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

Movie Review: ‘Shazam!’ is a Blast of Kinetic and Frequently Disturbing Superhero Fun

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CREDIT: Warner Bros.

Starring: Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Mark Strong, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou, Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Faithe Herman, Cooper Andrews, Marta Milans

Director: David F. Sandberg

Running Time: 132 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Surprisingly Intense, Decently Scary Superhero Violence

Release Date: April 5, 2019

Shazam! harkens back to an era when superhero flicks, and the action-adventure generally, were legitimately scary. This is a movie in which a fair amount of people disintegrate, or get eaten by gargoyle-esque monsters, or get thrown out of windows hundreds of stories up. Seriously, this might set a record for most defenestrations in a PG-13 movie. I don’t mean to imply that the ostensibly family-friendly segment of the superhero genre has become otherwise toothless. The injuries and collateral damage are acknowledged in the likes of The Avengers (and overly fetishized in the likes of Man of Steel), but they are rarely this tangibly visceral. It’s been a while since the Penguin bit off someone’s nose in Batman Returns, but Shazam! has plenty of moments that are shocking on the same level, and that is mostly a good thing.

Those violent, sudden deaths hit as hard as they do because Shazam! is at first glance the height of boundless fun and bright colors. Its wish-fulfillment premise is that teenage boy Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is given the superpowers of an ancient wizard, which he accesses by shouting the title exclamation. This turns him into Zachary Levi in full-on beefcake form dressed in the most vibrant red and yellow with a lighting bolt on the front of his ensemble. Like most kids his age, Billy is nowhere near responsible enough to handle the weight of superherodom, which lends his adventures a “With great power comes great responsibility” vibe, but it’s a lot messier than the template set by Spider-Man. In his quest to exploit his powers for fame and fortune, Billy nearly kills a busful of people and panics so much in response that it is genuinely unclear if he can manage to fix his mistake and save them.

Lending a layer of tragedy to Shazam! is the fact that Billy and his main nemesis are both driven by an origin story of familial rejection. Billy was accidentally separated at a young age from his mother at a carnival, and he has spent the ensuing years running away from foster homes in an attempt to reunite with her. Meanwhile, Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) grew up an emotionally abused outcast in his wealthy family. He was once considered a candidate to receive the Shazam powers, and he has spent decades attempting to rediscover the wizardly realm, primarily so that he can exact some extremely disproportionate revenge. It’s not too hard to imagine that in a parallel universe, Billy could grow up to be as terrifying as Thaddeus, but luckily he has the strength of his newest foster family to help carry him along. Amidst all the very real danger, Shazam! would very much likely us to recognize the importance of a loving support system no matter what our level of superpowers.

Shazam! is Recommended If You Like: Spider-Man, Batman Returns, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Finger Lightning Bolts