Friday, September 02, 2011

The Fantasia Daily, 2011.22 (4 August): Brawler, Haunters, and Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

Wow... There is an end to this!

Not quite here, but Haunters is probably the last non-screener review I'll write from the festival. There's thirteen more I'd like to do, and maybe I'll try, but 55 (or 56, if you want to count Attack the Block) out of seventy movies seen is pretty good for a guy who has a day job. I want to write up Detention, I really do, but that was seven weeks ago.

Anyway, fairly quiet day on the filmmaker front. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark producer Guillermo del Toro was going to come, but he instead sent a video message, apologizing for being fat and not being able to come. I imagine he will make it some other year, because he seems like the sort of guy who'd love it and who would legitimately feel bad about disappointing people.

Before Haunters, though, the festival honored these folks:

Fantasia 2011 Projectionists
Sadly, the page of my notes with their names in them appears to have been torn from my notebook along with notes on movies I'd already written up, so I can only refer to the guy in the center - the much beloved Daniel Walther (please, leave a comment to fill me in and I'll update this quickly). These, though, are the behind-the-scenes folks who handle projection and sound, doing a generally very impressive job. The award is for managing Concordia's Hall Building Theatre for years, including the ten that the festival has been located there. It's a great venue for a festival, and you really are not going to see one that runs more smoothly than this.

Of course, the biggest applause came when it was hinted that before the next festival, there might be some upgrading of the actual seats. Most are pretty good, but there's a reason I took this picture from seat E-14: Not only is five rows back and touching the theater's center-line pretty much ideal for someone who likes to sit as close to the screen as I do, but seat D-14 is broken enough so that people avoid sitting there - and has been for several years - meaning that I can generally get a less obstructed view.

"Brawler" cast and crew at Fantasia 2011
(l-r) Brawler co-star/producer Marc Senter, writer/director Chris Siverston, co-star/producer/co-writer Nathan Grubbs

The Brawler folks were there earlier in the day, after screening the night before. Nice folks, with plenty of good stories about how some of the best days of shooting were almost accidents - Grubbs's day job is as a river pilot in New Orleans (where the movie was set), so he was able to help Siverston talk his way onto ships for shooting.

And for further proof that the Fantasia audience is one of the good ones, they didn't nag Siverston about I Know Who Killed Me. To be fair, that movie was better than some of the stuff he'd been involved in before, and Brawler is an impressive step up from that.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 4 August 2011 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2011)

It seems as though there's been a recent run of "brothers who are also fighters" movies lately, all claiming to be based on true events (though sometimes loosely, as in this case), and it's not a bad template: There's a built-in story structure and climax, and brothers can be close without innuendo. Brawler is a solid example of the genre, although its indie roots means it may not get the attention of its own more-hyped siblings.

Like their father before them, Charlie Fontaine (Nathan Grubbs) and his younger brother Bobby (Marc Senter) are fighters - Charlie's more the old-school boxer, while Bobby throws in some mixed martial arts - who ply their trade in literally floating establishments (barges near their New Orleans home). Charlie has a steady girlfriend, Kat (Pell James), and is otherwise pretty grounded, while Bobby suffers from the combination of ambition and impatience that tends land him in trouble. His latest screw-up sucks Charlie in, and the injury pushes Charlie out of the fight game. One would hope that would make Bobby take stock, but of course it just slows him down for a bit. The question, then, is whether he'll destroy himself or his relationship with his brother first, and if there's any way to stop it.

The rest of the story's broad strokes fill themselves in, to an extent - the local gangsters, the trainer who's like a surrogate father to the brothers, the way Bobby screws things up worse even when an attack of conscience leads to him doing the right thing. It's the finer details that help make things interesting - for example, the gangsters' disdain for the more violent aspects of their job, and the way Bobby finds he's apparently not quite enough of a punk to do it for them. Or how the New Orleans setting is a an integral part of the picture without being the film going out of its way to point it out.

Full review at EFC.

Choneung Ryukja (Haunters)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 4 August 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011 - Korean Film Spotlight)

Though I suspect many of those who clamored for an Unbreakable sequel over the past decade have suddenly "realized" the first wasn't as great as they thought now that M. Night Shyamalan is treated more as a punchline than a standout, that group especially should give Haunters a look. It's got the same hook of superpowers in a spandex-free real-world environment, but has a sense of fun to it, giving the audience the action it craves.

Lim Kyu-nam (Ko Soo) isn't invulnerable, but he's never been sick and recovers from injury unusually well. Case in point - the hit he takes from a truck would kill most people, but just lays him up long enough that he loses his job in a junkyard. He eventually finds a new job working in Choi Jung-sik's Utopia pawn shop, though, and one afternoon Choi (Byeon Hie-bong) and his daughter Young-sik (Jung Eun-chae) are having lunch with Kyu-nam's friends Bubba (Abu Dodd) and Al (Enes Kaya) when the shop is visited by Cho-in (Gang Dong-won). Cho-in may have a prosthetic leg, but as we saw in the prologue, can impose his will upon anybody within his line of sight. He intends to have Choi empty his safe while the whole group forgets he was ever there, but funny thing - supernatural healing powers apparently allow Kyu-nam to shake off mind control. Now, Kyu-nam's a simple man who tries to do the right thing, so he would not approve of this even if it weren't his friends involved, while Cho-in doesn't like the idea of there being anybody out there he can't control. In short, it... is... on!

Writer/director Kim Min-suk avoids the trappings of American comic books almost entirely, but he distills the essence of what makes superheroes fun down to the basics: The hero and the villain are both pure-hearted in their own ways, and their powers represent their personalities: Cho-in is a cruel, hateful man unable to relate to others except by bending them to his will, a hidden puppet master who twists even good people and institutions to evil purposes, while Kyu-nam is a model of persistence and good cheer; he gets back up no matter what life throws at him, and has friends to help him on his mission (and it's likely not an accident that Kyu-nam's friends are unusually diverse for a Korean movie, with Bubba a Ghanan immigrant, Al a Turkish Muslim, and Young-sik hapa; he likes everyone, including those that the rest of society looks down on). Kim doesn't overburden the audience with backstory and explanations that just don't matter; he gets that superhero stories are, at their core, tales of good fighting evil on a big canvas, and delivers just that.

Full review at EFC.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

* * * (out of four)
Seen 4 August 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011 - Closing Night)

Most everybody that likes horror movies is annoyed by PG-13; cutting the scariest or bloodiest bits out of a movie specifically made to scare people and gross them out so that teenagers can buy tickets is burning the village to save it. And yet, I wonder if the makers of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark may have erred in not doing this. As much as grown-ups should enjoy its jumps and creepy atmosphere, this seems like a movie designed to scare little kids.

It centers on one - Sally (Bailee Madison) has flown from her mother's home in California to spend some indefinite amount of time with her father Alex (Guy Pearce), an architect who is restoring an old mansion in Rhode Island with his girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes). Though Sally's sullen and doesn't want to be there, she's the one who stumbles upon a sealed-off basement (in which, we know from the prologue, horrible things happened a century ago). It should have stayed sealed off - while lots of old houses have pests inside the walls, this one's got little monsters.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is an old-fashioned haunted house picture, harkening back to a time when haunted houses were meant to be not just run-down, but also enticing as well. Secret rooms and ornate decor makes this one weird and fun to explore, while the mostly-complete restoration gives it just the thinnest veneer of safety. It's the sort of attention to detail and atmosphere that producer and co-writer Guillermo del Toro has built his career on - creepy with a touch of whimsy - and even if del Toro has handed the director's chair over to another here, the place certainly has his stamp on it. And while the film is set in the modern day, with laptops on desks and comments about gluten-free diets, it's not aggressively of the moment.

Full review at EFC.

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