8.29.2008

Tropic Thunder: 3 of 5

Wow, I'm getting so behind on reviewing things that I'm going to starting forgetting what to talk about! My pals and I saw Tropic Thunder last weekend at the Alamo Drafthouse (always the best choice for this kind of movie), and we all laughed our heads off! I have to say that I wasn't as totally impressed as my other friends (I thought it got a little stale in the middle of the film), but this is still a fantastic comedy, since spoofs of movie-making are so much fun. The best part of the entire movie occurs right at the beginning with some fake trailers and advertisements featuring each of the main characters - these start before any of the opening credits, so they took me by surprise at first! I really enjoyed the "monks in love" trailer with Tobey Maguire and Robert Downey's character - the crazy contacts he wears to make his eyes look piercing are genius. Actually, Downey is a pretty amazing actor and he really steals the show from Ben Stiller (who plays every role the same, but funny) and Jack Black. Speaking of acting, I have to mention Tom Cruise's performance as the crude balding movie executive - he may be crazy, but it took some guts to go all out for this role! The plot of the movie is fairly predictable, but does have some nice twists. I thought the kid playing the leader of the drug factory was funny, and the toddler stabbing Stiller in the neck was totally hilarious (in a sick humor kind of way)! I wouldn't want to see it a second time, but Tropic Thunder was still a ton of fun overall!

8.27.2008

Disney stuff sold

I've been selling a few Disney collectibles on eBay for the past few months, and overall I'd say it was pretty fun and successful! To make it easy on myself, I only sold one item at a time, and these were all things that I won't miss, since I had bought them out of sheer Disney mania, but never actually displayed them. I learned a lot about eBay selling techniques, how to pack items and where to buy materials, and so on. Here are some random tips!

It seems to be important to get the word "Disney" in the title of the item, rather than "Disneyland", since eBay's search seems to look at full words only by default. You have to set your starting bid really low (even below what you want to make, which is like gambling!) to get the ball rolling, and just hope all the watchers go nuts in the last five minutes of the auction (which they usually do). Don't buy shipping materials from office supply stores, which all suck - bubble wrap is cheapest at the grocery store (USPS brand), and peanuts are cheapest at the UPS Store (since they are most likely reused). The key to packing is to float the item in the middle of a large box, and be sure nothing rattles when you shake the box!

Anyway, after selling seven items, I basically tripled my money over what I originally paid for the collectibles, so buying and selling Disney items can be a pretty good investment! I would almost consider buying things just to sell them later, but I'm so against storage and clutter now that I don't think I would ever really do that. Someday when my toy shelves get too full I'll have to rotate some things out, so maybe I'll do a little more selling in the future.

8.26.2008

Scott Pilgrim Vol 3 & Vol 4 : 4 of 5

This hilarious manga-ish comic book series keeps getting better and better, and I can't even count the number of times I laughed out loud reading these two volumes! In Volume 3, Scott has to fight Ramona's ex-boyfriend who has "Vegan powers", and there are even more video game references scattered around than usual (the characters can see "save points" and so on in their real world). Knives is still the cutest, especially since she "totally still loves" Scott (ah, the devotion), and this volume also has a hilarious flashback to being eleven years old, drawn in crayon-style (the comic timing of turning the page and seeing this flashback was pure genius, too!). Volume 4 has a hilarious spoof of the "Wrong Way" page found at the back of most manga, and Scott & Ramona fall deeper in love (and finally move in together) even though there's a half-ninja girl to battle (as well as Knives' crazy dad). I'm really glad I discovered this series, since it's become so popular recently (there may even be a movie) and I've really enjoyed reading it, but now I have to wait until February for the next volume to be published! At least there's some fun stuff to check out on the Scott Pilgrim website while I wait!

8.23.2008

Batman: Gotham Night : 4 of 5

I was a little leery of buying this DVD because I knew so little about it, but since I really wanted it as part of my Batman animation collection (and because I knew Bruce Timm was involved), I decided to get it. I definitely made the right decision, since I haven't enjoyed an animated experience with so many "Wow!" moments in a long time! Gotham Night is a collection of six short stories that loosely tie together, set in the world of the Batman Begins and The Dark Night movies (although they wisely still used Kevin Conroy from the animated series as the voice of Batman). Each segment has a different director and studio, so each story has a unique style. Since nearly all of the studios are Japanese, this is essentially Batman set in a cutting-edge anime world! This style probably isn't for everyone, but I completely loved seeing so many various styles and designs for Batman's costume and villains, creative use of CG, and all kinds of truly unique animation techniques - this is the perfect film for Batman fans who are also animation geeks! In fact, my favorite part of watching the movie was going nuts as each new segment began, since it's always a complete change from the previous style. The entire movie is animated in full 16:9 widescreen, which looks spectacular during the many expansive views of Gotham City. I can't begin to discuss each of the six stories, but I should at least say that Have I Got a Story for You was my least favorite animation-wise (though the plot was cool), and Field Test gave me the most thrills, since it's the closest to traditional anime (coolest Batman costume ever, if you ask me!). Working Through Pain has a fantastic plot, and Deadshot is one of the best Batman fights ever animated. The bonus material was a little lacking for my taste, although I really enjoyed the long Bob Kane biography, since I knew nothing about him until now. Gotham Night has received some mixed reviews, but I was blown away - if you're open to see Batman in an entirely new way, you owe it to yourself to watch it!

8.22.2008

Looney Tunes: Cartoon Conductor / Nintendo DS : 4 of 5

I know I'm pretty weird when it comes to games, but I've enjoyed playing Cartoon Conductor more than any other game in the past several weeks! At last I have that great feeling of being addicted to something, and it feels great to pick up my DS for a quick game just about every time I sit down. Cartoon Conductor is a rhythm tapping game pretty similar to Elite Beat Agents, but with several differences. The most obvious is the whole game is themed to classic Warner Bros. cartoons, so as you play each song, a kind of re-creation of the cartoon plays on the top screen. These are done with sort of crappy polygon versions of Bugs and his pals, which may drive people crazy, but I still think it's fun to see these new versions of great tunes, including my favorites: What's Opera Doc? and The Rabbit of Seville! Next, all of the songs are classical music (just like your average cartoon score), which sometimes makes it tough to discover the rhythm at times, but it certainly helps to be familiar with the pieces beforehand. Finally, rather than tapping each numbered note, you have to drag between notes to form long phrases - I guess this makes it seem more like "conducting", but for me it's much more difficult to time a precise drag than a tap! Even though I've passed all of the songs on the first two levels with ease, I still think the game is challenging, and I keep playing over and over to improve my grade for each song. The synthesized music actually sounds great, and the game is just exploding with authentic cartoon sound bites that play all over the place (even when you're just navigating through the menus). Call me crazy, but this is the kind of game I enjoy, and I'll be playing Cartoon Conductor for a long, long time!

8.21.2008

Godzilla vs Gigan : 3 of 5

This 12th Godzilla movie was so much better than some of the recent ones I've watched, because not only does it introduce Gigan, a cool space monster with a wicked buzz saw in his belly, but it also includes King Ghidorah and Anguirus (Godzilla's first opponent from Godzilla Raids Again, but now he's just Godzilla's buddy on Monster Island)! Besides having four cool monsters going for it, this movie also has some fun characters, starting with a struggling manga artist and his martial artist girlfriend, who get involved with a weird organization building an amusement park with a huge Godzilla tower. The tower turns out to be a secret base (which is a great set filled with awesome detailed control panels) for a race of alien cockroaches, who control Ghidorah and Gigan so they can kill Godzilla (presumably the only force stopping them from taking over Earth!). This movie has great pacing and lots of anticipation. Anguirus (which is really tough to pronounce in Japanese!) shows up for a quick battle at the half-hour mark, but Godzilla doesn't really get into action until an hour into the plot! The miniature effects are really nice, although the recycled city destruction scenes are obviously better than the lower budget amusement park, but there's an extended sequence set in a refinery where the explosions are fire are really impressive! The battles are quite vicious as well, with more kaiju blood than I've seen in a long time - Gigan is all about sharp talons and blades, and he definitely uses them well (until Godzilla and Anguirus team up and kick his rubber butt). Even though the series is getting sillier and less dramatic, I still appreciate each Godzilla movie for its own merits, and Godzilla vs Gigan was an exciting evening of monster battle fun!

8.20.2008

Happy pockets

I haven't written about decluttering in quite a while, mainly because I've spent so much time on it that it's been tough to find more things to do! But I'm convinced there's still something out there waiting for me to change for the better, and here's a couple small things (one in each pocket) that have been making me smile lately.

Several weeks ago I finally got rid of my home phone and switched to an iPhone-only life, and I'm so glad I did. Besides the savings, I love walking into my condo after being out and not having to check an answering machine! When I'm getting out of the car, my brain still starts to think "I need to see if anyone called me", and then I remember "Oh yeah, I already know since I have my iPhone with me!" And don't forget the side-benefit of receiving zero telemarketing calls! It's just one little bit of mental decluttering (plus financial decluttering) that's pretty cool.

I also did some major wallet decluttering recently. I had been thinking about trying out the Slimmy, a super-thin, new-concept wallet (if you can still call it that!), for quite a while, but never got around to ordering one. But during my Disneyland visit, I experienced the wettest Splash Mountain ride ever! I had the front seat and got completely soaked (my pants were still wet in my suitcase when I got home!), which pretty much destroyed my old wallet. The cash was so wet I had to deposit it at the bank since no one would take it! Anyway, now I'm using the Slimmy, and I love it. I only need a few bills, identification, and one credit card - I don't carry all of the other crap (like discount cards) unless I know I'll be using them. The Slimmy is so nice, and now I keep it in my front pocket and never even notice it!

8.19.2008

Star Wars: The Clone Wars : 3 of 5

I really enjoyed the first two seasons of the 2D animated series on Cartoon Network several years ago, so when I first heard that The Clone Wars was going to be continued as a CGI series, I was definitely excited. I was even more thrilled to hear that the first few episodes of the series were being combined into a theatrical release, since there's nothing better than seeing Star Wars in an actual theater! But after reading a few bad reviews of this movie, my expectations were really low, and maybe that made it possible for me to enjoy the movie more, since my pal Matt and I had a great time seeing it. The CGI animation looks fantastic for space ships, equipment, droids, and so on, but the character design inherited from the 2D series doesn't translate well in my opinion (their movements really felt like marionettes to me!). The plot is pretty cool with an interesting twist involving Jabba's fruity uncle, but essentially the movie is a long string of battle scenes, which is OK when they look this cool! I really enjoyed seeing the clones with their helmets off (all the same with different hairstyles, and the Jango Fett voice was well-done), and it was great to see Asajj Ventress again. Anakin's new padawan Ahsoka is pretty interesting, through her cutesy voice doesn't really go with her exotic looks, and I'm glad Padme was included (and I enjoyed her brief eye contact with Anakin). Even though I generally groan at battle droid dialogue, I actually thought their goofy lines were funny this time! Of course, there are lots of things wrong with this movie (don't get me started about the opening narration), but for me there were enough good things going on to get me excited about the upcoming TV series. The Clone Wars certainly doesn't compare to any of the six movies, but during a Star Wars drought, I'll take what I can get!

8.16.2008

Galactica 1980 / The Final Season : 3 of 5

It's sometimes known as the worst sci-fi TV show ever made, but when Galactica 1980 hit the small screen, I was thrilled! I might have been too young then to realize how terrible it was (and most fans like to pretend it never existed), but I was just so excited to see more Battlestar Galactica that I didn't care how silly the plot was. So, watching this series again was a nostalgic blast, and a few episodes are actually entertaining! The premise of the show is that the Galactica finally discovers Earth during our present day (1980, that is!). The fleet is basically under the command of a brilliant kid named Dr. Zee (later revealed to be Starbuck's spiritual baby!), who realizes if they land on Earth, the Cylons will follow and destroy it (which he shows in a brilliant scene of Cylon raiders attacking Hollywood!). So, they send down two warriors in disguise, Troy (who is actually little Boxey all grown up) and Dillon, to make subtle contact while flying around on their turbo motorcycles! Of course, they're constantly getting chased by Air Force UFO experts and making mistakes (like accidentally robbing a bank). In only one season, the series takes off in many directions - there's a group of silly Colonial kids who can jump super-high (explained by a Galactica/Earth gravity difference), a Nazi time travel episode, and even a Halloween special where Wolfman Jack is abducted by a Cylon Centurion and a human-style Cylon model (hey, this show had a human Cylon way before the current hit series!). Everyone loves the final episode called The Return of Starbuck, which is a first-person look at Starbuck's fate, crash-landed on a planet along with a Centurion. Enemies become friends and there are actually some nice insights into Starbuck's character, but then the series ends. There's so many more details I could mention, but it's enough to say that I loved watching all that stock Viper footage again! This show isn't for everyone (unless you really need a nap), but if you remember this show from your childhood, you'll have fun laughing at it as an adult!

8.15.2008

Dancing Barefoot / Wil Wheaton : 3 of 5

I've always thought it's amazing how Wil Wheaton, who played Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation, re-invented himself as a prolific internet celebrity. Back in the early ays of blogging, Wil was there churning out story after story, showing everyone the "real Wil" and becoming a champion for geeks everywhere. That's part of what makes him so interesting - even though he was a popular child actor, in many ways his childhood was focused around the same things as the rest of us geeks, and so his completely honest writing style makes him seem like a friend and all around nice guy. Wil writes so much on his blog and on Twitter that I can never keep up with it all, so it was nice to finally start reading his published work and take the time to really enjoy it. Dancing Barefoot is a collection of stories from his blog - four of them are super short, recalling memories of a dear aunt and happy times with his wife, and the last story is long and truly fantastic. The Saga of SpongeBob VegasPants begins with a hilarious look at the first time Wil met William Shatner (including some touching moments with Gene Roddenberry), and then covers Wil's experiences at a huge Star Trek convention in Vegas. There are tons of priceless moments here, little glimpses into the personalities of other Trek celebrities, and lots of genuine openness into Wil himself. The story finishes with Wil's recollection of the Star Trek attraction at the Vegas Hilton, which was fun to read since I remember it so well, and it's incredible how he weaves this memory into such a poignant moment. Dancing Barefoot was really fun and relaxing to read, and now I'm really looking forward to reading more of Wil's books!

8.14.2008

Ninja Nonsense / The Legend of Shinobu Vol 3 & Vol 4 : 3 of 5

Though I've had trouble finishing up the manga version of this story (since I can't find the final volume!), I quickly watched the entire anime series and enjoyed it all! Ninja Nonsense is completely lighthearted and goofy, with plenty of risque situations thrown in just for fun. Both volumes continue the short 15 minute episode format (similar to Adult Swim shows), managing to hit all the usual cliches with tons of laughs. I enjoyed the guys vs. girls baseball game episode, mainly due to the funny lines from all the ninja guys drooling over the girls ("I was born to witness this moment!"). Of course, there's a return to the hot spring with lots of attempts to sneak a peek, a haunted house at the school festival, and a hilarious Christmas celebration, which is especially funny just because of all the hidden jokes in the background (you never know when you're going to see a surprise naked ninja butt). My favorite episode focuses on Sasuke (the only faceless ninja with a name) and his hilarious dream of being married to all the girl characters in the show (even Kaede's mom!), and then he fights a demon by making it wear hot mustard underwear (which is a good example of the kind of humor this show is all about)! The finale features a nice Sailor Moon parody, and then actually makes fun of anime final episodes in general, as Shinobu passes her big exams, goes to study abroad, gets kicked out, and is happy reunited with Kaede. Both DVDs include a nice interview with the Japanese voice actors, and it's fun to see the guys and girls who actually screamed all those funny lines. Ninja Nonsense is pretty much exactly what the title describes, but I really enjoyed it!

8.13.2008

Together again in LA

I spent last weekend in Los Angeles to visit my pals Dae & Ernesto, but this time the trip was even better than usual since Matt & Kumiko went with me! Ernesto and Dae were both spectacular tour guides, taking us all over downtown LA, Santa Monica, and everywhere inbetween. I was thrilled to visit the Bradbury Building after seeing it so many times in Blade Runner, and it was a cool feeling to be in the same place where they shot part of the film. During the weekend, Ernesto took us on a nice drive and let us get our feet wet at the beach, we all enjoyed Griffith Observatory (and the planetarium show) together, and we made it to both Little Tokyo and Little Osaka for lots of shopping (I bought some great tokusatsu toys) and real ramen! We even had time to explore Venice Beach, where we saw a crazy band called Ninja Academy. I got to take over as tour guide on Monday, since we went to Disneyland together! I had a such a great time showing off my "hometown" to my friends, plus it was Kumiko's birthday, so we got her a button at City Hall and I'd say about 40 Cast Members all said "Happy Birthday" during the day. The crowds weren't bad at all (since it was a Monday), and we got to do everything we wanted, with several repeat rides! As always, Dae took some great photos, but he really did the impossible this time by snapping his own picture during the huge Splash Mountain drop (which completely soaked us, by the way)! There's no better combination than Disneyland and amazing friends!

View photos: Los Angeles Fun 2008

8.09.2008

Superman Chronicles / Vol 1 : 4 of 5

I know I should have waited until I finished a few more volumes of the Batman Chronicles, but I just had to get started on the Superman Chronicles, too (since I had a gift certificate to use)! Just like the Batman books, this series puts together all of the ancient Superman stories in order, starting with the famous Action Comics #1 in 1938 and continuing through 1939. Actually, I really enjoyed the Action Comics covers - they usually show some cool adventure or war scene, since Superman was only one of many features in each issue back then. These old stories are amazing in so many ways - Superman's famous origin is breezed through in only one page, the newspaper is called the Daily Star rather than the Daily Planet, and of course there was no flying back then, only super-jumping (which means Superman can actually fall). It's hilarious to see how much Lois Lane hates Clark, and she really lets him know it with lines like "I absolutely loathe you! You contemptible weakling! Don't you dare even talk to me anymore!" Superman himself is pretty violent, too, and often does some questionable things in the name of justice! He completely destroys a ton of buildings in hopes the city will rebuild them with better living conditions, and another time he purposely traps a bunch of rich folks in a mine to show them how the other half lives! There are no famous super-villains yet, only someone called the Ultra Humanite, who is nothing more than a mad scientist, so instead Superman is mostly fighting thieves and organized crime. The old artwork is a little better than the old Batman, and I enjoyed the funny Acquiring Super Strength panels (what advice!). As I expected, these old comics are so much fun to read, so I'll definitely be continuing with the ancient Man of Steel!

8.08.2008

Star Fox Command / Nintendo DS : 3 of 5

I got this game a long time ago since I read so many good reviews, plus I couldn't resist the nostalgia factor since I remember playing Star Fox back when I had a Nintendo 64. The game actually works really well for the DS - even though this is a first-person flying game, you can control the ship pretty easily using only the stylus (and buttons for firing, of course), which is pretty cool. The graphics are really reminiscent of the original game with lots of solid polygon shapes and not too much detail, but I thought it was just enough to look nice. Other graphics like all the animal characters and maps are beautiful, though. Unfortunately, this is another kind of game that I'm just not very good at, and I don't really have the patience to keep practicing very long! The training missions were lots of fun, learning to fly and target enemies, and then the first actual battle was cool, but after that the game suddenly really ramps up the skill level (especially when there's the added strategy twist of managing a certain number of moves to engage the enemy). I'm sure it would be fun to progress to meet the other characters and so on, but I think I need to accept my chosen gaming genres and stop straying into territory that I know will drive me nuts!

8.07.2008

Godzilla vs Hedorah : 2 of 5

My Godzilla watching habit has brought me to the 11th movie of the series made in 1971, Godzilla vs Hedorah (which I always knew as Godzilla vs the Smog Monster). This Godzilla movie is pretty unique for several reasons, including the huge anti-pollution message, spaced-out hippie teenage characters, off the wall animated segments, a groovy go-go nightclub music number, and an appalling lack of any character development! At least it has some great monster battles with Hedorah, probably the most disgusting Godzilla enemy of them all. Hedorah starts as a weird tadpole spawned by polluted waters, then evolves to a walking form. After he comes on land, he sucks on factory smokestacks like giant cigarettes, which gives him the power to transform into a flying manta ray, and eventually an even larger walking version, who can dissolve people down to their bones with his poisonous smog! By this point in the series Godzilla has become a full-time hero, and even appears for the first time with a new fanfare against a setting sun background. When the scientists discover that Hedorah can be "dried out" by a huge electric shock, Godzilla helps lure Hedorah into the right spot, then even powers the electrical device with his atomic breath! Unfortunately, he then uses his breath to levitate himself and fly, which has to be the dumbest Godzilla move ever. Thankfully, this DVD is another Sony release with the original Japanese soundtrack and good quality widescreen presentation, but of course there are no bonus features on the disc. It's hard to describe just how weird this movie is, since it doesn't feel anything like the previous Godzilla movies, but I enjoyed it anyway, and of course I'm ready to take on the next feature!

8.06.2008

Texas Rollergirls championship

Since my first flat-track roller derby experience was so much fun, last Sunday I went to see the Texas Rollergirls championship with my pals Matt & Kumiko! The place was completely packed (so much that they actually ran out of Lone Star beer!), but we still had a great view by standing on the ledges around the walls. The first bout was for third place, which was easily won by the Honky Tonk Heartbreakers - the score was so huge that it was embarrassing. But the big match for first place was a real nail-biter! The Hotrod Honeys (my favorite team) have made it to second place for the past four years, so they had to beat the Hell Marys this time to finally take the championship! The score was really close in the first half, and in the second half things started getting crazy with spills and wipe-outs all over the place (no medics required, thankfully!). In the end, the Honeys pulled ahead and won the bout and the first place title! We all had a great time screaming and enjoying the action, and it's always cool to see your team win. It was even more fun this time since I completely understood the game, and I was able to appreciate the strategy and the awesome moves by players like Lucille Brawl and Rice Rocket, who is by far the ultimate jammer (I think she must be a superhero!). I'm definitely looking forward to going back for more next season!

8.02.2008

Beauty and the Beast / Zilker Summer Musical : 4 of 5

One of Austin's unique attractions is the Zilker Hillside Theater, where Broadway-style musicals are performed (for free!) each summer under the stars. I've been to several of these in the past, but I usually end up taking a little wine-induced nap during the second act. Now I can say I've stayed awake during an entire production, since my pal Melinda and I went to see the Zilker production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast! I was pretty surprised when I heard about it, since I'm sure the licensing fees aren't cheap, not to mention the complex costumes need for the show. Amazingly, Zilker went all out, making this show just as great as any production you would see at a Disney park! The Beast's costume was pretty unique, showing just enough of the actor's face for emotion, but still quite different than the Broadway version. Gaston was absolutely hilarious, and the actor definitely fit the part perfectly. But the real star of the show was Belle (as it should be!), whose speaking and singing voice were so closely matched to the animated feature that it was uncanny! Basically, this was the perfect Belle - every song was fantastic and filled with Belle's warmth and kindness. The big production number Be Our Guest suffered a little because there's only so many dancing spoons and plates you can fit on a smaller stage, but the opening song Belle was really nice (and I'm always amazed that one song can setup the entire story!). The live band did a great job with some difficult music cues - there were a few bad notes, but I can't fault them when playing in 90 degree weather! The hillside was completely packed for this production, so I hope they received enough donations to cover this show's considerable expense. It was a great Disney-filled musical evening!

From beginning to end

Last year I started reading The Message, a modern paraphrase Bible with daily readings, and I finished it up this week, pretty much on schedule! This was my third time in my life to read through the entire Bible, and I really enjoyed it this time for a couple reasons. It was nice having the books all mixed up so different parallels could be seen in the Old and New Testaments, and I really liked taking a look at the Bible as literature, since The Message just presents the text without mountains of footnotes, letting the reader come to their own conclusions. It was a nice year of reading, and now I'm going to spend some time in the mornings re-reading some other spiritually-minded books. I actually have quite a few in my library, and I'm looking forward to enjoying them again!