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The Eagles Killed Becky

May 19th, 2010

I’m writing this from Austin, Texas, where I’ve spent the past few days attending the PBS Annual Meeting. But I’m not writing about that this evening. If you want the scoop about upcoming public TV series, you can check out my updates on TV Worth Blogging.

No, tonight I’m online to tell you about the place that’s going to make me sorry to leave Austin tomorrow afternoon: the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz. It’s one of those “brew n’ view” theaters with liquor and a full food service brought right to your seat, but that’s not what makes it the most awesome movie house I’ve ever visited. The Alamo Ritz is a year-round gonzo film festival: not content with cult and trash offerings, it features value-added shows such as a “quote-a-long” Princess Bride and a screening of Armageddon featuring live explosions. If I lived in Austin, I would be at the Ritz all of the freakin’ time.

Tonight I had the chance to visit the KLRU-TV studios to see where they shoot Austin City Limits, but then I found out that the Ritz was showing the neo-classic of bad cinema, Birdemic. It was no contest at all.

I only knew Birdemic: Shock and Terror (to give it its full title) by reputation and its gloriously awful trailer. Imagine The Birds remade by someone who had no idea what Hitchcock was trying to accomplish, with a budget of 100 bucks and the best computer graphics that 1979 could offer.

See for yourself.

One could watch Birdemic in the comfort of one’s own home, but the best way to experience it is in the company of a theater full of willing victims. Preferably, as I did, with a molten chocolate cake ala mode on one’s lap.

It did not disappoint.

Birdemic has most of the hallmarks of a truly classic bad movie. You get banal dialogue that sounded as if someone transcribed everyday conversations. (“The eagles killed Becky” is one of the better howlers.) You get a cast of amateur actors presumably filled out by various friends and relatives. You get bogglingly bad special effects, in this case crudely superimposed CGI eagles which hover in midair. Oh, and you get lots and lots of driving scenes. A fair amount of the movie appears to be happening in real time.

However, what makes it especially precious is the basic incompetence of the direction and cinematography. There aren’t any day-for-night shots, but there are mismatched camera angles, missing dialogue and multiple jump cuts within a single scene. Every shot lingers for several seconds too long. There’s no effort made to loop dialogue muffled by nearby ocean waves, or to clear passing vacationers from the background of the frame.

This is one laid-back birdocalypse. The characters stop for a frickin’ picnic in the midst of birdmageddon.

While the script doesn’t quite reach the insane logic of Ed Wood, it does feature Wood’s endearing earnestness. This is a movie that wears its heart on its sleeve, with a plaintive message about humanity’s rape of Mother Earth. Both a gun-toting scientist and a treehouse-living naturalist make didactic speeches to the camera explaining how global warming is to blame for the bird flu epidemic that is causing eagles (and only eagles, it seems) to go berserk. (None of them, however, offer any insight as to what causes the birds to explode on impact.)

So, Birdemic was worth the $8.50 ticket price. But you know what really made the experience at the Alamo Ritz special? The trailer which declared the theater to be a “no talking zone,” and made it clear that they meant it.

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