A Low-carb Experiment

September 4, 2016

I’ve been considering trying a low-carbohydrate diet for a while now, mostly from hearing about ultrarunners being very successful with it, on podcasts like Endurance Planet. From a long-distance running perspective, the main goal is to train my body to be better at burning fat, since in long races it has to do that in the later miles, so it might as well be better at it. I also thought there might be a chance of reducing my midsection fat, since from a health perspective that is the worst place to carry fat, and lose a few pounds in general. Some people also lower their blood pressure, and getting off that prescription would be cool.

Someone who often appears on Endurance Planet is Dr. Phil Maffetone, and he has talked about his two-week test several times. It’s pretty extreme, with almost zero carbs, but for two weeks I thought I could do it, despite the total prohibition on beer (and diet soda, which is my normal source of caffeine). I picked a time with no races on the immediate horizon, and started the test on August 22nd. That makes today the final day.

So how has it gone? I would say pretty well. The cravings have been pretty minor, and the inconveniences (primary not being able to just buy lunch at the work cafeteria or pick up a meal when out and about) have not been as bad as I feared. Since I hate coffee and don’t like tea much better, I took a caffeine pill on the first day and then waited for the withdrawal headaches to come, but they never did, so I am now on day 13 of being caffeine-free. I went on a couple of long (3-4 hour) trail runs with zero calories, which felt very risky, but I was fine and only a little slower than usual. I lost a couple of pounds, which is less to carry up the hills.

Am I going to continue this? Yes, at least for a while and possibly forever. I will absolutely reintroduce beer to my diet, though probably at a lower level than before, and a few other things in small quantities. I should probably find a book or two to figure out some of the possible pitfalls of low-carb living, so I can avoid them.

Some things that were constants in my diet for decades that I’m surprised to not be missing much at all include Diet Coke, breakfast cereal, and rice. I can imagine never having them again (except maybe rice as part of sushi, every once in a while). Things that I have given up for the two-week test that I cannot imagine giving up forever include the aforementioned beer, and also chocolate (maybe even darker than my previous 71%), ice cream (only a few times a year, but some), popcorn (when we host a movie night, meaning rarely), and the ability to eat out sometimes.

Of course I haven’t tried running any ultramarathons yet, though I have a trail 50K on the schedule in just under three weeks. I will probably take in a few carbs during such races, and figure out what works in this new world order.

The experiment continues.

2016 HURT 100

April 2, 2016

This post is about my 2016 attempt at the HURT 100. I’ve started it four times, and this year I got further than ever before, but I still haven’t finished it. And I think I know why.

This is long. My apologies, but it is a 100-mile race.

About the HURT 100

This trail race through the mountains above Honolulu is unlike any other race I have done. You have to hike, not run, a lot of the trail, thanks to the rocks, roots, and mud, plus a hefty amount (over 24,000′ total) of climbing. Given the difficulty of the terrain, the 36-hour total time limit is actually short, and finishing rates are consistently under 50%. The name is certainly appropriate, though it is actually an acronym for Hawaii Ultra Running Team, the organization that puts on the race.

The course consists of five identical 20-mile loops, each made up of three legs. The first leg starts at the Nature Center, runs up to Pauoa Flats, and down to the Paradise Park aid station (roughly mile 7). The second leg runs back up to Pauoa Flats and down to the Nu’uanu aid station (mile 13). The third leg runs back up to Pauoa Flats and down to the Nature Center aid station (mile 20). Pauoa Flats is the high point of each of the three legs, and actually is pretty flat, but is also covered with ankle-threatening banyan roots and at least some mud.

Besides the final 36-hour cutoff, there are also cutoffs at 29 hours (80 miles), 31:30 (87 miles), and 33:30 (93 miles).

If you don’t finish, they also define a “fun run” of about 67 miles, meaning three full loops plus the first leg of the fourth loop, ending at the Paradise Park aid station. They used to call this the 100K.

Making things a bit easier, and much more pleasant, is that the volunteers are great, with a genuine feeling of family (“ohana”). The race is always held on Martin Luther King weekend in January, with a wonderful banquet and awards ceremony the Monday evening after the race ends (more 100-mile races should have parties!).

My History With HURT

I first ran the HURT 100 in 2011, and ran it again in 2012 and 2013, not finishing it any of those times. In 2014 and 2015 I was injured or recovering and did not start the race, though I volunteered. Add in the fact that the oldest finishers are generally only a few years older than I am now, and the urgency was clear.

For the record, these are my results:

  • 2011: 67 miles in just over 29 hours
  • 2012: 67 miles in 28:16
  • 2013: 67 miles in 29:40, and then continued on to 73 miles in 32:43 total

Preparing for this Year

For pretty much all of 2015, this race was the focus of my training. Despite distractions and the holidays, I got down to my target weight, which was about 20 pounds less than I was for at least one other 100 miler. My 2015 race results reflected both that and my more rigorous training, with Personal Records (PRs) at 50 miles (twice!), 100K, and even a paved half marathon. In early November I ran my first complete 100 miler in three years, mostly to re-wrap my head around the 100-mile distance, but I also came within a couple of minutes of my 100-mile PR. So I was better prepared this year than ever before, but also older.

Here are a few other things I did to prepare:

  • I experimented with electrolytes. After listening to Dr. Timothy Noakes, I tried using few or no electrolyte capsules in some races up to 50 miles. For HURT I eventually decided to stick to a more traditional plan, in deference to Hawaii’s much higher heat and humidity.
  • I tried a weight vest. It was adjustable up to 20 pounds, and I did a few hikes wearing it. I got it too late to do as much as I would have liked, but given how steep HURT is, and how much of it I would be hiking, it was a good addition.
  • I did core work. As usual before 100-mile races, I worked on my core muscles, trying to avoid the issues I had in the Grand Teton 100. Core work is way less fun to me than trail running.
  • I did heat training. This is basically spending time in a sauna during the last few weeks before a warm race. I hate heat training even more than core work, but I know it helps.
  • I previewed the course. As usual, we got to Honolulu a full week in advance, and I spent some time on the course the prior weekend. It was muddier than I had ever seen it before, and it turns out that the muddiest part (on the Judd Trail, near the Nu’uanu aid station) was one of the few sections I did not get to preview.
  • I recruited a dedicated pacer. I had never had one before at HURT. Noé is great, and very experienced.

This was going to be my best chance yet at finishing the race, but the nervousness built as the race approached. My plan was based mostly on the splits of a runner from the prior year, and it called for me to get to the 100K point well over five hours faster than I ever had before. Put another way, that’s almost five minutes per mile faster. Yikes!

The Race

Race morning I got up with my alarm at 3:40 am and got ready (sunscreen, lubricant, some calories, etc.). Connie drove me to the start around 5 am, where the was a minor hiccup: a van backed into the front of our rental car as I finished getting my stuff out. The volunteer who was directing parking told me to go run my race, which was good advice. The race started on time at 6 am.

Loop 1 (miles 1-20)

This loop was close to perfect. I was only a minute off my plan at the first aid station, lost a bit of time on the second leg due to the mud pits on the Nu’uanu side, but was back to a minute off by the end of the loop. I did feel like I was having to push a bit harder than I hoped, as gauged by a higher than planned heart rate, but I was still feeling good. I was also ahead of some runners I know are normally better than me, which meant that I was having a good day, they were having bad days, or I was pushing too hard.

Loop 2 (miles 21-40)

The second loop was similar in that I stuck very close to the plan. I did roll my right ankle at one point, and it hurt badly for a few minutes, but worked itself out quickly. Other pains, like a few toes and the bottom of one foot, were also transitory. This isn’t to say that I was pain free through 40 miles, but everything was within a tolerable limit.

Loop 3 (miles 41-60)

At this point, 40 miles into the race, I got my pacer, Noé. Pacers always give me a mental boost, both in spirits and in that they are more alert due to being better rested. He led at first, looking back periodically to wait for me to catch up. The first climb up what the locals call Hogsback seemed slower than I hoped, since sometimes the energy of a pacer can boost your own energy. I ran when I could, mostly, but things were definitely slowing down. I had expected that, but feared this was a bigger dropoff than planned.

Here’s an important point, though I totally missed it at the time: I stopped tracking where we were relative to the plan. Before I got my pacer I checked the plan at least once per leg and was totally on task. Now I had unconsciously ceded responsibility to Noé, only neither of us realized that. And not being consciously on task is likely a big part of why I didn’t finish. I also stopped using Vespa as regularly as I had been (on a three-hour schedule), and I took longer than usual in the aid stations. As I recall Noé did mention that we were getting a bit behind, but I either blew that off or got discouraged, so I was not nearly as present as I had been previously. He and others we saw on the trail or in aid stations remained sure that we could finish, but over time my doubt grew. I didn’t think I could speed up, and I would need to at least a little bit, to make the cutoffs.

As an aside, ceding control and not being present is a pattern in multiple areas of my life and does not serve me well. It won’t be easy to change after being alive for 55 years, but any progress would be good in many ways beyond ultramarathons.

At about mile 53, the climb out of Nu’uanu is interesting in this regard. Noé experimented with having me lead, and he thought I was a bit faster that way, which is consistent with the ownership theory. But as it turns out, I actually fell behind my plan by an additional 16 minutes on that leg, so it’s hard to say if this really helped or hurt.

So by the time we finished loop 3 (mile 60), I was 40 minutes behind schedule and my hopes of finishing were evaporating since that meant I had to start gaining on my plan, to the tune of 31 minutes in 40 miles, or about 45 seconds per mile, which is a lot.

Loop 4 (miles 61-80)

A woman who started that loop about when I did said something about needing two 7.5 hour loops, which seemed impossible to me. When she powered up Hogsback much faster than us, my fear that finishing was beyond my abilities was seemingly confirmed. (I believe that she did not quite finish, making it to 93 miles just after the cutoff there.) The descent to Paradise Park at the end of that leg was especially leisurely and unfocused, being more about the conversation and less about the race. I remember wondering what Noé was thinking, but I never asked, frankly glad to have a break. Looking back at the data, this was by far my worst leg, losing 49 minutes compared to my plan (the next worst leg lost 24 minutes). Despite that we made it to the 100K point before it got light Sunday morning, which was better than my fastest previous time by just under four hours.

The climb out seemed equally casual, and the descent to Nu’uanu was also slow, though in that case it was more about the treacherousness of the slick trail. The final leg to the 80-mile cutoff seemed more focused due to “smelling the barn,” though it was the hottest leg of the race and I ran out of water. In the end we missed the 80-mile cutoff by 1:06:55, and my plan by over two hours.

Loop 5 (miles 81-100)

This is what I did not get to do because I missed the cutoff.


As they say (or I do, anyway), this was “yet another f-ing growth opportunity.”  Here are a few things in particular, some reiterating what I said before:

  • Stay focused and retain ownership of getting to the finish line. This is critical.
  • Expect and even embrace the pain. Other runners were hobbling around the party the next day, and I could walk almost normally, so I probably wasn’t trying as hard as most of them were.
  • Train for stepping down from high drop-offs. That hurt a lot in the later miles.
  • Stay ahead of any chafing issues. This was most problematic in some sensitive areas starting in loop 4, though in contrast my feet were blister-free.
  • Practice with poles. I had some, but hardly practiced with them at all leading up to the race. So while Noé and I considered having me use them on loop 4, I opted not to.
  • Get a waist- or chest-level light. Headlamps are very close to your eyes, so they cast shadows that are directly behind obstacles, making the obstacles hard to see. My normal solution is a handheld flashlight, but that precludes using poles.
  • Buy enough good flashlights so I can have one in each drop bag. It’s not worth trying to predict where I might need one, or to risk using a bad flashlight in an important race. (And yes, a $50 flashlight is much better than a $5 or $10 one.)
  • Have the capacity to carry more water. Running out of water on the last leg I completed is not good.

I can finish this race, even at my advanced age! Ernie Floyd, who is six years older than me, ran the race again this year after being 0-for-4 in the past. He finished, and had well over 90 minutes to spare. Coincidentally, my next attempt will be my 5th try.

Lastly, since getting from where I was this year to where I need to be is more about the mental game than the physical one (though both definitely help!), I bought a book called The Ultra Mindset, by Travis Macy. I knew about the book already, but as it turns out Travis ran HURT for his first time this year. He not only finished, but he tied for 5th. I’m only a little way into the book so far, but I think it’s helping.

If I work hard on all of those things, plus everything I already did for this attempt, I will be able to finish this race!

Oscar® Predictions for 2015

February 25, 2016

Here are my predictions for the Oscar winners for films made in 2015:

  • Picture: The Revenant
  • Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu for The Revenant
  • Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio for The Revenant
  • Actress: Brie Larson for Room
  • Supporting actor: Sylvester Stallone for Creed
  • Supporting actress: Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl
  • Original screenplay: Spotlight
  • Adapted screenplay: The Big Short
  • Cinematography: The Revenant
  • Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Animated feature: Inside Out
  • Documentary feature: Amy
  • Foreign language feature: Son of Saul (Hungary)
  • Production design: Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Costumes: Cinderella
  • Makeup: Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Score: The Hateful Eight
  • Song: “Til It Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground
  • Sound editing: Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Sound mixing: Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Visual effects: Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens
  • Animated short: Sanjay’s Super Team
  • Documentary short: Body Team 12
  • Live action short: Ave Maria

My primary sources were GoldDerby and PredictWise. The ones that seem to have the least consensus are costumes, sound mixing, and visual effects.

Rio del Lago 100, November 7-8, 2015

November 18, 2015

Background and Pre-race

Rio del Lago is a 100 mile footrace in the Sierra foothills. It’s been about 5 years since I’ve written up a race report, but it seems like one is in order this time.

This was not my real target race, which feels kind of snotty to say. My real target race is the one I have started three times but never finished, which is the HURT (Hawaii Ultra Running Team) 100 miler, coming up in mid-January 2016. But as it has been three years since I last finished any 100 mile race (Javelina in 2012) due to a stress fracture in 2013, it seemed foolish to go into HURT without a recent successful 100 mile finish. Or as I told some people, I needed to re-wrap my head around the 100 mile distance. That this wasn’t my target also explains why I ran a hilly 50K race just two weeks before this race.

Rio del Lago is a trail race, but it is on the easier side of the spectrum of trail 100 milers, primarily due to having less than 10,000′ of climbing. There I go, sounding snotty again. 100 miles on foot is never easy. Even trail 50K’s are never completely easy. But that combined with having a pretty good 12 months (with personal records at Quad Dipsea, 50 miles, 100K, and even the road half marathon), I was hoping to have a relatively fast time. My plan was for 27 hours, with a previous personal record (PR) of 26:11:53. The overall time limit was 30 hours.

I hadn’t arranged a pacer until fairly close to the race, but Norm agreed to help. He had run this race as his first 100 miler the prior year, though on a somewhat harder course than the one we had this time. The plan was for him to join me when I first got to the aid station at the Cool fire station, at the 52 mile mark. My wife Connie agreed to be my crew, at least during normal waking hours, and even more importantly to drive me home afterwards.

I got a ride to the start with another runner that I ran into on my way to the hotel elevator, which allowed Connie to sleep in. I got to the race in plenty of time before the start, and noticed that it was a little colder than I expected.

First Half

The race started on time at 5:00 am with roughly 327 runners. The early parts of the course were the easiest, including a lot of paved paths and only a few hills. At 19.2 miles we came back through where we started. I left my flashlight in my drop bag and kept moving, a bit over 30 minutes ahead of my plan. The next aid station, 5.1 miles later, is where I first expected to see Connie. But I got there at 9:33 am vs. a plan of 10:26 am, so I missed her. Besides not seeing her, that also meant that I couldn’t get the Vespa (a product that purports to enhance fat burning, which reduces the need to take in quite so many carbohydrates) I was planning to take at 11 am. Oh well, it wasn’t a showstopper, and in retrospect I should have put it in my drop bag just in case this happened. Forgetting that the next segment was 8.7 miles and not refilling my hydration pack was a bigger mistake, but also not fatal.

I got the the Rattlesnake Bar aid station (mile 35.8) at around 12:22 pm, which was just over an hour ahead of my plan. This time Connie was there. Yay!  I resupplied, with George and Kristin of Coastside Running Club (there to crew another club member) helping refill my pack. I also grabbed a flashlight, since my plan didn’t have me reaching another point where I could do that (mile 52) until after dark. I was enough ahead of schedule that that shouldn’t be necessary, but better safe than sorry.

The segments from Rattlesnake Bar to the aid station at the Cool fire station included a couple of big climbs, which I had accounted for in my planned paces for those segments. It also included going across the famous No Hands Bridge, which is an iconic part of the Western States course. I generally kept on track or gained on my plan, arriving in Cool (mile 52) at 4:39 pm vs. my plan of 6:05 pm. Given Norm’s schedule I was pretty sure I was going to get there before him and have to run one 8 mile loop without him, but since Connie dropped him off before finding parking, he was there and ready to go. He talked me into getting my headlamp (in addition to the handheld light I had carried from Rattlesnake Bar). The parking was insane, but luckily the course followed the road that the cars were parking along, so we did see Connie walking from the car before we turned off the road onto the trail.

Second Half

Despite being so far ahead of my plan, I had been moderating my effort all day, so I still had something left for the second half. Norm got me running a bit more than I had been, and we talked while the sun went down. And when it went down it did get colder, and I started to wonder if the arm warmers I had in my pack would be sufficiently warm for the middle of the night. My windbreaker was in Connie’s car, but given how far that was parked from the aid station, I thought it might not be an option.

But while we were running that loop, Connie was able to repark substantially closer to the aid station, though still several minutes away. In the spirit of “better safe than sorry,” and considering that we didn’t expect to see Connie again until the finish line, we did hang around longer so that I would have the windbreaker. As it turns out I never did wear it, but I would probably still make that decision if I had it to do again.

This was definitely the longest aid station stop of the race, with the combination of the wait for the windbreaker, taking in plenty of calories (around then might have been when I first tried the egg and cheese burritos, which worked great for me), and making sure I had everything else I needed from Connie or my drop bag. But eventually we headed out for the same 8 mile loop, though this time in the opposite direction. We made reasonable time (we didn’t memorize the splits, but Norm is pretty sure the second loop was faster than the first), getting back to the Cool  aid station (mile 68 this time) at 9:13 pm vs. my plan of 10:32 pm.

Next was back down to No Hands Bridge, and then up to the Camp Flint Gate aid station (mile 75.3). This was the last big climb of the race, but definitely not the last climb. By then my first GPS finally started saying it was running low on battery, so I swapped to the second one, which I had been carrying since mile 60.

A couple more segments got us back to the Rattlesnake Bar aid station (mile 84.2) at 2:00 am vs. my plan of 3:15 am. Next was the Horseshoe Bar aid station (mile 87) a bit before 3:18 am (that is when I texted Connie that we had just left) vs. my plan of 4:03 am, so that segment was slower than planned. In that text I estimated finishing between 6:30 and 7:30 am.

Around this time Norm told me that if I needed to drop him and go on ahead, I should feel free to do so. This segment to the last aid station was a long one (8.7 miles), and we stuck together for a while, but eventually I did pull ahead and didn’t see him again until the finish. This was also a section with a lot of rocks, affectionately called the “meat grinder.” I had hardly noticed the rocks in the other direction, but they did get my attention now. But given my larger goal of finishing the very rocky (and rooty, and often muddy) HURT course, I pushed myself a bit harder than I would have normally. I reminded myself that accepting some pain, and even seeking it out to a small degree, was good mental preparation. Even so this segment took me about 25 minutes longer than planned, arriving at 6:02 am vs. my plan of 6:25 am. Part of that was caused by a twisty section that had me thinking I was going in circles and repeating the same trails. A later review of the GPS data indicates that I was not actually lost, but I know that that uncertainty contributed to my slowness.

A bit later I called Connie to tell her that even a 7:30 am finish might have been optimistic. She was already at the finish, though, so this didn’t help her get any more sleep. Oh, well, might as well keep pushing and see what happens.

The last section was listed on the web site as 5.7 miles. I should have noticed that the same section on the way out was only listed as 5.1 miles, and the shorter actual distance, combined with the much easier terrain than the prior segment, made a difference. As I got within sight of the finish I started to wonder if a PR might actually still be in reach. Based on what I could tell, it probably was, if I kept running. What I hadn’t counted on was that the course made a big loop around the parking lot before we actually finished, so I missed my PR by less than two minutes. My finishing time was 26:13:23.


All in all I was very happy with how things turned out. I finished. I held back enough in the first half to run well in the second half, moving up about 40 places from mile 52 to the finish. I pushed into enough pain to remind myself what that is like, but not so much that it required much downtime from training—I was running again three days later. I also didn’t fall.

On the “could do it better” front, I didn’t plan well for warm clothes, I took too long at several aid stations, I need to train better for the steep climbs at HURT, and I got a couple of blisters.

Bottom line: I’m back!


Oscar® Predictions for 2014

February 17, 2015

Here are my predictions for the Oscar winners for films made in 2014:

  • Picture: Birdman
  • Director: Richard Linklater for Boyhood
  • Actor: Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything
  • Actress: Julianne Moore for Still Alice
  • Supporting actor: J.K. Simmons for Whiplash
  • Supporting actress: Patricia Arquette for Boyhood
  • Original screenplay: The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Adapted screenplay: The Imitation Game
  • Cinematography: Birdman
  • Editing: Boyhood
  • Animated feature: How to Train Your Dragon 2
  • Documentary feature: Citizenfour
  • Foreign language feature: Ida (Poland)
  • Production design: The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Costumes: The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Makeup: The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Score: The Theory of Everything
  • Song: “Glory” from Selma
  • Sound editing: American Sniper
  • Sound mixing: Whiplash
  • Visual effects: Interstellar
  • Animated short: Feast
  • Documentary short: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
  • Live action short: The Phone Call

My primary sources were GoldDerby and PredictWise. Best picture and director are particularly challenging to predict this year.

The Beers of Cinequest 2014

April 20, 2014

Cinequest wasn’t just a good time at the movies last month. I also took advantage of my time in downtown San Jose to try a bunch of new beers. First I’ll list the places I had beer during Cinequest (Yelp links, in alphabetical order):

  • Good Karma: The food is vegan, and while I enjoy the taste of animals as a part of most lunches and dinners, the one time I ate there it was quite tasty. And the beer selection seems quite good, especially including the bottled beers which I did not take advantage of (yet).
  • ISO Beers: This place is brand new as of February 2014. Their selection seems very good, though so far their traffic is not enough to allow them to change often enough for my taste. Their largest pours are only 12 ounces, which is actually a feature since it allows tasting more beers. They serve no food but because of that, they allow you to bring in outside food. They also have a nice and growing selection of bottled beers that you can drink there or take out.
  • Original Gravity Public House: This is my model for how to do a beer bar, though it’s not quite perfect. My favorite feature is that their web site is automatically updated from the same data that drives the display in the bar itself, so the web site is 100% up-to-date. My second favorite feature is that they change what’s on tap often enough that there’s is always something new, even if you drink as many new beers as I do. The minor drawback is that the wide selection sometimes leads me to beers that I don’t actually like all that well. Their second drawback is that the food they serve (mostly sausages and fries) isn’t very healthy.

And these are the beers I had during the festival (ratebeer links, in chronological order, GK=Good Karma, ISO=ISO Beers, and OG=Original Gravity; the ratings are out of 5 stars):

I actually had a couple of others not listed above, but these are the ones I checked into on Untappd (a cool social beer tracker site and app—let me know if you sign up and want to connect).

With my highest rated beers generally being imperial IPAs, imperial porters, barley wines, and a sour, it seems safe to say that I like beers with a ton of flavor.

The Films of Cinequest 2014

March 22, 2014

This was my 14th year attending Cinequest, a fairly major film festival in San Jose, California. I have generally seen 20 or so films each year, except in years when I was un- or underemployed, when I saw even more. Here is my rough ranking of the feature films I saw this year:

  1. Kiss Me, You Fucking Moron: This Norwegian coming-of-age movie just totally worked for me. The program categorizes it as a comedy/romance, but there was definitely some drama in the mix as well. The main characters are mostly part of a youth (15 to 18 years old as I recall) theater group, plus an alcoholic actor who the main character manages to talk into helping them put on a far more gritty play than they have ever done before. This was the U.S. premiere.
  2. Heart of a Lion: This Finnish drama was very hard to watch and punches you in the gut, but in a good way. The main three characters are a racist skinhead, who falls for a woman, who turns out to have a black child from a prior marriage. You know bad things are going to happen with this combination, but the character transformations that happen along the way all feel plausible and definitely moving.
  3. The Rugby Player: This is a documentary about Mark Bingham, who was on flight United 93 on 9/11. After discovering a love of and talent for rugby in high school, he went on to play at U.C. Berkeley, and somewhere along the way he came out as gay. The film talks with the people who knew him best, including close friends and his amazing mother. I had tears in my eyes on at least one occasion.
  4. East Side Sushi: This local Bay Area drama may have been improved by the world premiere vibe and all the filmmakers in the row immediately behind me. It was somewhat predictable in many ways, but not completely, and I definitely enjoyed it.
  5. Return to Zero: This drama about a couple who suffer a tragedy early on in the film seems likely to get a release. I was very impressed by Minnie Driver‘s performance. This was the world premiere.
  6. Sex(ed): The Movie: This is a documentary about sex education films throughout history, from as early as 1910, and it was a lot of fun. An earlier showing at the festival was the world premiere.
  7. The Grand Seduction: This was the opening night film of the festival. It reminded me in some ways of Local Hero, and while it was enjoyable it definitely wasn’t as good as that great little gem.
  8. SlingShot: This is a documentary about Dean Kamen, best known as the man behind the Segway. This film focuses on his work to use technology to bring clean safe drinking water to the parts of the word that need it most. My ranking is estimated since I had a conflict and missed the first half hour.
  9. Deep City: This is another documentary, in this case about a long-gone soul music label from south Florida. It was good, but didn’t measure up to Standing in the Shadows of Motown or the recent 20 Feet from Stardom.
  10. Under the Same Sun: This is a documentary-feeling fiction film about a Jewish businessman working with a Palestinian businessman to both bring more solar power to the area, and to be a catalyst for peace. While it would be very good if this could really happen, it seems unlikely.
  11. The Farmer and the Chef: I chose this documentary because it’s very close to home, meaning where I live. It’s about a small biodynamic farm in the Santa Cruz mountains, and the well known chef who works with the farmer. This was the world premiere, and the film could not be found on IMDb when I was writing this blog post.
  12. Hunting Elephants: This Israeli comedy had some good moments, but suffered from cartoonish characters (all but the lead character) and an inconsistent tone.
  13. Bite Size: This documentary about childhood obesity was fairly good, especially in how it showed families, friends, and society all conspiring to make change difficult. The actual documentary style was fairly straightforward, however. This was the world premiere.
  14. Above Dark Waters: This Finnish drama seemed pretty good at the time, but it has faded very quickly out of my memory so I dropped it down a few spots.
  15. Small Time: This was the closing night film, about a used car salesman whose son decides to work for him. It wasn’t that bad, but somehow I never really cared about any of the characters. This might have been the world premiere, but the program is slightly vague on that subject.
  16. The Illiterate: This drama from Chile is probably better than I’m ranking it, but since I slept through a fair bit of the running time, I’m putting it here.
  17. Life is Love: This documentary is about victims of human trafficking, and an inspiring woman in Cambodia who helps them. The subject matter is very important, but the film itself felt totally uninspired, so I was checking my watch frequently. An earlier showing at the festival was the world premiere.
  18. Class Enemy: This Slovenian drama didn’t seem believable and therefore didn’t really work for me, though I think most people liked it substantially better than I did.
  19. Inercia: Through maybe 2/3 of the running I time I was on board with this Mexican drama, but it fell off a cliff (in my opinion) after that. An earlier showing at the festival was the U.S. premiere.
  20. Cheatin’: This animated film by Bill Plympton had some great images and a few engaging sections, but would have been better as a short.
  21. It’s Only Make Believe: Since I almost always like Norwegian films, I was especially disappointed that this drama didn’t work for me. It was hard to watch and totally not worth it. An earlier showing at the festival was the U.S. premiere.
  22. Funny Money: This Vietnamese film was nominally a comedy, but I didn’t find it funny at all and I left about halfway through. This was the North American premiere.

My top four films have what seems like a common thread, namely characters (or actual people in the case of the documentary) who grow beyond what they would have imagined possible at the start of the film.

I wanted to list a few notable short films that I saw during the festival, in alphabetical order (literally ABC, as it turns out):

  • Adrift is simply a sequence of time-lapse (meaning faster than real time) shots of fog in the Bay Area. It’s beautiful, especially since most of the shots are taken in places where I have been when running or hiking, or that remind me of such places. And here’s the small world connection: I actually first saw this last summer, at an event at the Nojiri Lake Association in Japan.
  • The Brunchers was recommended by an ex-co-worker, and narrowly beat out Adrift as my favorite short of the Shorts 7 collection.
  • The Closest Thing to Heaven was shown before Sex(ed): The Movie. It’s about the life and love of a gay man, and the punch that put it over the top at the end (spoiler alert) was seeing a tombstone with my exact birthday (year included).

I also have an IMDb list of these and other Cinequest films, though definitely not all of them. You can find it here.

I hope to follow this post with another one about all of the beers that I tasted in downtown San Jose during Cinequest.

Oscar® Predictions for 2013

March 1, 2014

Here are my predictions for the Oscar winners for films made in 2013:

  • Picture: 12 Years a Slave
  • Director: Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity
  • Actor: Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club
  • Actress: Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine
  • Supporting actor: Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club
  • Supporting actress: Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years a Slave
  • Original screenplay: Her
  • Adapted screenplay: 12 Years a Slave
  • Cinematography: Gravity
  • Editing: Gravity
  • Animated feature: Frozen
  • Documentary feature: 20 Feet from Stardom
  • Foreign language feature: The Great Beauty (Italy)
  • Production design: The Great Gatsby
  • Costumes: The Great Gatsby
  • Makeup: Dallas Buyers Club
  • Score: Gravity
  • Song: “Let It Go” from Frozen
  • Sound mixing: Gravity
  • Sound editing: Gravity
  • Visual effects: Gravity
  • Animated short: Get a Horse!
  • Documentary short: The Lady in Number 6
  • Live action short: Helium

My primary sources were GoldDerby and Awards Daily.

Oscar® Predictions for 2012

February 24, 2013

Here are my predictions for the Oscar winners for films made in 2012:

  • Picture: Argo
  • Director: Steven Spielberg for Lincoln
  • Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln
  • Actress: Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook
  • Supporting actor: Robert De Niro for Silver Linings Playbook
  • Supporting actress: Anne Hathaway for Les Misérables
  • Original screenplay: Django Unchained
  • Adapted screenplay: Argo
  • Cinematography: Life of Pi
  • Editing: Argo
  • Animated feature: Wreck-It Ralph
  • Documentary feature: Searching for Sugar Man
  • Foreign language feature: Amour (Austria)
  • Production design: Anna Karenina
  • Costumes: Anna Karenina
  • Makeup: The Hobbit
  • Score: Life of Pi
  • Song: “Skyfall” from Skyfall
  • Sound mixing: Les Misérables
  • Sound editing: Skyfall
  • Visual effects: Life of Pi
  • Animated short: Paperman
  • Documentary short: Open Heart
  • Live action short: Curfew

For the first time in 17 years, I have not seen all of the Best Picture nominees before the ceremony, though I have seen seven of the nine. My primary sources were Awards Daily and GoldDerby.

Play and The Island President

March 10, 2012

Play is a slow film. There is really no way to sugarcoat that. It also relies primarily on static camera shots. I checked my watch a few times. The strange thing is, despite all of those strikes against it, when the film ended it really seemed like it had kept my attention and meant something. It was definitely more than the sum of its parts.

One reason it kept my attention was a sense of dread. The main characters were all children (I suspect they were newcomers, since all but one of the main characters had the same first name as the actor), and there was a chance of something bad happening very frequently. And by the end I felt like I got a better sense of both bullying and of native/immigrant relations, so I’ll give it a strong  out of .

The Island President is a pretty depressing documentary. Oh, sure, there is gorgeous footage of the Maldives, which is a nation off the coast of India, consisting of 2000 islands surrounded by beautiful waters, reefs, and fish. We learn that the well-loved President (Mohamed Nasheed) survived being a political prisoner, becoming a world leader in the area of climate change. The focus of the movie seems to be the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009, where Nasheed speaks eloquently about how climate change could completely wipe out his country (the average elevation is only 1.5 meters), and how even now it is having a major effect. But, and these are possibly minor spoilers, the outcome of the conference is far from what was hoped for, and the film’s epilogue is a major downer.

There was a short question and answer period with the director after the film (there may be spoilers here, if a documentary can have spoilers):

  • Update on the political situation:
    • Nasheed resigned on 2/7/2012, after a mutiny within the police and military
    • There is material on YouTube
    • Things have calmed down a bit since then
  • Nasheed was educated in England, which is not uncommon in his class
  • The islands stretch over a span similar to Florida, but with a total land mass less than Rhode Island
  • The director did not originally come to this material from an environmental angle, but more about the leader—this was way before the Arab Spring—Nasheed put the environment in more human terms
  • I think I heard that the film does have distribution

The film was preceded by an animated short called “Monarch,” which was fine but nothing special.

Both seen on 3/5/2012 at Cinequest.