Movie Review: ‘A Dog’s Journey’ is Overflowing with Human Melodrama

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CREDIT: Joe Lederer/Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

Starring: Josh Gad, Kathryn Prescott, Dennis Quaid, Marg Helgenberger, Betty Gilpin, Henry Lau, Abby Ryder Fortson, Ian Chen

Director: Gail Mancuso

Running Time: 108 Minutes

Rating: PG for Emotional Neglect and a Car Crash

Release Date: May 17, 2019

Movies centered around dogs sound all well and good, but what we perhaps are not always as cognizant of as we should be is that these flicks often need human stories happening around the pooches. It might be natural to ask, “If I love dogs, will I love A Dog’s Journey?” Well, it turns out that is not the most relevant question, because what really matters here is your taste for melodrama.

A sequel to A Dog’s Purpose, A Dog’s Journey is an extension of the narrative but also a re-do, running through the exact formula set by the original: a soul with the inner voice of Josh Gad lives a full dog life, dies, and then gets reincarnated as a new breed with a new name, but with the memories of the past lives intact. “Purpose” has been dropped from the title, because this time the pooch (who consistently knows him/herself as “Bailey” despite all the new monikers) learns his mission right from the start. His original owner Ethan (Dennis Quaid) informs Bailey that he must stay by the side of his step-granddaughter CJ (Ant-Man‘s Abby Ryder Fortson as a youngster and Kathryn Prescott as a young adult) as she navigates a rough and painful life.

And oh boy, does CJ have a tough upbringing, often comically so. Her mother Gloria (GLOW‘s Betty Gilpin) is chronically absent and frequently antagonistic to her family members. At one point, CJ comes right out and tells her, “You are literally the worst mother in the world.” Gilpin is impressively committed, but Gloria comes off as little more than a caricature. While there may be bad parents just like her in the real world, her behavior is so bizarrely motivated that it always feels like she and CJ are acting like they’re in a soap opera when everything else around them suggests verisimilitude. The ostensible appeal of a canine-based movie like A Dog’s Journey is the dog’s askew interpretations of human behavior. Those zingers are present and occasionally worth a chuckle, but the majority of the plot is overwrought human tragedy. That’s generally exhausting, though occasionally it thankfully enters the territory of self-parody.

A Dog’s Journey is Recommended If You Like: A Dog’s Purpose, Unabashed melodrama, Believing that your loved ones can be reincarnated

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Boss Dogs

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Movie Review: ‘John Wick: Chapter 3’ Might Be the Loudest Action Movie Ever Made

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CREDIT: Niko Tavernise

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick, Anjelica Huston, Ian McShane, Saïd Taghmaoui, Jason Mantzoukas, Robin Lord Taylor

Director: Chad Stahelski

Running Time: 131 Minutes

Rating: R for Traditional and Improvised Weaponry Galore

Release Date: May 17, 2019

Either I have really sensitive ears, or other critics and action film buffs have had their hearing blown out by cinematic cacophony.

The first John Wick had some cool ideas about how a worldwide network of assassins would be managed and litigated, but it was sloppily edited and so, so overwhelmingly loud. (It’s possible that the theater I saw it in didn’t have the sound properly calibrated, but I’ve seen plenty of movies in that theater before and after in which that hasn’t been an issue.) Then Chapter 2 came along and cleaned up those execution snafus.* But now Chapter 3 is backsliding, or just leaning too hard into the danger zone. The outrageously choreographed fight sequences are still shot gracefully, but the soundtrack is now oppressive at Guinness record-shattering levels. (*-Although, looking back at my review of Chapter 2, I am reminded that this trilogy actually never quieted down.)

This edition opens with Keanu Reeves and a fellow assassin breaking every possible glass surface within reach, and the volume for that level of destruction never lets up. And look, I could forgive this movie my eardrums getting blown out if everything else were satisfying, but I just don’t really much care about the mess that Wick has gotten himself mucked up in. He’s run afoul of some sacred rules, and now he and whoever’s helped him must atone rather ritualistically, but I just want to shout to the enforcers, “Get over yourselves!”

At least the performances remain commendably committed. Reeves, Ian McShane, and Laurence Fishburne are as righteous as you remember them. Among the newcomers, Asia Kate Dillon commands respect in the rather thankless task as the uber-rules-respecting adjudicator, while Jason Mantzoukas is a little helper fellow who is nowhere near as unhinged as his typical roles, though he does wonders with his face acting. That’s some subtlety that could have been quite useful elsewhere in this overloaded buffet of gore.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is Recommended If You: Have less sensitive hearing than I do

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Shattered Windows

Avengers: Endgame First Thoughts

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CREDIT: Disney/Marvel Studios

Maybe some movies should be reviewed in parts over the course of months, or maybe even years. That’s how I’m feeling about Avengers: Endgame. So I’m going to go ahead and talk about what’s striking my fancy about it now and maybe talk about it some more later.

The closest comparison I can think of for the premise of Endgame is The Leftovers. The opening scenes for the two are eerily similar in terms of both tone and function. But of course they then head in very different directions. I didn’t stick with The Leftovers because I just wasn’t hooked by how its particular characters responded in their particular ways to the disappearances. But with Endgame, I already know the context, so I’m already in, baby. And no doubt about it, I am happy that the ultimate focus is on Tony Stark’s beating heart, and everyone keeping things right with their families. That emotional resonance is enough to buoy the whole affair along for three hours. And it’s also enough to prevent me from getting too angry about the characters who don’t have much meaningful to do or the moments that make me go, “But why?”

Also important: how about those end credits? It’s not very often 50-plus above-the-line cast members have to be assembled in some sort of appropriate order, so we must cherish it whenever it happens. And I’ve got to say, it appears that for the most part, there was no rhyme or reason to the assembly. But we shall, and must, investigate whether or not that is true for as long as we can. The cursive credits for the core Avengers are great, though.

I give Avengers: Endgame A Handful of Snaps to the Beat.

This Is a Movie Review: Under the Silver Lake

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CREDIT: A24

Under the Silver Lake is Inherent Vice crossed with The Shining.

Shaggy dog mysteries (which seem to exclusively be set in L.A.) have their charms, but they also have an underlying sense of frustration because the mystery is most definitely never solved satisfyingly, or at least not transparently. But they act like they want to solve the mystery. In the case of Under the Silver Lake, though, it’s clearly more satisfying to leave everything confusing. With his tendency to beat people up for minor offenses, Sam (Andrew Garfield) is certainly not a nice person, so it’s fitting that he doesn’t find all the answers. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t some sort of “conspiracy,” or at least conspiracy-ish happening or series of happenings, going on. Disappearing Neighbor Riley Keough may be part of only a small portion of the whole tapestry. Sam enters Shining territory as his experience of supernatural occurrences feel inextricable from the real thing. He seems to have crossed through a looking glass wherein he might as well have been a part of all this for all eternity, especially considering his aimlessness. It’s an unmoored journey that I enjoyed.

I give Under the Silver Lake 400 Numbers out of 500 Questions.

Mini-Movie Review: ‘Poms’ is Stranger Than It Probably Means to Be, and That’s a Good Thing

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CREDIT: STX Films

Starring: Diane Keaton, Jacki Weaver, Rhea Perlman, Pam Grier, Celia Weston, Alisha Boe, Charlie Tahan, Phyllis Sommerville, Bruce McGill

Director: Zara Hayes

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Mild Senior Sauciness and a Surprising Amount of Casual Misogyny

Release Date: May 10, 2019

Even though I’ve known that Poms is about senior citizen cheerleaders ever since I first heard about it, its title has mostly made me think about POM Wonderful, which of course had me wondering: would this movie be as wonderful as its juicy almost-namesake? (I also thought about French actress Pom Klementieff, but I knew that punniness wouldn’t lead me quite as far.) While I would hardly go so far as to praise Poms as “wonderful,” the POM connection still feels appropriate, as it is the sort of drink I would have on a relaxing Friday evening at my parents’ house, the perfect setting setting for watching something like Poms that we didn’t feel the need to rush out to the theater for. The journey of Diane Keaton, Jacki Weaver, and the rest of their retirement community squad never makes much of a lick of sense, which is not necessarily a problem because this isn’t the sort of premise I demand too much logic out of. But even beyond the fact of women in their sixties, seventies, and eighties pulling off whatever acrobatics they can, Poms strains credulity with its sneakily bizarre dialogue. Thus, there is a whiff of (probably accidental) surrealism that pairs well with girl-power-at-any-age gumption and helps to patch over the straight-down-the-middle production values.

Poms is Recommended If You Like: Legendary actresses getting work into their seventies

Grade: 3 out of 5 Shimmies

Mini-Movie Review: ‘The Hustle’ is Too Loud and Outrageous to Pull Off a Satisfying Con

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CREDIT: Christian Black/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

Starring: Anne Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Alex Sharp, Ingrid Oliver

Director: Chris Addison

Running Time: 94 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Crude Makeup Jobs and Exaggerated Appetites

Release Date: May 10, 2019

Successful movies about con artists pull cons on their audiences, and we thank them for it, because that is how they derive their entertainment value. So as someone on the hunt for entertainment value, it is my solemn duty to sadly report that The Hustle (a gender-flipped remake of 1988’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) struggles mightily to keep its viewers guessing. There are very few surprises along the way until the very end, and you’ll probably be able to surmise the big reveal if you’ve seen the original, or if you’re just savvy enough with the genre. So that leaves Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson to do what they can by bouncing off against each other, which they do by leaning way too hard into their typical character types. Let’s put it this way: this is a movie in which someone eats a French fry that’s been dipped in toilet water, and there’s no good narrative reason for it. If that tickles your funny bone, then good on you, but it’s not especially relevant to any con job.

The Hustle is Recommended If You Like: Sticking raunchy humor into a genre where it might not fit

Grade: 2 out of 5 Sob Stories

Movie Review: ‘Detective Pikachu’ the Movie Demonstrates Its Potential Worth as a TV Show

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CREDIT: Warner Bros./Legendary

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Ken Watanabe, Bill Nighy, Chris Geere, Suki Waterhouse, Omar Chaparro, Rita Ora

Director: Rob Letterman

Running Time: 104 Minutes

Rating: PG for Explosions, Lightning Bolts, and Suspicious Gas

Release Date: May 10, 2019

The promise of a significant chunk of ’90s has been crystallized in the form of Detective Pikachu. Pokémon is a franchise that has endured for decades, but unlike say, Star Wars or the Muppets, it is not the sort of property that its fans continue to love, or love in the same way, as they grow older. Instead, it is tinged with nostalgia at the same time that it enthralls subsequent generations with new chapters. With its mix of live-action humans and CGI monsters and its expansive approach to Pokémon mythology, Detective Pikachu takes a rather meta stance towards a significant piece of culture. I enjoyed watching it, but I also had the sense that it was not as perfectly constructed as it could have been. It soon dawned on me that there was so much potential Pokémon goodness missing from this world that could be fleshed out in a TV version.

What I’m saying here is that I would love it if it turns out that Detective Pikachu is just the first chapter and that we get a new mystery for the adorable electric mouse to solve every week, with a few more big-screen adventures as well if anything gargantuan turns up. Surely Pika’s deerstalker hat of choice points to his sartorial inspiration as a possible model to follow for ongoing detective work. There is just so much untapped potential here in Ryme City, a land in which humans and Pokémon live alongside each other on equal terms. It’s not unlike Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but a lot more adorable. With hundreds of Pokémon available to play around with, necessarily only a small percentage are spotlighted. But more could have had their moment to shine, and hopefully more will.

But the Pokémon who do get their chance to shine give us some delightful, occasionally anarchic deployments of their unique powers, especially a frustrating charades-based interrogation with a Mr. Mime. What makes Detective Pikachu work as well as it does is its total lack of winking within its meta framework. As the voice of the title crimesolver, Ryan Reynolds is basically doing a PG version of Deadpool, which turns out to be just subdued enough to be plenty palatable. Among the rest of the cast, Kathryn Newton stands out as an underpaid digital news intern who is basically a doing an impression of a mix between a noir femme fatale and a His Girl Friday-type. Occasionally the film gets bogged down in heavy mythology that may be too much for even some Pokémon devotees, but when it maintains its full sense of playfulness, it is a commendably unique cinematic achievement.

Detective Pikachu is Recommended If You Like: Pokémon with a spritz of Minions and a soupçon of Deadpool

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Deerstalker Caps

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