Florence Pugh

Midsommar

First Hit: Early on, I was hopeful and interested, but as the story moved along it failed to deliver intrigue and died an unhappy but amusing unintended death.

While watching the film, the approach of the story reminded me of “Get Out” in that people are brought to a place unsuspecting of the weird darkness that is ready to befall them. But more like "Us,” Jordan Peele’s follow-up film, this story fails by being too overt and complicated in its presentation.

At the beginning of the film, I thought the scenes were exciting and created a hopeful promise of a good story. Many of these scenes, were well depicted, including Dani (Florence Pugh) panicking because her bi-polar sister wasn’t responding to Dani’s emails and that her parents not answering their phone. She did a great job of depicting insecurity and panic.

Looking for support, she calls her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor), but gets little relief from her fears, because of the tone tenor of his voice while attempting to support her tells a different story. We understand that he’s disengaged and tired of her insecurities.

When Dani learns her sister has killed herself and her parents, Christian does what he can to support her, but we all know, he’s doing it out of guilt and now barely cares about any future with Dani.

Christian likes hanging out with his friends, Josh (William Jackson Harper), Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), and Mark (Will Poulter) who are encouraging him to find another girlfriend because Dani’s too clingy.

These set-up scenes are excellent and made me wonder where this story was headed.

During a group conversation with his buddies, Christian reluctantly tells his friends that he’s invited Dani on their group trip to Sweden to meet Pelle’s family and experience the Midsommar celebration.

The reluctance and inability of Christian to communicate with Dani, and with his friends about Dani, is part of the slow burn that develops in Dani that is key to actions later in the film.

Heading into Pelle’s communal family compound, the audience notices the welcoming nature of this group, but also there’s a hint of darkness in the interactions between the outsiders and the communal group.

Then the story really starts to dive into weirdness. Along with another outside couple, Connie and Simon (Ellora Torchia and Archie Madekwe respectively), we get a sense that these outsiders were brought here for another reason (hence the reference to “Get Out”).

There are overtly graphic deaths that are meant to be honorable in their execution as this commune believes that at age 72 you’ve served and it’s time to leave. When I say overtly graphic, I mean this. They are not easy to watch and not for the faint of heart.

But this is just part of the weirdness of this story, and by the time it is clear what is going on, the story was both comical and poorly conceived.

Pugh was strong. Her ability to be needy, vulnerable, and edgy was very good. Reynor was excellent at being a guilt-ridden boyfriend. Harper was one of the more clearly defined characters and brought a saneness to this story. Poulter is always good at being the goofy, slightly outrageous, obnoxious character. In this film, he carries on this role. Blomgren was outstanding as the commune member who gently supports Dani through her transition. Madekwe was sufficiently outraged bordering on too much at the demonstration of the deaths of two older people. Torchia was good in her minor role as Simon’s finance. Ari Aster wrote the screenplay and directed this film. The story felt overly complicated and seemed to get confused with itself. For instance, there is this scene when Pelle says this event only happens every ninety years, but what part is annual and what part is every ninety years? When do the other old people pass, annually? What parts are every ninety years, and what parts are annual? I didn’t understand the meaning of talking about this ninety-year sacred event. There were moments in which the direction was clearly impactful and engaging, while other sections pushed the story more than required to make the point or that the parts didn’t quite make sense.

Overall: This film was too long and uneven its storytelling.

Fighting with My Family

First Hit: Mildly entertaining and while it was a bit too predictable at times, there were effective moments of inspiration.

Back when TV wrestling got its real start as (Golden Age) the NWA (National Wrestling Alliance) in the early 1950s there were outsized characters like “Gorgeous George.” The narcissistic persona he embraced both elevated the sport’s popularity, but it also created an over-exposure by the late 1950’s early 1960’s.

But as the NWA developed to become the WWWF (World Wide Wrestling Federation) and shortened to WWF, its outsized characters regained its audience both in person and on television. Having to switch to WWE (Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment) because WWF was used by the World Wildlife Fund in 2001, WWE was global, and its ego and brawn based characters were known worldwide. “Hulk Hogan,” “Triple H,” “Stone Cold Steve Austin,” “Ric Flair,” and “The Rock” (Dwayne Johnson) who makes a couple of appearances in this film moved the WWE into the financial and popularity stratosphere.

This movie is based on the true story of Saraya “Paige” Bevis (Florence Pugh), who had her mind set on becoming a WWE wrestler. Coming from Norwich, England her chances were minimal. How she became a WWE wrestler is this film’s story.

She got started in this business because her father, Patrick “Rowdy Ricky Knight” Bevis (Nick Frost), and mother Julia “Sweet Saraya” Bevis (Lena Headley) started a wrestling business to put food on the table. It was either this or crime. Patrick was a thief, and robbing banks was his previous line of work and had already spent time in prison for this. However, he loved wrestling, and it was the life he took on to keep from robbing banks. Although “Paige’s” oldest brother was in jail, her next older brother Zak “Zodiac” Bevis (Jack Lowden) was also a wrestler and part of the family business.

Together the family had a company called WaW that taught younger people to wrestle in addition to putting on small matches throughout England. With pestering calls to WWE to help promote their business and Zak and Saraya, they finally get a call back from the WWE. Their representative for talent, Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn), contacts the family and ask that “Paige” and “Zodiac” come to tryouts in London at the O2 arena when WWE shows up to do a show there.

Only Paige gets chosen to continue the training, and the film follows her in this process. Immediately we see her struggle against other women who happen to be beautiful, sexy and physically healthy and capable. This was the one part of the film’s story I thought the filmmakers could have done more with. Each of the other girls was former models and cheerleaders, and they also needed to work and make money, and they were putting it all out there as well as “Paige.”

Of course, Zak is jealous that his sister got chosen while he didn’t, and therefore the film follows the jealousy track Zak has towards her sister’s success. But when “Paige” wants to quit, we find out how the family stands behind her, and “Paige” finds her strength.

This is a feel-good story of success and perseverance while also finding your place in the world.

The wrestling scenes were reasonably well done, and when “Paige” goes in the ring for the Diva championship, her world and dreams come together.

Pugh was excellent as “Paige.” I like her ability to show vulnerability as well as strength as she made this journey. Lowden was terrific as well. His jealousy was ideally placed as he wanted to be the star of the family but realized he was the star of what he gave to others. Frost and Headley were terrific as the parents of the wrestling family. Vaughn was fantastic as the talent manager and finder. His story about why Zak would fail as a WWE wrestler was wonderfully told. Johnson as himself (The Rock) was appropriately perfect. His personality leaps off the screen. Stephen Merchant wrote and directed this story with his eye on the ball. He kept it moving and did a great job of getting wonderful performances from the actors.

Overall: This isn’t a great film, but the heart shows up well on the screen.

Lady Macbeth

First Hit:  Very little about this film was uplifting – it was dark and brooding all the way through.

From the get go, this film presses downward on the spirit of the film's characters. Katherine (Florence Pugh) was bought and forced to marry Alexander (Paul Hilton). His father Boris (Christopher Fairbank), who lives with them, chastises Katherine for not sexually satisfying his son and demands that she stay inside the house and never “take the air.” Alexander also treats Katherine with disdain, makes her disrobe, face the wall and then masturbates while looking at her back. Given this treatment, Katherine is both physically and sexually drawn towards Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), one of the caretakers who works on the estate.

This attraction leads to sex whenever they have the opportunity. When both Alexander and Boris leave on separate trips, she invites Sebastian into the home, despite the disapproval of her handmaiden servant Anna (Naomi Ackie) who also has had intimate relations with Sebastian.

Alexander suddenly re-appears and this wrecks the love birds’ life together, so they fix it by eliminating him. With this issue resolved another bump in the road appears when Agnes (Golda Rosheuvel) moves into the home with a child. They have papers stating that the father is Alexander therefore it is rightfully the boy's home as well. This pushes Sebastian out of the home, again and the devious way they resolve this issue is horrible.

When the law is called, and is questioning the death of the boy, Sebastian burst into the room and spills the sordid story. But because he's a black servant, he and Anna are not believed and are taken away.

Pugh is strong as Katherine, a young woman trapped, and will do anything to get what she wants. Hilton is appropriately mean and twisted. Fairbank is strong as the mean father-in-law. Jarvis is good as the object of Katherine’s desire. Ackie is excellent as the handmaiden. Rosheuvel is very strong in her role. Nikolai Leskov and Alice Birch wrote this very dark brooding script that had little hope or light in it. William Oldroyd did a good job of directing this film. The sets in the rooms were perfect for the film’s feeling.

Overall:  Although the acting and direction was good, I really disliked the subject.