'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone' – This Is Not a Review

Celebrities and other people you don't know: Live and in-person.

These are the famous people you've heard about: (l-r) Steve Carell, Olivia Wilde, Jim Carrey
These are the famous people you've heard about: (l-r) Steve Carell, Olivia Wilde, Jim Carrey (photo by Gary Miller)

Where else to begin an event recap other than standing in line?

Which is where I am, number 423 in line at the Paramount Theatre, to see this new comedy about a famous stage magician who's let success go to his head in a campy and spectacularly bad way. The film, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, stars Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, Jim Carrey, Alan Arkin, and James Gandolfini.

This is the opening film of the SXSW 2013 Film Festival. This is where, in the theatre, right before the screening starts, the director Don Scardino – and actors Carell and Wilde and Carrey – will walk onstage to say a few introductory remarks. And Carrey will briefly, comically, flex his tonsils in song.

But right now, hold on, we're still in line, a line that snakes around the block in which the Paramount resides, a line that snakes around and then – Get me, I'm Ouroboros! – doubles back as if to present a tail for its own reptilian maw to engulf. I'm in the snake's doubled-back tail. And almost directly across from me, in the earlier section of the line, the mid-section of this snake, is a man with a platinum badge and a big camera. I notice this man because he's just leaned toward me and said "Hey, Brenner!"

Ah: It's Claudio Fox, local improviser and, right now, SXSW photography volunteer. He's a Facebook friend and he's a funny man and he says: "You want me to save you a seat? Here, lemme send you my number."

He sends me his number, with the idea of calling me once he's inside – this is like a heist, right? – and letting me know where he and the saved seat are. And Claudio and I chat a little – via Facebook and SMS – even though we're no more than two feet apart. Because it's like telepathy that way: You're surrounded by people and you're having a conversation with someone, and no one but you and the co-conversant know it.


It's the kind of magic that SXSW Interactive is all about, though, and not the kind of magic that the likes of Alexander Herrmann and Sebastian Topflyte and Harry Houdini purveyed back in the day – and that the titular Burt Wonderstone will soon be performing onscreen.

Now I'm finally inside the Paramount Theatre, sitting next to Claudio Fox, and the place is packed, filled to capacity to witness this film, to see if it's actually as funny as it would like to think it is. And I'm looking up at the ceiling directly above the stage, where the hole is. The Houdini hole, I've been told during previous Paramount visits. Because the Paramount Theatre is sufficiently old and venerable that Houdini himself performed there in the early 1900s, and supposedly the acclaimed escapist was demonstrating the veracity of a pistol's ammunition when he, oops, shot a fucking hole right in the ceiling of the joint.

(Next time you're there, go ahead: Look up and find that hole.
And tell me what you believe.)

But never mind the hole right now. We're here to see a movie. We're here to see the actors of the movie introduce that movie, live and in-person, and then to see them do a little Q&A action after the movie's over. But they're not just actors – and this isn't a review, but I'm going to tell you that these actors did a terrific job, that they totally sold what was already a funny, inspired-goofball of a film – no, these actors are also celebrities.

Oh, look, there's that Steve Carell! There's Jim Carrey! We know these guys! These guys are no small part of our pop culture, of course we know them!

But most of us don't know them, really, have never even met them – any more than we've met Houdini – who we also know, though he died before most of us were born.

And I'm sitting next to Claudio Fox, who saved a seat for me, who I do know – but only through Facebook. And I've already said thanks to the man, but I should say something more, too, because his wit's had me clicking *like* on almost every goddam comment or post he makes. And I remember: Oh, right, he was dealing with something healthwise a while ago. Something worse than the flu, something, oh fuck, I don't know, so many things streaming by in the news feed, so many things scanned sans context, what the hell was it again?

"So how are you doing lately?" I say to Claudio. "Weren't you dealing with some, like, health issues a while ago?"

"Yeah," says Claudio, matter-of-factly, "testicular cancer."

"Oh," I say stupidly, "um, right. Whoa."

And Claudio tells me that the docs had to remove his left one, but that they got all the cancer, and that the follow-up tests have looked good, and so on.

"Did they, uh, give you seven Tour-de-France medals to go along with the operation?" I ask, trying to be as light about the situation as Claudio's being. And I forget what his clever Lance Armstrong reply was, because, oh – here come the filmmakers to introduce the film.

At some point Jim Carrey, expressing his joy at being in the ATX, tells the audience "Austin is like a beautiful woman, and I just wanna take advantage of her." Which statement I dutifully tweet – to the delight of several and the disdain of a few. Because the statement is "problematic," as my friend Julie Gillis tells me in her immediately tweeted response. Especially problematic on International Women's Day. And, you know –

But now here's the movie. And this isn't a review.
And this blogpost that started in a line is supposed to end with highlights of the Q&A session: I learn this anew after searching my old emails in the men's room at the Hideout Theatre down the block.

I've searched my old emails because I want to see what my deadline is for this thing. I'm in the Hideout down the block because, well, ah, listen:

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone was terrific. It was, specifically, good enough to distract me – until near the end – from the pressure that the many cups of coffee I'd guzzled earlier was exerting on my bladder. (It wasn't that the movie tanked near the end; it was that my bladder, by a certain point, began to consider going nova.) So as soon as Wonderstone was over, before the Q&A started, I bid Claudio adieu and I nonchalantly bolted for the Paramount restrooms. Which had lines almost out the door. And, brothers and sisters, I really needed to go.

Figuring it would do little good to point toward the already manned urinals and imperiously proclaim "I needs must void my bladder!" – as if the crowd of similarly suffering men would part due to such pseudo-Asgardian command – I instead turned and left the Paramount and scurried like a ruptured weasel to a familiar and nearby joint where I figured the men's room would be empty.

Which – thank you very much, Hideout Theatre – it was.

But, checking my deadline and seeing that I was also supposed to have covered the Q&A portion of the event, my physical relief was simultaneously matched and overshadowed by a sense of journalistic failure. Not dire failure, no. But still something I would prefer to have done successfully.

And so: Mea culpa, readers. Mea culpa, editor Riese. I can't tell you what those celebrities said about the wacky comedy they did such a fine job creating. But I can tell you that the event ran smoothly, that the audience and everybody else seemed to have one hell of a good time. I can tell you that I didn't stain my britches with Brenner-filtered coffee. And I can tell you that the cancer that was threatening one of our citizens – a funny and decent man named Claudio Fox, who's working his shutterbugging skills off as a SXSW volunteer this weekend – that cancer has vanished like a monster in some mad conjuror's trick cabinet.

Yeah: Magic.

Right here in Austin, Texas.

Keep up with all our SXSW coverage at austinchronicle.com/sxsw.

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SXSW, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, SXSW Film, Don Scardino, Paramount Theatre, Claudio Fox, Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Jim Carrey, Olivia Wilde, Houdini Hole

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