Everyone always asks for me to write up BUTT-NUMB-A-THON and it is always a very difficult writing assignment for me. There’s so many things I can say that I usually have no idea how to begin.
This is my 4th from scratch attempt to encapsulate BNAT. I’m not sure if this will even reach the site, but I’m going to just keep typing until I have either finished the article or deleted and started anew.
Generally – I’m responsible for securing the vast majority of what reaches the screen. The Alamo Drafthouse always offers me the ability to program the trailers, but the reality is, I’d rather be surprised by what Lars programs. Usually it mirrors exactly the playful and fun-poking spirit that BNAT is about.
More than any other year, I really didn’t feel like working on BNAT13WOLF much at all. The therapy and the energy that I expend in there usually trashes me for much of the day. On a day where I don’t go to rehab, I can do all sorts of stands, walks, transfers and activities… But after the hours in Rehab, I can barely get back in and out of the car. The fatiguing is pretty insane. I know for most of you, thankfully you have no clue what I’m doing every day. Or what I’m fighting to come back from, but it is a fight I give my everything to. I know my output on the site has frankly sucked this year. My writing is the sloppiest that it has ever been. This has to do with exactly how tired I am, how the drugs to relax the muscles to let them recover have affected just about everything on those days. I’ve literally climbed over 450 miles of stairs this year. That’s absurd. Absurd. Gained 40lbs in muscle this year. Lost over a 100lbs since January. For a great deal of the year, I was just trying to reestablish the neural connections to muscle groups. Now my brain can communicate with all of them. Which is why the training has intensified. I’m tired of being trapped in this chair – and I will be getting out of it. Right now – the biggest problem is my hamstrings. They’re still pretty puny. I can stand for a minute with my knees bent… my next goal is 5 minutes. When I can do that… they begin working to teach me to walk without holding on to anything. This next year begins the pool training – in addition to the other work – and I will most likely doing 3 to 4 hours of work in Rehab a day, because my body is getting to the point where I can start doing that increased work and that is what is important to me right now.
Reclaiming my life. That’s what I think about every day. Every day, I fight my base nature that wants to just watch movies and not go to therapy and I go. I go and I go as hard as I can. Making weekly progress that gets my therapists quite excited. And myself. Because more than anything, I know what I can do that is new and every reclamation of my body is… frankly amazing to me.
SO… my work on AICN suffers and BNAT really didn’t seem incredibly important to me for most of the year. Then I saw HUGO.
HUGO is a film about a pair of children that discover the glorious history of cinema and meet one of it’s leading founding magicians. Watching the film instantly reminded me of the endless hours I spent as a child going through hundreds of cinema books that my father had… he owned a memorabilia and nostalgia business that was quite extensive. When he retired and brought the shop to live in my childhood home… I browsed its pages. Looking at still images of movies I could only dream of seeing. Flipping through the pages of every Famous Monsters of Filmland… discovering the glory of imagi-movies. The magic of the silent comedians, the monsters of film, the heroes and the ladies. Imagining what they sounded like and how they moved. Associating images with titles, faces to actors and dreaming of the films themselves. I saw a ton of classic film thanks to THE SATURDAY MORNING KIDS CLUB – which was at the University of Texas’ Union Theater and kids from all over Austin would come, make paper airplanes, eat the free popcorn and discovered cinema. CAPTAIN BLOOD, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, the Harryhausen films, ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS, NOSFERATU… not necessarily kiddie fare, but we ate it up. It was magic.
THE SATURDAY MORNING KIDS CLUB… that’s what BUTT-NUMB-A-THON is about. I work for months to create this one 24 hour of cinema for an audience of hardcore film loving freaks and my friends… Tim League is who originally thought of attaching it to my birthday. He’s who asked me to come up with something, originally just to screen my 16mm prints. But it evolved. Became a mixture of vintage rarities and brand new & future release movies.
Over the years, it has come to mean something different to those that come. They’ve begun projecting their own visions of the event upon it. Massawyrm called it “GEEK CHRISTMAS” – due mainly to the gift bags of cool stuff that each attendee gets to take home. Basically, the reasoning behind that – came from my desire to make the event as worth the money as humanly possible. Giving you premieres and vintage rare prints and a bag of cool stuff that usually adds up to more than the cost of the ticket… sometimes by multiples.
Folks tend to regift the items in the bag or enjoy them. They take home a full size one-sheet designed for the event, a custom limited t-shirt and all manners of eclectic fun. But most of all they take home the spirit of the event. The people that make up the audience which are all, to the one, cool fucking people. Some are High School kids. Some are mothers from far off places around the country, some travel… well this year we had a fellow travel all the way from Perth, Australia… A Bnatter let him have a spare room of their home, shuttled him around to events and basically made him feel like he was a traveling dignitary. He was. He represented AUSTRALIA this year at BNAT. Our first! Austria, Germany, Belgium, England, France and the four corners of North America. The audience comes to enjoy the show and give their money to a good cause that helps future generations of film goers have a more amazing look at cinema than would otherwise be the case.
I’m not going to write full reviews of everything played – if I did that, this article would be over 25,000 words and there is no need for that. There are plenty of articles being written and that have been published that went straight through every beat of BNAT13WOLF… describing every trailer, introduction and instead – I’ll be discussing why I chose the films to play I did and what my personal enjoyment of these films… where it came from.
HUGO kicked it off because the way I love that film, it’s the kind of love that I wish to share. I knew many of the folks in the audience had not yet seen the film. From HUGO’s box office anemia – I knew this was likely true of many in the audience. The trailers do not adequately convey the magic of the film. The joy that the movie taps into – nor the pure love for the wonder of cinema that it passes on to its viewers. HUGO is a film unlike any other in Scorsese’s film career – and has an immense amount of power to it. I’m very happy that fellow critics and film advocates have supported the film so strongly this awards season thus far.
George Melies’ TRIP TO THE MOON is another film that many of us have seen in some form. But that none of us had seen theatrically before. This had to change. Originally I wanted to play 3 of Melies shorts, but in the United States there is only one recorded print of TRIP TO THE MOON that is accessible to be shown on 35mm. His other films are in France and the cost and time needed to get them was not our ally. There was some talk of showing them off of DVD, but frankly… I wanted a 35mm experience. Shortly before BNAT began, I learned from our tech team that the final minute of the short… featuring a parade had a split up the middle of the 35mm frame. We tried to repair it, but it kept coming undone. I asked that we give it one last try and pray for a BNAT miracle. Graham Reynolds, the amazing musician that had composed an original piece for this screening had to improvise on the fly an extra minute of music because online, the versions of the film are a minute shorter. SO yeah. I was on pins and needles throughout this screening. Graham’s music was electrifying. Giving the film an amazing sense of energy and excitement – which is easily observable by the pure imagination that Melies put into the film. The film played flawlessly from beginning to end. A BNAT Miracle indeed.
Next was the 1930 Fox film, JUST IMAGINE. You can buy a copy of this on Amazon for $999.99 – but you’ll probably find renting the 35mm print from Fox to be cheaper and vastly more satisfying. I discovered this film while searching for a film to follow up the imagination of Melies with. I’d seen stills from the film. I knew the rocketship to be Zarkoff’s from the old Buster Crabbe FLASH GORDON serials. The sets were raided for that Serial and BUCK ROGERS. It was the first Hollywood Science Fiction Sound film – and it’s last for 21 years. Until 1951. I programmed this because I had to see it. Had to. They spent $250,000 (1930 dollars) to make the future model world of New York City of the far flung 1980s. The film is obviously a strong influence on George Lucas, and most film fans have never had an occasion to visit it. The vaudeville is obvious. The songs sound like they were sung into a tin can – and the jokes were old the day they were spoken. BUT the movie is a pure delight. To imagine what the world of 2061 would be without the myriad societal changes that will really occur… it is impossible, but even still… to imagine that 1980 would have us all in airplanes with horizontal take-offs and landings… Food pills. Numbers for names. Arranged by the government weddings. I do believe the film is going to be the most quoted film of this year’s BNAT next to CABIN IN THE WOODS.
Then came TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY… the first English language film by the director of the brilliant LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, Tomas Alfredson. Tomas and Gary Oldman greeted the audience before the film began – and Oldman’s pronunciation of BUTT-NUMB-A-THON brought the house down. For me, just hearing the word come from Gary Oldman’s blessed head… it was so blessedly absurd as to shake the pillars of Heaven. This was my 4th viewing of the film. I’ve watched it twice at home on my Screener, and twice in the theater. The first time back in September – and at the time – it was my pick for the Best film I’d seen all year. I love spy films. Be they of this variety or of the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL variety. But my fave. The ones that make me dream of being a spy… it’s this type of film. Where it isn’t about impossible stunts and gadgetry, but the Cold War variety of watching and knowing what you’re seeing and what it means. To know the history of the time, the kinds of men it took to play the absurd chess game that was the Cold War. Today we live in an incredibly different era, but in the days of George Smiley… it was notably low tech and very deadly. Oldman’s Smiley is one of the very best performances by an actor this year – and the second best performance of BUTT-NUMB-A-THON, behind Liam Neeson’s towering performance in THE GREY… The film is played in a minor key… it is quiet, methodical and for me, electrifying. Watching Benedict Cumberbatch just chewing upon every frame he’s in, but quietly is delicious. Mark Strong’s Jim is a fantastic character. John Hurt’s Control is a wonder. Toby Jones’ self-righteous Percy is an absolute inner circle prick and he plays it with relish. Colin Firth’s Bill Haydon is fantastic. When you see the scene with Oldman’s Smiley and David Dencik’s Toby facing off… it is one of the most electric acting moments in film this year. Watching David crumble against the unmoving granite that is George Smiley is just… a wonder. This is a brandy film with a fire crackling in a chimney in the background. A thoroughly classy affair.
Now how could I not follow up a Benedict Cumberbatch performance and not play Guy Ritchie’s latest installment, SHERLOCK HOLMES: GAME OF SHADOWS. Guy welcomed the BNAT audience to this advance screening – and I have to say… this was one of a very few films that I programmed this year without seeing. That said, I really did enjoy Guy’s first outing with SHERLOCK… I love watching Robert Downey Jr play his take on the role. I also acknowledge that this is a pulpy reinvention of the literary sleuth… making him curiously closer to the feel of what a great DOC SAVAGE film should feel like. For me, the sequel is vastly more entertaining than the original. Here’s why. 1st – Stephen Fry’s Mycroft is hysterical. The nude scene with him is alone worth the price of admission. 2nd – Jared Harris’ Professor James Moriarty creates a sense of peril that I just didn’t allow Mark Strong’s character to give me. The second that I saw the final big location of the film, my sphincter began to tighten simply because of what could occur there. And I was right. There is a chess game between Holmes and Moriarty that moves from the board to the intellect to imagined hypothetical violence to a final move that is simply in a word… BRILLIANT. Electrifying and cinematic, taking us not just into the brilliant mind of Holmes, but of Moriarty and for me… this was the best hero/villain showdown of 2011. Just wow. I really like this series and hope it continues, but even moreso, I’m dying to see the next 3 installments of the BBC SHERLOCK series which begins early in this New Year! I love the character of Sherlock Holmes, always have. He’s a character that has been played with so many variances in interpretation, that I just can’t help but delight at these new takes.
Then I followed up with another investigative film… a mystery with some psychotronic flair. THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS from 1946. Written by Curt Siodmak (WOLF MAN) and starring Peter Lorre and Alan Alda’s dad, Robert Alda… it is simply a delight. Max Steiner providing a score and a disembodied left hand that murders and plays the fuck out of a grand piano. How this film came to be included in this year’s BNAT was due to one young lady’s BNAT application. She answered the question, “When did you realize you loved film?” with an answer about watching an old black & white movie at her grandmother’s house, she thought it had been introduced or starred Vincent Price – but had a hand that murdered and played the piano. She had searched for it her entire adult life, but hadn’t found out the name of the film. WELL… My parents had a friend that owned the film on 16mm, my dearly departed Uncle Bob, and for me… this was one of the great Peter Lorre mental breakdown performances… and if you love Peter Lorre, you collect his panic attacks on cinema like needle marks upon an addicts’ arm. Crazy Peter Lorre is one of my favorite things. I love it. I also love the incredibly freaky performance by Victor Francen, who plays the invalid Francis Ingram, who only has the use of his left arm – and a really creepy creeper man face that oogles the young and beautiful Andrea King… his nurse. It absolutely reminds me of my home life. LOVE IT!
At the very beginning of the whole of BNAT13WOLF, I had a special video Birthday card from Quint (Eric Vespe) in New Zealand. One of the big bummers of this year’s BNAT, was that several of its founding spirits could not come due to genuine hardship and tragedy. Quint was being forced by the nefarious Peter Jackson to record the Bilbo dwarf-filled barrel riding to Laketown sequence in the film on location in New Zealand. Now, I had been suspecting something was up for a myriad of reasons… Quint’s disappearance online, a lack of communication from Peter, a mysterious 10 minute surprise that was in the schedule… and well, I could see the narrative unfold… Seeing Orlando Bloom back in his Legolas make-up. Various dwarves and crew members… But when Ian McKellen’s Gandalf the Grey came out, I just knew… something magical was being cooked up. The result began a 10 minute black out at BUTT-NUMB-A-THON… the anxiety I was feeling was the anticipation of THE HOBBIT trailer. There was literally nothing on Earth that I wanted to see more on my birthday than THE HOBBIT trailer. When I was told it wouldn’t work… my heart sank. It was a massive, terrible cock tease of epic proportions.
When I saw the Rankin Bass animated HOBBIT when it originally aired on NBC the same year as STAR WARS. It began a lifelong love affair with Tolkein’s work. From the very first conversations I had with Peter Jackson, I had always asked, “Why not start at the beginning with THE HOBBIT?” because in my heart, the film I’ve dreamt of seeing pretty much my entire life is a great adaptation of THE HOBBIT. Through modern technological magic Warner Brothers sent up into outer space a signal that beamed back through the stratosphere into the projection room a signal carrying the first ever public screening of 48 fps Real D 3D HOBBIT Trailer. I can tell you nothing of what happened in that trailer, but I can tell you, the audience demanded that I play it again, I demanded to play it one more time on top of that. Wow.
Then it was time for THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN: THE SECRET OF THE UNICORN!
I had not seen this before seeing it at BUTT-NUMB-A-THON. I booked this one sight unseen because this was exactly how I wanted to first see it. With this audience. I was in Spielberg & Jackson & Williams & Wright & Moffat and Cornish and Herge’s hands. I knew that Michael Kahn was editing and that Weta Digital was making it all pretty! My wife knew nothing about the film, she’d seen the trailer and it just wasn’t her thing… After BNAT – it was her favorite film of the 24 hours. The one she most wants to watch again. To be fair, many of these films were her second screening. So like me, this was one of her very few fresh experiences. For me… I love it. I can easily transform into an 11 year old as it plays. Williams’ score surrounds me throughout, the since of motion and depth from the 3D is amazing. But most of all… I just loved the good natured curiosity of TinTin. Growing up as an Eagle Scout, destined to become a world traveling redheaded writer that reports on fantastical adventures around the globe… Yeah, TINTIN is my kind of thing. Andy Serkis’ Haddock is delightful. Snowy had Yoko giggling and making the cutest of delighted noises. That computer animated puppy stole her heart. Warming my own as a result. As I watch the film I realize that TinTin is a bit of a Jedi. He has the astonishing indomitable spirit of Indiana Jones. He’s a cat that always lands on his feet. He sees opportunity on the precipice of disaster and he seizes it. I loved his character. Most of all I love that it transported me completely out of the theater. It was truly what I wanted from it. There’s some brilliant cinema on display here. That it happened the way it happened is no less miraculous. The technology of something like this should freak me out, but instead I’m in awe. Remember when it was ATARI? Jesus. Wow.
I decided that I would follow up TINTIN with another animated adventurer…. Earlier this year when Moises Chiullan told me about Studio Ghibli striking brand new remastered 35mm prints of the whole Miyazaki library – and wondered if I wanted him to go after any titles in particular for Butt-Numb-A-Thon I gave him the marching orders to capture PORCO ROSSO for me. It is my favorite Miyazaki film. I was introduced to the title by Guillermo Del Toro shortly after he moved to Austin. This Halloween, I became PORCO ROSSO for the neighborhood kids and my Halloween party, but at that point it was still questionable whether or not Ghibli would have the print ready or available for us. In fact, it was just 2 and a half weeks ago that it finally came together. THANK GOD! Watching the flawless, never before had this print even been run through a projector. As it played, I was transported by the magic of Miyazaki. I am now also greatly anticipating Mondo’s upcoming poster for PORCO ROSSO. I was shocked how many hadn’t seen this film. So glad I was able to change that!
Now – before I get to the next film, let me tell you what I told the audience. In the realm of programming BUTT-NUMB-A-THON, I’ve often been given the honor to sneak films which would later go on to premiere at major film festivals. We played OLDBOY months before it World Premiered at CANNES, many films before they played SUNDANCE, SXSW, BERLIN and many other festivals, but everytime it is a delicate balance. I know many of the great festival programmers and heads of festivals and they’ve come to realize that BNAT is a very useful buzz spot where a film that isn’t quite on everyone’s radar can suddenly become something to be excited by. In order to play the next film, I agreed to talk to my audience and to ask them to not reveal the title on Twitter, nor to review the film in whole. If they were writing up a BNAT recap, they could write one paragraph and reveal the title on their website or blog. Everyone raised their hands and swore. Why? Well, that was the condition under which I got the film.
This is of course, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, directed by Drew Goddard, who wrote the film with Joss Whedon. They played this film for me a few weeks ago. So I’ve seen it twice now – and as great as one showing is, the second showing was even stronger. The played the audience, catching them early with dialogue and humor, then really spinning them on their heads for the last act. How great is this film? So great, that Devin Faraci wrote me a leader saying that I had to program it at BNAT, and of course I had to play like it wasn’t happening. But yeah, couldn’t agree more. This film is a major major delight. It’s the kind of horror film that horror fans will love… and non-horror fans will love too, because it has that wit and that magic to it. Really hope this film explodes when it opens on April 13th! The only spoiler I’ll give is that you will see female nudity and Chris Hemsworth’s freakishly sculpted bod. You could feel the women swooning and the men dealing with undealt with issues. That man sure is purty.
When Sony came back to me wanting to play GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE, it was very definitely a film I would need to see first, but I was pretty sure I was going to have a lot of fun with it. At Comic Con, their presentation was one of the surprise hits this year. Getting the online community very excited, but for me… it comes down to being the work of Neveldine & Taylor… The CRANK guys. They have an insane energy, that when paired with Cage, I was particularly curious about. I can’t write a full review right now, but I will tell you this. At BNAT – this was the film that divided the audience. That said, my biggest comic book buddies in the room, definitely had a blast with this. Two comic artists that attended really flipped for it… but the reason I did was simply this. This is a B-movie. It’s under the label of MARVEL KNIGHTS… and had Sony and Marvel gone full R-rated crazy, it might have won more in the audience over. But for me, in the same way I love BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS, I love GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE. It’s far from being a GREAT film, but it is a biker movie after all… and not of the EASY RIDER variety. No matter what, you’ll probably dig the interrogation scene quite a bit. Taylor was good enough to show up at dawn when we were playing this. Let’s just say that I’m dying for the Blu Ray of this film. The alternate version with Cage as he was on set as Ghost Rider just sounds like the most mind-bending awesomery that we all deserve to check out. Go into this as a fan of GHOST RIDER and a fan of the CRANK films and honestly, I can’t imagine being disappointed.
The very last film to play at the Alamo Drafthouse at BNAT13WOLF was Joe Carnahan’s THE GREY starring Liam Neeson. It is produced by Ridley & Tony Scott. This is a man against nature film – and it kicks unholy ass. It is due out in theaters on January 27th, 2012 – but if I were the distributor, I’d submit the film to Cannes and release the film at the end of August with a proper Academy campaign for Liam Neeson for Best Actor and Frank Grillo for Supporting Actor. I really do wish they’d play qualifying runs in New York and Los Angeles – just so this film could be in the mix – cuz right now, I’m frankly bored by a lot of the Awards fodder – and this is an extremely powerful and emotional film that doesn’t suck. It’s got teeth. Wolf teeth. If the wolves in TWILIGHT were like this, everyone would think it was cool. This film woke everybody up with fantastic storytelling, ferociously terrible situations for the characters to attempt and survive. I mean. These characters are so colossally fucked by the mere fact that their situation is one that any of us can truthfully say… would kill us. This might very well be my favorite Liam Neeson performance. It’s a movie to take Ernest Hemingway & Jack London to. A man’s man’s movie. It was definitely a popcorn early morning at the end of BNAT – but this was simply beautiful art… powerful emotional ferocity. It made us all want to stay in our theater seats for fear of just how horrible the world could be out there. I wept for all BNATTERS having to board planes.
Then, for the very last film… we boarded buses… well, the BNATTERS did, I had to drive over with Yoko… So I can neither confirm nor deny the rumor about Tom Cruise driving one of the buses. I don’t know how it started or if it happened, but it did make me laugh a lot. And I genuinely wonder.
Playing MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL at the Bob Bullock IMAX here in Austin was just how I wanted to end this year. I love Brad Bird’s films. They’re some of my most favorite films over the duration of AICN’s 15 year history. From IRON GIANT to this film, the man just dazzles me. Imagining him set loose with all the money in the world, IMAX cameras and some awesomely talented actors and Lalo Schifrin’s classic riffs for Michael Giacchino to play with and to riff from. Brad Bird does a superb job of putting the team together in failure, make them try and fail again and then create a situation that is, frankly, impossible to win. Brad sets so much pressure on the team. Isolates them. Plays on their fears and base natures and then takes them for a spin. I love watching them not just pull off perfection everytime out. I also love that the reveals are not like the reveals in the previous 3 films. As for where it falls in the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE film run? Well, I need to see it again… because at the 24 hour mark – when the film plays as one of the most beautifully lucid towering dream experiences… I just couldn’t get enough. Tom on that fucking building is just… dazzling. Just big old school Hitchcock daring and suspense… only with toys for shooting that Hitch would have loved to have had. Brad Bird has successfully and triumphantly begun his conquering of the live-action film medium. Let us pray that Andrew Stanton follows suit!
With that, BNAT13WOLF came to a close. We returned to the Alamo for beers and fellowship… I left at 3pm or so. I had arrived at 9am the day before. 30 hours. Great films, great friends and fantastic memories. Now I’d better get started on 14. It’ll sneak up on me!