This week saw the release of Clifford the Big Red Dog, the whimsical adventure comedy based on Norman Bridwell’s children’s book series starring Jack Whitehall (Jungle Cruise) and Darby Camp (The Christmas Chronicles). If you’re not up to going out to see the gigantic loveable pup, holy shucks you’re in luck: the movie about raising oversized canines and the corporate influence over police operations in a major metropolitan area like New York City is streaming on Paramount Plus, along with tons of other new releases this weekend on Netflix, Shudder, Disney Plus, and VOD.
This weekend we’ve got the long-awaited streaming release of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, No Time to Die, The Suicide Squad, and Red Notice and Passing on Netflix. Did I mention the director’s cut of Rocky IV is available to rent now? It’s an embarrassment of riches this weekend!
To help you get a handle on what’s new and available, here are the new movies you can watch with the click of a button this weekend.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Where to watch: Available to stream on Disney Plus
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings follows the story of Shang-Chi (Simu Liu), an unassuming man working in San Francisco as a valet who, unbeknownst to his best friend Katy (Awkwafina), is both a formidable martial arts master and the son of the notorious leader of the Ten Rings criminal empire. Hunted by his father’s underlings, Shang-Chi is forced to confront his past if he has any hope of saving both the world and his family. From our review,
At its heart, Shang-Chi is not a story of heroes and villains, but a family drama concerned with three people coming to terms with long-suppressed anger and grief. Director Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12, Just Mercy), who co-wrote the script alongside Dave Callaham and Andrew Lanham, unspools this drama tenderly and with plenty of humor — anchored by a tremendous performance from Tony Leung, who brings a level of subtle humanity to every moment he’s on screen.
No Time To Die
Set several years after the events of 2015’s Spectre, No Time to Die centers on a since-retired James Bond being re-recruited to rescue a kidnapped scientist and quickly becomes entangled with Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), a terrorist whose vendetta threatens not only those who Bond holds dear but the entire world. How does Daniel Craig’s final outing as Bond compare to previous entries in the series? From our review,
It would be easier to be less cynical if No Time to Die convincingly delivered on its commitments to Bond’s humanity, rather than nudging it into a handful of scattered scenes, around a lumbering, half-baked drama spiked with explosions and car chases. Maybe the film really is “about family and relationships,” but to the extent that it is, it underscores the dearth of imagination that’s just barely fueling the biggest blockbusters, the inevitability that all our modern heroes will eventually feel as stale as the smug ladykillers they once replaced.
The Suicide Squad
Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn’s standalone sequel to 2016’s Suicide Squad features returning stars Margot Robbie (I, Tonya), Joel Kinnaman (The Killing), Viola Davis (Widows), and Jai Courtney (Terminator Genisys) joined by series newcomers Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation), John Cena (F9: the Fast Saga), David Dastmalchian (The Dark Knight), and a whole bunch of others. Set an indeterminate amount of time after the previous movie, the new Suicide Squad finds itself dispatched to the South American island of Corto Maltese on a covert mission to ensure national security to shave a few years off their prison sentences. A giant starfish may say otherwise. From our review,
Comparing The Suicide Squad to Guardians of the Galaxy is a bit hard to avoid, especially since Gunn has such a well-defined sensibility that has now been applied to make unlikely crowd-pleasers across two mega-franchises at competing studios. Mostly, as above, the comparison is favorable — but other times it isn’t. The Suicide Squad is at its best when it’s doing things that Marvel Studios will not: R-rated action comedy, setpieces that prioritize performers over computer effects, and a story that isn’t afraid to gesture at real-world geopolitical conflict. It’s at its weakest when it embraces a Marvel-style ending, filing away its rough edges to deliver a sentimental finish that leaves the status quo more or less intact for potential future projects.
Clifford the Big Red Dog
Where to watch: Available to stream on Paramount Plus
Based on the beloved Scholastic children’s book series, Clifford the Big Red Dog follows the story of middle schooler Emily (Darby Camp) who, struggling to fit in at her fancy private school, is introduced to a small red puppy named Clifford by a magical man/eccentric who just kinda sets up a tent in the middle of Central Park and gives kids pets. Kinda weird. As Emily’s love for Clifford grows, so too does the puppy’s size, transforming him into a massive creature who frolics across New York City and warms of the hearts of everyone he crosses paths with. Casey (Jack Whitehall), Emily's grouchy homeless uncle, wants nothing to do with the dog, but when a nefarious biotech company aims its sights on the big red pup, he and Emily will have to team up to rescue Clifford and get him back home safely. Weirdly, it’s kind of like The Day the Earth Stood Still. No one understands Clifford! But they want to destroy him. Poor pup.
Where to watch: Available to stream on Netflix
Based on Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel, actor Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut stars Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga as Irene and Clare, two childhood friends who reunite in adulthood having been radically affected by their respective lived experiences as African-American woman. While Irene (Thompson) lives as a Black woman, Clare’s lighter skin allows her to “pass” for a white woman, escaping and inadvertently enforcing the prejudices of her time. As their rekindled friendship begins to strain under the weight of their shared secret, both must reckon with challenges that come with performance and essence of their respective identities. Shot in exquisite black-and-white — which quickly goes from obvious metaphor to integral lens — Hall charts the course of two women with a deep sense of psychology. A million movies have been shot around New York, and yet Passing discovers an entirely new corner of the world in its streets.
Where to watch: Available to stream on Netflix
Ryan Reynolds, Gal Gadot, and Dwayne Johnson star in the action comedy heist adventure Red Notice as Nolan Booth (Reynolds), a wise-cracking international art thief; Sarah “The Bishop” Black, Booth’s Carmen San Diego-esque rival and nemesis; and John Hartley (Johnson), the FBI’s top criminal profiler tasked with bringing them to justice. When Hartley is framed by Black, he’ll have to team up with Booth to clear his name and stop her from stealing Queen Cleopatra’s bejeweled eggs. Star power aside, is the actual movie any good? Uhhhhhhhhhh. From our review,
Neither the film, the script, nor the actors provide any reason to care about these characters or this plot. What does it matter if they attain all three eggs? The world isn’t on the verge of ending. No governments are being harmed. No one’s life is in danger. Instead, this film is merely an incoherent preamble, a jalopy star vehicle where quality is secondary to producing a franchise launching pad. The film eventually winds toward a legend involving Hitler’s art dealer, with a dreadfully shot car chase set underground, caked in hideous visual effects. The grand finale is so unlikely that the incomprehensible screenwriting logic necessary to sell it provides a coma-inducing whiplash.
Where to watch: Available to stream on Shudder
The Australian horror adventure thriller Great White stars Katrina Bowden (Tucker & Dale vs. Evil) and Aaron Jakubenko (The Shannara Chronicles) as expectant parents Kaz and Charlie, who end up stranded miles from shore along with three other passengers when their seaplane is attacked by a shark. (Yes, really.) With nothing but an inflatable life raft and a handful of supplies to sustain them, the group must attempt to survive long enough to reach help before the shark gets them. If you liked Jaume Collet-Serra’s The Shallows or Jon Turteltaub’s The Meg, you’ll probably dig Great White, which isn’t brilliant cinema, but does deliver the required “who will get eaten first?” tension of a shark movie. From our review:
Commercial director Martin Wilson, making his feature-film debut, certainly tries to give Great White some gravitas. He and screenwriter Michael Boughen pack the screen with angst, as the clearly doomed characters all navigate their own weighty turmoil. The filmmakers are certainly shooting for something closer to Jaws than to Ghost Shark, and their wide-scale vistas suggest what the early sequences in Jaws might have looked like if Steven Spielberg had drone cameras back in 1975. Wilson’s film rarely looks cheap: It’s colorful and vibrant, full of cool turquoise-water vistas and aerial shots that feel like they’re selling tropical vacations.
Rocky IV: Rocky vs. Drago The Ultimate Director’s Cut
You ever just sit back and wonder, “Hey, what would Rocky IV be like if it didn’t have Paulie’s birthday robot, or if Apollo Creed’s fight and resulting death at the hands of Ivan Drago was motivated by something other than blind hubris?” No? Well, Sylvester Stallone sure has. So much so that he re-edited the entire movie while in quarantine last year, adding an additional 42 minutes of footage — nearly doubling the film’s original run-time. How does this new version compare to the original? From our review,
Given its remarkably slender narrative of 91 minutes, Rocky IV’s more training montage than movie. So when Stallone announced an “extended director’s cut” this past September, the notion sounded like grist for an SNL Digital Short. But the actor-director was deathly serious, and, now, so is Rocky IV. This once gaudy touchstone of ‘80s cinema has been transformed into a strangely grim rumination on the warrior’s code. Visually and tonally, it’s a much different experience. And let’s get this straight: those “42 minutes of new footage” promised in the press announcement are in there, but at 93 minutes (with credits), it also means a third of the movie that’s been a cable mainstay since the beginning of the glasnost era is gone. This is not your bearded Gen X uncle’s Rocky IV.
And here’s what dropped last Friday:
The Harder They Fall
Where to watch: Available to stream on Netflix
Featuring an all-star ensemble cast including Jonathan Majors (Lovecraft Country), Zazie Beetz (Atlanta), Regina King (Watchmen), Idris Elba (The Suicide Squad), LaKeith Stanfield (Sorry to Bother You), Delroy Lindo (Da 5 Bloods), and more, Jeymes Samuel’s Western The Harder They Fall follows the story of outlaw Nat Love (Majors) who embarks on a quest for revenge against his nemesis Rufus Black (Elba) after he escapes from prison. The film has garnered much attention for its stylish contemporary take on Western tropes and its predominantly Black cast of performers, but how does it stake up against other Black Western films of its ilk? From our review,
Apart from the star-studded ensemble, with a few of the actors totally miscast, this film is only groundbreaking in the sense that it was designed for streaming. Its aesthetics are more obtrusively loud than stylish or gaudy. Its story is too slight to back up the overlong runtime. The natural Western landscape, rendered artificially, lacks vastness. Samuel’s The Harder They Fall doesn’t rise to the epic scale of its spaghetti and Blaxploitation influences: The genre has never felt so small and streaming-friendly as it does in this tawdry misadventure.
Where to watch: Available to stream on Apple TV Plus
Tom Hanks (Cloud Atlas) stars in Miguel Sapochnik’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama Finch as an ailing inventor who, isolated and lonely in the wake of climate apocalypse, builds an android to keep himself company and his care for his pet dog after he passes away. Spurred by the threat of an oncoming storm, Finch embarks on a journey across the country in search of a safe haven for his creation, all while fending off the myriad dangers of this strange and hostile new world. From our review,
A tonally bizarre film that’s half motion-capture Pinocchio story, half live-action adaptation of Futurama’s infamously melancholy “Jurassic Bark” episode, Finch relies on Hanks’ instant likeability and genuine warmth to drive home the devastation of a post-apocalyptic world. Movie lovers know Hanks’ expressions and intonations, his body language, and his physicality, and his familiarity is key to the immediate sympathy the character and film require. Director Miguel Sapochnik (a Game of Thrones veteran who earned attention for episodes like “Hardhome” and “Battle of the Bastards”) is betting on Hanks’ decades of accrued good will. With every one of Hanks’ aghast eye squints, bemused double looks, and easy laughs, Sapochnik is making the same gamble that the Wachowskis did with Hanks in their far superior sci-fi movie, Cloud Atlas.
Dead & Beautiful
Where to watch: Available to stream on Shudder
Did you watch Netflix’s Night Teeth? Imagine that, but from the perspective of the vampires, and set in China instead of Los Angeles. Director David Verbeek’s horror thriller Dead & Beautiful follows a groups of five rich, spoiled twenty-somethings (Gijs Blom, Aviis Zhong, Yen Tsao, Philip Juan, Anechka Marchenko) who complacent and bored with the luxuries and vices afforded by their wealth. After awakening from a particularly raucous night out together, the privileged urbanites discover that they have developed vampire fangs and an unquenchable thirst for human flesh. Navigating the challenges and opportunities presented to them, the group of friends descend a dark and unseemly path to discover just how monstrous they can become.
The Beta Test
Indie maven Jim Cummings (Thunder Road) stars in his satirical thriller The Beta Test, his directorial follow-up to 2020’s The Wolf of Snow Hollow, as Jordan, a successful Hollywood agent accepts an invitation for an anonymous sexual liaison on the eve of his upcoming marriage. Hounded by guilt and the suspicion that he has been unwittingly ensnared in a conspiracy of both infidelity and murder, Jordan must track down the identity of his anonymous partner before his life is shattered by the truth. The trailer gives off the vibe of David Fincher’s The Game by way of 50 Shades of Gray with a dash of incisive social commentary à la 2019 The Assistant.
Paw Patrol: The Movie
Based on the Canadian animated children’s series of the same name, Paw Patrol: The Movie follows 10-year-old Ryder and his team of talking search and rescue dogs as they travel to Adventure City to thwart the nefarious plans of their arch-nemesis Mayor Humdinger. Author Brian Platzer wrote about the show for Vulture back in 2019 and described the series among other things as, “a moral and aesthetic catastrophe.” Ouch! Anyway, if you’re into cartoons about anthropomorphic puppies in police outfits or unmitigated train wrecks, Paw Patrol: The Movie might be just the thing you’re looking to watch this weekend.
Josh Hartnett stars in writer-director John Swab’s action crime thriller Ida Red as Wyatt, the son of notorious crime boss Ida “Red” Walker (Melissa Leo). Following a botched heist job, Ida learns that she is set to be executed and requests the assistance of both her son and nephew Dallas (Frank Grillo), the acting head of Ida’s crime family. With no other options, Dallas and Wyatt must pull off one last heist in order to save Ida’s life, but the consequences of their actions may inevitably lead to the destruction of everything they hold dear. The trailer looks intense and gritty, and Hartnett convincingly portrays himself as a relatable albeit hardened family man trying to do the “right” thing in a situation where everything as gone horribly wrong.