For the third year in a row, I've taken part in a wonderful, slightly sadistic group exercise of cinephilia known as Butt Numb-a-Thon. Harry Knowles, the Vasco de Gama of web-based movie writing, hosts a 24-hour annual birthday party for himself at Austin's fabled Alamo Drafthouse Theater. (Note: it usually goes long, this year was dangerously close to 26 hours.)
Friends and fans flock from the four corners, filling out a rigorous application process that proves they are among the worthy. The endurance run is a mixture of first-look premieres, vintage films projected on 35mm plus visits and messages from special guests. Also: really terrific milkshakes and queso dip. Yeah, it can get kinda smelly by the end.
In the maximalist spirit of the event, here is a blow by blow of what went down.
* For years, BNAT has included a running gag about the movie "Teen Wolf." (It stems from a misunderstanding concerning some film reels left in plain view at the Drafthouse and an enthusiastic friend of Knowles' who confessed he really loved the film.) In years past they've shown the opening few minutes of "Teen Wolf" only to let the print burn in the projector. (Last year, they chopped out single frames of the movie and sprinkled them throughout the entire evening's programming, a joke that never got old.) This year, the unthinkable happened: they simply ran "Teen Wolf."
The other shock: "Teen Wolf" actually holds up!
I'm old enough to remember seeing it the same summer as "Back to the Future" and basically holding them in the same regard. While it looks really low-budget now (and the music is incredibly dated) some of the side characters like the coach and theater teacher are hilarious, and the script is actually quite sharp. Maybe it was the buzz of an amped group, but I found myself laughing out loud throughout most of the Michael J. Fox fantasy-comedy. The "with great power comes great responsibility" moment got a big round of applause. (Also, Susan Ursitti as eventual girlfriend "Boof" was HOT!)
Of course, the best thing about a joke is running it into the ground. Once everyone had forgotten about an eventual in-theater gag (another year one of the Alamo's programmers actually ran into the theater in full Teen Wolf costume) and just when the movie was cruising to its climax, the print shuddered and then melted. As Francis from "Pee-wee's Big Adventure" was about to take his big shot at the basketball game, no less! There was a pause and a call to fix the print - it ran for a few more minutes and just when Fox held the game-winning ball in his hands the print melted again. And that was it.
So, we watched 99% of "Teen Wolf" and it's up to us to go an rent it to find out what actually happens at the end.
* The only thing that can follow a Teen Wolf is a Dwarf King. Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens showed up with the High Frame Rate 3-D version of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." I'd already seen the movie (here's my review) and was somewhat mixed. Watching it a second made me like the movie more, though my distaste for HFR 3-D remains.
I guess I enjoyed more of the Middle-earth jabberjawwing moments. I found myself giggling to lines like "Thorin, son of Throwin, son of Throwup" or whatever. The trolls reminded me of Mike Leigh characters. And the action sequences at the end, while totally video game inspired, are great fun. I hummed the "Misty Mountains" theme throughout the entire event.
Jackson and company held a brief Q&A where they announced that Extended Edition version of "The Hobbit" are coming with about 25 more minutes (oh, good Smaug!)
* Prior to "The Hobbit" we got a first look at the official teaser trailer for "Star Trek Into Darkness." Now, this isn't the nine minutes of footage that will appear before IMAX presentations of "The Hobbit," nor is it the "announcement trailer" that came out a few days ago. This is, basically, the "announcement" plus a few extra shots that blaze by at top speeds. Some extra things I noticed include:
It opens on a shot of an empty Captain's seat.
Chekov is wearing a red shirt!
Benedict Cumberbatch is, at one point, in some sort of clear brig similar to Loki's from "The Avengers" or Javier Bardem from "Skyfall."
Someone zooms through space in a suit similar to the one Spock wears in "Star Trek: The Motion Picture."
I'll tell ya this much: when I watched the "announcement trailer" on my iPhone, I was all "iDunno." When I saw this new one on the big screen with hundreds of screaming dopes, I actually got chills.
* Next up was a vintage film, "Broadway Melody of 1940." I love Fred Astaire, so I'd seen this before, but never projected. It's a classic musical comedy with Cole Porter tunes and a plot that uses the same instigating event as in recent Best Foreign Language Oscar contender "Footnote."
Opposite Fred Astaire is Eleanor Powell, who is more than a quality substitute for Ginger Rogers. Though you can't help but notice they have the same hair style (though different color) and same adorable smile while they're hoofin'. (We also watched a clip of Powell from 1981.)
* After "Broadway Melody" came a look at a wee clip and the trailer from "G.I. Joe: Retaliation."
It began in a hallway, with Storm Shadow throwing ninja stars at Snake Eyes. It looks pretty fabulous in 3-D (even post-converted 3-D) but not as fabulous as Snake Eyes shooting down the ninja stars with a machine gun.
The two fight in a hallway, then crash through a window. They are on a mountain top, at some sort of temple. Snake Eyes is joined by Jinx (I think that's Jinx - who's the one in the tight yellow suit? I'm not 13 years old anymore) and suddenly they are confronted by a bunch of baddies. They do what anyone would do: they jump off the mountain.
The killer moment is when they zip across cables up in the mountains, but not down them - they basically hook and jump like Spider-man, pretty much how you played with your G.I. Joes as a kid. Then everybody swings around on the side of the mountain throwing swords at each other.
The trailer afterwards was terrific, too. The best is when Bruce Willis says to the Rock "I have something your size" and they cut to giant tank. Yay explosions.
* After the "yo, Joes!" we saw three classic trailers (Buddy Hackett in "All Hands On Dec," "Kingdom in the Clouds," which was a Romanian kiddie film that looked like Alejandro Jodorowsky and a "Gremlins"-like flick called "Munchies.") Then back to musical theater. "The Gang's All Here," a Busby Berkley technicolor extravaganza from 1943 is big and ridiculous. It includes Carmen Miranda wearing fruit on her head and mangling the English language. There are a bunch of icky jokes when Edward Everett Horton (a classic "That Guy" of the TCM set) gets "turned into an animal." It's a very sexist film where women are treated like prizes at best, property at worst, but the dancing is fabulous and everyone seems happy in their mansions. The final credits implore us to buy war bonds.
* More classic trailers including odd kiddie film "The Wishing Machine" and the exploitation flick "Women in Cell Block 7" (with hilarious Spanish subtitles) preceded the first public screening of "Mama."
"Mama" is directed by Andres Muschietti, produced by Guillermo Del Toro and stars Jessica Chastain. Chastain's run had to end some time.
It isn't that "Mama" is bad, it's just that it is kinda silly. I never got a sense that the "rules" were thought through. It's got some ghostly presence and kids in peril and a really bad reliance on awful CGI. "The Possession," "Sinister" and even "Orphan" are all far superior to this film. But it isn't a mess. I yelped a few times and there's one really clever reveal that involved an innovative use of framing. Chastain has jet black hair and wears rock t-shirts, so that's a plus. Since this was an advanced peek, we were asked not to get into too many specifics about the story.
After the film, Muschietti and the co-writer (a different Muschietti!) and Guillermo came up to schmooze. Then Guillermo stuck around to talk about "Pacific Rim."
He claims he wanted to show a new trailer, but there was a goof so we ended up seeing the footage already shown at Comic-Con. Giant robots, giant monsters, Idris Elba not faking an American accent. Awesome.
Guillermo is a masterful public speaker so he held court for a while. (I was eating fries at the time.) Among his multitude of zingers, he mentioned that the trailer is like "Howard's End" compared to the actual film.
* Next up: the end of the world. We watched the first 8 minutes of "World War Z." Brad Pitt wasn't there, but he sent a video birthday message that poked fun at his Chanel No. 5 "Inevitable" ad.
The scene was saw was... fine. It was a lot like the panic in the streets sequence from Steven Spielberg's "War of the World" but lacking the oomph. Now, what we saw wasn't 100% finished and rendered, but even still, there is a bit of a "been there done that" vibe coming from this movie.
One fun beat was watching a guy get attacked by a zombie and lay "dead" on the ground. As one of Pitt's little girl's stuffed animal starts counting, the body twitched and, at the number one, gets up and acts all UNDEAD. "They're not dying!" someone screams.
Also, being in a locked car offers no safety from a "World War Z" zombie. They climb up on the hood and smash through the windshield with their heads.
* Vintage trailers for "A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy," "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" and Peter Bogdanovich's comedy masterpiece "What's Up Doc?" preceded a screwball comedy from 1936 I'd never seen called "Libeled Lady."
"Libeled Lady" is something of an awful title, but it is a remarkable film. In it, William Powell and Myrna Loy and Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracey get mixed up in hijinks that involve trying to get someone caught red handed in the act of seduction and, it may not surprise you, actual love blossoms. I love "The Thin Man" and Preston Sturges and Ernst Lubitsch and somehow this had fallen in between the cracks. This was among the best things I saw at BNAT this year.
* Around 2 a.m. came the most memorable part of the night. Unfortunately, I am forbidden from saying what actually happened. What I can say is this: we saw a film that is still angling to get into festivals and, as such, we've got to stay mum. This happened before - last year with "Cabin in the Woods" and the year before with "Hobo With a Shotgun." I'll just say that the movie we saw was just as remarkable as these titles. I hope and pray I'll be allowed to give more details soon.
* The only way to calm down after the mystery screening was with some disgusting gruesome murder.
We saw a short sequence from the new "Evil Dead" and it features a chesty woman in a tight white tank top looking at herself in the mirror. (This offers us in the audience to stare at her, too, and not feel guilty.)
Later, she's found writhing on the bathroom tile, sawing away at her cheek with a knife. A dude in a beard and glasses sees this and goes "woah" and steps back but has a literal slip of the tongue - by which I mean he slips on her severed tongue and smashes against the toilet.
They fight and she eventually stabs him in the eye with a needle. It just gets grosser from there and everyone yelled "whooooooo!" and then we wondered if we all needed therapy.
* More vintage trailers followed ("Judex," Jerry Lewis in "Jericho the Wonder Clown," and a terrific looking horror film called "Carnival of Blood.") leading to a film I'd never seen called "Nightmare Alley." This 1947 film starring Tyrone Power stars carnival hucksters who make it big at the cost of their souls. There is a blunt take on alcoholism and a number of terrific "showmanship" scenes.
I can not tell a lie, though: I dozed off. It was after 4 am, I'd been there since noon, and I just hit the wall. I was enjoying the film a great deal, but I missed wide swaths of the middle. Luckily, my friend has the DVD and is lending it to me. Won't be the same as on the big screen, though.
* After trailers for Run DMC in "Tougher Than Leather," Joe Piscopo in "Dead Heat" and the whacked-out 1980s comedy "Amazon Women on the Moon" it was time for a genuine, well-known classic: James Cagney in "White Heat."
This ur-text for gangster pictures is the one about the Cody Jarrett Gang, ending with the classic line "top of the world, ma!" before the screen explodes from both gas flames and heavy subtext. I only thought about Michael Keaton in "Johnny Dangerously" during one scene.
* Coincidentally, right after "White Heat," we took a look at the upcoming Paul Feig comedy called "The Heat."
Feig (the "Bridesmaids" guy) was there in a sharp suit, even though it was 8 a.m. and everyone was in food-stained shirts and sweatpants by this point. The first scene he brought showed Melinda McCarthy doing her female Danny McBride schtick as a vulgar and rules-resistant cop. We watch her bust and humiliate a guy trying to pick up a prostitute, then chasing down a drug dealer. There's some very funny racial humor involving the absurdity of using a tossed watermelon as a weapon.
In the second scene, McCarthy is with her straight-laced partner, played by the always -harming Sandra Bullock. They are in a diner and someone starts choking. When the Heimlich Maneuver doesn't work, Bullock decides to do an emergency tracheotomy using food utensils. It is really dark, really gross and absolutely hilarious. It got 50% laughs of glee, 50% laughs of shock.
The red band trailer was a hoot, too. And I'm not just saying that because Feig brought everyone donuts.
* More vintage trailers followed, including a strange future-apocalypse sports movie with Joan Chen and Rutger Hauer called "The Blood of Heroes" as well as a grindhouse-style flick called "They Call Her One Eye" involving a gorgeous woman with an eyepatch and a shotgun. This led into one of the all time weirdo classics, Norman Jewison's 1975 sci-fi roller derby exploitation film "Rollerball."
Now, I love "Rollerball" for a number of different reasons. I love the shooting style, I love the elliptical way the worldbuilding is done, I love Zero the Computer, I love James Caan's Texas accent, I love the insane party scene, I love the Huxley-esque drug use, I love the Corporate Wars, I love looking at Maud Adams, I love the modern architecture, and, most importantly, I love that it inspired this YouTube mashup.
* We're basically at the 24-hour mark by now. I've had about seven of Paul Feig's delicious donuts. Before the final feature, we get a first look at the trailer from Michael Bay's upcoming "PAIN AND GAIN."
Bay offered a very funny video shout out in which he smashed a man's brains saying "this is your brain on a Michael Bay film! Take that bitches!" After that we cut to Mark Wahlberg doing sit-ups dangling from a ledge. "I believe in fitness!" he says. There is a lot of zingy comedy showing him off as a major muscle-head. He teams up with Anthony Mackie and The Rock to rob Tony Shalhoub. It's fast and funny and there's a shot with The Rock in a car and he's so gigantic he's popping out of the moon roof. There's also a bit when a stressed Wahlberg says "I gotta get a pump" and immediately starts lifting weights. My BNAT neighbor (for 26 sweaty hours, he deserves a medal) Devin Faraci said "it's Michael Bay does the Coen Brothers!"
Yeah, so you can mark me down as excited for this one.
* The last film on the dock was Walter Hill's "Bullet to the Head" starring Sylvester Stallone. We primed the pump with trailers for Hill's "Streets of Fire," "The Warriors," "Southern Comfort" and, finally, the BNAT tradition, a baffling exploitation film from 1980 called "Stunt Rock" that, hell, you should just see for yourself.
The unfortunate thing is that "Bullet to the Head" stinks. I laughed a lot during it, but not in a good way. Stallone still has some screen charisma, but the script is so wretched and the filmmaking is so poor that I couldn't talk myself into liking it.
The video was dreadful (Sly looked like he had lipstick on) and the music sounded like a Michelob commercial from 1990. The plot (basically, take down the mob) was weighted by endless exposition - frequently cutting to fake-looking computer monitors and voices over cellphones, telling and not showing.
Some of the fights (like Sly vs. Jason Momoa) had a bone-crushing quality and Sarah Shahi blessedly wears a tank top the whole time, but most of this flick just stunk.
Did this spoil BNAT? Hell no. When we wandered back into the sun (it was 1:35 pm now) we all had more free donuts, on the house beer and hugged like we'd survived a war. My butt was indeed quite numb (still kinda is) but I eagerly await next year.