If by some incredibly off chance you don't know who Harry Knowles is, he's the man who started Ain't It Cool News, a website which has arguably spawned more film geekery than anything else in the age of the Internet (it's the grandfather of the geekier side of film blogging), and he's become a film geek icon in his own right because of it. For the past thirteen years, Harry has celebrated his birthday by holding Butt-Numb-A-Thon, a 24-hour film festival held at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, TX. Harry is the only person who programs the fest, which is a mixture of new release and vintage films, and selects his secret line-up in such a way as to condense as much pure celebration of film as possible into such a short time period.
This year, which was my first time attending, the line-up included twelve films, eight new releases, the newest being a film that doesn't release for another four months, and four vintage films, the eldest being a 35mm print of a film that is over 100 years old. And then there's all the little surprises between the films, composed largely of vintage and new trailers, one of the latter being a trailer the audience was told we couldn't actually name, but it won't be hard to guess what it was...
Quint's B-day Greeting to Harry
If you know who Harry is, you surely know who Quint is. He's one of AICN's finest writers and he's spent the last several months as an embedded journalist on the set of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit. Because of this extended stay in NZ, Quint would be missing out on his first ever BNAT (breaking a long standing tradition), so instead of sending himself, he recorded a roughly 10-minute video giving us all a cast-and-crew tour of The Hobbit. It was a very funny behind-the-scenes look at what is undoubtedly one of the happiest film sets on the planet, including looks at how the film's many dwarves and elves spend their time when not in front of the camera, how Peter Jackson would soon be forcing Quint to have sex with a sheep, and it all culminated with a special birthday greeting to Harry from none other than Gandalf.
And then, in a truly unforgettable bit of real-world magic, Gandalf cast a spell on 'ole Quint. He disappeared on screen in a puff of smoke and a moment later flames erupted inside the Drafthouse and there was Quint in all his corporeal glory. He then held a brief and well-rehearsed chat with the on-screen wizard, who surprised everyone even further by revealing to Quint that he snuck a special present into his backpack during the teleportation...
Honestly, this was the highlight of the entire 24 hours for me. As a friend of Quint's, it was amazing to see the culmination of his and several other friends' ability to keep a secret (they had already been planting the seeds for this ruse back at Thanksgiving dinner). Not only did Harry have zero idea Quint would actually be there, but his family didn't even know he was coming back to the States. What a bastard.
Yes, Hugo has been in theaters since Thanksgiving, but considering how much this movie clearly means to Harry, it's no grand mystery that it opened BNAT. And I'm personally glad it did, since it's currently fighting another title for my number one pick of the year. It's a stunning, loving, passionate film that's a dear love letter to movie magic and the centuries of filmmakers who have all made going to the cinema such a necessary part of our lives. The 3D is the finest and most integral to the film that I've ever seen, and once again it, and the entire film as a whole, did not disappoint.
Le Voyage Dans La Lune
If you've seen Hugo, you know how important A Trip to the Moon is to both the film's heart and mind, so naturally Harry tracked down a print to show us all Georges Méliès' classic. I'd never actually seen it from beginning to end, so it was a delight to finally see this historical wonder in full and on film. It was a 35mm print, the only one known to exist in America, to boot, which only added to the marvelous nature of this grandfather of special effects.
I'd never even heard of Just Imagine, a rare 1930's science fiction musical, but it seemed the majority of the audience never had, either. And there's a reason for that, it's an exceedingly silly film by today's standards. Even for the '30s, this story set in the far-off future of 1980 was probably pretty goofy, but it did feature some impressive special effects and plenty of amusing cultural artifacts.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
As mentioned in the Hugo recap, Scorsese's film is currently fighting another for my Best of 2011 affection, and it's Tomas Alfredson's adaptation of John LeCarre's Cold War spy novel, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. What's strange about that, however, is that TTSS wasn't at the top of my list before seeing it this second time. The first time around I found it to be a fine film, but one that felt at all times an arm's length from the audience. Upon this second viewing, though, I was completely engulffed in this romantic look at a decidedly unromantic time in the world and it climbed quite a few rungs on my end of the year list in the process.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
I didn't much care for Guy Ritchie's sequel to his own Hollywood version of Sherlock Holmes, though plenty of other BNATers seemed to get a big kick out of it. It's not a terrible film, mind you, it's just not a particularly interesting one, either. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law are once again fantastic together, but the film is awash with poorly conceived action sequences that, due to no discernable sense of geography or momentum, rush through everything despite constantly being in slow motion. Poor Noomi Rapace is given nothing of value to say or do in her first English-language role, as well, so she's yet another bit of dead weight. It's everything you expect from a Sherlock Holmes sequel, just not everything you want.
The Beast with Five Fingers
I sadly have plenty of gaps as far as my vintage horror film knowledge goes, but as far as I understand it, Robert Florey's The Beast With Five Fingers is a gap even for people who don't have those same gaps. It's a Robert Alda-led ensemble featuring the great Peter Lorre and revolves around the increasingly mysterious circumstances of the death of an exceedingly wealthy Italian eccentric. It's a funny, tense mystery with great performances by all involved and hopefully it ends up with a real DVD release sometime in the near future.
The Adventures of Tintin
All of the marketing for The Adventures of Tintin failed to truly excite me. Though advancements had clearly been made, it still looked like typical motion-capture animation, which is to say lifeless. Which is why I am thrilled to no end to say that the final film is anything but lifeless.
It's a roaring adventure film that, though it features a teenager as its main protagonist, isn't the innocent family adventure it's made out to be. This is a movie where a teenager journalist is not only shot at, but shoots at badguys, and who is aided by a tenacious dog and a relentlessly drunk sea captain whose own alcoholism is used as both comic relief and integral plot point. It has some of the best action you'll see in this or any other year, with one sequence in particular instantly join the ranks of best single-shot sequences of all time. Yes, even if it's motion capture, the feat that is that sequence is an incredible technological accomplishment by any live-action (it did use real stuntmen, after all) or animated standard. If you've been missing large-scale, globe-spanning adventure and have been let down by recent films like Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, you will be pleased as punch by Tintin.
Porco Rosso is one of a dwindling handful of Studio Ghibli films that I haven't seen, and while it hasn't dethroned Spirited Away as my favorite of their stellar films, it's not hard to see why this is Harry's favorite Miyazaki film. The aerial combat is fantastic, but more imporantly, the main character is a hoot and one of the most memorable personalities in any Miyazaki film. I'll admit I tried to nod off during Porco Rosso, figuring that since word had spread it was the final vintage film of the night, I might as well catch some winks, but Miyazaki just wouldn't let me and kept grabbing me back from catching any conclusive Zs.
The Cabin in the Woods
When the trailer for the Drew Goodard directed, Joss Whedon-co-written The Cabin in the Woods hit last week, there was a lot of talk about whether or not it was too spoilery. Having now seen the film, I still don't think it is too spoilery. It's a horror movie with a very unique plot, and there's nothing spoilery about the way they reveal this isn't your average horror movie about 20-somethings who go to a cabin in the woods. Having said that, there is a particular shot in the trailer that I wish wasn't in there, so for that alone I'll have to recommend people not watch any trailers before going into the movie.
Just trust that you will want to go into this movie when Lionsgate releases it next April. It's a helluva lot of fun and is unquestionably one of the most memorable horror movies you will ever see. I'm not saying it's the best, I'm just saying it's impossible to forget.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
I'm not sure anyone at BNAT was more disappointed than I to have not liked Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, and that's saying something considering nearly everyone I talked to, even those who found stuff in it to like, was disappointed. I'm a huge fan of Crank and I really respect the grittiness that Neveldine and Taylor bring to their special brand of filmmaking, but this is just bad filmmaking that wastes the talents of everyone involved. The script is nonsense to the point where Neveldine, who was present for a short Q&A, even as admitted so much by saying they inserted several ADR sequences to try and explain things.
Idris Elba and Ciaran Hinds both prove incredibly charitable with their time as it's certainly not a paycheck movie, because it's clear Sony's mantra here was that they didn't care what happened to or in the movie so long as it was cheap to do. And to seal this disappointing deal, there are only a smattering of action sequences involving the Rider doing his full Rider thing. If you don't care about story or characters and just want to see awesome flame effects while listening to heavy metal, you'll be in heaven, but if you require attempts to make this anything deeper than an excuse to make another movie and thus hold onto the Ghost Rider license a little longer, you'll not find them here. The first flick was more entertaining than this, and that says a lot.
The Grey was my favorite new film at BNAT, though I say that with the caveat that both Hugo and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy were not new films to me. It's a very intense, very emotional survivalist movie that's about what it takes to live up to being a man, both in the domesticated sense and the wild sense. Liam Neeson gives a standout performance as the leader of a gang of gents who survive a plane crash only to find they've landed in prime wolf real estate, and he's surrounded by men who are all up to his task, particularly Dallas Roberts, Joe Anderson, Frank Grillo and Dermot Mulroney. I perhaps wish director Joe Carnahan would have cut 15 minutes, but even with a few bloated bits that hurt pacing a tad, it's still an exceptional film.
The Grey hits theaters January 27th, 2012 and is not to be missed.
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
There is no mistaking that M:I 4 is the first live-action movie directed by the man who directed The Incredibles. It's packed to the brim with meticulously conceived action scenarios that employ high concept technology and a star with real stunt power to pull off a level of zaniness that's borderline cartoon. Sure, high concept tech and unwinnable scenarios are always the name of the M:I game, but they've never quite reached the heights that Ghost Protocol takes things-- and no, I'm not just talking about the stellar Burj Khalifa sequence. I personally prefer the slightly more grounded stunt work of the third film and the IMF team dynamic that's in the first film, but as far as all the elements that make up this particular brand of spy adventure go, this may be the most harmonious yet. Make Ghost Protocol and Tintin a double-bill this Christmas and you'll be in for a real treat.