vegansaurus!

02/23/2011

Chow Down and All-Star Veggie Panel! It Was Crazy!  »


[Can’t see the video? Watch it at Vegansaurus.com!]

Like I mentioned on Friday, I went to a screening of Chow Down on Saturday. The movie was good; I liked it. It was hokey as fuck with all these cartoons and shenanigans but it was informative and comprehensive despite the scientific subject matter. The film focuses on two men who are faced with surgery for heart disease. Instead of surgery, both men opt to work with Cleveland Clinic doctor Caldwell B. Esselstyn and follow a “plant-based diet.” The results are very impressive; both men hadn’t had a single coronary indecent since changing their lifestyle even though they were told they would die without surgery.

The other aspect of the movie that was very interesting is it really goes into the business of nutrition in America. It has a lot of information about the hold that the milk and dairy lobby has on the USDA and the huge conflict of interest the government organization has when it comes to being a.) responsible for national nutrition recommendations and b.) in charge of promoting American agriculture. The film interviews the woman who created the first food pyramid and even then, the main component of the recommended diet—the bottom of the pyramid—was supposed to be fruits and veggies. The government rejected that and replaced the bottom with good old American grain. Ultimately, the first food pyramid was bagged altogether under pressure from the meat industry. What a tangled web we weave!

Guess what else: it was made by some Philadelphians! I knew the one guy in the movie was Philadelphian as soon as he opened his mouth. Hilarious.

So that’s the movie; it was fine, good even. But THEN! It was time for the Q&A with the all-star panel! This is when things took a turn for the awful. OMG I think I hate vegans! I know, I can’t believe I said that but these people were kooks! And so like cocky and self-promoting! Maybe I’m overreacting; it wasn’t really the panel that got to me, it was more the Q than the A. The panel included Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary; Michael Parrish Dudell of Ecorazzi; Simone Reyes, some chick that’s on Running Russell Simmons (haaa, that was a hilarious inclusion); Victoria Moran, super-author; Alexandra Jamieson, super-author, Top Chef veganizer, and co-star of Super Size Me; and Gary Null, crazy-ass mofo. Also on the panel were Julia Grayer and Gage Johnston, the filmmakers.

I really liked Jamieson and Moran; Dudell was good and I liked him, but he said he would be a strict moderator and ended up being a total nancy. That was the problem: crazy people in the audience kept hijacking the discussion! They would make these barely understandable rants with the only question being like, “What are your thoughts on my rant?” I forgot how much I hate Q&As! I used to go to them for films all the time when my mom worked at the Philly Film Festival. You have these really interesting people there but all you end up hearing all about are the trials and tribulations of various audience members trying to get funding for their own projects. It’s the same with authors: “But how do I get my book published?” Oy! Give me a break.

The crazy audience was only half the problem; the other half? Crazy-ass Gary Null. Oh my god, I did a face-palm whenever he started talking. He’s a complete nut. Like Christopher Walken on crack. He only made sense half the time and he kept talking about getting people to be vegan through spirituality, which just isn’t my bag. The worst was that he was like making sermons with dramatic pauses and bringing in Martin Luther King and crap. And he kept directing his rants at the panel too—who the eff are you to lecture them? If I were the panel, I’d be like, Screw you, bro. And he barely let anyone else talk.

One theme that emerged in the questions was about inclusion and how to unite vegans; THEN at the end, this woman who organized the event came up to speak about this initiative she organized called NYC Goes Vegan. The whole event was supposed to kick off the start of this 21-day challenge. Granted, she was not the most eloquent and she really didn’t promote her initiative very well, BUT! The same people who were talking about uniting vegans and asking what we can do to reach the mainstream started talking straight-up shit on this woman WHILE she was talking! She was a very attractive, model-looking woman and she looked about 26—though she’s actually 38—and made a comment about facing old age and the older women around me like ‘bout had a mutiny! And they were talking trash on her “Valley Girl” speech. Is that how you spell inclusion?! Just petty. I was shocked. I wanted to stop being a vegan just to spite these people! Don’t worry, still vegan (I know you were worried).

Basically, your friend Megan was about to bust heads. It was a shame. I wanted to hear more from the filmmakers, like why they avoided the word “vegan” in the movie, and if the doctors are hesitant to talk about veganism and deliberately stick to “plant-based diet.” I would have also liked to hear a lot more from Moran, she was kind of awesome but didn’t speak much.

The movie was pretty good though and you can actually watch it RIGHT NOW on hulu. It’s only an hour long, you can handle it.

08/19/2010

Vegansaurus double, no TRIPLE, feature!  »

This is a very special edition of Vegansaurus double features because there are not two but THREE movies! Yes, folks, we here at Vegansaurus are not afraid to totally mess up our ideas for regular columns after only one previous installment! That’s ‘cause, as you know, we have balls. Or vaginas. I mean, we don’t want to be all patriarchal, right?

Which brings me to this installment’s features!

Proposition 8 being overturned is super cool. As some vegans have observed, human rights and animal rights should go hand-in-hand. Even conservatives agree — how many times have you heard a Republican claim that if we let gays marry, the next thing you know, people will be marrying animals? See? We stand united.

But this civil rights victory will no doubt be eclipsed by 2010’s even more impressive gay rights progress: three big movies about two-and-a-half hot lesbian couples! All played by straight actresses! Yes, folks, 2010 is officially the Year of the Lesbian (for Year of the Cock, we’ll have to wait till 2017). Finally, society seems to have gotten past its fear of seeing two hot, straight women caress each other’s bodies. In fact, I saw surprised to read on the Internet that, far from being repulsed by the sight of Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis performing passionate sexual acts with each other, many people (especially heterosexual males, oddly) seem to have been able to look beyond gender and sexuality to simply appreciate the beauty of two people expressing their appreciation for one another, regardless of what they’re packin’.

But enough about society’s newfound acceptance of homosexuality. These movies speak for themselves. At least, the one of them that I’ve actually seen does!

First up, director Darren Aronofsky’s fifth feature, Black Swan, is currently getting a wedge of attention due to its pre-release trailer, which draws viewers in with a complex plot and top-notch acting. All of which is just code for sapphic hate-sex. All that aside,  Aronofsky has proven himself to be a pretty compelling director, even if his grasp of female characters has usually been pretty shallow. The Fountain excepted, if Black Swan is anything like his previous work, it will definitely be worth seeing. Its release date is December 1.

You might think that I picked this next film, which has no scheduled U.S. release date, to show off my film cred, except there’s nothing hip about Julio Medem, the Basque Country’s most famous director (it sounds impressive, but the fact that I had to put a Wikipedia link to the Basque Country makes it a dubious honor). Room in Rome is his first English-language feature, but he probably wasn’t aiming to conquer the US market: like Sex and Lucía, his best-known film in the U.S., Room in Rome is will probably get a NC-17 rating slapped on it, which is the kiss of death for mainstream success here. Just ask Elizabeth Berkeley.

While Medem’s work lacks the ironic awareness of its own melodrama that has made his countryman Pedro Almodóvar such a relative success in the US, his films are incredibly compelling. Visually, his films are usually packed full of painterly symbolism and, lately, creative cinematography. And storywise, his work features complex plots and crazy revelations about lineage. Seriously, Spaniards love that stuff! You just have to write something like, “Juan, I am your father!” and then they’re all, “OMG, foreign Oscar nominee!”

But in Medem’s last film, Chaotic Ana, he took the complex plot and twisted bloodlines thing to new heights even for him, in a story about a young artist who, through hypnosis, remembers thousands of years of her previous lives as, in one incarnation or another, a woman warrior against imperialism. No, really. She also discovers that her current lover was, in her last life, her son. For some reason, that film, like their romance, didn’t do too well (I liked it, though!), so for Room in Rome, Medem decided to return to basics: the story takes place mostly in a single hotel room and over the course of only one night. Apparently, he decided to simplify in the wardrobe department, too. 

Finally, if you haven’t seen The Kids Are All Right, which seems like it’s in more theaters than Inception, then you are a ridiculous person. Director Lisa Cholodenko has done something impressive: made gay marriage seem pretty average. The lesbian couple in the film, played by Julianne Moore and Annette Bening, are just like any other married couple: they bicker, they don’t have sex very often, and their kids are totally embarrassed by them. But they also love each other deeply. If it sounds like the zeitgeisty formula for a post-Prop. 8-California hit, it is.

But what’s even more impressive is how The Kids Are All Right doesn’t confine lesbian sexuality to a box (hahahahaha) made by straight people even while it makes having a family with two moms seem as non-threatening as Ellen in a power suit: Moore and Bening’s characters get off to gay male porn while they do it, and even though Julianne Moore’s character has hot extramarital sex with a straight dude, nobody (except him) really questions her sexuality for more than a New York minute (which is also, coincidentally, totally the length of a Hollywood sex scene). Yet nothing about it feels the least bit subversive, which is what makes it so successful. 

07/13/2010

Vegansaurus Double Features!   »

 Welcome to the first biannual, I mean regular, installment of Vegansaurus Double Features, your ticket (ha, oh man am I off to a good start!) to vegan-interest cinema. “What?!” you might ask. “Here’s a handy FAQ,” I say.

Q: Why movies?
A: Because I ran out of gardening things to talk about and I am a highly respected film critic.

Q: Why vegan?
A: That’s a stupid question.

Q: Why double feature?
A: Because the New Yorker always reviews two movies at once, and Vegansaurus, as is evident, is basically the new New Yorker: lengthy articles, thoughtful detachment from political issues, and bougie ads for weird hats.

OK! Enough with all your silly questions. In this issue, we look at two new amazing documentaries about humankind’s complex relationship with animals and nature.

Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo, the first full-length from biologist-turned-documentarian Jessica Oreck, is a beautiful film that uses Japan’s national obsession with insects as a way to explore larger questions like how we think of ourselves in relation to nature. Don’t let the profundity scare you off: even though this documentary is swarming with insight about haiku, Japanese and Western cultural differences, the urban/nature dichotomy, and the nature of beauty (to name a few!), it’s also incredibly easy on the eyes, featuring inventive cinematography that really captures the wonder of its protagonists–-beetles, larvae, moths, and crickets, especially. And for your ears, there’s an impressive soundtrack of J-pop and experimental Japanese electronic music. All of this is to say: this is a film that works on multiple levels, and one of the best documentaries so far this year. It’s playing RIGHT NOW at the Kabuki in San Francisco through July 15 (Thursday!); I highly recommend it.

Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo Trailer from Myriapod Productions on Vimeo.

I had the chance to see Ms. Oreck present the film in Los Angeles a few months ago, and she had a lot to say about the film. She thinks that Americans have a lot to learn from the Japanese and their perspective on and appreciation of nature, but acknowledges that, as with all societies, there are a lot of contradictions in that relationship. Vegansaurus readers will probably immediately think of The Cove here. What Beetle Queen shows, however, is how “appreciation” of beautiful insects in Japan has led to both an interest in protecting and restoring their natural habitats and the less-benign commodification of all things insect-related. Yeah, it’s cute that Japanese kids play videogames about insects. But commodification has also led to insect collecting of both live and dead bugs, both bought and captured. Japanese pay bundles of yen at large conventions for big beetles to keep as pets, and pinned insect collections are popular hobbies. So, be warned–-for insect lovers, this film isn’t always uplifting.

The tangled relationship between collecting animals and habitat preservation is also at the core of Ghost Bird. Ghost Bird is the long-awaited sequel to Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, starring everyone’s favorite weird-eyed actor Forest Whitaker as a hit man who uses samurai techniques. Just kidding, it’s a documentary on the supposed rediscovery of the fabled ivory-billed woodpecker. But whatever—same difference!

This truly majestic woodpecker, maybe the most stunning bird that has ever lived in the United States, was thought to have become extinct over half a century ago until a kayaker in an Arkansas swamp caught sight of one in 2004. Ghost Bird outlines what turned out to be the most ambitious, and costly, species recovery campaign in history, fueled not only by excited birders, but by the community where the bird was spotted (which experienced booming economic growth from the ensuing tourism), politicians, and research teams from prestigious universities. While the archival footage of the ivory-billed woodpecker alone is worth the price of admission, the story behind its rediscovery unfolds like a satisfying mystery (or, if you’re a dorky birder, maybe the most exciting, cargo-pants-staining mystery you’ve ever seen), full of dubious motivations and shady characters.

It’s a complex tale, to be sure. Especially interesting is that, like Beetle Queen, Ghost Bird show’s how man’s obsession with a beautiful animal has led to both its collection (and, in this case, destruction) as well as prompting preservation efforts. The scientists working on the “case” use drawerfuls of stuffed specimens of the bird to verify sightings-–specimens collected long ago by other scientists and amateur birders because of the bird’s rarity and beauty that, one researcher admits, contributed to the bird’s extinction.

While Ghost Bird isn’t quite the visual spectacle that is Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo, it tells an amazing story. Anyone interested in animals, preservation, and Forrest Whitaker should seek this one out!

06/15/2010

05/18/2010

This is a trailer for Dirt! the Movie, which you can go see this very evening. Yes it’s last-minute, but it’s also Tuesday, what else do you have planned? Tonight at 7:30 Hayes Valley Farm is hosting a screening of Dirt! the Movie, a documentary about soil. No, that does not sound totally dull, it sounds totally fascinating. Then again, I love a documentary, of course I’d watch this. It’s narrated by Jamie Lee Curtis, now known for her ridiculous Activia commercials, so if you get bored you can make “regularity” jokes!

The doors open at 7:30 with “shorts and live music” from How-To Homestead, and the film begins at 8:15. TONIGHT! Tickets cost $5 for general admission (“bring your own blanket”) and $10 to reserve a chair; for $3 more you can buy homemade popcorn and a drink. No word on whether the popcorn is vegan, unfortunately. Hayes Valley Farm is located at 450 Laguna St. between Oak and Fell Streets.

It starts in under three hours so you better make dinner plans soon OK? Because you’ll definitely want to see this!

02/23/2010

Like myself, I’m sure you’ve been too busy to watch any movies ever since they put My So-Called Life on Hulu. But I’ve got something for you! Not just a movie but a DOCUMENTARY! A BUNNY documentary! A POLISH bunny documentary! Like that roll-out? Yes normally I steer clear of documentaries on account of my aversion to learning, but this one looks like something I can handle!

Królik po berlinsku, or Rabbit à la Berlin is a 40-minute film about the rabbits who lived between the Berlin Walls. I miss a lot of things, especially when they pertain to commies, and I guess I missed that there were actually two Berlin Walls. Or really, I guess it was this whole structure with guarded towers and a small amount of space that ran in between the whole thing. Also known as the “death zone,” for 28 years this grassy, predator-free area was home to our rabbit protagonists. With all they could eat and their own armed guards, their numbers grew to the thousands. Um, amazing!

It seems like a decidedly different view of a tense political period. Basically, the bunnies were chilling. And guess what! Rabbit à la Berlin is up for an Oscar in the documentary short category. Yay bunnies! Unfortunately, I’ve only seen this trailer. I’m not sure where or when you can catch the short but I’m guessing film festivals for the time being. How much do you love the music in this trailer though? Hint: SO MUCH.

[shout out to Potentially Nervous for bringing this to our attention!]

02/02/2010

"The Cove" and "Food, Inc." up for Academy Awards!  »

We reported that they were short-listed and they fucking made it! YES! Our heart belongs to The Cove but we reallllllly hope one of them wins. AND YES, we know the awards are totally ridiculous and the winners are usually just whomever the production companies pimped the most, but it’s still exciting. Pass the popcorn, bitches!

11/10/2008

Review: the Parkway Speakeasy Theater!  »

For being delightfully in the heart of Oakland, the Parkway Speakeasy Theater place sure sees a lot of Skinny White Bitches.* In fact, I can count the number of black people I’ve seen here on one hand AND I ONLY HAVE TWO FINGERS. That’s a lie about the two fingers but wouldn’t that be cool? And by cool, I mean horrible. Other than the not-so-delightful gentrification (wait sorry, revitalization) of Oakland, I do enjoy sinking my fat white ass into one of the comfy (yet probably highly unsanitary) couches to enjoy a second generation first-run movie or art house feature. They also have special nights with horror films, kids’ films (you can bring your gross baby that night) and tons of other special events. But the coolest thing about the parkway is that you can GET ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES DURING THE MOVIE. OK, not all alcohol, it’s only beer and wine but there are decent selections in both categories. The second most awesome thing about The Parkway is that you can enjoy your movie while snacking on VEGAN PIZZA (they make their own vegan cheese, kinda like a fake ricotta but it works, and tons of vegan toppings!) They also make a few vegan sandwiches and salads and various other vegan-friendly snacks (and often vegan cookies!!)! It is a very satisfying experience. The vegan stuff is clearly marked on their menu and they’re open to suggestions so you can email them or leave a comment card when you’re there and they’ll try to accommodate. It was loud-mouthed vegans who got the vegan stuff onto the menu to begin with it so it pays to speak up and FIGHT THE POWER! Or NICELY MAKE A SUGGESTION!

Two more things: It’s only $5 admission price and it’s two-for-one on Wednesdays! Love that as I’m hella cheap. Also, they have a second location in El Cerrito if you want to enjoy a movie out in the sticks. El Cerrito is totally far away.

*Oh and calm the fuck down, Skinny White Bitches of the world. I don’t need any hate mail because I used such an offensive slur against your people. If being called a Skinny White Bitch is the worst thing that has ever happened to you well then, LIFE IS GOOD.

[marquee photo by disrupsean; beer and popcorn photo by queenkv]

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