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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

The Curse of the Weeping Woman review : fails to add any value to the Conjuring universe

Falls short of a decent horror

K.T Simpson

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“The Curse of the Weeping Woman”, known as “The Curse of La Llorona” in other markets, adds to the “Conjuring” franchise by introducing a new horrific entity for us to have nightmares over. In a world full of horror films, it’s becoming more and more rare for any film to stand out as an original addition, so let’s delve into “Weeping Woman” to see if it’s worth seeing…

“The Curse of the Weeping Woman” begins with social worker Anna Garcia (Linda Cardellini) confronting a trouble mother who has seemingly been abusing her two young boys. As she gets taken away from her children, the woman pleads that there is more to her story, and blames the ghost of La Llorona – otherwise known as the Weeping Woman – for hurting her children. Unfortunately for Anna, La Llorona targets her children next, and will stop at nothing to take them away.

As Anna digs deeper, she discovers the history of the Weeping Woman in an effort to defeat her and get back to normal life, saving her kids in the process. Anna seeks help from a local priest, Father Perez (Tony Amendola from “Annabelle” – and practically the only tie to the “Conjuring” universe) who has had history dealing with demonic entities, such as that seen in the Annabelle doll.

As a standalone horror flick, “The Curse of the Weeping Woman” would be your typical teen-scarefest, and if you like a good jump scare then you’re in the right place. Where it fails is adding anything of value to the “Conjuring” universe. Its attempt at linking it back is by referencing a few key things from the franchise, but unfortunately it feels like a late script change to give it a reason to be released theatrically. Ultimately, James Wan producing a film within the “Conjuring” universe without directing reeks a lot like INXS without Michael Hutchence – the beats remain the same but there’s nothing that stands out, it merely goes through the motions of your stock-standard horror flick.

Furthermore, “The Curse of the Weeping Woman” is choc-a-block full of horror cliches – furniture flying across the room, doors opening and slamming shut, spirits suddenly appearing in people’s faces and said people being dragged across the room. Not to mention possession and nearly drowning in the bath. Absolutely nothing about this film is an original concept and that’s where it really fails to be any kind of memorable.

As the film nears its climax, it becomes unnecessarily complex as they attempt to defeat the corpse bride – or La Llorona as she’s called. As with any possessed house/person flick, things ramp up very quickly, but the elements involved with facing the spirit head-on are largely complicated, to a degree that just leaves audiences scratching their heads. As a result, the film goes from mildly frightening to just plain boring, as we wait for the end. Referring to the aforementioned clichés, the back third of “Weeping Woman” throws them all into a single scene – which is why it gets so weirdly complicated.

Michael Chaves directs “Weeping Woman”, and in terms of directing style definitely has a unique take. A lot of the frights come from first-person camera view, engaging the audience as if they too were living this nightmare. Chaves is also set to direct “The Conjuring 3”, due out in 2020, so it will be interesting to see how he ties the film in to both this one and the rest of the “Conjuring” franchise.

Look, overall “The Curse of the Weeping Woman” isn’t great. It’s a weird film to shove into “Conjuring” folklore, when it probably would be more successful as a straight-to-VOD teen horror for those looking for just another mindless demonic possession film.

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Film Reviews

Mary Magdalene review : boasts a lot of stillness, dignity and beauty

Rooney Mara and Joaquin Phoenix star in Garth Davis film Mary Magdalene. Check out Drew’s review!

Drew Turney

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A couple of reviews called this movie dusty, stuffy and even boring – too genteel to really throw any philosophical cats amongst the pigeons of how history views “Mary Magdalene”.

You can see where the criticisms were coming but they’re a little unfair. You might find yourself responding more to it like you would a painting. It has a real fabric to it – the sand and rough, scratchy surfaces the clothes were made from quite tactile – and a lot of stillness, dignity and beauty. I think it might say more about today’s movie audiences weaned on the teat of comic book movies, video games and switching between apps at the first sign of disengagement than any real fault in the movie itself.

Or maybe movies have just trained us to expect what Pauline Kael once described with the phrase ‘kiss kiss, bang bang’ – movement, high passion and ferocity. “Mary Magdalene” has none of that, just thoughtful introspection and a kind of drifting lilt. Just the kind of thing people seemed to hate about Terrence Malick’s last few movies, in fact, but “Mary Magdalene” director Garth Davis doesn’t sacrifice plot for all that stuff to the extent Malick has lately.

The story is about the young Mary (Rooney Mara) going about her life in the fields and fishing grounds, railing so gently against the strictures of first century Judaean society to get married it barely elicits more than a raised eyebrow.

She’s aware of the prophet that’s emerged in the area claiming to be the embodiment of God on Earth and when she meets him and hears him speak, sets about becoming one of his followers to help share his message of peace and acceptance.

And that’s really it. Her fellow disciples receive her into their ranks to varying degrees of acceptance, making the film the feminist tract Mara promised while promoting it. In doing so it also tries to address what director Garth Davis and writers Helen Edmundson and Phillippa Goslet consider a historical inaccuracy, that the other disciples’ rejection of Mary because of her gender was conflated throughout history so much some Middle Ages Pope simply decided she was a prostitute.

But as this movie rightly points out (according to the New Testament history), she was the only witness among Jesus’ disciples to witness his crucifixion, burial and resurrection, so she seemed to have a special place among them.

And Jesus himself (Joaquin Phoenix, in one of the roles he seemed born to play) seems similarly aware of how special Mary is, affording her extra privilege to his ideas and sharing seemingly more of a personal bond than with the other disciples. Phoenix plays the role like Mara plays Mary and the film itself unfurls – with a mood many will see as ineffectual, impenetrable and obscured but which is actually gentle, loving and peaceful.

Where Mel Gibson wanted to show the blood and brutality of this story and era in “The Passion of the Christ”, Davis is more interested in the soft-focus, muted sense of grace and contemplation. Go into it with that spirit and there’s a lot to like.

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Film Reviews

Shazam! review : DC’s guiding light

DC’s latest packs a punch!

K.T Simpson

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In the uncertain world of DC, it’s “Shazam!” that is the light that guides our path, as we are introduced to a superhero who is a man of the people – and one we wish to share our “finest beers” with. The long-gestating flick got David F. Sandberg on board to direct in 2017, and the former Black Adam Dwayne Johnson to produce. Star Zachary Levi has previously said “the idea is that it’s gonna feel like the movie “Big”, but with super powers” – and to be honest I couldn’t think of a better way to describe the film.

Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a troubled 14-year old, who after losing his mum at a fair as a young boy has bounced from foster home to foster home ever since. Throughout the years he has never given up the quest to find his mother, and his latest attempt to find her lands him in hot water with the Police- and into a new foster home. The new family seem promising, and though stand-offish, Billy finds himself in a group of other kids who need some extra love – including Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), who quickly becomes his best friend at school and home.

Meanwhile the ancient wizard Shazam is on the quest to find “the one”, a new champion to take over his job of protecting the world against the Seven Deadly Sins. The new champion must be pure of heart, and many people have been rejected from the job. One such reject is Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), who came face-to-face with Shazam as a young boy, and has spent his life searching for a way to get back in front of the Wizard for another shot at becoming the one.

It is then that Billy gets a shot at the throne, and after meeting with Shazam, putting a hand on his staff (absolutely nothing suss), and yelling “Shazam!”, Batson takes on the job as the superhero, in the form of the much more built Zachary Levi. Billy and Freddy discover that yelling “Shazam!” can take him back and forth between boy and superhero, and they also work together to work out the subtleties of his new super-powers.

Between learning to fly, taking full advantage of the lightning coming out of his hands and the super strength he’s acquired, the new Champion of Eternity finds himself embroiled in a battle with Thaddeus, who still seeks the powers of Shazam, while unleashing his own new powers – which involve releasing the Seven Deadly Sins into the world again.

“Shazam!” is a fun and hilarious journey from beginning to end, and is truly unique in its tone – which it sets, and sticks to, for the entirety of the film. Levi is a true stand out as Shazam, playing a 14-year old in the body of a 30-something-year-old man. That’s not to take away from the other half of this hero, with Angel portraying a young boy who is trying to find his feet in the world while lacking the support of an immediate family.

The film is a rarity in that it never tries to achieve too much, and while the runtime pushes 2 hours, you’d be hard-pressed to find any unnecessary footage. There are scenes that have you gripping your seat, but others that will see you laughing out loud at some genuinely clever dialogue. The subplot surrounding the concept of family is heartwarming and a true testament that family doesn’t always have to be blood – you can find them in a foster home and a group of unlikely characters that find something to bond over.

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