SXSW Recap: Days 1 and 2
Rain has made Austinites grumpy, or maybe those were just the out of towners. An old Fantastic Fest friend totally hooked up me up with an umbrella in line for an hour, probably saved my life for the entire week. Rain or shine, I’m going to movies and here’s the first days’ slate.
The Broken Lizard guys made a sperm bank comedy that’s technically not Broken Lizard Presents but feels like it could be. Tommy (Paul Schneider) and Audrey (Olivia Munn) can’t get pregnant, but Tommy donated sperm to pay for her engagement ring years ago. So figuring the sperm that bank accepted is still good, he tries to get it back. This is a really silly, immature, dirty comedy and I hate to use the cliché “with a little heart,” but it does have enough of a real relationship as a backbone. The guys all make really juvenile sex jokes but they seem to love women, so it’s not “men are like this, women are like that, they’ll never get along!” They’re even sensitive to a gay couple, but also let them be funny. We have seen this before but it’s better than most. The elaborate misunderstandings are well intentioned, not idiotic. There’s schtick but it’s good schtick. Kevin Heffernan’s pratfall is a comic money shot and “man gets hit in nuts” is never not funny.
Nature Calls is an aggressive crazy comedy packed with layers of jokes. Randy (Patton Oswalt) is an ultra sincere boy scout troop leader who really wants to give the kids a rewarding outdoor experience. Kirk (Johnny Knoxville) is his modern brother, a total A-hole who overindulges in technology, like 6 or more TVs playing simultaneously. When Randy takes the kids camping without permission, Kirk and his buddies chase after them. What ensues hearkens back to the Griswolds trying too hard to have fun and the disaster is hilarious. Both characters are so passionately committed to pro and against boy scouts, and the kids are endearing. They’re like real boys in that they like violence, profanity and any hint of sex, but not precocious or annoying. Rob Riggle plays a blatantly sexist character. It’s just so extreme it avoids the Hollywood trap of emasculating comedy. Then it goes dark. It’s great comedy chaos where previously set up jokes pay off and grown men just being stupid. You know, like comedians are supposed to, but too many fall into the vanity trap.
This movie wants to be quirky but it’s just repulsive and unpleasant. Franklin Franklin (Matt Lucas) killed his landlord (Peter Stormare), so has to dispose of the body while receiving audio cassettes and toenail clippings from his institutionalized brother (James Marsden) in the mail. Dolph Lundgren plays a self-help author, Juno Temple an aspiring stripper Franklin watches through the window. She’s adorable and Billy Crystal plays an investigator who seems intelligent. Johnny Knoxville plays an emo glam rock looking pothead. I like weird but Franklin is just loud and gross. He likes to blow a Swiss horn like the Ricola commercials. His bald, hairless, stretch marked body in nothing but briefs is not endearing. It’s just not normal. Characters can make bad decisions but they have to at least think they’ll gain something. Franklin isn’t even trying so he’s disgusting. He’s not even Asperger’s. He’s just being difficult on purpose, giving a hospital receptionist unhelpful information and making noise. It’s not quite shrim from Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie but it’s unpleasant. Then the film tries to play sympathy in the most lazy, sleazy way. This one will not get the good festival buzz.
I think they pronounced it “Tall-uh” in the film but it’s Thale. This is the first Norwegian film I have not liked. Actually, it’s the first Norwegian film I have not loved, but I didn’t even like it. Dead body clean-up crew Leo (Jon Sigve Skard) and Elvis (Erland Nervold) stumble on a live girl (Silje Reinamo) in a bathtub. Through recordings left behind by the deceased they learn where she came from. Even though they’re building a mythology and establishing characters, said characters and situations aren’t compelling enough. Leo has cancer and Elvis has a daughter but all they do is watch Thale slurp canned food. Mind you, I would watch Thale eat for hours too, but they keep cutting back to the guys. Reinamo is quite good and there are some beautiful shots of her body, sexy and tasteful as she awkwardly takes in her surroundings. The end comes together and it’s well made and photographed, so it’s not horrible but I just wasn’t into it.
Wonder Women: The Untold Story of American Superheroines
This documentary traces the cultural journey of feminism through action heroines. It touches on the political movements too as background, but it’s really about how Wonder Woman ushered in the female superhero, and goes through Ripley, Sarah Connor, Thelma, Louise, Buffy and Bond girls. Some of the film’s subjects are big gets like Gloria Steinem and Lynda Carter. Others are scholars and real life inspirations, moms and little girls. At 65 minutes, the film doesn’t go too deep but also doesn’t overstep. Die-hard fans probably know a lot of this but there was plenty I didn’t know about, like the debt we owe to Steinem for saving Wonder Woman from DC themselves. I knew a little bit about the sanitized ‘50s comics but not that she opened a clothing boutique! In the real world, Wonder Woman went through the feminist movement, pro-war propaganda, the television show we all know, and just plain obscurity. One aspect that really stuck out to me was a scholar who did a study of current action heroines, and found that even the ones we admire are problematic. I’d like to see her full report. Maybe on the DVD.