5.31.2008

King Kong vs Godzilla : 3 of 5

After becoming a Godzilla fan all over again by watching Classic Media's incredible DVD releases, I decided I should take the challenge of watching all of the Godzilla movies in order, even though I'll have to suffer through he US releases with their edits and terrible dubs. After the original Godzilla and Godzilla Raids Again, the third movie in the series (and the first in color) is King Kong vs Godzilla from 1962, which was made mainly to capitalize on the huge popularity of King Kong at the time (which is why he gets top billing and even wins the battle!). Unfortunately, this film is completely butchered in the US version - almost all Japanese character development has been removed and replaced with United Nations news reports that explain the action (often as a voice over for scenes that were intact in the Japanese version) and attempt to make the story more dramatic. Godzilla gets some cool action sequences, including breaking out of an iceberg, melting some tanks in Hokkaido (which is pronounced hilariously by the voice actors!), and of course kicking King Kong's butt at first! Speaking of Kong, his island introduction is quite similar to the usual story, with the addition of a giant octopus attack (created by filming a live octopus moving over the miniatures). For some reason, Kong also draws power from electricity - I guess they added that since Godzilla is repulsed by it. We get to see Kong stand on top of the famous Diet building in Tokyo (not as huge as the Empire State, but what the heck), and the final battle between these two monsters is actually pretty vicious! I definitely missed listening to a detailed commentary and enjoying the original Japanese film, but I'll take what I can get. I still had a great time watching King Kong vs Godzilla, and I'm looking forward to the next movie!

5.30.2008

Pretty Maid Cafe : 2 of 5

At last I have finished this embarrassing trilogy that my obsession with completeness forced me to keep renting! Since the past two movies focused on anime figures and cat girls, the next otaku fetish to conquer was maid cafes, so that's the subject of this story. Once again, an introverted guy gets the girl everyone idolizes (Misaki, who is the most popular maid at the cafe Maid in Japan, and no, I didn't make that up), in a shameful copy of Densha Otoko, since he gets advice from the web to do it. The similarities don't stop there, since he helps get rid of a stalker (just like the TV drama) and even pretends to be an expert at something he's not (fishing, which is pretty weird). Of course, he's jealous of Misaki's customers at the cafe, and even his otaku friend who took him to the cafe to begin with. The other strange twist is Misaki is a drummer, so there are some bizarro flashbacks of her playing drums badly. I guess Pretty Maid Cafe was kind of enjoyable, especially since it wasn't totally based on fantasy like the past two movies, and the video quality was better, even though it's plagued with some terrible handheld camera work. It's tough for me to figure all three of these movies out. Were they student film projects? Where they thrown together to make a quick buck? The actors are obviously trying to really act, so there's definitely a desire to do their best, but ultimately these films were really only watchable since I enjoyed hearing the Japanese and seeing the Akihabara locations. There's plenty of better Japanese films or dramas you could be watching, but check these out if you want (at least they are barely over an hour each)!

5.29.2008

Death Note : 3 of 5

Although this movie came out in 2006, I somehow managed to miss downloading a fan-subbed version of the film, even though I was already a huge fan of the Death Note manga. Now that I've been watching the anime, and with the complete story fresh on my mind, I was really excited to see this special one-night local showing of this live-action version at the theater! Unfortunately, the experience was both good and bad. I was really expecting to see the movie in Japanese with subtitles, but instead they showed the dubbed version (I'm hoping both will be released by Viz soon). The dub was interesting since they used the same voice actors from the anime, but it's still a sucky dub that caused lots of audience laughter. Speaking of the audience, that was my other complaint - it was like being at an anime convention, complete with a little cosplay and homemade T-shirts! Of course, I love and respect that stuff, but I wanted to really get into the film without hearing the girls squeal at the first sight of L. The movie itself was cool, though, and really captured the story well. Of course, there are major departures from the manga plot, but some of them are actually more dramatic and possibly even improve on the original! The major difference is the role of Light's girlfriend Shiori (before Misa enters the story), which comes to a chilling climax along with the wife of the FBI agent! I also enjoyed the final scenes of the film with the first meeting of Light and L, since it sets up the next movie so well (only the first few volumes of the manga are covered in this film). The movie has a bit of a tokusatsu feel, which is fine with me, especially because the CG version of Ryuk is a bit old-school, so it feels a little like a TV show. But overall, the film is definitely worth watching again in Japanese, so I can't wait for the DVD release!

5.28.2008

Phoenix Vols 1-3 : 5 of 5

When I saw that my favorite manga of all time, Osamu Tezuka's masterpiece Phoenix, was being released as an anime on DVD, I was both excited and skeptical. I waited until I finished all three DVDs before writing this review, and I have to say that I'm overwhelmed by the majesty of this series! The beauty begins with the opening credits, featuring incredible images of the history of life itself set to a wonderful orchestral theme, and the episodes include some narration at the beginning and end to properly set each tale within its broad scope. Of course, only a fraction of the original manga could be included, but they selected many of my favorite stories, set in both the past and future. Saruta is included as a character in each story, weaving them all together, and the animation (although a bit modernized) stays true to Tezuka's character designs and certainly to his ultimate message. The stories included are The Dawn (4 episodes in the past), The Resurrection (2 episodes in he future), The Transformation (1 episode in the past, the beautiful story of the cycle of the nun), The Sun (4 episodes in the past, about Inugami the human/wolf and the plight of ancient religion versus the rise of Buddhism), and The Future (2 episodes in the future, with Masato who becomes the last immortal human on Earth and witnesses the rebirth of the planet). I watched the entire series on the edge of my seat, eyes wide open to take it all in - I'm amazed they could actually bring the feel of Tezuka's work to animation so well! The selected stories truly communicate the awesomeness of life - that which never ends. Even though I rented this series, I'm incredibly tempted to buy it so I can watch it again, since it's definitely something I want in my collection, so I hope they release it as a box set soon. I can't recommend this series enough for Tezuka fans - you won't be disappointed!

A tag for every post

This week I finally finished adding tags (Blogger labels) to all 3000+ posts I've written on WEBmikey. This is something I've wanted to do since they added this feature, and I overcame this daunting task by working on it a little bit each morning. It's always tough to see a big mountain of work and wonder how it'e ever going to get finished, but if I can break it down into really small chunks then it's fun to watch it dwindle away, even if it takes months. The tags are fun for me since now I can see true statistics on my posts - for example, now I know I've reviewed 679 DVDs! You can click some of the more popular tags on the left to read those posts, but there are lots of other tags that are fun to go back and read (at least for me), like family, memories, and even Star Wars! By the way, I'm tagging this post as decluttering because I think mental decluttering is just as important as reducing and organizing physical things. Now that this task is complete, I have a few more moments each day to think about all the other things I want to do!

5.27.2008

Nodame Cantabile : 5 of 5

I've enjoyed the story of Nodame Cantabile both as a manga and even a video game for quite some time, so I knew the drama would be fun to watch - but I had no idea it would become my favorite drama yet! The story is about students at a music academy (I always describe it as Fame with classical music) and their struggles both academically and emotionally. The main characters are Nodame, a piano savant who is slightly crazy and lives in a room full of garbage, and Chiaki, a brilliant, refined conductor who lives next door in a kind of Odd Couple relationship. There are tons of other interesting student personalities, along with Maestro Stressman, a famous European professor who is basically a philosophical pervert! The series is full of emotion and comedy at the same time, even using anime style effects every now and then, and easily had me crying by the fourth episode (a new record, I think!). This drama is extra special for me because I love classical music, and watching everyone learn and perform famous pieces was wonderful - I especially enjoyed how Nodame "talks" to the composers to get to know them as a way of understanding their music. Music is used as a metaphor for enjoying life throughout the series, and it really makes its point well during the several concerts and competitions - watching everyone work so hard and then succeed is just inspiring (and tear inducing!). This is the first time I watched a drama while I'm in the middle of the manga series, and it was interesting to notice the differences while they were fresh on my mind. Of course, there are plenty of cute actresses to enjoy, and Ueno Juri as Nodame herself can be stunning, even though most of the time she's crazed and frazzled. I also watched the amazing four-hour special that came out after the series ended, and it was great to enjoy another wonderful story set mostly in Europe with lots of on-location shooting. I think Nodame Cantabile has something for everyone - romance, comedy, and inspiration, and I'm looking forward to watching the whole thing again someday!

5.26.2008

Arizona adventure

When my pal Ryan moved to Arizona last year, I was sad to see him go, but I knew it would be fun to have another place to visit on vacation. I just spent the last few days with Ryan and his wife Jennifer in Phoenix and Sedona, and it was a total blast! Arizona seemed like a entirely new planet to me, with so many cacti covering the landscape in Phoenix, and all of the incredible red rock formations in Sedona (which looks just like Big Thunder Mountain at Disneyland!). On the first day we took a tour of the Diamondbacks baseball stadium (getting to sit in the actual dugout was a real treat), and then enjoyed the famous Heard Museum, filled with awesome Native American artwork. The next day we drove to Sedona and spent all day shopping around (and avoiding time-share salesmen), having some great evening drinks together, and then we spent the night at a cool hotel. The next day we took a nice drive, did more shopping, and went to see the incredible Church of the Holy Cross, which is built right into one of the rock formations and has an incredible view of the beauty of Sedona. Then it was back to Phoenix for a quick rest, followed by a fun sushi dinner and seeing the new Indiana Jones movie! The whole vacation was tons of fun, and Ryan and Jennifer were fantastic hosts! And believe it or not, it was chilly enough to wear my jacket the whole time, even though the temperature should be in the 100s this time of year. How's that for great timing?

View photos: Arizona 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull : 4 of 5

It was so great to be able to see this movie with my pals Ryan & Jennifer while I was visiting them in Arizona, and we had a fun time seeing our hero Indy hit the big screen one more time. This is another one of those films where the audience has to understand the filmmakers' intention, which in this case was to re-create the 1980s adventure feel of the original movies, and I think they succeeded brilliantly! Of course, that means there are some incredibly goofy and impossible stunts and action sequences, but when it comes down to it, Indiana Jones is kind of a superhero, so it makes sense to me! This time around Indy is up against the Russians, who want an alien power (tied in nicely with Area 51 lore) to control minds (sorry for the brief spoiler!). The first section of the movie takes place around Indy's college, but in my opinion, it takes a little too long to get the action into the jungle where it belongs. Harrison Ford does a great job, and it really seems like he's enjoying himself, and it was a blast to see Indy using so much of his intellect and solving riddles with his vast historical knowledge. Truthfully, I was a little surprised at everyone's ages - Indy and Marion both looked older than I expected, but their chemistry was still hilarious and really captured the fun of the original movie. I loved the long action sequence with the jeep chase through the jungle, combined with killer ants and crazed monkeys (although Mutt's vine swinging was ridiculous), and the exploration scenes in the various temples were cool as expected, with lots of moving contraptions and spider webs. Of course, the door is left wide open for a new series of movies with Mutt as the new hero, so I hope audiences can appreciate the campy adventure style enough to generate more sequels!

5.21.2008

Non-stop wedding weekend

Last weekend my pals Jonathan & Anne-Marie got married, so it was a non-stop celebration for three nights in a row! My pal Dae flew in from LA on Thursday, and a bunch of us spent the first night at dinner (where were ran into Kristin from LA, which was a total shock!) and bar hopping around town. The next morning Dae and I had lunch at the Domain and did some gift shopping, and then I had to run off to the wedding rehearsal (since I was honored to be one of Jonathan's groomsmen) and the giant dinner afterwards at Chez Zee. Later on, my pal Ernesto flew in to join us, and there was a huge party at Jonathan's house, where we all gathered for an impromptu jam (I played drums for a while), and of course, drinks and cigars! On the wedding day itself, Jonathan wanted to continue his tradition of seeing the O'Henry Pun-Off, so we started the day with breakfast at Las Manitas, then enjoyed laughing together at the pun performances. We had just enough time to clean up and get dressed, then it was off to the Oasis for the wedding itself! The setting was beautiful and the place was packed, and it was so special to me to have so many friends in one place. I did my "standing up front" duty, and later gave a speech at the reception. Of course, I cried all over the place, but I got so many compliments afterwards, so I guess I chose my words well! After dinner there was a few hours of dancing, then we sent off the wedding couple with sparklers! But for Jonathan & Anne-Marie, a single reception wasn't enough, so it was back to their house for yet another party! There was more music and champagne toasts, and everyone was so happy for Jonathan & Anne-Marie. The whole weekend was just incredible - the friends, the laughter, and even the sleep deprivation! I'm happy that Jonathan & Anne-Marie had such a fantastic start to their new life together!

View photos: Jonathan's Wedding Weekend
View photos: Jonathan & Anne-Marie's Wedding

5.20.2008

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian : 4 of 5

I've been looking forward to the next film in the Narnia series from the moment I saw The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, so I made sure to see this movie with my pal Melinda as soon as I could! Prince Caspian is a much different movie than the first Narnia tale, since it takes place 1,300 years after the first film (of course, the Pevensie children have only aged a year back in our world), and the magical Narnians have been nearly exterminated by the Telmarines, essentially regular, non-magical humans. The four children arrive at the call of Prince Caspian, a young prince who is destined to overthrow his evil uncle and reunite Narnian magic with humanity. The movie adds quite a bit to the original book, mostly in a new castle siege battle, but this is a exciting and dramatic scene that also sets up an interesting conflict between Peter and Caspian. The children do a great acting job again and still look quite young (good thing they filmed this one quickly!), and the many CG characters are cool and lots of fun, especially the flamboyant mouse Reepicheep! The appearance of the White Witch is nice and creepy, too. Of course, the special effects are wonderful during the final tension-filled battle, but overall, this Narnia movie is missing the warm-hearted magic of the first film. Part of that is simply due to the nature of the CS Lewis story, but I also think the filmmakers purposely tried to create a much darker movie. The first movie made me cry tears of both sorrow and joy, but Prince Caspian only provided action (and quite a bit of bloodshed). Of course, I'm still a fan and enjoyed the film, but given the choice to watch either movie again, I would definitely be reaching for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe on my DVD shelf.

101 Dalmatians / Platinum Edition : 5 of 5

Disney's 1961 animated feature 101 Dalmatians isn't one of my top Disney movies, since it doesn't really touch me emotionally, but I still love it for its important spot in the evolution of animation! This two-disc Platinum Edition makes a point of that fact, starting with the documentary appropriately titled Redefining the Line, since 101 Dalmatians was the first Disney feature to Xerox the animators' original drawings onto cels, essentially eliminating the inking department and giving the feature a rougher, artsy look (which Walt originally didn't like, since it was a huge departure from the perfect fantasy look of his earlier films). The documentary is only 30 minutes, but it has tons of animator interviews and covers lots of great facts - I had no idea the cars in the movie were created as paper models and shot, working much like CG models today! I'm also ashamed to say I didn't know about the Lady and the Tramp cameos until now, which are really cool. There's also a wonderful bonus feature that reenacts correspondence between Walt and the author of the original story, which is fascinating and beautifully put together! The movie itself is fantastic, of course, but even better with the popup trivia track (always a favorite feature of mine), that covers detailed information such as the director for each segment as it occurs, and pointing out the cartoon the dogs watch on TV is the 1929 Silly Symphony Springtime. I always enjoy watching 101 Dalmatians for the detail in Roger's apartment, the beautiful backgrounds, and I love the way Cruella's smoke is almost a character by itself! It was great to enjoy another fantastic Platinum Edition, and I'm looking forward to the next release!

5.19.2008

Terror of Mechagodzilla : 5 of 5

Watching this awesome DVD was a bittersweet experience, because not only is it the last Godzilla movie directed by the original filmmaker Ishiro Honda, but it's also the final Godzilla movie that Classic Media has the rights to publish! I just can't imagine watching a cheapo DVD release of the other films after seeing these incredibly polished and insightful versions (though I can at least look forward to a release of Rodan from them in the future!). This 1975 movie features the second appearance of Mechagodzilla, who is rebuilt by aliens and controlled by mad scientist Dr. Mafune and his daughter Katsura, a cyborg who sacrifices herself for mankind and for the hero she loves. Titanosaurus is also in the movie, so the huge battle becomes a three kaiju extravaganza! I really enjoyed seeing all of Mechagodzilla's weapons, and the city destruction scenes in this film are particularly spectacular. The pacing of this movie is also interesting, since Godzilla doesn't appear until 50 minutes into the plot. Of course, the commentary track is incredible, which explains the long additional prologue on the US version of the film, as well as interesting facts about Toho history, actor filmographies (many classic actors from as far back as the original Godzilla appear in this movie), and shooting locations in Japan. There's also explanations of special angles that had to be shot outdoors and new circular dolly moves used in this production. I think I could watch a Godzilla movie every week and enjoy them all, so I guess I'm going to rent the older movies now, even though I know I've been spoiled by these wonderful Classic Media versions, which I highly recommend to any Godzilla or kaiju fan!

Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman : 2 of 5

After finishing the entire Batman Animated Series recently, I thought I should check out some of the direct-to-video animated movies that I've missed over the past few years, so I started with Mystery of the Batwoman. This is a 2003 feature, created in the style of the New Batman Adventures, but most of the time the animation looked too clean to me, especially after enjoying the grit of the original animated series. The plot was fairly interesting, though, revolving around three possible suspects, and includes some classic villains like Penguin, Bane, and Rupert Thorne. There are some nice ties with the plot lines of the various series, such as the Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) & Bruce Wayne relationship implication, and some nice funny lines, too ("I miss working for the Joker" was a great one!). The voice work is well done, as usual, and even though I wasn't too fond of the new-style Penguin voice, it was fun hearing Kelly Ripa play a clumsy scientist, especially since my Mom is such a fan. But overall, I wasn't terribly impressed with this movie - it was definitely lacking in the coolness that Timm/Dini could have brought to the project, which is well-demonstrated in the bonus short called Chase Me, which is the best part of the DVD. This Batman/Catwoman "music video" has a brilliant plot that captures that special Batman feel with much more class! I'd still recommend this DVD for Batman fans who like to see everything there is to see, but if you're being selective with your DVD watching time, I'd check out something classic like Subzero instead.

5.18.2008

Catching up

The past four days have been jam-packed with friend-filled fun, centered around the joyous wedding of Jonathan & Anne-Marie! It's been wall-to-wall celebration with my pals, including Dae and Ernesto visiting from Los Angeles, and so many nights of staying up until 3:00 AM that it's been hard to figure out the difference between intoxication and fatigue! Needless to say, there's been no time for WEBmikey posting, so it's time to play catch up, especially since I'm leaving for Phoenix in a few days to visit my pal Ryan. Of course, I need to get some photos posted from the weekend and wedding, but I also want to write several reviews so I can feel on top of my blogging backlog. So, hopefully the next few days will have multiple posts - say tuned!

5.15.2008

Manga Mentions 5.08

Another month, another five volumes enjoyed! I wish I had time to read more than that, because I can always use a manga escape every now and then. Here's this month's report!

Monster Vol 10: Although my interest in this manga has toned down a little, it's still one of the most amazing suspense stories I've ever read, so even though I'm behind the current release, I still can't put a volume down once I start it! This time we're introduced to Grimmer, a new character who's a former spy investigating the creepy 511 Kinderheim experiments, and there really isn't much of Tenma to be seen. Johan's sister is getting pretty scary, though!

Phoenix Vol 12: I was completely shocked to discover this bonus volume of my beloved Hi no Tori was available, since the last official story was Vol 11! This is a collection of serialized children's stories that star the Phoenix, mostly as a baby named Chirol, focusing on ancient Egypt and Rome, so familiar plots like the Trojan Horse are included. It was fascinating to read these light-hearted yet dramatic stories and still recognize the main characteristics of my favorite manga series!

Death Note 13: On the subject of bonus volumes, here's another unexpected treat! This extra addition to this fantastic series is titled How to Read, and it's basically a encyclopedia of every detail, large and small, about the story. There are long discussions with the creators, detailed explanations about every plot twist, an exhaustive Death Note rules list, character studies, and so on - it's an obsessive geek's delight! The first Death Note pilot story is included as well, with the original idea that erasing a name would bring the person back to life!

Nodame Cantabile Vol 4: I enjoyed this volume mostly because I was engrossed in the live-action drama of this series at the same time, so it's lots of fun to compare the plots as they unfold, but I'm definitely devoted to sticking with the manga all the way. This volume includes the Nagano Music Festival, with a quick and funny stop at the beach, plus an extra story about Nodame's childhood and her first piano teacher, which was really sweet.

Yotsuba Vol 5: Finally, it was wonderful to get back to this gentle, heart-warming series again, which should receive simultaneous awards for "quickest read" and "most laughs out loud"! This time Yotsuba has fun star gazing, playing in the rain and at the beach, and gets fooled by a robot costume. Even though it's so simple, this series always makes me feel wonderful - its motto of "Enjoy everything" is so poignant and true!

5.14.2008

Amazon tweaking habit

Lately my main time-wasting addiction has become adjusting my Amazon Wish Lists and recommendations. I have several lists going, including one I use for things that I want to buy really soon, so I'm constantly looking over my items and figuring what to move around. For example, when I finish a manga volume, I probably already have the next volume of the series on my Manga list, so I find it and move it to my Order Soon list. I also like looking over some of my long lists and deleting things that I've decided not to buy - it's nice to keep something on a list for a while, rather than make an impulse purchase, and then later realize that I really don't want it so much. But besides list management, I absolutely love digging through Amazon recommendations, since I can mark things as "not interested" or rate items I already own. I have discovered so many new books and DVDs before their release date that way, since Amazon does a good job of recommending what I like (thanks to their huge customer base and collaborative filtering). Sometimes I go crazy and even look as far as 500 items of recommendations, and things get pretty silly at that point, but it's still fun. I guess it's just a way to curb my shopping cravings without spending money all the time!

5.13.2008

Speed Racer : 5 of 5

I've been a fan of the Speed Racer anime since I was little, and it was practically my introduction into Japanese entertainment, so I've been looking forward to this movie for quite a while, even though I was skeptical about bringing this classic cartoon to the big screen. The film has received lots of mixed reviews, but for a fan of the original show like me, all of the reasons that critics have found to fault the movie are the exact reasons that I loved it! Instead of trying to bring the plot into modern times, the Wachowski brothers chose to keep the nostalgic, other-worldly style of the cartoon intact, only updating the presentation into a glorious explosion of video game color. The action is fantastic, and the visuals are filled with so much detail that I want to watch it over and over again to take it all in! Most of the casting is surprisingly good - Speed's hair is just right, Trixie is sassy, and I'm so glad they used a real monkey for Chim-Chim! On the subject of acting, there are a few unexpected touching moments between Speed and Pops and his mom which really add a nice dimension not seen in the cartoon. If I had to mention a couple minor negatives, it would have to be the new Sparky, who just didn't work for me, and they changed the use of some of the buttons on the Mach 5, which is actually the Mach 6 for racing, so I guess that's just fan nitpicking on my part! But there are so many other good things to mention - the liberal use of the classic theme song, the inclusion of several villains like Crusher Block and Snake Oiler, the nod to the Mammoth Car episode, the joke about Speed's red socks, and how about Racer X's voice? I thought the delivery was uncanny! I'm convinced that Speed Racer fans, if they embrace the spirit and fun of the original series, will really enjoy this movie. I certainly did, and I'm already dying for the DVD!

5.12.2008

Batman Chronicles / Vol 2 : 3 of 5

After enjoying the first volume of Batman Chronicles so much, I decided I had to continue with this series, since I'm fascinated by the extremely early adventures of this iconic hero, this time from 1940. The stories in this volume begin to take a different tone, since Robin is usually there to pal around with, and Bruce seems to really enjoy his pipe-smoking bachelor lifestyle, although a few plots include his fiancee Julie (which was news to me!). Besides the Joker, there are a few more villain introductions, although they are definitely different than we know them today. Catwoman wears a full cat-head mask, which looks pretty silly, and Clayface is simply an actor in makeup (for now!). The cool thing about these stories is most of them are actually presented as mysteries - lots of suspects are introduced, and Batman really gets to be a detective and solve the crime. But along with the intellectual side comes some extreme violence, with bad guys being tossed around and even slammed into walls (which the narrator loves to call a "sickening thud" over and over again). Robin often uses a sling as his weapon (always with a David & Goliath reference), the Batplane shows up a few times, but there's still no official Batmobile - I'm looking forward to its introduction. If I didn't have so many other books waiting for me to read, I would already be buying the next volume of this series by now!

5.11.2008

Iron Man : 5 of 5

Although I'm not totally immersed in the comic book adventures of Iron Man, I've certainly read enough of his stories both alone and with the Avengers (plus watched the cartoon TV series!) to be somewhat of a fan, so I was really excited to see this movie. Along with movies like the first Spider-Man and Batman Begins, Iron Man is a truly fantastic superhero movie that manages to keep both comic book geeks and general movie-goers happy, and I loved it! The first few scenes to establish the playboy character of Tony Stark are absolutely hilarious, and Robert Downey Jr. does a great job playing him, and later in the film really shines when he turns around Stark's emotions to reveal his new life purpose as a hero. It was nice to Gwenyth Paltrow again, and the short romance scenes had nice chemistry, I thought. But of course, the real star is the Iron Man suit (as well as Tony's other gadgets), which includes a fantastic progression of development and testing sequences (perfectly played for laughs), and watching Iron Man blaze across the sky (especially when pursued by other jets) is thrilling! The origin story has been updated to Afghanistan, but all of the elements are there so I think comic book purists are satisfied. As for me, I'm just glad I noticed the cartoon series theme song as a cell phone ringtone! I'm definitely excited about seeing future movies in this series, especially if they start to involve SHIELD more, or even the Avengers (as they hinted in the bonus scene at the end of the credits!). It's amazing to look at a great movie like Iron Man compared to crap like Fantastic Four - I'm just thankful someone in Hollywood can do superheroes right!

5.10.2008

Warukunai desu yo

You may remember that I was a disappointed in my scores on the 2007 Japanese Language Proficiency Test Level 3, but since then I've been really curious to find out how the rest of the world did on the same exam. Every year they publish a set of statistics with that information, and this week I noticed the results were finally available online, so at last I can compare myself with the rest of the world! The numbers I'm interested in are the average scores for overseas examinees, and there were around 113,000 of them last year. I'm really happy to say that my scores were above average in all three parts of the test, so I feel much better now! My writing/vocabulary score was 84, while the average was only 69, and my reading/grammar score was 163, while the average was 126. Best of all, now I have proof that the 2007 listening comprehension section was really terrible - the average score was a mere 39 points, which makes my score of 48 seem much better! So overall, my total score of 295 looks nice compared to the average score of 235. I've really been enjoying my Japanese studies this year, and now it feels even better to know that my Level 3 results were definitely OK since the test was pretty difficult. Now I have new determination to pass Level 2 someday, most likely in 2009 - I'm definitely going to spend this year enjoying Japanese without cramming for the exam!

While I'm on the subject, this week I had my last lesson with my tutor Mikie, who is moving to California soon. I couldn't have asked for a better teacher at this stage of my studies - her kindness really helped me through some tough spots and encouraged me to continue studying! I'm thankful that my pal Kumiko is my new tutor, and we are making fantastic progress and having fun, but I'm definitely going to miss Mikie-sensei!

5.09.2008

I can't stop watching Disney Musume!

It's time for some serious fan gushing, because this morning I just discovered the incredible music video of the classic Mickey Mouse March that Morning Musume made for a recent NHK special! It features all the girls dancing around Toontown in Tokyo Disneyland, right along with Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, and Chip & Dale! Since I'm a huge Disney fan, and a huge Morning Musume fan, I just can't get enough of this video (as ridiculous as that sounds) - my favorite things are all here like toppings on an ice cream sundae and I'm overwhelmed by the cute explosion! On the Disney side, Toontown looks great, Mickey's costume is fresh and unique, and the crazy instrumentation of the song definitely has that Disney touch. On the Morning Musume side, their matching costumes are wonderful, the kawaii-experts like Sayumi look so at home in Disneyland, and everyone's little interjections are cool (of course, I love hearing phrases like "Let's dancing!", because it makes it even more adorable!). It even has on-screen Japanese lyrics, which I have pretty much memorized already! After watching the video (over and over) on YouTube, I found some high-quality versions on the Hello!Online tracker, and now I have it on my iPhone so I can get an emergency fix anytime I want!

Watch video: Morning Musume / Mickey Mouse March

5.08.2008

オペラ

むかし から、私は オペラの ファン です。大学生の とき、初めて オペラを みにいってから、大学の としょかんで オペラのビデオを よく みる ように なりました。それいらい 私は オペラの シーズン チケットを いつも かっています。

オペラは 音楽とか えんぎとか いしょうなどを くみあわせているので、かんぺきな げいじゅつと いわれます。ミュージカルと ちがう ところは ふつうの せりふが ありません。オペラは せりふが ぜんぶ うたわれます。この せりふの うたいかたを レチターチボと いいます。ちなみに、ながい きょくを アリアと いいます。

オペラでは かしゅの うたこえは オーケストラの がっきみたい です。ことば より 音楽の ほうが じゅうよう なので、ときどき 二人や 三人が ちがう せりふを どうじに うたいます!でも、その ねいろは うつくしいと おもいます。だいたい オペラは イタリアごや ドイツごや フランスごで うたわれますが、きんだいてきな げきじょうの ステージ の うえでは じまくが うつされます。

オペラは 3時間 ぐらい かかって、まくあいが 二回 あります。オペラの はなしは だいじ ですが、かんきゃくは みるまえに はなしを もう しっています。ただ えんぎを たのしむことが オペラの さいこうの みかた です。だから、私は オペラを みにいく まえに オペラの はなしを よんだり、音楽を みたり します。

私には 一番好きな オペラを えらぶのが とても むずかしい です。こいと じゅなんの アリアが 大好き なので、「La Boheme 」や「Faust」や「Rigoletto」や「Don Giovanni」が すばらしいと おもいます。つぎの シーズンに「Rigoletto」を みにいくのを たのしみに しています!

Disneyland Resort: Imagineering the Magic : 3 of 5

This is a new two-disc DVD set available only at the Disney parks, but I was lucky enough to read about it and order it directly from Disneyland! When I first looked at the packaging, I was worried that this would be a simple rehash of the material included on the Disneyland: Secrets, Stories & Magic DVD set, but it's actually all new material organized into each of the Disneyland lands with brief Imagineer interview clips. There were no new surprising facts revealed for me here (this is kind of a "junior" look at Imagineering), but I was amazed by some vintage black & white footage that I had never seen before that was pretty spectacular! My favorites were watching test rides of Peter Pan's Flight (when it was just the seats suspended from the track), as well as Mr. Toad's Wild Ride (without all the flats separating the building into rooms). My only complaint about the documentary is that several old clips are presented in the wrong aspect ratio - I guess they wanted the whole show to fill the screen on HDTVs, but I hate seeing squashed video. Besides the hour-long feature, there are some bonus segments on the second disc about new attractions (unfortunately all old news, since everything is already open, even though this is a brand new DVD!) and a ridiculously easy quiz, plus a quick look at Disney's California Adventure, which will all be irrelevant someday as they redesign the park. I really enjoyed watching this DVD (most of it with my Disney pal Melinda), so I'd definitely recommend it to Disney park maniacs just getting started on their obsession with Imagineering!

5.07.2008

Cat Girl Kiki : 2 of 5

I guess I'm continuing with this embarrassing trilogy that started with Legend of the Doll, but at least these movies are short and silly enough to get through quickly! This movie has a really similar plot to the last one, featuring a lonely guy who takes in a stray cat, only to find it transformed into a cat-girl (fully human with kitty ears, but no tail) named Kiki. The first half of the movie is just what you would expect - drinking milk, playing with toys, and even learning how to speak (and don't forget trying on a maid costume), but then the plot quickly changes as we realize the guy is a shut-in whose life has fallen apart, and it becomes apparent that no one else can see Kiki. It's crazy how dramatic it gets, and the acting isn't half-bad actually, since the guy really stirs up a lot of emotion. This movie definitely has an amateur feel to it, but not as bad as Legend of the Doll - I'm pretty sure it was shot on video, but at least they used high-quality cameras and tripods this time! The editing and camera angles are better, too. Discussing the filming techniques of a simple otaku fantasy flick makes me sound like I'm trying to turn Cat Girl Kiki into art, but I'm definitely not! I just enjoyed watching it because it's fun to see the stereotypes of Japanese culture portrayed so boldly, which will be my same excuse for watching the third and final movie in this series soon.

5.06.2008

All Monsters Attack : 3 of 5

After a long pause in their release schedule, Classic Media is back with more definitive Godzilla DVD releases, which I bought as soon as they were available! I decided to watch All Monsters Attack first, even though it has a bad reputation as the worst Godzilla movie ever made, and I can see why. This particular film was actually targeted at kids, so it has a young boy as the main character Ichiro, who lives his life as a latchkey kid who has a scuffle with some bank robbers. All of the monster action takes place in Ichiro's fantasy world (on Monster Island), where he dreams of watching huge battles with his pal Minilla (the goofy son of Godzilla), and then uses various fighting techniques he observes to outwit the robbers (and a bully who has been giving him trouble) in a kind of Home Alone style! To top it off, most of the monster battle footage was lifted from previous Godzilla films, so there are crazy inconsistencies like three different Godzilla costumes (the changes are subtle, but you can definitely tell!). Thankfully, Classic Media can make even a so-so movie like this one into a fantastic experience, since it's always fun to see these movies in the original Japanese, and their commentary tracks simply cannot be topped. This time the commentary discusses where all of the reused footage comes from, and talks directly about each scene as we watch it, mentioning lighting, sets, and so on. There's also a brief documentary on director Ishiro Honda included. Actually, I still had a blast watching this film - the child acting is pretty amazing to me, and I certainly don't mind a silly movie from time to time. I'm just glad there are new DVDs for a Godzilla fan like me to devour!

5.05.2008

High School Musical 2 : 3 of 5

For a Disney fan like me, it's taken way too long for me to get caught up the huge High School Musical phenomenon, but now I can say I'm ready for the third movie when it comes out! I completely forgot to review the original movie, but I promise I did rent it soon after seeing the local stage production, and I thought it was really fun - I especially loved the fact that Kenny Ortega, who worked so hard on the Disney bomb yet cult favorite Newsies, finally has a real hit on his hands. This second movie pretty much takes the plot turns you would expect - after high school, you've got to have summer vacation, and after Sharpay lost Troy to Gabriella, of course she has to spend the whole movie trying to get him back. The location for everyone's summer job is a gorgeous country club with some spectacular scenery, and the outdoor shots really have a fantastic color palette! There are some great songs this time around, such You Are the Music in Me, which is a nice ballad that gets hilariously Sharpay-ized, and I was also really impressed by Bet On It, since Zac really knows how to go all out on his performance (and if anyone can offer me his hair, I will pay out the nose). Unfortunately, there are some total dud songs, too, like I Don't Dance (singing on the baseball field just doesn't work), and the goofy Hawaiian number (apparently only available on the DVD version) is flat-out embarrasing. The whole thing is just under two full hours, which is pretty long for a Disney Channel movie (which still has the annoying pauses for commercials), but I had a great time watching the whole thing. It definitely made me want to get outside in the sun and pretend I'm one of the cool kids!

5.04.2008

Hello! Project 2008 Winter / Kettei! Haropuro Award '08 : 4 of 5

After being a little disappointed with Morning Musume's fall concert, I'm happy to say that I really enjoyed this giant winter concert by the full Hello! Project arsenal. This is the kind of show I wanted to see, held in a giant arena overflowing with fans, and the moment all the girls started filling the "race track" stage gave me goosebumps! Seeing old timers like Nacchi and Yuko singing side-by-side with Berryz Koubou is so sweet, and gave the concert a nice sense of history. The camera work was pretty good, and I love the fact that the girls definitely know where the cameras are so they can ham it up! There were lots of earpiece monitors in use, but that sure didn't stop them from lip synching way too much. Of course, Aya and Nacchi completely out-class everyone else by sounding terrific totally on their own, but I still enjoyed everyone else's performances, too. In "news from the past", Biyuden makes a quick apology for their sudden breakup, and Ongaku Gatas announces their new album. The concert is themed as an awards show, so the usual MCs Makoto and Mari go through these goofy announcements for categories like Best Smile and even Best Yay Yay. Morning Musume gives a nice performance of Love and Peace (with plenty of cute kisses), and it's really fun to see Lin Lin and Jun Jun speaking Chinese, since they can really rattle it off. During the finale, I always enjoy seeing the older Musumes get emotional and let a few tears fall - it really reminds me that these performers for the most part really love what they do, give it their best, and are actually thankful to their fans and staff for the opportunity to sing and dance in such a huge show! It's this kind of mutual fan/performer admiration that makes Jpop my favorite form of musical entertainment!

5.03.2008

Triple event weekend

This has been a jam-packed weekend so far, and tons of fun! Friday night there was a bachelor dinner in honor of Jonathan's wedding (coming up in a couple weeks!), so all of gathered for a long meal at the Clay Pit with plenty of drinking, story telling, and lots of laughter. After dinner we decided to walk to the Cloak Room, which is one of Jonathan's secret late-night haunts. Most of us had never been there before, and it was cool to discover this tiny, dark bar that's famous for being filled with Texas legislators (since it's right at the foot of the Capitol). It was a really fun evening!

Today I got up early to get my weekend chores done so I could head out to enjoy Free Comic Book Day! Matt decided he wanted to check it out also, so we went to Capstone Comics (a really nice place that I'll definitely revisit) and ran into George and his grandson Devin, which was nice since I love seeing kids getting excited about free comics. The store really went all out for the event with raffle drawings, guests artists signing things, and even guys in authentic Star Wars costumes!

Next, after an hour or so of rest, the Greatest American Heroes drove to Temple to play a benefit for the American Cancer Society. We played in a high school football stadium, right on the 50-yard line, and although we were missing Chris on guitar and had a guest bassist, we had a great time and seemed to be well received. It was so refreshing to play outside in the beautiful weather, and then have an awesome meal together at a 50s themed diner. Now I'm finally home, a little sunburnt, and a lot tired, but I've enjoyed every minute of this crazy weekend! I'm definitely going to kick back tomorrow!

View photos: Jonathan's Bachelor Dinner
View photos: Comics & Heroes

5.02.2008

まんがの キャラクターの びょうしゃ

わたしは さいきん「ひかるのご」という まんがを よんでいます。この まんがが とても おもしろくて、日本 ぶんかが いっぱい はいっています。メーン キャラクターは「しんど ひかる」とうい 12さいの 男の子 です。この はなしを まだ よみおわっていない けど、ひかるくんは おもしろい キャラクター だと おもいます。

はじめに、ひかるくんは ちょっと なまけもの でした。かれは なにも きょうみが ありません でした。そして、やねうらで ごばんを みつけたら、とつぜん「ふじわらのさい」という れいが あらわれました! さいさんは ゆうめいな ごの めいじん だから、ひかるくんに ごの あそびかたを おしえてあげました。

まもなく ひかるくんの ごが じょうずに なってから、「とうや あきら」という ほかの ごの きしが ひかるくんの ライバルに なりました。ライバルの おかげで、ひかるくんは もっと もっと がんばりました! 日本の はなしには ライバルが つねに だいじ です。このばあい あきらくんは ひかるくんが もっと いい ごの きしの なる ために かんか しました。

ひかるくんは もっと じょうずに なる ために がんばっている ので、わたしは「ひかるのご」が とても すき です。さいご まで ぜったい よみます。つぎの ほんを たのしみに しています!

Yo-Yo Girl Cop : 3 of 5

Even though I already downloaded and watched Sukeban Deka back in 2006, I was so surprised to see this movie get a US DVD release that I wanted to buy it just to support the cause! In case you don't know, Yo-Yo Girl Cop is an action-adventure about a yo-yo weapon-wielding school girl, staring the Jpop talents of Matsuura Aya and the Biyuden gals. I wasn't overly impressed with the movie the first time, but since then my Jpop fandom has grown and changed a little, so it was really fun to watch it again with new eyes. I also wanted to check out the "official" subtitles, since I thought the translations I had seen before were hilarious with tons of F-bombs, but the Japanese is just as loose this time around. I noticed many more genre techniques (like woosh sound effects for camera zooms!), and I thought Rika was much cooler than before (I guess I'm a bigger fan now!). Of course, I still enjoyed Aya's legs and her action scenes are great, but I was more impressed with Yui's acting - for her first (and maybe only) movie, she does a nice job playing such a sad introverted character! I was a little more moved by the brief dinner scene where Aya has dinner with her father (though she doesn't know he's her dad), so overall my movie watching experience was better this time. It was cool to watch the long Making Of segment with subtitles, and I think it's awesome that Aya did her own stunt work, even the difficult wire flying moves! The best part is watching Aya have a brief conversation with the actress who played the first Sukeban Deka, as they compare yo-yo props and talk about the difference in film making techniques. Yo-Yo Girl Cop isn't a great movie, but I'm glad I gave it a second chance - it's still a fun way to enjoy being a Jpop fan with a tokusatsu flair!

5.01.2008

Japanese in MangaLand Vol 2 / Marc Bernabe : 3 of 5

I can't believe I read this first volume of this series back in 2006, and I just now finally finished the second volume (guess I was really busy studying for the JLPT)! I really like the way this book concisely presents Japanese grammar - sometimes it has to bend the truth a little to avoid mentioning the many confusing exceptions that are lurking nearby, but I love the way it spells out grammar rules with confidence anyway. The selling point for this series is the manga examples, but truthfully they are the least helpful part of the book (but still fun to study). Even less helpful are the cultural/conversation chapters, which are just lists of sentences like a typical phrase book, which is pretty boring. The other weird thing about this book is it was originally written in Spanish, so this English version is actually a translation, which may be the reason some of the sentences are annoyingly full of complex grammar jargon. For example, "Potentiality and prohibition expressions in Japanese are not excessively hard to assimilate due to the relative simplicity of the verbal conjugations" is an actual sentence in the book! On the positive side, I really learned a few things that stuck with me, such as the origin of the crazy -chau conjugation, which is really a slang version of -te shimau (and now it finally makes sense!). There's also a nice set of "giving and receiving" diagrams (you can never have enough of those, trust me!). So even though this series has its drawbacks, I still want to get the third volume sometime soon! I wouldn't really recommend it for a total beginner, but it's been very useful for me as a refresher, with great exposure to many areas of the Japanese language.