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BRIAN VINER reviews Matilda The Musical 

This film is an exuberant joy from start to finish, superbly written, acted and choreographed, and might even have thrilled the notoriously dyspeptic Dahl himself.

Matilda The Musical (PG, 117 mins)

Evaluation: *****

Verdict: Exuberant joy

Glass Onion: A Mystery at Daggers Drawn (12A, 139 min)

Evaluation: ***

Verdict: calculated fun

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

When streaming giant Netflix shelled out $500 million for Roald Dahl’s back catalog last year, many thought he overpaid. But Matilda The Musical is like an expensive forward in fantastic shape; suddenly, the investment looks like a shrewd business.

This film is an exuberant joy from start to finish, superbly written, acted and choreographed, and might even have thrilled the notoriously dyspeptic Dahl himself.

It’s been adapted from the monumental West End and Broadway hit, but it’s not always a recipe for on-screen success. Plus, director Matthew Warchus is the man who reworked Dahl’s novel for the stage in the first place, and the lyrics, music, and lyrics are by original writers Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin, so there could easily be had a compelling theatrical feel to the business.

This film is an exuberant joy from start to finish, superbly written, acted and choreographed, and might even have thrilled the notoriously dyspeptic Dahl himself.

This film is an exuberant joy from start to finish, superbly written, acted and choreographed, and might even have thrilled the notoriously dyspeptic Dahl himself.

Instead, Warchus uses the camera to tell the story of a girl prodigy who uses telekinetic powers to outsmart an evil headmistress, a whole new energy. It works gloriously on screen.

Helpful, all the kids are gorgeous and little Alisha Weir, the Irish newcomer in the title role, is a real find. She is wonderful and looks quite correct too.

Classic movie on TV

DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (1965)

David Lean’s mighty pic was swept up in every major Oscar by The Sound Of Music, but it still bagged five, and rightly so. The very definition of epic. And Julie Christie has never looked better. Saturday, BBC2, 2 p.m.

Mathilde must not be too seductive. For all her goodness, she has a good evil streak. Young Alisha captures this perfectly. Imagine being only 11 and not being upstaged by Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough, both an absolute hoot as Matilda’s appalling parents, or even the leading lady herself, Emma Thompson.

With broken veins, discolored teeth, a hairy chin, a shelf-like chest and huge black bovver boots, Thompson plays the monstrous head, Agatha Trunchbull, as some sort of (vaguely) Benito Mussolini woman, strutting around his empire striking fear into the hearts of everyone – except Matilda – who dares to meet his terrible gaze.

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It’s a scene-stealing gift of a role (played in the 1996 non-musical film version by Pam Ferris) and is said to have first been given to Ralph Fiennes. But Thompson, transforming into Miss Trunchbull, England’s hammer throwing champion of 1959, seizes the opportunity and throws her out of the park.

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

It’s hard to choose a favorite song or scene; they are all so witty, so pleasing to the ear and the eye, with occasional echoes of another wonderful 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.

Kudos to everyone involved, but perhaps especially to Roald Dahl, who in imagining all of this gave other incredibly creative people the chance to build on his powerful legacy.

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

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

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

He is so rich that he rented the Mona Lisa to bail out the pandemic-stricken French government. But is he really the smart-hoof he claims to be?

The task of uncovering and solving the twisted whodunit that unfolds once people start dying falls to the world’s greatest detective, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), who we first met three years ago. at Knives Out. In truth I preferred the first film; it had a playful charm to it, whereas this one feels a little calculated, with a plot, even explanatory flashbacks, too madly labyrinthine for its own good.

Still, Craig is terrific again, still hammering in the Louisiana accent so it sounds like a mint julep in vocal form. It’s no big surprise this time to learn that Blanc is gay (watch out for the fleeting featured cameo, revealing his boyfriend), with no romantic interest in his sidekick, Bron’s former business partner, played by Janelle Monae.

Otherwise, nothing is quite as it seems in the lair of the Greek island of Bron, 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 under his thumb, and his pocket.

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

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In truth I preferred the first film; it had a playful charm to it, whereas this one feels a little calculated, with a plot, even explanatory flashbacks, too madly labyrinthine for its own good. Still, Craig is terrific again, still hammering in 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), and they’ve all been summoned to the island to play a diabolically crafted murder mystery game by Bron himself, with some help, he concedes, from Gone Girl writer Gillian Flynn.

The script is peppered with pop-cultural references like that, which makes it a whole lot of fun, if you ever allow yourself to suspect unnecessarily that writer-director Rian Johnson and his cast might be having 25% more fun than their audience.

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

How two fierce journalists sparked the MeToo uprising

She said (15, 129 min)

Evaluation: **

Verdict: Too worthy of half

The 2015 film Spotlight, chronicling the Boston Globe’s expose of the systemic sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, deservedly won 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 sparked the MeToo movement. But he won’t get an Oscar.

It’s not that it’s a bad movie. It’s very well played. But it is too dramatically inert, too bashfully dignified, to count as a thriller, unlike Spotlight and that other great “procedural journal”, All The President’s Men (1976).

Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan play the two hard-working 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, from German director Maria Schrader with a screenplay by British playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz, is based on the book they wrote, also called She Said.

Newshounds: Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan

Newshounds: Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan

I can’t speak for the book, but one of the problems with the film is that by ennobling investigative journalism in general, and Twohey and Kantor in particular, its “unique selling point” is diluted. I felt like our modern-day Woodwards and Bernsteins could have dug into baseball corruption, or just about anything, because what seems most important in history is their valiant perseverance, and even how they overcome child care issues (Kantor) and postpartum depression (Twohey) to deal with it.

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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 dramatically bombarded the US box office.

Beautiful young cannibals

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

Really, it’s a vampire movie with a difference, the difference being that the vampires here are cannibals, hardwired to feast on human flesh. It’s also a road movie, but not one that Bob Hope and Bing Crosby would have recognized.

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

Going home: Taylor Russell and Timothee Chalamet taste like human flesh

Going home: Taylor Russell and Timothee Chalamet taste like human flesh

Aided by wonderful acting (even in small supporting roles like Chloe Sevigny and Michael Stuhlbarg), director Luca Guadagnino makes an unlikely story seem electrifying. It’s an extremely engaging movie, terribly scary, but mostly not what you’d call fun for the whole family.

Neither does Strange World (PG, 102 mins, **), although that is precisely what it tries to be. It’s a Disney animation that tries so desperately to tick off so many “message” boxes — about the environment, teenage sexuality, the responsibilities of fatherhood and so much more — that it ends up, if not, as 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) traverse a strange land of flying jellyfish and more, on a quest to find save their way of life.

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