Say goodbye to '05

Here we are at the end of 2005, so this is the last WEBmikey post of the year! I'm getting pretty much adjusted to post-Christmas life, and tonight I'll be playing a New Year's gig with the Greatest American Heroes, so tomorrow morning it will really feel like the holiday season is over. There's still a few remnants of Christmas that I got to enjoy this week, though. Thanks to my TiVo, I got to watch all of the Walt Disney World Christmas Day Parade, and even though it definitely had cheesy parts and some terrible entertainment (I don't want to have a Cheetalicious Christmas, thank you), for the most part I really enjoyed it (certainly much more than some folks at The Disney Blog)! There was much more Disneyland coverage then usual, which was awesome, and the final number with all of the parks singing We Wish You a Merry Christmas in their language was really cool (Tokyo Disneyland was the cutest!). Next, my pal Melinda and I went to see the Zilker Park Christmas Tree, since I had never been before. It's a huge cone of lights hooked up to one of Austin's old moonlight towers, and the way the lights spiral up gives you an instant dizzy feeling when you look up! I thought it was really cool, so check out my weird pictures! Finally, I picked up my big package of Christmas gifts that Dad shipped home to me, so it's like getting my presents all over again. Now I need to drink up all this Christmas coffee - it still love it, but the taste just seems strange after the holiday!

Memoirs of a Geisha : 4 of 5

It's amazing how this movie has created such a mix of love it/hate it reviews! Even though I haven't read the book, I had to go see it just because of my interest in Japanese culture, and even though it certainly wasn't perfect, it's still a beautiful film. Visually, everything is wonderful - the recreation of pre-war Japan, the amazing dances and details of the women (I especially enjoyed the way the trains of the kimono moved), and the extreme lighting and use of rain and snow were all amazing. All of the actors are extremely talented, and even though Suzuka Ohgo as young Chiyo steals the show for me, Ziyi Zhang produces some incredible emotion (especially at the end of the movie). However, I agree with most critics that it just doesn't "work" to have Chinese actresses playing Japanese women, especially since they are speaking English! Their accents just sound wrong, even when they throw in a Japanese phrase (I really wish there had been more Japanese language used, too!). But putting that aside, my biggest complaint is that somehow this movie stays a little cold - even though I felt sad and happy for the characters, I never found myself completely wrapped up in them. However, I was definitely fully engaged and interested, and the length of the film just flew by for me. So, even though the emotion was missing for me, the quality of the film definitely makes it a memorable experience!


Metroid Prime Pinball / Nintendo DS : 5 of 5

I'm becoming a true Nintendo DS fan, and now there are lots of games that I love to play, and tons that I can't wait to get! This Christmas I got three fantastic DS games, so it's time to start reviewing. You probably already know that I love pinball games - I have just about every kind of pinball game that was made for GameBoy Advance. So, I was super-happy to see the first Nintendo DS pinball game, and it's totally fantastic - I really don't see how it could be any better! I don't know a thing about the Metroid game series, so whatever backstory there is to the game is lost on me, but it doesn't matter a bit. All that matters is this is a kick-ass pinball game, probably a tie with Pokemon Pinball Ruby & Sapphire, my all-time favorite. There are two main tables available, and at least two other mini-tables that you can transport to during the game. The action is really nice, and definitely has a great, realistic feel. There are plenty of ramps and all kinds of bonus modes, but also several kinds of moving monsters that you can battle (kind of like Pinball of the Dead, but much more intelligent). There's even Battle Mode where your ball becomes a laser-firing turret that you can rotate with your flippers to shoot enemies! The graphics (which use both DS screens to make a tall vertical table) are beautiful and the sound is great, complete with a computer voice that announces bonuses and things. I can easily play this game for hours without getting bored!


Cheaper by the Dozen 2 : 2 of 5

My parents see just about every fun family movie there is, so when we decided to see a third movie during my Christmas visit, this was the obvious choice. I haven't seen the first movie (or the original movie it was a remake of) - I put it in my Netflix queue a long time ago when I was watching Lizzie McGuire all the time, but I never got around to renting it. Anyway, it's definitely not necessary to have seen the first film - this is just a simple story about a ton of kids and a rival family. It tries to be funny and sneak in some emotional moments, too, but I don't think I really laughed too much (lots of smiling, though). Steve Martin does his best with the material, but the script doesn't really give Bonnie Hunt anything to do. There are so many kids that none of them seem like real characters, since there's no time to get to know them (although the little girl who steals the make-up is a great actress). The worst part of this movie is watching Hilary Duff and wondering how cute little Lizzie morphed into an anorexic, collagen-injected, fashion-trash monster! She looks absolutely terrible - I'll just have to survive on my memories of the old Hilary. I always have a great time at the movies with Mom & Dad, so this was definitely a fun time - just not a movie I would really recommend to anyone.


The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe / C.S. Lewis : 4 of 5

Since I enjoyed the new Narnia movie so much (I've seen it twice now), I really wanted to read the entire series of books (if I remember right, I've read a few of them, but it was so long ago!). I was really happy that my pals Chris & Eliza bought me this set for Christmas, and I took The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with me to Oklahoma City. It was so much fun to read the story with the movie so fresh in my mind, so I could see where certain scenes were slightly rearranged to enhance their excitement on the big screen. I really enjoyed Lewis' comments to the reader, also, just like he was telling a bedtime story. There's some controversy over the correct order of the books, since they were written and published in a certain order, and then re-ordered into Narnia chronological order for this set (which makes this story actually the second book). I think I'm going to read them in the published order, since that seems to be the order the movies will follow (and I don't mind jumping around in time if it makes things more interesting). There are several quaint illustrations that really add to the storybook quality of the tale, along with a map of Narnia and a complete list of characters (most of which I haven't heard of yet). This is definitely a quick read, so I'm excited about the other six books waiting for me now!


Post-Christmas blah

It was really tough getting back to the "real" post-Christmas world today. Everything just seemed kind of surreal since I've been out of my routine for so long! Yesterday I said good bye to Mom & Dad, then had some flight troubles on the way home - my connection became so tight in Dallas that my luggage didn't make it. They called me to deliver my bag at 2:00 AM this morning, but I was too zonked to get the phone, so they delivered it around 11:00 today. Tonight I thought I would have more energy, but after I took down my Christmas decorations, I only had enough energy to watch some of my new Looney Tunes DVDs and play some new Nintendo DS games. My pal Ryan has post-Christmas blues, too! I'm sure I'll get my energy back soon, so I can get back on track with WEBmikey and Flickr posts!


Merry, merry!

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good bite! I've just finished eating a giant Christmas dinner, and this has been a simply fantastic day! Christmas Eve was really fun, too, since my parents loved their final presents from me (I was really happy that Dad loved his Corgi Aviation Archive AWACS plane, which he flew near the end of his Air Force career), and then we all watched A Christmas Story, which we all know by heart. This morning we woke up early, got dressed, and then I opened up my treasure chest of gifts - Santa was very generous, and I'll be watching new DVDs for months! I was all set to watch the Walt Disney World Christmas Day Parade, but the local ABC affiliate in Oklahoma City decided not to carry it! (I would call them some mean names, but it's Christmas.) I'm sure my TiVo will save me and I can watch it later this week. I spent the day drinking coffee, eating cookies, playing new Nintendo DS games, and watching Christmas shows on TV. Now that dinner's over, we're going to watch the video I shot this year! By the way, here are links to two Flickr sets of Christmas photos (newly updated including shots from today). I can't believe my visit with my parents is almost over - I think time moves twice as fast during Christmas!

View photos: Christmas fun
View photos: Christmas ornaments


Our Christmas uniforms

Yesterday was a full-blown "pajama day" for Dad and I, which means we goofed off at home all day and never even got dressed (another fine Christmas-time tradition)! After an incredible Eggs Benedict breakfast by Chef Mom, Dad and I put together a puzzle I got for him. It's the front page of the New York Times on August 16th, 1935, his birthday. It started out pretty easy with the headlines, but it was pretty tough to finish all the smaller stories (we had to read the tiny print to figure out which article each piece was in)! Next we hooked up a new printer for Dad's computer, then had another one of my favorite dinners, macaroni and cheese (far better than any other macaroni dish in the world). Today we got out of the house for another movie, and tonight we watched some of our classic home movies (including scenes of my first two visits to Disneyland, along with lots of Christmas present unwrapping). I've been spending the rest of my free time reading, playing my Nintendo DS, and gaining weight. This is definitely a wonderful life!


Two more Christmas days

The past couple of days have been lots of fun, and nothing had to save Christmas this time! We saw another movie since I wanted Mom & Dad to see The Chronicles of Narnia, and I loved it even more this time (and my parents loved it, too). We've been watching the new nighttime game show Deal Or No Deal every night, which is fun because we all get to yell at the TV. Today it was sunny and warm, so we went to the mall, then went to Sears (so I could buy Mom & Dad their annual "major appliance" gift), and then went to Remington Park, since they just opened a new casino! We spent about two and a half hours playing slots and had a great time (I also had a couple Manhattans)! I got hooked on one called 99 Bottles of Beer, since it had a little bonus game where you choose which cartoon character can drink the most beer, and Mom had an awesome run on Livewire (once she won 400 nickels on one pull - not bad!). Christmas is coming too fast, but I'm loving every moment!


King Kong : 5 of 5

So many remakes have been showing up lately that it seems like all the good stories have already been told, but Peter Jackson has definitely succeeded in retelling this classic tale with style, emotion and excitement! My parents and I really enjoyed the film, and it stayed interesting through all three butt-numbing hours. Since I had read that Jackson was attempting to keep the feel of the 30's original, I was worried that it would come off too campy, but I thought it was just fine. There's so many amazing scenes on Skull Island that I could go on forever - I can just imagine what his CGI animators thought when he said, "Let's have Kong fight three Tyrannosaurs - all swinging from vines!" I really enjoyed the little details that made everything seem real, such as Kong's broken tooth and the way he slips a little on New York City's icy streets. The peaceful moment of Kong "skating" with Anne in Central Park is really wonderful, and their tender moment looking at the sunset before the final fight is so touching that the special effects are forgotten (which should be the goal of every effects movie!). Even though Jack Black gives the weakest performance, he's still pretty good, and Naomi Watts just has to open her eyes to act the part perfectly. The whole movie experience was tons of fun, and definitely left my parents and I talking about it like excited kids long after the credits rolled.


Full Metal Panic Vol 6 : 3 of 5

Even though I'm in Oklahoma City with my parents for Christmas, that doesn't mean I have to go without watching anime! Before I left I put a few DVDs worth of episodes on my Palm, and it was pretty fun to watch them that way (even with little tiny subtitles on my Palm screen). This volume of Full Metal Panic was pretty good, because it had a nice balance of character development and action. The first episode features Kaname, Tessa, and Mao all hanging out (literally) in the bath (still on the Mithril submarine) and chatting about the early days of Sosuke and Weber. Most of the episode is shown in flashback of how Mao met the two guys and ended up choosing them for her team to operate the AS mechas. Even though Kaname is still kind of a passenger on the sub, they still proceed with a big mission to attack a base and save some hostages, and of course, they meet up with Gauron again. Sosuke is still mentally unsettled from his awful mission in the last DVD, so he can't muster up the concentration to use the Lambda Driver. He sulks around and ends up being mean to Kaname, but we don't get to focus on that very long (but I liked the scene where Kaname looks at old school photos, wishing she had a normal life), since Gauron escapes and takes over the sub! There's also a great secret revealed about Tessa, but I'll let you rent the DVD to find out what it is.

New battery saves Christmas

Today's Christmas adventure began with a big breakfast cooked by Mom (who else?), and then we headed out in the semi-snowy weather to see King Kong (review coming soon). After the movie we went to an extra early dinner at Ted's Cafe Escondido, which is my parents' favorite Mexican restaurant, and apparently everyone else's favorite, too, since they are always packed for dinner even as early as 4:00 PM! After a great meal and margaritas, we got back in the car and it wouldn't start! We called AAA and went back into Ted's to wait, and our waiter offered to give us a jump. So, we gave that a try, but it still wouldn't turn over, so we didn't know if the battery was the problem or not. Suddenly, another Ted's employee pulled up with a portable battery jumper, and after hooking up both batteries, Dad's car started! We drove to AutoZone to get a new battery, and luckily the guy there was nice enough to put it in for us, even though they were understaffed and getting busy. So, our car trouble turned out OK - it was our own little Christmas miracle! Before we knew it we were back home drinking hot chocolate and playing The Price is Right DVD game (Mom won both showcases!).


Glenfiddich saves Christmas

Today we went to church and had breakfast at IHOP, then we bought a bunch of lottery tickets for Mom (the lottery is fairly new for Oklahoma City, and Mom & Dad love to play). It was fun watching Mom scratch off the tickets, and she ended up breaking even (one ticket won $14 dollars!). My parents have tons of old home movies that they transferred to video, and this year I'm dubbing them to digital tape so I can put them on DVD. I had a crazy time with one of Dad's VCRs and got a little stressed, but I was fine after some cookies and Glenfiddich. Now the dubbing is going fine, and I'm looking forward to making a cool DVD with them and having my own copy (so I can watching myself getting my diaper changed anytime I want). Tonight I gave my parents the TV edition of Scene It, and we played a couple games, which were both close calls since my parents know quite a bit of TV trivia! Tomorrow I'll start taking more pictures to spruce up these postings!


Getting Christmas started

My flight to Oklahoma City was just fine (no winter weather), and even though the airport was packed, I enjoyed eavesdropping on a Japanese conversation and trying to figure it out. (In fact, there was a woman in front of me in the security line who didn't speak English, so she couldn't understand when the security guy was trying to tell her to put something on the scanner belt. I wanted to help, but I always forget the verb for "to put" - I can't wait until I'm confident enough to speak up in that kind of situation!) I got a good start on my Christmas eating with plenty of Mom's cookies and her fantastic salmon patties meal (my favorite), and I spent some time upgrading the Mac OS on my Dad's iBook. Then we opened a present (which we'll do every day), and watched a silly Christmas movie on the Hallmark Channel (Mom can never get enough Christmas movies). All you need to know is Steve Gutenberg was the star, playing a young Santa Claus - definitely a classic! (Yes, Virginia, that was sarcasm.) I love Christmas at home!


Christmas DVD success

This week I finished watching my library of Christmas DVDs, which was my goal before I head to Oklahoma City tomorrow! I watched Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas, which I really enjoy - all of the stories are so amazingly heart-tugging, and Mickey and Minnie are just too cute in their version of Gift of the Magi. I followed up with the sequel, Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas, which just came out last year, so this was my first year to watch this DVD during the appropriate season. I loved it (especially the final Mickey and Pluto story), and I was a little more used to the CG characters, too. Finally, I saved the best for last, and watched It's a Wonderful Life, and no matter how many times I see it, I'm always going to cry at the end. So, now I've watched everything (except for A Christmas Story, which I always watch with my parents), and I'm ready for a week of Christmas joy. Next stop, Christmas Land USA (otherwise known as my parents' house)!


The Imagineering Field Guide to the Magic Kingdom : 4 of 5

It's so cool that folks can keep writing books about the design of the Disney parks so I continue to have interesting stuff to quench my thirst for Disney knowledge! This book focuses on the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, but naturally includes some Disneyland information since the parks are so related. This is a small book, about the size of a folded park map, which means the photos and illustrations are all a little too small to really be appreciated, but at least every page is in full-color. After a nice introduction to the process of Imagineering and all the different sub-departments, the book takes the typical approach of focusing on a different land in each chapter. While there are definitely details on several major attractions, I thought it was great that the majority of the text covers each land as a cohesive whole, really going in-depth about how architecture, design, color, and other details create a unique experience. For example, there's a detailed look at how the transition from Liberty Square to Frontierland is designed to progress both geographically and chronologically! Even though the book size is kind of cool, it really would have been better as a full size volume, but I'm not complaining (much). Since this book only covers one of the Florida parks, I'm hoping this is the start of a new series!


Decorating genius

My pal, co-worker, and office roommate Ryan got us a little Christmas tree several days ago, and since I wanted to take a picture of it, I decided it would be a good time to snap a few shots of my crazy office. Once I left the corporate stoicism of CITGO, I got in the habit of decorating my office with just about anything I could pin to the wall. I used to have inflatable furniture when I was at Works, but my "theme" at Levelfield has just been to cover as much of the space as I can with posters and stuff. When my pal Matt moved to Japan and left me all of the movie posters he had collected, I used those to get things started, and then just tacked up magazine ads, junk mail, and anything else that caught my eye. I kind of think of my office like a clubhouse that I can fill with toys and things to look at and enjoy throughout the day (and decorate in a way that I would never do at home). Maybe it helps keeps me creative - it definitely makes my time at work more fun!

View photos: Mikey's office


Astro Boy / The Complete Series : 4 of 5

At last I've finished all 50 episodes of the latest Astro Boy animated series! This five-DVD set covers the most recent version of the Astro Boy story to come from Japan, although unfortunately only the American dub is available (it's not so bad, really). This is the series that was broadcast on Kids WB, but they cancelled it so quickly that over half of these episodes were never seen! It's really a shame, not only because they did all the work to dub all 50 shows, but because the quality of the animation and the depth of the story are so incredibly far beyond any other Saturday morning animation currently in production. The characters are all exactly true to Osamu Tezuka's designs, and the backgrounds are filled with detail and life (I always get excited by futuristic cities, and they definitely deliver in that department!). The entire story arc follows Tezuka's major theme of human/robot strife and a struggle to live together in peace, and the writers managed to squeeze in all kinds of cool robots from the manga. I was shocked and amazed to watch the two-part episode that even weaved in part of the Phoenix saga (and the animation of the Phoenix herself was wonderful)! There are so many fun characters that you really get to know over 50 episodes, including Astro's school friends, and of course, Mustachio (though they only call him Detective Kisaragi in the dub). The final showdown with the robot rebellion and the last stand against Tenma is amazing and emotional, too (though I'm sure the emotion is toned down for American audiences). I've really enjoyed watching this set - too bad it wasn't a big hit!


Movie madness

This weekend I had some pals over for what's become a new Christmas tradition for me - the "screening" of my end-of-the-year video project! During the year I shoot lots of goofy video and take thousands of photos, and then I try to edit everything in some strange way. It's a lot of fun, and this year I went crazy and tried to make an actual movie with characters and a plot and everything. Of course, our demonic nemesis Baby Chaos had a starring role, and everyone laughed and had a great time, which was the perfect Christmas gift for me! I tried to take some pictures, but since I was running around getting drinks for folks, my shots were pretty bad. Thankfully, my pal Barron was there as official photographer, so enjoy the pics!

View photos: Christmas screening (by Barron)

Designer tobacco

I had to post a few pictures of the amazing packaging of a new pipe tobacco that I've been trying - Mac Baren's Cube. The tobacco is definitely nice, but what's really incredible is the box - it's super-high quality, heavy plastic box with a felt bottom and spring hinge, just to hold a few ounces of tobacco! Even the outside is embossed and the raised Mac Baren logo is cool, too. Even though it's a little crazy, I have to say the box is what tempted me to try it. I love reading Mac Baren's website, though - it's kind of like the Playboy of pipe tobacco.


Christmas CDs

Being a definite Christmas fan, I've got a lot of Christmas music. In fact, there are 376 Christmas tracks in my iTunes library right now! Still, I have to buy a couple of new CDs every year. This year I just bought and downloaded a couple of albums from the iTunes Music Store, since it's so easy and quick, and I really just went on impulse. So, first I ended up with Hilary Duff's Santa Claus Lane, recorded in the old days when Hilary was still Lizzie and she wasn't afraid of some cute baby fat. Contemporary Christmas CDs usually include a few new tunes, hoping to score "classic" status, but Hilary doesn't have a chance with I Heard Santa on the Radio or the barf-tastic Tell Me a Story! Thankfully, her covers are pretty cool - Wonderful Christmastime is way more rockin' than the original, and Last Christmas is really great, too. The second CD I bought is Mariah Carey's Merry Christmas. I don't have any other Mariah music, and I haven't followed her celebrity ups and downs, but I know one thing - that girl can sing, and this is a fantastic album! In fact, All I Want for Christmas is You is one of the best contemporary holiday songs ever! She also does a great job on traditional carols, all with a gospel feel. Her voice is just amazing to me! This music has definitely made driving in holiday traffic a more enjoyable experience.


The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe : 5 of 5

I'm so excited that Disney snatched up this great series of stories, which I read so long ago that I can barely remember what happens! I've read lots of CS Lewis, but these stories are unique because they can be enjoyed purely as thrilling adventure fairy tales (if you want to enjoy the Christian metaphors in the story, that's up to you). To start the saga, two brothers and two sisters discover an entire fantasy world by stepping through an old wardrobe (the transition from brushing up against coats and then snow-covered tree branches is really cool). There are fantastic creatures everywhere, from fawns to centaurs, as well as talking animals, such as beavers and horses. Of course, there's a magnificent talking lion, too - Aslan is a CG wonder, and he looks so fantastic and full of emotion. The child actors do a pretty good job, especially Lucy, who is just adorable and definitely the most believable of the bunch. The White Witch is exceptionally creepy, too! There are some excellent battle scenes, and of course a big coronation ceremony to swell your heart. The music is good, too - it seems like they were definitely trying for that ethereal Enya sound from Lord of the Rings, but who can blame them? I'm really looking forward to the next films in the series, and now I want to re-read the books!


Sofia pops

There's not too much to say that isn't said by these pictures! My pals Kristin & Carlos had baby Sofia around 2:00 AM this morning. Sadly, I won't be posting any more giant belly button pictures on Flickr!

This is going to be a full Christmas weekend! I'm playing a gig at a Christmas party tonight, going to see The Chronicles of Narnia tomorrow (all that snow makes it Christmasy), and having some friends over for a Christmas get-together to top it all off. I'm sure I'll find the time for some more Christmas DVD watching, too!


New DDR high combo

Here's a few totally random things thrown together to make a longer post!
  • Today I hit a new high combo on DDR Extreme 2 - 2,043 steps! (If you don't know DDR, that means 2,043 Great or Perfect steps in a row without missing!) I usually hit a 1,000 combo a few times a week, but I've never even been close to 2,000 before. Maybe I was dancing harder because it was so cold today!
  • I just watched Mickey's Christmas Carol, the now classic adaptation of the story, from back when Disney was still producing hand-drawn animation. I'm always amazed at how great it is, especially Scrooge's lonely walk in the snow, and the expression on Mickey's face at the grave of Tiny Tim - it's incredible acting! Too bad they didn't give Mr. Toad a line as Fezzywig, though.
  • Someday I'm going to win a Blingo prize! Blingo is a search engine (actually just a wrapper for a standard Google search), but they randomly give away prizes during the day just for using the site. People are winning everyday, and I want to be one of them! Anyway, you should definitely sign up and give it a try (oh yeah, if you get friends to sign up and they win something, then you win it, too!).


Christmas relaxing

Today it was finally "really" cold for Austin, and it's only 26 degrees right now. I guess the chill really put me in a Christmas relaxing mood, so I kicked back with a pipe and hot tea (and brandy later) and watched three Christmas DVDs in a row! First I watched Rankin Bass' Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, with all the great songs and the hilarious Burgermeister Meisterburger (and I always crack up when Kris says "I'm a man now!" in his lumberjack outfit). Next was The Nightmare Before Christmas, which I usually watch on Halloween, but this year I saved it for Christmas. I'm always amazed at just what a great story it is, and I love Sally's sad love song. I finished with The Santa Clause, which has become one of my favorites, even though I'm not a huge Tim Allen fan. Once again, it's just a great modern Christmas tale, and I like how all the kids just "know" he's Santa. Oh, and earlier this week I watched Rankin Bass' Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, of course! (Actually, I don't think there's anything misfit about a water pistol that shoots jelly.) I still have a stack of Christmas DVDs to watch by the end of next week, before I go to my personal Christmas wonderland with Mom & Dad in Oklahoma City!


Pandora knows

It seems I can never have enough sources of music - I like to keep buying CDs to listen to in my car, I keep my iPod (plus my iPod shuffle) full of cool tunes, I like to hear music podcasts (especially Japanese indie music), and I still tune in internet radio stations every now and then. But now there's one more, and it's pretty amazing. Pandora seems at first to be your typical streaming music website, but rather than using simple collaborative filtering (which means if several people like Song A and also Song B, and you like Song A, you will probably like Song B), Pandora is driven by a huge database called the Music Genome Project. Thousands of songs are collected with specific information about each song, so you can tell Pandora a group you like, and it will find other songs that sound similar. It's way better (and much more specific) than choosing by common likes and dislikes, because if I say I want to hear songs like Saint Etienne, it's smart enough to choose music with female vocals, keyboards, and so on! If I'm feeling like My Bloody Valentine, it will pick songs with jangly, dissonant guitar. I'm not too keen on the all-Flash interface, but the music selection is so cool. I've always wanted to listen to music this way! I wish I could plug in my iTunes library so I could randomize the music I own based on the same data.

Visit site: Pandora


Maburaho Vol 4 : 3 of 5

This series seems entirely different now that Kazuki has used up all of his magic and turned to ash. You can't have three girls competing to "get the genes" of someone when he's a ghost! Still, the story is trying to keep going, and this volume has some fairly good plots. There's a new character named Shino, who is a bizarre girl that's a ghost collector, so of course, she keeps trying to capture Kazuki. It turns out she's the doctor's sister, so she'll be hanging around at the school in future episodes. She's not too interesting yet, but at least there are some funny scenes with Yuna being jealous when she finds Kazuki and Shino together. The last episode is the best, because we really get some emotion from Rin, the most stoic of the group. We get to see some of her tough childhood where she was forced to do kendo all the time instead of playing with her friends, and there are some touching moments with her trainer, who was sometimes like a brother to her. I have to say that these DVDs go really fast with only three episodes on them, but I guess they want to keep shipping them out quickly to keep fans interested. I'm going to watch until the end, but I hope the story gets a little more exciting and fun!


The Polar Express : 4 of 5

My Christmas movie festival continues with The Polar Express, just released on DVD. Even though I'm not a proponent of this style of hyper-realistic animation, I loved seeing the movie in the theater last year (in IMAX 3-D), so I had to add this DVD to my collection. It was fun to see it again - the story truly is a wonderful Christmas tale, and some moments are simply beautiful. I like how the "camera" work is so creative, flying into places a real camera could never go, including beneath the surface of the ground, looking up at the actors as if under a glass table. I could definitely do without the Hot Chocolate song, and don't get me started on the Steven Tyler rock singer elf (yuck)! The bonus disc is simply so-so, presenting all the behind the scenes material in a really simplified way. They chose to narrate things with kids voices and explain things as if children would be the only audience wondering how they made this film, which is kind of disappointing. There are plenty of interesting shots of Tom Hanks doing his performance capture work, and even though it's cool, I have to say that this is not the future of movie-making, in my opinion! But never mind my reservations - The Polar Express is a gorgeous Christmas movie that I will watch every year! Add it to your Christmas collection!


My tutor is a rock star

I've been working on my Japanese regularly since July with my tutor, and in that time I've found him to be a really interesting person (and a really helpful teacher, too). The first time I met him he had his guitar with him, and we've talked about music several times, so recently I asked him if I could hear some of his music, and he made me a CD. I was totally amazed when I listened to it - Kazki is a serious performer! (By the way, I've been writing his "proper" Japanese name Kazuki here, but he uses Kazki so people will pronounce it correctly.) He writes his own music (with English lyrics), full of passion and emotion, with some excellent melodies and some seriously cool rhythms - I've even seen him writing out drum parts on staff paper, because he definitely has a vision for the sound he wants to produce. Listening to him play really reminds me of my days writing poetry and living more of an art-filled life, and it's inspiring to me. Now I'm really going to have to see one of his gigs! I'm glad my search for a tutor led me to such an interesting guy. Check out his website sometime.


Kikaida Vol 9 : 5 of 5

Nooooo! I can't believe I've finished the complete Kikaida series! This last DVD is the best of the bunch, with plenty of the super-cool Hakaida and his quest for meaning. The first episode shows Kikaida blown to pieces (gasp!) 3-CPO-style by Red Mine Toad (who drops land mines out of his belly), so Hakaida, who was created for the sole purpose of killing Kikaida, wonders what's left to do in life. What a tragic story! Of course, he decides to kill his creator, so Professor Gill finally gets a good beating. But then, the ultimate DARK Destructoid, Skeleton Flying Squirrel (can you believe the most powerful evil android is named that?) arrives and does his worst. Mitsuko performs the operation to put her father's brain back in his head (even though she's never operated before), and we finally get to see owari (instead of tsuzuku). This DVD also has an awesome bonus Kikaida movie with 3-D scenes (red/blue glasses are included in the package!), plus some more fun karaoke. I'm totally going to miss my jinzo ningen pal - unless I decide to watch them again! Generation Kikaida has just released a new Kamen Rider DVD set, so maybe I'll have to switch to a new hero now.


More manga

Yes, I'm still sneaking in some time to read manga during the getting-busier-all-the-time Christmas season! I've made it through four books lately, including Yotsuba&! Vol 3, which had some funny fireworks stories (it meant so much more since now I've seen hanabi in Japan!), Genshiken Vol 3, which is so good for the soul of an otaku who longs to be understood (he he), and I''s Vol 3, which was much less embarrassing to buy than the last volume, since the cute girl on the cover was wearing more than a bikini this time. I also really enjoyed the manga version of Socrates in Love, which is a dramatic story about a girl with leukemia and her boyfriend. The novel by Kyoichi Katayama was a huge bestseller in Japan, and the manga version is really well done - dramatic and tragic. Pretty soon I'm going to start the new Kikaida manga - I hope it's as cool as the Kikaida DVDs!