The 8th annual “Butt-Numb-A-Thon,” a 24-hour film festival/birthday party hosted by Harry Knowles at the Alamo Drafthouse, has come to an end. By all accounts, it was an incredible lineup of titles, blending sneaks of upcoming studio releases along with vintage classics (Stanley Kramer’s Inherit the Wind) and non-classics (the X-rated Mother Goose cartoon, Once Upon a Girl…). I arrived with fellow SXSWer Jarod Neece around 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, and quickly settled in for some non-stop film action. The timing of BNAT is always kinda helpful for me… it allows me to knock out a half-dozen or so Hollywood films that I may not otherwise get a chance to see in first-run, due to my SXSW-heavy screening schedule this time of year. On the Hollywood sneak-preview front, BNAT 2006 was possibly the most entertaining offering I’ve encountered in my five times attending the event. Here’s a film-by-film breakdown of the new features we were lucky to catch:
BLACK SNAKE MOAN – The first film of BNAT was Craig Brewer’s follow-up to Hustle & Flow, this dark and bluesy piece of Southern gothic starring Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci. The film will have its official premiere at Sundance next month, and it’s sure to have people talking and debating. Essentially, the premise involves a young nymphomaniac named Rae (Ricci), who is left to her own devices when her boyfriend (Justin Timberlake) leaves their Tennessee farmtown for military duty. A drug-fueled sex marathon is interrupted when Rae’s character is beaten and left on a dirt road. Lazarus (Jackson), an aging blues guitarist turned farmer, discovers Rae’s body and nurses her back to health. Upon discovering her sexual tendencies, Lazarus chains Rae to his radiator and keeps her prisoner in an attempt to cure her, cold turkey, of her impulses. The film’s rather frank and violent depiction of sex (as well as its implications about gender roles), is gonna have people talking for sure. Regardless, Jackson and Ricci both turn in dynamo performances, and Brewer once again creates a visual tapestry so rich with Southern culture, he’s carving his own niche and subgenre of filmmaking. It’s a film deep-fried in Southern blues (even featuring archival interviews with legendary musician Son House), but that will translate into different things for different audiences. Brewer was in attendance to present the film (Jarod actually wound up in the adjacent seat), and stuck around for several hours to enjoy more of BNAT.
DREAMGIRLS – A huge supporter of Bill Condon since Gods & Monsters, it was no shock that Dreamgirls would be one of the BNAT titles. There’s been so much about this movie already said, so I don’t know what I could add. I agree with most who have seen it: entertaining, epic, rollicking, and a tad too long. Oh, and Eddie Murphy is still a god. Condon was also present to host a Q&A.
ROCKY BALBOA – When 8:00 p.m. hit, it was time for BNAT’s centerpiece selection. And sure enough, it packed… a… punch. Sylvester Stallone was not present, but did send along a video introduction for this, his latest (and last) Rocky film. And, luckily, it turned out to be an ideal Saturday-night presentation. Rocky Balboa is the film Rocky V wanted to be, but failed at becoming. Like Casino Royale, it redefines the iconic character by stripping away all the fanfare and “keeping it real.” And, it works this time around. From Stallone’s surprisingly nuanced performance to the mounting suspense leading up to the climatic boxing match, it was undoubtedly a true crowd-pleaser and a unexpected delight. Unlike the disasters that were Rocky II, Rocky III, and Rocky V, this is Rocky done right.
KNOCKED UP – The one true-blue, out-of-leftfield selection in the lineup was Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up, if only because it’s not due in theaters until June 2007. That said, what we saw was a pretty lengthy (2.25 hours) version of the film that will more than likely get a few trims here and there. Not that it necessarily needs it, though. Knocked Up, which stars Freaks and Geeks fave Seth Rogen and Grey’s Anatomy co-star Katherine Heigl, follows the hilariously dysfunctional courtship of an odd couple as they come to terms with the fact that a one-night stand has led to pregnancy. Coming from 40-Year Old Virgin writer/director Apatow, Knocked Up is a similar balance of sentimental coming-of-age, and uproarious R-rated comedy. Anchored by a stellar supporting cast (Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Jason Segel, Kristen Wiig, and more), Rogen and Heigl have pitch-perfect chemistry and a lot of classic scenes. Knocked Up has the potential to be just as big a hit as Virgin, and I’m actually dying to see it again. Rogen was onhand to take part in a charming and funny Q&A. When commenting about his onscreen chemistry with Heigl, he offered, “Like many of you, before this I knew her from her work in Under Siege 2: Dark Territory.”
BLACK BOOK – Paul Verhoven’s acclaimed WWII saga. I didn’t see it, more on that later.
SMOKIN’ ACES – Leave it to Joe Carnahan to kick us all in the ass at 8:30 a.m. His latest crime film is nothing short of explosive and highly entertaining. Out Guy-Ritching Guy Ritchie, Smokin’ Aces is a shoot ’em up set around the world of Las Vegas mobsters and federal agents. Great cast, great sequences, and gallons of blood, guts, bullets, & octane. If that sounds appealing at all, don’t miss it in theaters next month. Carnahan also sent along a video message for BNAT, in which he lit up a birthday cake and sang “Happy Birthday” to Harry Knowles, with a memorable twist.
300 – The grand finale of BNAT 2006, was a film that many in the crowd had been dying to see: Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300. The blood-soaked tale of Ancient Greek battle against Persia, the film is a sight to be seen. With mesmerizing production design (much of it digital) and astounding war scenes, this film of mostly non-celebrities shouldn’t have trouble breaking out across the globe. It’s a fierce and uncompromising vision of Ancient Greek soldiers… and destined to be a staple in many a DVD collection after its theatrical release this March.
When it was all said and done, Jarod and I drove back to our houses with our goodie bags and a lack of sleep. Jarod more than me, however. For the first time in all my BNATs, I skipped out for a few hours (between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m.) to spend some quality time with Jarren. She’s been incredibly patient with my recent travels, so I couldn’t stay away from her all night. So, yes, I missed three films including Black Book. But all the same, it was a memorable and highly enjoyable BNAT. Maybe the best I’ve ever seen… Congratulations, Harry, on a job oh so well done. And thank you, Tim League and the Alamo staff, for taking care of us this weekend.