‘Fighting with My Family’ Review

Director: Stephen Merchant

Writer: Stephen Merchant

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

Synopsis: A former wrestler and his family make a living performing at small venues around the country while his kids dream of joining World Wrestling Entertainment

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Based on the true story of WWE superstar Paige, real name Saraya-Jade Bevis, Stephen Merchant and producer Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson took inspiration from Paige’s real life and the documentary series about Paige’s family to make Fighting with My Family. Being a wrestling nerd myself, I have been looking forward to this since it was announced, and hearing the good word of mouth, I was fully ready to really enjoy the film. That said, whether or not you know Paige’s story or not, you’ll walk out appreciating the journey.

The film follows Saraya (Florence Pugh) and her brother Zak (Jack Lowden) Knight who have been training as professional wrestlers since they were kids by their wrestling parents Ricky (Nick Frost) and Julia (Lena Headey). Their dream? Going to the WWE, and eventually they get a call to try-out for them, and head to WWE’s developmental program, NXT. However, when Saraya is chosen over Zak, Saraya goes to Orlando to begin her training and Zak has to stay behind to figure out what do now that his dream can no longer be achieved. Paige’s underdog story then begins through trials and tribulations.

Fighting with My Family has your basic underdog sports formula we’ve seen before, expect this time it’s done through pro wrestling. Paige wrestles – pun intended – with being different around the other potential contenders, dealing with the drama with her brother and eventually reaching the dream she wanted in the grandest way possible. This isn’t necessarily a negative toward the film, considering it is what you expect in this kind of story, but it is just a bit of a shame that Merchant went the formulaic route.

That goes double considering Paige’s story is much more than what we get onscreen. Again, being a wrestling nerd and knowing her story, it was a shame to see some things taken out or completely ignored. Of course, that’s not to say that everything in the movie is a lie. It is still Saraya’s story, but having her just be dropped into the crazy world of the WWE is far from what happened.

Regardless of all that, Fighting with My Family is still very good, and most of that comes from the cast. Merchant puts the weight of the movie squarely on Pugh’s shoulders and she carries it with ease. She’s able to bring everything the story requires from the drama, to the humor to even some for the ring work she was allowed to do. Jack Lowden as Zak is equally great, and the chemistry he and Pugh have is fantastic, and makes the two easily believable and easy to root for that we become almost immediately invested in both of their journeys.

Supporting role wise, I wish we had seen a little more of both Nick Frost and Lena Headey. They’re in it enough for the story the film is trying to tell, but still having those two in your movie, and not having them in it a little more is a bit of a bummer. Vince Vaughn’s Hutch Morgan – a combination of different people like Norman Smiley, Dr. Tom Prichard and Bill DeMott, at least according to Paige – balances the line between a hard-nosed, nonsense coach and giving Saraya enough to motivate her, but still being a hardass. Finally, for those worried that Dwayne Johnson would overtake the film, don’t worry, he’s only in about three or four scenes, and we’ve seen most of them in the trailers and TV ads.

All in all, Fighting with My Family is an underdog story we’ve seen before but in a different sport that most people have either fallen out of love with or still follow to this day. That said, Stephen Merchant’s direction and balance of drama and humor is spot on, plus the cast keep you invested from start to finish.

Fighting with My Family

3.5 out of 5

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New Podcast – Oscar Picks, Hulk Hogan Biopic & More

The Movie Pit Podcast is up!

This week’s podcast was recorded in segments – I did my best to make it feel seamlessly. I also had a guest on the podcast this week for the Oscar pick segment. Enjoy everybody!

 

‘Alita: Battle Angel’ Review

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Writers: James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis

Cast: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Keean Johnson, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali

Synopsis: A deactivated female cyborg is revived, but cannot remember anything of her past life and goes on a quest to find out who she is.

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Based on the anime and manga series created by Yukito Kishiro, Alita: Battle Angel has been a passion project for James Cameron for decades now, but put if off for Titanic, and because he didn’t think the visual effects were up for the vision he had. Then Avatar happened and Cameron’s focus went to developing those films that he passed along the directorial duties to his friend Robert Rodriguez, who was also a fan of the series. Now, we get the vision that Cameron probably intended with bombastic visual effects, some pretty solid set pieces and a pretty descent cast.

Set 300 years after The Fall, Alita: Battle Angel follows a resurrected abandoned cyborg named Alita (Rosa Salazar), by Doctor Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz). When she awakes, she has no recollection of her former life, despite not being hardwired like a normal cyborg that Ido usually deals with. Alita now has to learn how things work in Iron City, while also dealing with Vector (Mahershala Ali) – the man who runs Iron City from above – a group of bounty hunters called Hunter Warriors, taking an interest to Hugo (Keean Johnson), a local in Iron City, and Iron City’s favorite sport – Motorball.

One of the best aspects going for Alita: Battle Angel is the amazing special effects that Cameron and the special effects department were able to pull off. On top of that, the 3D makes everything pretty immersive from Iron City, to the city of Zalem in the sky and Motorball (although, we can probably safely assume that most of that was CG). Plus, when it comes to Alita herself, she was motion-captured by Salazar herself, with some new motion-capture Cameron is going to use in the Avatar sequels. While most big budget movie – this being Robert Rodriguez’s most expensive movie to date –  have great ambition like Alita: Battle Angel, the adaptation actually works for what it’s trying to accomplish.

Which, of course, is an accomplishment in itself since most – if not all – anime adaptations lose a lot of what made the anime so beloved. I haven’t watched original anime, nor read the manga, but from what I was able to read it seems like Alita: Battle Angel is a pretty faithful adaptation, which should make fans happy. But, you don’t need to watch the anime to really enjoy the movie, because overall, Alita: Battle Angel is a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining film.

The cast is also pretty solid considering how bombastic the movie is, with almost the whole movie being put on Rosa Salazar’s shoulders. Thankfully, Salazar is able to carry it as she brings the right amount of naivety, wonderment and badassery the role requires. Christoph Waltz plays the father-figure role well, but I wish he was in it just a tad bit more, while Alita’s other man in her life is Keean Johnson’s Hugo, who is just a bit wooden at times, and even though his character gets an interesting storyline in the movie, his development is just a tad lackluster. The villains are very mixed with Mahershala Ali’s Vector not getting enough screen time to be a real threat, Ed Skrein plays a Hunter Warrior named Zapan who is just the right amount of smug and Jackie Earle Haley plays the dangerous Grewishka, who Alita goes head-to-head a couple of times. I would mention Jennifer Connelly’s Chiren, but she doesn’t have enough screen time to really make an impact. The movie is also filled with some cameos that could surprise people, especially one that I was shocked, like many, that they were able to keep secret.

The movie does have some minor problems, like some pacing issues here and there, but weirdly – and surprisingly – with the two hour runtime the movie moves are a pretty brisk pace. The overall story misses some beats, and one thing most viewers might not like is the ending. Admittedly, I found out it’s essentially how the anime ends too, but seeing how Hollywood is a different beast, and seeing how they set up it, it should be interesting to see how things work out.

All in all, Alita: Battle Angel has some minor flaws, but overall is thoroughly entertaining and ton of fun to watch. Rosa Salazar holds the movie up on her shoulders, and no the big CGI eyes will not bother you, plus, it actually helps with the character’s situation. Hopefully, Alita: Battle Angel starts a resurgence of good anime adaptations, no matter the result at the box office.

Alita: Battle Angel

4 out of 5

New Podcast – Oscars Controversy, ‘Your Name’ Remake, This Week’s Trailers & More

The podcast is back up! (I also may have realized that I hadn’t posted the last pod on here too)

The podcast won’t always be this late either. I ran into something I had to take care of and the upload was late. Also, there was an update I didn’t want to wait until next week to mention.

Favorite Movie Fights of All Time – Part 1

Hey, look a non-review/podcast post!

No, in all seriousness, I have been wanting to do some sort of series on here for a while now. While ideas ran rampant in my head, fight scenes always stuck out. So that’s what I’m doing here. This won’t be the only series coming – I’ve got some others stored away – but for now, fight scenes are were its at.

Everyone loves a good fight scene, right? I know I do. Hell, I LOVE a good fight scene. There’s something about a fight scene that just gets me going. Not to the extent that I’m going to start picking fights with strangers – at least not anymore – but seeing the hard work of training and filming for months and weeks just for our enjoyment is awesome to watch. So here is where I’m going to shout out some of my favorite fight scenes of all time. Obviously, this is my list and purely my opinion, so if there is a fight that I missed, it’s probably because I simply forgot. This is also, most likely, the first installment of many articles to come.

However, before we get to the list I want to say how I will approach this, at least fight wise. I’m not including battle scenes, which pretty much excludes anything from The Lord of the Rings or the great opening from Saving Private Ryan (another post maybe?). The fights will range from one-on-one or one-on-two, or something along those lines. Also, despite the order, I’m not ranking them. Finally, some of these fights, could be final fights so SPOILER WARNING!

Alright, let’s get cracking…bones…too much? Too much.

 

SPL/Kill Zone – Ma Kwan vs. Jack

You will see Donnie Yen a lot in this series, and I might as well start with one of my favorite fight scenes he’s been in. SPL (Sha po lang) or Killzone as it was re-titled here in America – sometimes even SPL: Kill Zone – we see Yen’s Ma Kwan going one-on-one against newcomer (at the time) Jing Wu’s Jack. The scene itself leads into the final fight between Yen and Sammo Hung, but we’re here to talk about Yen vs. Wu. The fight itself was treated almost like a sparring match between the two martial artists, and was even a “last minute” addition to production once Yen joined the film.

I honestly love this fight ever since I saw it for the first time. The whole movie did a great job of building up the threat that Jing Wu’s Jack is, and to see Ma go toe-to-toe with him with the music and the moves these two make is a sight to see.

 

The Raid 2: Berndal – Rama vs. The Assassin

The Raid, or The Raid: Redemption in some places, was a ground-breaking and breakthrough action film. Sure the story was simple, but it was the action and fight scenes that put the movie over the top with fans. So when the sequel was announced, we immediately knew that we were in for a fun ride, and oh boy, were we. The Raid 2: Berndal upped the ante with the action, and it was the final two fights that really showed director Gareth Evans was not messing around. That said, I’m just going to focus on the last fight between Iko Uwais’ Rama and Cecep Arif Rahman’s The Assassin.

The scene itself took a reported eight days to shoot, and it shows because this thing is brutal, long and completely worth the wait.

 

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – Yu Shun Lien vs. Jiao Long

I doubt there isn’t a list of Favorite Fights Scenes of All Time that doesn’t have the epic sword fight between Michelle Yeoh’s Yu Shu Lien versus Ziyi Zhang’s Jiao Long (or Jen Yu in the Mandarin version). The fight between the experienced veteran fighter against a less experience younger warrior was the perfect mirror in real life with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon being Zhang’s breakout role – and second feature film. Seeing the two different styles, and just a tad bit of humor, definitely makes this one of the best fight scenes in cinema.

 

Hero – Nameless vs. Sky

Like mentioned above, the sword “fight” between Jet Li’s Nameless versus Donnie Yen’s Sky is one of the best fight scenes in cinema – for me at least. I say “fight” because the fight doesn’t really happen, but is instead played out in the minds of Nameless and Sky, while an excellent score plays in the background. The scene itself is only the second on-screen fight scene between Li and Yen – the first being Once Upon a Time in China II – which is odd to think considering how well they work together in the scene itself.

 

The Bourne Ultimatum – Bourne vs. Desh 

The Bourne Ultimatum is, by far, one of my favorite spy action thrillers. What Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon were able to do in the short amount of time they had together – Greengrass didn’t direct the first Bourne movie – was pretty damn great. That said, Ultimatum was the very best of the series on all accounts, and when it came to the action sequences, Ultimatum has them beat by miles. While, the Waterloo Station scene is probably one of my favorite scenes of all time, the fight between Damon’s Jason Bourne and CIA asset Desh, played by Joey Ansah, arguably began the hard-hitting, no score fight scenes in the Americana cinema (that statement could be wrong, but at the time of writing this, the only other movie that pops in my head for fight scenes with no score in them is Haywire. Will correct if I find out, or feel free to tell me). I mean, Bourne beats him with a book, A BOOK!

 

Kingsman: The Secret Service – Harry vs. The Church

No, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this fight is on my list – or any list for that matter. I mean, look at it! Not only does the fight feel like a one take – it wasn’t but that’s fine, one take fight scenes are really hard to make – but it’s got Colin Firth kicking ass to Free Bird. COLIN FIRTH AND FREE BIRD!

 

Banshee – Burton vs. Nola

The last fight in this first installment of Favorites Fight Scenes of All Time comes from a TV series. Cinemax had a great series called Banshee. The show itself didn’t rely on the action its first season, but the characters and the story it was trying to tell – the action was just a nice touch and welcomed. As the series went on the action became more prominent, and awesome to watch. The highlight of that came in the third season of the show – unfortunately the series only last four seasons – where there is an amazing feature film quality fight scene between Burton (Matthew Rauch), the main series villain’s henchman and Nola (Odette Annable), a character who was only in six episodes, including this one, but left an impression.

When I first watched the series, I wasn’t really expecting the fight at all, and fans of the show went crazy when they saw it, because it’s really – from what I can remember – the only fight scene like this. Every other fight is more like a brawl, but this was two fights going toe-to-toe, and man was it great to watch. Warning, not for the squeamish.

 

Like I said, this is only part one of a series, so which one of these are your favorite? What are you looking forward to me possibly talking about? Do you like this new series? What more do you want to see? How many more questions can I ask here??