Review by Camden Ferrell
Roald Dahl is one of the most influential writers of children’s literature in modern history, and his legacy can be seen in one of the myriads of adaptations of his work. His book, Matilda, was adapted into a movie in 1996 and a stage musical in 2011. Now, we are receiving the film adaptation of the stage musical, Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical. From director Matthew Warchus, this musical is overall an enjoyable experience even if it can sometimes fail to catch the source material’s infectious charm.
Matilda is a unique and special girl. She’s imaginative and unfathomably well-read and intelligent for someone her age. She is in a family that doesn’t appreciate her gifts, and she finds herself in a new school, one run by a cruel headmistress who aims to break the spirits of children. With her special abilities and a sharp mind, Matilda aims to take a stand against oppression and change the trajectory of her life.
Written by Dennis Kelly, who also wrote the stage musical, the writing is quite whimsical as intended. The dialogue isn’t the most fluid, but it mostly captures the imaginative and playful spirit of its source material. There are a few moments and jokes that obviously don’t land perfectly, but as far as writing goes, it achieves what it sets out to do.
A musical requires an ensemble that can act, sing, and dance, and this cast delivers on all fronts. Alisha Weir leads the film in a charming turn as the titular character. For a child, she is very talented especially with the energy she delivers to bring the character to life. Emma Thompson gives a transformative performance as Miss Trunchbull which is outlandish and works very well within the context of the movie. The rest of the cast consists of actors like Lashana Lynch, Andrea Riseborough, and many young actors who are all apt in their respective roles.
The most important part of a musical is its musical numbers obviously. This movie has a handful of sequences that are fantastic thanks to its impressive choreography and blocking. Sadly, most of the numbers are just really solid and fail to capture the eccentric energy of its story. In addition to this, a lot of its visual effects leave much to be desired. Half of this can work due to the imaginative and silly nature of the movie, but the rest unfortunately sticks out like a sore thumb.
Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical will be suitable viewing for families and audiences of all ages will find something to enjoy. It does a decent job of adapting the classic story for a new generation, and it has a talented cast to help bring it to life. The songs are catchy, and the story is as enjoyable as it needs to be. Not a must-see film, but it’s certainly a harmless time for anyone looking for a movie this holiday season.
Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical is in theaters December 9 and on Netflix December 25.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Sam Mendes has had an interesting career, consisting most recently of two James Bond movies and the breathtaking war movie 1917. His first movie in three years, Empire of Light, is far more quiet and meditative than his last few movies, but that doesn’t make it any less affecting. Even though it has some glaring flaws, one can’t deny the emotion and great performances that are on display from the captivating set of actors on screen.
It is the early 1980’s in a small English coastal town, and there is a theater that serves as an escape for its clientele. At this theater works a unique group of employees, each with their own personalities. This movie mostly follows the daily happenings of Hilary, an older woman with a complicated past and complicated relationships as she grows closer with Stephen, the young man who has just started working at the theater.
Mendes’ script is quiet yet ambitious at times, and it makes for an interesting combination even if it doesn’t always work. He has a unique way of brining the audience into this setting with great and natural interactions that highlight the power of human connection in times of relative turmoil. However, by its end, it becomes obvious that the movie bites off more than it can chew which leads to some disjointed and odd moments in the film’s writing.
The acting will likely be the most talked about part of this movie and for good reason. This is undoubtedly another showcase of the massively talented Olivia Colman, and she does not disappoint. She exhibits some great range throughout the movie, and she even manages to shine when the rest of the film fails to do so. Another great surprise from the cast is Michael Ward who gets plenty of chances to shine and holds up his own with a master like Colman.
The movie tries to market itself off as an ode to cinema, and while there are elements of that, it doesn’t really deliver on that front. It’s better viewed as a portrait of human interaction with dashes of social commentary. As mentioned before, it doesn’t always juggle these many ambitions well, and a lot of the elements of race aren’t handled particularly well. It does a lot without saying much substantial, and it comes off as slightly hollow. Regardless, one can’t deny the presence of genuine emotion in its writing, execution, and truly affecting performances.
Empire of Light may have limited mileage for some audiences, but it’s a heartfelt movie that explores unique human relationships among a backdrop of social issues of the time. It’s a great showcase for Colman and Ward, and it’s the most meditative we have ever seen Sam Mendes as a director.
Empire of Light is in theaters December 9.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Diary of a Wimpy Kid is one of the most successful children’s book franchises of this generation, and it shows no sign of slowing down any time soon. After a series of live-action movies, the books have now started to be adapted into animated films on Disney+. The first book in the series was adapted last year, and the second book is now being adapted into an animated movie, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules. This movie is everything you’d expect it to be and will probably only really appeal to fans of the series and not much else.
In this movie, Greg continues to live his life as the titular wimpy kid, but this school year, he is intent on becoming closer with his brother, Rodrick. But as viewers know, things never go well for Greg, and we must witness him navigate life and all of its misfortunes, embarrassments, and conflicts. The premise is simple and stays fairly truthful to the book and spirit of the franchise as a whole.
The entire voice cast returns for this one, and like last time, it’s nothing impressive. Everyone is perfectly adequate and nothing more. It does feature a small part from the late Ed Asner, but even that performance isn’t quite as memorable as any of their live-action counterparts.
One thing about these animated movies is that they are quite short. This newest one clocks in at only 74 minutes which means everything feels quite rushed and underdeveloped. The pacing is so erratic in order to fit every plot point, that it doesn’t play out as well as it could have. It could have benefitted from either a longer run time or the omission of certain elements, but that would come at the cost of dissatisfied fans of the series.
The writing is on par with the first movie, and it will be best enjoyed by fans of the series and younger audiences. There aren’t any laugh out loud moments, but it’s occasionally enjoyable, and it does what it’s supposed to do. The animation quality still isn’t great, but it’s harmless enough to watch quickly.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules maintains the quality of the first animated movie, and this will either be good or bad depending on personal taste. It’s rushed and doesn’t really have anything especially commendable, but it’s good enough for a casual quick viewing.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules is streaming on Disney+ December 2.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, it’s time to focus on the holiday season, and that means an abundance of Christmas movies for audiences to see. One such movie is Violent Night. From director Tommy Wirkola, this promises to be a different type of Christmas movie that may surprise you in more ways than one. While on the surface, it can be a fairly basic and cheesy homage to movies like Die Hard and Home Alone, this movie doesn’t pull its punches when it comes to its gory violence or foul humor.
This movie follows the one and only Santa Claus. However, this isn’t the jolly old man we loved as kids. In this movie, Santa, despite being dedicated to what he does, is a heavy drinker and a cynical and snarky person. One Christmas eve, he finds himself trying to fight off a group of mercenaries as they try and steal a fortune from a wealthy family. As mentioned before, this movie utilizes tropes and ideas from other holiday movies, but it still has a lot of fun with it.
The script is hit or miss for the most part. It has the standard forced Christmas dialogue you can expect, but what was unexpected was the plethora of swears and crude jokes made between the family, the mercenaries, and Santa. It’s quite predictable with its plot, but it does have a lot of fun with its premise and inspirations and is an enjoyable basis for the movie.
The performances this from this movie may not be impressive, but it’s clear how much fun literally every person is having. The movie is led by David Harbour who finally gives us his first really solid leading performance as Santa. He is quite funny throughout and excels with all of the action and violence. The supporting cast is also surprisingly strong consisting of but not limited to John Leguizamo, Alex Hassell, and Edi Patterson. Everyone has great chemistry and is going insane on screen with the movie’s R rating.
What stands out most about this movie is how far it’s willing to push its over the top and bloody violence. There are several great action scenes and fight scenes that are hilariously and captivatingly graphic. There is no shortage of blood or creative manners of killing from Santa and everyone else. This aspect is what really made the movie enjoyable and made it stand out in the genre. There are a handful of violent moments that catch you off guard and are entirely delightful to see with a crowd of people.
Take away the swearing and blood, and you’re left with an average Christmas movie, but Violent Night knows what the movie needs to be a truly fun time at the theater. It can get a bit slow towards the middle, but its exhilarating and violent final act makes up for that easily. This is definitely a movie to watch without young children, and if you go in expecting a fun and violent holiday flick, you’ll be satisfied.
Violent Night is in theaters December 2.
Review by Camden Ferrell
After a summer dominated by Top Gun: Maverick, it’s hard to dismiss the surface level similarities between that and Devotion, a new biographical war movie coming out this week. However, this is an entirely different story, based on a novel about the real events surrounding Jesse Brown, an African American pioneer in military aviation. Directed by J.D. Dillard this is a crowd-pleasing and occasionally emotional war movie that will be lots of fun for audiences of all ages while teaching them about real life military heroes.
Jesse Brown and Tom Hudner are naval aviators during the Korean War, a conflict that isn’t as talked about as other American conflicts of the time. Together, they form a bond while dealing with their jobs as aviators and the dangers and complications that come from such a profession. This is a pretty straightforward war movie that has strong potential for entertainment due to its subject matter and authentic nature.
The movie makes it pretty clear from the start that it solely wants to play by the book in terms of its writing. This is the first feature screenplay from Jake Crane and Jonathan Stewart, and it’s content to play it safe and stick to traditional filming conventions. And this is where I think the movie works best. It doesn’t need to subvert expectations. For a movie like this, a no-frills approach to writing worked well for what it’s worth and was able to adequately tell the story at hand.
The acting was surprisingly the strongest aspect of this movie. In a war movie, you expect the action and tension to be the most interesting part, but both Jonathan Majors and Glen Powell command the screen throughout. Their performances are nuanced, unique, and they both have remarkable chemistry on screen together.
The movie also boasts some amazing aerial action that (while not being nearly as great as that of Top Gun: Maverick) is quite engaging and thrilling. It has some great tension and suspense to keep viewers on the edge of their seats, and it makes for some great blockbuster entertainment. There are some scenes that feel a little cheesy throughout, but overall, it does a great job of educating viewers about these real-life people and events while still making a fun and crowd-pleasing blockbuster that entertains above all else.
Devotion is a fun movie for all audiences and is able to tackle interesting themes about racism and privilege during this period of American history. Bolstered by great action, some emotional punches, and a great set of leading performances, this is a war movie that is worth checking out this Thanksgiving.
Devotion is in theaters November 23.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Bones and All is the first feature film from director Luca Guadagnino since his 2018 remake of Suspiria. Based on the novel of the same name by Camille DeAngelis and written by David Kajganich, this story finds Guadaningo back in provocative form. Blending Americana with the unflinching gore of this unusual love story, this movie manages to pack an emotional punch while still giving viewers an experience to remember.
Maren is a young woman who winds up alone after her affinity for human flesh finds her on the run. Now, she must traverse the United States in search of her absent mother while learning more about other “eaters” and the struggles they share. Along the way, she meets Lee, another lone eater and together, they embark on a journey together where they find love while dealing with their own carnal desires. This is a simple premise made unique by its intense angle, themes, and content.
The script is quite strong from start to finish. There are a few pieces of dialogue that don’t always work or feel out of place, but for the most part, it does a great job at feeling natural yet compelling at the same time. It tackles the subject matter with maturity and delicacy, and it is able to work with its outlandish premise without making a mockery of it.
The performances in this movie are amazing throughout. This movie is led by Taylor Russell who has proven her prowess in movies like Waves. In this movie, she is able to shine in the spotlight more and show off the depth of her abilities. Timothée Chalamet co-leads in the movie, and he gives a strong performance, but it doesn’t really compare to the abilities of the other actors in the movie. Both Mark Rylance and Michael Stuhlbarg give extremely strong and memorable performances despite not having the most screen time.
Guadagnino has an unflinching eye that works perfectly with this movie. He is able to find the beauty and heartbreaking awe to be found in a gruesome and bloody story. There are many graphic depictions of cannibalism that are so raw and powerful which benefit greatly from his bold style as a director. In addition to this, the movie features some gorgeous cinematography and a strong score to give it the feeling of Americana movies like Badlands.
Bones and All is not for the squeamish but those who are able to withstand its gore and violence will be treated to a beautiful story of love and trauma. It features great performances, gorgeous cinematography and a slow but meticulous pace that will reward those who are patient and open-minded to one of the most unique movies of the year.
Bones and All is in theaters November 18.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Lindsay Lohan made a name for herself in the late '90s and early 2000s, starring in films like The Parent Trap, Mean Girls, and Freaky Friday. Since then, she has found herself starring in fewer movies. Falling for Christmas is a new movie from Netflix and is one of the now relatively uncommon Lohan-led films. Playing out like a cheap Hallmark movie, this is a holiday film that will only please the most die-hard fans of the genre and will bore and offend other audiences with how poorly made the whole thing is.
Sierra is the heiress to a wealthy owner of a ski resort. She lives a shallow life with her vain boyfriend, constantly seeking validation from superficial and materialistic things in life. However, after a skiing accident, she gets amnesia and finds herself living with a local lodge owner and his family. Living in this new environment, she slowly learns to regain her humanity and holiday spirit as Christmas approaches. This is a premise that features the same basic structure as most holiday movies, and this doesn’t inherently make it bad, but it certainly makes it unoriginal.
It is abundantly clear early on that its writing will not do much to help its cause. The dialogue is cringy and so reminiscent of the many other holiday films that it could be a word for word copy, and I would be none the wiser. There are moments of verbal and physical comedy throughout that fail to land properly and do nothing to increase the enjoyment of the movie.
As mentioned before, Lohan leads this movie and while it’s refreshing to see her in the spotlight again, it’s hard to deny how lifeless and stilted her performance is from start to finish. She’s on the same level as the rest of the cast, which is to say its utterly forgettable at best but more realistically painfully dull. In addition to the weak performances, there is just no chemistry between any characters which undermines any kind of romance or connection that was supposed to be prevalent throughout the film.
Nobody goes into a movie like this expecting anything groundbreaking, but one would at least expect some mindless entertainment, and this movie only delivers on the mindless portion of that. It’s made by Hallmark veterans, so it’s no surprise that it feels just like their endless catalog of holiday films. What’s disappointing is that even with Netflix’s (supposedly) larger budget, they couldn’t make anything that felt like it had time and effort put into.
Falling for Christmas is a holiday film that you’ve probably seen before, just wrapped differently. It’s borderline unwatchable at times due to how uninteresting and uninspired everything is, but it is also very short which is one of the few commendable aspects of it. If you like Hallmark films, more power to you, this will be right up your alley and surely get you in the holiday spirit. All other viewers need not apply.
Falling for Christmas is streaming on Netflix November 10.
Review by Camden Ferrell
This year alone, Netflix will have two films about notorious serial killer Charles Cullen. The first is The Good Nurse, a movie based on the book of the same name that came out earlier this year. The second is Capturing the Killer Nurse, a documentary about the events on which the book and movie are based. This documentary is directed by documentary filmmaker Tim Travers Hawkins. Even though the subject matter is interesting, and all of the aspects of the story are laid out, the telling of events is fairly bland throughout and doesn’t do much to engage its audience.
Charles Cullen was a nurse in the Northeast United States. In his time in the healthcare world, he made bonds with many of his coworkers and was known for his kindness. However, throughout his career, he was responsible for the murder of many of his patients. This is an interesting case with a lot of moving parts, some of which will surprise audiences, and it has the potential to be a riveting documentary.
Unfortunately, from the start, the documentary does nothing to add personality to the way it tells its story. It’s as standard and lifeless a documentary like this could possibly be. It plays out like an episode of informational television that you might see on cable during the day. It features bland narration and tired methods of storytelling that do nothing to enhance the viewing experience.
The movie features interviews with real people involved with the case, and they are one of the more interesting parts despite not being great all of the time. They provide a great perspective to the story being told, but even their recollection of events isn’t particularly engaging all of the time.
Another aspect that is commendable is how thorough its explanation of events was. It lays out all of the elements in this case. This exemplifies how the movie has all of the right ingredients to make a compelling documentary but just lacked the vision and execution to really work.
Capturing the Killing Nurse is informative, but it doesn’t succeed particularly well at holding your attention in order to learn everything you can about the case. There are very few unique things about the documentary and its effects, and it ultimately hinders one of the more tragic and interesting serial killer cases in American history.
Capturing the Killer Nurse is streaming on Netflix November 11.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Dean Craig is best known for being the writer of Frank Oz’s comedy Death at a Funeral. The new comedy The Estate was written and directed by Craig, and it’s his second time directing a feature film. This movie had its premiere at the BFI London Film Festival last month. Even though there are a few funny and awkward moments throughout, this cringe comedy ultimately falls short of making the audience laugh wildly with discomfort.
Macey and Savanna are two sisters who find themselves in less than desirable positions in their life. However, all of this can change thanks to their bitter and absurdly rich Aunt who is in her final days. As the two sisters visit to win her favor, they find out that the rest of their family is just as eager to claim the fortune she is about to leave behind. This is a great premise that could have massive potential to capitalize on its talented ensemble and familiar but funny set up.
Craig’s writing throughout is dry, gross, and awkward. These are fantastic traits to have in a comedy movie and can make for some really unique laughs, but these elements don’t always work together in this movie. Some of its jokes and comedic moments lack the proper execution and try too hard for a laugh instead of letting the comedy come naturally. There are a handful of funny lines and moments that stand out, but as a whole, the writing is passable at most.
The movie boasts a very talented and famous ensemble. Toni Collette and Anna Faris play Macey and Savanna respectively. They are joined on screen by actors like Rosemarie DeWitt, David Duchovny, Kathleen Turner, and Ron Livingston. These are talented actors that should have been able to make a gut-busting ensemble, but the results are lukewarm. The most prominent actors are Collette and Faris who aren’t bad but are far from memorable. The rest of the cast is just as forgettable even though they have a few good interactions. Their chemistry unfortunately feels too forced throughout.
While Craig’s writing doesn’t always deliver, his execution and vision as a director is quite good at times. The timing and pacing of certain scenes do set up some genuinely good laughs, and his qualities as a director still shine when his qualities as a writer falter. With a better and more natural script, this movie could have been full of hilarity.
The Estate may please viewers looking for a cringe comedy that can be dry and a little crass at times. However, some might also find laughs that are forced and jokes that just miss the mark. Craig is able to orchestrate a few great moments, but the ensemble unfortunately disappoints considering the amount of talent involved.
The Estate is in theaters November 3.
Review by Camden Ferrell
From a young age, Selena Gomez has been one of the biggest stars in the world. She was introduced to many through her acting as well as her widely successful music career. Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me is a new documentary from director Alek Keshishian who is no stranger to the music industry or to famous pop stars. This documentary takes the audience on an emotional journey that will please die-hard fans and casual fans alike even if it could have been longer to dive deeper into this less than glamorous era in the subject’s life.
When she seemed to be at the peak of her career, Selena Gomez decided to retreat from the limelight. This documentary highlights here six-year journey with personal trouble, mental health issues, other factors that came to play in her life, and her triumphant return to stardom. This documentary does a great job of focusing on the person rather than the art, and Gomez is an interesting subject with a emotional story to tell the world.
What Keshishian aims to do from the start is strip down the celebrity of Gomez to reveal a more empathetic and relatable side of her. He is able to do this without a hitch. Gomez instantly makes herself vulnerable and transparent in her thoughts and insecurities about herself, her career, and her role in the daunting world of music.
To nobody’s surprise, Gomez is an authentic and engaging subject who knows how to play to the camera without seeming disingenuous. She performs a great balancing act of being an authentic and empathetic subject while using her strengths as an entertainer to help tell her story. The movie also relies very little on anyone else to help propel the narrative, and Gomez is due praise for carrying this documentary as well as she did.
There are a few moments that feel fairly shallow or detract from the intimacy that the documentary nails so often. Certain moments feel out of place or underdeveloped, and the movie could have afforded a longer run time to give each of the issues in Gomez’s world time to be properly explored. The documentary has a lot of great moments of characterization that are connected by scenes that aren’t always as strong.
Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me is an emotional story that is still ultimately optimistic and empowering. This will give the audience significant insight into the Gomez’s recent life and struggle and will show a new side to her. It’s no surprise that she is a charming and captivating subject, but viewers may be surprised with how easily she allows herself to open up about the issues in her life.
Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me will be streaming on Apple TV+ on November 4.