Category: movie reviews

Movie Review: Matilda

Denisa and I went to see Matilda back when it was on Broadway, and we both really enjoyed it. The music is different than a typical musical: a bit more dissonant and free form than a classic Music Man or Phantom of the Opera. But I liked the creative rhymes and the way those rhymes fit into the verse, and I actually listened to the cast recording all the way through several times since. So when I saw Netflix was coming out with a movie adaptation of the musical, I was very excited.

Not excited enough to watch it the moment it came out, apparently, but the family all checked it out last night, and I was really blown away. Now mind you, my opinion is likely heavily influenced by the fact that I was already very familiar with the music and a big fan of it to begin with, but even if I try to set that aside, it was impressive on many different fronts.

First off, the girl they got to play Matilda did a fantastic job. Great singing voice. Great acting. The entire cast is superb, with Emma Thompson almost unrecognizable as Headmistress Trunchbull. (She also sang her own numbers, and did well enough that I had to double check it was her singing. Turns out she’s got a theater background.) The execution of the musical numbers is impressive as well. The choreography they devised for the children at the school was very fun and well danced. (Is that how you say it? I don’t exactly write about choreography very much.)

The set design, the costumes, the whole vibe of the movie: all of it gels together in a way that was loads of fun. Watching just how vile Trunchbull was to the children was highly entertaining (which I suppose says something about me, but (in my defense) it’s clearly done for laughs.)

All in all, the entire family loved it. Daniela gave it an 8, MC said it was absolutely fantastic, and I gave it a 10, believe it or not. I will likely watch it again soon. So if any of this sounds remotely interesting to you, I would definitely check it out. Great fun.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this DON’T GO TO SLEEP Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

2022 Media Review

2022 is come and gone now, and I wanted to take some time as I usually do to go over the best (and worst) of what I read and watched. All told, I made my goal of 52 books for the year. I watched 27 television shows in their entirety, and I watched 103 movies. I gave books an average rating of 7.74 and movies and television an average of 7.59, indicating I generally stop reading things I don’t like more than I stop watching stuff I don’t like. Those averages are honestly a bit on the high side, though at the same time, I generally only watch and read things that look like they’ll appeal to me, so maybe that makes a bit more sense.

With that stated, here are the highlights:

Books

I gave 6 books a perfect 10/10:

  • Eye of the World: I know The Wheel of Time isn’t for everyone, but it is very much for me. I’ve reread this book more times than I can remember, and I still love it. I still remember seeing it for the first time on the library shelf, and how hooked I was as I started reading it. I waited for this series to be finished for years and years. So happy it ended well.
  • The Gathering Storm: Brandon’s first Wheel of Time book was such a breath of fresh air. He managed to do what seemed impossible: seamlessly edge his way into a long standing series successfully. And for a series that had seemed for a long time to be wandering somewhat, he gave a real sense that this was going to have an end, and it was going to be a good one.
  • Memory of Light: The final book of Wheel of Time. Absolutely fantastic. Big pay offs left and right for fans of the series, and a conclusion that felt right.
  • The Princess Bride: Another reread, this time with Daniela. The book is fantastic. Right up my alley.
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany: My second time through this one as well, meaning up until October, I hadn’t had a single new 10/10. Still, this is a lovely book. So well written, with such vivid characters. My friend Sue pointed me toward it back in college, and it still is wonderful.
  • Lonesome Dove: The last book I read last year was a real doozy. Talk about a tour de force. I don’t care if you don’t like westerns, if you like literature, I have a hard time thinking you wouldn’t like this book. Great plot. Great characters. Great prose. Well worth your time.

I only gave one book a 9.5/10. Lord of Chaos, another Wheel of Time book. Go figure.

I gave 6 books a 9/10

  • Fires of Heaven: Wheel of Time strikes again. It was a fun way to start the year off, let’s just say.
  • Harriet the Spy: Finally got around to reading this one, and it was such a pleasant surprise. I knew nothing about it going in. I just assumed it would be about a young girl who’s a spy. I was wrong. 🙂
  • Fifteen Lives of Henry August: This was a great surprise. A fantastic premise, and well-executed.
  • The Godfather: It’s clear why it had such an influence on movies. Not a complicated read, but very visceral.
  • Gwendy’s Button Box: Really more of a novella, but I still counted it. I’m always a sucker for Stephen King.
  • Slade House: A very fun, creepy book. This was a fast read for me. I read it in a day.

What were the worst books I read? I usually hold back from naming them, but I’ll actually go public with one this time. Crossroads of Twilight got a 4/10 from me, despite being a Wheel of Time book. It seemed like an experiment to me: could Robert Jordan write a whole book that only tracks a few days in the lives of his characters? Yes, he could. No, it wasn’t interesting. It felt like a one-off TV episode. Blarg. Other than that, I gave two books a 5/10. One was the third book of a series that started off great, by an author I really enjoy, but it just couldn’t sustain itself. The other was a classic science fiction novel that I had a very hard time connecting with.

TV Seasons

Only two shows got a perfect score from me this year. Both fantastic.

  • The U.S. and the Holocaust: There are few TV shows that I would recommend to watch just to become a better person. This is one.
  • The English: Fantastic. Beautiful and brutal to watch. So well acted. I loved the whole thing.

I gave no seasons a 9.5/10.

I gave 7 seasons a 9/10:

  • Gilded Age 1: Historical drama in time period that’s often overlooked, and just so happened to be in a time period close to one I’ve researched for writing. Very well done. American Downton Abbey, though more adult.
  • Peacemaker 1: Over the top ridiculous. I watched it while I had COVID, and it made COVID that much more bearable. Definitely not for everyone, but I thought it was very funny. The opening sequence each episode was perfect.
  • Severance 1: Great premise, lots of great mysteries, and a fair number of them explained in the first season instead of being kicked off for later seasons. I’m looking forward to the next season.
  • Stranger Things 4: Did just what I wanted it to. I love this show.
  • House of the Dragon 1: Does a great job extending the Game of Thrones universe while dialing way down on the fantasy elements.
  • The Devil’s Hour 1: Intricately plotted, with a premise that only makes more sense the more you find out about it. Very worthwhile.
  • Wednesday 1: I just blogged about this.

Movies

Five movies got a perfect score. Only one of them was a first time watch.

  • Return of the King: Still a fantastic movie. The end.
  • Groundhog Day: Yes, this will appear on my list every year. Kind of appropriate, and self-explanatory.
  • Shawshank Redemption: Again, I don’t feel like this needs an explanation.
  • Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes: I watched it twice within a week. The second time wasn’t as amazing as the first, but I was still wowed by how they pulled off an entire plot around the ability to see two minutes into the future.
  • Back to the Future: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This is a perfect movie. Perfect cast. Perfect plot. Perfect soundtrack. Chef’s kiss.

I gave 2 movies a 9.5/10:

  • Encanto: Delightful, and the soundtrack only got better with time.
  • West Side Story: Spielberg’s new version was amazing. Different than the original, but in a very good way. It felt less like a musical, and more like a movie, if that makes sense.

I gave 17 movies a 9/10:

  • The Two Towers: No explanation needed.
  • The Party: This Peter Sellers movie is hilarious, but I have a hard time recommending it to people, because he does brownface the whole time, playing the role of an Indian for comedic effect. I would argue that he uses it to show a person who feels completely out of place, but it could have been done without the ethnicity change, and that’s disappointing.
  • Free Guy: This had no right being as good as it was. It felt like it should have been a throw away video game movie, but it ended up being smart and tons of fun.
  • Turning Red: A fun movie that got more people upset than I would expect, showing people will get upset about lots of things that are surprising these days. (I’m probably included in that statement, though this movie did not upset me.)
  • Moneyball: Fun look at baseball, statistics, and human nature.
  • The Breakfast Club: Not perfect, but still a great slice of life of high school, and still relevant today, even if there are pieces of it that haven’t aged well.
  • Joe vs. the Volcano: My personal favorite Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan pairing.
  • RRR: Jaw dropping action scenes. Musical numbers. Crazy plot. This one was a real experience.
  • Fitzwilly: Dick Van Dyke as a thieving butler trying to make enough money to fund his boss’s charitable work? How can you not watch this?
  • A Beautiful Mind: Yup. Still great.
  • The Wedding Singer: It’s not highbrow cinema, but it’s still fun.
  • The Map of Tiny Perfect Things: Time loop romantic-comedy? How can it go wrong with me?
  • Everything Everywhere All at Once: I think this one suffered from being too hyped up before I watched it. I still really enjoyed it, but I wasn’t left amazed. But definitely should be watched.
  • Shop Around the Corner: Classic.
  • Dunkirk: I liked it more the second time than I did the first, when the timey-wimey didn’t completely make sense to me.
  • The Hudsucker Proxy: I love the Coen Bros. This is an oft-forgotten gem.
  • Glass Onion: People keep comparing it to Knives Out, saying it’s worse. I really enjoyed it, and I liked it even more once I realized that the entire answer to the mystery really had been on screen the whole time. No sneaky cuts to not show things. If you’d been paying attention all along, there was no mystery at all.

How about the worst things I watched?

  • On Stranger Tides got a 5/10. It was a Pirate’s movie too far.
  • Sherlock Holmes Game of Shadows also got a 5/10. A Sherlock movie too far.
  • Wayne’s World got a 5/10. Not nearly as good as I remembered
  • Christmas Story Christmas was another 5/10. Should have been better. Wasn’t.
  • The King’s Man got a 4/10. Unnecessary and stupid prequel to an action series, though it had a few good sequences.
  • Mortal Kombat (the new one) was another 4/10. Just plain stupid, even if it had some good effects.
  • Obi Wan Kenobi 1 got a 4/10. It was the chosen one. It was said that it would destroy the doubters, not encourage them. Bring balance to the force, not leave it in darkness. Lies. All lies.
  • Alone 8 was a 4/10. I’ve never seen the struggle to survive seem so boring.
  • The Eagle got a 3/10. Historical action movie about Roman soldiers. Avoid.
  • The live action Pinocchio got a 3/10. Waste of time.
  • Under the Banner of Heaven got a 1/10. Awful awful awful, and worse because they kept trying to insist it was an accurate portrayal of what happened.

All told, it was a good year. I like looking back and seeing the highlights like this. Anything stand out to you (good or bad) from what you read or watched last year?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this DON’T GO TO SLEEP Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Movie Review: Spirited

I didn’t want to let the holidays go by without at least giving you a good Christmas movie recommendation. A Christmas Story Christmas didn’t pan out for me, so I was a little gun shy of the other well publicized online offering this year: Spirited. Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell in a meta-esque adaptation of A Christmas Carol? And it’s a musical? Despite the fact that it had worse reviews on IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, and Metacritic, I decided to give it a shot, because any meta adaptation is at least worth the time to watch it.

And I loved it. It was a ton of fun from start to finish, with great musical numbers, good laughs, and a plot that’s a tad predictable, but still entertaining. Did they have to use autotune to let the actors keep up with the music? Yes, alas, they did. So if autotune is a big turnoff for you, this is going to rub you the wrong way. Then again, the music is by the same duo that wrote the songs for Dear Evan Hansen, The Greatest Showman, and La La Land, so it’s not like some hack job. I really enjoyed them.

The plot is fairly straightforward. What if the same thing that happened to Scrooge way back when happens once a year to someone else? A big team of ghosts work together to try to change the life of one person at a time. Will Ferrell leads up the team, and Ryan Reynolds is their latest project. But as soon as Reynolds sees the first ghost, he recognizes it as being a Christmas Carol trope, and the wheels fall off from there.

I’ve seen many (many) Christmas Carol adaptations, so to see one that’s unique like this was a great surprise. It’s a great spin on the classic. My only real gripe would be the PG-13 rating, as it was close enough to being PG that I thought they could have backed off in a few areas and had it be more family friendly for kiddos. But if you’ve got teens in your house, I think they’ll have a good time as well.

In the end, I gave it an 8/10. It’s one I might rewatch, and there aren’t a whole slew of Christmas movies that I’m willing to do that with. That says a fair bit right there. If you’ve got Apple TV+, give it a shot.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this DON’T GO TO SLEEP Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Movie Review: A Christmas Story Christmas

On paper, it should be a lot of fun. Get the gang back from the original classic, A Christmas Story, and have them reprise their roles, with the move taking place thirty or forty years later. And when you see just how much Peter Billingsley still looks like himself (as Ralphie), it’s hard not to think right away that this could really work. And thus, A Christmas Story Christmas was born.

I’ll admit to being skeptical heading into the film. Sure, it seemed like there was a chance it could work, but there was also a big chance it would be nothing but a stinker. But it had a 7 on IMDB (at the time) and a 78% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Surely that meant the movie was actually good.

Having watched it now, I can solve the debate. It’s not good. It’s not terrible, and there are a few genuinely funny scenes, but overall it’s a movie that tries too hard to be too many things. First and foremost, they’re very fond of beating us over the head with THIS IS JUST LIKE CHRISTMAS STORY scenes. Worried we might miss the references, they even stick in audio snippets from the original. And they went through several contortions to cram in as many references as they could.

Maybe if they’d stuck to that, it would have still been okay. But they also decided to ram FEEL GOOD HOLIDAY HEART-WARMER down our throats. That’s a move I don’t really understand. The original has some feel good moments in it, but it’s good because it’s so true to life so often, finding humor in the everyday. This one just feels like it has to have A Theme, and the movie isn’t strong enough to support it.

(Side gripe: there’s a big plot thread around Ralphie trying to get published, and it went wrong for me on many different levels. He keeps talking about wanting a call from “his manager,” because . . . aspiring authors have managers? He takes his writing around to “every publisher in Chicago,” which . . . maybe he’d have been better off going to New York City, where publishers are generally in more abundance? There are other issues I have with the plot arc, but they’d give spoilers away, and some of you might watch the movie.)

That said, I enjoyed watching Billingsley again, so the movie wasn’t a complete wash. If I’d had lower expectations, maybe I would have enjoyed it more. As it is, I walked away disappointed. 5/10, and I don’t think I’ll ever watch it again. (If you’re looking for a movie in the same vein as the original, I’d recommend 8 Bit Christmas. Not as good as Christmas Story, but a fun 80s take on the same theme. I gave that one a 7.5)

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this DON’T GO TO SLEEP Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Hudsucker Revisited

Over the weekend, I had a chance to rewatch the Hudsucker Proxy, years after last time I saw it. It had always stayed in my head as a favorite Coen Bros movie, and I found out some friends hadn’t seen it, which gave me a perfect excuse to rewatch. I was so happy to see my memories of the film really held up, and I enjoyed it just as much now as I did back then.

Like many Coen Bros comedies, it’s got this perfect blend of absurdism, humor, and character development that really scratches an itch for me that few other movies can. With many of their films, it feels to me like they take a well established movie genre and give it their own spin. O Brother Where Art Thou is their take on a movie musical, for example. Hudsucker is their spin on classic screwball comedies. It takes elements of His Girl Friday, Bringing Up Baby, and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the movie, Tim Robbins stars as an aspiring business executive who somehow finds himself whisked from the depths of the mail room to top level of Hudsucker Industry when he’s abruptly appointed to be the new president. (Upon the last president’s death, the board decided to try to drive the stock price into the ground so that they could use some financial shenanigans to make a killing of a profit. Robbins was literally the worst person they could they think of to run the company.) Naturally, Robbins turns out to be a bit more than they expected. Hilarity ensues.

Robbins plays his part perfectly, as does Jennifer Jason Leigh, who portrays a hardnosed reporter focused on finding the real truth behind Robbins. (Paul Newman and Bruce Campbell also have roles, and Sam Raimi co-wrote the script with the Coens.) There’s really not much to dislike about the movie. Perhaps it drags just a bit in the middle, but the beginning and ending are strong enough to make that irrelevant, and I’m not sure if it dragged only because it was my fourth or fifth time rewatching it.

If you’ve never seen the movie (or it’s been a while since you have), then I definitely recommend giving it a shot. It’s PG and safe for just about anyone, though there are some suicide themes that might be off-putting for some. 9/10. Great stuff.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this DON’T GO TO SLEEP Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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