Friendships, both old and new, are what Butt-Numb-A-Thon is about. There are people who I’ve known for many years now – Harry, Tim League, Eric Vespe, Tony Vespe, Steve Prokopy, Christopher and Jessica Cargill, Devin Faraci, megauberfans like Leigh Mercedes, Dshanya Reese, Derek Mahr, John Carpenter, Rian Johnson, Noah Segan, Windy and Chris Bowlsby, Filip Tegstedt, Romeo Azar, David Jaffe, Barbara Kennedy, Kristen Bell, and if I keep going much longer I won’t actually finish my write-up of this thing. Then there are the BNAT virgins, like Jordan Vogt-Roberts, Aaron Mutter, Andrew Wencer, Darrin Thurber, Theresa Menn, and many others. These people are by default my friends. Then there are those who couldn’t make it this year – people like Jeremy and Amy Stomberg, or Joe McDonald and Megan Murray, past BNATters who due to life, financial hardship or just plain rotten luck couldn’t make it this year.
Friendships far and wide, from across the planet, who bond because of our love for movies but stick because of our love for each other. That’s what BNAT is to me and that’s why anyone who knows me in real life knows you best get out of my way if you get between me and Austin one magical weekend in December. I’ve only missed two – the very first one and the BNAT in 2009 when the economic downturn hit me and many others like an anvil falling from the sky in a Looney Tunes cartoon.
It was the loss of those people who couldn’t make it that registered very strongly with me this year. Espeically Holly Blain, a longtime BNATter who passed away this year. Tim League, one of my favorite people on the planet, chose to memorialize her in the best way, I think, possible. When BNATters arrived this year, they were greeted to this – posted without fanfare or pomp, and if anyone was like me, I imagine they got fairly emotional walking into theater 4 this last Saturday.
I saw everyone – everyone – touch that plaque. Some people kissed it, or said a few words, smiled, and walk past. Holly would have loved it. She’s now a permanent part of the Alamo Drafthouse family, and I can imagine no higher gift than that. I like to think of her, sitting with us this BNAT, cheering, crying, and laughing along with the rest of us. I’m not a religious man, but I know she was there. Know it.
Okay, enough of the sentimental shit. BNAT 16 rocked.
When Harry announced this, I cheered at the top of my lungs. HOOPER is one of my all-time favorite movies, and until now hadn’t been screened much or had any kind of satisfactory release since 1978. I saw HOOPER many, many times that summer. It’s still my favorite movie about the making of movies, because there’s real joy in it. Hal Needham loved making movies, and loved Burt Reynolds, and he was a man of the people, not above them. Kickass car chases, fights, a hero to root for, and gutbusting moments of comedy. What more could anyone want?
Plus, I remember hating with a passion in 1978 the Pittsburgh Steelers (I was an Oilers fan in my blood – Luv Ya Blue!) so seeing Burt Reynolds, one of my childhood heroes, punch Terry Bradshaw’s teeth out was a joy. But HOOPER helped ignite my love of movies too. Movies are hard work, but Needham made a movie for any kid who ever wanted to be a part of it. In short, what Hal Needham did for Coors beer, he did for moviemaking. And I chugged it down.
It’s also my favorite Burt Reynolds performance of all time. It’s pure movie-star – Burt’s charismatic as hell, but Sonny Hooper is a complicated man, full of pain, but also full of laughter. Reynolds has never been better, and I’m counting BOOGIE NIGHTS in that. It’s a shame it hasn’t been more widely seen. Perhaps the BNAT buzz will get more people to pay attention to the film, which will be released by Warner Brothers Studios in April. If you haven’t seen it, bask in one of the most fun movies of the 1970s. Beaks talks about HOOPER here!
KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE
Before Harry could play KINGSMAN, director Matthew Vaughn insisted that we play HOOPER beforehand, and that might be the greatest idea since bread met butter. The movie being made in HOOPER could have very well been KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (sans Adam West). If I took a vote, I’d say this movie won BNAT this year. Violent, hilarious, crude, and probably has something to offend everyone at least once, KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE is so far away from a movie like THE KING’S SPEECH as possible that it would take Matthew McConaughey and a wormhole-traveling spaceship to get there. For those people a bit tired of the seriousness of the current Bond iteration and pining for something a bit more old-school, KINGSMAN has your number. You will believe Colin Firth will kick ass. You could practically hear everyone (guys included) ovulating when Firth, in his tailored suit, opens up a can of whoop-ass on some chavs (do they still use that word?) in a pub.
Does KINGSMAN have anything to say about the current state of things? Oh yeah. But it doesn’t let any of that stop the fun. It’s not preachy like that. Matthew Vaughn, taking Mark Millar’s comic to the screen, wisely keeps the film focused enough on having a great time. Samuel Jackson plays the antithesis of Nick Fury, a megalomaniac bent on world domination who can’t stand the sight of blood. He’s a Bond villain in the finest traditions. He was also a welcome visitor to BNAT this year, and I hope he comes back in the future and hangs out with us fellow film nerds. Firth is spectacular, and I was happy to see Mark Strong play a good guy for once. Newcomer Taron Egerton is a great hero, who transforms over the course of the film, and I imagine bigger things from him after this. Even Mark Hamill gets to play. KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE surprised and excited critics and fans alike at BNAT, and although next year promises to be an incredible one movie-wise, don’t let it end without having seen this one. Put it this way – remember when you first walked out of the original ROBOCOP for the first time? Yeah, that. KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE is sheer cinematic action bliss.
THE KING AND THE MOCKINGBIRD
The story behind THE KING AND THE MOCKINGBIRD is interesting – a film began in 1948 and finished 30 years later, a fairytale of a shepherdess and a chimney-sweep and an evil king that barely got released. It will be re-released next year and the movie is a beautiful display of old-school animation, and Hayao Miyazaki considered it a primary influence. I loved the animation style – a movie with talking birds, giant robots, magic, and wonder. However, I could see the shifts in style of the animation, from the meticulous nature of the drawings in 1948 to the more processed style of the 1970s. It’s a subtle change, but a keen eye can tell. I don’t think I would have this movie on my own, and I’m glad I saw it at BNAT. The music, though, terrific as it was, acted like a lullaby on me, and I caught myself nodding a few times. BNAT can be rough physically.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel is not a movie you analyze, at least not at first. That comes later, when you see it a fuckton more times (and you’ll want to). The first time you see it, you shouldn’t try to crack the movie open. It’s not that kind of movie. Instead, you should just relax and enjoy the ride with all the fantastic characters and writing. It’s not so much a mystery as it is just slowly walking into magical waters. INHERENT VICE demands multiple viewings – it’s just got too much stuff to appreciate in one sitting. From Robert Elswit’s transporting cinematography, to PTA’s wonderful script cadence, to the anchoring performances of Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin, INHERENT VICE is a movie you luxuriate in.
It’s also a movie you should see in the theater. I’m thankful for BNAT for that – I have the screener for INHERENT VICE because I’m a member of the Houston Film Critics Society, but I had been unable to watch it before now due to simple life distractions. But INHERENT VICE demands you pay attention to it and engage with it. It’s also uproariously funny, due to no small part to Phoenix’s performance as he guides us through the surreal world of 1970s Los Angeles. But you also have to give it up for Josh Brolin, who has a moment with a chocolate-covered banana that has to be seen to be believed. I fully expect it to get Best Kiss at the MTV Movie Awards, if there’s any justice. I think INHERENT VICE is some kind of fucking masterpiece but I need to see it four more times to be sure. That’s a movie I’ll happily repeat watch.
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg brought THE INTERVIEW to BNAT, and while Seth has been to BNAT before, Evan was a newcomer. But THE INTERVIEW was a perfect BNAT movie. All the issues going with Sony right now notwithstanding, I’d even go so far to call THE INTERVIEW a brave movie. Sure, it’s a comedy full of dick and ass jokes, and Kim Jong Un (the tremendously great Randall Park) doesn’t get treated very well, but I loved that the real hero of THE INTERVIEW is real honest-to-goodness journalism. It’s a stark reminder that in this world of celebrity news and fluff, we have to ask the tough questions of power, even if we agree with them or now. THE INTERVIEW celebrates that… along with Katy Perry’s “Firework” which is a great fucking song, in my opinion, and I’m not embarrassed to say so, dammit.
Rogen and James Franco are Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in North Korea, basically (with Franco, interestingly, playing Lewis), and there are so many great lines and stations in THE INTERVIEW that I’m sure it’ll be quoted (and thanks for putting the word “honeydick” into my vocabulary). It wouldn’t work if THE INTERVIEW wasn’t funny, and it’s just as funny as THIS IS THE END. Rogen and Goldberg continue that great raucous comedy tradition, and I hope they keep exploring every subject with the humor and intelligence that they show in THE INTERVIEW for many years to come. THE INTERVIEW may be the little movie that upset an entire nation, but it’s what great journalism is supposed to do, and I find it interesting that comedy seems to be taking the place of Woodward and Bernstein these days. THE INTERVIEW is terrific.
This is the part where I thank Rian Johnson for showing us something quite special that I can never ever talk about, ever. Just… thanks, Rian. I’ll never look at my STAR WARS figures in quite the same way again. You have changed me, sir, and I can’t wait for STAR WARS EPISODE VIII: A WARM PLACE TO SHIT.
We were treated to a pristine 35mm of Steven Spielberg’s original theatrical cut of 1941. Look, I’m a fan of this movie – more for what the movie represents than the actual film itself, which can be shrill, loud, and a bit ridiculous. Much of 1941 doesn’t work, and although Spielberg has grown exponentially since then, I couldn’t help but look at the humor of it and think about the humor of George Lucas in the prequels and see the growth of one filmmaker over another.
Like it or not, 1941 had to happen. Steven Spielberg needed to be brought a little low, so he could get disciplined and focused enough to make RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Without 1941, we wouldn’t get that streamlined, efficient action epic. RAIDERS is a perfect movie in all the ways 1941 is not, and Spielberg killed a lot of his directing bugaboos with this movie. Hell, even the end credits have unnecessary explosions.
But it was fun to hear the audience cheer John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, and all the great actors and actresses involved. 1941 wouldn’t be my choice for the first BNAT movie to have Toshiro Mifune in it, but with fingers crossed that Harry brings a Kurosawa movie to BNAT in the coming years, I’ll take what I can get.
This was my favorite vintage of the night, and CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS is a monumental classic that should be talked about more. Victor Fleming is already one of the greatest directors of all time, but CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS may very well be my favorite film of his. I saw CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS when I was six years old, and had never seen it since. I am so happy Harry chose this to play BNAT, and I caught myself tearing up many times during it. This was my BNAT crying movie this year, it seems.
Spencer Tracy was a hell of an actor, wasn’t he? Just monumental, and watching him show Freddie Bartholomew what it truly meant to be a man, a sailor, and a friend made me cry a few times. I loved seeing Lionel Barrymore command his crew. There needs to be a Criterion release of CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS, and many people afterwards were saying this was their favorite film of the night. I can’t blame them. CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS is one of those movies that I am so happy that I saw again with this audience, and as the tears came, I was transported. What an amazing movie.
MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID
This was the portion of BNAT where the hours began to take their toll. I just can’t do an all-night all-day film festival like I used to. Hell, I was up at 5 the morning of BNAT (it’s Geek Christmas, after all, and I wanted to open my presents) and as I get older, staying awake gets more difficult. BNAT can be an endurance test, especially in the wee hours of the night. I’m not complaining, mind you, but sometimes your body just begins to shut down. This is partially my explanation for the next film I saw at BNAT, but MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID was a difficult movie to watch, because I was so damn tired.
Still, what I saw was lovely, especially Esther Williams’ underwater elegance, to Busby Berkeley’s aquatic choreography. MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID was my wife’s favorite vintage film of the night – that movie is right in her wheelhouse, so to speak, and she adored every moment of it. But I, to put it in the parlance of Chris Tucker, got knocked right the fuck out.
Which is why I can’t, in good conscience, review SANTIAGO VIOLENTE, Ernesto Diaz Espinoza’s ode to crime movies and the magic of cinema. I fell asleep, hard. What I did see (which was about 15 minutes or so) looked fun, but I’d love to see the whole movie sometime in the future and offer an honest opinion of what I saw. I like Espinoza’s films normally, especially his work with Marko Zaror. I’m sorry, Ernesto.
A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY
Regular audiences won’t get to see this one until next Christmas, and that may be the longest leadtime between a movie playing BNAT and a theatrical release that I can remember (THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES never made it to release theatrically, I don’t think). I was prepared for a bit of a slog, to be honest, but this Christmas horror anthology was more fun than I anticipated. As with all anthologies, there are some weak stories and some strong ones, but I admired how the stories wrapped around each other.
The strong stories – two parents discover that their son may not be their loving child but something far more sinister; and Santa Claus must contend with some monstrous elves that threaten to ruin Christmas – have great moments of creepiness and gore, while the weaker ones – a trio of kids get lost in the school’s basement on Christmas Eve; a family is hunted by the evil spirit of Christmas, the Krampus – are still pretty successful in what they try to accomplish. William Shatner, of all people, ties everything together in a nice bow, and he’s the best thing in A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY. I hadn’t heard a thing about this one before it played, and I found A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY an entertaining, pleasant surprise. I love how the Santa story just went with it, and George Buza seems to be having an infectious good time.
THE SON OF KONG
Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who is directing KONG: SKULL ISLAND, has wanted to attend BNAT for years. This year, he got in, and to celebrate the coming movie, Harry programmed this direct sequel to KING KONG for the BNAT audience. THE SON OF KONG goes in the only direction you could really go in a sequel to the greatest monster movie ever made – it goes for laughs. Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) returns to Skull Island over a rumor of treasure, and find the lovable son of Kong – only twelve feet tall but just as much of a scrapper as his old man – and you can see the visual improvements to the special effects, even after only nine months between the release of the original KONG and its sequel.
The son of Kong, hilariously, also mugs for the camera, when he’s not saving the lives of Denham and his crew. In this one the monkey’s a good guy, getting into fights will all sorts of monsters to help Denham and his people escape the island. THE SON OF KONG may have been rushed into theaters to capitalize on the success of the original movie, but it’s a lot more fun than it had any right to be. The 35mm print was beautiful too.
THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES
The screen in the Holly Blain Memorial Theater isn’t equipped to play 3D films, which almost caused us to lose playing the final HOBBIT film. However, between many emails and phone calls, and technical support between Peter Jackson’s people and the Drafthouse crew, we made it happen, with an interesting wrinkle – we would see THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES in 2D, but we would see it in the higher 48FPS rate. I had seen THE HOBBIT already, but my wife hadn’t, and I wanted to say goodbye to everyone after the movie, so I stayed.
I love THE BATTLE OF FIVE ARMIES. Regardless of THE HOBBIT Trilogy’s quality, I never wanted these films to be “better” than THE LORD OF THE RINGS anyway. THE HOBBIT is the appetizer. THE LORD OF THE RINGS is the main course. That’s how Tolkien always meant it to be, and while I love THE HOBBIT, when I read THE LORD OF THE RINGS it changed my life. I love those books with a passion. At the end of the day, if THE HOBBIT was entertaining, then Jackson did his job. We can debate the whole three-film split all you want. I’ll even probably agree. But the fact is, these are the movies Peter Jackson wanted to make, and armchair quarterbacking at this point seems a bit ridiculous. Yes, there is a ton of CGI. Yes, these characters don’t quite have the resonance and depth of the characters of THELORD OF THE RINGS. They didn’t in the books, either. And while it took three movies to get there, and with many additions along the way, Peter Jackson has made a series that, even if they aren’t as good, can be placed right next to THE LORD OF THE RINGS on the shelf without any reservation.
THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES sticks the landing. It’s the best of the trilogy, hands down, full of rousing moments, quiet moments, and a satisfying resolution to this world I’ve enjoyed visiting these past 13 years. There’s a bit of bloat in all the HOBBIT movies, and THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES is no different. There is one particular character that I would have been happy to see cut out entirely. Martin Freeman’s Bilbo Baggins is as much a supporting character in his own story as the previous films (the most frustrating aspect of these films for me, to be honest), although he does get a few chances to be a bit more proactive. Richard Armitage spends much too much time in the thralls of obsession over the Arkenstone that when he finally does get into the game it’s a welcome relief. I utterly hate Ryan Gage’s Alfrid character and wish he’d lift right out of the movie. But there are such wonderful, thrilling scenes in THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES that these issues can be forgiven; while these problems have been endemic to the trilogy as a whole, Peter Jackson’s greatest gift to fans of Middle-Earth is that we can effortlessly slip back into this world, like a warm, luxurious bath at the end of a long day.
I’ll admit to a pinch in my heart as the final credits rolled. Like the end credits for THE RETURN OF THE KING, we get to see the wonderful artwork of this trilogy, and with Billy Boyd’s wonderful “The Last Goodbye” sending us off in a reflective fashion, it was hard not to get a little emotional. If nothing else, it’s highly unlikely that Peter Jackson will visit Middle-Earth again, and while I can’t wait to see what he has up his sleeve now that he’s done with Tolkien’s world, I am reminded just how much these films, especially THE LORD OF THE RINGS Trilogy, have changed me as a film fan. Hell, THE LORD OF THE RINGS changed everything. Now, with a geek movie opening every couple of weeks, THE HOBBIT Trilogy almost seems quaint. For many, it may be difficult to remember the days when the idea of an epic story like THE LORD OF THE RINGS being made into any movies seemed crazy and beyond the capabilities of cinema.
Now, if we imagine it, we can see it on screen. There is nothing holding any of the artists and filmmakers back from bringing any story they want in front of the camera. Whether they succeed or not is beside the point; magic is everywhere now, and it’s largely because of Peter Jackson. So there was no way that the new trilogy wouldn’t be intensely examined like so many tea leaves. Perhaps that’s not fair to these new movies, and considering the leaps in technology since THE RETURN OF THE KING, it should be no surprise that Jackson would want to play with these new tools. The resulting worth is for fans and audiences to determine, but I’m happy that Jackson stuck it through to the end.
Now, the bad news. My jury’s out, and I don’t like 48FPS. There’s a texture to film that 48FPS lacks. Everything has the same glossy sheen, and 48FPS takes a particular toll on CGI effects. Instead of live actors looking realistic against a green screen background, now everything looks fake and even a bit lifeless. There isn’t supposed to be an uncanny valley when a real live actor is on the screen, and yet, it’s there with 48FPS. Film feels tactile. 48FPS distances me. Maybe I’m an old fuddy-duddy when it comes to these things, and future generations will never know an experience with film. But having seen some magnificent 35mm prints all day and all night, 48FPS looks like a fad. For now, give me 24FPS, real 35mm film, and an ice cold drink, and I’m happy. Those days may be ending, but they aren’t done yet, and I intend to enjoy them while I can.
And that’s a wrap on BNAT 16. So many people to thank – Harry, Tim, Kristen, the waitstaff and crew of the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, Eric, Steve, Cargill, Vincent, Paul, Rian, Jordan, Noah, Windy, Chris, Jessica, and many others, especially my lovely wife Tami who puts up with my crazy movie stuff. If I missed you, know that I love you and can't wait to see you next time. And finally, to Holly Blain, thank you. You were so missed this year, and the room was full of love for you. I’ll be seeing you at theater 4, at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. Bring on next year!