SXSW Film Festival Day 2: ‘Super’ and ‘Being Elmo’


Film festivals are essentially a collection of films you’ve never heard of, and will probably not get the chance to see unless you live in L.A. or New York. But, now with Netflix and iTunes, films are so much more accessible to us peasants. So, I see festival coverage as, “Hey! You probably won’t get to see this in the theater, but it’s good, so when it pops up on the instant queue you should watch it”.

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey is one such film. It created buzz at Sundance and will undoubtedly continue to do so as it makes its way through the festival circuit. This doc had all the warm fuzzies (I couldn’t think of a way around that) usually reserved for the inspirational sports genre. The puppeteer, Kevin Clash, has a similar story. Just a kid from Baltimore who was fascinated by the likes of Jim Henson and Captain Kangaroo, he started making puppets out of materials he found around his house. From there, his story is of passion and drive, mixed with some serious good fortune.

It was funny being in a theater of 600-plus people, average age being somewhere in the mid-30s, and everyone becoming giddy whenever Elmo was on screen. Have to admit, I was crying within the first two minutes. Clash took over the character of Elmo from another puppeteer on Sesame Street and when he did, he said he thought it was important to come up with what Elmo was. “Love” was the simple answer. Cue waterworks.

There’s really not much more to say, this is a fantastic documentary, and you should see it as soon as possible.

I also saw Super today, which was probably not the best pairing of films. In the morning I attended a panel with the writer/director James Gunn (Slither) and The Office’s Rainn Wilson. Admittedly, the only reason I attended was that I am a huge fan of Ellen Page, who ended up getting stuck at the airport and didn’t make the panel. It was a good bait and switch to get me there though and I am very glad I went.

Rainn Wilson is as hilarious in person as you would hope and dream he would be. During the panel, when he seemed to be becoming uncomfortable with all the attention, he called Ellen and put her on speaker (only telling her 1,000 people were listening at the end). Later he started rambling off (“Giraffe, face pizza, gonorrhea!”) and watched as the sign language translator struggled to keep up. Another time he stopped mid sentence, went into full on Dwight mode to harass the guy who got up to leave (Hey! You! Got something better to do buddy? We don’t need you!). My favorite moment though was when he again, stopped mid sentence, pulled out his iPhone and said, “Hold on…I gotta Tweet this shit”.

It is impossible to not compare Super to Kick-Ass. Both are movies about super heroes without super powers. Gunn was asked to address that during the panel and he said you can only make that comparison before you’ve seen the movie (“because they’re not the same movie…”). Actually, I’ve now seen the movie and will in fact still compare the two for you. Super is a more violent (No, really…brains splatter and innards ooze), more derogatory and brazen version of Kick-Ass. Gunn said it took nine years to get the film made because Hollywood only wants to fund movies that appeal to everyone. I feel that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it is true that Gunn has managed to make a film that has a smaller target audience than even Scott Pilgrim had.

Super tries to take itself seriously more times than you’d expect and that’s where it gets awkward. The ludicrousness of Rainn Wilson bashing people’s heads in with a pipe wrench will turn suddenly and ask you to be serious as his character is on a mission to save his wife (Liv Tyler) from Kevin Bacon’s coke dealing villain. Wilson carries himself extremely well in both the silly and the serious, but they just don’t quite meld together.

Ellen Page is magnificent and the best part of the movie without question. A bit of a departure from her typical “wise beyond her years” character here, she plays Libby, the kid side-kick, a completely unstable immature lunatic. I say, “a bit” of a departure because it is still Ellen Page and she can’t help but insert her charisma into whatever character she plays. The movie is at its best when she is on screen and struggles when she’s not.

If Super was on your radar, then it’s probably safe to say you are in the four percent that it was made for. And you will more than likely have yourself a grand ol’ time.