What I Read in January 2018

I managed to read three books while on break from school. It was a good start to the year. Maybe I’ll keep some of that momentum going into February. I hope to at least finish Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer.

The Incrementalists

Steven Brust and Skyler White

The first of the books I got for Christmas that I managed to read. I read a Brust book a few months ago and liked it, but this is something completely difference. The Incrementalists is about a secret society that can save their consciousness in a mental garden and after they die combine it with an new person to live on. They try to make the world better by making small, incremental changes. First, the protagonist Phil finds a someone to take his lover Celeste’s consciousness. Then there is a mystery about how exactly Celeste died and why her memories didn’t come through. I liked the idea and the characters, but really wished the book had done more to show what this secret society does. Other than argue with each other, I guess. It is a lot of drama within the group and everything else is kind of vague.

As You Wish

Cary Elwes

This is not a book that I want to give a harsh review to. There is nothing bad about it, there just really isn’t anything there. It is Cary Elwes recounting his time making The Princess Bride. While that is a great movie, and there were a lot of interesting people involved, his recollections are pretty low impact. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy reading it; I love the movie and liked learning every little bit about the production that I did. But this book lacks something to make it into anything other than a curio for super-fans. I guess it is good to learn that making the movie seems to be as positive an experience for the cast as viewing it was for everyone else. It is genuinely heartwarming to read these recollections, but that doesn’t mean the book doesn’t lack the drama that would make it something really memorable to read.

The Beggar King

Oliver Potzsch

This is the third book in Potzsch’s Hangman’s Daughter series. It has some of the same rough spots as the previous two books, the dialogue has a lot of modern turns of phrase for a book set in the 17th century and characters frequently come off as unreasonable. Whether that is on the writer or the translator I can’t say, but those are pretty consistent flaws in what is otherwise an enjoyable adventure/mystery.

The Beggar King starts with Jakob Kuisl, the hangman, going to the city to help his sick sister. When he gets there, he finds her and her husband murdered and he is framed for killing them. While he sits in jail, his daughter Magdalena and her lover Simon fun afoul of people in their hometown and run away to her aunts and to start in a new life in the city. There, they find out the fate of her father and get embroiled in the machinations that led to his arrest as they try to free him. It is a fast moving, fun adventure that goes some strange directions. I don’t know that I’ll remember the details by the end of the year, but I enjoyed reading it.


Christophe Arleston and Alessandro Barbucci

This comic has a fun gimmick, even if it did turn out to be a little more risque than I expected. It stars a woman who finds out she is her aunt’s heir in a fantasy mirror world. She is joined by the man who just so happened to be sitting next to her on the plane that she was transported out of. In the world of Ekho, Fourmille, the main character, is possessed by the spirit of those who were murdered until she figures out who killed them. In the first volume that is her aunt. After that, she and her friends move around to new places. They are pulled to new areas in her job as a talent agent. She also moonlights as part of her secretaries burlesque show. It mostly seems to be an excuse for the artist to draw fantasy versions of what he wants, from Marilyn Monroe to Paris, France. Also, boobs. There are lots of boobs. It is a light, fun affair. If new volumes go on sale on comixology again, I’ll likely pick them up. It was fun enough.


Now Playing January 2018


Super Mario 3D Land — post coming soon.

New Super Mario Bros 2 — post coming soon.


Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time — I’ve made a little more progress and should finish soon. I still really like this game and will have a full post once I finish up.

Final Fantasy XV — I played the first hour or two of this. It is interesting, but I can’t tell if I like it or not yet. I’ve barely gotten started. I will say that Cindi is one of the most ridiculous character designs in a series full of ridiculous character designs. It is a sensible concept ran through some kind of insane porn filter. It is just completely out of place.

Etrian Odyssey V — Barely any progress, but it is still the game in my 3DS.

Monster Hunter World — Another game I barely played, but this one only because it just came out. It feels like a little more than the slight updates that the last few Monster Hunter sequels have been. And maybe I just haven’t seen the content yet, but it also feels like a much smaller game than them in terms of number of monsters available to hunt. I’ll be writing more about this early game of the year favorite.


Celeste & Iconoclasts –– I will likely pick up one of both of these for a weekend of fun in the near future. They look great.

Super Mario Mario Galaxy — I am really looking forward to this, assuming I get the chance to actually play it.

What I Watched Jan 2018

The Shape of Water see review here. *****

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle see review here. ***1/2

Goon: Last of the Enforcers — The original Goon was a really fun sports comedy. This sequel doesn’t really have much to offer. Everything that worked in the first movie either doesn’t work here or is so diminished that it doesn’t matter. It wasn’t offensively bad or anything, but it really doesn’t have a reason to exist. **

The Polka King — Between this and Bernie, Jack Black is kind of cornering the market on playing weird criminals. Here he plays a Polka musician who dreams big, and takes investment money from some old people fund tours for his polka band. He is not really a bad person; he genuinely believes that he will be successful and be able to pay everyone what he owes them, but he obviously can’t, as is made clear as it inevitably falls apart. It is funny and sad. ***1/2

Mary and the Witch’s Flower — see review here. ****

Step Sisters – This is a small cut above this usual sort of sports/dance movie since it at least tries to have something to say. I don’t know that it actually does; I might be giving it too little credit because I am really not the target audience, but at least it tried. It is well made, but largely familiar. ***

Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters – I love Godzilla, but I didn’t like this at all. It is ugly and slow and mostly really boring. I realize more is coming, but this felt more like a mediocre first chapter than an actual movie. **

License to Wed — I like the people in this movie; Robin Williams, John Krasinski and Mandy Moore (I guess). But the movie misses the mark in just about every way, coming off as creepy and deranged rather than funny and relatable. *

A Futile and Stupid Gesture — This is so close to being really good, but it doesn’t quite come together. It feels like it is telling the story to people who already know it. It name drops a lot of people, but it doesn’t really tell you anything if you don’t already know to who those people are. It is still mostly amusing and well made, but it is a little too scattered. I guess that fits for the guy behind Animal House and Caddyshack. ***

Michael Clayton — This movie is really good, just an intense, perfectly thriller. I kind of want to write a full post about it. It is just so good. *****


Psych — I don’t have much to say about Psych right now, other than that I am glad it is available streaming again. It is my ideal background noise show; I love it.

The Office — Another old favorite that rewatched chunks of. It holds up. Seasons 2 and 3 are some of the best TV seasons ever made, and the rest never falls below pretty good. The show never really develops the warmth of something like Parks and Rec, but it remains really funny and occasionally touching.

Top of the Lake — I heard good things about the second season of this, China Girl, but I decided to watch from the beginning. It’s good. A slower, more thoughtful show than I really wanted to be watching, but it is quality stuff. I don’t know that it really succeeds as a mystery, but it works as a character study. I’ll get to the second season sometime.

Runaways — Hulu’s entry into the superhero genre. Well, kind of. The comic this is based on is excellent; one of my favorites. They got the characters and the look right, but they changed up the story. The changes make sense in a lot of ways, the comic does sort of lose its focus after the parents are dealt with, but it fell into the trap that Marvel’s Netflix shows have increasingly fallen into; the show is impossibly padded. There are just long stretches were nothing happens or it repeats plot points. My complaint is essentially that in a show titles Runaways, the kids don’t actually run away until the last episode.

Great News — I will have a blog post about this show sometime, especially as it appears to have aired its last episode. It is a great follow up to 30 Rock, one of the greatest sitcoms ever made. This season was strong all the way through, though it did have the misfortune of following the sublime Good Place, which sucked up all the attention. This season fleshed out the secondary characters and brought its central story to what can be looked at as a satisfactory conclusion. This show deserved better.

One Day At a Time — The second season of this Netflix sitcom frustrated me like the last season. There is a lot that is good about it, but I doesn’t quite hit the mark for me. The show combines very old fashioned structure and format with very forward looking subject matter. The latter works for me, but I have never been a big fan of the former. My favorite shows have almost all been single camera sitcoms that had no laugh tracks. There is nothing wrong with that format, it just doesn’t really work for me. At least it is well written, unlike the similarly formatted Fuller House, which is a complete pile of shit.

Trollhunters — My love for Guillermo del Toro’s Shape of Water got me to go ahead and watch the cartoon he created for Netflix. It takes some time to get going and build its world, but it turns into a really solid adventure. It shares a lot with Stranger Things (not just a bully named Steve who isn’t as bad as he seems), playing out like that show explicitly aimed at kids. I mean that as a big compliment.

CW Superhero shows — Black Lightning is coming on strong, Legends still hasn’t returned, Supergirl is coming together and The Flash is managing to remain light even though Barry is in jail. I am going to have a longer write up of these shows soon, so I am not writing much here.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower

Mary and the Witch’s Flower is the first movie from Studio Ponoc, a successor to Studio Ghibli.  A few years ago, Studio Ghibli made some announcements that suggested that, with Hayao Miyazaki’s latest retirement, they would cease producing feature films, prompting some of its members to go their own way. This film is their first release and it shows that they are mostly carrying on the spirit of the previous studio.

Hiromasa Yonebayashi, director of Ghibli releases The Secret World of Arietty and When Marnie was There, directed Mary and the Witch’s Flower. It follows in that line of adaptations of children’s books that includes Kiki’s Delivery Service, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Arietty. It ends up feeling a bit like a Studio Ghibli greatest hits. That makes it sound worse than it is, this is frequently a touching and enthralling movie, but it never quite reaches the heights of its inspirations.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower follows Mary, a girl who feels like she is bad at everything, who moves in with her aunt in the country. She fights with a young boy her age and befriends a few stray cats before finding a mysterious flower in the woods. The flower gives her the ability to do magic. She finds a magic broom that whisks her away to a magic school in the sky, where things aren’t exactly what they seem.

I don’t want to spoil much of the movie, but it hits a lot of Ghibli notes. There is a young girl flying on a broom, like Kiki’s Delivery Service; there is a castle in the sky, like Castle in Sky. The movie also has echoes of films from Princess Mononoke to Ponyo.

The only real problem with the movie is that it doesn’t really have a resolution for its villains. They aren’t redeemed at all, but neither are they punished. They kind of learn the error of their ways, but it more that they just sort of fail. It is a real problem, the movie largely lack narrative stakes. It all just sort of happens.

Still, there is a lot to like in Mary and the Witch’s Flower. It ends up feeling much like Arietty; a little slight but otherwise enjoyable. It is a pleasant, enjoyable movie that doesn’t really have anything push it from being good to great.



It is time for the early year dumping ground, where studio toss out the junk movies that didn’t quite turn out while they try to direct viewers to the wide releases to last year’s award bait movies. As such, there really isn’t a lot in Jan-Feb that looks really good, honestly nothing in January, other than Liam Neeson’s The Commuter, looked interesting to me at all. Things pick up some in March and April before heading into what looks to be a packed summer. (At least they did before recent schedule adjustments.)


Black Panther – Marvel had an excellent year last year, and Black Panther appears to be distinctive visually and from a story perspective. Hopefully it is not just another

Annihilation – The only thing that gives me pause about this movie is that it is billed as horror. I don’t do horror. It is a weird sci-fi premise with a great cast. I could see this being really good. I could also see it being too scary for me. I guess we’ll see.

Game Night – I like the cast, the premise is interesting. I have doubts about its ability to pull the story off, but the trailer was good enough for me to give it a shot.


Red Sparrow – A spy movie starring Jennifer Lawrence is enough to get me interested. There are some other interesting people in the cast, like Joel Edgerton and Jeremy Irons, but I really don’t know a lot about it other than the trailer looked pretty good. It seems worth a shot.

Death Wish – I don’t know why I picked this out. The old Death Wish movie have aged like fine milk and I can’t remember the last time I saw Bruce Willis in something when he seemed like he cared. At least it appears to have terrible politics.

A Wrinkle in Time – It looks really interesting. I am not really familiar with the book, but this had a really good trailer. It is another of those YA adaptation that aren’t really for me, but I might be persuaded to give this a shot.

Tomb Raider – Video games movies have been, taken together, terrible. This one might be terrible as well. But I like Alicia Vikander, and Tomb Raider at least presents the possibility of some Indiana Jones like fun.

Pacific Rim: Uprising – The first movie was a delightful spectacle that showed it emptiness upon repeat viewings. I don’t mean that as a slam, I level the same complaint at The Avengers which I still really like, but while Pacific Rim was fun, it was about as deep as mud puddle. This movie seems to be at least bringing the spectacle again, so I am excited.

Ready Player One – It is directed Steven Spielberg, which makes it worth watching in my book, but the book is kind of the problem. I didn’t much care the novel this movie is based on. Plenty of movies have fixed problems with their source material, I hope this can turn that into something genuinely entertaining. I am not very optimistic.


Rampage – The Rock in a movie with a silly premise. It might be Baywatch, or it might be Jumanji. Hopefully it is more like the latter, or at least Central Intelligence, but it might also be crap. Still, The Rock is fighting giant monsters. Despite my reservations about

Super Troopers 2 – The first Super Troopers was a favorite of mine in high school. Returning to it more than 15 years later fills me with as much trepidation as it does joy. Once upon a time I loved this movie, but comedy sequels aren’t often good and I don’t know that my sense of humor is the same now. I’ll still be going to see, because I can’t not.

The Disaster Artist Review

The Disaster Artist is a glorious celebration of dreams and aspirations, I guess. Or mocking the the delusion of dreams that far outstrip the talent of the dreamer. It finds what is admirable in delusion. The Disaster Artist is the story of the making of The Room, a beloved film frequently cited as one of the worst ever made. It is that, but it is also bafflingly watchable. It is like watching a car race than ends in a train crash. This movie tells the behind the scenes story that is just as crazy as the movie that it produced. It works, managing to be heartwarming, funny and as true as any story is.

The Disaster Artist walks a difficult path. It is a comedy about real, still living people. It wants the viewer to simultaneously laugh at and admire these people. That is not an easy task, but The Disaster Artist pulls it off. The story is told from the perspective of Greg Sestero, who meets Tommy Wiseau at an acting class. While Greg is somewhat closed off in his acting, Tommy is shockingly free. They become friends and together move to Los Angeles to make it in Hollywood. The ambition of Tommy and even Greg is admirable. They aren’t going to let anything stand between them and their dreams of being actors. If no one will cast them, then they will write and make their own movie. Luckily, Tommy has a mysterious source of money, which he uses to fund their movie.

There aren’t too many great surprises, there is friction on set because Tommy doesn’t know what he is doing. There is personal friction because Greg gets a girlfriend. The movie goes to great lengths to recreate scenes from The Room, to great effect. Just seeing that weirdness recreated is entertaining. The big emotional scenes work well enough, but maybe didn’t quite engage me the way I wished it would. There is a courage to art, that as an artist you are putting yourself out there for people. This is something I, as a writer, frequently fail at. I’d often rather keep my stories hidden rather than have them rejected. The movie starts lauding that bravery, but when their dreams fall apart in front of them, it shows them recovering by embracing the ridicule. It is just kind of an odd story.

The only place I would say the movie fails is that it doesn’t really examine the obvious lies and flat non-answers that are behind a lot of Wiseau’s life. This brushes up against being a biopic that doesn’t make any effort to find out who its star really is. He claims his vague, eastern European accent is cajun, and while this is patently untrue and played for a joke in the movie, the fact that it is not true is not engaged with at all. At one point Tommy and Greg have an argument, but it is resolved without actually resolving anything. The movie can’t help but show the falseness of just about every claim Wiseau makes about himself, but it is not at all interested in the truth; the story is good enough. It isn’t a big deal, but it is an obvious blind spot in the film.

The Disaster Artist is a treat. It is a thoughtful, meaty comedy like we never get.


The Shape of Water

Guillermo del Toro is one of my favorite directors. I am not as familiar with his early, Spanish language work, but from Hellboy on I’ve been a big a fan. While I was already on board with The Shape of Water just from knowing he was directing it; everything else I heard about it just made it sound better. The Shape of Water has del Toro working in his usual mode; this is a mixture of horror and fairy tale. It has a monster, but the monster is not the scariest part of the movie. It uses the monster as a lens to examine our humanity.

The Shape of Water stars Sally Hawkins as Elisa, a mute cleaning lady for a secret military lab in the middle of the cold war. The action kicks off when Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon) brings in a fish man from the amazon to study. While she forges a relationship with the creature, SHANNON tortures it mercilessly and plans to kill it and the Russians plot to steal the creature to stop the US from studying it. Aided by her coworker Zelda and neighbor Giles, and a little by a Russian spy, Elisa frees the creature and then must evade Stickland as he searches for the missing creature. I call it the creature, the credits call him, played by Doug Jones, as Amphibian Man, but he is clearly a take on the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

The movie, narrated by Giles, is framed as a fairy tale. Elisa is the princess and the Amphibian man is the prince. There is so much more going on here, though. There is a heist, there is a spy thriller, a romance and a monster movie all going on at once. They all blend together into an unforgettable experience.

The plot is actually rather simple, it is the characters that really make this movie shine. Elisa is completely mute, but she doesn’t let that hinder her ability to communicate. It is clear why she would fall in love with the similarly mute creature, who as she signs in one pivotal scene doesn’t see how she is incomplete. He neighbor and friend Giles is a gay man who has been forced out of his work and has trouble making it in the oppressive time period. The same is true of Elisa’s friend Zelda, who is black. All of the “good guys” are minorities of some sort, trying to live their lives in a world titled against them. Then there is Strickland, who is in charge at the facility. Early in the movie he loses a couple of fingers. They are reattached, but as the movie goes along, they fester and die, turning black on his hand as the blackness of his soul is revealed. He has the perfect 50’s life, with the wife and kids and the good job, but he is completely unfulfilled. He is not just a monster, there is a clear character in there, but he is utterly selfish but thinks he is doing his best. The movie does an excellent job of starting him out as a conquering hero who subdued the monster, only to slowly show who the real monster is between those two. Then there is Michael Stuhlbarg’s Dr. Hoffstetler, who only wants to study the creature, but is largely powerless.

There are flights of fancy, this is at its heart a fairy tale. There are times in the movie that might lose people because of how obviously fake they are. But there is a story logic to all of it, it works in the scene even if it would not in real life. This is a movie that starts by expressly stating it is a fairy tale and it primarily about a fish man, there is a natural state of unreality to it all. If you can give yourself to the reality of the movie, it is one of the most amazing films of the decade.


River City Rival Showdown

River City Ransom is one the best games on the NES. It is scrolling brawler, a genre even at its best has always felt somewhat flat, but River City Ransom combined that with a little bit of a Metroid like open world and some light RPG elements, along with a healthy dose of humor, to create one of the most memorable and endlessly replayable NES games. Thanks to consistently inconsistent localization choices, the greater series that River City Ransom was part of never really became a thing and it largely disappeared from western shores after the NES faded until a recent resurgence on the DS and 3DS.

That resurgence has been both welcome and somewhat disappointing. Last year gave us River City: Tokyo Rumble, which I enjoyed. However, it was more like Ransom’s predecessor Renegade than the game it gets its title from. It was fun, but it was not that River City Ransom experience that I was craving. Earlier this year we got River City: Knights of Justice, which replaced the usual Tokyo setting with a fantasy one, but bafflingly removed many of the rpg elements from the game. I have yet to finish it, but I’ve found it to be a great disappointment. While I was still excited to play the game, I was worried that it be another shadow of the game I really wanted to play. Thankfully, with Rival Showdown they have finally gotten things right.

The game is more of a reimagining of the NES classic, not a simple remake. It takes the same basic set up, that someone has set the ruffians of all the high schools against Kunio and kidnapped Riki’s girlfriend, and turns it into a time limited open world adventure. It takes the original game and adds in a dash of Majora’s Mask as well as some alternate endings, making the replayability of it a central part of the experience.

It starts with a few events to set up the game, then let’s the player loose for the rest of the three days in game to do whatever they want. There is a right path, one that leads to the actual showdown with the guy responsible, there is more than enough stuff to keep the player busy even if they ignore all the main story stuff. On my first path I missed a few plotlines entirely. Most of the events are reimaginings of events from the first game, only played out multiple times with increasing difficulty, like the repeated run ins with Benny & Clyde.

One of my favorite moments in any video game is when my cousin and I first got to the top of the school in the original River City Ransom and faced the Dragon twins. It was a hard fought battle. First, they knocked me down to one sliver of health on my health bar. So I moved away from the fight, taking quick shots and running away. Left fighting a two on one, my cousin didn’t last long. By the time I rushed back in, they had already knocked him out. That left me versus both Dragon twins, that epic Double Dragon music, with almost no health. Somehow, though grit and luck and a small amount of skill, I pulled through. I took out both of them, leaving us free to take on the last boss. It was amazing. River City Rival Showdown gave me a few a of those moments. The best one was when an army of delinquents attacks Kunio’s school and must stand alone to stop them. They don’t stop coming for almost ten real world minutes. It is epic and exhausting. I loved it.

I don’t know that I like Rival Showdown as much as River City Ransom, but for the first time one of its follow ups feels like it attempts to improve on the stuff I liked about River City Ransom. Most of them lose things like the rpg character building stuff or the free roaming elements. That delicate mix is what made the original game work so well and this is the first follow that really captures it.

What I Watched December 2017


Return of the Jedi – I wanted to watch the whole original trilogy and The Force Awakens again before The Last Jedi came out, but I only ended with time for the two previous ones. I know Return of the Jedi is the least liked of the original trilogy, but I can’t see putting it noticeably lower than the original. *****

The Force Awakens – There is still a propulsive momentum to this movie, that pulls the viewer along for the first two thirds of it. It pushes all of the right nostalgia buttons. It doesn’t end with quite the same force, but it is still a lot of fun. ****1/2

The Last Jedi – read review here. *****

Mad Max Fury Road – Yup, it is still the best movie of the last decade. *****

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri – read review here. *****

The Lost City of Z – I was really excited for this at the start of the year, but it kind of left me old. I really wanted to like it and it looks amazing, but I really didn’t connect with it. It is a well made story of a man driven to explore. ***1/2

The Three Musketeers – This 1994 Disney version is not the classic I remembered it being, but Oliver Platt and Tim Curry make sure this movie is enjoyable, no matter how miscast Charlie Sheen is or how overwhelmed Chris O’Donnell seems. It isn’t great, but there is a decent amount of fun to be had. ***

Psych: The Movie – I can’t judge this fairly. I love Psych, and this is a super long, pretty good episode of the TV show. I am just happy to have Shawn and Gus and the rest back. I don’t think it quite makes the turn into its last twist and Lassiter is sorely missed, but otherwise it is a lot of fun. *****

The Disaster Artist – read review here.

Christmas Inheritance – another in my mostly successful attempt to watch ever Netflix original movie from 2017. I am not the target audience for this. I didn’t enjoy it as much as Christmas Prince. **

Mudbound – An old fashioned epic about racism in the Great Depression and after the end of WWII. I really liked it. Some of it felt familiar, but the struggles of the two veterans in dealing with life after the war is some really strong stuff. I think I’ll be coming back to this in the future. ****1/2

Bright – I don’t think this movie is good, but I had a good time watching it. I think I was laughing at it more than with it, but I was laughing. Even when I am sure the movie did not want me to be laughing. Will Smith is entertaining, and it certainly feels like a big budget movie. **1/2

Dr. No – This first Bond movie feels somewhat incomplete. At this point it is just a movie, not a Bond movie. It is also a very old movie, and feels like it. **

Goldfinger – In some ways this is better than From Russia with Love, in others it feels like a step down. This third attempt is when the elements of a Bond movie really feel like they come together. It is mostly a lot of fun. ****1/2

From Russia with Love – There are some parts of this that really haven’t aged well, but for the most part it one of the best Bond adventures. I was going to watch all of the Bond movies, but they disappeared from hulu before I could get to them. I do have more than half on those cheap DVD collections that were about a year or two ago, I could make an attempt. ****1/2


The Office – I went back to an old standby during finals. I think I forget how much I love The Office every time I stop watching The Office. I know it dips in quality after the first few seasons, but I still think it might be an all-timer for me.

Jumanji Welcome to the Jungle

I don’t know how much I have to say about Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. It was pretty fun, but it is exactly what purports to be; I didn’t see a lot to comment on. Maybe I could spend this review complaining about the first Jumanji, which is junk, but that feels like a waste of time. This movie takes a goofy body switching premise, but things in the hands of four fun performers and just sort of does its thing.

The plot of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is that a quartet of high school kids fitting rough stereotypes get sent to detention together. Forced to clean out an old storeroom, they find a mysterious old video game titled Jumanji and try to play it. It sucks them all into the game, where they become the character they selected. So the nerdy guy becomes the Rock,the jock turns into Kevin Hart, the shy girl becomes Karen Gillan and the popular social media obsessed girl becomes Jack Black. Working together, they must beat the game to go home.

It is just what it seems. They play through video game cliches and confidence lessons. There are tons of jokes about how the guy that was small is now big and the guy that was big is now small, as well as Black portraying a teen girl. It is nothing new, but it all works.

The biggest reason it works is because of its stars. Dwayne Johnson is endlessly charming and has a track record of working well with Kevin Hart. Hart, I’ve found, works best in small doses and this here is just the right amount. This is also a good showcase for Karen Gillan, who gets a chance to shine not covered in Nebula makeup. Then there is Black, who has to play a different gender and really has fun with it. How much you like the movie likely comes down to how much you like these four. I am a big fan of three of them, and neutral on the fourth, so it really worked for me.

I don’t really want to spoil any jokes, and the plot isn’t worth spoiling; there really isn’t much here other than some very good popcorn entertainment. It is action, adventure, and CGI animals, which fortunately look a lot better than the ones in the original looked. It isn’t genuinely good, but it also isn’t as dumb as a lot of other would be blockbusters. It is roughly as good as watching The Last Jedi for the third or fourth time.