Last week, I posted in a comment on another entry that I am not a fanboy. I still stand by that remark, especially since I'm not a boy. Give me a choice between a comic-book adaptation and an Austin-made indie and I tend to favor the latter. I have a definite weakness for romantic comedy at times. I prefer snappy dialogue over splashy special effects. But I suspect that fewer people than ever will believe that I am not a fanboy (or fangirl, to be fair) after I tell you that I spent last weekend at the 24-hour Austin film marathon known as the Butt-Numb-a-Thon, which is heralded by many as a litmus test for major film geekiness.
The Butt-Numb-a-Thon (BNAT for short) is an annual event organized by Harry Knowles of Ain't It Cool News. Knowles programs 11 or 12 movies at Alamo Drafthouse Downtown in Austin -- half are interesting vintage films, and half are movies that haven't been released in theaters yet. The lineup is not made public, so everything's a surprise. Sometimes, the directors of the unreleased films show up for a Q&A session, or send video greetings to the BNAT attendees. It's mostly a private event, which always occurs on the weekend of Knowles' birthday, from noon one day to noon(ish) the next. For the most part, prospective attendees have to apply for admission (thousands fill out the application, and the theater seats 200), and Knowles hand-picks the guests. It's a party and film marathon all in one, and many attendees know each other from past BNATs or from the Ain't It Cool talkback forums. However, there are always a few empty seats because of last-minute cancellations, so it's possible to get into the event as a standby. I had a lot of fun waiting unsuccessfully in the standby line last year, and decided to try it again. A lottery is used to select the lucky standby tickets, and miracle of miracles, I was the last one picked. I ran into the theater just in time for the first movie. As I sat down, I saw Samuel L. Jackson on the screen conversing with a woman his age. I turned to the guy next to me and asked what we were watching. He confessed he didn't know the title, but it was directed by that Hustle and Flow guy. I nearly squealed right then and there at the realization that I was watching Black Snake Moan. Black Snake Moan turned out to be my favorite of the 11 feature films we watched in 24 hours, and I'm very glad it was the first one shown, when I was fresh and alert.
However, it was a very different movie that provided me with what may have been my all-time best experience watching a movie in a theater. I can't believe it myself, but the most amazing audience reaction occurred during Rocky Balboa. The trailers made the movie seem ridiculous, and I probably would not have seen the film on my own when it's released. But the BNAT audience was so excited by the film that it was contagious. Rocky Balboa contains no real surprises, except that it is better than you might think. The film blossomed with this audience. They stamped their feet and chanted "Rocky!" and applauded some of the liveliest scenes. I couldn't help but applaud with them.
This is the reason why people love BNAT, even though your butt really does hurt after 24 hours in the same seat, even though spending an entire weekend during the holiday prep season watching movies might be impractical, even though you feel like something rolled over your head when the 5 am movies are playing. No one in the audience is using a cell phone, or messing around on their PDA, or only there to accompany a date on a dull Saturday night. Everyone there truly loves movies. If all audiences were like the one at BNAT, no one would ever want to watch films on DVD.
I can't say much about some of the films that were shown at BNAT, because they haven't yet been released, and you know how those distributors get when we review movies too far ahead of time. But I'll happily share the lineup and give you a few tidbits.
- Black Snake Moan -- Who knew Samuel L. Jackson could sing and play the blues so well? (I want the soundtrack.) Craig Brewer was at the screening, and said this was his "blues" movie -- he's ready to do a "country" movie next.
- Dreamgirls -- This musical didn't seem like a typical BNAT offering to me. But the audience loved the big musical numbers and frequently applauded at the end of the best ones. I liked the splashy musical numbers, and thought Eddie Murphy stole the film, but wasn't impressed with the storyline or the characters. Bill Condon turned up for a brief Q&A afterwards.
- Once Upon a Girl -- Knowles warned us that this 1976 X-rated animated film was the "wrong-est" of the fest. I knew I should have taken the chance for a break here, but somehow I could not turn away from this awful film. Harry, I am sending you the bill for any psychotherapy I may need as a result of watching this thing.
- Inherit the Wind -- I'd seen the last half of this movie, so I stuck around for the first part and then took a break. I think the movie bogs down terribly in the courtroom scenes and gets a little too melodramatic. I did see enough of the movie to get the song "Old-Time Religion" stuck in my head for days afterward.
- Rocky Balboa -- As I mentioned, the audience really came to life for this movie. Somehow, Sylvester Stallone made it seem believable that Rocky would fight again, primarily by focusing the film on character rather than action. Before the film, we watched a taped intro made for BNAT by Stallone.
- Extended Fanboys trailer -- The producer, writer, and director of this movie were all at BNAT and apologized for not being able to show us the entire film, because it's not ready yet. But the 10 minutes we did see were very cute and promising (perhaps more so than the trailer Erik found); I look forward to the rest. Although I am not a fanboy.
- Knocked Up -- We saw a preliminary cut of the latest Judd Apatow "romantic comedy for guys." I suspect that a good 10-15 minutes will probably need to be cut before release. I hope they keep all the goofy beard jokes and the routine referencing Munich. I was pleased to see Harold Ramis in a small role, as Seth Rogen's dad.
- Black Book -- At first, we were told that the next film would be Teen Wolf. However, after five minutes of the vintage Michael J. Fox film, the film mysteriously "melted" on the projector and instead, we were treated to Paul Verhoeven's latest film. This is not the Robocop type of Verhoeven film, but a serious movie about Jewish refugees and the anti-German resistance during WWII. My second favorite film of BNAT, although I was starting to feel seriously in need of a break at this point. Alamo handed out an energy drink to all attendees after this movie, but it looked a little scary to me.
- The Informer -- Knowles managed to secure an excellent print of this 1935 John Ford film. However, the slow pacing and the time of night (we were somewhere in the wee hours) made me realize I wasn't going to make it through the film. I took a break, walked outside a bit, and then had a power nap at my chair until the climactic scene. I've made a mental note to rent the DVD so I can watch the whole thing after a good night's rest.
- Raw Force -- I hadn't seen any Filipino exploitation films (I didn't even know it was a genre) until Best of QT Fest this year. I like this type of film best when it stars Jeannie Bell or Pam Grier. This one had an unknown cast, and even with the prospect of "cannibals, nudity and zombie samurai," I couldn't get very interested. I changed some clothes in the bathroom and took another break outside. Fortunately, breakfast was served after this movie, which made me feel worlds better and ready for the last two films.
- Smokin' Aces -- The latest film by Joe Carnahan has an enormous cast in a story about a guy wanted by the Mafia and the various groups assigned to find him. I described this afterwards as being "more Tony Scott than the last Tony Scott film I saw." It's nice to see Curtis Armstrong onscreen again. You can view Carnahan's very funny taped intro to the film on the AICN site.
- 300 -- For many BNAT attendees, this adaptation of the Frank Miller graphic novel about the Battle of Thermopylae was the highlight of the event. If your favorite parts of the Lord of the Rings movies were the elaborate battle scenes, you will like this movie a lot. Director Zach Snyder did a Q&A after the film; one audience member told him "You made music out of blood."