Wrestling With My Family


Chilling in the squared circle.

(2019) Sports Biography (MGM/United ArtistsFlorence Pugh, Vince Vaughn, Dwayne Johnson, Lena Headey, Nick Frost, Jack Lowden, Kimberly Matula, Stephen Merchant, Chloe Csengery, Aqueela Zoll, Paul Wight, Eli Jane, Julia Davis, Stephen Farrelly, Hannah Rae, Theia Trinidad, Helena Holmes, Josh Myers, Thomas Whilley, Tori Ross, John Cena, Ellie Gonsalves. Directed by Stephen Merchant

 

When I first saw the trailers for this film, I thought it looked like a glorified recruitment video for the WWE – and it is. What I didn’t expect was that the movie would be as funny as it was and have the heart that it did. Then, I noticed that it was directed by Stephen Merchant, one of the co-creators of the original British The Office.

Based on the true story of the WWE wrestler Paige (real name: Saraya-Jade Bevis), it shows her formative years as a young wrestler (Pugh) in the family’s low-rent British wrestling promotion based in their home town of Norwich, the Mustard capital of England (we critics are required to know such things). She and her brother Zak (Lowden) have dreams of making it in the big leagues – World Wrestling Entertainment – and are encouraged by their ex-con turned grappler dad (Frost) and recovering ex-junkie mum (Headey).

When a WWE Scout (Vaughn) offers the two of them a try-out, it seems like their dreams will come true, but that’s quickly dashed when they offer a spot to Saraya – but not Zak. She’s loathe to go by herself but is eventually convinced to and she heads out to Orlando to the WWE training center there. Unsure whether she is living out her dream or her family’s, she struggles under the pressure but this is a movie after all, so you just know it’s going to end well.

Even armed with that foreknowledge, it’s surprising how much heart the movie has and that’s a tribute to the cast. Even Dwayne Johnson, the executive producer for the movie who recruited Merchant (who co-starred with him in The Tooth Fairy) to write and direct the film after seeing a documentary on Paige/Saraya in his hotel room while working in the UK, gets a little bit inspirational playing the Rock as an extension of himself. And, yes, the movie does seem to insinuate that if you work hard enough and have the “it” factor, you can come out of nowhere and become a WWE champion based on talent alone – which isn’t how it really works in anything, let alone professional wrestling – you still find yourself getting hit in all the feels. Yeah, it ignores the scripted nature of sports entertainment but nonetheless it will leave you with the warm fuzzies when it’s all over.

REASONS TO SEE: Pugh does a terrific job. Shows unexpected humor and heart.
REASONS TO AVOID: Probably won’t appeal to non-wrestling fans.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some crude language including sexual references, violence, and drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The real Paige was forced to retire from the ring in 2018 due to a neck injury.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Epix, Fandango Now, Google Play, Hulu, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/13/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews, Metacritic: 68/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Peanut Butter Falcon
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Root of the Problem

New Releases for the Week of December 27, 2019


LITTLE WOMEN

(Columbia) Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, Meryl Streep. Directed by Greta Gerwig

This re-imagining of the classic Louisa May Alcott novel introduces the four March sisters as they struggle to live life independently on their own terms. This could be your Best Picture at the Oscars in a couple of months, folks.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for thematic elements and brief smoking)

Good Newwz

(Zee) Akshay Kumar, Kareena Kapoor, Diljit Dosanjh, Kiara Advani. Two couples – one a blue-collar husband and wife from Mumbai and a posh wealthy couple from Paripat, are both trying to have a child at the same time and despite their personal antipathy towards each other, find themselves tied together in their quest for a baby.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Cinemark Universal Citywalk, Touchstar Southchase
Rating: PG-13 (for traumatic material including violent images)

Spies in Disguise

(20th Century Fox) Starring the voices of Will Smith, Tom Holland, Rashida Jones, Ben Mendelsohn. A suave superspy is forced to team up with a nerdy scientist when the spy is transformed into a pigeon. With the fate of the world on the line, the two opposites must learn to work together.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for action, violence and rude humor)

Uncut Gems

(A24) Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Eric Bogosian, LaKeith Stanfield. A New York City jeweler with a penchant for gambling looks to make that score that gamblers only dream about, but must balance his family, his business and his adversaries who are closing in like sharks from all sides if he is to get the ultimate win.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Lake Square, AMC New Smyrna, Cinemark Orlando, Cinemark Universal Citywalk, Cobb Daytona, Cobb Plaza Cinema, Enzian Theater, Epic Clermont, Epic Mount Dora, Epic West Volusia, Regal Ormond Beach, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pavilion Port Orange, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes, Satellite Ocean Walk, Studio Movie Grill Sunset Walk
Rating: R (for pervasive strong language, violence, some sexual content and brief drug use)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Driving License
The Mall, The Merrier
Synonyms

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE/KEY WEST:

Ip Man 4: The Finale
The Mall, The Merrier
Midnight Family

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

The Kingmaker
Mathu Vadalara

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

A Christmas Tale

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Little Women
Midnight Family
Spies in Disguise
Synonyms
Uncut Gems

Midsommar


Even hippies can do horror!

(2019) Horror (A24Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Vilhelm Blomgren, William Jackson Harper, Will Poulter, Ellora Torchia, Archie Madekwe, Henrik Norlen, Gunnel Fred, Isabelle Grill, Agnes Rase, Julia Ragnarsson, Mats Blomgren, Lars Väringer, Anna Ǻström, Hampus Hallberg, Liv Mjönes, Louise Peterhoff, Katarina Weidhagen, Björn Andrésen, Rebecka Johnston. Directed by Ari Aster

Ari Aster, with just two films under his belt (his first being last year’s acclaimed Hereditary) has become in a short time one of the leading names in horror films. His newest is very different from his last…in fact, very different than any horror movie you’re likely to see.

A group of American grad students in anthropology take up an invitation from jovial Swedish student Pelle (V. Blomgren) to attend a summer festival in a small Swedish commune above the Arctic circle. Among those going is Dani (Pugh) who is still grieving from an unimaginable tragedy, and her self-absorbed boyfriend Christian (Reynor) who in fact has tired of her emotional neediness and is looking for a way out of the relationship. His pals Josh (Harper) and Mark (Poulter) are also not keen on having the fragile Dani along on their boys’ trip to the land of beautiful blondes.

Josh at least has the excuse that he’s writing his graduate thesis on the rituals and culture of the region but soon those rituals begin to take a sinister turn. Making all of them additionally crazy is the fact that the sun never really sets at that latitude at that time of the year. As the tension builds with each ritual growing more bizarre and bloodier than the last, it becomes clear that Dani has an important role to play – assuming she survives the nine-day festival.

Aster does a masterful job of building the tension, the feeling that all is not quite well here. While the movie does run a little bit long in my opinion – my attention began to wane near the end – you almost don’t mind because of the palpable sense of dread, interspersed with scenes of unexpected graphic and bloody violence.

While some have complained that the central relationship between Dani and Christian isn’t really fleshed out, I would argue that it doesn’t need to be. We know all we need to know and we can focus on the more meaty material within. Aster did a bang-up job on research and while the movie was filmed mostly in Hungary, it does a great job of conjuring up rural Scandinavia.

I don’t want to get into too much detail about what happens during the course of the film – the less you know, the more impact it will have – and giving it a more thorough review might well spoil some of the surprises therein. However, suffice to say that this is not only one of the best horror movies of the year, it is one of the best films of the year period. If you aren’t the squeamish sort, this is worth checking out.

REASONS TO SEE: A very creepy vibe. Clearly well-researched. Swedes are batshit crazy! Increases the “something is rotten in Sweden” tone exponentially.
REASONS TO AVOID: Just a little bit too long.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some disturbing images, ritualistic violence, graphic nudity, sexuality, brief drug use and profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Most of the Swedish spoken in the film is deliberately not subtitled, giving the audience the same set of isolation and confusion that the English-speaking characters must have felt.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/30/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 83% positive reviews: Metacritic: 72/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Wicker Man
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT:
Day 4 of Six Days of Darkness!

New Releases for the Week of July 5, 2019


SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME

(Columbia/Marvel) Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Cobie Smulders, Jake Gyllenhaal, JB Smoove, Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau. Directed by Jon Watts

The first post-Snap Marvel Cinematic Universe movie sees Spider-Man going on a school trip to Europe where he is recruited by SHIELD to face an interdimensional threat.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi violence, some language and brief suggestive moments)

Midsommar

(A24) Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgran. A grieving young American couple head to Sweden with a group of friends to take place in a once-in-a-lifetime summer festival in a remote Swedish village near the Arctic circle. But when the festivities get underway in a land of non-stop sunlight, something malignant and evil is plainly afoot.

See the trailer, clips and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for disturbing ritualistic violence and grisly images, strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

The 16th Episode
Framing John DeLorean
Oh Baby

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Framing John DeLorean
In the Aisles
My Days of Mercy
Oh Baby
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am
Wild Rose

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Breaker
Oh Baby

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Oh Baby

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Midsommar
Spider-Man: Far From Home
Wild Rose

Lady Macbeth


Here comes the bride.

(2016) Drama (Roadside Attractions) Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Paul Hilton, Naomi Ackie, Christopher Fairbank, Golda Rosheuvel, Anton Palmer, Rebecca Manley, Fleur Houdjik, Cliff Burnett, David Kirkbride, Bill Fellows, Nicholas Lumley, Raymond Finn, Ian Conningham, Finn Burridge, Jack Robertson, Kima Sikazwe, Elliott Sinclair, Andrew Davis, Alan Billingham, Joseph Teague. Directed by William Oldroyd

 

In A Chorus Line, Cassie warbles “Can’t forget, won’t regret what I did for love.” The sentiment strikes a chord in most of us; we mostly will do just about anything for love. If all is fair in love and war as the saying goes, some of us will do unspeakable things for love.

Katherine (Pugh) really doesn’t know what love is and she wants someone to show her. The daughter of hard economic times, her family essentially sold her to wealthy Alexander (Hilton) and more to the point, his cold and demanding father Boris (Fairbank). She is treated pretty much like chattel, ordered to stay indoors – fresh air apparently being anathema to both father and son, although I suspect it is more of a control thing than a health thing.

When both Alexander and Boris are called away from the chilly, drafty home in the north of England on business, Katherine asserts herself as the lady of the manor, going out on long walks on the moor. Her Anglo-African maid Anna (Ackie), who is mostly mute, is witness to her transgressions but seems sympathetic. One afternoon she rescues a nude Anna from the abuse of the stable staff, particularly from Sebastian (Jarvis), an arrogant groomer. He later creeps into her room, presumably to rape her but she ends up seducing him and the two begin a torrid affair. It doesn’t go unnoticed.

When Boris returns home, he is nearly apoplectic and Katherine realizes that while her father-in-law and husband (who hasn’t consummated their marriage yet – to date all he’s done is masturbate while she stands naked facing the wall) live, she can never be with Sebastian. She therefore embarks on a course that is born out of equal parts desperation and terrible resolve.

Oldroyd – whose name sounds like a Jane Austen character – is known mostly for his stage direction, but you’d never know it here. Even though much of the action is limited to the fairly large house, the film never feels stagey although it is occasionally claustrophobic – purposely so, as no doubt Katherine is feeling restrained.

Initially, this feels like an adaptation of an Austen novel – I was surprised to discover that it’s actually an adaptation of a Russian novel – but as the movie wears on the feel changes. During the course of the movie Katherine does increasingly terrible things to the point where it becomes hard to have any sort of rooting interest in her. I began to think of the film as Quentin Tarantino’s Jane Austen – this is very much how I would imagine that Tarantino would direct an Austen-like thriller.

The pacing is pretty stately; at times it seems like the storyline is barely moving at all. There are endless scenes of Katherine sitting in boredom watching the clock on the wall or falling asleep. The point is made, Mr. Oldroyd. There are also elements of the story that are rather bewildering; Katherine, for example, being sexually attracted to a man who is obviously an utter bastard; how quickly she turns upon people who she supposedly cares about. At the end of the day, she ends up being an utter sociopath and because of her social status, society assumes that her claims are true and those of her servants are lies.

This is very much a class-conscious film and given that Sebastian is of mixed ancestry and that Anna is fully of African descent adds the race card in addition to the class card.. The most sympathy is reserved for Anna who really gets the shaft at the end of the film – something that African-American audiences know only too well. We even end up with some sympathy for Sebastian although once you think about what a rotten human being he is at the beginning of the film, that sympathy is somewhat tempered.

The acting here is actually quite swell and this may very well be a breakout role for Pugh. She has to play a role that is both sympathetic and not; at first, she is treated like a possession, little more than a slave to her husband and father-in-law and an ornament who is  meant to shine brightly without making much noise. However as her evil deeds begin to multiply it is difficult to see her as anything but an amoral sociopath. We question if she does all this for love of another, or for her own freedom. You get your answer to that by film’s end.

It should be noted there is a scene in which a horse is shot. The plot point is necessary to the film but the scene is done with particular brutality and is rather graphic. Those sensitive to animal suffering should be forewarned before going to see this. I found it unnerving myself although it is I must admit effectively staged, giving the audience an idea just how cold-blooded Katherine and Sebastian have become to that point.

That end is nothing like what you’ll expect. I don’t know how close it is to the ending of the original Nikolai Leskov story having never read it myself but certainly this didn’t go the way I expected. It’s certainly a lesson on class distinctions (and nobody understood that better than the citizens of Imperial Russia) but it is also a look at the effects of love as a kind of madness. As the Russians are wont to do, it is a bit of a downer but it also is a fascinating character study.

REASONS TO GO: The performances are uniformly solid. The story doesn’t go in the direction you expect it to.
REASONS TO STAY: The pacing is extremely slow and the plot is occasionally bewildering.
FAMILY VALUES: There is quite a bit of nudity, sex and sexuality; there’s also a scene of animal abuse.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although set in England during the Regency era, the movie is actually based on a Russian novel, Lady Macbeth of Mtensk by Nikolai Leskov.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/4/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 89% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mansfield Park
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Brave New Jersey