I don't need much of an excuse to visit Austin, Texas. Find me an event that A) strings more than four movies together, and B) takes place at one of the Alamo Drafthouse movie theaters, and there's a good chance I'm checking my bank account, desperately scrambling for flight money. But despite the fact that I've done five SXSW visits, three Fantastic Fest trips, and a few more Austin journeys just for the heck of it ... I'd never attended a BNAT shindig. But I made it to the tenth annual Butt-Numb-a-Thon, and of course I had a damn good time once it got rolling.
Let's just do a quick run-through, chronologically speaking, and I'm listing just the FULL movies here. At the end I'll go over the various clips we were treated to... 1. Viva Villa (1934) -- Wallace Beery and Fay Wray star in this smoothly enjoyable action epic and the rise and fall of Pancho Villa. Frankly I was a lot more interested in the "NEW" stuff that birthday boy Harry Knowles had chosen for his annual mini-marathon film festival, but he chose a very enjoyable vintage with this flick.
2. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) -- You won't find a bigger David Fincher fan than yours truly, but even I'd probably agree if you said his previous films were lacking a little bit in the "warmth" department. Well, the masterful movie-maker discovers "warmth" in a big way here. Based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and starring Brad Pitt as a man born as an elderly baby before spending a life of reverse aging, this is a powerfully emotional film about love, loss, and loyalty. At 160-ish minutes, the movie might be a little lengthy for some tastes, but I loved every damn frame of the thing. Frankly it's one beautiful movie.
3. Sahara (1943) -- Humphrey Bogart leads a very diverse gang of soldiers who are forced to defend a distant water-hole from hundreds of invading Nazis. Just like any old war flick that has lots of action, tons of nobility, and at least one character named "Frenchy." this movie fit like a well-worn shoe. I'd actually seen it before on late-night basic cable, but (of course) it's just so much cooler on the big screen.
4. Valkyrie (2008) -- OK, yes, I agree: Tom Cruise (and his normal speaking voice) never come close to creating a believable German soldier -- but that's just about the biggest complaint I had regarding Bryan Singer's Valkyrie. Bolstered by an excellent cast and a visual style that's really very impressive, Valkyrie is about a group of patriotic German soldiers who are sickened by Hitler and his SS monsters ... and so they stage an assassination attempt. Fast-paced, genuinely interesting (in a historical perspective), and (again) stocked with great guys like Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh, and Terence Stamp, it's a fact-based political thriller that works a lot better than expected.
5. Metropolis -- Yes, the 1927 science fiction classic. Only... this was the 1984 edition that music producer Giorgio Moroder put together! Cool!
6. My Bloody Valentine in 3-D (2009) -- Some say I'm a "soft touch" with horror, and others think I'm "too demanding" of the genre. All I know is A) I know when I like a horror flick, and B) I always know why. And I really like the My Bloody Valentine remake because it doesn't have an ounce of pretense, irony, or delusions of grandeur. This movie wants to be an enthusiastic throwback to the days of FUN slasher movies, and the gorehounds can believe me when I say ... this slasher flick delivers the goods. It'll probably get savaged by the more highfalutin' film critics, but if you judge a flick based on how well it delivers on its promises, then this flick is a winner. Plus the 3-D is really cool. (Check out my full review at FEARnet right here.)
7. I Love You, Man (2009) -- The always-likable Paul Rudd is about to marry the still-adorable Rashida Jones -- only he has no GUY friends, let alone someone who qualifies as a potential 'best man' candidate. This affable farce has next to nothing in the plot department, and much of the material (both good and not-so-good) feels improvised rather than written, but (like Rudd's previous flick, Role Models) there's certainly enough to enjoy. Jason Segel shines as Rudd's new pal, Jon Favreau and Jaime Pressly steal a few scenes as an unlikely married couple, and the flick's just plain NICE -- which is actually a nice switch these days.
8. White Dog (1982) -- Legendary filmmaker Samuel Fuller directed this controversial thriller, which was backed by Paramount, but yanked from a theatrical release before it ever had a chance. It's about a young actress who finds a beautiful white German Shepard, only to learn that the poor pooch was raised as a racist. Yep, the unfortunate animal is compelled to attack any and all black people it comes across. Paul Winfield shines as an animal trainer convinced he can reach the dog, a few disturbing scenes work memorably well, and the film works as both a curious thriller and an obvious indictment of racial hatred. Not exactly a pleasant film, but a rather good one.
9. Che (2008) -- I'm embarrassed to admit that I left for bed as soon as this, the four-hour final film, was announced as the BNAT closer. But that's only because A) I'd already seen it, B) I only really liked the first two hours, and C) I was so sleepy that I was seeing rainbows and unicorns.
Trailers, Clips, and Unfinished Footage
1. Coraline in 3-D -- Neil Gaiman's new film looks staggeringly nifty. Based on the three extended clips we saw, it looks to be about a young girl who travels to an alternate (but very similar) dimension, only to become trapped by the "perfect" mother she once dreamed about. This looks like a very good film.
2. Up -- And THIS looks like a very excellent film! We got to see the first forty-some minutes, and the footage ran from completely finished to partially completed to glorified storyboards... and yet I would have paid $20 to see the remainder of the unfinished film. It's about a lonely old man and an amusing young boy who travel (in a balloon-powered house) to the magical world of Paradise Falls. Par for the Pixar course, Up looks to be smart, sweet, very funny, and a little bit touching, and it's now one of my most-anticipated titles of 2009.
3. Monsters vs. Aliens in 3-D -- On the plus side, the animation is (of course) stellar. On the down side, much of the humor is of the "pop culture" variety, and I just don't think that stuff ages all that well. (There's a lengthy gag involving the "Axel F." theme that is borderline groan-worthy.) BUT the second clip was that of a gigantic battle between heroic monsters and invincible aliens -- and every frame of it had my eyeballs dancing. Plus I'm a huge fan of DreamWorks' animation output (especially Flushed Away and Over the Hedge), so I'm feeling pretty positive on Monsters vs. Aliens. Doubly so if they lose the "Axel F." stuff.
4. Push -- This new action flick looks certifiably insane, which is what I said about Wanted -- and I ended up really digging that movie. We got to see two brief action snippets, and both were certainly slick enough.
5. Knowing -- Nicolas Cage does what he can to prevent a horrific subway accident in one clip from Alex Proyas' new movie -- and I can attest that at least this one scene is a certifiable feast for the senses.
6. Observe and Report -- Seth Rogen stars as a mall security guard in what looks to be a surprisingly dark comedy. The trailer-style clip we saw doesn't divulge much in plot, but this looks to be something a little different from Rogen.
7. Terminator: Salvation -- I don't remember much of the promo piece we saw, since it was about 4am and I was waiting on some coffee, but there were lots of robots, explosions, and Christian Bale. Sounds good to me.
8. Watchmen -- The first 22 minutes. The Comedian's demise. Some of the finest opening credits I've ever seen, and then a few character introductions. The Alamo Drafthouse has an ATM machine, and I would have cracked it open if the producers had given us the rest of the movie. It really does look like something special.