Tag: Dwayne Johnson

Fighting with My Family

fwmfSaraya “Paige” Knight competes as part of a wrestling mad family from Norwich, who run a local wrestling gig out the back of a van. This is the “pro” brand of wrestling, complete with fake punches, body slams and dramatic leaps off the top rope onto some poor sucker waiting to take the fall—the kind of wrestling that spawned the likes of Hulk Hogan and (yes) Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. For Saraya (the excellent Florence Pugh) and her brother Zac (Jack Lowden), the dream of making it to the glitz and glamour of America’s WWE hits a snag when the inseparable siblings have to split their tag-team … she got selected to trial, he didn’t.  

This simple but true story is Saraya’s after all—it’s a classic rags-to-riches tale, a kind of Rocky story built on sweaty training montages and more eye-rolling cliches than a wrestler’s verbal retort.  

Of course, no film about wrestling would be complete without an appearance from the aforementioned mountain of machismo himself. The Rock’s planetary sized screen presence orbits his goofy charismatic charm, sucking your attention with tractor-beam-like command—that’s no moon, it’s The Rock. So it’s unfortunate then, that he only makes two brief appearances (despite promo material suggesting otherwise). But hey, that’s one for each bicep, so you take what you can get.

However, as is so often the case, the film’s heart and soul rest with its writer/director. Here, Stephen Merchant (The Office) proves that he can pen some heartwarming moments and very funny gags for the big screen. Sadly, his directorial efforts don’t fare so well—he’s on autopilot and although hanging on tightly to his inflatable pen, he seems to be drowning in a sea of predictability.  Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead) delivers a rib-tickling performance as Saraya’s dad, lacing this film with plenty of feel-good vibes as he vicariously lives through his daughter’s fortunes. Beyond that, Fighting with My Family remains an entertaining but lightweight affair of humorously choreographed muscle.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

jumanjiThe body-swap gag has graced the silver screen many times over the years. The Hot Chick, The Change-Up, Freaky Friday, 13 going on 30—the list goes on and what is common to most are their tendency to be b-grade comedies.  Here, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle attempts a slightly different angle as it blends the body-swap trope with the 1996 Jumanji original.

Jumanji tells the tale of four high-school students and one fateful afternoon on school detention.  The four students occupy various extremes in their school’s social pecking order; the football jock, the “selfie” valley girl, the nerd, and the loner. The premise is ripe for some Breakfast Club styled soul searching and frat-boy high-jinx. Although that’s as far as Jumanji has in common with any John Hughes film, as here the four become entwined by the fickle finger of fate and a magical video game. Unwillingly sucked into game’s world, they come to terms with each occupying a fictional avatar quite different to their real self.  They must also work together to save Jumanji from the evil villain, Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale). Plot, for the lack of a better word, is not this film’s strength as it navigates a very linear narrative in search of the next comedic moment … of which there are, thankfully, enough giggles to maintain a mild semblance of interest.

Kevin Hart offers his usual “go to” brand of loud and brash humour which has become a tired cliche since the days of Eddie Murphy.  Likewise, Jack Black and Dwayne Johnson operate well within their comfort zone and offer little more than their norm.  The big surprise being Karen Gillen (Guardians of the Galaxy), who steals the show. Externally she’s a kick-ass Lara Croft styled martial arts vixen. Internally, she’s a painfully shy loner who has to come to terms with what’s required of her—hilarious scenes involving Jack Black teaching her how to flirt are the film’s high point.

Putting the humour aside, Jumanji briefly touches on issues of adolescent identity, however, director Jake Kasdan (Bad Teacher) seems uninterested in exploring the topic with any depth. Alas, Jumanji does feel a little lightweight and while my expectations for this film were fairly low, it somehow still managed to mildly disappoint.  If all you’re after is average adventure thinly draped over a collection of chuckles, then Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle will be a perfectly serviceable holiday block-bluster … but beyond that, it will fall out of your brain soon after you leave the theatre.

You can see my published reviews here.


mo_620x311Disney’s first Polynesian-themed animated feature film since Lilo & Stitch (2002) has certainly landed with a splash. The film opened in the U.S. amassing over $200,000 in its first three weeks. This is perhaps standard fare for a tentpole Disney animated feature, but it is still nice to see such attention poured out on stories close to our own shores.

Moana is loosely based on the myths and legends of Polynesia and does well to coalesce these into an entertaining story. On an undisclosed Polynesian island we are introduced to the titular Moana voiced by newcomer, Auli’i Cravalho. She is chosen by the ocean to find the narcissistic demigod Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson), and convince him to return the stolen heart of the mythical island deity, Te Fiti.  It is worth noting that a number of liberties were deemed necessary to shoe-horn in a story fit for consumption, and this has left some characters barely recognisable from their legendary counterparts.

Directed and co-directed by Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker and Chris Williams, and penned by a creative team too long to list (although I will mention Taika Waititi had an input), there is no doubting that Moana is a team effort.  Its a wonder with all these chefs in the kitchen that they have produced a coherent film, but they did. In fact significant lengths were taken to achieve a high standard of story telling. In an interview with Huffington Post, lead director Ron Clements mentions how he and his co-directors visited islands in the South Pacific in order to gain artistic and authentic references for the film. Clements said of his experience that he encountered many traditions that had “respect for nature, respect for the ocean and the elements – all of these things – really had a huge influence on us and then began to make their way into this film’s story.” 

Testament to its connection with nature, Moana unintentionally shares many similarities with the superb but little known Irish animated feature Song of the Sea (do see this film if you get the chance!).  Despite being worlds apart in many ways, I was struck with how both films are similar in their treatment of myth and legend. They serve to illustrate how we are connected as humans.

I can’t finish this review without mentioning the music — original songs by Opetaia Foa’i and Lin-Manuel Miranda are incredibly catchy and you’ll be singing Jermaine Clement’s “Shiney” long after leaving the theatre. Moana opens in New Zealand on Boxing Day.

4 stars out of 5

You can see the published review here