The Love Witch: a modern-day witch is testing her potions on handsome men in a quest to find true love. I don’t think I’ve seen a more accurate and loving homage to retro-cinema… the saturated colours, audio fidelity, camera techniques, soundtrack, editing, clothes, lighting, stilted dialogue, and general B-movie tackiness… it’s all there, and it’s all immaculate; to the point where it’s difficult to accurately date. There’s also no other way to describe the fantastical / surreal / dreamlike / kitschy aesthetic than a “luscious eyegasm”. It is, however, disappointing that the actual content of the film is wafer thin: there’s a lot of super-shallow and tedious “but what IS love” type chatting and, more generally, it sticks far too rigidly to the 60s B-movie structure without adding or updating a single point. Picking up a 15-rating, it’s also a touch on the timid side for what could (and should?) have been a great gore-fest or sexploitation romp. The final complaint is that – although it’s absolutely gorgeous – the film is 30-minutes too long: the entire final act (renaissance fair / musical numbers) really tries the viewers patience. I’m not 100% sure it’s the feminist piece it’s being championed as (it’s a mental woman on a killing spree) but I will say that this is pure catnip for goth/burlesque/alternative people. The Love Witch is a film that puts everything in to its style and vision; leaving the rest of the film feeling slight… although blimey Charlie, it doesn’t half look beautiful.
Aftermath [mild spoilers]: follows two men after a fatal airplane collision that changes their lives forever. The film starts with a relentlessly grim and drawn-out opening act in which both leads deal with the shock of their situation, frequently tipping over into forced melodrama; it’s all very burdensome and somber. Where the film really fails to deliver is after a 70 minute gloomy setup; the ‘climactic payoff’ is far too brief, and then we get a post-script ‘years later’ scene that you could see coming a mile off. Stylistically, the film is equally austere, with a grayed out colour palate; it starts at Christmas for no real reason than to crank up the sorrow-o-meter; and contains some rather clunky imagery & parallels between the leads’ lives. Strangely, the movie takes a powerful real-life story and changes core elements that ultimately lessens the story’s impact in the fictionalized movie version. I’m a huge Arnie fan – and think he’s a better actor than he’s generally given credit for – however this film asks a little too much of him: there are moments where you can see him struggle with the emotions. Scoot McNairy is rather good, but doesn’t get a lot of gears to change through. From the director of Bltiz (a solid police action/drama) the lack of action and tunneled focus on tragedy feels like a huge – but just-missed – leap. Aftermath is by no means a bad film, but it is a very heavy film about a very heavy subject that you’d need to be in a particular mood to watch.
Swiss Army Man: a marooned man befriends a washed-up corpse, who turns out to be very useful for getting them back home in one piece. Both leads are very strong; Radcliffe turns in a superb physical performance paired with equally strong deadpan comic delivery. Paul Dano is also great to watch, but feels more like he’s cruising in his typecast weirdo role. Together, they have undeniably fun ‘bromance’ chemistry that really elevates the film. Tonally, “eclectic” doesn’t do this film justice: it’s creepy, uplifting, strange, beautiful, depressing, funny, weird, innocent, unique, entertaining, and batshit crazy – all at the same time. It shifts and shimmies between all of its quirky ideas so quickly that it stops you even thinking about how and why all of the surreal things are able to happen. It like the kind weird films you’d have expected to come out of Japan in the early 2000s, and most resembles cinematic oddities like Rubber, Happiness of the Katakuris, and a little bit of Be Kind Rewind. It feels like the filmmakers were really wanted to bring up some observations about our modern values and way of living… but because of all the farting, trouser compassing, and fart-based jet skiing & flying the film ends up avoiding any deep or meaningful insights altogether, coming across as superficial a ‘pop philosophy 101’ class. Swiss Army Man is truly a film like no other, and one which defies categorization; and it really does need to be seen to be believed… however, it does feel more like a collection of individually ‘cool’ ideas, jokes, and moments that would be better suited to a barnstorming music video, or more focused, upbeat, and magical short film.
Strike Back: Vengeance (Season 3) – when a billionaire acquires four nuclear triggers in order to re-shape Africa, only section 20 can stop him. Continuing with the UK/US collaboration, this takes everything that worked about ‘Project Dawn’ and made it all bigger/louder/better. Every episode is wall to wall action; with dozens of set pieces, hundreds of deaths, and a load of whiz-bang sex scenes. The entire season is 100mph, and it’s simply great fun. The characters feel more rounded, the leads’ chemistry is fantastic, and it’s very professionally made – but things like ‘character development’, ‘plot’, and ‘direction‘ are background noise to the explosions, gunfights, stunt driving, and spec ops that march the show forward. It’s hard to believe that such a ridiculously intense level of action (huge set pieces every 10 mins or so) can be done on a TV budget – the 10 episodes are paired off into FIVE 90-minute long mini missions that run together. In a world of toned down and heavily edited 12-rated action films, the swearing, sex, and sensational action makes this feel like something from ‘the good old days’. Completely knowing, and aimed directly at young male action fans, Strike Back Vengeance is a show that only really does one thing (infinite ammo, high-octane action turned up to 11), but does it brilliantly – making it a truly unmissable show for action fans
The Swinging Cheerleaders: an investigative journalist infiltrates a cheerleading team for an article, but ends up uncovering an even bigger story. Most interestingly, this film is made by exploitation master Jack Hill (Big Bird Cage, Coffy, Foxy Brown – and straight after those films) trying to avoid becoming a one-trick pony with ‘Blaxploitation‘ or ‘Women In Prison‘ films. Very much a snapshot of the times, every character is ‘stock’ / stereotypical, and the various plot threads are relatively straight forward. Disappointingly, this film is way more tame that you’d expect from Jack Hill, and a film called ‘The Swinging Cheerleaders’. It’s title and marketing pitch it as a sequel to ‘The Cheerleaders’ (a raunchy comedy), but this one’s a completely different beast: it’s not exploitation, or even a sex-comedy, but feels more like an educational piece about college / sex / gambling / drugs / match fixing. Think watered-down Roger Corman picture, or heavily censored Russ Meyer picture. Although The Swinging Cheerleaders is a well made and entertaining picture; it all feels a bit rushed and compromised.
As always, Arrow have given this movie the ultimate release, with a brand new 2K restoration and – as always – there are shedloads of interviews, extras, and a director’s commentary – making this an essential purchase for Cheerleader and Jack Hill fans.
Red Heat: a Russian and American cop are forced together to capture a nasty drug dealer that’s killed their colleagues on both sides of the globe. With the opening sequence starting in a nearly-nude Soviet sauna/spa and culminating in a naked snow-fight you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d accidentally bought a gay porno; and when you’re finally settling back in to the movie… BOOM… another homoerotic shower scene with Arnie. The rest of the film is pinned on the culture clash of a stereotyped disciplined and ‘barbaric’ Soviet paired with a schlubby ‘wimpy’ American – aren’t culture clashes funny? LOL! We get everything from misunderstood slang (“You’re shitting me?” / “I’m not shitting on you”) through to plain old “I give up: this whole thing is very Russian!” <rolls eyes>. It sounds hammy, and some of it is, but it’s entertaining and carries the film: distracting you from the generic plot. It’s one of Arnie’s more challenging roles at that point, and he just about pulls it off as an Austrian speaking English with a Russian accent (MIND BLOWN!), which has led to the film becoming a cult movie in Russian speaking territories. It’s light on action, but when guns are blazing it’s satisfactory and brainless stuff like firing a six-shooter 18 times without reloading, and a Chicago bus carnage finale. Tonally, the film straddles a gulf between the wacky and light-hearted cop-pairing, and an ultra-evil bad guy / drugs / violence / nudity angle. Released in the mid-1980s – before the end of the Cold War – I suspect it had more going for it; however, looking back, it’s pretty unremarkable. Red Heat is a buddy-cop movie that ticks the boxes, but isn’t quite funny or action-packed to stand out.
“Moscow’s toughest detective. Chicago’s craziest cop. There’s only one thing more dangerous than making them mad: making them partners.”