It’s taken me several days to get back to normal and compose my thoughts after attending my first ever Butt-Numb-A-Thon in Austin, Texas. Held every December since 1999, the event is hosted by Ain’t It Cool‘s Harry Knowles in order to celebrate his birthday, and it’s a 24 hour movie marathon featuring an eclectic mix of different types of films including a few unofficial premieres. This will be the 15th iteration of the event.
In order to get a seat, you have to fill out an application answering essay style questions and send in a couple of specific pictures. For extra points, you can create a bonus video based on a specific suggestion. This year’s idea involved doing your own interpretation of the Good Ship Lollipop song. Harry created this intricate method for entry to Butt-Numb-A-Thon to ensure that only die hard film geeks would be in attendance. With only around 200 seats to fill and (from what I’ve read) probably over 10,000 applicants, it’s a hard event to get into, but somehow, luck was on my side and I was handed a golden ticket to the event. After the jump, find out about all the films I saw as well as what I experienced at one of the coolest film fests I’ve ever attended.
Butt-Numb-A-Thon this year was held at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz. Since 2008 it’s been held at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar location, but that location is currently under renovation.
Due to bad weather, I had all kinds of trouble getting to Austin, but I was able to get to the theater at around 11:45 am. The event started at noon. I bought my reserved pass (which they hooked to a lanyard) and was I ready to go for the next 26 hours of entertainment. Below is the list of the films I saw and my thoughts about them:
The Wolf of Wall Street
Although I can’t give an official review due to there being a review embargo on reviews until December 17th, I can say this film was the movie that got the biggest enthusiastic response from everyone attending. It was the one movie most people talked about as being their favorite of Butt-Numb-A-Thon and I heartily agree. Based on the memoir of the same name, the movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort, a New York stockbroker who refuses to cooperate in a large securities fraud case involving corruption on Wall Street, the corporate banking world, and mob infiltration.
The Wolf of Wall Street is like Wall Street meets Animal House and 71 year-old Martin Scorsese gives other younger filmmakers a run for their money with his cinematic take on Belfort’s crazy experiences. His unconventional narrative storytelling is a bullet train ride of fun. It’s Scorsese at his best and one of his most entertaining movies to date. Leonardo DiCaprio is amazing as Jordan Belfort. I never thought of him as someone who could pull off physical comedy, but a scene involving him trying to make it to his car in a drugged out state is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Jonah Hill is also good in this film and delivers one of his best performances to date. The Wolf of Wall Street is one of my top favorite films of 2013. Go see this movie on December 25th, when it’s released. You’ll thank me for it.
By the way, there’s a scene in the film, where a marching band pours into the office to initiate a company celebration. When the credits of the film started rolling, a marching band came into our theater, confetti was launched over the audience and random people were given a glass of champagne. A great ending to a great film.
Harlequin is a weird little film from Australia that was released in the states as Dark Forces in 1980. The movie is about a senator (Broderick Crawford) and his wife (Carmen Duncan) whose son is suffering from leukemia until a mysterious faith healer/magician (Robert Powell) shows up to cure the kid. The most interesting tidbit about this movie is that it was originally written with David Bowie in mind, but they went with Robert Powell instead. If you see his outfit at the end of the movie, it’s something straight out of Bowie concert. On the top of that, the senator role was originally offered to Orson Welles but he requested too much money.
The movie doesn’t do a lot to explain exactly what Powell’s character is. Is he a magician/hypnotist or a wizard? Is he the devil or a demon? Is he a fallen angel? Who knows? Regardless of the confusing story, the film’s weird and cheesy nature was good for a few laughs.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Because the theater wasn’t fitted for 3D, we were only able to watch The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in 2D. The film in my opinion was a big improvement over the first. It’s pretty action-packed from beginning to end and the river barrel chase scene is one of the most entertaining action scenes of any of the LOTR films or any film in the last few years for that matter. The Smaug dragon is also pretty amazing to see as a living and fiery breathing thing and Cumberbatch voices the character perfectly.
My only issues with The Desolation of Smaug seem to be the same issues other people are having with the movie. For a film to have “Hobbit” in the title, Bilbo seems to take a backseat to many of the other characters throughout the film. It seems less about his journey and more about the journey of others. Also, unlike any of the Lord of the Rings films, there were scenes in this film, where some of the CGI stuck out like a sore thumb. Sometimes it was unnatural movement of a character in the background or the integration of real life characters into a fake environment. These little things took me out of the film at times and made me wonder if much of the computer effects were rushed to get it done for the release date. Regardless of these minor issues, I still enjoyed the film a lot and I look forward to seeing it again in IMAX-3D.
The Agony and the Ecstasy
The next film was Carol Reed’s The Agony and the Ecstasy and it was amazing to see it on the big screen in 70mm, as it was intended. The film dealt with the conflicts between Michelangelo (Charlton Heston) and Pope Julius II (Rex Harrison) during the painting of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. The introductory portion of the film felt like a history channel documentary about the Michelangelo and his art, but once it went into the story and struggle involving the creation of one of the most well known pieces of art in the world, it was well-crafted and well-written piece of entertainment. There’s some really funny verbal jabs between Harrison and Heston. I’m glad I finally got to see this film in it’s proper format and not on the small screen.
I haven’t seen this film in years since I was a kid, so it was interesting to see it again in a movie theater. As much as I love Robert Altman as a director, this film was a weird exercise in telling a live-action musical version of an animated world in an extremely grounded setting with unforgettable songs. They got the characters right to some degree, but things just don’t click in a way that makes this film entertaining at all. I had a hard time staying awake for parts of the film, but they did give us cooked spinach during the screening to give us a little energy.
Originally, we were told we couldn’t really talk about this film, because it’s suppose to open the upcoming Slamdance festival, but director Bill Plympton gave everyone the okay. Cheatin’ is the latest feature film by the animator and in my opinion it’s his best film so far and probably his most personal. Using 42,000 hand-drawn pictures, it tells the story of a young lady named Ella who falls deeply in love with a guy named Jake until a scheming other woman causes her to doubt her man’s fidelity. It’s magical, romantic, fantastical and darkly comedic story told in a style that only Plympton could tell.
Bill Plympton was present for the event and gave a brief Q&A after the screening. Other than the upcoming release of Cheatin’, he mentioned that he also directed one of the segments of the upcoming ABC’s of Death 2 movie and his next project is a mocumentary about Hitler that he’s already had a one guy quit from the project due to the film’s dark comedic nature.
The Dragon Lives Again
The Dragon Lives Again is a film that was made after the death of Bruce Lee, when everyone was trying to capitalize on their own rip-off version of the martial arts legend. The film is absurdly hilarious and could easily be sued for copyright infringement. Not many films can boast having characters based on James Bond, The Godfather, Popeye, Emmanuelle and Clint Eastwood’s character from Fistful of Dollars. They even use a portion of the James Bond theme in the film. It’s an over-the-top wacky film with silly kung fu moves like the “Third Leg of Bruce” and a little bit of nudity thrown in for good measure. It was a good film to watch in the early hours of the morning.
The Loves of Edgar Allen Poe
This film was probably my least favorite of the festival which is sad, because I’m big fan of Edgar Allan Poe. It boils down to being a docu-drama where Poe spends the majority of the film trying to pursue his love of writing while balancing his love life. No one sees the value in his writing except for the women he loves and it pretty much shows him to be an unsuccessful bore. I spent parts of this film nodding off even though it was a shorter film than many of the ones shown during the event.
Digging up the Marrow
Director Adam Green first screened his film Frozen (not be confused with the current animated film of the same) in 2009 at Butt-Numb-A-Thon, and because he had such a great experience, he contacted Harry to see if he could screen an early version this year of his new horror film, Digging the Marrow. The film is a faux documentary about a film crew that’s contacted by a man who claims that he can prove that monsters are real. Green made it clear that the film was still unfinished and needed sound work, color correction and additional special effects done to it, but it was still an engaging film, primarily based on Ray Wise’s believable performance and a few jump scares (three to be exact) that caught me off guard. It’s almost like a found footage version of Nightbreed which makes it more interesting then any of the previous haunted house/demonic versions of the found footage genre. I personally would love to see it delve more into the world of these monsters and the different types of monsters there, but I understand the limitations of budget to bring this idea to fruition. The monsters were all designed by artist Alex Pardee based on his own monster drawings which adds a level of creative coolness to the project. My only main criticism would be the inclusion of the director himself as one of the main characters. I can understand that he wants us to believe this documentary is real, but much of the film comes across as self-promotion for his films and production company and does a disservice to the story itself. Despite this issue, I still think it’s a strong concept and I look forward to seeing the finished version of it in the future.
The Haunted Palace
I’m a sucker for a Vincent Price movies and I was definitely sold on The Haunted Palace, especially since it also starred Lon Chaney, Jr and was directed by Roger Corman. Even though it’s marketed with the title of an Edgar Allan Poe poem, the story is actually based on the H.P. Lovecraft novella, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. The movie stars Price as Ward, a man who has inherited a mansion from his great, great grandfather. He shows up in the town of Arkham with his wife, Anne (Debra Paget), to move in to the place, but the townspeople are none too happy. Unfortunately, they’ve been cursed by his great, great grandfather after their ancestors tied him to a tree and burned him alive for possibly being a warlock. The movie has deformed townspeople, hidden passages in the mansion, a big green Cthulhu monster in a pit and the Necronomicon. What more could you ask for? I enjoyed every minute of it.
The Fruit is Swelling
Tim League, founder of the Alamo Drafthouse, usually picks one of the films to screen that’s either extremely violent or sexual in nature from the American Genre Film Archive. The title alone explains what side of the coin this film was. The best way to describe The Fruit is Swelling is if you took the film Big and made it about an 8 year old girl who wishes she was 18, so she could go out with boys. Luckily, they don’t have her actually have sex in her fake grown-up form, but they do have her sister show her how to tongue kiss and a couple of guys try to force themselves on her. She falls in love with her former swim instructor who is oblivious to the fact that she keeps talking about wanting to watch Sailor Moon and likes riding carousels. The movie tries to make up for its creepiness by ending with an Afterschool Special type message talking about how you shouldn’t do things until your 18. The main character does return to the instructor 10 years later to have weirdly-writhing sex with him in the pool. There were lots of groans from the audience about some sequences and a few people actually walked out of theater during this film.
The Wind Rises
To wash our brains of the seedy film before it, the final movie of Butt-Numb-A-Thon was Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises. The beautifully animated film was adapted from his Manga of the same name. The story looks at the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II. We see how his overflowing imagination led to the creation of his most famous aeronautic design and how helping someone in their moment of need led him to meeting the love of his life. As the last film made by Miyazaki before he retires, this is a quintessential example of his attention to detail and beauty as an animator. His artistry and storytelling will be missed, but The Wind Rises is the perfect conclusion to his amazing legacy of animated films.
After twelve movies in a row at Butt-Numb-A-Thon, I was definitely ready to get some shut eye. Here’s a few last interesting tidbits about the event:
- The character of Popeye ended up being a recurring character throughout the event with him appearing in his namesake movie along with a comedic scene in The Wolf of Wall Street and later as a character in The Dragon Lives Again.
- The event was attended by such celebrities as stand-up comedian, Doug Benson, Looper director Rian Johnson and Ready Player One novelist and Fanboys screenwriter, Ernie Cline. I had the extreme pleasure of briefly talking to Rian Johnson during one of the 10 minute breaks between movies. Getting a big hug from one of my favorite directors was one of the most memorable moments of the night.
- Every film had specific movie trailers shown before them that encapsulated or foreshadowed elements and themes of the films we were about to see. For instance, The Monster Squad trailer was shown before the faux monster documentary, Digging up the Marrow.
- At one point during the night, they gave everyone a shot of tequila for a tradition that was started at Fantastic Fest called Slapshots. You pair up with someone next to you. You take a shot of tequila and the person next to you slaps you. They take a shot and you slap them.
- My most embarrassing moment was when I showed up at the theater and asked a guy in the back where my seat was. He said he didn’t work there. I found out later that the guy I asked was director Bill Plympton. I felt like an idiot.
Thanks to Harry Knowles for putting together an awesome event and Tim League and The Alamo Drafthouse for hosting the screenings. It exceeded my own expectations. I’m glad Harry felt I was geeky enough to attend Butt-Numb-A-Thon this year. I had a total blast and I plan on applying every year from now on.