The Family That Wrestles Together (Fighting With My Family, 2019)

Fighting_With_My_Family_PosterFighting With My Family is the story of wrestler Paige.  Coming from a lower class family obsessed with wrestling, Zayara and Zak dream of the big time wrestling.  When they try out for WWE, only Zayara is selected, crushing her brother.  But when she tells him she won’t go, he lets her know he cannot take this away from her.

And so, Fighting With My Family takes us on Zayara’s journey to becoming the WWE Diva Paige.

As someone who has little knowledge of Wrestling beyond knowing who the Rock is, I cannot verify the accuracy of the film.  What I can confirm is that this is a fun film with a lot of heart.  Florence Pugh is incredibly sympathetic and lovable. The film does not make her pure of heart, she learns some hard lessons, like not seeing the other women as enemies.  As she grows, she pulls others with her.

The relationship that becomes most strained is Paige and her brother Zak.  He struggles with the idea that he cannot be where she is at.  And it drives him away from everything good in his life for a time. The Rock is charming as usual.

This is a good little inspirational sports film worth a watch.

It’s Not Just a Jungle Out There (Jumanji: The Next Level, 2019)

Jumanji_Next_Level_PosterAlex, Martha, Fridge and Bethany have all moved forward in life, but college life has been disappointing for Alex and he has become distant from the others.

When everyone returns home for Christmas, Alex decides maybe what he really needs is to recapture the confidence he gained from the last time they went through Jumanji. When he never shows up for a planned breakfast, Fridge, Bethany and Martha find themselves forced to enter the game.  But due to damage to the console, the group find themselves lost in a new part of the game and in the wrong avatars (well, except Martha).  To make matters worse, the game has pulled in Spencer’s grandfather and his old business partner Milo.

The Next Level faced a challenge.  How to convincingly argue the kids would re-enter the game and how not to lose the magic of the interplay of the last film.  The previous film was one of those rare films that did not depend on Johnson basically being himself.  The cast was convincing and fun playing the roles of teens trapped in a video game.

Kasdan ups the ante with this one. Gillan, Black, Hart and Johnson all get to play multiple inhabitants of their avatars (with Hart and Johnson doing fun takes on Glover and Devito for much of the film).

This was a real fun follow up that manages to carry over the character growth of the last film while still capturing what made the previous so much fun. The cast is great and the action is fun.

Reach for the Sky! (Skyscraper, 2018)

Skyscraper_PosterI imagine the pitch meeting for Skyscraper went something like this…

“Think ‘Die Hard’ in a really, really, really, really, really, really, really tall building.”


“Starring the Rock!”


The Rock plays Will Sawyer, who was in a major accident as a FBI hostage rescuer. A decade later he is a husband and father. He runs a small security business and he has been brought to Hong Kong with his family to give his expert advice for the tallest smart building in the world.  But when the building is attacked and Will is framed, he must do everything in his power to get into the building and save his family.

The film moves at a pretty fast page, mostly because, really, there is very little characterization.  Will and his wife Sarah are the most fleshed out, followed by building owner Zhao Long Ji. This is great for Sarah who plays much more than just “wife in distress” and is instead a very active participant in their survival.  The movie definitely hinges on the Rock’s natural charm though.  The terrorists are extremely generic, with only two set apart….the leader and  his right hand woman Xia…whose main characterization is “can walk through a hail of bullets without flinching or getting hit”.

And yet, the film remains pretty exciting, regardless of how familiar many of the beats feel, in fact, I honestly only thought about the shortcomings later. In the moment? Skyscraper kept up a fast pace that kept me engaged.


It’s Still A Jungle Out There (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, 2017)

Jumanji_WTTJ_PosterEvery so often, someone decides it is time to start up a franchise. Rather than a reboot or a remake, when they announced Jumanji (starring that Robin Willims-esque Dwayne the Rock Johnson) it was decided that they would make a sequel. The film clearly establishes itself as set in the same universe as the Robin Williams movie late in the film.

The film opens with a jogger finding the board game on a beach.  He gives it to his teenage son Alex.  The young man sets it aside.  That night he is awoken by beating drums.  He opens up the box to find, instead of a board-game, a video game cartridge. He puts it in and disappears.  The film picks up 22 years later.  Alex is the town legend, his father and house the stuff of scary stories.

Spencer is a nerd who gets in trouble for doing football player classmate Fridge’s homework.  Their teacher recognizes that Spencer has plagiarized themselves.  At the same time, popular and pretty Bethany is in trouble for talking on her cell phone during a test and Martha is in trouble for talking back to her gym teacher.  The four get assigned to detention, which will involve them cleaning up a mess in the school basement.

The kids stumble upon an old video game system and decide to give the game Jumanji a try. They find themselves transported into the game, which they then find out that they must play to the end if they want to get out. This is a reversal of the first film, where the game broke out into the real world. Here not only are they in the video game world, they are video game avatars.  Spencer finds himself as the muscular and heroic Smolder Bravestone.  Fridge is the diminutive zoologist Mouse Finbar.  Martha is shocked to find herself looking a bit like Laura Croft fighter Ruby Roundhouse.   And Bethany gets the huge shock of being the middle aged Dr. Shelly Oberon (which she assumed a woman, only to find she is a man).

The film has a lot of fun with the new video game approach.  Everybody has three bars on their arms representing lives, resulting in some amusing moments when they end up regenerating. There is also the sendups of video game tropes.  Most notably, one people have somehow been missing because they have been reacting to single still photos and ignoring the context.  Karen Gillan’s Ruby Roundhouse is a sendup of the hot female fighter video game characters.  She questions very quickly what is up with such a ridiculous outfit.  Admittedly, they could have had her change, as at least one scene shows her putting a shirt on to cover herself. But the film is on the side of the folks who jumped on how she is dressed.

The plot is thin…they literally are just trying to get a jewel to a statue to lift the curse of Jumanji.  Which puts the focus squarely on the characters.  And thankfully, Johnson, Gillan, Black and Hart are all entertaining in their roles. Fridge is frustrated by the reversal to a character who is not very athletic and has the weakness of cake.

Bethany, of course, is pained both by her appearance and lack of access to a phone.  All four have lessons to learn, but it is mostly the spectacle of events and jokes that makes this film fun.

I admit, I was not expecting a lot out of this one, but I really had a good time. This is a bit more aimed at older audiences with some juvenile humor.  But it still works pretty well to be amusing and exciting.

The Myth, the Legend… (Hercules, 2014)

Hercules_2014_PosterThe film begins by detailing the great legends of Hercules.  As a child he defeats snakes sent by a jealous Hera. He fought the Hydra.  He defeated the Erymanthian Boar.  The Nemean Lion.  We discover this is a tale being told to some pirates about to kill a young man. Hercules walks into the camp, and before the lead pirate’s eyes, dispatches his crew.  We the audience realize he is not doing it alone. Hiding among the camp are a skilled team. It turns out that Hercules has a bunch of super friends that help feed the legend of an unbeatable warrior. And they are really just mercenaries.

While celebrating their latest victory, they are approached by Ergenia, daughter of Lord Cotys. She is asking for help to protect their home from a local warlord and promises the team their weight in gold. After agreeing, Hercules and his Amazing Friends help Cotys defeat the Warlord.  But they soon find they may have aligned themselves with the wrong people.

Hard to believe there were two Hercules films in 2014, but here we are.  This film is all about playing with the myth.  The film never confirms whether Hercules is truly a demigod or if the gods are even real.  At the same time, it never truly denies it either.  In fact, the film pretty much ends on a “Who knows???” kind of note.

There is also a mystery, as rumors of Hercules having killed his own wife and children dog him.  He was cast out of the kingdom of King Eurystheus for this and it is what led to his life as a mercenary. All of this plays around with the idea of myths and legends versus “the Truth”. This is another “all new tale”, though it tries to supplant those old tales of Hercules as the true story we never new.

Based on a graphic novel, I am somewhat relieved it did not go the route of 300 or Sin City. Or even it’s competition, the Legend of Hercules.  The action scenes are not heavily stylized.

The film seems to be relying entirely on Johnson’s charisma to sell the film.  The actions sequences are competent, but not especially memorable.  The element of the fantastic is blunted by the attempt to be coy about it’s place in reality versus fantasy. Even the best characters rely on great actors giving stock performances.  This is especially true of Ian McShane’s Amphiaraus, the wise drunk.

This is certainly one of Ratner’s better films…but frankly, that is not saying much.  Nothing really saves this from being disappointing at best.

Kingly Status (The Scorpion King, 2002)

Scorpion_King_PosterSo, in the Mummy Returns, the Scorpion King is a threat to the world, a servant of Anubis.  In this prequel, set well before that part of the story, the Scorpion King is more the underdog hero, seeking vengeance on the King responsible for the death of his brother.

Mathayus is a mercenary hired by free tribes to kill a sorcerer who works for the evil King Memnon.  The mission goes awry and his brother is killed.  Mathayus seeks vengeance and finds himself teamed up with happy fool Arpid.  When his attempt at assassination of Memnon is thwarted, he discovers the sorcerer is, in fact, a sorceress…and a beautiful one at that. He kidnaps her to use as a means of luring Memnon out into the open.

The Scorpion King is a pretty typical light fantasy film in the vein of Conan the Barbarian.  It does not get anywhere near as given to magical dealings as it’s Mummy brethren, the story hints of magic, but we do not see a lot of magic in practice.

The fights are pretty well choreographed, but the film lacks a lot of the humor of the Mummy franchise with only a few really funny moments.  This is probably one of the Rock’s most charmless roles. The female characters are treated as objects first…characters second.  This is unfortunate for Kelly Hu, as the film basically places it’s emphasis simply on how attractive she is.

The digital effects run from okay to pretty unimpressive.  There are digital snakes towards the end that look like cartoons.  Nothing about the film really stands out at all.  It remains a rather forgettable exercise, in spite of spawning three o it’s own sequels (all lacking Johnson).


Let’s Get the Band Back Together (The Mummy Returns, 2001)

The_Mummy_Returns_posterStephen Sommers returns to helm the next installment of the franchise.  Set about ten years after the first film, Rick and Evie are married and maverick adventuring archaeologists.  Think if Indiana Jones was rich, rather than a college professor.  With their young son, Alex, they explore an ancient site and discover artifacts related to the fabled Scorpion King.

The film actually begins by establishing the myth.  In his film debut, Dwayne Johnson (billed in the film as The Rock) is the Scorpion King.  A fierce Warrior who wandered the desert and on the verge of death made a pledge to the god Anubis.  In the present day, a Cult has resurrected Imhotep with the help of Meela, the reincarnation of his beloved Anck-Su-Namun.

Alex tries on a bracelet that reveals a map to the oasis of the Scorpion King…and the bracelet won’t come off.  This sets into motion both the O’Connells and Imhotep racing to the oasis.

The Mummy Returns is guilty of the sequel tendency to be “bigger”.  Every action scene is a major event.  Every character a greater purpose.  Evie suddenly has super fighting skills, and it is discovered she is the reincarnation of Nefertiti, daughter of the Pharoah and opponent of Imhotep and Anck-Su-Namun.  And Rick? Well, he is revealed to actually be Magi (with magical knowledge of their code phrases) the watchers over Imhotep from the first film (Oded Fehr returns as Ardeth Bay).  They must fight an army of pygmy mummies.  I mean, the movie is full of mummies beyond Imhotep.

This is not to say the film is not fun.  It actually carries a lot of the spirit of the first one.  The action is fun, there are daring saves, exciting sword fights and so on.  The film relies on the same humor of the first.

The digital effects are mostly on par with the previous film. There were not real leaps in technology for these films, and it all looks…okay.  But there is one glaring issue here.  Even by the standards of digital effects in 2001 (and remember, this is post “Phantom Menace”)?  The digital Scorpion King monster looks absolutely terrible.  It looks like a sub par video game creature.

In spite of the ridiculous flourishes (reincarnation for Evie, Rick being Magi, etc) the Raiders of the Lost Ark feel still works in the film, and it comes out as a fairly decent sequel.

You Gotta Go

It is a very common movie tactic to have the couple whose relationship has collapsed.  One has moved on, and one, usually our main character, has not.  They are frustrated, even bitter, about how things have turned out.  But it really about regrets.  They still love their ex and would be back with them in a flash.  But of course, the person who moved on is now in a relationship.  And so screenwriters have a problem…how to get the person out of the way before the stories end.  And outside of romantic comedies, the solution can often be…um..drastic.

I am about to spoil the crap out of the movie San Andreas.

In San Andreas, Dwayne Johnson’s Ray Gaines and his wife fell apart after the death of one of their daughters.  This has led to Carla Cugino’s Emma having moved on with Ioan Gruffudd’s Daniel Riddick.  And of course, their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) is caught in between.  You know that the film wants to get Ray and Emma back together.  But they do not have time for the two to have a mature discussion and then an amicable breakup with Daniel.  Instead, the film knows what must be done.  Daniel must die.

This happens repeatedly in films.  Bait.  2012. The Fate of the Furious (sort of).  This is a quick and easy way to resolve the problem.  Now, in some cases, such as Bait, the person killed gets to be heroic.  Which, I guess is nice.

But it is just as likely to be rather unceremonious.  In the aforementioned San Andreas, Daniel is with Blake when a massive earthquake collapses a beam on their car.  Blake is trapped and Daniel promises he will get help.  Except, he basically runs off screaming.  In fact, Daniel is repeatedly shown to be cruel and cowardly right up until his death.  Up until the point he leaves Blake, he had come across as a pretty decent and nice guy.  He was kind to Blake and was clearly into having a good relationship with Emma.

But here is the thing.  He is a romantic rival.  And he is physically positioned in an opposition to the Rock.  While Johnson is large and muscular, Gruffudd is a slighter frame.  He works in an office, he is not physically imposing or tough.  And this is kind of coded to suggest he is a weak opposition who needs to be swept aside.  Making him a vile coward who leaves her daughter to die, while she rushes to find Blake with Ray allows for her to first be angry and then forget about Daniel entirely.

This type of flourish tends to be unnecessary.  In the case of San Andreas, you could have made a far better dramatic moment of Daniel running to the door, calling for help and the  Ben and Ollie characters seeing him.  They race to the door and Daniel returns to the car to start trying to get Blake out.  Daniel, Ben, and Ollie work to get Blake’s leg’s free.  As they are getting her out, Daniel realizes that for her to successfully get free, he will have to stay in a position that will result in his death.  Saving Blake is what he sees as important, and to the horror of the other three, Daniel allows himself to be crushed for their survival.

The fact is, none of Daniel’s later scenes add anything to the film.  So you do not lose anything.  And he is an entirely unnecessary villain.  Natural Disaster stories do not inherently require a human villain.

It seems like the main reason such choices are made are that a romantic rival is made to be not just an impediment to the hero’s romantic situation, but a threat to (most often) their masculinity.  And this is where things get to be troubling.  The need to make a villain out of the rival to the extent that they are a legit villain before they are killed is a troubling attitude to perpetuate.  Killing off a character to make a romatic connection happen is pretty lazy story telling.

Back to the Beach (Baywatch, 2017)

Baywatch_PosterHonestly, of all the “Drama TV Show Made as a Comedy Movie” options?  Baywatch seemed like the best option.  Even at its most earnest (and Baywatch saw itself as a serious adventure drama), it was pretty hilarious.

So, opting to go the route of comedy, made sense.  I would have not given Baywatch a chance, were it not for some of its casting choices.  Most specifically Dwayne Johnson and Alexandra Daddario.

One of the weirdest things to me about the original show was it apparently had a 65% female viewership.  A show known for slow motion shots of Pam Anderson (and a series of Playboy Playmates that followed her) had a large female audience.  Maybe it was David Hasselhoff?  So, just how well does the Baywatch movie translate?

The short answer would be “Okay”.  The whole cast is pretty good and clearly get their roles.  The film opens with beautiful beach shots leading up to a big rescue by Mitch Buchanon (Johnson), leaping into the ocean to save an unconscious swimmer.  The guy asks Mitch if he is Batman, and Mitch replies, “Sure am…just browner.”  We see Mitch is rather beloved, one guy making daily sand sculptures of Mitch because he saved the life of the guy’s sister.

We are introduced quickly to the rest of the cast.  Ronnie is an aspiring lifeguard with a massive crush on gorgeous C.J.  A running gag is how flustered he gets around her and uh…an enthusiastic response in his pants.  Summer (Daddario) is another aspiring lifeguard who catches the attention of Matt Brody, an infamous gold medalist swimmer who joins the crew for community service.  Stephanie is Mitch’s second in command.

The central plot is the discovery of drugs on the beach, leading to the team’s efforts to expose a drug ring.  The plot is very simple but overly easy to sustain as the story hits the typical beats as many stumbling blocks impede their investigation.  Primarily, they are not cops.

The humor and language are more ‘R’ rated than the original show, though only one sequence goes overboard.  There is a sequence in the morgue that goes for gross out humor that oddly enough feels a bit out of place.  A lot of the humor is based in poking fun at the source material.  At one point, everyone is throwing crime scenarios at Brody.  He is arguing that they should be going to the police, rather than solve the case themselves.  He points out that the scenarios all sound like some unrealistic TV show.  I am pretty sure these scenarios all were from the original series.

There is a moment when Summer and Ronnie are discussing how C.J. seems to move in slow motion.  And here is where it gets to be a fine line.  Because if you are poking fun at the show’s “jiggle” factor?  You really run the risk of perpetuating it.  This cast is all attractive, and especially the women.  We are treated to all the women in sexy swimsuits, sexy gowns, sexy…well, you get the point.Of the central cast? The only average looking characters are guys.  I am a bit torn on the Ronnie and C.J. plot line.  It is a pretty tired “Average Guy and Hot Girl” scenario.  On the other hand, both characters are likable and the relationship develops somewhat organically.

The jokes tend to be hit or miss, though there are a fair number of good laugh moments.  The action sequences are actually quite nicely done and look great.  There are some awesome underwater shots.

In the end, though, what works best in the film is its ensemble cast.  They all have a certain charm that carries the film in a way the plot and humor do not.  Like I said, Baywatch is okay and even enjoyable.  But it never gets above its source material enough to feel fresh.

Speed Racers Pt 8 (The Fate of the Furious, 2017)

fast_and_furious_008_posterIf prizes were awarded for the most inconsistently named franchise?  Pretty sure this franchise would own that.  If George Lucas was involved, they would all get renamed something like Dom Toretto and the  Fast and The Furious (Who care if Vin is in every film or not).

By this time, our heroes have gone from criminals to underdogs to helping the authorities.  But after saving the world last time around, Dom has apparently switched sides and is helping Charlize Theron take on the world.  She is an evil hacker with big plans…and so Mr. Nobody calls in The Fast and Furious team and a surprise guest…the last film’s villain (Jason Statham).  Has Dom truly gone bad?  Is he really turning his back on his family?

This is the first film in the franchise not directed by Justin Lin, and it definitely loses some of that cohesiveness.  It feels less like a continuation and more like a flat out sequel from the…uh…sequel factory.  F. Gary Gray is a strong director and has some definite “action/Car movie” cred with the 2003 remake of the Italian Job.  But the story itself feels like it was conceived months after the last film was released and worked to fit their latest idea together.  The previous films felt more “organic” with Lin at the helm.

I cannot pinpoint exactly why this is, as the guy who wrote this film (Chris Morgan) wrote every film since Tokyo Drift.  Maybe Gray connects with the characters differently.  But one thing that stands out is that there is a big plot point that comes pretty much out of nowhere as Dom’s motivations.  There is no point in a prior film to see it coming. It feels purely invented for the film, like a last minute idea to solve a problem they were having.

Fate is certainly not lacking for action, though they may finally be hitting that point where it is hard to top the big set piece of the previous film.  The massive race across the ice and attempts to outrun a massive submarine feel more like they cobbled together ideas from the previous film, so instead of giving us an impressive and new sequence it highlights cooler moments of past films.

While Fate of the Furious is not terrible (and not by the standards of the franchise itself, it has its moments), it does feel like the franchise is finding it harder and harder to sustain itself.

Blog at

Up ↑