Ahoy, squirts! Quint here and I’ve been a sneaky monkey. When I was invited to join up with those crazy cats down in New Zealand as they traipsed around Middle-Earth for two months I accepted with one condition: That I be able to skip out for a few days in mid-December to attend Butt-Numb-A-Thon.
I didn’t tell that to Harry or my local friends, though. What I did tell them, about 3 weeks into my trip, was that the schedule changed on me and Peter Jackson himself sadly asked me to stay in onset because if I went I’d be missing a key location in the movie.
The web of deceit grew from there and the only people who knew I was coming back were a select few in the upper levels of the Alamo’s administration (this was how I was able to secure my seat… Harry actually did give away my BNAT seat, but The Alamo guys gave me one of theirs) and my buddy Aaron (known ‘round these parts as Kraken) because he was in NZ as plans for my BNAT surprise were being hatched.
With the help of the Hobbit Video Blog guys (specifically Michael Pellerin, Meg Perrott and Susie Lee) and the support of Pete Jackson I was able to build up a 10+ minute video that began with an intro by me and Jackson where I bemoan the fact that I can’t be in Austin for BNAT and Jackson says he’ll get me pissed and laid (cut to sheep turning around, startled) and that we had a few people who want to say hi.
So, I got a bunch of cast and crew to do a lot of silly things… I punched out Terry Notary (Rocket from Apes), got blood put on my face by anti-Massawyrm Mat O’Toole (prosthetics guy who also worked on Prometheus and season 2 of Game of Thrones who looks exactly like Massawyrm), ran into Corrin Ellingford (boom op) making out with his fuzzy mic, got some dwarves to say hello (including Aidan Turner, Dean O’Gorman, John Callen and Jimmy Nesbit), got Hayden Weal (Bilbo’s stand-in) to show us his New Zealand tattoo, which is quite shocking and also spotted a certain Bard combing a certain dreamy-eyed Elf’s golden locks.
But the real kicker was the finale, wrapping things up with Jackson, who waved goodbye and let me wrap up… only to interrupt me in mid-heartfelt birthday wishes to Mr. Harry Knowles, walking back into frame with a familiar robed figure in tow.
Staff in hand, Gandalf walked up to me and asked what he could do for either of us. Peter told him I had a problem. I told Gandalf that one of my best friends was having a birthday, that it was halfway across the world from New Zealand and there was nothing I could do about it. “Well, there’s something I can do,” he says, raising his staff.
Gandalf bonked me on the head and I disappeared into a flash of light. On the day the Alamo set off three pyro gags in the theater and I ran out after the final one, wearing the same clothes (including my silly sunhat) looking bewildered. Gandalf and Jackson remained on the screen talking to me… did I make it? Are my organs intact? Peter left to go direct his movies and Gandalf stayed behind to wish Harry a happy birthday and asked me to look in my bag for a special Wizardly surprise gift for Harry and the BNAT crowd. You’ll get a chance to see the trailer yourself real soon, but I can say it ran 2 ½ minutes long, was in 3-D (in glorious 24fps since 48fps enabled projectors aren’t widespread yet) and got the audience whooping and hollering (and maybe even humming along).
I know there were suspicions, but I think I was pretty successful in keeping this particular secret. In fact, I had to duck down an alley, hat down and covering my face, to avoid Copernicus when I arrived that morning. Harry claims to have had it figured out before Gandalf’s entrance, but I think I got him, too.
That was my point of view from the beginning of BNAT, hiding in the projection booth until the video started at which time I hid in the entrance hall waiting for my flaming cue. I got in late the night before, direct from Nelson, NZ so I’ll do my best to recall the event through a misty travel-weary memory.
Scorsese’s HUGO started the fest off, which was fine by me since I’d been out of the country for 2 months and as a result am ridiculously behind on my movie-watching. I can see why this film has won over the hearts of the critics since it’s a warm-hearted look at the magic of cinema. I’m still not the world’s biggest 3D fan, but it’s used well here. I think the movie works because of the gorgeous cinematography, earnest story and charming performances of everyone involved, not because the 3D is cool.
To be able to watch Melies’ Le Voyage dans la Luna immediately following Hugo is the reason why I don’t get the outcry by some of the BNAT followers that a film out in theaters is included in the line-up. BNAT is not about the individual films. At its very best it’s about the programming and where else are you going to see a 35mm print of a 109 year old silent classic accompanied by live score, especially when it follows such a love letter to cinema, specifically that director and that era of filmmaking.
Of course if I didn’t like Hugo or had seen it a couple times already I might have a different tune, but I think there was a definite plan by placing the movie up front… not just as a tone-setter for the rest of the fest, but as the snowball that rolls downhill becoming an avalanche.
The first three films were sci-fi fantasies, with 1930’s Just Imagine following up the Melies film. Obscure doesn’t begin to describe this flick starring Tarzan’s Maureen O’Sullivan as a woman living in futuristic 1980, where all cars have been replaced with Flash Gordon-like hover planes, all food and drink is ingested in pill form and the government decides who is to marry whom by a cold paperwork submission process. Oh, and it’s a musical.
The movie goes to Mars as the hero tries to improve his standing in society as a way of edging out his competition for his true love (you see they both submitted marriage applications and a trial is set to determine who will marry this girl). Mars is great, populated by two tribes of humans in ridiculous clothes that are a mix of Ming the Merciless and the natives of Skull Island. These two tribes are twins, one good, one bad.
This movie has stuck with me and is one of those films you just can’t really believe was actually made. It’s so bizarre that it feels like aliens made it after pounding a series of Ed Wood films, thinking that’s what this artform was all about. It was a rare treat to get to experience in 35mm. According to Harry, this print has been gathering dust in Fox’s vault for decades, last rented out in 1987.
In a complete change of gears, we went from oddball obscure 1930s musical science fiction to Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, complete with a video intro by Alfredson and Gary Oldman who must have been given $20 to utter the words “Butt-Numb-A-Thon.” What can I say about this movie? It’s gorgeous, filled with some of the best actors working today and feels like it could stand shoulder to shoulder with great ‘70s era spy movies like Three Days of the Condor, but I’d be lying if I said this movie didn’t go over my head a little bit.
I’d blame 20-some hours of travel and 5 hours of sleep pre-BNAT, but from what I heard from most people in the audience that had already seen this one (mostly bloggers and critics) everything kind of solidified the second time through. I actually kind of like that. It’s not a film that holds your hand as the story unfolds, no matter how dense the mystery is. It’s a quiet film, a thoughtful film and one that feels like a throwback to the more distinguished era of movie-making, much like Alfredson’s Let the Right One In, which is one of my favorite films of the last 10 years.
What’s not so quiet and thoughtful was the follow-up film, Sherlock 2. Game of Shadows is just fun. I’m quite fond of these Guy Ritchie Sherlock films as giant buckets of popcorn entertainment (drowned in butter). Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr’s chemistry alone makes these movies worth watching, nevermind the crazy set pieces shot inventively by Ritchie. I think the first film was a bit more complete, but the second hits the ground running, which is both good and bad. We don’t ever really get to see Moriarty work his evil brilliance, just hear about it… I assume we’re supposed to have the events of the first movie as that proof, but I was hoping for a little more on that aspect.
Jared Harris is pretty great in the role, especially in the battle of wits finale, and is a good addition to the universe. This series may not be as smart as the BBC Sherlock, but I’m glad they’re around and that audiences dig them. If more studio tentpole franchises were like Sherlock Holmes we’d have a much better slate of flicks out there.
The Beast With Five Fingers, a 1946 gothic horror film starring Peter Lorre, was next up and one of my favorites of the fest. I just love these kinds of movies even though you know 99% percent of the time they’re not going to go crazy with the ending. This one comes close, but it’s not so much a reanimated murderous hand killing people like I was hoping they’d go for, but I won’t spoil too much in case any of you want to catch this one on TCM or an eventual DVD release (probably in a Lorre box set, I’d imagine).
The basic concept is a whodunit in a creaky old mansion owned by a one-handed genius pianist who desires to leave all his wealth and property to his nurse. When he dies the family wants to challenge the will and the result is sightings of his other, now severed, hand in odd places and horrific strangulations. Very cool.
Before Tintin, the next film, we were treated to the gift I carried with me from New Zealand (three times) and a trailer for the new GI Joe movie, which if I heard was playing in advance of it rolling I would have dreaded, but God help me this looks so stupid over-the-top fun that I just may like this film. The Rock hamming it up (although I noticed a lack of his crazy sweaty beard from the last Fast and Furious movie), Cobra flags flying over The White House and Bruce Willis’ stinger at the end all got cheers from the audience, even from people like me who found the first GI Joe film a disaster.
This was my second time seeing Tintin and it’s just flat out fun, more of an Indiana Jones film than Crystal Skull by a country mile and my favorite Performance Capture film (apologies to the recently dethroned Monster House, I still love you!). One of the things I found most exciting about Tintin was similar to what I found exciting about JJ Abrams’ Star Trek: the anticipation of the next adventure. As much fun as the movie is the finale doesn’t quite hit epic enough, especially after following two incredible set pieces from the middle of the movie. One of them, a back and forth in time retelling of Capt’ Haddock’s ancestor’s fight with dirty pirate Red Rackham, is particularly thrilling and some of the best pirate action ever seen on screen. The other is a one-take chase through a city that balances perfect timing, character beats, humor and thrills.
The movie is unhindered, 100% pure Steven Spielberg and if the second follows in that path then we’ll be seeing the boiled down essence of Peter Jackson in a few years time. There’s that anticipation growing again… (PS Andy Serkis is a world treasure, that is all. FUUUUMMMEESSS!!!!).
Porco Rosso was next up and that was a nice surprise since it is one of the few Ghibli movies I haven’t seen. And the newly struck 35mm print (undubbed, with subtitles) was a perfect way to experience it. I was a little nervous this played at this spot, more than halfway into the fest and in prime I-wanna-sleep time, but Porco Rosso is a fairly straight-forward adventure story, not bogged down in the esoteric. A flying Italian pig hunts pirates, rescues school children, flirts with a famous singer, fights a dickhead wannabe superstar actor and builds a strong relationship with a wunderkind ship builder when his precious aircraft is damaged.
Like the best Miyazaki the world is filled with colorful characters, pure imagination, sharp humor and lots and lots of heart. There’s apparently been a bunch of Ghibli movies getting this new print treatment next year and if they’re all as beautiful as Porco then there are going to be a lot of happy nerds out there.
The next title was the clear favorite of the fest. We weren’t allowed to tweet about it, but I’m allowed to talk about it briefly here… I don’t know why one is okay and the other isn’t, exactly, but we did see Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods. I don’t see eye to eye with Herc on many things and Joss Whedon is one of them. I like Firefly, not a fan of just about everything else he’s had a hand in. So, when I say Cabin in the Woods is great I hope that carries a little more weight than it would from your typical Whedon fanboy/girl. I’m sure the film will get overhyped if it isn’t already, but it’s a great (and oddly simple) angle on the horror genre that feels like a real movie (thanks, Drew) while keeping Whedon’s popular wit. Anybody with a passing interest in the horror genre will get a kick out of this horror comedy.
And anybody with a passing interest in film should feel as pissed off as I did after seeing the next film. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is god-awful. It’s barely a movie! And this comes from someone who unapologetically gets a kick out of both Crank movies and even had fun with Gamer. Without a question this is Neveldine and Taylor’s worst film with only passing moments of insane fun spots surrounded by “hey, look we wear rollerblades and hang off of motorcycles when we film! How cool are we?!?” camerawork. Nic Cage is out of control, his manic energy unfocused by the directors. The story doesn’t make a lick of sense, but that sense of certifiable fun that usually makes up for that particular shortcoming in N&T movies is missing from the flick. Very disappointing.
Thank God it was wedged in-between two of BNAT’s best movies. Cabin in the Woods and then The Grey, which is essentially Joe Carnahan slamming his director’s dick on the table. Forget A-Team and Smokin’ Aces, this is Carnahan showing up to make a movie that goes beyond popcorn fun. It’s ALIVE with wolves with Liam Neeson in an oddly autobiographical role of a man who buried himself in his work after losing his wife leading this group of airplane crash survivors through the frozen tundra.
I like Taken a lot, but this is the real Liam Neeson badass. Carnahan shot the movie to be very gritty, very real, and as a result this feels so much more authentic, giving Neeson all the room he needed to give one of the most heart-breaking manly man performances of his already Old Spice soaked career.
The final film of BNAT required a trip to the IMAX where we watched Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol in 70mm. I’d like to give a full opinion on this one, but I must admit that 5 hours of sleep between 20 some hours of travel and 20 some hours of movie watching wasn’t quite enough and I faded about halfway through. What I saw I loved and I’m about to walk out the door right now and see the movie fully rested with some Wellington friends.
My only criticism about this year was the prominence of new films with the vintage programming taking a back seat. The vintage ones we got were great, but those are usually my favorite parts of the fest. I felt overall the programming was solid, but I could have done with one or two amazing older titles.
So, that was my BNAT. One more week to go in Wellington on Hobbit stuff then I’m back home for good. Keep your eyes out for the next Hobbit report to hit soon!