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FANTASIA 2001: MORIARTY Soaks Up OTAKU, FUCCON FAMILY, LEGION OF THE DEAD, And An Assload Of Shorts!!

Harry here, man what sort of evil genius can't speak French? Thursday? Is today not Saturday? Yeah yeah, I know, he's in a foreign country, in a city that apparently has incredibly loose hot women for the plucking... But Moriarty isn't swinging that way right now, he's got a consistent exotic creature back in Los Angeles that would deep fry those peas of his if he so much as even dipped a wick. So he should be spending his time (every waking hour) at the keyboard telling us the up and up. However, if you are part of the plot to keep Moriarty from writing. If you want to treat him to Canadian Hospitality, then by all means, click here to get his contact info in Montreal and take him to eat wet bread or something.

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

After spending something like twelve hours locked in the sweet embrace of a nearly narcotic slumber, I finally felt human again. I spent the first part of the afternoon enjoying the peace and quiet of my room at the Delta, filling out a fistful of postcards for my girlfriend, trying to decipher French television, and punching my computer in the face for not hooking up to the Internet properly. Once my aggression was sated, I decided to go grab an early dinner before the day’s programming began.

One of the things I love about New York is the pedestrian culture, and anytime I’m there, I eschew all cabs and subway travel unless it’s absolutely necessary. I love to walk, taking in the sights and the sounds of the city, and as I hit the bricks just after 3:30, I found that Montreal has much of the same energy. It’s a city designed to be walked, at least in this downtown area where I’m staying. There are dozens of restaurants within a stone’s throw of the hotel, and I don’t know what drew me to the Marche Movenpick in particular. It’s indoors, but it’s designed like a large open-air marketplace, with a maze of merchants offering all sorts of different fare. You get a ticket when you walk in, then simply order what you want, getting the ticket stamped at each place, paying when you leave. I tried a cup of chicken noodle soup and a veal dish served with rice, and was delighted by both. It was a great way to stock up for the evening ahead.

Twenty minutes on foot brought me to the front of the Imperial theater, where it seemed they were just letting in for the evening. There was a huge crush of people pouring into the place, and I had my customary "oh, shit, I’m late" panic, fishing my VIP pass out and flashing it at the door. When I got inside, I realized the panic was for nothing, and I found a great seat almost immediately.

One of the things I love about Fantasia so far is not knowing anything about most of what’s showing. As most of you know, I spend a lot of time reviewing scripts and early cuts of films, inserting myself into the process very early on. As a result, one of the rare pleasures I have is sitting down in a theater with absolutely no knowledge of what’s about to happen. In this case, I’ve barely even looked at the program for the festival until after the films screen. It’s a great program, too. Hats off to the Fantasia team for putting together this slick and stylish full color magazine with a full page or more devoted to each film and huge sidebars analyzing some of the filmmakers like Coffin Joe. Any genre fan would be thrilled to thumb through this thing, and it’s invaluable when going back and thinking about what I’ve seen over the course of each of the nights.

For example, Thursday night got underway with a selection of shorts. Before they began, all of the filmmakers were brought up onstage to speak, but for some reason, everything was done in French with no translation. As a result, I found myself just sitting and waiting through the entire thing. I was concerned that maybe this was one of the festival’s French-only presentations, in which case I would get very little out of it, and indeed, some of the shorts were in French, but it didn’t really matter. First up was a film called TERRORE by Izabel Grondin, an eight minute short that played more like a trailer for a film than a complete thought. The opening images are arresting: something wet and horrible in the sink, something on fire in the microwave, a woman huddled hysterical in the corner. Something massive and unseen tries to get into the room where she’s hiding, and in those few moments, with those few deft strokes, Grondin does a nice job of establishing a feeling of impending dread. Then she lets us off the hook by putting a face on things. The woman is joined by a boyfriend and together, they run from an axe wielding maniac, finally coming to a dead end in a barn. The boyfriend is killed, the woman runs again, and the film ends. The influence of Sam Raimi circa EVIL DEAD is unmistakable here, as is some Roman Polanski, but until Grondin actually has a story to tell, her skills seem wasted, her talent stuck in stall.

Next up was Rita Romagnino’s FINAL REHEARSAL, a film that feels like it was shot in 1974 thanks to the particular film stock used. That’s not a bad thing, keep in mind. The film is eight minutes long, a slice of rather sad and troubled surrealism. A playwright at the end of his rope is contemplating suicide, and he finds himself unstuck in time, listening to actors mangle his dialogue in auditions, locked in circular conversations with his own characters, his emotional strength on the ebb. There’s a genuine sadness to the film, and although it’s slightly muddled, the tone carries the piece and makes it memorable.

Maxime Perrier’s CHRONO is 13 minutes of bliss, a dark and angry little joke about a man who times himself in a rehearsal for a murder. We watch him practice every move from the murder itself to the moment he stamps the last bit of dirt into place on the grave, one of two he’s dug side by side. He takes great delight in his time and practically skips back to his car. That night, as he sits at dinner with his wife for the final time, he can barely contain his glee, and Perrier pulls such an elegant reversal on the audience that the final laugh is one of both astonishment and horror. This is a complete film, not hampered in any way by its brief running time, and a perfect example of how shorts can be just as satisfying as features in the right hands.

There’s a wee bit of hallucinatory juice to LE DERNIER VOYAGE, and I want to give Marc Thibault credit for using old-fashioned photographic trickery in his film instead of relying on CGI. He combines models and rear projection and stop motion and any number of other techniques in service of a rather creaky scenario about a girl, a boy, a haunted book, and Death, complete with sickle and hooded robe. At 13 minutes, the film feels unfocused and ends rather abruptly, as if Thibault ran out of things to say. There’s also a good deal of technical trouble in the film, with one of his cameras appearing to have a focus problem, rendering some of the footage almost unwatchable. He gets bonus points for his bug-eyed Marty Feldman style priest, though. If evil has a face, that’s it.

L’OEIL NOIR by Martin Tremblay sports some exceptional production value with some genuinely impressive futuristic cityscapes and holographic clocks and other effects. However, I couldn’t tell you what this one was about. It’s just a loop, a series of images, a pretty package with nothing inside. At least it’s a brief six minutes.

I have trouble calling THEO GENETIQUEMENT MODIFIE a short. At half an hour, it wears its welcome out early, particularly for a viewer like myself who speaks no French at all. I noticed that Ludovic Spenard thanked Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson for inspiration in his closing credits, but in my opinion, he should have given copious tongue kisses to Lloyd Kaufman, who was actually sitting in the audience. This is a Troma flavored short, through and through. The story of a hapless worker who is fed Jos Louis cakes with toxic chemicals in them as a prank, only to turn into a violent swamp creature who proceeds to rampage across Quebec’s countryside, there are a few good jokes in the film. Maybe there was a sophisticated verbal wit at work that I wasn’t picking up, although I doubt it. There’s nothing subtle here. There’s a pedophilia joke that has to be seen to be believed, and there are a few silly images that actually pay off in laughs. For me, though, the biggest laugh was the footage that ran under the closing credits, in which the monster goes waterskiing with his newly-created mutant girlfriend. It’s the kind of image that I’m hoping we get overloaded with when CITIZEN TOXIE premieres Saturday at midnight.

Finally, we got to the featured short of the program, a film called OTAKU. Stephane Morissette has made something very special here, a film that takes an unflinching look into the heart of loneliness among the infantalized adult men who surround themselves with the trappings of childhood as a way of trying to assuage the pain they face every day. I know these guys. I’m thankful everyday that I picked up whatever social skills separate me from them and that I’ve been fortunate enough to have a series of genuine emotional relationships over the years. I can’t imagine trying to make up for human contact with toys and manga collections and anime tapes and endless nights of video games on the Internet. The main character in the film is a grossly overweight guy in his 20s who rarely, if ever, ventures out of his house. He is obsessed with his neighbor, a hard-bodied party girl who dances on a local music show. She’s his anime ideal, with big eyes and a lithe frame, and he has never spoken a word to her. Instead, he’s hard at work on a love simulator program, a piece of software that allows him to try out pickup lines in a totally safe environment. He takes pride in the few things he does well. He is a nearly-religious collector of all things Japanese, and he is an acknowledged game master, having beaten everyone of his online friends in any game anyone has suggested. When he is struck with abdominal pains, he does some online research and determines that he has a tapeworm. He begins to rapidly lose weight, and as he does so, he finds a new confidence in himself. He ends up not only talking to his neighbor but actually sleeping with her, and he begins to let his other responsibilities slide. This infuriates the people who have already paid for his love simulator program, and he begins to suffer from new pressure, even as the tapeworm gets worse. Morrisette does a wonderful job of externalizing the Internet material, giving faces to these online personas, and he’s helped by the makeup work that Adrien Morot and his team have done. The film winds down to a grisly, haunting climax that reminds me in tone of early Cronenberg, a high compliment as far as I’m concerned. If this is the first effort by this director in 35mm, then someone needs to sign him up for a feature immediately. To be honest, I’d love to see someone sign him to make a feature length treatment of these ideas. This is a world and a circumstance well worth further exploration, and a voice well worth hearing.

After a Q&A conducted entirely in French, there was a brief break, and then we were allowed back into the theater for the second collection of shorts of the evening, this one focused on the work of Japanese filmmakers. Animator Bak Ikeda was up first with his SYNAPI, a five minute bit of computer animation that was lovely and evocative, the story of a faceless little creature who only wants to connect with the unseen people rushing all around her. Her efforts to find the right way to communicate, the right mask to wear to reach out with, manage to be genuinely poignant despite their brevity. I’d love to see some of Ikeda’s other work sometime if this is what he’s capable of.

The highlight of the festival so far was next up, and I still find myself at a loss to describe it fully, even a day and a half later. NEKOJIRU-SO is, simply put, a masterwork, 33 minutes of haunted beauty that I will never shake. Directed by Tatsuo Sato, this is a tribute to the work of Nekojiru, a mysterious manga artist who committed suicide after creating a series of strips that ran in the manga magazine GARO. There is an ocean of sadness in this film, and even if it doesn’t make literal sense, it makes emotional sense. It’s the story of a kitty named Nyatta whose brother Nyako has lost half his soul. Nyatta takes her brother out on a journey that seems to cross multiple planes of existence, and the sights they witness are truly dazzling. Through it all, though, there’s an undercurrent of melancholy, and the overall effect is devastating. The animation is fluid and beautiful, as technically accomplished as anything I’ve seen here or from Japan, and I’m going to make a special effort to see this again before I return home. If there’s any way for you to find this and see it, do so immediately. It’s as great an experience in a theater as I’ve had in recent memory.

Next up was a series of shorts billed collectively as "Un Hommage A Tenkwaku Naniwa." A series of rapid-fire, demented comedy shorts, there are some real laughs to be found here. MISS GREENY is a 20 second visual gag that made me bark with laughter with its talking green jelly. DESTROY ALL FOUR MONSTERS isn’t sure if it’s an ode to Toho monster movies or a tender slice of homoerotica. SUBWAY JAP plays like a Japanese episode of MTV’s JACKASS, complete with hari-kari at the end. Then there’s HELLO KITTY, a set of the crudest bits of computer animation I’ve ever seen featuring Hello Kitty, the TITANIC, Pikachu, and more barf and shit than you can imagine. Somehow, the very crudity of the cartoons work in their favor, and it is ultimately quite funny. The last selection by Naniwa is an abrupt shift in tone, a moody little piece called KAPPAS. It’s a doomed little tale of a race of turtle like creatures who are destroyed by machines from the sky, and there’s a somber edge to the illustrations that works quite well. Overall, Naniwa seems to be a filmmaker with a remarkable amount of energy and imagination, and his work made for a pleasant set of diversions.

Yoshimasa Ishibashi could certainly never be accused of having anything less than a hyperactive imagination himself. One of the primary creative forces behind VERMILLION PLEASURE NIGHT, one of Japan’s biggest TV shows, he was represented by a selection of popular sketches from that show. First was DR. FELLOW, featuring very cute Japanese girls dressed as nurses giving injections to what can only be described as a singing butt machine in time to the music. Next up was KATTY’S HOUSE, a riff on the world of Barbie dolls. All I could think during these two sketches is how much fun all the actresses seemed to be having, and how bizarre the worlds they represented seemed to be. After THE FUCCON FAMILY, though, they appear almost low-key by comparison. One of the most popular sketches from VERMILLION PLEASURE NIGHT, FUCCON was represented by eight individual episodes. It’s a satire of family life performed entirely in still life by demented department story mannequins and voice-over artists, and there’s a savage wit to the material that would probably work best seeing just one or two of these at a time. This many at once almost becomes numbing. There’s definite social commentary at work here amidst the absurdism, and I can understand why these caught on and became so popular.

God bless poor Olaf Ittenbach. The German director of LEGION OF THE DEAD had no idea what he was walking into on Thursday night. Evidently, several of the festival regulars took him out drinking for several hours before the premiere of his film, and by the time he showed up for the movie, he was feeling no pain whatsoever. We took a break after the Japanese shorts, then filed back in for what was being billed as a comedy gore extravaganza. Olaf took the stage beforehand to introduce the film, and the big jovial guy with the enormous ponytail couldn’t stop smiling. He’s evidently had films play Fantasia before and was looking forward to the reaction to his first 35mm feature, which he shot in California in English. I wish I had something encouraging to say about the movie. Wait... I do. Nice makeup effects, with Olaf did himself. Beyond that, it’s a hopeless mess, thuddingly unfunny and overlong even at 93 minutes. The acting in the film is almost gaspingly bad, and the tone seems to be all over the place. In the first five or six minutes, there’s a great credit sequence that seems to promise an epic, almost apocalyptic horror story, but what we’re given instead is a bunch of unconnected characters going through a series of unconnected scenes for almost an hour before the lamest plot contrivance brings them together in a diner for some splatter mayhem. I don’t know which characters I hated more. Was it the two indestructible guys in suits who were recruiting the Legion of the Dead amidst some painful banter and witless slapstick? Or was it the two friends who get picked up by the serial killer and tortured for almost an hour for no reason whatsoever? I wasn’t alone in my sentiments, evidently. The Q&A for poor Olaf after the movie was like a verbal mugging, with questions like, "Did you write the screenplay before or after you shot the film?" and "Was the acting that bad intentionally?" Olaf managed to sputter "Fuck you" in response to the latter question, perfectly summing up the relationship between filmmaker and audience on this one.

There was one other film on Thursday night, not part of the official lineup, called DIE ALIVE, but after sitting through the trailer for what looked like a blatant BLAIR WITCH PROJECT ripoff in a hospital, I had no desire to stay for the film itself. Hopefully there’s more to the movie than there was to the trailer, and if anyone saw it and loved it, please feel free to drop me a line and tell me that I missed it. I joined the group of hardcore Fantasia fanatics at a nearby bar again for an hour or so of conversation before I wandered back to the hotel room for a little writing and reading. Just before ducking out of the bar, I ran into Bruce Law and talked him into an interview for the next afternoon. It was almost dawn when I finally closed my eyes to go to sleep, another day of Fantasia down, another set of memories securely in place.

"Moriarty" out.





Readers Talkback
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  • July 28, 2001, 9:25 a.m. CST

    LEGION OF THE DEAD and ITTENBACH

    by femme fatale

    ROCK

  • July 28, 2001, 9:37 a.m. CST

    legion of the dead

    by femme fatale

    was actually very funny, I saw it at stockholm and was realy impressed with the production values, sound, cinematography and music, the acting fitted perfectly with the off the cuff style and the two guys in suits were hilarious, the scene where the friends get abducted doesn't last long at all, they should have had more fighting at the end though, Ittenbach did a great job.

  • July 28, 2001, 9:38 p.m. CST

    Is it just me

    by Dan42

    or are the reports posted with a two-day delay? Oh well, no importance. That was the thursday report, so friday will be posted on sunday and saturday on monday. And prepare yourself for that saturday report... this was without a doubt one of the biggest days of the festivals. And I have no doubt whatsoever that Moriarty's review of Millenium Actress will be positively glowing. The director received a very long standing ovation, and for good reason; this is an anime that's jumping directly to a very short list of top-rated animes, mark my words. Okay, well now I guess I have to make a shrine website for Satoshi Kon. I was already in awe of him for making Perfect Blue and now that I've seen Millenium Actress, he has become my GOD.