Monday, October 31, 2022

Blonde

Movie Name:
Blonde
Year of Release: 2022
Director: Andrew Dominik
Starring: Ana de Armas, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale, Julianne Nicholson, Xavier Samuel, Evan Williams, Dan Butler, Lily Fisher, Toby Huss, Scoot McNairy, Ned Bellamy, Sara Paxton, Caspar Phillipson
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review
Writer/director Andrew Dominik is back, following a long hiatus since his previous feature, "Killing Them Softly" (in the interim he did direct some episodes of the series "Mindhunter"). His new feature is an adaptation of the novel by Joyce Carol Oates, and follows the life of big screen icon Marilyn Monroe, born Norma Jeane Baker. We witness her humble beginnings with her mother, and her mother's mental health issues which have a profound impact on Norma Jeane's upbringing. Her mom also informs her that her dad is someone well known in the entertainment industry, and that he is absent largely because of her. After a dramatic episode which lands her in a mental institution, Norma Jeane finds herself alone, and is dropped off in a state institution. A few years later we witness her progressive success as a model, and her first dabbles in entering the movie business, already under the moniker of Marilyn Monroe. As she navigates these first interactions in the business, further trauma is inflicted upon her, but she eventually starts a relationship with both Cass and Eddy (the sons of Charles Chaplin and Edward G. Robinson). That relationship results in an unexpected pregnancy, which she terminates much to her despair. After that situation, she embarks on a few additional relationships with more well known men, namely Joe DiMaggio, who is somehow controlling and brutal to her, and the writer Arthur Miller, with whom she has a semblance of domestic bliss, until another unexpected miscarriage occurs. Around this time her own relationship with the Marilyn Monroe persona starts to create conflicts within her and with those around her. 
Andrew Dominik had this film in the works for quite sometime, and its leading lady changed throughout the years, as the film languished in development. It was finally scooped by Netflix, which also gave it a wide release in its platform. Marilyn Monroe's life and career is at this point a subject that has been covered by so many films, plays, and books, that what this film unveils in terms of content isn't necessarily something new. However what is interesting about Andrew Dominik is the point of view and the angle with which he approaches this narrative. He mostly anchors this story on the fact that Norma Jeane/Marilyn is somewhat of a lost person, always waiting for her father figure to present himself and provide the stability and support she never had growing up. As she looks for that in the men she has relationships with, she invariably gets manipulated and later on as she makes her way in Hollywood, she gets chewed up by a system that is vicious towards women. It's an interesting angle, but one that is repetitive and constantly hammered throughout the whole duration of the feature, capturing Marilyn Monroe/Norma Jeane as someone perpetually at the brink of a dramatic collapse. And while the drama and emotional strain of course makes for compelling viewership, it also reduces her persona to a very narrow collection of traits and complexity is also flattened. Independently of the content, Andrew Dominik manages to bring his strong point of view, both stylistically, but also from the work with his actors, all of which is quite strong. Ana de Armas is fantastic as Marilyn, and has great support from Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale, Julianne Nicholson, Dan Butler and Toby Huss. The cinematography from Chayse Irvin is stunning as is the score from Warren Ellis and Nick Cave. While not necessarily as solid as his previous features, it's nonetheless worth watching. 

Sunday, October 23, 2022

The Purge: Election Year

Movie Name:
The Purge: Election Year
Year of Release: 2022
Director: James DeMonaco
Starring: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Joseph Julian Soria, Betty Gabriel, Terry Serpico, Edwin Hodge, Kyle Secor, Ethan Phillips, Adam Cantor, Christopher James Baker, Jared Kemp, Raymond J. Barry, 
Genre: Action, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon Prime

Synopsis and Review
James DeMonaco who has originated The Purge franchise, has continued to mine the series with additional titles, and this one in particular came out in 2016, coincidentally an election year as well. The film follows the story of Leo Barnes, now handling security for Senator Charlene Roan, who has actually survived a traumatic purge ritual, where most of her family got killed. Now in 2040, that senator is running for President on the premise of ending the purge for good. Her main opposing candidate, also aligned with the current administration, decide to revoke immunity on government officials during the Purge, so they can target her specifically (and eliminate the competition). At the same time this is occurring, deli owner Joe Dixon and his assistant Marcos are dealing with issues of their own, which they can overcome thanks to the presence of Medical Emergency Tech Laney Rucker.  On the night of the Purge, Leo and Charlene quickly realized they've been betrayed, as their security team gets killed, forcing Leo to take Charlene to the streets. They eventually get rescued by Joe and then Laney, and as they seek to avoid being hunted by the team on Charlene's pursuit, they get further assistance by another underground group who is intent on putting an end to the Purge. While fleeing the city, the ambulance which they're using to get away is hit and Charlene is captured. Leo, Joe, Laney, and their recent collaborators go in her pursuit, hoping to save her. 
The nihilistic future "The Purge" sets in motion seems more and more closer to reality, one where privileged sectors of society control its fate and outcomes and where those marginalized suffer the brunt of the challenges in terms of security, stability and hope. This subject matter makes for interesting socially driven films (Ken Loach has made a career of tackling social inequality driven topics), however "The Purge: Election Year", definitely moves in the direction of being a steadfast genre B-movie, while also peppering its narrative with these insights on the perpetual state of inequalities in society. DeMonaco navigates the action set pieces and what he's trying to say message wise fairly deftly, and as a polished B-movie the film for the most part succeeds in getting its point across. The characters are faintly characterized, which is where the film loses some charm, since they're all very highly contrasting, without much nuance, which is to say, the good characters are very beatific and the bad characters, are essentially well deserving of whatever is coming their way. And while this is indeed the premise and terrain in which these films operate, it also dimmers their reach and some of the commentary they set in motion (a bit similar to the conversations and discussions the "Dirty Harry" series started in 1971). The supporting cast brings much of the engagement to this narrative, in particular Mykelti Williamson, Betty Gabriel and Kyle Secor. The cinematography from Jacques Jouffret is effective as is the score from Nathan Whitehead. Worth watching. 

Christine

Movie Name:
Christine
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Antonio Campos 
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, Maria Dizzia, J. Smith-Cameron, Timothy Simons, Kim Shaw, John Cullum, Morgan Spector, Jayson Warner Smith, Kimberley Drummond, Lindsay Ayliffe
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon Prime

Synopsis and Review
After making a name for himself with the features "Afterschool" and "Simon Killer", director Antonio Campos tackled the true life story of reporter Christine Chubbuck with  "Christine", written by Craig Shilowich, in his first produced script (though Shilowich has had a considerable career in producing duties). The narrative focuses on the story of Christine Chubbuck, a news reporter originally from Ohio, who by 1974, at the brink of turning 30 had recently moved to Sarasota, Florida, and was working for a local TV station. She was at the time living with her mother, and had a contentious relationship with the station director, Michael Nelson. Michael wanted for her stories to be more crime focused, more ratings driven, as opposed to human-interest pieces. She nursed a crush on the station's news anchor, George Peter Ryan, which never went anywhere, as his focus was on someone else. As Christine dealt with some health issues, she also learnt that George had gotten a promotion, which translated into an opportunity of going to Baltimore. Witnessing her ambitions being thwarted, Christine was further disillusioned but maintained an air of composure both to her mother and her co-workers, until her final moments. 
"Christine" makes for an interesting viewing experience, since it showcases both the professional and personal challenges a woman with a fairly visible position in the workforce faced in the 70s. It was a transitional period for women as the women's liberation movement which started in the late 60s, was still making its strides. It's also a film that while acknowledging some of the mental health problems Christine was dealing with, which included her struggles with depression and inability to establish close personal relationships, shies away from actually giving a point of view or perspective on what had shaped her condition or was prompting those issues. While the narrative smartly focuses on a very specific timeline, aside from Christine, most of the remaining characters are faint sketches always portrayed with a focus on a specific trait or particular angle (for instance, the station's manager who is always at odds with Christine, the charming lead anchor, the supporting co-worker, and her mother, who lives with her). Christine herself is perpetually characterized in a very unique tone, as someone who is ambitious, inflexible and seemingly devoid of a sense of humor. It's a film who tries to humanize a dramatic situation, but does so while reducing someone to a patterned behavior. The cast is filled with talented performers, starting with Rebecca Hall in the central role, with great support from Tracy Letts, Michael C. Hall, Maria Dizzia and the underrated and always great J. Smith-Cameron. The cinematography from Joe Anderson is solid, as is the production design by Scott Kuzio and costumes by Emma Potter. It's an interesting film and rendering from a dramatic and true story. 

The School for Good and Evil

Movie Name:
The School for Good and Evil
Year of Release: 2022
Director: Paul Weitz
Starring: Sofia Wylie, Sophia Anne Caruso, Charlize Theron, Kerry Washington, Laurence Fishburne, Kit Young, Cate Blanchett, Michelle Yeoh, Peter Serafinowicz, Earl Cave, Jamie Flatters, Oliver Watson, Myles Kamwendo, Misia Butler, Steven Calpert, Patti LuPone
Genre: Action, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review
Director Paul Feig is back, following a string of films that were met with a tepid response, namely "A Simple Favor" and "Last Christmas". This time around he's adapting a well known and popular young adult novel from author Soman Chainani, who has already a series of novels written in this series. The narrative follows the story of two lifelong best friends, Sophie and Agatha. They both live in a small village by the name of Gavaldon, and are considered outcasts by most of the other teenagers in the village. They soon find out about the School for Good and Evil, and through a series of circumstances find themselves there, with Sophie being placed in the School for Evil and Agatha in the school for Good. As Sophie tries to get her way back to the School for Good, they soon become targets for the school's cliques though Agatha soon learns there's more to their headmistresses intent that they have led on. As both girls navigate the school's inner workings and machinations, they also realize there's a larger and more sinister intent behind some of the events that led them there, from a villainous force that they've yet to contend with. 
"The School for Good and Evil" suffers from an obvious issue of coming at the heels of the Harry Potter universe and suffering from the obvious comparisons with it. However , whereas the Harry Potter films grew progressively darker as the narrative went along, this one in particular has a distinct tone, at times remembering more Tommy O'Haver's "Ella Enchanted", mixing lighthearted banter with darkly menacing high school comedies (a magical version of Michael Lehman's "Heathers"). The tone also trickles to the characters, who sadly never get to be much more than stereotypes, from the leads all the way to the supporting and supposedly more colorful characters, whose tone oscillates from sincere and heartfelt, to over the top and nearly risible (and not in a good way). For all the world building the director sets in motion, and the sheer amount of characters that are introduced, the narrative feels rushed, never giving any of the characters enough room to create an impactful statement (or presence). Both Charlize Theron and Kerry Washington are underserved, as is Laurence Fishburne and Michelle Yeoh in much smaller roles, and from a production design statement, this feature bears more resemblances with Disney's "Alice in Wonderland" films (from Tim Burton and James Bobin), more so than the Harry Potter ones (which isn't good either). The cinematography from John Schwartzman is solid, as is the score from Theodore Shapiro. It's a misstep for this interesting director, a questionably tasteful film that is quickly forgotten. 

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Goodnight Mommy

Movie Name:
Goodnight Mommy
Year of Release: 2022
Director: Matt Sobel
Starring: Naomi Watts, Cameron Crovetti, Nicholas Crovetti, Peter Hermann, Jeremy Bobb, Crystal Lucas-Perry
Genre: Drama, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
Watch it on Amazon Prime

Synopsis and Review
"Goodnight Mommy" has the distinction of being Matt Sobel's sophomore feature, and also a remake of a very well received Austrian film with the same name from directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala. The film focuses its narrative on twin brothers Elias and Lukas who are coming to their mother's home to spend some time with her. Their parents have separated/divorced, and this is the first time they have seen her in a while. Much to their surprise, they find her wearing an almost all concealing face mask, since she communicates to them she has had some surgery to refresh herself up. The boys notice her behavior seems different, since she doesn't want to spend much time with them, imposes a series of rules, which includes not going to her room or the barn in the back, and generally speaking, just keep low energy. They soon suspect the person behind the mask is not their mother at all, a suspicion which becomes more noticeable when they verify that the person living with them has blue eyes whereas their mother has green eyes (at least according to a headshot she has in her house). Terrified, they flee and seek the help from neighbors, only to realize that the nearest house of those same neighbors is actually deserted. Some state troopers find them and return them to their mother's house, who by then has taken off the face mask. As the brothers try to survive the situation, things quickly escalate. 
"Goodnight Mommy" benefits from the fact that Matt Sobel efficiently characterizes the relationship between the twin brothers as one filled with complicity, support and to a certain extent, joy. The director also successfully builds and captures the tension that exists in the household, in the damaged relationship between the somewhat absent mother and their children. While the lack of additional context in what caused the rift and distance between the mother and their children allows for the ambiguity in which the narrative lives to keep the audience engaged, as the events unfurl, there are somewhat sudden changes of attitude, particularly from Naomi Watts' mother character that are a bit more surprising (and don't necessarily feel the most logical). While the film has a third act which seems almost identical to the reveal moment from a M. Night Shyamalan's feature, it fails to resonate quite as strongly since for the most part of the narrative the mother character was always presented in a repetitively unique fashion, without deviating much from a repetitive pattern. By the time we start to understand a bit more about who she is, and what has driven her, the film is nearing its end, and by then the final reveal is front and center in the narrative. All this to say, the peeling of the mask which occurs with that enigmatic character could have occurred more progressively, so the dimension of that character was more vividly understood. As it is, the film comes across as a somewhat taut and polished B-movie, which takes a not entirely unexpected final turn. The always excellent Naomi Watts manages to keep the film afloat, with good support from both Cameron and Nicholas Crovetti. The production team is solid, featuring the cinematography from Alexander Dynan and production design from Mary Lena Colston. Watchable but forgettable. 

Halloween Ends

Movie Name:
Halloween Ends
Year of Release: 2022
Director: David Gordon Green
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Andi Matichak, Rohan Campbell, Will Patton, Jesse C. Boyd, Michael Barbieri, Destiny Mone, Joey Harris, Marteen, Joanne Baron, Rick Moose, Michele Dawson, Keraun Harris, Kyle Richards, Michael O'Leary, Candice Rose, Jaxon Goldenberg, James Jude Courtney, Jack William Marshall, Diva Tyler, Blaque Fowler
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 2
View Trailer

Synopsis and Review
Director David Gordon Green's eclectic career continues and this film is his wrap up of his take on the "Halloween" characters John Carpenter originated in 1978. The narrative focuses once again on Laurie Strode, who after the events of the previous feature and the brutal death of her daughter, is now living in the suburbs with her granddaughter, trying to rebuild her life away from all that trauma. She crosses paths with a young man by the name of Corey, who has experienced his fair share of trauma after a dramatic babysitting event which resulted in the death of a young child. Looking to help Corey, Laurie also introduces him to Allyson her granddaughter, who immediately is drawn to him. Corey however has his own demons, and he eventually comes face to face with Michael Myers, who has been laying somewhat dormant since the latest killing spree. There's a symbiotic relationship that is started between the two, which results in Corey seeking revenge on those who were demeaning or violent towards him, with brutal consequences. And while this happens, Michael Myers has a resurgence of his own, seeking Laurie to put an end to his journey.
"Halloween Ends" sadly is not a fitting end to a trilogy or even an elegant homage to the work John Carpenter crafted with his iconic original feature. What was always so remarkable about that film was how economically stated the director managed to be, creating just enough of dimension to those characters for us to be invested in their fate, while also forcing us to embrace the enigma that was Michael Myers. We never truly understood his motivations, but as Donald Pleasance's frantic quest continued, we embarked on his and eventually on Laurie's journey. This new script places Laurie as a reflective survivor, somewhat licking her wounds, focused on protecting her granddaughter, who is drawn to a character who has been damaged by life and is just trying to get by. The problems start with the fact that this new central character that is introduced, while inhabiting a gray zone of being a catalyst for death and also a victim, doesn't have much in terms of his own actual motivations. His encounter with Michael Myers which could be a dramatic and life changing moment in his life (and in Michael's as well), comes across as an interlude moment in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", coincidentally where also some its action set pieces also took place in the sewers. While the narrative has little nuance and is trite and filled with clich├ęs (Laurie's pleas for her granddaughter not to leave town with Corey, and Allyson's rebel moment to seemingly disavow her life long protector, a la Romeo and Juliet), the film itself looks and feels poorly shot, edited and assembled. The brutality of the staged screen deaths, does not hide the fact that the suspense of working with shadows, and everything that made the original so enticing (less is more in terms of what you show), is completely gone. The cinematography doesn't work, the production design is poor and all that is left is the score from John Carpenter, this time working with his son Cody and Daniel Davies, and the always compelling presence of Jamie Lee Curtis. I admit to be surprised by the lack of attention that seems to have been devoted to this film, and I question the direction in which David Gordon Green seems to be going. Avoid. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Do Revenge

Movie Name: 
Do Revenge
Year of Release: 2022
Director: Jennifer Kaytin Robinson
Starring: Camilla Mendes, Maya Hawke, Austin Abrams, Rish Shah, Talia Ryder, Alisha Boe, Ava Capri, Paris Berelc, JD, Maia Reficco, Sophie Turner, Rachel Matthews, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Eliza Bennett, Francesca Reale
Genre: Comey
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review
Writer/Director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson continues her collaboration with Netflix, with her sophomore directorial effort, following her debut entitled "Someone Great". "Do Revenge" focuses its narrative on two high school seniors, Drea and Eleanor, who both attend a costly private school and have high hopes of getting into Ivy League universities. Drea's hopes suffer a huge blow when her boyfriend, the rich and privileged Max leaks a sex video they both did, even though he denies it. Drea suffers most of the downfall of that escapade and most of her friends soon abandon her. Unlike everyone she knows, she goes to the school on a scholarship, since her single mom is a nurse and can't afford her tuition. She convinces the recently moved into the school Eleanor to work with her in an elaborate revenge plan, where they each go after the people who wronged them, but with Eleanor going after Drea's targets and Drea's focusing on Eleanor's tormentors. They soon start seeing some results, with Eleanor's antagonist soon expelled from the school for planting drugs in the communal farm, though Drea's situation is far more complicated due to Max's popularity. However as their relationship evolves, not all is what it seems in these two girls lives. 
"Do Revenge" uses Alfred Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train" as a baseline premise (and that film in turn was an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel, with a screenplay from Raymond Chandler, Whitfield Cook and Czenzi Ormonde) in order to create this new version of a dark teen comedy, taking place in an upscale high school. The biggest challenge with this film however is that unlike Michael Lehman's "Heathers" or even Amy Heckerling's "Clueless", while this writer/director knows exactly what the cliches surrounding these characters are, she doesn't necessarily try to add much dimension to them or for that matter, populate it with a layer of humor. There's a glossiness to the film which allows for the universe that it depicts to come across very rapidly and evidently, but while Mark Waters' "Mean Girls" allowed for the characters to experience an evolution throughout the narrative, while also marrying that same narrative with a fantastic sense of humor, this feature by contrast attempts to illustrate the modern mentality of our times, and how that at times is a perfect escapade for people to get away with very bad behaviors. The film's plot and twists ultimately don't add much in terms of giving the characters that additional spark and in the end its tone isn't necessarily the most successful, since it's not exactly a particularly satisfying satire, ending up being more of a light romance with pseudo edgy characters who in the end aren't edgy at all. Camilla Mendes and Maya Hawke are successful in bringing their characters to life, as is Sarah Michelle Gellar as the headmistress of the school. The cinematography from Brian Burgoyne is solid, as is the production design from Hillary Gurtler. While not terrible, it's a rather forgettable film. 

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Support the Girls

Movie Name:
Support the Girls
Year of Release: 2018
Director: Andrew Bujalski
Starring: Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, Dylan Gelula, Zoe Graham, Ann LeuVoy, Elizabeth Trieu, Krista Hayes, Victor Isaac Perez, Jesse Marshall, Luis Olmeda, Shayna McHayle, John Elvis, Lea DeLaria, James Le Gros, Lawrence Varnado, Bill Wise, Brooklyn Decker, AJ Michalka, Chris Brown
Genre: Comey, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon Prime

Synopsis and Review
Director Andrew Bujalski who made a critical splash with the features "Computer Chess" and "Results" previously, reached a much wider audience and accolades with "Support the Girls", which premiered in 2018 to critical acclaim. 
The film focuses its narrative on Lisa, a general manager for a sports bar where their waitresses wear very skimpy outfits. Lisa is a hard working, no-nonsense type of person and protects her employees fiercely, though she clashes with her absent and at times oblivious boss. During this particular day, their relationship comes to a boiling point when Lisa asks for her team to host an impromptu car wash to raise money for one of the employees, who has been the target of an abusive boyfriend and is currently staying with Lisa, and Ben the owner finds out and wants to take the money himself. On top of this, Lisa has had to deal with the cable not working, and an attempted robbery which has resulted in a man becoming stuck in a ventilation duct. In her personal life, she is also dealing with a crumbling marriage. All these challenges are heightened by the realization that a competing new restaurant is also opening in the area threatening the viability of their working place. 
There's a quietly unassuming quality to "Support the Girls", which makes the journey of its central character all the more endearing and real. Lisa is the core of the narrative and she's the one who sustains the energy of the restaurant, but also supports the life of everyone she seems to come in contact with, including that of her team mates who rely on her wisdom and heart to get through life. Regina Hall who is a charismatic and versatile performer, and who has made a career for herself in countless comedies, manages to ground this character with just enough strength, resilience, tiredness and shock, making Lisa a profoundly humane and realistic character, one who goes beyond the stereotypical and two dimensional aspect. The director also smartly builds the narrative during a limited timeline, giving the characters just enough bandwidth to showcase who they are, what their challenges and how Lisa is supporting them in their journey. It's an interesting feature, since it doesn't fall trap to the poverty porn that some features typically lean on, particularly the ones that touch upon this type of subject, and it also does not sensationalize what the characters do in the restaurant (and with its patrons). It's a restrained film, one that closely aligns with its central character, showcasing just enough grit, mixing it with some humor, tenderness and sadness. While the supporting characters sadly are not that expanded upon, this is a film that quietly captures one's attention. Haley Lu Richardson, James Le Gros, Lawrence Varnado provide good support to Regina Hall's wonderful central performance. The cinematography from Matthias Grunsky is solid as is the production design from Jake Kuykendall. Worth watching. 

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Mapplethorpe

Movie Name:
Mapplethorpe
Year of Release: 2018
Director: Ondi Timoner
Starring: Matt Smith, Marianne Rendon, John Benjamin Hickey, Brandon Sklenar, Tina Benko, Mark Moses, Carolyn McCormick, Thomas Philip O'Neill, Mickey O'Hagan, Anthony Michael Lopez
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
Watch it on Amazon Prime

Synopsis and Review
Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato directed the wonderful documentary "Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures" in 2016, and this fictional view of his life from director Ondi Timoner fails to capture the ferocity, urgency and transgressive aspect of his art. The narrative introduces us to Robert Mapplethorpe during what can be considered defining moments in his life. Firstly we are introduced to his relationship to artist Patti Smith, who he casually meets in Central Park, and then subsequently embarks on an amorous relationship with, which then becomes a friendship one. The following chapter finds him evolving in his art and also meeting the person who forever changes his life, art curator Sam Wagstaff, who becomes his patron, lover and mentor. During this time Mapplethorpe also starts focusing more intently on photography, and also becomes more active in the gay community. Another chapter of the feature finds Mapplethorpe already well established, with a wide array of commissions, working with the assistance of his brother, and finally coming to terms with Wagstaff's pending demise as well as his own. 
"Mapplethorpe"for all its good intentions fails to ever truly humanize the artist or for that matter, showcase a point of view on what compelled him to pursue his particular perspective in the universe he crafted throughout the years. It would have been interesting to further understand what drew him to the BDSM world or even what compelled his personal relationships both with Patti Smith and his models, but all we get throughout the film are vignettes, illustrations which are meant to represent his evolution of struggling artist to narcissistic, drug addicted and self absorbed star, and finally his demise. There isn't much to this feature that is revelatory, or for that matter particularly emotionally resonant, since even his amorous relationship with Sam Wagstaff is depicted as something casual and not as transformative as it actually turned out to be. In the end that's the most frustrating thing about this film, its lack of ability to go beyond the superficial. Whereas Julian Schnabel's "Basquiat" attempts to capture a particular moment in time, when Basquiat goes from unknown to an acclaimed artist, his relationships and substance abuse challenges, Ondi Timoner attempts a single swoop biography, which in the end renders most characters in it as nothing more than just sketches (including Mapplethorpe himself). The cast tries their best to bring these characters to life, with highlights going to Matt Smith, John Benjamin Hickey (who sports a terrible wig), and Brandon Sklenar. The cinematography from Nancy Schreiber is solid, but the film could benefit from a visual style more representative of New York of the 70s and 80s (which James Contner captured so well in William Friedkin's controversial "Cruising"). A missed opportunity and a forgettable film. 

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

Movie Name:
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
Year of Release: 2013
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Peter Stormare, Famke Janssen, Pihla Viitala, Derek Mears, Robin Atkin Downes, Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Joanna Kulig, Thomas Mann, Rainer Bock
Genre: Action, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
Watch it on Amazon Prime

Synopsis and Review
Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola made a name for himself with "Dead Snow", a zombie film that had the peculiarity of introducing Nazi zombies, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and went on to receive fairly good reviews. "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" which premiered in 2013, is an adaptation of the Grimm Brothers fairytale, and focuses its narrative on the adventures of the grown up siblings, who are now Witch hunters. They find themselves in the town of Augsburg since its Mayor has hired them to come rescue the town's children, who have been missing and presumedly taken by witches. As the siblings investigate what has happened, they are soon at odds with the town's sheriff, and also with the Grand witch Muriel, who is indeed procuring all the children from the town. As their investigation soldiers on, both Hansel and Gretel learn additional information about their own lives, which in turn explains why they're immune to black magic, and also why they were originally left by themselves in the forest as children. The siblings with the help of a local benevolent witch by the name of Mina, unite forces in order to derail the plans from Muriel. 
Tommy Wirkola adapted the Grimm Brothers fairytale into a decidedly more action packed version of the original fairytale, in the process losing much of the magic and darkness which the original fable actually had. The tone of the film is one of its main issues, since the director tries to modernize the narrative, empowering for instance its female characters, while still attempting to illustrate the sexist and misogynistic aspects of certain characters and society. These aspects clash very openly as do the fact that the majority of these characters feel very much like puppets without much dimension to them, simply going through the choreography of the action scenes. Even for a B-movie, which this film at times tries to be, it still lacks a strong point of view, married with enough motivation for the characters to go about what they're trying to solve for. In the end, there's quite a lot of noise, mixed with special effects, which ultimately can't hide the fact that the film simply doesn't have much to say. While Terry Gilliam's "The Brothers Grimm" was an interesting and flawed look at the genesis of these fairytales, marrying the brothers adventures with somewhat of a dark tale of magic, all distilled through his unique point of view, Tommy Wirkola sadly doesn't create enough of a distinct universe for the narrative and these characters to exist and be memorable. The cast tries its best with what they have, including Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton and the underrated Famke Janssen and Peter Stormare, both of which deserved better. A missed opportunity.