Saturday, March 20, 2010

Festivus Finale!

It's cold and grey here in Austin as the 2010 SXSW festival winds down -- and even though I'm sorry to see it go, after a solid week of screenings and parties, I can frankly use the relaxation of getting back to work after such a hectic "vacation."

Each year's incarnation of the cinematic spring break I like to call Festivus has its own flavor, but there are certain recurring themes, and one of them is the physical impossibility of catching ALL the treats spilling from the annual entertainment piñata -- and SXSW 2010 was no different, with special regrets including an inability to locate an alleged live demonstration of Cherie Curry's chainsaw-art prowess and (especially) the fact that I missed Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek and Bill Ghost-Bustin'-Ass Murray at the premiere of their new film Get Low (about a man who stages his own funeral). Other films I wanted to see but couldn't get to for one reason or another include SATURDAY NIGHT (James Franco's behind-the-scenes documentary about a week in the life of the comedy juggernaut) and Best Documentary winner Marwencol, described to me by the A.V. Club's Leonard Pierce as the bizarre and fascinating tale of a man who loses his memory after a savage beating, then for inexplicable reasons begins to build a tiny World War 2-era town in his backyard (featuring a tiny version of himself building an even tinier town)...

Meanwhile, in the "better to regret something you did rather than something you didn't" category, I'd have to list the three (!) basil-chicken-olive "Poultrygeist" pizzas I consumed at the Alamo Drafthouse during the week, all of which were completely delicious (though perhaps not the healthiest choice to accompany the various screenings I saw at the venue)...but then again, like all the pints of Shiner Bock that helped to wash them down, they're a delicacy I only get to enjoy once a year, so what the heck?

Likewise, I regret not having a better screening to attend yesterday than Tom DiCillo's pretentious, completely unnecessary Doors documentary When You're Strange (which, at the very least, gave me a new understanding of Jim Morrison as the George W. Bush of rock stars) -- but it was, at the very least, a relatively diverting way to kill two hours as we waited for the start of a fun, free, and reliably RAWKIN' free concert at Austin's Auditorium Shores fairground by Cheap Trick (introduced, arguably, as "the best fucking rock band in the world").

The lovely Zooey Deschanel will also be appearing tonight on the same stage, outside in the cold with her band She & Him, but Scott and I will probably be at a closing night screening of Four Lions, described unpromisingly in the SXSW catalogue as a comical tale of suicide bombers.

Yet despite the last-day blues, the week's successes far outweight the regrets. I noted some of the films I enjoyed at, and to that list I would add And Everything Is Going Fine, Stephen Soderbergh's career-spanning retrospective of the life and times of the late, great Spalding Gray (including revelatory footage of his family life and surprisingly lucid final days). Other enjoyable late-week screenings included Mars, an animated mumblecore science fiction adventure-romance (of all things) and an equal parts charming and depressing documentary about roadside attractions and the death of small town America called World's Largest (as in Home of the World's Largest Peanut/Clam/Frying Pan/Boll Weevil/Lutefisk, etcetera).

And, as always, in addition to all the great breakfast tacos, chicken mole, BBQ (and occasional healthy choices like fried chicken salad), there was the general carnival atmosphere of Austin during SXSW, featuring thousands of musicians and music fans from around the world crammed into every square foot of the city (including Somerville's own one-(wo)man-band Audrey Ryan, a former screenwriting student of mine who I coinicidentally encountered bringing her rich, tuneful (and surprisingly multilayered) singer-songwriter mojo to an outdoor patio gig at Jaime's Spanish Village on Red River in the midst of all the madness.

With luck, I'm hoping to squeeze in one last celebrity sighting (comedian and Chelsea Lately regular Matt "Eggly Bagelface" Braunger, tonight at Esther's Follies) and one more breakfast taco before I jet back to Boston tomorrow...but whatever happens, SXSW is nearly over again for another year, and I guess I'll just have to look on the bright side: at least spring is here, and maybe now I can finally get some damn sleep...


Monday, March 15, 2010

Festivus: March 15, 2010

It's Day 4 of SXSW, and Scott and me have turned in (relatively) early to catch our collective breaths following a tumultuous weekend, but here are some of the recent highlights...


After delicious breakfast tacos at Austin Java and a brief stop at some kind of kite festival, we attended a long, rambling (but relatively interesting and not entirely unentertaining) documentary called Dirty Pictures about (A) the scientist who inadvertently popularized Ecstasy, (B) his wife, (C) their son, (D) a bunch of scientists studying the positive (and negative) effects of psychedelic substances, (E) a DEA agent who turned his back on the War on Drugs, (F) the meaning of life, (G) cacti and (H) all the weird and wonderful things you can do and see at Burning Man.

After that, we expected to attend a Steven Soderbergh documentary about Spalding Gray, but were ultimately thwarted by the size (and befuddled staff) of a small-ish venue crammed with a distinctly "out-of-town" (i.e., New York and L.A.) crowd of obnoxiously entitled instead, we bowled a few games at the swanky HighBall and swilled cocktails a few stools down from Wiley Wiggins of Dazed and Confused fame.

Determined not to bother the perfectly friendly Mr. Wiggins, I actually wound up being rather brusque in my request for a photo, and so Wiley -- if you happen to read this -- what I meant to say was, (A) nice to meet you and (B) we're actually two degrees of separation, since my film, Apocalypse Bop, played at a terrible film festival in Austin a few years ago along with the fantastic Plastic Utopia, the magnum opus of the Zellner Brothers, who later gave you a starring role in their bizarre 2001 faux-foreign war film, Frontier.

Anyway, as Scott and I were enjoying our brush with greatness, we noticed a massive line snaking past the window of the HighBall and realized we probably weren't going to get seats for Saturday Night, either (i.e., James Franco's documentary about the eponymous comedy mastodon)... instead, we dropped into a packed screening of the completely amateurish and disjointed Elektra Luxx, a -- comedy? -- about a retired porn star featuring a surprisingly high-profile (and thoroughly wasted) ensemble including Carla Gugino, Timothy Olyphant, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Malin Akerman, Alicia Silverstone and Vincent "Pete from Mad Men" Kartheiser as a guy trapped naked in an elevator for reasons I can't begin to remember.

Fortunately, the film and/or the projector broke down halfway through the flick, allowing Scott and me to sneak out and grab some ZZZZs before hitting a more satisyfing pair of screenings on Monday about the dead cult comedian Bill Hicks and the live cult band The Magnetic Fields...

...but it's too late to post those reviews right now, so stay tuned for more SXSW updates, coming soon!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Festivus: 2010!

As Willy the Shakes reminds us, beware the Ides of March...

...but then again, Shakespeare never went to SXSW. And this year, I'm a guy who really needs some good ol' fashioned Festivus..., after a week in San Francisco Adjacent, working on my latest gig (VIE...stay tuned for more details!) and a schmancy meal of sushi and champagne with my Bulgarian employers and a half dozen or so French game designers, I flew into Austin on Saturday and met with my host family, Scott and Maury the Wonder ChiBeagle.

After a much needed pitcher of Shiner Bock and a chicken club sandwich at the Casino el Camino, Scott and I strolled over to the Paramount for the premiere screening of Cyrus, the studio debut of mumblecore All-Stars Jay and Mark Duplass (of Humpday, Baghead and Puffy Chair fame).

With their big Hollywood budget (i.e., less than the cost of one Na'avi from Avatar), the Duplasses (Duplassi? Duplee?) were able to afford big name talent like John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, Jonah Hill and Catherine Keener for their tale of a schlubby divorcee who starts dating a dreamy single mom with a possessive, passive-aggressive son.

The film was sporadically funny in the rambling, verité style that gives mumblecore its name (and also tends to alienate more caffeinated viewers), but the Q&A after the screening was even better as improv ninjas Reilly and Hill skewered the typically inane questioners who thrive on opportunities to hear themselves talk in large groups of people. "If I understand correctly, you're asking whether I took the role for an opportunity to wrap my leg around Marisa Tomei," Hill deadpanned to some audience member at one point. "The answer is no. And also, you are an asshole."

After the premiere, jet-lag kicked in and Scott and I retired to South Austin, but stay tuned as Festivus week continues!