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Fighting with My Family review : heart-warming… goes beyond the sport

We review the comedy-drama on the WWE career of professional wrestler Paige

K.T Simpson

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Director:

Stephen Merchant

Cast:

Florence Pugh, Lena Headey, Nick Frost, Jack Lowden, Vince Vaughn, Dwayne Johnson

Run time:

108 mins

Rating:

“Paige, I myself have come from a wrestling family too. I know exactly what it means to you”, The Rock tells a young WWE candidate from early on the new film “Fighting with My Family”, adding “Don’t worry about being the next me. Be the first you.”

The small slab of dialogue is essentially the plot of director Stephen Merchant’s Saraya Knight biopic. No more, no less. And it mightn’t be wrong to say that, for all intents and purposes, “Fighting with My Family” encompasses another unsurprising account of another underdog finding themselves on the way to the top. But like Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” – not to mention most of John G. Avildsen’s back catalogue- and countless other movies, all using a similar template, the choctop coating for what otherwise have been a very vanilla cone comes in the combination of structure, performance and, very importantly, casting. Together, the trifecta sees “Fighting with My Family” not only standing well after the final bell has blown, but with very minimal damage. And like the title character, this one’s a real winner.

The backstory of WWE wrestler ‘Paige’, or Saraya Knight as she’s known back in her native Norwich, “Fighting with My Family” tells of a determined young athlete who transitions her way from working local matches with her wrestling-loving family to participating in and winning the WWE Diva’s championship in 2014 (and where The Rock comes into it is that he played somewhat of a mentor to Knight in real life; he’s also the godfather of the film, bringing the story to the attention of actor turned director Merchant).

Paige has grown up with her brother Zak (Jack Lowden), also a keen wrestler and WWE-dreamer, and when the day comes that she has to leave him behind to chase the dream, Paige struggles with the guilt of success, stage-fright and finding herself alongside a group of girls who have been hired seemingly on beauty-status alone. While in Florida, Paige has to find the balance between being herself, growing into the role she’s been given, and standing out amongst a sea of wannabe-WWE wrestlers. Under the guise of coach Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn), who strongly believes in tough-love, Paige learns to develop a thick skin to not only improve her sport, but deal with the heckling crowds that have no sympathy for hesitance in the spotlight.

If you know anything about the real Paige’s story, you know how it ends – but the journey is effectively portrayed by all actors, who all bear a striking resemblance to the actual people.

Merchant’s script, let alone direction, is to-the-point and effective, without being staggeringly crafty, but the material is elevated by a dynamite cast headlined by Florence Pugh, providing both vulnerability and durability to a future big time brawler. Pugh is the show stopper here, channeling her real-life counterpart with a chameleon-esque performance that’s equal parts tough and tender.

The supporting players – Frost, Headey, Vaughn et al – all come from deeper waters, so no surprise that they too take Merchant’s characters and give award-worthy turns. Vaughn, especially, playing a fictionalised version of several coaches Paige worked with along the way, gives one of his best performances to date — so much so, it’s a shame they couldn’t find a spot for him on the poster (after all, Dwayne Johnson’s role is a cameo at best, Vaughn is in most of the film – but guess ‘The Rock’ sells more tickets, right marketers?).

As with any good sports film, the beauty in “Fighting with My Family” lies beyond the sport, but in the message that supports it. It’s easy to write a film off if you’re not into wrestling, but my advice is to put that aside and enjoy the heart-warming narrative of a young girl with little confidence come to find her feet in the wider world that surrounds Norwich. The “Rocky” for our times, “Fighting with My Family” is a movie for everyone that’s ever had a dream… and bloody embarrassing parents.

Film Reviews

Spider-Man : Far From Home review : One of the year’s best!

Fresh, fun and exciting, it’s Hughes meets Frankenheimer!

Caffeinated Clint

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If ‘’Avengers : Endgame’’ was therapy, then ‘’Spider-Man : Far From Home” is the ice cream cone on the way home.

Hankies get a welcome rest here as Peter Parker transports audiences on a fun cage-match across the globe with his buddies. The result is a refreshingly different, very enjoyable genre-mesh that will be appreciated by a much wider, broader audience than your standard superhero offering. And unlike the brilliant but heart-hurting “Avengers” culmination from earlier this year – the last place we see this incarnation of Spider-Man – you won’t need a referral from your doctor to see a specialist afterwards, due to the issues it raises to the surface.

Just like it’s predecessor, Jon Watt’s “Spider-Man : Far From Home” melds two usually disparate types of films : the superhero action-adventure flick & the coming-of-age teen comedy. It’s John Hughes and John Frankenheimer hanging out for one night only, if you will.

Watts’ take on Stan Lee’s beloved web-slinger embodies all the tried and true elements of the “Spider-Man” films that came before it, sure – Peter Parker’s ineptness, the relationship between our hero and his treasured ‘MJ’, and the unaccustomed balancing act of trying to preserve a normal teenage life while moonlighting as a costumed hero – but it’s more finely tuned focus on comedy, and in particular the uneasiness of Peter Parker’s teenage years, sees this recording play on a whole different speed to the Sam Raimi and Mark Lawrence films. And it’s that perky light touch, combined with the very relatable teenage trials of passage that Parker finds himself caught up in, that may make Watt’s the most successful and faithful screen adaptation of the source material to date.

“Far From Home” -or “National Lampoon’s Spider-Man Vacation”, as it might otherwise be called – sees a post-“Infinity War” Parker (Tom Holland) joining his class on a school trip to Europe. But soon enough, Peter – who is more interested in having some ‘off’ time from hero duty so he can charm the lovely ‘MJ’ (Zendaya) – is assigned the task of bringing down some colossal new villains with a strange new ally: Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal).

What Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers’ “Far From Home” script does so very well, not just as a comic book movie but as a stand-alone comedy and fantasy film, is that it’s determined to do something very, very different -both visually (wow, I tell you! Wow!) and thematically, while never tipping the audience off as to where it might be going. An unpredictable, eye-gasm that’s full of laughs, thrills and genuine suspense? Almost unheard of in 2019!

While it’s the hoots and incalculable witticisms you’ll likely be able to recite in the weeks to come, the film revels in its effects and fight sequences, serving up niftily crafted VFX biffo bits that are truly applaudable.

The film’s large cast are as steady as a flame on a well-placed Bunsen Burner.

Holland proves, once again, to be as equally fun a Peter Parker as he is a Spidey, Zendaya gets to effectually explore her tangible onscreen chemistry as her MJ grows closer to classic comic book love Peter, and both Samuel L.Jackson and Jon Favreau have fun, and aren’t afraid to poke fun at their personas, with their long-standing MCU parts – usually performed more seriously – of Nick Fury and Happy Hogan, respectively.

Adding real gravitas to this round is the always-solid Jake Gyllenhaal, playing the mysterious new superhero in town. The backstory on this guy is not only brilliantly written but a lot of fun, and Gyllenhaal seems to be genuinely enjoying letting loose here.

The support cast, particularly those that help make up the rest of Parker’s class – notably Jacob Bartron, Angourie Rice, Remy Hii, and Tony Revolori – and also the teachers – J.B Smoove and Martin Starr, just stupendous – are as equally as memorable as anyone in tights, too, with the writers dividing up the quality dialogue between all.

Sure, Parker doesn’t advance too much here – ending the film in much the same place he started it in – but he does learn to deal with the death of a mentor, does learn to tap further into his “tingles” as a result of understandable naivety, and further perfects those cool-ass flips and fight manoeuvres- which, being Spidey, is super important. Considering the deep, emotional brow beating “Endgame” put us through, most will be perfectly fine with Spidey skipping most of the lesson plan this time around.

This is just big, exciting and shockingly fresh fun – a film that’ll have you cheering right through to the killer mid-credits sequence.

Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2” might finally have been popped off the throne. Wear the crown proud, “Far From Home”.

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Film Reviews

Yesterday review : a splendid time is guaranteed for all

Mike reviews Danny Boyle’s latest

Mike Smith

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Dear Readers – If you would please indulge me:

AN OPEN LETTER TO RICHARD CURTIS – Sir, in the trailer for your 2003 film “Love Actually,” you include a scene of Andrew Lincoln holding up a card to Kiera Knightley which reads HELLO FATSO. This scene is NOT in the film. What did that mean? I know her character liked sweets. Did her husband complain she was getting a fat arse??? If Richard Curtis is reading this, or if anyone knows the answer, please reply to me via this website. Thank you. We now return to your scheduled review.

I’m 58 years old. I grew up with the Beatles. The very first record I ever purchased was “Hello/Goodbye.” I wept when John Lennon died. So to imagine a world where the Beatles and their music never existed would be horrible to me. But it works out well for Jack Malik (Patel) an aspiring musician who, despite having some talent, cannot make it into the music business. After a disappointing gig he announces to his manager Ellie (James) that he’s hanging up the guitar and going back to teaching. Unable to talk him out of it, Ellie watches as Jack pedals his bicycle into the night. However, soon their lives will change forever.

Directed by Oscar-winner Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire”), “Yesterday” is a lot like the Beatles songs that fill the soundtrack – an emotional rollercoaster. After an accident with a bus, Jack gets out of the hospital to discover that things are different. When he asks for a Coke he is given quizzical looks. When he plays the song “Yesterday” to Ellie and her friends, they are amazed by the song, asking him when he wrote it. He tells them that it was a song by the Beatles, but only gets blank stares. When he Googles “the Beatles” on the Internet, he is directed to the bugs. Curious, he tries other bands and is relieved that the Rolling Stones are still around. He is even more relieved when he learns that the band Oasis isn’t. Realizing the situation, he begins performing Beatles songs and soon catches the ear of musician Ed Sheeran, who challenges Jack to a spontaneous song writing contest. 10 minutes later, Sheeran delivers a sweet song about love. Jack counters with “The Long and Winding Road.” Boom! Mic drop!

Patel is very strong as Jack. He has a pleasant enough voice and, when he sings from the Beatles catalog, he isn’t just covering the songs, he invests an emotional weight into them, as if he HAD written them. When he performs “Help” in front of a huge crowd, he’s literally begging for someone to help him get off of the rollercoaster he has found himself on. James and Sheeran are also quite good, with Sheeran having fun at his own expense, even going so far as to suggest that Jack rename “Hey Jude” as “Hey Dude,” which apparently he finds cooler.

The film also packs an emotional punch with a scene that had many in the audience, myself including, tearing up. Boyle’s direction is brisk and screenwriter Curtis is at the top of his game. And you can never go wrong with a soundtrack consisting of 17 of the Beatles’ greatest songs. As John Lennon sang in Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite, “a splendid time is guaranteed for all!”

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Film Reviews

Annabelle Comes Home review : a swing and a miss

The third film in the Annabelle series seriously lacks the terrors that the Conjuring films are famous for

K.T Simpson

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We needed another entry into the “Conjuring” universe like we needed a hole in the head, but alas – here we are. “Annabelle Comes Home” is the third “Annabelle” flick, and the 7th “Conjuring” film, but I think we can all agree that sometimes less is more. About as unique as mini bar milk, “Annabelle Comes Home” again reminds us that James Wan is to the “Conjuring” universe what Steve Gutenberg was to the “Police Academy” series. Without the special ingredient, the dish never turns out as good.

Committing the same crimes as “Smokey and the Bandit 3”, “D3 : The Mighty Ducks” and “Superman III”, the third in the “Annabelle” series is as deceitful as it is dull. Passing itself or something more by featuring the floating heads of “Conjuring” stars Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, reprising Ed and Lorraine Warren, on the poster, the duo’s work in the film likely consisted of a lazy weekend and change. Only minutes after the opening title pops on the screen, the “stars” are written out of the movie – leaving a trio of teens to anchor proceedings. Groan.

Essentially a “son of…” (or in this case, “daughter of”) spin-off movie, the likes of which use to align the bottom shelves of Blockbuster video back in the day, “Annabelle Comes Home” pits the daughter of the Warrens (as opposed to the dynamic duo themselves) against the titular demon doll. The film begins with the Warrens bringing home the creepy marionette, and placing it behind glass in a locked box so that the evil it conjures cannot be released. When her parents leave for a night, Judy Warren (Mckenna Grace) and babysitter Mary-Ellen (Madison Iseman) settle down for a night in, only to get disrupted by Mary-Ellen’s frustrating friend Daniela (Katie Sarife), who really only comes by to annoy everyone and fiddle with all the haunted stuff within the Warren’s household. When she gets her hands on the keys to the locked room with all the terrifying trinkets inside, she quickly becomes that girl we all want to slap and touches all the things and releases Annabelle, in the midst of an effort to contact her dead father.

While the first in “The Conjuring” and “Insidious” franchises were brilliantly paced, extremely well written character dramas doused in the occasional, earned scare, the unremitting sequels and spin-offs this ‘universe’ has churned out since have left much to be desired. Where “The Nun”, “The Curse of La LaRona” and the “Annabelle” films flounder is in their execution. Rather than weave together a compelling, motivated ghost story with equally interesting characters that the audience cares about, the latter installments rely on paper-thin plots, inane jump scares and the same style monster-lurking-in-the-corner-of-the-screen style gimmicks to get by. What James Wan – who no longer directs these films, resigning himself to only producing them – did with the first couple of “Conjuring” films and “Insidious” films, for example, was take an interesting story, cast solid actors as equally interesting characters and throw in the odd, smartly and sparingly-used scare device. His films were tense, terrific and at times, truly terrifying.

Where “Annabelle Comes Home” differs, for example, is that it’s devoid of any real suspense, motivation or creativeness. It’s the kind of generic teen horror film that, without the big brand name, would otherwise have went direct to a streaming channel. Rather, the film moves painfully in slow motion and if you weren’t in a theatre you’d probably find yourself screaming “hurry the f*ck up!” Gary Dauberman has seemingly seen a lot of horror movies, evident by all the familiar shots and smoke machine-lit boo moments here,  but he lacks James Wan’s skill as a master storyteller. He’s more button pusher on a ghost train at a discount fair here – throwing any cheap gimmick at the audience, hoping they’ll jump. Cue: random ghostly werewolf.

The cast don’t come off looking much better – largely due to their underwritten, bland characters – but Grace (“Captain Marvel”, the upcoming “Ghostbusters”) hints at talent in several scenes…  before the dawdling joke of a story takes precedence again. Again, their slow movements override any sense of uneasiness, as they tiptoe from room to room with little to no sense of urgency despite the horrors happening around them. In a film that’s already on the short side, it reeks of an attempt to lengthen the runtime. The thing to note is, it doesn’t need to do this as the flick goes from zero to one hundred awfully quickly, rather than building suspense effectively.

With the first few entries in “The Conjuring” universe such exceptional genre pieces, it’s a shame the franchise had to get cocky and think it could wing a few additional elements by way of shadow puppets, a loud bass and creepy props. Warner : time to put the “Annabelle” franchise back in the box for good and let another capable, unique horror artist have the floor.

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