Sunday, February 15, 2015

Netflix Picks: Witching and Bitching

Posted By on Sun, Feb 15, 2015 at 8:27 AM

click to enlarge SCREENSHOT
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The English title for this 2013 Álex de la Iglesia film isn't classy, but it's accurate. All but one or two female characters in Witching and Bitching are witches, and the male cast spends most of the movie bitching — about women. It's a battle of the sexes in rural Spain!

In the men’s corner we have misogynistic thieves blaming their ex-wives for their personal problems and/or erectile dysfunction. In the women’s corner, a coven of Basque witches reading Cosmopolitan, getting high on frog blood, and eating people.

The movie opens with José (Hugo Silva) disguised as a chrome Jesus — complete with chrome crucifix — stealing wedding rings from a pawn shop with other fake street performers and his 8-year-old son, Sergio (Gabriel Delgado). During a firefight with police, the duo hijacks a cab. José’s accomplice, Antonio “Tony” (Mario Casas), and the thieves flee for the French border, along with cabbie-turned-accomplice Manuel (Jaime Ordóñez). Of course, José's ex-wife Silvia (Macarena Gómez) and two bumbling Madrid inspectors (Pepón Nieto and Secun de la Rosa) are hot on the thieves' trail.

The opening heist sequence, shot guerilla-style in Madrid's Puerta del Sol, is the most flat-out hilarious part of the movie. It's a well-shot action scene in and of itself, but with added joy of thieves dressed as human statues and mascots. Silver Jesus pulling a shotgun out of his cross is funny. Patrick Star crying over Spongebob Squarepants' bullet-riddled body is, in context, funnier.

Meanwhile, in Zugarramurdi, a border town known for the largest witch trials in history, a coven has foretold the coming of this cadre of fools, bearing a chosen child sacrifice for their apocalyptic ritual. Maybe. (They're batting something like 0-for-30 by the time Silva and company are on the lam, so who really knows.)

The daughter-mother-grandmother trio of Eva (Carolina Bang), Graciana (Carmen Maura) and Maritxu (Terele Pávez, who won a Goya award, the Spanish equivalent to an Oscar, for Best Supporting Actress) ensnare the Madrid thieves as they pass through Zugarramurdi. Whether it's Bang seducing Silva and Casas, Pávez trussing Delgado up like a pig to be roasted, or Maura blaming her mother's cannibalistic behavior on Alzheimer's, the actresses shine throughout the sequence.

Though the plot is contrived on paper, it makes sense on screen. The thieves from Madrid (with ex-wife and inspectors in tow) wind up in Zugarramurdi on their way to France, like an episode of the Twilight Zone gone silly. That's the gist of it, various subplots aside. The movie glides from heist film to horror movie to dark fantasy over its two-hour run time, all while staying funny.

The CGI-heavy finale in the Cave of the Witches — a real historical site, and a gorgeous backdrop for the climax — feels a little too Hollywood. There is a lot going on; the subplots all collide here. Maybe I'm spoiled by Edgar Wright, but a little nuance in the characters would be nice, too.

Throughout the film, de la Iglesia maintains a nice balance of tension, farce and (sometimes literal) toilet humor. He looks at how the battle of the sexes hurts everyone, but it's for laughs, not a nuanced critique. There’s a sort of quaint ending for a movie this wacky, but there's enough weird going on, too.

All that said, Witching and Bitching has a very different balance than the horror/comedy dreck we get from Hollywood. I'll be damned if it isn't refreshing.

Congratulations, you're one movie closer to justifying that $8.99 a month.

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