Friday, November 4, 2011

It Came From the Back Issue Bin! #22: Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2011

by Jason Shayer

I’m taking a well deserved break from comic books this month after review all of DC’s New 52 comics last month. While I didn’t get a press pass this year for the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, the organizers were kind enough to comp me a couple of passes to two of their films: Monster Brawl and VS.

Before moving onto my reviews, I wanted to make note of the new venue for the festival, The Toronto Underground Cinema. I was a bit disappointed with the new venue and not really so much for the theatre itself, which is great, but I found the location odd as it was in the basement of a dying condo building along Spadina Avenue. The area wasn’t as vibrant as the trendy student-focused neighbourhood that surrounded the previous venue, The Bloor Cinema, and seriously lacked some good restaurants.

Monster Brawl (2011)
From the film’s Facebook page:

“Set in the tradition of a Pay-Per-View main event, comes a grotesque and hilarious fight to the death featuring a cast of eight classic combatants in all. Along with their colorful managers, these Monsters compete in visceral bloody combat in the ring to determine the most powerful monster of all time. Monster Brawl stars comedian Dave Foley (Kids in the Hall, Bugs Life, Despicable Me), wrestling icons Jimmy Hart - The Mouth of the South, Kevin Nash, revered MMA referee Herb Dean, Robert Maillet (300, Sherlock Holmes, The Immortals), Art Hindle (Porky's, Black Christmas) and the voice of horror legend and Call of Duty narrator Lance Henriksen (Aliens, Terminator). Monster Brawl is sure to be a cult classic in the making!”

Monster Brawl delivered exactly what was advertized, but unfortunately nothing more. The story’s linear progression got a bit tiring and at times painfully predictable. What lies at the center of its weakness was the event-style plot. It really needed its own story-driven plot, even something as simple as having a couple of kids sneak on to the set and have them get into trouble would have giving the audience something to identify with beside the monsters. I also found that it wasn’t feasible to fit in the appropriate amount of screen time for each monster to establish that connection the movie maker was hoping would help create that Pay-Per-View event feel and generate participation for the audience.

VS. (2011)
Four Super Heroes find themselves abducted by their Arch Nemesis and are forced to compete in a series of challenges in order to save an abandoned town full of kidnapped innocent civilians.

Unfortunately, the trailer was exceptionally well done and really didn’t reflect the overall effort behind the movie. While the premise was intriguing, the execution failed on several levels. The movie’s creator wanted to tell a superhero story without their powers. Keeping in mind that this was an Indy comic book movie, having the heroes stripped of their powers seemed to be a bad decision. Perhaps regaining them at some point would have added a bit more intensity and reward and might have helped drive the creator’s point across more effectively.

The dialog was painful, even for a lifelong comic book reader like myself. Apparently this movie was shot over 10 days and written in a week, and it showed. The flashback sequences were well crafted, but came too late as you really didn’t feel for these characters as they faced their deathtraps.

This sampling of films wasn’t enough for me to gage the quality at this year’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival. From other accounts, the overall quality of the Festival was quite good, even better than last year. I’m already looking forward to next year.

--Jason Shayer