Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best of 2009, The Top 10 (err, 11)

This has been a phenomenal year for film, especially films in what are thought to be the "lesser" genres. As always, this is a somewhat personal list, made up of films that I enjoy, not films that I think fit in with other people's lists or films I think will be Best Picture nominees. Some are fun escapist films, others are more emotional or cerebral. I think most of you know by now how eclectic my tastes run. :)

Anyway, enough blathering. Here is zee list.

Special Mention (i.e., I saw this very recently and need to ruminate on it some more before I can figure out where it ranks against the rest)

The White Ribbon - This could very well move up into the top 10 over time, as Michael Hanake's films tend to grow on me the more I watch them, but even after just one viewing, this is an incredibly powerful and painful film. Shot in color, but washed out so that it appears to be in black and white, this is possibly Haneke's greatest film to date. Horrible and disturbing things happen in a small German village in the months leading up to WW1. The children responsible will grow up and become elites in the Nazi party, and the way the village covers up and even denies their treachery speaks volumes about the evils that would later be perpetrated. The last scene of this film is understated and absolutely bone-chilling, without anything really having to happen. This one will be with me for a while.

And, if Draco should fail, will you yourself carry out the deed the Dark Lord has ordered Draco to perform?

10. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - The first Potter film since Chamber of Secrets to give me much the same sensation that I feel reading the book, and this one is a much better film. I don't want to think about how many ways they've shot themselves in the foot for Deathly Hallows, but this movie balances fan service and filmmaking better than any previous installment. Yes, even the critical darling Prisoner of Azkaban. Exceptional performances this time around - most notably Tom Felton, Rupert Grint, Michael Gambon, and Jim Broadbent - and if I wasn't already a Steve Kloves fangirl, the fish story would have made me so. I always cringe when people who aren't J.K. Rowling try to invent magic in her world, but the lily!fish sounds just like something she would write (so much so that I still wonder if she, in fact, did write it). And despite my concerns about how much catching up they'll have to do with the next film, this is an excellent penultimate chapter in the film series.

If people die the moment that they graduate, then surely it's the things we do beforehand that count.

9. An Education - An excellent portrait of a young woman seduced by her own lust for experience and sophistication, at the potential cost of her future. Carey Mulligan walks a very fine line between schoolgirl and woman of the world as our heroine, Jenny, and Peter Sarsgaard (sporting an impressive English accent) is impossibly charming as the charlatan who "educates" her. This movie is a real actors' playhouse, and Alfred Molina, Olivia Williams, and Emma Thompson give some of my favorite supporting performances of the year.

Let me ask you something - how much did they get paid to storm Normandy, how much did King Arthur get paid to kill Merlin, how much did they get paid to invent Television? Nothing. They did it because they knew it was right.

8. Observe and Report - This movie is everything Paul Blart: Mall Cop is not, and I mean that with the highest esteem imaginable. A real comedy, not just dark but pitch-black, that kind of hurts to watch, but that you'll be thinking about long after you've left the theater - whether you like it or not. Seth Rogen is thoroughly unlikable in a role not too dissimilar from famous movie misanthrope Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. No, really. He's full of rage and violence (the scene where he fights his way out of the 'hood is the stuff of legend) and the hope of catching a flasher who's been harassing the people at the mall is the only thing he has going in his life. This may not be a movie many people like right now, but it's definitely going to go into the books as one of the great modern comedies.

When the truth is found ... to be lies ... and all the joy ... within you dies.

7. A Serious Man - Even when the Coen brothers are not at the top of their game, they're miles ahead of most other filmmakers, but this is one of the best films they've made, period. Starting with a short vignette that I think sets up how people of faith, particularly Jews, see the issue of fortune and fate, this is a Job story, heaping disaster after disaster onto our poor protagonist (played by the wonderful Michael Stuhlbarg), until in the end, when a real natural disaster looms, it's almost a relief. If there's a message in this film, I think it's that stuff happens, and there's nothing you can do about it, no matter how scrupulously you live your life. Good things don't happen because you're nice, and bad things don't happen because you're a jerk. The world has never been and never will be that simple.

Everything is backwards now, like out there is the true world and in here is the dream.

6. Avatar - I know the hype beforehand and the geek-gasms afterward are annoying to people who just don't respond to this film, but this really, truly has changed filmmaking. To think that Cameron (and the amazing technical geniuses at WETA) created this entire amazingly detailed world out of Cameron's head and a bunch of computers is really phenomenal. And despite what detractors, and even some supporters, are saying, the script is not that bad. No, it isn't - you go watch Titanic again and see if you still think so. It's a solid, if basic, story. And there's nothing wrong with basic, especially when you're reinventing the wheel in such a jaw-dropping manner in other aspects. These are characters you care about, not because they say cool things but because they feel absolutely real - even when they CAN'T be, because they're freakin' ten foot tall blue cat-monkey-people.

Could you go a bit slower with the clicks there, it sounded like you said three years.

5. District 9 - In a year chock full of breathtaking sci-fi, this was the most original bit of storytelling and one of the most moving human (and non-human) dramas of this or any other year. The documentary style adds a significant amount of authenticity, and the bookend commentary from the other characters really sets up how you see the main character in the beginning versus how you see him in the end. Neill Blomkamp made real magic with a budget 1/10 the size of Transformers 2 and made a much better movie with it. It consistently confounds your expectations and, thanks in no small part to the brilliant work of first-time actor Sharlto Copley, it gives you a hero who defies expectations as well, in both good ways and bad ways. Definitely one of the high points of the year and the sci-fi genre as a whole.

Within your 'purview'? Where do you think you are, some f***ing regency costume drama? This is a government department, not some f***ing Jane f***ing Austen novel! Allow me to pop a jaunty little bonnet on your purview and ram it up your s***ter with a lubricated horse c***!

4. In the Loop - This is the Bizarro version of The West Wing. Here, idealism is only to be found among the useless failures who don't know the relative whereabouts of their anus and a hole in the ground. Many have said this film is what politics is really like, and I desperately want to believe that's not true, but I fear it is. The story begins with an ill-conceived comment to a reporter by a nobody of an MP, which is used by various British and American political insiders to wage literal war. As funny as this is, it's quite frightening to think how accurate it might be. A gloriously profane script, based on the television series The Thick of It, and a phenomenal British and American cast, led by Peter Capaldi as my fake government crush Malcolm Tucker.

This is the face of Jewish vengeance!

3. Inglourious Basterds - I've said far too much about this film already. I still don't think it topples Kill Bill in my affections, but this is possibly Tarantino's greatest cinematic achievement to date. A film with much more scope than he's ever attempted before and probably his most accessible film. It takes cojones to rewrite World War 2, and this is one "remake" I wholeheartedly endorse.

You sit there and you judge me, and you write them notes on your notepad, about who you think I am!

2. Precious - Again, I've said a whole lot about this movie elsewhere. It's one of an endless string of stories about troubled children, but this time it's told not from the point of view of the hero who swoops in and saves the day but the child herself. We see firsthand what she goes through each day of her life and we root like hell for her to get out of it somehow. A bold vision of a film with two of the best performances of the year.

Adventure is out there!

1. Up - No contest, and I knew it would be in my top spot as soon as I saw it. This film is, I feel, timeless in a way that no previous Pixar endeavor has been. The film begins with a friendship struck between two children and follows with five minutes of wordless images that many would argue are the best part of the film. What I think it does, though, is set up a lens through which you see the rest of the film. Carl is not your average hero; he's not someone you would even notice. But the opening of the film makes you care about him in a way you wouldn't have before. Carl and Russell and (despite the collar which enables him to talk) Dug are ordinary shlubs like most of us are, which is a huge part of what makes their adventure so exciting for us to watch. But the ultimate point is that you don't have to go to an exotic unchartered wilderness to have an adventure. Life is an adventure in and of itself. What a beautiful and vibrant film. Very possibly my favorite of the last few years together.

Best of 2009, Honorable Mentions

Before I get to my Top 10, there are several films I want to give a shout-out to (and a few which are on seemingly everyone else's lists, but I feel the need to explain why they aren't on mine) before I say goodbye to what has probably been the best year of the decade for movies.


500 Days of Summer - A much needed breath of fresh air in the romantic comedy genre, and a movie that isn't afraid to break your heart a little.

Brothers Bloom - Such great twists and turns, but more importantly, a fantastic relationship between the titular brothers.

Bright Star - Not an easy feat to make an interesting and sexy film about poetry, but this one certainly is, and it's at least partially thanks to Campion's script.

The Informant! - (pictured above) I can't believe this script is not on the Oscar short lists, or at least any that I've seen. It's really amazing structure-wise, peeling away layer after layer of its protagonists lies, and gives Matt Damon some epic stream-of-consciousness monologues.

Me and Orson Welles - Spectacular coming-of-age movie from the king of conversational pictures. Another heartbreaker, but not really because of the romance. Oh Welles, you heartless bastard!


Sam Rockwell in Moon - It is CRIMINAL that the studio has given up on trying to get Sam Rockwell some awards love, because his performance in this dual role was truly stellar.

Mya Rudolph in Away We Go - I love John Krasinski, but he's basically a bearded Jim Halpert here. Mya Rudolph is the one who really shines, and she gets bonus points for singing a Bob Dylan lullaby.

Stanley Tucci in Julie & Julia and The Lovely Bones - His Bones character is definitely the showier part, and it will probably be the one that gets him to the Oscars, but as wonderful as Meryl Streep was in Julie & Julia, Tucci was the heart of that film.

Marion Cotillard in Public Enemies and Nine - She was the best thing about both these movies, and that's no small feat, considering the company she kept in both.

Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air - People seem to be in either the Vera Farmiga camp or the Anna Kendrick camp with this movie. I definitely think Anna was the standout in this film. I would love to have seen an entire movie centered around her character.

Colin Firth in A Single Man - A career best at this point. I love Darcy as much as the next gal, but this is the most nuanced and elegant performance I've ever seen from him. And oh my, heartbreaking.

Paul Schneider in Bright Star - The absolute best thing about this movie. His admission to failing his best friend was one of the greatest acting moments this year. Period.

Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart - I say this as someone who *HATES* when people overdo the Oscar buzz and jinx whoever they're setting up as an inevitability ... Jeff, meet Oscar. Seriously. The role he was made for.

Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker - Renner's adrenaline-junkie bomb dismantler is the real juice of this film, in my opinion.

Viggo Mortensen in The Road - Not everyone likes this performance, but it takes guts to play someone who's starting to lose his humanity, thereby making him less relatable to audiences.

Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side - The main thing that made this movie a hit and an above average sports-themed inspirational film. Possibly her shot at an Oscar nomination.

Tilda Swinton in Julia - (pictured above) A tragically overlooked gift of a performance and why Tilda is one of the gutsiest actors working right now.

Matt Damon in The Informant! - One of the more complex characters he's ever played and the definition of an unreliable narrator. I loved watching this guy unravel.


The Hurt Locker - (pictured above) A fantastic movie, no doubt. But, and I'm just going to say it, I wonder if it would be on so many top 10 lists if it hadn't been directed by a woman. Jeremy Renner gives an amazing performance, and it's refreshing to see a movie about the Iraq war with zero political agenda. But for some reason it feels a bit empty to me, and it's a bit baffling that it's the one film that is most consistently appearing on everyone's top 10 list (except, God bless them, Harry Knowles and Drew McWeeny).

Up in the Air - Festival audiences and many, many critics fell hard for this movie, but I just ... didn't feel it. It's a great bit of writing and has a lot of heart, and I can't tell you how great it is to see Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga treated as George Clooney's equals instead of "the girl"s. But I don't relate to this movie at all. Maybe because I don't travel for work, I almost always travel to see other people, so I don't get the alienation of frequent travel. I do love the scene where Clooney and Farmiga console Kendrick over her breakup, but I'm not sure what the movie is trying to tell me that I'd be an utter failure as a human being for not already knowing.


Shutter Island - Some have called this lesser Scorsese, but I think it's one of his strongest. Wonderful puzzle of a film, and if you weren't an admirer of DiCaprio's work already, you will be after this film.

Kick-Ass - (pictured above) You are not ready for this level of awesome, especially in the form of little Chloe Moretz as Hit Girl. I cannot WAIT for April.


The Hangover - (pictured above) Maybe my low expectations helped, but this was the most purely frothy fun movie of the summer for me.

My Bloody Valentine 3-D - A horror movie that (*gasp*) actually gave me characters to care about. Loads of horror movie cliches, but also loads of great kills. And my love, Tom Atkins.


15. Star Trek - I know a few purists who feel that their Trek canon was totally raped with this movie, and I obviously can't really argue much with that as I was never terribly familiar with any incarnation of the series to begin with. But this film did what I feel any franchise film should do - first and foremost, entertain, and secondly, make the brand accessible to the huge swaths of potential viewers who aren't a part of the rabid fanbase, while still paying as much respect as you can to the original canon. This film succeeds on all three of those points, I think, and while watching it, I could literally feel the affection for the series dripping off the screen. Loved Zoe Saldana (who, between this and Avatar, will surely be the new icon of fanboy lust). Loved Zachary Quinto. Loved Chris Pine and his swaggering Kirk. And above all, LOVED Karl Urban as Bones. One of the great character reveals in any movie ever.

14. Drag Me to Hell - It's not entirely original (it bears more than a passing resemblance to the 1957 film Night of the Demon), but it's not a franchise horror film and is Sam Raimi doing what Raimi does best - scaring and grossing the crap out of you. And he manages to do it with a PG-13 rating. This is an ENORMOUS amount of fun, a great movie to watch with a group, and there's an inevitability about the whole story that just adds an extra layer of terror on the whole business. In addition, having the main character be an anorexic and hallucinating about her food calls the reliability of her POV into question - is this really happening or is she having delusions brought on by her body-hatred?

13. House of the Devil - I have never been more terrified of more nothing than I was during the first hour of this movie. One of the most genuinely scary movies I've seen in a long, long time. No gimmicky scares - zero - just a well-crafted film and a setup that brings its own dread without all the bells and whistles. It's because of this movie that I'm afraid to wear headphones in my apartment. And the attention to detail in setting this film in 1981 is pretty impressive. You could literally be watching a fright flick that was made in that year, it's that well done.

12. Adventureland - This movie hit a lot of my nostalgia buttons. Between the eighties fashions and music and the memories of working in a theme park with some awesomely quirky characters, I connected with this movie much more than most films this year, even many in my Top 10. Jesse Eisenberg has that thing people used to love about Woody Allen, and thank goodness someone gave Kristen Stewart an actual character to prove she's more than the pale face of a dull, vampire-obsessed teen (harsh, but true).

11. The Princess and the Frog - (pictured above) Better than anything Disney has done without Pixar since their 2D heyday. A medium that looks more like a storybook than a video game, songs (oh, how I've missed Disney songs!) that lift your heart, and a heroine whose dreams don't revolve around falling in love. And some of the best supporting characters you could ask for (Ray + Evangeline 4EVA!). This absolutely belongs in the pantheon with Snow White, Cinderella, Bambi, and Pinocchio. It is that good, and kids will be falling in love with it for generations to come.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Sherlock Holmes

I feel woefully inadequate to be writing about Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes, for two reasons:

1) I saw it after working a late shift and not sleeping the night before, so I dozed a bit.

2) Aside from a solitary mystery I read for a college class and which I barely remember, I have read zero percent of the Doyle canon. I'm also pretty sure I haven't seen any significant portions of any of the kajillion film and television portrayals.

However, I do know the caricature. Houndstooth hat, calabash, Baker Street, "elementary," and "the game's afoot." So I'm not entirely a blank slate. But close.

If you want a look at the film from someone who is immersed in the canon, check out this awesome review by Drew McWeeny (who used to go by the name Moriarty on Ain't It Cool News). There's something pleasing to me about the way he sort of punctures the popular portrayals of Holmes, which he claims are not really that close to Doyle's Holmes, but have stuck and people are attached to them.

What I can tell you about my impressions of the film are twofold, and both, err, folds involve two insanely popular franchises. First, this film does for Holmesology what Abrams's Star Trek did for Star Trek. It takes an established canon and beloved characters and repackages them in an appealing, contemporary way. This will naturally infuriate many purists, though not all (I've read many glowing comments from people calling themselves Sherlockians, which I have to assume is a more-than-averagely obsessed group of Sherlock fans). What it will also do, however, is take a bit of the "geek" off of the brand and make the franchise accessible, nay, delightful for people who were not heretofore dedicated fans. In that way, I'd say Sherlock Holmes is a great success.

Second, this movie is FUN. Bombastic and ludicrous at times, but never empty, and with characters that are so enjoyable to watch it should be outlawed. In this respect, Holmes reminds me quite a bit of Pirates of the Caribbean. Think the outlandish fun of Dead Man's Chest, without the mythmaking element and setup for a final installment. I'd compare it to Black Pearl, because it's closer in those respects, but that film exists perfectly without the sequels (though I think it exists just as well with them), and Holmes could not be more deliberate in setting up sequels if it tried (which, much as I enjoyed the references, is one of its flaws).

Is this a perfect film? By no means. But it does what movies (as opposed to "films") are supposed to do - provide us with escape and entertainment. Downey and Law are positively delicious as Holmes and his heterosexual life partner Watson (the slashfic will be strong with this one), and it makes logic and intelligence sexy again, which is enough by itself for me to heartily recommend this. If you weren't one of the millions of people who already saw it this past weekend, that is.

A Single Man

The first I heard of this film was in the summer, when its star, Colin Firth, won the Best Actor prize at the Venice Film Festival. Awards pundits immediately placed him at the forefront of the Oscar discussion and this was called the role of his career so far. I have long been a fan of his, but admittedly most of my favorite roles of his were in the mold of what is probably still his most iconic performance, Fitzwilliam Darcy in the phenomenal 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice.

And, as far as it might be from Darcy (and Jack/Earnest Worthing, Jamie Bennett, and that other Darcy), I still think George Falconer, the eponymous single man of this film, is in somewhat the same mold. Stuffy on the surface and quick to disdain, but deeply passionate underneath, with an irresistibly sexy intelligence. Roles with that quality are what Colin Firth was made for, and he plays them exceedingly well. So when something like George Falconer came along, it must have been an enormous treat for Firth - a character with some familiarity, but with much more depth and layers and conflict than he'd ever been asked to attempt.

In A Single Man, directorial debut of fashion designer Tom Ford, George Falconer is just trying to get through the day. A day he has decided is going to be his last. Eight months previously, his partner of sixteen years, Jim (played by the perennially beautiful Matthew Goode), was killed in a car crash. In one of several flashbacks, we see George get the call from one of Jim's cousins (Jim's parents will not acknowledge George). George accepts the news without a great deal of obvious emotion, but even through his shocked blank stare we can see how gutted he is at finding out that the memorial service is going to be "family only." And thus begins eight months of hell for George, who has lost the person who he loved most on earth but cannot openly grieve. This is set in the early 1960s, by the way, just before the Cuban Missile Crisis.

We see George go through his daily details - waking up (which he says now physically hurts most mornings), getting immaculately dressed and polished, greeting his housekeeper, going to his job (he's a college professor). But something comes alive in him during one of his lectures, one of several faint glimmers of life throughout what he still intends to be his last day alive. We also see, through the film's flashbacks, George's life with Jim - how they met, a conversation on the beach, a boring night at home. He makes plans for later in the evening to visit an old friend, Charlotte (Julianne Moore), a woman he slept with a few times when they were young and who is his closest confidante. And he has a couple of encounters, one with a hustler and one with a student, that might have been romantic in other circumstances, but Jim is still too much in his heart.

This is just a downright gorgeous and powerful movie. There's a note of the obvious with one of the visual flairs that Ford uses - when George is feeling dead and blank inside, the film is washed out and colorless (without being straight B&W), and when he starts to feel more alive and connected with what's around him, there's a gradual infusion of color, almost as if the film is blushing. It's a little unnecessary, as if Ford doesn't quite trust his actor to express that feeling adequately, but it's hard to call it a flaw when it creates such a lovely contrast.

A Single Man is a gorgeous film with a brilliant performance at its center. Colin Firth has truly never been better. Just a wonderful heartbreak of a movie.

Monday, December 28, 2009

And now The Brood is being remade?

I know hating on remakes is a popular pastime, but fer cryin' out loud. The Brood? REALLY? I hate to break it to the guy at FilmJunk - especially as there's like zero chance he'll ever see this - but just because supposedly not a lot of people have seen the original does not give a good excuse to remake one of the few truly original films left that hasn't been defiled by the Remake Machine.

Yes, remakes can be good, but I think we all know that good remakes are the exception to the rule. For every Cape Fear there's at least a dozen pieces of caca like the 2006 Wicker Man. And, as is pointed out in the article, it's getting so that someone can actually make their entire career out of nothing but remaking other people's films. I guess that's good enough for some people, but I can't imagine being creatively satisfied by such work. Rather like spending your whole life as an Elvis impersonator.

If you like horror movies, you should do yourself the favor of seeking out David Cronenberg's original 1979 film The Brood. It's one of his early films, but one that (along with Rabid and his first feature Shivers) established him as the king of "body horror." The concept is like nothing you've ever seen, the camera work stunning, and the infamous birth scene one of the most disturbing things I've ever seen. I mean, "ewwwww!" with a capital "gaaaaaaah!"

The director attached is Breck Eisner, son of former Disney chief Michael, and the only major film he's made is the McConaughey vehicle Sahara (not to EVER be confused with the amazing 1943 WW2 film Sahara, starring Humphrey Bogart). And he directed the yet-to-be-released The Crazies, yet another remake of a horror classic by a horror maestro. So yeah, I might have a leg dangling over on the side of optimism, but the rest of me is in the "Why, God, why?!" camp.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

BNAT 11 - [PREMIERE] Avatar

I had been dubious about Avatar screening at BNAT. I knew nothing of the Fox fiasco. It just seemed both too close to the release and too high profile a release. But it was still a possibility, as Harry is friends with James Cameron. I started thinking we might when Anne Thompson ran her piece on IndieWire about the possibility. Not that she had any real information, but she must have gotten the idea from somewhere, even if it was just vague murmurings. Then, as I looked through my goodie bag the morning of BNAT, I noticed an Avatar shirt and another flag was raised. And finally, I noticed a Real-3D standee propped up right outside the BNAT theater, and when we hadn't seen anything else in 3D, it started looking more likely. Oh, and also there were a gaggle of security guards in the corridor to the exit door.

So Harry started to introduce the final film, not naming it, but casually dropping Cameron's name, so we know what we're building up to. Lots of excited murmurs. He explained about the, ah, antipathy between Twentieth Century Fox, especially Tom Rothman, and himself, but said that Cameron was determined to bring it to us. So much that he went to Fox THREE times, and was told no three times. And then something happened. Went a little something like this.

FOX: No.
CAMERON: Okay, seriously, can I?
FOX: No!
CAMERON: For the last time, can I?
FOX: For the last time, NO!
FOX: ... okay

So the 3D glasses elves passed out our newfangled 3D glasses, the kind that don't give you a headache and that you can use as actual sunglasses. And the movie started.


I need to see this again before I can really say much of substance about it. I know a lot of you are pretty sick of all things Avatar, and I can't say I blame you. They've been marketing the crap out of this movie, because they can't really afford the luxury of a demographic-driven campaign with a film this size. I was ready for a huge thud when people started seeing this film. It couldn't possibly live up to all the hype, even in the effects department.

Ladies and gentlemen, we've forgotten who James "King of the World" Cameron is. There is a reason he hasn't made a whole bunch of films in his career and yet most of those films are iconic in our culture. The man has reinvented sci-fi at least once and made the most financially successful film of all time (and before you start, the Leo fangirls could not possibly have done all that Titanic business themselves). Love him or hate him, Cameron knows how to reach an audience.

I won't pretend the story is anything special. That is not a criticism; just an observation. This is not literature. It is, however, a good, straightforward piece of storytelling. It is also first-rate worldbuilding - the kind we haven't really seen from Cameron and which we associate more with the original Star Wars movies. Some of what follows you've gleaned from the trailers, but most you probably haven't.

Pandora is a distant planet - I'm afraid I can't remember much more detail than that, but I do know that I've forgotten stuff that's definitely in the movie as regards where it is. A great deal of Pandora's topography is made up of rainforest, and it is a rich source of a valuable mineral that people on Earth call "unobtainium" - go ahead and laugh, most of us did, and it is a pretty weak name, but I can totally see someone thinking it's brilliant for five minutes and then wincing by the time it sticks. There are several teams of Earth people on Pandora, not just to get the (*cringe*) unobtainium but to learn about the planet and the creatures that live there. The human equivalent on this planet is a species called the Na'vi, and you've seen them - they resemble, as 's husband remarked, ten feet tall blue cat people. That's fairly accurate, I'd say. As humans can't breathe the air on Pandora without special masks, they have taken DNA from the Na'vi and mixed it with human DNA to create Na'vi "avatars" - bodies that the humans can inhabit with their minds so that they can move about the planet and experience it more fully and efficiently.

The Na'vi have a tremendously intimate and spiritual relationship with their planet. They are plugged into it, as it were, not unlike an organic form of internet. A part of their anatomy can connect with a corresponding part of certain animals on their planet and forms a bond between animal and rider. They have enormous respect for the life cycle and the cost of the death of something in their world. So when the "sky people" come and start trying to rape that world and drive them into another area, it's much more than an inconvenience. It is, in fact, a sacrilege.

At the center of the story is Jake Sully (Sam Worthington). His twin brother, a scientist, was part of a mission to Pandora but was killed. So they bring Jake in, despite the fact that he's a soldier and has not been trained to use an avatar. Jake is reckless and impulsive, like many mythic heroes before him. His presence annoys the other scientists, who don't see what use he'll be. He is particularly a fly in the ointment of Grace (Sigourney Weaver). But he proves to be a quick study, with good instincts and resourcefulness, and he is soon given the task of learning the Na'vi culture, absorbing himself into it and gaining their trust, so that he can persuade them to move to another area before the big machines come in and start tearing everything up to get to the unobtainium (*snort* yeah, sorry, I'm not quite done laughing at that).

Like Kevin Costner's soldier in Dances With Wolves, the closer Jake gets to the Na'vi culture, the more highly he regards it, thanks in no small part to the female Na'vi who is tasked with teaching him their ways. Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) is the chief's daughter and, as you might expect, is none too fond of our cocky hero. However, also as you might expect, they eventually fall in love. I'm not always fond of how Cameron does romance, and he doesn't always get it quite right, but he's capable of doing so and I think the romance here is pretty wonderful. The scenes where Jake interacts with the Na'vi are the best parts of the movie, particularly his scenes with Neytiri, and Zoe Saldana is one of Cameron's great heroines (he does TOO write great women) and gives the best performance of the film by far, in my opinion.

Of course, now that Jake has bonded with the Na'vi and understands much more about them, the issue of asking them to move and let the sky people come in and rip up their rainforest has suddenly become very complicated indeed. He switches sides fairly quickly, but not implausibly, because he's absolutely right. What his side is doing is wrong. And that's as far as I want to go into the plot, because there's so much in the third act that I couldn't possibly absorb it all.

I don't think anyone is overstating anything by saying that Cameron has changed how movies are going to be made in the future, but I'm not sure people understand what that means. The brilliance of the effects are that they're so masterfully done that you forget about them. If I didn't know better, I'd swear that Pandora was a real place, and I'd swear that the Na'vi exist, that some of them have studied acting, and were cast as characters in this film. It is that freakin' real. This is thanks, at least partly, to the participation of WETA, and if you remember how well Gollum was done in Lord of the Rings. this is on a much larger scale and, in my opinion, even more impressive. I don't know how they did it, and I don't really care. All I know is that this is the most detailed, gorgeous, and fully realized fictional world that I've ever seen. And it's not just window dressing. It serves the story and makes you give a damn about the world and characters that have been created. That's movie magic, my friends.

BNAT 11 - [PREMIERE] Kick-Ass

Now at the two-films-to-go mark and knowing that both would be premieres, anticipation levels were rising. But even if we had known what film we were about to see, we could not have predicted the awesomeness of what happened when we watched it. People started ordering breakfast and trying to get that extra steam to plow through to the end. But first some clips.

Tim League showed us something, curious for our thoughts as to how appropriate it would be for children, so we obliged. What looked like a generic sumo wrestling clip soon took a turn when horny dogs were brought in to hump some guys' legs and ... other things. I'm pretty sure I witnessed a 69 humping. After this, and after assuring Tim that nothing could be more appropriate for children than dog humping, we saw the "AICN True-ish Hollywood Story," which was basically a collection of sarcastic insults and birthday wishes to Harry from various film personages, including Jon Favreau, Danny McBride, Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, JJ Abrams, and "Michael F***ing Bay, Motherf***er!" Jon Favreau concluded his birthday wishes and the entire clip by telling us we were going to be the first to see the Iron Man 2 trailer. Mickey Rourke is awesome. That is all.

Okay ... here goes. First, some trailers - Fearless Frank (with Jon Voight), Animal Protector (with David Carridine - audience love), and OMGIHAVETOSEETHISRIGHTNOW Return of Captain Invincible (a superhero musical spoof with Alan Arkin and Christopher Lee - WIN).

Harry then set up the next film by reminding us of the several films this year about endangered children, pointing out that Fearsome Toddler was turning the tide towards kids fighting back, perhaps even ... kicking ass. (*THUNDEROUS CHEERS*)


Sweet Holy Lord, what an awesome movie, even as a rough cut. The basic story, if you haven't heard much about it, is that a teenager named Dave, wondering why no one ever tried to be a superhero, decides to try and be one himself. He orders a wet suit and mask online, which becomes his costume, and goes out to help someone. Of course, not possessing superpowers or supergadgets, he gets his ass kicked on his first attempt and lands in the hospital. When he comes out, he's had metal implants and his nervous system is all jacked up, so he can take a lot of pain without passing out.

He goes back to school, amid rumors that he is gay (fueled by the fact that he stripped off his costume before the paramedics came, in order to protect his identity), and the girl he's got a crush on suddenly wants him to be her gay BFF. He makes a second attempt at thrilling heroics, and this one is much more successful. He saves a guy from a multi-thug beating, and someone captures the whole thing on a cell phone, asking Dave after the beatdown what his name is. Dave's response ... "I'm Kick-Ass."

Dave's video goes viral and catches the attention of a father-daughter duo, played by Nicholas Cage (sporting a mustache that makes him look like Stanley Tucci's child murderer in The Lovely Bones) and the unbelievably awesome Chloe Moretz. Not just any father-daughter duo, though. This father spends quality time with his daughter by teaching her how to take a bullet in the chest while wearing a Kevlar vest (do they even make those in kids sizes?) without flinching. Inspired by Kick-Ass, they become the vigilante heroes Hit Girl and Big Daddy.

Kick-Ass meets this duo on his next mission, trying to persuade a drug-dealing thug not to bother his girl-who's-just-a-friend anymore. Just when it seems he's in over his head, a knife appears out of the chest of one of the thugs and Dave meets the unbelievably ass-kicking eleven-year-old Hit Girl, who utters some choice profanities and proceeds to lay waste to the entire room to the strains of the Dickies' cover of the Banana Splits theme song ("Tra la la, la la la la!"). The musical cues in this movie were nothing short of INCREDIBLE, and it makes me sad that not every single one of them (15% of the music is still temp) will be in the final version. I think "Tra la la" will be, though, which is awesome. The movie was a genuine hit with the audience already, despite the fact that something seemed wonky with the sound, but right in the middle of Hit Girl's bullet ballet, wonky turned into dead.

The sound was out and the film stopped completely. The lights came up and Tim came out to explain some technical sound stuff I didn't understand. Something about a Tweeter. Twenty minutes passed while our very own Drafthouse superheroes worked tirelessly to get the sound restored, which they eventually did. The problem now, of course ... would the interruption ruin the screening? Would the audience be able to get back into the movie?

The answer came when the lights went down and the movie started again. But not at the point where we'd stopped. No, we were going to watch the entire sequence again - before Hit Girl's appearance, from Kick-Ass first going into the thug's apartment. The room positively shook with applause and cheers when they saw going to see that whole scene again. It was the second most amazing audience response in the whole film. So okay, Hit Girl opens a can of whup-ass, it's very very awesome, and we officially meet her and Big Daddy. And they kind of make fun of Kick-Ass a bit (Big Daddy actually calls him Ass Kick). But they're going to be allies, even though Kick-Ass would rather just sit back and let them be the heroes, since they're much better at it than he is.

There is the obligatory bad guy, Frank D'Amico (played by Mark Strong, who worked with Matthew Vaughn on Stardust playing Septimus). I don't think it's too clear (not that it needs to be) what exactly he does, but it's kind of general organized crime, drugs, etc. He's made lots of money by not-honest means, yet he's still a family man. Kind of a less likable Tony Soprano. His son Chris (played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who most of you know better as McLovin) wants to be part of the family biz, and when Kick-Ass, Big Daddy, and Hit Girl start getting in D'Amico's way, Chris offers to don a superhero costume himself and help out. He therefore becomes Red Mist, and due to daddy's money he has all the cool gadgets, including a badass car (complete with MIST ACTION - this car now belongs to Matthew Vaughn, by the way). He befriends Kick-Ass, who D'Amico believes is solely responsible for all the damage being done to his operations, and intends to deliver him to his father.

I'm not going to get into the rest of the plot - God knows, this is long enough - but this movie is an absolutely fantastic deconstruction of the superhero genre. By someone who actually loves the genre, as opposed to someone who, as Vaughn said in the Q&A, is just trying to be cool. The film is kind of a natural extension to the superhero phenomenon as a whole, as its focus is on people who admire superheroes and have grown up with these mythologies, much like the film's target audience will have done. It acknowledges how silly the idea of dressing up in a costume and kicking the bajeezus out of people is, but also kind of revels in the wonder and awe of what it might be like to actually try and do it.

I have to mention the most amazing bit of audience response. There's a moment during the climax, a calm before a storm, one of those moments where you know something amazing is about to happen, but you don't know what and the film wants to build it up a little bit. Another amazing music cue is used here. I'm sure most of you can call up a few bars of Guns N Roses' "November Rain" into your memory. Remember the bit at the end, when it kind of turns into a different song entirely and you hear those driving strings? That's the music used here, and it really effectively sets up the "something's coming" mood. So much so that the entire audience began clapping to the beat. This happens in concerts and sporting events, but not in movies, and if you've ever done this at a concert or something, you know there's always that point where it goes on a smidge too long and the clapping kind of peters out. Not so this time. The music and the moment in the film lasts just as long as they should, and everyone kept clapping the rhythm until there was nothing more to clap to. And amazingly, the scene this was building up to was every bit as awesome as such a build-up like that demands, which is rather rare.

I wasn't at the first 3 BNATs, but I'm fairly sure this was the most incredible audience reaction to any film at any BNAT. Director Matthew Vaughn and Red Mist actor Christopher Mintz-Plasse came to the front to a huge standing ovation and answered questions from the techinical (they're only just now beginning the grading process, and Vaughn thinks the print we saw looked terrible) to the mercantile (many, many ladies in the audience - including me - want a Hit Girl costume) to the inevitable talk of sequels (Chris reminded us that the film was not out yet and we should probably not be talking sequels until we know how well it does). Vaughn mentioned that they'd gotten permission for all the temp tracks they used, except two - the Dark Knight and the Superman theme. I confess, I didn't even recognize the Dark Knight music, but that Superman track is perfect, and I hope something can be done to keep it.

I'm so glad I got to be at BNAT for this.

BNAT 11 - [VINTAGE] The Candy Snatchers

The Candy Snatchers

Trailers preceding this film were The Honeymoon Killers, Mr. No Legs, and Lunch Wagon. There were some pretty awesome trailers this year.

This film reminded me of Teen Lust, if that says anything, and I think it should if you were at BNAT9. Three dumb kidnappers decide they're going to kidnap the daughter of a guy who runs a jewelry store so they can ask for precious stones as ransom payment. They take her and bury her alive, with some device so that she can breathe, but they're not yet aware of a force near their burial space that is more than they could ever have bargained for. The three-year-old special needs child in the above picture. FEAR HIM!

Seriously, the kid seems to be the only person who cares about the kidnapped girl at all. The father, who's being asked to put up diamonds as ransom, is actually her stepfather and will receive a large sum of money if she dies, which is the eventuality he is hoping for.

Most of the memorable scenes for me did not include the kidnappers or their victims. In fact, if it were up to me, I'd have made the whole film about the Fearsome Toddler and his exploits. I distinctly remember wanting to choke the life out of the Fearsome Toddler's annoying mom during the excruciatingly long scene in which she calls him (and calls him and calls him) for dinner, which I feel sets up some serious audience satisfaction with what happens to her later. There's a weird old man whose significance to the story is a mystery to me, but his hysterical laughter at the very idea of a kid who doesn't talk (i.e., our Fearsome Toddler) is both hilarious and a bit scary. But perhaps greatest of all is Fearsome Toddler's interpretation of the kidnapped girl's exhortation to call the police. He finds his policeman doll, calls a nearby store, and pulls the doll's talk string to have it say "Police! Open up!" over and over again into the receiver.

What a weird little movie. Proof that you could get any film made in the 1970s.

BNAT 11 - [VINTAGE] Centipede Horror

So, at this point we were coming to that part of the evening where it's just too hard to stay completely alert and awake, and a lot of times the movies don't help. Next up was a movie we were told had been banned because it was so horrifically gross.

Centipede Horror

I think I was starting to hallucinate at this point, so I may not remember precisely what this film was about. I remember there was a young woman who was begging her brother to be allowed to take a trip with her friend to Southeast Asia, and the brother was very reluctant because apparently due to something with their grandfather they are not supposed to go to Southeast Asia ever. As it's going to be a short trip, however, he relents, on the condition that she wear a special talisman for protection.

One day of their trip, however, the girl takes the talisman off. So of course she and her friend get trapped in the woods with a bunch of centipedes and die. The brother goes to her sick bed and eventually has to make the funeral arrangements, and we find out more about why they were not supposed to go to Southeast Asia ever. Their grandfather had killed his wife and his mistress and started a fire to cover it up (which leads to a shot I absolutely did not need to see of a charred baby). Some weird magician put a curse on their grandfather and his family, which is why the current generation is having so much trouble traveling to Southeast Asia. Or something. Honestly, there's not much in this movie that makes a lot of sense.

There is a very disturbing ritual where a woman vomits up centipedes and a bloody goo. And in the film's interminable climax, two dueling magicians duke it out for the souls of our surviving heroes, one using hordes of trained centipedes (some of which are, once again, vomited up by a woman) and the other with flaming zombie chickens. No, I'm not kidding. And I'm fairly certain I did not hallucinate it.

Maybe the most disturbing thing about this movie was that, to my own personal horror, I was neither as terribly squicked by it as everyone else seemed to be nor as grossed out myself as I thought I should be.

BNAT 11 - [PREMIERE] Frozen

At past the halfway mark, it was getting to the hour where horror tends to dominate, and after trailers for The Ski Bum and Hot Dog (the movie), we saw this great little horror film, a selection at next year's Sundance Film Festival, from the guy who made Hatchet (Adam Green).


This movie is about three young people - a guy, his girlfriend, and his best friend - who go for a short ski trip. They spend most of the day on the bunny slopes, because the girlfriend is not an experienced skier, and the guys decide to go up again that evening by themselves to do some real skiing. After some arguments and hurt feelings, however, the girlfriend ends up going with them, and they get stuck on the chair lift while the place shuts down for the week.

Okay, so let's get the implausibilities out of the way, because they are many and pretty egregious. These kids must have driven a car to this place. Someone would have asked whose car it was and realized that someone could still be on the mountains, possibly even trying to get a free night's stay or extra skiing they didn't pay for. Second, no skiing establishment is that lackadaisical about people being on the chair lift or on the mountain. You wouldn't be able to bamboozle someone into letting you on the chair lift without paying, and you certainly wouldn't have one solitary chair lift operator be the final word in whether everyone was down from the lift and the mountain. There are way too many precautions in place at ski resorts for what happens in this movie to happen. Third, wolves don't hang out where there are loads of people skiing. The Minnesota BNAT-ers had huge problems with this movie.

HOWEVER. Forget about all that for a minute. What if you did get stuck on a chair lift and there was no way down and no one would find you for several days? If you take it from there, this is a pretty fantastic scary movie about the series of bad decisions you might make in the huge effort to get out alive.

The first huge mistake is made when the guy who brought his girlfriend decides to try and jump down, however much it might injure him. Well, it injures him a hell of a lot. Both his legs snap (there were some excellent sound effects in this film, by the way), and when he tries to move himself, he just injures himself exponentially more and more. A wolf finds him and eventually leaves after a stare-down, but this is not victory for our poor broken-legged hero. Oh no. The wolf went and got a few friends and they proceed to eat him while his girlfriend and best friend can only listen to his screams and do their best not to watch from above. This was fairly moving to me, actually, as the guy screams to his best friend not to dare let the girlfriend look. There was some pretty great acting in this, I have to say.

The rest of the movie alternates between the girlfriend and best friend blaming each other, consoling each other, and making fresh attempts to get out of this situation. Strangely, they make little attempt to huddle together and actually keep each other warm, which might have been helpful. And I can't figure out why the girl, after losing one of her gloves, didn't pull her coat sleeve over her bare hand. That would have saved a lot of pain, especially when she wakes up with her bare hand frozen to the safety bar.

The movie manages to be very effective, though, despite it's implausibility issues, and was one of the better examples of audience reaction of the evening. And I can't leave this film without telling you this - a woman in the audience actually FAINTED during this movie (she was alright, by the way, just overcome by the movie, it seems). They should so put that in the film's marketing campaign, like Last House on the Left (To avoid fainting, keep repeating "It's only a movie ... only a movie ... only a movie...").

BNAT 11 - [PREMIERE] Micmacs à tire-larigot

After Le Magnifique was part 2 in what turned out to be a French double-feature. The new film from Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

Micmacs à tire-larigot

I'm afraid I was nodding off for a bit during this film. Not at all a reflection on the movie itself, just the late hour. As it is, however, I don't feel confident going into a lot of detail.

The film centers around a man named Bazil, whose father was killed by a land mine and who himself was hit in the head by a stray bullet. He choses to leave the bullet in, because taking it out might put him in a vegetative state, but leaving it in means that if he experiences too much stress he could die.

Soon, with the help of a ragtag group of quirky homeless geniuses, he is taking down the weapons company that made the land mine that killed his father and the company that made the bullet that resides in his head. It's a revenge flick, but not a bloody one. The entire climax is an exercise in awesome, but the real gem is the section just after that, where they take the heads of these two companies to receive their real punishment. In the Middle East. Or so they think. Best use of YouTube ever.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

BNAT 11 - [VINTAGE] Le Magnifique

Next up, we had a change in pace. We saw trailers for James Tont Operazione U.N.O., Maniac Cop 2 (I must see this!), and Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze. And the actual feature was so over the top and hilarious right from the start that it took me a minute to realize that it wasn't another trailer.

Le Magnifique

In the opening minutes of this film, we witness a man in a phone booth being eaten by a shark. That alone would have been enough to win me over. The over-the-top spy movie sort-of-spoof is entertaining as all get-out, but it possibly would have grown tiresome after a while. Once we realize, however, that all the super-spy silliness is the imagination of a fiction writer, the movie becomes something else.

François Merlin writes potboiler spy novels about Bob St. Clair, who is his wish fulfillment self-insertion character. He has a frustrating life, struggling to make ends meet and wishing he could write something that's actually good instead of all the, as he considers it, trash. Many of the characters in his real life show up as characters in his novels. His publisher and other "enemies" turn up as villains, which St. Clair either lazily dispenses with or, in the case of the publisher/supervillain, struggles to overcome repeatedly over the course of several novels. And his beautiful upstairs neighbor Christine appears in his latest book as his love interest (and, if memory serves, fellow spy).

What's cool about this film is watching Merlin deal with his real life problems in the pages of his novels. For example, Christine thinks his books are fascinating from a sociological standpoint, because she's interested in why people (including herself) are so compelled by such tripe. This kind of hurts Merlin's pride, even though he agrees about their quality, because he wants to be a real writer and genuinely impress her (and probably in part because he identifies with St. Clair in a way, however ridiculously he is portrayed). His back-and-forth about whether to write St. Clair as the perfect, suave superspy or make him a bumbling idiot comes and goes, depending on his confidence in what Christine thinks of him.

Jean-Paul Belmondo is fantastic (and fantastically gorgeous) here in the dual role of Merlin and St. Clair. And you dudes can enjoy the charms of a young Jacqueline Bisset. And loads of making fun of spy movies and writers. This was one of my favorite cracktastic vintage titles these many BNATs.

BNAT 11 - [PREMIERE] Shutter Island

When I first heard that we were seeing The Red Shoes (which I previously posted about here), I glanced ahead on the fake list and had a strong suspicion about what was going to be next. The Red Shoes has perhaps had no greater champion in Hollywood than Martin Scorsese, and I can't help thinking of him whenever I think of that film. And, as it turned out, my suspicion was correct. After trailers for They Call Her One-Eye (with the slowest mo I've ever seen) and Sudden Death (not the Van Damme one, but I'm not sure if it's the 1985 or 1977 one), we saw a not-quite-finished print of...

Shutter Island

Harry had written to Scorsese to see if we could get this film, and this was apparently something of a personal struggle, as writing to one of the gods of film well ought to be. He knew the letter needed to be short, because, as he told us, "[Scorsese's] answer would be." As it turned out, Scorsese loved the idea of what we were doing and loved the lineup that preceded his film, with one exception. He wanted Harry to screen The Red Shoes before his film instead. So, after a couple of exchanges, because the change would add 40 minutes to an already tight program, Harry finally asked himself why he was arguing with Martin Scorsese and stopped. Knowing that Martin Scorsese programmed a film at BNAT fills me with immeasurable joy.

Shutter Island is not what you think it is (unless, of course, you've read the Dennis Lehane novel on which it is based). I was expecting an exploration of psychological horror, along the lines of Scorsese's earlier Cape Fear (which is actually one of my favorites of his). Oh, and with the super-creepy setting of a mental institution. Seriously, there is nothing that frightens me more than insane asylums.

But the movie is very different from what I thought. It starts as a missing patient mystery, and I got some distinct Wicker Man vibes, possibly in part because I'd been thinking about that film recently, hoping (and ultimately failing) to get a post about it up in time for the Final Girl Film Club. I don't even know that I'd call this film a horror film. There are definitely frightening elements, and there's a certain "haunted house" feel to it. But though the island is inhabited by the criminally insane, they don't really pose that much of a threat. There are several twists and turns in the story, much like The Prisoner (as pointed out in his own report), and as such I'm afraid to start explaining what it's about for fear of falling into the wormhole, but I'll try to at least scratch the surface.

Teddy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) are U.S. Marshalls called to Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of a patient, Rachel Solando, who is in the institution for killing all three of her children. The two of them don't get very far with the other patients and the hospital staff before things start to look incredibly fishy. It turns out that Teddy specifically took the case because he wanted to look into the disturbing medical practices the place was involved with. There are lies on top of lies on top of lies, people are not who they say they are, and you're never really sure who's telling the truth and what's real. All you know is for God's sake don't smoke their cigarettes.

I have to say a word about Leonardo DiCaprio here. I have long been a fan (not to be confused with fangirl) of his, and I've been interested in the choices he's made as an actor, especially in his now fairly long-standing artistic relationship with Martin Scorsese. I'm going to step up and say that I think his work here is a career best so far. At times frighteningly intense, and at others deeply moving. There's a moment near the end where he completely loses it, and I was so afraid that it was going to cause some laughter, because it's one of those moments that, through no fault of the actor, could just hit the audience wrong. Thank goodness it didn't, because it's one of the most heart-shattering things I've ever seen from an actor. Amazing.

I will join the throng of BNAT-ers who've said that if you spoil this movie you should be locked in a cell with Jackie Earle Haley so that he can rip your face off. I hate even saying that it's a highly spoilable movie, because that's a kind of spoiler in and of itself, you know? Now that I've seen it all the way through, though, I can't wait to see it again with the full knowledge of what's going on. Great, great movie, and a wonderful addition to the BNAT lineup.

BNAT 11 - [VINTAGE] The Red Shoes

Next was the first BNAT film that I'd ever truly seen before (not counting last year's Metropolis because I'd never seen that version). First off, I knew darn well we were not seeing Nine in this slot because 8 1/2 was way too obvious a clue from the fake list. I was thrilled to be seeing this properly on the big screen, because it is, without doubt, one of the most (if not THE most) stunningly beautiful films ever committed to celluloid, and there is nothing in the digital canon, no matter how artistically rendered, that can even begin to compare.

The Red Shoes

"The Ballet of The Red Shoes" is from a fairy tale by Hans Andersen. It is the story of a young girl who is devoured with an ambition to attend a dance in a pair of Red Shoes. She gets the shoes and goes to the dance. For a time, all goes well and she is very happy. At the end of the evening she is tired and wants to go home, but the Red Shoes are not tired. In fact, the Red Shoes are never tired. They dance her out into the street, they dance her over the mountains and valleys, through fields and forests, through night and day. Time rushes by, love rushes by, life rushes by, but the Red Shoes go on.

The above is spoken by the ballet director in the film and has some differences from the actual Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale on which the film and the film's ballet is based. However, it is a perfect encapsulation of the story of the film.

The film opens with the debut of a new ballet, but instead of seeing well-to-do patrons filling up the orchestra level seats, we find ourselves at the entrance to the cheap seats, where dozens of students plow through the door, looking forward to hearing the work of their professor, who has written the score for this new ballet. They couldn't care less about the dancing. Indeed, instead of seeing any part of the ballet, we see the students' faces as they listen to the music. Things turn sour when one of the students, Julian Craster, realizes that the composer has stolen several bits of the score from work that Craster submitted to him as a student. Later, at a party, the ballet director deftly avoids attempts by a patroness to show off her talented ballerina niece, Victoria Page, as the party's entertainment (and, one supposes, an impromptu audition for the director's legendary ballet company).

The director, Boris Lermontov, subsequently and separately meets and is impressed by both Julian and Vicky. He gives Julian a job as coach of the orchestra and Vicky a background spot in the company. Neither of them make much of an impression beyond that at first. But it is not long before Julian is writing an original score for the Red Shoes ballet and Vicky is dancing the lead role. The two of them eventually fall in love and marry, much to the dismay of Lermontov, who is obsessed with Vicky and with making her into a great dancer.

The ballet of The Red Shoes itself, which is presented in its apparent entirety, is naturally the centerpiece of the film. It is, like the rest of the film, unutterably gorgeous and it is part fantasy as opposed to simply a straight stage performance. I could be completely wrong about this, but I do think that this was possibly the first (perhaps just one of the first) of many films to use a ballet sequence to underscore the themes and emotions of the story. You see this element in An American in Paris, Singin' In the Rain, and Oklahoma!, as well as probably many others I'm not listing. And above all else, the ballet of The Red Shoes retells the story of the film, in which a woman is consumed by dancing, to the neglect of all other matters in her life. And Vicky's story, much like the girl's in the fairy tale, ends in tragedy because of the red shoes.

I cannot overstate how lovely this film is visually. The casting of Moira Shearer was the jewel in the crown, not only because she was a fantastic dancer, but because she had the reddest hair you've ever seen. Not ginger, red, almost as red as her shoes in the film.

This is a film that you might pass over in disinterest on first glance, seeing the ballet shoes on the cover. However, it is so much more than a ballet movie. It is about creation and dedication to art. One of my favorite moments in the film is when Julian meets with Lermontov after having written a petulant letter about his score having been stolen. Lermontov is sympathetic, but tells Julian "It is worth remembering, that it is much more disheartening to have to steal than to be stolen from." Indeed.


After this film, we got a surprise visit from three of the guys from Broken Lizard, and there was a throwdown for a chug-off between them and the Ain't It Cool News guys. Tim and a female BNAT-er joined the Broken Lizard guys to even things out, and they issued a proper schooling to AICN. There was much argument over whose abysmal beer-chugging abilities cost AICN the crown and Broken Lizard left us to go to one of the other theaters where their new movie The Slammin' Salmon was screening.

BNAT 11 - [VINTAGE] Girl Crazy

After trailers for That's Dancing! (a compilation very similar to That's Entertainment), Nudes on Tiger Reef (LOL), and The Fastest Guitar Alive (with Roy Orbison), we settled in for a little movie musical magic from Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland.

Girl Crazy

First of all, I want to share something that I thought was incredibly cool. One of my vintage picks on the application this year was Good News. It's probably my favorite movie musical, and I use name of the main character, Connie Lane, as my username in a few different fandoms (mostly Harry Potter). There are three minor actors in Girl Crazy who would go on four years later to be major actors in Good News - June Allyson (Connie) does the opening number "Treat Me Rough", Robert E. Strickland (Peter Van Dine III - quel frommage!) plays Judy Garland's would-be suitor, and an uncredited Peter Lawford (football hero and Connie's love interest Tommy Marlow) is a student and has one line, but I recognized his voice immediately. I could not believe seeing so many of my Good News lovelies in this movie.

Anyway, on to Girl Crazy. Rooney plays Danny Churchill, Manhattan party boy and heir to a publishing fortune. He does nothing but fritter away his days going from party to party and girl to girl, so his father decides to give him a wake up call. He's going to withdraw him from his Ivy League education and send him to Cody College - if the movie City Slickers was somehow transformed into a university experience, it would be Cody College. So we're in for a classic fish-out-of-water tale. Danny meets and instantly clashes with the mail delivery girl Ginger, so we know they're going to fall in love (if her being played by Judy Garland didn't clue us in already). He makes many attempts to woo her, but she's having none of it. Danny has a hard time adjusting to the hours, the hard work, and the wild west setting of his new home, but he feels it's worth staying to keep chipping away at Ginger's defenses, especially when she starts warming up to him.

There are complications, of course, and this being a musical they're kind of ridiculous. Cody College is going to be shut down because they don't have enough people applying. Naturally, this being a musical, the only solution is to Put On A Show. There are misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and of course musical numbers, and it all works out in the end, as it should.

This is billed as a Rooney-Garland picture, but it's ultimately Rooney's show. This is mostly a great thing, because Rooney was always such a wonderful entertainer and talented in a lot of areas. There are moments when his adorability comes dangerously close to crashing in on itself, but you cannot help being charmed by him, much like Ginger is by Danny. I confess, it's difficult for me to see Rooney as a romantic lead, and especially a smooth-talking ladies' man, which he is supposed to be in this film - he just so short and cute! But his chemistry with Garland is not to be underestimated.

This movie was largely the inspiration for the Tony award wining musical of 1992, Crazy For You, and many of the incredible Gershwin numbers that appear in that musical were in this film - "Bidin' My Time," "Could You Use Me," "Embraceable You," "But Not For Me," and the Busby Berkley-choreographed "I Got Rhythm" - and made me want to stand up and sing and dance along. Sadly, I felt that even BNAT would not be a place where such a thing would fly. Why can't we live in a movie musical world?

Everyone seemed to enjoy this, and there were many great quotables. When one of the guys makes a lackluster marriage proposal to Ginger and talks about putting all his cards on the table, she issues an epic burn by telling him that he should have taken out the Joker. I cracked up when Danny's father tells him that he's been "living in a world of weekend whimsy." The world "diljo" has entered into the BNAT lexicon forever. (Side note: the words diljo, loogan, and snerp all appear on urban dictionary, and the diljo definition is a QUOTE FROM THIS MOVIE.) But perhaps my favorite line had to be this gem of randomosity: "Oh, the things you see around here when you don't have a gun." That's going in my "huh?" file with the "rabbits roar" line from Machine Gun Kelly.


During the break before our next film, we saw possibly the strangest sight of the evening on the screen, and that's saying something. There were red boxes, with red-painted faces on the fronts of them, and white bare butts sticking out of the tops of them, and there were girls dressed up as nurses giving shots to the bare buttocks and swabbing them with cotton. I could only describe it, as I did at BNAT, as resembling a "pornographic Target commercial." Weird, man. There was also apparently a trailer for Attack of the 50-Foot Woman and a Candy Candido video, but I seem to have blocked them from my mind, forever warped by the bare-butt weirdness.

BNAT 11 - [PREMIERE] The Lovely Bones

Before our next film, we saw a trailer that was both very fitting and wildly inappropriate. For a movie called The Rape Killer - or as the voice-over guy said it, "The RRRape Killer." There was also a PSA, dubbed in Spanish and featuring a quite young Ricky Schroeder, about child abuse which showed, among other things, a kid whose parent had purposely burned his hand and was coaching him not to tell anyone. Nice.

The Lovely Bones

I shouldn't have been surprised to see this at BNAT, but the fact that it was released already (albeit only in NY and LA) threw me off. Of course, as Harry reasoned, anyone coming from either of those cities would have spent the only day it had been out so far traveling to Austin anyway. This was the fifth BNAT film by perennial BNAT favorite Peter Jackson. I have not read Alice Sebold's novel, but apparently the film takes a great deal of liberty, so let's get that out of the way first. It's based on the novel, but make no mistake, this is Jackson's vision.

We meet Susie Salmon (like the fish) at age 14, which will be her age for eternity. She lives a fairly normal suburban life in the 1970s. Her mother (Rachel Weisz) is a free-spirit who loves books. Her father (Mark Wahlberg) is a kind, simple guy who likes to build ships in a bottle. She has a younger sister and brother, and ever since her parents got her one of those classic 110 cameras (which must have been fairly new at the time) she's becoming quite a photographer. Her grandmother (Susan Sarandon) visits occasionally and is quite possibly a bad influence on her grandchildren. There's a strange guy who lives near her, George Harvey (Stanley Tucci), but she doesn't think much about him. Most importantly, there is a beautiful boy at her school who writes poems and is unaccountably interested in her (unaccountably from Susie's perspective, that is), and even makes a date with her. A date which she will never be able to keep.

Susie is on her way home from school, later than most days because she has stayed for a film club. She's crossing an open field and is approached by George. He lures her into a little below-ground grotto he's built, supposedly for the kids in the neighborhood. She's very impressed by it, but as she's running late she gets up to go and he stops her, using what I feel is an especially disgusting tactic in child abuse - acting as a parental figure and giving advice or admonition that a child has been conditioned to accept, because it's coming from an adult. It may be simple, but his telling her to "be polite" sent a chill down my spine. Thankfully, we are spared what actually happens to Susie, but there is no doubt as to what he generally did to her.

The rest of the movie is difficult to explain and it would be pointless for me to do so to any great extent, I think. Susie is no longer alive, but not yet where she ultimately will be. She has a sort of connection to her family from the beyond, especially her father, who it seems can sort of hear her and is almost guided by her feelings. Her little brother also seems to know much more than he should about what is happening to her after her death. I'm not sure why the studio has been selling this as a thriller. It's more of a study on grief, from both sides of the "veil," as it were. There is no mystery about who killed Susie. We know from near the beginning who it is. The film deals instead with Susie's attempts to move on to the next world and her family's struggle to move on in their own world without her in it.

I have problems with fictional versions of the afterlife, especially when stories portray people who have died and are watching their loved ones from the beyond. Aside from it clashing with my biblical beliefs, I just don't feel that watching my loved ones suffer on Earth after I'm gone is any kind of heaven at all. For this reason, I was very apprehensive about the afterlife element and what appeared to be Susie keeping tabs on her family after her death. It works here because the connection to her family is a symptom of her not being able to move on to heaven. Not being able to let go and let them move on is what ultimately holds her back. And I suspect the family's reluctance to let go of her is also part of why she takes so long to let go of them.

The film didn't go where I expected it to, and that's a good thing. I kind of loved that you get the satisfaction of the truth coming out, and you also get the satisfaction of seeing the murderer pay a karmic price for his crime. But they're not really connected. I especially loved that it didn't go the revenge route. You do, however, get the sense that in addition to letting go of her earthly life, Susie can't really have peace until there's some kind of justice about her murder.

I also loved the shout-outs. AICN's Quint made an appearance as an extra in a bookstore scene and Peter Jackson made a cameo as well as a guy buying a movie camera. There was also a lingering shot over a display of Tolkien books in the bookstore. Heh.

Wonderful, beautiful film. It's probably not for everyone, and I think parents will find it especially difficult, but well worth a look.

BNAT 11 - [VINTAGE] Faust (1926)

Faust - Eine deutsche Volkssage

Harry had Tweeted that the films this year spanned 85 years, and on Saturday morning, most of us noticed a large, old organ sitting at the front of the theater. So it wasn't much of a guess to suppose that we'd be seeing something from the silent era and that someone was going to provide an organ score for it, just as audiences would have experienced a film at that time. It turned out that our score was to be provided by a guy named Graham Reynolds, who had written his own score for the film.

This was made in 1926, between the two films Murnau is best known for, Nosferatu and Sunrise. The story follows Goethe's version of the tale of Faust, as well as older versions. It begins with a deal between God and Satan. If Satan can win Faust's soul, he will will win dominion over the earth. We see Faust as an alchemist who is despondent because his prayers to stop the devastation of the plague have had seemingly no effect. He soon makes a deal with Satan - Mephisto will be his servant and grant him whatever he wishes for one day, a trial of sorts. When the day is over the pact is broken. Faust starts to heal people in Satan's name who have been ravaged by the plague, but when people notice that he fears the sign of the cross, they shun him. Faust then asks for his youth to return and Mephisto obliges, but when Faust is about to - how shall I say - score with a beautiful woman, the day comes to a close. Faust begs to be able to keep his youth, but Mephisto tells him that if he does then their deal will be forever. Faust agrees.

It's not long, of course, before Faust finds himself unable to be satisfied with anything. His deal with Satan has brought him everlasting youth, a kingdom, wealth, beautiful women, and everything else he has wanted, but now, like cursed Disney pirates, there is nothing that can slake his lust. Until he sees Gretchen. Mephisto procures her for him by means of a locket. (Lockets, by the way, made an appearance in all but the last two of our films this year at BNAT, and now I have an irresistible urge to have a BNAT locket made.) Mephisto sets Faust up so that Gretchen's brother walks in on them in bed together, and when the brother is killed, Faust is accused and flees. Gretchen, meanwhile, has a child by Faust and is shunned as a harlot. Unable to find shelter in the winter, Gretchen huddles in the snow trying to keep the baby warm, but when it eventually dies, Gretchen is accused of murdering it. In her cell, there's a wonderful fantasy sequence where she has delusions, including one where her child is still alive. She is taken to be burned at the stake, and Faust, overcome by grief, wishes he had never gotten his youth back. Mephisto again obliges and Faust becomes an old man again. Faust rushes to the pyre to be burned with her and she sees him as a young man again. They are engulfed by the flames, and Satan loses the bet because love has triumphed over all.

Besides being an incredible viewing experience - thanks in large part to Graham Reynolds' awesome score - Faust was just a knockout of a film. Murnau was a great artist of film anyway, but I was particularly struck by how imaginative he was with a medium that was so relatively new. I don't know that a story was ever so suited for black and white as this is, being a tale so consumed with the light and the dark, and I particularly loved Murnau's technical use of light and shadow.

Like all silent films, hammy acting abounds. I actually thought Camilla Horn was wonderful as Gretchen. But on the other end of the spectrum was Emil Jannings, who played Mephisto with such a snarly brio that if he had added a twirly mustache in the mix, he would have imploded into nothingness and created a black hole of cheesy villainousness from which we might never have escaped. Still, I can't say it wasn't entertaining.

Butt-Numb-A-Thon 11 - Before you BNAT...

I've been lucky enough to attend eight of Harry Knowles' remarkable Buttnumbathons (BNATs, for short), and I don't have favorites; I've found them each remarkable in their own ways. A lot of people point to 2003 (BNAT 5) as the Greatest Year Ever for BNAT, but I have always felt more ambivalent than most about the year that brought us Return of the King, Oldboy, and The Passion of the Christ. Mostly because I felt that 2003 was so much about the premieres, while the few vintage titles (there were twice as many premieres as vintage screenings that year) were more like just set-ups for the new stuff (excepting, of course, the spectacular screening of The General). I have a soft spot for BNAT 4 (my first and the year that introduced me to Night Warning); I was quite fond of BNAT 6, despite its being quite different than the premiere-laden previous year (tremendous vintage this year - The Black Swan, Blonde Venus, Miss Sadie Thompson, and the unforgettable Toys are Not for Children); BNATs 7 and 8 had, I felt, exceptionally strong lineups; and 9 and 10 were the years I felt more connected to my fellow audience members than in other years.

I say all this up front because I want you to understand what I mean when I say that this was my favorite BNAT experience to date, not just for the lineup but for all the other things I listed above that I loved about all the previous BNATs. It was, frankly, the BNAT-iest BNAT that I've ever experienced.

I'll post about each individual film later, but I wanted to start with a general post about the experience and what leads up to it. It takes place each year at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, TX. Before the original place on Colorado Street closed, that was the perennial venue, but since it closed we've had it one year at the new Ritz location and the past two years at the Alamo South Lamar. The Drafthouse is frankly the greatest theater in the world, because they get that going to the movies is an event. They serve a full menu of food (there are tables in front of every row of seats and there is a full wait staff), they have a full bar, and many movies have special themed menu or bar items - for instance, when we saw Sweeney Todd at BNAT 9, the kitchen baked meat pies and passed them out to the entire audience.

Several thousand people apply to go to this event, but less than 200 will get in, and people travel from all over the world to be there. Many people are not industry insiders, but you'll usually see a handful of well-known names in attendance - Eli Roth, Tim McCanlies, Elijah Wood, Lucky McKee, Rian Johnson, Mike Dougherty - who come just to be in the audience. I had a long journey the Friday before BNAT to come from New York to Austin, but we had people from Ireland, Finland, and even Australia.

I have my own things I like to do when I get to town, and that usually necessitates a car. Most times, I'm combining this trip with trying to spend time with friends who live in Texas, and as such I've missed a lot of the pre-BNAT stuff, notably the party the night before. But this year I was able to go and meet some of the BNAT attendees in a different context than the theater experience. The party doesn't go on all night - after all, we've all got a long day ahead of us - and I like to get a nice hotel room with a comfy bed and get a good night's sleep before more than 24 hours of awakeness.

This year, we had a fairly early lineup call at 9:00am. This was mostly due to the fact that the program was so packed that we were starting an hour early. The BNAT elves have perfected the check-in process so that where we once had to stand out in the cold for a couple of hours and have IDs checked and bags checked for electronics all at once in a slow march into the theater, we now check in at a different building and get our swag as everyone trickles in. This gives everyone a chance to take excess baggage to their car and congregate in the theater lobby until they holler for us.

The theme this year, being the 11th year and Harry's 38th birthday, was THX-1138. We had to submit bald photos of ourselves, which were used on our official BNAT badges and in the yearbook. Our names showed up as our initials and our seat number (mine being PKN1010, for example), which made it harder to find people in the yearbook, but made it easy to seek out who we were sitting next to.

My seat, like last year, was front and center, and I had some awesome row-mates. A married couple on my right who were there for the third year and some cool gals from Mississippi who were BNAT virgins.

The pre-show portion of the event is always incredibly fun. Aside from meeting great people, there's always something playing on the screen as we sit down. This year we saw trailers for Alligator People, The Thief of Baghdad (ah, when Baghdad was an exciting, romantic destination), and Alice in the Jungle. Other clips included some rather lol-tastic Siskel & Ebert outtakes ("sound less excited, Roger"), an old 1950s ad for Pepsodent, Marky Mark ripping off Lou Reed, clips of kids falling down, and some of those sad-larious Syncro-Vox cartoons with the moving lips and static images (which inspired a regular Conan O'Brien feature).

And as the years have gone on, before we get to the first feature, there always tends to be some shenanigans. We'll start with some noteworthy trailers - 99 and 44/100 % Dead (you're actually meant to pronounce every bit of that) with Richard Harris playing a guy named Harry (we knew that because they must have said "Hi, Harry" or something similar about 87 times during the trailer), Death Machines, and The Uncanny (with Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasance, and KILLER CATS!). And of course no BNAT is complete without the words "Ladies and gentlemen ... SORCERY!" preceding the greatest trailer ever cut by man, Stunt Rock. It's super-magic. Super-music. And super-amazing. After that, for some reason, this year there was a very strange and hilarious guy doing a Bulgarian dance in honor of Harry's birthday (that just kept going and going and going).

And finally, it was time to torture Jeff Mahler, a long-time BNAT attendee and friend of Harry whose favorite movie is Teen Wolf. He has begged and begged for this movie to play at BNAT, but every year, try as Tim League and the Drafthouse might to accomodate his dearest wish, technical difficulties have ruined attempts to screen it the last three years. This year, however, Tim announced that they installed brand new state-of-the-art Dolby technology and assured the longsuffering Jeff Mahler that this would indeed be the year that we would see a complete screening of Teen Wolf. To add weight to the promise, someone from Dolby - like, literally (and I quote) "on behalf of Thomas Dolby" - was on-hand to make sure nothing went wrong and agreed to pay the Drafthouse $15,000 if something did.

*snort* So yeah, once again, no Teen Wolf. Harry started his usual introductory schpiel and some thank-yous, and here's where it got a little surreal (for me, at least). Because Harry singled me out to thank me for a little movie I made out of the 100+ clips of all the past BNAT movies. I'm rather proud of that project, but I never dreamed it would have such an impact, and when Harry said it inspired him to make this BNAT especially great ... I was rather blown away. And just as mind-blowing were the cheers from the audience. I'm not sure I can properly express what it means to me to be sitting in a movie theater, especially at that event, and have something I did be greeted with affection.

And after all that, without further ado, the show officially began.