Screengrab In Exile at SXSW – Part One

by Andrew Osborne

So, I arrived a day too late to break the widely-reported SXSW scandal involving Jake Gyllenhaal’s penis, but I provided coverage of the festival’s first weekend for Nerve (or you can read the much-less-edited version here, featuring an additional movie and 100% more spanking machine news)!

SXSW (3/12 & 3/13)

Greetings from South-by-Southwest, the annual Mardi Gras of the entertainment industry calendar.  Originally established 25 years ago as a music festival in Austin, TX, SXSW has grown to encompass film and interactive media in a week-long citywide smörgåsbord of schmoozing, screenings and stage diving.

I arrived on Saturday after a harrowing flight reminiscent of Oceanic 815 (complete with a bloody medical emergency and a strangely underreported system crash that grounded JetBlue jets across the nation).  A little Shiner Bock and smoked pork loin at the Iron Works BBQ in downtown Austin quickly restored me to festival strength, however, thus allowing me to dive straight into my first screening:  The Innkeepers, a lo-fi ghost story from fright auteur Ti West (best known for 2009’s The House of the Devil).

West’s latest follows the Devil template of a small cast in a creepy location (an old New England hotel with a tragic history) and a pace that builds from meandering slacker banter to jump-outta-your-seat “gotcha” scare tactics.  Sara Paxton (a rising young star with the perky charisma of a sexy blonde Muppet) centers the action as the latest in a long line of horror movie heroines lacking the common sense to listen when a spooky lady (Kelly McGillis) warns them to stay outta the damn basement.

Since I’m a big fan of James Gunn’s deadpan superhero spoof The Specials, I was eager to see his latest caped crusader comedy Super — until I learned that it features Rainn Wilson as a guy who goes around bludgeoning people with a wrench.  A little Wilson goes a long way in my book (even when paired with a co-star like Nerd America’s Sweetheart, Ellen Page), and so in my travel-frazzled state I opted instead for a nightcap on 6th Street and an early start on Sunday with a screening of the intriguing  British documentary Self-Made, about a group of average blokes and birds confronting personal demons by literally acting out (in personalized cinematic scenes stemming from a series of intensive Method acting exercises in a minimalist rehearsal space).

After that, I dipped my toes into the interactive multimedia side of the festival, sampling various computer games and the best ten minutes of Tron on 3D Blu-Ray (complete with a swag-tastic blinky-light Frisbee) — though I drew the line at a Dazed & Confused-style ass-paddling demonstration elsewhere in the Austin Convention Center administered by a menacing Spank-Bot (on behalf of an anti-hazing group opposed to the strange fraternity-style Texas tradition of high school students whacking the butts of incoming freshmen).

But Sunday’s big event was the world premiere screening of Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, a revealing and frequently hilarious chronicle of Team Coco’s 2010 “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour” (the live, multi-city comedy/music juggernaut which spanned the downtime between the embattled ginger’s ouster from The Tonight Show to his re-emergence as the face of TBS late night).  In the fast, funny Q&A that followed the screening, O’Brien literally ran circles around film director Rodman Flender to demonstrate the boundless, restless energy (and need for attention) powering Coco’s career, the tour and the documentary — which, to the comedian’s credit, doesn’t shy away from his occasional celebrity asshole moments (including a funny, vicious backstage roast of 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer and a much less funny harangue about a meet-and-greet with his back-up singer’s family after a show). 

In the grand scheme of things, it’s hard to feel an awful lot of sympathy for a beloved celebrity who had to move his TV show from network to cable (and received tens of millions of dollars for his trouble), but Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is a jazzy backstage chronicle of life in the show biz fast lane (with Andy Richter’s rimshot one-liners alone justifying the price of admission).

And stay tuned for more of Nerve’s ongoing SXSW coverage, coming soon!

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