Film Review of the Week


The Iron Claw (15)

Review: In April 2009, the Von Erichs were inducted into the upper echelon of professional wrestling, the WWE Hall of Fame, in the family’s home state of Texas. The only surviving member of the sport’s second generation, Kevin Von Erich, proudly accepted the award and in his speech, he alluded to the deaths of his father and brothers, attributed in some superstitious circles to a family curse. During the 1960s, patriarch Fritz Von Erich popularised a signature move called the iron claw which involved placing his hand over an opponent’s face and squeezing until they submitted. He passed the mantle and claw-handed move to five boys, Kevin, David, Kerry, Mike and Chris.

Writer-director Sean Durkin’s respectful and moving biopic excises youngest son Chris but still wallows in the tragedy that stalked the Von Erichs outside of the wrestling rings where they performed solo or as crowd-pleasing winners of the World Six-Man Tag Team Championship. A transformative lead performance from Zac Efron, who bulks up convincingly to portray Kevin, is the beating heart of the film. He balances raw emotion with imposing muscularity and is breathlessly convincing in physically demanding brawls that dissipate tension from the familial strife. Professional wrestler Chavo Guerrero, who appears briefly on screen, acted as consultant for these intense sequences.

Fritz (Holt McCallany) instils in his boys, from an early age, a requirement to be “the toughest, the strongest, the most successful – the absolute best”. The father is determined to train his sons Kevin (Zac Efron), Kerry (Jeremy Allen White), David (Harris Dickinson) and Mike (Stanley Simons) to each claim the world heavyweight title. The brothers are reunited after President Jimmy Carter decrees the US Olympic team will boycott the 1980 summer games in Moscow and discus thrower Kerry returns home to the family fold.

As eldest child, Kevin is first in line to realise Fritz’s dream but the sensitive scion fears his old man’s iron-fisted insistence on perfection will cause the family to buckle. Kevin’s unconcerned mother Doris (Maura Tierney) swats away meaningful discussion of the matter. Long-standing rivalry with a trio of preening peacocks known as The Fabulous Freebirds propels the Von Erichs into the spotlight and Kevin finds his soulmate and greatest supporter in girlfriend Pam (Lily James). The Iron Claw grapples with emotionally wrought subject matter and piledrives scenes of fraternal angst and reconciliation. Durkin revels in the theatricality of the sport before WWE applied a high-sheen gloss. “Isn’t it all just fake?… sorry, prearranged, written?” asks Pam.

The Von Erichs’ heartbreaking true story is richer than Durkin can shoehorn into 132 minutes and the script bypasses the meat and gristle of the siblings’ mental wellbeing. The tone darkens once the fabled curse is realised, again and again, until we contemplate submission like the brothers’ exhausted opponents.

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The Jungle Bunch World Tour (U)

Review: Water typically irrigates the great circle of life that connects our sprawling concrete jungles to dwindling animal kingdoms filled with beauty and wonder. In The Jungle Bunch World Tour, droplets of water have the potential to destroy swathes of precious African habitat unless a team of plucky critters can unite in the face of ecological disaster (perpetrated by a Machiavellian beaver). It has been a lukewarm minute – approximately six and a half years – since an English language dubbed version of jaunty computer-animated adventure The Jungle Bunch misplaced its roar in UK cinemas.

A belated sequel with three directors at the helm, Laurent Bru, Yannick Moulin and Benoit Somville, possesses a simplistic, naive charm that may enthral young audiences who appreciate the laboured storytelling, perfectly illustrated by one character unnecessarily interjecting “OK, let’s recap…” to neatly summarise the film’s episodic plot. Returning scriptwriters David Alaux, Eric Tosti and Jean-Francois Tosti choose the path of least resistance when it comes to character development, gift-wrapping a central romance in one quick, painless conversation. They indulge a plaintive pop culture reference when the anthropomorphic champions face a robotic black and white bear programmed with martial arts moves. “Two can play kung fu, panda!” meekly quips a feathered hero. The Jungle Bunch World Tour lacks the self-confessed awesomeness of that rival franchise.

Maurice the tiger penguin (voiced by Scott Humphrey) continues to lead the next generation of jungle protectors comprising Junior the tiger fish (David Vincent), Gilbert the tarsier (Wyatt Bowen), Batricia the bat (Dawn Ford), Miguel the gorilla (Mark Camacho) and the toads Al (Arthur Holden) and Bob (Marcel Jeannin). The Champs’ mission statement is simple: “To come to the aid of any animal that needs it and create peace and harmony in the jungle.”

Capitalist beaver Henry (Camacho again) enslaves fellow rodents through hypnosis and assembles an airborne army to spray a volatile pink chemical over the lush ecosystem. If water mixes with the substance, it produces a violent, exothermic reaction. Vegetation will be reduced to ash. With one month until rainy season, Maurice leads The Champs on a daredevil mission to locate the toxin’s creator, Albert the armadillo (Richard Dumont), in the hope he can engineer an antidote. The group recruits Albert’s adventurous daughter Camelia (Holly Gauthier-Frankel), who sparks potential romance with Maurice. Meanwhile, villain Henry dispatches hench-creatures Youri the vulture and Serguei the capuchin monkey (both Terrence Scammel) to sabotage The Champs’ globetrotting endeavours.

The Jungle Bunch World Tour is a sweetly inoffensive jaunt that improves slightly on the original with greater visual sophistication to warrant a stampede on the big screen. Violence is cartoonish, diminishing the potential for a feathered or furry character to come to serious harm. At worst, an ego might be bruised for one throwaway scene.

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