The first show my parents and I saw in Las Vegas was the latest Cirque du Soleil production called Ka, since we've seen several other productions together and loved them all. I can easily say that Ka is my new favorite (and Mom agreed)! Seeing Ka is like watching a movie that happens all around you - even though all of the Cirque productions have some sort of deeper meaning, only Ka tells a complete story with a defined plot. The story is about two Imperial twins who are separated in a shipwreck (after their parents are killed in a dramatic archer attack), and follows their separate journeys until they finally unite to fight the evil ones who caused their tragedy. All of the show's acrobatics work into the story - there are exciting battles, daring escapes, and tender moments, too, all right before your eyes. The stage is a complete miracle - it's a huge platform that can be lifted and twisted in almost any direction so it seems to be floating, and it can even stand completely upright so performers can climb up it! There are lots of great special effects, too, featuring live fire and plenty of cool projections, many of which follow the performers. I can't even begin to describe all the fantastic scenes! The costumes and make-up have a strong Asian influence in their design, and the performers are all great actors as well (especially the boy and girl twins!). We had third row seats, so it was amazing to see all of their expressions (and also cool to have performers flying above our heads at times!). I could easily see Ka again and again - it's simply magnificent.
I know, the big Sudoku craze is old news now, and anything that becomes so popular, so fast usually drives me away. During Christmas there were a million Sudoku books in the bookstores, but I passed them by. Finally I read a little about it online - at first I figured it had something to do with math (I'm sure most people think that originally), but after I learned the simple rules I thought I might give it a try sometime. Then I got an email from Astraware, my favorite Palm software company, and their Sudoku software looked really cool, so I bought it. I have to say, I was hooked in about five minutes! The rules are so deceptively simple, yet you really have to use different strategies to figure out which numbers go where. The Palm version lets you easily keep "possible" numbers in the squares, which makes it so much easier than pencil and paper. It's so amazing to me when I solve a puzzle, and it feels great when everything falls into place! Sometimes it seems impossible, but today I solved my first "Fiendish" level, so I'm ready to try "Diabolical". It's definitely addictive and good for your brain, too!
I'm so glad that one of the best cartoon series ever produced is available in it's entirety on DVD. I completely enjoyed the Volume 1 set, and now I'm hooked again after watching Volume 2 (which was yet another DVD set I got for Christmas last year)! This set has some of the best episodes of the entire run, including the two-part Robin's Reckoning, which features the original "Flying Graysons" and the death of Dick's parents, which is extremely dramatic and well-staged. There are also two incredible stories that have become classic among Batman fans, namely Almost Got Him (featuring all the villains playing cards and trading Batman fight stories) and Harley and Ivy (the hilarious first team-up of Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy). It's cool to see the first appearances of Barbara Gordon in several episodes, too, before she dons the Batgirl costume! I was surprised at how many great episodes I had forgotten about - there are lots of creative plots to enjoy in this set. Once again, each DVD contains a commentary track for one of the best episodes on the disc, and it's always interesting to hear Bruce Timm and Paul Dini (among other artists) talk about their work (they love to point out mistakes and dust on the cels, too). I can't wait to check out Volume 3, and there's still Volume 4 to watch after that!
Since my parents and I had such a great time in Las Vegas the last time we visited in 2004, we decided to spend another few days there last weekend! This time we stayed at Bellagio, which was really amazing (our bathroom was absolutely huge!). I love gambling at Bellagio, since the atmosphere is elegant but comfortable, and the free drinks are larger and tastier than the other casinos. Once again, my parents and I got hooked on Monopoly themed slot machines - I can't even describe how fun they are (the graphics and bonus games are just miles cooler than anything else)! We saw a different show every night, starting with the latest Cirque du Soleil production Ka, then Barry Manilow's show, and then Mamma Mia. They were all tons of fun (reviews on the way soon, of course)! We also visited the Shark Reef exhibit at Mandalay Bay, which was pretty cool. I really enjoyed riding the Las Vegas Monorail for the first time, too - it was extra interesting for me since the technology originally came from Walt Disney World!
View photos: Las Vegas 2006
View photos: Las Vegas 2006
A while back I decided to pick up a few Disney DVDs that were missing from my collection, including several of the Winnie the Pooh stories. There's something about the way Disney creates a Pooh movie that's "just right" - no matter what your devotion is to the original AA Milne stories, these fantastic characters are always heartwarming to me (and seem to have direct control of my tear ducts). I really enjoyed Pooh's Heffalump Movie in the theater, so I got this DVD, but waited until recently to watch it (since the movie was too fresh on my mind). I had a great time seeing it again - it was fun to notice little characterizations in Lumpy the Heffalump (I love his hiccups), and to appreciate the plight of Eeyore as a pack mule. As always, I'm in love with Kanga, the representation of perfect, comforting motherhood, and her voice is always so soothing and wonderful. I wish they had let her sing the entire Little Mr. Roo song, but Carly Simon does another good job as the new "official" songwriter for the Pooh movies. Typically, there's a really short and simple behind the scenes segment, but at least it's interesting to get to meet the folks who came up with the story. I think I could watch a Pooh movie any day of the week!
I can still remember watching the Star Wars Holiday Special when it originally aired in 1978. Now it's hard to believe it was ever made, but back then it was so exciting to see some "new" Star Wars action only a year after the craze began! Since that time I've seen several clips here and there, but never the whole show, since Lucas has vowed to pretend it never existed. Well, recently I caved in and ordered a great bootleg DVD of the show, and watching it was like a geek time-machine! The storyline is so stupid, of course - the idea of Chewbacca having a wife and son (plus his father) at home is silly, but it's fun watching all these wookiees grunting at each other for long periods with no subtitles. The guest stars are really dated (folks like Harvey Korman and Bea Arthur), and the way they use clips from the original movie with newly dubbed voices is pretty funny. The Boba Fett animation is much longer than I remember, so it was cool to see that again, and who could ever get tired of watching Princess Leia sing lyrics to the John Williams' main title score? The DVD also included over 50 Kenner toy commercials! They were so much cheesier than I remember, but my heart still jumps to see those cool Star Wars toys. This show is never going to be available as an "official" DVD, so if you haven't seen this masterpiece in a while, just go ahead and buy one of the many fine bootlegs available all over the web - Lumpy will be glad you did!
Even though I've been a Steve Martin fan for a long time (I still have lots of routines from his comedy albums memorized!), I think he's definitely passed his peak. I'd much rather see him in The Man with Two Brains than anything he's done in the past several years, but he still brings a smile to my face no matter what role he takes on. I wasn't sure about seeing The Pink Panther, but my parents loved it, and I finally got around to seeing it (since it probably won't be in the theater much longer). I knew it was going to be extremely low-brow (which was proved true by the very first gag of knocking over an old woman on the street), but I have to admit it - I laughed a lot! There are so many jokes that it becomes ridiculous, but maybe that's what made it funny. I really appreciated Steve's verbal humor, much more than the physical slap-stick. Exchanges such as "We found him dead in the locker room, shot in the head." "Was it fatal?" really kept me laughing. It was cool to see Emily Mortimer (whom I recently enjoyed in Match Point) as Clouseau's cute secretary, especially since she's twice the actress as Beyonce (though it was kind of interesting to watch her in her close-ups and realize just how young she is!). All in all, any opportunity to laugh out loud is always worth the price of admission!
I've been using my trusty iBook G3 600 nearly every day of my life for the past several years now. It's definitely reaching the end of it's coolness, even though it runs Mac OS Tiger like a champ, but I can deal with the semi-slowness since it's really only my web/email/writing computer. My only real problem is that I'm a chronic battery abuser! I'm on my second battery, and I've cooked it down to a max charge of 30 minutes (I tend to charge too often for too long). It's so bad that I can't even use it at Barnes & Noble now, since I feel like it's a race against time every time I open the lid! So I've been struggling with the decision of buying a third battery, or getting a new iBook, since I know I want a hipper machine anyway. The decision is even more difficult because of the Intel chip switch, since the speed of those new machines is so tempting, though I like the security of the tried and true Motorola chip. This weekend I made a choice - I was almost ready to buy a new iBook G4 from Amazon, and then suddenly I decided to go for the battery instead. I will hold on until the iBook line is revved with the Intel chip, wait for some reviews, and make the big switch then. So, I ordered the fancy Newer Technology iBook battery that's supposed to have much higher capacity than Apple's original battery. I'm looking forward to spending longer sessions with my iBook at Barnes & Noble, and hopefully I can be nice to my battery this time around!
I heard about this new documentary on Toon Zone, and since it was already available on Netflix, I thought I would have a look (especially since I'm starting to think about A-Kon again in a few months!). Unfortunately, the film was only mildly entertaining, but it does contain some interesting history. I guess it had never occurred to me before, but it was fascinating to realize that anime is such a new genre in America, at least to the point of there being a huge anime DVD market in the US. As recently as 1985 you really couldn't buy US-releases of anime (even though shows like Speed Racer were all over TV)! The film talks with the folks who brought Macross to the US, completely "re-created" as the Robotech series (and how angry the fans became when they realized what had been done!). Aside from the history, there's plenty of convention footage, of course, but nothing that really makes it look like a fun experience. In fact, the whole documentary misses the point of fandom - the camaraderie of folks with a shared interest and subculture. Instead, it wastes time talking about a crazy stage show called Kaiju Big Battel (spelling correct!), which pits Japanese-ish rubber monsters against each other in the wrestling ring. Oh well, at least the movie is pretty short!
I love free time! Yesterday was a semi-rainy Saturday, and even though I usually hate dreary weather, at least it was a perfect backdrop for staying inside (or hanging out at a bookstore) and doing stuff I enjoy. I'm always adjusting my life to try to squeeze in all my obsessions into each day, so the latest scheme I've come up with with is Watch, Read, Study, Play. If I can check each of those off my mental list each day, then I've had a nice day! Watch means to keep up on my pile of DVDs, so yesterday I finished the first DVD in the Batman Animated Series set I'm watching. Read means to stay current with my magazines, manga, and books, so yesterday I read the latest issue of Tales from the Laughing Place Magazine cover to cover (relaxing with coffee at Barnes & Noble). Study means to work on my Japanese, so I used my dictionary and looked up just about every word I didn't know on my sample JLPT. Play means to spend some quality time with my Nintendo DS or PS2, so I spent a while in Animal Crossing (but I have been seriously neglecting my other games lately, so I have to fix that!). Of course, there are other things I need to do everyday, such as post something on WEBmikey, or get off my butt and exercise, but so far I like the simplicity of Watch, Read, Study, Play.
I guess I'm a little out of the loop on art films lately, since I hadn't heard of this movie until my pal Ernesto asked me to go. The Libertine is a period piece set in muddy old England in the 1600s, following the later years of the semi-famous John Wilmot, the Second Earl of Rochester (Wilmot was indeed a colorful historical figure, whose bawdy poetry is still studied). Johnny Depp, continuing his feat of choosing the most bizarre roles for his career, plays Wilmot, and definitely plays him well - even though it's "funny" to see someone drunk all the time, cheating on his poor wife every night, and insulting royalty left and right, he's ultimately a tragic character that you can't help but feel sorry for, hate, and enjoy at the same time. His main redeeming action is tutoring a budding actress until she becomes the star of the stage (played by the fantastic Samantha Morton), but even she must turn him away as he meets his bitter end, death by syphilis. The film is shot using "modern" techniques such as long spinning shots, series of tons of rack focus changes (more than I had ever seen before in a single scene), and even strange hand-held moments, but lit "authentically" - the film definitely has that low-light grain throughout, since the whole lighting plan seems to have been candles (but I actually enjoyed the effect). Even though you could call this a "repulsive" film, it's definitely well made and made me emotional for the characters, so I would recommended it if you're looking for a serious film.
My Japanese lessons with Kazki have taken a new turn, and I'm pretty excited about it! We've been working on conversation for the last several months, but I still have lots of "holes" in my grammar and vocabulary. So, Kazki prepared a lesson where I had to come up with synonyms for words such as "easy", and then use them in sentences, both as adjectives and adverbs. It was really great, and it made me think about getting serious and taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) at the end of this year. After doing a little research, I've decided I definitely want to do it, so now there's a new direction to my studies. For example, I found on KanjiStep an online placement test for Level 4 (the easiest of four levels of the JLPT) that I took to see what I could do - I passed, but there were plenty of areas that I need help in. So, I printed the test for my last lesson and Kazki and I went over my mistakes - it was so helpful! I also just bought some great testing books from The Japan Shop, and I'm excited to be studying those now, too. I guess I will finally learn some kanji! The test isn't held until December, so it's going to be a long wait, but I'm just happy to have a new compass to follow in my studies.
I had some hesitations about seeing this movie because of all the bad reviews (and even Disney fan sites were extremely harsh!), but since my pal Melinda and I always see Disney movies, I saw it and enjoyed it (for the most part). I don't have very detailed memories about the original movie - in fact, I think I remember the original sequel The Shaggy D.A. much more, but I don't think this remake has much resemblance anyway. Tim Allen is an overworked dad who has lost touch with his family (of course) and he's bitten by a mystical Tibetan sheepdog, so he keeps turning into a dog, which helps him to see how he needs to connect with his family. There's also the evil genetics company who wants to make an eternal youth product from the same dog, so there are plenty of chases, dog-nappings, and so on to provide the plot. The whole thing is pretty silly, and that's OK with me - I generally had a good time at the theater, but most of the laughs were of the groaning "I can't believe they made that joke" variety. The whole thing felt a little like Disney was just trying to get this one out of the door so they could move on to something better (and I'm sure they will), and I also felt a little sorry for the semi-A-list actors who were stuck in this movie. The best part of the movie is the dog himself - he has such an expressive face! I think this would be an OK movie to watch on TV on a rainy Sunday, but don't worry about seeing it in the theater unless you're a devoted Disney fan like me.
Time for another quick look at the manga I'm reading! As far as continuing series, I've finished Hikaru no Go Vol 6, Dr. Slump Vol 6, and I''s Vol 6 lately (you can definitely tell I started those series at the same time, since they're all on the same volume number!). Hikaru no Go is still the most interesting, but I''s has some new life now that Itsuki has moved away so Ichitaka can focus on Iori (ah, romance). I read the manga version of Kamikaze Girls, which was quite different than the movie (I wonder if the movie or the manga is more like the original novel?), and it includes a fun sequel story, too. Finally, I started Death Note, which is completely unlike any manga I would normally read, but the artwork is by the same artist who draws Hikaru no Go, so it's fantastic. I'm officially sucked into the story, too, even though it's kind of creepy!
Even though this series isn't what I'd call spectacular, I'm still keeping up with it - it's a little easier since I'm watching it as it's released, so I have to wait between volumes. It's an entirely different show now that Kazuki has become a ghost. He still goes to school with the girls and tries to live a "normal" life, so he has to concentrate to hold things in the real world, and the only thing he can really eat is cotton candy (which Yuna happily makes for him). Since the main plot doesn't seem to be going anywhere in this volume, these three episodes focus on other characters. First there's a story about Kuriko - she's suspected of being conned by a guy who wants to marry her for her family's money, and there's some fun scenes where Elizabeth (the little girl ghost who follows them around) feels jealous, since she kind of thinks of Kuriko as her mother (I think!). Next is a funny episode where it seems like Nakamaru, the brash kid in class, is the possessor of the most magical genes, so the class goes crazy waiting on him hand and foot. The best scene is when he makes all the guys in class dress as henchmen and all the girls wear bunny outfits! The last episode focuses on Rin and a battle with a family rival, but it ends with an interesting scene where another girl who knows Kazuki shows up and everyone starts collapsing for some reason. Maybe the next volume will be more exciting!
I'm enjoying Gatchaman more than any other anime I've been watching lately! I'm a total fan now - I even took the opening and closing theme song lyrics to my tutoring session so we could analyze them! This box set has another 12 episodes, which I think ends up about half-way through the series, and I'm in for the long haul. I was really happy to see the return of Red Impulse, the jet fighter team that sometimes helps out the Science Ninja Team, and finally the big secret (which I predicted) about Ken's long lost father is revealed (at least in a conversation with Dr. Nambu). There's a great two-parter (which are always cool in Gatchaman) about Jigokiller flowers, and one of them actually swallows Jun! The team has to roast a field of these flowers, and they think they have killed her - Jinpei, who thinks of Jun as his big sister, is devastated, and there's all kinds of deep characterization going on, since everyone on the team is an orphan, but they all deal with it in different ways. Some cool monsters this time are Renzilla (who looks a lot like Rodan), and a bunch of cool mecha-dinosaurs. Katse gets into the action, too - he disguises himself as a woman (it seems he's very in touch with his feminine side!) to hijack a plane, and of course, he can switch back into his normal pointy-eared self in about two seconds. The bonus discs are getting a little boring for me, since they mainly focus on the American voice actors now, but I still like buying these box sets anyway, and Collection 5 is on the way!
Last night the Greatest American Heroes got to play a total rock show event as one of three bands for Frog Design's SXSW Interactive Opening Night Party (thanks to our singer Dana, who works for Frog, though she's taking a new job in DC in a few weeks)! This was a giant party held in an old produce warehouse, and filled up with hundreds of people (not everyone was in front of our stage, of course). They had a great stage setup, with smoke machines, crazy remote control spotlights, and all kinds of graphic projectors putting cool images all over the walls! The sound guy was Damon, a cool guy that I've worked with before, and he's really professional - he had five mics on my kit all setup in just a few minutes, and he cranked us up loud. We only got to play an hour, and I have no idea what the crowd was thinking with the Muppet Show theme started blaring across the room, but it was really cool to play for a huge crowd with all that equipment and rock the house (in our own cheesy way)! Since the SXSW Interactive conference is going to be a majorly blogged event, I've already found some mentions of the party on the web - maybe someone will talk about that cool TV theme song band eventually. I didn't have my camera with me (baka!), but I tried to take a few crappy cameraphone pics to capture some of the moment.
View photos: SXSW Interactive gig
View photos: SXSW Interactive gig
I think I can officially declare myself a solid BoA fan, since I've been listening to her music for years now, so I was super-psyched to see she released a new full-length Japanese CD (I even pre-ordered it from YesAsia!). I bought the special edition that comes with a DVD containing four terrific music videos, and I have watched it many, many times - I think it's safe to say that she's one of the most beautiful gals on the planet. The CD has an excellent mix of happy pop, emotional pop, and awesome ballads (where her voice really shines) - her music is nothing like the "anime style" pop that's typical of other Japanese music (even though I love that stuff, too!). The stand-out track is Everlasting, which has amazing key changes from the verse to the chorus, and really makes my heart soar. I really like Make a Secret (which I had already bought as a CD single), and Dakishimeru is totally cool - it's really fun to sing, and definitely makes me want to move. All the different types of music give this CD some serious staying power in my car CD player! Of course, I'm really excited to have the music video DVD, too - the video for Everlasting is especially amazing and beautiful, and the dance numbers in the other songs are awesome to watch. The only sad thing about having this CD is that now it will be years before her next full-length CD is released!
This week I had a great rehearsal with the Ernesto Marquez Quintet, a new combo focused on Latin jazz. Actually, the group is just a new mix of my usual musical pals - Ernesto & Jonathan on horns, Chris on bass (which is amazing since he's primarily a guitarist), Steve on keys (from Stella), and myself on drums. One of Ernesto's musical colleagues is going to join us every now and then to add a trombone to the mix, which is exciting. We originally got together to play a quick Christmas party last year, but we had so much fun that we've decided to keep rehearsing and see what happens. Since Ernesto is stepping up to organize everything, the band is named for him (and his name sounds the coolest for a Latin jazz band). This week we really had a good time - it's so much fun playing styles that I learned in my early days of drum lessons, but rarely get to play. I even bought a new drum book with more Latin rhythms for me to try, so I'm pretty psyched about it!
I've been curious about this little Disney film for a long time, so I took advantage of special deal at Best Buy to pick up the DVD for cheap. Summer Magic is a cute little movie with hardly a shred of plot - there's only a loose story that just meanders along like a country walk in Buela, Maine (where the movie takes place). The single thing that actually happens is a widow, her daughter (played by the always charming Haley Mills), and her two sons move from Boston to the country, where Burl Ives lets them live in a dreamy yellow house, since the owner is away. The only real purpose for most scenes is to highlight songs by the Sherman Brothers, and I have to say it was a joy to hear them in the context of the movie, since I already knew them from lots of Disney compilation CDs (some of them have even become staples in the Disneyland loop music that plays everyday in the park). The Disney magic is definitely there, since everything is full of lively color (along with several gorgeous Peter Ellenshaw matte paintings). Putting aside the slow pace, I still really enjoyed this lazy country tale. It was just a treat to see lawn parties and trips to the country store, and it's always fun to see Haley's cute button nose. This definitely isn't a movie for everyone, but it was nice and relaxing for me! We all could use an evening sitting on the front porch with Burl Ives singing every now and then.
I've been fascinated with the beginnings of the home computer industry for a long time, especially since I lived through the early days! It's amazing to me what Steve Jobs and Bill Gates (and many others) accomplished and how it's all a part of everyday life now. This DVD is a three episode series that was produced for PBS that cover this interesting history, and it's pretty entertaining to watch (even for non-computer enthusiasts, since everything is explained in non-technical terms). The first episode covers the really early days with the MITS Altair and the birth of Apple, the second episode is about Microsoft, and the third episode is about Apple and the evolution of the GUI. Unfortunately, the series ends with Apple floundering in the marketplace and Jobs at NeXT! The series is hosted by Robert Cringely, who is a great narrator at times, but completely annoying also. My favorite scenes are of the young Jobs making on-stage presentations (including the original Macintosh), and it's always interesting to see him interviewed since he's so articulate. The most fascinating thing to me was how Compaq was able to "legally" reverse engineer the first IBM PC to make a clone. The entire processed is explained, and it's simply diabolical how they were able to steal in a way that no lawyer could touch! This is great documentary if you're curious about that little box you're using to surf the web at this very moment.
Another year, another Academy Awards bash! This seemed like a particularly big party, since there were several newcomers this time, which made everything even more fun. Based on the nominated movies this year, I thought I would be coming in last place, but somehow I actually came in first (with 16 correct picks), for the first time in nine years! Since I'm the host, I just took one fun prize (a ninja rubber duckie) and stepped down, which put Jonathan in first (as usual), Ian (live from New York) in second, and Ernesto and Ann Marie tied for third. Chris took the last place prize, but he was one of the big hits this year, since Chris and Shawn both came dressed as Brokeback Mountain cowboys (without knowing the other guy was doing the same thing!). This was also the first time I got to meet Sofia, Kristin & Carlos' new baby girl, and she was amazingly quiet during all our party craziness!
View photos: Academy Awards 2006
View photos: Academy Awards 2006
It's been a long time since I've watched a Godzilla movie (besides seeing the 1954 original lately), but I've been interested in seeing Final Wars after seeing the cool Godzilla PS2 game at A-Kon last year, so I rented it from Netflix. I had a fantastic time watching this two hour kaiju masterpiece, and now I'm itching to rent more Godzilla movies! This movie manages to put Godzilla up against nearly every monster from all of the other movies, including the most famous, Rodan, Mothra, and King Gidorah (and plenty more that I hadn't heard of)! He even fights the crappy Godzilla from the US remake (which looks hilarious since they did it in CG, just like the movie, while all the other monsters are in rubber suits, of course), and he takes him out in two seconds flat. The plot involves an alien race called the Xilians who need humans to be their cattle, and they control all the other monsters to destroy civilization. Our heroes awaken Godzilla to do their fighting for them, but thanks to a fun appearance from Son of Godzilla, he goes away peacefully when the battle's over. I totally had a blast watching this movie! The effects are fantastic and "modern" (but still keep that kaiju charm), the actors are totally into their roles (there's a funny American captain who speaks English), and the battle action is incredible. Gojira wa kakkoii desu!
Yesterday I went to another wonderful concert of the Austin Symphony. Since I don't have season tickets, I just buy whatever seat I can get online, and believe it or not, I managed to snag the exact same fourth row seat that I had last time (and I got to say hello to the same guy I met before)! This time I didn't regret sitting so close, since the featured cellist, Alisa Weilerstein, was absolutely amazing! Her style was dramatic and full of energy, and it was wonderful to watch her face express what she was playing (and her good looks didn't hurt either). Seeing her up close was incredible, especially noticing details like playing an extremely high note off the fretboard of her instrument! The guest conductor, Ernest Hoetzl, was entertaining, too - he chose the program as a "panoramic tour of Austrian music" (from his introduction), and you could tell he was proud to show off the music of his home. Unfortunately, the long Schubert symphony was kind of flighty and lacked emotion, but they made up for it with several shorter works, including some polkas, and ended with the Blue Danube Waltz (which was the first time I've heard it performed live). The entire orchestra even did a short encore piece! I wonder if I'll get the same seat next month?
Last night all my pals and I had a fun double celebration for Chris & Jonathan, who both had birthdays recently! We started with dinner at Cosmic Cafe - Chris is vegetarian, so he picked the restaurant. It was a fun place with very cool decor and a nice waiters, and I had a little pizza that was pretty good (I just can't get too excited about veggie food). After dinner we went to Jonathan's for drinks, where we had margaritas followed by scotch followed by cigars (outside by Jonathan's cool fire pit). I gave both birthday boys some nice booze, and I also gave Jonathan his extra special present from Matt & Kumiko in Japan! Jonathan collects crazy hats, so they sent him a Nova Usagi hat, and it was a big hit. This is definitely a party weekend, since my annual Academy Awards party is tomorrow night!
View photos: Jonathan & Chris Birthday
View photos: Jonathan & Chris Birthday
Happy Birthday, Mom! There are so many birthdays for me to celebrate in the first third of the year. Of course, Mom's is the most important (I sent her a little gift, but I'm planning to buy her souvenirs when we go to Las Vegas soon), but tonight I'll also be going to a combined party for my pals Chris (who is still too young to mention his age) and Jonathan (who is now 40 - hurray for someone older than me!). Yesterday I planned on catching up on some reading, but I got double sidetracked. First, I started obsessing about finding the Sailor Moon Super S DVD box set, because I'm starting to miss my favorite bishojou senshi, and that's the next season I need to get, but it's been out of print for awhile. So, I started searching the web, trying to figure out who was selling genuine releases as opposed to Hong Kong knock-offs, and suddenly a couple of hours were gone. (I may be able to snag something on eBay in the morning!) Since it was getting late, I had an itch for some Guitar Hero, and before I knew it I had been playing for two hours! I finished every single song (including unlocks) on Medium, and I'm working on the Hard level, which is totally crazy - so many chords! It's almost embarrassing how much I like to play Symphony of Destruction.
Most fans of music video games have heard of Guitar Freaks, which is a popular guitar simulation arcade game in Japan (they show a guy playing it in Lost in Translation). RedOctane has transformed this Japanese classic into an affordable US release called Guitar Hero, which has been an instant hit! Recently it was nearly impossible to find the game in stock (I tried to buy it for myself for my birthday, but everyone was sold out), but now it's easier to find, so I bought it. The amazing thing about this game is that it comes with a guitar controller - it's a plastic half-size guitar, complete with strap, that's just big enough to feel like the real thing. There are buttons on the frets, a special "strum button" on the body, and even a whammy bar! The game has tons of classic rock hits (most of these I don't know, but they are all fun to play!), and works like DDR for your fingers - you have to press the correct fret button and strum on the correct beat. As the difficult increases, it's amazing how much it actually feels like you're playing guitar (my pal Ernesto totally felt like he was rocking out when he tried it!). The graphics are amazing - lots of excellent artwork, details like "posters" for your band (which you get to name - mine is Kagaku Ninja), and cool character performances (made by the same folks who did Karaoke Revolution). Plus, your band gets paid, and you can buy new guitars, songs, and so on. Guitar Hero is addictive and fun, and I'm going to go shred some more right now!
Up next in my Christmas DVD set bonanza, I've finished watching the complete first season of The Muppet Show, and I loved it even more than when I first saw it on TV! It's totally amazing to me that this season was shot in 1976 (anything before Star Wars in 1977 in ancient history!), and yet looks so fresh and amazing. Watching these early shows was really an eye opener, since I didn't realize how much the Muppets have evolved - Miss Piggy's eyes have changed dramatically (and she wasn't always performed by Frank Oz, which gave her a really different voice!), and Fozzie used to have mechanisms in his head to make his cheeks frown! Each episode includes a special "UK segment" (since everything was actually shot in England) that wasn't shown in the US, so it's nice to get a bonus scene (many of them are musical segments with Rowlf, who has become one of my favorite Muppets now). The best bonus feature by far on these DVDs is the cool "Muppet Morsels" subtitle track, which displays additional facts and trivia about each scene as you watch, so you can enjoy the show and laugh when they point out places where you can see Jim Henson's head! The original pilot for the show is here, too, though I can't believe how dull it is compared to the actual show. It was so nice to sit back and watch a true variety show, and The Muppet Show is an excellent cure for the rainy day blahs! I really hope they release a Season Two set!