This movie should be buried, not re-released as a Special Edition! Cinderella 2 represents everything bad about Disney DVD sequels - it's the worst of the worst! There have been so many other sequels that I really enjoyed, but nothing as bad as this one. Even Hunchback of Notre Dame 2, with its barely TV cartoon quality animation, completely kicks Cindy 2's butt. This marketing decision had to have been set in stone before John Lasseter or someone with a brain could stop it. Cinderella 3 was ten times the movie - I was hoping that it would make people forget about this one. Oh well, I know they will sell mountains of these anyway.


The case hunt begins

Part of the "burden" of having the coolest gadget in the world is finding the perfect case. I went through tons of cases for my Palm, and now I'm just beginning the journey for my iPhone. The dilemma is finding something that provides just enough protection so I don't feel like I have to handle it like a museum piece, yet doesn't ruin the beautiful look of the device, or make it too bulky in my pocket. I've always been a fan of iSkin cases for my iPod, but I wasn't too thrilled with the look of their iPhone case, so after reading some reviews on iLounge, I decided to try the Marware Sport Grip first, since it's pretty cheap. The Sport Grip wasn't too bad, but I think it spoiled the sleek look of the iPhone. So next I decided to take a look at few cases in person at the Apple Store, and ended up getting the Incase Protective Cover in black for my second try, and so far I'm enjoying it, since it has a good fit and looks pretty cool, too. Of course, I still have my eye on another one - the Case-Mate Signature Leather Case looks classy, so I hope I can check one out in person someday.


Buying is scary!

The other day I was talking with Ryan about the upcoming release of The Jungle Book Platinum Edition DVD, and I experienced the strangest feeling. Since I've recently finished viewing all my unwatched DVDs and love the feeling of being caught-up, I realized that I'm actually afraid of buying new ones! Of course, there's no doubt that I will actually get this DVD - collecting all the Disney Platinum Editions is something I have to do. But the question is should I get it right away or add it to my Christmas list? I'm really busy trying to devote all of my free time to my holiday video project, so it's not like I could watch it right away. Plus I've finally been getting to my unwatched downloaded stuff (I didn't count those in the previous goal), which means I've seen about 120 Jpop music videos in the past few weeks! I think I've talked myself into waiting while writing this - I may not wait for Santa to bring The Jungle Book, but I'm definitely not going to buy it on release day. Now that's a shocking development in WEBmikey's world! Maybe I should take my temperature.


Goodbye old phone, hello ten bucks

After getting my iPhone, I had to figure out what to do with my old Motorola V505 phone. It was really cool a long time ago, but for the past year or so it's felt more like a clunky piece of junk in my pocket! I probably would have tossed in the garbage (which I know is a bad idea, although I have to admit I've done it with other cell phones), but I recently read about Second Rotation, which is a site that buys old electronics, so I thought I would give it a try. It was super easy to sign up, find the model of my phone on the site, and answer a few questions about it's condition. They immediately tell you what they will pay (which was $10 in my case), and you can instantly print a pre-paid shipping label. So, I just put everything in a bubble envelope, taped on the label, and that was it! It cost me nothing, and I didn't add to any electronics landfills! This morning my $10 payment showed up in my PayPal account, so even though it took a few weeks to get paid, they came through with the cash. Second Rotation is a fantastic idea - I really hope the company stays around long enough for a few more of my gadget upgrades!


Duel of the Tributes

Last night I watched Family Guy's incredible hour-long retelling of Star Wars, which was a total blast! I think it's so cool that they took the time to actually re-create the entire plot of A New Hope, even duplicating several shots exactly with identical soundtrack cues! There were some hilarious moments - Stewie as Vader was brilliant, and I totally cracked up to see Meg's only role as the dianoga in the trash compactor. The John Williams/Danny Elfman gag was awesome, and I enjoyed hearing them play on classic lines that all fans know (Peter's "Don't get penis-y" as Han Solo was one of the best). But overall, I wish I had laughed more. I think the animators were so psyched to have a big budget to spend on 3D modeling for ships, and so excited about duplicating original shots from the film, that often long segments just play out exactly like the film (such as the Death Star battle, which has tons of special effects, but very few jokes!). Actually, one of my favorite scenes isn't even part of the Star Wars retelling - it's at the end when Seth MacFarlane (as Peter) and Seth Green (as Chris) start arguing about Robot Chicken's recent Star Wars special! MacFarlane is the creator of Family Guy, but also does voice work for Robot Chicken, while Seth Green is one of the creators of Robot Chicken, but does voice work for Family Guy! It was a totally cool inside joke - I love that stuff! Now that I've mentioned Robot Chicken, I have to say that their Star Wars tribute was actually much, much funnier (though less ambitious than a total retelling). I will never stop laughing about Admiral Ackbar's breakfast cereal, the Force-ghost of Jar Jar, or Luke hanging out at Toshi Station to pick up those hot "power converters"! I wish every year were the 30th anniversary of Star Wars, because all of the TV specials, books and articles, and limited merchandise this year is truly a geek's dream.


Morning Musume / Concert Tour 2007 Haru Sexy 8 Beat : 4 of 5

Even after reading some not-so-great reviews of this Morning Musume concert, I was still looking forward to sitting down and enjoying it, but dreading being sad during Yossie's graduation! While this show isn't as well-put together as some of their other recent efforts, I definitely enjoyed it and was totally entertained, as usual. The good points include some fantastic stage lighting, around five costume changes (more if you count special costumes for solos and small groups), plenty of cuteness and emotion (I was convinced they were actually enjoying themselves, which is the most important part of a performance for me!), and Shanimuni Paradise was downright amazing! The bad points include a serious change in momentum during the solos section, along with some crazy song choices. I don't minding hearing a few obscure numbers during a concert, but the bizarre food-themed medley came way too early in the show (they needed a few more high-energy singles first)! And now, I could go on and on about Yossie and her incredible graduation. While she's not one of my favorites from an idol standpoint, she's probably the one I most admire, because of her solid career, talent (both musical and comedic), leadership, and of course, coolness. The camera work stayed up in her grill the whole time waiting for some water-works, and although you can see a few moments where she wants to cry, she stands tall and never sheds a tear. The other members, however, totally lose it (and so did I!), with everyone hugging her like their own big sister, mom, or even dad. Ai-chan nearly falls down with emotion, and Gaki-san implies that Morning Musume will disappear without her. Yossie takes it all with kindness, and even makes a few cool jokes. I don't think there will ever be another leader like Yossie - I was sorry to see her go, but happy for this great celebration!


Five minutes of entertainment

I've really been enjoying TiVoCast lately! For non-TiVo people out there, TiVoCast automatically downloads short videos from the web (usually popular video podcasts) so you can watch them easily just like any other TV show on your TiVo. They have signed up lots of my favorite stuff, and it's definitely helped me stay up-to-date with my podcast watching, since convenience always wins for me! It's nice to watch the latest Rocketboom when I have a spare five minutes here and there, without ever worrying about getting it from iTunes to my iPod (and I will always prefer watching video on my TV to sitting in front of a computer monitor). Besides Rocketboom, I love the animation shorts on Channel Federator, the quick tech reports on CNET, the hilarious (and amazingly high quality) fake news reports on the Onion News Network, as well as a few fun pop culture shows (and there are still other shows to choose from!). Recently I've been totally into Pulp Secret and their show called The Stack, which is three guys sitting around reviewing comic books. I love watching fans obsessed with what they truly enjoy, and these guys have so much fun talking about the latest issues and throwing around their comic book inside jokes - it definitely makes me want to pick up some of the titles they review and check them out on my own!


The Eternals / Marvel Omnibus : 4 of 5

When I was reading tons of comics as a kid, Jack Kirby was the first artist that I could recognize by his distinctive artwork, and I remember trying out different comic series just because of his amazing style. One of these series was The Eternals, which started in 1976 and only ran for 19 issues - I probably bought all of them, but sadly I'm sure I sold them for pennies or traded them for Star Wars cards, so I don't have them now. Thanks to Marvel's Omnibus series, which collects famous comics and reproduces them as beautiful (and expensive) hardcover books, I've just enjoyed the entire series again, and it was seriously nostalgic and fun! Kirby's art is as incredible as ever - I love how he makes every page so dynamic, even though the panel style at the time was usually just six uniform boxes! He's also not afraid to pull off full-page or even two-page spreads, which are definitely needed to tell a story this big, about the return of massive space gods (the Celestials) and their return to Earth! Of course, each comic's cover is included as well, and I swear I could remember each one as soon as I looked at it. Actually, I didn't really understand the storyline in 1976, so it was fun to read these issues again and figure out what's happening. I liked the concept of different species of beings on Earth besides humans, namely the Eternals (who inspired Greek/Roman god and goddess myths) and the Deviants (who inspired demonic myths). Kirby's overblown writing style is a blast, too, with every issue announced as the one you can't possibly miss! Reading The Eternals again was such an enjoyable experience, and I'd definitely like to check out more of the Omnibus series in the future!


Ringers / Lord of the Fans : 2 of 5

I'm not sure when I put this documentary in my Netflix queue, but it was probably a suggestion based on other geek documentaries that I've enjoyed in the past. Ringers covers the history of fans of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (capitalizing on the success of the movies, of course), but unfortunately spends too much time trying to be funny and not enough time showing the fans themselves! The film begins with a long background on the writing of the books and their initial reception, all presented in cut-out cartoon Monty Python style, which is interesting for about five minutes, but terrible when you realize that this method of expression is used for most of the movie. There are lots of short interview segments, of course, but along with Tolkien scholars, Peter Jackson and his actors, other celebrities are included that seem to have nothing to do with Lord of the Rings (Why are we supposed to care about what David Carradine has to say about Tolkien?). There are also some truly overblown generalizations, including that 60s hippies were all into three things: flower power, LSD, and Lord of the Rings (and this is "demonstrated" with some hilarious reenactments of hippie kids hanging out and reading The Hobbit out loud)! To be fair, some of the movie is really interesting, and it was easy to sit through the whole thing (watching with my pals). I enjoyed the "Tolkien confessional" booth where fans expressed their feelings alone with a camera, so at least I saw a sampling of the kind of fans I like to watch. Overall, I wouldn't really recommended Ringers, but if you've watched your Extended Editions too many times and want to see something new, I suppose it's OK.


Musical Ribbon no Kishi : 4 of 5

It seems like I'm always writing about Jpop ancient history, but I finally watched the complete Morning Musume musical of Ribbon no Kishi, and it was much better than I expected! For this stage version of Osamu Tezuka's classic manga (also known as Princess Knight), Hello! Project got together with the Takarazuka Revue, a super-popular all-women theater group famous for lavish shows with ladies playing men (based in Tezuka's home town, coincidentally). The story is about Princess Sapphire who has to spend her life as a boy to keep other evil folks from getting the throne, and of course involves romance with Prince Franz, witch's spells, and sword-fight action. Takahashi Ai does a wonderful job as Sapphire, but I have to say that Ishikawa Rika steals the show as Franz, which is amazing since poor Rika-chan is only half the singer that Ai-chan is! Rika pulls it off with sheer confidence in her role, and gives an incredible performance of the main love song Anata ni Aitai in her prison scene, punctuated by amazing tears on stage! This three-DVD set includes two other complete versions of the show with Matsuura Aya and Abe Natsumi as Franz, but I still liked Rika's performance the best. All of the other girls get large and small roles (Yossie is pretty cool as the villain), and the story is really easy to get lost in (even with a couple of Morning Musume jokes thrown in out of character). The music itself is definitely show tunes style, performed by a live band just off-stage, so it's fun to hear the girls sing with something other than pre-recorded tracks for a change. At the end of the show, there's a mini concert of the usual hits, as well as a graduation ceremony for Makoto, since this was her last performance with the group. This musical was definitely better than some of the previous shows I've seen. Of course it's cheesy and sentimental, but I love seeing the girls stretch to perform something just beyond their normal reach!


Published pal

My pal Tom, who spent a couple years in Uzbekistan with the Peace Corps, started writing a book about his experiences there soon after he came back to the US. He really put an amazing effort into crafting a well-written narrative, and spent an insane amount of time editing it over and over again, even hiring outside editors for advice. All of his efforts have paid off, and now I'm happy to announce that Tom's first book, Taxi to Tashkent, has been published and is available on Amazon.com! It's so exciting to be able to actually see the book up for sale, along with the cool cover that Chris designed for Tom. If you search around on the web, you can find it available from other booksellers and even available electronically. I'll be getting a copy from Tom soon, and I'm looking forward to reading it! This is a really cool accomplishment, and I always enjoy bragging about my pals!


GAM First Concert Tour 2007 Shoka / Great Aya & Miki : 3 of 5

Part of my big DVD catch-up also includes various Jpop DVDs that I'm just getting around to watching, so now I've finally watched the first (and hopefully not the last) GAM concert DVD! I've definitely enjoyed GAM's singles, videos, and full-length album, but I wasn't too sure how they would be live, and as the concert started, I almost thought they weren't going to be able to hold my interest, since the first number had almost no choreography and they seemed to be holding back a little. Thankfully, Ayaya and Mikitty soon loosened up and started having fun, making little faces and kidding each each other (demonstrating the relationship between the two that makes GAM so interesting), and the dance routines got better, too. Their singing performance is really nice, and they can definitely hit the same harmonies they recorded in the studio! Even though Aya has the stronger voice, Miki does a fantastic job on her solo of Shining Itoshiki Anata (from her single with Country Musume, which is such a fantastic song). I counted six costume changes, ranging from gold dresses to red feathery outfits (the silver skirts for the encore were especially nice!), and the stage does the job with a simple light display in the background, but of course it's nothing compared to a Morning Musume set. One of the songs has a multi-angle feature on the DVD, so you can watch only Aya or Miki during the song, which was fun to experiment with. I really enjoyed watching this concert, and it was nice to see Mikitty again since she's been in hiding lately. I really hope GAM continues so there will be more DVDs to enjoy!


Appleseed / Limited Collector's Edition : 4 of 5

I've had this DVD in my pile waiting to be watched for so long it's scary! I bought it soon after it was released, since there was so much hype about it, and now I understand why - Appleseed is a seriously cool movie! The process used to make this film is fascinating, since it's actually the first completely 3D modeled CGI film from Japan, and it truly has an amazing look. I always knew the environments were 3D models, but I never knew that the characters themselves were all modeled as well, and mostly animated via motion capture (including some interesting lip-sync facial techniques). Because this is still an anime, they chose to render the characters with 2D flat shading (which is why I was confused!), and this gives the film really amazing style. All of this is presented on an excellent Japanese documentary included in the set, along with lots of other great bonus material. The story itself is packed with action in an awesome futuristic setting, with the basic plot concerning artificial humans called bioroids and the rift in human society because of their existence. The main characters Deunan and Briareos (who is a cyborg) undergo great development in the story, but Hitomi the bioroid is my favorite because she's just too cute. The soundtrack is fantastic, full of modernistic rock songs, and I really appreciate the fact that the camera angles used are very tasteful (since they can often get too crazy in a CGI film). Appleseed is an incredible movie and definitely a milestone in both anime and CGI animation in general!


Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon : 5 of 5

This was another impulse DVD buy for an incredibly cheap price, which was an easy decision since I enjoyed this film so much in the theater. My timing was pretty interesting, too, since two of the leading actresses from my recent viewing of Memoirs of a Geisha (Ziyi Zhang and Michelle Yeoh) were in this movie together, and watching their performances of much different characters was fascinating. Once again, I was blown away by the action sequences, which always seem more impressive than any Jedi fight in the Star Wars movies! The wire work used to make characters fly is beautiful, although I found a few moments less than convincing this time around. I paid more attention to Michelle Yeoh's performance, too, which is simply filled with emotion, even though she has to hide it behind her reserved facade (and I never realized before how difficult expression can be in Mandarin Chinese, because of the limited language tones). The way she looks at Chow Yun-Fat is incredible - you can just see her bottled-up love behind her eyes, which completely pours forth in their final scenes together. Ziyi Zhang is fantastic as well, and I love her attitude and coolness in the big restaurant fight scene (one of the best in the movie), as well as her stubborn feelings toward her dessert lover. The DVD includes a pretty nice documentary as well, which was originally shot for Bravo. It was really nice to see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon again to get caught up in the fantasy, the costumes, and the gentleness of it all. It may seem strange to call a martial arts movie "gentle", but the deeper you look, this film shows you so much more.


Still simplifying

Lately I've been finding other ways to make simplification and de-cluttering part of my life, and the whole concept is really working for me. Now I'm kind of working on mental de-cluttering, by removing things that nag me in in the back of my mind. The best example of this is keeping up with my own DVD and book purchases, which I typically have a pile of waiting for me to enjoy. I decided recently to just stop buying new DVDs and books until I made it through everything I already have, and I'm happy to say that I'm half-way through my last unwatched DVD! I can't even remember the last time I was caught up on DVD viewing. I'm starting to dig in to my unread books, too, and the feeling of personal accomplishment is great, plus I'll be prepared for all the goodies Santa will bring me for Christmas!

Another thing I've been trying is keeping more of my day-to-day stuff online, rather than on my own computer. Even though I liked using Mori to record my thoughts and to-do lists, I always wanted to add something or refer to them during breaks at work, but I couldn't. Now I'm using Backpack for everything, and my list keeping has never been better! I can even check things out from my iPhone now, which is really convenient. I used to use SplashID on my Palm to keep track of things like numbers and accounts, but since I've finally said goodbye to my Palm days, I've moved all of that information to PassPack, which seems to be a really cool (and extremely secure) solution. I love the feeling of getting mental clutter out of my head, and everything I've done this year with my environment and habits has really made me feel productive and happy!


iPhone love

It was sheer luck that the iPhone price drop happened just a couple days before my parents came to visit, and it was sheer generosity that prompted Mom & Dad to offer to buy me one as a super-early birthday present! I guess I had to turn a year older almost five months early, but it was completely worth it. I love the iPhone! The first night I got it I spent practically the entire evening trying out every single button and setting (and showing everything joyfully to Dad), and I'm still discovering and trying new stuff today (last night I noticed the Start button on Google Maps that zooms through each step of the route as you go, and giggled with geeky happiness!). I've been having fun looking through iPhone websites, trying out sites specially formatted for the iPhone (Leaflets is awesome!), and collecting iPhone wallpaper (I'm currently using a great Space Invaders shot). In many ways, it's like discovering the iPod itself all over again, because I have a new desire to gather together my favorite photos (such as scans of old family shots) and videos (I've been transferring some Disney shorts and Jpop videos) so I have them with me to enjoy. And of course, it's a great phone, too! I've been talking with my pal Ryan every day for work, and the connection sounds wonderful. Every time I play with the iPhone I smile - it's definitely the most beautiful and fun gadget I've ever owned. Thanks again, Mom & Dad!


3:10 to Yuma : 4 of 5

I'm not really a fan of Westerns, but the trailer for this movie was really intriguing, so I decided to go with my pals to see it (even though it wasn't at the Alamo Drafthouse, which felt really weird!). I think Christian Bale is an excellent actor, and Russell Crowe is no slouch either, so combined with the fantastic story (adapted from an old dime magazine, I've heard), this movie really couldn't miss! Crowe plays the notorious Ben Wade, a mysterious outlaw whose charisma and psychological prowess affects everyone around him (especially his devoted gang), and Bale is Dan Evans, a poor lame rancher who takes on the job of transporting Wade as a way to prove himself to his family (and because he's desperate for money). The plot follows them on their way to catch the train, as members of their posse fall victim to Wade, Cherokee, or even to other guys who want to kill Wade. There are some fantastic fight sequences, all of which make you feel surrounded in the action, and I was really impressed with the sound during the gunfights - I could really hear bullets and ricochets all around me! But much more important than the cool shootouts is the character development that happens along the way. It's fascinating to watch both lead roles discover who they are and what they stand for, especially in the final moments of Ben Wade. I love characters who seem simple but actually turn out to be complex, and 3:10 to Yuma definitely delivers that element. After enjoying this movie along with all the Western details thrown in (swinging saloon doors included!), I can certainly see the appeal of the genre, so it's nice to see it's still alive and kicking.


The Iron Giant / Special Edition : 5 of 5

I've been a fan of this movie since it was originally released, and I even already owned it on DVD, but I decided to get this Special Edition DVD because it looked like it would be out of print soon, and of course it took me months to getting around to watching it! I'm sure the movie itself is better quality on this version, but since I'm not completely a video expert, I mainly enjoy special editions for the bonus features, which unfortunately aren't spectacular here (but better than the original DVD). My favorite feature is the use of in-context behind the scenes features that are accessibile when an icon appears while watching the film, but it would have been great to be able to watch these mini-documentaries all at once. But all of that aside, I still love this film for its incredible story, its ground-breaking use of "flat" CGI (modeled in 3D but rendered to have a 2D look), and the genius of Brad Bird and all that he brings to an animated feature. I was particularly blown away at the end of the film when the Giant realizes what he must do to save everyone, and as he flies away, Hogarth simply says "I love you" with all the honest, open emotion a boy can have. It's such a pure moment that no other director would think of including in an animated film! The Iron Giant is definitely an animation landmark that I think more people need to discover, so it was wonderful to enjoy it again!


Shoot 'Em Up : 3 of 5

My Dad loves action movies (and my Mom tolerates them), so my parents and I saw this movie at the Alamo Drafthouse during their recent visit, and we had a great time watching this bizarre mix of violence and comedy. There's no question why it's called Shoot 'Em Up, since the film opens with guns blazing and never stops, continuing the battle through childbirth and even a sex scene, from car chases to mid-air sky diving! Clive Owen is perfect as Smith, the carrot-chomping hero who finds himself protecting a baby (along with his lactating prostitute lover), and he does a great job of looking cool and delivering a one-liner for every occasion (starting with "Eat your vegetables" as he kills a bad guy with a well-placed carrot). Paul Giamatti is an excellent villain, too, but truthfully this movie isn't about acting at all - it's about shooting down the bad guys! I'm not a fan of particularly violent movies, but even though at least 250 henchmen get shot to pieces in 90 minutes, this film somehow makes it hilarious, partly because the situations are so impossible and over the top that you have to just sit back and enjoy the amazing movie making. I liked the way the plot was revealed as the action progressed, with almost no down-time for exposition, making every minute (and every bullet) count. If you're looking for nothing but action, Shoot 'Em Up is the movie to see - just get ready to watch the craziest Bugs Bunny cartoon ever made come to life!


Mom & Dad's Austin adventure

I just finished enjoying a wonderful four-day weekend with Mom & Dad, who came to visit me in Austin for the first time in a few years! We had a fantastic time together (as always), and we did some really fun things together. The biggest adventure was exploring Inner Space Cavern, which is a really amazing natural underground wonderland just outside of Austin, filled with beautiful rock formations. The tour was exciting and our tour guide Sam was hilarious - he really made the visit memorable! We also made another visit to the Texas State History Museum and enjoyed an IMAX African safari, and we did lots of shopping at The Domain and the outlet mall in Round Rock. Speaking of shopping, my parents decided to buy me an iPhone (just after the huge price-drop) for a super-early (and super-generous!) birthday present, so I've been a total Apple geek for the past few days, playing with it every five minutes! I also had fun re-introducing Mom & Dad to all my friends - they got to see everyone at Chris & Eliza's baby shower, and we had lunch with my pal Melinda, too! To top off the visit, we had a nice dinner and movie at the Alamo Drafthouse, and Mom & Dad enjoyed coming to church with me, too. All four days were simply wonderful - I just love spending time and having fun with Mom & Dad!

View photos: Parents Visit 2007


Linda Linda Linda : 4 of 5

I bought this DVD on a whim after reading a little about the movie in Shojo Beat, partly because I like to support Viz Media's efforts to make cool new Japanese movies (like Densha Otoko) available in the US. Linda Linda Linda refers to the title of a famous song by The Blue Hearts, one of the most popular Japanese punk bands of the past, and tells the story of four high school girls who decide to perform some punk songs for their school festival, and only have three days to get their act together. This movie definitely movies at its own pace, letting everything unfold without rushing for a second. Sometimes this makes the film actually feel like three days, but the emotional payoff at the end is totally worth it! The four girls get cuter and closer to each other as the plot goes on, rehearsing all night and sleeping at their instruments, but along with the main story I loved the extra sub-plots about confessing love (kokuhaku), as well as the awkward teacher finding solace in listening to the girls' music. It's takes a long time to actually get to the gig, but when it happens, it's like a huge row of emotional dominos all falling perfectly - it's simply beautiful and tear-inducing! If you take the time to enjoy Linda Linda Linda, you won't regret it. I'm definitely interested in listening to The Blue Hearts now, especially since I realized their song was in Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan!, so I've already enjoyed it a hundred times!


The Bourne Ultimatum : 3 of 5

I really don't know anything about the Jason Bourne saga, since I'm positive I didn't see the second movie, and I don't even know for sure if I saw the first (since I can't remember it!). But even though I wasn't planning on seeing The Bourne Ultimatum, it was a fun way to spend my Labor Day evening with my pals at the Alamo, and I really enjoyed the movie! Ernesto and Matt gave me a little background info to catch me up, but actually I think the film does a great job of presenting just enough so it can stand alone really well (I didn't find myself asking any questions once it got started). The whole movie is one big chase as the government tries to stop Bourne from returning to the place where he first became Jason Bourne, and of course there are tons of foreign countries, lots of hi-tech surveillance systems, amazing tricks to throw off pursuers, and almost non-stop action! The fighting scenes are pretty incredible, actually, with lots of hand-held, close-up camera work that makes you feel like you're part of the struggle (definitely nothing like artistic Matrix-style fighting!). This grittiness also applies to the big car chase scene, which I wouldn't even call a chase, since most of the time they're crashing. Bourne certainly has a demolition derby style of driving, which makes for an unbelievable sequence! I had a great time learning about these characters and getting into all the action, so I could definitely be persuaded into seeing the next movie if they make one.


Memoirs of a Geisha / Special Edition : 4 of 5

Even though I enjoyed Memoirs of a Geisha at the theater, I probably wouldn't have made an effort to watch it on DVD, but I happened to find it for a bargain bin price several months ago and picked it up for my collection, and just now decided to sit back and enjoy it again. Although I still have problems with some of the film (especially Sayuri's awful blue-light debut dance, which is so un-Japanese they might as well have put a stripper pole on the runway), this time I took notice of the many wonderful visual aspects of the movie. Thinking about the setup required for every scene, all of the angles, complex crane shots, and the amazing subdued color palette used in most of the everyday scenes really made me appreciate the art direction of the film. This DVD set has a second disc of bonus material, which is a series of 15-minute featurettes that are fairly interesting (even though they're a little self important). Since I loved the look of 1930s Japan in the movie, I was amazed to see that the entire town was built as an outdoor set, and then covered with a giant tent to control the sunlight to simulate different seasons! Hearing about some of the locations in Japan (which took over a year of negotiations for permission to film there!) was fascinating, as well as discovering the kimono dyeing scene was shot in the American River of my hometown of Sacramento! Overall, it was nice to enjoy this movie again, so I'm glad I made that impulse buy.

Very little laboring

I hope everyone had a nice three-day weekend for Labor Day! I had a great time with a combination of relaxing and getting some tasks done, including things like building another shelf for my Toy Museum, framing and hanging my Disney postage stamps, as well as having a few beers with Tom, watching Swiss Family Robinson with Matt and Jonathan, and seeing a movie at the Alamo with Ernesto and Matt. I also kicked back and read some manga cover to cover, but I also spent a lot of time studying Japanese (I finished working through the 2006 JLPT again). On top of that, both of my bands played gigs, too! It's always nice to have Monday off, but this time it's even nicer since I'm taking a few more days off at the end of the week since my parents are coming to visit!


Kamen Rider V3 / Complete Series : 5 of 5

Even though I had never seen an episode of this series before, I knew right away that I would enjoy this DVD set, since the show was made by the creators of my beloved Kikaida. Fifty-two episodes later, I'm now singing the awesome theme song every day and consider myself an official Kamen Rider V3 fan! This is another classic tokusatsu series from 1973, which is actually the third season of the whole Kamen Rider saga, but it definitely stands on it's own. Kazami Shiro is a cyborg who transforms into V3 to fight the mutants of Destron, an evil organization who want to control the world (of course). He's aided by the Rider Scouts, essentially a group of kids who report on suspicious activities, run by the actor who played the captain in Ultraman, as well as Tama Junko, an incredibly cute girl who kind of has a crush on Shiro (although the possible romantic plot in the first few episodes was dropped, which is unfortunate since I loved the similar forbidden love angle in Kikaida!). V3 has tons of great fighting moves and secret weapons, which are revealed through the series as his "26 secrets". The Destron mutants are cool as well, almost always a combination of some device with a creature, so you get crazy names like Scissors-Jaguar, TV-Fly, or Camera-Mosquito! There's so much more to the series, such as the spy-turned-hero Riderman with his bionic arm or the many evil Destron commandants, but it's tough to boil down 21 hours of watching into one review! The DVD set itself is fantastic, with wonderful bonus material, including hundreds of screens of trivia about every episode, actor, and character, along with an interesting interview with Miyauchi Hiroshi (Kazami Shiro himself) and of course, fantastic karaoke tracks of the theme songs. Generation Kikaida has done a fabulous job bringing this amazing series to the US, and I can't wait to check out their next release!


Listening to Max

A few weeks ago, one of my jazz drumming idols passed away, and even though I'm late in mentioning it, I thought I would take this chance to talk about the incredible Max Roach. I first heard Max when I was buying all the Verve Jazz Masters series CDs that I could, after becoming a jazz fan due to the influence of my drum teacher. Of course, I had heard many nameless drummers before, but when I heard Clifford Brown & Max Roach play in their quintet, it was the first time that I wanted to know exactly who was playing and to really listen to what they were doing! Max was one of the founders of bebop, along with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and so many others, but he was able to take that blazing tempo and make it something subtle and even relaxed. It seems like a lot of jazz newbies think of Buddy Rich when it comes to drums, but Buddy's style always seemed like brute force to me (everything is just one loud roll), while Max really made music with his sticks. Max showed me that everything, especially silence, can be another drum in the kit! I love listening to him trade fours, because he has the taste (and the humility) to let his short solos go by with empty spaces (such as on the classic Jordu, or his fantastic brush work on Joy Spring), along with just the right touch on a tom or his kick. In fact, it was by listening to Max that I learned the kick (bass drum) can work just like a tom, which sadly I'm still pretty bad at doing! His style also taught me about the important of keeping the hi-hat going - you can always his hear solid 2 and 4 no matter what else is going on, unlike some other drummers who seem to be too lazy to keep it going. Of course, he could really play some incredibly busy solos, too, but even those are filled with dynamics and finesse (something like The Blue Walk comes to mind). After the 1950s, Max went on to all kinds of other projects that I haven't really explored, since I'm so content with his bop masterpieces, but I hope to listen to more of his work someday. I can't think of any other jazz drummer I would rather sound like, and I'm happy he lived such a long life (83 years old!) and accomplished so much for the music I love.