December 16, 2003

Butt Numb-a-Thon 5 recap

A fun-filled, full-of-surprises bag of goodies for the mind and soul is how I'd best described this year's Butt-Numb-a-Thon. Organizer and my Ain't It Cool News boss Harry Knowles dropped me countless clues to what this year's line up would be, and I only guessed one of the titles correctly. We had seven premieres, but five of them you'll probably never get a chance to see, at least not on the big screen. Here they are:

1. HAUNTED GOLD--Not a great film, but since we know we get to see RETURN OF THE KING at some point during the 24-hour event, we allow Harry this opening indulgence, the film that sort of triggered an idea in his head that has become GHOST TOWN, his first venture in the producing arena for Revolution Studios. It's not that young star John Wayne hits like a girl in this movie, it's that he hits and sounds like a girl, and he wears one of the fruitiest cowboy outfits I've ever seen. I kept expecting him to break out into the chorus of "Y.M.C.A."

2. Harry gave us a whole song and dance about how "Return of Captain Marvel" was one of the great movie serials in serial history, and I'll admit the first chapter was pretty great, so great in fact that I moaned loudly when the film ended and the screen went black. Then the curtains started to open wide and the New Line logo appeared. That son of a bitch Harry never stops with his trickery and deceit. I'm not going to review THE RETURN OF THE KING beyond these few words: This film caps off the greatest in-total film experience I've ever had. The trilogy is worth more than the sum of its parts because of ROTK. It confirms and restores my faith in the potential of big-budget filmmaking (although it does not give me much faith that any other filmmaker will take the time and muster the spirit to undertake such an ambitious project). But more than anything, if you have any stake in the "Lord of the Rings" story and characters (either in book or film format), you will cry at the end of ROTK. Maybe more than once. There's no way you won't.

It was terrific that Peter Jackson took time out to come to BNAT, but the truth was, beyond saying "Thank you, thank you, thank you," I was at a loss for words, and I'm usually not around filmmakers. A lot of people were subdued to a point during the Q&A. The emotional impact of seeing ROTK took so much out of us that having Jackson right there after the screening was just overwhelming. I needed time to digest what I'd just seen. Today, I'd have a million things to ask. That day, I felt like I needed a nap.

3. As a thanks to Jackson for three years of making our BNAT dreams come true, Harry played a beautiful archival print of THE GENERAL starring Buster Keaton with a live band providing the soundtrack. This is one of Jackson's (and my) favorite films, and for those of us who'd seen the film before it was a great chance to decompress and simply laugh and enjoy.

4. OLD BOY--I sought out Harry's top pick as the best film of 2002, SYMPATHY FOR MY VENGEANCE from South Korea, and was floored by it. But nothing prepared me for the layered sock-in-the-kisser that was OLD BOY, from the same director. At its core, it's about a man trying to justify 15 lost years of his life. All he cares about is finding out who in the world hates him enough to kidnap him and lock him away from so long; nothing else matters, not getting on with his life, not love, nothing. The film is always moving forward, even when it flashes back to the man's past. At first you think that the identity of the kidnapper will be the big secret, but it's not. Then you think that finding out what this guy did wrong so many years ago will answer all questions; it doesn't. When the final missing piece to this puzzle is revealed you almost want to throw up from all the built up anticipation. It's that good, and probably ranks as the best film (after LOTR: ROTK and the final film) we saw in the 24 hours.

5. NID DE GUEPES (WASPS NEST)--Set this film in the U.S. and it would get lost in the weekly barrage of actioners. Set it in France and maybe it stands out a bit more, but it's still a fairly typical (but still strong) action-thriller about a high-security team guarded the transportation of a dangerous international criminal running smack into an army of faceless soldiers trying to rescue said criminal running into a group of high-tech thieves robbing a warehouse of laptop computers. Ka-Boom! Nothing too original but still loads of fun.

6. Harry was kind enough to let me introduce the next film, the second sequel of the day, GINGER SNAPS UNLEASHED, the so-so, straight-to-video in March follow up to the much talked about GINGER SNAPS from a couple years ago. Even though she died in the last film, Ginger's still around tormenting her sister, who is trying desperately to hold off her impending change into a werewolf. There's nothing unforgivable about this film, but it's clear that the makers were working on the cheap and it hurts the end product. Still, the metaphor of a werewolf transformation and sexual awakening still works especially in the much discussed group female masturbation scene. That woke us all up.

7. HAUTE TENSION (SWITCHBLADE ROMANCE)--Loved this French stalker film that turns into a French art film by the end. The film's big revelation near the end may actually negate half of what we've seen to that point in the story. I know that doesn't exactly make sense, but if you can remember "Donald Kaufman" man chasing himself screenplay in ADAPTATION, you have an idea of the confusion surrounding this film. Having said that, it makes no difference if huge sections of the film make no sense. It's still a great, serial killer trucker vs. hot chicks film that attempts to gross you out and turn you on all at once. Welcome to French grindhouse.

8. TEENAGE MOTHER--It's been said already, but I'll say it again: Harry is an evil bastard for showing us this movie. What begins as feature-length mental hygiene film quickly turns into all-out puke-worthy exploitation circa 1968. The bad acting, the puritanical views on teen sex, drugs, and "troubled kids" are laughable enough, but I'm still wondering how I kept from heaving my guts out during the final 10 minutes of this movie. I'm not saying anymore. Go see my BNAT5 write up on to see my more graphic description of this film.

9. After the bloody mess that was TEENAGE MOTHER, the zombie film from New Zeland, UNDEAD, was a bit underwhelming. Timing is everything. Still, I'm not sure I would have been that enthused by it in any context. By combining the undead with a heavy extraterrestrial element, UNDEAD may have been a bit too genre crowded for its own good. It doesn't hold a candle to Peter Jackson's BRAIN DEAD, and I'm afraid that's the film it will be compared to most often.

10. THE PASSION OF CHRIST--Stunning, breath-taking, even in its rough-cut state (it still needed the real soundtrack, a few special effects, and a few less subtitles, according to attending director Mel Gibson. More people have questions for me about this film than any other in BNAT5. I hope that means they'll check in out upon its release. I can't wait to see it again finished, some of the effects shots Gibson mentioned in the very long (about 90 minutes) Q&A that followed sounds so beautiful. I have a feeling that there would have been extended discussion after this movie whether Gibson had been there or not, but having him there enlightened us to his thinking, his agenda (or lack thereof), and his love of alternative audiences. I genuinely believe his showing this movie to us was an attempt to see what true film enthusiasts think of it. Apparently, we love it. I know I did. A few tears fell during this one as well.

Posted by sprokopy at 07:33 PM