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2001: AN AUSTIN ODYSSEY, or MORIARTY's BNAT Coverage, Part One!!

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

I. "I Don't Want To See Everything"

Or, more accurately, with some Rumblings from the road. From Austin, Texas, to be precise. It's 2:00 in the morning on Friday as I sit down and begin this record of the weekend. I've been here since about 10:30 last night trying to unwind. Any day you deal with the airlines right now, it's a long day. A strange synchronicity has been at work so far as Henchman Mongo and I have made our way from Lost Angeles to here. As we flew, we discussed the announcement this week of Dean Kamen's Segway, talking over the principles of the thing, the possible implications of that invention and Kamen's IBOT, speculating about what advances we could see down the road.

Well... I was discussing it. Mongo kept dry-humping a 65 year old woman from Bangladesh and crapping on the beverage cart until I stabbed him with a tranquilizer dart to the great relief of the flight crew.

He doesn't travel well.

As we settled in at the palatial estate of our good friends Tom Joad and Annette Kellerman, the best goddamn hosts anyone could ask for, they put on a few recent SOUTH PARK episodes, including one that managed to expertly skewer both airline travel and the hype around Kamen's announcement. I can't possibly describe the episode to you without completely rendering this column inaccessible to children under the ages of 35, though. There was a stretch of about ten minutes featuring imagery so willfully filthy that I still have trouble believing I saw it. Comedy Central continues to give Trey Parker and Matt Stone free reign to do and say anything they please, and the payoff is a show that is, if anything, better than it's ever been. This season, THE FOURTH GRADE YEARS, has seen Eric Cartman emerge as the full-blown Anti-Christ. It's a combination of expert (and always offensive) voice work, truly fearless, writing, and animation that has managed to find a real sense of character. I mean, part of me feels bad recommending a television show which actually featured the recent punchlines "You could send him to a concentration camp!" and "I'm like those aborted fetuses; I wasn't born yesterday." Yet in both cases, the writing leading up to those payoffs is smart, focused, satire with a genuine edge that earns those jokes and makes them work.

As the house winds down around me in the small hours of my inaugural day of my favorite weekend of the year, the new Dreamworks DVD release of Cameron Crowe's UNTITLED is playing. I watched it last night when going to sleep, too, and I mean that as a compliment. This new edit of the film has all the heart and soul of the script I first read and fell in love with. Why this movie was trimmed back for release is one of the great stumpers in recent Hollywood executive decision-making history. The buzz on the script was that none other than Steven Spielberg had called it "the best script I've ever read," and that he gave the order for Crowe to shoot every word of the 180-something pages. I know that my first encounter with the script still clocks in pretty high on my all-time list of AICN "Eureka!" moments, those singluar geeksplosions where I found something early enough that I could feel like it was private, like it was mine. Chances are if you read this site, you know the feeling I'm talking about.

There are movies or shows or novels or albums that we do not simply watch or read or listen to; we absorb them into our bloodstream. We breathe them in. They become part of the way we think about things, one of the filters we run other art through. And for each of us, the list of movies and shows and books and albums that we consider essential is different, sometimes by degrees, but often quite radically. One of the things I hope to impart when I write for AICN (something I've desperately missed these last several weeks) is that film criticism as it is conventionally defined is dead. When Richard Roeper is considered one of the most influential film critics in the country, film criticism is dead. Buried. Done. Every local-paper-four-star-mainstream-brainwashed nitwit out there, every smarmy-puns-local-news-tan-and-toupee-wearing-red-carpet-working junket leech who spews, they've all rendered the very purpose of criticism moot. As I've been pining for the fjords of AICN, some things have become very clear to me:

I am not a critic.

I am not here to sway you.

I am not here to sell you anything.

You don't see me here every Friday with my rundown of the weekend, and you don't see me here on Monday gloating about the grosses. I do not believe that film can be broken down to fucking football scores. I do not accept that film is something to be blindly digested and regurgitated.

Here's a dirty little secret for you: I don't want to see everything.

Not anymore. Please. I used to. I just don't care anymore about that completist thing that used to make me so crazy. I want to savor movies again. I want to read for enjoyment.

Here's another dirty little secret: you don't want to see everything, either. Not all films are created equal, and it's funny how we all avoid admitting that.

For me, this weekend is all about learning to taste the steak again. I plan to smother myself in as wide a variety of movies as I possibly can. New, old, mainstream, obscure... I'm pretty much up for anything.

It's all about taking it all in and then talking it over with these people I'm surrounded by. Tonight it's Tom Joad, Annette, their significant others, Mongo, me, and one of many Neals and Neils I'm sure to confuse this weekend. It's about sharing the experience, about dialogue, and that includes you, the reader, the talkbacker. This isn't a lecture series. I've missed this forum because I've missed the dialogue it inspires. That's what I'm a junkie for. That's what keeps me coming back.

I should sleep. Remind me in the morning to tell you about SOLARIS. I read the script on the plane. Pretty interesting stuff.

But enough for now. I can see the sun.

II. "I Told The Story My Way"

God bless Texas hospitality.

I'm lying here prone on one of the couches in a food coma after having my ass beaten by a Monster Chicken Burrito from Freebird's, and I've got a wicked caffeine buzz after washing it down with about a gallon of Code Red.

This being the land of Harry Knowles, it should be no surprise that I was awoken by the sound of the loathesome ARMAGEDDON on DVD. Mongo informed me that I made noises like "a wounded caribou" while sleeping the night before, scaring everyone in the house. I thought he was exaggerating until everyone came home and confirmed his report, each of them shell-shocked and skittish around me.

I had more to say about UNTITLED last night, but I got distracted. The 2-disc set is a marvel. Each of the extras adds to an understanding of the film or the filmmaker. Crowe in personally generous in terms of the details of his real life. The secondary audio track for Crowe's longer cut of the film features him and his mother. There's footage of the real Lester Bangs that lends credence to the pitch-perfect work by Philip Seymour Hoffman. This is the best kind of director's cut, a genuine improvement over the original. Even though I would never personally watch ALMOST FAMOUS again, I'm glad they included it as a comparison, a record of what went wrong. The difference between this set and the recent record-breaking DVD of SHREK is depth. The extras on SHREK are basically filler, good for one viewing. Yes, the film is fun. I haven't changed my mind significantly since my first words about it last spring. I confess that there is certain material in the film, though, like the ending and the pop culture references, that doesn't age well for me. I still think of PDI as a talented company that exists in the shadow of Pixar. Their MONSTERS, INC. (a film I never got a chance to write a full review of) is sheer bliss, another muscular example of how good they are with both character and humor. Their marketing move this past weekend to replace the original closing credits with "bloopers," is quickly becoming standard operating procedure for them. It's a great idea, and I don't mind having an excuse to go back and see it again.

I saw somewhere recently that someone was calling Harry hypocritical for loving the STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE director's cut on DVD but bitching about Spielberg's upcoming revised version of E.T. Au contraire, I say. I've always been a fan of full-blown restorations, directors working to complete a compromised original. James Cameron's THE ABYSS is a good example of a film that greatly benefitted from a restoration, as did his earlier ALIENS.

In fact, the ALIENS laserdisc boxed set in the early '90s could be called the model for all good LD and DVD packaging since then. Credit for that belongs in large part to David Fein. I met David for the first time in the spring of '91, when I was working at Dave's Video in the Valley. He was one of our regular customers, and I remember talking to him about ALIENS even before it came out. David is opinionated, a natural know-it-all, and it might be easy to find him off-putting at first. The industry and some of the people in it have been rough on Fein, and he can be bitter about it, but talk to him for any length of time and you'll be struck by the genuine depth of his knowledge and his pride in his work. "Film school in a box" was a phrase used to describe that ALIENS set upon release by the now-defunct newsletter POND SCUM (ten points if you remember it), and it's an absolutely accurate appraisal. At the time, no one had done anything like it, and I remember Dave's ordering crate after crate of those giant blue boxes. 6-discs. That's a freakin' box set. That's thirty pounds of movie. That's both encyclopedic and potentially fatal. When I recently spent about an hour and a half on the phone with Fein to discuss the new STAR TREK disc, which he co-produced, he told me how he remmebers coming to Dave's on the first weekend the ALIENS box was in releas and sitting in a corner of the store watching people pick up the ox, then flip it over to read the back. "We spent so much time and attention on that box, on making sure we got the original poster on the front, on choosing each of those pictures on the back. We put Newt's family in the crawlwer so right away, you saw something you never saw before. If they picked the box up, we had them. As soon as they looked at the back, they would tuck it under their arm and head for the counter."

Maybe the single coolest thing I've had to miss recently, even cooler than the trip to Stan Winston Studios that I sent Jed the Hutt to cover, was the premiere that Fein invited me to attend at the Paramount Theater on the lot. It's one of my very favorite screening spaces anywhere, plush and comfortable, with amazing sound and picture. The premiere was the single theatrical screening of Robert Wise's new restoration of the fil, and Fein told me they'd invited every member of the various ENTERPRISE crews over the years, as well as VOYAGER and DEEP SPACE 9 casts. I just wanted a chance to meet Wise, one of the true gentlemen of the industry and a genuine legend. My feelings about ST:TMP as a movie are different from my feelings about it as a restoration and a DVD. The work Fein did with Wise and Foundation Imaging is all invisible, seamless, of a stylistic piece with the original 1979 FX work. I still think the film has tremendous problems dramatically, but it's because the film is essentially a series of introductions, followed by a three-hour flyby of the ENTERPRISE, a wormhole gag, and another six hours of them staring at V'ger. ST:TMP so desperately wants to be 2001 when it grows up, and thanks to the outstanding efforts of David Fein, it comes closer now than ever before.

In the end, the reason I cherish restoration is because it finally gives a filmmaker a chance to say, "There... I finally told the story my way." The reason these crass "enhancements" like E.T. and, yes, STAR WARS bug me is because the director had control the first time around. All they're doing now is rethinking themselves, second-guessing old work. Artists change over time; their instincts and impulses change over time. A film made by the young artist may speak to me, but a film by the old artist may not. These rethinkings can destroy these magical, tenuous relationships we have with the actual pieces of art. As I said, sometimes we absorb these films, and when all of a sudden something sours, it can be a shock to the whole system. All I ever ask for as a viewer is respect. Let me own the film I fell in love with, and I don't care what else you do. Keep it from me, and I'm liable to get nasty.


III. "Everybody Runs"

Harry's new screening room is cool.

Actually, one could argue that it's insanely fucking cold in here.

We just stopped by to see the screening room, new since our last visit to Austin, and to lay eyes on Knowles. I haven't seen him since he was in town shooting the pilot this past summer. He's been shut in so long at this point that I was starting to believe he'd fallen prey to his very own Annie Wilkes. Frustrating my plans for a coup d'etat of the site, Harry appears to be in good health. He's on crutches, but that's more for confidence than anything. Bastard. He's also in good spirits. Disgustingly so. I guess this means he's going to stick around for a while, so I will have to start working on alternate ways to usurp his power and become king of AICN. When we see him, he's fairly well bursting for BNAT to begin, just like I am by this point.

We didn't end up staying long enough for a film, and there weren't enough of us there to call it a party. We ate some pizza (all of us except Harry), we played some trailers, and then we headed home. Harry had Father Geek get me an advanced reader's copy of Harry's book, my first look at it. I plan to make a list of all the lies contained within and blackmail Knowles with them as soon as possible.

Before we left, Harry told me that the MINORITY REPORT trailer had shown up online, and he played it for me and Mongo. I read a copy of the final shooting draft (not the one that's been floating around the web, reviewed erroneously by many sites) for the Spielberg/Cruise megamovie earlier this year, but due to how I read it and when, I stayed quiet at the time. Despite my well-documented dislike of A.I., I have faith in this new film. Scott Frank has written something dark and strange and moving, easily the best script inspired by the work of Philip K. Dick since BLADE RUNNER, and despite its SF trappings, it is at heart a human story. The quick glimpses of things I recognised from my multiple readings of the script had me excited. "Everybody runs," indeed.

Harry threw us out early, and we found ourselves on the way back to the house before 10:00.

IV. "I'm Never Turning Back Again!!"

It's raining like it's the end of the world, and I couldn't be happier.

When we got back to the sprawling Joad/Kellerman compound, there was a houseful of people waiting for us, all working to finish two short videos to be shown during BNAT. It's a circus, energy buzzing in every room, and I figure the only thing that could turn the carnival up a notch is the balls-to-the-wall rock'n'roll bluster of HEDWIG & THE ANGRY INCH on DVD. I brought my test disc with me. New Line has been sending me these simple white discs in clear plastic cases for every DVD title they've produced since DETROIT ROCK CITY. Their latest specialty line, the Infinifilm releases, are jampacked with special features and extra material. In this case, HEDWIG is the ultimate package for any fan of the film, and well worth picking up immediately.

Personally, I'm still of the mind that John Cameron Mitchell is one of the only actors to unquestionably deserve a Best Actor nomination at the Oscars this March.

Read that again, Academy voters: John Cameron Mitchell for Best Actor.

Oh... shit... there I go, trying to sway you. And after I just got through ranting my manifesto earlier.

I can't help myself, though. Every time I see the film, I get crazy, exhilarated by what Mitchell does as an actor, as a singer, as a writer, and as a director. The film played great tonight to a room of largely unsuspecting viewers, something which doesn't surprise me in the least. I would recommend the disc based just on the transfer and the outstanding job they did pumping up the film's blistering soundtrack. "Tear Me Down" and "Angry Inch" sounded full up of white light and white heat tonight, and "Origin of Love" was a glittering jewel, delicate and strong at the same time. Somehow, it made sense that it was storming outside.

I should be sleeping now, but I have to give the introduction for tomorrow's second film. Booking it for the festival is my birthday present to Harry, and I couldn't be happier that it worked out. I already checked with Tim League, owner of the Alamo Drafthouse, and the print is there, along with a brief videotaped intro by the film's director, Frank Darabont.



I mean, I won't lie. I brought the film for selfish reasons, too. One of the many other online writers (I won't name him since anytime I do that, people interpret it as an act of war instead of merely part of a discussion) has been taking vaguely friendly swipes at me in e-mail, saying my friendship with Frank is the only reason I like this film, and that my recent review was "too generous." Needless to say, this columnist hated the film when he saw it.

I'm sure he'd actively deny disliking the film before walking into the theater, but his e-mails made it fairly clear that he didn't have high hopes for it. I'm equally sure he'd deny being too cynical for the film, but he is. He's an older "entertainment journo," a guy who's been around and who believes in the value of buzz. He's very aware of the wind of popular perception and spends a fair amount of time and energy chasing it. If you're a cynical viewer, jaded, with a withered sense of either whimsy or wonder, then chances are THE MAJESTIC won't work for you. Neither will AMELIE, most likely. As James Cameron said in one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite scripts, "You have to look with better eyes than that."

THE MAJESTIC is a film for people who don't walk into the darkened mystery of a movie theater with baggage in hand, eyes masked by preconception. It's a film about how movies give rise to real and lasting community. Two of our AICN chat regulars, Vegas and Saffron, are attending the BNAT together this year. They're also engaged to be married, something that delights me endlessly. That's community. That's what AICN can be in its best moments. THE MAJESTIC couldn't be any more perfect for this crowd. That's why I tried so hard to get this movie for this festival. I wanted to see it with this crowd. I wanted to share it with these people.

I'll say it again. I love THE MAJESTIC. Not because my friend made the film. Not because I saw it early. I love it for the same reason I love any film. I love it because it speaks to me, and when it does, some part of me sings back in recognition.

Whoa... I was about to complain that I still need to write my introduction, but I don't. That last few paragraphs was the introduction. I'll just take this onstage with me in the morning and read it word for word.

Oh, god. What am I saying? Morning? More like a couple of hours from now. How did I do this? I spent tonight working on my top-secret project, working on these RUMBLINGS of mine, and now it's morning again.

And I still didn't tell you about SOLARIS.

V. "The Epicenter Of Film Geekdom"

Okay... let's see how this all got started.

We woke up to breakfast tacos prepared by Annette Kellerman and quick showers, one after another after another. Considering there's five of us getting ready, we're remarkably efficient.

Outside, it's still raining. The ride to the Drafthouse in the rain is great, a perfect mood-setter. It's like we're gearing up for a seige. I've got many secrets as I walk into the Drafthouse, knowing much of the lineup already. I wait in the car until almost noon, watching the line in front of the theater slowly inch inside. I'm just getting over a cold, so I don't really want to get sick again. I dressed for comfort inside the theater, not a wait in the rain outside: shorts, t-shirt, sweatshirt standing by. This really isn't the proper armor to shield me from inclement weather.

By the time I made my way to my assigned seat, everyone else already seemed to be there. By now, there are faces familiar to every Butt Numb A Thon, the hardcore maniacs who come back each year. Many of the regulars from our chat room showed up in the fleash. Readers introduced themselves to say hello. Just walking into the Alamo for me is like the first ten minutes of MOULIN ROUGE turned up insanely loud. It's overwhelming. I always worry about people feeling snubbed, but if I didn't keep my head down and sprint for my seat, I'd go crazy within ten steps like that kid at the end of Stephen King's story "The Jaunt." Barking made, ranting as I tried to blind myself. "I kep my eyes open the whole way!"

My first priority was to get settled in and see who was seated around me. For those who cry that it's all about who you know and favoritism, would you please explain that concept to Harry? He doesn't get it yet, that I am supposed to be able to unreasonably demand anything I want. In this case, I wanted a couch. I have dreams sometimes about being the proud occupant of one of those deep leather couches for the full 24 hours. The likelihood of that ever happening is only slightly higher than the chances that I'll win an Oscar or go into outer space.

Harry hates me, you see.

Or he's totally gay for me.

I'm afraid to actually figure out the answer despite such subtle clues as the fact that he refuses to assign me the seating I want, no matter how I beg. He also collaborated with AICN's own Cartuna to create another slanderous... I mean, hysterical short cartoon to open this year's festivities, in which terribly violent and sexual things are done to my animated avatar.

And he wonders why I got the restraining order.

Hercules The Strong attended for the first time this year along with Chicago's Capone. Notably absent were both Segue Zagnut and John Robie. Robie's absence means at least a 20% drop in alcohol sales for the Drafthouse this year, and Segue's absence means... well, hopefully it means no more brutal 3 AM attacks by gastric emission. Maybe we don't miss Segue after all.

Harry's seated Herc between two lovely ladies in the row right in front of me. I'm seated between Annette Kellerman's boyfriend and Harry Lime. Like I said, that big red bastard hates me. He taunts me. He takes every shot he can. And he seats Herc in front of me between cute girls.

He even slides in a few jabs in his intro for the first film of the day, FIEND WITHOUT A FACE. He knows how familiar I am with the original. It's got a great villain, a cool bait-and-switch structure, some clever subtext, and a hipster sense of dialogue that plays well, not dated at all. I mean, when was the last time you saw a movie with an anti-hero who is revealed as a speed freak in his first moment onscreen? I love when the invisible brain-and-spinal-column monsters finally become visible, and I love what happens when the brains get shot. I'm a big advocate of the Criterion Collection DVD version of the film, a must-own for any interested parties. Seeing it on the big-screen was a lot of fun, and got things off to just the right start for my taste.

Anthony Timpson, another BNAT regular who I had the pleasure of seeing at Fantasia this summer in Montreal, brought a birthday gift for Harry that ran before the film. It really was just for Harry, too, despite the fact that there is some inherent laugh value in watching a five-minute lesbian softcore scene in bigscreen 3-D without the glasses. Sure, Harry got to see that one brunette's ample assets in 3-D, an awesome sight to be sure. But the rest of us saw a surreal sequence right out of one of Paul Verhoeven's kinkiest dreams. Women with four arms and four breasts locked in sapphic embrace, alternating face-first dives into each other's double-muffs.

Just remember... this is a children's charity we're raising money for.


Readers Talkback
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  • Dec. 14, 2001, 10:23 a.m. CST

    Nothing this review could POSSIBLY say...

    by RedCapitalist

    ...would be more interesting that LOTR.

  • Dec. 14, 2001, 10:44 a.m. CST

    It's funny you should say that RedCapitalist

    by Almost Sexy

    Cause I've just about hit the wall with the whole LOTR review business. I can't wait to see the movie, I've already got my 12/18 12:00 am tickets, but man if I never hear another review about that movie that'll be o-tay with me. I'm hoping with all my heart that it's even better than everyone's saying, and I've been waiting for this on a whole mess of tenterhooks since September of 1999, but good gravy if I've heard anything remotely interest about this movie on the internet in the last two or three weeks. What's there to say? It's a revolutionary ground-breaking cinema-redefining film. Well good. But I think I've heard that one enough. Now I just need to see the darned thing. As for Moriarty, when was the last time the anti-hero was revealed to be a speed freak in his first scene in the movie: for me that's easy. Bill Pullman as Daryll Zero in Jake Kasdan's Zero Effect. This whole Untitled thing sounds interesting. It took me about five minutes to tumble to what Moriarty's talking about. I loved Almost Famous, and if it's been released on DVD as an even better film, I'll just have to go out and get a DVD player even earlier than anticipated (I was saving myself for FOTR this summer). So Moriarty, would you have been as disappointed with Almost Famous if you hadn't read the screenplay first. I can't think of a single wrong note in that movie. But of course, I also liked Howard the Duck and saw Battlefield Earth in the theatre. Yeeeeehahhhh!!! Oh by the way Moriarty, I think you're a good writer.

  • Dec. 14, 2001, 12:09 p.m. CST

    Hey Moriarty, are you getting to Fantasia earlier next year?

    by Kiyone

    'Cause this year you didn't get here (Montreal) until it was 3/4th over and missed an awful lot of good stuff (although they did screen a few films for you privately). Just curious.

  • Dec. 14, 2001, 12:15 p.m. CST

    Entertainment Weekly names LOTR Best Movie of 2001

    by Kraven

    What do you mean this isn't a LOTR TB? Aren't they all?

  • Dec. 14, 2001, 2:58 p.m. CST

    In Australia we just got the SOUTH PARK episode where Cartman ma

    by Cash Bailey

    Damn, that show's getting more fucked up every week. But Matt and Trey have my eternal respect for that wonderful NAMBLA episode they did that so many people completely misunderstood.

  • Dec. 14, 2001, 4:30 p.m. CST


    by stuntrocker

    You hit the nail on the head. 'cept I didn't hear you snore,I am most excellent to sit next to at the theater, I had Vanilla Sky pegged at 2 seconds. That New York overhead shot. BAM. Thanks for HEDWIG dude! I'm a total slacker for not seein it before. And Chango's on the Drag is better that Freebirds. I'll lobby harder for it next time,and you left the Don't Mess with Texas lighter. Anyway, you're the man. Mongo too. You done brung it. We had a total blast and I think Daisy Duke said it best when she said "Ya'll come back now! Ya here?"