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)!


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!


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


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!


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!


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.


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


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!


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!


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


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!


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!


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!


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.


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!


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!


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).


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!


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