Off to Japan

My vacation is finally here! Don't expect any WEBmikey updates for awhile, since I'll be in Japan! Of course, expect a massive trip journal shortly after I get back. This is my second trip to Japan, and this time I'll be visiting Osaka, Okayama, Tokyo, and Kyoto, and Tokyo Disneyland Resort! Sugoi!

Two of my pals have birthdays coming up, so Happy Birthday to Ryan and Shelly!


Little Voice : 3 of 5

I don't remember how this DVD got on my Netflix queue - maybe I clicked it since it has Ewan McGregor in it, after I was impressed with his Moulin Rouge performance. Anyway, Little Voice is about a shy girl who spends all of her time listening to her deceased father's records, so she can duplicate the singing styles of Judy Garland, Marylin Monroe, and many others (the actress actually does all of the singing, and it's truly amazing!). Ewan is a geeky telephone repairman who also trains homing pigeons, so these two incredibly shy folks are destined to find each other. Parts of the movie are pretty sad, since Little Voice (her nickname) is treated terribly by her mother and the folks who want to exploit her talent, but thankfully she triumphs over her shyness in the end. A nice little film with a good story - it was an uplifting way to spend an evening.


Who Framed Roger Rabbit : 5 of 5

I didn't hear about this new special re-release of Roger Rabbit until after I already went to the trouble of buying the older out-of-print DVD on eBay! I had to buy this release, though, because of the bonus disc of material. The movie is fantastic, of course, so there's no need to go over that here! The main feature that I was excited about is the inclusion of the Roger Rabbit cartoon shorts that were produced after the movie was successful - they are hilarious! It's so cool to see Tex Avery style animation with modern humor and gags - my favorite is Roller Coaster Rabbit, because I can't stop laughing when I see that coaster hill towering over the earth! The background material is fantastic, showing what many scenes looked like before animation was added, and including a full sequence that was cut from the film. There's also a great trivia subtitles feature that names most of the characters in Toontown so you can spot them all!

iPod breakdown

Because I know you want to know, here's the current breakdown of Mikey's iPod:
  • 1/5 Disney (includes movie music and theme park attractions)
  • 1/5 Recent tunes (which lately has been Broadway recordings, Cirque du Soleil, and ABBA)
  • 3/5 Rarely heard random (iTunes and the iPod remember how many times you've heard a song, so I can be sure to load up on tunes I may have forgotten!)
  • Sun therapy

    Earlier this week I was feeling a little run down and "blah", and after sitting in the sun for an hour or so, I felt fantastic! It's amazing how good it feels to feel the warmth on my face and to sweat a little bit, plus a good book and a glass of wine help, too.

    Which is "it"?

    Out of all the crazy rules of English that we all subconsciously remember everyday, I always have to stop and think about the "its/it's" rule. Even while I'm writing this I'm thinking about finding some grammar website to see which is right. How in the world did we ever come up with that rule?

    WEBmikey in Hungary

    Like many other unsuspecting bloggers, "shares" of WEBmikey are being traded on BlogShares! I went ahead and signed up for the game, though I'm sure I won't have the patience to actually play. Still, it's a cool way to find other blogs and maybe a few more folks will find WEBmikey (which is trading for .36 cents right now - what a bargain!). On a similar note, there's a link to WEBmikey on this Hungarian blog I found called Tibu Odala! I have no idea why, and I can't find a Hungarian translator on the web, so I may never know.

    Fragile balance

    Plenty of other updates for you to read, but I'm concerned that I added two things to Hate It and nothing to Love It. I may be throwing the entire universe out of balance!

    Tokyo Disneyland Countdown: 11 days!


    All Families are Psychotic / Douglas Coupland : 4 of 5

    After reading this great book, I can say I'm caught up on all of Douglas Coupland's fictional novels, and I'm ready for another. This book was a bit surprising to me, because it had so much plot in it - usually it seems like Coupland writes much more about what happens inside a character than what they actually do in the world, but this story contains so many characters and flashbacks that the action never stops. That's not to say that character development is neglected - each member of the family does make a wonderful change, but it's handled in more of a narrative style than an inner dialogue. The plot is completely imaginative, of course, involving a truly strange, but believable family, involved in a NASA launch, divorce, AIDS, smuggling, adultery, and there's even a scene at Walt Disney World! Coupland always makes you appreciate life with his stories, and this one is no exception.

    Cirque du Soleil / Alegria : 5 of 5

    I had never seen a Cirque du Soleil performance before, but I knew I was in for something amazing! They set up their circus "tent" (which is a completely custom stage designed for this show) in the old Austin airport parking lot, which was a great use for that space. I can't even begin to describe the show - of course, there are plenty of circus acrobats, such as trapeze artists, balancers, tumblers, and even a fire dancer. The elements that set apart Cirque du Soleil are costumes, music, and symbolism. Every performer is decked out in elaborate costumes, all involving make-up and wigs, making the whole visual experience surreal. The music is all live - there's a huge band with tons of great percussion and energy, plus an amazing live singer wandering about the stage. The "light and dark" symbolism is very apparent - as if each beautiful performer has a grotesque or dark counterpart. The show kept me completely on edge and screaming - it was truly spectacular!

    Treasure Planet : 4 of 5

    Disney has been releasing their new animated features on DVD quite quickly lately, and even though it takes away from the fun anticipation, it's great to see these movies at home so soon. I really enjoyed Treasure Planet in the theater (and I don't care if I'm in the minority), and it's just as good on DVD! All of the cool scenes (such as the crescent spaceport) look fantastically detailed. I've already reviewed the movie itself, so I'll just focus on the DVD and it's bonus materials, which are pretty nice, but lack substance. There's a little behind the scenes stuff, but not much, though the info on the combination of 2D and 3D elements is good. The "walk-throughs" of the CGI sets are interesting, but a little long and boring, and the deleted scenes are mostly fluff, except for one good one that would have been some great character development for Jim. I still love the DVD, though, since the movie is what I'm after!

    Late Lane-Changers

    I can't stand it when a lane is going to end, clearly marked with signs hundred of yards back, and someone doesn't change lanes until the last possible second. It just makes me think to myself that the driver is completely unaware of anything going on around them! There's no reason to wait unless you just want to cause inconvenience for other drivers. This same thing happens when there's a very long exit lane - if you're planning to exit, I say get in that lane as soon as you can. Why do some stupid drivers wait until its practically too late and then swerve into the exit?


    Guess I'm on a roll with my driving pet-peeves! This one is much more minor, but it still drives me crazy when someone is turning off a main road into a parking lot, and they practically come to a dead stop in the middle of the lane so they can make their turn at .5 MPH. Why do they turn so slowly? Its like they're oblivious to the fact that other drivers are behind them going 40 MPH into their rear end. Of course you need to slow down to make a sharp turn, but with a little skill you can get off the road without making anyone else slam on their brakes!

    Dinner Foods

    At Home: I'm getting hooked on Tyson Chicken Tenders, which come in three different batter flavors - nuke them for two minutes and it's chow time! They go great with a salad, which I've been eating a lot of lately. I like the Spring Mix (lots of field greens) in the bag, with Drew's Rosemary Basalmic dressing and a little parmesan!

    Snack Foods

    At Home: I can't get enough Dole Fruit Bowls! I guess that commercial campaign really got to me, but these things are great. I love the mandarin oranges, pineapple, and the tropical mixed, too!


    Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Platinum Series Extended Edition : 5 of 5

    At last, I've watched every last minute of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Platinum Series Extended Edition, which has both the longest title and the most DVDs of material I've ever seen. Seeing the movie with the additional material was amazing - it was a joy to notice both the small scenes and the completely new ones, including the new opening montage as Bilbo begins to write his book and the giving of Galadriel's gifts. I really think it's a better movie with the extra material, though I can appreciate the difficult task of editing for a movie-going audience. The bonus DVDs contain tons of mini-documentaries, stills, and some extra-cool features like a navigable map of Middle Earth following the journeys of the Fellowship and Gandalf, plus an interactive map of New Zealand so you can see where they filmed all the beautiful locations. My favorite surprise from the bonus material was learning about the extensive use of miniatures! I thought for sure most of the movie was CG, but instead it was the hard work of model makers!


    Babe: Pig in the City : 5 of 5

    I'm quite late to the whole Babe saga, since I didn't rent the original movie until many years after it's theatrical release. I guess I'm caught up now, because I've seen the sequel and absolutely loved it. At first I was sure this would be completely inferior to the original, but it's almost as good, even thought it's such a different movie. Of course, the characters are there, the narration and the singing mouse transitions are there, but the plot is just far and beyond the first movie, taking place in the mythical "city" (some of the most amazing shots are of this metropolis, whose skyline includes the major landmarks of every large city in the world!). The movie is just so surreal that it feels like an art film, even though you're watching a talking pig, cigar-smoking chimps, and a dog whose back legs are strapped to a wheelchair device (among other memorable characters). The use of music is fantastic, and does so much for drawing emotion out of the viewer. I was totally happy in this bizarre world and every minute was an adventure.


    Lord of the Rings : 2 of 5

    I decided to rent Ralph Bashki's animated Lord of the Rings as a visit to my childhood memories of the story, back when I was playing D&D at the library and reading the Monster Manual every day. I remember really loving this movie, because it was my first image imprinting of what this amazing story might actually look like. It was no problem for my high school brain to stay interested in this long, long movie, which covers the first two books of the trilogy. Unfortunately, that's not the case today - I think the live action masterpieces have spoiled me. It was fun to see how the same scenes were handled in animation versus the recent movies, but other than that it wasn't that exciting. Most of all, looking at the movie with my animation critic eyes, I can't believe how much of the film was rotoscoped (filming a scene in live action and then tracing over the film to transform it into animation). Most of it is painfully obvious and distracting. This movie was certainly an amazing effort, but it's time has come and gone, I'm afraid.


    Scooby Doo : 3 of 5

    I trade a lot of emails with my pal Matt in Japan, and recently he mentioned how much he enjoyed the live action Scooby Doo. I completely avoided this in the theater, because I'm not a big Scooby fan (for some reason it's the only cartoon that I liked in my childhood that bores me now), and because the trailer looked pretty bad. Well, anything is worth a Netflix rental, right? All in all, I had a good time watching the movie. The characters are portrayed fairly accurately, especially Shaggy, who completely steals the show (except when nerdy Velma becomes hot nerdy Velma). The sets are fantastic - Spooky Island is so cool (I'm ready to book my vacation). My biggest complaint is that Scooby himself just looks so weird. The CG character acting is well animated, but his texture just isn't right - I think they should have either gone more cartoony or more realistic, since the middle ground they took just doesn't work for me.


    The Firehouse Five Plus Two Story : 4 of 5

    The Firehouse Five Plus Two is so amazing because the band is made up of amateur musicians who loved 20s and 30s hot jazz and just wanted to play it - and also just happened to be some of Disney's top animators, including several of the famous "Nine Old Men"! I've never really taken the time to listen to this style of music closely before, and I have to say that it really grows on you! It's fascinating to hear trombone, trumpet and clarinet all soloing like crazy, with tuba playing the bass and piano and banjo plunking out the chord structure (backed by lots of snare rolls, of course). This two CD set covers tons of wonderful material, but for me, the best part is thinking of these fantastically creative guys truly having a good time and playing for excited crowds at Disneyland!

    The Lion King : 5 of 5

    My second Broadway show during my recent New York City trip was The Lion King, and though I was prepared for something spectacular, I had no idea just what amazing sights I would see! We had very good seats, and although we weren't in the center, it was amazing to see the show open with Rafiki directly in front of us! As expected, the costumes are the stars of the show, with fantastic combinations of natural materials that allow the actor to express themselves while staying in the character of the animal (my favorites were the giraffes, with all four limbs on stilts, and Scar, whose wooden "mane" and headpiece were awesome). The music was wonderful live, with incredible percussion and African chants coming from all over the theater, since performers appeared in the balconies several times! The energy of the music and the expressiveness of the performance made the experience a true celebration!

    Beauty and the Beast : 4 of 5

    My third Broadway show was unexpected, since we were able to get half-price tickets the day of the performance. I'm a big fan of the wonderful music in Beauty and the Beast, so I was excited we got to see the show! The sets and special effects were truly amazing in this production, including the fantastic castle with multiple rooms and terrific illusions, such as the Enchantress' fireball and the Beast's transformation back to the Prince (he actually rose into the air and spun around vertically before becoming human in a flash of light and smoke!). The big numbers like Be Our Guest were great, of course, and quite a bit extended from the animated movie songs. The new material was great as well, wonderfully performed by the actors. Our seats were OK, but unfortunately plagued by the rudest kids in New York, but we managed to have a great evening anyway.

    The Sixth Sense : 4 of 5

    Two Bruce Willis movies in a row - what's wrong with me? Believe it or not, I never saw The Sixth Sense in the theater, and I found out the "big secret" soon after it was released. I decided to rent the DVD since so many of my pals loved the movie, and I'm glad I did. It really is a fine film, well done in every way, with a brilliant premise and plot. I'll admit that I would have enjoyed the experience ten times more if I hadn't already known what was going on, but it was still wonderful watching it and taking into account all the film making techniques used to pull it off. Once again, Bruce did an amazing job - I'm so glad he's moved past the Die Hard days. The emotion of the final scene is really touching, and I'm glad the director chose to go with that cut (rather than the sadder alternative ending also on the DVD).

    The Lizzie McGuire Movie : 2 of 5

    OK, you don't have to say it - I know I'm crazy for seeing The Lizzie McGuire Movie. I have rarely watched the show on the Disney Channel, and I don't really like the goofy little animations that tell what she's thinking, but after seeing the trailer a few times I thought it might be an nice, uplifting story like The Princess Diaries (plus I like the bubblegum pop music, and I can't deny that Hilary is a cutie). I went after work as a spur of the moment decision, and although the movie was a disappointment, it wasn't all bad, and I had fun. Nothing wrong with the production values or the acting - everything was top notch (though some of the music was too loud even for me!). Unfortunately, the story just didn't give me that special "dreams come true" feeling, which is what I'm looking for in every Disney movie. It came close, but didn't quite make it. Sorry, Lizzie!

    Ghosts of the Abyss

    I drove to San Antonio with my friend Mark from bell choir this weekend to see Ghosts of the Abyss in IMAX 3D. The movie was amazing! The use of 3D was cool, and the expedition itself was really fascinating - I especially enjoyed how they superimposed actors (the "ghosts") onto the actual rooms of the Titanic to provide a sense of what took place there. Really incredible!

    I had my first experience calling 911 this weekend, which was completely frightening, when my pal Eliza fainted and had to go to the emergency room via ambulance! I'm happy to say she's doing fine now, but it was a sobering experience, making me realize how I react in unexpected situations and how level-headed and amazing some people are (like my friends Kristin & Carlos, plus the firefighters who responded to the call)! Get well, Eliza!

    Last night I did some experimenting with VNC, a way to remotely control another computer, which to my surprise is built into Mac OS X (thanks to it's UNIX roots)! It's a totally strange feeling to work with my Windows desktop on my iBook and vice versa, but totally cool that I can do it! Speaking of computers, I have come inches away from clicking the Buy button for a new iMac this weekend, but I keep holding back since I'll be spending so much in Japan soon. Decisions, decisions!

    Tokyo Disneyland Countdown: 18 days!

    Zuni Grill / San Antonio : 3 of 5

    My pal Mark from bell choir and I ate at this comfortable riverwalk restaurant in San Antonio for one reason only - the hostess claimed that their margaritas were rated "number one" by the Travel Channel. I haven't checked up on that fact, but I can tell you that the ritas are definitely tasty and nice and large. They go extremely well with relaxing next to the river, watching the tour boats and folks strolling by. The food was pretty good - nothing amazing, though I did really enjoy the sauce on the enchiladas, which was spicier than I expected, but not too spicy!. As far as decor goes, you have the riverwalk, so nothing else is needed!

    New York City

    I took my parents on a quick vacation to New York City in April, and we had an amazing time! Mom had never been to New York City before, and has always had a love for performance and dreams of seeing Broadway, and Dad had only been to the city on quick trips before I was born, so it was a special time for all of us. Thanks to some great weather, we managed to do all of major tourist essentials, including the Empire State Building, a harbor cruise around the Statue of Liberty, a carriage ride through Central Park, plus Grand Central Station and a little shopping at Tiffany's and FAO Schwarz. On top of that, we saw three Broadway shows with fantastic seats, and simply enjoyed the entire adventure. I could definitely get hooked on Broadway easily, so maybe we can do it again sometime soon!

    View photos: New York City 2003
    Watch video: New York City Vacation


    Disney Songs the Satchmo Way / Louie Armstrong : 3 of 5

    The CD contains a bunch of Disney classics (and a couple of obscure tunes from a live action Disney film) performed by Louie Armstrong, singing in his unique style and blowing solos as well. Louie somehow became a popular Disney performer during his later years, even appearing on the Disney TV show playing his heart out on the Mark Twain at Disneyland! This CD has some great stuff - When You Wish Upon a Star is perfect for him, along with The Bear Necessities and Chim-Chim Cher-ee, which is especially cool. I have to admit that his solos are a little lacking, and maybe even flat in places, but it doesn't really detract from the fun of the music!


    Beauty and the Beast / Original Broadway Cast : 4 of 5

    One more Broadway CD from my trip, filled with fantastic music from what I think is the most Broadway-style Disney animated feature, making the transition to stage easily. The additional songs on the CD are really wonderful, and their musical themes are woven into the other music, making them much more seamless and appropriate than some of the new Lion King songs. The performances by Belle and the Beast are completely perfect, and even a little better than I saw on stage. My only complaint is the actor who portrays Lumiere on the CD really overdoes the French accent - I know that sounds crazy, since the French accent is an essential part of the character, but he really does go too far. Fortunately, the actor I saw live was much better!


    The Lion King / Original Broadway Cast : 4 of 5

    Another original Broadway cast recording from my recent New York City adventure, and the CD is fantastic. I've always loved the music from the movie, mainly because it does such a great job of combining African rhythms with pop stylings, so I'm thrilled to have all of the additional material that was written for the show on this CD. Most of the new stuff is beautiful african chant, along with some new character songs (I'm not so impressed with those pieces, but they aren't bad!). As far as the performances go, I think the Rafiki that I saw on Broadway was better, but the young Simba on the recording is much better than I saw live.


    Thoroughly Modern Millie / Original Broadway Cast : 5 of 5

    I had to buy the original Broadway cast CD of each show I saw during my recent trip to New York City, and Thoroughly Modern Millie is the first of three. The CD is so much fun to listen - much like listening to the Chicago soundtrack, I love hearing all of the instrumentation details that give me such an appreciation for the music! It's also wonderful to listen to all of the songs and picture what was happening on stage. Sutton Foster as Millie sounds incredible, just like she did in person. I'm thoroughly impressed with this CD!

    Thoroughly Modern Millie : 5 of 5

    Even though I had been to New York City three times before, I had never seen a Broadway musical. My fourth trip with my parents changed all that - my first Broadway show ever was Thoroughly Modern Millie. This is exactly what you picture when you think of Broadway - tap dancing, beautiful songs, a love story, and a girl struggling to make it big in the big city. Everyone in the show was amazing, especially Sutton Foster as Millie. Her big song in Act Two (Gimme, Gimme) was incredible - every time I thought it couldn't get any better she just kept taking it further (I was in tears, of course)! The sets were wonderful, with rotating floors and working elevators, but the overall story and music really made the show. I can't imagine a better Broadway music to have been my first!

    Ready for Japan

    I can't believe my trip to Japan is coming up so fast! I'm really getting excited about seeing Tokyo Disneyland, and my pals and I will be staying at the Disney Ambassador hotel, a mere 10 minute walk from the parks!

    I'm falling behind in my Last 5 reviews, so I'm going to try to add at least one everyday until I get caught up. Wish me luck!

    Tokyo Disneyland Countdown: 22 days!

    The Kid : 3 of 5

    I'm definitely not a Bruce Willis fan, but I had to rent this DVD since it was a fairly successful Disney movie that I missed at the theater. I really enjoyed it, and I have to say that Bruce really can act when he wants to! The plot was really interesting, especially when you consider what it would really be like to meet yourself as an eight year old. In the classic Disney style, the story did a good job of making me think about what really matters in life, and of course, how dreams can come true if you help them along. I should also mention that the female lead is absolutely amazing, and makes it completely believable that Bruce would change his whole life to be with her!

    Holes : 4 of 5

    I saw this movie purely out of Disney loyalty, since I hadn't even heard of the children's book when I first saw the trailer. Boy, was I surprised - Holes was really entertaining! The child actors were all really good (I know the lead is from Even Stevens on the Disney Channel, but I've never watched the series), but the intricate story is what I enjoyed. At first I was wondering why they were showing so many flashbacks of what seemed like useless information, but then when all of the stories came together into one cool mystery, I was really impressed. I guess sometimes blindly seeing Disney movies can pay off!


    Missing Horizons

    I finally saw a complete video of Horizons, a beautiful Epcot attraction that was closed a few years ago to make room for Mission: Space (opening this year!). I never got to ride Horizons (though I think my parents did), and after seeing this great video (another home movie DVD from eBay), I really missed out. The different environments of the future in the city, on the farm, undersea, and in space are fantastic, and wonderfully tied together by a single family with members living in each area, all presented in that incredibly upbeat, hopeful, Disney way. What a great ride!

    Expert smoking

    I always find it amazing when I can light my pipe with one match and smoke it down to ash. Back when I was an amateur, I must have had to relight it about 20 times! Today I took my old Edwin Jansen pipe from New Orleans to be reamed, so now it's like new. I wonder if the old guy who made it is still alive - he was so kind to me when he sold me the pipe, which I proudly puffed on Bourbon Street.


    Today I heard a guy at the bagel shop actually say "achoo" when he sneezed!


    Strawberry love

    I think strawberries may be my new favorite fruit. If you could buy them pre-washed with the little leaves already cut off, I would eat a huge bag of them everyday. The taste is just so perfect - it's amazing something can taste that wonderful without coming from a candy factory! I also kind of like them because most of the strawberries at HEB come from California, and it feels kind of cool to be eating something from my home state. Lately I've been buying a container of them and chowing down standing over the sink - wash, eat, dispose leaves, repeat.

    Old Late Night shows

    Recently I discovered that Trio is running old classic Late Night with David Letterman shows from the NBC days (when Dave had hair and Paul had a comb-over!). I used to watch it constantly during that time, back when it was so cool because it wasn't well known and seemed like more of a "college show". Tonight I saw Jerry Seinfeld, back before his show even premiered! Also, I can't believe I forgot about the Late Night Thrill Cam! Woo hoo!

    Bold Grackle

    Today I was eating lunch with my pal Ryan outside at Whole Foods when a Grackle, one of those noisy, semi-ugly birds you see all around Austin, hopped up on the table. It stood there about a foot and a half away from us and our sandwiches for at least a full three minutes - talk about bold! It finally hopped away when it realized we weren't sharing.