5.31.2005

Cosplay Encyclopedia : 2 of 5

Since I'm going to see lots of costumes at A-Kon later this week, I decided to rent this bizarre DVD just because it covered the topic of cosplay (dressing up as anime characters). I had no idea it was produced in Japan, but since it was subbed, it made it much more interesting and fun for me! Most of the DVD is shot with an amateur camcorder at some cosplay gathering in the late 90s, so there's plenty of washed out color, but it's still not too bad to watch. Tons of girls are interviewed - usually, "Who's your character?", "How long did it take to make your costume?", "How much did it cost?" and "How old are you?" (to which most girls answer, "Himitsu!", which is, "It's a secret!"). There's a fairly good set of Sailor Moon characters, but also more obscure stuff like video game characters. Some of the costumes are really elaborate - sometimes they even wear colored contacts to match their character! It's really fun to see the fans do their character's signature pose - they all know exactly how to stand and love the attention. There are some other segments at a store that sells costume supplies, plus a Top 10 costumes countdown. I had a lot of laughs watching this show, even though it's nothing spectacular.

Three-day weekend

This past weekend included Memorial Day, so I had an extra day to do all kinds of fun stuff (which was nice since I had to do a little unexpected work on Saturday). Besides the usual Japanese studying, watching DVDs and reading books, I bought a new small shelf to hold some of my new toys (Astro Boy and Star Wars figures), so I had a blast opening them up, checking out the details, and posing them! I also built a little Power Rangers LEGO toy that I won at Dave & Busters, and it was so much fun to play with LEGO again, even if it was only for ten minutes or so. I played DDR for a solid hour at Main Event, and I got to be "Dance Dance Sensei" for some 12-year old who played doubles with me. On Sunday, my usual gang of pals came over and we grilled some chicken and hot dogs outside, then watched some absolutely terrible episodes of the 1970's Richard Pryor TV show (courtesy of Ernesto). My big Monday project was taking macro shots of my toys and things using white foam board and desklamps, along with other tips from my pal Barron. I took a ton of shots, and I'm pretty happy with the results (although I still had to digitally color balance them - I think I need a third lamp or something). You can expect to see these popping up on Flickr for a while!

5.30.2005

mc chris / Knowing is Half the Hassle & Eating's Not Cheating : 4 of 5

I've had Knowing is Half the Hassle (mc chris' second CD) for well over a year, but I forgot to review it, so here's a combined review with his latest CD, which I bought just before seeing his live show here in Austin. Hassle has five tunes on it, with skits thrown inbetween - the songs are great (in fact, some of his best), but I hate the skits - I know they're supposed to be funny, but they're just too violent for me to enjoy. The songs rock, though - Ten Year Old is probably my favorite, since it's just the right tempo for me to rap along (sometimes mc can rap so fast!). Eating's Not Cheating has 14 awesome tracks - by far his longest CD, and the sound quality and music keeps getting better and better. I tend to like slower raps more, but there are some super-fast ones here that are simply amazing to hear. Stop Time is a great song, with great lyrics about mc instilling pride in the geeks of the world, which is funny and cool at the same time. The whole CD is filled with incredible references, everything from Zam Wessel to Friendster. I think some of the songs on Hassle are better, but since there are so many good ones on Eating, I'd say it's his best CD. Really, you should just get them all and mix 'em all together!

5.29.2005

Hair-brained

Since I'm really an 8-year-old trapped in a late 30s body, I decided to take the plunge into the world of chemical youth enhancement. In other words, I had my hair colored (and I'm not ashamed to tell you about it)! I had been thinking about it for a while, since I've been wearing my hair slightly longer and so much grey has been showing lately. I was kind of nervous, but I've been going to the same hair person for over three years now, so I figured it would be OK. So, she painted all the gunk on me, then I sat for 35 minutes and read a book (I was prepared). Then she shampooed me, and gave me some stain-remover stuff so I could wash my face and hairline. At this point I was a little panicked, because the gunk left the skin around my hairline and eyebrows really stained - I thought it would never come off! It took me about 20 minutes of scrubbing to get it off, but then I started to feel better. I think the color may be a little dark, but then again, I don't remember what my hair looked like before the grey started popping up. I also think my eyebrows look a little funny, but I'm getting used to them (a couple of days in the sun will help). I'm pretty happy with it now! The best proof is that when I grabbed the "before" photo that I took yesterday, I had already forgotten how grey I was - I couldn't believe it!

5.28.2005

Sailor Moon S / The TV Series Complete Collection : 4 of 5

It feels like such an accomplishment to finish a six DVD set of Sailor Moon! This is the third season of the show, and I think it's my favorite so far. There are lots of things that make this season unique, mainly the additional Sailor Soldiers from the outer solar system. Sailor Uranus is a tomboy (in fact, everyone thinks she is a boy at first!) who has a "relationship" with the beautiful Sailor Neptune, and they show up to protect the earth from the Messiah of Silence. There's also Sailor Pluto (who we saw briefly in the second season), and she's really mysterious and cool (and has the best transformation). The enemy this time is the Death Busters, run by an evil scientist (who turns out to be possessed) and the Witches 5, who deliver bizarre creatures called Daimons to collect pure hearts (kind of like a life spirit) to awaken the dark messiah! Chibi Moon is back, too, and everyone has lots of funny and fantastic adventures together. I always love the final few episodes, because the jokes fall aside and everything gets so serious - there's some beautiful animation when Usagi undergoes a second transformation to Super Sailor Moon, too. Since I've been watching all 40 episodes for the past several weeks, there's far too much to mention here, but I loved every minute of it, and I'm ready to take on the next season soon!

5.27.2005

The Producers : 5 of 5

I've always wanted to see this show (since seeing one of the numbers during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade a few years ago), but I was thinking of not going since I was late checking for tickets and all that was available was last row! Normally I wouldn't have bought them, but my pal Melinda and I decided to go anyway. I'm so glad we did, because we still had a great view of the stage (and opera glasses helped!) and the show was phenomenal! I was impressed that not only did Mel Brooks write all the lyrics and script, but he even wrote the music, and this is definitely a 100% Mel Brooks show. There's tons of raunchy humor and language, plenty of racist jokes, and lots of boobs - and it's all completely hilarious! You probably already know the plot, about a washed-up Broadway producer and an accountant who try to make the worst flop ever so they can get away with the investors' money, and the "show inside the show" is unbelievable. Springtime for Hitler is simply amazing, including everything from dancing girls with giant bratwurst and pretzels on their heads to Hitler himself singing "Heil me!" and dancing around with tanks and bombs. I loved every moment and laughed my head off! The touring cast was exceptional - in fact, the performer playing Ulla used to play the role on Broadway. I'm so glad I went, and now I know why this show has been a hit for so long!

5.26.2005

DDR five minutes away

My pal Ryan and I went to check out a new Dave & Buster's competitor that's close to our office for lunch today. It's called Main Event, and it's a huge place with tons of different activities, plus a large bar and a cafe area, too. Besides the arcade, they have a full bowling alley, a laser tag area, an indoor glow-in-the-dark miniature golf course, plus a huge rock climbing area - they even have some kind of motion simulator movie ride! We ate a quick lunch, then played some games in the arcade - it's smaller than the Dave & Buster's arcade, but they have lots of games from Japan! Yes, they have a DDR Extreme machine, so now there's a place close to me where I can go when I want that arcade experience! It was a blast to play, just because there are so many more songs than I have in my home versions. They also have other music games like DrumMania and Guitar Freaks - all Japanese imports! I think overall I like the adult atmosphere of Dave & Buster's better (Main Event is much more of a family place), but I'm anxious to go back and see what the DDR crowd is like in the evening or on the weekend. I'm going to blow so much money there!

5.25.2005

Variable Geo : 2 of 5

I wish you could keep notes on Netflix so you could remember when and why you put something in your queue! I have tons of anime DVDs on my list, and I usually add them after watching a preview or reading a review. Anyway, I didn't know anything about Variable Geo, but now I've seen the short series (only three episodes, no further volumes). To tell the truth, if there were more volumes I probably wouldn't rent them, because there wasn't anything spectacular about the show. The idea seems like a goofy fantasy - waitresses enter into a fighting league where they beat the crap out of each other, and then the loser has to strip in front of the crowd! Pretty goofy, huh? They manage to pack a lot into these three episodes, including lots of bizarre opponents (all wearing variations of waitress outfits, of course), a sick brother who needs an expensive operation, a tortured child who is haunted by her mother (who lives inside the body of a mean dude who transforms into a mad man), and there's even a little pink-haired girl to round things out (and make boob jokes). Unfortunately, I just couldn't get into the characters or feel anything for them, but it was still fun to watch such a wild story (only in anime)!

5.24.2005

One more time

Star Wars fever continues for WEBmikey! This weekend I went toy shopping and bought a few more action figures, plus Obi-Wan's Jedi Starfighter - I love the design of the ship, since it's like a combination of an A-Wing with a TIE Fighter. It was a lot of fun putting on the decals - I felt just like I did when I used to play with my figures so many years ago. Last night my pal Chris and I went to see Revenge of the Sith again (that's three times for me!). We tried to see it at Austin's only theater with digital projection, but it was sold out, so we had to go to another theater instead. I'll probably see it again next week - I've got to check it out in digital!

The Incredibles / Original Soundtrack : 3 of 5

I was so excited about The Incredibles after watching the DVD that I ordered the soundtrack right away, and it's really a great score. The music is so cool because it really feels like it was composed for a 60s spy movie - the full orchestra backing up a more traditional jazz combo (trap set, sax solos, and so on) is a great combination (kind of big band "plus"). I have to say that I love the "main theme" the most by far, and it's best used in the first and last tracks on the CD. The final track over the closing credits is definitely my favorite - it's filled with awesome interwoven themes, and uses the most time signature changes (lots of 5/4, with a 6/8 bridge!). There are a few nice sultry tracks, too (usually when Mirage is on screen). One of the most "incredible" things about the CD is that all of the music was recorded live - it was one gigantic studio session, rather than bringing in the sections or solos individually. So, not only is it 60s style, but it was recorded with a 60s method! If you enjoyed the movie (and how could you not?), you'll love the soundtrack!

5.23.2005

New addictions

One day recently when I was hanging out at Barnes & Noble, I picked up a copy of Shonen Jump, and after reading it, I decided to take the plunge into reading more manga. I had kind of been avoiding it, since I knew it would become a big habit, but now it's too late. I've started two series that had previews in Shonen Jump. The first is I''s (that's not a typo - it's a weird title with two apostrophes, pronounced ai-zu), which is a teenager love story - I can't help it if I like kiddie soap operas! The second is Dr. Slump, which is a an old manga by the creator of Dragonball Z about an inventor and his robot daughter. She's kind of like a much goofier female Astro Boy! It's totally mindless and fun, but I love all the crazy expressions of the characters. Manga books are small and printed Japanese-style (right to left, "back" cover to "front" cover), and now reading them that way seems natural. Now I can't wait for the next volumes of these series to come out!

House of Flying Daggers : 5 of 5

After seeing Yimou Zhang's amazing film Hero, I had to rent House of Flying Daggers right away (since I sadly missed it at the theater also!). This is another spectacular film, with a similar mix of style and emotion. Set in ancient China, the story covers the conflict between government soldiers and the House of Flying Daggers, which is a group of skilled warriors who oppose the government. Against this conflict is a deep love triangle between three main characters, all of whom take on "undercover" identities throughout the film. The fighting scenes are simply gorgeous, with much less wire-work than Hero, but filled with lots of "weapon point of view" shots (especially thrown daggers, which sail and change direction as if they were alive!). The actors are all wonderful and beautiful (especially Zhang Ziyi as Mei), the traditional music is great, the sound effects are chilling, and the emotion is truly epic. The ending is tragic and fantastically shot in a snow storm (which I found out from the included documentary was genuine!), and definitely left me in a thoughtful mood (and wanting to watch the movie again, even though I need to return it to Netflix). It's incredible how this genre can be presented so creatively - definitely a work of art!

5.22.2005

Ben Folds / Songs for Goldfish : 3 of 5

I got this new EP for free when I bought Songs for Silverman direct from Ben Folds' website. It's mostly a live album, so I wasn't sure how jazzed I would be about it, but it turned out to be a fantastic little CD! There's material from his new CD as well as his other recent EPs, along with a couple new numbers I hadn't heard before. My absolute favorite is Hiro's Song, which has first-person lyrics about a 51-year old Japanese businessman who runs away with his 22-year old secretary. The phrases are so funny, and I can totally relate to his hilarious emotions! Another fantastic track is Weather Channel Music, where Ben starts totally improvising and singing along with a piano bass line, then the band kicks in with some awesome smooth jazz when Ben tells them, "Kick out some of that Weather Channel shit!" There are a couple of studio tracks, including a mellow Lucinda Williams cover and some funny jingles that Ben did for a Tokyo radio station (in English, but really funny and catchy all the same). Overall, this is a really fun disc for any Ben Folds fan!

5.21.2005

Shoe Shoe Revolution

My DDR experience has just jumped up another level! I was starting to think about buying my third Ignition Pad, when I read that RedOctane was coming out with a new metal pad called the Afterburner. I read some information on DDR Freak from the product release party, and I decided to go for it (even though it's so new there's no real community opinion yet). I just got it earlier this week - it's 40 pounds of gleaming metal and I love it so far! The main reason I wanted to go metal is so I can play with shoes on, and it's a whole new experience. Just the subtle added weight of tennis shoes adds up over thousands of steps, so I seem to get a much better workout (and my ankles hold up much better with the added support)! I also really like hearing my feet tapping the pad, rather than the silence of a soft pad - I think I can time my steps even better when I hear my steps along with the music, kind of like a metronome. It feels really sturdy and the sensitivity is good - I was able to pass a few non-stop courses that I couldn't get through before, since I didn't have to worry about pad inaccuracy. I hope it holds up over time, because I'm really going to be playing on it a lot!

Gimme more Star Wars

I saw Episode III again today - I just couldn't wait! I think I will go to a late show sometime this week, too. My pal Ryan called a minute ago, and he saw it again today, too! It's so much fun to be excited about Star Wars again - I gotta buy more toys!

5.20.2005

Super Gals Vol 1 : 3 of 5

Sometimes I have no idea how DVDs end up in my Netflix queue. I guess this one was a recommendation, and the reviews seemed pretty positive, so I rented it. This is a pretty good anime - it took a few minutes for me to get into it, since the character design and animation style is a little funky, but I think I like it enough to rent the next volume. Super Gals tells the adventures of three girls who spend all their time in Shibuya, shopping and flirting and so on. The main character, Ran Kotobuki, comes from a police family who want to pressure her into keeping the family tradition, but she just wants to have fun (which seems to be the message here!). However, her sense of justice always gets the best of her, and she ends up beating up bad dudes and giving dramatic speeches. There's some weird stuff in the plots, like "subsidized dating" and "phone hunting", but Ran always sets people straight. They use lots of slang, and the scene stops to show a goofy girl at a chalkboard to explain the slang, so you have to remember your lessons to keep watching the show! The gals' "enemies" are non-Shibuya girls trying to muscle in on their turf, plus three annoying ganguro gals who look really silly. I think it's cool than Ran always sits on the Hachiko (a famous dog) statue to think - I like it when anime has real landmarks and places in it!

5.19.2005

Star Wars at the Alamo

Opening night for Revenge of the Sith was such a blast! Most of my pals were able to get there early, so we got a great place in line, where we stood for a little over two hours before we were seated. I wish there had been more costumes in line, but there were some cool things going on (people watching the other Star Wars DVDs on laptops, lots of game playing, and luckily I did get to see one small light saber duel!). The Alamo was so cool, because they took beer orders for everyone in line, so we got to drink and laugh which made the time go by quickly. When we entered the theater, the local Star Wars fan club had managed to get a copy of Star Wars Galaxies (plus the expansion pack) for every single person, and they were on the tables in front of our seats! They showed two hours of cool stuff (mostly Clone Wars from Cartoon Network, but also great clips like a Japanese Panasonic commercial with a young Lucas playing in a wheat field with Ewoks!) while we ate and drank more, and suddenly it was movie time! Everyone cheered, and we all had a fantastic time. Three and a half hours of sleep later, I was at work. I've been a Star Wars fan for nearly 3/4ths of my life (ever since Dad brought me that first Star Wars comic book home from work one day), so it was completely worth it!

View photos: ROTS Opening Night

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith : 5 of 5

At last the saga is complete, and even though Episode III has its faults, I totally loved it and had a great time seeing it on opening night! Let's get my disappointments out of the way first. Besides the goofy Anakin/Padme dialogue (which doesn't bother me that much), General Grievous was kind of a let-down, since dies too quickly and doesn't seem menacing enough (and he sounds like Watto!). The battle on the Wookiee planet was way too short and we didn't get to see enough Wookiee culture. OK, on to the awesomeness! The first half hour is totally exciting and wonderful, with lots of great patented Jedi banter and incredible space battles (plus Artoo gets to kick some butt!). Palpatine is played extremely well, and seeing him unleash his lighting and transform into the gruesome Emperor we all know was chilling. I think my favorite thing was seeing the inside of the Tantive IV (the Rebel blockade runner from the opening of Episode IV) - they recreated those stark white 70's looking sets down to the last detail! They really stand out against the over-CG look of the rest of the film. Of course, the big battles at the end (Anakin and Obi-Wan, plus Yoda and the Emperor) are exciting and full of emotion. Obi-Wan's last words to Anakin were delivered so well! Seeing everything wrap up (and set up Episode IV perfectly) was icing on the cake (and we get a glimpse of Alderaan). Episode III definitely blows away the past two Star Wars movies, and it's probably better than Return of the Jedi, too! I want to see it again next week!

5.18.2005

T-minus six hours

Tonight's the big Star Wars night! We were planning on meeting at the theater at 9:30, but we just found out that our showing will start seating at 9:45! (This is smart for the Alamo, since that means people will have two hours to eat and drink beer!) The guy on the phone was super-nice - he even looked outside to tell me that about 100 people are already there, "with masks and light sabers", he said! So, we're trying to move up our meeting time to 7:30 - I'm calling all my pals, and I'll be leaving soon. May the Force be with me!

5.17.2005

Porco Rosso : 4 of 5

I'm so glad Disney keeps releasing Miyazaki films on DVD! I had heard about Porco Rosso from my pal Barron (who has Japanese DVDs of most of these movies), so I'd been looking forward to watching it for a while. This is another amazingly creative Miyazaki movie with a great story! Marco is a deserter from the Italian Air Force who has become a bounty hunter - he also happens to have been cursed into looking like a pig (who now is called Porco Rosso, the Crimson Pig)! There are tons of air pirates who fly sea planes and attack ships, so Porco makes money as a vigilante. The animation of the planes is incredible, and there are lots of great dogfights. When Porco is gunned down, he goes to Milan to have his plane rebuilt, and the engineer is a spunky young girl named Fio - she's a great character. There's another charming scene where tons of little girls are taken hostage, but they all are having fun and driving the pirates crazy (and they all look just like Mei from My Neighbor Totoro). The DVD includes a nice interview with the producer from Japanese TV, which is a little short, but at least it's subbed so I could enjoy listening to it. The whole movie is presented as storyboards, too (just like the other Disney releases). There's so much more to love about this movie than I can mention in this short review, but Porco Rosso is definitely a wonderful film!

5.16.2005

Almost there... Almost there...

I'm so psyched for Wednesday night, when my pals and I will be seeing the midnight showing of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith! I had to have a new shirt for the big event, so I've been shopping around for something with Vader on it (since Star Wars is all about Vader when it comes down to it). There wasn't much I liked online, so I finally got one at the mall last weekend that will do the trick. I also broke down and bought the new action figures for my favorite Jedi Masters (even though they are going to die - sniff!). I got Kit Fisto (I like him because he's aquatic and he looks rasta), and Shaak Ti (I like her because she's so exotic and mysterious). I can't believe the articulation on these new figures - every joint moves! It's definitely not the 70s anymore. They look really cool next to my computer monitor. Only a few more days of waiting!

5.15.2005

Chatting up the kiddos

I wore a new Speed Racer T-shirt this weekend (with the original Japanese logo in Katakana), and lots of strangers noticed it. There were some teenagers at the pun-off that were talking about it, then the guy at the video game store mentioned it, and the cool geeky checkout girl at Hot Topic started talking to me about it. She was going on about the new Geico commercial (that I haven't seen yet), and I mentioned the old Volkswagen commercial, but she was probably watching Muppet Babies or something back in 1996. Anyway, it was fun to chat with the "cool kids" and feel hip!

The Art of Disneyland / Jeff Kurtti & Bruce Gordon : 5 of 5

I think the 50th anniversary of Disneyland is going to totally break my bank, because so many amazing books and things are being produced because of it! Many books will only be available at the park, so I'm ordering them just to save the hassle of trying to get them home when I visit. This is a giant-sized book (though not super-long) filled with artwork from the design of Disneyland, all the way from early drawings from the 50s up to much more recent illustrations of Mickey's Toon Town (and even the yucky bronze Tomorrowland make-over, which thankfully has finally been painted over!). The book chose to orient everything vertically, so you read the book like you were flipping through a wall calendar. This means there's plenty of room for huge pictures, and they all look spectacular. There's just enough text to keep things interesting, and a good section at the end with bios of the major designers (all of which have passed away now). There are some fantastic paintings that I had never seen before, such as some really cool ideas for Adventure Thru Inner Space, as well as the best drawing of Storybook Land that I've ever seen! It's great to study the brilliance of the way the Casey Jr. track loops around on itself, plus the waterway of the canal boats. This is a beautiful book that no Disneyland devotee can possibly pass up - just buy it!

5.14.2005

Geek triumphant

I spent several hours today hanging out with my pals at the O'Henry Pun-off downtown. The weather turned out nice and sunny (in spite of a rainy forecast), and there was a great crowd to see over 35 contestants compete in the "Punniest of Show" contest, including my pal Francis. He did an amazing medley of show tunes filled with Star Wars puns (in honor of Revenge of the Sith this week!), and brought the house down (except we were outside). He scored a perfect 40 and took the first place trophy! (Actually, Francis won this before a few years ago - you can hear his previous performance at his website.) It was a totally great way to spend the day, catching some rays, drinking some beers, and enjoying some creative stuff!

View photos: Pun-Off 2005

5.13.2005

Steamboy : 3 of 5

Whenever anime gets released to US theaters, it's usually a limited release that doesn't stick around for too long (unless it's something big like a Miyazaki film). I've only seen a few great anime movies on the big screen, and whenever I miss one I always regret it. So, when I saw the Alamo was showing Steamboy for only two nights, I made sure to go! I took my pal Chris (since he needs more anime exposure before A-Kon!), and we really enjoyed the film. The movie was created by Katsuhiro Otomo, who also directed Akira, recognized as one of the films that really brought anime into the public eye. I'll say right off that the plot needs more character development and less epic battles and explosions, but once you accept that fact, the visuals are absolutely stunning and so creative! The story takes place in the 1800s when everything runs on steam, except in this fantasy plot inventors create steam-powered tanks, high-speed vehicles, mechanical battle suits, and even a type of huge rocket! There are three generations of the Steam family, with the youngest being the main character, and the story explores the purpose of science and its misuse as an excuse for war. This is a long film, and it has so many climaxes that I thought it was almost over several times! Steamboy is full of amazing detail - I'm so glad I got to enjoy it in the theater.

5.12.2005

My very own Monorail

I'm totally digging my new Monorail Mark I die-cast replica! It's so cool that I had to take some pictures, so check it out. (Now if I could only make myself one-inch tall so I could ride it.) In other Disney-mania news, I've booked a flight for a quick Disneyland visit in July! I can't wait to see some golden ride vehicles in person, plus the new Jungle Cruise effects - there's a piranha attack now!

Star Wars / Clone Wars Vol 1 : 4 of 5

I was thrilled to watch every episode of this "micro series" on Cartoon Network when it was broadcast (twice, actually), so I was glad to see it released on DVD. It was so much fun to watch it all again, since I'm really amped about seeing Revenge of the Sith soon! What really surprised me was how much this seems like a full movie, since all of the episode breaks have been removed. It was originally presented as 20 five-minute shows, but on the DVD each episode leads into the next with a simple wipe, making one incredible two hour film. (By the way, I didn't realize before that Anakin's battle with Asajj Ventress takes place on Yavin 4 - how cool!) I really admire the work of Genndy Tartakovsky, because he's staying true to the 2D animation style (although the space dogfights are animated in CG, which makes perfect sense). There are two commentaries included, but the second one (from the Star Wars website) is much better - Genndy talks at length about how nearly every "additional" character design came from Lucasfilm, and mentions how they used the Star Wars sound library for everything (including atmospheric sounds). There's a short documentary that shows the animators' workspace, and it's great to see Genndy's traditional animating table with a Mac touch-screen embedded into it! Approving this series is one of the best things Lucas has done, and I'm excited about buying the next DVD when they release it!

5.11.2005

Tholians, buttons and bellies - oh my!

The latest two-part episode of Enterprise, In a Mirror, Darkly, was simply bizarre and amazing on so many levels. (Yep, this was broadcast a few weeks ago, but I'm behind on TiVo!) I guess they just wanted to go crazy since they've been cancelled, and taking a new spin on the classic Mirror, Mirror from the old show probably seemed like a dream come true to the writers. I had a ton of fun watching the show, but there were definitely some bad decisions made. Even though it was awesome seeing exact duplicates of the old show sets (since they were on the USS Defiant, they even created the same hallways and the captain's quarters), it was just a little silly seeing them go from the "past", with realistic looking devices, to the "future", with flashing lights and unlabeled control panels! The story was worth it, though, just to see Hoshi and T'Pol with their incredible bare bellies exposed - Hoshi was especially amazing as the captain's cortesan! Yowza! I thought the temporary "empire" intro was a nice touch (much better than the usual crappy theme song), and seeing the Tholians make their web with modern special effects was nice, but why, oh why did they have to bring back the Gorn? I guess he looked OK in CG, but that definitely seemed like a goofy stretch to me!

5.10.2005

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy : 5 of 5

I was excited to see this movie just because I knew a little about the story from playing the old text-based adventure game in high school, and to support a Disney (Touchstone) film, of course. I also had watched some of the old BBC series, but I couldn't get past the lousy effects (worse than Dr. Who!). Anyway, I was so surprised - this movie was five times better than I expected it to be! My pals were impressed, too, and they didn't know anything about the story. Everything was just so hilarious - I had some serious uncontrollable laughter going! The plot is incredibly bizarre, so there's not much point in trying to explain it, except to say that Arthur Dent is an average Englishman who gets thrown into a galactic adventure with all kinds of alien worlds and creatures. The title refers to a book that contains everything you need to know to travel the galaxy, and it's consulted several times during the film by way of super-cool animations with narration that stop to explain weird species or devices. The narration is actually one of the funniest aspects of the film, especially when it goes off into a complete tangent (such as giving voice to the thoughts of a sperm whale as it falls to a planet's surface!). The effects are truly fantastic, with just enough cheese to make things funny without looking stupid. The opening credits alone are worth the price of admission (with dolphins singing a Broadway style number)! I would recommend this movie to just about anyone with a crazy sense of humor!

5.09.2005

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind : 4 of 5

I've known the name of this movie for years, since the best website for Miyazaki information is Nausicaa.net, but I never had a chance to see it until Disney released their latest wave of Studio Ghibli masterpieces on DVD. This is a beautiful film with an environmental message (much like the themes in Miyazaki's other works), which takes place in the far future after civilization has been nearly wiped off the earth. There are small "kingdoms" of people, with technology such as aircraft (especially gliders), who are fighting the spread of the "toxic jungle", a vast area of poisonous plants filled with insects, such as the giant, majestic Ohmu (like a potato bug the size of a skyscraper!). Nausicaa has a connection with animals and living things (including insects), so she ends up leading humanity to a peaceful co-existence (while stopping a war between kingdoms in the process). The visuals are stunning - besides the usual Miyazaki-style characters, the insects and bizarre plants are wonderful, as well as the terrific airplanes (everything always looks like it would really fly). The DVD includes a nice documentary on the history of Studio Ghibli (only dubbed, unfortunately), plus the entire film in storyboard form (only a serious student of animation would watch storyboards for two hours!). The English voice work is probably great, but I always stick to the original Japanese. I'm looking forward to the other new Miyazaki DVDs!

5.08.2005

Fun for free

Yesterday I had a bunch of fun for zero dollars! First, it was Free Comic Book Day, so I showed up at Dragon's Lair early to get a good selection, and I got three cool issues for free - Batman, Spider-Man, and a Star Wars adventure. I think Free Comic Book Day is a brilliant idea - there were lots of folks at the store who might get hooked (it's kind of like drug-pusher marketing, but it works)! Next, I went to Dave & Busters because I got a $10 coupon for game chips emailed to me, so I popped that on my Power Card and had a blast. I played a couple of games of Need for Speed (which is the racing game I like now), and several games of Pump It Up. I think my attitude towards PIU is changing, even though I will always be loyal to DDR. I'm getting better, so I can pass 4s and 5s consistently now, and I almost always get to play the bonus 4th song. I actually like the tunes, too - they are longer than DDR songs, and there are so many classical tunes with techno dance beats that crack me up (with awesome names like Dr. M for Mozart's 40th symphony!). Last night the Greatest American Heroes played for a bar mitzvah (definitely a first for us), and it was pretty cool. I even did an unexpected solo on one song because the crowd energy was spurring me on!

Today is a rainy Sunday, which isn't very fun, but I had a nice massage this morning, and now I'm enjoying the day. As usual, iTunes is psychic and picking lots of nice rainy day music for me, and I think my pipe is calling.

5.07.2005

Rachael Yamagata / Happenstance : 3 of 5

Here's another CD that I was compelled to buy after listening to a free track from the iTunes Music Store for a few weeks. I had downloaded Rachael's awesome song Letter Read, which features great driving bass lines on the piano, cool syncopation, plus a nice minor key verse that switches into a major key chorus, together with her sultry voice. The rest of the CD is very good, but unfortunately, there aren't any other tunes with the same emotion as Letter Read. Rachael is kind of like Nora Jones crossed with Fiona Apple, so there are plenty of piano ballads here - so many that they tip the balance of the CD, making the second half simply too slow (nice for laying on your back on a Sunday afternoon, but terrible for listening to in the car!). There are some fun tunes on the first half, like Be Your Love and Worn Me Down, but neither of them have completely interesting lyrics. The words to Even So are some of the best, but by that point in the CD I'm too busy hoping there will be a more driving tune. If there were just one or two more pumping numbers scattered about, this would be a much better CD. Still, it's nice to own and be introduced to a new cool artist (and the CD cover is pretty darn beautiful, too).

5.06.2005

Robots for sale, cheap

Today my pal Ryan and I went to the mall for lunch, and after eating some so-so quesadillas (Chick-fil-A was closed for remodeling!), I got a bubble tea and we started making the rounds. I thought about buying a Godzilla T-shirt (I'll have to keep that mind), but my real score was at Suncoast Video. Suncoast is notorious for having the highest possible prices on everything, but they always get lots of cool toys, plus they have a nice anime section to browse. Anyway, they had lots of Astro Boy toys that were practically free! The latest Astro Boy series just didn't go over well in the US - they had dubbed about 50 episodes and only broadcast half of them before it was cancelled. Sugoi taihen, but the plus side is I bought the 11-inch Interactive Astro for a whopping $3.50! This is an amazing toy, with light-up eyes and sound effects - it was about $30 bucks when it was released! I may have to go back sometime to see what else I can snag. (Man, I really need more shelves for my toys!)

I just watched all 45 minutes of the Disneyland 50th anniversary kick-off that happened yesterday in the park (the video is available on LaughingPlace). Lee Ann Rimes and Christina Aguilera sang, Art Linkletter thanked Walt in the sky, Julie Andrews welcomed in just about every character in the park, and Mikey smiled and cried through it all. I think Christina's When You Wish Upon a Star was fantastic, and even Eisner and Iger were likeable. Well done, Disney!

5.05.2005

Azumanga Daioh Vol 1 : 4 of 5

One day when I was browsing the anime DVDs at Best Buy (overwhelmed as usual), I heard some other geeks like me talking about this show, so I rented the first DVD right away. After I watched the first episode, I wasn't really into it, so I waited a few weeks before trying it again. Maybe it was just my mood at the time, but now I've watched all five episodes on this DVD and I'm totally in love with the show! This anime is definitely in a class by itself, because there's not really a plot - just lots of little fun events in the lives of a bunch of school girls and their crazy teachers. It's almost Seinfeld-esque, since there's no real story to follow - I guess I've always hoped for an anime like this, where everything is cute and no no giant monsters or aliens ever show up! There are lots of characters to enjoy, from a ten year old child prodigy to a quiet girl who has a reputation for being super cool, but secretly enjoys cute stuff (especially cats). One of the characters is from Osaka, so there are lots of funny dialect jokes, and of course one of the teachers is rowdy and likes to get drunk, and another guy became a teacher because he likes to look at girls (the swimming pool scenes are hilarious!). It's totally hard to explain this show, but I think I'm hooked! If you enjoy the unbearable cuteness of anime, you should definitely check it out.

5.04.2005

Monorail madness

Disneyland was closed to the public today (mainly for an all day press event), and tomorrow the official 50th anniversary celebration kicks off! There's so much Disney news going on lately - it's really making me start to dream about hopping on a plane for a quick Saturday visit (I think I would enjoy just being there even if the crowds are unbelievable). I'm definitely planning a visit in October, but oh what a wait! One thing I can enjoy right here is buying some of the new limited edition collectibles Disney is releasing for the 50th. I've already ordered the new 6-CD set of Disneyland music, and on Monday morning I actually got up at 4:00 AM so I could order the super-detailed, super-cool, die-cast metal Monorail (with working lights) the moment it went on sale! I should have it in a few weeks - I was determined to buy it right away, since I've missed out on other collectibles in the past by waiting too long (I'm still sad I didn't get the metal Nautilus!). The Happiest Place on Earth is definitely starting to "call me home" again!

By the way, today's post is live from Barnes & Noble again. I just realized that FreedomLink charges $3.95 for a single two-hour connection, or $25 for three connections. Is it just me, or is that math really stupid? Unless you hang out all day at Barnes & Noble, three single connections are way cheaper than the three pack!

Ben Folds / Songs for Silverman : 4 of 5

I've been wishing for a new full-length Ben Folds album for a long time, especially since I enjoyed his recent EPs so much. Finally, Songs for Silverman is here, and it's a fantastic CD. After my first listen I was just a little disappointed, only because there weren't as many really jammin' numbers with funny lyrics, but after hearing it another twenty times or so (and I'm still listening to it!), I realized what a brilliant collection of songs it is. Musically, Ben is really a genius, combining all sorts of time signatures and styles out of left field that keep things interesting for your ear. His band is also wonderful - I love it when they break into a jazz feel (I almost wish Ben would do an entire jazz collection). Lyrically, even though he's not as "angry" (which translates to funny, usually) as he has been in the past, there is still some sheer poetry here. His song to his daughter, Gracie, is really cool, without being too sappy (it seems like every artist writes a song to their kid), but You To Thank has my favorite lyrics, so honestly talking about relationship problems (with truthful words like, "Christmas came around, and everything was going to crap"). Landed is also an amazing song - I like it when Ben does his falsetto voice to stretch the melody line. It sounds to me like Ben is just getting better and better, and this CD is a great addition to his catalog.

5.03.2005

A Bug's Life: The Art and Making of an Epic of Miniature Proportions / Jeff Kurtti : 3 of 5

I'm still catching up on my art books, and I won this one on Disney Auctions (signed by the author). This is a giant-sized book, and the cover (different from the one shown here, since mine is a first edition) has a magnificent lenticular of several characters peeking through a hole munched into a leaf - I don't think I've ever seen a larger lenticular, and the depth is wonderful! The book itself isn't as great as the cover, but I'm glad I own it and I enjoyed reading it. This time the balance is too heavy on text and production stills, with only about a third of the artwork being pre-production. I know, I usually complain the other way around, but someday they'll get it right. The text is well-written, but unfortunately covers a lot of "fluff" (such as explaining what a storyboard is) and seems repetitive at times. But when it's interesting, it's fantastic (such as discussing how shaders and lighting works, or covering the development of crowd simulation). My favorite pieces of art are the Bud Luckey storyboards, which just shine with brilliance, and the huge spreads of production stills really allow you to examine the film! It's funny how the color script presented here doesn't wow me much, when the color script for The Incredibles blew me away. It's fun reading about the good ol' days when Disney and Pixar were complementing each other right and left, too. Time to start reading another one!

5.02.2005

Late night Puffy

I got to see Puffy AmiYumi on Jimmy Kimmel Live (thanks to TiVo!). It was really fun to see them perform - they did the theme song of their cartoon, plus the Japanese version ofPlanet Tokyo. I thought Yumi was a little cuter than Ami, even though they are usually equally cute to me. Jimmy did just about the worse interview ever, asking them dumb stuff like "Have you ever eaten sushi?" Man, how stupid can you be?

Kung Fu Hustle : 4 of 5

After seeing so many great reviews of this bizarre movie, I simply had to check it out (and all my pals wanted to see it too!). Stephen Chow manages to produce, direct, write, and star in this crazy Hong Kong action flick that's so hard to describe. At times it's kind of like Airplane, since it's a hilarious spoof of Kung Fu movies, and in other places it's just like a Tex Avery cartoon! The story is about an evil gang that battles several old masters of ancient martial arts (all of them spectacular) - it seems the masters just want to live simple lives as bakers, tailors, and so on, but they come out of retirement (so to speak) to fight. In the middle of this mess is our hero, born to be a true fighting master, who finally discovers who he's meant to be (and reconciles his childhood disappointments in a touching scene at the end of the film). There are comedy situations and dialogue everywhere, as well as an opening dance number and a few effeminate guys to keep the laughter coming. All of the fighting is pretty amazing - both cool and funny at the same time (especially the weird things like "toad style" and the "lion's roar"). The landlady and her husband (who are two of the most powerful masters) really steal the show. I could easily watch this movie a few more times just to laugh and enjoy the awesome choreography again!

5.01.2005

Shuumatsu ga daisuki!

I can't tell you how much I love weekends, mainly because there are just so many things I want to pursue and enjoy! Having big blocks of free time is so wonderful because I can allow myself to do the things I want. This weekend started with a great Greatest American Heroes gig at a benefit for Tongue and Groove Theatre - there were three bands (we were the "headliner"), and since we only had one set to play, I got to go crazy and crank out all my energy. I just love getting all sweaty and breaking sticks! I played a new racing game at Dave & Buster's for the first time - the motion was so smooth that the sensation was fantastic, plus the "radio" soundtrack really made me feel like I was just out tooling around at 150 MPH for fun. Time Warner sent me a new cable modem to replace my ancient model (from back when I was a beta tester for broadband!), and my connection is so much faster now (it's also one-fourth the size)! Last night I went to the opera, and there was a personal note in my seat thanking me for subscribing to the next season (I thought that was pretty cool), and they opened a new dessert bar at intermission that's much better than the regular snack bar - I had a great sliver of cheesecake and coffee, which made the opera experience even more wonderful. Man, life can be so great sometimes!

The Marriage of Figaro / Austin Lyric Opera : 4 of 5

I think every successful opera season should end with Mozart, because his operas are simply fantastic! Mozart really believed in opera "for the masses", so he often chose down-to-earth comedies that anyone can enjoy. To me, they are the "cartoons" of the opera world, so I love them! The Marriage of Figaro is one of those incredibly complex stories (with people disguising themselves, men dressing as women, and tons of confusion) that never makes sense when you read the plot synopsis, but is perfectly understandable when you see it performed. Austin Lyric Opera really did an amazing job! The sets were beautiful (although the changes were a little slow), and the orchestra was perfect (I think it makes a real difference when Peter Bay conducts), and most of all, the performers were astounding. Susanna was so incredibly cute and her voice was amazing (though a little soft) - she was truly a master comedic actress! Figaro and the Count were both wonderful as well, along with the rest of the huge cast (about ten major characters). Last but not least, I can't say enough about Mozart's incredible music. I love the scenes where up to seven characters sing at once in harmony and counterpoint, simply looking at the audience and expressing their feelings in a way that only opera can achieve. The night was full of laughter, talent, and beautiful music!

Welcome home, Tom!

It's time to take a moment for an official WEBmikey "welcome back" for my pal Tom, who spent two years with the Peace Corps in Uzbekistan. He came back last week with lots of stories, tons of photos both of Uzbekistan and Egypt, plus lots of Uzbek pop music! We got to hang out together last week, and it feels like he never left - he's the same old pal I remember from way back when. Here's to plenty more fun times (and parties) together, Tom!