1.31.2006

Learn in Your Car Japanese / Levels 1-3 : 4 of 5

Way back when I was first starting to get interested in Japanese, I used to buy a lot of beginner study aids. One of these was the first volume in this series, and now that I've been studying for a few years, I can definitely see that this series of CDs is pretty good, and actually still really helpful now (which is why I'm glad I got Volume 3 for Christmas from my parents!). Each volume contains three CDs, and each CD is divided into several lessons that generally present a single concept (although there's lots of cross-over vocabulary). The English voice (male) will say a sentence, then there is a long pause for you to respond with the Japanese (if you already know it), then the Japanese voice (female) will say the Japanese phrase, pause, and say it again. So, you have three chances to say each phrase, and it's really nice to see if you can say it correctly before the Japanese voice comes in. The lessons definitely increase in difficulty, and the Japanese voice speaks much more quickly on Volume 3! I've actually learned quite a bit by listening to these, especially when the sentence structure corresponds to something I'm learning with my tutor Kazki. The only negative with these is they introduce a few vocabulary words that are rarely used in actual conversation (according to Kazki) - for example, they like to say jidousha for car, rather than the more common kuruma. Each volume also comes with a book of all the phrases on the CDs, which is great for in-depth study. I definitely recommend this inexpensive series for Japanese language enthusiasts!

1.30.2006

Birthday-time again

Happy birthday to me! It's that time of year again, so I'm renewing my dream of staying young even though the calendar says I'm getting older. I've had a nice birthday weekend - even though Saturday was rainy and dreary, Sunday was sunny and beautiful, so I took a long walk, hung out at Barnes & Noble studying Japanese and watching cartoons on my new iPod, and spent the evening with my usual Sunday crowd eating pizza and watching DVDs. I took the day off work today, because it's just no fun to work on your birthday, and I've done some glorious loafing today! (Well, I also got out of the house to have my car checked out, bought a CD, and picked up some lunch for myself.) Tonight my pal Jonathan is taking me out for dinner, and later this week I'm getting a birthday lunch and an "official" birthday gathering, too! I think this is a record for birthday events for me. I guess I started out the week a little depressed about getting older, but now I've accepted the fact that time marches on, so I'm just going to keep enjoying life, applying self-control where I need it, and being nice to myself at the same time - I think I can manage that one just fine!

1.29.2006

Lilo & Stitch 2 / Stitch Has a Glitch : 4 of 5

Lilo & Stitch is one of my favorite recent Disney movies, with a fantastic, touching story, cool character designs, and beautiful watercolor backgrounds. The subsequent TV series, along with its introductory DVD movie, were just OK - I got tired of all the bizarre characters that were supposed to be Jumba's other 625 experiments. Thankfully, this movie is worthy of being called Lilo & Stitch 2 - there's no real mention of all those goofy experiments from the series, allowing the characters to really act and tell a fun story! The character acting is especially good, including a tender scene under Lilo's bed where she comforts the sad Stitch when he feels guilty for being bad, and a some really amazing animation when Lilo strokes Stitch's furry chest when she thinks he's dead (guess that's a big spoiler there!). I also loved seeing Jumba crying at the "beauty" of a sci-fi movie on TV (the classic giant ant film, Them). There's lots of backstory on the characters, including the moment that Stitch is born and Jumba is arrested, as well as mention and photos of Lilo and Nani's mother, who was pretty much unspoken of in the first film. I wasn't totally satisfied with Dakota Fanning's voice as Lilo, but the acting was definitely fine. My only other complaint is that it seemed a little silly for Lilo to be driving around in Stitch's hovercraft. Other than that, I was really satisfied with this excellent DVD sequel!

1.28.2006

Tempest gone insane

If you read some of the blogs I do, then you've already heard about this great game, but I just have to mention the truly spectacular (and free!) Torus Trooper! I used to love Tempest when I was growing up, and this game is kind of like Tempest combined with high-speed racing. The graphics have an awesome retro wire-frame look (just like a classic vector game), and there's a fantastic groovin' soundtrack as a bonus. The best part is this game runs at blinding speed even on my wimpy 600 MHz G3, so it's a development marvel, if you ask me! You can download it for Mac OS here (but if you click through to the developer's website, there are versions for other operating systems, too).

Speaking of games, I finally finished Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney on my Nintendo DS! The fifth and final case was absolutely huge - this week I became totally obsessed and started playing it up to three hours a day, just because I wanted to get to the bottom of the mystery! I had a blast checking for blood stains with luminol spray, and dusting for fingerprints (including "blowing" the dust away on the DS screen) was really cool. What a fantastic game!

1.27.2006

Match Point : 4 of 5

I've always loved Woody Allen's films, even the ones that most critics don't like, and Match Point is certainly no exception. This is really a fascinating film, but the fact that Woody Allen made it really makes no difference - it's completely unlike his usual work (except for the tell-tale opening credits font). It's tough to pin a genre on the amazing story, but I guess I would have to call it a suspense film - beginning with the suspense of a love affair that leads to the suspense of a crime. It's a great plot that gives the audience time to understand each character's point of view (somewhat like Closer in that respect), leading to some incredible moments that cause the entire audience to audibly sigh! I really enjoyed the editing, including lots of really interesting short cuts to carry the passage of time. The acting was all wonderful, and Scarlett Johansson looked beautiful, but then again, all of the characters are really sophisticated and attractive. My pal Ernesto pointed out that one scene begins with a typical Woody Allen dinner conversation, but then someone squelches the topic to change the subject. This is definitely a "change of subject" for Woody Allen, but proves he can weave a great story with compelling characters - certainly one of his best!

1.26.2006

Sneaky iPod output

I'm going to be selling my old iPod photo soon to my pal Josh, which means I'll be including all of the accessories that came with it. The iPod used to come with several things that are sold separately now, such as the iPod AV cable. This cable is about the only thing I still wanted from my old iPod, since it's definitely fun to hook up my new iPod to the TV to watch videos. So, I was just about ready to buy a new cable for myself (since my old cable will go to Josh), when I discovered an amazing fact (by reading customer reviews on Apple's own website)! Apple claims that the iPod AV cable is specially designed for the iPod, but it turns out that what this really means is that they "switched" the outputs just to make it seem that way! Any standard 1/8th inch jack to AV (yellow, red, white) RCA jacks will work - just like the cables that come with every single camcorder and most digital cameras, too. All Apple did was swap the yellow and red signals on the iPod itself! I tried my camcorder cable (plugging red into yellow and vice versa), and it works perfectly, which means I don't need to buy a new cable. This is definitely a sneaky move on Apple's part, and I'm glad I found out about it - having fewer cables to keep track of is definitely better!

1.25.2006

Walt Disney Treasures / The Chronological Donald Vol 2 : 5 of 5

Time to start digging in the Christmas DVD treasure trove again! I always enjoy watching the latest Walt Disney Treasures releases, and the animated shorts collections are some of my favorites. I absolutely loved the first volume of Donald Duck cartoons, and it was fantastic continuing the series. There were lots of shorts here that I had never seen before, including a few that are now tops on my list because they are so creative and bizarre! Duck Pimples is completely amazing, as Donald goes insane with fear from listening to suspenseful radio shows and reading mystery novels, and enters a wacky fantasy world that kept me laughing the whole time. Trombone Trouble is also incredible, since the Greek gods bestow Donald with super-powers just to shut-up Pete's lousy trombone practicing! All of Donald's World War II shorts are included in separate section, but unfortunately most of these I had already seen a couple years ago in the On the Front Lines collection (but it was fun to watch them again, since Pete is such a great sarge!). The bonus materials include a complete B&W Disneyland television episode that follows Donald's typical day at the studio, with lots of great old live action footage, and there's also a really heartwarming interview with Tony Anselmo, the current voice of Donald. I had no idea his Disney career was so long and that he was actually handed the baton by Clarence Nash, Donald's original voice. Tony's comments really exemplify that Disney magic and commitment that I hope the company can hold on to forever!

1.24.2006

Disney birthday

I don't really like turning older, but this is turning out to be a great birthday week! Last night my pal Melinda and I went to Dave & Busters to have dinner and play some games, and she surprised me with a really cool Mickey Mouse cake that she made! She took a short cake decoration class recently, and used those skills to wish me a happy Disney birthday - I was so surprised! She also gave me Animal Crossing: Wild World for my Nintendo DS, which I've been wanting to start playing since my pal Barron is so obsessed with it. It was a really fun birthday evening, and hopefully I will have some other birthday activities with my other friends soon!

1.23.2006

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian / C.S. Lewis : 3 of 5

I'm an official Narnia fan now, since the wonderful movie convinced me to start reading all the books! It was fun to read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe because the film images were so fresh on my mind, but I think it was even more interesting to read Prince Caspian since I could conjure up how everything looks with my imagination. The story isn't as magnificent as the first book, but it's still a fascinating tale with lots of subtle foreshadowing and metaphors that are fun to discover. Once again the four Pevensie children are swept into the world of Narnia, only to discover they have arrived many, many years after their original adventure! The first part of the book is a long flashback (told by a new dwarf character) about the downfall of Old Narnia by the Telmarines, who have driven the forces of magic into hiding and turned Narnia into a boring place. Fortunately young Prince Caspian believes the stories of Aslan and the four Kings (our heroes), and so must become the rightful king and restore Narnia to it's former glory. That's about all I can tell without revealing the story. There are plenty of wonderful scenes with Aslan and some great details about links between Narnia and our world! I can't wait to start the next book!

1.22.2006

Austin Symphony / Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg : 5 of 5

I love going to the symphony, but according to the WEBmikey archives, the last time I went (and wrote about it) was in 2000! It was definitely time to go again (as another part of my resolution), and I was lucky enough to see Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg as violin soloist. The concert began with two Shostakovich works (as part of the 100 year anniversary, just like the recent opera), including the Violin Concerto No. 1, which is full of brooding and fire, but also great comedy in the Scherzo. Nadia was truly amazing, working up actual perspiration as her fingers flew. She was also very much in touch with the audience - when a few folks mistakingly applauded after the first movement, she just spoke up to say "It's not over yet!" During the intermission there was a huge line for autographs (which I watched from afar), including "groupies" who brought musical scores for her to sign. The final work was the Sibelius Symphony No. 1, which I had never heard before (I had to be able to identify Finlandia in college, but that was it). It's a beautiful symphony, with grand sweeping melodies that used everything in the orchestra, including two harps and lots of percussion, which I always enjoy. It was so nice to be back at the symphony - I actually remembered some of the faces of the musicians, and it's so amazing to let the beautiful sound of the orchestra wash over me. I'm definitely planning to see their next concert!

1.21.2006

Azumanga Daioh Vol 6 : 5 of 5

I've done it - I've watched the last DVD in this series, definitely one of my favorite anime series ever. To quote Darth Vader, "Nooooooo!" I'm so sad that it's over - I'm definitely going to have to watch it again, since every episode I've seen filled me with laughter and warmth. The episodes in this volume really wrap things up, especially since the girls finally graduate from high school. There are lots of events leading to graduation that were all funny and culturally interesting, such as visiting a shrine to pray to pass college entrance exams, giving gifts to their teacher on the last day of class, and a beautiful song the whole school sings to celebrate their education. Sakaki finally gets her dream when the iriomote cat they met on their school trip somehow finds its way to her so they can be together! There are lots of great studying scenes, when everyone gathers around the kotatsu (heated table), which always puts Osaka to sleep (and we get to see her truly bizarre dreams!). Everyone finally gets accepted into their colleges (Chiyo-chan will be studying in America, which would be an awesome sequel series!), and they all celebrate by going to an amusement park together, while I sat there with a big teary-eyed smile on my face. This DVD also includes a little "mini-movie" with some interesting film-quality animation as a bonus! I can't recommend this series enough, if you're a fan of heartwarming anime!

1.20.2006

Mikey's 4th iPod

My birthday is coming up soon, and Mom & Dad went a little crazy this year on my gift, so now I have a new iPod with video! This is my 4th iPod (not counting my iPod shuffle, which was my birthday gift from my parents last year), and it's definitely the best yet. I decided to get the black model, which is a nice change from white, and the new thin size is totally amazing - it feels so much lighter than my previous iPod photo. I got it yesterday, so I went crazy subscribing to video podcasts on iTunes - I love to watch all the great video available on the web, and now I can watch it curled up on the couch, in bed, on the potty, or anywhere! Last night I had a blast loading it up and watching tons of cool stuff. I also tried out the video-out feature into my TV, and I was really impressed! It looks far better than I was expecting, and now I can show my favorite clips to my friends easily. I'm planning on getting a TuneCenter as soon as they are released (it looks fantastic), and then my iPod will become even more a part of my life then it is already. Right now I'm loading up a bunch of new video to watch later - I love my new iPod!

1.19.2006

Kronk's New Groove : 4 of 5

I've actually been looking forward to most of Disney's direct-to-DVD sequels these days, since it's the only way to get a taste of recent hand-drawn animation from Disney. I'm a big fan of The Emperor's New Groove, mainly because it really broke the usual Disney mold and turned out to be a totally hilarious movie, and a lot of that is due to Kronk. Kronk makes a great starring character for this sequel, not only because his lines are well-written, but he's so well-voiced by Patrick Warburton (who is such a fantastic voice actor, even if his character range is limited). This sequel is filled with laugh-out-loud gags - the story is really funny, and combines two smaller plots into the larger goal of pleasing Kronk's dad who's coming to visit. All of the original characters are back with their original voices, and I loved the way they added in Kuzco by simply having him watching and commenting on the movie (those segments are terrific!). There are some great references, too, like the Small World ride for the entrance to Yzma's lair, and some Michael Jackson Thriller dance moves. There's a really short documentary that was kind of interesting, but not enough, of course. It's always fun to me to see creators who care about their picture and how it's animated, and DisneyToon Studios definitely did a great job this time (even with farmed-out animation). (Thanks to Dae for this great Christmas gift!)

1.18.2006

It's all connected

Sometimes it fun to sit back and ponder this amazing digital lifestyle we're living (to use marketing jargon!). When you think about it, it's pretty amazing that I can hear a cool song on Pandora while I'm getting dressed for work, quickly buy and download the album on iTunes, burn a CD and start listening to it less than five minutes later in my car while I drive to the office. To go further, I was using Pandora to listen to music with the same style as another band that I had recently discovered because I saw one of their music videos online via DTV, and I started using DTV because I read about it on a blog that I read via Bloglines. It's all becoming one big connected coolness, and I love it - I just wish I had bigger eyes and ears to take it all in!

1.17.2006

Meet the Fuccons : 3 of 5

After laughing my head off at Super Fun Monkeybash recently, I was glad to see that this series (known as Oh! Mikey in Japan, and The Fuccons in America) is coming out on DVD (it has been out on pricey import DVD for quite a while, but now it's being released in the US). This DVD is an "introduction" to the series, with only eight episodes (each is about 3-5 minutes) at the bargain retail price of six bucks (but I found mine at the mall for $3.00!). This is definitely a love it or hate it show, consisting of mostly still shots of funny looking mannequins with really fast and hilarious Japanese voice-overs. It's supposed to be an American family living in Japan, so the characters have these bizarre positions with huge grinning faces (which look even funnier when all of them have a huge laugh, which they do at the end of nearly every scene). Of course, it's great to see these stiff figures playing on a swing set, or even going down a playground slide! Each episode usually has Mikey and his parents in a bizarre situation, like being haunted by a ghost or seduced by a school tutor. The Japanese is a blast for me to listen to, so I like this show for multiple reasons. If you like totally off-the-wall stuff, you should definitely check out this cheap DVD.

1.16.2006

Maiko : 4 of 5

I love trying new restaurants, so I'm hoping to go out to eat more this year as part of my resolution. My pals Chris & Eliza like to eat out, too, so we went together to a new Japanese-fusion restaurant called Maiko (which I saw in a cool print ad). This is definitely a trendy place with modern styling - most of the walls are brick, but there are a few walls and hallways where solid aqua paint is used (which looks cool at night, but might be weird in the daylight). They also have quality comfy chairs, small television screens set into the mirror in the bathroom, and a live DJ spinning on his PowerBook. The food starts with a Japanese feel, but then the chef pretty much does whatever he wants. In this case, that's a good thing, because the food was really incredible! We had the Maiko Tower for an appetizer, which combined tuna, salmon, and wasabi mayo into an amazing flavor. My main course was green tea soba with shrimp and scallops - the soba was really unique, and I think those scallops may have been the best I've ever tasted. Eliza had a sushi roll that was tasty, but I thought the consistency was a little mushy. Chris and I drank two small chilled pitchers of Napa Sake, which is sake from California - I didn't even know it existed, but it definitely had a fantastic, refreshing taste. I'd love to go back and try some other dishes!

1.15.2006

Hoodwinked : 3 of 5

Even though I thought the trailer for this movie wasn't so hot, I always like to see animated features in the theater, just to see how all the different studios are doing. Hoodwinked is a crazy retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, stepping all over Shrek's fairy tale territory, but to tell the truth, I was amazed at the funny and well put-together plot, which is the shining star of the movie. After briefly showing the classic "Red meets wolf in Granny's clothing" scene, the whole thing becomes a cop drama with a sophisticated frog detective interrogating Red, the Wolf, Granny, and even the Woodsman, who weave an awesome story where the causes of things in one story are revealed in another story, and so on. Seeing the whole thing come together at the end is really cool! The animation definitely doesn't have the budget or care of a Pixar film, but the animal characters still have cool designs (especially the singing goat with the interchangeable horns!), but I can't say the same for the human characters. In particular, Red is one of the worst looking little girl CG characters I've ever seen - she looks like she's made of stiff rubber and can barely move her mouth to form words. I have no idea what the designer was going for! Still, the story is good enough to get past these bad design choices, and I definitely enjoyed the movie. It's worth seeing just to hear the Woodsman say "What the schnitzel?"

1.14.2006

Difficult is easy

I think it would be cool to present a different Japanese language concept here each week, because there's always of plenty of things I haven't heard before whenever I meet with Kazki. Explaining them here would be a good tool to help me remember them, but we'll see how diligent I am about typing things up. Anyway, last week we went over a really useful way to say something is "difficult to do" or "easy to do". By coincidence, I also watched this same topic presented in a YesJapan video this week! There are two suffixes you can use, which are nikui (for difficult) and yasui (for easy). These get attached to the end of a verb stem. For example, if you want to say something is difficult or easy to understand, here's how it goes:

wakaru (to understand)
wakari (verb stem)
wakarinikui (difficult to understand)
wakariyasui (easy to understand)

My simplistic understanding of a verb stem is to conjugate the formal present tense and remove the masu (but I'm sure there are exceptions!). It's interesting to me that yasui is also the word for "inexpensive" by itself, so that will help me remember it. Shiyasui, ne?

1.13.2006

Pride & Prejudice : 4 of 5

It seems like I've seen several adaptations of this Jane Austen novel in the past (or maybe I get all of her stories mixed up), but I still had to go see this new movie just so I could stare at Keira Knightley for a couple hours. This really is a great story, about a girl who's too witty to be popular, and a guy who's too cool to fall in love (that's my extremely oversimplified synopsis of Austen's classic). Every scene is filled with fantastic lines that are beautifully written and at the same time biting and hilarious, all delivered wonderfully by the actors, especially Keira and Matthew MacFadyen, who plays Mr. Darcy (though I kept thinking to myself how much he looks like Brent Spiner!). There's some beautiful cinematography, with lots of misty mornings and rainy evenings, and plenty of close-ups of Keira, who looks even more spectacular when she's slightly ragged, and her crazy smile is positively elvish! I really wanted to have a good cry, but maybe I was too familiar with the story to let my emotions run away. Actually, I was most moved by Donald Sutherland's performance as Elizabeth's father when his eyes filled with tears as he consents to her marriage - just wonderful. If you like charming, romantic, intelligent stories, this is a beautiful film that will easily keep you entertained, and ready to listen to English dances when you get home.

1.12.2006

Bat meets girl

Last night I caught up on some TiVo recordings, which reminded me that I should say that I've really been appreciating The Batman more lately. While Warner Bros. will never top the original fantastic animated series that forged an entirely new animation style, the latest episodes of this incarnation have been pretty entertaining (and certainly much better than the first season of the series). I usually hate it when adaptations mess with characters and their origins, but I have to say that it was interesting to see the new Clayface and Poison Ivy come from close friends of the main characters. This season everything is new, from the theme song to the Batmobile (since the old one was destroyed), along with a new Batgirl - younger, sassier, and so far pretty cool (definitely not as sexy as the original animated version, but still totally cute)! Her two-part origin episode, Batgirl Begins, was really well done (even though the narration was a little cheesy), so I'm looking forward to seeing her more often. I'm finally used to the Joker's character design, too - now if they would only do something about Catwoman's ginormous ears!

1.11.2006

Mario Kart DS / Nintendo DS : 5 of 5

I got this fantastic DS game before Christmas, and I played lots of it in Oklahoma City (before I got my new games for Christmas, of course!). I was a fan of Mario Kart for Nintendo 64, and I also had a GameBoy Advance version, but I think it's the most fun on a DS! The use of dual screens is really cool, with the standard behind-the-driver view on the top screen, and your choice of a moving map or a course overhead map on the bottom screen (which really comes in handy when you can't see through your windshield). I've never been very good at steering with my left hand (I was really bad on my GameBoy), but for some reason I'm pretty good on the DS, and I can still use the other controls, including the top buttons, to handle things like dropping obstacles and the all-important power sliding! There are lots of courses, including exact replicas of the old Nintendo 64 courses, and lots of drivers and vehicles to choose from (I like to play Toad, for some reason). The Nintendo WiFi Connection is truly amazing - it takes no time to get online and suddenly you're racing people you've never met, sometimes from different countries! It's hard to explain, but it just feels more exciting knowing you're racing real people rather than computer characters. This is definitely one of the best games for the DS so far (even though it's not a touch-screen game), and it's great to play in spare moments since it doesn't take long to get in three laps!

1.10.2006

Monkeybash night

Last night my pals Tom & Jonathan went with me to the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema downtown to see Super Happy Fun Monkeybash DX Gaiden, which is a collection of tons of hilarious clips from Japanese TV, including commercials, music videos, and bits of TV shows. It started off with the famous Yatta! music video, which I had already seen a hundred times, but it was awesome to see it on the big screen and laugh with a full house of amazed folks (it was a $1.00 show, so it was packed!). I also thought the Oh! Mikey (The Fuccons) shorts were totally hilarious - I had seen one of them dubbed before, but they are five times as funny in Japanese (I've got to get them on DVD)! After the show we walked to a swanky bar next door for a drink, and had a fantastic glass of Lagavulin - oh my, I had forgotten how much I love it. My pal Matt introduced me to it at the old Caucus Club, but I think the last time I had it was at Ruth's Chris. Anyway, it was phenomenal!

1.09.2006

Looney Tunes / Golden Collection Vol 3 : 5 of 5

I've finished watching the first of many great DVD sets I got for Christmas, and this new Looney Tunes set is really fantastic! There's no need to go on about how great the cartoons look, since I've mentioned the beautiful restoration in the past (and finally they've included a little documentary about the process). The DVDs in this set include one for Bugs Bunny, one for Porky Pig, one full of Hollywood references, and one miscellaneous disc. As usual, the audio commentaries are terrific - I love all of the different styles, from Jerry Beck getting old-timers' perspectives on a cartoon, to John Kricfalusi bad-mouthing every director on the planet except his hero, Bob Clampett! There are some classics included that have always been my favorites, such as Robin Hood Daffy, The House That Jack Built (for some reason I always thought "celebrity mice" are hilarious), and all those great "things that come to life" shorts (where characters on books and groceries jump off their labels and sing and dance). I also love to see things like the first appearance of Pepe LePew, an early Foghorn Leghorn that sounds like Yosemite Sam, and really old characters that just didn't make it, like Porky's friend Beans. There are some really good documentaries included covering the big directors, too. Besides an annoying Whoopi Goldberg introduction, these DVDs are pure gold - I guess that's why they call them the Golden Collection!

1.08.2006

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk / Austin Lyric Opera : 4 of 5

This was definitely an unusual choice for Austin Lyric Opera, but since this is the 100th anniversary of Shostakovich's birth, there are lots of his works being performed this year. I had no idea what to expect from this opera, but I'm glad to say that I was really surprised (and sometimes shocked)! The music is extremely dramatic and theatrical, with hardly any true arias, and even long sections without vocals that serve as incidental music while action is taking place on stage. The story is full of violence and sex, including two murders (occurring in plain view), a rape, and extended bedroom scenes (the actors definitely had to go far beyond the usual opera activities!). The set design was interesting, using lots of industrial pipes and platforms, with windows and doors being rolled on by members of the chorus as needed. Speaking of the chorus, they were nearly always onstage, and even doubled as furniture! This was supposed to have a kind of oppressed worker significance, but it was a little funny to see people sitting on someone's back for breakfast. The acting was pretty spectacular, from the evil father-in-law to the love-starved, crazy Katerina herself. I was surprised they performed an English translation (I've never seen Austin Lyric Opera do that before), but it certainly didn't detract from the experience. It's great to be introduced to such a riveting work!

1.07.2006

Fun with friends

This has been a great week for getting out of the house more (keeping my resolution already!) and seeing old friends. My pal Ian is in town from New York City, and I met him and some other friends at the Elephant Room for some late night drinks and great Latin jazz (I was really impressed with the drummer's work on the classic Wave). It was fun to talk with Ian and other pals of the Day Jobs days. I had never really chatted with Austin-renowned dancer Laura before, but I was pretty shocked to find out she's an Adult Swim fan (an Aqua Teen Hunger Force geek in disguise!). Yesterday I had friends over to see my pal Shelly since he's going back to Portland, and it was cool having the old Works crowd together, eating pizza and playing DDR. Then last night I had a post-opera drink with Tom, so I've just been living it up lately - definitely a good start to the year!

I've posted a Flickr set of some photos of my favorite Christmas gift to my dad (and I'm happy that it was his favorite gift, too!) - a really nice model of the AWACS plane from the Corgi Aviation Archive. Mom's kitchen isn't as nice as my "studio" setup for macro shots at home, but these turned out pretty well anyway!

View photos: AWACS model

1.06.2006

Bizarro sentence structure

Most of the things I post on WEBmikey are either reviews or journal entries. I'd like to add a little variety to my posts (if I can manage it) by talking about other topics when they're on my mind. Of course, studying Japanese is always fresh in my brain, so hopefully I can share some interesting language tidbits with you (or maybe this will be my only post like this!). Anyway, I'm going to give it a try! (By the way, if any students of Japanese happen to read this, remember that I'm just a student, too, so anything I say could be completely incorrect. I'm just writing things as I understand them at this moment!)

In my last lesson with Kazki, we stumbled upon a really strange sentence structure. In fact, it seemed so strange that I kept asking him if people really say things this way! Look at these two sentences:

keiki o tabemasen deshita.
keiki o tabeta no dewa arimasen deshita.


Both of these can be paraphrased as "I didn't eat the cake." The first sentence is literally that meaning, but the second sentence is much different. From a literal view, it says "The situation of eating the cake didn't exist", or to put it another way, "I ate the cake - not!" I thought this was funny and bizarre, but Kazki pointed out a nuance in the meaning. A better translation would be "It wasn't the cake that I ate", which implies that I ate something else. Wow, subtle meanings like that seem to be light years away from my current understanding! However, I think this kind of phrasing is something that could only come up in conversation practice with a tutor, so I'm really glad I'm studying this way.

1.05.2006

The Producers : 4 of 5

I was so glad when I heard they were making a film of this hilarious Broadway hit, featuring the performances of the original stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick! Since I saw the touring production with Melinda, we went together to the movie, too. As soon as it started, I was really surprised at how the film is shot. It's a huge contrast to the style of other Broadway movies, such as the incredible Chicago - rather than working with "modern" editing techniques like quick cuts, multiple angles, and trying to hide the fact that everyday people are singing and dancing, this film does just the opposite. Most of the film is shot with long cuts facing the stage dead-on, which makes it feel like you are watching the show on stage. Of course, there are plenty of close-ups and use of multiple cameras, but this movie really feels much more like a 30s movie musical! The performances are totally amazing - I knew Nathan Lane would be perfect, but I was amazed at how funny Matthew Broderick was (I kept cracking up at his hysterical faces!). I'm not an Uma Thurman fan (I'm not into Amazon women!), but her weird lanky look works for the Swedish bombshell. Will Ferrell is a good choice for the Nazi playwright, and the guys playing Roger and Carmen are sheer genius. The only cut I noticed was Max's opening number, but I guess they thought two hours and fifteen minutes was long enough. If you haven't seen the show, go see the movie, since you'll have nearly the same experience - if you've seen the show, see the movie anyway!

1.04.2006

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney / Nintendo DS : 4 of 5

I had to get this game from the moment I heard about it, just because it's another example of the incredibly bizarre and unique games that keep coming out for the Nintendo DS. I seriously doubt there are any other lawyer games on the market! This is basically a role-playing game, similar to Trace Memory in a lot of ways, which means you are guiding your character through a pre-determined story to get to the right outcome. You become Phoenix Wright, a new defense attorney who starts working on murder cases right away! There are only five cases in the game, but each case gets longer and more difficult, so that's plenty - I'm about to finish the third case, and I've been working on it for several hours of gameplay! You guide your character around to interview people and collect clues, and these use these in the courtroom, where you listen to witness testimony and try to expose the lies. It's possible to lose the game, since if you present evidence that doesn't apply to the witness statement, the judge will give you a strike - one too many mistakes and that's the end. The graphics are really cool, with great anime-style characters and awesome backgrounds, too. Speaking of characters, there are tons of them, including your sexy lawyer partner and her cute sister, your evil nemesis lawyer, and lots of supporting characters (I like the gross otaku film director in the case I'm working on). There's lots of reading and facts to remember, but it's all a great puzzle that's really fun to play!

1.03.2006

Thank you, Magic Toenail

Today is one of those random topic days. I really like to have a focused idea of something to write about, but sometimes I only have a few interesting tidbits to share. Yesterday I was still wishing it was the weekend, and then Magic Toenail by Brak started playing on my iPod, which totally made me laugh out loud and change my attitude! I miss seeing Brak on Cartoon Network - maybe I should buy some DVDs sometime. Anyway, listening to Brak get all choked up singing "Thank you, thank you, thank you, Magic Toenail" really hit the spot. Today I had a veggie sandwich with asparagus on it, and I was amazed at how little time it takes to get that good ol' asparagus pee smell (only about an hour!). My pal Matt recently posted his photos taken while I was in Japan. They are all really cool (as usual), and it's really fun for me to see some shots that I remember watching him take. I already feel nostalgic about that trip, even though it was only half a year ago! I want to eat little breakfast sandwiches and draw pictures with Nozomi-chan.

Play Magic Toenail

1.02.2006

Resolution time

I guess it's time for New Year's resolutions (even though in past years I resolved to not make any more resolutions!), and I really only have one, though it's kind of broad. This year I want to experience more creativity, which basically means I want to get out of the house more! I've had periods in my life where my schedule was always full of music events, plays, museum exhibits, and all kinds of other things, but last year I really only made it to the opera. So, this year I'm going to change that - I'm going to go to the symphony again, I'm going to see more movies in the theater (rather than waiting for the DVD!), I'm going to try more restaurants, I'm going to start reading poetry again (along with my manga, of course), and get out for more local music, too. Being more creative myself is also part of the deal, so I want to try to make some short video projects this year, for purely expressive reasons.

I guess there are a few other things I want to accomplish, though they really aren't resolutions. I definitely have to stop being lazy about furniture shopping, since I'm tired of getting a sore butt in my old rocking chair, and if I don't get more shelves soon, I will suffocate in books and Disney knick-knacks. Of course, I also want to seriously concentrate on my Japanese studies - I think I need some structure, so it's probably time to use my old class textbook as a guide. And I definitely want to stay healthy and in the same weight range. I'm always excited at the beginning of the year - I hope I can look back on this post in 2007 and say "I did it!"

1.01.2006

Say hello to '06

Happy new year, everyone! I had a blast last night at my Greatest American Heroes gig - it was one of the best ever! The crowd was a little slow getting there, but as midnight approached the whole place was totally packed and the dance floor was full. My favorite thing about playing music is watching a good crowd, and last night there were plenty of crazy folks to watch. (In fact, the band received it's first "flashing", so I guess we've made it now. Of course, I was hidden behind the horns so I missed the display!) Tons of friends showed up, including our pal Shelly, who is visiting from Portland, and tons of other folks. The countdown to midnight was fun, and then we played Auld Lang Syne and rocked on until about 1:15 or so, and the crowd kept dancing, too. I was totally exhausted this morning, so it was a great day to play Nintendo DS, watch Looney Tunes, and eat Cheerios from the box, just before taking a long nap on the couch.

View photos: New Year's Eve