Beyond the Gates of Splendor (****)

Posted on February 4th, 2005 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

Beyond the Gates of Splendor tells an incredible, nearly unbelievable true story that spans 50 years in the lives of five families and a violent and isolated Ecuadorian tribe. If you think you might see it but don’t know the whole story, I urge you to stop reading and go, then come back here.

Really, I mean it. This is the kind of movie that is best experienced with no prior knowledge. I know, I know, you’re wondering how you’ll know it’s your kind of movie if you don’t what the hell it’s about. I’ll have to ask you to trust me here and just go. Go on, go.

Last warning, the next paragraph tells the tale, and as interesting as the story is to tell I sincerely hope you get to experience it on the big screen. Final warning. Here we go.

The Story

Back in the mid-50’s a group of five young, newly married, husband-and-wife couples moved to the jungles of Ecuador to do missionary work. Now, I personally have a problem with missionaries who go to other cultures with the express purpose of telling them that their belief system is wrong and the missionary’s is right, and the natives need to change to be “saved”. I find the implied cultural superiority to be distasteful, presumptuous, and disrespectful.

However, I do have a grudging respect for people who are so sincere in their beliefs that they will uproot their families and travel to remote, unsafe parts of the world and live spartan lives in order to do (what they think is) good. Also, even though their primary motivation is soul-saving, missionaries do *actual* good by bringing things like medical care, nutritional education, etc, that does bring real benefits.

Parking my high horse.

Now, these five families were spread out among different stations in the remote jungles of Ecuador, connected to each other by the radio and airplane. They talked frequently, got together when they could, and had a sense of community with each other. Several of the couples married while in Ecuador, and several of the couples either brought their children, or had children while there.

The Ecuadorians they dealt with on a daily basis told tales of the fierce Waodani tribe that lived in the deepest, darkest parts of the surrounding jungle, and killed with murderous efficiency at the slightest perceived affront. The Waodani had fought the burgeoning oil company presence to a standstill with their vicious “spearing raids”, where they would swoop into oil company stations and slaughter everyone there. With their crude wooden spears and a few pilfered machetes, the fierce and fearsome Waodani halted, however temporarily, the march of “civilized” progress in the Ecuadorian jungle.

The Waodani were not just a fearsome foe to outsiders, but were also prone to settling their interpersonal conflicts with spearings and machete murders. Anthropologists who later studied the tribe were able to trace back five generations of the Waodani, and determined that

Oscar Fashion Report 2005

Posted on February 2nd, 2005 in Commentary,Fashion by mynagirl

Oscar 2006 Fashion Report!

Click here for the 2006 report!

Oscar 2005 Fashion Report Archive

Well, at least there was some color this year! There weren’t too many standouts – my favorite was probably Helen Mirren. She just looked utterly drop-dead gorgeous, no kidding – fun and elegant but unfussy. A close second was Catalina Sandino Moreno, who was the perfect mixture of classy and sexy with a white Roberto Cavalli and a long, sleek ponytail.

Likes:

Beyoncé, for the two seconds she was wearing her “on the red carpet” dress looked great in black velvet — almost a disturbingly hourglass figure, but she looked very elegant — simple dress, big earrings, not-too-fussy hairstyle. I was sick of her by the end of the Oscar telecast, however – they should’ve gotten some other people to sing some of those songs.

Helen Mirren looked fabulous — sexy, eclectic, elegant, put-together, and utterly beautiful. Bravo.
Virginia Madsen looked very elegant in navy blue Versace — the dress wasn’t a knockout but her overall look with hair, makeup, and earrings was just breathtaking.

Great First Timers:

Catalina Sandino Moreno, nominated for Maria Full of Grace. She looked flawless in a white Roberto Cavalli body-hugging gown with jewel-encrusted straps.
Malaak Rock in a gorgeous Pamela Dennis dress in beige with black eyelash lace (although I’m hoping that the collar wasn’t fur).
Emmy Rossum, who could easily be the new Julia Roberts, looked classicly gorgeous in a red satin Ralph Lauren with some beautiful Harry Winston rubies.(Although hopefully Emmy and Sandra Oh didn’t stand next to each other at any of the after parties, as Emmy’s and Sandra’s Michael Kors dresses looked nearly identical):

Undecideds or so-so’s:

Loved the color of Kate Winslet’s almost-sapphire dress, but the cut and decoration weren’t my faves. Overall she’s gorgeous, though.
Scarlett Johansenn’s fuzzy blond, bejeweled hair and oddly gathered black dress.

Not a Big Fan:

Laura Linney’s dress was ordinary and bland, but she did outstand in one area: her hairstyle was spectacularly unflattering.
Cate Blanchett’s too-pale yellow silk chiffon with a wow-this-does-not-match burgundy belt. She’s so beautiful, I wish she’d choose brighter colors, like the deep crimson satin at last year’s Oscars.
Similarly, Penelope Cruz’s too-pale Oscar de la Renta yellow-with-an-ugly-1987-prom-dress butt bow and train.
Hilary Swank’s navy blue Guy LaRoche dress — the backless part was okay but the swathed front left a little too little to the imagination for my tastes.
Clive Owen’s velvet tie.

Yucks:

Like I even have to say it — Johnny Depp’s freaky blue tuxedo jacket. (Editor’s note, 3/6/2005: I saw in People magazine that the collar pin, not very distinguishable on TV, was actually a Hunter S. Thompson gonzo pin worn in memoriam. Okay, that was kinda classy.)
Rene Zellweger’s emaciated Mrs. Claus outfit.
Mario and Melvin van Peebles’ bowler hats.

The Red Carpet Coverage:

Ugh. First off — they kept saying it was commercial free

Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior (***¼)

Posted on February 1st, 2005 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

Tony Jaa is the next great martial arts star. That fact is very clear after seeing Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior. He has the charisma of Bruce Lee, the charm of Jackie Chan, and the grace and menace of the bastard love child of Jet Li and Mikhail Baryshnikov. In this film he does all his own stunts, a la Jackie Chan, and they are wild, eye-popping moves. And just in case you miss them, the director films them from several angles, and plays them back repeatedly, sometimes in super-slo-mo, so you can see that it was all done with physics, not with wires, pixels, or mirrors. At first this replay action took me out of the flow of the film, but after a couple of times I got used to it and grew to expect it because some of the moves were so unbelievable they just have to be re-experienced immediately in order to grok the fullness.

Just to give you an idea of where I’m coming from, I’m no fanboy of martial arts films. I’ve never seen a Bruce Lee film all the way through, just bits and pieces, and my favorite part of Jackie Chan’s films is always the outtakes at the end. But I have seen enough of these kinds of films to get the basic storyline, where the reluctantly violent hero tries in vain to achieve his task with a minimal of bloodshed, but his vile opposition won’t let him hang up his guns.

That same storyline applies here. Tony Jaa plays Ting, a young and naive country boy who goes to the big city to retrieve a macguffin that has deep sacred meaning to his village. Along the way he runs into a former village-mate, now a bottom-rung hustler in the big city, who reluctantly (and comedically) “helps” our hero. Pretty standard stuff, really.

But what sets this movie apart is the fighting and stunt work. Mind boggling is the only way to describe it. This movie is worth seeing just for these facets. However, the script is actually engaging and the story is intriguing, and they (thankfully) subtitle the movie instead of overdub the voices, so the true personality of the characters comes through.

So, even if you’re not a fan of martial arts movies, I think this one is worth a look. And try not to groan and yowl out loud with the action on the screen, I dare you. I also dare you to try and get the tune “Mmm-bop” out of your head once you replace “Mmm-bop” with “Ong-bak”. Go on, I double dare you.

The Ten Albums on the Jukebox if I Were Marooned on a Deserted Island

Posted on February 1st, 2005 in Music by The Donkeys

Police, Synchronicity

Eagles, Greatest Hits Volume I

Garbage, 2.0

Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine

Stevie Wonder, Songs in the Key of Life

Prince, Purple Rain

Bruised Apple: The iPod on Windows Experience

Posted on February 1st, 2005 in Music,Product Reviews,Technology by mynagirl

Don’t Stop the Music

I am a listen-to-music-at-work kinda person. Ever since I’ve had a job with enough autonomy and desktime to allow it, I listen to music via headphones while I work. And since I don’t like to have any extraneous apps running on my workstation (much less keep music on a corporate machine), I like to have my music on a device that is disconnected from my actual PC, so I always have something to play my music with. Also, as a former runner, I used to take stuff with me on the hoof. So, I’ve had a few MP3-playing devices in my day.

My most recent device was an iRiver — most specifically, an iRiver 400-series CD player that will play MP3s burned onto CD. (I also have some familiarity with the iRiver solid state MP3 players, having bought the G-I-R-L one for running). The iRiver has a somewhat daunting and extremely tiny interface, but it’s highly customizable once you figure it out. The CD player has limitations, though — a CD can only fit about 200 or so MP3s on it, and after having that same CD at work for a few weeks you get pretty tired of that same mix. Plus, if you buy a new CD and rip those songs into MP3s, you have to re-burn a new MP3 mix CD just to add the 1 or 2 new songs you want to add into the mix. It can be a drag.

Before that I had (and actually, prior to the iPod, still used for exercising) an ancient RCA Lyra device and it’s really unusable — MP3s have to be custom-encoded with specific software in order to get transferred onto the Flash memory through a parallel-port flash reader that’s REALLY SLOW. It’s literally a 30-minute process. You can imagine how often the songs get changed on THAT device… not much incentive to do a 30 minute session on the elliptical when you’ve got the same 15 songs you had 6 months ago waiting for you and your workout.

Under My Thumb

At Christmas, the G-I-R-L (whose Indiana parents use a Mac) came down to visit with an Apple iPod in tow. Although we often had to pry the earbuds out of her ears to get her to actually join family events, I eventually asked her for some details on the little machine and (despite myself) got intrigued. I mean… 20 GB of music right there in such a tiny package is pretty enticing. Plus, we have an auxiliary jack in our Honda Element and the iPod hooks right up to it to put tunes into the car. (The iRiver CD player can do the same thing but it’s much more cumbersome to try and stuff the CD player into the glove box and hook up a power cord, etc).

And I gotta give it to Apple, the clickwheel is a really innovative interface. It feels a bit like an Etch-a-Sketch at first, but it’s a GREAT way to turn the