Devin and/or I will write about some of these films at greater length soon, but I just wanted to give you guys a quick recap of the 25-hour movie marathon we just enjoyed/endured, curated and hosted by Harry Knowles in honor of his birthday. This year was the fifteenth anniversary of Butt-Numb-A-Thon, and in lieu of the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar (still in construction), BNAT was held at the Ritz, which made for a fun, prestigious, downtown Austin feel, and allowed for one of the most privileged cinematic experiences of my life.
First! We opened with trailers of Trading Places, The Lawyer and Stunt Rock, leading into a screening of Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street. And holy hell, what a fucking movie that is. Intoxicating, gripping, utterly uncommon filmmaking is on display in every beat. Scorsese and DiCaprio are both doing some of their best work EVER in this film, which - on top of being frenzied and visionary - is just hilarious. There's one extended physical comedy sequence with DiCaprio that almost gave me a heart attack from sustained belly laughs. If BNAT 15 had been nothing but The Wolf of Wall Street played twelve times in a row, I would have walked away happy. We also got our first glimpse at Popeye here, as Jordan Belfort watches the cartoon while cocaine works its spinach-like wonders on him.
In keeping with the Wall Street money orgies of the film, the screening ended with a marching band in their skivvies and the deployment of a confetti cannon.
We followed that up with trailers for The Fury and Jericho the Wonder Clown, leading into a screening of 1980's Harlequin, released in the U.S. as Dark Forces. This movie made some very weird choices in its 1980s version of Rasputin. It features a faith healer/magician/clown/goblin king named Gregory Wolf as he either torments or rescues a family, depending on how you look at it. Robert Powell's performance as Gregory is singular, to say the least, and his costumes are spectacular. Carmen Duncan's a total knockout as the modern day tsaritsa.
Next we saw trailers for Leprechaun, Under the Rainbow and Ralph Bakshi's Lord of the RIngs, gearing us up for the inevitable viewing of The Hobbit 2: The Desolation of Smaug (in 2D, 24 fps). I would make a "The Desolation of SLOG" joke here, but everyone in the film pronounces "Smaug" like "proud" for some reason, so it doesn't quite work. But yeah, this movie is a drag. Just a chain of endless, incessant, incoherent set pieces. Very little, you know, dialogue, or character work, or anything other than a bunch of scenes of half-baked looking monsters running around and yelling at each other. Martin Freeman has proven himself to be one of the only characters with any real personality in The Hobbit films, and also IT'S CALLED THE HOBBIT, so his dearth of screentime is a problem. Evangeline Lilly is pretty good and I sort of liked the Sherlock reunion, but mostly this felt like a collection of Blu-ray bonus material.
Next we were treated to the pinnacle of this fest or any other: a 70mm screening of Carol Reed's The Agony and the Ecstasy. The Wolf of Wall Street is remarkable, but you can see it on screens everywhere in a couple of weeks. This screening was something special. The Ritz only last year procured a 70mm projector in anticipation of Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, and the programmers have put it to great use ever since. I'd never seen The Agony and the Ecstasy, the 1965 telling of the torturous road taken by Michaelangelo (Charlton Heston) to complete the Sistine Chapel for Pope Julius II (Rex Harrison). The film is prodigious, magnificent - and also very, very funny and very human. Diane Cilento plays a wonderful character in Contessina de'Medici, a love interest with more agency and personality than we've come to expect of epic films from that time. And to see it on a flawless 70mm print - I was in awe seconds into the film, as Marvin Miller (the narrator from Sleeping Beauty, among many other projects) waxed poetic over loving closeups of Michelangelo's sculptures. My joy only grew deeper and warmer by the time the Sistine ceiling is unveiled in the final moments. The film offers something of a Lady of Shalott plight, the eternal struggle of artists to choose between the contentment of a life well lived and the fulfillment of an existence devoted solely to the creation of art, but with art like this, it feels like no contest.
We then watched a Funny Car Summer trailer before our fifth screening, which is a secret. Don't sweat it. You won't guess it and it's not all that exciting anyway.
We then moved on to the sole musical of the marathon and our second Popeye sighting: Robert Altman's Popeye! You've seen this, surely, so I'll spare you the summary. It was a fun way to head into the midnight hour of the marathon. It was preceded, of course, by a Popeye cartoon.
Then Tim League got on stage to wake us all up with a bracer provided in part by Kevin Biegel, who bought everyone in the audience a shot of tequila. We were then instructed to play Slapshots with our neighbor. If you don't know about Slapshots, it became an instant Fantastic Fest tradition this year. You take a shot, and your partner slaps you. Then they take a shot, and you slap them. I'm happy to report that your friendly badasses Devin and I did Slapshots justice with some pretty serious slaps. It woke us up but good.
Our third and final Popeye sighting at BNAT 15 came from an unexpected source. Trailers for fake Bruce Lee movies like Bruce Lee's Dual Flying Kicks prepared us (somewhat) for The Dragon Lives Again in which "Bruce Lee" (Siu-Lung Leung, also known as Bruce Leong) goes to hell to fight and/or team up with Dracula, James Bond, The Exorcist, The Godfather, "Clint Eastwood" and, yes, Popeye.
There's not a lot to say about this movie other than YOU MUST SEE IT.
At this point, we'd seen seven movies in a row, had been in the theater for fifteen hours and were beginning to feel a bit punch drunk. My recollection may grow ever less thorough throughout the rest of this recap. The eighth film was 1942's 67-minute black and white biopic The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe - starring Harry's relative of some distance Linda Darnell along with Shepperd Strudwick as the tortured poet. It was a bit stilted and far too quiet, and pretty much everyone I spoke to chose this film to catch a little much-needed shut-eye.
Our next two trailers, Mysterious Monsters and Monster Squad, set the stage for Hatchet and Frozen director Adam Green and artist Alex Pardee's introduction of their next project, Digging up the Marrow. It's something of a monster mockumentary starring Green himself, and he gave a few disclaimers about the film being two months away from completion, so there were some sound, FX and color correction issues. None of this bothered me: it felt like a mostly finished film, one that will certainly be ready to hit theaters in two months' time. No, my problem is that Digging up the Marrow is an almost criminally indulgent film. It has some fun energy and a couple of the scares really land, but it mostly felt like "Look How Cool My Life Is; Look How Hot My Wife Is: The Movie (Plus Monsters)." It starts with Green showing off his fan mail and the tattoos fans have gotten of his face and his projects, and it pretty much stays the course after that. Adam Green sure is in the Adam Green business these days.
Our next film is one that I suspect I'd very much like to see one day. Today is not that day. Roger Corman's 1963 Poe adaptation The Haunted Palace, starring Vincent Price as Charles Dexter Ward, seems like it's probably pretty great, but it's also very quiet and made up of soothing narration and a dulcet score, so I can't say I remember a thing about it other than how well I slept during it. I don't regret a thing, my friends.
Well, I regret this one thing. Drafthouse founder Tim League is culpable for our penultimate movie, and one day he will meet his reckoning. Trailers for Big and a cheerful-looking hardcore porn called Happy Days were our hints: The Fruit is Swelling is a Category III Hong Kong soft-core parody of Big, in which this time a girl (of course) is magicked into adulthood overnight. It sounds fun enough until you realize it's essentially a tribute to pedophilia, and then it gets a little less hilarious. I'd rather watch Happy Days.
And our final film is also Hayao Miyazaki's final film: The Wind Rises. It's a beautiful movie, of course, and a nice love story that eased me through the final hours of the marathon, though hardly riveted me, but Devin found the film morally objectionable for reasons I find hard to argue with, as the main character has devoted his life to designing Japanese war planes that were responsible for the deaths of U.S. citizens. My thoughts at this point in the marathon can be mostly boiled down to "stayawakestayawakestayawake ooh pretzel!", but Harry didn't miss the irony of its being Pearl Harbor weekend in his closing comments.
And that's it! Stay tuned for reviews and longer editorial pieces about some of these films, because BNAT 15 has provided us with plenty to say.