of gods and the men who would like to become them.

I believe that, ultimately, this film highlights that religious conviction and it’s corresponding practices (both good and evil) are determined by the humans willing to entertain them. In particular, the practice of religious radicalism was juxtaposed nicely. On the one hand, we have a group of men willing to kill for their beliefs. On the other, we have a group of men willing to die for them. The film did a wonderful job displaying the consequences of each decision.

What I appreciated: the unobtrusive, repetitive, and stark depiction of the monk’s routine. Simplicity is profound. The only soundtrack provided in the entire film was that of the monk’s chants; there was nothing familiar (in the way of sound) to manipulate the audience’s emotions or thoughts. The only instance of music is when one of the monk's played Allegretto (Beethoven Symphony No.7) during the dinner. Singing is a vehicle for the devout to carry their words and prayers to God; it's only natural that he decided it should be the vehicle to bring everything back. Quite honestly, it ranks as one of the more powerful scenes I have seen in years. Joy for one another’s company, transitioning into a quiet remorse when the strings begin to grow somber, and then, finally, the realization that their deaths are inevitable. Each individual reacted differently – some smiled, some cried, some stared. It was at this time that they came to terms with their greatest turmoil: in order to be with God, one must die.

I really enjoyed the film's cinematography -- long, quiet scenes that were always well framed. Nothing was forced. The final shot, all one take, was equally powerful. We witnessed men of God being led by men of God to be with Him. One wonders if they, at that time, wanted nothing more than humanity. The environment of the monastery led to shots of unavoidable beauty. How difficult it must be to confront despair, turmoil and chaos objectively when your surroundings are so tranquil, full of life, and beautiful.

What I didn’t appreciate: the fact that very little background was given into why they were there. From personal experience, I know that for every deed in the name of God, there is an institution that will lay claim to it. Missionaries are placed in areas in order to drive conversion, yet the film didn't convey that. I also wholeheartedly find fault in their final decision. In one of the final exchanges between one of the elders and the priest, a woman exclaims, "You are the branch. If you go, we lose our footing." Despite being affected by this comment, their self-sacrifice simply allowed that branch to break. How could men who value life so much fail to plant a new tree before leaving?

1-10 rating: 8.5…

alice in 3d wonderland.

3D applications of film work very well in certain situations. Beowulf comes to mind, but only because the characters were animated. Alice in Wonderland’s human characters looked flat (if that makes any sense); Tim Burton’s color palette would have worked so much better in 2D, but that he allowed the producers to convert his stock to 3D after filming took a toll (not on revenue mind you). As proper performances go, Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp delivered; however, their efforts were offset by the (consistent) over-acting of Anne Hathaway and the knave of hearts. And to make matters worse, right when the energy of the film seemed to slacken, Burton decided to cue in a spectacular fight scene – on a chessboard. Weren’t the minions of the red queen originally playing cards? Splitting hairs, I know. After sitting through Alice’s uncomfortably quick sword-wielding learning curve, we were forced to sit through the Mad Hatter’s dance number. Watching Depp getting jiggy was almost abusive. The worst, however, was to discover what Alice drew from her personal experience in Wonderland: how to reject a comically repulsive man and become profoundly entrepreneurial. Wha? 6.0 if you need it. I wish I didn’t.

don't judge. i will -- movie review criteria.

Rating system: 0 – 10 with a full range of arbitrary decimal places when the situation calls for it. 0 is bad. Very bad. As in, the people who created the film should be institutionalized for the length of its production and donate to charity any sort of revenue the film happens to steal from its audience. So far, there is only one film with a 0 rating – a documentary named “Keep the River on Your Right.” Ugh. That title wastes the time it took to write it.

Moving on – a 10 will be, in all fairness, nearly as difficult to come by. Now, I won’t be cheeky and give a film a rating of 9.99, but 9.8s might make an appearance. I will try, whenever possible, to keep to .5 ratings. Still, “City of God” was a 10. “My Left Foot” was a 9.8. “Last of the Mohicans” was a 9.5. You get it.

the great turkey challenge 5K

In 2006, on Thanksgiving morning, I agreed to join my friends and family in a 5K in Helotes, TX. If I was in the business of making bad jokes, I would say I went into the race “cold turkey” – no training, no watch, and shoes that barely passed for trainers. I had watched my friend Natsuki finish the San Antonio marathon two weeks beforehand and was motivated to start running. It was a bad decision. My fitness level at the time was on par with a beached whale. I ended up nearly puking a lung meters before the finish and when I had nothing in my stomach left, dry-heaved my way to a 24:22 finish. This was my first 5K experience.

But that was 3 years ago. And I’m a runner now. So at least I had that going for me when I toed the line at the Great Turkey Challenge 5K last week.

My twin brother, Martin, my Dad, and my Mom all decided to run that morning. It was cool, crisp and about to become sunny. Martin and I arrived early to register. We went through the business of paying and received our timing chips and bibs. We then engaged in the business of porta-potty use. But I’ll spare the details.

Although it took a sincere effort on my part to get my brother to join me (he has ceased being competitive), I could tell the race atmosphere was having an effect on him. Martin was always faster than me; he was the runner of the family. I remember starting alongside him at our old cross country races, but have no memory finishing anywhere close to him. It never happened. That’s why. But like I said, I’m a runner now.

The warm-up run was kept around 9:30-10:00 minute pace. It felt right. Martin and Dad bailed around the one mile mark, but I continued for another half mile or so. I wanted to run the entire course, but with the jacket, arm-warmers, and wind pants on, I was plenty warm by the halfway point. I returned to the car and proceeded to shamelessly strip down to my singlet and tights. I switched out shoes to a new pair of racing flats – the Brooks T6. If anything, I looked like a runner now. Martin confirmed this.

I recognized a guy at the starting line. He looked fit and wore shoes that were splitting at the seams. I knew instantly I was going to lose to this guy. We got to talking. Jorge was his name. Sure enough, he planned on running “somewhere around 18.” That means the potential to go below 18 was a reality for him. It wasn’t for me. So I conceded right then and there – the last thing I needed was to go out too fast in an attempt to catch someone I couldn’t.

“Sub-19 and I’m happy. I ran the marathon a couple weeks ago,” I said, “I don’t expect much.”
“Oh yeah, me too man,” he responded, “my hamstrings locked up at mile 19 and it was over after that.”

I told him about my stomach/side issue. About how I finished with a 3:29 when I was shooting for a 3:10. He said he came through the half in 1:28, and was possibly looking for a sub-3. He came in 4 minutes behind me. That’s why I recognized him. As terribly as I felt, there were people who felt worse. He was one of guys I passed in the final miles.

Shit happens, man. He agreed. And then the horn sounded.

I went out quickly, but Jorge set out at a blazing speed. Perhaps around 4:50 – 5:10. After the first 200 meters, I tried to slow the pace down. 5:20s became 5:30s, but it felt slow. Still, I was in second. A younger guy came flying past me around 400 meters in, only to fall back just as fast. I’m not sure what his intent was.

The first mile was about as fast as I assumed it would be: 5:46. Absurd. I ran a 2-miler in 5:46 pace once, but not 11 days removed from a marathon. And not with an extra 1.1 miles added on to the end of it. I decided to slow down.

I managed a 5:58 second mile which felt very comfortable. I wasn’t gaining too much on Jorge, but the gap had stopped growing. That was a plus. But right around the end of the second mile, I noticed a family (wife and child) cheering along the side of the road. I waved to them as it appeared they were waving to me. As I was about to say “thank you!” the little girl yelled, “Go Daddy!” Uh oh. Either my illegitimate child was playing a cruel joke on me, or someone was actually making a move behind me. Thankfully, it was the latter.

Out of nowhere, the little girl’s Daddy was right on my tail. How did a 5:58 mile allow someone in a race this small get this close? I sized everyone up beforehand, the only one that looked fit enough to beat me was Jorge. And he was in front of me. Still, I didn’t turn around. I didn’t want to acknowledge the dude’s hard work (because it provides impetus to run even harder…I learned this somewhere…really). So I just dropped the pace when I heard his labored breathing grow closer.

For a while, I thought I had lost him. I was running a solid 5:40 pace and the sounds of footfalls or breathing were no longer there. After rounding the last turn, however, it came back: huff, puff, huff, puff. I was deflated. And it grew louder and louder until we were running side by side. I was set in a good stride, but he was flying just as fast. Who the HELL is this?! I thought. He was somewhat fleshy, pale, wore a tight singlet that looked like it was from high school, and had trainers on that looked as heavy as bricks. But there he was, running stronger and faster than me. Lesson learned, I thought to myself. And then he passed me, arms swinging comfortably.

But that’s when I remembered: I’m a runner now. I kicked a bit to catch up to him – we only had 600 meters left. I ran on his left shoulder to draft for a while, but decided that I had doubted his abilities for too long already. I didn’t want to be on the wrong side of a Daddy with a mean finishing sprint, so I passed him. My plan was to make him run out of his comfort zone. That would give me a chance – because I was confident I can hold on to a lead once I got it. The pull away was gradual at first, but I could sense he knew I wasn’t interested in a sit-and-kick finish. I wanted to end this now. I dropped the pace to 5:10 with about 400 meters to go. He came along for the ride, but I continued to gap him. I pushed harder and harder; I was redlining. And then the finish line finally came into view. I saw Jorge cross it, but some people were blocking the clock. I could only make out a “17,” but assumed it referred to the seconds. It wasn’t. It read: 17:36. Counting down.

I opened the throttle and burned the last remnants of gas. Fumes, really. My stride had widened and my arms were pumping as fast as they could. I was the embodiment of “controlled fury” – my Dad’s advice on how to run a 5K race. I finished second overall. 17:56. I was able to hold off the third place runner and, in the process, picked up a new personal record.
Martin finished 10th overall with a 20:47 (6:46 pace) on minimal training and no watch. When I attempted to do that three years ago, well, simply reread the opening part of this blog. Still, I suspected Martin would perform like this. He’s got skills.

My Dad, however, was a surprise. He finished in 68th place (out of 410) and ran a 25:39 (8:15 pace). In the 2006 Turkey Day race, my Dad posted a 27:37 (8:53 pace). Three years older and nearly two minutes faster. Skills.