Best of the (Would Be) Fest – SXSW 2020

March 30, 2020 by  
Filed under CineBlog

On March 6th, 2020, the City of Austin decided that for the first time in 34 years, SXSW would be cancelled and shut down due to concerns and impending threat of Coronavirus. Though absolutely, unquestionably and 100% the right call, there was a lot of debate, concern and unrest amongst many attendees and those who had films set to premiere. When March 13th rolled around and all sport leagues and many public events had been shut down, it would have been nearly impossible to imagine SXSW having continued.

In the wake of the cancellation, hundreds of feature narrative films, documentaries, short films, music videos and more had their premieres or spotlight screenings cancelled. With other festivals cancelled along with it, the future of these films is somewhat up in the air. As a sign of support, and to spotlight the best of the fest, these are the four best films we were able to see prior to cancellation. Be sure to watch for them in your local festival or future release.

Feels Good Man

Many people know “Pepe the Frog” for what it ultimately became, a symbol of white supremacism and the alt-right. But how many people know of its origins as a funny cartoon character from illustrator and writer Matt Furie? “Feels Good Man” aims to tell the story of Furie, a mild-mannered and talented cartoonist and how the internet ultimately took ownership of the character. The footage is fascinating, watching Furie helplessly grasp with his creation becoming the internet’s most omnipresent meme before being weaponized into a symbol of hate. The film does a really great job of showing the darkest parts of the internet with some truly disturbing motivations and talking heads. The most powerful parts, however, are seeing how powerless Furie is to it all. His initial attempts to “take back” the character are futile and backfire as he can’t match up against the sweeping power of his own creation. Though the film certainly delves into heavy territory, it strikes a nice balance of levity with animations of Pepe brought to life and the laid-back subtle funny presence of Furie. The best scenes of the movie, in fact, are montage clips juxtaposing depositions between Furie and famed blowhard Alex Jones during a copyright infringement suit. It’s difficult to call “Feels Good Man” a cautionary tale, as Furie did absolutely nothing wrong. It is, however, a stirring insight into meme culture and how the runaway wildfire nature of the internet can take anything, shift its meaning and steal creations, no matter what initial intentions were. As it stands, “Feels Good Man” was the best film of SXSW’s programming I was able to see this year. 

I Used To Go Here

As the only narrative film of the bunch, “I Used To Go Here” takes a simple premise of a writer returning to her alma mater to do a speaking engagement, and creates a fun, meditative and memorable film out of it. The film features a great cast, with Gillian Jacobs leading the way as Kate, the aforementioned writer. While the premise may be familiar, director Kris Rey is able to keep the film fresh with a keen eye on living up to expectations and the existential threat of being surpassed by a younger generation. The humor of the film is accentuated by the dry sarcastic wit of Kate’s mentor, David (played by Jemaine Clement) and some fun peripheral characters, especially in the case of a silly, but very funny late film subplot with a character named Tall Brandon. The emotional core of the film, however, hinges on a connection between Jacobs’ Kate and the much younger college student Hugo, played by a charming Josh Wiggins. It’s a decision and subplot that could have very easily gone off the rails, but the chemistry between Jacobs and Wiggins feels extremely authentic and believable, a testament to both performances. Despite a confounding and abrupt final scene, “I Used To Go Here” is a fun and energetic showcase for Jacobs. Thematic elements of squandered potential and self-exploration keep the film humorous and grounded, even when the narrative threatens to go the other way. 

Finding Yingying

On June 9th, 2017, a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign student named Yingying Zhang disappeared. As a student from China, Zhang had been experiencing something of culture shock, getting used to being in America after living in China her whole life. Though details of the events later came to light, “Finding Yingying” serves as both an exploration of the case, a celebration of Zhang, and a cautionary tale. Winning the jury special award for breakthrough voice at SXSW, director Jiayan “Jenny” Shi utilizes Zhang’s diary to illustrate the struggles she had assimilating to culture, while also illustrating the bright, positive, and warm attitude and zest for life that Zhang so clearly possessed. While the details of the case naturally give the film a true crime feel, it is Shi’s access that makes the footage truly transcendent. Shi spends much time with Zhang’s parents, fiance and other family members, shooting footage as the search for Zhang continues. We see her father leave China for the first time to search for his daughter. We see her fiance, speak to students at the school at a rally, begging for her return. Through this, we also see the strain of Zhang’s disappearance on her parents. As a fly on the wall, the camera catches intense, passionate arguments of a family struggling to keep the pieces intact. It can sometimes be difficult to watch a family experience such pain, but Shi does an excellent job of keeping an empathetic voice. As the film wraps up and the audience learns the chilling fate of Zhang, a question emerges of safety of the uninitiated by way of entering different cultures and countries. Shi allows that to be a meditative question to ponder, which certainly makes sense, as this is a story that lingers. 

An Elephant in the Room

As the Jury Award winner for documentary feature, “An Elephant in the Room” is a powerful film focusing on the Good Grief support group program in New Jersey. What makes “An Elephant in the Room” so unique is that it features no talking heads or narration from adults and is entirely through the eyes of the children who have suffered unimaginable loss. As we follow the lives of several children, we learn a little bit about their grief and how they are processing it. It is clear that some children know more details than others and while it’s sometimes unclear on the circumstances of their loss, when one child states that his father “took bad medicine,” it’s a gut punch of a realization. The resiliency of children is an endlessly fascinating topic and “An Elephant in the Room” explores it with great care and empathy without ever resembling anything close to exploitation. While there is some footage at the center and in the groups, the best footage comes from seeing these children interact in their homes with surviving family members, oftentimes sharing their stories, grappling with the permanence of death and adjusting to their new normal. Though it is by design, and effective in some ways, the film could have certainly benefited from a little more structure rather than taking a verite approach. Still, “An Elephant in the Room” is a heart-wrenching and wholly empathic dive into the resiliency of children in the face of loss. 

Ep. 154 – Onward, The Way Back, and the unprecedented cancellation of SXSW

March 8, 2020 by  
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This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review Pixar’s latest “Onward,” the Ben Affleck redemption drama “The Way Back,” and discuss the City of Austin cancelling South by Southwest over coronavirus concerns.

Click here to download the episode!

Ep. 125 – Aladdin, Booksmart, and a recap of the San Antonio Symphony’s John Williams concert

May 28, 2019 by  
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This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review the live-action “Aladdin,” Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut “Booksmart,” and Cody discusses his experience at the San Antonio Symphony’s performance of John Williams classics.

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Bonus Episode 15: Ralph Macchio, William Zabka, Martin Kove, Hayden Schlossberg, Josh Heald and Jon Hurwitz of “Cobra Kai”

April 24, 2019 by  
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In this bonus episode of The CineSnob Podcast, Jerrod chats with the cast and creators of the YouTube Premium series “Cobra Kai” ahead of the premiere of season 2 at SXSW in Austin last month.

The conversation on the sophomore season of the “Karate Kid” sequel features stars Ralph Macchio, William Zabka, and Martin Kove, along with creators Hayden Schlossberg, Josh Heald and Jon Hurwitz.

All episodes of season 1 and 2 of “Cobra Kai” are now streaming on YouTube Premium.

Click here to download the episode!

Ep. 121 – Us, and a quick recap of SXSW

March 25, 2019 by  
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This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review the latest from Jordan Peele, “Us,” and the fellows talk about their time at South by Southwest.

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Ep. 120 – Captain Marvel, Leaving Neverland

March 9, 2019 by  
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This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review the 21st Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, and first with a female lead, “Captain Marvel.” They also take a deep dive into the HBO documentary “Leaving Neverland” and what it means for the legacy of a dead entertainer now considered monstrous by part of the populace.

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Bonus Episode 13: The Disaster Artist with Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell

December 5, 2017 by  
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It’s a very special “The Disaster Artist” themed bonus episode of The CineSnob Podcast. First up, Cody and Jerrod talk to friend of the show Greg Sestero as he returns to catch us up on the past 2 years of seeing his memoir about the making of “The Room” turned into a major motion picture.

Next, the boys talk with co-author of the book Tom Bissell about how he stumbled upon “The Room,” exploring Tommy Wiseau’s past, and how he helped Greg tell the story of his friendship with Tommy.

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Ep. 103 – Top 5 movies of the year so far, home video reviews of The Circle, Unforgettable, and Kong: Skull Island, and a preview of Fathom Events this week

August 14, 2017 by  
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This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod run down their top 5 movies of 2017 so far. They also preview a pair of Fathom Events, “Batman and Harley Quinn” and “Rifftrax Live – Doctor Who: The Five Doctors,” and Cody reviews home video releases for “The Circle,” “Unforgettable,” and “Kong: Skull Island.”

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Ep. 101 – Spider-Man: Homecoming, The Big Sick, Baby Driver, Blu-ray released for 3 Generations and The LEGO Batman Movie, and a recap of Jaws on the Water

July 10, 2017 by  
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This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review Spider-Man: Homecoming, The Big Sick, Baby Driver, new home video releases for 3 Generations and The LEGO Batman Movie, and talk about the experience that is Jaws on the Water.

[00:00-17:51] Intro/birthday meals/Jaws on the Water

[17:51-31:40] Review – Spider-Man: Homecoming

[31:40-44:44] Review –  The Big Sick

[44:44-56:34] Review – Baby Driver

[56:34-1:12:43] No Ticket Required: 3 Generations and The LEGO Batman Movie

[1:12:43-1:18:10] Wrap up/tease

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Ep. 97 – Beauty and the Beast, Kong: Skull Island, and our full SXSW recap

March 20, 2017 by  
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This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review “Beauty and the Beast,” circle back to pick up “Kong: Skull Island” from last week, and give their full SXSW recap, including quick reviews of “The Disaster Artist,” “Baby Driver,” and “Mr. Roosevelt.”

[00:00-42:53] Intro/SXSW recap

[42:53-56:37] Review: “Beauty and the Beast”

[56:37-1:06:30] Review: “Kong: Skull Island”

[1:06:30-1:10:20] Wrap up/tease

Click here to download the episode!

Ep. 78 – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, SXSW recap, and how free McDonald’s turned into a frustrating ordeal

March 27, 2016 by  
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In this latest episode of the too-infrequent CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod discuss the unavoidable “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” They also recap their time at SXSW 2016 and talk about the most frustrating free McDonald’s food they didn’t even get to eat.

[00:00 – 32:51] Intro/SXSW recap

[32:51 – 1:07:22] “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” review

[1:07:22 – 1:12:50] Wrap up/tease

Click here to download the episode!

SXSW 2016 Review – Gleason

March 20, 2016 by  
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Directed by: Clay Tweel

There is something about documentaries that chronicle, and in many cases, challenge the human spirit and push it to its brink that lead them to be the most affecting movie experiences possible. It’s visceral, emotional, and in the best cases, put you through the ringer leaving you a better person for having experienced and sat with it. This may sound hyperbolic, but one viewing of Clay Tweel’s documentary “Gleason” and you’ll understand that these descriptors and an understatement.

Shortly after retiring from the NFL, New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason is diagnosed with ALS. Even more impactful is Steve’s wife has just found out that she is pregnant with their first Child. Unsure of when he will lose the ability to communicate (and trying to treat the disease itself), Gleason sets out to make videos for his son to teach him everything he can before he loses the ability to speak.

Make no mistake: “Gleason” is a tough watch. Him and his family go through a lot of intense emotions and grieve the life and person he experienced as used to be. It isn’t an easy road for Gleason either as he struggles to adjust to his faculties which he loses bits of daily. But beyond all of this, Steve’s purpose becomes renewed. His focus shifts to helping others in his situation and he becomes influential in ways he may not have imagined.

There’s an immense amount of footage here that is artfully and carefully strung together for a cohesive narrative. There are some awful things that maintain levity by the Gleason’s who are a funny bunch and will go for a laugh even in a dark, difficult moment. (Steve’s line when he is having a bathroom issue is laugh out loud hilarious). It’s a brave thing to let a camera crew into your life. It’s even braver when it is during the most trying time this family has likely ever had.

Tears are almost certain to be shed, and while It may not always be the easiest thing to watch, “Gleason” is one of the most profoundly moving film experiences of the year thus far. It shows a man faced with unbelievable tragedy, moving forward for the sake of his wife, his children, his family, and a population of people who see him as a role model. It’s one of the years first must watch films and one to look out for come award season.

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