SXSW Film Review: Run This Town (Ricky Tollman, 2019)

Posted on by Gary in Everything, Reviews | Leave a comment

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Run This Town is a re-enactment (or re-imagining) of the “fall from grace” of former Toronto mayor Rob Ford. From a journalists’ perspective, it is not quite the Spotlight scoop. Smoking crack is nowhere near as emotionally hard-hitting, socially explosive, nor satanically intricate as the Catholic Church’s cover up. Plus, everyone knows the ending now. So from a filmmaker’s point of view, why was this a good subject?

The film didn’t have a solid or novel reply. That lack of confidence hampered it from going beyond where typical news reporting had been years ago. While Run This Town is effective, it is not long-lastingly interesting. This was also reflected in subtle presentation choices. The split panel window graphics weren’t always used to the full advantage to create tension of a simultaneous event, nor a cubist way of looking at the same feature from multiple angles. It was just there sometimes to give a chicness the film needs to fit in a 2019 climate.

What made me feel a little sad for this effort is the Molson Canadian message hidden throughout the film. From the subject itself to the insecure millennial trope right at the end: to constantly remind ourselves of a “civic duty” to be second-class at every level, to always be late to the party and content with the consolation prize that signifies some deficiency. Rob Ford’s scandal does embarrass; “but for Gods sake, we can’t even hide a scandal properly, even against a second-rate journalist”. It isn’t just tiring – it’s self-defeatist – and not even remotely true of Canada or Toronto. The “fuck you police officer” scene with supposed resonance with #MeToo is such a misstep in terms of its actual impact, it left me double-taking to make sure this was not 1919. As a Chinese saying preaches: the first is genius, the second a copycat, and the third a moron. The fact that people elected Rob’s authoritarian brother to an even darker Premiership may be a side-effect of our ignorance of the preceding years, and our failure to contrast it in the proper light. Next time, please just frame the whole ordeal as the royal real-life buffoonery that it was: Torontonians were fooled into trusting a Jackass bit actor, and were equally clueless in how to cope.

SXSW Film Review: Greener Grass (Jocelyn DeBoer, Dawn Luebbe, 2019)

Posted on by Gary in Reviews, South By Southwest | Leave a comment

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Greener Grass is completely brilliant at what it does. There aren’t many other ways to get this across without spoiling the film. The brainchild (brainchildren?) of directors and actresses Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe has a loose story, but Greener Grass is really an experience brewed from the organic roasted snapshots of suburbia. An absurdist satire on hyper-politeness marinated with envy that so permeates our, and in bold emphasis, white American society.

To give you a scenario that stabs at reality as the film opens: the protagonist trades away her newborn baby based on a comment, and finds her other son transformed into a dog. But of course from there the situations become ever more perverse. Even though everything is clearly caving in around the protagonist, she and her cohort remain hopelessly entrenched in a fixed role, far beyond rescue. And perhaps in a sick, metaphysical way, they ARE the boundaries: it is physically impossible to step out of bounds no matter how poignant the reminder, or however hard they try.

Even in the Q&A after the film, I wasn’t sure if the directors were completely out of character yet. The over eagerness belies some type of dysfunction that you just know isn’t normal nor wholesome. As George Carlin used to point out about one American aphorism: how can anyone be “more than happy”? Perhaps more pressingly: what happens to your life if you must always be happy? It is the symptom of the Facebook and Instagram generation (regardless of age), cheapening our values into superficial facades that you can rent, buy, sell and promote. Greener Grass doesn’t pretend it has a reply, or a solution. But it does paint a 70 foot tall picture of that farce so one cannot fail to see the laughable and meaningless corners we drive ourselves into.

SXSW Food Reviews: Uchi, Franklin, and more

Posted on by Ricky in Everything, South By Southwest | Leave a comment

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Here we go:

Franklin

First of all, did you know you can pre-order from Franklin? This will save you time. You will need to order a few weeks before SXSW and you will need to order a minimum of 5 pounds of meat so plan accordingly.

Franklin is the holy grail for BBQ. It’s considered the best and the lineups reflect this. Luckily we pre-ordered and we got the following:

2 pounds of brisket
2 pounds of ribs
1 pound of sausage (yields 6)

As expected, the food was phenomenal. It also came with onions, bread and pickles as you expect.

The brisket had a nice ratio of fat and meat that melts in your mouth and the bark was super tasty with a peppery mix of spice. Brisket is king at BBQ and Franklin is definitely among the best I’ve had.

The ribs were also awesome with a similar spice rub and the expected fall off the bone goodness. The sausage was tasty but a distant third on the taste meter.

Considering the absurd lineup for Franklin, the real question is … is it that much better then other places like La Barbecue to warrant the wait? I’m not sure. Top BBQ is top BBQ and I’m not sure the small percentage improvement is worth the wait.

However, if you do go to only one place, it’s definitely Franklin.

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Uchi

Uchi has been on my Austin Eat list for many years. However, being on South Lamar, its not exactly that close to everything else at SXSW. This year I decided to make the journey and boy, am I glad I did.

We chose an unofficial omakase, where the chef recommended some dishes for us based off our feelings.

What’s nice about Uchi was that it seems to blend Japanese food with some slight twists. For a lot of the cold dishes, raw fish was paired with a heavy use of citrus, which was a newer experience. Another dish paired the fish with candied quinoa.

Aside from the fusion dishes, the fish quality was amazing for a landlocked city. The uni, toro and other sushi pieces we had tasted next level.

The karaage came out with a strong smell, as a result of fish paste usage but tasted delicious

All in all, a delicious time. With drinks it came out to about 100 USD per person, so budget accordingly

Shorter reviews:

Pueblo Vieja – Best breakfast tacos within walking distance of ACC, hands down. The Taco Bueno is especially tasty with its mix of chorizo, cheese and potatoes. Ask for the corn tortillas, as they provide a nice texture when heated up and crisp.

Kemuri Tatsu-Ya – I think I have to go to this place every year now. Its combination of Texas BBQ meets Japanese food is so unique and so tasty, it’s impossible to ignore. The smoked fish collar is a stunner and the BBQ brisket tsukemon is out of the world. One of my favourite place to eat anywhere.

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Suerte – Refined Mexican inspired food that served us an amazing cauliflower taco. This is definitely fancy in terms of Tacos, and even serves you a crazy Uni dish inside an actual dead sea urchin. You can even take that sea urchin shell home if your name is Gary.

Matt’s El Rancho – A highly rated Tex Mex place in South Lamar. I find Tex-Mex food to be only okay at best, but this place was definitely okay. It had a lively atmosphere and was very cheap. You can easily stuff yourself with queso, enchiladas and stuffed peppers here at a reasonable cost. Quality is also only okay.

SXSW Review: Laura Jane Grace, Big Phony, Graham Coxon, March 15, Central Presbyterian Church

Posted on by Gary in South By Southwest | Leave a comment

Laura Jane Grace
Laura Jane Grace
Taking a break from Against Me!, Chicago native Laura Jane Grace played a few shows around Austin in support of Bought To Rot, her latest and first with new backing band The Devouring Mothers. She also performed here solo, without backing from The Devouring Mothers, and I can see why.

Her voice is bright, solid but not overwhelming. Angry and cathartic when she shouts, it felt as though she could take on the cavernous space regardless of the mic. Or maybe she was thinking for those poor Dickensian-looking hipster children in Austin who will be eaten as TDM runs free.

I found “The Airplane Song” very good, and same with “The Apology Song“. Sure, those titles aren’t creative, but it doesn’t matter when the contents are heartfelt. She did include at least one Against Me! number: “Cavalier Eternal”, which is so light it doesn’t seem possible for it to carry the lyrics. I came away from the concert convinced that “The Best Ever Death Metal Band” should have chosen “Hospital Bombers” for their name – after all, they’ve already uttered the diametrically unthinkable in a church.  

Big PhonyBig Phony
AKA Big Tony or Pony in Korea, NYC born Big Phony now lives in Seoul with his gravely voice and a lonely guitar. “My job is to bum you out – otherwise I’m not doing it properly”, he declared as soon as he finished MacGyver and it was opportune to speak. And Gods were we bummed out.

The guitar playing is less strumming and more classical. Most other songs are a type of lamentation meditation. Songs like Shoot the Shit (“this song isn’t that sad but it is about my dead father who passed in my teens”) speaks to the pains of disconnecting with family, but are never resolved except for a relieving note. And the beats are quite odd. He talks so much, half way through starting a song he would pause and drift onto another train of thought (but I secretly do admire his set for the honesty). Gods I hated this set, and I hate Big Phony just as he instructed me to.

Graham Coxon
Graham Coxon
When one shares a spot on a BBC list with Billy Corgan, Jack White, and Prince; one does not claim to “not know how to play the guitar to save one’s life”. But Graham Coxon did just that, I think as a perfectionist. The Blur guitarist has a voice that is quite distinctively, unmistakably English. And to be fair, that voice layers a British Morbid Dark (find it at your local Sherwin Williams) on more serious numbers.

“Latte” (not “Coffee and TV”) was pretty cute – with a fun chord that I bet would be difficult for me to do in the next life. Actually there are multiple instances of that slider type of chord – and I’m just mentally finishing it. “All Over Me” was one of the highlights for me, as well as “Sorrow’s Army” (I can’t stop hearing Sauron’s Army).

Coxon made use of the looper on quite a few occasions, and it was fun to see the layers like a tiramisu constructed right in front of you. Watching him employ huge glasses to read an equally huge book for chords and lyrics did remind me of my age, however.

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