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 featuring Durkin, Efron, White, MCallany, Tierney and Simons.

 

‘Iron Claw’ Blu-ray Combo Pack Due March 26

Lionsgate will release A24’s wrestling drama The Iron Claw as a Blu-ray Disc combo pack with DVD and digital copy March 26. It is already available for digital purchase.

The film tells the story of the Von Erich family, who dominated professional wrestling in Texas in the 1980s. Through tragedy and triumph, under the shadow of their domineering father and coach (Holt McCallany), brothers Kevin (Zac Efron), Kerry (Jeremy Allen White) and David (Harris Dickinson) seek larger-than-life immortality on the biggest stage in sports.

The cast also includes Maura Tierney, Lily James and Chavo Guerrero Jr. Written and directed by Sean Durkin, the film earned $34.76 million at the domestic box office.

Extras include a “Brotherhood Is Forever: Making Iron Claw” featurette, a cast and crew Q&A, and the film’s theatrical trailer.

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Heels: The Complete First Season

DVD REVIEW: 

Lionsgate;
Drama;
$34.98 two-DVD set;
Not rated.
Stars Stephen Amell, Alexander Ludwig, Allison Luff, Mary McCormack, Kelli Berglund, Allen Maldonado, James Harrison, Roxton Garcia, Chris Bauer, David James Elliott.

The Starz series “Heels” examines the behind-the-scenes drama of a fictional independent family run wrestling organization in rural Georgia.

Former “Arrow” star Stephen Amell is a natural choice to headline the series, given he’s such a huge fan of professional wrestling he actually participated in storylines and matches for WWE.

Amell plays Jack Spade, who runs the Duffy Wrestling League and also serves as its champion. Jack is the DWL’s primary “heel,” which is wrestling parlance for a bad guy. His brother Ace (Alexander Ludwig) is the DWL’s primary face, aka good guy, and the top contender for the title.

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While the DWL remains a popular attraction among the locals, it is struggling financially, fending off a glitzy, well-funded upstart organization from Florida. By day, Jack works as a salesman for riding lawnmowers, though he remains dedicated to keeping the DWL alive to maintain the legacy of his father (David James Elliott), who committed suicide a year earlier and whose plight is depicted in flashbacks.

Wrestling fans should enjoy some of the nods to the inner workings of professional wrestling, but the show also works simply as a family drama. Non-fans will get a good lesson in the mechanics of the wrestling business, including terms such as “kayfabe,” which refers to the presentation of the fictional storylines and characters as if they were real. This often extends to performers who are friends in real life but enemies in the ring avoiding each other in public just to keep up appearances and help sell their feud to the audience.

While the matches might be staged, the competition behind-the-scenes is very real, with the wrestlers jockeying for position among the company’s roster. Solid performers will get a push, and loyalty is rewarded.

 

When Ace’s ego begins to blur the lines between his character and his real self, the in-ring feud between the brothers boils over into real life, which could have a devastating impact on the future of the DWL.

The flipside of kayfabe, however, sometimes means pretending things that weren’t planned were indeed part of the intended storyline all along, so as not to give the impression the organizers don’t have a handle on what they’re doing.

 

With Ace as a wild card in Jack’s attempts to steer the DWL toward lasting success despite the pressure of a rival organization, the series manages to apply the framework of wrestling storylines to the Spades’ family drama. The potential for betrayal constantly looms, subverting audience expectations over how the DWL’s in-ring storyline is supposed to play out.

The eight episodes of the first season provide a solid foundation for a series that can be enjoyed by both wrestling fans and casual viewers alike.

Season 1 of Wrestling Drama ‘Heels’ Due on DVD Feb. 15

Lionsgate will release the pro-wrestling drama Heels: The Complete First Season on DVD Feb. 15.

Set in a close-knit Georgia community, the Starz series follows a struggling small-town family owned wrestling promotion, the Duffy Wrestling League, as two brothers and rivals, Jack Spade (Stephen Amell) and Ace Space (Alexander Ludwig), war over their late father’s legacy. In the ring, someone must play the good guy, the face (Ace), and someone must play their nemesis, the heel (Jack). But in the real world, those characters can be hard to live up to — or hard to leave behind.

The cast also includes Mary McCormack, Kelli Berglund and Allen Maldonado.

The first season consists of eight episodes.

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‘Impact Wrestling’ Gets Euro Expansion on Pluto TV

WWE competitor Impact Wrestling is getting expanded distribution in Europe through a new AVOD deal with Pluto TV.

A subsidiary of Anthem Sports & Entertainment Inc., Impact aims to expand its brand of professional wrestling content across the United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, Switzerland and Austria. The move comes as a continuation of Impact’s partnership with Pluto TV, which kicked off in April 2018 with the U.S. launch on the Fox Entertainment ad-supported streaming television service.

Pro wrestling has always had a niche following. The sport upped its profile after NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming service became the official SVD/AVOD home for WWE events.

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Pluto TV users throughout Europe will have access to almost two decades of new and classic content, including sport icons such as Ric Flair, Sting, Kurt Angle, Kevin Nash and AJ Styles; as well as Impact’s current roster of grapplers, which includes Rich Swann, The Good Brothers, former NFL player Moose, Deonna Purrazzo, Sami Callihan, Eddie Edwards, Jordynne Grace, Eric Young and Chris Bey.

“The global demand for quality professional wrestling programming has, arguably, never been higher, and we are excited for the opportunity to provide millions of pro wrestling fans both old and new with the ultimate ringside seats to all the epic matchups, original series,” said Jaime Pollack, chief revenue officer, sports media group, which includes Impact Wrestling.

Impact programming is televised globally in 120 countries including AXS TV in the U.S., as well as on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media platforms.

WWE Partners with TikTok

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has partnered with TikTok, marketing select wrestlers to the social networking service owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based company founded in 2012.

WWE is making 30 of its wrestlers available on TikTok, including Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Undertaker, Ultimate Warrior, Becky Lynch, John Cena and Sasha Banks. The branded wrestlers’ onstage themes and music are embedded within TikTok’s library of music artists.

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“We are thrilled to be launching this partnership which offers a new level of engagement with WWE content by enabling the TikTok community to create their own shareable stories tied to WWE‘s world renowned Superstars,” Jayar Donlan, EVP of advanced media, said in a statement.

TikTok’s Mayan Scharf hopes the partnership captures the “passion and thrill” of wrestling on social media.

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“We’re looking forward to bringing the excitement of the WWE experience to TikTok’s global community,” Scharf said.

‘Fighting With My Family’ Director’s Cut on Digital April 30, Disc May 14

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment will release MGM’s Fighting With My Family digitally April 30, and on Blu-ray and DVD May 14.

Written and directed by Stephen Merchant, the comedy set in the world of professional wrestling is based on the true story of WWE Superstar Paige (Florence Pugh). Born into a tight-knit wrestling family, Page and her brother Zak (Jack Lowden) are invited to try out for the WWE. But when only Paige earns a spot in the competitive training program, she must dig deep to prove she can become a star. The cast includes Lena Headey, Nick Frost, Vince Vaughn and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who plays himself and also produced the film.

Fighting With My Family earned $22.5 million at the domestic box office.

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The Blu-ray combo pack will include a director’s cut of the film with new and extended scenes not seen in theaters.

The DVD and Blu-ray will include deleted and extended scenes, a gag reel, a commentary with Merchant, the featurette “A Family’s Passion: A Making Of” and a “Learning the Moves” featurette about depicting the wrestling scenes in the film.