Image Courtesy of Netflix
By Dean Robbins
The last few weeks have been particularly prolific in terms of film releases. Here is a ranking, from worst to best, of seven of these new releases:
7. Clifford the Big Red Dog: Ever since Winsor McCay’s Gertie the Dinosaur (1914), cinema has adored the monster movie, or “kaiju” as it would later be called. In 1933, the world was captivated by the indelible image of King Kong on top of the Empire State Building. The marriage of film and monsters—and New York City—has been a winning one. Clifford the Big Red Dog is, in its own odd way, a continuation of this tradition. Middle schooler Emily (Darby Camp) is given a bright red puppy by the mysterious Bridwell (John Cleese). He tells her that the puppy will grow to the size of Emily’s love for it. The next morning the puppy now named Clifford is the size of a small van. Emily, alongside her uncle Casey (Jack Whitehall), must now manage to deal with this giant puppy. As terrifying as this reality is, it never amounts to much of a problem.
One running gag is that NYC is so abnormal that no one takes much note of a giant, red puppy—an odd gag in a film where said oddity is the whole premise. Under the weight of a series of poor creative decisions like this, Clifford the Big Red Dog collapses. The film’s ultimate message of acceptance and anti-bullying fails because the writers’ equivocation between Emily and Clifford flat-out does not work. There is a climactic scene where Emily tries to argue that everyone just needs to accept Clifford, but that is never an actual issue in the movie. The villain, a Martin Shkreli-type played by a mustache-twirling Tony Hale, seeks Clifford because he wants to replicate his giant size. Additionally, the critical relationship between Emily and Clifford is never actually elucidated. They rarely get a moment together, and it never feels like they really develop a relationship. To make matters worse, the logistics of how Emily having a giant red dog for a pet would work, alongside necessary resolutions for the characters, are relegated to a lazy two-minute animated epilogue.
Of course, at the end of the day, Clifford the Big Red Dog is a movie for small children. A six-year-old could care less about the logic of the plot. However, the film fails even on the children’s front. The story is far too ethically and morally questionable to recommend to parents and kids. Emily receives a magical mutant puppy from a strange man with a questionable identity and that is all normal and okay? Additionally, Emily’s insistence on keeping Clifford is completely unjustified. This movie sends the message that it is okay to have any pet in your house no matter your living situation, insofar as the pet is cute. Even in that case, do not let this movie into your home because it is definitely not cute.
6. Eternals: Do questions like “What is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s canonical explanation for the Epic of Gilgamesh?” keep you up at night? Well, the latest Marvel movie Eternals answers that question and much more. The titular Eternals are a race of intergalactic protectors under the guidance of the Celestial deity Arishem (David Kaye) who must safeguard the many species of the universe from the Deviants, monsters who only seek to kill. Straightforward stuff. Oh, and the Eternals gave humanity technology and religion. This is all in the first fifteen minutes.
Eternals has four writers and one of them, Patrick Burleigh, is best known for Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway. Unsurprisingly, the film cannot juggle this all of the time and space-spanning worldbuilding or its massive cast. Not only is Eternals the establishment of a creation narrative for the MCU and a canonical explanation of the entire human race but it also needs to introduce its ten Eternals. All ten characters have their own power sets and personal struggles. For instance, Barry Keoghan’s Druig has the power to control human minds and must deal with wanting to interfere in human conflict (such as the genocide of the Aztecs in one scene), but is not being allowed to by Arishem. He is only one of ten Eternals, in a cast of almost fifteen, and he is not even a major character overall. To be fair, most of the Eternals are likable. Richard Madden’s Ikaris and Lauren Ridloff’s Makkari are easily the highlights of the film.
The overall problem may be clear at this point. There is no way any film, especially a 2.5-hour entry in the MCU, can possibly juggle all of these characters, mythologies, and philosophical questions. To the latter point, there are enough confusing premises, flimsy equivocations, and underdeveloped concepts to make any philosopher’s head explode a la Scanners (1981). The real deciding factor for many viewers is whether to praise the film for at least succeeding at a percentage of what it was attempting.
5. Last Night In Soho: You can read Noelia’s review of Last Night in Soho, a haunting story from the director of Baby Driver and an undisclosed percentage of Ant Man, here.
4. Red Notice: Two of the most prolific actors right now, Ryan Reynolds and Dwayne Johnson, play frenemies alongside Gal Gadot in this new Netflix original film. With a budget of around $200 million, this is the streaming service’s most expensive film to date. It looks like it too, with glittering, over-the-top cinematography, exotic locations, and glamorous costumes and set decoration.
Because of this extravagance, Red Notice seems to have gained the wrath of film critics. Polygon titled their review, “Netflix’s Red Notice is as bad as blockbuster movies can get.” (https://www.polygon.com/reviews/22762443/red-notice-review-netflix) For whatever reason, many seem to be out for blood, whether against Netflix or the overexposed Johnson and Reynolds. Polygon’s review is not only a major pan but is also objectively wrong on many of its points. For example, reviewer Robert Daniels says that the locations are indistinguishable. How one can find a snowy Russian prison castle and the tropical beaches of Bali indistinguishable is a mystery to me.
As may be apparent by now, Red Notice is nowhere near as bad as has been said by critics. Reynolds’ usual quips are hilarious, the action is generally well-done and intense, and the story is a fast-moving action-adventure. The film is also a visual feast, featuring a vivid color more films need. The script does contain some glaring conveniences and the use of green-screen sometimes looks too off. However, if an entertaining new theater-level blockbuster is what you want, Red Notice is one of the best choices on streaming.
3. No Time To Die: The twenty-fifth James Bond film marks the end of a major era for the long-running franchise. Fifteen years after the release of Casino Royale, Daniel Craig is retiring from the famous role. No Time To Die is an epic swan song to Craig and to many aspects of the franchise. The film is the most serialized yet, with plot points directly connected to past films Quantum of Solace (2008) and Skyfall (2012) most of all. All of the Bond hallmarks are delivered here by director Cary Fukunaga, but most of them come under a dour umbrella. Antagonist Safin (Rami Malek), an original creation of writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Fukunaga, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, represents both the character’s and franchise’s past. Elements like villainous volcano lairs and “Oriental” aesthetics return, but in a way decidedly 2021. The traditional cast of “Bond girls” are represented by Lea Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, and (an incredible, even in a very small role) Ana de Armas, and all of them put their own subversive twist on the trope. The story is a bit too convoluted, as it involves Bond getting back into action after a short retirement, but the elements are done effectively and the direction is extremely well-conceived. A must-watch for all fans of the franchise.
2. Spencer: You can read Noelia’s review of Spencer, a tale about Her Royal Highness, Diana, Princess of Wales, here.
1. The French Dispatch: Go read Margaret’s review for more details but The French Dispatch is absolutely incredible. It may be the best film of the year. A ground-breaking and breath-takingly precise aesthetic exercise dealing with aesthetic itself.