REVIEW: “FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY” (2019) MGM

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A movie, whether based on a true story or fictional one, may be a blend of both facts and fictionalized scenes and events. “FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY” seems to be case in point depending on whom you speak to.  But instead of pointing out fact v. fiction, just sit back watch and enjoy this one folks.  Let go of the being overly critical all the time as ‘Fighting with my Family’ might have its flaws and not be completely true down to the line, it definitely does have its charms.

Probably the first thing you will do is a double take on the director and writer and make sure if it is THE Stephen Merchant doing triple duty here writing/directing/starring in this film. Turns out it is, which immediately ups the ‘interesting’ level a notch or two.  Even more crazy is to think that Merchant did not know a thing about wrestling before taking on the project.

Inspired by the story of the Knight family, the film tells the story of Saraya “Paige” Bevis (Florence Pugh) and her desire to become a female wrestler.  With the odds against her, along with a family of completely wrestling crazed parents in dad Ricky (Nick Frost), mom Julia (Lena Heady) and brother Zak (Jack Lowden), all of whom put on wrestling shows and train others in Norwich, a small suburb in the UK.  Paige and her brother get called up for a WWE tryout, but with only Paige making the cut, Zak is completely devastated and Paige must deal with not only this, but the drastic change her life is taking and the hard road to living out her dream of being a WWE Superstar.

The next hour is filled with what it’s like to attend the WWE school of hard knocks led by Hutch (Vince Vaughn), and how to alienate and then make best friends with your competition.  This part can sometimes just be all to consuming as we’ve seen this type of story many times before.  Overcoming adversity to win the challenge at the end and it’s here that the film can’t help feeling clichéd. The saving grace here is the flashbacks to Zak being left behind in Norwich and where his life is heading, or seemingly not heading to and it’s got some truly lovely, heartwarming story line.  But training montage footage galore, sibling rivalry leading to a profound confrontation that resolves the issue, and the underdog overcoming the odds gives no surprises to the ending.   Now of course, it’s going to pump in the Hollywood magic to try to help the movie. The Rock is throughout the movie, and while he wasn’t truly vital to Paige’s career, his scenes are fun. The actors do an amazing job with their roles, and have very good comedic chemistry. This movie is witty and charming but at times, it’s all over the place.

The initial presentation of the Knight family rang true, authentic and affable. Putting it in their actual home was a good idea. Frost and Headey were great in the roles as Paige’s parents and Puge did a very good job as Paige. Lowden as her brother made a good mentor, but it also tried to take the high road and make Paige an angelic character.  However, from what I understand, if you are a fan of Paige or the Knight family at all, you will quickly start to see fictionalized moments, exaggerations and inaccuracies. These are something that as a viewer who has no knowledge of the wrestling world, will not impact in the slightest.  No matter this situation, everyone will recognize names such as Hulk Hogan and ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin – and of course The Rock with his signature “If you smell what The Rock is cooking” done a few times for good measure – makes you realize how far this guy has come.

Overall, the film maintains a good balance of comedy and drama and you don’t need to know anything about WWE or sports entertainment to enjoy the film. Merchant does a good job for his first run here.

Grade: C+

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Review Screening Monday, February 11, 2019 ~  courtesy of LAFTV meetup

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REVIEW: “TABLE 19” (2017) Fox Searchlight

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Director Jeffrey Blitz and The Duplass Brothers writing team takes the approach with this one that I know many wedding guests would prefer – skip the wedding and head straight to the reception. Another wise move is assembling a very talented ensemble of funny folks. This cast proves they can get a laugh from dialogue and moments that would probably otherwise not elicit much of an audience reaction because frankly, it’s only the fact that they are talented that makes it happen.

The initial set-up drags a bit as we are introduced to the characters that will soon enough populate the dreaded Table 19 at the reception. Tony Revolori is Renzo, the longing for love high schooler who might be a bit too close to his mother (voiced by Margo Martindale). Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson are Bina & Jerry Kepp, a mostly unhappily married couple who own and run a diner together. June Squibb is Jo Flanagan, the bride’s long-forgotten nanny who sees and knows more than most. Stephen Merchant plays the outcast nephew/cousin Walter Thimple, who has been recently released from his prison sentence for white collar crime. Lastly we have Anna Kendrick as Eloise McGarry, the fired maid of honor and former girlfriend of the bride’s brother Teddy (Wyatt Russell), who also happens to be the best man and is now dating the new maid of honor Nikki (Amanda Crew)
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This is the island of misfit wedding guests known as Table 19, and purposefully placed in the back corner as far as possible from the family and the other more ‘favoured’ guests. Of course we know immediately that this Team Reject will unite for some uplifting purpose at some point. Comedic timing in a group setting can often come across on screen as forced, and it’s a kudos to the cast that can bypass that..somewhat. Stephen Merchant is our shining star here on that note with his droll Brit humour.

Make no mistake though, this is Anna Kendrick’s movie. She plays Eloise as we would imagine Anna Kendrick in this real life situation. Sure, a wedding reception is low-hanging fruit for comedy, but it’s the third act where Kendrick comes up with comedy drawn from emotional pain, because we’ve all been there and thankfully can look back and laugh at it. The melo-dramatic moments that creep in are oh-so-predictable, but that doesn’t mean it’s all lost. The scenes with Kendrick and Russell are best at the emotional part, but not enough so that it would really leave you wishing for more. In actuality that’s where this film slips up. I was hoping for more comedy, less emotional drama and while we get about a 2/3 – 1/3 ratio of drama to comedy, I wish it would have gone the direction of more laughs as the emotional front isn’t enough to sustain the film as a whole.
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Don’t worry though, the film features the required wedding cake mishap, a flirtatious hot-Brit wedding crasher named Huck with a secret of his own (Thomas Cocquerel) and a drunken mother of the bride (Becky Ann Baker) singing karaoke to Etta James’ “At Last”. It’s designed to be a crowd-pleaser, and while it doesn’t quite step up enough to really down and out laugh, it does somewhat succeed as rom-com-ish with a blend of silly, cute, and emotional tugs. Just not enough laughs.

Grade: C-
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Media Review Screening: Wednesday, March 1, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Fox Searchlight
Nationwide Release: Friday, March 3, 2017

Thanks all for taking the time to give this a read. Let me know your thoughts if you liked this film or not. Don’t forget to give this page a follow or a follow on twitter as well @pegsatthemovies. Cheers!

REVIEW: “LOGAN” (2017) 20th Century Fox

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First and foremost – you don’t need to stay for the end credits! And with that important piece of information out of the way…. We all know that Wolverine solo films are always a completely different type of story, sometimes good and sometimes so-so, and in some way or another do link themselves up to the X-Men films. This one is no different and I’m keeping it simple and not spelling out the whole plotline or giving out spoilers, because no one ever should and every X-Men fan should just be able to go watch for themselves.

For seventeen years, we’ve been watching the life and career of Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) in the movies. And we have all grown a bit older. Nevertheless, it is surprising to see that mutants also grow old. And then what? This film answers a lot of questions about what happens to the mutants when the many struggles have left scars on the body and soul that no longer heal. Like the dementia that has struck Charles Xavier/Professor X (Patrick Stewart). Who ends up caring for them as they really have no family other than each other. These questions are all answered for you in James Mangold’s third part of the Wolverine series as it presents not only its history, but a storyline of the how the X-Men concludes.

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To start off with, Logan plays 25 years in the future in the year 2029 and in an America that appears almost post-apocalyptic. Trump’s wall is not built, there are the old border fences. But otherwise the society seems to be one in which, if perhaps unintentionally, could well be the result of the new American policy. The mutants have been persecuted for a long time and only a few remain. Those who do, hide. Logan himself is now a limousine driver on the American-Mexican border. His residence: remote Mexico in an old factory. Here, with only the albino-mutant tracker Caliban (Stephen Merchant) to provide care, he hides Professor X, on whom dementia has taken a toll which leads to problems with his telekinetic brain. If he is not constantly medicated with the drugs that Logan is getting on the black market, his attacks can and do trigger seismic activities that can kill hundreds of people. Logan himself is as he always was: cranky, constantly pissed and always on guard. But he too is aging. His powers have been dimishing now for some time, his body is littered with scars. And with declining healing power, the adamantium he was injected with years before is slowly poisoning him and he relieves the pain with a constant consumption of alcohol. It feels as though these last few mutants are just waiting for the end to happen when there will be none of them left.

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But then comes Laura (Dafne Keen). The young girl is a mutant, even if an artificially created one, who escapes the Transigen labroratory she’s been created in with the help of a nurse, Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez). She needs Logan’s help to quickly get to a certain place in North Dakota, which she knows only from the old X-Men comic books. Of course though, there is an army of mercenaries from the lab lead by Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant) after them.
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Logan is a somewhat unusual hybrid film. What first catches your eye is the violence that this film entails. It surpasses the predecessors in a big way with this. And it’s the one part that truly bothered me as it’s done mostly with kids. Not 13-15 year olds, but kids around the ages of 9-12 years old. I found it somewhat disturbing to say the least watching countless people slaughtered here, by kids. Dozens of times we see claws hitting heads, limbs are cut off, people mutilated. Trust me when I tell you this is no “family-friendly” film here, Logan has been given an R rating and is worthy of it. While the film has kids in it, it’s not a film to take your children to.

Oddly enough with all the violence of the film is somewhat counteracted as Logan goes a very different way. Apart from the usual slaughter, there is hardly any use of mutant forces. It’s much more melancholy than I’ve ever seen an X-Men film be. Logan is a work about the aging, about the pain which determined the last days of these mutants, who have lost everything even though they tried so hard to save it all. It is a film about people who are tired and the world has nothing left to offer and who no longer have the power to revolt against a society they do not want. Logan and Xavier are tragic heroes in the classic Shakespearian sense. Their common friendship, which is almost that of a father-son relationship, is what makes Logan really interesting on a human and emotional level. The two have only each other and Logan nurses him at the end of his days. It is quite unusual to see these once powerful characters as they are here in this film weakened by age and illness.

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Mangold pulls the perfect ending for the X-Men. Of all the mutants and superheroes, they have always distinguished themselves as those who have fought for their dignity and humanity during their lives. And while the film has a few points at the beginning that didn’t flow well right off, it’s a satisfyingly dignified and yes, surprisingly sad finish.

Grade: B
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Media Review Screening: Thursday, February 16th, 2016 ~ Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
Nationwide Release: Friday, March 3, 2017

Thanks all for taking the time to give this a read. Let me know your thoughts if you liked this film or not. Don’t forget to give this page a follow or a follow on twitter as well @pegsatthemovies. Cheers!