Procession

Written by Patrick Hao

74/100

Documentarian Robert Greene has had a career of self-reflexive documentaries that are almost openly hostile to the idea of honesty within the medium. In Kate Plays Christine, a documentary about an actress preparing for the role in a fake movie of a real-life journalist who committed suicide live on air. The film explores the ethics of exploiting such a tragic story while also untangling the real-life trauma of a story that has become lore and how that can completely engulf an actress portraying such a role. In Bisbee ’17, he chronicles and recruits an Arizona town to recreate the suppression of a massive worker strike leading to an illegal mass deportation. Many of the residents involved in the recreation have a direct lineage to those who directly led to the events. In doing so, the people involved directly confront the heinous past that runs through the town and their personal histories, presenting a form of atonement.

Robert Greene’s newest film, Procession concludes an unofficial trilogy of sorts within Greene’s filmography on the effects, purpose, and power of reenactment. With Kate Plays Christine it’s an actress reenacting the actions of another. With Bisbee ’17 it’s people reenacting the actions of their ancestors. Procession is about people reenacting their younger selves and the healing powers such recreation could have.

In this case, Greene focuses on six grown men who had been previously sexually abused by Catholic priests as children. Greene presents them with the opportunity to script scenes representing their abuse in whatever fantastical machinations they want. A hackier filmmaker would take a concept like this and make a saccharine film about catharsis. For Greene and his abundance of empathy, his film is a constant tension of self-doubt. The film constantly questions itself on the ethics of such recreation. And whether at the end of the day, this helps anyone at all.

The through-line is a collection of men working through their trauma through the collaborative nature of art. These are men who have suffered through similar abuses, although at different times, different parishes. Five scripted scenes are ultimately produced, with the sixth man choosing to want to be an actor in two of the scenes as his form of exorcism.

Greene is barely a character in this film, although his presence is always known. Greene would never let you forget this is an exercise in filmmaking. He does allow the five men producing the scripted scene total creative control. Thus, they get “film by” credits in the open titles. The surprise comes with how each story is told, each being conveyed differently. None of these are direct recreation of the worst moments of abuse. Rather, they are steeped in symbolism, all with varying degrees of overtness. But that should be expected with how we deal with trauma. Some of the more fantastical can even harken back to All That Jazz, another form of exorcism of demons through art by filmmaker Bob Fosse.   

It is incredible how Greene never feels like he is exploiting these subjects or their worst moments. Rather, because the men always seem to be in the forefront of the film, with total control, Procession becomes a real exercise in healing through art, through confrontation. For someone who has had been busy trying to reconcile if art depicting the real can ever be truly ethical, it is fitting for Greene to present a film that is deeply indebted to the therapeutic nature of art.

One child portrays each of the men as children in all the segments. We see this actor interact with the men throughout and be treated with such care that was never afforded to them. In return, he also empathizes with them, having to also get into the mental headspace of these men. This profound empathy exhibited had me bursting into tears. To think we can be in a world so cruel yet so kind, all at the same time.

Procession Trailer

Procession is available to stream on Netflix.

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The Humans

Written by Patrick Hao

62/100

The number one hackneyed complaint that all critics make about plays adapted into movies is that it is too stagey. Stephen Karam seemed to have taken those criticisms to heart when he decided to adapt his own Tony Award-Winning play, The Humans, into a feature film. Karam’s adaptation opens with a low-angle shot of the towering Chinatown apartment building that the film takes place in. It’s the first of several invocations of 9/11 throughout the film.

The play ran for 95-minutes on Broadway. In a smart move, the film does not run for much longer than that as well. Not much has changed for the adaptation. The film still follows one family Thanksgiving in a two-story, crappy apartment in New York City. The apartment belongs to Brigid (Beanie Feldstein) and her boyfriend Richard (Steven Yeun). They have just moved to this apartment and lack furniture due to a mishap with the moving crew. Coming to attend Thanksgiving are Brigid’s parents, Mark (Richard Jenkins) and Diedre (Jayne Houdyshell), her grandmother suffering from Alzheimer’s (June Squibb), and newly single and about to be fired sister, Aimee (Amy Schumer).

Like all family reunions, Thanksgiving from hell movies, this one features numerous squabbles, nagging, passive aggression, sarcasm, and bitter revelations, all with naturalistic performances from all the actors. Brigid is insecure with her lot in life. She is a creative who must make ends meet by bartending. Aimee is about to lose her job as a junior partner at her law firm and just ended a year-long relationship. Mark is dealing with the fallout of 9/11 and his own ineffectual masculinity. Meanwhile, Diedre’s own insecurities with her weight and lot in life are extended to her children.

All of this seems like a normal affair for a Broadway play. Karam is notable for his replication of normal human patter. He is also incredible at putting weight on every pregnant pause for its maximum impact. The ensemble cast is also helpful in delivering the undertones of every line. Feldstein’s natural emphatic exuberance being knocked down by the subtle drags of Houdyshell and the caustic resignation of Schumer makes for an especially fun dynamic.

Karam however intends to suffocate the characters with creeping dread and anxiety. The apartment aches at every movement and rumbles from the exposed pipes and heat. His camera fixates on characters for protracted periods of time, lulling the audience, allowing Karam to use sudden dialogue like jump scares. Often the empty apartment seems to be almost engulfing the characters on screen. It’s no secret that The Humans is going for a brutal mix of Repulsion and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

While Karam is impressive in how he’s able to layout the confines of the apartment, his stylistic choices become overbearing and discordant with the naturalism that he has his actors embrace. Other films that have trotted in the similar stylistic and thematic territory – the exquisite digital filmmaking of Pieces of April or the suffocating horror of Krisha – were able to find a better balance in the two. If anything, the style he chooses is successful in the ability it depicts the constant dissociation one uses to survive. The vacant stares are a result of defense mechanisms.

There is much to like in Karam’s adaptation of his own play. But it also feels like a playwright trying too hard to prove his bonafides as a filmmaker. Maybe instead of focusing on the bumps in the night, The Humans would have been better served at creating a lump in our throats.

The Humans Trailer

The Humans is streaming on Showtime.

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Capsule Review: The Musician

Written by Patrick Hao

65/100

The only voice in The Musician is through the kamancheh, a traditional Persian string instrument. For a film of 14-minutes long, it necessitates itself to be told through montage, especially for a film with these ambitions. Director Reza Riahi uses paper cutouts to pay tribute to traditional Persian art. The entire stop-motion production was a three-month process with each character hand crafted and the background hand painted.

The results are a film that takes place over two separate time periods. In 13th century Persia, a musician is invited to the palace of the Mongols to play music. Through his music, he embraces the remembrance of his love from fifty years ago, long lost due to the invasion of the Mongols.

The film is beautiful with sumptuous visuals. Riahi was previously an art director with Cartoon Saloon, working on The Breadwinner. The film demonstrates ability in using silent film techniques to express so much through pantomime. Little animation details such as the musician fumbling, and shaking is beautifully detailed and animated. It is an impressive feat.

However, any hopes of expressing a greater message of war and oppression can only be surface level with such a short runtime. Everything about The Musician is unfortunately surface level. Montage alone can only do so much.

The Musician Trailer

The Musician is currently available to stream on Paramount+.

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Resident Evil: Welcome to Racoon City

Written by Patrick Hao

32/100

It has only been about five years since Paul W.S. Anderson’s final film in his Resident Evil series, a seminal group of films in the canonization of Anderson as a vulgar auteur. One might say it is entirely too soon to have a brand-new reboot of the popular Capcom video game series. But in our current day cultural climate, five years is entirely too long to let a popular series with any sort of cache lay dormant. Thankfully, we are lucky enough to have Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City be directed by Johannes Robert, a filmmaker who may slowly be making a name for himself amongst the popular B-movie auteurs, who infuses enough style and skill into the reboot that it is merely underwhelming rather than outright bad.

This reboot is a more faithful adaptation of the video game series than the Anderson films series ever was to the point that it is pointlessly set in the year 1998 – the same year that the first two Resident Evil games are set. The film follows Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario) as she goes back to Raccoon City to look for her brother (Robbie Amell) because there is trouble afoot in this town that used to be dominated by a pharmaceutical company called Umbrella. Meanwhile, her brother, a member of the Racoon City Police Department is exploring the Spencer Mansion with his fellow officers Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen) and Leon Kennedy (Avon Jogia). A zombie breakout soon occurs, as all the characters try to survive. We all know what Resident Evil is at this point.

Roberts, who had previously directed the better-than-they-should-be, The Strangers: Prey by Night, 47 Meters Down, and 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, does not entirely rely on jump scares here. He creates an atmosphere that is filled with dread. His shot compositions suggest care. Unfortunately, the same care in composition is not given to the screenplay he wrote nor the production budget he has to work with. Rather than having a brisk sparse screenplay like a John Carpenter movie, the film is sunk by clunky exposition and fan service quips. If anything, the film does match the dialogue of an NPC in a video game series cheaply translated from Japanese to English.

It doesn’t help that the film is also filled with a cast of “who is that.” No offense to Kaya Scodelario, but there is a reason that Hollywood has spent ten years trying to groom her into a leading actress of worth only for her to star in a Resident Evil reboot. Her wooden bland charisma really just shows how great of a presence Milla Jovovich was twenty years ago. At least a game Donal Logue and Neal McDonough add much-needed presence and camp to supporting characters. However, this is not so much a movie but a collection of cut scenes from a video game.

In ten years, there might be a chance Johannes Robert will be amongst the names mentioned alongside Paul WS Anderson or Alejandro Aja as genre auteurs making “Termite Art.” He definitely has the panache of one. Resident Evil: Raccoon City, however, does not have the qualities that indicate it will be seen as an underappreciated classic.

Resident Evil: Welcome to Racoon City Trailer

Resident Evil: Welcome to Racoon City is currently available in wide theatrical release.

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What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?

Written by Patrick Hao

65/100

What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? That is the question as title of the film and the ethos of Georgian director’s Aleksandre Koberidze’s second feature. What he is really asking is what do we see when we look at everyday things – whether people, objects, forces – that mundanely fills in the periphery of our lives.

At the center of Koberidze’s two-and-a-half-hour mini epic, is a magical realist romance. We meet Lisa (Oliko Barbakadze) and Giorgi (Giorgi Ambroladze) as they quite literally bump into each other in a twee-est of meet cutes. They agree to go on a date. And when I say meet, I mean that the director, Koberidze decides to only shoot them from the knees down. He does not want the audience to get too familiar with these faces because soon, through a “curse”, their appearances completely change. Now Lisa and Giorgi are played by Ani Karseladze and Giorgi Borchorishvilli respectively. Not only that, Lisa, a pharmacist, and Giorgi, a soccer player, have completely forgotten their professional skills. More importantly, Lisa and Giorgi will not recognize each other at their meet up for their date.

While this is the central plot point that binds the film together, maybe only 30% of the film’s total run time is devoted to the actual progression of this story. Koberidze becomes prone to tangents, underscored by the director’s own coy narration of the things around him. His wandering camera eye becomes interested in World Cup fever, dogs, children playing soccer, and rambling rivers. Oftentimes, the camera remains wide with minimal movement, allowing action to move away from the center frame. He invites the viewer’s eye to wander and really explore what they’re thinking. I often found myself wondering whether the objects coming into frame were purposeful or just happenstance.  

In a sense, What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? is about the city of Kuitsai, whose old architecture makes it seem like a city stuck in time. Through the film, we slowly seep in the landscape of the city, one that is punctured by a roaring river and two bridges. The city, the tangents, the feeling of floating, all leads to a magical dream-like quality to the whole film. This film is actually quite comparable to the HBO show How To with John Wilson without being cinema verité.

It would all be more effective if these moments were not punctured by the incessant narration by Koberidze. At times, he offers funny wry remarks. But, when he digresses into a meta meditation on narrative and his own existential crisis, he undercuts the ethos of the film. Rather than an exploration of the beauty of the everyday and how magical it can be to be mundane, the last few moments of narration come close to just becoming an exercise in a filmmaker’s insecurities. Other than that, What Do We See When Look at the Sky is an incredibly charming and winsome film that comes close to justifying its full 150-minute run time. Sometimes its good to just stop and look up at the sky.

What Do We See When We Look at the Sky Trailer

What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? is currently available in limited in theatrical release.

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The Power of the Dog

Written by Patrick Hao

90/100

For a film set on the plains of 1925 Montana, and shot against the beautiful wide vistas of Jane Campion’s home country of New Zealand, The Power of the Dog often feels hauntingly constrained. That is because Campion’s film is one of intense emotions caused by the unspoken, whether it is because of social mores or simply because they couldn’t.. The great director is no stranger to such themes in her oeuvre. She literally renders her lead character a mute in The Piano.

Reductively, The Power of the Dog has been described as a movie about toxic masculinity. And while that is true, the film is interested in the greater ways the oppressive forces of systems pray on people. The system at play here is never spoken of but is one of class, money, and gender. The film follows the brutish ranch hand Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his entrepreneurial brother George (Jesse Plemons), although you wouldn’t know they were brothers by looking at them. George is clean-shaven but for his mustache, concerned with respectability instilled by their wealthy parents. Phil is covered head to toe in dirt, and happily so. He is cruel, calling his brother Fatso with glee. While George handles business, Phil handles a group of ranch hands. Phil is concerned by how his men think of him which makes him resentful of the wealth he comes from. The push-pull of these two disparate men is palpable. At one point, Phil even describes their kinship as akin to Romulus and Remus. 

Their business finds them staying in an inn run by Rose (Kirsten Dunst), who along with her son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) serves the brothers and ranchers dinner one night. While George offers Rose kindness, Phil is outright cruel to the socially awkward Peter. Phil is threatened by Peter allowing himself not to be bound by traditional masculinity. This cruelty eventually extends to Rose, who marries George, as Phil becomes resentful to her as well. A psychological cat and mouse game brews between Phil and Rose, leading to Rose finding solace in alcohol. 

One set-piece after the other, Campion unfolds this piece of unnerving cruelty people can inflict on each other. George needs Rose to be a presentable wife to high society. Rose needs to live up to an ideal that she feels unable to reach. Phil too is not entirely the ideal man he wants to be, and as a result, lashes out on everyone around him. Caught in the middle of this struggle is the coming of age tale of Peter. He is intellectual, sweet, and sensitive. But, masculinity threatens to pull him away from his natural disposition. We learn that at one point, Phil used to be an intellectual as well, but strayed away for a life as a cowboy.

Campion moves slowly through these proceedings and it takes a while to truly understand what she is attempting to do. But, Campion is a master of her craft and once she latches on, she does not relent. This is psychological warfare after all, in which the interiority of all these characters gets magnified as the tension ramps. Campion is able to explore a gamut of thoughts just through a simple closeup. This is all underscored by another great score by Jonny Greenwood with his harsh dissonant chords, ratcheting up the tension of these mental tug of wars. 

The four central actors, Cumberbatch, Dunst, Smit-McPhee, and Plemons are all exceptional in this four-hander chamber piece, playing off each other. Cumberbatch in particular is physically rigid like a hardened wood, but when he speaks, his voice coils like a python. It is unnerving. Very soon it becomes a psychological Mexican stand-off between the four. With love, tenderness, bitterness, and resentment being the weapons of choice. 

By the end of The Power of the Dog, it becomes unsuspectingly devastating. It is as if Campion is able to instill in the viewer the same feelings of repressed emotions the characters are facing. The ache lingers long after the credit rolls.

The Power of the Dog Trailer

The Power of the Dog is currently playing in limited theatrical release and will begin streaming on Netflix on December 1st.

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King Richard

Written by Patrick Hao

62/100

I forgot how good of a movie star Will Smith is. Maybe because Smith hasn’t really been able to shine as a movie star since Focus. Maybe it’s because he has crafted an overly upbeat, created by an algorithm online social media persona. But geez, King Richard only works because Will Smith is a goddamn bonafide movie star. 

While formally King Richard is entirely rote and average, its conception is weird. King Richard is a biopic, not of Venus or Serena Williams, the famous tennis stars, but of their father Richard Williams (Will Smith) as he gets the two the training that they need to become who they would become, all while instilling wholesome values of family and work ethic. It seems strange for a biopic and sports drama whose subject is the father of the famous athlete until it is revealed that the Williams sisters had a big part in the production of the film. The film portrays the idealized family, struggling in poverty in Compton, but trying to rise above classicism and racism to become icons. 

Early on, Richard Williams composes a document detailing how he would get his daughters to success. This includes getting them lessons from renowned coaches like Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn) and Rick Macci (Jon Bernthal) through sheer force of will. The film delves a bit into William’s short-tempered-ness and a brief hankering over how he is working his daughters to the bone, but overall the film takes a decidedly approving attitude towards Williams’s treatment of his daughters. The film only provides thin sketches of the Williams sisters as there are just mere conduits to celebrate the persistence of their father. 

This is all well and good because we know the results of Richard Williams’s persistence. But, the film’s choice to not interrogate Williams as a person or his methods belies how this film is a vanity project celebration of two of the producer’s father. This is especially apparent as the film casts a judgemental eye towards other parents overburdening their children with the pressure of becoming a great sports star. The story is too clean and simple. Slight changes to the tone could easily make this film about the toxicity of a father. Instead the film, rightly or wrongly, focuses on the Horatio Alger aspects of the film. There is some pushback from Brandy Williams (Aunjanue Wallis), the matriarch of the family who is just as instrumental as a coach and parent to the success of Venus and Serena as Richard. But, she ultimately supports her husband’s actions as their relationship is portrayed ideally with no sense of true marital strife, despite later divorcing after the events of the movie.

Yet, despite it all, the film works on Smith’s sheer movie stardom. He infuses Williams with an affable poeticism. His ticks do not seem to mirror the real-life Williams but work for the character he is portraying. He is hunched, burdened by life unspoken, and thinks faster than he can speak. This is a similar type of down-home performance by Smith that was previously able to carry the cloying sentimentality of a project like The Pursuit of Happiness to a rousing success.

Rousing success is the goal of this film too. It is hard not to root for Williams and the Williams sisters. They have been part of pop culture for almost three decades now. The sports scenes are also filmed with workmanlike quality that is hard to resist as well. Like Richard Williams’ persistence to make his daughters a success, Will Smith’s persistence makes King Richard a success.

King Richard Trailer

King Richard is in wide theatrical release and available to stream on HBO Max.

You can follow Patrick and his passion for film on Letterboxd and Twitter.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Written by Patrick Hao

38/100

Ghostbusters: Afterlife seems to be a particularly apt title for the franchise. For something to have an afterlife, it suggests that it must be dead and there is an attempt at a resurrection. This new Ghostbusters film was always going to be a cynical exercise of corporate resuscitation, especially after the toxic reception by “fans” to the 2016 female-centric Ghostbusters remake. Whether that film was good or not, it at least captured the feeling of the original 1984 film. This new one from Jason Reitman, the son of the director of the original film Ivan Reitman, while undyingly devoted to the lore of the 1984 film, completely misunderstands why that film works. 

The film is unrelenting in the nostalgia that it revels in. But, this nostalgia is not even rooted in the original film. Rather it is rooted in this idea of the 1980s that has become corporate currency in media like Stranger Things and the 2017 film It. The film follows the estranged daughter of Egon Spangler (Carrie Coon), the original Ghostbuster played by the now deceased Harold Ramis, a single mother of Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), whose only character trait seems to be that he is a horny teenager, and the precocious socially awkward, STEM-loving, Phoebe (McKenna Grace). They move to Oklahoma to settle the Spangler estate when they discover that there are ghosts that need to be busting or else the apocalypse will occur. Also Paul Rudd is around to be the obligatory adult and Ghostbusters fanboy audience surrogate as a summer school teacher, and there is a character named Podcast (Logan Kim), who does,,, well, podcasts. The new characters are fine if not memorable. 

The film is set in the present day, but the fashion, the technology, and the whole vibe are Amblin in the 80s including focusing on the children who are set to become the next generation of Ghostbusters. The script does some serious gymnastics to make sure that modern technology does not appear in the film. The town has no bars which explains why no one is using cell phones which already is dumb. That also doesn’t explain why everyone is using a wired landline. Why is Paul Rudd playing videos on VHS of Cujo and Child’s Play?

The film’s reveling in 80s nostalgia for a film set in the present day is unbelievably baffling, especially when the film is about The Ghostbusters. Those films were a product of National Lampoon alumni whose whole ethos was rebelling against the systems at large. The Ghostbusters partially worked due to its focus on these irreverent anti-authoritarian figures in the middle of Yuppie Reagan New York City. Dan Akroyd gets fellated by a ghost for goodness sake.

So to have a movie reverential to not only the time but to a movie in which the main character and I cannot emphasize this enough gets a ghost blowjob seems baffling. Who exactly is Ghostbusters: Afterlife for? It is certainly a competently made movie and is never not entertaining. But, does it really matter that we explore the origins of Gozer the Gozerian? Why are the stay puft marshmallows back when in the original film, that was a specific manifestation by an individual person.

I was left with more questions than none because this Ghostbusters: Afterlife is really a representation of a mode of movie-making that is incredibly disheartening. These are exercises in affirmation and fan service in a way that reduces it to nothing more than content. Movies are constantly reasserting that fandoms are important and well deserved by putting this undue importance to the silliest of things. What is left is something that the original product never truly was. A manifestation. A specter. 

Ghostbusters: Afterlife Trailer

Ghostbusters: Afterlife is currently in wide theatrical release.

You can follow Patrick and his passion for film on Letterboxd and Twitter.

The Worst Person in the World (Verdens verste menneske)

Written by Patrick Hao

85/100

Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World is not exactly about “The Worst Person in the World.” But being in your 20’s, apprehensive about the menu of choices between adolescence and adulthood, can make every choice seem like they have the magnitude of an earthquake. God forbid the wrong choice is made.

At the heart of Trier’s film are the way choices, whether correct or wrong, contribute to growth. It’s a well-worn subject for sure, but Trier’s film is able to fluidly weave through the film’s many segments to belie the greater point of growth of the human spirit. The film is told in 12 chapters framed around a prologue and epilogue. At the center of the film is Julie (Renate Reinsve) – a Katherine Heigl character from a late aughts rom-com if Katherine Heigl characters had interiority. Julie is a Norwegian woman in her 20’s in Oslo, shifting between careers. In the prologue, she begins as a medical student who transitions to psychology who then transitions to photography. Ultimately, she ends up working at a bookstore. This indecisiveness is not characterized as a fault on Julie’s part, rather as something naturally occurring. It helps that Reinsve infuses Julie with a sense of confident determination in these times of indecision. Her spirit of both openness and pensiveness to the rat race of existence breathes life to Julie.  

The film mainly centers around Julie’s relationship with two men – although that is not to say she is defined by these relationships. Rather, these relationships are a good indicator of her state of mind. The first relationship of note is with Aksel (Trier stock company player Anders Danielson Lie), a 40-year-old underground cartoonist. Aksel and Julie’s relationship is buoyed by intense chemistry between the two leads that as a viewer you can’t help but root for the relationship to flourish. Lie, one of the best actors working in cinema today, belies Aksel with the world weariness of middle age, impressed by the youthful vibrancy of Julie and her ability to push back on his ideas.  For Julie, while there is love for Aksel, he also represents time for her to coast. His success allows her to enjoy safe passage through her own crisis with time. That cover begins to crumble as both begin to have different ideas about whether to have children.

Julie seeks refuge in Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), who she met crashing a wedding party on a whim. Their relationship is one of mutual relatability. Both are static in their current state in life (Eivind is a barista) and are allowed to do so thanks to the security offered by their more successful partner. For Julie, Eivind represents an unclear path. Where Aksel is linear.

The film’s vignette structure is able to place emphasis on particular moments in Julie’s life that on its own can be seemingly unimportant. But together they paint a full picture of Julie as a person. This structure is not too dissimilar than the one used by Nora Ephron in When Harry Met Sally – which makes sense in Trier’s explicit labeling of his film as “a modern take on classic rom-com.” Here, Trier oscillates between the mundane and the fantastical in his vignettes. Little fleets of movie fancy feel like grand escapes for both the character and for the audience. The tandem of deftness in both the filmmaker’s skill and Reinsve’s performance might be the most exciting of the year.  

The vignettes also allow Trier and co-screenwriter Eskil Vogt to add wry Nordic observations on millennials. But this isn’t a movie about the millennial mindset per se. Rather it is a clear distillation of the idiosyncrasies that comes with youth. Youths can be stubborn, cruel, funny, vivacious and most importantly confused. The film never belittles youthfulness the way many older people do now. Rather, The Worst Person in the World celebrates it with compassion of the human spirit.

That is why when the film veers towards melancholic pain of loss and regret, it hits as hard as it does. Trier did not simply create zany movie characters but characters who feel embedded by humanity. The film feels spiritual in that sense, not of God or religion. But, of life.

The Worst Person in the World Trailer

The Worst Person in the World will release theatrically on February 4th, 2022.

You can follow Patrick and his passion for film on Letterboxd and Twitter.

Clifford the Big Red Dog

Written by Patrick Hao

55/100

Walt Becker films fascinate me. The director of Old Dogs, Wild Hogs, and, of course, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip, has always struck me as someone who has been able to differentiate himself from the forgettable fray of family friendly comedies destined to be played inoffensively on the back of an airplane headrest. Yet, Becker infuses his film with a gonzo sense of humor, which when mixed with his earnest sweetness might make his movies feel more at home with Troma than Disney. Truly, what makes him any more different than a faux provocateur director like Todd Phillips besides the fact that Becker has conviction in the films he makes and never decided to make a “prestige” picture.

That is not to say that Becker has made misunderstood masterpieces. He still has not gained a dedicated fan base touting his vulgar auteurist works the way that Tony Scott, Paul W.S. Anderson, and Jaume Collet-Serra have over the years. But, in any other hands, Clifford the Big Red Dog could have been a cynical cash grab instead of being the okay, slightly memorable children’s film that it is under Becker’s helm.

Clifford the Big Red Dog follows the basic premise of the much beloved children’s book series by Norman Bridwell. What if a little girl, Emily Elizabeth (Darby Camp) had a 25-foot dog? In this iteration, Emily is a bullied 12-year-old living with her single parent mother, scraping by paycheck to paycheck (insert hacky “But how do they afford their NYC apartment joke here”). While Emily’s mother is away, she is taken care of by Casey (Jack Whitehall), her layabout uncle. Emily, through silly circumstances, finds herself in possession of an unseemly red puppy, who either through love or magic grows into the giant-sized Clifford overnight.

Various forms of hijinks ensue. This is Clifford in New York City after all. The obstacle comes in the form of a game Tony Hale, who plays the head of a corporation who wants to make things big. Obviously, capturing Clifford would afford him the genetic testing to achieve that goal.

What distinguishes Becker’s films from others of his ilk is his distinct sincerity in what he is doing. Sure, there is the obligatory “rude humor” as the MPA likes to deem it through flatulence humor and balls to the… well balls. But Becker is able to infuse his movies with an earnest commitment to what he is doing – a message of found community.

That is why Becker took the care to construct a War Horse-esque puppet (stage version not the film version) for his actors to interact with. (Note to editor if you can attach a pic please do but if you feel it runs afoul of copyright obviously do not). It is that tactility that is able to give the film some sort of resonance above other family affairs. It also allows a legitimate good performance from Jack Whitehall, who anchors the film with a deft lightness in humor and warmth. If anything is a miscalculation, it would be Clifford’s appearance whose realistic fur and cartoony redness becomes an uncanny valley nightmare which makes the film look cheap.

Clifford is not a classic family film on its own. It is not going to garner the praise or devotees like the Paddington films. But Clifford does distinctly feel above the fray of other family films. This is not a cynical film nor is it a self-serious film. Walt Becker understood the assignment.

Clifford the Big Red Dog Trailer

Clifford the Big Red Dog is currently playing in theaters and streaming on Paramount+.

You can follow Patrick and his passion for film on Letterboxd and Twitter.