Monday, June 25, 2007


I feel truly honored to have been able to attend at least one AICN event at the original downtown Alamo Drafthouse before it closed. It was quite a trek for me. I'm a filmmaker based in Salt Lake City and a shoot for our documentary coincidentally brought us within a few days of Half-Ass-A-Thon. We figured, "what the hell?" and pulled our travel back by two days in order to obtain a chance of getting into the event. Doing this was a gamble, you see, because the event was sold out before we left.

Well, I'm certainly glad we made it and I'm glad that we were able to get into the event via the standby line.

The Original Alamo Drafthouse was the movie palace of my dreams. It was a combination of my favorite old movie palace (the Academy Theatre in Provo, Utah, which has sadly been torn down) and my favorite theatre/bar (Brewvies, in Salt Lake City. I heard the guy who does projection there used to run projection over at the Tower Theatre, again in SLC and he was the first projectionist at a festival (this was a Sundance venue) to burn Quentin Tarentino's print of Reservoir Dogs and that Quentin was really not all that happy about it since I've heard it might have been the first public screening on the film.). The Drafthouse is the kind of place I would be three times a week if I lived in (or anywhere near) the Austin area.

Sadly though, I don't live anywhere near the Austin area and, in fact, this was my first time in Austin. Actually, this was even my first time in Texas except for a layover at an airport once.

And there wasn't much time to waste, either. We literally got off the plane, got our rental car, checked in to the hotel and went straight to the Drafthouse.

It was easy enough to find and not too far from our hotel.

After much anxiety about whether or not we'd get in and after meeting more than a couple pretty cool people (cute girls even, too) we got in.

The first movie of the night began and I'm not sure I would have been able to wrap my head around it if the Drafthouse didn't serve a very lovely locally brewed Hefeweizen.

Wonder Bar was quite an amazing experience. I had never seen anything about this film besides reading about reactions to it at another BNAT.

I found this film highly enjoyable despite its preposterous racist overtones. I've been watching a lot of movies from this era lately (Stage Door, Dinner at Eight, His Girl Friday, etc.) and I really enjoy the frantic pacing of the comedy and the cartoonish nature of the drama. And it amazes me that films like these can hit both of those notes so well since it's rare in these days to see a filmmaker with the chops to do it right.

Like I said, this film was really charming despite it's racism against any number of people but most offensively so against blacks. The ending musical number with Jolson in his trademarked blackface was beyond belief. The amount of racial stereotypes it walked on the toes of had my jaw dropped to the floor. From the lyrics in the song, to the whole cast of blackfaced actors (and children), the fired chicken machine, the numbers with watermelons…. It was almost too much to bear.

The only thing that kept me from cringing and actually getting offended was the date of the film. It came out in '34 and can be seen through the eyes of history, as some type of artifact, and not the predominate feelings of our culture. Besides, all the stereotypes that are perpetuated in this film about people (Russians, blacks, gays, etc) are all 80 years out of date.

The amazing centerpiece of the film, however, was Busby Berkeley's musical number. It was actually quite a marvel to see the camera tricks they pulled. People would be hard-pressed to pull the types of tricks with cameras and mirrors without CG touch-ups that they were pulling in this dance number. It was so wonderfully over the top that it made the "Anything Goes" number in Temple of Doom seem like it had documentary realism.

Long story short, if you have a chance to catch this movie somehow, it would be worth your time.

The next movie was Stardust, but we can move on to that last.

The third movie of the evening was Topkapi which was a really cool '60's caper film that started a little cheesy but really got moving and I think it was the best film I saw at Half-Ass-A-Thon (even though I really dug Stardust).

I had enjoyed Ocean's 13 when I saw it a few weeks ago, but then watching this and thinking about it in the context of what caper movies should be, it paled in comparison.

The thing about this movies and caper movies from the era is that you feel like you're in on the job. Soderbergh's Ocean's movies don't allow you that. They offer you scraps of information and then at the end let you know how smart everyone was. That's fine for them, but isn't as ultimately entertaining. Topkapi was a much more engaging and entertaining film that felt more democratic with the dynamics of allowing the audience in on the heist.

And in looking more into the film I found out that Pierce Brosnan is remaking this film as an addition to the Thomas Crown franchise and it actually makes my heart ache just a little bit. I'm just not sure what the point is of remaking movies like this.

Especially since you know they won't let Pierce Brosnan get caught. It was the same problem I had with the first Ocean's 11 remake. The original had one of the most bittersweet endings to a caper film ever and when the new, hip, Clooney Danny Ocean hit the scene, there was no way he could lose. In fact, it would have been refreshing for Ocean's 13 to be the tale of their biggest loss. So, my vote is, if you HAVE to remake this film, you also HAVE to make Brosnan get caught.

Anyhow, I could say all the things people expect to hear about this film (Ustinov really did deserve the Academy Award, it was fun, the heist was cool, etc) but at the end of the day it was just a fun movie that I'm going to buy on DVD and show as many people as I can get my hands on.

The fourth film of the evening was an old Bill Shatner film from his "bottomed-out" period after Star Trek called "Impulse". Unfortunately, this is where jet-lag and lack of sleep factored in, so I was dozing off after the trailer to "The Toy Box" (which was an amazingly pornographic trailer, it was pretty cool) so I left while I could still get back to the Hotel with my eyes open…. Which sucks because I wish I could have stayed awake for the whole thing…

So, aside from wussing out at the end, the evening was everything I had hoped an AICN event like that would be and more.

If you guys ever want to do something like this in Salt Lake, I know all the right people to make it happen…

I'll post my Stardust review separately...

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