Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Boy, Is My Butt Numb! (2007 Edition)

If you’ve been paying any attention to HQ10 (and you better) you know damn well how much I love Austin , TX , the Alamo Drafthouse and all the good folk who work there. All of that is a given. But what I don’t like – what I, in fact, despise – is waiting at the airport in order to get there. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I have no problem with traveling but the waiting, to quote Florida’s musical poet laureate, Tom Petty, is the hardest part. I’m usually a pretty patient person, but just sitting there waiting to get on a plane can get my gander up, so when my flight to Austin was delayed two hours (and especially since we were the only flight that was delayed) I was not a happy person. What really pissed me off wasn’t just the wait so much as the delay meant I would be missing the Terror Thursdays midnight showing of THE VISITOR, a film I had been long told was worth flying in for and the film that would have been my first at the new Alamo Drafthouse Sixth St. location, The Ritz. But alas, it was not meant to be. The delay had its advantages – I spoke to a dear friend in L.A. for about an hour and when I arrived in Austin I got a rental car upgrade to an SUV since that was all that was in stock – but I missed THE VISITOR because of this and I feel like Continental owes me.

Rant finished, the visit of my purpose was to attend my third Harry Knowles Butt-Numb-A-Thon, his annual birthday party/benefit for the Austin Saturday Kid’s Movie Club, a monthly film series for children (duh!). It’s 24 straight hours of movies both new and old, a mix of premieres and classics and having done it twice now it’s also an event I look forward to as part of my year-end holiday fun. Yes, sitting in a movie theater for 24 hours with a bunch of fellow movie freaks is not exactly the most social thing to do, but once a year it’s OK and Alamo Drafthouse head honcho Tim League always put on a good show. In years past Tim has made sure that the fun isn’t limited to BNAT and this year’s Friday activities were once again stellar. I spent the early part of Friday catching up with Adam Hulin, a west Texas drive-in theater owner and friend who I was told would not be attending this year; turns out he wasn’t there for BNAT, but he did supply the print of THE VISITOR. We took in a solid BBQ lunch at the Iron Works and shot the shit for a good long while, while also driving around in Adam brand new vintage 1966 Olds Toronado. I’m not a gearhead (unlike some people I know), but I do love the look and feel of a great classic car and will drive around in one any chance I get, so you know Adam was doing the driving that day. For the record, here’s Adam and his baby:

Friday night was a mixer at the Texas Chili Parlor, where the opening Kurt Russell scenes from DEATH PROOF were filmed, and my friends Justin, Zack, and I found ourselves sitting in the same corner that the film’s cast members sat (next to the famous juke box, which was brought in just for the movie). For the record, the chili was fine although I only sampled so much and would have to go back for more to come up with a real opinion. Having ditched the mixer at around 9pm, the plan then called for karaoke, first at the Austin Elks lodge (where Tim just became a member) and then a far more intense session at the Circle Country Club ("A nice place for nice people"), a much more authentic Texas bar about 30 minutes outside of town. This being a real Texas bar, the impression was that we were all going to leave with our heads bashed in, but that was not the case, as our more obscure song choices (“Fuck and Run”) were greeted with mere shrugs more than anything else. Tim took the opportunity to butcher (and I do mean butcher) “Coal Miner’s Daughter” while Gary Huggins had the pick of the night with “Fuck and Run” and Thomas Humphries dedicated “Born to Run” to me, the dear sweet lad. As for myself, I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to sing Lou Rawles’ “You’ll Never Find” and I killed with it, if I do say so myself. Ask anyone who was there. (And for more on this event, read about it here.)

So anyway, yeah, BNAT on Saturday. You never know the titles going in and you never want to (adds to the fun), but I got a big-ass spoiler when I went to pick up Adam at the League residence on Friday afternoon: 210 HD-DVD players sitting in their living room. Microsoft and Toshiba sure as hell do want to win this format war (which they’re losing, based strictly on sales figures), but they sure as hell have won my heart, I can tell you that much. When Harry made the announcement at the start of the show the place went nuts, but it also meant having to sit through a ponderous demonstration from a local tech writer (clips from 300 were used, ironic since that was the film that close out BANT last year). It wasn’t over fast enough, but the good vibes quickly bounced back when Harry announced the first feature was Preston Sturges’ THE GREAT MCGINTY. You can never go wrong with Sturges, and MCGINTY is great stuff, a lot of fun and a perfect start to the day. Custom dictates that a new film must follow and older one, and I must admit that I was a little surprised to hear Harry announce CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR as the next film. I suppose I shouldn’t, since the film (based on a true story) is about a Texas Congressman who helps changes the course of the Russian/Afghan war. I’ll be getting into it in more detail before its release, but I’m happy to say it’s a fine adult entertainment and Philip Seymour Hoffman is a blast. Taking the fest into another (but equally anti-Commie) direction, Sam Fuller’s PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET was next and what can I say about this near-perfect movie except that if you’ve never seen it then you’re missing out.

So by this point in we’re already 3 for 3 and you know that things will trip eventually, and sure enough the follow-up feature, MONGOL, was a bit of a bust. This Russian-made epic about the life of Genghis Kahn is more in the BRAVEHEART mold and while a great film about Kahn is just waiting to be made, this isn’t it. MONGOL is too slow for its own good, but I’m a huge fan of lead Tobanobu Asano (star of many a cool Japanese flick), who’s excellent here, but it wasn’t enough. Thing is, this is the first film in a trilogy about Kahn, so I’ve got my doubts if I’ll ever be seeing the follow-ups. Speaking of follow-ups (bad segue), THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES was next in a very nice new print (courtesy of MGM) and I must say that this one still holds up well. I’m a big fan of the director, Robert Fuest (who also made the sequel, DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN and the excellent AND SOON THE DARKNESS) and his sparse style and dry wit made for a fine match for the material and I’m happy to say that the film was still appreciated by the BNAT crowd. Good choice there, Harry.

Of course, you can only follow up a Vincent Price movie with a Tim Burton one, so SWEENEY TODD was next and I’m pleased to say that it didn’t disappoint. What struck me was how well matched Burton was with Sondheim’s score (full of melancholy, hatred and dread) and while I’m sure that others would have done a fine job, Burton truly makes this one his. Depp is brilliant and I think he’s finally got his Oscar here; we shall see. And to prove once again that there’s no theater better than the Drafthouse, free meat pies were served during the film, and tasty meat pies, at that. David Miller’s LONELY ARE THE BRAVE may have seemed an odd next feature, but there’s nothing wrong with following up a good movie with another good movie, and this contemporary western starring Kirk Douglas is one hell of a good movie. No, fuck that, it’s a great movie and seeing it on the Alamo screen in beautiful widescreen scope was better than anything I could ever see on HD-DVD. You could only go downhill from there, and THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES, a very lackluster serial killer mockumentary with one or two decent ideas and bad acting throughout was the very definition of going downhill in this sense. A bit of a controversy has risen up about the screening (as it was introduced as just a straight doco), but the controversy should be more about why they let such a lame-ass movie screen in the first place.

Tiredness was bound to kick in at some point and just a few minutes into TEEN LUST, a teen sex comedy from ’77 (though not released until ’81) directed by veteran character actor James Hong, I was out of it. Kind of a shame, too, since I have an odd soft spot for teen sex movies of the 70s and 80s (I’ll figure out why one of these days). From what I saw it looked like I really didn’t miss much, but I’d still like to make sure for myself someday. Next was the Star Trek episode “The City of the Edge of Forever”, run in part as a “preview” of the upcoming J.J. Abrhams TREK feature (as the time portal from “City” figures in the plot) and also because the HD-DVD folks asked them to run something else in HD-DVD. While it certainly looked pretty incredible on the big screen, it also showed off the Trek episode as the cheap little TV show that it was and furthermore, even though Trek fans call this episode the series’ best, I wasn’t especially impressed and decided to take a 45-minute bathroom break.

Next was a most daring choice, Jacopetti and Prosperi’s FAREWELL UNCLE TOM, one of the most controversial, wrongheaded and strangely watchable sleazy epics you will ever see. Introduced by Drafthouse pal Rodney Perkins, who also happened to be the only African-American in attendance (at least that I know of), what can you say about FAREWELL, UNCLE TOM, except that it’s an indefensible piece of racist trash, but it’s also hypnotic and well made and it’s a film that, as upsetting as it can be, is also ridiculous as all can be. Jacopetti and Prosperi started out with the best intentions, trying to make a movie that comments on racism, but by the film’s end (and what an ending it is), it becomes pretty racist in itself. A one-of-a-kind experience, though that’s for sure.

The final film of BNAT is usually a big upcoming release (like 300, V FOR VENDETTA, and THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST), but since RAMBO and CLOVERFIELD both dropped out at the last minute (both claiming FX work needed to be done), so TRICK ‘R TREAT, which was supposed to play Fantastic Fest back in September (it was originally due out in October) was substituted and at the very least I can say it was a fairly entertaining little horror flick that I don’t regret seeing. Written and directed by Michael Dougherty (who stayed for all 24 hours) and produced by Bryan Singer, it’s a Halloween night anthology flick, and the Halloween setting and ambiance is its major strong point; as a big fan of the holiday, I felt they captured that Halloween feeling quite well and I gave it points for that. I also liked how it was a horror film that was only trying to entertain with horror and humor and a little drama and overall it’s a fun little picture, although I wouldn’t have chosen it to close Butt-Numb-A-Thon. And after that we all got our HD-DVD players and went back to our respective houses to sleep, meeting up with pretty much the entire gang for a late dinner at Canoli Joe’s and then a round of Anthony Timpson’s Leonard Maltin game known simply as “Maltin’s”, which I won, as usual.

And I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Another great time in Austin. Seriously, you guys should visit.

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