Schultz reviews: "A Dog's Journey," "John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum" and "The Sun Is Also a Star"
“A Dog’s Journey” Distributed by Universal Pictures, 108 Minutes, Rated PG, Released May 17:
“Dogs do speak,” wrote author Orhan Pamuk, “but only to those who know how to listen.”
In the a continuation of the worldwide 2017 hit family picture “A Dog’s Purpose,” the aging Ethan’s loyal dog Bailey is reincarnated through three additional generations to watch over and provide guidance and companionship to Ethan’s estranged granddaughter, an aspiring singer and songwriter.
Adapted from writer W. Bruce Cameron’s 2012 novel of the same name, a sequel to the 2010 novel which inspired the previous picture, ”A Dog’s Journey” is decidedly more of the same. While not quite as effective as director Lasse Hallstrom’s original 2017 picture, the new follow-up is cut from the self-same cloth, plainly intended to provide a continuum of tears and sentiment for animal lovers of all ages.
There’s not a human being alive who’s not intimately familiar with the pain of loneliness, abandonment, the ingratitude of an unappreciative family member or the passing of a beloved pet. The filmmakers behind both “A Dog’s Purpose” and “A Dog’s Journey” know this, and use the information to maximum advantage in both pictures.
Directed by rookie filmmaker Gail Mancuso, a 60-year-old television veteran noted for her work on such familiar TV comedies as “30 Rock” and “Modern Family,” the new adaptation is as cathartic a film as you’re ever likely to see. The picture’s final 15 minutes especially are almost an orgy of emotional release. And while you can see the final scene coming from miles away, it’s still amazingly effective when it arrives.
But the viewer’s tears are often earned dishonestly. Adapted by Cameron’s novel by many of the same writers who worked on the original — Cathryn Michon, Maya Forbes, Wally Wolodarsky and Cameron himself — it’s the audience’s own memories of the previous picture that provide much of the context of “A Dog’s Journey,” and its emotional impact.
In wraparound segments, Dennis Quaid returns from “A Dog’s Purpose” as Ethan Mongtomery, Bailey’s original owner. In a performance that’s the polar opposite from his recent demonic turn in the contemporary horror picture “The Intruder,” Quaid’s appearance is a return to his customary benignly mischievous roots, and in the picture’s concluding scenes, the actor becomes the wiliest old coot since Walter Huston in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.” Quaid might be the only actor in Hollywood identifiable by his distinctive posture.
Among the supporting cast, the versatile and reliable Marg Helgenberger replaces the late Peggy Lipton as Ethan’s patient and loving wife, Hannah, Betty Gilpin appears as the fragile and emotionally explosive widow of the Montgomerys’ late son, and Henry Lau is Trent, a love interest for the Montgomerys’ grown granddaughter. Comic actor Josh Gad returns as the voice of Bailey, this time delivering narration more inane than in the original: During one emotionally harrowing moment, Gad’s Bailey observes in voiceover, “I wish this bed was made of bacon.”
But “A Dog’s Journey” is really a star vehicle for young Kathryn Prescott as Clarity June, C.J., the adult granddaughter of Ethan and Hannah. Playing a character emotionally estranged from her grandparents, with no memories of her late father, Prescott manages to craft a persuasive characterization which encompasses some 15 years of the character’s life, and her maturation. It’s the picture’s best performance.
Despite a few leaps of logic and some questionably inappropriate sight gags (there are more poo-poo jokes here than in the original, and one especially nauseating joke involving upchuck on a city street), “A Dog’s Journey” is well-made and abundantly effective picture, with workmanlike direction, adequate writing and good performances. But by the end of the dog’s journey, you might feel less fulfilled than with the original picture.
Released to 3,267 theaters across the United States and Canada, distributor Universal Pictures expected to earn up to $14 million from “A Dog’s Journey,” based on the financial success of “A Dog’s Purpose” and January’s unrelated Cameron adaptation from Sony Pictures and Columbia, “A Dog’s Way Home.” By the end of business on Saturday, “A Dog’s Journey” was reporting only $8 million in box office receipts, the lowest opening to date of any of the W. Bruce Cameron “dog” pictures.
“A Dog’s Journey” is rated PG for thematic content, some mild peril and rude language.
“John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum” Distributed by Summit Entertainment, 131 Minutes, Rated R, Released May 17:
There’s a scene in the new “John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum” in which a bruised, broken, barely-alive John Wick is picked up from the street by a sympathetic colleague and wheeled in a shopping cart to a safe haven. Another former friend makes a rude remark about Wick’s disheveled appearance and says, “John, if you can hear me, raise your hand.” Slowly and painfully, Wick’s bloody hand raises ... with his middle finger extended.
That brief scene provides a fairly accurate summation of the John Wick pictures. A neo noir action thriller series created by writer Derek Kolstad and directed by filmmaker and former stunt coordinator Chad Stahelski, the series stars actor Keanu Reeves as the title character, the most deadly and effective assassin in the world, now retired but seeking revenge against the men who broke into his home, stole his car and killed his beloved puppy.
Opening on May 17, the new picture in the John Wick series, appropriately titled “John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum,” is founded on the Latin phrase, “Si vis pacem, parabellum,” an ancient Roman military axiom which in translation reads, “If you want peace, prepare for war.” The phrase is vaguely appropriate to the content of the third chapter “John Wick,” which like its predecessors in the franchise is much less about substance than style.
The plotline of “John Wick: Chapter 3” is convoluted enough to defy easy description ... or understanding. Various international government and criminal entities, agencies and organizations try to outmaneuver each other to establish supreme professional superiority. The notion of fealty is all-important — the word “fealty” is used a lot in the picture. John Wick in his crusade for emotional closure and personal peace is an involuntary pawn in the struggle between the clandestine international factions.
But none of that’s important. “John Wick 3” is really about violence — spontaneous, shocking, brutal, bloody violence. As intricately choreographed as a ballet, highly stylized and explicitly staged, against one opponent or an army, standing face-to-face, on horseback, in a moving automobile, on a motorcycle, horseback, in buildings, skyscrapers, deserts, in the air, or even the New York Public Library, the John Wick pictures are a constantly inventive omnibus of carnage.
Other movies have been criticized for punctuating their dramatic narratives with segments depicting brutal violence — 1967’s “Bonnie and Clyde” and 1969’s “The Wild Bunch” come to mind. But the John Wick pictures depict a world of violence punctuated by scenes depicting talk, meaningless jibber-jabber, brief respites allowing the audience — and sometimes the characters — to catch their breath. In the middle of one extended fight scene, Wick and his opponent take a break, sitting side-by-side on the floor, and the opponent turns to Wick to remark, “Nice fight, huh?”
If you’re a John Wick fan — and there are millions — you already know what you’re getting into with the new picture, and if you’re never seen a Wick movie, get ready: “John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum” is about undiluted violence and not plot or story. But if you’re in the mood for a movie filled to the brim with eye-popping stunt-work and mindless bloodshed, nobody does it better.
Released to 3,850 theaters across the United States and Canada, “John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum” was expected by distributor Summit Entertainment to gross between $30 million and $40 million during its opening weekend. But the picture went on to exceed $57 million in earnings, easily taking the number one spot on the Box Office Mojo Top Ten and finally knocking “Avengers: Endgame” of its perch in its fourth week of release.
“John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum” is rated R for pervasive strong violence and some objectionable language.
“The Sun Is Also a Star” Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, 100 Minutes, Rated PG-13, Released May 17:
Based on Nicola Yoon’s 2016 young adult novel of the same name, in “The Sun Is Also a Star” a young New York City student from an immigrant Jamaican family has a fateful meeting with a Korean-American medical student.
Instantly attracted, the Jamaican girl despite an unshakable belief in the infallibility of scientific calculation bemusedly accepts the romantic-hearted Korean man’s challenge that he can compel her to fall in love with him within one hour. The complication: Undocumented aliens, the girl and her family are being deported to Jamaica the next day.
Adapted to the screen by Tracy Oliver and directed by Ry Russo-Young, “The Sun Is Also a Star” becomes a charming and effective little romance picture, boasting unaffected, honest and remarkably heartfelt performances by young Yara Shahidi and Charles Melton in the leading roles. Framed in a quasi-documentary style and illustrated with evocative and heartwarming anecdotes, this is a picture which successfully streamlines its literary source and becomes a living and breathing entity of its own.
Filmed in New York City, the picture also boasts an authoritative performance by the always-solid John Leguizamo, maturing nicely as an actor in his role as a sympathetic attorney with ties to both students. Quietly and with maximum effect, “The Sun Is Also a Star” succeeds as a persuasive and very timely modern love story, with a bittersweet and inconclusive ending which serves to emphasize the knowledge that America is no longer a place where all endings are necessarily happy ones.
“The Sun Is Also a Star” is receiving mixed reviews from the critics, including an approval rating of 51% from Rotten Tomatoes, which notes that the picture “has a pair of easy-to-love leads, but tests the audience’s affection with a storyline that strains credulity past the breaking point.” To in fairness, what love story doesn’t, especially one set in New York City? Similarly, Metacritic awards the picture an approval rating of 52%.
Released to 2,037 theaters across the United States and Canada, “The Sun Is Also a Star” was expected to earn up to $12 million during its opening weekend, but is unfortunately underperforming at the box office, to the tune of only $2.6 million in box office receipts, placing eighth in the Box Office Mojo Top Ten.
“The Sun Is Also a Star” is rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and language concerns.