Archive for November, 2008

Wall-E

November 2, 2008

I saw Wall-E on 7/20/2008. It’s by Pixar, so it had to be good, and the reviews were mostly off the chart (93 on metacritic.com). Beware of high expectations…

The film is about a waste disposal robot operating on Earth long after all of the humans and other robots are gone. He keeps doing his job, and also collects a few things that catch his eye. These early scenes are essentially wordless, which is impressive but didn’t blow me away quite as much as it did for the professional critics.

On the positive side, some of the critics were less impressed with the later scenes that include what pass for humans in this version of the future. Perhaps because of my lower expectations, I was pleasantly surprised by these parts of the film.

It’s hard to tell with Pixar films after one viewing. Some, like Finding Nemo, have definitely grown to become favorites. Perhaps Wall-E will do the same, but for now I’ll give it a still excellent out of .

The New Year Parade

November 2, 2008

The New Year Parade is an unusual combination of a narrative film about divorce set within documentary footage of string bands competing in the annual Mummer’s Parade in Philadelphia.

I’ll give it 2.5 stars out of . It’s been over three months since I saw it as I write this, and my memory is pretty vague. That generally means it wasn’t a great film.

I saw this at the Camera Cinema Club in Campbell on 7/20/2008. The writer/director/producer/cinematographer/editor Tom Quinn was at the screening from Philadelphia to answer questions (there may be minor spoilers below):

  • The mummers is a Catholic Irish tradition
  • The first parade was in 1901, and was shot by Edison in 1902
  • Some bands spend $70-100,000 even though the prizes are much smaller
  • Quinn started by interviewing his friends about their parents’ divorces (his parents are together)–the friends are starting their own families, so it’s on their minds–the stories had a lot of similarities
  • Quinn wanted to make the film of just the small moments in the divorce process
  • He’s actually from the suburbs and not South Philadelphia, but had to film in South Philadelphia since it’s a character
  • Almost all the leads were non-professionals (sister, brother, and mother), and the father was played by an relatively novice actor
  • Quinn had very little money ($8K to shoot), so he tried to make that weakness a strength: he used non-professional actors as well as real string band members and footage
  • Usually it was only Quinn and one other crew member (light/sound/second camera) plus the actors
  • The dialog was about 50% scripted and 50% improvised–there were long takes with some scripted lines and some not, so even though they often used the scripted lines, the context felt more real
  • There were two months of rehearsals
  • The girl who played Cat (the sister) was a high school girl who Quinn met though her art teacher
  • Quinn had to recast the brother after they started, to a long-term friend
  • They shot about 160 hours of footage: about 80 hours of the Mummers and 80 of the narrative scenes
  • The film was shot over 3 years–no one could cut their hair
  • And it was shot out of order
  • There was going to be a story line of Cat and her mother watching the old home movies–it got cut for time
  • Quinn is still working on distribution–he plans to start around New Years in Philadelphia and expand (self distributed)–he hopes to get a distributor for the DVD and downloads
  • A lot of the band members are cops, so for random concerts they just block off the street
  • “The great thing about not having money is that you have to have relationships with people”
  • Quinn tried to make his first feature in second grade–and he tried every year until he was 28, when he finally made one

Encounters at the End of the World

November 2, 2008

Encounters at the End of the World is a documentary about Antarctica. No, that’s not quite accurate. It’s really a documentary about director/narrator Werner Herzog, his visit to McMurdo Station in Antarctica, and the people he meets there.

I’ll give it out of . I’m not going to say anything more since this review is already over four months overdue.

I saw this at the Camera Cinema Club in Campbell on 6/22/2008. Henry Kaiser, the producer, composer, and underwater photographer for the film, was there to answer questions. Here are some notes that I wrote down (there may be some spoilers below, if a documentary can have spoilers):

  • Most films on Antarctica are done with a National Science Foundation minder, but this was very different as an “inside” job as part of the artists program–it was basically just Kaiser, Herzog, and the cinematographer
  • Kaiser went to school and worked in films alternate years, and he met Herzog long ago on an airplane–Kaiser’s first film with Herzog was Little Dieter needs to Fly (though IMDb does not show Kaiser being involved with that one)
  • Herzog promises not to make a film about penguins but then he does include them: gay penguins, penguin prostitution, and crazy penguins (the one going towards the mountains was actually filmed a month earlier)
  • Despite hearing about silence, we don’t hear it
  • An audience member who worked there said watching the film was like being there
  • Kaiser says it’s very safe to dive under the ice–they mostly dive where there is no current
  • About the recent story about condom delivery, Kaiser said “that’s a two year supply”
  • Survival camp is actually good and important despite it seeming sort of silly in the film
  • The music was composed not to the picture, and it included music from lots of different parts of the world
  • The legend of Herzog taking risks made Kaiser nervous–during snowmobile training, Werner fell off and the snowmobile rolled back down the hill over him
  • The film is dedicated to Ebert–he and Herzog admire each other
  • Werner has a difficult reputation but everyone says that he is so kind after meeting him–he offers to help do the dishes or whatever
  • Antarctica is addictive–some lose their marriages–one woman left her three-month-old baby with her husband to go down and drive a bus
  • Tim (the Camera Cinema Club director) has never seen a more uplifting film about the extinction of the human race

More than 50 Miles (and two blisters)

November 1, 2008

A week ago (October 25th) I participated in a 12 hour run/walk around the lagoon (1.067 miles per loop) at Crissy Field in San Francisco. Why did I do that? Well, I figured I could cover more than 50 miles (my previous longest distance), and hopefully get in a double marathon (52.4 miles). Alternately, as I said to some random passerby who asked, I’m crazy. Plus it was the last event in the Pacific Coast Trail Runs Mini Prix race series, and I had already completed the other three.

There were 125 people signed up, and slightly over half of them were even more insane than me—they signed up for the 24 hour event. I set up a chair and cooler a few feet off the course, mostly debugged my iPod Nano (which I hardly ever use), and waited for the 9am start.

My plan was to keep a low heart rate, roughly in the 120’s, for at least the first several hours, walking as needed to make that happen. I managed to keep to that up for about 1/4 of a mile. After that I still kept things pretty low, but definitely not as low as I planned, running most of the time with occasional walk breaks. For a few miles I felt like I could keep going like that all day, but after two or three hours I started having to walk more and more. The good news is that I found that I was walking faster than I expected—around 13 to 14 minutes per mile—which wasn’t all that much slower than I was running. Okay, so walking it is, now with only about 10% running.

It kept up like that for a majority of the day. Most laps I would grab a piece or two of potato from the aid station, and every couple of laps I would stop briefly to refill my water bottle with the Accelerade from my cooler. The key was to keep moving. I listened to some podcasts on the iPod, but mostly I just kept moving forward.

The weather was clear, and surprisingly warm for late October in San Francisco (the forecast was for a high of 78°F). That probably slowed me down a bit compared to what I would have been able to do if it had been 10 or 20° cooler. I had used a new sunscreen (Elta Block), and it seemed to work well, lasted all day, and should reduce my risk of skin cancer compared to what I have been using. And despite the easy and almost completely level course, there was gravel that sometimes got into my shoes. I stopped twice to clean them out, and should have stopped more or (better) worn gaiters.

The other participants varied dramatically, from a couple of families with kids (walking and taking more breaks) to a runner or two I overheard talking about competing at the Badwater Ultramarathon. Talk about crazy.

As the day wore on, I slowed down a little bit more, and I was surprised that my quads could get quite that sore from walking on level ground. But other than the shoe cleaning breaks and one extended bathroom break, I kept moving. When it got dark, I grabbed my flashlight, though I didn’t use it continuously until it was really dark. And the darkness brought substantially cooler temperatures, which let me actually start to run a little more than I had been.

My wife Connie had come by twice earlier in the day, and she was there for my last three laps. On what I knew would be my last lap, I left the water bottle behind and started actually running, with the goal of running the whole way around for that last lap. I wasn’t sure how hard that would be, and I found that it was only moderately hard. Which of course means that I could have run more earlier. I’ll try to remember that next time, though I suspect that’s much easier said than done.

So how did I do? I did better than my lowest goal, but not as good as my higher goals. The bottom line is that I finished 48 laps, which works out to 51.2 miles, with almost 9 minutes to spare. And that last lap turned out to be my fastest, at 10:45/mile pace, with the first lap being the second fastest at 11:40/mile. And those rocks in my shoes? I think they contributed to the blisters I developed on both heels, which I didn’t even notice until I got home. I will definitely be buying gaiters.

People have asked me if it was boring. The short answer is yes, it’s certainly more boring than covering the same distance over a variety of trails. But there’s also a little bit of a Zen thing, and I can look at the boredom as a different kind of challenge to overcome. So it’s not all bad. I can see doing more fixed-time events in the future.

For those who like numbers, I’ll leave you with all the lap times. I figure that lap 27 was when I took the bathroom break.

Lap Time Pace
1 12:26.920 11:40
2 12:46.810 11:59
3 12:48.714 12:00
4 14:04.669 13:12
5 13:30.496 12:40
6 13:29.576 12:39
7 13:29.551 12:39
8 13:40.676 12:49
9 14:13.279 13:20
10 13:50.928 12:59
11 13:38.896 12:47
12 13:47.239 12:55
13 13:59.831 13:07
14 14:04.191 13:11
15 14:06.391 13:13
16 13:00.249 12:11
17 14:27.587 13:33
18 14:06.697 13:13
19 17:07.912 16:03
20 14:25.863 13:31
21 14:51.123 13:55
22 14:33.632 13:39
23 15:39.819 14:41
24 14:36.282 13:41
25 14:42.786 13:47
26 14:26.150 13:32
27 19:17.552 18:05
28 14:25.025 13:31
29 15:15.247 14:18
30 15:20.042 14:22
31 17:03.868 15:59
32 14:45.035 13:49
33 15:18.131 14:20
34 17:05.125 16:01
35 15:03.868 14:07
36 15:11.272 14:14
37 16:37.154 15:34
38 15:22.772 14:25
39 18:16.399 17:07
40 16:10.126 15:09
41 16:41.106 15:38
42 14:23.647 13:29
43 14:47.825 13:52
44 15:15.032 14:17
45 15:30.387 14:32
46 15:52.753 14:53
47 16:02.780 15:02
48 11:28.452 10:45
Total/Average 11:51:09.865 13:53