In Theaters This Weekend: Reviews of 'A Dog's Journey, 'John Wick 3' and More

8:30 AM 5/17/2019

by Alexandra Del Rosario

According to The Hollywood Reporter's film critics, complex performances, exhausted plot lines and underwhelming characters await in this weekend's lineup.

John Wick Chapter 3 - Parabellum - Still 2 - Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of Lionsgate

Viewers can get kick-ass action, rushed romance and a side of canine reincarnation with this weekend's film bows. 

The third John Wick movie, The Sun Is Also a Star and A Dog's Journey are some of the larger titles hitting the big screen Friday, opening in thousands of theaters nationwide. 

But if audiences don't find assassin excommunication, doggy Buddhism and love appealing, they can opt for the Swedish sci-fi flick Aniara, the Laura Dern-led Trial by Fire and more. 

From John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum to The Wandering Soap Opera, here's what The Hollywood Reporter's film critics had to say about this week's releases. 

  • 'Aniara'

    From lines of Harry Martinson's epic science-fiction poem comes Aniara.

    Directed by Pella Kagerman and Hugo Lilja, the pic presents the existential crisis that possesses all members of a spaceship that is knocked off its course to Mars and veers toward a void of nothingness. 

    The movie, which made its debut at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, displays a distinct, vivid visual style and touts impressive production, but flounders when it comes to presenting compelling characters, according to THR critic Todd McCarthy.

    "[T]he characters are uninteresting and this first feature by writer-directors Pella Kagerman and Hugo Lilja never establishes a coherent intellectual vantage point from which to contemplate the monumentality of the eternal void," he writes. "It’s a film that wants to be visionary but isn’t."

    For a film that concerns itself with the larger abstract ideas of existence and nothingness, Aniara fails to include characters of different backgrounds and beliefs to comment on their imminent doom, McCarthy continues. 

    "The lack of perspectives and attitudes about the circumstances felt by the participants feels like a big void in and of itself," he asserts.

  • 'A Dog's Journey'

    The reincarnating dog Bailey from A Dog's Purpose returns for round two in A Dog's Journey

    An equally tear-jerking sequel to its predecessor, A Dog's Journey follows Bailey's continued mission to care for those he loves. In the first film, the reincarnating canine finds his way home to Ethan (Dennis Quad), but now follows Ethan's granddaughter C.J. (Kathryn Prescott) in her time of need. 

    THR film critic Leslie Felperin writes that the Gail Mancuso-directed pic, though unsurprisingly capable of pulling at heartstrings, boasts elements "worthy of genuine admiration."

    A Dog's Journey benefits from a combination of basic aspects, from a likable human and animal cast to Ivan Pavlov's emotional score, Felperin continues. With a young girl as its central character, the sequel even puts forward, though quietly, messages of resilience and self-belief. 

    But when it comes to the narrative of canine reincarnation, Felperin says its best not to overthink it. 

    "It's best not to think too much about the moral logic of Journey and where it stands on the respective value of humans versus mammals and animals. Or about why Bailey keeps getting reborn and coming back to these particular people," she maintains.

  • 'John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum'

    In John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum, Keanu Reeves reprises his role as the titular fearless assassin. 

    This time around, he faces excommunication from a society of fellow assassins as he also deals with the members of said group coming for his life. 

    THR's John DeFore writes that the latest chapter in the saga delivers a satisfactory addition full of "more thrilling ass-kickery than even dedicated fans could expect."

    "An epic of choreographed mayhem that expands the Wickiverse in mostly pleasing ways, it is destined to satisfy fans of this surprise-hit franchise," the critic notes. 

    Throughout John Wick 3, there are some hits and some misses. The hits come from Wick's lethally accurate knife-throwing in scenes of combat, but the misses come from some of the performances. 

    Halle Berry enters the Wickiverse as Sofia, who helps the titular character avoid the attacks of fellow assassins. The actress' performance, though, misses the mark, says DeFore. 

    Despite Berry's underwhelming performance and other moments that may result in "stifled groans of disbelief in the crowd," the bottom line is that John Wick 3 won't have Wick fans dropping the franchise before John Wick 4.

    "[F]ew who've endured the escalating punishments of chapters one through three are likely to bail out before the next installment," DeFore writes. 

  • 'The Souvenir'

    Honor Swinton Byrne appears alongside her mother, Tilda Swinton, with the newcomer giving what THR critic David Rooney calls "a remarkably layered performance."

    Swinton Byrne plays aspiring filmmaker Julie, who comes from a well-heeled family and finds herself providing for her more worldly drug-addict boyfriend Anthony (Tom Burke) while working her way through film school. 

    The semi-autobiographical story comes from Joanna Hogg, the auteur behind Unrelated, Archipelago and Exhibition. Hogg applies fragmented storytelling and impressionistic flourishes that place the film on the more experimental and adventurous end of the art house spectrum, similar to her previous work. 

    Rooney calls The Souvenir "an illuminating (self-)portrait of a young artist as well as a mesmerizing chronicle of a consuming, destructive relationship that steadily inches its way under the viewer's skin."

    With Hogg currently working on the story's continuation and with Robert Pattinson set to star, Rooney writes: "Bring on Part Two."

  • 'The Sun Is Also a Star'

    Falling in love in 24 hours doesn't seem like a problem for Yara Shahidi and Charles Melton in The Sun Is Also a Star.

    A film adaptation of Nicola Yoon's novel of the same name, The Sun Is Also a Star follows Natasha Kingsley (Shahidi) and Daniel Bae (Melton) as they see whether or not building true romance in a day is possible.

    The stakes elevate when Natasha reveals that she and her immigrant family will face deportation the following day. 

    THR critic Caryn James had this to say about the romantic drama: "Even by generic standards, The Sun Is Also a Star is simply misbegotten."

    The film, directed by Ry Russo-Young, features two New York natives who hit touristy spots — from Grand Central Station to the Statue of Liberty — in their efforts to fall in love with each other. The gratuitous shots of local monuments make the movie out to be more of a "New York City tourist promo with a couple of great-looking actors traipsing around," James writes. 

    Though the cinematography, by DP Autumn Dural Arkapaw, stuns and exudes vibrant colors from the concrete jungle, they're trivial and unnecessary, the critic notes. The YA drama's lack of excitement also comes from unexplained tensions about immigration that could have upped the film's "genuine topical interest." 

    All in all, James writes that in less than two hours, The Sun Is Also a Star fails to make viewers fall in love. 

  • 'Trial by Fire'

    Trial by Fire stars Laura Dern as a Texas inmate's pen pal hoping to shed some light on an accidental crime.

    Revisiting the trial of Cameron Todd Willingham and the truth behind the supposed murder of his three children, the pic brings a predictable dramatic arc and a familiar anti-capital punishment message to the big screen, acording to Todd McCarthy.

    "The notes the film hits play straight into the hands of the already convinced and are unlikely to change anyone’s mind about the issue," he writes.

    Dern plays Willingham's pen pal, Elizabeth Gilbert, who takes it upon herself to prove her incarcerated friend innocent. It is at this point in the story that the film from director Edward Zwick begins its predictability. 

    But even with its common story, Trial by Fire is perforated with numerous plot holes asking why Willingham didn't share his side of the story earlier and why his prosecution took so long. 

    Trial by Fire offers nothing new or innovative, McCarthy notes, as the 2018 film does little to breathe new life into a familiar topic: "Just getting worked up all over again about capital punishment will be enough, but without flair or fresh insights into its chosen subject, this just seems like spinning more wheels about on oft-discussed subject."

  • 'The Wandering Soap Opera'

    Nearly 30 years after its creation, Raul Ruiz's The Wandering Soap Opera (La telenovela errante) will hit American theaters.

    A string of seven soap "days" stitched togeter into an 80-minute film, The Wandering Soap Opera exaggerates the elements of the television genre to comment on Chilean politics. THR critic Boyd van Hoeij wrote that the resurfaced work, despite it temporal and geographical references, will fascinate viewers.

    Each of the seven parts corresponds with a different days of footage shot. For van Hoeij, praises the first sequence People Are Watching Us as the film's best. 

    "Throughout, the dialogue is overripe in that typical telenovela way and the actors have a ball as they take everything way too seriously, enunciating every word with great care and drawing out each look for dramatic effect," he writes on the actors' performances. 

    Ruiz's film, with its over-the-top dramatics familiar to soap genres takes on the complexities of Chilean politics including violence and its personal aspects.  

    "This is a worthy addition to Ruiz’s enormous output with some of his trademark enigmatic opacity sprinkled over some of the smartest and wittiest output to have emerged from the year in cinema that was 1990," van Hoeji writes.