Spirited Away : 5 of 5

I'm sure you've already read my glowing review of Spirited Away, which I saw twice in the theater, but I have to offer more praise for the movie after seeing it on DVD. It was really a joy to watch it in the original Japanese - I think the English dubbing was particularly good (with the voice of Lilo from Lilo & Stitch as Chihiro), but everything seems so much more natural in Japanese. The bonus materials on this set are really good, too (much better than the bonus disc of the other two recent Miyazaki DVD releases). My favorite feature is a complete Japanese TV special about Miyazaki and the making of Spirited Away - it includes scenes of the animators working crazy hours to finish the film, eating ramen at the studio, and meetings where Miyazaki explains how he wants things to look. I thought it was amazing that he completely storyboards all his films himself! This is a great DVD set, finally with features worthy of such a great movie.

Psychic iPod

Long time, no post. Last weekend I had fun with my pal Dae - we spent some time tooling around the lake, eating way too much food, seeing movies, and just relaxing. One night we were looking through some old photos (I hooked up the iBook to the TV) and listening to random tunes on the iPod. It was totally amazing to me how the iPod kept selecting mellow songs, one after another for about two hours. It was like the iPod wanted us to have a nice, relaxing reminiscing session.

Disneyland Countdown: 54 days!

Most extremely funny

Special thanks to Barron for recommending Most Extreme Elimination Challenge on TNN - this show is completely hilarious! The footage is from an actual physical challenge game show from Japan called Takeshi's Castle, but it's been dubbed with the most wacky dialogue you've ever heard. I'm hooked! (And don't forget that Ren & Stimpy is back, too!)

I'm planning on taking Japanese I at Austin Community College this coming semester, and I just found out that I can enroll online, which is so cool. Since I'm already an official student (from my previous philosophy course), I get to enroll early, too. Neato!

Today is a double pickle day! I got my usual weekend Tasty Turkey (I love that sandwich too much!) at Einstein's and they gave me two pickles instead of one. Must be my lucky day!


Chance Pop Session Vol 1 : 4 of 5

I realized that I hadn't watched in goofy anime series in months, so I stacked my Netflix queue with a few titles - things I hadn't heard of, but looked interesting. Chance Pop Session is one of those plotlines that would never see in an American cartoon - it's basically a soap opera about three girls who dream of becoming singers and enroll in an exclusive school to learn how to be a pop idol. One is a priest's daughter, one is a rich kid (with a butler who follows her around), and the other is from a street band. The story just follows their day-to-day work at the school, how their friendship evolves, and of course, the mean students who try to make their lives miserable. There's some cute J-Pop songs in each episode, and its easy to get caught up in the plot. Now I just hope Netflix offers the other volumes of this series!


The Jungle Book 2 : 4 of 5

I wasn't really planning on buying this DVD, but when I saw it during a recent trip to the Disney Store, I though it would be fun to see again, since I was so sleepy when I saw it in the theater. This isn't the first time this has happened, but I liked the movie much more after seeing it again on DVD! Even though I still get a little tired of the original song reprises, I think they did a fine job of coming up with a good story and really staying true to the original animation and voice work (except for Baloo's palette, which they claim was changed because of all of his interaction with other animals - I think it was just to make a better looking plush toy!). The new songs are growing on me, too, though Jungle Rhythm is by far the best - I love the action in that number! The DVD has some nice bonus materials, too, including a decent documentary and a pretty cool game. Maybe these quickie Disney sequels are growing on me - scary!


The Rescuers : 3 of 5

I can remember seeing The Rescuers in the theater back in 1977, and I liked the little adventuresome mice and how they saved the orphan Penny. This movie has finally come out on DVD (I'll never understand why the sequel has been out for years before the original), and it's good to see it again, through entirely different eyes. There are some great things about this movie - some cool character animation and emotion, along with some funny gags with the cute swamp hillbilly animals (and who doesn't like Evenrude the dragonfly?). But there are also terrible things, such as the ultra-lame music - sure, it was the 70s, but this soundtrack is just a total snoozer, even in the "exciting" parts! Medusa is a pretty good villain, and well animated (such as when she removes her false eyelashes), but she seems a little too Cruella DeVille to me. It just goes to show that great animation can't carry an entire movie on it's own - it's got to be a complete package for a Disney classic.


Down with Love : 3 of 5

I think lots of people had the idea that this movie was a musical, especially with Rene coming from Chicago and Ewan showing off his voice in Moulin Rouge. There's really only one musical number, over the closing credits (and it's really good!), but the rest of the movie is pretty fun even without singing and dancing. The clothes and the sets are the real stars of the show, with all the goofy colors and gadgets everywhere, and the fact that everyone was pouring a drink every five seconds was kind of funny, too. The New York City scenes were pretty cool - kind of surreal, but still amazing! I think the acting was great comedic work, but my main problem with the movie is it doesn't end when it should - after a big climactic moment, the plot reverses and then essentially repeats the last half-hour (with the roles switched), and I think it really drags. This certainly isn't high cinema, so I can definitely say I enjoyed it and forgive it's mistakes.


The Italian Job : 3 of 5

I saw this movie with my pals Dae and Ernesto, and when I went I really didn't even know what it was going to be about. I kind of like heist movies, especially if they are clever and interesting without having so many twists that you have to take notes during the film! Thankfully, The Italian Job had just the right amount of cool ideas. The big heists at the start and end of the movie are fantastic, the action is great, and I love the Mini Cooper, so seeing those cars in action was a treat. The actors do a pretty good job - I don't think Marky Mark is very good, but at least he fits the role, and Charlize is great just by standing there (though she really does a fine bit of acting). The Napster stuff was a little too much, and the lack of cops was ridiculous at times (even with gridlock, I still think they would find a way to the scene!), but over all this was a fun movie.


Castle in the Sky : 4 of 5

When I bought Kiki's Delivery Service on DVD, I went ahead and got the three movie set of Miyazaki's films distributed by Disney. I hadn't seen Castle in the Sky before, but I had seen a few stills from the movie, so I was excited to finally experience it. Wow, what a great movie! On the whole, it's very different from Miyazaki's other work, since it's much more action packed - the thrills never stop! The story involves a legendary floating city in the clouds, and fascinating air ships and other vehicles are everywhere you look (flying seems to be a theme in all Miyazaki films). Our heroes are an industrious little miner boy, who does everything he can to rescue a young princess, along with the help of some "kind" pirates. The plot has lots of twists and turns, but still stops for some touching moments (perhaps a little too quickly, though). The bonus features are identical to those on the Kiki DVD - fun Japanese trailers and semi-boring storyboards, but the movie itself is definitely worth seeing!


Fantasmic seating

One of the best things about Disneyland is Fantasmic, a show combining live-action, fireworks, water effects, and much more - it has to be seen to be believed! The park sells special seats for the show on the balcony above Pirates of the Caribbean to a mere 20 folks per night (and they come with a special dessert buffet!) - I'm determined that my parents and I will be in that group! They take reservations 30 days in advance, and usually sell-out in a half-hour, so I've got to be ready to make that important call next month.

I think I forgot to mention that my pals Ernesto and Conrad are currently in Eggheads, a really funny play presented by Tongue and Groove Theater. My pal Dae is coming in from Los Angeles tomorrow, and we're getting together a bunch of friends to go see it (you should see it, too!).

Disneyland Countdown: 64 days!

Kiki's Delivery Service : 5 of 5

I remember seeing Kiki's Delivery Service for the first time on video (it was either a recommendation from Matt or Barron) and being completely blown away. I had just seen and loved Princess Mononoke, but Kiki was even better! She's a wonderful character, so sweet and pure, trying to prove herself on her own - you can really feel for her. I absolutely adore the animation - when she flies on her broom for the first time, it's just spectacular! The wind builds up around her, making her hair wave around, then she whispers "Fly!" and off she goes, running into a tree and flipping around before she finally gets it right. It totally makes you think that's what it would actually be like to fly on a broom! Anyway, I've been waiting for this DVD for a long time, and I love it! The bonus DVD is kind of unnecessary - I like looking at storyboards, but who wants to watch the entire movie's worth of storyboards? Oh well, I'm just thrilled to finally own this wonderful movie that touches my heart!


Boba Fett 1: The Fight to Survive / Terry Bisson : 3 of 5

I bought this book on a total whim along with the latest Jedi Quest book, mainly so I was sure I would have enough books for my Japan flights. I had no idea how it would be, but the idea of following the ten-year old Boba Fett seemed pretty cool to me. This first book of the series is actually pretty awesome, since it tells the story of Episode II (complete with actual scenes and authentic dialogue from the movie) from Boba's eyes. It's fascinating to explore his adventures - think about it! Just what did Boba do after seeing his dad Jango killed in the Geonosis arena? Well, read this book to find out! The interaction between "father" (bounty hunter) and "son" (clone) is really well done. Being a Scholastic book, this is a quick read, but now I think I may have to keep reading the series! I wouldn't put it on a par with Jedi Quest yet, but we'll see how it goes.

Chicken Run : 2 of 5

Though I didn't see this movie in the theater, I clearly remember when it was released, because my pal Barron was obsessed with it (or at least he pretended to be) for some reason. I've seen the Wallace & Gromit shorts by the same animators, and they are definitely technical masterpieces, and pretty funny, too. Anyway, Chicken Run finally popped to the top of my Netflix queue, and it was a pretty good DVD, but nothing special. The animation is totally incredible - I love looking at the detailed sets and imagining all the work that went into them! They also tacked the incredible problem of scale, since the story features both large humans and little chickens. Speaking of story, that's where Chicken Run falls short - I just couldn't feel for these characters or get very excited about their adventures. The movie is definitely an amazing technical achievement, but the plot is just so-so.

I'm going to Disneyland (again)!

This weekend I booked a trip to Disneyland! I'm taking my parents this time, kind of as a thank you for all the times they took me as a kid. We're going to stay at the Grand Californian Hotel and spend every moment we can having fun - I can't wait! I spent most of the day Sunday reading up on all the latest tips and information, plus plugging touring plans into RideMax to check their feasibility (yes, I am quite scientific when it comes to Disney planning!). Anyway, it feels so good to have the booking out of the way - now I can just sit back and let the excitement build!

When I called Disney Travel to book the trip, I was really impressed with the person who took my reservation. He was really polite and efficient, and he kept spelling things back to me with a "Disney alphabet" - just like the military radio alphabet with Disney characters. He had them all down, too - there was no delay when he would say "P as in Pinocchio, M as in Mickey, B as in Belle". I guess they have to learn the whole alphabet - pretty amazing!

Sorry for the lack of posting lately. I could say it's because I'm working so hard on the upcoming Japan journal, but really I'm just being lazy. I shall endeavor to double my efforts!

Disneyland Countdown: 65 days!


Matilda : 4 of 5

I rented this great movie since I've been reading a lot of Roald Dahl lately. I haven't read the book yet, but now I can't wait, since the film was wonderful. In the typical Dahl style, a child is our hero, in this case a sweet girl with terrible parents and an even worse school principal who discovers she has telekinetic powers (and uses them for good, of course). It was fun to hear some of the puns and wordplay that I've read in other Dahl stories (such as "Dahl's Chickens" instead of Charles Dickens), and the casting was terrific (Matilda herself is cute as they come, and Miss Honey is exactly like her name). I was surprised to see the film was directed by Danny DeVito, who also plays Matilda's dad and provides the narration. Maybe he's a Dahl fan who always wanted to make Matilda as a pet project?


Alegria / Cirque du Soleil : 3 of 5

After experiencing the spectacle of Cirque du Soleil, there's just no way to leave the tent without something to commemorate the show. Since I was so impressed with the live music, I decided to get the CD, and it's just as good as hearing it live (in fact, I believe most of the tracks are live cuts from various performances). The use of percussion is fantastic, with tons of cool toys being used sparsely for just the right sound at the right moment. The accordion and saxophone are a wonderful, melancholy duet, and the singer (the same one I saw in Austin) is really talented - she has a scratchy voice in places, but uses it to great effect.

The BFG / Roald Dahl : 4 of 5

Another truly fantastic Roald Dahl story - I started this one during my Japan trip also. The plot is full of the usual Dahl creepiness, since it involves evil giants who travel to different parts of the world every night to gobble up "human beans". Thankfully, the BFG (Big Friendly Giant) is against eating people, and makes friends with Sophie (who spots him one night blowing dreams into the window of a sleeping child). There are some fantastic lines, since the BFG always says things the wrong way, and all of the explanation about how the BFG captures dreams in jars and brings them to children is incredible. Of course, there's a wonderful ending, and a child is shown to be a true hero, since Sophie concocts the plot that saves the day.

Fry's first-timer

I almost hate to admit it, but yesterday I went to Fry's for the very first time (being the geek that I am, I should be making weekly visits!). I was really impressed! Everything seemed to be easy to find, and the selection of stuff was cool (especially the anime DVD section!). The employees were great, too - I got lots of help and thank you's, which I really appreciated after my recent immersion into the "super service" culture of Japan. It's kind of weird how they force you down the impulse-buy-aisle-of-doom to get to the register, though - I managed to escape with only one box of Poppycock!

Flat tire

On Monday night I went out with my pals Chris & Eliza, and on the way home I had a flat tire! It's no fun to put on a spare at midnight in the dark - I called Chris as soon as I pulled off the highway and he came right away to help me out, because that's the kind of super-cool guy he is. Thanks, Chris!

New babies

Two of my pals recently had babies within just a few days of each other! Francis McGrath, who plays bass for the Greatest American Heroes, and Jim Orlowsky, my work partner at Online Agency, both had healthy baby boys (I guess their wives had something to do with it also). Congratulations!


This Sunday between bell ringing services I was looking at the Austin skyline with some fellow ringers, and they pointed out to me the big tree on top of one of the buildings under construction. I had no idea, but it's a tradition to put a live tree on a building when the top story is completed - I guess it's for good luck. I thought it was kind of nice to see a tradition like that observed in something as mechanical and rigid as raising a building.

New umbrella

I had been using a broken umbrella for years, so I bought a new one for my recent trips to New York City and Japan, since I knew it would be useful. I got a really cool one that pops out automatically at the touch of a button, and then it also collapses automatically by pressing the same button. I think appreciating the little things is what makes life fun, and I really appreciate my nifty umbrella.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea : 5 of 5

At last, Disney has finally released this fantastic movie on a wonderful two DVD set, bursting with interesting and unusual extra features (including weird things like Peter Lorre's overdub dialogue tracks and a documentary on actual giant squid in nature)! The film is great, with excellent acting (sometimes a little overacted, but that's half the charm) and sets, primarily the spectacular Nautilus, which is beautifully designed (they even worked out how all the rooms connect to make the set realistic, plus built ceilings on all the sets to provide a claustrophobic feeling). I've heard a lot of people complain about the fight with the giant squid, but I think it's great (especially after seeing the first take, which Walt immediately canned and had the whole sequence reshot!). Nemo is a fascinating character, and the story is amazing - I can't wait to read the book!

Finding Nemo : 5 of 5

I usually try to see all Disney movies on opening day, but since I was in Japan during the premiere, I had to wait a while on this one. It was worth the wait, because Finding Nemo is a fantastic movie (and I wouldn't expect anything less from Disney/Pixar)! Once again, Pixar has accomplished amazing things with computer animation - the underwater effects, which include millions of floating particles and the diffusion of light through salt water, are spectacular, and the character animation is quite impressive, when you consider the animators had to make these fish, which are basically floating "heads", come alive. The story is also great (though it's tough to beat the imaginative premise of Monsters, Inc.) - I was worried at first that it wasn't going to break open my tear ducts, but the father and son reunion near the end of the film did the trick. I can't wait to watch this on DVD, when I can marvel at all the eye candy at my own leisurely pace!


Jedi Quest 5: The School of Fear / Jude Watson : 3 of 5

I read this latest volume of the Jedi Quest series on the plane to Japan - the plot moved along quickly and before I knew it I was finished. In this story, Obi-Wan and Anakin split up to work different sides of a kidnapping of a senator's son - Obi-Wan gets the political angle (which accounts for the boring sections of the book), while Anakin goes undercover at a private school. There's some wonderful plot work here, since Anakin disobeys Obi-Wan in exactly the same way that Obi-Wan disobeyed Qui-Gon in one of the Jedi Apprentice books. The closing scenes are the best, because Master and Apprentice have to admit they don't trust each other, which is wonderful foreshadowing into the events we know are approaching!

Stewart Little 2 : 3 of 5

I think I may have read Stewart Little in grade school, and for some reason, I really enjoyed the first film, both for the amazing animation of a realistic talking mouse and for the not so subtle moral that even the little are important. I missed the sequel in the theater, but it was lots of fun to watch on DVD. Stewart Little 2 is just a simple little movie with a simple, yet touching, plot, where Stewart makes friends with a cute little bird - little does he know she's the pawn of an evil hawk thief! The animation effects are still good, but maybe not as good as the original, mainly because it's more difficult to make a canary seem like a person than a mouse. Still, it was a fun way to spend an afternoon with a heartwarming film.


Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom / Cory Doctorow : 4 of 5

I happened to stumble on this book on Amazon while perusing other Disney-related material, and right away I knew it was a must-read. It's difficult to explain the story, but this is generally a science fiction novel set in a bizarre future society where death is essentially non-existent (since you can restore from a brain backup into a new cloned body) and government has been replaced by smaller ad-hoc groups. The kicker that makes this book fantastic is it focuses on two competing ad-hocs living and operating the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World! One group wants to change the classic attractions, while the other wants to keep them intact (especially the Haunted Mansion, and believe me, the author has done some serious research into the ride!). After the initial shock of getting into this strange environment, I couldn't stop reading - a real page turner, even if you're not a Disney fan!

Pleasantville : 4 of 5

I'm not sure what made me put this DVD in my Netflix queue, but I'm glad I did. I'll bet I rented it because I may have watched the first half-hour on cable, so I was really interested in seeing the entire film. The plot has a simple bizarre premise: a brother and sister are sucked into their TV and become part of a black and white 50's white bread world. The special effects are amazing, because as their modern day attitudes, actions, and knowledge "taint" the B&W world, things begin to change to living color (and of course, this leads to the inevitable discrimination against "coloreds" in this B&W world). The movie is quote long, but I think it's worth the time - first you enjoy the humor of this strange society, and then things really turn around with a purpose that gives the characters meaning. It makes me think everyone has some color inside them waiting to burst out!


Return of the King : 1 of 5

I think I saw this animated movie on TV many, many years ago, because I remembered some of the wacky songs, but I wanted to rent it as kind of a finish to seeing the Ralph Bashki film recently (plus is was cool to get a refresher in how the trilogy ends!). The animation style of the movie is much more like The Hobbit, and not anything like The Lord of the Rings (no rotoscoping), which means the Hobbits are all goofy little Cabbage Patch kids. Roddy McDowall does the voice of Sam, who seems to have more lines than anyone else, but the craziest voice is Casey Kasem as Pippin (Casey used to do tons of animation voices at the time this was made) - he sounds completely ridiculous. The songs are terrible, but who doesn't want to see Orcs singing "Where there's a whip, there's a way"? It was kind of fun to watch this again, but I'm so glad the third live-action movie will be out this year to help me forget.


Strength through spinach

Sometimes the TiVo guide descriptions really crack me up. The other day I happened to notice the description for a half-hour of Popeye cartoons: "The sailor courts Olive Oyl and gains strength through spinach". I guess that's exactly accurate, but it sounds so silly!

Very few things are more embarrassing than being awakened by the crash of your empty beer glass slipping from your lap and shattering on the floor! That's what I get for falling asleep in my rocking chair, I guess. (At least I had finished the beer!)

Legally Blonde : 2 of 5

The main reason I rented this DVD was because my pal Ryan really likes this movie. I think Reese Witherspoon is pretty cool, too, but I liked her better when she was a little rounder (like the Cruel Intentions days) - now that she's lost so much weight, she could poke an eye out with that chin. Anyway, the movie is cute and goofy, following a silly blonde as she gets into law school to follow her boyfriend and ends up winning a case and being a star lawyer. The real star of the movie is the costumes, since Reese changes into increasingly outrageous outfits in nearly every scene. Some of the music is pretty good, too - I always like those pop-filled ready-to-sell soundtracks. There wasn't anything about the movie that really grabbed me, but at least I had a nice light-hearted time watching it.


Modulate with style

Back on the blogging bandwagon with exciting random observations that are too special to let slip away! Every time my iPod plays the Beach Boys' Girls on the Beach, I'm always blown away by the awesome mid-verse key change at the end (right between "As the sun dips out of sight" and "Couples on the beach at night"). What a genius thing to do! It must have been tough to work out how all those harmonies should make the change, but the end result never fails to amaze me. It's one of my favorite Beach Boys songs - not really obscure, but I don't think it was a hit (what a shame).



I'm back from Japan! It was a spectacular time, filled with many exciting adventures. You'll be able to read about each day in detail in the near future, since I'm planning an extensive Japan Journal illustrated report. Right now I'm still getting back into the swing of normal life - I didn't think I was jet-lagged at all, but tonight I realized that I have been super sleepy around 6:30 or so for the past few days. I just woke up from a two hour evening nap, and I now I feel out of sorts. Weird! Anyway, I'm hoping to get in the habit of regular blogging again, so stay tuned.