Featured Content / Film Reviews by Amy

Clifford the Big Red Dog (PG)

Clifford the Big Red Dog (PG)

A girl having a rough time adjusting to a new school adopts a dog in Clifford the Big Red Dog, a live-action movie based on the books.

Clifford is a photorealistic CGI Labrador-ish puppy movie-magicked red. When 11-year-old Emily (Darby Camp) first meets him, he is a just nameless small weirdly red dog — so small that he sneaks into her backpack unnoticed. Her mother, Maggie (Sienna Guillory), is out of town for a few days for work and Emily’s somewhat aimless Uncle Casey (Jack Whitehall), who would like it to be known that he has only lost her twice while babysitting her, is watching her. He demands they take the dog back to the strange animal rescue where they first saw him but she turns her sad girl eyes on him and he says they can keep the dog for the night but look for the mysterious Mr. Bridwell (John Cleese), the rescue’s manager, in the morning.

But in the morning, Emily wakes to find that the tiny puppy she’s named Clifford is now very large — still a puppy but more the size of a medium elephant. Emily, who has recently started at a new private school where the kids are snotty and she is lonely, is desperate to keep the puppy. Casey is desperate to keep Maggie from learning that he’s let her daughter adopt a minivan-sized animal. So they set off to try to find someone — Mr. Bridwell, a veterinarian, the wealthy father of Emily’s friend Owen (Izaac Wang), who appears to own an animal sanctuary — who can help Clifford. And, help them before the family’s landlord (David Alan Grier), with a very strict no-pets policy, finds out that Clifford is living in their very small New York City apartment.

But Clifford quickly becomes a bit of a viral star, getting the attention of Tieran (Tony Hale), an evil tech guy from a company seeking to make bigger organisms with the goal of growing more food more quickly. So far, all they’ve managed to engineer are giant chicken eggs, a two-headed goat and a very mean sheep. But Tieran thinks that if his company captures Clifford, they might unlock the secrets to giant cows.

A neighborhood full of characters quirky enough that you feel like you’re supposed to get to know them rallies to support Emily, who learns how to stand up for herself against bullies and how to make friends. It’s all done very softly, with lessons easily learned and most people basically friendly. Even the moments of Clifford in peril are very mildly perilous — all of which made the movie perfectly palatable to my young elementary school kids. But also relatively mild were the animal hijinks — and as big-dog silliness gave away to more emotional stuff, the movie lost them somewhat. My more middle-grade-aged kid seemed more engaged in the story-telling, more entertained by the “pleasant family sitcom”-level of humor.

While Clifford is somewhat visually distracting in the uncanny-valley sense, the movie was overall inoffensive. And, sure, “inoffensive and fine, I guess, rave critics!” is not something you’re likely to see in movie trailers. But that is where this movie landed, and I don’t think that is necessarily a knock on it. Sometimes a movie just being watchable by kids of varying ages and something their parents can stomach having on without paying too much attention is exactly the kind of entertainment the whole family needs. B- Rated PG for impolite humor, thematic elements and mild action, according to the MPA on filmratings.com. Directed by Walt Becker with a screenplay by Jay Scherick & David Ronn and Blaise Hemingway (based on the books by Norman Bridwell), Clifford the Big Red Dog is an hour and 37 minutes long and distributed by Paramount Pictures via Paramount+ and in theaters.

Passing (PG-13)

Two childhood friends reconnect as married women in 1920s New York City in Passing, based on a novel by Nella Larsen with an adapted screenplay by Rebecca Hall, who also directed the movie.

When we first see Irene (Tessa Thompson), she’s out shopping on a hot summer day — being sort of quiet and deliberate in the way she walks, surveys a room and talks to people. What we realize she’s doing before every interaction is figuring out what the other person — fellow well-heeled shoppers, store clerks, hotel doormen — sees when they look at her. Irene is, as she later explains, “passing,” for the convenience of not being recognized as African-American in these predominantly white spaces in the 1920s.

Clare (Ruth Negga), also hanging out at the hotel, does give Irene a second look — and keeps looking until she comes over to reintroduce herself. Irene is rather shocked to realize that this blonde woman with a white husband — John (Alexander Skarsgard) — is her girlhood friend from the neighborhood. She is even more shocked to learn that John, whom she meets and quickly gathers is quite the racist, has no idea that Clare (or Irene) is Black.

Irene’s encounter with Clare seems to sort of shake her. She leaves with little intention of talking to Clare again; Irene’s husband, Brian (Andre Holland), even makes fun of Clare’s shallow-sounding apology letter (Irene was clearly appalled by John’s casual racism) that she sends later on. But then months later Clare shows up at Irene’s house and the women rekindle their friendship.

The movie leaves a lot ambiguous about what is happening between Clare and Irene. Both are well-off women, but living in different worlds with different levels of freedom in different circumstances because of how they present themselves to their worlds. Both seem to have tensions in their marriage — Clare’s more obvious than Irene’s but Irene also seems to have a wall between herself and her husband. We never really learn what their relationship was like in their youth and it’s never completely clear what each woman is looking for from the other now. At one point Irene tells a white writer friend, Hugh (Bill Camp), that everybody is passing in some way — one of many times when we wonder if the devoted wife and mother Irene seems to be working so hard to present herself as is her cover, of sorts, for other internal conflicts and frustrations. When she seems to push Clare and Brian to spend more time together, is she defeatedly accepting an attraction between them that she senses or is she doing it as a way to avoid thinking about her own attraction to Clare? There’s a lot that happens in the silences here, in the way Thompson and Negga look at each other, in the way the movie lights a scene, that leaves you to fill in the blanks of what you feel it all means. This even carries through to the way the movie ends. At times, I felt some frustration with this — exactly what does this movie want me to think I’m seeing? But Passing has stuck with me and, if anything, the ambiguity has left me thinking more about what’s going on with the people than strictly about the movie’s plot points.

Perhaps because it leaves so many things gray — both figuratively and literally, as this movie shot in black and white seems to most often play, beautifully, with grays — the movie is also able to touch on a lot of issues without it seeming like “Issues Related to Race: The Movie.” We see moments of Irene’s marriage, her interactions with her housekeeper, her parenting, her social life that all get to different elements of socioeconomic status and gender roles and hint at the tensions between the things she may want in her life and the things she feels she’s expected to do.

Passing is a quiet movie that leaves a bigger impression than it initially seems. Strong performances by Thompson and Negga and interesting choices in the way the movie was shot made this movie feel like a surprise masterpiece — something that had me invested and enthralled before I realized how much I liked what it was doing. A Rated PG-13 for thematic material and some racial slurs and smoking, according to the MPA on filmratings.com. Directed by Rebecca Hall with a screenplay by Rebecca Hall (from the novel by Nella Larsen), Passing is an hour and 38 minutes long and available via Netflix.

Red Notice (PG-13)

Get cops, thieves and quips in Red Notice, a broad mostly fun adventure comedy starring Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot and Ryan Reynolds.

A nice fast food fried chicken sandwich with pickles, a side of fries and maybe a shake or some lemonade: Is it, you know, good? No. But is it good? Yes! Yes, so delicious even though you know it has very little nutritional value and is possibly contributing to long-term health problems. Likewise, is Red Notice contributing to the decline of theatrical distribution by providing, directly to your home, widely appealing or at least widely tolerable entertainment potentially in that four-quadrant sweet spot with big-name stars? Er, possibly. But is this movie good like a hot and crispy meal that comes in a paper bag and doesn’t require any work on your part? Yes, yes it is. Greasy, a little much, but satisfying.

After some extensive exposition explaining the fabled (and fictitious) three bejeweled eggs of Cleopatra, a fancy wedding present from Marc Antony back in antiquity, we meet FBI profiler John Hartley (Johnson) on the trail of Nolan Booth (Reynolds, playing the Ryan Reynolds Character TM that has become his whole shtick), an internationally known luxury-items thief. When Hartley’s paths cross with Booth’s, Booth has just stolen one of those eggs from a museum in Rome. We learn that all of art-thiefdom is likely looking for these eggs, one of which has never been found in modern times, because a wealthy Egyptian is looking to give them to his daughter as a wedding gift and he’s willing to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to whomever can bring them to him.

After some fighting and some quipping, Hartley nearly has Booth but then Booth is able to slip away — only for Hartley to follow Booth to his fancy home in Bali and take back the egg. Too easy, thinks Interpol agent Urvashi Das (Ritu Arya), who turns around and arrests Hartley. It seems that his identity, including proof that he works at the FBI, has been erased, possibly the work of The Bishop — a rumored but never identified thief even more successful than Booth. (I’m going to spoil it right now and tell you The Bishop is Gal Gadot, which is only a spoiler if you haven’t seen any movie-related images and have never seen a movie before.) Both Hartley and Booth wind up in a Russian prison and decide that the only way out is to work together to help Hartley catch The Bishop. If he turns her in, Hartley hopes he can restore his good name and Booth hopes that there may be just enough wiggle-away room to score the three Cleopatra eggs himself.

This movie checks all the boxes for this kind of treasure-hunt-with-hot-people affair: We get a variety of international locales, cat-and-mouse scenes between thieves and cops and sometimes between thieves and thieves, and an unlikely partnership in Booth and Hartley leaving room for lots of physical comedy as well as rat-a-tat quips. This movie even has a secret art cache that blends ancient artifacts and stolen-by-Nazis loot. Does this movie underline what it’s doing by having Ryan Reynolds whistle the Indiana Jones theme music? Yes it does. But did I laugh when he and the Rock hunt for the egg and he advises to “look for a box that says ‘McGuffin’”? Yes, yes I did.

Red Notice does not exceed exceptions; it does not do any extra credit with the performances or dialogue or cleverness of the action or plot. But it delivers on the kind of National Treasure-y level (with just enough swear words that I probably wouldn’t show it to a kid younger than 13 or so) that I think it’s aiming for. Red Notice is easy watching and just fun enough to justify the low-bar effort involved in finding it on Netflix. B-

Rated PG-13 for violence and action, some sexual references and strong language, according to the MPA on filmratings.com. Written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, Red Notice is an hour-and-58- minute-long break from serious thought and is available on Netflix.

FILM

Venues

AMC Londonderry
16 Orchard View Dr., Londonderry
amctheatres.com

Bank of NH Stage in Concord
16 S. Main St., Concord
225-1111, banknhstage.com

Capitol Center for the Arts
44 S. Main St., Concord
225-1111, ccanh.com

Cinemark Rockingham Park 12
15 Mall Road, Salem

Chunky’s Cinema Pub
707 Huse Road, Manchester; 151 Coliseum Ave., Nashua; 150 Bridge St., Pelham, chunkys.com

Dana Center
Saint Anselm College
100 Saint Anselm Dr., Manchester, anselm.edu

Fathom Events
Fathomevents.com

The Flying Monkey
39 Main St., Plymouth
536-2551, flyingmonkeynh.com

LaBelle Winery
345 Route 101, Amherst
672-9898, labellewinery.com

The Music Hall
28 Chestnut St., Portsmouth
436-2400, themusichall.org

O’neil Cinemas
24 Calef Hwy., Epping
679-3529, oneilcinemas.com

Red River Theatres
11 S. Main St., Concord
224-4600, redrivertheatres.org

Regal Fox Run Stadium 15
45 Gosling Road, Newington
regmovies.com

Rex Theatre
23 Amherst St., Manchester
668-5588, palacetheatre.org

The Strand
20 Third St., Dover
343-1899, thestranddover.com

Wilton Town Hall Theatre
40 Main St., Wilton
wiltontownhalltheatre.com, 654-3456

Shows

The Big Parade (1925), a silent film with live musical accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, on Wednesday, Nov. 10, at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey. Tickets start at $10.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), a silent film with live musical accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, on Thursday, Nov. 11, at 7 p.m. at the Colonial Theatre in Keene (thecolonial.org). Tickets $15 (free for veterans).

Spencer (R, 2021) screening at Red River Theatres in Concord Friday, Nov. 12, through Sunday, Nov. 14, at 1, 4 & 7 p.m.

The French Dispatch (R, 2021) screening at Red River Theatres Friday, Nov. 12, through Sunday, Nov. 14, at 1:30, 4:30 & 7:30 p.m.

Gojira (1954) the Japanese-language kaiju film introducing Godzilla, will screen with subtitles at Wilton Town Hall Theatre on Friday, Nov. 12, and Saturday, Nov. 13, at 7:30 p.m.

Judgement at Nuremberg (1961) will screen at Wilton Town Hall Theatre on Friday, Nov. 12, and Saturday, Nov. 13, at 7:30 p.m.

The Littlest Rebel (1935) starring Shirley Temple and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, will screen at Wilton Town Hall Theatre on Saturday, Nov. 13, at 2 p.m.

Hot Water (1924) starring Harold Lloyd, a silent film with live musical accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, on Sunday, Nov. 14, at 2 p.m. at Wilton Town Hall Theatre. Admission free; $10 donation suggested.

Sunflowers (2021) screening at Red River Theatres in Concord on Wednesday, Nov. 17, at 6 p.m.

Warren Miller’s Winter Starts Now at The Music Hall, Thursday, Nov. 18, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Nov. 19, at 6 and 9 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 20, at 4 & 7 p.m. Tickets start at $28.

Featured photo: Clifford the Big Red Dog. Courtesy photo.

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