I did it! I've just risen from my post-BNAT nap, and I feel qualified to assert that I officially survived. Butt-Numb-A-Thon 14: The Lucky One was the first BNAT I've ever attended, and I very much enjoyed the experience. I was on pretty good behavior - I only drank tea and water, I didn't over-eat or over-caffeinate, I walked around and stretched in between every film - and aside from some light nodding off, I remained fairly buoyant for the entire event.
For the uninitiated, BNAT is the annual birthday celebration for Harry Knowles from Ain't It Cool News. Harry shows 24 hours of movies, some brand new and some repertory, to a theater full of fans at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin from noon on Saturday to approximately noon on Sunday. Devin's attended for several years running, and you can read his recap from last year here.
So this year's recap! The event was kicked off with most of a very beat up screening of Teen Wolf, a running gag at BNAT that Devin had to explain to me later. Apparently they never make it through the full movie, but we got pretty close, with the print allegedly disintegrating in the middle of that riveting basketball climax. I was reminded that Teen Wolf, while a classic, is an aggressively stupid film containing Michael J. Fox's least charming performance. Lucky for everyone involved, Michael J. Fox's least charming performance is still ridiculously charming, particularly as he Buster Keatons his way down a flooded hallway.
Then Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh dropped by to introduce the next screening, a 48fps presentation of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. But first, we were treated to the first full theatrical trailer for Star Trek Into Darkness, which I liked rather better than the teaser we saw last week. My impressions of this trailer, as a Star Trek babe in the woods, mainly relate to how sufficiently Benedict Cumberbatch fills out that trench coat, so here's what Devin tweeted: "Full STAR TREK trailer indicates hands against glass scene is actually Spock and Cumberbatch. If he's Sybock... Well, kudos." "That said, Cumberbatch does NOT have Vulcan ears. Hands against glass scene seems to be Cumby in the brig." "Trailer opens with Pike VO, telling Kirk he has courage but no humility, and someday that will get him and his crew killed." "Oh yeah: there's space stuff in the full TREK trailer. Space combat. Guy in a space suit zooming around."
As for The Hobbit, I liked it. There were certainly parts I found too silly, geared for children and therefore annoying, but it shouldn't surprise me that being back in Middle-earth was a pleasantly stirring experience. Martin Freeman is quite wonderful as Bilbo, and all of the dwarfs are great, Richard Armitage as Thorin in particular. The film is uneven and too long, but I was engrossed, and seeing The Shire and Rivendell again did not fail to make me smile - even seeing them in a new, initially jarring format. Actually, the 48fps didn't overly bother me. I was taken aback at first by the hyper-clarity and its tendency to illuminate every artifice, but then long periods of the film would pass without my noticing. At times I think it added to the quality of the film, particularly during fast-paced action sequences which were easier for me to follow with my eyes, but ultimately I'd say it neither bothered nor impressed me for much of the film. You can read Devin's review of the film here and his survey of the critics' reactions to the frame rate here.
A few tidbits from the Q&A following the film: Jackson revealed that when he first conceived of adapting the Lord of the Rings books back in 1995, naturally his plan was to adapt The Hobbit first, followed by two Lord of the Rings films. But in hindsight, he's glad The Hobbit is being released last, as it freed him to direct the films with one foot set in the more adult LOTR style and one foot set in the childlike humor of The Hobbit. He said he's finished editing the extended cut, which will be released on Blu with 20 to 25 minutes of extra footage. The first scene they shot was the incredible exchange between Gollum and Bilbo - my favorite scene in the book and the film, and he thinks it gave Freeman a perfect entrance to the character as it's such a meaty part and he was up against Andy Serkis, who was of course giving his all. They shot that scene, the entire scene, from every angle for every set-up, so the two actors truly had it down by the end. He said the remaining two movies will include some material from Tolkien's appendices, including of course the Necromancer, played by the omni-present Cumberbatch.
Next we saw the theatrical trailer for G.I. Joe: Retaliation, which was more of the awesome same, and then a sequence of ninjas fighting on a mountainside that was honestly breathtaking. It's so foolhardy of me to be excited about a movie this long in the making, but dammit if that footage didn't make me excited.
The following film was my absolute favorite of BNAT, the Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell hoofin' musical Broadway Melody of 1940, preceded by footage of Powell being honored as the Queen of Tap in 1981. Oh, this film was delightful. I grinned so hard during it that I'm surprised my face didn't stick that way, and hours later, just thinking of it makes me smile again. Astaire and Powell have remarkable chemistry, particularly notable in that Powell was Fred's first post-Ginger collaboration. The film includes some of the most extraordinary dance numbers I've ever seen, especially the above, as well as a wealth of stunning costumes and set pieces and a terrific sense of humor. Broadway Melody of 1940 is a real gem, and I urge you to find it.
We were lucky enough (well, I felt lucky. I don't know about anyone else) to get two musicals in a row, as the next film was Busby Berkeley's 1943 Technicolor musical The Gang's All Here, starring Carmen Miranda, Benny Goodman and others. I wish these two musicals had been reversed, as The Gang's All Here is great fun, but suffered a bit screening directly after Broadway Melody. The costumes were shabby, the dances weren't as tight, the plot was alternately enraging and completely dropped - however, The Gang's All Here shined at the end with a pretty insane kaleidoscope climax that neglected the resolution of every single character but rewarded the audience nonetheless. Also, the film featured a banana xylophone, and those words are just fun to say.
I was thrilled with the next selection, the Guillermo del Toro-produced Mama, directed by Andres Muschietti and co-produced by Barbara Muschietti. I can't talk about this film too much yet, but expect a happy review from me when the embargo is lifted, as I found Mama to be stylish, original and spooky, with a solid mythology and a great conceit. The performances by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and the young Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse were all terrific, but I think a black-wigged, overly eyelined, rock'n'roll Jessica Chastain stole the show handily. Read about Devin's Mama set visit here.
The Q&A afterwards with del Toro and the Muschiettis was of course a blast, mostly because GDT is just so damned quotable. A few highlights: "I'm not scared of monsters at all. I hate politicians, I hate bankers. I wish there were more monsters in the world." On mothers: "I think it's great that their love never dies when they're alive. When they're dead, it's fucked up. We wanted to see, can we make love scary, that sort of blind, obsessive love? And anyone who's been loved knows, the answer is yes."
Next GDT showed us the Pacific Rim trailer shown at SDCC, and of course it was thrilling and amazing. He reiterated that filming Pacific Rim with Legendary is the best filming experience he's ever had, and that while making it, "We lived in a perpetual state of arousal. We were walking Viagra." He added, "I wanted to make a film by fans that's not a fan film. I wanted to make a film that if you don't know anything about kaiju or mecha, you'll still get a boner."
Next we saw the opening few minutes of World War Z, and it was fine. Nothing special, nothing infuriating. Nothing that indicates that this film is World War Z and not any other zombie movie. It was okay.
That was succeeded by the 1936 Tracy-Harlow comedy The Libeled Lady, which I liked quite a bit. It was a clever little farce anchored by a really believable connection between Tracy and Harlow. It wasn't extraordinary, but I had fun.
And the film after that, which we watched from 1:30 to 4:00 a.m., is a secret film I can't talk about, but don't worry, it's not some huge, compelling mystery where you would know the film I meant if I told you. I'm not being coy - it was a small movie discovered by Evan Husney from Drafthouse Films, and it was just...miraculous. Unlike anything you've ever seen levels of incompetent. The entire audience was cheering by the end, and we were all exhilarated and wide awake after two and a half hours of this ludicrous film. Ask any BNAT14 attendee about it in person, as I guarantee you they would be only too happy to discuss it.
We saw a far too brief clip from the upcoming Evil Dead remake, a scene that was so totally fucking brutal and hardcore. I'm telling you, this movie looks legit.
And that was followed by a beautiful 35mm print of the 1947 Tyrone Power carnie flick Nightmare Alley. I loved what I saw of this, a dark and powerful film, but this is where I intermittently nodded off and was told by my seatmate, Drafthouse Films COO James Shapiro, that I snored lightly and briefly. This is certainly not the fault of Nightmare Alley, as I'm now dying to see the rest, but it was 6 a.m. by this point. I'm only human.
We were then treated to our last '40s-era film in a marathon full of them, the amazing 1949 James Cagney Freudian gangster flick White Heat, which I had never seen. Obviously, I loved it, and I can't get over Cagney's performance, this unhinged powerhouse of a man in a tiny little package. We saw the film in a squeaky clean 35mm print, and I think it was a pretty swell way to see White Heat for the first time, say! (Sorry. You watch enough '40s movies and the lingo starts to get to you, pal.)
After that, around 9am, Paul Feig dropped by in a dapper three-piece suit, bearing gifts for all of us! Namely, the red band trailer and two clips from The Heat, as well as donuts for the whole theater! I love that guy. He was so jovial, and I'm still fully sold on this film. The red band trailer makes it clear that the movie will easily earn an R, as Melissa McCarthy and Sandy Bullock have some pretty foul mouths. One of the clips, introducing us to McCarthy's character, was pretty funny, but the other, in which Bullock gives a spontaneous tracheotomy to a choking man in a Denny's, was hilarious and also really, really gross. Feig reminded us before skipping out of the theater that The Heat, like Bridesmaids, was shot on 35, so give it up for the guy! Mostly because his donuts gave me a sugar high that got me through the last two films.
Our penultimate movie treated me to a young, hairy, barrel-chested James Caan in 1975's Rollerball, another film I had never seen. I obviously have some major gaps in my cinematic wheelhouse, but all I can do is continue to try to fill them, and that's why BNAT has been such a great experience for me. I completely dug Rollerball, this incredibly cool dystopian future sports film in which Caan destroys. Plus, he's on the Houston team! And if the audience isn't cheering "Jonathan! Jonathan!", they're cheering "Houston! Houston!" So I liked that. (Rollerball was so totally not filmed in Houston.)
After Rollerball, Michael Bay filmed a video intro before offering some footage from his upcoming Pain & Gain, starring Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Tony Shalhoub and Ed Harris. Pain & Gain looks dumb, completely ridiculous and really fun, a true story about bodybuilders in 1995 Florida who get caught up in a kidnapping stunt. Tony Shalhoub utters the line: "You know who invented salad? Poor people," and those words mean exactly nothing.
And it turns out dumb, ridiculous and fun was a good way to precede our final film, the upcoming Bullet to the Head from Walter Hill. This movie is bad, and it defines formulaic - it actually reminds me of so many movies I can't even begin to list all of them - but I laughed heartily throughout. Impossible to say whether those laughs were intentional on the part of the filmmakers and Stallone. I rather think not, and more likely they were the result of my having been awake THIRTY HOURS by this point, but yeah, I had fun and I didn't nod off. Stallone is so silly in this movie. Jason Momoa is outrageously gorgeous and swoll. Christian Slater's in it, being precisely Christian Slater.
And that's it! After Bullet to the Head we walked out onto the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar patio, where Tim League stood directing us all to free Lone Star and PBR. As we stood in the sunlight drinking our free beers - my first and only beer of BNAT - we realized this was our last time standing on the patio of the Drafthouse as it stands now. That location is temporarily closing and then opening as something bigger and better, but I'm glad I rang in this iteration's final days with a 26-hour movie marathon.
BNAT is a really fun way to bond with other nerds, everyone blinking and shaking their limbs together during the 15 minute breaks between movies, talking about what we loved and hated, what we hoped we'd see next. This Butt-Numb-a-Thon was much heavier on the vintage screenings than usual, and while most attendees seemed disappointed at the scarcity of advance films, this being my first BNAT and having no frame of reference, I wouldn't have changed a thing.
Well, I would have stayed awake for Nightmare Alley.