Wondering what to watch this weekend? Just on the cusp of spooky season, some of the first thematically appropriate choices for film streaming reveals itself in Tim Burton’s supernatural detective mystery Sleepy Hollow, showing on Netflix. That’s all in this week’s selection — for now — but there’s other visual spectacle to behold.
That can be seen in the lavish black and white photography of the divisive and sensationalist, semi-fictionalised Marilyn Monroe biopic Blonde, a new Netflix original film. It’s also in the gorgeous landscapes of Kasi Lemmon’s Harriet (showing on BBC iPlayer) another historical and biographical film that plays with fact and fiction in order to paint an impression that addresses both the person and the myth created around them.
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Also, while Hocus Pocus 2 may be the star attraction of the streaming offerings of Disney+, there’s still plenty to discover in its ever-expanding line-up of classic film. This week’s example is Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, a classic sci-fi opus that matches a pessimistic view of the future with genuinely romantic flights of fantasy.
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Brazil (1985) - Disney+ (Pick of the week)
Terry Gilliam’s dystopian sci-fi magnum opus Brazil follows Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), a bureaucrat at the bottom of the ladder, who regularly flees the monotony of his day-to-day work through a recurring daydream: one where he’s rescuing a beautiful woman.
Sam ends up investigating a case that caused the wrongful arrest and then death of an innocent man, instead of wanted terrorist Harry Tuttle (Robert D Niro). But he also ends up meeting the woman from his daydream, and in trying to help her gets caught in a web of mistaken identities, mindless bureaucracy and lies.
Full of gorgeous production design, anarchy, passion and terror, it’s the perfect synthesis of the director’s satirical sensibilities with a genuinely earnest romance, even amidst its wild depiction of a totalitarian hellscape.
Hocus Pocus 2 (2022) - Disney+
Set 29 years after director Kenny Ortega’s 1993 autumnal classic, Hocus Pocus 2 brings the Sanderson Sisters Winifred (Bette Midler), Mary (Kathy Najimy) and Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) singing their way back to Salem for another night of witchcraft. This time, it’s highschool misfits Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) who unwittingly bring the trio back to life after relighting the Black Flame Candle following a trip to the witches’ old home, now a museum owned and operated by mysterious Sanderson-Stan Gilbert (Sam Richardson).
Directed by 27 Dresses helmer Anne Fletcher, this long-awaited follow-up has a lot to live up to. In the years since part one was conjured, Hocus Pocus has since become a nostalgia-tinged cult kids hit that’s spawned a spillover fandom from the drag world.
Both worlds are played to here, as Fletcher injects some new blood into the cauldron alongside a welcome-yet-underused appearance from Ted Lasso’s Hannah Waddingham as a magic mentor figure to the sisters in an attempt to please fans old and new.
While it’s great seeing the return of Doug Jones’ delightfully — decrepit Billy Butcherson — and Tony Hale provides some fun added gags - those arriving eager to see more familiar faces summoned between the spells may be left wanting. Still, this is a legacy sequel and with the spell book left curiously open, this surely isn’t the last we’ve seen from the Hocus Pocus world.
Also on Disney+: The Greatest Showman (2017)
Blonde (2022) - Netflix
A film that claims to both be an expression about the real Marilyn Monroe but also about her status as commodified symbol, Blonde falls spectacularly short of such insight, instead becoming a hollow exercise in victimisation and an ironically misogynistic and reductive portrait of the very woman it seeks to rescue from the image of her that it perpetuates.
Read more: The Blonde backlash explained
Adapting the novel by Joyce Carol Oates, the film is a fictionalisation of Monroe’s life, intentionally smudging the line between fact and fiction in order to emphasise the divide between her public and private selves.
Watch a trailer for Blonde
But to this film Monroe is still more symbol than person, a lamb led into the slaughterhouse of Hollywood, but also an inevitable tragedy of a woman trying to recreate her father in every man that she meets. It’s remarkably unsympathetic and, as revealed in interviews with Dominik himself, uncaring about the actor’s artistic craft and actual legacy.
It’s only interested in her misery, in turning that misery into a spectacle, and as a result renewing the very treatment of the star that it purports that it is seemingly positioning as tragedy. It’s simplistic – dull, even – to say the least, and the film’s craft desperately tries to counteract this through its showboating, sensationalist imagery. A disappointing and even disturbing misfire from an otherwise accomplished director.
Sleepy Hollow (1999) - Netflix
One of the better late career efforts from gothic expressionist Tim Burton, Sleepy Hollow follows New York detective Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) as he is sent to Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of mysterious deaths, where the victims are found beheaded.
The locals believe the culprit to be none other than the ghost of the legendary Headless Horseman, and while the supernatural is at play Burton uses the story to unearth the evils of early America, his fog-covered supernatural whodunnit seeing hypnotic, painterly monochrome tableaus soaked in blood.
It’s a film far more admirable for its craft and visual storytelling than its scripting, which fumbles its way through a particularly unwieldy second act.
Also on Netflix: The Final Destination (2009), Halloween II (2009)
Harriet (2019) - BBC iPlayer
A better example of to how to take historical license in the exploration of a famous figure’s psychology is 2019's Harriet. Kasi Lemmons, director of the excellent Eve’s Bayou, peers into the life of Harriet Tubman (Cynthia Erivo), showing her escape from slavery and transformation into one of America’s greatest heroes, a guide on the underground railroad leading slaves to freedom.
As in Eve’s Bayou, Lemmons focuses in on embodying a sense of spirituality through her filmmaking, taking a rather literal interpretation of the visions from God that Tubman was said to receive as she guided her followers.
As the film sometimes veers between dreary cliche and sometimes real beauty, Terence Blanchard’s score also oscillates between being somewhat mismatched or elevating a particular dramatic note into something transcendent. It doesn’t always work – perhaps half of the time – but for the most part Harriet is a lyrical, atypical approach to what could have been bog standard Hollywood biopic fare.
Also on iPlayer: The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019), The Hurt Locker (2008)
Watch: Cynthia Erivo and Kasi Lemmons talk to Yahoo about Harriet