Butt-Numb-a-Thon Episode 17: The Ass Awaits

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Don’t blame me for the stupid title of this post. That is the title of an actual film event.

It’s Harry Knowles’ (from Aint it Cool News) birthday film bash where he shows 24 hours of movies in the theater, some vintage, some not yet released, as well as trailers, shorts, and various sneak previews and such. Oh, and there was a wedding with Elijah Wood as ring-bearer.

The movies are the main draw of course, but a large part of what makes this event unique is the atmosphere: an Alamo Drafthouse theater packed with hand-picked film fans who live and breath movies. The Drafthouse is known for being film-fan friendly for normal occasions, but having Butt-Numb-a-Thon there is a film-goers dream. A dream I was lucky enough to experience for the second time. (check out BNAT 16 here).

It’s impossible to convey how cool it was to be there, but I can give you my opinions on the films that were played.

1) Gunga Din – George Stevens (1939)
 
A classic, and it’s easy to see why. The film is joyful. Full of adventure and humor and heart. And if you don’t cry at the ending then you are made of stone. This is also a must for film fans because it was a such a large influence on Indiana Jones and Star Wars, for better and for worse.
 
The story involves three soldiers and the titular water-bearer who try to quell a revival of a secret mass-murdering cult. Cary Grant is too likeable for words. So are Victor McLaglen and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Everything about the film just sings. This was a great film to start the show with.
 
2) Southern Comfort – Walter Hill (1981)
 
What a great premise of for a film! A group of Louisiana National Guardsman run afoul of some local Cajuns while doing a training exercise deep in the bayou. All they have are their wits and a their blank ammunition to help see them through. The problem is that they are lacking in the former, and in way over their heads.
 
The group dynamic is great. Most of the joy of the film comes from watching the different archetypes interact as things get worse and worse. The cast includes Keith Carradine, Powers Booth, Fred Ward, and a few other character actors, and the film builds to a climax that is very well-played.
 
3) Syncopation – William Dieterle (1942)
 
Harry described this as a film that chronicles the evolution of Jazz in America. That didn’t pique my interest. I like Jazz music, but I was never interested in delving too deeply into the who, when and where of the art form. So I didn’t go into this film with high expectations.
 
I was very surprised by how much I liked it. The script, by Valentine Davies, moved quickly from scene to scene and era to era, never once becoming a history lesson or a pseudo-documentary. Instead we get interesting characters with interesting arcs. Couple that with solid direction, some great music, and a smash-cut ending (my favorite kind!), and you have a winner of a film.
 
4) Eddie the Eagle – Dexter Fletcher (2016)
 
A perfectly made crowd-pleaser. This story of the famous (but not very good) British ski jumper hits all the right notes. It has a tight script, solid direction, and engaging performances by Taron Egerton as Eddie, and Hugh Jackman as the gruff local expert.
 
Fletcher manages to ride the line between having the film be too sappy or be too quirky. Instead, he keeps it slick and fast and full of heart and humor. Egerton’s performance really holds it together, too. Compare Taron’s role in this to Eggsy in Kingsman and you will see he definitely has range.
 
5) Story of the Fox – Irene Starewicz, Wladyslaw Starewicz (1930)
 
The animation in this German folktale is amazing. It was an obvious influence on Fantastic Mr. Fox. You can check the full movie out on youtube if you are curious.
 
The story is a real folktale brought to life. In the land of animals, the Lion is king. But the Fox has been tricking and duping everyone around. So the Lion sends for him to be brought to justice, with mixed results. The story and pacing has aged, but the detail that went into making it makes up for that.
 
6) Anomalisa – Duke Johnson, Charlie Kaufman (2015)
 
The second stop-motion animated film of the night. And probably the best film of the show. One of the best of the year, too. I can keep dropping superlatives, but they won’t do justice to how this movie will make you feel. Critics are saying its the most human movie of the year, and I agree with that sentiment.
 
I don’t want to give too much away. The story follows Michael Stone, an author on his way to a speaking engagement. He is burdened by the banality of life until something unique happens. Charlie Kaufman uses a simple yet breathtaking idea as a springboard into some very emotional territory.
 
7) Phantasm – Don Coscarelli (1979)
 
Somehow, this is the third time I have seen this in the theater. Once at an Exhumed Films screening, once at a Crystal Plumage screening, and now once here. This time, it was Bad Robot’s 4k restoration, which looked almost too good. I like a little grain in my classic horror films but this version sanitized it out. Still, the sound was great and the movie is as fun as ever.
 
8) Angry Red Planet – Ib Melchior (1959)
 
Filmed in CineMagic! I have to admit after a promising opening of cheesy 50’s sci-fi goodness I fell asleep. Not due to the movie, mind you, which seemed perfectly in tune to expectations. But mainly because it was super early in the morning. I’ll have to finish this one at home.
 
9) Ninja Busters – Paul Kyriazi (1984)
 
I saw this previously at an Exhumed Films show, but it was good to see it again. It’s one of those, so-bad-its-good films. One that is charming in its own way. It’s about a goofball duo’s adventures in trying to hook up with women. Along the way they somehow learn karate and run afoul of ninjas and the mafia.
 
If you like cheesy American martial arts films, you’ll love this. Worth it for the Vietnam guy’s scene alone.
 
10) Logan’s Run – Michael Anderson (1976)
 
I love the concept for this film. It’s one of those great 70’s sci-fi ideas. In a future society once you hit thirty your life is over. You go through a ritual called Carousel, where you renew and are born again! But some people don’t believe. Michael York and Jenny Agutter are perfectly fresh-faced as two people trying to escape before it’s their turn.
 
It works well because of the set design, and because the script takes its time at the beginning to set everything up. And it all goes well from there, until towards the end when the film suffers from some severe pacing issues. But that small section aside, this is a film that feels a bit dated but still stands the test of time.
 
11) The Revenant – Alejandro González Iñárritu (2015)
 
This film is fantastically shot. Cinematography, direction, production design, acting. Everything is note-perfect. It’s a good thing, too, because otherwise it’s just a glorified B-movie. The script is a standard revenge thriller which would have been perfectly at home if it was made in the 70’s and starred Charles Bronson.  I was expecting more in the story, but was happy with what I got.
 
The cast is great and deserves acclaim if nothing else for how outrageously horrible the shoot must have been. Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy especially. Will Poulter was at the screening to intro the film and he testified how hard it was. No fake snow on set or in CGI. It was all real. You could really feel the effort that went into getting every second of footage for this film.
 
It was a good film to end BNAT with, because we could really see how far film technique has come over the past hundred years. I look forward to one hundred more!

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