Alamo’s First Annual Kurt Russell Marathon

Untitled

Wow.

A friend who had attended an Avengers movie marathon at the Alama Drafthouse told me that while he had a fantastic time–he’d never do it again.

After experiencing it for myself, I have absolutely no idea why he felt that way. But then, I used to get together with a buddy back in the 80’s and 90’s and do 24 hour movie marathons several times a year, so a wimpy 12 hour movie-fest was a piece of cake. A larger-than-life, tasty, testostorone-filled slice of cake. And I’m lucky enough to have a husband who wanted to share it with me!

Alamo’s decision that it was time to celebrate 50 years of Kurt Russell movies was a great idea because HE’S NOT DEAD YET! Which means there will be new movies to add to the list for the second annual Russellmania. Not that there aren’t already over 90 of his movies to choose from. (Heh… Steve and I were ‘politely disagreeing’ all week about which movies we wanted to see, even though we agreed that there were a few that they couldn’t NOT show during the marathon.)

The day began with eye-patches and candy cigarettes for everyone, moved to a special Russellmania menu designed just for this event, and then really got started with the announcement that the super secret special guest star that was not Kurt Russell, even though they tried very hard to get a hold of him.

photo

Between each of the movies, there were trailers for Russell movies that we wouldn’t be seeing. This helped to rule out what we were going to see fairly early in the day (each title was a secret until it was time to start the movie). Steve was disappointed that Tombstone wasn’t included, and I was hoping for Miracle (not that I don’t already watch this one at home on an annual basis prior to the start of the hockey season).

The hosts, who all dressed up as various Kurt Russell characters, started each movie with an explanation of why that particular movie was selected for this marathon. And I have to admit that I was somewhat pleasantly surprised by a few of the movies they chose (in order of viewing):

Captain Ron – Eye-patch Comedy! (With a lead-in that made it sound like it was going to be Escape from New York.) I’ve never seen this one because the trailers made it look like a slap-stick comedy with way too much Martin Short in it. And right now I’m willing to publicly admit that Martin Short was much less annoying in it than I had expected. In fact, I kinda liked his character. And… we’re going to leave that at that.

Escape from New York – Eye-patch Action! Everyone expected to see this movie, so I think that’s why they decided to get it out of the way. I enjoy this movie, but it’s not one of my favorites.

Dreamer – Drama! (Two of the hosts even admitted to shedding a manly tear when they first saw this movie.) I had never heard of Dreamer. I have no idea how I missed hearing about Dreamer… I mean, come on! It had Kurt Russell and lots of horses! Obviously I really liked this one.

Breakdown – Thriller! The hosts said they were very surprised with how many people requested to see this one during the marathon. They decided to go with it because it was one of the few movies where Russell portrayed a man who was pissing-his-pants-scared throughout the entire movie. This was another one I hadn’t heard of before.

Big Trouble in Little China – Action Comedy! This was one of the movies that we actually expected to see during the marathon. It’s also one of my three favorite Kurt Russell movies (the other two being Miracle and ahem….*cough*Overboard*cough*). And after seeing it again, I have to say that Big Trouble just keeps getting better and better every time I see it.

Throughout the event, everyone was repeatedly reminded to stay all the way through the credits of the final movie, which meant that there was a good chance that the secret guest star was somehow linked to Big Trouble in Little China. While I was kinda hoping that it would be John Carpenter (squeeeee!), I was thrilled to see that the super secret guest star was James Hong (Lo Pan)!

James Hong as a Super Secret Special Guest

Mr. Hong’s in town to host another Alamo movie event on Wednesday for a movie he directed in 1979. I have no idea if they tacked that on to the schedule to convince him to come to Austin for Russellmania, but it doesn’t matter because he’s a perfect fit for an Alamo event either way (he’s got both movie AND geek cred these days).

We stayed afterwards to have Mr. Hong sign a photo and a shoe (I’ll explain about Steve’s shoe collection some other time), as well as have a picture taken (we had to quickly switch shirts so Steve could wear the Lo Pan shirt in the photo with him).

Overall, we had a great time, we were introduced to some great Kurt Russell movies that we had never seen before, and we got to meet James Hong.

I can’t wait to see what happens at the second annual Russellmania marathon.

Phase IV’s Long Lost Ending (SPOILER ALERT)

Well now I know why the studio took control of Phase IV and removed most of Saul Bass’s original ending. It was almost like I was having a brief flashback to the first third of the movie Beyond the Black Rainbow–but without the same artistry.**

The downside is that while they removed as much of the 70’s psychedelic montage as possible (supposedly it was pulled because it didn’t test very well, but I personally felt it distracted from the way majority of the movie was filmed anyway), they still managed to cut out a few seconds that contained one of the most important pieces of the movie!

The way the movie was originally released–each phase is titled in the movie–with the exception of the the final phase. Because of this, I originally thought that the movie title “Phase IV” referred to the fourth step in the evolution of the ants; but once I saw the movie with the missing ending, I realized that I had it backwards.

Phase 1: The first phase was the unnamed cosmic event that triggered the ants’ intelligence and coming together of all different species of ants to work as one hive.

Phase 2: I’m mentally kicking myself right now because I can’t remember what the second phase was and that means I’ll have to watch the movie again soon.

Phase 3: This one was interesting because all it showed was the activity of normal desert animals – but without any of the animals being attacked by ants. And this is after we were previously told that the ants had chased out or killed off many of the other desert creatures. Once seeing the missing footage, including the unintentionally humorous bits with humans flying and interacting in other ways with animals, this segment makes a bit more sense. The third phase was the integration of other creatures into the hive way of life where all animals have their specialization or place in society.

And that brings us to Phase 4 and what I consider to be the most important few seconds of film footage cut out of the ending.

In the missing ending, right before the bizarre montage begins that shows the integration of humans into a similar hive society, the title “Phase IV” appears in the same place and in EXACTLY the same way as the previous three phases. That’s when I realized that humans joining the ant society was the fourth and final phase, and that eventually the entire planet would be one massive hive containing all life.

Why was the part with the final phase cut? Probably because once the rest was cut out, it would have left it appearing in the upper right hand corner showing the beginning of the fourth phase right before the final credits began, which also includes the title “Phase IV”. With everything else cut out, there was nothing between them and it would have looked like an odd duplication. I just wish they had put in a bit more of the montage, as it wasn’t all bad (just most of it), so that the final phase could have appeared correctly.

In a perfect world, a completely different ending should have been filmed. And I don’t mean changing the way the story ended–a vague, abstract ending is fine, but in all honesty, neither of the endings were very well done.

Do I still like this movie? Yes. And knowing how it was supposed to end makes it even better in my mind… as long as I never have to watch the missing footage again. I guess I’ll have to hunt down the novelization by Barry Malzberg so I can see how close I am to the real story.

 

**I didn’t find out until after watching the movie at the Alamo that Panos Cosmatos had mentioned in an interview that Phase IV had inspired the general look of Beyond the Black Rainbow. (I still haven’t decided whether I loved or hated that movie, but it really does deserve to eventually have its own post rather than simply being a footnote in this one.)

PHASE IV, the Movie

Even if my unnamed body part was still having major issues – I wouldn’t pass up tonight’s event at the Alamo Drafthouse.

THE ACADEMY AND ALAMO DRAFTHOUSE CINEMA PRESENT PHASE IV FEATURING THE LONG-LOST ENDING!

“A box office disappointment in its initial release, PHASE IV is one of those underappreciated sci-fi gems that is only now being reappraised by modern audiences. In partnership with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Academy Film Archive, we at the Drafthouse are proud to present a brand-new 35mm print of PHASE IV created specifically for this event!

This once-in-a-lifetime presentation will also include a rare screening of a new high-definition digital transfer of film’s original psychedelic end sequence, long rumored not to exist at all!”

Ellen Harrington, the Director of Exhibitions and Special Events for the Academy will also be there to introduce the movie and share the story of the original ending.

I’m excited because I’ve always loved Phase IV (named after the fourth phase or stage–of something or other that I’ve already forgotten–triggering the ants’ development of intelligence…wow, I just realized how long it’s been since I’ve seen it). While I hate to call this movie a thinking man’s version of the animals-suddenly-evolving-and-attempting-to-attack-man genre, in a way that’s exactly what it is. And while I’ve seen so many of the other movies of this sort (I’m a bit masochistic in my movie choices), Phase IV really IS one of the better ones.

And I can’t wait to see the original ending.

Avatar: The Last Airbender

Netflix has all three seasons of Nickelodeon’s ground-breaking cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender available for streaming.  Steve (yeah, I’ve given up on the Candy Pants joke for now) and I finally got a chance to watched all of it over the past few months, and based on that TV show — we were excited about the new movie coming out.  Or at least I was. Steve was more of the opinion that M. Night Shyamalan would shit all over it.

Well, based on all the reviews, he was right.  Now, instead of looking forward to seeing the movie, I’m collecting all the reviews because they’re a lot more entertaining than the movie will probably be, and maybe because I’m also occasionally a masochist.  I’m not saying I won’t ever see it — but it’s beginning to look like it will either be because someone else pays for the tickets, I have a momentary burst of optimism, or because enough time has passed and Netflix is finally streaming the movie.

Howard Tayler, the author of Schlock Mercenary has this to say:

In its defense, the film is trying to tell a beautiful story, and succeeds in a few places. The Last Airbender is an epic tale full of fantastic “hero’s journey” and “coming of age” elements, with romance, action, betrayal, tragedy, self-discovery, and sacrifice, but if this sentence gets quoted partially on a DVD box somewhere I will SCREAM because finding these elements is like digging for salad in a sink full of potato peels and I don’t want anybody seeing this film without knowing that. Great story, crummy storytelling. That’s hard to do, but Shyamalan did it.

Roger Ebert gave it only half of a star in his review:

“The Last Airbender” is an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented. The laws of chance suggest that something should have gone right. Not here. It puts a nail in the coffin of low-rent 3D, but it will need a lot more coffins than that.

Ty Burr of the Boston Globe was nicer and gave it an entire star:

…it’s a tossup as to which is worse: the script, which regularly grinds to a halt to Explain Everything until the movie curls up and dies; the shockingly dingy camerawork; or the execrable 3-D. The latter comes in two modes: barely noticeable, as if the technicians set the knob at 1.3 and went out for lunch, or actively irritating. Really, I’ve got winking-Jesus postcards that look better.

Josh Tyler from Cinema Blend actually liked it in spite of what he called the “the worst script of the year”:

This isn’t an easy movie to praise. The Last Airbender seems as though it’s daring people to hate it. It’s hard to believe anything could be this badly written by accident. In order to get to what’s good in it; you’ll have to endure a lot of M. Night Shyamalan missteps. In the hands of a better writer, this could have been the next Lord of the Rings.

Charlie Jane Anders from io9.com thought it was a comedy, but not the funny kind (I was going to use the bukkake comparison from this review, but I’d like to keep it family-friendly):

In the traditional hero’s journey, the hero resists the call to adventure, before finally passing over the threshold into the dangerous but juicy fantasy world where he comes into his power. And this is what happens to you, the audience, as you watch The Last Airbender, only in reverse. You resist following this movie into the dark, scary place where heroes are pieces of furniture and heroism is a Monty Python routine performed by someone who’s never seen the original episodes. But then it’s too late – you’ve passed over the threshold, you are committed, you are on the journey and the story won’t let you go. You have been drawn into a place where you will lose, not only your power as an audience member, but quite possibly your mental faculties altoghether.

Ok, I give up.  There’s no way this review from Pajiba is family-friendly, but I’m including it because it has the best breakdown of what went wrong.  (This probably wasn’t the best paragraph to go with, but it was the only non-profanity filled one I could find):

Replicated from the cartoon’s introductory sequence, we see four shadowy figures each summon the prospective elements: earth, water, fire, and air. This should be exciting — seeing what up to now has only been pen and ink brought to life in stunning 3D. And yet, there is no life. It feels half-speed like a dry run of the production. In fact, Shyamalan went out of his way to suck any and all life out of the original material, like a Twihard horking feathers as she chews through her Cullenpillow. The entire movie is played out like a test-audience screening, hastily assembled scenes of actors explaining every element of the story as if it was a placeholder for an amazing action sequence that hasn’t been shot yet.

If you haven’t seen the original  Avatar: The Last Airbender on Nickelodeon, now is the time to either purchase the box set, watch it online, or get Netflix.

The story is simple.  There are four nations based on each of the four elements: air, water, earth, and fire.  Each nation has individuals who are able to manipulate or “bend” their element.  The one person who has the ability to bend all four elements is called the Avatar, and he or she is supposed to be able to bring or maintain balance in the world.  Once an Avatar dies, he/she is reincarnated into the next element in the cycle, or at least that’s how it was supposed to work. The last Avatar disappeared over 100 years ago and hasn’t been seen since.  In that time, the Fire Nation completely wiped out the Air Nation (the next element in the cycle of the Avatar) and killed off most of the water benders of the Water Nation in the process of expanding the Fire Nation empire.  That’s where the series begins.

The detail that Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko went into when creating their world is another reason I love this show so much.  Each nation has a very distinct culture based on their element, and it’s reflected in their style of clothing, architecture, and bending techniques.  For the benders of the four nations, their movements are based on four very different real-life martial art forms that matches each element; such as using the smooth motions in Tai Chi to represent the ebb and flow in water-bending and the rooted stances and powerful strikes of Hung Gar for earth-bending.

For the amount of fighting in almost every episode, death is rare.  While it exists, it either takes place off-screen, in the past, or it’s more of a transformation then it is an ending of life.  In fact, the internal conflict a young monk, who has been taught that all life is sacred, faces when he realizes that it’s his duty to kill the Fire Lord is handled beautifully, as was the choice he made in the end.

As with the monk, most of the characters are 11 to 16 year-old kids who have been placed in difficult situations with life-changing decisions, and amazingly enough, they still mostly act their age (one of the big complaints about the movie is that they don’t behave like real children).  Sure, that means there’s a lot of overacting and goofy jokes, but this is, after all, a kid’s show.  Along with the silliness are bittersweet moments, lessons about forgiveness and honor, the redemption of one character and the slow descent into madness for another.  This balance is part of what makes it entertaining for both children and adults.

The clips I’ve seen of the movie show that Shyamalan’s version of  The Last Airbender is gorgeous beyond belief, but the reviews make is sound like the story was stripped of any of the joy and hope that permeated the cartoon.  And for me, that was what I loved about it the most.

Introducing the newest incarnation of King Kong

This time he’s a dancing man in a cheap gorilla suit serenaded by the fabulous songs of The People’s Republic of Bangladesh.  Based on the trailer, it’s filled with horribly bad special effects, costuming, fight sequences, and lots of bananas.

And yes, if I ever get a hold of a copy of Banglar King Kong, I’m throwing a viewing party and forcing all my friends to attend…. bwah ha ha ha!!!

For more information, photos, and a press release (well, sort of), see the post at Undead Backbrain.

Via io9.com