Moana

Dwayne Johnson’s most beloved role as an animated Polynesian demigod – if, that is, you are a nine-year-old girl or the father of one. But did Hemal like it?

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In a bit of a departure from our usual fare, this week we’re looking at an animated film. But for many Americans (ie – nine-year-old girls and their parents), this may very well be the movie The Rock is best known for. Released in 2016 by everyone’s favorite multinational entertainment conglomerate, the Walt Disney Corporation, Moana tells the story of a plucky young girl venturing into the forbidden and dangerous seas of a fictional Polynesian ocean world to save her beloved island village from a mysterious corruption.

In another departure, unable to rely on his mighty physical presence to do the heavy lifting for him, The Rock is forced to bring depth, charm and interiority to a lovable but flawed character through voice acting. Who knew?

In addition to Dwayne Johnson’s vocal talents in the role of Maui – who antagonizes but eventually befriends and aids our young hero, Moana – the movie also features some absolute best-in-class musical numbers from Lin Manuel Miranda.

Red Notice

A fun-filled romp with beloved A-list stars or a soulless exercise in branded entertainment product? Brian and Hemal discuss – you decide.

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Released almost as a surprise directly onto Netflix in 2021, ‘Red Notice’ stars Dwayne Johnson as a heroic federal agent (when does the man NOT play a heroic federal agent?) who is forced to team up with Ryan Reynolds as a smarmy art thief. Together they battle various antagonists – chiefly Gal Gadot, who does a lot of twirling around in a fancy dress and jumping out of windows.

The movie was written, directed and produced by Rawson Marshall Thurber – his third time working with The Rock (he was also responsible for ‘Central Intelligence’ and ‘Skyscraper’). Despite the comical implausibility of his name, Thurber seems to have his thumb on the pulse of the American cultural zeitgeist – giving the people what they want, some might say, or perhaps delivering tepid lowest common denominator fare. It’s a fine line, friends.

Hercules

Another Dwayne Johnson movie about swords and wizards? Yeah, but this one is straight-up terrible. This week, Brian and Hemal watch ‘Hercules’ – and they are not pleased about it.

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Director Brett Ratner seems to specialize in lowest common denominator filmmaking, and this is certainly that. ‘Hercules’ features one inspired act of casting – get the biggest, mightiest actor to play the iconically biggest and mightiest hero of Greek myth – but not much else. 

An almost cynical exercise in giving the audience nothing to challenge or interest them, the movie strips the original tale of all its darkness and emotional weight, takes the story out of the realm of the supernatural and then – insult to injury – doesn’t even give us cool fight scenes. 

There’s a host of other great actors on board, including ​​Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Rebecca Ferguson and John Hurt, but none of them are given much to do other than shout corny dialogue and be indistinguishable from one another. Even The Rock is wasted here, as the movie is interested solely in his physique, not his performance or humor. Dude doesn’t even get a sword.

Fast Five

What happens when a big ridiculous cartoon action star meets a big ridiculous cartoon action franchise? Well, friend, you get something very like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in Fast Five, his debut in the beloved, increasingly absurd Fast & Furious franchise.

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As with San Andreas, Brian and Hemal diverged sharply in their appreciation for Fast Five. On the one hand, Hemal really loves these Fast & Furious car chase movies and is deeply invested in the baroque lore of the series, while Brian hadn’t seen any of them and was at a loss to understand why all the characters were so boring and why Vin Diesel had such a potato head.

At the heart of your hard-working hosts’ disagreement is the concept of spectacle. Unlike some action films that work to evoke a visceral reaction in the viewer (“Ahh! The guy almost fell right off the thing!”), Fast Five is aiming for more cerebral thrills with its action set pieces (“Ha ha, I can’t believe Vin Diesel jumped his car out of that plane! Radical!”). The characters are invulnerable to all harm, so your enjoyment of the movie derives not from any sense of tension, but from appreciating the ever-escalating wackiness of events onscreen.

But these movies make hundreds of millions of dollars and show no sign of letting up, so we approach this film in a spirit of humility. Check out the episode and join us in our modest assessment.

Ten Movies is part of the Underdog Podcast network and is produced with help from Seth Everett and Anthony Gill.

The Scorpion King

Twenty years ago, America’s favorite pro wrestler was The Rock – a magnetic trash-talking antagonist delivering justice and theatrics from the top turnbuckle. But could he translate this popularity and bravura performance to the silver screen? It didn’t work for Hulk Hogan or Stone Cold Steve Austin, but Dwayne Johnson was cut from a different bolt of cloth, as we would soon see in his feature film debut: The Scorpion King.

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Will you enjoy The Scorpion King? That depends. Do you enjoy heavy metal music? Do you enjoy Dungeons & Dragons? Are you a 14-year-old boy?

While this is essentially a silly B movie, it’s also a fun romp, featuring swords, evil kings and scantily-clad sorceresses aplenty. It also has a certain amount of sincerity, weirdly enough. The people who made The Scorpion King filmed a lot of scenes with Dwayne Johnson leaping off a rope with a broadsword not because they thought we would buy it, but because they wanted to see it.

Ten Movies is part of the Underdog Podcast network and is produced with help from Seth Everett and Anthony Gill.

San Andreas

The Ten Movies podcast has launched our latest season, featuring ten iconic movies from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. America loves Dwayne Johnson – but why, exactly? Is it his enormous size? His big bald head? His unswerving commitment to always playing some sort of hyper-competent heroic Special Forces dad?

Luckily for our project, all these attributes are on display in our first movie: San Andreas.

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In ‘San Andreas’ (2015), Dwayne Johnson plays a hyper-competent heroic Special Forces dad who is also a celebrated helicopter rescue pilot. When The Big One hits California, he zips around in a variety of emergency vehicles trying to rescue his daughter and win the affections of his estranged ex-wife while a million buildings fall down in the background.

Is ‘San Andreas’ good? Is it fun? Brian felt it was ideologically reactionary and also stupid, while Hemal enjoyed it – possibly because she’s seen it a hundred times on TBS and may have developed Stockholm Syndrome. Check out the episode and see who you agree with.

Ten Movies is part of the Underdog Podcast network and is produced with help from Seth Everett and Anthony Gill.

New Season: THE ROCK (& Other Exciting News)

Hello, loyal Ten Movies listeners! We’re back after a long hiatus and we have all kinds of exciting news for you.

First things first: We’ve just launched our new season, where we’ll be watching ten movies starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

You like explosions. You like enormous men striking one another. You like people leaping off a rooftop onto a helicopter. Of course you like those things; you sing of America, glad and big. Anyway, The Rock does all that stuff in his movies and we’re gonna watch a bunch of them.

Why Dwayne Johnson? Well, the guy makes multiple features films every year and people love him, and we’re going to sort it out exactly why.

That’s not all that’s new, though, friends. The Ten Movies podcast is going Hollywood. With the launch of our new season, we’re part of the Underdog Podcasts family. Underdog is a podcast network featuring shows on sports, TV, culture, fitness, true crime and – as of now – your very favorite movie podcast that interrogates American culture through a glass darkly, by which we mean discussing how Dwayne Johnson punched a tank.

One big change: Our new home at Underdog Podcasts means our old podcast feed is no longer the thing. You can find our new feed here – please subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode. That would be sad for us, because we would miss you, but even more so for you, because this new season is gonna be top-notch.

And speaking of top-notch tings, we’re upping our audio game, working with producers Seth Everett, host of the Sports with Friends and Hall of Justice podcasts, and Anthony Gill, who produces audio for NBC Sports Chicago. We’re extremely jazzed to be working with Seth and Anthony and we think you’ll notice a sharp uptick in the already-high quality of your favorite podcast.

If you like the hard punches of justice, you’ll love this season of Ten Movies.

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days

“This film hates women” – Hemal Jhaveri

Strong words to be sure, but Hemal really hated this movie. Not because of the largely phoned-in performances or the trite plot contrivances of the early-2000s romantic comedy, but because beneath the frothy back-and-forth is a punishingly narrow view of what women are permitted to be.

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This is, of course, an episode of the beloved Ten Movies podcast from our Matthew McConaughey season, but we dusted it off because it’s a delightful romp, plus we have just now started the intense movie-watching for our new season and wanted to stall for time a bit more. And Kathryn Hahn was on our minds, since she plays a witch in the WandaVision show everyone is watching and despite serving as yet another cautionary tale for women in ‘How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days’, she’s always a treat to watch.

10 Iconic Jennifer Lopez Movies

We have come to the end of the Jennifer Lopez season of the Ten Movies podcast, having grown a little wiser and having watched a lot of middling films, along with a couple of truly wretched ones.

One thing you see when watching a lot of her movies and thinking about her public persona is the extent to which film is simply one of the many things she does. She’s possibly the purest “star” in American culture: she sings, she acts, she does Superbowl halftime shows, she has clothing lines and cosmetics lines and fragrance lines, you name it. Her fame comes from her skill and reputation as a performer, rather than from any one type of performance. Movies may simply be an aspect of marketing for her, a loss-leader that creates brand equity. Certainly most of the movies we watched functioned largely in that space.

Photo from Time, on the occasion of Jennifer Lopez’s 50th birthday.

The thing of it is, though, Jennifer Lopez is an incredibly capable actor. In (nearly) every episode we observed that she was 1) pretty good, actually and 2) better than the material. She’s not particularly skilled as a comic actor, but in dramatic roles, she’s great – grounded, believable, restrained and inviting empathy. Even in action-ish roles, you never bump on her performance. When the giant snake comes after her in ‘Anaconda‘, you get a pretty real sense of how someone might react to being pursued by a giant snake.

In most of her better movies, too, there was a strong set of traits she embodies: grit, toughness, being hot, competence and a working-class resilience. And while maybe it would have been nice to see her in some roles where she wasn’t playing a struggling Latina mom with a hardened exterior but a heart of gold, it’s rare to see those kinds of characters in a big-budget movie.

Still, though, the movies we watched mostly ranged from adequate to bad to literally the worst. Maybe she makes poor choices or has terrible luck. Maybe women in Hollywood aren’t offered the same kinds of roles as men, particularly women of color. Maybe she likes making the kinds of movies she makes. It’s hard to say.

We were heartened by the fact that the best movie and her strongest performance in any of the films we watched was ‘Hustlers‘ – the most recent on the list. She’s great in it as world-class stripper and criminal mastermind dressed like a barbarian queen in a gold bikini and a gigantic fur coat. She also served as executive producer for the film, so maybe we’re in for some truly great Jennifer Lopez movies.

Here’s what we watched:

Anaconda. An early career B movie in which J Lo and Ice Cube are chased by a giant snake being manipulated by a demented, scenery-chewing Jon Voigt. Our review: If you like giant snake movies, you will like Anaconda.

Selena. A thorough and deeply-reverent biopic about the rise of a beloved young Mexican-American pop singer who died tragically, co-starring Edward James Olmos in a pitch-perfect role as her father. Our review: An important American story but a dull movie more concerned with lionizing Selena than portraying her.

Out of Sight. A sexy Steven Soderbergh thriller that wasn’t really sexy or thrilling enough for us, putting J Lo across from George Clooney in a convoluted robbery involving various factions of thuggish misfits. Our review: If you like stylish Soderbergh heist capers, you should probably just watch ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ again.

Maid in Manhattan. A J Lo staple in which her character is an ur-text for the kinds of characters she often plays – a working-class Latina mom with a heart of gold who is mistaken for a member of the ruling class. Sadly, the handsome prince for whom she falls is played by a miscast Ralph Fiennes in a criminally bland performance. Our review: We loved Jennifer Lopez’s character and liked the movie’s strong point-of-view on the class divide, but couldn’t get over how boring Fiennes was.

Gigli. An ill-conceived and bafflingly poorly-written romance/thriller starring J Lo and Ben Affleck as Mafia-adjacent kidnappers, widely considered to be one of the worst movies ever made. But surely it can’t be that terrible, right? Our review: Wow, yes, it’s exactly as terrible as you’ve heard. What the hell?

U Turn. While we agreed that ‘Gigli’ was the worse film, Oliver Stone’s ‘U Turn’ – an overstuffed, violent mess of a movie in which Sean Penn plays a horrible man struggling to escape a horrible town filled with horrible people – was the one we least enjoyed watching. Our review: Painfully, graphically, upsettingly brutal to no obvious end. Do not watch this movie.

Shall We Dance? A light, low-stakes little movie in which Richard Gere learns to love ballroom dancing. Sadly, Jennifer Lopez, while featured prominently in the marketing, doesn’t really have much to do here. Our review: Hemal liked it. Brian thought it was fine.

Hustlers. A critical and commercial success featuring Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu leading a band of strippers who carry out increasingly criminal acts in the wake of the 2008 recession. Our review: Fun to watch and with a strong point of view, plus J Lo kills it.

The Wedding Planner. Technically this is not one of the ten movies, as it was disqualified by virtue of having been featured as one of the ten movies in the recent Matthew McConaughey season of the podcast. But it’s one of J Lo’s most-loved romantic comedies, so we threw it into this season’s stream as a bonus episode. Our review: Many people think fondly of this movie, possibly due to Stockholm syndrome from seeing it every Sunday on TBS, but we were put off by the film asking us to simply not notice that McConaughey’s character is a class-A jerkwad.

Parker. A generic mid-budget action-thriller starring Jason Statham as a generic mid-budget action star and Jennifer Lopez as his amoral sidekick as they run around Miami chasing jewel thieves or something. Our review: A reasonably valid choice if you’re doing laundry or riding an airplane.

Second Act. A comedy/drama about a hard-working outer-borough gal who fakes her resume in order to ascend the heights of corporate America with her street smarts and ends up bonding with the daughter she once gave up for adoption. Our review: A microcosm of J Lo’s film career, in which she is better than the movie around her.

Second Act

That’s a wrap on the Jennifer Lopez season of the Ten Movies podcast. Our final episode concerns 2018’s ‘Second Act’, a movie you probably haven’t seen or heard of, but which serves as a fitting finale to this season. As we have noted for pretty much all of these movies, Jennifer Lopez is often much stronger than the films she appears in, and ‘Second Act’ is no exception.

This episode is also notable for being the film that Brian and Hemal most vehemently disagreed over, with Hemal accusing Brian of hating the movie because he hates women and Brian accusing Hemal of having “pork chops instead of brains”. Ugly stuff, to be sure, but it makes for riveting audio content.

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‘Second Act’ was also a fitting finale, since J Lo’s character is a classic J Lo archetype: a tough, classy, working-class, outer-borough broad who gets one over on the swells. After being passed over for a manager gig at Value City, her friends set her up with a fancy Midtown job after creating a fake persona that pairs her actual street smarts and sales know-how with fake degrees from Harvard and the Wharton School.

Twist, though. What may, at first glance, have seemed like a retread of ‘Working Girl’ or ‘Maid in Manhattan’ is a totally different thing, because the catty young executive J Lo clashes with turns out to be [horn blast] the daughter she gave up for adoption lo these many years ago. So they do a lot of bonding and J Lo turns out to be really great at being a corporate executive but then her beautiful loving daughter and beautiful loving boyfriend both get pissed off because she lied to the and everything falls apart, but then everything is fine.

Jennifer Lopez is great in the movie, and Hemal dug it, in large part because it’s a rare film that is about women’s struggles and friendships unrelated to their relationships with men. Brian had mixed feelings, because yes to the preceding bits, but a lot of the the major relationship beats felt contrived and all the “comedy” stuff spackled on top of the film to make it (presumably) easier to market was awful. We end up arguing over this at length.

This would seem to be a good place to summarize what we learned by watching ten Jennifer Lopez movies, but for that you’ll have to wait, because we’re doing one more very special episode, summarizing our findings and ranking the movies we watched. That episode, like all of them, will be charming and free.