REVIEW: “Fighting With My Family”

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Seasoned wrestling fans probably remember the industry-shaking WWE debut of Paige. It was 2014 and the night after the company’s biggest event Wrestlemania. Paige, just 21 at the time, won the Women’s Chapionship (then called the Diva’s title) in her very first match becoming the youngest women’s champion in WWE history.

Paige’s career has since been marked by some enormous highs, unfortunate controversies, and a heartbreaking early retirement due to a severe neck injury. “Fighting With My Family” tells the remarkable underdog story of the young woman from Norwich, England, her eccentric blue-collar family, and her improbable rise to WWE Superstardom.

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Florence Pugh plays Paige whose real name is Saraya-Jade Bevis. She was born and raised in and around wrestling. Her parents (played by Nick Frost and Lena Headey in a crafty bit of casting) ran their own one-horse family wrestling outfit. Paige was closest to her brother Zak (Jack Lowden) and both dreamt of becoming professional wrestlers in the WWE.

While wrestling was the family business it was far from a lucrative one. Yet despite the deck being stacked against them, Paige and Zak push towards their dream with their loving and peculiar parents supporting them along the way. They finally get the call they’ve been waiting for – a chance for brother and sister to try out for the WWE. It leads to Paige being invited to go to the United States to compete for a roster spot. Zak doesn’t make the cut.

Writer-director Stephen Merchant does a good job balancing the wrestling aspect of the story with the family elements. That’s important because, as the title suggests, family is very much a fundamental part of Paige’s life. From having to leave her folks behind in England to the stress on her relationship with her heartbroken and envious brother. Merchant makes it a crucial part of his storytelling which is a steady blend of comedy and drama.

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A lot of credit should go to Pugh as well. She’s one of several young actresses working today who have shown immense talent and an understanding of their craft that goes beyond their age. Pugh effortlessly falls into a world she has admitted to knowing nothing about. You would never know it. We also get a really good Vince Vaughn performance. He plays the fictional character Hutch Morgan, a developmental trainer and talent scout who gives Paige her shot.

“Fighting With My Family” was quite the surprise. It actually packs far more heart and more character depth than I was expecting. It is a little predictable and at times you can see it needlessly stretching itself to be as crass as its PG-13 rating will allow. But it does go to show how well things can come together when you have a strong cast and a good story to tell.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

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“THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN” – 3 1/2 STARS

Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson’s “The Adventures of Tintin” has been in the works for close to 30 years. Spielberg first purchased the rights in 1983 but the main filming didn’t actually begin until 2009. Jackson produced and Spielberg directed this animated motion capture film based on the immensely popular comic book series from Belgian artist Herge. While the Tintin character is most popular in Europe, Spielberg and Jackson hope the broader exposure will result in a least two more films. There’s certainly nothing in “The Adventures of Tintin” that should discourage a sequel. But there’s also several things in the film that keep it from being as good as it could have been.

In many ways “The Adventures of Tintin” is an old-fashioned adventure with a shiny modern coat of paint. It’s a classic style, simple and straightforward adventure yarn that at times feels like an Indiana Jones treasure hunt picture. But it’s the cutting-edge motion capture and CGI animation that instantly catches your eye. The character’s gorgeous three-dimensional renderings are incredibly realistic but with just a touch of cartoony style. The animation also features an incredible level of detail. It’s seen in everything from the various around-the-world locations to the fantastic period recreation. “Tintin” is a visual treat and there’s no doubt you’ll enjoy the steady barrage of eye candy found throughout the film.

I mentioned that “Tintin” is simple and straightforward and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But I did have a few issues with the story. The movie starts with Tintin purchasing a model ship from a vender at an outdoor market. There is practically no introduction whatsoever and it seems like the movie expects you to already be familiar with the character. As someone unfamiliar with Tintin, all I learned is that he’s a journalist and adventurer and his best friend is his white dog Snowy. After buying the ship Tintin is immediately approached by two individuals who try to take it off of his hands. This leads to the discovery that the model ship may hold a clue to the whereabouts of a lost treasure. Upon seeing this, Tintin and Snowy head off on a globe-trotting adventure to find the treasure before a shady character named Sakharine does.

From there the movie launches into a frantic and almost hyperactive action romp. The film seems to move from one elaborate cinematic set piece to another, each filled with that signature well-choreographed Spielbergian action. There’s also just enough story to keep everything interesting. But I did feel the movie start to lag in the middle especially during a long series of flashback scenes intended to tell the history behind the treasure and it’s connection to two of the characters. Speaking of characters, Tintin teams up with Captain Haddock, a drunk who loses control of his ship to Sakharine. While Haddock has a few funny moments he’s also borderline annoying at times especially when he goes off on one of his ramblings. There are also a couple of instances where his attempts at humor seem to clash with the tone of the movie. While the movie hits a few speed bumps in the middle, it quickly picks back up on its way to a wide open ending that clearly points to a sequel.

Overall “The Adventures of Tintin” is a fun time that the entire family can enjoy together. From the start, the movie jumps right into the adventure but don’t expect much of an introduction to Tintin or even any character development to speak of. And while the story is about as basic as you can get, it really only stumbles in a few places. But it’s the movie’s presentation that is the most impressive. The film looks amazing and features some of the most eye-popping CGI and visually stunning action sequences. The John Williams score doesn’t hurt either. When it comes down to it, “The Adventures of Tintin” is like several of Spielberg’s other pictures – light on story but heavy on appearance. It’s not a perfect movie but there is still plenty to latch onto and once you get onboard it’s easy to stay with it all the way.