Category Archives: Movies

Butt-Numb-a-Thon 2015

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The BNAT 2015 audience during a break in the middle of the night.

Once again this past December, I was given the honor of joining the audience of the Butt-Numb-a-Thon in Austin, TX. For 24 hours, around 200 or so hardcore movie nerds and I indulged in whatever cinematic glory that Harry Knowles felt like pouring into our eye sockets.

Windy Bowlsby, Meghan Murphy, and I already talked at length about the sights and sounds of BNAT 2015 over on Xanadu Cinema Pleasure Dome, but I also like to create a yearly text-and-link list of everything we saw. Alongside the movies, we get a host of amazing vintage trailers, so if you would like to see a little piece of the Butt-Numb-a-Thon, you can click the links below and see it for yourself.

Also, I’ve created a full playlist of all the links below on YouTube, if you’d just like to marathon all the videos.

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Butt-Numb-a-Thon 2014

We miss you, Holly.

BNAT missed you, Holly!

For the last thirteen years, I’ve had the honor to attend the Butt-Numb-a-Thon in Austin, TX, for which I am ever thankful to cinematic madman Harry Knowles.

I won’t delve too deeply into my overall experience right now, since a) I don’t have the photos edited yet, and b) I’ve talked about everything at length for upcoming episodes of Xanadu Cinema Pleasure Dome and The Geek Life. However, I do have a tradition of cataloging every little thing that played at BNAT each year, including the trailers, so you can at least relive a little bit of BNAT yourself.

In addition to the links below, I’ve created a playlist on YouTube of all the linked videos I could find. Enjoy!

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So, let’s talk about The Interview…

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Seth Rogen at Butt-Numb-a-Thon in Austin, TX, on December 13th, 2014. This is the last time The Interview was screened, and two days before studios started refusing to play the film.

Over the last few days, a movie became the biggest news story in America. Thanks to hackers who held Sony hostage with embarrassing e-mails, confidential employee information, and eventually terrorist threats, The Interview has been pulled from distribution. As of the time of this writing, speculation from the FBI is that the hackers are associated with North Korea.

But I bet you’re wondering: is the movie any good? Is this movie worth all the furor?

Last Saturday, I was at a 24-hour movie festival in Austin, TX called The Butt-Numb-a-Thon. In a nutshell, we show up to the theater with no idea of what films will play. We could be seeing premieres, vintage movies, or, well, just about anything. And one of the things that scrolled in front of our eyes was The Interview.

This was two days before the terrorism threats hit the headlines. The screening I saw was feted with confetti cannons, a live appearance and Q&A by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, and 20-foot-tall banners bearing Kim Jong-Un’s face. Everyone received rocket-shaped sippie cups bearing logos of the film. And, of course, we got the film itself.

The Interview is… okay. It has problems, but I laughed a lot, and the audience around me sure laughed a lot, too.

The general plot, as I’m sure you’ve already heard, is this: Seth Rogen and James Franco play bumbling journalists who somehow score a Frost/Nixon-style interview with Kim Jong-Un. The US government intervenes and asks them to assassinate the North Korean leader. Of course, when they arrive in North Korea, wacky hijinks ensue.

I am generally lukewarm on Seth Rogen, mostly because his manchild schtick wears a little thin on me. I like the subjects he picks as targets for comedy, but the reality of his comedy rarely lives up to its promise. The Interview bears a lot of these same problems, but it succeeds more than most other Rogen vehicles I’ve seen.

Where The Interview truly wins is in its performances. The actors make this comedy 100% worth watching, even though not all the jokes land well. James Franco and Seth Rogen have amazing chemistry, and watching the two of them riff off each other is fantastic. But even better is Randall Park, who is hitting for the bleachers as Kim Jong-Un. Park takes over every scene, playing Kim Jong-Un as a sort of meek superfan of Franco’s character. (During the Q&A after the film, Rogen and Goldberg talked about how Park’s performance choices dramatically informed the plot of the film, to the point where the film’s best script choices were made because of him.)

Where The Interview stumbles is in the political commentary, which is puddle-deep and not really engaged with outside of the dialogue. It’s clear that the filmmakers didn’t really know what to do with the film once it arrives in North Korea, perhaps because the real North Korea is such an information vacuum. The film is better when it’s poking fun at American media and when it’s simply playing with its characters. This surely is no Great Dictator or Dr. Strangelove, but perhaps it wasn’t really meant to be.

Also, a lot of the comedy is really dumb. I mean, really really dumb. There are more butt jokes in this movie than there are turtlenecks in Love Actually. So many butt jokes. Anyway, dumb comedy is not my thing. If that’s your thing, The Interview would probably make you laugh more than it made me laugh, and you would laugh a lot.

So, given that the film is okay, is it worth fighting for?

YES. ABSOLUTELY.

Part of protecting freedom means protecting the stupid shit as well as the grand ideas. If Sony smothers the film entirely just so it can take the insurance money, I hope some office patriot leaks the film online.

Fantastic Fest Day #8

It took me a while to recover from Fantastic Fest, which is why my post about the final day comes to the Internet more than a week later. The final party was a lot of everything (including a booze luge, slap shots, a water balloon slingshot, real free tattoos, and a live donkey), and it was followed the next day by a 18-hour drive across the country to get back home. Then I went back to work. So, I was a little tired this week.

Anyway, I did see three additional movies prior to the onslaught…

Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD is a fairly straightforward documentary about the British comics company that brought us characters like Judge Dredd and a whole slew of British comics talent. The film does a nice job bringing context to the tone of 2000AD comic books, and brings some nice visual flair by animating some of the comic art. Also, comics fans will see a lot of familiar faces being interviewed — Neil Gaiman, Brian Bolland, etc. (No Alan Moore, but nobody gets Alan Moore.)

Alleluia is a Belgian horror film that I ultimately did not care for. The film has a strong concept: a woman is urged by a friend to try a dating site, and meets a man who turns out to be a small-time crook, who manipulates women into giving him money. This woman is taken in by his ruse, but has fallen in love with him, so she meets him again and says she will help him con other women, as long as she can stay with him. The two then begin conning other women into giving money to this guy… but the problem is that the main lady gets jealous and starts murdering their marks. So, that’s pretty interesting. The problem is, I never truly got what was driving the characters, and I eventually just didn’t give a damn about what was going on.

And, finally… Jerry and I stepped up and braved the 5-1/2 hour directors’ cut of Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac. I’d endured Antichrist just a few weeks prior, so my choice to go into that theater was driven more of an “I’ll take that dare” mentality rather than a “I want to see that movie” mentality. That said… I liked Nymphomaniac more than I thought I would. I don’t think I’d say I enjoyed it, because I don’t think Nymphomanic is really a movie you enjoy. I did find the film to be consistently interesting, though, and I’ll admit that it is the movie that I’ve thought about most since the festival ended. The movie is a bit of a mess; it’s all over the place in terms of focus and idealism, and it seems that von Trier’s brain spilled out every random thought he has about everything onto the screen. It almost plays out like a series of short films. Some work, some don’t. Most of the stuff that works is in the first half, where the film seems to have a sense of humor about itself.

The film does have two scenes that are marvelous, one in the first half and one in the second. Both involve actors that appear nowhere else in the film. The first involves Uma Thurman as a scorned wife, and the second involves Jamie Bell as a professional sadist. Both actors are magic in these scenes.

Oh, and if you’re thinking of watching Nymphomaniac just because of the hardcore sex scenes, you’re probably not going to get what you expect. Yes, the sex is explicit, but it is mostly depicted as awkward or uncomfortable in some way. This is a pretty unerotic film, even if it is all about sexuality. One of the scenes even gives Antichrist a run for its money in terms of brutality.

Honestly, the best part of Nymphomaniac was enduring it with a friend, because we wound up killing three vats of popcorn and twelve bottles of beer during our rollercoaster ride. Our stomachs hated us later, but we soldiered through, and we are proud.

Nymphomaniac didn't have a happy ending.

Nymphomaniac didn’t have a happy ending.

Jerry, post-Nymphomaniac. By the way, the Alamo Drafthouse has great popocorn.

Jerry, post-Nymphomaniac. By the way, the Alamo Drafthouse has great popocorn.

Fantastic Fest Day #7

Shrew's Nest Q&A - Esteban Roel

Esteban Roel, director of Shrew’s Nest

On the penultimate day of Fantastic Fest, I thankfully hit my second wind. I was still exhausted, but I’d gone past the zombie state into a sort of zen master peace.

It is by movies alone that I set my mind in motion.

One of my film slots yesterday was taken up by the animated shorts program, so I only got to see four features. It was still a solid day, though.

Shrew’s Nest is an incredible Whatever Happened to Baby Jane-style thriller from Spain. The plot centers around two sisters, the elder of whom has severe agoraphobia and thus cannot leave their apartment. As the film slowly reveals the damaged background of the two women, a handsome male neighbor falls down the stairs, and the eldest sister takes him in… and makes sure he cannot leave. The film is completely character driven, and it is grounded by a masterful performance by Macarena Gomez. Great stuff.

Open Windows is the new film by Nacho Vigalondo, the man who brought the world Timecrimes. Open Windows is the story of a regular-guy movie blogger who becomes wrapped up in a complicated scheme that somehow involves the actress that he blogs about. The narrative conceit of the film is that it takes place entirely on one computer screen, and the plot plays out across different windows on the screen. The film feels artificial and stilted until you relax into the style of storytelling, then it becomes a solid little thriller. And by the end, you learn that the things that were off-putting at first were actually necessary and intentional. Open Windows is, from beginning to end, ambitious and clever.

(Incidentally, I was an extra for Open Windows when it shot in Austin about two years ago. The back of my head and my camera are visible in the scene filmed at the Alamo Drafthouse. Thanks to Elijah Wood’s presence in the film, my camera now officially has a Kevin Bacon Number of 2.)

Horns is the latest film from the director of High Tension, and thankfully I can say it’s a better film than High Tension. That’s not to say that it’s great, but it’s engaging and has an interesting premise. Daniel Radcliffe stars as a young man in a small logging town who stands accused of murdering his beloved girlfriend. As he struggles to clear his name, he suddenly wakes up one morning with horns on his head. It turns out that the horns somehow persuade people to tell him the absolute truth about what’s on their mind, so he goes on a mission to find the real murderer. The film is funnier than I expected it to be, though the tone is sometimes uneven. The movie is at its best when it revels in its strange premise.

It Follows is a bizarre, simple, and well-executed horror flick. A teen girl finds that, after having sex with a boy she likes, she finds she is being stalked by an entity that walks after her at all times. She learns that the boy gave the monster to her, and now she must pass it on to someone else (via sex), or else the monster will catch her and kill her. Yes, it’s an obvious allegory for STDs. Yes, it’s a clever premise that allows teenagers to sleep with a lot of other teenagers. Yes, it’s a bit overwrought. However, the film is smarter than expected, the performances are good, and it’s well directed enough that an entity that simply walks at you becomes pretty scary. It Follows ultimately left me with a lot of nagging questions about plot holes and the logic of the creature (do condoms prevent the walking STD monster?), so it wasn’t completely satisfying, but it certainly held my attention throughout.

Now I get to head to the theater, where I will be treated (?) to the five-and-a-half hour director’s cut of Lars von Trier’s Nymph()maniac. If I don’t return, bury my ashes and salt the earth.