Fighting With My Family

The world of professional wrestling can be a pretty misunderstood, and often maligned industry from an outsider’s perspective. A strange world of larger than life characters throwing each other around a ring in orchestrated matches with pre-ordained outcomes often stands out as the principle point of contention. In truth it’s just another expression of soap opera, just ramped up and even more outrageous. Needless to say – other than in documentary form – it’s been largely overlooked as a valid subject/art form to put to film. Fighting With My Family however, goes behind the scenes to tell the story of a wrestling family who sacrifice everything for their passion, and their daughter who made good on their strivings and ambitions.

The film follows the Knight family running their small wrestling promotion in Norwich. Playing small school halls and working mens clubs, their two children, Zak (Jack Lowden) and Saraya (Florence Pugh), dream of climbing the ladder to the zenith of their sport: World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). The dream of following in the footsteps of their childhood idols becomes a reality when the company invite them both to tryout at a pay-per-view event in London. Unfortunately, they are separated when only Saraya gets selected. Her adventures and challenges begin when she is flown out to Florida for the WWE’s intense training camp.

The story becomes about so much more than just wrestling though, it’s a film about family, sibling love and rivalry, fitting in and seizing opportunities. What on the surface might seem like a story about a form of entertainment that many have no interest in, is in truth much deeper and heartfelt than that. It’s got a pretty universal message running through its core about relationships, family connection, chasing dreams and the challenges of being separated from loved ones. Through his writing and direction, Stephen Merchant has brought these elements together and unites them with his recognisable blend of humour and humanity. The end result is a film that is surprisingly touching.

Making this workable relies on good writing, but equally good casting. Striking a balance between humour and the more sincere elements requires a cast that can tread that divide delicately. Presenting the right amount of poignancy alongside the comedy is a key blend that needs to work seamlessly.

Combining actors from predominantly comedic backgrounds – such as Nick Frost, Vince Vaughn and Stephen Merchant himself – with more traditional actors – Lena Headey and Jack Lowden – makes for a much stronger dramatic hybrid amalgamation. Throw in the charismatic presence of Dwayne Johnson – playing both primary facets of his career: actor and wrestler – alongside the exciting up and coming talent of Florence Pugh and you have the healthy blend of styles and voices that hold this story together so well.

As with most dramas with a strong comedic bent, it treads a fine line between serious and outlandish. It’s not always the easiest blend to get right, fortunately this film – for the most part – finds the balance nicely. To a British audience, the film carries an additionally familiar feel in its capturing of ordinary council estate life in an average British city. That distinctly British atmosphere and its culture clashes with Floridian/American life for a girl very much out of her familiar world is all captured with a touching honesty beyond my expectations of this film

In truth, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this film going in; I grew up enjoying wrestling, so there was always a sense that I would enjoy it nostalgically at the very least, but it was a much more pleasant surprise than just that. It was genuinely enjoyable on its own merits, regardless of my wrestling memories. The solid performances throughout, a script that works well and plenty of wrestling scenes and references throughout – plus a few guest spots – make this a crowd pleaser whatever interest level you come into this with. Fighting With My Family is an enjoyable film on a number of levels and above all, it’s just a genuinely entertaining viewing experience.

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On The Basis of Sex

Following on from the release of the Oscar nominated documentary, RBG, On The Basis of Sex sees Mimi Leder take on the story of the legendary Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsberg. The film charts her journey from promising Harvard law student, along her rise to prominence and on to the case that truly established her as a significant legal voice in America’s justice system. But how well does the film capture RBG’s character and determination?

Following RBG’s legal beginnings at Harvard Law School at a time when women were barely accepted to study in any more than a token gesture, it shows how hard she had to work just to gain fair acknowledgment or any consideration for a job. But having taken a position as a professor at a college, and with the support and encouragement of her husband and children behind her, she is able to keep working towards her ambitions of practicing law. Eventually, her perseverance lands her a case that allows her to truly begins her work in establishing gender as a case of civil rights.

At this stage of her career Felicity Jones has started to carve out an identity as a safe pair of hands in strong supporting roles. From her supporting roles in The Theory of Everything (2014) to A Monster Calls (2016) she has become a trustworthy actress, capable of bringing credence and honesty to the characters she portrays and raise those she shares the screen with.

Other than Chalet Girl (2011), Jones has yet to hold another principle lead role in a major film, so this was a breakout stand alone role for her and there could be few more inspiring roles in which to make this career progression. Despite RBG’s inimitable character and personality, she inhabits the role well, capturing her essence beautifully as the forcefully determined, yet dignified presence that she is. Jones manages to fittingly reflect RBG’s almost innate ability to balance the challenges of parenthood with the almost insurmountable workload of her studies and legal work.

Alongside Jones, Armie Hammer – playing her husband Martin – is a strong and able support and counterpoint to her performance throughout. His calm and assured presence helps capture their shared focuses and determination but equally his unwavering support and belief. When viewed alongside RBG – and the family’s recollections of Martin’s life – Hammer’s performance can be seen to be an excellent encapsulation of the couple’s real relationship.

Following the growth of the ‘#metoo’ movement, it is important to look for figureheads, influential icons of the women’s rights movement to celebrate and acknowledge for the tireless ground work they lay down as foundations for today’s movements. Ruth Bader Ginsberg is just a figure, and remains so, as a current serving supreme court justice. The importance of this picture was in getting her representation right and telling her story in an emotive and important tone that is indicative of her and her standing in modern American history.

In that light, it is right that the direction of this film was taken on by a female director. Mimi Leder does a terrific job bringing this story together without collapsing into fawning romanticism that would have weakened the representation. What Leder and Felicity Jones collectively achieve thankfully, is to truly imbue this portrayal with the force and determination that fuels her, and to show her formidable willpower whilst showing her human weaknesses too. She is well rounded, human and honestly portrayed and that is to the film’s credit. Actor and director combine so well to take this significant life and showcase it with honesty.

As biopics go, On The Basis of Sex is nothing especially groundbreaking, but it does carry a poise and dignity of storytelling that compliments its protagonist beautifully. The film didn’t completely grasp me throughout and there were points where it lagged a little bit but overall, it retained its sense of character which is an admirable feat.

Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s aforementioned documentary RBG worked better on the whole in telling Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s story, but this film certainly brought an added dimension to her character and biography. All in all it’s a fascinating film about an incredible woman and her equally incredible life; a very worthwhile watch.

Best Picture Candidate #8: Vice

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.”

These were the wise and prescient words spoken by John Dalberg-Acton back in 1887. They are perhaps more remarkable for the fact that they appear to be a fundamental truth when considering how little this aspect of human life has altered over time. Continue reading

Best Picture Candidate #3: Bohemian Rhapsody

“Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” when considering Bohemian Rhapsody’s inclusion in the Best Picture running, this hypothetical question from the self-same song seems a valid one. A film that is, at best, an ok biopic with a strong lead performance is far from worthy of being in the discussion, but then again, the Academy has been guilty of a fair number of collective lapses of consciousness when compiling their contenders lists over the years. Does anyone remember Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close’s nomination in 2012 or American Sniper in 2015? Come to think of it, does anyone even remember Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close? Continue reading

Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour Poster“We shall fight on the beaches… We will never surrender.” We’ve heard this famous speech many a time in our lifetimes, and a few times in cinemas already this year too; we heard it in Jonathan Teplitzky’s biopic Churchill, we heard them again in Dunkirk and we’ve heard them once more in another Best Picture candidate, The Darkest Hour. There seems to have been an abundance of films featuring Winston Churchill released in the past 12 months, and all focusing in on the same fascinating period of history where Britain teetered on the brink of losing the Second World War. In the enigmatic hands of Gary Oldman, in something of a magnum opus role, Churchill has rarely proved quite as engaging, and with Joe Wright – the director of wartime saga, Atonement – at the helm, it would seem a strong candidate has been formed for multiple awards. Can it fulfil the ambition of the project though, and does it add any fresh mythos to the legend of the man. Continue reading

The Disaster Artist 

Disaster Artist PosterThere’s good films, there’s bad films, there’s plenty of indifferent films and then there’s The Room. Tommy Wiseau’s iconically bad film has become a legendary cult classic for film fans worldwide, it has regularly sold out late night screenings as well as developing its own sub-culture since its release in 2003. The enigmatic mind of Tommy Wiseau has long fascinated fans and critics alike, a man with unknown heritage who came out of nowhere to bankroll an entire filming project to the tune of $6 million before disappearing back into his cult status. Now the fascinating story of this infamous film and the unique friendship of its two lead men is brought to the screen itself in The Disaster Artist. Continue reading

Stronger

Stronger PosterIn the aftermath of the tragic Boston bombings of 2013, something wonderful rose up via social media and through into mainstream culture, a city unified against terror began to wear the mantle of ‘Boston Strong’ with a ferocious pride. That hashtag became a rallying cry for the city and embodied by survivors of the attack. People like Jeff Bauman, who on the off chance had headed down to cheer on his future wife Erin as she ran the marathon. In one horrific moment, his world changed when a bomb hidden in a rucksack exploded and in the process blew the bottom half of both of Jeff’s legs off. The subsequent image snapped in the chaotic aftermath of the bombing of an ashen-faced Jeff being helped by bystander Carlos Arredondo wheeling him away for medical assistance, became a symbol of Boston’s collective strength, and the strength and goodness of people in the face of evil. Continue reading