Published at: July 26, 2003, 1:54 p.m. CST by staff
Hey, everybody. “Moriarty” here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
Okay, it’s happened. I’ve gotten to that point now where days are racing by in a blur of movies and script pages and meals at odd hours out on St. Catherine. Somehow, I missed a full day’s coverage, so I’ll try to back up and take a run at all of this at once.
There were some elements of the production I liked. The Steampunk fetishism is fun stuff, and the hyper-industrialized Tokyo of 1926 provides a rich background for the story. Some of the action scenes are dynamically designed and executed. Still, the story and the characters are so flat, so dull, and so uninvolving that I found myself waiting impatiently for the occasional visual kick or design highlight. Overall, this film sums up most of what I dislike about anime, and the less said, the better.
We had to leave the theater before the next film, and when we were let back in, it was obvious why. Onstage, a miniature cardboard Tokyo had been set up, including a large mountain. As the familiar strains of the GODZILLA theme blared from the Concordia Theater Hall’s speakers, the big G himself came storming out from behind the mountain. He went on a rampage through the miniature Tokyo, picking the buildings up and tossing them around to the evident delight of the gathered fans, both young and old. It was a very nicely built suit, which didn’t surprise me. When I arrived at Dorval Airport back in 2001 for my first trip to FanTasia, festival director Pierre Corbeil told me one of the things that motivated him to create the festival in the first place was his deep, abiding love of GODZILLA films and his desire to see them on the big screen.
Believe me... I understand. Godzilla is a litmus test, in my opinion. Either you understand the particular charms of a giant lizard with atomic breath destroying a city, or you don’t. And if you don’t, I pity you. What a sad and literal world you must live in. Me, I get an almost chemical joy out of watching Godzilla do his thing. Even the worst Godzilla films entertain me on some level. GODZILLA X MEGAGUIRUS isn’t one of the best of the series, but it’s far from the worst. There are some great images in the film, and the radical redesign of Godzilla is actually pretty successful. Something about his face and eyes and the shape of his head in this one makes me think of The Creature From The Black Lagoon.
As always, those pesky humans misunderstand the big G’s purpose in the film. Essentially, he is a force of nature sent to save us from our own worst instincts. He attacks power plants, but only very specific types. He won’t let a nuclear plant go operational, for example, and he seems particularly determined not to let a plasma energy facility go on-line. Japan is forced to examine cleaner resources like wind or solar energy. And, for a while, that works. Godzilla has no reason to destroy anything.
For certain survivors of those previous attacks, though, revenge is a priority, and a special strike team is assembled to devise a way to kill Godzilla once and for all. They come up with a truly nutball plan involving a device that shoots small black holes. Oh, yeah, that sounds like a great idea. I’m sure no big freaky monsters are going to come out of that test black hole you open. Oh... what... a big freaky monster does come out? What a surprise!
I talked to several fans who were disappointed with how much CGI was used in the film, but I thought it was a fairly canny mix of old fashioned man in suit stuff and modern effects work. Everyone keeps telling me that GMK is the truly great Kaiju film, and that this was just a warm-up. If that’s the case, then I can’t wait for Saturday.
Next up in the main theater was Takashi Miike’s MAN IN WHITE, but the festival booked a print with French subtitles only. That’s cool. We are in Montreal, after all. Still, since I don’t speak either French or Japanese, it didn’t really make sense to stick around. Besides, it gave us the perfect excuse to slip across the street to Salle J.A. De Seve, the smaller festival venue, for the world premiere of Scooter McCrae’s SIXTEEN TONGUES.
Fans of trash cinema might recognize the title of Scooter’s first film, SHATTERDEAD. It was actually condemned by the British Parliament. McCrae is a fan of underground transgressive cinema, and a pretty spectacular character in his own right. He shot this film on video, then spent six years in post-production. I love micro-budget cinema for that exact reason. Those films don’t exist because of Happy Meal tie-in deals or monster marketing campaigns that set release dates before they roll a frame of film. These films exist because someone set aside six years of their free time and begs, borrows, or steals whatever resources they have to. These films exist because someone had a story they had to tell.
So how’s the film itself? A mixed bag, to say the least. It’s a SF/cyberpunk film that wallows in truly repulsive sexual mise-en-scene. The opening titles play over a series of dissolves, one close-up after another, so close that you’re almost not sure what you’re seeing. One ass cheek, a full bush, an erect nipple. This movie isn’t a coy peekaboo, though. The first scene sets the tone and shows just how far Scooter’s willing to go. Some faceless guy in a zipper mask is locked in a small cell, where he’s joined by a huge guy with a scarred and twisted face, Adrian Torque. Adrian beats the holy hell out of the guy, forces him to suck his equally scarred dick, then blows his head off.
So, yeah... this is a family film.
The entire film is set in one squalid hotel, and one of the ways the film’s budget fails McCrae is in his realization of what he’s created. The idea works. It’s a sleazy dive of a place that’s almost completely papered with hardcore pornographic imagery, and every item in each room requires separate payments. Want to take a shower? That’s one payment. Want to wash your face? That’s another payment. Want to turn off the TV that constantly blares hardcore porn ads? That’s another payment. It’s hard to make someone’s apartment look appropriately seedy and foul. I’ve been in crappy New York City hotels, and there’s a level of filth that’s nearly impossible to fake.
The movie focuses on three of the hotel’s inhabitants. Andrian Torque is one of them, and we learn the nature of his disfigurements. He was blown up and killed, and when he was put back together, the doctors used the tongue skin from the other sixteen victims of the explosion to cover his burnt flesh. In another apartment, Jenny and Alec struggle to maintain their lesbian relationship, each of them dealing with their own issues. Jenny was created as a combat cyborg, but with a special modification to keep her from being in constant killing frenzy: she has a clitoris under each eyelid so she climaxes each time she blinks. She’s in almost constant sexual overload, which doesn’t leave much energy left for Alec, who is a hacker working to help Jenny track down the doctors who created her.
None of the three leads are particularly good actors, but there’s a fearlessness to the work they do that sort of renders traditional criticism moot. They’re willing to do anything Scooter asks of them, and it’s all pretty grim and cheerless stuff. Scooter’s writing probably worked better on the page than it does in the mouths of his actors. Overall, I’m glad I saw it, but I’m not sure what sort of distribution life there is for a film that deals with such blatantly pornographic images and that is so resolutely low-tech. If you’re looking for something truly transgressive, SIXTEEN TONGUES should test the threshold of even the boldest viewer.
There was a very funny Q&A afterwards, and I think it’s safe to be that Scooter won’t be making films for Disney anytime soon.
By this point, I’m starting to see familiar faces from the 2001 Festival, like publisher Harvey Fenton, and I’m also starting to recognize new faces, people I’m just meeting, like Evan Katz from CHUD’s Creature Corner and Dalibor Backovic, a director from Australia whose short was evidently reviewed by one of our correspondents from Scotland’s Dead By Dawn festival.
Thursday got off to a slightly earlier start for me. I was asked to meet with a crew from Canada’s SPACE Channel to do an interview about the festival and the website. All told, it was about 20 minutes of shooting for something that will probably be part of one of their five minute between-show news segments. Both the interviewer and the operator were a pleasure, and I’ll take any opportunity given to shamelessly pimp this event. I’m that smitten with the programming and the people involved.
After the interview, I went into the Theater Hall early, where they were doing projection tests for the day’s first feature, LUCKY. The film was shot on DV, so the director wanted to make sure the colors and brightness were set properly. As a result, I ended up having a great conversation with Steve Cuden, a guy who’s written a ton of teleplays for TV cartons and who was the creator of JEKYLL & HYDE: THE MUSICAL. This is his first film as a director, and it’s obviously a labor of love. Very, very sick love, but love nonetheless.
Michael Emanuel is one of those guys you’ve seen a thousand times, a commercial actor who has one of those everyman faces. He’s perfectly cast as Millard Mudd, a TV writer who doesn’t really write anymore. Mudd’s a raging alcoholic, and the result of his non-stop drinking is a case of writer’s block of almost epic proportions. His house and his yard are all covered in empty beer cans. One night, driving home from a drunken beer run, he runs over a small terrier. When he checks the dog’s body for signs of life, he sees its name tag: Lucky. He takes the obviously dead animal home and keeps it for days. Mudd’s mental health is slipping from frame one, but the film seems to follow him right over the edge when he goes to bury the dog and it wakes up.
Not only does Lucky walk again, but he also starts to talk to Millard. Turns out Lucky is a writer, and he begins to dictate scripts to Mudd, turning his career around. Next thing he knows, Mudd has a better life that he’s ever had before, all thanks to Lucky. Nothing comes for free, though, and by the time Mudd figures out exactly what the price is that Lucky demands, he may have no choice but to pay it.
The film plays like the skanky beer soaked mentally ill cousin of ADAPTATION, with David Berkowitz stepping in for Charlie Kaufman. It’s frequently funny, and it’s willfully offensive. Emanuel’s performance is consistently strong, and the dog who plays Lucky is flat-out amazing, especially when you consider they shot the whole film in under ten days. The last third of the film is so unrelentingly dark that the laughs dry up, and that’s a shame. The moments when it walks the line between funny and foul are the strongest in the film. Still, it’s well worth seeing, especially for anyone considering a shot-on-video feature of their own.
Just before I left to come to Montreal, I ran a review of INNER SENSES, Thursday’s second film, and I didn’t read it too closely. I didn’t want to know too much about it since I knew I’d be seeing it while I was here. I’d heard that it was sort of a knock-off of THE SIXTH SENSE, but the main reason the film is of note is because it was the final performance by Hong Kong actor Leslie Cheung. He took his own life of April 1st of this year, something that still doesn’t seem possible to anyone who knew his work in John Woo’s A BETER TOMORROW or Wong Kar-Wei’s HAPPY TOGETHER or in FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE or A CHINESE GHOST STORY or any half-dozen other pictures. He was a vital performer, and I was hoping this would be a worthy last film for him.
I had no idea how difficult it would be to watch, though, and I can honestly say I haven’t been this disturbed by the overlap between onscreen tragedy and real life since my first viewing of THE CROW. Cheung plays Dr. Law, a driven young psychiatrist who is approached by a friend and asked to see his niece, Yan, as a patient. She sees ghosts, and it’s driven her to attempt suicide several times. As Law gets involved with her, he ends up having to confront ghosts of his own, and what starts as a supernatural thriller becomes a story about how love can both heal and destroy.
What mystifies me is how someone could give a performance like this in a film like this and then turn around and take his won life. The film deals seriously with the way suicide damages those who are left behind, and it manages to point the way towards recovery from whatever pain leads someone to consider such a desperate, horrible act. In my life, I’ve lost people to suicide and the memories of those events combined with the very real power of Cheung’s work left me an emotional wreck by the time the credits rolled. Here’s hoping that whatever ghosts drove Cheung to kill himself have finally let him rest in peace now. Fans of his work owe it to themselves to seek this one out.
Between films, I stepped outside to get a little air, and ended up bumping into festival progammer Mitch Davis, who introduced me to one of the fest's other guests, Richard Stanley. He's a legendary wild man, and I like his films, so we chatted a bit about the documentaries he's got playing here this year. Oh, man, I'd love to get this guy lit up and talk MOREAU sometime. Anyway, the night wrapped up with BUBBA HO-TEP, and I’ve got nothing to add to what I’ve said about the film before. The packed house cheered the film enthusiastically, and I wish Don Coscarelli could have been here to soak up the love. After that, it was back to the hotel for some work and to rest up for the four-movie Friday ahead.