Talking Dog Alert August 2019 Edition: ‘The Art of Racing in the Rain’ Review

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CREDIT: Doane Gregory/Twentieth Century Fox

Starring: Milo Ventimiglia, Kevin Costner, Amanda Seyfried, Kathy Baker, Martin Donovan, Gary Cole, McKinley Belcher II, Ryan Kiera Armstrong

Director: Simon Curtis

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: PG for Doggy Messes

Release Date: August 9, 2019

The “racing” in The Art of Racing in the Rain refers to the Formula One circuit, but the real race is how fast Kevin Costner can get out all of his canine voiceover narration. There’s been a mini-explosion of talking dog (or rather, thinking-out-loud dog) movies lately, and this might be the most verbose one yet. Enzo the golden retriever wants to make sure that he fulfills all his familial duties, partly because he believes that being a good boy will help out where he ends up in his next life. If he’s good enough, he might even come back as a human, so that karmic balance sheet must be in the most tip-top shape possible. So he makes sure to explain to the audience everything that he must, and that means a heavy script burden for Costner, who keeps it laconic but also plenty dense. If the race to be the Best Cinematic Dog is measured in number of words, then Enzo takes it by the bone.

It’s nice that Enzo has it all figured out (or at least acts like he does) since much of the human interaction around him is infuriating. His owner Denny (Milo Ventimiglia) is an unfailingly sweet guy and devoted family man, but he gets things off on the wrong foot with his father-in-law Max (Martin Donovan), who makes just about no effort to deflate the tension. Max raises some legitimate concerns about Denny’s chosen profession on the track: it’s inherently dangerous, there’s little financial security, and it threatens to keep him away from his wife and daughter for long stretches of time. But Denny makes extra safety efforts and occasionally turns down races to specifically address these concerns. And one would hope that Max could put things in perspective when his daughter (Amanda Seyfried) is stricken with cancer. But instead he gets into a ludicrous custody battle with his son-in-law. This absurdity makes me wish that The Art of Racing in the Rain were filtered even more through Enzo’s outlook. His beliefs about reincarnation might not fit with everyone’s conception of existence, but they are a whole lot more sweetly satisfying than the machinations of fantastically stubborn in-laws.

The Art of Racing in the Rain is Recommended If You Like: A Dog’s Purpose, A Dog’s Journey, Watching old Formula One races

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Laps

This Is a Movie Review: Second Act

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CREDIT: Barry Wetcher/STX

This post was originally published on News Cult in December 2018.

Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Vanessa Hudgens, Leah Remini, Dan Bucatinsky, Freddie Stroma, Milo Ventimiglia, Treat Williams, Larry Miller, Charlyne Yi, Dave Foley, Alan Aisenberg

Director: Peter Segal

Running Time: 104 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Parents Who Swear in Front of Their Children But Are Trying Not To So That Their Kids Don’t Swear Back at Them

Release Date: December 21, 2018

At the end of Second Act, Jennifer Lopez assures us that we can always take a chance on ourselves and do that thing that we’ve always been holding ourselves back from doing. Alas, that is a huge oversimplification that ignores key details involving randomness and fairness (or lack thereof). You can work hard and be outspoken about your desire for a dream job, but ultimately landing that position requires some amount of luck and other forces beyond your control going your way. But like Dana Scully and her position on supernatural phenomena, I want to believe what J. Lo is telling us. But here’s the thing: despite its title, that’s not really the message of Second Act.

This frothy workplace/rom-com is more about the virtue of adaptability, as well as putting pompous educated folks in their place. A successful second act may very well require adaptability, but it is important to note that Maya Vargas (Lopez) is not the architect of her own second act. She may have ambitions to be more than an assistant manager at a supermarket, but it is her godson who beefs up her résumé with phony credentials, which gets her in the door for a consultancy job at a big-deal cosmetics company. She kills at the interview, because it turns out that, at least in Maya’s case, a GED and years of retail experience are worth just as much as a bunch of business degrees. While she does have to fight off a fair amount of self-doubt, she actually displays a minimal amount of impostor syndrome, considering the circumstances.

You would think that the major conflict from this point on would be Maya fighting to prevent her co-workers from discovering the truth of her background. That certainly plays a part, but it takes a backseat to a huge second act twist (pun not intended by me, but maybe the dramatic irony was intended by the script?) involving Maya and her new colleague Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens). The fallout is played rather sweetly, but it is pretty much impossible to get over how bizarrely unexpected it is. And that is representative of Second Act as a whole: it is a frothy good time despite being inconsistent with its message and purpose. It certainly helps that Maya’s best friend is played by Leah Remini, a real-life chum of Lopez’s who is always served well by a role that allows her to say whatever the hell is on her mind. As for the romance plot, Milo Ventimiglia is not given much to do as Maya’s boyfriend other than take his shirt off occasionally, which is nice to look at but is not typically a versatile tool for a screenwriter.

Second Act is Recommended If You Like: Jennifer Lopez and Leah Remini’s friendship, A bygone era of J. Lo-starring romcoms

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Fake Facebook Profiles