Fantastic Fest Day Three: Japanese Sci-Fi Punk Rock, Russian Doctors on Drugs, and Vampirical Assistants

Day Three of Fantastic Fest is over and done with, and it was a bit of a doozy. Not because of the continuing onslaught of genre films, but because by the end of the night it felt like an alien queen escaped from her hive and laid larval babies in my stomach. I'm not sure if it's something I ate, or because I was burning the candle at both ends, but after the last screening of the day I was ready to crash. However, one of the movies I'd seen that day has stuck with me, and right now it's a strong contender for my Best of the Fest.

Day Four is already underway, so I'm under the gun to get this one finished. Why? Because today's plate involves Swedish science fiction, revenge killing, Canadian truffle hunting, and another Secret Screening. The hush-hush rumor is that it might be This Is It, the Michael Jackson concert footage movie. This seems like a good possibility, because Tim League is a massive Jackson fan, and they're also having a Michael Jackson Dance Party right after the Secret Screening. Whatever it is, we'll be letting you know.

Fish Story: This is the one that bowled me over. It was a Saturday morning early screening, but exhaustion, hunger, and everything else melted away once this movie started rolling. It's a whirlwind blend of science fiction, mid-70s punk rock, martial arts, and failed book translations. They all get tied up neatly in a pretty little package near the end of the movie, but as the saying goes, "The Journey is the Destination." Everything leading up to that point is amazing, cinematic, and completely engaging. Even the faux band Gekirin created for the movie delivers a wham-bang song in the titular "Fish Story," and you can catch it right here. It's just a very slim but important piece of the puzzle that is the entire movie, and you really need to see the whole thing for it to snap into place. The movie has more flashbacks and forwards than a Tarantino movie, but it is without a doubt one of the most imaginative and engaging movies I've seen all year. I highly recommend seeking Fish Story out if you get the chance.

Morphia: One problem with going to a genre-filled film festival is that a lot of people expect everything to be hyperkinetic and contain more cuts than the latest video on MTV. If it's not, they get cranky and bored. Like the guy next to me at Morphia. He kept sighing loudly during each new scene, which gave the movie an unforeseen subplot I like to call "Don't Punch The Idiot Next To Me." The film watches like a very good novel, it's slow and deliberate ... but that's the point. Set in 1917, it's about a young Russian doctor stationed in a remote village, far on the outskirts of Moscow. When he has an allergic reaction to an anti-diptheria shot he receives, he asks the nurse for a shot of morphine temper the effects. Thus begins his slow descent into morphine addiction, and he begins to turn from a respected surgeon into a man crazed for his next fix. Along the way he beds a bankrupt widow, fights off wolves, has an affair with his nurse, and performs medical miracles. All while dealing with his vice and trying to keep it concealed from those around him. If you're only interested in seeing fast-paced, brainless movies without a story, skip this. If you like cold Russian winters and slow descents into a panic-stricken world, try a shot of Morphia.

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant: In the effort of full disclosure, I have not read any of the 12 Cirque du Freak books by Darren Sham. However, I am a huge fan of John C. Reilly, and I'd see him in just about anything. A testament to this is the fact that I loved Chicago, a movie I probably wouldn't have considered if he wasn't in it. I'm hoping that's why a lot of people go see Cirque du Freak, because honestly JC Reilly is the best thing about it. Which means the performances from the two tween male stars fall way off the radar, and leave a lot to be desired. There's a fantastic cast in this movie. Besides Reilly, you've got Willem Dafoe, Salma Hayek, Patrick Fugit, and Ken Watanabe. But they're all hardly in the movie. Reilly has a lot of screen time, but as the title suggests, the movie focuses on the young vampire's assistant, and ultimately about the battle between he and his best friend turned nemesis ... the nasty and evil Steve. Nothing strikes fear into hearts like the name Steve. I'll put it this way, if you have kids Cirque is fun. Otherwise skip it or give it a watch when it hits DVD. Book purists beware: they've added a fair amount of comedy.

The evening ended with Fantastic Feud, a trivia game pitting Americans against Foreigners in a battle for the ultimate in film geek glory, overseen by Cinematical's Scott Weinberg (@scotteweinberg on Twitter). The Americans eked out a win in the end, and there was celebratory karaoke, pole dancing, and shenanigans. Sadly, I missed all of this because of the aforementioned alien babies. But tonight I've brought my dancing shoes and a change of clothes for Michael Jackson, so I'm in for the long run. Read all about the damage tomorrow on Screen Rant.

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