12.31.2007

Star Trek / The Key Collection Vol 1 : 3 of 5

This was the first book I got for Christmas this year, and it was so much fun to read that I finished it before I left Oklahoma City! I've been a Star Trek fan since I was super-young, and I used to love reading these old cheesy comic book adventures of the Enterprise crew (I even remember buying a big book of them at a Star Trek convention with Dad!). This volume contains eight stories that were originally published from 1967 (when the show was still on) through 1970, but even though they could easily be compared to the series itself, they still have all kinds of hilarious errors! Scotty has blonde hair, the Transporter is called the Teleportation Chamber, and of course the Enterprise has huge rocket flames coming out of the engines. I love these goofy mistakes, but on top of that, these are really enjoyable plots, too! My favorite in this volume is called Invasion of the City Builders, about a society that's been taken over by machines that continuously build city after city, threatening to cover the entire planet. The artwork definitely has a classic charm (Kirk and Spock are drawn very well), and the dialogue has some truly incredible exclamations that are simply priceless ("Suffering solar showers!" comes to mind). All of the original covers are included as well, which featured great production stills from the actual TV show, and I swear I can remember some of them exactly. Reading stuff like this is so much fun for me, not only because I'm still a Star Trek fan, but also because I love reliving my childhood!

12.30.2007

Manga Mentions 12.07

These mini-reviews are a little late, since I finished these five volumes before the Christmas holiday, but I need to write about these now before I start reading new ones! Monster Vol 9 continues this incredible series with some dramatic action in a big library fire, as Tenma finally tries to take down Johan, while Johan's sister starts to put it all together. This volume also includes a reproduction of the mysterious children's book, which is pretty creepy! After all the suspense, Dr. Slump Vol 13 provided some great humor, featuring Caramel Boy 004 (renamed Obotchaman), who looks like Astro Boy and falls in love with Arale! It's totally hilarious, but I wish there had been more of Senbei's usual hentai antics. To my surprise, To Terra Vol 3 was the end of the series (I had no idea it was so short), but the finale was awesome with some massive space battles and interesting ends for the main characters Keith and Jomy. Overall, the story was a little weird, but I still enjoyed it, so I might check out more of Takemiya's work. Kaze Hikaru Vol 7 was fantastic as always, introducing me to more Japanese history (such as the huge battle and resulting fire in Kyoto known as kinmon no hen), as well as keeping the emotion going with a new romance for Vice Captain Yamanami (who's new lover happens to know Sei's secret!). Finally, I''s Vol 15 brought this long romance series to an end with a stalker confrontation, as well as tying up loose ends with the girl next door, but after reading this story for so long, I thought the finale was a little rushed, and it took no less than a coma for Ichitaka and Iori to finally get together!

12.29.2007

I Am Legend : 3 of 5

I didn't expect to be seeing this film, but Mom & Dad are Will Smith fans, so we decided to see a third movie together while I was in Oklahoma City. I Am Legend is based on the same book that inspired The Omega Man with Charlton Heston, which was a pretty cool (yet goofy) movie, so I already knew the basic plot idea, but this time around things are much more intense and serious. The main character (just about the only character, actually) is a military scientist who is immune to a terrible virus (caused by an engineered cure for cancer), now living alone in New York City trying to find a cure. He spends his days driving around the abandoned streets, breaking into empty stores and homes to take what he needs, and hiding at night with his canine companion, since the virus has turned everyone else into light-sensitive zombies! The zombies are the worst part of the movie, actually, since they are all CG and definitely show it. The tone of the movie is serious and played as reality, so I wish they would have just used extras in make-up, since the zombies end up looking like a video game. But putting the effects aside, the story is really told well, using just enough flashbacks to keep the audience informed, and it does a great job of showing both the strength and vulnerability of Will (especially as we watch him start to go crazy). I enjoyed the small details such as Times Square ads for movies we haven't heard of yet, $6.00 gasoline prices, and even Will's obsession with Bob Marley, which is a nice thread running through the film. The ending seemed a little tacked on (and had to stoop to narration to make everything clear), but overall the pacing was great. It's certainly not a feel-good holiday film, but definitely a cool near-future action movie!

12.28.2007

Christmas wrap-up

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas! I'm back in Austin now, trying to get used to reality again, but I'm still enjoying that Christmas afterglow from the past few days. Before Christmas, we finished the jigsaw puzzle (which was really cool looking!), made another trip to the casino, and enjoyed a nice candlelight service at Mom & Dad's church, which was so nice. On Christmas Eve, my parents finished opening their gifts from me, then we watched A Christmas Story (which we do every year) and laughed at Ralphie's pink bunny suit for the 100th time. The next morning, I got to open up my incredible pile of gifts - I got so many DVDs this year that when I was packing them in my bag it looked like I had robbed Best Buy! I also got a special surprise gift - a wonderful figurine of Mickey Mouse with Santa! After the gift unwrapping, I got to watch the Walt Disney World Christmas Day Parade on Dad's new HDTV, and it looked spectacular! The entire holiday was fantastic, which makes it even more difficult to get back to my everyday routine, but I think I'm finally coming around. I'm already looking forward to Christmas 2008, though!

View photos: Christmas 2007
View photos: Visit to Pops

12.23.2007

Picross DS / Nintendo DS : 5 of 5

This was my first Christmas gift of the year, as well as the first of many new DS games, and I've played it every single day since I unwrapped it! I've always enjoyed puzzle games on my DS, especially when they are as unique as this one - I'm definitely glad all the positive reviews I read were so right. The puzzles in Picross DS are called nonograms (which of course I didn't know until writing this!) that I can only describe as "Sudoku with pixels", since the goal is to fill in the appropriate pixels in a grid using logic clues. Picross DS has different modes of difficulty, each divided into many levels, and I love how the levels are arranged in picture themes (such as animals, sea creatures, flying things, and so on). If you solve a puzzle within the time limit (which can be difficult since filling in an incorrect pixel adds penalty time), the picture transforms into an animated color version that looks like cool 8-bit video game graphics! I've been solving three or four puzzles a day during my vacation, so I'm up to 15x15 grids, which are displayed on the DS top screen in full, but zoomed on the lower screen. Once you get used to the interface it works very well, although I sometimes make a mistake by pressing the wrong direction! I'm still unlocking puzzles, so there's enough pictures to keep me playing for a very long time (and I think I can download additional puzzles from the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection!). Picross DS is extremely addictive and fun, so if you enjoy this game genre, I hope you got it for Christmas, too!

12.22.2007

Happy PJ Day!

Did you know today was PJ Day? I hope everyone enjoyed spending all day in their pajamas like Dad and I did! Each holiday season we always take a day to stay at home all day in our PJs, and today was the day since it was snowy outside. We started the day with Mom's magnificent Eggs Benedict (my favorite breakfast!), and then spent most of the day working on a jigsaw puzzle (another yearly tradition). This year I bought one called Famous Flying Machines, and even though I thought it would be kind of easy, it was actually tough - we only finished about half of it, so I hope we can finish it in the next few days. Dinner was Mom's incredible spaghetti with homemade sauce, plus pecan pie and pipe smoking!

Last night we watched 15 years of Christmas home movies, talking through the whole thing, laughing at our young looks, and of course, drooling over all the cool toys that I could sell for thousands of dollars if I had them today! I really miss my Six Million Dollar Man stuff, Star Trek figures, Micronauts (I miss you, Baron Karza!), and Star Wars merchandise (including the Death Star playset, that I just recently saw on sale for over $7000!

12.21.2007

National Treasure / Book of Secrets : 4 of 5

The second movie my parents and I went to see during my holiday visit was this fun sequel to the original National Treasure, which I really enjoyed a few years ago, and I'm glad to say that I had just as much fun watching this new story! While I think the puzzles were a little cooler and more complex in the original film, I still really enjoyed following all the clues this time around. My favorite thing about these movies is that I end up learning some actual history, and within minutes I discovered there's more than one Statue of Liberty (which I never knew), as well as the history of the Resolute Desks (that I had never even heard of before!). Both of these movies are kind of like an Indiana Jones adventure taking place in modern cities, but after Nicolas Cage and his pals find their way into the secret caves at Mount Rushmore, the tone of the movie changes, but it's still really exciting and interesting. I thought the bad guy's motive was a little shaky, too, but it doesn't really matter, since once the story begins it keeps a nice momentum going. Overall, I think National Treasure is a nice series for Disney, since it maintains the spirit of adventure found in lots of early Disney live action films, as well as Walt's love for America and its history. The next movie has definitely been setup, so I'm looking forward to finding out about Page 47!

12.20.2007

Holiday fizz

Welcome to the Christmas report, part two! My parents and I usually do the same fun things each year during my visit, but this year we went on a new adventure. We drove to a Pops, a fun restaurant on historic Route 66 that has over 500 kinds of soda available! The building is really unique, both inside (where they have thousands of soda bottles on shelves all over the walls) and out (where there's a humongous soda bottle monument complete with bendy straw!). We had a nice lunch and bought some souvenirs, and tried four kinds of yummy soda. We've also been continuing our casino visits, both at Remington Park (where I enjoyed the Alien movie themed game) and at Riverwind again. Mom discovered a game called Pistol Packin' Penny, and she and Dad both turned their pennies into some nice cash! I always get Mom & Dad some DVD games at Christmas, so in the evenings we've been playing Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader and 1 vs 100, which are both really fun. But I think the biggest gift hit so far is a set of giant refrigerator magnets that let Mom build a huge snowman on the fridge! As always, Christmas with my parents is definitely a time of sheer relaxation and joy!

12.19.2007

Music Moments

It's time for five more mini music reviews, featuring a little Disney, a little Christmas, and some Jpop, of course! I'll start with Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland, which is an amazing soundtrack re-recording that's only available via iTunes. I never realized that Disney made these studio recreations, but the sound quality and arrangements are fantastic compared to the original movie score. I actually prefer Kathryn Beaumont's cute English voice over Darlene Gillespie's, but she did a fine job (I think she was the most talented classic Mouseketeer)!

After finishing up every last episode of Sailor Moon recently, I really wanted to have all the cheesy songs in my collection, so I was happy to discover Sailor Moon Super Best, which includes all the themes and other numbers from all seasons of the show. Some of these are actually cool ballads in a retro kind of way, especially if you appreciate the 70's style horns and strings (so different from anime soundtracks today!). But most importantly, I'll always enjoy singing Moonlight Densetsu!

Each year I always buy myself a new holiday album, and this year I was persuaded by an iTunes sale to get Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics, featuring all of the South Park characters butchering classic Christmas carols as well as other songs that simply set a new standard for holiday irreverence! This CD is totally hilarious if you have an extremely open-minded sense of humor, and I have to admit that I love singing along with everyone's favorite magical Christmas poo!

Now on to Jpop! I had to buy Morning Musume's All Singles Complete collection, even though I already had all of these songs on other albums, just because the concept and packaging was so cool, and it's worth it to me to have all of these songs in order on a nice CD set (which has been playing in my car for weeks now!). The bonus DVD, where each member chooses their favorite concert performance, has some great older footage that I hadn't seen before, but why did so many of them have to pick Do It Now? Maybe they just like holding the microphones upside down for the rap!

Finally, I really like Morning Musume's new single Mikan, even though it's a pretty big jump stylistically from their previous two singles, but I guess it's time for a peppy, anime theme-ish song. I definitely enjoy the lyrics and the cool little piano licks, as well as Reina's lines in the final chorus (I thought it was funny when she mentioned them on Five Stars!). The video is lots of fun, too, but I have to say that I'm not a fan of eye reflection effects, and the little squares on their eyeballs make everyone look like robots!

12.18.2007

The Golden Compass : 3 of 5

Before I saw this movie, I knew nothing about the book trilogy, and I only knew a brief overview of the church/atheism controversy, so I went to the theater simply looking for a fantasy adventure to enjoy with my parents. I think that's the best way to enjoy this movie - if you're looking for some nice effects, great child acting, and some cool battles, then you'll like The Golden Compass. I actually got pretty caught up in trying to figure out this alternate universe! Although it's bizarre, the idea of everyone's souls being out the outside of their bodies, represented by animals, is fascinating, and it was cool to see how everyone's animal reflected their personality and even mood (plus I'm sure it was a huge challenge for the CG department to add so many animals to every scene!). It was also amazing to see the animals vanish in a burst of light when a human was killed in combat. I thought the ice bears were really well done - I could feel their weight when they were bounding through the snow. Ian McKellen provides a great voice performance (though for some reason I kept thinking he sounded like Patrick Stewart), and Dakota Blue Richards is a wonderful new child actress who really does a fine job filled with emotion and excitement. The Golden Compass certainly isn't the best fantasy film in recent years, but it's a fun movie for holiday relaxing (if you don't get caught up in all the controversy hype). I'm sure I'll be seeing the sequel in a few years!

12.17.2007

Indiana Jones and the Christmas Jackpot

It's time for the official Christmas report, part one! I made it to Oklahoma City with no weather problems, enjoying the convenience of my dirt-cheap, non-stop ExpressJet flight (highly recommended!), and Mom & Dad greeted me at the airport with my usual tin of Christmas cookies to get the holidays rolling! The first major order of business was hooking up a new HDTV, my big gift to my parents this season, and I'm happy to say that Dad is already a 16:9 junkie. So far we've been to the movies together, and today we had fun at Riverwind Casino playing the slot machines. We were almost ready to leave, and I decided to just play a few bucks on a cool Indiana Jones slot machine, and suddenly I hit the Ark of the Covenant progressive bonus, so I won about $400! What an awesome surprise Christmas present - I was amazed! Speaking of presents, we've also been opening a gift every night like we always do, so I've been having fun playing a new Nintendo DS game and reading a new book. Of course, I'm also eating Mom's delicious cooking and goodies, drinking beer and scotch, and generally having a blast thinking of nothing but holiday happiness!

12.16.2007

Morning Musume Tanjo 10 Nen Kinentai Concert Tour 2007 Natsu / Thank You My Dearest : 3 of 5

I pretty much ordered this DVD as a reflex, and then suddenly remembered that even though I've enjoyed the singles by this special 10th anniversary group, I'm not a total fan of the line-up. I love Nacchi and Gaki-san, but I don't care for Maki and Koharu is just a little too much for me. But I decided to just enjoy the show, and it was pretty enjoyable! I was wondering how a group with only two singles would fill the time, and the answer is by singing lots of old classic Morning Musume tunes (definitely appropriate since they are an anniversary group). They opened with Morning Coffee and continued with several other ancient hits that were all great since the older songs have such nice harmonies and counter-melodies (sung really well by Maki). Everyone took the stage to do solos and duets, and even though Koharu had to do yet another anime tune, at least it was a ballad (she always sings like she's spitting out the words, so it was nice to hear her calm down for once). Risa and Kaori really showed her up with their duet, though, trading harmonies and performing with style. Near the end of the show everyone did a particularly great rendition of Daite Hold On Me (everyone was super-smooth on the rap section), plus a pretty nutty version of Love Machine. It seemed like didn't start having fun together until the end of the show, which says to me that this selection of members really doesn't work chemistry-wise (but at least they sound nice). Overall, seeing a five member group in a small venue was a great change of pace, and if you happen to be a fan of one or more of these gals, you'll definitely enjoy the show.

12.15.2007

Fa la la la la

At last, Christmas vacation is here! Yesterday was my last day of work until after Christmas, and last night was my last band gig for the year, so now I feel totally free! Later today I'll be flying to Oklahoma City to visit Mom & Dad in Christmas Paradise, and I can't wait. It looked like there was going to be a lot of snow to worry about, but so far the airport isn't reporting delays, so I think I'm OK! I'm definitely feeling the Christmas spirit now - I watched most of It's a Wonderful Life this week, and I watched the brand new Disney Holiday Magic show on the Travel Channel at lunch yesterday, which was really fun. I'm sure they will repeat it over and over, so be sure to watch it if you're a Disney fan! Of course, I'll have my trusty MacBook while I'm on vacation, so I'll still be writing a few WEBmikey posts when I'm not opening presents. Countdown to eating Mom's Christmas cookies: less than 9 hours!

12.14.2007

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice For All / Nintendo DS : 4 of 5

The original Phoenix Wright was the most addicting game I've ever played, and this sequel was definitely intriguing and tons of fun, but I kept getting distracted and taking breaks. But since I'm pretty sure Santa will be bringing me the next game in the series, I've been stealing every free moment to play, and now it's finished! Justice For All has all the same elements and lots of characters from the original game, but also introduces some new devices, namely the Psyche-Lock. When I first read about these I thought they would be confusing, but actually they are a pretty straightforward extension to the game play (even though their mystical nature stretched the tone of the game a little). Phoenix's new major rival is Franziska Von Karma, the tough daughter of one of the prosecutors from the first game, and she's pretty funny (and intimidating) with her whip cracks and attitude (although her dialogue gets a little ridiculous)! I definitely enjoyed the addition of Pearl, a cute little girl from a small village (and Maya's cousin) who provides the means to breaking Psyche-Locks with her special stone (it definitely sounds a lot less like a courtroom drama and more like a fantasy game when you try to describe it!). There are four cases this time around, ranging from a quick introduction case, to a bizarre circus murder, to the unbelievably huge final case with the special twist of Maya being kidnapped! I was hoping for a little more interaction (like the search for blood stains in the original game), but there was only one similar instance of sweeping for bugs. Overall, this is another fantastic "must play" game for the Nintendo DS, just as innovative and fun as the original, and I'm hoping this series continues for a long time!

12.13.2007

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya / Vol 3 : 3 of 5

The third DVD in this series went by even faster than the first two, since there are only three episodes! The first episode is almost too weird to be comprehensible, and was probably my least favorite so far. Haruhi designs the SOS Brigade logo, which somehow wakes-up another "thought entity" (or something that Yuki barely explains), and they end up having to battle with a monster version of the computer kid that Haruhi blackmailed earlier in the series. After that there's a two-part story where everyone takes a little vacation on a secluded island, which ends up turning into a murder mystery. The plot is pretty interesting, but it all boils down to trying to keep Haruhi from getting bored, since if she's bored she will think something into existence! Besides the typical "bikinis at the beach" anime scene, this story also featured a really weird technique for reenacting the murder - it was shot in live action and displayed with various filter effects, which looks cool, but still kind of jarring in the middle of the show. The bonus features include more footage of Aya Hinano (the voice of Haruhi), who is super-cute in her photo session and signing books for fans, but to tell the truth, I still have yet to see why this show has become so popular! So many people have declared this anime one of the best, but right now I don't see it. It's definitely fun and I enjoy it, but I'm not getting a huge emotional charge out of it or anything. Oh well, at least it's fun to keep up with the phenomenon, so bring on the next DVD (after Christmas, of course)!

12.11.2007

Superman/Batman Vol 2 / Supergirl : 3 of 5

I like reading a good graphic novel every now and then, but this was an unexpected purchase! Since I kind of forced my pals to buy this as part of a scavenger hunt for my Christmas video (it's a long story...), I bought it from them and finally took the time to read it. This is a collection of several issues of the Superman/Batman comic series, telling the story of Supergirl's "re-introduction" to the DC Universe (I really didn't know about her part in Crisis on Infinite Earths, but the introduction filled me in). The story is really well-told, using some interesting dual narration via the thoughts of both Superman and Batman - this is a great device that really added a lot of insight into these characters, which is tough to do with icons that everyone knows so well. Wonder Woman is thrown in as well (since Kara needs some Amazonian training), and the big villian is Darkseid, meaning a good deal of the action takes place in Apokolips. Unfortunately, the transition from a story about trust and family to an action tale is way too rushed - I kept flipping back in the book to see if I had missed a page! Still, there's some good action, and plenty of cool Batman moments, as well as "Superman gets really mad" (which always has to happen in epic stories like this), but ultimately it seems like it was too easy to defeat Darkseid. The artwork is really nice, even though I wasn't too thrilled with Superman's ultra-square jaw (it looks good on Batman, but not on Clark!). I'm not really complaining, though - I enjoyed reading this book, and it makes me think I should pick up graphic novels like this more often!

12.10.2007

Fred Claus : 3 of 5

Even though I enjoyed the quirky trailer for this movie over a year ago, I wasn't planning on seeing it due to all the bad things I had heard about it. But I was kind of in the mood for a holiday movie, and my pal Melinda asked me to go, so I figured I would just try to enjoy it, fully expecting to be giving it my not-so-good "2" or even "1" rating. But while I was at the theater, I was definitely surprised to find myself laughing out loud and even feeling plenty of holiday spirit! Fred Claus starts with the interesting idea that Santa Claus has an older brother, and then quickly explains that when someone becomes a Saint (as in Saint Nicholas), their entire family freezes in time, which explains why Santa's brother can be living in modern day Chicago! Fred goes to the North Pole because he wants to borrow some money, and we get to see just how dysfunctional the Claus family is, along with the workshop, all the elves, and Santa's hot blonde secretary who just happens to be normal sized. Unfortunately, Santa's operation is being checked out by an efficiency expert, and Fred doesn't make things any easier! Lots of things are predictable - it's obvious that Fred is going to have to deliver the toys, and it's easy to figure out that Kevin Spacey (the efficiency expert) was a bad kid who just needs some Santa love, but I still enjoyed the crazy plot! Best of all, they even managed to get some holiday emotion out of me, especially when all the elves gather around a giant snowglobe to magically watch the whole world open their Christmas presents - a nice idea and well done! If you love Christmas movies, ignore the bad ratings and check out Fred Claus while there's still time (or just wait for it to be on TV next year)!

12.09.2007

Hello! Project 2007 Summer 10th Anniversary Dai Kanshasai - Hello Pro Natsu Matsuri : 4 of 5

I used to be a little overwhelmed by these giant concerts that gather the entire Hello! Project arsenal on one stage, but now I look forward to them and enjoy how they combine all the groups in interesting ways (although it is a little crazy when so many performers are out dancing at once - full Jpop sensory overload!). This concert was a blast to watch, since it had some unique Morning Musume moments, such as Jun Jun and Rin Rin's performing debut on Onna Ni Sachi Are, and they were fantastic! Their introduction was super cute, although I'm already starting to groan at the language jokes. Jun Jun seems kind of like a giant when they are all dancing together, but that gives her a nice edge that she doesn't have when they aren't singing. After watching some boring Koharu lip syncing and surviving some ugly butterfly wing costumes, it was awesome to see Yossie and Konkon perform with Ongaku Gatas! All of the "mix and match" numbers were cool, and Reina seemed to be particularly enjoying herself and all the attention. I really enjoyed seeing the under-used but totally cool Ayaka in Dance and Chance, but nothing can top Sayumi's performance of Momoiro Kataomoi, which was hands-down some of the best ultra-cute camera-hamming ever! The entire price of the DVD is worth it just to see Sayu say the opening "Iku yo!" (I just about fell out of my chair), and it's so much fun to see her get some spotlight time! The end of the concert has a nice moment where they bring back former Morning Musume members for a few songs, which is a pretty incredible considering it was the hard work of these gals 10 years ago that made it possible for me to enjoy this concert today! On top of all this entertainment, this is actually a two-DVD set (since the show is so long), so the second DVD had plenty of room for backstage footage. This was definitely an incredible concert experience!

12.08.2007

Embarrassing reading

I'm really getting into holiday mode, which means relaxing a little more and enjoying things like reading! I've been catching up on some actual books lately, but of course I'm still reading manga, too. Besides the regular volumes I like, I'm still a faithful subscriber to Shojo Beat - my embarrassing little pleasure! Every month I enjoy finding what happens in all the stories (and I definitely skip over the girly beauty tips!) - I still haven't forgiven them for getting rid of Nana, but the current line-up is pretty good. The best by far is Honey & Clover, which always makes me laugh at the antics of these crazy art school characters, and I think Crimson Hero is pretty inspiring. I didn't like Vampire Knight at first, but it's starting to grow on me! I know that I'm supposed to be reading Shonen Jump since I'm a guy, but I can't help it if I'd rather read emotional stories instead of all that ninja crap! Now if I could only read it on a train, it would feel more like Japan - maybe when Austin light rail opens I'll have to give it a try!

Talking about manga reminds me of anime, and I recently enjoyed the full-length Black Jack movie on the Sci-Fi Channel! Black Jack is one of Osamu Tezuka's characters that I'd like to know more about, but he's just barely been available in the US, so I was surprised this movie was on. The dub was terrible, of course, but the plot and the animation were pretty nice! I wish the movie was more about why Black Jack became a renegade surgeon and his relationship to Pinoko, but it was still cool to watch anyway.

12.07.2007

Pals in love

With all the holiday stuff going on and babies popping out everywhere, I'm late in mentioning other big news about my pals! Jonathan and Anne Marie are engaged! Jonathan broke the news to the gang at our last Greatest American Heroes gig, and we're all super happy for them. Anne Marie is definitely a cool gal, always dancing at our band gigs, and she was certainly a fearless actress in my Christmas video (thanks to director Ernesto's creative genius!). No news on a wedding date, but you can be sure it will be a major event of 2008!

12.06.2007

Star PEZ

One of the segments in my Christmas video project this year was a little spoof of classic Star Wars scenes acted out by PEZ dispensers! I love Star Wars (of course), and I have so many PEZ actors waiting to perform, so it was really easy to make. Since not all of the characters I needed are available as PEZ, I had to use a few stand-ins. Where else can you see Fred Flintstone as Han Solo or Santa Claus as Obi-Wan Kenobi? My favorite sequence to shoot was the cantina scene, since I could have gone all day picking out weird looking PEZ creatures from my collection! I also had fun printing out various backgrounds to shoot against. Watch for the thrilling lightsaber duel (and please ignore when my hand creeps into the frame)! Enjoy!

Watch video: Star PEZ

Here comes Emiliano!

Last night my pals Chris & Eliza had a surprise delivery! Baby Emiliano decided it was time get out of that tummy, so he was born a few days early. Amazingly, Eliza was just at my place cooking pizza for my video screening only about 12 hours earlier! Since the birth was originally scheduled for Friday, all of Chris & Eliza's relatives were coming during the week, including Eliza's sister Laura, who flew in from New York last night. Since Chris & Eliza were a little busy at the time, I picked up Laura at the airport (which turned out to be around 12:45 AM due to flight delays), and then we went straight to the hospital. I was totally stunned at seeing a four-hour old baby, weighing around 6.5 pounds! Normally I'm kind of scared of babies under about two years old, but Eliza really wanted me to hold him (since I'm Uncle Mikey now), and once I got used to it, it was so sweet (check out nervous, excited Mikey). I couldn't believe I was feeling little feet wiggling around and watching him yawn, when just the night before he was all cramped up in Eliza's belly! It was a magical night, and I'm so glad I could be a small part of it (plus I got to scoop the web with a couple iPhone photos)! Congratulations to Chris & Eliza! Welcome to the world, Emiliano! Just wait until you see Disneyland!

12.05.2007

Laughter for Christmas

Yesterday was the official world premiere of my Christmas video for 2007! It was a really fun evening with all my pals, and everyone really enjoyed watching it! This year's video was a totally new experience, since I shot all new footage (rather than using clips from the past year) and decided to turn the whole thing into a kind of variety show. So, this year's project included a reality game show, two fake movie trailers, a horror movie (written and directed by my pal Ernesto), a documentary, a silent movie, and two music videos (and the whole thing clocks in at 1.5 hours)! I loved watching everyone laughing and enjoying themselves - hearing that laughter is an amazing moment that keeps me making these videos each year!

View photos: Christmas Screening 2007

Test preparation can be fun

Besides studying and test taking, I had a blast in Los Angeles last weekend! Dae was an incredible host as always, and it was great to see my pal Ernesto again for the first time since he moved from Austin. We had a huge lunch at the famous Canter's Deli, then saw a musical based on Burt Bacharach's famous tunes, and later went back to Dae's to watch my annual Christmas video project. Dae cooked up a bunch of appetizers, and we all had so much fun watching the DVD. I was really glad that Ernesto enjoyed the way I edited his horror film project, and it was cool to be able to watch it with my LA pals in person! After that, Dae's band had a gig to play, so Ernesto and I got to see the Highball Five for the first time! It was a great show (they even let me sit in on a tune!), and the band sounds awesome! Our pal Jerry was also there, so we got to talk about the amazing work he's doing, which is always incredible to me. The next day after the test, we immediately duplicated last year's post-test fun by going to the same bar for a few beers, then we walked around in Santa Monica and had a nice dinner. Taking a tough test is definitely a lot easier when you get to spend time with such cool friends!

View photos: Highball Five Gig

12.04.2007

Tadaima!

I'm back from Los Angeles and the JLPT Level 3 test is over! Overall the exam was difficult, but I feel like I did well. I think the best thing about the experience was it clearly showed me how to re-focus my studies. For example, I think I spent too much time on grammar and not enough time on vocabulary. Even though I drilled myself on the 700 Level 3 vocabulary words several times, I didn't really learn them all, and of course they chose to use a few words that I didn't remember (but now I will never forget them!). I'm glad I went over the tests for the previous three years, though, because I was able to recognize how certain questions were structured, especially in the Reading Comprehension section. Listen Comprehension was crazy (as expected), but I'm hoping I made some good guesses! When I get my test results at the end of February, I'll be sure to post them here. Of course, after the exam, my mind was racing with all the things that confused me, but now I actually feel more energetic about studying, and I'm ready to really gain some ground in 2008!

11.30.2007

Ittekimasu!

Tomorrow I'm leaving for Los Angeles to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) Level 3 on Sunday! I feel like I'm a little more prepared than when I took Level 4 last year, so I'm looking forward to the experience (but I'm not looking forward to waiting until March for the results!). I'm glad that I've stuck with it and studied all year, and it's great to know that my pals are cheering me on, too. My pal Kumiko sent me a Japanese e-card, and my pal Melinda went all-out and surprised me with a "good luck kit" full of snacks and Christmas goodies! I'm going to enjoy the trip, especially seeing Dae and Ernesto again, and when I come back I'll be in full relax mode!

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya / Vol 2 : 3 of 5

I hardly ever continue watching an anime series so quickly (I usually watch other things between volumes for variety), but Netflix was super-fast and these episodes are so short that it's been easy to breeze through this show during study breaks! These four episodes take a big turn from the last volume as the plot goes from weird to completely bizarre, and at the same time the situation gets more serious as Haruhi's "cosmic powers" are revealed. Somehow she actually creates reality with thought (unknowingly), so the fact that she's bored with everyday life means she might just end the universe to start up a new one! There's a nice Haruhi monologue where we get to see past her tough exterior for a moment, which leads nicely into a great episode where Haruhi and Kyon find themselves in another reality, and Kyon has to convince her to give the "real" reality another chance (with an unexpected kiss!). After all that drama, the other episodes lighten up with the SOS Brigade entering a baseball tournament, which is pretty hilarious since Yuki, the alien representative of the Thought Entity (yes, that's pretty weird), helps them win the game by changing the physical properties of the bat. There's some funny cheerleading from Mikuru in this episode, too! I should also mention that these DVDs have a lot of bonus material, the best of which is some Japanese-produced behind the scenes segments with the voice actors for the show. Watching the recording session for one of the show's songs was really interesting! Now that I can kind of see the tone of this series, I'm a little more into it than I was after watching Volume 1, so of course the next DVD will be on its way to me soon.

11.28.2007

Enjoying Leopard's new features

Being the Mac fan that I am, of course I pre-ordered Mac OS X Leopard (and got a great deal from Amazon), but when it arrived I was in the middle of too much video editing to worry about installing it. But as soon as I got a chance, I upgraded my MacBook and Power Mac right away, and I've really been enjoying it (and I didn't have any problems with the installation!). There are lots of great visual changes that I love, but the new Dock is definitely a little space-age (I thought the reviews I read were just whining, but I kind of agree now). But I've always been kind of a Mac purist – I never use hacks or utilities to modify the behavior or look of the OS, so I'll stick with the true Apple design for now (I'm betting they will offer more visual preferences later). I'm getting used to Stacks in the Dock, too - I really like the concept, and it definitely seems helpful to me (especially the Downloads stack), but I hope there will be a way to pick a stack icon someday. I think my favorite improvements have to do with using my two Macs together. File Sharing is much easier since my other Mac shows up nicely in the Finder sidebar, but even better is Screen Sharing, which is a fantastic way to monitor my machine upstairs from my MacBook downstairs! It's great when I need to check on a bunch of videos I'm converting, or change the tunes I'm listening to. I'm also using Quick Look all the time! It's so nice to browse through a folder of documents, movies, or images and see them with a single press of the space bar. And I can't forget to mention the fantastic Print dialog with it's awesome built-in preview - I can't imagine a better way to do it. I'm definitely happy with Leopard, and there are still lots of features I haven't even touched yet!

11.27.2007

Batman Chronicles / Vol 1 : 4 of 5

After rereading the old Eternals comics I enjoyed as a kid, I've been eager to discover the original stories and artwork of famous characters, so I was excited to find this fantastic series which presents all of the original appearances of Batman in a nice (and extremely affordable) graphic novel format. This first volume was incredibly fun to read, since I had never seen Batman's original beginnings as a regular feature in Detective Comics (starting in 1939). The artwork is somewhat crude, but still dynamic and full of charm (and dramatically improves as the series progresses). I love the old style of narration, which describes everything Batman is doing right there on the panel in front of you, and I like the nostalgic touches (such as Bruce Wayne always smoking a pipe!). I was amazed that Batman's origin story isn't told until several issues have past, and it only takes a page and a half to cover it! Robin's origin is pretty short as well, but he's only getting started as this volume ends with the first issue of Batman's own comic in 1940. There are a few regular villains, such as Doctor Death, Hugo Strange, and of course, the Joker, but it's fun to see Batman go up against weird things like werewolves, too. Batman himself is definitely a tough guy, and he barely thinks twice about killing his enemies if he has to, which certainly changes later on. If you're fascinated by the humble beginnings of one of the most popular heroes of all time, you'll definitely enjoy this book, and I'm certainly ready to continue with the next volume!

11.26.2007

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya / Vol 1 : 3 of 5

I've had this series in my Netflix queue from way back when I was still subscribing to Newtype. They were constantly gushing about what a great anime series this is, and it's definitely got a ton of attention online and everywhere else, so I'm glad I finally got the time to give it a try. Recently my taste has been leaning towards more serious anime and manga, but I have to say that Haruhi was pretty funny, so I'm definitely going to keep watching! I was really impressed by how the series begins, since the entire first episode is nothing more than a homemade film created by the characters (but it does reveal some interesting hints, in a way). In the next three episodes, Haruhi and all the members of her new SOS Brigade are introduced, and they are soon revealed to be exactly what Haruhi is devoted to finding: aliens, future people, and ESPers (psychics)! The only normal guy is Kyon (his nickname), and the story unfolds from his point of view, which is great since he's just as confused as the viewer! There are some really outrageous moments dealing with Haruhi's "handling" (literally) of Mikuru, the super-cute girl of the group, especially when she's forced to wear crazy outfits like a bunny suit! This entire DVD went by really fast - the episodes seem a little shorter than average, but it kind of helps the story move along. I'm worried that if they don't bring a little true emotion into all this craziness that I will get bored with the series, but for now I'm content to giggle and enjoy the hilarity!

11.25.2007

Enchanted : 4 of 5

I've been so excited to see this movie, mainly because as an animation fan, Enchanted is especially important, since it's the first 2D traditional animation from Disney on the big screen in years! Since Enchanted is designed to celebrate and spoof the "Disneyness" of classic features, I was totally in love with the opening animated sequences - all of the wonderful artwork, characters, and music was there right before my eyes, and it was so fantastic to see. But aside from keeping the animation geek in me happy, Enchanted is actually a hilariously clever film that anyone can enjoy! It's a great story about animated characters being transported to the real world, where they have to struggle with the harshness of New York, but end up showing people that fairy tales actually do have value. There are some fantastic laugh-out-loud moments, such as a pigeon eating a cockroach right after tidying up the house with it, and Prince Edward's line "Thank you for taking care of my bride, peasants" had me rolling (right when I was getting misty-eyed as Giselle was saying good bye!). Disney references are totally overflowing (such as cameos from princess voice artists, little animation details, and tons of plot moments), and I had lots of fun finding them. I really don't have anything bad to say about Enchanted, except that I thought it could have used a little more heart-tugging at the end, but I'm fine with the light-hearted tone of the story. Go see it both for a fun time at the movies, and to remember what real animation is supposed to look like!

Vacation highlights

Whenever I visit Mom's family in Waco for pre-Thanksgiving, I like to bring some photos on my iPod so I can show them to everyone on TV. Since everyone enjoys seeing them so much, I decided to do a few short videos this year, using footage I've taken on trips with Mom & Dad, both from recent vacations (like Niagara Falls), as well as older ones. I managed to get three of them done, so I thought I would share these on YouTube. It's fun going back through old video and putting together the highlights of fun times! (I've also moved a few older QuickTime movies over to YouTube, which you can find on my Videos page.)

Watch video: Niagara Falls Vacation
Watch video: Washington DC Vacation
Watch video: Fishing at Walt Disney World

11.24.2007

Balloons, butternut, benkyou

I'm really enjoying this Thanksgiving holiday! My pal Tom came over with breakfast to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade with me, and I thought the new balloons were cool, although Shrek seriously had a "pull my finger" pose, and Scooby Doo's nose was deflated. Hello Kitty looked great, though, and I always like seeing Pikachu, since he makes a great balloon! In the afternoon my pals who were still in town met at Chris & Eliza's for their annual Thanksgiving feast, which was especially incredible since she's going to give birth in just a few weeks! The food was awesome, and I was touched that Eliza made her yummy butternut squash soup just because she knows I look forward to her Thanksgiving soups. Yesterday I stayed at home all day to study Japanese (since the JLPT is barely over a week away!), and I met my goal for the day of re-taking both the Level 4 test from 2006 and Level 3 test from 2004. I can score really high on the Level 4 test now, which proves to me that somehow I have improved since last year, which is usually hard for me to see since each day of studying is a challenge. I took breaks by watching Jpop DVDs and a little anime, reading some comics, and doing a few other things around the house. It's been relaxing and fun for the past couple days, and now I have two more days of weekend to enjoy!

View photos: Thanksgiving 2007

Dr. Koto's Clinic : 5 of 5

My pal Barron watches a lot more Japanese drama than I do, so his reviews really help me filter out what I should watch with my limited time. He went absolutely crazy for Dr. Koto's Clinic, so I had to watch it, and I just finished the whole series yesterday. When I started watching the first episode unfold, I was a little worried that the series was going to be too slow for me, since all the dramas I've watched previously have been much more goofy and romantic, but suddenly there was a dramatic appendectomy happening on a boat in the dark, and I knew I was hooked! The basic plot involves a talented doctor from Tokyo who moves to a remote island as the only doctor for a small community of people. Koto has to gain their trust, and he does so in the most gentle, caring way, making him one of the most fascinating and inspiring characters I can think of! All of the acting is wonderful, with actors ranging from old folks who truly seem crazy and children who can cry so convincingly. And speaking of crying, this is definitely an emotional drama! There are lots of other things to say about this great series, but to me its best quality is the way it communicates the value of living and what life is all about. Dr. Koto finds a way to persevere and enjoy his circumstances, and affects everyone around him not only by saving their lives on the operating table, but by demonstrating humble dignity and love. Dr. Koto's Clinic perfectly accentuated my thankful Thanksgiving mood!

11.22.2007

Thankful day

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I'm really going to enjoy this holiday weekend, both for getting things accomplished and for personal recharging! Last weekend I went to Waco to meet Mom & Dad for our usual pre-Thanksgiving dinner with family, and it was fun to be with them, as always. I gave Mom this year's Christmas Minnie Mouse plush (like I do every year!) and Mom loaded me up with sweets and other goodies to start my holiday eating! Last night I enjoyed some of Mom's homemade banana nut bread and pumpkin bread, which were both more than delicious! It was so relaxing to enjoy Mom's baking and read a good book, and I was in a sentimental mood thinking about all the love that Mom put into making those treats. I wouldn't trade the taste of Mom's cooking for any meal in the world, and I'm thankful for every bite!

Remembering Walt / Favorite Memories of Walt Disney : 4 of 5

Each year my cousin Clinton gives me an early Christmas gift, and amazingly, somehow he succeeds in selecting one of the few Disney books I don't already have! This year he gave me this wonderful book on Walt Disney himself, and I enjoyed every page. Although I've read so much about Walt and know a lot about his life, I actually haven't read a true biography, but in my opinion, this book is far better than any biography could be! Remembering Walt is a collection of quotes by people who knew Walt (family members, animators, Imagineers, and many others) - their anecdotes, things he did and said, and how they felt to work with him and after he was gone. Reading Walt's impact on their lives really shows who Walt was and what he accomplished, and it's all so inspiring! Along with the quotes, there are hundreds of photos, many of which I've seen, but several I haven't (including the best shot of Annette Funicello I've ever seen, and an incredible shot of Walt in Disneyland as they were planting the famous Storybook Land letters!). This book was so interesting that I had read the whole thing before I knew it, but I could easily see myself going back to enjoy it again. Understanding how Walt saw things and looking at why he did things the way he did is really uplifting to me, and definitely makes me think about my own life!

11.19.2007

Music Moments

One of the reasons I like to write WEBmikey is to keep track of the things I watch, read, and hear, but I always seem to forget to write about CDs (or I get too lazy to really say anything interesting). So, I've decided to adopt the same tactic (or cop-out!) that I use in my Manga Mentions series, which means I'll just briefly mention (and slightly review) the previous five CDs that I've been enjoying. So, here's the first Music Moments post! Just to prove how behind I am listening to things, I'll start with GAM's first album Amai Yuwaku (which was released back in May!). Who knows if GAM has a future, but I'm glad they at least got this CD out the door, because I really like it (although I wish the piano-only version of Melodies from the CD single was included). After watching Linda Linda Linda, I did the obvious thing and bought Blue Hearts' Super Best compilation CD, which is fantastic to listen to when I'm in the right mood. They seem so tame compared to what most people call punk, but I love the emotion that pours out through that scratchy voice. Next, after enjoying several Zone videos, I thought I would try out their E - Complete A Side Singles CD, but even though I liked it, I really wanted to hear more tracks like Secret Base, so most of the tracks were too mellow for me. Sticking with Jpop, of course I bought Morning Musume's Onna ni Sachi Are, and I really like it (both the song and the video). Maybe it's because it's easy to sing or because I like melancholy, yet determined lyrics, but I'm definitely a fan of this single! Finally, since I loved the movie, I had to get the Marie Antoinette Soundtrack, which is a fantastic two-CD set. The first CD contains all of the bouncy hits from the film, while the second has the moody, atmospheric pieces (including some opera and other classical selections). This soundtrack has officially become my rainy day music, and it's also done wonders to calm me down on busy days!

11.18.2007

Bee Movie : 3 of 5

I always try to see every animated feature that hits the theater, just to show my support for animation in general, but I was especially excited to see Bee Movie, because I knew Jerry Seinfeld would be a great voice actor, and because DreamWorks Animation keeps getting better! After so many insect-related movies in the past few years, you would think they would start to run out of ideas, but Bee Movie is filled with creativity. I really koved the introduction to the film, seeing the incredible honey factory, and enjoying all the bee puns (and there are a million of those, right down to the beehive hairdos on all the girls!). The animation is definitely fun, and I was glad to see the quirky style of the human characters (definitely not up to The Incredibles standards, but they're on the right track), but even though I enjoyed the bees themselves, I think the character design didn't allow for enough emotion to come through. The story starts out predictably with Barry the bee seeking an exciting life outside the hive, then gets really wacky with the whole "bees vs. humans" court trial, and then suddenly tacks on a third act to bring the moral home. Normally I would say the story is a little disjointed, but the final scenes in the airplane are pretty funny, so I guess it's worth it for the sake of the finale! As a suspected, Seinfeld's voice really works in the movie (he's just playing himself, of course, but he's so natural!), and Renee Zellweger is great as well (but no one can top Patrick Warburton, who seems to have a contract to do at least one voice in every animated feature ever released). I'm glad Bee Movie has done well at the box office, and I'm always happy to see studios making animated features for me to support and enjoy!

11.15.2007

The Imagineering Field Guide to Disney's Animal Kingdom : 4 of 5

I'm really a fan of the Imagineering Field Guide series (even though I still wish they were larger format books), so I was especially excited to read this latest volume about Disney's Animal Kingdom, which is the park I know the least about. Although the first section of the book is yet another reprint of background terminology, the rest of the book delivers with flying colors - in fact, it's my favorite of the series so far! Thanks to Joe Rohde and his team, Animal Kingdom has some of the most complex, symbolic, and fully back-storied theming of all of the Disney parks, and this book does a great job revealing the details. I was amazed to read about the care taken to choose even the animal motifs for shops and restaurants (I had no idea each room in Pizzafari has a different animal theme, such as "spots and stripes" or even "migratory animals"). I really enjoyed learning the complete back-story of the different lands, such as the history of Harambe in Africa, and I even finally understood the reasoning behind Dinoland U.S.A. (though it's still my least favorite land by far). There's lots of discussion and photos about hidden details that really make me want to go back to the park and explore! I didn't realize before that the tiger habitat ruins are a former king's palace, or that the new temple near the water in Asia matches the outline of the Expedition Everest mountain range! I also really enjoyed the artistic philosophy about the plant life in Animal Kingdom, which will continue to grow somewhat wild and change the look of the park over the years. I'm still hooked on these Imagineering Field Guides, and I can't wait for next year's release on Disneyland!

11.12.2007

Hana Yori Dango / Season 2 : 5 of 5

A great way to take breaks from studying Japanese all day is to watch an episode of a Japanese drama, so suddenly I'm already finished watching the second season of Hana Yori Dango! I really enjoyed the first season, so I was looking forward to finding out what could happen next. The first episode is double-length to kick things off, and even takes place mostly on location in New York City, but unfortunately I thought it was disappointing (just like the first episode of the first season), since it was filled with too many boring flashbacks to last season. Thankfully, every other episode really delivered, and now I think overall that the second season is much better than the first! The main plot this time has to do with a marriage forced by Tsukasa's witch mom as a business ploy for a corporate merger, so while Tsukasa is busy with his fiancee Shigeru, Tsukushi has lots of time to spend with Rui (who I still like more than Tsukasa as a character). Shigeru starts off disgusting but eventually becomes a fascinating personality, but besides this main thread, there are loads of subplots to flesh out the other characters. I loved the story of Tsukushi's brother's kokuhaku, as well as Yuki's love for Nishikado. The end of the season gets a little weird with a convenient "selective memory loss" plot, and introduces a new cutie named Umi-chan, but she turns out to be the most evil of them all! Finally everything wraps up a little too perfectly, but when you're sitting there crying in front of the TV, you don't really care! In the end, both seasons of Hana Yori Dango were so much fun to watch, and I'm definitely going to miss it now (but I'm going to check out First Kiss soon so I can see more of Inoue Mao)!

11.11.2007

Hitting the big time

My bands had a couple amazing gig opportunities last week, and they were sure fun (and exhausting) shows! First, the Greatest American Heroes played at a party for the University of Texas, who just happened to rent out the studio of Austin City Limits for the event! We could hardly believe we were actually going to play on that stage that we've all seen on TV so many times, the same stage where huge entertainers like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and a million other folks have stood. The stage was really fascinating, especially the fake Austin skyline (that looks much better on TV), and the sound crew was unbelievable! They helped us all with our equipment, setup tons of mics on my drums, and made sure we all had excellent personal monitor mixes. When we did the sound check, we couldn't believe the sound - it was the best we've ever experienced! The show itself was fun to play and the audience enjoyed it, but I was a little intimidated by the stage, so it was mentally tiring, but definitely an incredible experience. (In addition to my photos, check out our bassist Francis' website, too!) The very next day, the Ernesto Marquez Sextet played at a huge conference for Planview at the Lost Pines Hyatt Resort and Spa, a cool resort in the woods about an hour out of town. It was a big dinner, jazz and casino night, and we filled the big ballroom with our sound and enjoyed the good food (and the scotch just kept on coming!). Although we love playing clubs and restaurants, it sure is nice to have big gigs like these every now and then!

View photos: Heroes at Austin City Limits
View photos: Sextet at Lost Pines Hyatt

11.10.2007

Car maintenance saga

My 1998 Acura Integra is starting to get a little old, now that it's creeping around the 94,000 mile mark, so I never know what to expect when I take it in for regular maintenance. Last month I had a bit of an adventure, right when I was super-busy editing my Christmas video! First, I had a leak in my oil pump seals, which is one of those cheap parts that takes all day to take the whole car apart and costs a bundle. But, I needed to have it done, so I dealt with it. Then a week later I started noticing more leaks! I took it in again, thinking it was nothing more than a simple botch from last time, and they told me my rear seals were leaking! Another whole day of labor and another giant gob on my credit card, but I figured that would take care of it. But a week later, it was leaking again (very small, but I wanted this taken care of)! When I showed up the third time, the mechanics were actually surprised, since they totally remembered taking my car apart twice. This time it was the cam seals – more huge work! But they discovered that my PCV valve was the problem all along – it was completely clogged shut, so my car was just finding new seals to pop to release pressure. They kind of felt bad about it, I think, so they did the cam seal work at a 75% discount, which was nice! On the down side, it was really a pain to have my car in the shop three weeks in a row when they could have replaced that valve in five minutes, but on the up side, my seals were all 10 years old and probably ready to go anyway. For now, I'm happy to have a leak-free engine, and since I love not having a car payment, I'm going to keep driving my Acura for a long time to come!

11.09.2007

Simply the Best / Austin Lyric Opera : 3 of 5

Austin Lyric Opera has been transitioning from the Bass Concert Hall (which is closed for renovations) to the new Long Center, which will be an amazing theater and their new permanent home. But for the end of last season and the beginning of this one, they've been stuck at Riverbend Center, which is a nice facility, but just doesn't accommodate the spectacle of opera (Riverbend is a church, after all). ALO did a nice job with Barber of Seville in this environment, but they decided to open this new season with a "greatest hits" concert called Simply the Best. I was a little disappointed when I first heard about it, since it felt like I was getting cheated out of a full opera, but the concert was surprisingly well planned and beautifully performed! It was wonderful to see the orchestra onstage (since I haven't been to a symphony in months), and the vocalists were simply amazing, both for their incredible voices and acting ability, which I didn't expect to see in this type of concert. The selections were all over the place, including not only sure-fire hits like the Queen of the Night aria from The Magic Flute or the Toreador song from Carmen, but also pieces ranging from a Baroque aria from Handel's Xerxes to some modern songs from Bernstein's Candide (presented with great comic flair!). The complete ALO chorus was also onstage and their combined voices certainly were powerful! I'm looking forward to ALO's next production in April, but Simply the Best was definitely more than filler, and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

11.08.2007

Ernesto says goodbye to Austin

I'm about a month late, but I finally have the chance to write about my pal Ernesto's last few fun days in Austin before his big move to Los Angeles to help out his family. Our last Greatest American Heroes gig with Ernesto seemed pretty crazy, since we played for a gathering of several hundred Lutheran women (mostly on the old side)! When were setting up, we were sure they had no idea they had hired a TV theme song band, but when we started playing, they turned out to be the best audience we ever had – no kidding! Those Lutheran ladies just loved our stuff, and they really got into the show and even bought tons of CDs! Next there was a going-away party for Ernesto, which was a combination celebration for the publication of Tom's book, Taxi to Tashkent. Besides Tom's fun live readings, there were lots of toasts for Ernesto (with crazy gifts), making it another fun party at Jonathan's house. Finally, we had our usual Sunday guys night together, and Matt made Day Jobs, the drink that was actually created for our swing band at the Caucus Club back in the old days. They tasted a lot better when we were younger and could handle more booze, but it was still some nostalgic fun. All of us really miss Ernesto now, but I'm glad that I'll get to see him whenever I head to Los Angeles to visit Dae (and Mickey Mouse)!

View photos: Ernesto's Goodbye

11.07.2007

High School Musical / Zach Scott Theater : 4 of 5

Being a hard-core, card-carrying Disney fan, I used to feel bad that I hadn't explored all the High School Musical hype. I just never got around to watching the movie on the Disney Channel or even listening to the songs (although I had heard a few during park visits), but I knew it was my Disney duty to check it out soon! Thankfully, Zach Scott Theater gave my pal Melinda and I the opportunity to enjoy this super popular phenomenon, and I totally loved it! The stage show was my first exposure to the story and music, so I couldn't compare it to the original movie at the time, but it was still a treat to see it onstage, actually performed in a school auditorium for extra atmosphere. The young performers that Zach Scott cast were all spectacular at dancing, singing and acting, putting lots of energy into their roles. The dance numbers were pretty complex, but they somehow managed to pull them off with no mistakes, including lots of synchronized basketball dribbling on Get'cha Head in the Game! I've finally seen the original movie now, so I can comment on a few blaring differences, such as portraying Sharpay's brother Ryan as flaming as possible, which made the character much funnier on stage than in the movie (if you ignore the questionable taste). Even though this was a local production, it definitely had the Disney mark, using official logos, stage music and so on – I wonder how Disney makes sure no theaters mess up their valuable property? They definitely had nothing to worry about with Zach Scott, since this particular High School Musical was a blast!

11.05.2007

Hiatus over

The past couple weeks have been one of the longest spans of time without a WEBmikey post in quite a while, but I'm happy to say that I'm back! My Christmas video project for my pals is now completely finished, and I can't wait to get readjusted to normal life. I've really seen the value of being single-tasked, since by putting 100% of my effort and free time into the video I was able to finish well ahead of my plans! Working on the video was really fun - more fun than the past couple years, for sure - and I'm happy with the result. Now I can forget about it for a month and when my pals and I get together to watch it, it will seem new to me, too! This morning I've been enjoying my old morning routine, and it feels so nice. Part of that routine is studying Japanese vocabulary and kanji, and thankfully I haven't forgotten as much as I expected I would. My new purpose in life for the next month will be getting back to solid Japanese study, since the JLPT is coming up fast! Anyway, welcome back to WEBmikey - I have lots of things to write about, so hopefully I'll be back to daily posts from now on!

10.24.2007

Manga Mentions 10.07

Wow, it's been a long time since my last Manga Mentions, but I finally managed to squeeze five more volumes into my schedule recently, so here we go! As promised, I focused on "serious" manga this time around (no high school romances!), starting with Hikaru no Go Vol 10, which was mostly filled with the series of games needed for Hikaru to become a pro, as his confidence is lost and gained again, while Akira decides to tutor his opponent as a way of learning more about his rival. xxxHolic Vol 9 had some nice culture references about New Years dreams, and a spooky girl who sees spirits in a cherry tree, but unfortunately didn't have the philosophical edge I've enjoyed in past volumes. Kaze Hikaru Vol 6 was bursting with Japanese history, including the incredible battle at Ikedaya that was better than watching a movie! The combination of romance and history make this manga something I can see myself reading again when it's all over. And now for two more Osamu Tezuka masterpieces! Buddha Vol 5 skillfully weaves the tales of many characters from past volumes (such as the warrior Tatta), while also focusing on the now-enlightened Buddha's sermons, even illustrating their stories with great impact! Finally, Phoenix Vol 11 is the bittersweet final volume of the greatest manga series ever written, weighing in at 400 pages, even though this story is a continuation of the previous volume! There's quite a bit of future/past jumping this time (all executed with brilliant cinematography), with an incredible message about religious conflict. I will definitely be reading the entire Phoenix saga again someday!

10.23.2007

Editing obsession

Since 2007 is really starting to wind down, I'm into full-blown editing mode for my yearly holiday video project. I've been filming tons of stuff for the past several weeks, and now it's time to get serious with iMovie and crank it out! In fact, I've pretty much been doing nothing but editing for the past few days now. On Saturday I edited 10 hours straight and even got a crick in my neck from my overworked mouse arm. I really love making this video, but I have a problem with getting obsessed by it! Once I get into creative mode, I have trouble shutting it off - every free cycle of my brain starts planning the next shot, and ideas start coming to me in the shower or when I'm trying to go to sleep. On one hand, I love this kind of creative obsession, and it makes me feel good to make something cool for my friends. But on the other hand, it totally disrupts the beloved routines of my life, so I haven't been studying Japanese or writing for WEBmikey (hence the lack of posts!). Unfortunately, creative bursts also make me eat pizza (or maybe that's an excuse!). Anyway, I'm having fun experiencing new styles of editing - now I have some sympathy for what the editors of reality TV shows much go through. I just need to work on keeping my life in balance!

10.17.2007

Super-fun Disneyland weekend

Last weekend I had a fantastic time in Los Angeles with my pal Dae, the best host on the West Coast! We went to the Disneyland Resort for two days, starting with Disney's California Adventure (which I hadn't been to in over a year). We had a really leisurely time at the park, taking a long lunch break with a couple glasses of wine just before riding Monsters Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue (which was even more fun after the wine!). It's a cool little attraction with fantastic theme details in the queue, and so much better than Superstar Limo was! After riding all the major attractions, we hopped over to Disneyland the same evening to take on the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage! We had to wait about 75 minutes, but it was worth it! Just seeing the subs in action was incredible, and going through that hatch and down the spiral staircase brought back a flood of memories. Who knows, I may have been sitting on the same seat I was in around 30 years ago! The new effects on the attraction are wonderful, and I was glad the shark scenes weren't too scary. I can't wait to ride it again each time I visit the park! We also rode Space Mountain that night, so we could avoid the biggest lines the next day.

The next morning we hit Disneyland right at opening, and we were amazed at the crowds - definitely more than the average October attendance! But since we're Disney pros, it didn't matter - we still got to ride everything, including Haunted Mansion Holiday twice! I really enjoyed the new Pirate's Lair theme on Tom Sawyer Island, and it was fun watching watching an excellent Jack Sparrow actor stealing kids toys, looking through women's purses, and generally being a pirate. To top off the day, I beat Dae at Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters (which hardly ever happens), thanks to a tip I read earlier in the week - go for the diamond-shaped targets!

Our last day was a little rainy, but we had a nice lazy day anyway. We started with hitting some golf balls at a driving range, which was fun since I'm such a novice, and then we played cards at a coffee shop. Next we shopped Toys R Us, where Dae bought an RC helicopter, which we flew (and crashed) around his condo! Next we went to the movies, and finally we had our usual "break the budget" meal at a four-star restaurant called Nico's, which was pretty incredible! As always, it was a fantastic trip, and I'm already looking forward to doing it again!

View photos: Disneyland 2007
View photos: Disney Pals 2007
View photos: Los Angeles 2007

10.16.2007

The Heartbreak Kid : 2 of 5

I probably wouldn't have seen this movie, but since my pal Dae and I were having a nice lazy Saturday in Los Angeles last weekend, we decided it would be fun to see a comedy. We definitely had a great time, but that doesn't mean the movie was that good. The Farrelly brothers did their best work with There's Something About Mary, and I think they've been trying to top that ever since, mainly by trying to shock the audience with jokes that seem totally out of place for this type of comedy! While the famous "hair gel" scene was outrageous for 1998, it doesn't compare to the raunchy jokes this time around. Seriously, who goes to see a Ben Stiller movie expecting to see a donkey show joke, or even a glimpse of full frontal female anatomy? In between those wild gags there's a pretty funny story about a guy who quickly marries his dream girl only to find she's a completely different person, then meets the girl he really loves while on his honeymoon. There's some funny interaction with the girl's family and some nice misunderstandings to keep the plot going, but it's a shame this movie can't figure out if it wants to be a romantic comedy or a farce, so it ends up screwing up both genres. Ben Stiller does his best as usual, but this movie still needed a little more charm. Of course, I have to admit I laughed a lot, so it was definitely a nice Saturday movie choice, but if you decide to check it out, don't expect too much!

10.15.2007

The Kingdom Keepers / Ridley Pearson : 3 of 5

It's been quite a while since I enjoyed a novel, so it was nice to read a good long story again (even if this one is written for young adult audiences!), especially one set in Walt Disney World! The Kingdom Keepers has a pretty interesting plot revolving around the idea that when enough people believe something, it can actually become reality. Since Walt Disney World is filled with kids who believe in Disney characters, it only makes sense that they would come to life, right? It turns out Walt knew this would happen all long, and so he hid clues and riddles throughout the parks to help handle this problem, and so a group of kids (with the help of an Imagineer) work together to solve this mystery, fighting off a real-life Malificent and her minions on the way! I loved reading descriptions of places and attractions that I know so well, and it was especially cool when totally unexpected things happen, such as the children figures on It's a Small World coming to life and swimming after the boat with their mouths chomping away (actually, I was a little surprised that Disney would let the author get away with something like that)! Thinking about what it would be like to swim through Splash Mountain, or sneak around in the exhibits of One Man's Dream, really made the book a page-turner for me, but without all the Disney references the story wouldn't have grabbed me nearly as much. Still, the writing is fast-paced and descriptive, and since this book is most likely starting a series, I can forgive the lack of character development. If you've always wanted to sneak around the Magic Kingdom at night and visit attractions in a whole new way, I definitely recommend The Kingdom Keepers!

10.10.2007

Single device trip

I'm off to Los Angeles tomorrow, which means visiting my pal Dae and going to Disneyland! I'm really excited about hitting the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage for the first time, and of course I'm been going nuts trying to plan my strategy, which all the fans online seems to be divided about, but I know I'm going to ride it no matter what! I'm also pretty excited that this will be my first "single device" trip! I always used to take my cell phone, my Palm, and my iPod (and sometimes my Nintendo DS) on a trip, but this time I'm only taking my iPhone! I've got plenty of video podcasts loaded up to watch, plus a half and half mix of Disney music and Jpop to keep me going. And of course, if I need to look at my schedule or contacts or make calls, it's all there, too! It's so nice to be going with only one charger as well. Disneyland, here I come!

10.08.2007

Photos on Schmap

I think it's so cool that people have found various photos of mine on Flickr and asked if they could use them in various projects. It's just one of the reasons why Flickr is so cool! Anyway, recently a couple of my photos were used on Schmap!, a website with maps and travel information for various places. They wanted to use one of my shots from my Niagara Falls trip (of the famous floral clock), plus a picture I took of the carousel inside Crossroads Mall in Oklahoma City (I couldn't believe that one!). They're just a tiny little photos, but it's still fun to see them on the site. You can check them out using these links!

Visit site: Schmap Niagara Falls
Visit site: Schmap Oklahoma City

10.07.2007

Hana Yori Dango / Season 1 : 4 of 5

I haven't had the time to watch a Japanese drama series in ages, but now that I'm enjoying being caught-up on the DVD watching, I finally got around to checking out Hana Yori Dango, which I downloaded a million years ago! Unlike the series I've watched in the past, which sucked me in within the first few minutes, I actually didn't care for this show at all after the first episode. The storyline, about a poor but spirited girl trying to survive in an elite school basically run by four super-rich brat guys (the "Flower 4"), was just a little out there for me, and the boy characters were so evil that I just hated them and all the trouble they were causing poor Tsukushi! Thankfully things recovered very quickly in the second episode, once they did a little character development on the boys, and I really enjoyed watching Tsukasa and Tsukushi getting stuck in the elevator. The love triangle involving Rui was fun (and I found myself rooting for the wrong guy), and the whole subplot with the insane ultra-cute girl was interesting and bizarre! So once things got moving, it didn't take long for me to get caught up in all of the characters, their friends, and their families (Tsukushi's family is especially warm and entertaining!), and the big finale with the Teen of Japan competition is pretty exciting. Of course, I found myself crying out of the blue - maybe it's just the music, but Japanese dramas are so skilled at digging out the emotion! It was interesting to see Matsumoto Jun as Tsukasa, since to me he will always be Shin from Gokusen (since that was his first role for me), but I can't wait to see Inoue Mao in another role - her eyes are so expressive and amazing! Hana Yori Dango isn't the best drama I've seen, but it was so great to be watching any Japanese drama again that I loved it!

10.06.2007

DHL sucks

Yes, DHL really sucks. This is my own little rant, but I'm hoping that at least one person Googles "DHL" and finds this post someday. DHL is the absolute worst shipping carrier on the planet, with terrible web feedback and customer response. My story begins with a photo book from QOOP that was shipped using DHL's "guaranteed by 3:00 PM next day" service. My package arrived in Austin around 9:00 AM, but was still not delivered by 5:00 PM (so much for the 3:00 PM time). With absolutely nothing updated on their tracking website, I called DHL and spoke to a representative, who said they would page the driver and call me back. Forty-five minutes later, after no one called, I called them again and got the same story. Finally, the place with my personal mailbox (where the package was going) closed, so that was it. The representative called me back and said it would be delivered the next day. Of course, still no response from the driver, and no updates on their website. Today I kept waiting for something to change with the tracking status, but of course, nothing had been updated (it still says it will be delivered yesterday!). I just called them, and now they tell me the suite number was wrong on the address! I know for a fact that the address was correct with QOOP, so I'm guessing the label was truncated by some 1970s mainframe hillbilly computer that DHL is using. Now I have to wait until Monday for delivery, and I'm furious. Of course, they weren't going to give me any updates on the situation, and their tracking system is a complete joke. There's nothing I can do but write them a scathing email (which I did), and write this post, so please heed my warning. Never use DHL. DHL sucks.

Update: I'd like to add that QOOP had nothing to do with this problem. In fact, they actually contacted me after reading this post, which is amazing customer service! QOOP's photo books are simply fantastic, and I highly recommend them!

10.05.2007

Instant enlargements

When I used to work at Eckerd's (way back in ancient history), one of my jobs was camera clerk, so I had to help people fill out their photo orders and deal with people who were upset because sometimes it took forever for processing to be finished. I can remember that enlargements were an especially big chore (and expensive!), since you had to find the right negatives on your strip, fill out the form, wait about a week or more for them to come back, and then hope they didn't get dog-eared when they were being sent to the store. It just hit me yesterday how times have changed! I needed a few enlargements yesterday morning, so I uploaded a few digital images to Walgreens, clicked a few buttons, selected the store that practically sits in my backyard, and by the time I got to work, I had an email saying they were ready to be picked up! So basically in about 20 minutes with almost no work on my part, I had enlargements ready to go less than a mile from my condo, and they were cheap, too! I know, this kind of technology has been around for years now, but yesterday was the first time I tried it out, and I was pretty amazed.