Recent Movie Reviews

Thanksgiving has come and gone. I set a new 8k PR Thanksgiving morning in the Gallop & Gorge road race, ate my heart out for the rest of the day and somehow caught a cold in between. As I have been somewhat under the weather these past few days, I've had ample opportunity to catch up on some movies I've been meaning to see.


I liked but didn't love this one. It was definitely trying to be the kind of epic, artistic, transcendent movie that I would love but it just didn't quite get there. The cinematography was spectacular, the science-informed sci-fi was well done, and parts of it were very compelling. However, some of its subplots were a bit goofy and didn't add much - or even detracted from - the bigger picture. There were times when it seemed to be plodding along a little too indulgently but there were also times when it glossed over important points with forced exposition. It was a good film and I recommend seeing it, but it unfortunately isn't the "2001 for this generation" that it attempted to be.


This film was really interesting and had me thinking/guessing right up until the very end - and actually a bit after as well. It was very Memento-like in its non-chronological story telling and it was very well acted. It's hard to be too specific about this movie without giving anything away so it will have to suffice that I recommend it.


This movie really surprised and delighted me. It's from the same studio that produced Coraline and is made in a somewhat similar style - although the content is not as dark. It features excellent voice acting, well scripted dialog, a captivating premise, and an engaging plot that keeps you interested until the very end. This will work well for kids and adults alike - heartily recommended.

What do the rest of you think? Disagree with my reviews? Has anyone seen any other noteworthy movies recently?


Chestnut Ridge Trail Race 2014

Yesterday I ran the Chestnut Ridge 4-mile Trail Race for the second time and did pretty well, placing sixth overall and second in my age group.

Chestnut Ridge was the first trail race I ran in North Carolina last year and was it ever a shock to my system. Having been used to flat road races in Houston, my mind was blown by how much different trail running - and especially hilly trail running - was. I finished 10th overall and third in my age group - but at a pace much slower than I was accustomed to running a race of that distance (actually 4.3 miles). On flat roads I might have expected to complete the race in ~28 minutes but I finished in 33:50 instead - big difference! It was evident then that all my pacing and PRs were out the window and I would have to set new expectations.

Having been in NC for more than a year now, I am finally starting to run some races for a second time. This gives me a chance to set course PRs, attempting to improve on last year's performances. It also means that I'm not walking into races blind and I can take a more intelligent approach to race strategy.

This race is mostly single track trails through the woods and around the lake of Chestnut Ridge Camp and Retreat Center in Efland, NC. The trails aren't very technical and they really aren't very hilly either - at least not by NC standards! This year's race was sunny and cold (+3 C or upper-30s F)- great racing weather!

I went out pretty fast to ensure that I didn't have to do too much passing once we hit the single track trails. As I saw my heart rate creeping up, though, I was able to reign it in a bit so as not to burn out. For most of the race there was someone 50-100 meters ahead of me and and I could hear someone(s) 25-50 meters behind me as well. I tried not to be concerned with them and just ran my own race. 

With less than 1 km to go, we emerged from the forest and two cross country boys passed me. They tried to pull away but I hung with them and eventually all three of us overtook the man who had been ahead of me for most of the race. As we neared the finish, I kicked it up a gear or two and surged pass the boys to beat them by a couple of seconds and finish in 32:21.

Setting a new course PR by 89 seconds is pretty good on such a short race. I attribute the better performance to better pacing, more experience running trails, and a higher running fitness level than I had a year ago. Also additional motivation was provided by some of my friends from the Godiva Track Club. They were running the longer distance race but one of them even ran with me for some time.

This was a fun, small race with pretty scenery and a nice route. It served as a good warmup for Thursday's Gallop & Gorge 8k, the final event of the Tour de Carrboro series, where I'm hoping to set another course PR before hitting the offseason!


Dell XPS 15

Last month I started working on a new laptop, the Dell XPS 15. This is Dell's premium notebook, combining performance with design and competing with the MacBook Pro.

I've always liked the hardware of the MacBook Pro (lightweight, compact, good screen, fast hard drive) but, after multiple attempts, I never really warmed up to Mac OS. Fortunately new offerings like this Dell hit pretty close to the mark and still give me the Windows tools I seek (without having to deal with Apple at all).

The biggest win by far of this notebook is its screen, a stunning 15.6" 3200 x 1800 touchscreen GorillaGlass display. For movies it is absolutely stunning but even text in basic productivity apps seems much clearer and sharper. This notebook model is already more than a year old and still has a better display than the current MacBook Pro (2880 x 1800) so I'll be excited to see what the next generation offers.

The next win is the 512 GB SSD hard drive. It is so screamingly fast that this is the first Windows notebook I have ever owned that actually provides "instant on" functionality. I don't use too many data-intensive applications so I can't speak to its speed at I/O but, for rapid startup, it is transformative.

The battery life is also very good. Despite the big display, I am easily getting 6-9 hours (depending of  course on how hard I'm pushing it) use between charges, which is more than adequate to sustain me during travel or meetings. I'm not sure I've even used my charger outside of the home or office yet.

My one reservation for this computer was that it only came with Windows 8.1. I liked Windows 7 just fine and I hadn't heard great things about 8.1. So far, though, I have been pleased - not blown away - by 8.1. It isn't radically different than 7 but it offers a more app-like launch experience, which is prevalent on all of my other devices. I'm still not using the touch screen as much as I could, but I'll get there.

All in all I have been very pleased with the Dell XPS 15. It's fast, light, not too power hungry, and has an amazing display. If there are others out there who want MacBook Pro-ish hardware with a Windows experience, this is it.

Rice Homecoming 2015

Katie and I were in Houston last weekend for Rice's annual Homecoming & Reunion. It was a lot of fun to be together back in our old stomping ground and we packed an awful lot into just a few days.

The weather really, really cooperated as it was sunny and 70s F (20s C) almost the entire time we were there. Weather like that makes it easy to romanticize our life in Houston, selectively forgetting the miserable summer weather! We took advantage with lots of outdoor runs and beach volleyball. One of our runs was along Buffalo Bayou, which has changed significantly even since just a few months ago. Through landscaping, the addition of many pedestrian and bike paths, and the construction of new venues (not to mention an epic dog park), the City of Houston is investing heavily in Buffalo Bayou. It is still a work in progress but it is easy to see that it will soon be a tremendous asset to life inside the loop.

Buffalo Bayou is far from the only part of Houston under construction. As booming as Houston's economy is, there is construction everywhere! The downside to this is that there is traffic everywhere. It used to be that you would deal with traffic if you lived out in the suburbs but you were relatively insulated from it inside the loop. No longer! There is no escape! As quickly as Houston is growing, I don't expect the road construction to keep pace with the traffic and, unfortunately, public transportation efforts like light rail are being developed at a snail's pace.

Fortunately we didn't have to drive around too much as we spent most of our time on campus for Homecoming. The events were fantastic as always, including Katie's reunion at the new continuing studies building. As this was the first Homecoming in three years that Katie and I weren't chairing, we were really able to relax and enjoy it. We were able to see many friends in a short amount of time and Rice won the football game to boot, becoming bowl-eligible for the third year in a row - go Owls!

We also checked many Houston food destinations off of our bucket list while we were there: Goode Co. BBQ, Roost, Beaver's, Torchy's Tacos, some more authentic tex mex, and even the Lovett College servery. Say what you like about Houston; it is definitely a great food town!

It was just a quick trip, but it is always nice to be back together in the place we called home for more than 10 years - even if that place is changing at an incredible pace. It was a blast, Houston, and we'll be back soon!