nobody is going to buy chocolates from a bunch of hood rats.
Mario Martinez: I’d buy it from a hood rat like you. I mean, look at your pathetic little face. I’d buy a ton off of you.
[after they got caught selling chocolate cookies laced with pot]
Mario Martinez: You were dealing drugs. Are you f***ing kidding me? Huh? That’s my boss. She’s not just your principal, but obviously, you don’t care.
Rodelay Medina: We didn’t say that.
Mario Martinez: But that’s exactly what you said when you went out like that.
Sedrick Roundtree: I mean, you know, in fairness, all there was, was some cookies, and your chocolate, and a little bit of pot.
Mario Martinez: Listen to me, okay? There is a rainbow of colors at this table, myself included, that need no help having the police come knocking at our doors. You hear me?
Ito Paniagua: First of all, it was just weed, alright?
Mario Martinez: It’s an illegal substance that could get you a lot of serious jailtime, my friend.
Man at Diner: Yoh! You need to shut the f*** up already.
Mario Martinez: That’s what you want? Is that what you want, guys? You want to end up like that poor sucker that nobody gave a half s**t to set his a** straight? Huh? Tell me. Tell me. Tell me, because I’ll just stop wasting my time on you.
Sedrick Roundtree: We’re sorry. We messed up.
[as he’s driving the boys to the tournament]
Mario Martinez: Guys, I just want you to know, when you play an official tournament, there’s not going to be any communicating with each other. No talking to your coach during the game. So, there’s no verbal, no signals, no nods. Nada. You hear me? Especially no physical contact with your opponent.
Ito Paniagua: Got it. Alright. What about incidental contact?
Mario Martinez: I didn’t say anything about incidental. I don’t even know what that would be. You’re just trying to use big words.
Gil Luna: Yeah, you are. Yeah.
Ito Paniagua: If I was trying to use big words, I would say it was putrescent back here.
Snooty Man: The matches are over there. And the minute that you lose, you leave the tournament area. Tournament policy.
Mario Martinez: Not a problem. And we won’t be losing.
Snooty Man: I can see this is your first time.
[as the boys are about to play in the chess tournament]
Mario Martinez: Look, if you’re feeling uncomfortable, just remember, that your mind can be your weapon.
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