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BRIAN VINER reviews Matilda The Musical

Matilda The Musical (PG, 117 min.)

Evaluation: *****

Verdict: An exuberant joy

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

Evaluation: ***

Rating: Calculated fun

Just in case you’re already seeking respite from the ubiquitous World Cup coverage, let me start by apologizing for a soccer analogy.

When the streaming giant Netflix paid $500 million for Roald Dahl’s back catalog last year, many thought they had paid too much. But Matilda The Musical is like an animal striker in fantastic form; suddenly the investment looks like a smart business.

Superbly written, acted and choreographed, this film is an exuberant joy from start to finish, and might even have delighted the notoriously dyspeptic Dahl himself.

It was adapted from the monumental West End and Broadway hit, but that’s not always a recipe for success on screen. Also, director Matthew Warchus is the man who adapted Dahl’s novel for the stage in the first place, and the words, music and lyrics are by original writers Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin, so there could easily have been a constricting theatrical feel to the enterprise.

Superbly written, acted and choreographed, this film is an exuberant joy from start to finish, and might even have pleased the notoriously dyspeptic Dahl himself

Superbly written, acted and choreographed, this film is an exuberant joy from start to finish, and might even have pleased the notoriously dyspeptic Dahl himself

Instead, Warchus uses the camera to infuse the story of a child prodigy who uses telekinetic powers to outwit an evil headmistress with a whole new energy. It works brilliantly on screen.

Helpfully, all the kids are fantastic, and little Alisha Weir, the Irish newcomer in the title role, is a real find. She is wonderful and looks absolutely right too.

Classic movie on TV

DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (1965)

David Lean’s mighty picture was won at all the major Oscars by The Sound Of Music, but it still got five, and rightly so. The very definition of epic. And Julie Christie has never looked more beautiful. Saturday, BBC2, at

Matilda mustn’t be too cool. For all her goodness, she has a proper devilish streak. Young Alisha captures it perfectly. Imagine being only 11 years old and not being stood up by Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough, both an absolute hoot as Matilda’s appalling parents, or even by the great lady herself, Emma Thompson.

With broken veins, discolored teeth, a hairy chin, shelf-like bosom and enormous black bowver boots, Thompson plays the monstrous head, Agatha Trunchbull, as a kind of (vaguely) female Benito Mussolini, strutting around his empire and striking fear into hearts by everyone – except Matilda – who dares to meet her terrible gaze.

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

The role of Miss Honey, the loving, sympathetic teacher who persuades Matilda’s horrible parents to let her go to school, is in some ways a more difficult character to play convincingly, but Lashana Lynch does a lovely job.

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

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

Three cheers for everyone involved, but perhaps above all for Roald Dahl, who, by dreaming up all this, gave other fantastically creative people the chance to build on his mighty legacy.

Hammer it up: Andrea Riseborough and Stephen Graham as Matilda's parents

Hammer it up: Andrea Riseborough and Stephen Graham as Matilda’s parents

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

He is so absurdly rich that he has rented the Mona Lisa to save the pandemic-stricken French government. But is he really the clever clog he pretends to be?

The task of finding out and solving the twisted whodunnit 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 . In truth, I preferred the first film; it had a playful charm, whereas this one seems a bit calculated, with a plot, even with explanatory flashbacks, too wildly labyrinthine for its own good.

Still, Craig is terrific again, still hammering the Louisiana accent so it sounds like a mint julep in vocal form. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise this time to learn that Blanc is gay (watch out for the fleeting cameo revealing his girlfriend), with no romantic interest in his sidekick, Bron’s former business partner, played by Janelle Monae.

Otherwise, nothing is quite as it seems in Bron’s Greek island cave, which is crowned by an onion-shaped crystal palace. He designed it as a tribute to a bar where he met the friends who are now in his thrall and his pocket.

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

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

They include fashionista Birdie (Kate Hudson), politician Claire (Kathryn Hahn) and social media star Duke (Dave Bautista), all of whom have been called to the island to play a diabolical murder mystery game of Bron’s own devising, with some help , he admits, from Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn.

The script is peppered with pop culture references like that, which makes it fun, if at times it leaves you with the unhelpful suspicion that screenwriter Rian Johnson and his cast may have 25 percent more to screw with than their audience.

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

How Two Stubborn Journalists Sparked the MeToo Uprising

She Said (15, 129 min.)

Evaluation: **

Verdict: Too worthy for half

The 2015 film Spotlight, depicting the Boston Globe’s exposé of systemic child sex abuse by Catholic priests, was deservedly anointed Best Picture at the Oscars.

She Said is trying to do the same for the New York Times investigation that led to the downfall of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and ignited the MeToo movement. But it won’t win any Oscars.

It’s not because it’s a bad movie. It is very well played. But it is too dramatically inert, too self-consciously worthy to count as a thriller, unlike Spotlight and the other great ‘newspaper procedural’, All The President’s Men (1976).

Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan play the two stubborn Times reporters, Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor, who tracked down the actresses and other women abused by Weinstein and persuaded them to tell their stories. The film, by German director Maria Schrader with a screenplay by British playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz, is based on the book they wrote, also called She Said.

News: Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan

News: Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan

I can’t speak for the book, but one of the film’s problems is that in glorifying investigative journalism in general, and Twohey and Kantor in particular, its ‘unique selling point’ is diluted. I was left with the feeling that our modern-day Woodward and Bernstein could have dug into corruption in baseball or pretty much anything, because what seems to matter most to the story is their tiresome endurance 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 MeToo fatigue may be setting in, because 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, gave it an enthusiastic round of applause. But there were more than a few walk-outs, so be warned: it gets downright creepy.

Really, it’s a vampire movie with a difference, and the difference is that the vampires here are cannibals fixated on feasting on human flesh. It’s also a road movie, but not one that Bob Hope and Bing Crosby would have recognised.

Set in Reagan-era America, Maren (Taylor Russell), while searching for her long-lost mother, hooks up with and falls in love with Lee (Timothee Chalamet). Together they embark on a crime spree, like a hungry Bonnie and Clyde. They are both ‘eaters’, although there is an unwritten rule, passed down by a creepy old man, superbly played by Mark Rylance: “Never, ever, eat an eater.”

Tucking in: Taylor Russell and Timothee Chalamet have a taste for human flesh

Tucking in: Taylor Russell and Timothee Chalamet have a taste for human flesh

Aided by some wonderful acting (even in small supporting roles by the likes of Chloe Sevigny and Michael Stuhlbarg), director Luca Guadagnino makes an unlikely story feel electrifyingly real. It’s a hugely involving film, convincingly creepy, but definitely not what you’d call fun for the whole family.

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 off so many “messages”—about the environment, teenage sexuality, the responsibility of fatherhood, and more—that it ends up, if not an absolute mess, then only vaguely coherent .

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