ScreenAnarchy Survives The Butt-Numb-A-Thon

Contributor; Toronto, Canada (@filmfest_ca)
ScreenAnarchy Survives The Butt-Numb-A-Thon
I had a chance this year to attend the famed Butt-numb-a-thon in Austin, Texas. What started as a slightly masochistic 24 hour, invite-only gathering thirteen years ago has in time seen BNAT transform into one of the more unique and exclusive film going experiences anywhere in the world. Ostensibly a birthday celebration for self-monikered "headgeek" Harry Knowles, founder of the Aint-it-Cool News site and pioneer of the intellectual poison that is the online talkback section, over the years the event has accrued a remarkable string of world premieres, sneak peeks, rare and classic movies, and excellent guests.
Much has also already been written about the famed indie theatre that is the Alamo Drafthouse, a local institution that has received international attention due to several factors. First, the Drafthouse provides a unique mix of food and film, allowing the patron to eat (and drink!) whilst the film plays, nimble servers negotiating the rows ninja-like bringing your orders written out on small sheets of paper. Secondly, while there's the gentle clink of glasses and plates echoing through the theatre, there's essentially a no-tolerance policy in place for other forms of interruption, be it in the form of idle chatter or the ghastly behaviour of texting during a screening. A while back when a woman called the main office to complain that she had been kicked out of a screening for using a cell phone, her petulant message was used as a pre-screening teaser, quickly going viral. No ads, no phone-based "interactive" games, these are shrines of cinema for cinephiles, with most of the locations tucked almost innocuously into banal Texan strip malls like hidden clubhouses for local film nerds.
The Drafthouse's owner, Tim League, began the proceedings just before noon on the Saturday with a witty exposition about the inside joke at the heart of this year's theme. For many years, Harry has refused to show TEEN WOLF in order to piss of a friend of his, Jeff Mahler, and this year, despite having to dress as a character from the film as part of the application process, having the hashtag pun with "BNAT13WOLF", and even including TEEN WOLF 2 trailer mid-marathon, we again were denied seeing the entire film. In previous years, they'd start the picture, only to have it disintegrate, or accidentally break down. This year they cut a print into tiny portions, interspersing throughout the evening. Flashes of 80s hair, basketball dunks, and other key moments were near subliminal inclusions introducing each work. Surprisingly, this proved to be an extremely effective way to see TEEN WOLF again, and I can't for the life of me ever wanting to see it again any other way.
We then had a 10 minute video from New Zealand, with principal AICN writer Eric "Quint" Vespe telling how sad he was that he couldn't attend due to his embedding on the set of THE HOBBIT. After witty remarks from Peter Jackson (including a not-so-subtle hint about premiering the completed film at BNAT14), McKellan's Gandalf filled the screen. With the wave of a staff and the help in-theatre pyrotechnics, Quint made his surprise entrance into the theatre. The Wizard, still on screen, whispered knowingly that despite PJ's refusal earlier, we still had a chance to see the trailer, as it had been secretly stashed in Quint's pocket for the journey. Erik then called out to the crowd, asking for a volunteer brave enough to carry the burden, a journey that normally "not with ten thousand men could you do this", all to schlep the drive to the projection booth. Practically falling down the stairs from his seat towards the back, serial BNAT attendee Elijah Wood took the precious cargo with a wide grin and galloped to the projection booth.

Alas, after several attempts they weren't able to get the drive working (corrupted, no doubt, due to the wizardry), and we had to wait some 4+ hours for another copy to be transmitted. Luckily, we were going to be there for a while...
Harry then took the stage, and explained that he was having a tough time getting a flow of the selections this year until he saw a certain film by Scorsese, one that spoke to him deeply. His enthusiasm was infectious, and if in the end BNAT is less a film festival then a curated evening of one delightfully mad geek's true and deep love of films, the fact that we began with a movie already in theatres was hardly cause to begrudge Harry his wishes on his birthday.
Throughout we were treated to trailers from the Drafthouse's extensive collection - vintage ones such as the teaser for AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON were a ton of fun, as was the surprisingly sublime stupidity of the second GI:JOE film's tease. In previous years they just slammed movie into movie, but we had a good 10 minutes or so between screenings, plenty of time to pee, decompress for a second, and grab a breath of fresh air (well, smokey air) and for this first-timer to acquaint himself with the regulars. The whole event was like the best festival moments, a crowd with a shared enthusiasm gathered together like cinema pilgrims, all for the sake of celebrating the birthday of the big man and reveling in a shared love of the projected image. By the end, my brain was more numb than my butt, but was still awake enough to sneak out to Joes' for some breakfast Tacos before finally, some 30 hours after having left it, crawling into the bed of my hotel for some much needed rest.
Scorsese's own love letter to silent cinema played significantly better for me on this my second viewing, both due to a softening of my annoyance about the lead child actor's performance and the fact that the crowd was there to warmly receive its charms. Visually masterful, I continue to think that Sacha Baron Cohen's turn as the inspector is a true highlight, with silent-film era broadness mixed with a genuinely quirky, off-beat take as awkward as his attempts at a smile. Moretz's precocious turn is also a delight, and while it's no surprise that Sir Ben can still drive a film, it's been some time since he's been this good on screen. Still, the film has its pacing moments, but all is forgiven if only to have Marty demonstrate his true adoration for the medium of cinema - delving into a child's world for the first time, it's as if the great director has been given a new brush with which to paint, and while the final result isn't quite up to his greatest works, you have applaud the way he engages with this new canvas.
What better way to accompany HUGO than with a stunning 35mm print of Melies' masterpiece. Sourced from the Library of Congress, and held together with a tonne of glue by the Drafthouse projection staff (there was a tear through the latter half of the entire film!), this was apparently the only 35mm print in the entire county. Back-to-back with the Scorsese film, the (un-tinted) presentation exuded the magical whimsy that Melies' work exemplifies. A rare treat to see projected from celluloid, this brief "feature" was a true highlight of the night.
Another whimsical classic film, this 1930s Sci-fi musical/vaudeville review is a work out of time.  Bridging the worlds of silent and sound cinema, it's one of those clumsy films experimenting with a changing medium. Set 50 years in the future, the 1980 of JUST IMAGINE has those flying cars we were promised (hopping from plane-to-plane in order to snuggle is just one of the early wonders of the film). Gender relations haven't really changed all that much it seems, and there's a distinct lack of anyone with complexion that would be on the darker side of the spectrum. The effects are clunky but charming, done by a team that included Willis O'Brien and others who would go on to make the original KING KONG. Silly, tinny sounding songs, full on acrobatic reviews, and an underlying critique of the nascent feminism and derision for the (then in full effect) Volsted Act that prohibited alcohol makes for little more than a curio, but a fascinating one at that.
I had concerns pre-fest that this one might slip in. Given the deliberate nature of the pace of this film, and its complex plot and delicate performances, it's not the type conducive to marathon sessions, be they during a regular fest or the 24+ hour madness of BNAT. Still, as my second viewing, my esteem for the film actually increased - I think it a masterpiece of tone - and it apparently won the hearts of many at the screening. Gary Oldman's reading of "BuTTTT...Numathon" in the intro video was a priceless moment of the evening.  [Full review of the film is up at SCREENANARCHY]
Our first sequel of the night, this new outing by Guy Ritchie came complete with birthday wishes from the director. While it's hard to take this series seriously after the far superior BBC presentations, there's still plenty to like in this reimagining of Holmes' London. A fight scene between Holmes and Moriarty that takes place almost entirely within their minds is quite a clever moment, but it all seems a bit much. It's a fine, forgettable piece, decent fare for a holiday night out.
One of those risible yet charming early horror pieces, this one was elevated by a memorable turn by Peter Lorre as the bibliophilic house Astrologer keen on ensuring that he doesn't lose his precious volumes. For the most part the optical effects of the dismembered hand actually hold up pretty well, and they rarely have to resort to the puppeteering or ADDAM'S FAMILY silliness of a hand-in-box contraption. Modern audiences are at least a reel ahead of the plot, but it's a film I'd be unlikely to see in any other context, and its inclusion as part of the slate a welcome one.
The trailers made this look like it had promise, but I was genuinely taken in by the visual style and action elements of this latest from Spielberg. It seems the animated form has opened him up to different possibilities, as there's real daring and artfulness in a number of the sequences. A particularly audacious chase throughout the city actually reminded me of work Steven did with Lucas, actually - check out the extras on the STAR WARS Blu-Ray set for a mindboggling take on the Obi-Wan/Grievous chase. Williams' score was quirky and fun, the mocap yet stylized animation more robust and enjoyable than feared, it's a heck of a fun holiday flick (topped, of course, by the inclusion of a certain trailer from co-producer Peter Jackson's other project).
We finally got to see it, and were promptly sworn to secrecy about the content of the trailer. Suffice it to say, it plays absolutely in line with the other major trilogy, and feels so damn comfortable to the original look and style that I'm yet again pleased that PJ took it upon himself to direct the final two pieces. One particular element of the will be a delight to true fans of the book (not the one you might be expecting), and the 3D presentation (while not in 48fps) is going to be absolutely terrific as we're presented an even richer dimensional world of Middle Earth. Mind you, first time through it was all a matter of just taking the thing in, but luckily we got to see it three times in succession so I could adjudicate such nerdiness as the quality of the set design, the sterographic cinematography, the elements of score, etc. It did what any good trailer does - teases the story, even to one well versed, and makes one genuinely interested in joining the continuing journey there and back again.
Back-to-back animations, and this one with subtitles, this "if pigs could fly" movie was that middle-of-the-night film that many chose to catch a nap during. I found the opportunity to watch a newly struck 35mm Studio Ghibly print too much of an opportunity to waste sleeping. Granted, this is one of the more weird films I'd seen from them, a tale of a pig-man, air pirates, the Italian Airforce and nymphet mechanic girls. I can't say it's my favorite from the studio, but the animation is lovely, the print was gorgeous, and the haze of exhaustion made the narrative all the more delightfully surreal.
I'd seen little about this film, adroitly avoiding the recently released trailer. I'm no nut for all things Joss, and when Harry described it as the anti-SCREAM I was even more reticent. Yet, if there was a film of the night, this was it - be assured that this lives up to the hype that it'll inevitably draw when it officially screens at a certain upcoming South-Western film and music festival. It's unfortunate that part of the real pleasure of the film will be dampened by knowing too much about it - if at all possible, go in blind, the film is a real kick in the pants and a hell of a lot of fun, delightfully post-modern without being obnoxious or trite. I think arguments can be made regarding the mashup of Borges and Sartre at the core of the narrative, but that'll come after the thing is officially released and I can go mad with the allusions to mid-century French proclivities for Nihilistic expression expressed under the aegis of a typical horror film.
Seen CRANK? Like it? I sure did, it was this crazy, disposable-yet-fun film that almost accidentally managed to suffuse style and narrative in a kinetic bundle of sick fun. See the painful mess that is CRANK 2? How quickly the charms of the first are undermined by needless repetition. GHOST RIDER was given to the CRANK boys to make something new out of it - the first motorcycle-and-mayhem move inexplicably making a fortune - and instead they poop out what amounts to a boring mess of a super hero movie. Even moments of Nick Cage doing that thing he does these days (Look! He's being crazy!) aren't enough to recommend it. This was the film that I wisely nodded off during, but still saw enough to be able to judge that it's really not worth your while, even watched at home. Life's short, find something better (like the first CRANK!) and give that a spin instead.
This film was a total surprise for me - I'd never even heard the title, was unaware of its production, and feared that it'd be some schlock werewolf movie with Liam Neeson in the lead. Instead, we're given a taught, intelligent, beautifully realized tale of survivor, an existentialist film owing more to 127 HOURS than ALIVE. The plane crash sequence alone is a touchstone, making the ones in CAST AWAY or even LOST look like child's play (the fact that I'm typing this on a flight back from Toronto is resulting in unfortunate flashbacks to the epic sound design and montage of that sequence). The film has its flaws, but it was executed with such aplomb, and plays without holding back any punches, that it deserves a wider look. Neeson in particular, no doubt channeling the pain of losing his wife in real life, hasn't been better in what seems like forever. His contained and emotionally wrought performance well deserving of accolade, with the release of this film in 2012 unfortunately precluding him from Oscar contention this year.
This was the one Holiday actiongasm I was letting myself get excited for. I'm a sucker for real IMAX, so when I saw trailers of the Dubai sequences shot on 70mm I knew that this was a must see. Like DARK KNIGHT before it, it's an absolute crime if you're not able to experience true IMAX for a film of this kind, the resolution and magnificence of the format on true display, your stomach lurching during one of the many exceptional actions sequences. Pixar maven Brad Bird's first live-action film has some issues, particularly in the latter third. Still, it's way better than Woo's MI:2, and probably as decent as De Palma's original, but it doesn't quite have the same balance of story, character, and action that the J.J. Abrahms one held. MI:4 is such dumb, silly fun, such delicious eye candy that in the end it's hard to begrudge the film anything.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

  • Peter Jackson
  • Fran Walsh (screenplay)
  • Philippa Boyens (screenplay)
  • Peter Jackson (screenplay)
  • Guillermo del Toro (screenplay)
  • J.R.R. Tolkien (novel)
  • Ian McKellen
  • Martin Freeman
  • Richard Armitage
  • Ken Stott

The Cabin in the Woods

  • Drew Goddard
  • Joss Whedon
  • Drew Goddard
  • Kristen Connolly
  • Chris Hemsworth
  • Anna Hutchison
  • Fran Kranz

Porco Rosso

  • Hayao Miyazaki
  • Hayao Miyazaki
  • Shûichirô Moriyama
  • Tokiko Katô
  • Bunshi Katsura Vi
  • Tsunehiko Kamijô

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

  • Mark Neveldine
  • Brian Taylor
  • Scott M. Gimple (screenplay)
  • Seth Hoffman (screenplay)
  • David S. Goyer (screenplay)
  • David S. Goyer (story)
  • Nicolas Cage
  • Violante Placido
  • Ciarán Hinds
  • Idris Elba
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Alamo Draft HouseAustinBNATPeter JacksonFran WalshPhilippa BoyensGuillermo del ToroJ.R.R. TolkienIan McKellenMartin FreemanRichard ArmitageKen StottAdventureFantasyDrew GoddardJoss WhedonKristen ConnollyChris HemsworthAnna HutchisonFran KranzHorrorMysteryHayao MiyazakiShûichirô MoriyamaTokiko KatôBunshi Katsura ViTsunehiko KamijôAnimationComedyMark NeveldineBrian TaylorScott M. GimpleSeth HoffmanDavid S. GoyerNicolas CageViolante PlacidoCiarán HindsIdris ElbaActionThriller

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