I spent the weekend in a movie-goer's paradise/coma/heaven/insane asylum, AICN's Harry Knowles' yearly birthday party and 24-hour movie marathon at Austin's Alamo Drafthouse, Butt-Numb-A-Thon (aka BNAT. This year was the eleventh BNAT and Knowles turned thirty-eight so the event was nicknamed BNAT 1138). This was my third BNAT, and, I gotta say, I'm getting better at these.

Armed with my trusty bottle of Jet-Alert and a willingness to watch just about anything put before me, I came fully prepared for the non-stop assault of high-profile unreleased films, underseen classics, and raw exploitation flicks. It's an endurance test, for sure, but I've learned to handle the sleep deprivation a little better every year (I only nodded off a tad during The Candy Snatchers. Most people chose Centipede Horror as a time for strategic sleep). This year's event was expertly programmed, paced with all the care of a cherished mix tape, this one from a 38-year-old boy to his one true love -- the movies.

Personally, there were two huge surprises for me this year: 1. That I would fall head-over-heels in love with a 1940's movie about ballet, and 2. That people were leaving the vintage stuff (which makes up half of the event) and only coming in to watch the upcoming new films. It's really no way to enjoy a party like this; you can always see the new stuff later. It's those vintage discoveries that make BNAT an extra-special twenty-four hours spent becoming one with your theatre seat cushion.

Here are the films we saw...




SYNOPSIS: The alchemist Faust sells his soul to the devil Mephisto in exchange for whatever his heart desires, with unexpected results.

There are images in Faust that are simply amazing -- angelic warriors, plague-spreading demons, and large-scale unholy magic at work. This is really the definition of an effects-driven film, it's just that the effects happen to be ninety years old. They're still effective today, not so much in how they're technically achieved, but in the way that they're used to shock an audience in such an odd, sinister way. I liked the first half of Faust, with its darker tone, better than the second half of the film, when Faust meets his love Gretchen and the film slows down for their romance.



SYNOPSIS: A young girl's murder leaves her trapped in limbo, unwilling to lose the tenuous connection with her grieving family by moving on to heaven.

Jackson's newest film is getting very mixed reviews, and I can certainly understand why. The Lovely Bones should be an emotionally intimate story dealing with both serial murder and the subject of grief, but it's directed with all the gloss of a big-budget populist blockbuster. Most of the time, it's staged like a thriller (but it isn't a thriller), and Jackson really struggles to find the right tone, alternating wildly between playful and deadly serious. The actors seem to be visibly struggling with the tonal shifts (most notably Mark Wahlberg), and while you can see the potential in the material, it never quite gels.

You can read our own Elisabeth Rappe's review here, and I pretty much echo her sentiments.



SYNOPSIS: The playboy son of a publishing magnate is forced to attend a rough-and-tumble cowboy college in Cody, Wyoming.

This movie served as a refreshing palette-cleanser after The Lovely Bones. Girl Crazy is a light-as-a-feather lark with plenty of singing (Gershwin tunes!), dancing, and snappy battle-of-the-sexes banter between Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. I think I developed a huge crush on the teenage Garland while watching this film.




SYNOPSIS: A struggling composer and an up-and-coming ballerina have their lives complicated by the domineering, emotionally stunted owner of a ballet company.

Martin Scorcese agreed to let Shutter Island play BNAT under the condition that Harry play Scorcese's favorite film -- The Red Shoes. Man, am I glad it played. I never would've watched a 1940's British movie about ballet unless you forced me, and, well, Harry did, and I have to thank him for it.

The Red Shoes is beautiful with amazing, fragile performances by ballerina-turned-actress Moira Shearer and Anton Walbrook as the prickly Lemerntov. The restored print is making the festival rounds (we saw a stunning digital 4K version of the restoration job at BNAT), so if this is playing anywhere near you, seek it out. It's a must-see, and its passionate, almost -meta reinterpretation of Hans Christian Andersen's Red Shoes story (in which a ballerina's enchanted shoes force her to dance against her will) was as emotionally satisfying as any film I've seen this year.

This was my favorite film of BNAT by far.



SYNOPSIS: A mental institution on an inhospitable island may be the home to horrific HUAC-approved neural experiments.

I love parts of Shutter Island a lot, but I'm not in love with the whole. It's gorgeously shot and features an ensemble of fantastic performances from a dream cast (Leonardo, DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Max Von Sydow, Jackie Earle Haley, Patricia Clarkson, Michelle Williams, Ted Levine, Emily Mortimer, Elias Koteas, John Carroll Lynch), but I was distracted by the way the mystery at the heart of the film was executed.

While the detectives in the film ask questions about the disappearance of patient Rachel Salando, trying to piece together Salando's possible link to experiments conducted in Shutter Island's remote lighthouse, they're not only blocked at every turn, but DiCaprio's Teddy Daniels seems to be actively manipulated by the heads of the facility. I became less interested in the mystery at hand, and more interested in trying to comprehend what good it would do the institution to keep Daniels roaming the asylum at will, while they're also trying to selectively lie to him. Everything makes sense by the end, but I was almost too detached from the film at that point for the resolution to bear any impact on me.

It's a good film, not a great film, but there's greatness in there. DiCaprio is definitely one of the great parts.



SYNOPSIS: A writer of trashy action paperbacks wrestles with his inability to hack out another story on time, and attracts the attention of his sexy neighbor, who wants to write a sociological thesis on his work.

There's an extremely likeable James Bond spoof at the comedic core of Le Magnifique as writer Francois Merlin (Jean-Paul Belmondo) imagines himself as his protagonist Bob Saint-Clair, but I liked the non-fantasy parts the best. Merlin's sort of a mess as a human being, and I actively rooted for him to get his crap together and win the heart of his impossibly hot neighbor. The comedy plays very broad during the Saint-Clair bits, and, even though I wasn't really laughing (too slapstick for my tastes), it made for a nice contrast with Merlin's too-real bachelor lifestyle. I enjoyed it.



SYNOPSIS: With a bullet in his brain and a father killed by an explosive mine, the drifter Bazil allies himself with an underground group of urban scavengers to seek revenge on competing arms manufacturers.

This was probably the second lightest film of the evening after Girl Crazy. It's entertaining fluff, a disposable riff on heist movies, that feels like it was conceptualized as a short film and somehow grew into a feature. All of the ideas (and there are a ton of them in Micmacs) feel half-baked, perhaps deserving of a stronger film, but it's hard to fault something that comes together this fun. There's not a mean-spirited bone in its body, somehow turning what could've been an anger-tinged social satire about arms dealing into a odd, playful slap on the wrist for those that would profit from war.



SYNOPSIS: Three skiers are forgotten about and get stranded on a lift during a freeze.

I'll say this about Adam Green -- the man is versatile. Frozen is a sparse, white-knuckle thriller, similar to survival horror fare like Open Water, but with a little more for the actors to work with than just playing the blame game until the inevitable downbeat conclusion. The story is so simple, but Green absolutely nails the follow-through.

This was the first film of BNAT where the audience was vocally reacting to the events on screen in a huge way. I heard several loud gasps, more than one "NO NO NO NO NO", and Harry announced that someone passed out during the film and had to be escorted outside. This might be the first must-see horror film of 2010.



SYNOPSIS: A vacationing woman in Southeast Asia runs afoul of an evil, centipede-controlling sorcerer and a personal vendetta sparked by her grandfather's hidden past.

This may have been a tad overhyped for the crowd, with promises of the Shaw Brothers at their most insane and centipede action so repulsive it was banned in several countries. The movie is still plenty repulsive, and only in a wild BNAT crowd could bloody scorpions falling out of a woman's vagina be dismissed as not gross enough. Sure, there are hundreds of icky centipedes, milky vomit, festering sores, and an enchanted army of plucked spectral chickens, but the moments that get you to those crazy scenes are fairly boring -- rote stuff about family curses and unrestful spirits that remain the staples of Asian horror even today.


SYNOPSIS: Three kidnappers attempt an imperfect ransom plot, and their crime is witnessed by a mute toddler.

This was a grimy little cheapie, but it fits in nicely with The Lovely Bones if you're attempting to host your own bury-a-kidnapped-teen-underground double-feature. I admit, this is the one where sleep got the better of me. I seemed to wake up every time someone was being sexually violated in some way, which certainly makes the film stand out in my mind as being overly lurid, but it's not fair for me to judge it fully until I can see the whole thing.

I do know that little Christopher Trueblood (credited here only as "Christophe") gives one of the weirdest child performances I've probably ever seen -- all snaggle-toothed and dead-eyed. I wondered if he had any comprehension at all of what he was being asked to do in any given scene.



SYNOPSIS: A comic geek makes the unfortunate decision to become a vigilante, and his overnight cult hero status (caused by a viral video) gets him in trouble with a major crime boss.

This film "won the BNAT" so to speak. I'm interested in seeing it in its finished form, and you can read more about my thoughts on this specific screening over at SciFiSquad (click here). The short version? The audience went BANANAS for Kick-Ass.



SYNOPSIS: A Marine takes on a surrogate alien body to learn more about the world of Pandora from its native people, with the hopes of exploiting a valuable mineral located there.

You can read my initial reaction to Avatar at SciFiSquad as well (click here). I saw the film last week, and while I personally thought it delivered on the promises of large-scale thrills and drama, I also felt re-assured to see a packed house respond to it in a similarly positive way. Beyond the incredible effects work, people were surprised to find the movie has a spiritual heart as well. I think that heart is missing from a lot of mega-budget spectacle movies, and it's the real reason people are going gaga over Avatar (the New York Film Critics Online just awarded it Best Picture).

We miss humanity in our big blockbusters, and it's become so rare, we're often willing to declare even the slightest bit of emotional connection as revolutionary. Avatar certainly seems to be lauded because of this, but, honestly, all effects-driven films should be made with this much attention to story, acting, and emotional detail.

(HUGE thanks to Harry Knowles for the most all-around satisfying BNAT I've been witness to. Happy Birthday and I hope I can celebrate with you and a mob of hungry film fans again next year!)