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Brittany Runs a Marathon

Brittany Runs a Marathon starts off strong and finishes with a flourish of feels. But the “inspirational comedy” – inspired by true events – veers off course a few times as the film struggles with the same sort of identity crisis that plagues its lead character, Brittany Forgler (Jillian Bell). She’s funny. She’s misunderstood. She’s everyone’s best friend. She’s her own worst enemy. She’s motivational. She’s mean. She’s broken. She’s fixed.

Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain is based on a book that’s apparently reduced plenty of readers to a puddle of mush since its publication in 2008. The film adaptation aims to do the same – and succeeds, to some degree. Complicit in the drive to unleash the waterworks is a cast that includes the king of the half-crooked smile, Milo “Jack Pearson” Ventimiglia (This Is Us) and a sweet, philosophical golden retriever whose mix of comical and poignant inner thoughts are voiced by Kevin Costner. It’s a heartfelt, bittersweet tale that pet owners can easily appreciate and relate to. But it’s also sad – and at times maddening. Way more so than I expected (having not read the book), especially for a film rated PG. Maybe that stands for ‘Pet Guidance’ suggested. So be sure and ask your dog if the material seems suitable for family viewing.

Review: Toy Story 4

A part of me did not want a Toy Story 4. I was afraid it would diminish the legacy of a storied franchise that left me in a heap of weep in 2010. Toy Story 3 won the Oscar that year for Best Animated Feature, having brought the story of Andy and his precious – and precocious – toys to a perfectly poignant conclusion. As Andy set off for college, he donated Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the gang to a toddler named Bonnie. It was the end of an era; but as we now know, not quite the end of the story.

Review: Echo in the Canyon

When I lived in Los Angeles, I frequently drove through Laurel Canyon on the way to and from work and I knew that over the years it had been famous for its arty inhabitants. I even looked at a rental house or two there, since I loved the counterculture vibe of the place. Echo in the Canyon is a documentary celebrating the musicians of the mid-60’s who lived there and invented folk-rock together and separately. The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, The Mamas and the Papas and so many of the biggest groups of the day were there, creating and collaborating. The film is hosted by Jakob Dylan, lead singer-songwriter of the band The Wallflowers. He sits down for chats with an array of famous 20th century musicians – including Brian Wilson, Ringo Starr, Michelle Phillips, Eric Clapton, Stephen Stills, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Roger McGuinn, Jackson Browne, and Tom Petty in his very last film interview. And those interviews are intercut with the making of an album and a 2015 Los Angeles tribute concert with contemporary artists (Beck, Fiona Apple, Cat Power, Regina Spektor and Norah Jones) performing some of the songs made famous by those musicians of the canyon. It’s a lot of fun.

Quickie Review: A Dog’s Journey

A Dog’s Journey is for dog/animal lovers. It’s a continuation of the heartwarming saga that got us all misty-eyed in the 2017 doggie drama A Dog’s Purpose. In this sequel, Bailey (internal monologue voiced by Josh Gad) is getting up there in years, as is his “boy” Ethan (Dennis Quaid) and Ethan’s wife Hannah (now played by Marg Helgenberger). It’s getting to be that time for Bailey to move on – in body, not in spirit. Knowing that Bailey has a knack for reincarnation, Ethan asks the dog to find and protect his estranged granddaughter Clarity June (“CJ”). And thus begins Bailey’s newest set of lives and adventures. His name, breed and gender may change over the years. But the dog never loses sight of his primary purpose – to keep tabs on CJ (Kathryn Prescott). It’s a mission that evolves into helping CJ reconnect with her childhood best friend Trent (Henry Lau), mend fences with her selfish, alcoholic mother Gloria (Betty Gilpin) and potentially reunite with her grandparents.

Quickie Review: The Sun Is Also a Star

The Sun Is Also a Star is a fine though forgettable romantic drama for the YA crowd and possibly others who’ve read the best-selling novel of the same name by Nicola Yoon, the author of “Everything, Everything,” which was turned into a movie that included such a dreadful twist that I declined to post a review back in 2017. The Sun Is Also a Star has the same general vibe and target audience as Everything, Everything but is significantly better, better. It’s a meet-cute movie that delves into themes of love, chemistry, destiny, fate, immigration, deportation and assimilation. All in the span of a (rather slow) day.

Review: Teen Spirit

Teen Spirit is a mainstream movie filtered (or squeezed) through an indie lens. It tells the story of Violet, a shy 17-year-old high school student who enters a local singing competition and ends up making a splash on a British television show that resembles – and consequently satirizes – the likes of American Idol, X Factor, and Britain’s Got Talent. If you enjoy that genre, then Teen Spirit should lift your spirits, however fleetingly, thanks in large part to its talented lead, Elle Fanning (20th Century Women, The Neon Demon) who really can sing!

Review: Shazam!

With Marvel’s highly-anticipated Avengers: Endgame still a few weeks out, DC Comics’ Shazam! swoops in like a tasty appetizer – just enough to satisfy, without spoiling your appetite for the main course. Shazam! is not as LOL funny and lighthearted as the trailer might suggest, but it’s still far lighter and easier to process than most DC Comic movies of recent memory (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc.), and it’s certainly much shorter and simpler than the forthcoming Avengers finale. Bottom line: Shazam! is a solid coming-of-age superhero flick that’s suitable for family viewing, assuming the kids are at least approaching teendom. The film is PG-13 and does have the occasional blast of violence (though relatively bloodless), sadness (family dysfunction and abandonment issues) and scary moments (don’t get lost at the fairgrounds or walk through strange doors!). But overall, it’s about personal strength (finding the superhero within), making the right choices, and learning what defines a family.

Quickie Review: Dumbo

There’s a reason we don’t review too many kids’ movies, even if we happen to see them: they aren’t really for us. A few weeks ago, I saw the animated adventure film Wonder Park but didn’t get around to a formal review (other than on the Cinema Clash podcast) because it was just okay. Fine for kids, tolerable for the adults who accompany them. Dumbo has the potential to appeal to a much larger audience of family filmgoers because it’s a live-action remake of a 1941 Disney animated classic, it’s directed by twisted fairy tale auteur Tim Burton, and it’s got some high-profile cast members including Danny DeVito, Colin Ferrell, Michael Keaton, Eva Green and Alan Arkin. But ultimately, much like Wonder Park, this new Dumbo is just okay and has some dark elements that could be scary for the wee ones.

Review: Five Feet Apart

Haven’t I seen this movie somewhere before? Yes, Five Feet Apart does indeed look a lot like the 2014 ailing-teen romantic drama tearjerker, The Fault in Our Stars. Only this time around, the affliction casting a shadow over budding romance is cystic fibrosis rather than cancer. The bottom line remains the same: chronic and terminal diseases suck. And while love can’t always conquer all, the battle is still worth fighting. Cue the melodramatic score and pass the tissues, please.