Will Smith soars in Richard, Andrew Garfield drives Boom

Smith soars in Richard
One of the things I appreciate about Reinaldo Marcus Green's King Richard is that it doesn't give us a sanitized version of its controversial titular character. Inspiring yet manipulative, determined yet self-destructive, Richard Williams, the father of tennis sensations Venus and Serena Williams, is all these things and they're all on display in this fine biopic which charts the rise of the two sisters from the streets of Compton to the courts of Wimbledon, their father minding them every step of the way.

Will Smith gives a career-best performance as Williams, convincingly rendering the man's speech patterns, distinctive gait and minute mannerisms, he holds your attention whenever he appears. But this is more than a mere imitation as the actor brings a sense of sincerity to the role that elevates it above the usual. To be sure, there are some sports films cliches at play – how could there not be – but Green's brisk sense of pacing and ability to render the Williams story with honesty and respect are exceptional. This, and Smith's performance make Richard, surprisingly, one of the best films of the year. In theaters and streaming on HBO Max.

Garfield drives Boom
As a critic, I'm supposed to keep an open mind and not be prejudiced towards any performer, director or genre. Be that as it may, I've never been a big fan of musicals, so for me to be swept away by one, that's really saying something. Lin-Manuel Miranda's examination of the life of composer Jonathan Larson in tick,tick...Boom! managed the trick. Exuberant and driven by an astonishing performance by Andrew Garfield, the film provides a poignant look not only at an artist's creative process but the sacrifices necessary to succeed when the odds are against you.

The author of Broadway sensation Rent, Boom is an earlier production by Larson, a look at his struggles as a writer, one who knows his voice is unique yet has trouble getting others to recognize it. Garfield has always been a reliable performer but his work here is a revelation. Dancing and singing with the abandon of Gene Kelly, the actor brings Larson's sense of enthusiasm, as well as despair, palpably to the screen. His work anchors Boom in a way many other musicals lack – there's a sense of humanity at its core. Streaming on Netflix.

Clifford a real howler
There's no question that Clifford the Big Red Dog is cute. As such, I'm tempted to go easy on the new film bearing his name. After all, what kind of heartless guy would I be to beat up on such an innocuous character? Well, I could care less about all that, so hard truths it is where this effort from Paramount Pictures is concerned – it's a real dog (You saw that coming, right?).

I don't think I have a high bar regarding kids' films – they should entertain the young set and not bore the adults. If they can entertain all involved and maybe provide a meaningful lesson and some resonance for all concerned, all the better. Unfortunately, Clifford does none of that. Simplistic to the extreme, Norman Bridwell's canine creation is blandly rendered and given very little to do, other than traipse around and create havoc in the Big Apple. His new owner (Darby Camp) wishes her pooch were bigger, and boy does that come true! A heavy-handed message about bullying and embracing others' differences is delivered, which will appeal to the 7-and-under crowd. All others will likely catch a nap. In theaters and streaming on Paramount+.

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