Samantha Robinson in The Love Witch
The following films are screening as part of the Fantasia Film Festival, which runs through Aug. 3.
The Love Witch
Anytime I hear about a movie that pastiches a “classic movie style,” alarm bells ring. Usually, this means broad clichés and a sort of mannered 1960s patina applied liberally. Truth be told, I’ve never seen a movie that apes films of the ’60s as accurately and as organically as Anna Biller’s The Love Witch. Biller has an incredible eye for detail, from the film’s eye-popping Technicolor 35mm look, the casting, the broad presentational style of the performances, the music… even the pacing leaves in leaden pauses in conversation and superfluous shots of people walking from point A to point B.
Elaine (Samantha Robinson) moves into a small town looking to find “love”; her idea of love might be a little different than everyone else’s, since she’s a love witch, making potions and casting spells in order to get what she wants. When men start dying around town, however, suspicions are aroused.
The Love Witch plays like a particularly funky Crown International drive-in movie from the late ’60s shot with liberal doses of feminist theory. What’s most impressive about it is that its tone feels pastiche-y, but the film isn’t a parody or even a comedy. It’s a pitch-perfect recreation of a very specific cinematic tone that completely stands on its own as a film. The only downside is that, at two hours, it’s considerably longer than the type of drive-in cheapie it’s inspired by. Biller understands that the leaden tone is part-and-parcel of these types of movies and it’s both a great artistic decision and the film’s only real flaw.
The Love Witch screens at the J.A. de Sève Cinema (1400 de Maisonneuve W.) on Saturday, July 16, 5:15 p.m.
When you’re as prolific as Takashi Miike is, it’s nearly impossible for audiences to pin a particular style on you. Miike’s probably best known for his dark, violent and disturbing horror films, but he’s done just about every type of genre film you can imagine. He has slowed his output considerably in recent years, going from the 15 films a year (!) of the early 2000s to one or two more ambitious films per year.
His latest is an adaptation of a popular manga series, an ambitiously silly sci-fi saga that situates itself somewhere between Prometheus, Starship Troopers and Power Rangers (although the decapitation count here is much, much higher).
With Earth being overtaken by pollution and decrepitude, humans are forced to find an alternate solution for the continuation of the human race; they’ve found it in Mars, which they’ve managed to evolve into something resembling a facsimile of Earth. The only problem: the test cockroaches they sent up there have mutated into super-strong humanoids, making the otherwise habitable planet hostile. Japan’s solution is to round up a bunch of criminals and assorted lowlifes, inject them with insect-inspired superpowers and send them to Mars to deal with the mutated-cockroach menace.
It’s all pretty silly stuff: there are a million characters with one defining attribute apiece, a dastardly mad-scientist character with an epically severe hair swoop and penchant for flamboyance, dopey-looking practical costumes and make-up and pretty rudimentary special effects (all of the space sequences are accomplished using ancient-looking CGI; parts of it look like they’re straight out of Reboot) but it all adds to the pulpy, comic-book vibe Miike is going for.
While it’s nowhere near Miike’s greatest works, it’ll work wonders in the Fantasia environment: it’s not particularly original, but spirits are running high.
Terraformars screens at the Hall Theatre (1455 de Maisonneuve W.) on Saturday, July 16, 7:05 p.m. Takashi Miike will be in attendance.
Bed of the Dead
There is a certain subset of horror fandom that revels in the familiar; what they enjoy out of the genre is a sort of codified repetition of the understood tropes, so much so that saying one film is almost exactly like a classic film is one of the highest compliments you can pay it. Bed of the Dead’s concept isn’t exactly a tired old chestnut (as far as I can tell, it’s only the second bed-centric horror film in history besides Death Bed: The Bed That Eats) but its execution reeks of slavish devotion to the genre.
It’s a pretty well-crafted movie that dutifully hits every possible cliché it can in the midst of telling the story of four young people who rent a room in a sex hotel only to become trapped and eventually killed by a haunted old bed seeking retribution for their sins. The story is also intercut with the investigation of their death by a hard-drinking, leather-jacket-wearing cop at the end of his rope.
As I said, Bed of the Dead is technically strong: it’s well-shot, the gore is decent and the performances adequate considering the depths to which a movie called Bed of the Dead could sink. Everything else about it, however, from the tired posturing of the cop storyline to the overbaked flashbacks, are plodding and obvious. It’s an homage to a kind of ’70s and ’80s B-movie genre that happened mostly by accident and necessity; culled-together low-budget horror movies that needed some padding out to make it to feature-length. I understand it’s a loving homage and that its clichés are entirely intentional, but it doesn’t make sitting through the film any less of a predictable chore.
Bed of the Dead screens at the J.A. de Sève Cinema (1400 de Maisonneuve W.) on Saturday, July 16, 11:55 p.m. and again on Aug. 1, 5 p.m.
Kill Zone 2
An in-name-only sequel to the 2005 film starring Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung (neither of whom return), Kill Zone 2 is probably most analogous to a Fast & Furious sequel that would drop, context-free, out of the sky. It’s an overstuffed, convoluted and preposterous action movie that fully understand the kind of beast it needs to be.
Wu Jing stars as Kit, a Hong Kong cop who has spent a lot of time working undercover within a criminal syndicate led by the sickly Mr. Hung (Louis Koo). Hung needs a heart transplant that only his own brother can provide, but his plan to kidnap his brother and forcibly remove his heart goes awry, landing the deep-undercover Kit in a Thai prison. Working in said prison is Chatchai (Tony Jaa), whose eight-year-old daughter Sa (Unda Kunteera Yhordchhang) is dying of leukemia. Little do they know that her one-in-a-million match is Kit, who has become unreachable by doctors what with being imprisoned in a dodgy Thai prison with a sadistic pretty boy warden (Zhang Jin).
The story is overwritten and chaotic, the leukemia storyline leads to moments of unabashed corn, Jaa (a pretty incredible martial artist whose career has not been as productive as many would have hoped) barely does any fighting until the last half-hour and his “straight” acting is pretty constipated… and yet Kill Zone 2 is incredibly entertaining from top to bottom.
Director Cheang Pou-soi knows how to dole out bone-crunching action, particularly in a mid-film prison-riot sequence that unfolds, Raid-style, over three stories. Kill Zone 2 is definitely overplotted; it’s the kind of movie that I would struggle to be able to recount even as the credits are rolling, but I don’t think that’s any kind of qualitative statement for a movie where a guy gets dropkicked out of a 20th-storey window.
Kill Zone 2 screens at the Hall Theatre (1455 de Maisonneuve W.) on Saturday, July 16, 1.25 p.m.
Fantasia tickets can be purchased at Concordia’s Hall building (1455 de Maisonneuve W.) for $11 each, or online ($12 each), here.