‘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

‘The Huntsman: Winter’s War’ Review

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Director: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan

Writers: Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Emily Blunt, Jessica Chastain, Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Sheridan Smith, Alexandra Roach, Sope Dirisu, Sam Hazeldine, and Sam Claflin.

Synopsis: As a war between rival queen sisters Ravenna and Freya escalates, Eric and fellow warrior Sara, members of the Huntsman army raised to protect Freya, try to conceal their forbidden love as they combat Ravenna’s wicked intentions.

 

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

 

When Snow White and the Huntsman came out back in 2012, the film was met with a mixed – a tad more negative – reaction. The film had some interesting things going for it and had compelling characters in Eric the Huntsman and Queen Ravenna. This is saying something, considering the main character in the film was, well, Snow White. So, Universal Pictures decided to take one of the most compelling characters in the original and give him an origin story, but also give Snow White and the Huntsman a sequel without really involving the character of Snow White. Does it work? Sort of.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War starts by showing us how Eric (Hemsworth) essentially became the Huntsman along with fellow warrior Sara (Chastain). The two were taken from their homes by Freya (Blunt), the sister of Ravenna (Theron), who after losing her baby unleashed a secret power within her that gives her the power of ice. Freya’s one rule for her Huntsmen is that love is forbidden. However, Eric and Sara fall in love. When Freya finds out she takes action, which goes into spoiler territory unless you absolutely remember everything in Snow White and the Huntsman.

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The film then jumps forward seven years after those events, and now takes place after the events in Snow White and the Huntsman. Eric is now a trusted member of Snow White’s guard, although Snow White is not really in the film and is only seen from behind in a very quick seen. So when Prince William (Claflin) – in his only scene – comes to him to tell him Ravenna’s mirror has gone missing, Eric takes it upon himself, with two dwarfs in Nion (Frost) and Gryff (Brydon), to go find the mirror and take it to The Sanctuary (again, if you remember the first film, it’s the magical forest). Of course, Freya is not too far behind, and Sara joins the fight.

There are some things to really like about The Huntsman: Winter’s War. Like its predecessor, some of the visual effects are top notch and are pretty great to get into. Some of the characters are great like the new addition of Emily Blunt’s Freya, Jessica Chastain’s Sara, and the dwarfs of Rob Brydon’s Gryff, Sheridan Smith’s Mrs. Bromwyn, and the returning Nick Frost as Nion.

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Chris Hemsworth’s Eric the Huntsman has more time to breathe since he takes the lead role here. It is a bit hard to take Hemsworth’s performance as the Huntsman’s a bit seriously because sometimes I see him as a hammerless Thor, it’s not a bad thing, but it’s just the natural charm that he brings to his roles. Jessica Chastain, who is always reliable in anything she does and is reliable here too, but it takes just a tad bit of time to get use to the fact that she has an accent. The supporting cast of Frost,Brydon and Smith have unbelievable chemistry together and are one of the best parts of the film, and give some lightheartedness to the film.

Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron as the two queen sisters have some great scenes together. The problem is that they don’t get enough time together, despite what the trailers and promotional ads have you believe, and it is a shame really since they are two of the best actress working today. Also, for those hoping for a ton of screen time for Theron will be disappointed, as she disappears after the first ten minutes and doesn’t appear again until the final act. That being said, Emily Blunt holds down the fort for being the main queen, and is also a bit held back. Her story is a good one if the writers decided to delve more into it, but instead it is just left underdeveloped and underwhelming at the end of all of it.

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Moreover, like its predecessor, The Huntsman: Winter’s War doesn’t standout too much. The story will probably feel a bit formulaic to some, and it does slow down – with the expectation of an action sequence – right up until the end.  Also, the big thing really, The Huntsman: Winter’s War feels like it ignored some of the events in Snow White and the Huntsman, one big particular one that involves Eric’s past. It’s fine if they wanted to rewrite things or treat this like the first film never happened, but this particular piece was the driving force behind Eric in Snow White, that it doesn’t really make sense that the film would rewrite this.

All in all, The Huntsman: Winter’s War has a great cast and some pretty cool visual effects. However, Emily Blunt’s Queen Freya story feels underwritten and Charlize Theron doesn’t have a ton of screen time. Fans will find things to enjoy, but overall The Huntsman: Winter’s War may be the end of these characters. Which is a bit of a shame, because this series had huge potential.

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The Huntsman: Winter’s War

3.5 out of 5

‘The World’s End’ Review

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Dir: Edgar Wright

Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, and Rosamund Pike

Synopsis: Five friends who reunite in an attempt to top their epic pub crawl from 20 years earlier unwittingly become humankind’s only hope for survival.

 

*Review Note: This is a non-spoiler review as always.”

 

All good things must come to an end, and in this case, with a pint of beer. Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost bring an end to their so called “Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy” (or The Cornetto Trilogy) with The World’s End. The trilogy started with Shaun of the Dead then to Hot Fuzz and while the movies aren’t sequels or share the same universe (besides all being set in the U.K and have the ice cream Cornetto) the movies do share the same themes. Every movie has theme of friendship and growing up in some senses.

In the early nineties a group of five friends, led by fearless schoolboy rebel Gary King (Pegg), attempted to complete the infamous “Golden Mile.” It consists of twelve pubs and the goal for Gary is to have one beer at each. But, they have never made it to the end. Now an adult Gary convinces and drags his now estranged friends Andy (Frost), Oliver (Freeman), Peter (Marsan), and Steven (Considine) complete the journey from years past. Unfortunately for Gary all of them have grown up and are successful businessmen, husbands, and fathers but they reluctantly follow him back to their small town of Newton Haven.

But during the crawl they realize that the townsfolk are a bit different and odd. Eventually finding out (the hard way) the town has been taken over by robots impersonating their former neighbors. Already a bit buzzed at this point they decide to finish the crawl thinking they’ll be safe, but of course their not.

It’s probably going to be a bit hard for people to not compare this with the previous films and you shouldn’t. Unlike the other films, Pegg is the oddball here and not Frost. Pegg even though an adult still acts like he’s a teenager and may make him unlikeable to many viewers, which is okay. That’s kind of the point. It’s Pegg’s performance however that so great it’s fun to watch. It’s near the end that his performance shows Pegg isn’t just a comedic actor.

Interestingly at the other end, its Frost that is cast against type in the role of Andy, a corporate lawyer, a rugby player, and family man. He was once Gary’s best friend but something happened that made them drift apart. It a nice change to see the switch around and the tension between the two is fun, different, and more mature to see.

The film features plenty of familiar faces, but it’s the core of five friends that really carry it. Eddie Marsan, Paddy Considine, and Martin Freeman are all given individual moments to shine, but fit in well within the larger ensemble. Rosamund Pike is great when on screen but is given relatively little to do, though she really shows just how Gary never really grew up.

Of course, as with all of Wright’s films, everything is wrapped in a genre shell. There’s always time for a dramatic moment (that surprisingly doesn’t slow down the movie much) even if blue-blooded robots are looking to hurt our heroes. But it’s the robot design that’s pretty cool. The robots are kind of ceramic/plastic filled vessels with blue blood, and shine blue light from their eyes and mouth when angered. To an average moviegoer, it might seem lazy but combine it with Wright’s sense of style it’s pretty smart.

All in all, The World’s End is very different from the past films and steps up the game acting wise and action wise. Seriously the fights scenes in the movie caught me off guard. However, this being the last film of the Cornetto Trilogy it is truly a great way to go out.

 

 

The World’s End

4.5 out of 5