12.31.2008

Bedtime Stories: 3 of 5

My parents and I decided we had to get another dose of Warren Theater balcony luxury, so we decided to go to a second movie during my Christmas visit. I had been interested in Bedtime Stories since the trailer looked pretty funny, plus I like Adam Sandler, and of course I like going to see anything by Disney! My favorite aspect of this movie is that it includes mini-movies of several genres to show the stories that Adam is telling to the kids, so we get to see a Western, a Roman gladiator film, and even a sci-fi epic. All of these are full of cheesy cliches, but that's what makes them fun! My least favorite part of the movie is Bugsy the guinea pig, who seems to only exist for a cheap laugh - he adds absolutely nothing to the plot, and his CGI design is so goofy looking that he's actually distracting. The story is pretty clever and interesting, although there's never a hint of explanation why the kids have the power to make stories affect real life (maybe Bugsy was supposed to be magic). Besides Adam's love interest Keri Russell, there are lots of extra characters thrown into the mix - I thought his hotel work buddy was pretty wild and funny. The finale is exciting, although there's no earth-shattering character development, but since everything else was entertaining I guess I can forgive that. Of course, the best part of seeing Bedtime Stories was being with my parents at Christmas time (and the banana splits that Dad and I ate didn't hurt either!).

12.30.2008

Yes Man : 2 of 5

Normally I would have never seen this movie, since I pretty much despise Jim Carrey, but during my Christmas visit to Oklahoma City my parents and I wanted to see something funny and take advantage of the awesome balcony seating at the Warren Theater (complete with butt warmers!). Jim was a little less stupid than usual, which helped me enjoy the film, and I thought the plot was a pretty good idea. The philosophy of saying "yes" to everything was actually kind of cool, so it was interesting to see how things worked out and where they went wrong. Zooey Deschanel was quirky and cute - it was fun to see her again since I enjoyed her performance in Elf and other films. Jim's boss at the bank was pretty hilarious, too - his Harry Potter party was one of the best parts of the movie! The movie was shot in the Hollywood area, so I also thought it was fun to see so many places that I had just visited a few months ago, including the Griffith Observatory, where they shot a scene next to the exact site-seeing telescope that my friends and I looked through! Actually, I enjoyed the plush balcony experience and the Warren's incredible digital screen more than the film itself, but I'm definitely glad Yes Man was much more bearable than Jim's other crappy movies!

12.27.2008

Wrapping up Christmas

Christmas was absolutely spectacular this year! I was a little greedier than usual with my wish list, and Santa Dad went crazy and bought everything I wanted! I have so many DVDs, books and games that you'll be reading my reviews of them here on WEBmikey for months. I got a couple of huge gifts that I didn't really expect: a Kodak Zi6 (so I can play around with shooting some HD video) and the Star Wars LEGO Motorized Walking AT-AT! I can't wait to start enjoying all my presents! After all the gift ripping, I enjoyed the Disney parade (first year to see it in 40-inch HD), watched some Looney Tunes DVDs, played Nintendo DS games, ate candy and drank beer until naptime, then woke up for an incredible Christmas dinner by Chef Mom!

Thanks to Christmas falling on Thursday, it's been nice to stay here with Mom & Dad a few more days. We spent more time at the casino (no winnings, but we had lots of fun), saw another movie, and we've been spending each night watching more old home movies. Tomorrow I have to head back to the real world, and I know it will take me a while to adjust, but at least I'll have cool DVDs to help me through the transition! Even though I'm crazy about the stuff I got, the biggest gift of all has been living in a magical Christmas world for the past few days. I love coming to this world every year to spend time with my wonderful parents, where everything is glowing with fun and excitement!

View photos: Christmas 2008

12.23.2008

Christmas nostalgia

Christmas is still marching on here in Oklahoma City, and we've been doing fun holiday activities like driving around to look at Christmas lights (the best house of all is actually in my parents' neighborhood!) and going to an amazing concert at church featuring Steve Green! We've also completed our yearly tradition of watching all the old Christmas movies (including my newly edited editions), and it's always fun to see Mom & Dad younger than I am now ripping open their presents. It's also interesting to see myself going nuts over vintage Star Wars stuff, and here I am over 30 years later still getting Star Wars merchandise for Christmas (and loving it)! There's been a nostalgic theme going on, since Mom dug out my old baby clothes so we could look at them, and Dad discovered some old toys of mine (which I immediately photographed to post sometime soon). We even found over 40 VHS-C tapes of even more home movies that I've been dubbing to MiniDV, so I have a lifetime of editing ahead of me! We've also seen a movie in the fabulous Warren Theater balcony, we're still working on the annual jigsaw puzzle, and today we're making our second trip to the casino, looking for a Christmas jackpot!

12.21.2008

Christmas catch-up

Christmas is completely underway, so I thought I should take a break from building the yearly jigsaw puzzle with Dad to update WEBmikey! Things got off to a foggy start when Rudolph's nose didn't show up to help my flight get to Oklahoma City, so I had to spend the night in Dallas, but thankfully everything went smoothly the next morning and soon I was with Mom & Dad in Christmas Town USA! Mom got a new beautiful tree this year with more lights, plus new pearl garland that looks spectacular. Right away I got started with the usual holiday technology services - this year I hooked up a better wireless router for Dad, then got the new DVR going and trained everyone on how to use it. Mom has been meeting my holiday calorie requirement with hamburgers and homemade chips, eggs benedict, and macaroni and cheese! Of course, we've also been opening gifts each night and watching home videos of Christmases from years ago. It seems like we've had so much fun already, and there's so many more things to do - I'll try to write more often so I won't forget to mention it all!

12.18.2008

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Vol 1 & Vol 2 : 4 of 5

It's time to start a new anime series, and after looking through my "watch someday" list, I decided to take on Mobile Suit Gundam SEED (even though it's a long 10 DVD series that will keep me cranking for a while). The Gundam genre is a true staple of anime fandom, but this is my first time to watch one of these popular mecha shows, so I was worried about getting into this huge universe and understanding what's going on. I had read lots of comments praising SEED as a favorite series of the bunch, and fortunately the show is just so cool that it doesn't really matter if the background story is a little fuzzy (and it was easy to educate myself with Wikipedia anyway)! There's no point into trying to explain the plot here, except to mention that the main character Kira (who pilots a cool Gundam with phase shift armor) often has to face his childhood friend Athrun, who is fighting on the other side of the war. There's actually a lot of semi-philosophical moments about the purpose of war, how it affects both sides and no one is truly "right", which fleshes out the characters well, but for now I just want to mention the cool battles and machinery! The mobile suits themselves are really detailed, and I love how they launch on foot sleds kind of like Battlestar Galactica Vipers. The space battles are really exciting, with lots of attention to realism and devices like maneuvering jets, and it's interesting to watch the characters move around in the zero gravity interiors of the giant warships (I also like the naval terminology such as "sinking" an enemy ship). Unfortunately, this series was completed before most anime was produced in 16:9, even though it's not that old, but at least the visuals are so stunning (with surprisingly few CG crutches) that it doesn't matter. I'm really excited about continuing this series and watching the further battles between Earth and ZAFT!

12.17.2008

Last of the Jedi Vol 5 / Jude Watson : 3 of 5

Even though I keep hoping this series will focus more on Obi-Wan, it's becoming obvious that the Last of the Jedi is really about Feris Olin and his band of Jedi remnants that are slowly forming into an Alliance of their own. I love it when these stories have solid connections into characters and worlds in the Star Wars movie universe, but this volume is particularly cool since it also directly ties in with plotlines from the Jedi Quest series! The major bad guy this time is Bog Divnian, who went up against Feris and Anakin both in another story, and the plot also involves Astri, who was actually kind of a love interest for young Obi-Wan! Darth Vader also plays a part in this story, and there is an amazing moment where he has to meet Feris (who is blackmailed into working for the Empire). Of course, he recognizes his childhood friend, but can't say anything since his identity as Anakin is lost to the personna of Darth Vader. Jude Watson really writes Vader well, always getting into his head and revealing his inner thoughts to the reader, which really expands on the character, since he's the true center of the Star Wars saga after all! Although the Emperor also has scenes in this story, he certainly never lets loose with Force lightening, so I have no idea why the cover of this book is so scary! As usual, this is a great story (even a little better than usual) and a quick read, and it makes me want to get into the next book really soon!

12.16.2008

Morning Musume / Cover You : 4 of 5

Normally I would wait until I had some other CDs to review in my usual Music Moments post, but Morning Musume's latest CD is so unique and enjoyable that I thought it deserves a solo review! Cover You is a collection of classic Japanese pop hits by the lyricist Yuu Aku, most famous for writing Pink Lady hits like Pepper Keibu and UFO (both of which are on this CD). I wasn't sure what to expect from an album full of 1970s era music sung by Morning Musume, but I'm totally impressed by the production quality, the awesome Momusu-ized arrangements, and the great variety of styles on this CD! Of course, there's an abundance of Ai-chan's strong singing voice all over the place, but everyone else does an amazing job filling these often cheesy songs with emotion and energy (I always love hearing Sayumi's voice giving it all she's got!). It's really wonderful to listen to a whole CD of practically new material, since only two of these songs were released on the Pepper Keibu single. My favorite tracks are Seishun Jidai, which has some fantastic piano work and sounds just like a tokusatsu theme song to me, and I also love Koi no Dial 6700 with its rock and roll feel. It was fun to recognize many of these songs from watching Japanese music TV shows - I had already heard hits like Watashi no Aoi Tori and Izakaya many times. There's only one track that I keep skipping over, since Koharu's antics make me queasy, but other than that I've really enjoyed hearing this CD over and over in my car! I'm interested in finding out if and how these great songs will be integrated into Morning Musume's future concerts - I really want to see them performed live!

12.15.2008

Three Small Things 12.15.08

I promise I do a lot more with my time than watching TV, but today's things all have to do with the magical entertainment box. By far the coolest thing to come along recently is Netflix Watch Instantly streaming on TiVo, which is working beautifully on my wireless network! It's really cool to have 12,000 movies and TV shows ready to play anytime with no additional charge, and the quality is great. It looks especially spectacular on newer shows that are actually streaming in HD! The only negative aspect is now I'm tempted to watch crappy movies that I would never actually rent, just because they are instantly available, but hopefully that feeling will wear off. I'm mainly enjoying catching up on 30 Rock, since I haven't seen the first couple seasons, and I also watched The Santa Clause 3 again recently (which is definitely kind of a dud, but I have to watch Christmas stuff this time of year!).

I finally got a call from Time Warner about the availability of the almost mythical tuning adapter (so I can watch switched digital video (SDV) channels on my cable card TiVo), so I picked one up this weekend. It was easy to hook up, with only a small snag in getting authorized (which was painlessly solved thanks to the great people on the TiVo Community forums), and now I have several more channels to watch, most in HD! None of the new stuff is really earth-shattering (I'm mostly excited to have Boomerang again), but now as new HD channels get added I'll be able to check them out.

I also have to admit that over the past month or so I actually re-watched all 50 episodes of Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon (the live action series). I don't know what gave me the urge to check it out again, but it was still lots of fun! Surprisingly, I had forgotten some major plot points of the story, so it was pretty exciting, too. I really enjoyed being able to understand much more Japanese this time, since I originally saw the show four years ago - it's nice to have an indicator that my language skills really have improved a little!

12.14.2008

Kung Fu Panda : 5 of 5

Even though I try to see all animated features at the theater, I'm ashamed to say I let this one slip away, which is a shame since it turned out to be one of the best animated movies of the year! I'm sure everyone who saw the trailer knows that Kung Fu Panda is the story of Po the panda, who idolizes the Kung Fu masters called the Furious Five, and ends up being selected as the Dragon Warrior, even though the only thing that motivates his training is food! The story sounds like it's going to be full of slapstick, and while it certainly has some hilarious moments, it's surprisingly serious and subtle at times! Of course, the fighting scenes are incredibly clever and well animated (some of the best I've ever scene, and totally true to Kung Fu cinema style), but there are simple dialogue scenes where the combination of voice acting and amazing character animation just blew me away! Po and his teacher Shifu are real, flesh and blood characters, expressing complex emotions in a way that makes Kung Fu Panda easily the best animated movie to come along that wasn't created by Pixar! The Furious Five have some great fighting poses and look cool, but unfortunately I think they blew the budget getting star voice actors for such small roles (seriously, anyone could have read Angelina Jolie's lines with the same deadpan impact). I've already praised the animation (and this movie made some breakthroughs in fur/clothing contact methods), but I also have to mention the truly awesome opening sequence and ending credits in glorious 2D - the style is so amazing that I would love to see the entire movie done this way just for fun! I really wish there had been a few more emotion tugging scenes (I'm always looking for those), but overall Kung Fu Panda is a fantastic achievement in non-Pixar animated film!

12.13.2008

Studying Japanese is fun and free!

A couple months ago, I decided to take a break from my years of studying Japanese, and it's been nice to have more free time lately. But I knew I wouldn't be able to completely stay away from Japanese very long, and I was concerned about forgetting vocabulary and things that I've worked so hard to learn. Recently I decided to try out a new study method, thanks to an amazing website called iKnow that I read about on Tofugu! I can easily say that iKnow is one of the best, most interesting, and fun ways to brush up on Japanese that I've ever seen, and I'm already addicted to it! The website is run by a language learning company in Japan, and it uses fantastic Flash-based applications with a brilliant interface that makes studying feel like playing a video game (at least to me). The vocabulary section runs through various words and simultaneously teaches usage (through excellent sample sentences and photos), pronunciation (through native speaker sound clips), and even kanji, since everything is presented in kana right from the start. The quizes are multiple choice, but sometimes there are 10 responses to choose from (often including a "none of the above" choice), and each question has a time limit! There's also a dictation section that really exercises listening (was that a wa or a ga?) and typing skills. There is literally a mountain of classes available at all levels - I'm working on the lowest level, which is way below my skill, but it's really fun to remember words I already know, plus I'm learning lots of kanji that I haven't studied before. And best of all, iKnow is free - I just can't believe it! I would even recommend iKnow's method over Rosetta Stone, since it has much more variety so it doesn't get boring. I've been having a blast completing a few 5-10 minute lessons each day, and it's fun to watch my stats go up (you can see my live badge below). It feels great to keep my Japanese going in a stress-free, fun way!








12.12.2008

World Without a Superman : 3 of 5

After reading The Death of Superman, it's simply impossible not to continue the story with this next collection! World Without a Superman is a really thick volume that collects the Funeral for a Friend series that was published in various DC titles after Superman's big battle with Doomsday. The best parts of these stories focus on individual character emotions, which are dramatic as you would expect. Of course, Lois is in bad shape, Jonathan and Martha Kent are in the terrible situation where they can't even publicly mourn their son's death because of his secret identity, and even Lex Luthor is bent out of shape since his entire life has been devoted to destroying the Man of Steel! There's a wild storyline where scientists from Cadmus actually steal Superman's body to try to create a clone, and the rest of the book is filled with plots about other heroes who try to take over Superman's role as protector of Metropolis. Some of these tales are fantastic, but there are some that are a little too cheesy for my taste. Unfortunately, the end of the book has this really weird out of body sequence after Jonathan Kent's heart attack, and somehow Jonathan converses with Clark/Kal-El in an etherial afterlife and starts to convince him to come back (which we all know will happen somehow!). But even with the mystical ending, this collection was really interesting to read, and I'll definitely be checking out the next volume eventually!

12.11.2008

A few Disneyland videos

Lately I've been spending some time editing old Disney vacation video footage and making short clips for YouTube. During my years of Disneyland trips I've shot quite a lot of stuff, and it's really fun to go over again to chop it up into parades and performances and things. This is one of those projects that I've always wanted to do, but I never made the time for it before. But since I already had the ball rolling with editing old Christmas video, it was easy to keep going! Most of these movies won't be too interesting unless you're a Disneyland fan, and I'm sure there are much better videos that capture these same things, but I like getting them off the tapes I never watch and putting them on YouTube where I might take a peek every now and then. And there's lots more to come (eventually)! If you check these out, be sure to click the Watch in high quality link below the video if it's available, since I've finally started uploading stuff with better resolution.

Watch video: Disney's Parade of the Stars
Watch video: Royal Street Bachelors
Watch video: Winnie the Pooh Attraction
Watch video: Disney's Electrical Parade

12.09.2008

Pampers and pie

Last weekend the two party events of the year were on the same day! It's hard to believe that one year ago I was sitting in the hospital with Chris & Eliza holding the first baby I've ever held, but now Emiliano is a one-year old bundle of fun. His birthday party was a big bash, with tons of kids and presents all over the place. The highlight was the Elmo pinata, who got everything he deserved (total annihilation), and watching Baby E open his gifts and crawl around was great, too!

Immediately after the birthday party, Jonathan's 10th Annual Pie Party began! As usual, there were tons of people, tons of pie, and some surprise music. This time Steve started the impromptu concert, with the rest of Casa del Swanko soon joining in. It was fun to have an audience, and I enjoyed playing bongos for the first time in a long while. I didn't get too many pie pictures, but you can find them at the end of Emiliano's party pics.

View photos: Emiliano's First Birthday

12.07.2008

Three Small Things 12.7.08

Most of my decluttering projects seem to be digital these days, and recently I've finished working through my entire iTunes library (over 15,000 tracks) to organize things with correct artist names and so on. I've also made sure I have album art for every single track, and I've even deleted some duplicate songs and bombs that I never listen to. Going through everything with multiple views (by artist or by album) was a big help, and it feels great to have it all complete. Now I can move on to my next project, which is pruning seven years worth of photos!

Each year when my parents visit my relatives in Ohio, they go to an orchard and bring me back some fresh apples to enjoy! I've been munching on them for a couple weeks, and they were really delicious. Normally I only buy Gala apples at the grocery store, but it's often hard to find really good ones and I come home empty handed, so it's been nice to have tons of wonderful apples each day. Ohio apples are a nice holiday tradition for me - unfortunately, they're all gone now!

I'm not ashamed of being an Amazon addict, and I use my Amazon Visa every chance I get so I can earn gift certificates to use. Since I recently bought my new MacBook and a few Christmas gifts, my points really went through the roof, and the other day I received four $25 certificates all at once! Of course, right now I'm trying not to buy anything to prepare for Santa's avalanche of gifts, but it's really cool to have $100 waiting for me to spend at my favorite store.

12.06.2008

War of the Gargantuas : 3 of 5

I probably wouldn't have been interested in this particular film, because the monsters are basically humanoid and I would rather see true kaiju, but since this was a double-feature included on Classic Media's Rodan DVD, I had the chance to enjoy this unique and cool movie. The story starts off with a dramatic battle with a giant octopus at sea, which quickly goes from bad to worse when a huge "Frankenstein" appears! After consulting with the scientists who created Frankenstein in the lab, there's some confusion about the origins of this creature, since the Frankenstein they made was gentle (and now lives in the mountains, rather than the sea). Eventually they discover that a second monster has grown from cells of the first, meaning there are two "brother" Frankensteins on the loose - Sanda, the original "good" monster, and Gailah, the violent one living in the sea. The miniature effects are pretty cool, even though most of the action takes place in the mountains and forest. The detail of each individual tree is amazing! Gailah is extremely destructive, and there are some surprising scenes where he totally just picks up humans and eats them! He also likes to throw tanks into houses and other buildings, and his appearance at Haneda airport is particularly well done. Although the monsters aren't very interesting to me, it's good to see some nice character development. I think Kumi Mizuno is wonderful, so it was nice to see her as the scientist with a motherly heart. Unfortunately, there's no commentary track for this movie (although it gets several mentions in the accompanying special effects documentary), which would have given me a greater appreciation for the film. Watching any kaiju movie is always fun, though, so I just look at it as a long bonus feature to go along with Rodan!

12.05.2008

Manga Mentions 12.08

These two sentence reviews of the same old series are probably getting boring, and this time around all of the series I'm reading weren't very exciting. I promise I'll start something new to mention next time!

Hikaru no Go Vol 13: Sai (the Go master spirit that haunts Hikaru) really wants to play against Toya Meijin, and since he's in the hospital, it's the perfect chance to face him in an online game. There are scenes of Go fans all over the world watching the game on their computer monitors, which is kind of exciting, but I'm still waiting to know what this "divine move" is all about!

Monster Vol 12: This volume follows Inspector Lunge and Tenma as they track down Johan's past through the creepy storybook, and includes some terrifying psychological manipulation of some poor kid by Johan! Although it seems like things are beginning to wrap up, I have a feeling this series has a long way to go!

Kaze Hikaru Vol 10: As always, this series boasts wonderful artwork and interesting historical accuracy, but hardly anything happened in the story this time. Ito Kashitaro, a legendary effeminate samurai, arrives and tries to get it on with Sei, which kicks up some good emotions between Sei and Soji, but overall this was a snoozer volume.

Nodame Cantabile Vol 9: After Nodame's piano competition, she goes home to stay with her family, and I thought it was cool how the translator decided to leave their rural dialect in Japanese for effect! After a few funny boyfriend moments when Chiaki goes to find her, they agree to study abroad together, thus ending the first broad Japan arc of the story.

Video Girl Ai Vol 9: This volume is all about teenage tension, with hardly any mention of the video tape aspects of the plot. Yota and Moemi are together, but Moemi is jealous since Ai is helping Yota work on his children's book, and there are pages of agony over who should call who and what to say. I love these characters, but I wish they would do something rather than just think about it all the time!

12.04.2008

Disney Christmas spirit

Every year I like to watch my small collection of holiday DVDs, and this year I've been getting through them kind of early, thanks to a cold that's been keeping me stuck in my rocking chair for the past few nights. But blowing my nose can't keep my Christmas spirit down, especially when it comes to Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas and Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas! The first DVD was a low budget production with cheap animation quality, but I love the stories! Goofy and his son Max have some really emotional moments, and Mickey & Minnie's version of Gift of the Magi is so great that watching it made me make a donation to Toys for Tots right there on the spot! The second DVD was originally controversial since it presents the classic Disney characters in full CG, but I'm still really impressed with the results. The opening ice skating battle between Minnie & Daisy is spectacular and funny, and the story of Pluto running away (to the North Pole) and Mickey wandering the town searching for him is so dramatic. I also always watch Mickey's Magical Christmas, which is essentially a long episode of the House of Mouse TV series. Most of the DVD is pretty bad, but I still watch it since the second half includes the classic Mickey's Christmas Carol, which I always enjoy. I always laugh at the giant from Mickey and the Beanstalk playing the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the way they used all the Mr. Toad characters is pure genius. It's also cool that so many of today's star animators worked on that film when they were just getting started at Disney!

12.03.2008

The Nightmare Before Christmas / Collector's Edition : 5 of 5

I like to watch this movie every year, either before Halloween or Christmas, but I wasn't sure if I was going to buy this new DVD release until I heard that it included a special feature about the Haunted Mansion Holiday make-over at Disneyland! To a Disneyland fan like me, this feature alone makes it worth owning this DVD, and the coverage is even better than I expected! The complete ride-through is really professional, starting from the outside queue to the very end of the attraction, and it looks better than any fan-made video could ever be, with great lighting and angles that aren't even possible from inside the Doom Buggy. Besides the option to show a trivia subtitle track, there's also an incredible 37 minute documentary just on the creation of the ride! The rest of this DVD set includes most of the bonus features from the previous DVD release, including the wonderful Making Of feature that shows all of the incredible sets and puppets in detail. I learned a few new things this time, like how some of Zero's ghostly effects were done in-camera through the use of glass reflections. There's also an all-new commentary track, which isn't as interesting as it could be, but it was really cool listening to Danny Elfman talk about the composition process (most of the songs were written before any kind of script or final story structure existed). Finally, the movie itself was fun to watch again as always - it's really a great, original story that somehow makes both holidays more fun! If you don't already have The Nightmare Before Christmas on DVD, or if you're a Disneyland fan that loves the Haunted Mansion, then you definitely should have this DVD in your collection!

12.02.2008

Hello! Project 2008 Summer Wonderful Hearts Koen : 3 of 5

It's kind of weird watching Hello! Project's summer concert in the middle of December, but I really enjoyed seeing this big show full of summer-themed songs showcasing Morning Musume, Berryz Koubou, and C-ute! Although this show wasn't as large-scale as previous combined concerts that I've seen (no race track stage this time), the set design and camera work were great, with the girls playing to cameras every chance they could get. Unfortunately, too much of this show was lip-synched for my taste, but when they really did decide to sing, the sound was great (especially C-ute, who had surprisingly mature voices with actual vibrato)! I always enjoy the solo and small group sections the most during these big concerts, so after enduring the usual Koharu crap (sorry, she's just so annoying!) there were plenty of fine performances. Ai-chan came across as a really elegant adult, Lin Lin got to sing Hajimete Kuchibiru wo Kasaneta Yoru (one of my favorite H!P songs), and Sayumi and Risako did a fantastic duet version of Chu! Natsu Party, which was almost as good as their previous Robokiss performance! But by far the best part of the concert is the final song, a really moving tune that everyone sings with a little actual harmony thrown in. There's a moment when Lin Lin and Jun Jun get to sing solo with Chinese lyrics, and the results are incredible! Both of them just light-up with the confidence of singing in their native language, and their voices really shine - it was a definitely a teary-eyed moment for me! Overall, this concert was really hit and miss - some moments were amazing, the MC work was pretty boring, and I really missed the older pros like Nacchi who used to appear in these combined shows. But of course I still enjoyed watching this DVD, and I'm sure I'll continue buying and loving these concerts for a long time!

11.30.2008

Three Small Things 11.30.08

Today's three things are all related to Apple! I recently bought the cool new aluminum MacBook (which feels so sleek and light), so I had to get my old white MacBook ready to give to my dad (which was a big upgrade from his 500Mhz iBook!). Since I had taken that white MacBook so many places, the bottom surface was totally scuffed up, discolored and gray. I tried things like Windex, Fantastik and even pure alcohol, but nothing would clean it! Then I remembered reading some rave reviews of Magic Eraser, so even though I was skeptical, I decided to give it a try. It worked perfectly, and with a little scrubbing, the MacBook looked brand new again! I was totally amazed and impressed - I have no idea how it works, but I definitely recommend Magic Eraser!

Now that Dad has the white MacBook, he's truly enjoying the speed boost, and he can do things that just weren't possible on the iBook. Since both of our MacBooks have built-in iSight cameras, we can also use iChat to video chat! It's so easy to get a chat started, and the video and audio quality is really amazing to me. The video is quite smooth, and the audio can handle simultaneous talking so well (much better than a speakerphone). It's been really fun to see Mom and Dad and show each other things that before we could only describe!

iChat can also handle screen sharing, so if Dad ever needs some Mac help, I can control his screen and show him what to do. I use screen sharing everyday at home between my two Macs, and it works great. My Power Mac upstairs tends to be my workhorse machine, constantly cranking on torrents or video conversions, so I'm always wanting to know when it finishes a task so I can start up the next one. Rather than walking upstairs all the time, I can just view the Power Mac screen using my MacBook, which saves me a lot of steps (but maybe I could use a few more trips up the stairs to stay in shape)!

11.29.2008

Rodan : 4 of 5

Although Classic Media seems to have released all the Godzilla films they can get the rights to, they are continuing their fantastic kaiju DVD series with the excellent double-feature of Rodan and War of the Gargantuas (which I'll review separately)! The original 1956 Rodan (which interestingly is actually Radon in Japanese) is a fantastic film with just the kind of pacing that I enjoy. The first half of the movie is almost like a murder mystery in a small mining town, and the first monster to make an appearance isn't even Rodan, but rather some giant insects that have been killing miners! Once the huge pteranodon does show up, the introduction is made though quick attacks and blurry photos - I love how they can delay the first full-on shots of Rodan until about 55 minutes into the movie! Director Ishiro Hondo really knows how to pull off suspense and build tension, as well as a nice romance between characters Kiyo and Shigeru, in a way that goes far beyond the usual kaiju film. I was impressed and surprised with Rodan when I watched the US version back in 2006, but it's even better in the original Japanese, and it looks great on this DVD (although the added detail means a few more visible strings!). The miniature effects are pretty incredible, especially the destruction of Fukuoka (all those shingles blowing off!), and those scenes end up getting reused in countless other Toho movies. I was really looking forward to a great commentary track, but unfortunately Classic Media didn't do one this time. Instead there is a nice hour-long documentary on Japanese special effects with tons of rare on-the-set photos and insightful interviews. The documentary is wonderful, but I really missed the commentary track! But even without that bonus feature, there no question that all kaiju fans should get this DVD!

11.28.2008

Turkey time

What a great start to the holiday season! Yesterday I enjoyed the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade as usual, especially the new Buzz Lightyear float! After that I stopped by my pal Melinda's house to say hello to her family, and then went to Chris & Eliza's for the yearly feast. There were fewer guests than previous years, but since there are so many kids to play with now it still felt like a full house! By the time I got home the turkey had done its job and I was asleep on the couch instantly.

Now that Thanksgiving has come, I'm totally in holiday mode! I put up my simple Christmas decorations (including my mini-ornament tree), loaded up my iPhone with Christmas music, and I'm already breaking out my Christmas DVDs so I can watch them all before I go to Oklahoma City in two and a half weeks. It's also nice to enjoy some of Mom's holiday baking (which I got in Waco during our recent pre-Thanksgiving visit), so the only thing missing is some cold weather - I can't believe I had to run the air conditioner today!

View photos: Thanksgiving 2008

11.26.2008

Brer bootleg

Recently I watched a bootleg of Disney's forever lost feature film Song of the South, thanks to my pals Chris and Shawn who dug it up for me! I think everyone my age remembers seeing this movie as a child, and of course we didn't think anything of the racial stereotypes (and I even had an Uncle Remus storybook that I read over and over), but I can see why Disney's too scared to re-release it, even though the animation fan community would love it. It's a weird situation, since there's a whole generation of Disney fans who know all of this stuff but have no clue where it came from! Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah is practically Disney's company theme song (next to When You Wish Upon a Star, of course), and Splash Mountain is one of the most popular rides at the parks, which is filled with Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, Brer Bear, as well as lots of other lesser-known music from Song of the South. Maybe they should just make a DVD movie called Splash Mountain with the songs and characters to give them new source material. Anyway, it was fun to see Song of the South again, and I really enjoyed the groundbreaking work in live-action/animation integration (both with live actors in an animated world and animated characters in a live-action world). Little details like Uncle Remus lighting Brer Frog's pipe were really well done, and I also found a new appreciation for some obscure songs like Sooner or Later, which has a nice bluesy feel. Maybe someday Disney will have the guts to put this on DVD, but for now, I'm glad I had the chance to see it this way!

11.25.2008

Music Moments 11.08

Morning Musume / Pepper Keibu & Romance: It's always exciting when a new Morning Musume single is released, and I had lots of fun watching the excellent music video over and over! This cover of the classic Pink Lady hit is really cool (especially since Sayumi finally gets a line again, plus the super-cute final "Pepper Keibu yo!"), but I was even more impressed with Romance, which has fantastic emotional lyrics and a heart-wrenching melody! I think this is definitely one of their best singles in a while, and I'm really looking forward to their complete album of cover tunes.

The Brilliant Green / Complete Single Collection '97-'08: I first heard The Brilliant Green on a mix MD that my pal Matt made for me years ago, which prompted me to listen to some of their recent singles like Stand By Me and Ash Like Snow. After I heard those, I knew I had to get this CD, since their sound is full of great guitars (so unlike the usual synth-heavy Jpop). Nearly every song here is incredible, with amazing chord progressions (Hello Another Way is one of the best!), and I even bought the DVD with all of the music videos, since Tomoko always looks like she just woke up!

mc chris / mc chris is dead: I've been an mc chris fan since the Aqua Teen days - even though Hip Hop and Rap are pretty far off my musical radar, Nerdcore is awesome! His latest CD has some of his coolest music yet with some really mind-blowing rhymes, even though they aren't quite as hilarious as his previous work (it seems like he's traded imaginary sexual bravado for singing about pizza and Reese's Pieces!). The title track is pretty incredible, and Hoodie Ninja is also amazing, so this CD definitely gets lots of play time in my car!

Ben Folds / Way to Normal: I've been a Ben Folds fan for a long time, so I bought his latest CD without thinking twice. Although overall it's not one of the best, this is still a solid group of great songs - I'm always impressed with Ben's piano prowess and lyrical genius. Some of the tunes use intentional distortion that I find annoying, but most of the songs are really nice, with a good mix of emotion and hilariously clever lyrics. No matter how goofy it is, Bitch Went Nuts is a blast to sing in the car!

High School Musical 2 / Original Soundtrack: Since I really enjoyed the first soundtrack album, I decided to get this CD to get ready for High School Musical 3! This second soundtrack isn't quite as good as the first, but it still has some great moments. I thought Bet On It was an awesome performance in the movie, and the energy still comes across on the CD. Unfortunately some of the other songs aren't so exciting (I Don't Dance is a little boring), and I'm always going to skip Sharpay's crazy Hawaiian song, but generally this CD is fun and uplifting as expected, and now I need to get the third soundtrack!

11.24.2008

Bolt : 4 of 5

I actually got to see Bolt a couple of days before the actual premiere, thanks to my pal Melinda who won tickets to a special sneak preview! I was really excited to see it, since this Disney animated feature actually had some influence from John Lasseter, I think it showed in the pacing of the story. Bolt has some really funny and heart-warming moments (though the lack of tear-jerking is what makes me give it a 4 rating), and it definitely feels like a Disney movie, much more than early CG efforts like Chicken Little. It's still missing that certain something that makes a Pixar movie so fantastic, but it's certainly the best Disney CG feature so far! The main characters of Bolt and Penny are well-acted by John Travolta and Miley Cyrus (though in Miley's case I think the animated acting definitely improved her work), but the supporting characters of Mittens the cat and Rhino the hamster (in his ball) completely steal the movie! Rhino is one of the funniest animated characters in a while, and he gets all the great lines in the film ("Fully awesome!"). The sneak preview was in 3D, which was really tastefully done with lots of depth to the backgrounds without too many things being poked at the camera. I really can't find any fault with Bolt visually, and I loved the story, but it could have used a little more emotion in there somewhere. Even though Bolt's character changes and finds his inner hero, I really didn't warm up to him as much as Rhino! I can't wait to see Disney's future animated features (hopefully in traditional 2D), and I hope they will once again learn how to get the story just right.

11.21.2008

Vacation video

Recently I've been doing a little video editing of footage that I shot over the past few years. I always meet my parents in Waco for "pre-Thanksgiving" each year, and I like to have a few videos ready to show my Mom's family there, so that got me going. I started with the past several years of Christmas gift opening videos, and then moved on to some family vacations. It's really fun to just cut things down to only the best shots, and setting things to music is usually much better than the original audio (which usually has too much of me talking and laughing!). So here are a couple more videos from my YouTube collection: our 2003 trip to New York City and our 2004 trip to Las Vegas! I really like the New York video, since it has lots of tourist-style shots, but the Vegas video is a little boring (oh well!). Editing these helps me to see when I've been a lousy cameraman, both in technique and coverage, so I'm planning to do a better job on vacations in the future!

Watch video: New York City Vacation
Watch video: Las Vegas Vacation

11.19.2008

Quantum of Solace : 3 of 5

Even though I've enjoyed James Bond movies in the past, I was never that excited about seeing a new "mean" Bond, so I didn't see the last film with Daniel Craig. I probably never would have gone to Quantum of Solace, but since my pals were going I decided it would be fun (plus I wanted to see the trailer for the new Star Trek movie!), and it was a great film. The opening car chase was pretty amazing, although it suffered a bit from over-editing - this movie is filled with quick cuts that make it hard to follow the action (and probably serve to make impossible feats seem possible!), but it's still really exciting to watch. I thought the opening chase was kind of short, but that's because it's almost immediately followed by a great foot chase that has them leaping on rooftops like in Mary Poppins! My favorite shot of the film occurs in this sequence, when Bond and the bad guy fall together through a glass roof and some scaffolding - the camera itself seems to fall with them, so you feel like you are right in the midst of the crash! I was a little disappointed in the lack of spy gadgets, but the surface-based computing interface was really cool. The latest Bond girl is really intriguing, and she kept reminding me of a younger Catherine Zeta-Jones (which is definitely a good thing), but I wish she would have had at least one ultra-glamourous scene. The plot itself isn't too espionage-filled to follow, and although the villian is interesting and has creepy eyes, he's just a simple greedy crook, which was kind of a let-down. But overall I really enjoyed the action, so I think I better rent Casino Royale to get caught up on the new 007!

11.16.2008

Madagascar / Escape 2 Africa : 3 of 5

Although several "animals out of their element" animated features came out in the past few years, the original Madagascar was one of the best, especially since the story ended with the characters still in the jungle. This sequel picks up after the lemurs and penguins have somehow managed to rebuild an airplane to take the zoo animals home, but ends up crashing in Africa. The plot has a lot going for it, since it does a nice job of retelling the essential parts of the first film, and then introduces new characters, mainly Alex the lion's parents. There are some pretty funny moments, but nothing that made me roll on the floor. Actually some of the best parts had to do with the love story between Melman the giraffe and Gloria the hippo - they really have some tender and hilarious lines! But everyone's favorite characters, the penguins and the lemurs, seemed a little underused to me - the penguins are fantastic during the airplane scenes, but the lemur king needed a lot more screen time! The animation keeps the same quirky style as before (I love the angular yet soft style of the lions paws!), but the human characters (safari tourists from New York this time) seem a little improved, which is nice. Overall I think the original film is better, just because the escape from New York is a crazier and more dynamic story that's hard to top. This sequel really tries to get into the emotions of the four main characters (some more successfully than others), but I really just wanted more insanity instead!

11.15.2008

Meatballs and mustaches

Last week my pal Matt turned 35 (such a youngster!), so everyone got together for a big birthday dinner at Buca di Beppo. A few years ago my friends and I went there all the time for party dinners, but I hadn't been there in a really long time, so it was great to eat those huge platters of food again and get loud and rowdy (which is fine in that place)! Kumiko really went all out putting together party activities for us to enjoy, including fake mustaches, a special wig, a quiz about Matt, and even Mad Libs. There was also another surprise for Chris & Eliza - Kumiko entered a photo contest with a picture she took of Dolly, Chris & Eliza's dog, and now it's included in a 2009 calendar on sale in Japan! It was a really fun evening - I would have taken more pictures, but my camera battery only survived the first half of the night!

View photos: Matt's Birthday 2008

11.13.2008

Saturday Night Live / The Best of Saturday TV Funhouse : 3 of 5

Along with Saturday Night Live's commercial parodies, my next favorite part of the show were the hilarious Saturday TV Funhouse segments that appeared every now and then. I used to love seeing these entertaining animated shorts by Robert Smeigel, even though they were sometimes a little too political for my taste (nothing offensive to me, I just don't have enough political opinion to think they were funny). This DVD collects 24 of these cartoons into a program hosted by Ace & Gary, the Ambiguously Gay Duo (definitely the best running series of the bunch), but also includes several more shorts as bonus material, which is great since some of the bonus cartoons are better than the ones they selected for the feature. I was surprised at how many of the cartoons were Disney parodies, rightfully making fun of Disney's direct-to-video sequels (Bambi 2002 is a complete riot), as well as how they used to always mention the "Disney Vault" as they took DVDs off the market. In fact, one of the cartoons is a promo for a new DVD called Journey to the Disney Vault, complete with Mickey and tons of Disney lawyers! Besides the Disney stuff, I really enjoyed the Charlie Brown Christmas segment where the Peanuts realize they can wave their arms around anything to cause a transformation (just like they did to Charlie's little tree), and the Saddam & Osama cartoon is not only funny, but also a perfect reproduction of classic Super Friends style animation, right down to scene changes, narration, and sound effects. Unfortunately, lots of these shorts are pretty boring to me, especially the Fun with Real Audio segments, which are usually presidential speeches animated with outrageous results, but I'm sure most people would enjoy them. It was great to see all of these again - it's been fun renting these Saturday Night Live DVDs!

11.12.2008

Cinderella / Austin Lyric Opera : 4 of 5

A new opera season is always exciting, but I was looking forward to this season opener even more than usual, since it was my first time to experience Rossini's Cinderella, plus I was anxious to find out where my new seats for the season were! My seats turned out to be quite a bit to the side, but they are so close to the stage that it doesn't matter at all (and in fact, I'll be able to beat the crowd at intermission for a drink!). The opera was fantastic for many reasons, including the original take on the classic fairy tale (no hint of Disney), the incredible performances, and the genius decision to set the whole story in 1930's Hollywood, with beautiful sets and spectacular period costumes. I was really pleased to see Sandra Piques Eddy perform again (she was amazing in The Barber of Seville a few seasons ago), who is definitely a triple threat on the stage - she has a wonderful voice and range (I was surprised to hear some of the low notes that Rossini wrote), perfect comedic timing, and she's absolutely beautiful as well! The libretto is really funny and I really enjoyed such a unique version of the plot, with elements such as the movie producer taking the place of the Fairy Godmother. Rossini's music is light-hearted and energetic, so everyone in the audience couldn't help but love it - I tend to like my operas with a little more tragedy, but Cinderella was still a magical treat. I'm really looking forward to enjoying the rest of the opera season!

11.10.2008

Becoming a couch potato has never been easier

Recently I've been amazed at the amount of video entertainment that's becoming instantly available, most of which I watch on my Apple TV. I've been impressed with the quality and diversity of the tons of video podcasts for quite a while now, and I love keeping up with all kinds of Japanese TV via download. I've even rented a few movies from iTunes, since my Sunday night pals wanted to see some of the older Star Trek movies, and having them on my TV in two seconds flat was incredibly simple. And now there's even more use for my overworked Apple TV, since I've hacked it to run Boxee, which allows me to watch streaming TV from Hulu and Comedy Central, plus a load of other sources. Normally I'm not the type to hack something, but they made it so easy to use a USB memory stick that it was a cinch to get Boxee up and running. And on top of all of this, Netflix is bringing their Watch Instantly feature to TiVo, so even more movies are going to be available to me soon! I was actually going to ask Santa for a Roku box this year, but since TiVo made the Netflix announcement (which is supposed to be coming around December, I think), I don't need the Roku anymore. All of these streams of entertainment are pretty overwhelming, not even considering the fact that I watch more DVDs (from my Netflix subscription) than actual TV. The future is really approaching fast, where everything is on-demand and there's no such thing as a TV schedule!

11.09.2008

Sleeping Beauty / Platinum Edition : 5 of 5

It seems like only yesterday I was enjoying the 2003 DVD release of this animation masterpiece, but I had to buy it again since the Disney Platinum Editions are definitely must-have DVDs for any Disney fan! Even though the previous DVD was widescreen, it still had some cropping that has been removed in this release, making it the first time ever the entire 70MM picture has been available, and it looks spectacular. Walt's idea of a "moving tapestry" was completely realized in a way that will simply never be accomplished again by hand-drawn animation, and I enjoyed watching every frame of it all over again. A fantastic 45-minute documentary is included with great discussions on the style and art direction of the film, as well as stories of the incredible efforts of Walt's Nine Old Men (who sometimes could only produce enough drawings to create one second of film from three days' work!). There's also a great commentary track (I love to listen to animators gush over the classics) plus a Princess Fun Facts subtitle feature that's pretty interesting (although the popups are a little huge and gaudy). But the best bonus feature of all is a CG reproduction of the original Sleeping Beauty's Castle walk-through attraction at Disneyland! My favorite Imagineer Tony Baxter narrates the journey and explains every single effect, even going over original blueprints and illustrating how it was created with a detailed architectural model. It's one of the best theme park behind-the-scenes features ever made, and I was fascinated with every detail! Sleeping Beauty is a true work of art that everyone should see, and this wonderful Platinum Edition is the way to experience it.

11.06.2008

The Death of Superman : 3 of 5

After enjoying the DC Universe DVD movie Doomsday, I decided I needed to check out the original story from the Superman comics, and this book collects the seven issues (all from different titles) that tell the tragic story. It was really interesting to read this epic tale (which was published in the early 1990s while I was kind of out of the comic book scene) because of its incredible presentation style, and because it introduced me to several developments and characters that I had no idea about (such as Lex Luthor's son!). The way the battle between Superman and the destructive beast Doomsday builds is really handled well, in the almost imperceptible way of reducing the number of panels on each page issue by issue. It was cool to see the number of panels go from four to three to two and finally to one, each page a full image! So this book definitely delivers on an incredible battle full of dramatic scenes, but it would have been nice to have a little more plot. I'm sure that questions like where the heck did Doomsday come from get answered later, and some of my puzzlement is my own fault for not being up to date with the DC timeline, but this book still amounts to only punch after punch. The artwork is really well-done, although I didn't really like they way Superman looked in the next to last issue. But the best thing is that now I've begun experiencing a huge important moment in comic book history, and I'm looking forward to continuing with the sequel (and eventual return of the Man of Steel) soon!

11.05.2008

Death Note Vol 7 : 4 of 5

I'm always excited about the next Death Note DVD release, even though I've already watched the whole series (dubbed, unfortunately) on TV, and I think Netflix sent this to me the day it came out since it was at the top of my queue! This volume finally finishes the Light versus L arc (far better than the Near and Mello arc, in my opinion), and the anime interpretation of these final events is definitely spectacular. The inclusion of the creepy song that Misa sings as she resumes her activities with the notebook is nothing short of amazing, especially since this is something that couldn't be conveyed in manga alone. L's death scene is dramatic and fantastic, and the just prior moments of "friendship" between Light and L really make the moment poignant. Soon afterward Near and Mello are introduced, and time moves forward to the year 2012. The scenes regarding Sayu's kidnaping are really tense, but I especially loved the slow motion falling of Near's dice sculpture as his team of agents is killed. I think the story moves along much too quickly in these episodes (it was even rushed in the manga), but the anime does a pretty good job of making the course of events clear. As usual, there's a quick interview with some English dub voice artists, and I realized for the first time that L is played by Gaeta from Battlestar Galactica! I'm really looking forward to the next volume of this DVDs series when it comes out in December!

11.04.2008

Three Small Things 11.4.08

I really like using my HEB "green bag" that I bought a while back (for a mere 99 cents). It's definitely cool to help the environment in a really small way by not using plastic bags, but it's also super convenient, too! The green bag holds much more food since it has a nice flat bottom, and the handles make it so easy to carry. I always keep it in my car for quick grocery trips, which is usually all the grocery shopping I do, so my one green bag generally holds everything I buy!

It feels good to know that I'm brushing my teeth the full recommended two minutes, thanks to the timer built-in to my electric toothbrush. I have a really cheapo model, but it still includes the timer feature that makes it pulsate after you've been brushing two minutes. Some days that feels like I long time, and other days it feels quick, which just proves I have no idea how long I'm brushing my teeth, so I'm glad I have a timer to handle that for me!

I've had Google ads on WEBmikey for years now, but I only get a few clicks per week, so it takes forever to make the minimum $100 to get paid. So, it's a big event for me when I hit the threshold, and I just did! It never hurts to have a "free" $100 check from Google, and I'm looking forward to receiving it (which pretty much pays for my hosting costs).

11.03.2008

Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla 2 : 4 of 5

The title of this movie is pretty confusing, since in the new retroactive Heisei continuity, this is the first appearance of Mechagodzilla! I guess they decided to stick the "2" on there just in case anyone was keeping track. Putting the title aside, I really enjoyed this movie, which features a totally new idea for Mechagodzilla (now created and piloted by Japan's Godzilla Force as a weapon to combat Godzilla, using future technology from the remains of Mecha King Ghidorah), plus an appearance by Rodan and even a new baby Godzilla! The scenes of Mechagodzilla being worked on and launching are really incredible, enhanced by the awesome return of Ikufube on the soundtrack (thankfully wiping away my memories of the truly awful music in the last few movies), but the pacing of the film doesn't build the way I like. There's a huge battle between Godzilla and Rodan at only 15 minutes into the movie! Then at 30 minutes in, we already get to see Mechagodzilla face Godzilla! So this particular film is practically filled with kaiju fighting, but there's also a little characterization, too - Miki the ESP girl returns (I suppose she'll be around forever), and I really enjoyed the girl scientist who takes care of the Godzilla baby (found in an egg on an island with Rodan). The city to take a beating this time around is Kyoto, and it was a blast to see landmarks like Kyoto Tower and several famous temples get destroyed, since I've visited those actual locations. There's even an overhead shot of Rodan flying over Tokyo Disneyland - unbelievable! Godzilla nearly dies at the hands of Mechagodzilla, but then the baby Godzilla calls Rodan to give him his energy force to bring Godzilla to life. It's a pretty weird concept, but the almost cosmic nature of kaiju seems to be a theme in the Heisei series. I'll be watching the next Godzilla movie soon!

11.02.2008

Heroes Halloween 2008

Every Halloween my band The Greatest American Heroes plays a special show at the Carousel Lounge - actually, it's not much different from the show we do every month, but at least we're in costumes! This year we got matching outfits of the band's namesake, the actual Greatest American Hero from the original TV show. We looked pretty crazy together - it was like an ocean of red with blonde wigs. Actually, I was pretty embarrassed of my costume figure, but we still played a great show. There were tons of great costumes in the crowd, including my pal Matt's perfect Captain Kirk, who was unexpectedly joined by two other Enterprise crew members! There was plenty of dancing and the tips were generous, so it was a Halloween success. I didn't take as many pictures as I should have since I was feeling costume-uncomfortable, but you can still get a taste of the action with these shots!

View photos: Halloween 2008

10.31.2008

Three Small Things 10.31.08

Recently NASA has really been a part of the internet community by using Twitter to regularly communicate about various missions. Reading these updates has not only been interesting, but it also provides an anthropomorphic way to relate to these spacecraft that are so far away! I've really enjoyed following the Phoenix Mars Lander, and yesterday it seemed like the end of the line, since it's beginning to freeze up. I was actually sad when it said "I should stay well-preserved in this cold. I'll be humankind's monument here for centuries, eons, until future explorers come for me." It make me think I was talking to WALL-E! While Phoenix goes to sleep, now I'm going to follow Cassini while it orbits Saturn!

Since my portable digital life is 100% handled by my iPhone now, I decided to sell my iPod on Gazelle (which I mentioned previously when they were called Second Rotation). Once again, it was a super easy experience, since it's simple to get an offer online, then they take care of everything, including sending a shipping box! In a few weeks I has $60 bucks in my PayPal account, which is a great deal if you ask me. I only wish I had more electronic junk to sell!

For years now I've been using HaloScan to capture comments on WEBmikey, since Blogger's own commenting method used to be pretty lame. But recently Blogger finally got their commenting act together, so now I can finally use their nice integrated comments. For now all of my old posts will still have HaloScan links, but the new posts are using Blogger comments, and I think they look nice! (Yes, I know rarely get comments anyway, but when I do they will look better.)

10.30.2008

Space Invaders Extreme / Nintendo DS : 4 of 5

For me, the best indicator that a game is great is when you finish playing and immediately say to yourself, "Just one more game..." Space Invaders Extreme definitely has the "one more game" factor, and I've been having fun playing it for weeks now! Of course, the title tells you exactly what to expect, which is an updated version of the most historic video game next to Pong, but with tons of updates along with the nostalgic charm. The basic game is the same (its simplicity is part of its beauty), but the presentation is incredible - the only way I can describe it is like a psychedelic rave! Hyper artistic backgrounds move around, pumping music plays that is actually affected by your game play (hits are sometimes accented by cymbals and other percussion that go with the soundtrack), and text elements have a fantastic futuristic look. Even the voice used to announce different rounds has that great female computer-ish sound! As far as changes to the basic gameplay, there are some cool bonus rounds with various challenges that reward you with some "fever" time (where you can really knock out a lot of invaders), plus various weapon powers like multiple shots or huge laser beams. After a certain number of rounds there are also bosses to beat, which moves to the next full level of the game. Of course, you can keep continuing where you left off, making this game incredibly addicting since you want to keep going to see how far you can get! Overall, Space Invaders Extreme is incredibly simple, but the presentation is so fantastic that it's one of the coolest games I've played in a long time. Now if you'll excuse me I have to see if I can get past the Level 4 boss again!

10.29.2008

Aeon Flux : 3 of 5

I can still remember seeing the original animated Aeon Flux shorts on MTV's Liquid Television and being amazed at their interesting look, awesome action, and futuristic weirdness. I was kind of surprised when I heard Aeon Flux was being made into a live action movie, and even though I was interested I somehow missed it at the theater (or was driven away by bad reviews), but I'm glad I rented the DVD to help satisfy my recent thirst for sci-fi action. Although this isn't a fantastic movie, I'm still impressed by the story they came up with given the source material! The world of Aeon Flux is a future where 99% of the world has been wiped out by a virus, and the remaining survivors live in an utopian city under a somewhat mysterious and strict government, which is opposed by a group of rebels, including Aeon Flux herself. The visual design is really interesting, including lots of organic elements with futuristic yet elegant simplicity, and I loved how they incorporated iconic scenes directly from the animation (I was pretty shocked to see the fly caught in the eyelash, but I guess that was absolutely essential!). Aeon's costume obviously couldn't be as skimpy as it is in the cartoon, but her various outfits still had the same sexy feel, which looked great on Charlize Theron. Although I liked the plot well enough and the action sequences are certainly OK, they just didn't have the style of an artistic martial arts film, and I think that look would have made Aeon Flux a much better movie. But it was still a cool DVD experience with some nice bonus documentaries on the DVD, and now I'm definitely interested in watching the original animation again!

10.28.2008

High School Musical 3 / Senior Year : 3 of 5

Even though I was a little late in becoming a High School Musical fan, I've really enjoyed the first two movies and soundtracks, so of course my pal Melinda and I had to see Disney's new big screen release right away. It was nice to get away from the school itself in High School Musical 2, but for this supposedly final part of the trilogy we have to come back to the classroom, which means a lot of the numbers are reminiscent of the original movie, including a basketball song and a cafeteria production. But this time around they really take advantage of their silver screen budget, so everything is pushed to the limit! Sharpay's big song is hilarious (definitely her best of the series), and Zac and Corbin show off some high-energy moves in a junkyard as they relive their childhood adventures (and even turn into kids in one funny moment). The plot is as simple as can be, with predictable tensions about future college decisions and preparations for the big school musical, but it's a fine story for this film's audience (and it was obvious the kids in the audience were loving it). I'm in it for the songs and dancing, which is deliciously formulaic and perfect! Just watching it makes me stunned at the youth, beauty and talent of these performers - it's a fantastic feeling to step into this perfect high school world for a few hours and feel like a teenager again. High School Musical 3 tries to make it obvious that this is the end of the line, complete with a graduation ceremony and final looks into the camera from all the major characters, but of course they will all live on in endless marketing opportunities. For me, I'm looking forward to getting the soundtrack and enjoying some upbeat, cheesy songs with Troy and Gabriella!

10.27.2008

Glengarry Glen Ross / City Theater : 4 of 5

I haven't been to many plays recently, but when my pal Conrad let me know that he had a role in David Mamet's amazing Glengarry Glen Ross, I had to go see it! I've always enjoyed Mamet's work for it's intensity and realism, and this play is no exception. Even though I know nothing about the world of cut-throat real estate salesman, somehow this story makes you simultaneously despise and feel sorry for each of the characters. Reading Mamet's dialogue is a real challenge - he almost never finishes a sentence (exactly like real people talk!), but this cast pulled off the difficult lines with expert timing. There are so many fascinating, rambling speeches that surprisingly get across real philosophical points, and it's totally up to actors to make that happen. Conrad did an amazing job - I've really enjoyed seeing his acting prowess grow in past productions, and now it feels like he's hit the big time! The office set was realistic and expansive, but the Chinese restaurant set wasn't so great (although they did what they could with limited space), and other details like lighting and the use of music were all good. But for a play like Glengarry Glen Ross, none of that really matters - it's all about the acting, and the cast completely delivered. This was my first production to see at City Theater, and I'll definitely keep my eyes open for their shows in the future!

10.26.2008

Dance Dance Revolution X / PS2 : 4 of 5

It's amazing that DDR has been around since 1998, and this new release celebrates the 10 year anniversary of the game! It's always exciting for me to dive into a new DDR game, since everything is so fresh and there's tons of things to unlock. But Dance Dance Revolution X is quite a bit different than the Supernova series - besides a few dancer outfits and songs, almost everything is already available from the start, even Endless Mode, which is usually the "grand prize" after unlocking everything. So, the whole idea of earning points to spend at the store has been scrapped, and the new master mode is now Street Master Mode, which follows a loose story for each of the characters. It's kind of interesting at first, as the characters move around on a map and engage in dialogue, but it gets old pretty fast! But there's plenty to love about DDR X for me, too. The song list is nice and long and includes some cool new indie tracks and anime themes (with videos) as well as the DDR classics like Butterfly (absolutely essential for an anniversary mix!). The difficulty levels seems to be well balanced, too - the basic steps aren't too boring to be fun, and the more advanced steps are challenging without being suicidal! While the stage backgrounds are a little silly (why am I dancing in front of giant cupcakes?), the dancers themselves look awesome. Alice is back with new outfits, including a super cute Native American number that takes the award for hottest video game pants! Even though it feels like DDR X is kind of less advanced than previous releases, it's still got all the elements I enjoy for hours of fun and exercise. Now I just have to work up the addiction and keep dancing!

10.24.2008

Manga Mentions 10.08

I'm still working on the same old series, but a few of them are winding down. I'm looking forward to choosing some new titles after I finish these!

Nodame Cantabile Vol 7: This volume of the story was almost exactly like the Nodame Cantabile drama, with no extra bonus scenes, but I really didn't mind, since I love this part of the series. I'm always inspired to read about life goals through the voice of manga characters, and the oboe player says one of the best lines ever in this volume when he's asked why he works hard practicing: "I'm happy if I can play oboe well, and I'm happier if I can play it better."

xxxHolic Vol 12: Back when I started this series, I knew it had some crossover elements with Tsubasa (another Clamp manga that I wasn't interested in), but they always claimed each story would stand alone. Unfortunately, this volume is full of a dream conversation with Princess Sakura from Tsubasa, which was kind of annoying. I'm curious about the wish for Yuko, but the whole thing is a little confusing!

Dr. Slump Vol 17: This manga has been going on so long that there just can't be much more happening in good old Penguin Village! This volume has a lot of interaction with the author Toriyama himself (such as Q&A pages and so on), and finally returns to some hilarious pervert moments for Senbei! I enjoyed the glimpse into the future and finding out which characters get married, too!

Video Girl Ai Vol 8: Although I like this manga, I always feel like I'm still reading I''s (incredibly similar story by the same artist)! Yota finally confesses to Moemi in this volume, and they enjoy some tender moments together, but Ai's video tape (her lifeline) starts getting jammed or something in the VCR, so there's trouble ahead!

Nodame Cantabile Vol 8: I usually try to space out my reading among more titles, but I couldn't resist reading another Nodame volume this time. This was another fast one, with lots of text-less pages during big Rising Star Orchestra performances. Even though these go by quickly, I love how they make sure you know exactly which classical piece is being played - nice detail!

10.23.2008

Godzilla vs Biollante : 3 of 5

I've read that some Godzilla fans consider Godzilla vs Biollante the best film of the Heisei series, but even though I had a great time watching it, it was kind of a mixed bag for me. There's a lot of good things going for this movie, though, including a pretty interesting plot that begins with the clean-up of Tokyo, fresh from its destruction in The Return of Godzilla. During the operation, soldiers collect some Godzilla "cells" (more like scales) which become the focus of the story, since they can be used to genetically engineer bacteria that can eat nuclear energy! Unfortunately, these same cells are used by a scientist to create one of the most bizarre kaiju ever, Biollante, who begins as a giant rose (seriously) and later turns into Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors! Godzilla is awaked from his slumber in the volcano by terrorists who really want that nuclear-eating bacteria, and of course everything progresses to some great destruction scenes (Osaka takes a beating this time!). The acting is pretty good (except for the horrendous English lines at the beginning), and a few characters are introduced (such as Miki the psychic girl) who will appear in future Heisei films. The Super X is redesigned as the Super X-2 (all remote control this time), which can actually deflect Godzilla's atomic breath with a fancy mirror! But there are some bad points, too, such as the horrible soundtrack. I like how they used a few original themes, but when they transition to crappy 80s action themes it's just so uneven that it made me cringe! I also thought the battles with Biollante weren't too spectacular, either - the effects are great, but it's too easy for Godzilla to just cook that big broccoli. Now I'm completely caught-up with the holes in my Godzilla watching, so it's time to move onward!

10.22.2008

Three Small Things 10.22.08

I need to amend my previous mention about Dad's iPhone App Store obsession, because now Dad has Mom hooked, too! My parents have always been slot machine fanatics, and after Dad downloaded Reel Deal Slots, Mom started playing it like crazy. She plays it whenever she has a break in the day, or while she's watching TV in the evening, and Mom and Dad both go crazy when they get a bonus round. Together they have racked up a huge amount of fake money (and real hours of time!), and I love it that my old iPhone is having such an active life with my parents!

I have a Jamba Juice for lunch at least once or twice a week, since it tastes delicious and it feels good to know I'm eating (drinking) something fresh rather than all those frozen dinners. Last week there was a new employee who got the proportions wrong and accidentally made enough for two full smoothies, so they gave me the second one for free! I didn't want to have two for lunch, so I put one in the freezer and ate it the next day with a spoon. It was like a healthy ice cream-ish treat!

The Austin Symphony just updated their website, and while I was checking it out to write yesterday's review, I was surprised to find my Leila Josefowicz review linked right on the home page! I've always considered my posts to be much more personal recollections than actual reviews, but if the Austin Symphony appreciated what I wrote, then I'm happy! It may not be on the home page for long, but they have a special excerpt page that hopefully will stick around. It's strange seeing my words on a professional site!

10.21.2008

Austin Symphony / Anton Nel : 4 of 5

This particular symphony experience was unique for a couple of reasons. First, I decided to experiment with balcony seats (I usually sit up close), and although I really enjoyed the great view of the full orchestra (I like to watch the percussionists in the back), I felt a little disconnected being that far from the sound (although the acoustics were excellent). Second, this was the first program in a long time where I wasn't already familiar with any of the pieces being performed, so it was nice to be introduced to totally new works! The concert began with Messiaen's The Ascension, which was much more modern than I expected, but the way the movements used different sections of the orchestra was fascinating. The guest performer was pianist Anton Nel, who played on two major works (which was nice, since most guests only do one piece) - a short Schumann and the Mendelssohn concerto, which were both incredible. The slow movement of the concerto was particularly fantastic, and it really makes me want to hear more Mendelssohn (I don't have much of him in my iTunes library)! But my favorite work of the evening was Respighi's Church Windows, which uses huge instrumentation (including an onstage piano) and is filled with booming drama and symbolism. I'm a big fan of Pines of Rome (which I first heard in Fantasia 2000), so it's no wonder that I enjoyed this four movement masterpiece so much - I've already put the CD on my wish list! As usual, going to the symphony was an exciting and peaceful experience - but I think I'm going to see what the Mezzanine feels like next time!

10.20.2008

Meteos: Disney Magic / Nintendo DS : 3 of 5

About a year ago I was really addicted to the original Meteos, so it was an easy decision to check out this new version of the game with a Disney theme (and I got it for a nice used price!). All of the basic game play in this falling blocks game is the same as before, with one huge difference - you can move blocks left and right rather than only up and down! This was something that I always wanted to do while playing the original, but now that I've experienced it, I actually think the original method is a little more fun and challenging. I suppose this version was intended to be a little easier for Disney audiences, but to compensate for the block-moving flexibility I think they ramped up the levels a little too much, making it impossible to get anywhere without double or triple launching sometimes. But on to the Disney theme! Each level uses a classic Disney film to somehow give meaning to the falling blocks, so you have to play the game to "restore order" to the story, with Jiminy Cricket and Tinker Bell as your guides. There are some nice Disney graphics on the non-touchscreen while you play the game (but of course you don't really have time to look at them!), and working through the various stories will unlock these images in a library, which gives you something to shoot for rather than just a high score. There are tons of movies represented here (including Pixar films), and it's fun to go through the various storybooks (which were planets in the original game) for variety. But somehow, even though I love the Disney theme, the original science fiction look was a little better, or maybe I just enjoyed Meteos so much that Disney Magic can't really compare. If you were never hooked on the original game and you're a Disney fan, I would definitely recommend this version, since you'll get to enjoy a little easier game concept with all your favorite characters!

10.19.2008

The Return of Godzilla : 4 of 5

This is the dramatic beginning of the Heisei era of Godzilla movies, which completely ignores all the Showa films that were made before, becoming a new "second film" in the series! Although this was a fairly big US release (I remember when Godzilla 1985 was in the theater), this is another film surprisingly unavailable to rent on Region 1 DVD, but thanks again to Showa Video, I was able to enjoy this cool movie. With all of Godzilla's heroic history swept away, The Return of Godzilla is a return to terror and sheer destruction, much like the original 1954 Godzilla, although with much-updated special effects and a new global storyline that involves the US and Russia as they struggle with the decision to use nuclear weapons on Godzilla himself. This is one of the longer Godzilla films, so there's lots of room for good pacing - we never really see Godzilla for the first 30 minutes, which gives the characters time to figure out this is the same monster from 1954, and also allows for a really spooky destruction of a Russian sub (all in Russian language dialogue). There are plenty of gaijin actors in this movie, both Americans and Russians, and unfortunately they are pretty terrible (and even worse in the US release, which also splices in Raymond Burr to reprise his role from the original movie), but I thought the Japanese acting was fine (especially the sudden romance between the reporter and the scientist's cute assistant). But why am I mentioning people when I should be talking about Godzilla himself? Godzilla looks downright evil this time around, and was filmed not only as a suit actor, but as a sophisticated (for the time) animatronic (which is shown in the interesting documentary on the DVD). I thought his arms were a little stiff and his thighs look too thick to me, but on the whole this is a great looking Godzilla, with some of the best atomic breath scenes in any movie I've seen! I also enjoyed the cool Super X attack craft that fires missiles right into Godzilla's mouth (yuck!), almost finishing him off (don't worry, when Godzilla recovers he shows the Super X who's boss!). Even though I've already seen a few other Heisei movies, after watching The Return of Godzilla I feel like I've officially entered the new continuity!