Halfway through the massive party that is South By Southwest, the emphasis switches away from the movies (just a little) and swings over toward the musical side of the equation. (You could throw a rock out of your hotel room and hit three cover bands, two balladeers, and a drunken roadie.) So while lots of people are out enjoying the coolest bands (and there are lots), I (like Gollum sinking into his cavern) slunk back into the movies. Once the first few days of SXSW skip by, the movie side of the equation becomes a lot more laid-back: same amount of screenings, but the lines are shorter, the theaters are a little less crowded, and I can stretch my six-foot frame over three adjoining seats if I feel like it. Which I often do. Anyway, let's get to the movies. And then at the very end I'll throw out a list of actors that I met, just because that's a film festival report-type thing that everyone seemingly loves to read. Because movie actors are cooler than politicians and/or chemistry professors.
COWBOY DEL AMOR
Director: Michele Ohayon
Cast: Ivan Thompson
The winner of the festival's Best Documentary Award went to a smoothly entertaining little flick called
COWBOY DEL AMOR. It basically follows the adventures of one old Texas cowboy who makes a living by pairing up American males with Mexican females. The men, seemingly tired of American gals and their "ways," are just looking for a decent woman to share their lives with. (But the brides gotta be cute and under 160 lbs. in mass, of course.) Director Michele Ohayon does a solid job of "riding the fence," never casting the Cowboy Cupid as an outright PIMP - while also showing that, hey, pre-arranged romances CAN work, provided you have the right matchmaker on your side.
Why not throw a few shouts out to some of the other fine docos I digested? OK, there's Ellen Spiro's TROOP 1500, which tells the tale of a girl scout troop in which ALL the girls' mothers are in jail. Seriously! And it's not nearly as depressing as it sounds. HIGHWAY COURTESANS brings us to India, where we meet a father who pimps his daughters out as roadside prostitutes. Again, not as gloomy as it sounds. Actually it's pretty damn fascinating (and no, there's no nudity...that's not what I meant!) Oh, and if anyone ever wants to see THE definitive documentary on the fine art of whistling, then keep an eye out for PUCKER UP. It might sound silly, but this is actually quite cool. The spine of the movie is a visit to the 2004 International Whistling Championships in Louisberg, North Carolina - but there's also a lot of cultural and historical information on whistling, who was good at it, and why people don't seem to do it very much these days. (Yep, you can make a documentary about ANYthing these days...and it can be good, too!)
COMEDIANS OF COMEDY
(click here to see trailer)
Director: Michael Blieden
Cast: Patton Oswalt, Brian Posehn, Zach Galifianakis, Maria Bamford
THE COMEDIANS OF COMEDY is also a documentary, technically speaking. But it's also a rock solid collection of great stand-up comedy. Imagine going on an 8-day road trip with a quartet of hilarious goofballs, stopping along the way to buy comic books, play video games, and make lots of people laugh. That's pretty much what this movie is. Funnypeople Patton Oswalt, Brian Posehn, Zack Galifianakis, and Maria Bamford are our hosts...and if you don't know these guys by name, then you'll undoubtedly recognize their faces. And if you don't...well, all the more reason to check this movie out. It's a rare behind-the-tour bus look at life on the comedy circuit and it's also a whole lot of fun.
And as much as I'd like to send you off with some huge Hollywood scoop like "SIN CITY ROCKS!" or "The Ring 2 does NOT suck," I simply cannot.
THE PUFFY CHAIR
Director: Jay Duplass
Cast: Mark Duplass, Kathryn Aselton, Rhett Wilkins, Julie Fischer, Bari Hyman, Gerald Finnegan
My last movie at SXSW was a flick that I missed at Sundance, and I really hate missing the same movie at two festivals. (And trust me, it happens more often than you'd think. I've still never seen "B.A.P.S.".) It's a low-budget comedy called THE PUFFY CHAIR, and it's equal parts road comedy, rom-com, and slyly funny chat-fest. Basically there's this chair. And it's puffy. Josh just bought it on eBay. The plan is to hit the road (alone) in a van, drive cross-country to pick the thing up, and deliver it to Dad just in time for his birthday. But then Josh's sweetheart of a girlfriend wants to come along. OK, fine. But then a Josh's hilariously insane brother wants to join the fun. And then the chair turns out to be a real piece of crap... And then... Well, it's all very complicated. (Not really.) Sincere kudos (and not the granola kind) to the Duplass brothers for banging together such a winning little indie. THE PUFFY CHAIR is seriously funny, strangely sincere, consistently droll, and more than a little surprising. Who cares that the flick cost the same as one day's catering on SPIDER-MAN 2? It's a winner.
So that's it from me, moviegirls. Thus marks the end of my third consecutive trip to the wonderful world known throughout the globe as SXSW. I've praised this event to high heaven before, so I'll not brown my nose any further. Suffice to say that it's a brilliantly cool time if you love movies - but you can't afford the trip to Park City or Toronto. I love all my festivals, but SXSW is, year in and year out, something really special. And even though the hotel maid told me I could never return, I'll be heading back to Austin same time next year. (So I stole a few towels! Pfft!)
ACTORS I MET
Oh yeah...actors I met. Lemme check my notebook. (I really should start carrying a camera.) I met true movie GOD Harry Dean Stanton. Believe it or not, he was smoking a cigarette. Next to him was Seymour Cassel, who seemed very happy that I liked his work in THE WENDELL BAKER STORY - as if I were somebody important. Ha! I briefly chatted with Paget Brewster at a party sponsored by Film Threat; she totally got the joke when I said "I loved you in MAN OF THE HOUSE!" and agreed with me that the Andy Richter series on Fox deserved a whole lot better. Plus she's real purty.
Fred Weller was around, and I think this guy's got a distinct Timothy Olyphant vibe - in that he's a hilarious scene-stealing mofo. One of the most charming people of the entire festival was Ms. Laura Breckenridge. (Again, when this lady becomes a huge movie star and has 263 fanboy sites named after her...you can all email me with the word "genius" in the subject line.) A friend invited me to have dinner with Laura's crew, and it was a very cool time. I had curly fries. Jason Behr greeted me in cordial fashion while a throng of screaming girls cheered and cooed. (At Jason; not at me. Duh.) When I finally met up with ultra-friendly director Robert Brinkmann ("Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party") I'd forgotten that his lady love was none other than Mena Suvari, so that was a nice extra bonus. (Mena's very cool and rather quiet!)
Oh, and I could tell you all about meeting Paul Provenza ("The Aristocrats") and partying with him and his crazy comedian buddies, but they made me sign a non-disclosure agreement because we said some nasty things about the government. "Reeker" director Dave Payne and his leading lady/main squeeze Tina Illman were at every party, always smiling and holding beers. Ridiculously cool couple. Their leading man Devon Gumersall said "Hi" during a break from the dance floor. And if you guys think Mageina Tovah is just "that goofy blond neighbor girl from Spider-Man 2," then you've never shared a drink with the gal. An absolute doll, and sincerely sweet in every way.
Long story short? Go to SXSW next year. Period.