Movies: Fighting With My Family Review

March 16, 2019

When it comes to movies, one thing I’ve learned over the years is that biopics are rarely entirely accurate. Even in the last six months, popular releases like Bohemian Rhapsody and Stan & Ollie have come under varying degrees of fire for fictionalising events for the sake of telling a story.

And that’s fine; in both those examples because I wasn’t a big fan going in,  I didn’t know any better and enjoyed them for what they were.

At the same time though, I suppose I can understand why people who are knowledgeable about Queen or Laurel & Hardy might have had a wee grumble.

With that in mind, as someone who has watched wrestling for a number of years – even though now I’m down to watching maybe four shows per year – I definitely noticed a number of inaccuracies in WWE Studios’ new movie, Fighting With My Family.

Based on the story of how Saraya Knight made it to the WWE roster as Paige – and to a lesser extent how her brother didn’t – there were definitely a number of examples of creative license used to sell the story they wanted to sell.

For example, when Paige finally makes her main roster debut, it’s presented like she was dumbstruck, that the crowd didn’t know who she was and that it was essentially her first time wrestling in front of an audience. Now this simply isn’t true, especially considering the post-Wrestlemania crowd was full of British fans who knew exactly who she was. Plus, she was the champion of the WWE’s feeder organisation that had its on show.

Further to that, WWE – perhaps understandably – presented itself as this wonderful inspirational organisation where hard work makes dreams come true. And I think anyone with a working knowledge of the wrestling business knows that’s true.

Finally, the character Vince Vaughn played was entirely fictional.

But hey, whether or not it was painstakingly true to reality does not determine how enjoyable a movie it was, and I thought it was very good.

It was funny and engaging and sold the story it wanted to sell – a story that people who aren’t familiar with WWE wouldn’t doubt – in a neat way.

I think the best parts of it were what we saw of the Knight family in England and the huge difference between the glitz of American wrestling and the carny nature of the UK industry.

The actors were all good as well, with Florence Pugh a standout as Saraya/Paige and even though Nick Frost and Stephen Merchant just played the same parts they always do, they brought some light relief.

That the movie took the time to focus on Paige’s brother Zak and explored how low it made him feel to be rejected was smart, because it added an extra layer of depth, without which the whole thing would have felt too light.

So yeah, it might not be the most painstakingly accurate biopic I’ve ever seen, but then how many really are? If the idea is to sell a story that punters enjoy, then this did the job.

I’d recommend it.


Movies: Happy Death Day 2U Review

February 19, 2019

Well January finished with me going to see one single movie at the cinema, meaning that my Unlimited Card proved to be a waste of money for that month.

To be blunt, I don’t think there was anything else that was even on my radar, which is a pity.

And now with February almost come and gone, it looks like I won’t get value for money on it once again.

But there was one movie I wanted to see, and that was Happy Death Day 2U.

Why Did I Go To See It?: Because I loved the first one. The original Happy Death Day was hands down my favourite movie of 2017.

Was It Good?: Absolutely. Just like the first movie, I decided to go to the cinema not having any idea what it was about, or even how they could make a sequel out of it. But as it turned out, even though it used exactly the same cast, in exactly the same setting on exactly the same day, Happy Death Day 2U manages to work. By explaining why the events of the first movie happened and then setting it in a parallel universe where things are slightly different for Tree, it was both familiar and fresh.

And it was humorous too. Little things like the way the guy comes out of his room to tell the guy to shut up made me chuckle throughout.

It wasn’t flawless – the Dean of the university was absurd and there were some things that didn’t make much sense even if you allow for the daftness of the premise – but it was fun, and surely that’s what people want from a movie like this? The actors also looked like they were having a whale of a time, which always helps.

But Was It Worth Seeing At The Cinema?: Absolutely. Having enjoyed the first one as much as I did, I would happily have paid full price to go to see Happy Death Day 2U. And if I had, I wouldn’t have been short changed.

Put simply, I thought it was great and if you enjoyed the first one, you’ll enjoy this one as well.


Movies: Stan & Ollie Review

January 17, 2019

If you read my post the other day about the value – or lack thereof – of a Cineworld Unlimited card, you’ll know that I’m going to try to see more movies this year and then decide if it’s worth keeping it on.

To help structure that in my own mind – and hopefully to create a workable and easy to read format for you readers to digest – my movie reviews will ask a few basic questions, which will then help me decide on whether or not that trip had value, or indeed an opportunity cost.

First up is Stan & Ollie.

Why Did I Go To See It?: This is a movie I’ve been looking forward to since I first saw a trailer for it in about September last year. While I’ll hold my hands up and admit I’ve never seen a Laurel & Hardy movie, I do enjoy a biopic and have a fascination with the behind the scenes lifestyles of showbiz stars from ‘back in the day’, by which I mean before everything became so stage-managed in the 90s onwards.

Was It Good?: Yes it was. Not only was it well acted by all concerned – especially the two stars, Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly – but the premise itself made for intriguing viewing. Imagine a situation today where a world-famous showbiz double act got back together 16 years after their pomp; it would be global news. And yet the two of them ended up going on an initially under-sold tour of small theatres in the UK. It was only after they got the word out and made people realise it was actually them on tour that business picked up.

The movie also touched upon the relationship between the pair and the inevitable end of their partnership thanks to Hardy’s failing health. All told, it was a nice, well told story.

But Was It Worth Seeing At The Cinema?: Ah, now that is the question. You’ve got to remember that a trip to the cinema costs money, whether that’s the purchase of a ticket on the day or the monthly cost of an unlimited card divided by the amount of movies you’ve seen in a month.

So on that note, was this movie worth the opportunity cost, relative to however else the money or time could have been used?

Stan & Ollie was good, but it was gentle. It wasn’t exciting and it didn’t leave me thinking that it was especially worth the trip. It also felt a bit padded out in spite of only being about 90 minutes long.

What’s key about it is that it’s a movie co-produced by the BBC and if I’m honest, I don’t think this felt like anything more than the sort of thing you’d expect to be shown on BBC1 on a Sunday evening.

Surely a trip to the cinema has to mean more than that?

I would say that I enjoyed it, but that it was by no means the sort of movie I couldn’t have waited to watch in a few months when it inevitably finds its way on to streaming services or TV.

As such, I’m not entirely convinced it was worth the trip.


Trial Of The Cineworld Card: After 2018 Was Such A Lousy Year At The Cinema, Is An Unlimited Card Worth It Anymore?

January 14, 2019

I’ve always had this belief that trips to the cinema cost me nothing, thanks to my Cineworld Unlimited card. I mean…they obviously cost me something but because the money has come out of my account through direct debit every month since October 2002, I’ve never really noticed it.

But when I sat down to consider what my top 5 movies of 2018 were, I realised three things.

  1. There was no stand out movie that I really enjoyed in 2018
  2. Probably the best ones I did see were on NetFlix
  3. I only used my unlimited card 14 times.

So not only did each trip to the cinema cost me an average of £15 – a regular ticket price is around £9 – I didn’t even see one movie that stood out as being worth the admission price.

What a waste of money.

It’s made me consider the value of keeping the card going.

The entertainment landscape has changed so much since I got the card in 2002, for a number of reasons including…

  1. The television industry has left Hollywood trailing in its wake, both in terms of the quality and freshness of what’s on offer and also the quality of acting and storytelling.
  2. Most movies are released to the home consumer far quicker than back then.
  3. Movies have become stuck in a rut of repeated franchises and re-imagined blockbusters
  4. The ability to watch a movie in the comfort of your own home with a big screen and high quality sound has improved massively
  5. The price of one trip to the cinema in Dundee – and in Dundee it’s a lot cheaper than London for example – is the same as the price of a NetFlix subscription for a month.

Then on top of that, there are other things to consider too, like the unavoidable fact of life that at the age of 36 I have less time available to do things like go to the cinema than I did at the age of 20, and the free time I do have is probably better spent doing other things more sociable.

Most of my mates stopped going to the cinema years ago for that very reason, while the friends and family members who do go now only go for special event movies like a new Star Wars. My dad considers that there are two tiers of movie; the sort you need to see now and the sort that you’d be happy to watch at home a few months later. I never used to agree with him, but I do now.

For me, 2016 was a renaissance year for the Cineworld card because I had just started going out with a girl who also had one, and it was an easy, cheap and obvious date.

But as we got to know each other more and found more shared interests and activities, the desire to spend as many dates at Cineworld watching movies that had no grabbing appeal diminished. Now in 2019 we live together and the prospect of us both going out to the cinema together when we’re either both too busy to do it or too tired to want to go out means that it’s diminished further.

So what’s the point? Why am I still paying for the card?

I really don’t know, so it’s definitely going on trial.

I’m only going to go to Cineworld for movies I genuinely want to see; the “I may as well since I’ve paid for it” mantra that cardholders often cite will no longer be a reason to go.

After each movie I do see, I’ll tally up how much it’s cost me and whether it was worth that money. If after six months I haven’t had value, then I’ll bin it.

And I have to say, it’s not looking good for it…


The Rocky Movies Ranked.

December 23, 2018

My girlfriend Mhairi and I have been together for three years as of last Wednesday and this year we’ve bought a house together.

So I decided that I would take our relationship to the next level recently and made her do something that she has resisted doing for so long; make her do something that I’ve always been dead keen on but that she herself thought might be painful and not particularly enjoyable for her.

Obviously, I’m talking about making her watch the Rocky movies with me.

You knew that, didn’t you?

Anyway, having watched them all again over a period of a couple of weeks, I felt it was time to rank them for this blog.

My enjoyment of a Rocky movie comes down to a few key factors in no particular order…

  • Plot
  • Training Montages
  • Opponent/Other Characters
  • Music
  • How much screen time Adrian gets

I’m not too interested in how it’s filmed or how much inner truth the director gets out of the characters. Call me superficial, but I believe a Rocky movie is about the reason for the fight, time devoted to the build up to the fight, some drama in the fight itself, some good music throughout and as little of Adrian as possible.

There’s no question that Rocky’s awful shrew of a wife is the worst aspect of the franchise, thanks both to the character being so annoying and Talia Shire being such an awful actress.

I understand that she is an important part of Rocky himself, but I don’t care. Less Adrian = Better Movie.

Mhairi disagrees with we on Adrian by the way, as she thinks he helps balance the movies, but I’m resolute on the matter.

Anyway, on to the rankings and you’ll be shocked to read what comes last…

8th. Rocky V

Here’s a Rocky movie with no boxing match for Rocky, no training montages, no opponent and a lot of Adrian moaning. She also stops washing her hair to sell the point that she’s moved from a mansion to a reasonably sized house.

Obviously it was always going to finish last on this list.

But I had forgotten just how bad Rocky V was until I watched it again.

Dreadful acting from all concerned, far too much calling back to the first movie, too many major plot threads – none of which were interesting – that didn’t have enough time devoted to them, and it ended with a crappy fight outside a pub. Yay.

While it’s not inconceivable that Rocky could lose all his money, it is inconceivable that he would have no means of earning anything else. It’s also ridiculous that his son aged five years while Rocky was in Russia fighting Drago.

Although it wouldn’t take much to make Rocky V better, I think if they ignored the storyline with his son entirely and instead had Rocky goaded out of retirement by the Don King guy to fight Tommy Gunn even at the risk of his own health, then it definitely would have worked.

What we ended up with though was just dreadful

7th. Rocky III

Based on my ranking criteria you’re probably surprised this ranks so low down, but I just thought it was a bit of a chore to sit through.

It starts off well enough and has a good set-up, with Rocky taking his eye off the ball and being swayed by the glitz and glamour of his lifestyle. His defeat to Clubber also makes a lot of sense, with him being further distracted by Mickey’s heart attack.

But it’s the second half of Rocky III that lets it down.

Rocky loses his heart and trains poorly. Then after a pep talk he focuses again and trains well. Then he easily defeats Clubber.

Wow, great resolution.

There was no drama in the build-up to the fight and even less in the fight itself, so for me there just isn’t much to enjoy.

6th. Creed II

The same problems with Rocky III are displayed in Creed II.

Man loses fight convincingly, man trains, man wins fight.

Certainly the second Creed is told in a less shallow way than Rocky III, but other aspects let it down, such as the music and the direction of the fights.

It’s not a bad movie, and I enjoyed how unlike previous entries to the Rocky series it actually spends a bit of time dealing with the back-story of his opponent and making him a sympathetic character, but it doesn’t deserve to be any higher than 6th.

You can read more of my thoughts about Creed II in my full review, which can be found here.

5th. Rocky

Disagree if you want, but as its own standalone movie, I actually don’t think the first movie is all that great.

It definitely has a good premise and a charm to it, but too much time is invested in the permanently awful Talia Shire and most of the stuff people remember from it actually happens in Rocky II.

Surprisingly little time is actually given to the build-up to the fight, but I suppose it’s down to it being about Rocky the person and not Rocky the fighter.

As a stand-alone movie it does what it needs to and has an iconic soundtrack, but as part of an ongoing series – which I appreciate it probably wasn’t originally intended to be – it feels like it lacks a certain amount of what makes a Rocky movie a Rocky movie.

Or at least what I expect from a Rocky movie.

4th. Creed

Judged on its own merits, Creed is a good movie, but it’s definitely made better by being part of the Rocky cinematic universe.

Creed is the main character, but Rocky is the character people want to see the most.

As opposed to the sequel, the fights are actually very well-directed and the storyline is solid.

But the music is nowhere near any of the Rockys. The same applies for Creed II.

You can read my review of Creed from 2016 here.

3rd. Rocky II

Like I said above, most of the stuff that people say they remember from the original – not least Rocky winning the fight, but also him chasing the chicken and shouting “Yo Adrian, I did it” – actually happens in Rocky II.

Yes, there are parts of it that drag a little in the middle, but I actually found Rocky’s inability to make a life for himself outside of boxing to be more interesting than him taking Adrian ice skating.

Also, the build-up to the fight was much better, and Apollo Creed gets more screen time.

I think that if you put both movies together to make one long one – because Rocky II is a direct followup to the first one in terms of plot and characters – then people would say the second half of it was better than the first.

Definitely underrated by the majority.

2nd. Rocky Balboa

In terms of story and nothing else, I actually think Rocky Balboa is the best one.

It provides the best balance of all things that I personally enjoy about the movies, it doesn’t have Adrian in it  – and it benefits hugely from that – and it feels more polished.

It also gave closure to his character as an in-ring competitor; closure that was sorely missing from Rocky V.

What I liked about the fight at the end was that by having Dixon break his hand, it made it much more feasible for Rocky to mount the comeback he did, and while it would have been a little too corny for him to have actually won, by having him lose by split decision it allowed him to leave with his head held high.

The stuff with the woman and her son lets things down a little, but hey, even if it didn’t, it was never finishing on top of this list regardless.

One thing I clearly remember about seeing Rocky Balboa in the cinema back in 2006 was the cheer in the room when the training montage started.

Because as I said at the start, training montages are a huge part of what makes Rocky movies great.

And on that note…

1st. Rocky IV

Rocky IV is the ultimate Rocky movie, but more than that, it’s the ultimate montage movie of all time. 31% of the entire running time of the movie is spent in montage form, and apart from the time-wasting guff where he’s driving around thinking about Apollo – the ‘No Easy Way Out’ montage – they are all great.

You’ve got to admire the balls of the director to do a montage of Rocky training in the mountains and Drago training in the gym, then 75 seconds after it finishes, do another one where they both work even harder.

The two montages encapsulates everything about Rocky and in fact everything about any movie that has ever had a montage. Plus, you’ve got to respect the impressive fitness on display in them. This was no CGI fest; the two guys were genuinely fit as fiddles and an inspiration to any bloke looking to get fit. Just amazing.

It also has the greatest soundtrack of any movie, ever.

But it’s not just about that. While people criticise how shallow it apparently is, it has a good plot.

Apollo is killed in the ring by Drago and Rocky must go into the hostile territory of Russia to seek revenge and defeat him. Sure, he also seemingly ends the Cold War, but that just adds to the fun.

Drago is the best Rocky opponent too. He looks mean, he has some great, ice-cold lines of dialogue that people still quote to this day – “If he dies, he dies”, “You will lose” and “I must break you” are among his only lines of dialogue yet anyone who knows anything about Rocky is familiar with them – and he has the boo-hiss villainy of his wife and his steroid abuse.

Rocky IV also has the best final fight – where they hurt each other for real – ably assisted once again with a montage and some excellent background music.

I can’t speak highly enough about it.

If you don’t like it, I simply have to ask what’s wrong with you?

As always I’m keen to hear if you agree or disagree with me. Let me know.


Movies: Creed II Review

December 19, 2018

People who know me know that I like three things…

  • Doctor Who
  • Dundee United
  • Rocky IV

Ah yes, Rocky IV, the movie with the greatest soundtrack ever and a montage for every occasion. Sure, it doesn’t have much of a plot or indeed acting quality, but who cares when you’ve got lines like “I must break you” and scenes with Rocky and Drago working out to the sort of tunes that should be on every gym playlist. Wow, that sounded a lot more homoerotic than I anticipated…

As I sit here at my desk writing out this review there is a movie poster of Rocky IV directly behind my monitor. I just think it’s great.

So any movie that acts as a proper sequel to it is bound to be awesome, right?

Well 33 years later, we have one in the form of Creed II.

Yay!!

Movies – Creed II Review: What’s This One About?

Apollo Creed’s son fights the son of the man who killed his father in the ring, Ivan Drago.

And Rocky himself once again returns to train the young Adonis Creed

Thoughts

Creed II follows the basic plot you’ll find in any Rocky movie, so there’s not too much to dislike about it.

Basically our hero gets beaten up, he rallies and wins the return fight. Throughout the film we also see some highs and lows from his personal life.

That’s what you go in expecting, and that’s what you get.

Bosh!

And yet there was one significant element of Creed II that was a little bit different to any other Rocky movie…

I wanted Creed to lose.

I felt that they did such a good job of making Drago and his son into sympathetic characters that I would have rather seen the more humble Russian fighter – whose mother left him as a child and whose father was made a pariah in society for losing to Rocky and letting down his country – take the win over the cocky, brash American with the more comfortable life.

Was that the point? I’m not so sure, but I doubt it.

The other thing that I found a little bit odd was the direction of the boxing matches. Unlike any Rocky movie (or the first Creed), the fights were presented within this bubble where you couldn’t hear the crowd and it almost felt like they were boxing in a room empty of everyone except their trainers.

And two aspects of the plot that were also slightly odd were that Creed’s heavyweight title victory was shoehorned in to the start of the movie and his initial defeat to Drago did not result in him losing the title.

But hey ho.

Most of all though, considering the music is such a large part of what makes a Rocky movie so enjoyable, I found that to be poor.

In spite of all of that, it was still an enjoyable affair and one that I will no doubt revisit in the future.

Enjoyable, but not awesome.

Let’s just hope despite what the direction suggested, Rocky himself will return in any future offerings.


Movies: Bohemian Rhapsody Review

October 31, 2018

I suppose if I went to see a film about a subject that I was passionate about, and it turned out to be a pretty inaccurate retelling of events, then I might be a little bit disappointed.

On that note, for some enthusiasts, it looks like Bohemian Rhapsody – the story of Freddie Mercury and Queen – is a disappointment. It’s certainly a polarizing movie because I’ve seen some people call it a five-star classic and others give it only two stars.

Having googled some facts about it myself, I can see why they aren’t happy. For example, in the movie it suggests that Queen suffered a bad breakup long before Live Aid and in their first gig together for years, Mercury only managed to pull a performance out of the bag at the last-minute despite his diagnosis of HIV.

In reality, the band were touring through 1984 and 1985 all the way up to Live Aid, and then continued to make albums afterwards. Mercury was only diagnosed in 1987.

I mean…it’s a pretty big inaccuracy, and seemingly it’s not the only one.

So if I was to be critical about the movie from that perspective then I guess I would have to mark it down.

But the thing is, I didn’t know any of that before I saw Bohemian Rhapsody, and thus I took it at face value.

And I have to say, I loved it.

Apart from being an interesting story – fictional or not – its focus on the music made it a fun and energetic viewing experience, culminating in a quite extraordinary re-staging of their electric performance of Live Aid.

That alone was worth the admission fee.

Remi Malek put in a powerful performance as the band’s lead singer, but thankfully didn’t have to really sing the songs himself. I thought it was just Mercury dubbed over while he lip-synced but it turns out the songs were actually sung by a Mercury impersonator from YouTube. I would never have known. But it was very good.

Apart from all of that though, the thing that really stood out about this movie is that even though its running time is almost two and a half hours, I never even checked the time once. That’s almost unheard of.

And it’s perhaps the highest praise I could give it.

So unless you are the ultimate Queen purist or conversely absolutely detest their music, I’m fairly sure you will enjoy this.

It’s definitely up there as the best movie of the year for me.