BRIAN VINER reviews Matilda The Musical

The musical Matilda (PG, 117 min.)

Rating: *****

Verdict: Extreme joy

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (12A, 139 min)

Rating: ***

Verdict: calculated entertainment

Just in case you’re already looking for a break from the ubiquitous World Cup coverage, let me apologize for the soccer analogy.

When streaming giant Netflix shelled out a whopping $500 million for Roald Dahl’s back catalog last year, many thought it overpaid. But Matilda The Musical is like an expensive striker in fantastic form; suddenly, investing looks like a tricky business.

This film is an indescribable joy from start to finish, superbly written, acted and choreographed, and may even have delighted the notoriously dyspeptic Dahl himself.

It’s an adaptation of a monumental West End and Broadway hit, but that’s not always a recipe for success on screen. Moreover, director Matthew Warchus is the man who adapted Dahl’s novel for the stage in the first place, and the original writers Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin wrote the words, music and lyrics, so there could easily have been a limiting theatrical feel to the endeavor.

This film is an indescribable joy from beginning to end, superbly written, acted and choreographed, and could even delight the notoriously dyspeptic Dahl.

Instead, Warchus uses the camera to give the story, about a girl wonder who uses telekinetic powers to outsmart an evil headmistress, a whole new energy. It looks great on screen.

Helpfully, all the kids are great, and little Alisha Weir, the Irish newcomer in the title role, is a real revelation. She is lovely and looks quite good.

Classic movie on TV


David Lean’s powerful picture has won every major Oscar since The Sound Of Music, but it still won five, and rightfully so. The very definition of an epic. And Julie Christie has never looked more beautiful. Saturday, BBC2, 2pm

Matilda mustn’t be too pretty. For all her goodness, she has a real devil streak. Young Alisha captures it perfectly. Imagine you’re only 11 years old and Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough, both absolute faces as Matilda’s horrible parents, and the grand dame herself, Emma Thompson, have nothing on you.

With broken veins, stained teeth, hairy beard, chest like a shelf and huge black bowver boots, Thompson plays the monstrous head, Agatha Trunchbull, as a kind of (indeterminately) female Benito Mussolini, strutting around her empire striking fear into the hearts of everyone – except Matilda – who dare to meet her terrible gaze.

It’s a scene-stealing role (played by Pam Ferris in the 1996 non-musical film version) and rumored to have been offered to Ralph Fiennes first. But Thompson, transforming into Miss Trunchbull, England’s 1959 hammer thrower champion, seizes the opportunity and knocks it out of the park.

Miss Honey, the sweet, sympathetic teacher who persuades Matilda’s awful parents to let her go to school, is in some ways a more difficult character to play believably, but Lashana Lynch does an excellent job.

It’s hard to pick a favorite song or favorite scene; they are all so witty, so pleasing to the ear and eye, with occasional echoes of another wonderful film musical, Carol Reed’s Olivera! (1968).

But if I had to choose, it would be Miss Trunchbull’s demonic spelling test, followed by her crypto-fascist anthem, Scent of Rebellion.

Three cheers for everyone involved, but perhaps most of all for Roald Dahl, who, by coming up with all this, gave other incredibly creative people the opportunity to build on his mighty legacy.

Moving On: Andrea Riseborough and Stephen Graham as Matilda’s parents

The incredibly creative mind in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery appears to belong to tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton), who is seemingly on the verge of solving the planet’s energy crisis.

He is so incredibly rich that he rented out the Mona Lisa to save the pandemic-stricken French government. But is he really the smart guy he pretends to be?

The task of uncovering and solving the twisted accident that develops when people start dropping dead falls to the world’s greatest detective, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), who we first met three years ago in Knives Out. True, I preferred the first film; it had a playful charm, while this one seems a bit calculated, with the plot, even with explanatory flashbacks, too wildly labyrinthine for its own good.

Craig is great again though, still playing the Louisiana accent so it sounds like a mint julep in vocal form. This time, it’s no big surprise to learn that Blanc is gay (watch out for a cameo that reveals his boyfriend), with no romantic interest in his assistant, Bron’s ex-business partner, played by Janelle Monae.

Otherwise, nothing is as it seems in Bron’s lair on a Greek island, crowned by an arched crystal palace. He designed it as an homage to the bar where he met friends who are now in his passion and pocket.

True, I preferred the first film; it had a playful charm, while this one seems a bit calculated, with the plot, even with explanatory flashbacks, too wildly labyrinthine for its own good. Anyway, Craig is great again, still playing the Louisiana accent so it sounds like a mint julep in vocal form

Among them are fashionista Birdie (Kate Hudson), politician Claire (Kathryn Hahn) and social media star Duke (Dave Bautista), all invited to the island to play a fiendish murder mystery game devised by Bron himself, with some help , she admits, from Gone Girl writer Gillian Flynn.

The script is peppered with such pop-culture references, which makes it good fun, even if it occasionally leaves you with the nagging suspicion that writer-director Rian Johnson and his cast might be making 25 percent more noise than the audience.

Matilda is in cinemas from today. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is in theaters until next Wednesday, then on Netflix from December 23rd.

How Two Persistent Journalists Sparked the MeToo Rebellion

She said (15, 129 min)

Rating: **

Verdict: half too much

The 2015 film Spotlight, which depicts the Boston Globe’s exposé of the systematic sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, was deservedly named Best Picture at the Oscars.

She Said is trying to do the same for the New York Times investigation that brought down Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and launched the MeToo movement. But he won’t win an Oscar.

Not that it’s a bad movie. He is very well acted. But it’s too dramatically inert, too self-consciously valuable to count as a thriller, unlike Spotlight and that other great ‘news procedural’, All the President’s Men (1976).

Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan play two persistent Times reporters, Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor, who track down actresses and other women abused by Weinstein and persuade them to tell their stories. German director Maria Schrader’s film based on a script by British playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz is based on their book, which is also called She Said.

Reporters: Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan

I can’t speak for the book, but one of the problems with the film is that by glorifying investigative journalism in general and Twohey and Kantor in particular, its ‘unique selling point’ is diluted. I’m left with the feeling that our modern-day Woodward and Bernstein could have dug into baseball corruption, or just about anything, because what seems most important to the story is their steadfast perseverance, and even how they overcome childcare issues (Kantor) and postnatal depression (Twohey) to deal with it.

It’s a shame, because it’s still a story worth telling. But it could be that MeToo fatigue is setting in, as She Said has already bombed spectacularly at the US box office.

Nice young cannibals

Those who were still there at the end of Bones And All (18, 130 min, ****), which I saw at this year’s Venice Film Festival, applauded him enthusiastically. But there have been more than a few departures, so be warned: it gets decidedly creepy.

Indeed, it is a vampire film with a difference, and the difference is that the vampires here are cannibals, willing to feed on human flesh. It’s also a road movie, but not the kind that Bob Hope and Bing Crosby would recognize.

The setting is Reagan-era America, where Maren (Taylor Russell), while searching for her long-lost mother, falls in love with Lee (Timothee Chalamet). Together they embark on a criminal spree, like the hungry Bonnie and Clyde. Both are ‘eaters’ although there is an unwritten rule, delivered by a creepy old man played superbly by Mark Rylance: ‘Never, ever, eat an eater.’

Snuggling: Taylor Russell and Timothee Chalamet love human flesh

With the help of great acting (even in small supporting roles from the likes of Chloe Sevigny and Michael Stuhlbarg), director Luca Guadagnino somehow makes the improbable story seem electrifyingly real. It’s an extremely complex film, believably creepy, but decidedly not what you’d call family fun.

Neither is Strange World (PG, 102 min, **), although that is exactly what it tries to be. It’s a Disney animation that tries so desperately to tick so many ‘messages’ – about the environment, teenage sexuality, the responsibilities of fatherhood and more – that it ends up, if not an absolute mess, then only vaguely coherent.

But at least those expert animators make it look good, as three generations of the Clade family (voiced by Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal and Jaboukie Young-White) race through a strange land of flying jellyfish and more, in a quest to save their way of life.

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