2.28.2007

The Lion King : 5 of 5

Seeing The Lion King on Broadway was one of the highlights of my trip to New York City with my parents, but even though we had great seats, we were almost too close to enjoy the overall spectacle of the production. My pal Melinda and I had fantastic seats for the Austin touring performance, right in the center and far enough back to enjoy the wonderful costumes parading through the aisles (although the Bass Concert Hall was definitely a little cramped for giant elephants and rhinos!). The show was fantastic to see again, and I enjoyed the music more than ever before, especially all the African chant numbers (that were added for Broadway). They are just so rhythmic and exciting, and since the two lead percussionists were setup in plain view on either side of the stage, I enjoyed them even more! All of the performers were really strong - Mufasa's voice was even deeper than James Earl Jones, Scar was really skilled at moving his incredible lion mask in front of his face, and Zazu was a flawless puppeteer (and so was everyone else). I had even forgotten a few scenes, such as when Timon almost gets eaten by a crocodile, so the whole show was full of surprises for me. The Lion King is just an amazing Broadway show, and I think it's one that everyone should see (even if you're not a Disney nut like me) again and again!

2.27.2007

Catching-up and de-cluttering

Sorry there's been yet another period of WEBmikey radio silence! My schedule has just been a little crazy, and whenever that happens, I don't manage my time well (which is funny since I should try to manage it even better when I get swamped!). Anyway, I have all kinds of things to write about, so I'm going to catch up and back-date a couple posts to catch-up (like this one!). My pal Dae from Los Angeles is coming to visit this weekend, too, so I'll probably miss a few days again, but at least you have been warned this time!

Just to mention something interesting (so this won't be a useless post), I've decided to finally start going through my mountains of books and get rid of some of them. I've always been the kind of person that keeps books no matter what, so I still have all of my college textbooks. Those are definitely the first to go - I think I will keep my History of Science books, since they are pretty interesting, but I guarantee I will never, ever (in a million years) crack open Engineering Physics! I have several old computer books, too, for software that's completely hillbilly now. I managed to clear away two complete shelves of my overflowing bookcases, so now I just need to take some to Half Price Books and see if I can dump them for a few bucks (I'll take anything!). It feels good to start to get rid of some clutter!

2.25.2007

Ultraman Series One / Vol 1 : 3 of 5

Along with Speed Racer, watching Ultraman was another one of my first exposures to Japanese entertainment that eventually led to my culture-obsessed life today! There have been tons of Ultraman series, but this DVD set is the original classic from 1966 (and of course, I'm watching it in Japanese). Most of my childhood memories only involve Ultraman's Color Timer (which blinks on his chest when he's running out of energy), but now that I've watched three DVDs full of episodes I'm excited about learning more and becoming a fan all over again. Each episode features a giant monster (all with insanely imaginative designs) that Ultraman must vanquish, after Science Patrol officer Hayata transforms using the Beta Capsule. Sometimes I feel sorry for the monsters, because Ultraman can get pretty violent (sometimes there's even monster blood!). The rest of the Science Patrol is cool as well, flying around in their VTOL aircraft, shooting beasts with the Spider Shot gun, and talking on their little lapel communicators. The effects were state of the art for 1966, since the studio used one of only a handful of optical printers in existence at the time. My only problem with the show is there's almost no character development at all (I guess I'm spoiled on the emotional impact of Kikaida), which means there's not much connection between episodes. But now that I've seen the first half of the series, nothing can stop me from buying the next DVD set!

2.24.2007

The Disneylands That Never Were / Shawn Finnie : 3 of 5

For a long time I have been subscribed to an email list that covers Disney history almost daily, which is put together by a fan named Shawn Finnie. A while back he mentioned that he had written a self-published book, so I decided to give it a try to support his efforts. For a self-published book, this is a respectable effort at over 240 pages, and I definitely enjoyed reading it! The book covers hundreds of Imagineering concepts that never fully materialized, everything from individual attractions to complete theme park ideas. Even though I already knew about many of the topics, it was nice to read about them in greater detail, especially the Westcot park that was later replaced with Disney's California Adventure. I also was amazed at the plans for Port Disney, which was planned for Long Beach back when Disney was running the Queen Mary. Unfortunately, even though the text is nicely written and interesting, this kind of book just screams for illustrations, since the reader really wants to see some of the artwork that was created during the design of these incredible ideas! I'm sure this simply wasn't possible for a self-published work, but it really lessens the impact of an otherwise great work (it would be wonderful to see this re-printed by a publisher who could give it the treatment it deserves). I can only recommend this book to serious Disney park history fans, but I definitely applaud Shawn's efforts in the Disney fan family!

2.23.2007

My almost famous video

My Disneyland Home Movies video has really taken off lately on YouTube! Not only has it received more than 1,000 views, but several folks have started saying nice things about it and linking to it as well. First, I got an email from Chef Mayhem, creator of the absolutely incredible DoomBuggies.com (easily the best Haunted Mansion site ever), who may use part of the video since it has a few good exterior views of the Mansion! Second, I discovered a really nice post on a blog called The Sacred Tree of the Aracuan Bird, linking to my video with some nice discussion about Tomorrowland (as well as some fun comments about my family, including Mom's hairdo!). Third, it was also linked to in a discussion on MiceChat, as an example of old Disneyland pavement styles (what a topic!). And finally, just today I got an email from a fan (who actually owns portions of the original Submarine Voyage!) to thank me for sharing the video. Truthfully, my parents deserve all of the thanks, not only for being wonderful enough to take little Mikey to the Happiest Place on Earth, but for being enough of a camera buff to shoot that precious 8mm film in the first place!

2.20.2007

Dreamgirls : 5 of 5

I don't know why I waited so long to see this movie, especially because I like musicals so much, but Dreamgirls was a great choice for a Sunday night at the Alamo Drafthouse with Ernesto and Jonathan. Just like when I saw Chicago, I couldn't stop myself from applauding after many of the incredible numbers, and I think the rest of the theater joined in! I'm sure you already know that Dreamgirls tells a kind of history of soul music through fictional characters, and includes musical styles from Motown all the way through disco. The music is absolutely fantastic, with tons of energy and fantastic production (I especially like the way the drums are always really loud, with a huge snare "pop", yet never get in the way of the other instruments), and the songs are pretty much wall to wall. Beyonce is great in her role (and beautiful, of course), and although she sounds terrific, she sounds like a beginner next to Jennifer Hudson, who gets several chances to belt out some real emotion. This is definitely the best role Eddie Murphy has ever played (combining joy when he's performing to tragedy when his life falls apart), and since I'm not a Jamie Foxx fan, I didn't mind that his character was such a jerk. Dreamgirls is a celebration of some truly incredible music, combined with some great character development, that makes for an exciting time at the theater - I hope I can see the Broadway production someday!

2.19.2007

A dreamy weekend

Last weekend was full of fun happenings. Besides seeing two movies with friends, on Saturday night I got together with Chris for a gaming session. We played lots of Wii, but I also brought over my PS2 for some Guitar Hero and Taiko Drum Master! I hadn't played Taiko in ages, so that was especially fun. On Sunday morning I got up early and met Ernesto for bagels, and then we gave our annual support to our pal Tom who always runs the Austin Marathon. He was taking a slower pace this year, but he still looked great and full of energy at Mile 16. Tom is one of my few friends who's a few years older than me, so it's pretty cool that he keeps cranking out the marathons! After all that hard work watching runners, I took a three-hour nap in the middle of the day, which was especially great since I had a dream in Japanese! This has happened a few times before, and it's always amazing to me. Of course, in my dream I can say whatever I want without hesitation (this time I was actually doing a Jpop interview of sorts), and it's a great feeling. Maybe I have much deeper language skills hiding in my brain waiting to be released!

View photos: Marathon

2.18.2007

Bridge to Terebithia : 4 of 5

I knew nothing about this movie before I went to see it, since I haven't read the book, but before I went I heard some interesting comments by the filmmakers about how Disney has mis-marketed the film. The trailer definitely makes it look like another Narnia-style story, but that couldn't be further from the truth! Actually, the film is about young friends who find the courage to overcome problems in real life by facing difficulties in their shared make-believe life. The plot deals with many difficult subjects, including family difficulties, school bullying, faith questions, and even a shocking tragedy that left me completely shocked (which of course, I can't actually mention here!). So, the fantasy portions of the movie are extremely brief, but they're fun and important to the rest of the story. The child actors do an absolutely incredible job - their performance is really amazing! I have a feeling Josh Hutcherson could grow up to be a real star (he definitely has a great emotional quality). The final scenes of the film really had the tears rolling for me, and afterwards my pal Melinda and I were at a loss for words to describe how we felt. Bridge to Terebithia is a beautiful, emotion-filled movie that celebrates the magic and difficulty of life.

2.17.2007

WarioWare Smooth Moves / Nintendo Wii : 5 of 5

I've been playing WarioWare mini-games all the way back to my GameBoy Advance days, so WarioWare Smooth Moves was definitely the game I had to buy after waiting all night for my Nintendo Wii! In case you don't remember, WarioWare consists of tons and tons of tiny games, each only a few seconds long, that are thrown at you one after the other, and you generally have to figure out how the game works and complete it super quickly. WarioWare is perfect for the Wii, since using the Wiimote is so natural in most cases, and can definitely be used in creative ways. In fact, the game demonstrates several ways to hold the Wiimote (which are displayed and narrated just like Jack Handey's Deep Thoughts from the old Saturday Night Live), and each games flashes the position you'll need to use. Sometimes you hold it on your hip and actually jump to make a character jump rope on screen, or even put the Wiimote down and pick it up like you're answering a phone (and the built-in speaker actually says hello)! My favorite by far is the short driving game, since it feels so cool to use the Wiimote as a steering wheel. All of the classic WarioWare characters are back this time, but the quality of the cartoon segments is simply amazing - even better than the usual Cartoon Network standards (watching Jimmy T. dance with all the little kitties is just too cute for words)! The only drawback to Smooth Moves is that I enjoyed it so much that I pretty much played it all the way to the end in one long session, but now I can always go back and re-play my favorite segments. The Wii is amazing, and this game really shows off what it can do!

2.16.2007

What do adults think about?

Last weekend the Greatest American Heroes played at big dinner party and awards ceremony for a huge group of Texas entrepreneurs (mostly millionaires!). It was definitely an easy show (and well paying), since this was just an event for a bunch of rich folks to sit around and talk about what to do with their money! While I was sitting there behind my drums and watching all these people schmooze, I couldn't help but wonder what these people think about all day, compared to what I think about. Actually, whenever I see a bunch of adults acting like adults, I wonder about this! The last time was on my birthday when I was at Starbucks, watching all these "important" people rush in on their way to work, acting so mature, while I was sitting there reading comics. The truth is that even at my old age, I don't feel like an adult - I don't even know what it's supposed to feel like! I don't think there's anything wrong with that - in fact, I'm sure I prefer it this way. I would much rather fill my thoughts (and my house) with Disney and toys and video games and anime and manga and Jpop cuteness than to be defined by work and money. Sometimes I think that everyone is actually like me, but they just pretend to be serious adults. I guess the important thing is to be happy and thankful that I'll always be a kid, and not ashamed to act like it!

2.15.2007

Musume Dokyu! Vol 5 : 3 of 5

I've finally started watching the latest round of Musume Dokyu DVDs! It seems like each new season of this series changes the format somewhat, and this time around narration has returned and there are no more letters written from one member to another. This volume has only three episodes: one with Sayumi, one with Reina, and a double-length show about the HP Metro Rabbits, the Hello! Project kickball (or "kickbase", as they call it in Japanese) team. You would think that this DVD, featuring my two favorite Morning Musume gals, would be fantastic, but it's actually kind of ho-hum. Sayumi takes a cooking lesson (since she gagged Eri with her cooking in a previous episode), and learns lots of dishes from a nice teacher. It was interesting to see things like special goggles for chopping onions, and fun to watch Sayumi get excited about cutting apples to look like little bunnies. Reina spends the day working in a ramen restaurant, but she doesn't really do anything interesting! The narrator tries to stir up some suspense when she carries a huge bowl of ramen to a customer, but she doesn't spill anything (which would have been pretty funny!). The HP Metro Rabbits segment includes lots and lots of practice, practically the entire game played in the recent sports festival (which they lost spectacularly 24 to 3!), and then a nice outdoor game, where they do a much better job (and really make kickball look like fun)! This volume was definitely a little more interesting than the prior "conversational" episodes, but not as entertaining as a good dose of Hello! Morning!

2.14.2007

Grandpa's photo

I only knew one of my grandfathers, my Dad's dad, William Walters. He passed away when I was pretty young, but I have many fond memories of him. After my Grandma passed away last year, I received some mementos that she had, all kept in a wooden Bible case (which is something I had never seen before), and one of them was this wonderful photo of my Grandpa when he was young (you can view a larger image on Flickr) . I'm pretty sure I remember seeing this photo often in Grandma's house when I would visit as a child, and I'm so glad I have it now. Part of growing up is eventually saying goodbye to loved ones, and I treasure the photos I have of my family, especially those that I miss. I finally got a nice frame for this photo a couple weeks ago, and Grandpa looks nice on my dresser with everyone else.

2.13.2007

Gojira / Godzilla / Special Edition : 5 of 5

This fantastic DVD set, containing both the original 1954 Japanese version and the 1956 American version, has really increased my appreciation for Godzilla! Watching the original version (which I enjoyed at the theater a couple years ago) was incredible, especially with the fantastic audio commentary (one of the best I've ever heard), which discusses the story, effects, music, and even cultural background, answering questions such as "What would a Japanese audience be thinking when they saw this scene?" I discovered many new effects that I hadn't noticed before, including flawless matte paintings that were used to show Godzilla's footprints and other destruction. Seeing the American version, which was completely re-edited to include Raymond Burr playing a reporter named Steve Martin (oddly enough), was also really interesting. Even though they only used less than an hour of the original film, they really made some creative choices (such as starting the film in the middle of the story) that helped bring this movie to the US, and without this version, I'm sure Godzilla would have remained unknown and this DVD set wouldn't have been made. There are also some short documentaries about the making of the film, including the fact that this was the first Japanese movie ever to use storyboards, and of course, lots of anecdotes about the creation of the Godzilla suit, with originally weighed over 200 pounds! This DVD really respects Godzilla as one of the greatest monster movies ever made, and I'm thrilled it's finally been released in its original form.

2.12.2007

We the jury

Today I had to report downtown for jury duty, and it was an interesting experience, though I'm really glad it was so short! Of course, I had to battle traffic on a foggy, wet morning, but I snagged a good parking spot, even though I was there an hour early (which meant plenty of games on my Palm). After everyone arrived, we went though the jury selection process with both sides of the case, and this is when we found out it was a simple traffic case - speeding at 45 MPH in a 40 MPH zone (gasp!). Finally they chose six of us, and I was kind of glad to be picked so I could see what it was like, since the case wasn't anything I would lose sleep over. The defendant represented himself, which didn't seem easy, and that made the simple facts take a little longer to describe, but eventually we were able to go to our jury room to decide. However, it took quite a long time to get everyone to agree! One older woman let her emotions get in the way, and one other guy was all philosophical with the moral dilemma of deciding, but eventually the fact that we were stuck there until we agreed turned them around. They gave us certificates of appreciation and the day was over, but it was definitely eye-opening to think about that same scenario going on over and over again all across the country. It's strange to me to think that random people would actually get to decide this guy's "fate" (even though it was just a fine), since every one of us are guilty of the same crime of speeding, but that's the way the system works. So, I was glad to take a closer look and be a part of it!

2.11.2007

Walt Disney's Legacy Collection / True Life Adventures Vol 2 : 4 of 5

Watching the second volume of this series really made me stop and think about how enjoyable these films are! There's just something peaceful about relaxing with a cup of coffee and learning about nature, as well as experiencing the nostalgia of these movies. This set includes some firsts for the True Life Adventures series - Seal Island was the first short to bear the True Life Adventures name, and The Living Desert was the first feature-length True LIfe Adventure movie. Seal Island definitely lacks a little polish that would come later, but the baby seals are so cute. However, watching the adult seals' bloody battle is definitely kind of stomach-turning! The Living Desert is amazing for its close-up insect photography (the photographer even had to invent a film camera that could be focused on such small objects in motion!), mainly the incredible tarantula/wasp fight to the death, which is fascinating and chilling at the same time. The Vanishing Prairie has lots of great prairie dog characterization and action, too. The bonus disc is filled with three other nature shorts, more of Roy Disney at Animal Kingdom, and another great new documentary with photographer interviews, plus interesting conversations with Roy, providing fun anecdotes about the making of these films. I'm really looking forward to enjoying the next volumes of this series!

2.10.2007

BoA / Made in Twenty : 4 of 5

As usual, I have stacks of unreviewed CDs to write about, so let's start with BoA's latest full-length album, celebrating her 20th birthday (I can't believe she is only 20, since her musical ability is so much more mature!). The first track on the CD is Lady Galaxy, and when it started pumping, I was worried that BoA had decided to become Koda Kumi - it's definitely an unconventional start, and sounds even more weird when it's immediately followed by Nanairo No Ashita (Brand New Beat), one of the many previously released singles on this album. Besides the singles, BoA really seems to be experimenting with styles and rhythms, but unfortunately these songs don't let her stretch her amazing voice. My favorite new ballad is Our Love (To My Parents), which shows off her range (including some low notes), even though the song is really screaming for a key change at the end! The bonus DVD that comes with the CD has her recent videos (which I already had), but also a full ten tracks from her upcoming Boa the Live concert DVD! These live performances are incredible, and definitely make me want to buy the whole show. Her band is fantastic, the live arrangements are creative (so different than hearing the same old music recordings again and again for Morning Musume concerts), and her voice is spectacular, especially on Moon & Sunrise, which is one of the best live Jpop performances I've ever seen! Even though the album wasn't as memorable as something like Valenti (which can't be beat), Made in Twenty is still an incredible CD from a truly wonderful voice.

New labels

I've been looking forward to using the new version of Blogger, but I had to wait to switch over since WEBmikey has over 2,600 posts! Last night they finally let me switch, so now I can enjoy using labels, which lets me categorize my posts (something I used to do by hand way back in the early days of WEBmikey in 2000). So, at the end of some posts you will see my labels, which can be clicked to view all the posts in that category. Of course, I will never go back and label everything in the past five years, but I'm sure I will label lots of old posts when the mood hits. I'm also planning a site redesign sometime soon, since this design is getting really old!

2.09.2007

Epic Movie : 2 of 5

I'm just as surprised as you are that I saw this movie, but my pal Melinda and I went because there really wasn't anything else that one of us hadn't already seen! Of course, Epic Movie is pretty much mindless, but every now and then it's not so bad to just laugh for a while and wonder how some movies ever get made. The idea is just to spoof tons of recent Hollywood blockbuster films, so lots of things are thrown together to make some kind of story. I definitely wasn't expecting The Chronicles of Narnia (or Gnarnia, in this case) to be the framework for the plot, but I guess it worked pretty well. Although several jokes fell flat, there were some moments I really enjoyed, especially the Harry Potter segment, where Harry and his friends are all middle-aged and run-down even though they are supposed to be teenagers (so true!). The Pirates of the Caribbean spoof was pretty good, especially the crazy music video (based on Lazy Sunday from Saturday Night Live). It was kind of fun seeing how well they reproduced sets and props from the various films, which was a nice distraction whenever the jokes were lame. I wouldn't really recommend Epic Movie to anybody, but I still got some laughs in and had good time seeing it.

2.08.2007

I'm not as lazy as it seems

Once again, I haven't been posting to WEBmikey! There's just been a lot going on lately, and I haven't had to the energy to keep juggling everything at once. Here's a brief rundown of my lack of free time this week. After recovering from my birthday outing, the guys came over to watch the Super Bowl (commercials, mainly) and eat pizza. On Monday, I rehearsed with the Ernesto Marquez Sextet until 10:30. On Tuesday, I helped get Greatest American Heroes CDs ready for a big gig coming up this weekend (and then played Nintendo Wii with Chris). On Wednesday, I had tutoring with Kazki, and we talked about his recent trip to Japan for a long time before and after the lesson. Tonight, I have movie plans (which will be fun), and tomorrow I'll finally have an evening to relax (although I still have a tax appointment in the morning!). So anyway, I'm just a busy Mikey, and I'm trying to get things flowing smoothly again!

2.04.2007

Birthday bash

Last night my "birthday week" came to a big finale, thanks to a special celebration with my pals! Things got off to a great start with some fun gifts, and then we all went to Maiko Sushi Lounge downtown for some swanky sushi and other Japanese-fusion delights. The meal was totally incredible - we tried so many different things, and everything was delicious! My main dish was the hot rock, which is a fun "cook it yourself" meal of fantastic beef, which you sear on a sizzling stone. We all shared a couple bottles of Momokawa sake, which was my first time to try unfiltered sake, and now it's a new favorite! After dinner I had a big birthday cigar (thanks to Jonathan), and then we headed out for karaoke! As always, we had an incredibly crazy time in our private karaoke room, enjoying more drinks and keeping the songs rolling. I had mixed together a special medley (which I brought on CD) of my favorite anime and tokusatsu shows to sing in Japanese, and I totally enjoyed being a crazy geek for everyone! (There are lots of photos of my amazing performance - I normally would never upload so many pictures of myself, but I can't stop laughing at them!) After leaving the karaoke place around 2:00 AM, Ernesto and Jonathan took me to get some late night tacos, which really hit the spot after exhausting ourselves with singing. It was a really fun evening, and I'm so grateful to all of my friends (who treated me all week with emails, gifts, dinners and wishes) for making my big birthday so special!

View photos: Mikey's Birthday 2007

2.02.2007

Manga Mentions 2.07

I've just finished another five volumes of manga, so it looks like it's Manga Mentions time again! xxxHolic Vol 7 definitely made me glad that I started reading this series, since I'm just now settling into the style of artwork and appreciating its beauty. Yuko-san is looking sexier all the time, and the stories continue to be spooky (especially one about a "living photo"). Train Man Vol 2, while being my least favorite of the current Densha Otoko versions, was still really cute, showing a couple more promising dates, but not focusing enough on the lives of the side characters on the internet. I''s Vol 11 finally gets around to the inevitable when Ichitaka and Iori actually figure out they love each other! But now Iori's potential idol career is taking off, so they have to hide their relationship from the public, which seems to be the next arc of this series. As if the original Gacha Gacha manga wasn't embarrassing enough, I still had to check out Gacha Gacha: The Next Revolution Vol 1, which is about a guy who switches gender every time he sneezes. I'm sure they will explore every possible racy situation this will allow in this series, and I will blush every time! Finally, I absolutely loved Osamu Tezuka's Phoenix Vol 9, which contains two fascinating stories with karma themes. I especially enjoyed Strange Beings, which contains an incredible time loop plot. Tezuka's thought-provoking work definitely makes up for all the other goofy manga I'm reading!

2.01.2007

Star Trek / The Animated Series : 5 of 5

After watching all three seasons of the original Star Trek during the past year or so, I was thrilled to see this sometimes forgotten 1973 cartoon masterpiece was finally being released! This was another one of my Christmas gifts, and the set comes in a beautiful futuristic plastic case. Even though it was far too "intellectual" for a Saturday morning audience, the best thing about this series is that it truly is Star Trek! Gene Roddenberry was involved in its development, several writers from the original show contributed scripts, and most importantly, nearly the entire original cast does their own voice work! It doesn't matter if you're watching Filmation's inexpensive "limited animation" style - when you're hearing Shatner, Nimoy, and everyone else speaking their lines, these definitely feel like newly discovered lost episodes! Actually, the character designs and Enterprise interiors are very well done, and it's fun to see the crew encounter alien cultures that would have been impossible to produce with live action. There are tons of references to live action episodes, and many of the animated shows are actually sequels (revisiting planets and characters, and of course there's a reappearance of Tribbles!). This four DVD set includes some nice bonus material, treated with the same respect as the original series sets. There are a few "text commentaries" that I enjoy so much, as well as an excellent half-hour documentary on the making of the show. It's been a great experience to watch this series as an adult fan, and appreciate the way this show bridged the gap to future Star Trek series!