[REVIEW] ‘Matilda the Musical’ or This Generation’s ANNIE is Mostly Fun

It is really hard to adapt Roald Dahl’s stories into films. The dark comedy in his childhood stories have delighted kids for years but when translated into live action film it can come across as cruel and mean-spirited very easily. The latest attempt is an adaptation of the Tony award winning musical Matilda called appropriately Matilda the Musical and I’d say it’s mostly successful in attempting to convert this difficult material to the big screen (or Netflix screen…).

One thing fans of the Broadway show should be aware of is how much is cut for this version. There’s a good 30 minutes or more taken from the stage removed from the film. I understand this has to be done but unfortunately they removed a lot of the comic relief making it feel like a torture movie for children far too much. They do all they can to brighten up the production design and make things silly but without the comedic songs it’s hard to shake the feeling these kids are being imprisoned and abused. (I was especially sad to lose “Telly” and “Loud” as they are such funny songs from the Wormwoods).

Many Broadway fans have called Matilda this generation’s Annie and I can see why. They are both about bright bubbly characters in an orphanage-like environment with plucky songs to boost their spirits. My friend who coaches kid-actors told me she rehearses nothing but “Naughty,” “Revolting Children” and “Miracle” and I can see why. They are catchy tunes where the child performers get to shine.

In August I reviewed a production of Matilda at Payson Community Theater that was absolutely outstanding. The large energetic cast, choreography and incredible production design really won me over to this show, which I had previously been meh on. When it is done right it’s so energetic you can’t help but have a good time.

The best part of this movie version of the show is Emma Thompson as The Trunchbull (a role that is usually done in drag- and the version I saw in Payson they had a real life married couple playing Jenny and Trunchbull which I thought was a fun touch). The best sequence of the movie is “Bruce” where Thompson gets beaten by a kid who eats her giant chocolate cake as an act of protest.

I am glad the screenwriters didn’t feel a need to give us a Trunchbull sympathetic backstory like so many family stories do these days. She could just be an over-the-top villain that’s defeated by the kids. I miss those.

Lashana Lynch makes a great Jenny (or Miss Honey). I had no idea she can sing so well since she is usually in action roles. Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough are fun as the Wormwoods but again I missed their songs.

The biggest weakness of the Broadway show is the fantasy sequences where Matilda tells the story of an escapologist and trapeze artist to her local librarian. The show is a little long and bloated as it is and these sections don’t do a lot for the overall story. You could easily remove them and the musical would be exactly the same. So, I’m not sure if they are removing over 30 minutes of material why they kept those sections in? That certainly wouldn’t have been my choice.

Nevertheless, if you are fan of musicals and in particular this musical, I think you’ll enjoy Matilda the Musical. It’s certainly worth a watch on Netflix for Thompson’s performance alone. I definitely think its many child fans will particularly love it.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Blind Spot 84: Tangerine

Tangerine 2015 Review | Vanity Fair

Part of my goal with this blind spot project is to push me out of my comfort zone. To watch acclaimed movies I haven’t seen for some reason. This includes movies with content I have otherwise avoided that I will broaden my horizons and give a chance. Such is the case with my December pick: 2015’s Tangerine.

Directed and co-written by Simon Baker, Tangerine, tells the story of transgender sex workers in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve. Obviously this is a mature topic and won’t be for everyone. I do appreciate the characters are treated with respect and nothing is sensationalized or tawdry.

When this first came out in 2015 it was revolutionary at Sundance because it was filmed entirely on an iphone. Now that has been done several times so it has lost some of its sticker appeal but however it was filmed I found the shot selection to be distracting. We are usually seeing Los Angeles from the characters POV so this limits are views at their faces/seeing their emotions. If we see them it is in a 2 shot or wider shots and I felt like this prevented me from really getting to know them and feeling a connection with them.

I also don’t really understand it being billed as a comedy. Some of the banter between the girls is amusing but for the most part I felt sad at the lonely lives of the women. I particularly felt bad for Alexandra who tries to get everyone to come out to her performance, which we find out she paid to do and barely anyone comes. That was just sad.

The ending of Tangerine is very chaotic with a crying baby and people fighting, which is the last thing I think of when I envision a comedy. I guess we can chop this one up to something that’s just not for me. However, I am glad I gave it a chance and tried something new.

What do you think of Tangerine? Is it a favorite of yours? What’s one of your favorite off-the-beaten-path Christmas movies?

6 out of 10

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Current Mini Reviews (X and Pearl, White Noise, Aftersun, Babylon, Something from Tiffany’s)

Hey everyone! I hope you are all doing well. I have been overwhelmed with movie-watching lately, which isn’t a big surprise with my career as a film critic and Christmas movie podcaster (check out Hallmarkies Podcast for reviews of all the holiday films!). It’s just hard this time of year because I have over 100 Christmas movies to watch plus all the awards screeners so I can vote in the critics groups I’m a part of (HCA, UFCA, OAOFFC). I usually watch at least 4 movies every single day! Plus I’m also reviewing live theater for UTBA  and writing reviews, editing podcasts and videos…the list goes on. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like there is enough hours in the day!

Anyway, I have a bunch of Oscar screeners to update you all on. I wish I could write long reviews on all of these but alas a mini review will have to do:

Something from Tiffany’s

I must admit I didn’t love the plot of Something From Tiffany’s which you can watch over on Amazon Prime. It’s one of my least favorite of the romantic comedy tropes when the script forces people into emotional cheating to find love. That’s the case here with Kendrick Sampson and Ray Nicholson getting their Tiffany bags swapped- one bag that has an engagement ring causing all kinds of confusion.

Fortunately the movie still manages to work because of the charm of star Zoey Deutch and her terrific chemistry with Sampson. I just wish they had found another way for them to get to know each other than both cheating on their significant others. It makes it hard to root for the characters or their romance. Deutch certainly knows how to rock a red lip nd after Set It Up (which is a lot better) she may be our next rom-com star.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

X and Pearl

X Movie Killer Pearl Backstory Explained

If you have followed my site for any period of time you know I’m not the biggest horror person but I have been trying to expand my palate in recent years. Since they seemed like important films from this year I finally watched Ti West’s new films X and Pearl and overall I was impressed with them. They have a unique perspective, are very well made and Mia Goth is outstanding in both.

I am not going to give a score to X because I fast forwarded through some of the porn scenes and I only review films I’ve completely watched but I watched enough to say it is a well made slasher with atmosphere and entertaining “kills”/scary sequences.

Pearl I did watch in totality so I can give a review. This is a very effective prequel, giving us the backstory of how the Pearl in X became a serial killer. It’s all wrapped up in old-school dreams of Hollywood with fantastical sequences and a monologue that should (but probably won’t) give Goth an Oscar nomination. Pearl is definitely one of the most memorable movies of 2022, and I’m glad I saw it.

Pearl gets an 8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Toxic Impulses

Toxic Impulses (2022) - IMDb

This one is a micro-budget indie crime noir film that does a lot with a little. Writer and director Kyle Schadt puts together an impressive thriller with almost no budget that can rival or even top the entertainment value of the big budget films we are seeing out of Netflix and Amazon. It tells the story of a man named Mosley (Benedikt Sebastian) who meets a woman named Zemira (Olivia Buckle) who unbeknownst to him is a bank robber on the run. Quite unwittingly he becomes involved in her affairs and everything gets crazy as they evade the law.

There are obviously some elements of the movie where you can feel the low budget but nothing that kept me from having a good time. If you like an edgy independent thriller where people are clearly trying to make something special give Toxic Impulses a try.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

White Noise

White Noise Trailer Shows Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig Trying to Survive

White Noise is one of those movies I feel torn on. On one hand it has some very entertaining characters and moments. On the other hand, the plot is messy and I don’t understand why they needed to make Adam Driver’s character a Hitler studies expert. I realize that’s how he is in the novel but maybe in the novel they give a compelling reason (not that there is a good reason to be a Hitler studies expert). It just felt like such a strange choice.

Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, I could feel him working out COVID and quarantine through this movie. The premise is a  disaster (‘airborne toxic event) has caused the Gladney family to evacuate. Each of them grapples with this new reality in their own way until the disaster becomes literal and metaphorical for this family.

Like I said, I’m torn where to rate this one. (Stay around for the fun credits sequence)

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

After Sun

Aftersun (2022) - IMDb

On my podcast, The Criterion Project, we have a pretentiousness scale where we rate how artsy or difficult to grasp the film we are talking about it (a thing that happens a lot on Criterion.) A lot of A24 films the rating would be quite high as they tend to have films outside of the mainstream. Their latest, Aftersun, definitely qualifies as pretentious in its pacing and lack of plot but it’s also quite mainstream in its sweet and endearing nature.

It’s a simple movie about a father and daughter who spend a holiday at a rundown resort in Turkey . Like I said, it doesn’t have much plot but the 2 lead performances are very likable and sweet and you find yourself rooting for this pair. I honestly could have used a little more story but its definitely a strong debut for writer director Charlotte Wells. I think if you are open to slice of life films at all you’ll enjoy Aftersun.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy


Damien Chazelle's Babylon Trailer Is Full Of Drugs, Big Dreams And A Dancing Brad Pitt | Movies | Empire

I’ve never been as in love with Damien Chazelle as a lot of my friends are. I haven’t hated any of his films but they’ve all left me wanting particularly in the character development area. Now we have Babylon and this is even more the case here! Babylon is an unending parade of supposed excitement that instead becomes dull and predictable.

The film is mostly madness but I guess it’s about a bunch of people who are struggling to transition between silent films and talkies. I say I guess because the plot is barely there. Instead you get 188 minutes of cocaine fueled parties that feels like it will never end. Even the great cast like Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Jean Smart and Tobey Maguire cant make this film coherent and fun. It’s truly exhausting and I hated watching it.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

There you go! Let me know what you thought of these films. It’s certainly an eclectic group

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[REVIEW] ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ or The Most Awe Inspiring Refugee Story Ever

Unlike most people I don’t remember the first Avatar merely for its astonishing visuals. No, my experience was more unique because it was actually the first movie I ever got evacuated from the theater in the middle of watching it. I was in California visiting my family, who lived there at the time, and went with my brother to see Avatar. In the middle of the movie the fire alarm went off and we were asked to evacuate the building. I think there was an actual fire in the kitchen area because they gave us a coupon to come back and see the rest of the movie, which I eventually did, and we left the theater.

I mention this experience only to say I have a nostalgia for the first film that most don’t have. It was a very memorable time at the theater! Anyway, as far as the actual movie Avatar goes I think it’s fine. It’s one of those movies that has been called overrated so much it’s actually become a little underrated. The visuals are outstanding and the story is serviceable. My main problem with it is it is too long for the love story it services. It’s often compared to Pocahontas and Fern Gully but both of those movies are under 90 minutes! This one stretches out to 162 minutes, which exposes its story problems and other weaknesses.

Now after 13 years of waiting James Cameron has finally given us a sequel with Avatar: The Way of Water. Like the original it is too long and bloated but its story resonated with me so much more this time. It still has the amazing visuals (and you all know I’m a sucker for the ocean so I loved all the water scenes!) but instead of a trite romance we have a beautiful story about family and surprisingly the refugee experience.

The sequel starts with Jake (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) raising their family of 4 kids in Pandora. Their paradise is interrupted when the “sky people” attack and Jake and his family are forced to take refuge with the Metkayina or water clan led by Tonowari (Cliff Curtis) and Ronal (Kate Winslet).

As we experience the astonishing visuals (truly astonishing) we also grow to love and care for this family and watch as they attempt to fit in with the Metkayina, defend their new home and get to know the beautiful whale creatures that are also under attack. I found the whole thing to be powerful and moving.

Like I said, Avatar: the Way of Water is too long and particularly the fight sequences start to drag. Anytime they go back to the ”sky people” with Edie Falco and Stephen Lang it begins to lose me.

Fortunately those moments didn’t last long and they would quickly come back to the family I cared about.

For the most part I’ve found the Oscar contenders this year to be underwhelming. So I was as surprised as anyone with how much I liked Avatar: the Way of Water. It truly was an astonishing cinematic experience I won’t soon forget.

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Current Mini Reviews (Devotion, Food and Romance, The Whale, All Quiet on the Western Front, An American Ballet Story)

Hey everyone! I am back to give you my thoughts on a bunch of recent movie releases. I wish I could do longer reviews on all of these but that isn’t possible. Here we go:


Movie "Devotion" filmed in Statesboro opens at AMC Statesboro Nov. 22

Not every film is a masterpiece. In fact, most aren’t. Most are base hits instead of homeruns. Devotion is a perfect example of a base hit. It tells the heart-tugging story of Korean War hero Jesse Brown who was the first Black aviator in Navy History. He is played by Jonathan Majors who perfectly captures the confidence yet awkwardness of the character. This is especially true when compared with his suave wingman and friend J.D. Dillard played by Glen Powell (despite the similar career the role is actually quite different than his aviator in Top Gun Maverick.)

Devotion definitely drags in the middle as the pilots get to know one another on both sea and land (they spend a day flirting with Elizabeth Taylor at one point in the script.) It picks up towards the end as we know things are likely not going to go well for our soldiers but it earns its emotions, is well made and acted and for a conflict we don’t know much about I’m glad I saw it.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Food and Romance

Tisdagsklubben - Bio.nu

Next on the docket comes out of Sweden and is a really sweet, pleasant romance called Food and Romance. Like Devotion, this doesn’t do anything new or exciting but what it does, it does well. It stars Marie Richardson as Karin who after 40 years of marriage ends up single and alone. To keep her spirits up she decides to take a cooking class, which is led by a grumpy unhappy chef named Henrik (Peter Stormare).

Of course they start up not liking each other but their bond grows as they cook together. That’s a very romantic concept and the 2 leads have lovely chemistry. The other classmates and friends are a lot of fun and it all makes for a delightful story of second chance romance.

7 out of 10

The Whale

The Whale' Review: Brendan Fraser in Darren Aronofsky's Film - Variety

I think most of America is rooting for Brendan Frasier. I don’t know all the details but it seems like he was bullied out of Hollywood, faced hard times and is working his way back into films. He certainly has received loads of praise for Darren Aronfsky’s The Whale, and will probably be nominated for an Oscar for his performance, which is great. I’m happy for him.

That said, I did not enjoy The Whale. His performance is fine and honestly not as fat shamey as I feared. He tries to bring humanity to the 500 lb man named Charlie he plays in the film. Unfortunately the script surrounds him with people who are so mean that it becomes a frustrating experience.

I particularly hated Sadie Sink as his miserable, angry teenage daughter. I understand being a teenager is tough but so often they are portrayed as practical robots to their rage especially here. Any humanity to her character mostly feels imagined by Charlie more than a real attribute to her character.

The whole experience of watching The Whale was excruciating and it felt like it would never end. No thanks.

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy

All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front' Review: The Spectacle of War - The New York  Times

Coming from Germany onto Netflix we have the latest telling of the novel All Quiet on the Western Front. It’s been a while since I read the book or saw the 1930 classic but this new version can still stand alone as a worthy adaptation. It’s a brutal watch that I’m not sure we needed but it’s certainly one of the most well made of any of the Oscar contenders I’ve seen.

The movie follows Paul Bäumer as he and his buddies join up for World War 1 with excitement and even glee. Quickly they learn what they have gotten themselves into and each dies one by one in the most brutal of all the conflicts (it must have been intense to watch the 1930 version when it was all so fresh in their minds.)

There isn’t much relief from the brutality of war here and like I said I’m not sure this gives us anything we haven’t seen before in movies like 1917 just a few years ago. Still it’s a harrowing reminder of the horrors of war and quite masterfully put together.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

An American Ballet Story

May be an image of 10 people, people standing and indoor

I’m a sucker for documentaries about art and artists. Even if others find them dry I like learning about creative minds and what goes into their artistic process. That’s essentially what we get with An American Ballet Story. It’s a documentary that tells the story of the Harkness Ballet and its founder Rebekah Harkness that changed the world of dance in the 1960s.

A documentary like this is somewhat constrained by the footage they have to use (and archival interviews they can find) and that is the case here. A lot of the images are grainy and not as clear of the dancers as we’d like to see but director Leslie Streit gets enough personal stories to keep the narrative going.

If you have any interest in dance or the arts you will enjoy this informative documentary.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” is My Wish Come True

Going into 2022 I can tell you one thing- I did not expect to prefer both DreamWorks films over both Pixar (and Disney) films and to be crowning one of them as my favorite movie of 2022…and yet here we are. Even more surprising is that film, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is a sequel in a franchise that has well exceeded its welcome. This is why I always go into a movie hoping to be dazzled with what the filmmakers have to offer.

I’ve long said the match of Antonio Banderas with the character of Puss in Boots is one of the best uses of celebrity voices ever. This is not movie star stunt casting but a perfect match of voice to character. Banderas continues that tradition here voicing the famous feline to perfection. Giving just the right amount of moxie mixed with a little bit of fatigue from using all those lives.
In fact, Puss in Boots learns at the start of The Last Wish that he only has 1 more of his 9 lives left. Being accident-prone, he better get the most of his last life and learn to work with others before it’s too late.
One aspect that’s interesting about this film is that it actually has a lot of similarities with the recent GDT’s Pinocchio. Both deal with death and the afterlife as a theme, have a wood-spirit type creature that controls access to heaven, and both have stunning animation.

The only main difference is that GDT has songs and gets bogged down a little bit in the middle, sending Pinocchio to war. This is why I’d give The Last Wish the slight edge in my ranking (but both top 10 of the year at the moment).
Like I said, the animation is astonishing in The Last Wish. I am absolutely enamored by recent animation trends began by Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse. The way the hybrid animation ebbs and flows between 2D and CG is breathtaking and makes every scene memorable – especially the action. When Puss in Boots is sliding across rooftops chasing people, it took my breath away.

But it’s not all action. We have meaningful conversations about what makes a worthy life, how we can recover from grief, and the importance of friendship. There’s also a lot of humor from Puss in Boots, Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek.), and the selfish Goldilocks (Florence Pugh).
Looking at a movie like Puss in Boots: the Last Wish, I worry people will dismiss it as a cash-grab sequel, but you shouldn’t. Just the animation alone is worth the cost of admission, but the script by Paul Fisher and Tommy Swerdlow is outstanding. I actually haven’t seen it on the big screen yet (saw screener link), but I can’t wait to do so. It’s a blast that I can’t recommend more completely.
9.5 out of 10

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