4.30.2009

Everyday iPhone apps

My iPhone has totally become part of my life, and I love always having it with me and the feeling of staying connected. There are so many fantastic apps available in the iTunes Store, and I enjoy trying out new ones every now and then, but I take a decluttering stance when it comes to keeping them on my phone. If I don't use an app for a few days, I get rid of it (I like only having three pages of apps!). But there are a few apps that I use all the time - several times a day, in fact! (I'm only linking to websites, not the iPhone apps themselves, but you can easily find them if you want.)

Tweetie: I enjoy using Twitter, and it's even more fun to tweet from my iPhone. At first I used the Twitter mobile site, then switched to Twittelator, and now I'm hooked on Tweetie, since it has a clean interface that does just what I want.

Facebook: I actually use Twitter to update Facebook, but the official Facebook app is so convenient for checking up on my friends. It does a great job of letting me know what's going on, and the photo browsing (with tags) is fantastic.

Mint: Since I love being super-organized, I'm a big fan of the Mint website, which has all my financial information at a glance. The Mint app for iPhone is really clean and simple, and I have fun making sure all my money is in the right place, or how much I've spent on toys or fast food this month!

Pageonce: This service is another account aggregator (a little like Mint when it comes to finances), but also includes utilities and other bills. The iPhone app doesn't have the coolest interface, but it lets me see my info easily. The best features of Pageonce are the cell phone monitor (which shows me my minutes and estimates if I will use them up or not), and the daily finances update that quickly shows me what my retirement accounts have made (or lost) for the previous day!

Amazon: Since I buy almost everything from Amazon, I'm always using this app to browse prices and check order status. I also love being in a store and seeing something cool, then adding it to my wish list right there so I won't forget about it!

4.29.2009

Manhattan : 5 of 5

Even though Woody Allen's Manhattan is one of my all-time favorite movies, for some reason I never got around to buying the DVD (I rented and reviewed it back in 2000, so this is kind of a duplicate review). But after stumbling upon some random comments on the film on a another blog, I decided it was finally time to get it off my Amazon Wish List and I finally bought it! Every time I watch this movie I'm always amazed at the experience, which is funny, thoughtful, beautiful, artistic, and even psychologically healing at the same time. I love to enjoy the black & white visuals, marveling at the many stationary wide shots, as well as the incredible look of several iconic scenes, such as the moonscape in the planetarium, the surreal Central Park carriage ride at night, and of course the Brooklyn Bridge sunrise. The nature of the dialogue is almost soothing to me, and it's filled with so many great lines, from the hilarious "I go to high school" and "We'll trade fours" (those lines make sense in the content of their scenes) to the fantastic final line "You have to have a little faith in people", which always blows me away (and often brings on happy tears as the credits roll). Of course, the quintessential moment of the movie is when Isaac makes his list of "Why is life worth living?", naming great actors, books, music, and paintings, and Manhattan has without a doubt become a film that's part of that list for me. I don't think I could ever watch it too many times, and I'm glad it's finally in my DVD collection where it belongs.

4.28.2009

The Pajama Game / Mary Moody Northern Theater : 4 of 5

It's been a long time since I've seen a show at St. Edward's University, but I've never been disappointed with the quality of their productions. I'm happy to say The Pajama Game was no exception, which my pal Tom and I saw last weekend! I really knew nothing about this famous musical (and I haven't seen the movie), but as the show went on I recognized several familiar tunes that most people know (with Hernando's Hideaway being the most popular). The Mary Moody Northern Theater is a round space, so it's always interesting to see how the sets will be built, and this time they constructed some cool elevated "rooms" around the perimeter to act as the factory offices, machine room (complete with moving gears), and Babe's house, with great attention to detail. Speaking of detail, St. Edward's always goes the extra mile, and this time they even had the factory workers in custom embroidered smocks with the "Sleeptite Pajama Company" logo! The live band was fantastic, and all of the singing was marvelous, although they decided to use taped-on microphones that were totally unnecessary (most of the time they were barely on, sometimes loud notes caused some feedback, and the stupid battery packs were kind of unattractively tucked above their butt cheeks!). The actors were really energetic and wonderful, especially the role of Gladys, which was played with incredible comedic timing (she was absolutely hilarious!). The large musical numbers where everyone goes nuts (like the classic Once a Year Day) were so full of excitement that the audience was swept along into the glee. The Pajama Game was a super-entertaining experience that reminded me I should check out St. Edward's theater more often!

4.26.2009

Day Jobs standards list

This weekend has been packed with gigs and other mayhem, so instead of writing something, I think I'll just post another bit of Day Jobs history (which is mainly only interesting to me, but you'll survive). Here's our song list of jazz standards (without our original tunes), although I'm sure we added a few more over time. It's fun for me to read this list, because I can remember the ones I liked to play, the ones that were a little boring, the ones that got the best crowd response, and so on. I'm still playing a few of these today with Casa del Swanko, but it sure would be fun to go back in time with the Day Jobs, wear our suits, and kick out a few of these at the Speakeasy again!
  • All of Me
  • Boulevard of Broken Dreams
  • Bye Bye Blues
  • Don't Get Around Much Anymore
  • Dream a Little Dream of Me
  • Dreamer's Holiday
  • Flamingo
  • Goody Goody
  • How High the Moon
  • I Can't Give You Anything But Love
  • I Could Write a Book
  • I Left My Heart in San Francisco
  • I'm Getting Sentimental Over You
  • It Could Happen to You
  • It Happened in Sun Valley
  • Its Been a Long, Long Time
  • It's Only a Paper Moon
  • Just Friends
  • Just You, Just Me
  • A Little on the Lonely Side
  • Let's Face the Music and Dance
  • Love Me or Leave Me
  • Lullaby of Birdland
  • More
  • Night and Day
  • Pennies from Heaven
  • Puttin' On The Ritz
  • Satin Doll
  • Smile
  • Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
  • Someone to Watch Over Me
  • Stars Fell on Alabama
  • Sugar
  • Summertime
  • On the Sunny Side of the Street
  • Tenderly
  • Them There Eyes
  • There Will Never Be Another You
  • There's a Small Hotel
  • They All Laughed
  • They Can't Take That Away from Me
  • Theme from The Godfather
  • The Way You Look Tonight
  • Under a Blanket of Blue

4.24.2009

Original Day Jobs biography

Recently I was organizing and cleaning out some old files on my external hard drives (to make extra room for all the home movies I've been importing), and I stumbled upon some ancient files that I saved from my old Windows PC (which is long gone now). The best thing I found was a few old text files from my old band The Day Jobs, including some set lists, original lyrics, and our band bio from our website. I don't remember for sure, but I think we got together to decide on the content, and then Ernesto probably wrote the bulk of the text, and I might have edited it after that. It's kind of funny to read this today, since it seems kind of long and slightly goofy, but I guess it helped with our success! Since the original Day Jobs website is kind of hard to navigate on the Internet Archive, I thought it would be fun to post these "rare documents" on WEBmikey over time for posterity!
The Day Jobs have been swinging since late 1997, when Ernesto Marquez and Dae Kim decided to expand their saxophone duo into a complete jazz combo. Their goal was to put together a group of musicians with a true affection for the music of the 20s, 30s and 40s, who could strive to capture the feel of that era and love doing it. Within two months, the band was formed and spent months rehearsing to arrange their favorite standards into a formidable repertoire that continues to grow today. Soon they began appearing at clubs, parties, and weddings, performing swing hits mixed with their own original compositions. The Day Jobs are now a fixture of Austin’s swing scene, keeping dancers happy all over town.

On stage, Matt Melton is the voice and soul of the Day Jobs, bringing his enthusiasm and charm to the group. Melton is no stranger to performing, having previously sang and recorded with other bands in Dallas. His vocal range and clarity provide an authenticity to the Day Jobs’ swing sound. The essential brass element is provided by the tenor saxophone of Ernesto Marquez, always creating the perfect compliment to a song’s melody. Marquez began blowing his horn on the beaches of Del Mar, California, and now he not only gives the Day Jobs creative solos, but also several of their original tunes. The Day Jobs’ rhythm section of guitar, upright bass, and drums completes the combo. On guitar and second saxophone, Dae Kim brings a knowledge of musical arranging that makes the Day Jobs unique, as well as the ability to play it. A former part of many Los Angeles bands, his wide range of experience makes him a talented professional, as well as the composer of many Day Jobs originals. Ann Marie Harrop epitomizes the love of music — not only does she provide the Day Jobs’ solid bass lines and signature bass solos, she also continues to expand her technique through music education and still finds time to act as the band’s booking contact. Harrop is the Austin music veteran of the group, having played electric bass in several other bands. Behind it all are the sticks of Michael Walters on drums, bringing experience from a variety of bands in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Walters keeps a traditional jazz feel to the Day Jobs’ sound, departing from the heavy beat of evolved 90s swing. Put it all together, and a Day Jobs show is a feast for the ears — as well as the feet!

From the very beginning, the Day Jobs have been a dancer’s band. With three members who are proficient dancers themselves, the band is sensitive to a dancer’s needs over the duration of a show. Austin’s swing dancers have become the Day Jobs’ fans, but so have others who have booked the band for a variety of parties and wedding celebrations. Along with a regular performance schedule in Austin, Dallas, San Antonio and Houston, the band continues to arrange new tunes and compose new originals, and plans to record a studio album during 1999.

4.23.2009

Stupid driver rant

I rarely write about irritating things or pet peeves, since I generally don't let things get to me, but depending on my mood, there are a couple things I encounter on the road all the freakin' time that drive me crazy! Around Austin there are several two lane left turns (at least on the routes I drive often), which obviously means that the lane you start the turn in should be the same lane you end the turn in. However, I can't even begin to count the number of mentally-challenged drivers who start the turn in the left-most lane and think they can end up in the right-most lane (which is usually the lane I'm in), meaning I have to slow down or speed up to get the heck out of their way. This happens to me at least once a week, and every time I'm just astounded that someone could be so dumb or oblivious that they think this is OK! If didn't drive extra defensively in these intersections, I would easily be bumped by these morons.

The next peeve has to do with making a turn into a business from a fast-moving (40-50 MPH) street. In order to keep traffic flowing, I think you should make these turns as quickly (but safely) as possible, and I always make an effort so the car behind me doesn't have to slow down too much. But everyday there is someone turning into the post office or something who demands to come to nearly a full stop on the main road, then creep into the parking lot at two miles an hour, while I have to break and come to a near stop while they take their sweet time. What the heck is wrong with these people? Slow turners are the worst!

4.22.2009

Death Note II / The Last Name : 4 of 5

It's time for yet another Death Note review, so if you're tired of this stuff, tough luck! After enjoying the original Death Note movie, of course I had to get this DVD to finish the story, and I was glad this film was over two hours to contain it all (since the first movie barely got the ball rolling). A lot of the plot this time involves Misa, and although she seems slightly more tomboy-ish than she did in the manga, I still think she was cast well (although her shinigami Rem has a male voice, which was female in the anime!). Her character is developed through a gruesome flashback, and the story saves a lot of time by having her flat-out announce "I am Kira 2" on the video (no need for L to figure out there are two Kiras!). I liked the way they worked Light's sister Sayu into the incident at Sakura TV, but I thought it was a little too convenient for Misa to discover Light's identity almost by chance. Even though the entire Yotsuba plot was removed for time considerations (as well as Near and Mello, of course), the screen adaptation still managed to get the fake 13th rule into the story, which was cool. I was also fascinated by the way they combined aspects of Mikami into Takada's character, taking a well thought-out short cut by combining them into one person. But the best aspect of this movie is the huge twist ending, which completely took me by surprise! Everything seemed to follow the manga/anime ending as expected, and then suddenly the world is turned upside down, which is a wonderful treat. I'm sure they knew half their audience would already be familiar with the story, so this new ending (which I won't spoil for you) was crafted for the fans! This sequel is actually much better than the first movie, and when you combine both films into one story, it really gets across the Death Note experience (although I would still recommend the manga first and the anime second).

4.20.2009

Dialogues of the Carmelites / Austin Lyric Opera : 3 of 5

The last production of Austin Lyric Opera's season was Dialogues of the Carmelites, a 1957 French opera by Poulenc, which I was really interested to see since I enjoy experiencing new works for the first time. But I have to say that while this production was extremely well performed, it's just about the most disturbing and depressing opera I've ever seen. The subject matter is a convent of Carmelite nuns during the French Revolution who are all executed by guillotine in the final scene. A major theme of the plot is fear, and the main character Blanche is so possessed by it that I could hardly look at her horrified face thinking I would go insane, too! (Interestingly, the original Blanche from the opera's 1957 premiere was in the audience.) While the plot is certainly thought-provoking and deals with questions of faith, overall there is almost nothing uplifting about the story (except for the character of Sister Constance, who shines as the one source of joy in the entire cast). The sets were simple but effective (and all changed visibly on stage with no delay between scenes), and the costumes ranged from simple habits (I was impressed that the nuns actually had cut their hair super-short for their roles) to French Revolution "zombies" (I can't think of any better way to describe the chorus!). Even though the music is modern, it's certainly accessible and similar to a film score, and I enjoyed the use of piano as well. Dialogues of the Carmelites certainly isn't for everyone, and I can't imagine a worst first opera for someone to see (I'm amazed ALO chose to make this production the season finale). A few people in the audience didn't even return after the first act, but in my opinion, you have to be exposed to all kinds of opera to be a true fan. I'm glad I experienced this work, although I don't think I would want to see it again.

4.19.2009

Alien Trespass : 3 of 5

You might not have heard of this movie, since it's an independent Canadian film with a limited release, but if it shows up at your local art theater, you should check it out, especially if you're a fan of low-budget B-movie science fiction like I am! The idea behind Alien Trespass is pretty cool, which is spelled out in a black & white "newsreel" from 1957 before the movie. This film is supposed to have been lost and recently discovered (even the movie poster claims it was made in 1957), so everything is designed to look just like a "so bad it's funny" sci-fi monster movie of that era. For the most part, they do a fantastic job with saturated colors, silly dialogue, over-dramatic music, and of course a hilarious one-eyed rubber monster suit (called the Ghota)! Unfortunately, there are two flying saucer scenes that are painfully CG, which would have been so much better if they had been shot with miniatures (with visible strings, of course!). The story is fun to watch unfold, and has all the necessary cliches including a pipe-smoking professor (who is possessed by the alien lifeform known as Erp), teenagers who discover the creature but nobody will believe them, and small-town cops who end up getting dissolved by the monster into a bubbling puddle (which always has something like glasses or a police badge in the middle of the muck). Everyone in the cast does a fine job with the campy acting, and most of the cast is made up of actors with recognizable faces, but no huge stars (the police chief was the dad in The Wonder Years, for example). I really had a great time watching Alien Trespass, and when it was over it really felt like I had just seen a vintage movie at a film festival or something, except for that CGI, which was really a glaring mistake!

4.18.2009

Perfect PEZ shelves

Last weekend I spent several hours reorganizing my PEZ collection, which was a lot of work, but also a ton of fun! I have one wall of my toy museum room devoted to PEZ, but it was becoming dangerously full, so I had to take action to make room for future collecting. I realized that I could fit four more PEZ display racks way up on top (next to the ceiling), so I decided to move around every single dispenser to put them into logical groups (Disney PEZ turned out to be the largest grouping by far!). Since I had to use a ladder to get to these new top racks, I decided to put the holiday and other color variation dispensers at the top (they are kind of the least interesting to me, except for the original Santa Claus PEZ from Mom that started my whole collection!), and then work my way down with everything else. I put just a few things into storage, like some cheap Party Favors and Body Parts, since they were just taking up room and weren't really "true" PEZ. I also squished everything to get as many dispensers on each rack as possible, and now I'm happy to say I have several racks completely empty for future PEZ! I really enjoyed making my collection look great - reorganizing is about the only way I get to "play" with my toys!

While I'm on the subject, I've written about my PEZ display method before, but I want to mention it again since I think it's really convenient (and I haven't read about anyone else doing it this way!). I use the fantastic PEZ racks available from John Thompson Acrylic Displays, but I hang them from Elfa shelving uprights using cheap S-hooks from the hardware store. With this method, I only had to hang the Elfa crossbar at the top and hang the uprights once. After that, I can move racks around whenever I want (even full of PEZ), and I'm always guaranteed they are horizontally level. It's really easy and looks great!

View photos: PEZ Racks Before & After

4.17.2009

Earth / Disneynature : 4 of 5

My pal Melinda is really lucky with getting tickets to sneak previews, and we were able to see this new Disney-distributed nature film a full two weeks before its release (it comes out on Earth Day next week)! When I first saw the trailer for this movie, I thought it was cool to see Disney associated with something similar to the old True Life Adventures series, but of course the quality of what can be accomplished now is much more spectacular. Earth is simply shot after shot of moments that make you wonder two things: first, how in the heck did they film that, and second, do I actually live on this planet? There are so many breathtaking views, including some awesome lime-lapse work, that it just seems like our big blue marble is a never-ending world of beauty, all made possible by that magical tilt of the Earth's axis. The movie is narrated by James Earl Jones (which is a nice connection to The Lion King), with just the right amount of detail - nothing is over-explained, and even though topics like global warming are mentioned, there's no preaching, which allows you to just be astounded at the life all around us (which is a better method of ecological argument than any heavy-handed documentary). The story loosely follows three families of polar bears, elephants, and whales, and does a nice job of characterizing them without getting too anthropomorphic. Of course, there has to be death scenes in a movie like this, but they are presented without much blood and in such a way that the circle of life actually becomes something natural (and there's only one shark scene that I didn't watch!). I could go on and on about incredible scenes (such as a lion attack shot in night-vision), and some of them are explained by a little behind-the-scenes footage of the filmmakers during the credits (they even suspensed a camera platform from a hot air balloon!). I'm definitely going to consider getting Earth on DVD to go along with my other True Life Adventures!

4.16.2009

Character Animation Crash Course! / Eric Goldberg : 5 of 5

I have lots of animation books in my collection, but very few that actually discuss the nuts and bolts of how an animator actually works. But thanks to this gift from my pal Dae, now I have one of the best books on the subject! Eric Goldberg (Disney animator best known for the Genie in Aladdin) is one of my modern animation idols, since he's always so interesting in DVD interviews, and this book is obviously his labor of love to keep the true craft of animation alive. As he states in the introduction, this is more like a collection of "class notes" than anything, since it's only loosely structured into chapters, but each and every one is completely fascinating! Because this book is mostly written for animators, I felt like I was learning a new secret code, since there's detailed information about reading exposure sheets, walk cycles, lip sync, and even gimmicks such as smear drawings. I had to keep referring to the handy glossary, but it was worth it (and now I know what cushioning is!). Reading this book as an animation fan requires some concentration and study, but if you love animation like I do, it's so much fun to figure out. Of course, there are hundreds of illustrations by Eric to help explain the concepts, but even more exciting is the included CD that contains animation files (with a brilliant Flash interface that allows for cycling and stop-frame examination, along with the exposure sheet!). This book really opened my eyes to the challenges of CG animation as well, since Eric explains how some of the freedom that hand-drawn animation allows can be difficult to achieve with CG models. I had a fantastic time devouring this book, and if I had another life to live, I would definitely be tempted to use this knowledge and spend it animating!

4.14.2009

Netflix Novelties 4.09

I'm a big fan of Netflix Watch Instantly on TiVo, even though I have a tendency to watch way too much! I've been flying through TV shows and movies since the service has been available, but I haven't mentioned them here on WEBmikey because I usually review only physical DVDs or theatrical releases. But since a big part of the reason I like writing my mini-reviews is to have a record of what I've seen (which comes in handy all the time, since it's easy to forget!), I've decided I should start a little series called Netflix Novelties (another silly title). I'll just briefly mention five things I've watched (similar to my Manga Mentions and Music Moments posts), and since I've got some catching up to do, I better get started!

30 Rock / Seasons 1-2: This is the very first thing I tried on Watch Instantly, and I was totally amazed by the quality, which helped to get me hooked! I had already seen a few episodes on TV, but it was a blast to watch the show from the beginning and get totally caught up.

The Office / Seasons 1-4: I had only seen one episode of The Office before, but I couldn't resist the convenience of having all four seasons ready to watch with one click. This show was so addicting that I actually powered through 20 episodes in one day, and I was so thankful when I was finished so I could have my life back. It's fun to know the entire history of the characters by seeing the whole thing.

Saturn 3: I love watching old, semi-terrible science fiction, and now I can scratch that itch with Netflix anytime. Saturn 3 has Farrah Fawcett's boobs, Kirk Douglas' butt, a freaky horror-bot, plus some cheesy special effects!

Silent Running: This space-hippie movie is kind of nostalgic for me since I remember reading about it in special effects magazines as a kid. The stubby robots are cool, but the best part is the spaceship shots were re-used in the original Battlestar Galactica!

The Island of Dr. Moreau: I remember wanting to see this movie in the 70s since I had a science fiction classics coloring book that featured this HG Wells story, but I don't remember if I ever went. I like Michael York just because I'm a Logan's Run fan, and the creature make-up is pretty good, too.

4.12.2009

Walt Disney Treasures / The Chronological Donald Vol 4 : 5 of 5

I've been finishing my Christmas DVD sets one by one, and the latest is another fantastic volume of the Walt Disney Treasures series. Disney continued to make Donald Duck theatrical shorts for years after they stopped making Mickey, Goofy and everyone else, so it's no wonder that it took eight DVDs (across four sets) to include them all! This set covers the 50s, when almost every Donald cartoon featured Chip & Dale, Huey, Duey & Louie, or some other regular character to give Donald a hard time. I really enjoyed Up a Tree, which may be the cutest Chip & Dale have ever been, as well was Donald Applecore, which I always remember watching in a pizza parlor theater, for some reason. It's fun to read the credits and see great names that went on to work on Disneyland, such as background painter Yale Gracey (famous for the Haunted Mansion) and effects animator Blaine Gibson (sculptor of animatronic faces as well the Parters statue), and I like exploring animation history with special cartoons in Cinemascope and 3D (but presented in 2D on the DVD). My favorite part of this set is the long educational cartoons, including the incredible Donald in Mathmagic Land, which I loved seeing in school and fascinated me even more today (and Paul Frees' awesome narration is icing on the cake). The bonus features include a great fantasy pitch session for a Donald cartoon that was shelved after the storyboard stage, a collection of semi-OK modern Donald TV cartoons (too many for my taste, actually), plus a few commentary tracks (which are good, although Leonard Maltin should have let Jerry Beck get some more words in!). It's been a fantastic experience to watch every Donald Duck theatrical short over in this series over the years, and this set is definitely a Disney collection essential!

4.10.2009

Adventureland : 4 of 5

My pals and I went to see Adventureland last weekend, and I think all of us were expecting this movie to be something like Superbad, mainly due to the trailer and the roles filled by Saturday Night Live folks. It turned out to be completely different, and actually much better than I had hoped, and I really enjoyed this nostalgic and believable story! The plot follows James, a hopelessly academic college grad who ends up working at a run-down amusement park during the summer of 1987, as he makes friends, falls in love, and learns about life in unexpected ways. Even though the characters can easily fall into categories, they all seemed genuine to me and revealed so many details about themselves that they reminded me of high school friends I actually knew back in the 80s. Of course, there's plenty of 80s music to keep the time period straight, and even the park itself is full of crappy rides that I remember vividly from going to state fairs (although the midway games have some pretty hilarious names like "Hats Off to Larry"). Most of the story revolves around a love story with a cool, understandably messed-up girl, but I loved the way the plot makes each of the other characters essential - they all help each other grow in different ways (just like real life). One thing this movie is not is hilarious, regardless of how the trailer spins it - it's much more like a well-made, easygoing after-school special than anything. I had a nice, relaxing experience watching Adventureland, which stirred up fun memories as well as appreciation for the way life shapes us into who we are. Even though it's not a full-on comedy, there are still some nice laughs along the way!

4.09.2009

Music Moments 4.09

Catalina by Air / Landing on the Rock: I'll start off these quick music reviews with a couple completely biased opinions. My pals Dae and Ernesto got together to form a new music project called Catalina by Air, and their first album is now available on iTunes! Dae and Ernesto have been my friends and band mates since the Day Jobs days, and their new music has a wonderfully relaxed 20s-30s jazz feel. There are original songs by both Dae (who sings and plays guitars, as well as most other instruments) and Ernesto (who blows some sweet sax), as well as classic standards that everyone knows. I love their music, and encourage everyone to check it out!

Dave Clupper / Letting Go: When in lived in Tulsa, the Cluppers were like a second family to me, and we always had fun making music together. Dave Clupper has continued to become an incredible songwriter, and now he has two albums available on iTunes! His latest is Letting Go, which features both live and studio cuts, and includes many songs that are very dear to me (since I sung them with the Cluppers so many times). Sunset Train will always be the most uplifting and comforting song about leaving this world that I'll ever hear, and the version on this album is wonderful! If you're in the mood for some Tulsa folk music, you'll love Dave Clupper.

Morning Musume / Naichau Kamo: It's time to get back to the usual Jpop that I'm always listening to, which of course includes Morning Musume's latest single Naichau Kamo (which is already available on their recent full album, but I'm saving that for another review). When I first heard this song, I wasn't too happy they used a cut-time feel in a sad song, but now I'm totally into it. Everyone (including Sayumi) gets some good lines, and they all look stylish in the video (not everyone enjoys watching Jpop idols cry, but I think it's moving). I'm also super-psyched about the B-side Yowamushi, which is a Risa and Sayumi duet! Risa sounds effortlessly awesome, and Sayumi tries her best not to sound like a hamster (and mostly succeeds).

Berryz Koubou / Special Best Vol 1: I haven't mentioned Berryz Koubou much on WEBmikey, but of course I listen to them (since every Morning Musume fan automatically becomes a semi-fan of all Hello! Project groups), and since I'm a sucker for compilations, I really enjoyed this album. I was excited that their recent singles are included (I love Madayade and yes, even Yuke Yuke Monkey Dance), but I can't believe that my absolute favorite Berryz song, Kokuhaku no Funsui Hiroba, is missing!

High School Musical 3 / Original Soundtrack: Finally, I had to complete my High School Musical collection with the third soundtrack (which I was able to get for free as an Amazon promotion), and even though I'd rank it last among all three, I still think it's great. I don't really like the longer tracks (like the full Spring Musical, which gets a little boring), but the duets like Right Here, RIght Now and Zac's solo Scream are pretty cool songs!

4.08.2009

Mystere / Cirque du Soleil : 5 of 5

The last show my parents and I saw in Las Vegas was Cirque du Soleil's Mystere at Treasure Island, which you may have already read about since I got to be in the show! Even though I've written about that experience, I still thought I should mention that this is a great production. Mystere is actually one of the oldest Cirque du Soleil shows, and the first one to have a permanent theater in Vegas, so at first I wasn't expecting it to be that amazing (since their style has become so much bigger with shows like O and Ka), but I was quickly proven wrong. All of the essential Cirque elements are here, from incredible live music to flawless acrobatic performances, along with the usual clowns and semi-comprehensible themes. Mystere seems to be about birth, since before the show starts there are two baby carriages on stage, and the audience is soon introduced to a baby boy and girl who kind of become guides for the rest of the show. There are amazing flying acts, which are breathtaking from the front row when the performers fly overhead, and some cool pole climbing and trampoline routines, but my favorite was the intense balancing feats performed by two men. Every move they made was slow and intentional, and even though it looked so smooth, we were sitting close enough to see the agony on their faces as they did things that would completely tear normal muscles apart! The stage had some nice moving pieces that could raise and lower, but nothing as incredible as some of the more recent Cirque productions. I really enjoyed the finale of the show which features a huge inflatable snail (which the girl baby gets to ride), and it was wonderful to applaud all of the artists from the front row. Regardless of its age, Mystere is a fantastic show that no Cirque du Soleil fan should miss!

4.07.2009

Terry Fator : 4 of 5

The second show my parents and I saw in Las Vegas was Terry Fator, the amazing ventriloquist who won the America's Got Talent competition, at the Mirage. Since I never watch those TV shows, I hadn't even heard of the guy, but my parents assured me that he was a great entertainer, and they were right! Terry has a variety of different puppets, from simple cloth animals to complex people with moving eyes and arms on rods, and he does a great job giving each one of them a unique (although totally stereotyped) personality. My favorites were Julius, the soul singer who looks a lot like Louis Armstrong, and Vicky the "cougar", who was amazing not only for her female voice, but also for the way she expertly flips her hair around. Of course Terry is a flawless ventriloquist, but I think his singing impersonations are much more impressive (in fact, he could probably pull off a puppet-less show if he just kept singing). He did a variety of popular hits, both old and new, sounding absolutely identical to the original artist, which was amazing. Actually, I was blown away the most by a few bars of Patsy Cline's Crazy - watching that voice come out of his male mouth was so real that it looked like he was lip synching! I also really enjoyed it when Terry himself was impersonating Michael Jackson while conversing with another puppet, so he has to switch back and forth between two personas and voices! This show also used an on-stage band and video screens (like Donny & Marie), but the band was definitely kept in the background to keep the focus on Terry. Even though Terry Fator has hit the big time and he's making millions of dollars now, it was plain to see that he's humble and thankful for his success. He encouraged everyone to take photos during the show (which is practically unheard of) and even tries to meet any fans that want an autograph. This may not be the flashiest show on the Strip, but I still highly recommend it!

4.04.2009

Donny & Marie : 4 of 5

The first show my parents and I saw during our recent Vegas vacation was Donny & Marie at the Flamingo. Even though I know I watched their show many times as a kid, truthfully I wasn't too excited about this show, but Mom really wanted to see them, and I was able to get seats right next to the stage (seriously, I was resting my arm on the stage itself for most of the show!). But surprisingly, this turned out to be a fantastic production and I was totally impressed! Of course, it's kind of cool to see familiar celebrity faces live on stage, but instead of just a simple show with the two of them singing, the stage was filled with an incredible live band and dancers, which really added to the energy of the performance! Donny & Marie are still pretty funny, and do a fantastic job ad-libbing tons of insults at each other, but their real talent is their singing voices, which are still top-notch after all these years. Marie is even trying out some operatic pieces, and sung a nice version of Pie Jesu. The Flamingo itself is one of the skankier places on the Strip, but the stage was still awesome and included some great giant screens that enhanced the show with video clips. There was lots of audience interaction, too - since we were so close to the stage, Mom and I both got to shake Donny's hand at the beginning of the show (and he even walked out on the table right in front of us), and at the end of the show we shook Marie's hand, then she pulled Dad towards the stage and planted a big kiss right on his forehead! My parents and I had an incredible time, and I was pretty inspired that someone like Donny could be in such great shape and still so talented at 51. Even if you're not a big fan, I would still recommend Donny & Marie for excellent Vegas entertainment!

4.03.2009

Star Trek / The Key Collection Vol 3 : 3 of 5

I took a little break from this series (since I read Volume 2 last summer!), but once I started this volume I finished it pretty quickly! There's just something about the original Star Trek characters that none of the other series can capture, so I love reading these cheesy comic book adventures. This volume includes eight stories from 1972-1974, but comic books were fairly long back then, so the entire book is over 200 pages thick! Each story includes the amazing cover art (and it's cool to see the original 15 cents price), and the overall look of the characters is much better than the earlier volumes. The Enterprise and the shuttle Galileo look especially good (but they manage to get a Romulan cruiser all wrong), and there are plenty of alien monsters with interesting designs (although most of the other cultures are humanoid in this collection). I'm always impressed by how these crazy plots actually feel like real Star Trek episodes, except for a few bizarre scenes that seem a little out of place (like the crew playing baseball in space suits floating outside of the ship, or transferring brain waves into robots!). The dialogue isn't as silly as it was back in Volume 1, but there are some choice phrases, such as Spock saying, "Have you ever heard of a black hole, Captain?" to which Kirk replies, "I'm afraid not, Mr. Spock. Please explain!" You would think starship captains would know about such things! A similar situation happens when Spock has to explain to McCoy what a cyborg is. But don't get me wrong - all of these humorous situations are fun to point out, but didn't stop me from totally enjoying these stories. I'm really looking forward to continuing with the next volume - anything to keep enjoying the Star Trek universe!

4.02.2009

Morning Musume Concert Tour 2008 Aki / Resonant Live : 5 of 5

I always have a great time watching Morning Musume concert DVDs, but some shows are definitely better than others. From the first few songs of this concert, I somehow knew this was going to be an awesome show! Everyone's energy seemed to be full blast right from the beginning, and I love seeing all of the girls looking so into it, enjoying what they're doing in their own individual way, feeling confident and happy! Seeing them nail their dance moves, smiling and singing like there's nothing else they would rather be doing, is like magic - this performance definitely made me think, "Oh yeah, this is why I love Morning Musume!" This concert features better than average camera work, and I thought the graphics displayed on the big screens on the set were pretty cool, and really accented the look of the show. Speaking of look, this whole event seemed much more stylish and mature than recent concerts, and the costumes were fantastic, with barely a feather in sight (I get tired of all those silly ruffles!). I completely flipped out over the songs from Cover You (Lin Lin's opening on Koi no Dial 6700 was adorable), and I really enjoyed everyone's solo songs, especially Ai-chan and Gaki-san, who definitely know how to inject emotion into their songs. And even though I can't stand Koharu most of the time, I have to say I just about fell out of my chair when she actually sung her song with Milky Way instead of lip syncing like she always does. There are usually moments in concerts where I roll my eyes, but this show just seemed to have everything going for it - even the menus on the DVD look extra cool! Maybe I was just in a good mood (or looking forward to seeing them at Anime Expo!), but Resonant Live is one of the best Morning Musume concerts I've watched in a long time!

4.01.2009

Las Vegas 2009

This year's Las Vegas vacation with Mom & Dad was a complete blast, as usual! We decided to stay at the Venetian again since it was close to some of the shows we saw, and we had a nice view of the Mirage volcano (even though they made me pay a little more for the room). We saw three great shows (which I'll review later): Donny & Marie, Terry Fator, and Mystere by Cirque du Soleil, which became the experience of a lifetime! We also saw a few attractions for the first time that we had somehow skipped on previous trips. At the Secret Garden we saw baby dolphins and beautiful white tigers and lions, and we went to the top of the Stratosphere and saw the incredible view. And of course, we spent hours feeding the penny slot machines – I really enjoyed the new Star Trek machine, which has awesome images and sounds from the original series, plus great bonus games that pump sound into special chair speakers! We also loved the new Wizard of Oz machines, which use a really cool graphics overlay technique on top of physical reels, and Mom won her biggest jackpot (around $75) on these. The time really flew by (as it always does), but whenever we leave Vegas I know it won't be very long until we go back again!

View photos: Las Vegas 2009