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Movie Reviews
Red Notice
(PG-13 / 1h 57m / Netflix)

Overview: In the world of international crime, an Interpol agent attempts to hunt down and capture the world’s most wanted art thief.

Verdict: Thanks to a stellar A-list cast led by Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, and Gal Gadot, Red Notice is just the lightweight heist romp we need right now—whether you’re stressing over the state of the world or the holidays in general—it’s a turn-off-your-brain-and-enjoy flick that will treat your eyes and tickle your funny bone.

When no-nonsense FBI profiler John Hartley (Johnson) is forced into a faux partnership with quippy cat burglar Nolan Booth (Reynolds) to steal Cleopatra’s treasure, they must race against the clock before slick, sleek master art thief The Bishop (Gadot) beats them to the taking of the golden, bejeweled artifacts.

As one expects, the treasure-hunting trio globe-trots everywhere from Rome to Egypt in their pursuit of the treasure, well-dressed and sharp-tongued at every twist and turn. Red Notice is reminiscent of fun, fast-paced adventure flicks like Romancing the Stone, National Treasure, and the like.

The stunts are marvelous, the fight choreography is fast and furious, and the jokes are goofy and good-natured—it’s a welcome relief to see a comedy that doesn’t resort to potty humor and foul language. I’m not saying Red Notice is Shakespeare by any means, but at least it’s not Dumber and Dumber: Treasure Hunters.





Dune
(PG-13 / 2h 35m / Warner Bros.)

Overview: Paul Atreides, a brilliant and gifted young man born into a great destiny beyond his understanding, must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe to ensure the future of his family and his people.

As malevolent forces explode into conflict over the planet’s exclusive supply of the most precious resource in existence, only those who can conquer their own fear will survive.

Verdict: This visually sumptuous space opera is sure to please new audiences and Dune fans alike. Director Denis Villeneuve gifts us with unusually patient storytelling; a refreshing change in the sci-fi genre, and an opportunity to relish in setting up the magnitude of a new, grand universe.

The SFX team serves up haunting, slow-gliding high-tech obelisks and highly impractical dragonfly crafts, contrasted with vast misty desolate desert vistas. The sound design is the requisite BWAAA and generic tribal vocalizations.

The costuming is an exquisite pastiche of vaguely ethnic global appropriation, window dressing to the story’s main thrust which could be summed up as “What happens when imperialism goes wrong.”

The film opens on a hazy Zendaya commenting on colonialism (perhaps signaling an intention to unpack white-savior themes in the sequel), then cuts away to a satisfyingly wan and angsty Timothée Chalamet, a physical manifestation of the powerlessness of youth. Villeneuve has stated that Zendaya’s character will have a greater role in the sequel.

Jason Momoa, Dave Bautista, and Josh Brolin are completely in their element, serving righteous space-bro energy. Charlotte Rampling is deliciously haughty and scheming as the Reverend Mother, matched against matrilineal renegade Lady Jessica, quietly played by Rebecca Ferguson.

At a tight 2 hours and 35 minutes running time, purists may grumble that countless details were inevitably left out. However, as Watchmen fans know, a too-faithful adaptation is a surefire way to end up with yet another pile of garbage in the gullet of a giant space-worm. After all, Dune the novel still exists and will always remain a compelling read.





Ghostbusters: Afterlife
(PG-13 / 2h 04m / Columbia Pictures)

Overview: When a single mother and her two children move to a new town, they soon discover they have a connection to the original Ghostbusters and the secret legacy their grandfather left behind.

Verdict: If someone were to probe into my history with the Ghostbusters franchise, they wouldn’t have to dig very far. I enjoyed the first film, like many of us have, (there is a reason it is iconic), but the second is purely forgettable, the cartoons never held any relevance to me, and the 2016 reboot was a disaster in its goal of turning the series into a straight comedy with horror bits rather than the other way around.

In all its lineage however, the one constant I have seen throughout the years is that the original 1984 film is largely agreed to be special. The reasons why are agreed upon, but no one can summarize or define it. It’s considered lightning in a bottle, which is perhaps what it should have remained, a blockbuster relic of the 80s.

And yet, Ghostbusters: Afterlife arrives, apt title and all, in time to remind us that what made the original so beloved was not the specifics of the horror and comedic genre mixings, nor the gadgets and weaponry, or even the plot itself. It was the authenticity it allowed its characters to portray, the chemistry they built and developed together, and the warmth and inspiration felt from witnessing the unlikeliest team come together in the face of great evil. Jason Reitman—son of the original film’s director, Ivan Reitman (forgive me if you’ve read about that before)—proves that in at least some ways, that there’s something to be said about lineage.

And it is by no means a coincidence that the film holds the idea of lineage as its central theme when Callie (Carrie Coon), a struggling single mom of Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (McKenna Grace), uproots their family to Summerville, Oklahoma to inherit the abandoned farm her estranged father, original Ghostbuster Dr. Egon Spengler, has left to them after his death.

Soon after they arrive, Phoebe starts to notice strange equipment lying around and unusual occurrences haunting the house and around town, particularly after she meets her new friend Podcast (Logan Kim) who tags along in an ever-grinding effort for new content to boost his actual Podcast, (respect, little man).

Trevor, trying to be independent, gets a job at a local diner to be closer to a waitress named Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), whom he immediately develops a crush for. And Paul Rudd is his Paul Ruddiest as the summer school teacher and ’previously on Ghostbusters’ exposition giver, but it works because, as we already know, Paul Rudd is effortlessly charming and loveable in almost every role he takes on.

While this is certainly an ensemble film, McKenna Grace claims the film as her own by turning in an honest, relatable, and authentic performance as the socially awkward, nerdy genius of her family and a true successor to her grandfather.

The film rests on her young shoulders, and she carries the role like she was born to it. Because of her, the film (and potentially the franchise) are in the greatest hands. What makes her journey so watchable is that we witness every stage of her growth, from the awkward silent kid to the smart, confident, and assertive ghostbuster who learns what it means to be a Spengler.

With this being another attempt at a soft reboot, and one I am saying is largely a success, there are many nods and Easter eggs to the legacy of the franchise. Some of these worked for me and some of them didn’t. Some of them are subtle and others are quite deliberate, including a third act that is somewhat of a jumbled mess of subtlety and slaps in the face.

In spite of that, Jason Reitman comes out batting .500, and what I appreciate about all of the attempts at call backs is that there is a genuineness and earnestness in the approach. Enough to get me ready to believe in another sequel.





Clifford The Big Red Dog
(PG / 1h 37m / Paramount Pictures)

Overview: When middle-schooler Emily Elizabeth (Darby Camp) meets a magical animal rescuer (John Cleese) who gifts her a little, red puppy, she never anticipated waking up to find a giant ten-foot hound in her small New York City apartment.

While her single mom (Sienna Guillory) is away for business, Emily and her fun but impulsive uncle Casey (Jack Whitehall) set out on an adventure that will keep you on the edge-of-your-seat as our heroes take a bite out of the Big Apple. Based on the beloved Scholastic book character, Clifford will teach the world how to love big!

Verdict: Family-friendly adventure “Clifford the Big Red Dog” is much better than I expected. It’s certainly made for and caters to kids, but this cute, inoffensive charmer is something the entire brood can enjoy. With its silly jokes, valuable message, funny gags, and huge heart, it’s easy to enjoy this movie.

The film is based on author Norman Bridwell’s children’s literary classic of the same name. The book, first published in 1963, is a series about a giant red dog named Clifford. The story stays true to many of the pup’s adventures, but is given a slightly modern update.

Middle school student Emily Elizabeth (Darby Camp) is having a tough time. Bullied by the mean girls in her class, she often feels lonely and sad. One afternoon, Emily meets a magical animal rescuer (John Cleese) who shows her a special little red puppy.

No pets are allowed in the Harlem apartment she shares with her single mom (Sienna Guillory), but with her slightly irresponsible Uncle Casey (Jack Whitehall) babysitting for a week, Emily begs to keep the cute dog. But when the sun rises the next day, the two get a truly giant surprise: the puppy has grown to be the size of an elephant.

A bunch of fun adventures take place throughout New York City, and the characters just accept that there is a ginormous dog running around. It’s definitely the time for suspension of disbelief, but the cast and story is so good-natured that I didn’t think twice about the practicality of it all.

It’s commendable that the film has an effortless diversity that never feels forced, with a multicultural cast (Paul Rodriguez, Izaac Wang, David Alan Grier, Horatio Sanz) of enjoyable characters.

This fits in perfectly with the message that not only is it okay to be different and stand out from the crowd, but it’s something to be celebrated. In the end, the heroine learns to speak out and use her voice to stand up for others and in doing so, also stands up for herself. It’s a valuable lesson for kids and adults alike.

With its positive message and happy ending, “Clifford the Big Red Dog” is simply delightful.





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