The Iron Claw

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Lionsgate;
Drama;
Box Office $35.07 million;
$39.99 Blu-ray/DVD;
Rated ‘R’ for language, suicide, some sexuality and drug use.
Stars Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson, Maura Tierney, Stanley Simons, Michael J. Harney, Holt McCallany, Lily James.      

One of the hallmarks of old-school professional-wrestling was the way it was organized as a series of regional promotions that were essentially family businesses. Though the national and international sports-entertainment brands that now reign pay lip-service to this legacy, the corporate-dominated environment of today is a lot more engineered than the athletic populism once on display in the local circuits.

In the traditional system, the promotions would build their own rosters of popular local talent, with the territories connected though national organizations that determined a world champion who would tour the regions.

One of the best-known of the regional promotions was Texas’ World Class Championship Wrestling, controlled by the Von Erich family. As demonstrated in writer-director Sean Durkin’s The Iron Claw, the pro wrestling business could be fraught with hardship despite the deepest commitment, dedication and sacrifice. And no family paid a higher toll for their art than the Von Erichs, whose patriarch, Fritz Von Erich (real name Jack Adkisson), would watch five of his six sons die way too young.

The primary focus of The Iron Claw (the title refers to the family’s signature finishing move) is on Kevin Von Erich (played by a beefed up Zac Efron), the oldest surviving brother after Fritz’s first-born died as a child. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Kevin is set up as the primary star of WCCW, with hopes of fulfilling Fritz’s unrealized dream of bringing home the National Wrestling Alliance’s world title belt.

While Kevin’s in-ring physicality is solid, his charisma and microphone skills leave a lot to be desired, leading to him being passed over for title consideration in favor of his younger brother David (Harris Dickinson). Another brother, Kerry (Jeremy Allen White) joins the family business after his dreams of competing in the discus event at the Olympics are shattered by the 1980 U.S. boycott. He too surpasses Kevin in ring presence despite losing a foot in a motorcycle crash, eventually landing in the WWF (where he was known as the Texas Tornado owing to a wrestling style that emulated the motion of his discus toss). The fifth brother, Mike (Stanley Simons), is also pushed into becoming a wrestler despite an affinity for music.

While Fritz (Holt McCallany) continues to push his sons to fulfill his dream, Kevin meets the love of his life, Pam (Lily James), gets married and starts his own family. Sensing the pressure his brothers are under, he hopes his mother (Maura Tierney) will intercede, to no avail, furthering a rift between him and his father.

The film does a good job of re-creating the look and feel of classic 1970s and 1980s pro-wrestling, which should appeal to the nostalgia of fans of the Wild West era of the sport. The tragedy of the Von Erichs is handled delicately, with the deaths of the brothers handled more in reactions and reflections than direct depictions of the events.

Durkin’s screenplay also plays fast and loose with the actual timeline in a way that stays true to the spirit of what happened with a deference to narrative efficiency. While most of the other brothers also had wives and children, the film only deals with Kevin’s family. Meanwhile, a six brother, Chris, has been omitted as well, with Durkin saying including his death as well would have been too much tragedy for one film to bear.

The strength of the film is in the chemistry between the brothers, a dynamic carefully constructed through the earnest, heartfelt performances of all involved, particularly Efron, whose character is made to feel the full brunt of the family’s “curse.”

The Blu-ray includes two very effective extras. First is the really good half-hour “Brotherhood Is Forever” making of featurette, which is loaded with insightful interviews with the filmmakers, the cast, and Kevin Von Erich himself.

The real Kevin also participates in a great 21-minute Q&A that also features Durkin, Efron, White, McCallany, Tierney and Simons.

 

Rom-Com ‘What’s Love Got to Do With it?’ Due on Blu-ray Sept. 19

Shout! Studios will release the romantic comedy What’s Love Got to Do with It? on Blu-ray Disc Sept. 19.

The film stars Lily James as a documentary filmmaker and dating app addict who has accumulated an endless string of failed relationships, much to the dismay of her eccentric mother (Emma Thompson). But she begins to discover a profoundly different approach to finding love when she films the journey of her childhood friend Kaz (Shazad Latif) to meet the bride arranged for him by his parents.

The film was directed by Shekhar Kapur, and written and produced by Jemima Khan. The cast also includes Shabana Azmi, Sajal Aly, Asim Chaudhry, Jeff Mirza, and Pakistani singer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan as himself. 

The film debuted at the 2022 Toronto International Films Festival and won Best Comedy at the 2022 Rome Film Festival. It earned $11 million at the domestic box office.

Blu-ray extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette and the film’s theatrical trailer.

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Lily James Rom-Com ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It?’ Due Digitally May 26 From Shout!

Shout! Studios will release the romantic comedy What’s Love Got to Do With It?  for digital rental and purchase May 26.  

Directed by Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth) and written and produced by Jemima Khan (“Impeachment: American Crime Story”), the film stars Primetime Emmy Award nominee Lily James (“Pam & Tommy”), Shazad Latif (“Star Trek: Discovery”), Shabana Azmi (“Halo”), Academy Award and BAFTA winner Emma Thompson (Matilda), Sajal Aly (Yakeen Ka Safar), Asim Chaudhry (“Black Mirror: Bandersnatch”), Jeff Mirza (Eternals), and Pakistani singer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan as himself.

In the cross-cultural comedy, for documentary maker and dating app addict Zoe (James), swiping right has only delivered an endless stream of Mr. Wrongs, to her eccentric mother Cath’s (Thompson) dismay. For Zoe’s childhood friend and neighbor Kaz (Latif), the answer is to follow his parents’ example and opt for an arranged (or “assisted”) marriage to a bright and beautiful bride from Pakistan. As Zoe films his hopeful journey from London to Lahore to marry a stranger chosen by his parents, she begins to wonder if she might have something to learn from a profoundly different approach to finding love.

The film premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival and won Best Comedy at the 2022 Rome Film Festival.

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Ivor Novello Lifetime Achievement Award-winning and Mercury Prize nominated composer Nitin Sawhney CBE created the music for the film with British-Pakistani record producer, DJ, songwriter and musician Naughty Boy, who brought his production and writing skills to the soundtrack alongside three-time BRIT Award and Mercury Prize nominee Joy Crookes. The film features an original song by Naughty Boy called “Mahi Sona (The Wedding Song)” with a special vocal performance from James. Kanika Kapoor and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan are also featured on the soundtrack, with Rahat appearing in the film itself.

 

Biopic Series ‘Pam & Tommy’ Available on DVD Aug. 9

The biopic series “Pam & Tommy” arrives Aug. 9 on DVD from Lionsgate.

The series is streaming on Hulu.

Following the scandalous drama that set the internet down a new path, “Pam & Tommy” is based on the incredible true story of the Pamela Anderson (Lily James, Cinderella, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again) and Tommy Lee (Sebastian Stan, Captain America: The Winter Solider) sex tape. Stolen from the couple’s home by a disgruntled contractor (Seth Rogen, This Is the End, Superbad, Pineapple Express), the video went from underground bootleg/VHS curiosity to full-blown cultural obsession when it hit the Web in 1997. A love story, crime caper, and cautionary tale rolled into one, the eight-part original limited series explores the intersection of privacy, technology and celebrity, tracing the origins of our current reality-TV era to a stolen tape seen by millions but meant to have an audience of just two.

The series also stars Nick Offerman (“The Great North,” “Parks and Recreation”) and Taylor Schilling (The Lucky One, “Orange Is the New Black”).

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Beatles Tribute Movie ‘Yesterday’ on Home Video in September

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment will release the music-infused comedy Yesterday digitally Sept. 10, and on Blu-ray Disc, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Sept. 24, with musical performances not seen in theaters.

From Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle, Yesterday stars Himesh Patel as a struggling songwriter who suddenly becomes the only person on Earth who remembers The Beatles, and subsequently skyrockets to fame by forging a music career passing their songs off as his own, but along the way risks losing the love of his girlfriend, (Lily James), the one person who always believed in him. The cast also includes Kate McKinnon and Ed Sheeran.

The film earned $70.6 million at the domestic box office.

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Extras on the Blu-ray, DVD, digital and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray versions include an alternate ending; 12 deleted scenes; Patel performing “Yesterday,” “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “Let it Be” at Abbey Road Studios; and feature commentary with Boyle and writer/producer Richard Curtis.

The Blu-ray, 4K Blu-ray and digital versions will also include an alternate opening, gag reel and several featurettes:

• “Ed Sheeran: From Stadium to Screen,” in which the singer reflects on acting in his first major role;

• “Agent of Comedy: Kate McKinnon,” about the fun and energy that the queen of improvisational comedy brought to the set;

• “A Talented Duo,” about the first-ever team up of Curtis and Boyle;

• “Playing for Real,” about how Patel learned how to play Beatles songs live on set;

• “Soul Mates,” a look at the film’s love story between Jack and Ellie;

• “A Conversation With Richard & Ed,” in which longtime friends Curtis and Sheeran have a funny and informal chat about the making of the film.

The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray will include HDR10+ and the bonus features in 4K resolution on the 4K disc. The 4K Blu-ray combo pack will include the film on UHD and regular Blu-ray discs and a redeemable digital copy. The Blu-ray combo pack will include Blu-ray, DVD and digital copy versions of the film.

‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ Dancing to Digital Oct. 9, Disc Oct. 23 From Universal

The Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again Sing-Along Edition will come out on digital (including Movies Anywhere) Oct. 9 and on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and on demand Oct. 23 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

The film earned more than $118 million in theaters.

Ten years after Mamma Mia! The Movie, the prequel/sequel set to the music of ABBA features returning stars Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Julie Walters, Dominic Cooper, Amanda Seyfried and Christine Baranski alongside new additions Lily James, Cher and Andy Garcia. The film follows two stories: present day as Sophie Sheridan (Seyfried) prepares for the grand reopening of her mother Donna’s (Streep) hotel and 1979 when young Donna (James) first arrives on the island. Sophie learns about her mother’s adventures with the young Dynamos, Tanya (Jessica Keenan-Wynn) and Rosie (Alexa Davies), and how young Donna first met her three possible dads Harry (Hugh Skinner), Bill (Josh Dylan) and Sam (Jeremy Irvine).

Bonus features, some exclusive to 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and digital, include deleted/extended songs and scenes with commentary by director/screenplay writer Ol Parker; enhanced sing-alongs; cast meets cast, in which those playing young and older versions of certain cast members discuss their parts; cast chats between those playing the three young Dynamos and the young dads; a featurette on the choreography; featurettes on the development of the story, the character of Sophie, on Cher’s joining the cast, the costumes and more; and feature commentaries with Parker and producer Judy Craymer.

The film will be available on 4K Ultra HD in a combo pack which includes 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, Blu-ray and Digital. The 4K Ultra HD disc will include the same bonus features as the Blu-ray version, all in 4K.

Darkest Hour

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street 2/27/18;
Universal;
Drama;
Box Office $54.55 million;
$29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for some thematic material.
Stars Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ben Mendelsohn.

Darkest Hour is a solid character drama about Winston Churchill’s first few weeks as prime minister of Great Britain in 1940, as he was thrust into the chaos of the early days of World War II.

With Hitler on the verge of conquering France and setting his sights on England, Churchill must contend not only with his country’s rapidly deteriorating military position, but also calls for peace talks from within his own party — from the very people whose appeasement policies helped put Churchill in this difficult position to begin with.

The crisis comes to a head with the evacuation at Dunkirk, as Churchill is determined to rescue British troops despite long odds his plans can succeed. In showing what took place in the halls of British government as the soldiers waited on the beaches for a rescue, Darkest Hour serves as an interesting companion piece to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, which hit theaters just a few months earlier and presented the point of view of the evacuating troops.

Gary Oldman practically disappears into the role of Churchill, aided by a complex body makeup to add age and girth. Numerous actors have taken a turn at Churchill over the years, but Oldman’s is likely to draw some inevitable comparisons with John Lithgow’s Emmy-winning take on Netflix’s “The Crown” due to the close proximity of the projects. While Lithgow is just as effective in portraying Churchill’s self-assuredness, temper and arrogance, there’s no mistaking it’s Lithgow. Whereas with Oldman it’s easy to get caught up in his performance, as really it’s only his eyes that provide the telltale reminder of who is actually up there on screen.

As far as comparisons go, however, Ben Mendelsohn is in a less-enviable position for his brief turn as King George VI, with both Colin Firth’s turn in The King’s Speech and Jared Harris on “The Crown” providing fresh points of comparison for performances as the king in earlier and later periods of his life, respectively. Mendelsohn, at least, has the advantage of somewhat resembling the real-life George, as noted by director Joe Wright in a solo commentary track included with the Blu-ray.

Wright’s commentary ends up presenting a nice mix of behind-the-scenes information and some insights into the real story. There are also two short featurettes: an eight-minute making-of video and a four-minute look at Oldman’s performance.