Grandparents Ethan (Dennis Quaid) and Hannah (Marg Helgenberger) live on a farm in Michigan. Their dog, Bailey (voice of Josh Gad), loves to play with Ethan and keep an eye on their granddaughter, CJ (played at different stages by Abby Ryder Fortson and Kathryn Prescott). Their son has died, so his widow, Gloria (Betty Gilpin), and CJ live with them. Gloria accuses Ethan and Hannah of wanting control of their son’s insurance money when they offer to let CJ live with them so that Gloria can develop her singing pursuits. In a huff, she takes CJ and leaves. Bailey, the narrator of our story, is sad because CJ is gone.
Gloria and her daughter move to Chicago, where CJ becomes interested in music. Gloria starts drinking and dating. CJ adopts a puppy and names her Molly, hiding her from Gloria. Molly takes over Bailey’s job as CJ’s guardian angel because Molly is Bailey born again as a female dog of a different breed.
After getting arrested at a party where underage drinking and drug use are going on, CJ has to complete 100 hours of community service. She is assigned to an organization where service dogs are trained to detect cancer. Molly copies the other dogs and learns how to detect cancer as well. One evening, CJ and Molly go for a drive with CJ’s ex-boyfriend, Shane (Jake Manley), and they get into a car accident. Molly dies as a result, and CJ moves to New York. On the way, CJ stops at a gas station in Pennsylvania, and a large dog named Big Dog chases her car down the road. The dog instantly recognizes her.
CJ struggles in the big city but eventually finds a boyfriend and moves in with him. When CJ walks through a pet adoption fair in Washington Park, a small dog, Max, recognizes her and manages to escape and get adopted by her. One day, Gloria comes to visit, and CJ’s life begins to change.
A Dog’s Journey is based on the 2012 novel of the same title by W. Bruce Cameron. It is the sequel to the 2017 film A Dog’s Purpose, but the new film stands on its own. Gad reprises his role as the canine narrator, and Quaid is back as Ethan, now an aging grandfather. Rather than being seen as reincarnated, I prefer to see these lovable dogs as God recycling CJ’s guardian angel, loving her and keeping her safe.
A-2, PG • Alcohol, drugs, some peril.
The film opens at the Battle of the Somme in World War I. A young officer, J.R.R. Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult), known as Ronald to his friends, is sick with trench fever and worried about his childhood friend, Geoffrey (Anthony Boyle), who has gone missing. Ronald absorbs the terror and destruction around him until he is sent back to England to finish his service.
The film then goes back to when a younger Ronald (Harry Gilby) and his brother, Hilary (Guillermo Bedward), play in the woods outside of Birmingham. The boys’ mother, Mabel (Laura Donnelly), is a born storyteller, and Ronald’s imagination develops so much that he begins to create his own language and draws amazing sketches in his notebooks. Their father dies in South Africa, never making it back home to his family. Mabel dies as well, placing the boys under the guardianship of a Catholic priest, Father Francis (Colm Meaney), who obtains a scholarship for Ronald to attend a prestigious school. There, Ronald astonishes everyone when he recites, from memory, the epic poem Beowulf in Old English. He makes friends slowly, but they remain friends for life and form a secret society called the T.C.B.S.—the Tea Club, Barrovian Society.
While at university, Ronald meets Dr. Joseph Wright (Derek Jacobi), a noted professor of philology, and finds a way to become his student so he can learn more about languages, history, textual analysis, myth, and literary criticism. And then the war comes.
Tolkien is a romantic introduction to the young man who would become the author of the greatest fantasy novels of the 20th century—The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, events in Tolkien’s life are compressed and reordered, and the influence of Catholicism on his inner life is almost nonexistent.
A-2, PG-13 • War violence.
In 1895, Alice Guy-Blaché was a secretary at a camera manufacturing company outside Paris. She was invited to see the first projected film by the Lumière brothers, along with other executives from the Gaumont Company. Then and there she decided that she could make movies that actually told stories. She made her first film in 1896, The Cabbage Fairy. In 1906, she made The Life of Christ, one of the first big-budget films ever made. Over the next two decades she wrote, produced, and directed over 1,000 films. Then she faded away, written out of history by a male-dominated industry.
Filmmaker Pamela B. Green began working on the film in 2012 with Robert Redford and Jodie Foster among the executive producers. (Foster also narrates the film.) Green’s goal was to make sure that film students and filmmakers alike would have an appreciation for Guy-Blaché’s work and innovations still in use today—such as the close-up shot. The first part of the documentary is an exercise in keeping up. The latter part of the film slows down and tells more about Guy-Blaché’s family and her life in America.
Be Natural is an essential film to appreciate cinema and the role that women played in its development—as well as the possibilities for female directors today and tomorrow.
Not yet rated • Sexism.