Everything

Hot Docs Review: Kifaru (David Hambridge, 2019)

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

Kifaru_5

By 1971, the giant tortoise population on the Galapagos island of Pinta had been so decimated by a combination of poaching and invasive rodents (also brought on by humans), that only a single male tortoise was known to us. 40 years later when he finally died unceremoniously at the age of 101 inside a pen, Lonesome George was still the last known Pinta Island tortoise. And so, one of many millions of evolutionary experiments on our planet, though likely several million years in the making, came to an end.

In almost all ways, the story in Kifaru parallels that of Lonesome George in an eerily familiar trajectory. The northern white rhino population has been devastated by poachers looking to turn some outgrowth on the two-tonnes pachyderms into keratinaceous gold, by selling them to superstitious East Asian cretins who confuse toe-nails with miracle cures. While their wild brethren was dying, the handful of captive rhinos in zoos across the planet could not be coerced to reproduce successfully. Long-bloody-story-short, the last one known, named Sudan, died in March 2018, and this is the story of its last days. Told from the point of the view of Sudan’s three keepers, this film is more about the journey than the end. It could hardly be about anything else, when you knew the ending before it began.

One technical complaint that I have with the film is how unusual the camera work is for being constantly out of focus, consistently mis-placing the subject off the center of the frame, which was often very low to the ground. It’s as if the filmmakers wanted to convey the point-of-view of Sudan, with rhino’s notoriously bad eyesight and and stocky build.

No one would be surprised at my confirmation that Kifaru is a plaintive film. But it is also a strangely dignified watch. You feel a righteous anger rising when tourists gleefully pay respect to the last of a species that, but for human disruption, would have continued to be successful. But it would simmer and leave behind shame when you realize that, despite your anger, we are failing to prevent the pulses of many other species from slipping away. As one of the keepers said ruefully: “black rhinos, there are still 5000 of them left…”, implying that we aren’t giving them the same protection as we are Sudan. I don’t argue against the logic that the last of its kind is precious – but how we got to the present hides a truly confounding mystery: what do we love to do when presented with a miracle cure? We study the living-daylights out of it and crucially, we make damn sure we have more. It’s what happened with chickens. Why then are there no Purdue rhino farms or Tyson pangolin hatcheries to keep the miracle well flowing?

The truth is painfully clear: deep-down, EVERYONE, both Sudan’s keepers and Chinese consumers, understands that toenail shavings in traditional medicine is nothing more than placebo. So, so many of us just don’t care, taking a note from a nihilist epitaph: “Nothing saved me. Nothing matters”. We will keep chugging along until the next sad passing, human or otherwise. The dignity and the testament of Sudan, is that Nature doesn’t care, either. Like any evolutionary experiment before or since, one day soon, it will be the last human on Earth struggling to stand on his/her two feet. And it may not mean anything more than that of the last northern white rhino. If we continue to be enslaved by this destructive logic, then we shall go to our deathbeds alone, never understanding how even a rhino could manage to die surrounded by those who know and appreciate his worth.

Kifaru will screen again at the times below. Witness. Or spend the time to do better.
Sunday, 4/28 10:00 AM
Friday, 5/3 4:00 PM

SXSW Review: Yola, March 13, Radio Day Stage

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

Yola

Yola (Carter) has a gift with her voice. It is not only the volume and clarity with which she holds your attention. No, your 8th grade English teacher can do that. It’s the deep connection she has with the audience, and the layered delivery that allows her to pack much emotion into melodies that I would in all likelihood completely disregard had they been sent across the radio.

Working from her debut album, tracks like the eponymous “Walk Through Fire” and “It Ain’t Easier”, for example, are both classic country numbers in my book. If this were to go down as the only country set I visited at SXSW after a decade, then so be it. (But if anyone asks I would still staunchly, in a principled manner, deny ever having been). Coming from a background of gun-for-hire for other bands, Yola’s natural strengths in soul and country really do shine through. Here, hitting notes and harmonies, while important, are secondary to the electric feeling that builds up in the air. It’s like she and Dan Auerbach guard a box (or a cowboy hat) with magic dust and sprinkle it sparingly.

There are some gems in the songwriting as well. There is nothing more “real” than the lyrics which with I nearly laughed my fellow passengers’ heads off on the L:

Nobody moves the way you do
walking ’round the grocery store
Only you know what you’re looking for

What kind of sick and twisted person would double-entendre with your expectations in a longingly expressive love song? The British kind, of course. Other highlights for me were “Shady Grove”, “Still Gone”, and “Faraway Look”.

Check out the video for “Faraway Look” below:

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

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

rob-ford-movie

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 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.

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