Screengrab In Exile at SXSW – Part Two

by Andrew Osborne

Here’s part two of my continuing SXSW coverage (or you can read the edited Nerve version without my funny Beaver joke)!

SXSW (3/13 & 3/14)

By Andrew Osborne

I wrapped up my first weekend at SXSW with a Sunday night screening of The Key Man (starring Jack Davenport as a hapless insurance salesman, the ever delightful Judy Greer, and The Matrix’s villainous Hugo Weaving as a villainous 1970s con man).  Yet, for all the mutton chops, generic wah-wah soundtrack funk and old-fashioned flip-cut editing in writer/director Peter Himmelstein’s polyester period piece, the end result is mainly reminiscent of (and just as forgettable as) an old Charlie’s Angels episode — and not even one of the Farrah ones. 

Things picked up on Monday with Better This World, a thought-provoking documentary by the filmmaking team of Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de le Vega about ethics, activism and justice in the post-9/11 (and post-Tucson shooting) era.  Disgusted with the Bush Administration in general and the Iraq War in particular, two idealistic young dudes from W’s hometown of Midland, Texas head off to protest the 2008 Republican Convention in St. Paul and wind up incarcerated as domestic terrorists.  What really happened and whether the arrests were justified mark the crux of the story — and while the filmmakers attempt to remain impartial with regard to the topical questions they raise, a clear villain emerges by the final credits, along with a handy rule-of-thumb for morally ambiguous times:  if your cause involves firebombing, you’re probably on the wrong side.

Tabloid, the next documentary I saw, was quite a bit lighter — and deliberately so, according to the soft-spoken gnome of a producer who introduced the project on behalf of acclaimed filmmaker Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line).  Eager for a change of pace after somber projects like The Fog of War (his Oscar-winning portrait of Vietnam War architect Robert S. McNamara), Morris’ latest is centered on the larger-than-life personality and misadventures of Joyce McKinney, a former Miss Wyoming turned tabloid (and, depending who you believe, bondage) queen.  “Before there was Paris, Lindsay or Britney…there was Joyce,” the gnome informed the packed house at the Paramount movie palace before the screening.  Yet unlike the celebutards of today, McKinney herself is a fascinating interview subject and her story — of true love (and/or delusional obsession), attempted cult de-programming (and/or kidnapping) and Mormon magic underwear — is actually worth telling (if not always believing).

But you can always spot the really big ticket screenings at SXSW when security breaks out the night-vision goggles at the Paramount to nab would-be iPhone movie pirates, as was the case with Sundance fave Win Win by Thomas McCarthy (known for his onscreen role as a weasly reporter in The Wire and his behind-the-camera work as director of beloved indie warmedies The Station Agent and The Visitor).  As with his previous films, McCarthy again brings together a likable cast of misfits for a bit of low-wattage laughing and learning.  This time around, Paul Giamatti schlubs it up as a cash-strapped small town lawyer and part-time high school wrestling coach who becomes a father figure to a troubled young athlete, played by charming, deadpan newcomer (and actual 2010 New Jersey state wrestling champ) Alex Shaffer. 

In the Q&A after the well-received screening, McCarthy said he wrote his script with Giamatti and co-stars Amy Ryan and Bobby Cannavale in mind, which helps to explain the talented cast’s easy chemistry throughout.  But easy can be a double-edged sword, as well, resulting in a funny but pat “indie” comedy as formulaic as any big studio rom-com.

And speaking of Hollywood players in Texas, stay tuned for Nerve’s ongoing SXSW coverage as we go on a Beaver hunt for Jodie Foster and Mel Gibson’s upcoming tale of heavy breathing and hand puppets!

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