6.30.2009

Yume mitai kamo

Tomorrow morning I'm flying to Los Angeles for Anime Expo 2009, and I couldn't be more excited! Although I'm a huge anime fan and have been to a couple anime conventions in the past, I'm actually only going this time to see the first Morning Musume concert ever in the continental US! It's going to be a crazy few days of waiting in lots of lines, but I'm up for the challenge (and so is my pal Dae, who is doing me a huge favor by going with me)! Just seeing the concert is going to be amazing, but it would be a dream come true if I can manage to get an autograph (there will be three sessions, but the chances are slim with 40,000 people at the convention). Needless to say, I'm really looking forward to the trip, which includes getting to go to a July 4th party with Dae and Ernesto! I can barely think straight right now, so I'm just going to watch a Morning Musume concert DVD and hit the sack. Stay tuned to Twitter for updates on my adventure and wish me luck!

6.29.2009

Superman/Batman Vol 1 / Public Enemies : 4 of 5

Every now and then you can find a nice DC Comics graphic novel available on PaperBack Swap, and since I already own Volume 2 of this series (which I got as a side-effect of my crazy scavenger hunt video project), I snatched this first volume up the moment I saw it. I'm glad I did, since I was really impressed with the story and artwork, and now I want to check out the rest of the saga! Although there have been many stories featuring Superman and Batman together, I love the way this one is written using parallel narratives. The inner dialogue of both Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne is presented in different color text blocks, and it's fascinating to constantly read what they are thinking (which is often contradictory, but always respectful of the other hero). In this story, Lex Luthor has become president, and blames a huge Kryptonite meteor headed for Earth on Superman, putting a billion dollar price on his head. Of course, this attracts tons of villains (and even heroes, too, since Luthor represents the US Government), so this book is filled with guest stars! I really enjoyed the battles with Hawkman and Captain Marvel, as well as the climax with Luthor in his mechanized armor, but unfortunately the final solution to destroy the meteor was a little dumb. However, the way this story is told more than makes up for that fault, and it's worth it just for the opening segment of Superman and Batman's origin flashbacks, presented from the exact point of view of baby Kal-El and young Bruce (brilliant!). I guess I'll have to re-read Volume 2 now that I've decided to keep going with this series!

6.27.2009

The Pleasure of My Company / Steve Martin : 4 of 5

Since I enjoyed reading Shopgirl so much a few years ago, I've had this more recent Steve Martin novel on my Amazon Wish List for a long time. But after I signed up for PaperBack Swap, I quickly found this book was available, and so The Pleasure of My Company became my first "free" book! Lately I've been reading so much manga and other comics, so it had actually been awhile since reading an actual novel, so I planned on starting out slow, but soon I had to sit down and keep reading all the way to the back cover. I knew right away I would enjoy and relate to the main character, Daniel Pecan Cambridge, who lives alone in Santa Monica and enjoys his simple life, even though he is plagued by some of the craziest mental issues you can imagine (his biggest phobia is stepping off a sidewalk curb, so he finds routes that let him cross opposite driveways, and he constantly keeps the total light wattage in his apartment to a fixed number!). Of course, he's also a genius who can construct gigantic mathematical magic squares, and he has a healthy fantasy life that involves possible relationships with Elizabeth the realtor (who he observes from his window), Clarissa the student psychologist (who visits him weekly), or Zandy the pharmacy clerk (who he visits during his regular treks to Rite Aid). Steve Martin is a fantastic author (his skill definitely outshines his acting career), and when he writes in the first person as Daniel, every thought and emotion feels real. I love how he understands that solitude can enhance the senses, making every small detail a symphony of beauty or sadness, and the plot truly explores if there are many "takers for the quiet heart" in the world. Of course, the story is full of hilarious moments as well, but I appreciated much more the moments that brought an unexpected tear!

6.25.2009

Walt Disney Treasures / Dr. Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh : 3 of 5

I've finally finished watching all the DVD sets that I got for Christmas, and it's only June! This is the third set of the Walt Disney Treasures 2008 releases, and truthfully, I had never heard of this story before (even though apparently it was highly requested!). The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh was first presented as a three part series on Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color in 1964, and then later it was re-cut into a feature film, and this set includes both versions (which is kind of a bummer since it's the same thing twice). After watching it (along with Walt's introductions, which are always fun), I can easily see why this was a popular story, because it's exciting, mysterious and creepy all at once! Dr. Syn is the vicar of a small English town, who becomes a kind of Robin Hood smuggler at night, dressed in a mask and using a horrifying voice! He distributes his smuggling profits to the poor to help them pay their taxes to the king (just prior to the American Revolution), as well as rescuing prisoners and other daring acts! The character of Dr. Syn, played by Patrick McGoohan before he became famous as The Prisoner, is fascinating, since he is cool and calculating like Sherlock Holmes, but almost terrifying as the Scarecrow, riding on his horse with his wicked laugh. Of course, the show has a great theme song (in the same storytelling style of Davy Crockett), and all of the costumes and sets are top-notch (the show was actually filmed on-location in England in authentic churches and castles). There are a couple short but nice documentaries on the DVD, and it was really interesting to learn why Walt made so many live action films in England (after the war, profits made in England were frozen, so he had to spend the money within the country). Besides the fact that the second DVD is kind of a repeat of the first, this is a fantastic set, and I really enjoyed getting into an awesome Disney adventure that was completely new to me!

6.23.2009

Hello! Project 2009 Winter: Wonderful Hearts / Elder Club : 4 of 5

This two-DVD set contains the last big Hello! Project concerts before the huge mass Elder Club graduation, so I had to get this DVD just for the historical significance. Actually, I thought the actual graduation ceremony would be on this set, but that's another DVD that I have on the way! The first DVD is the Wonderful Hearts concert, which was totally enjoyable. I thought using Resonant Blue as the opening song was a little strange since there are really only two singing parts with about twenty girls on stage, but at least the dance was cool. Mako-chan returns to help out as MC, but unfortunately her voice just isn't near as good as Yaguchi's (who normally does these things). I loved watching Lin Lin and Jun Jun and seeing how their personalities have developed so much lately, and I was impressed with how well Berryz Koubou sings live. But the important part of this set is the second DVD, which is the final (except for the graduation) Elder Club concert. I had a fantastic time watching everyone and thinking about their long careers and everything they've been through. Without them, there would be no Morning Musume for me to enjoy! Yuko is truly the foundation of the whole thing, and you can just see how much she appreciates her fans and really cares about Hello! Project. It was so cool to see little reunions of all the past groups one last time - Tanpopo made me cry, Biyuuden was great (Yui's boobs haven't changed a bit), and I was really psyched to see GAM again. Unfortunately, they wasted a little time with a song from Mano Erina (the exact same thing she sang on Disc One!), but most of the concert was focused on former members of Morning Musume, finishing up with a great melody at the end! Both concerts were really fun to watch, and had plenty of points that made me cheer and cry. Moments like these make it really fun to be a Hello! Project fan!

6.22.2009

Three Small Things 6.22.09

Even though it's a giant multi-month task, I'm really enjoying reorganizing my entire photo library into iPhoto. What I like about it is that I'm forced to take at least a quick glance at every single shot I've taken since 1999, and often I find things I never knew I had! For example, during my first trip to Japan, Barron took a picture of me with a Godzilla poster. I was only a casual Godzilla fan then, but now it's so cool to know that the movie is Godzilla vs Megaguirus, which was current in the theaters at that time!

I have had tremendous success with PaperBack Swap, and now I have so much to read that I don't know where to begin! I've been really lucky with posting books that people want (they are usually snatched up the moment I make them available), so it's been no problem getting credits to use. I have received about 10 books (some manga, graphic novels, and even a hardback book), and all of them were in great condition! I'm always tempted to keep browsing around the site, but I need to catch up with some reading first!

I'm suffering from double vacation excitement right now, since I have two incredible trips coming up! In less than two weeks, I'm going to Anime Expo in Los Angeles for the Morning Musume concert (as well as some good times with my pals Dae and Ernesto), and just this weekend I booked a September vacation to Walt Disney World with my pal Melinda. My brain is simultaneously dreaming about the concert and thinking about all the Disney fun in store. Now I'm using every spare moment to scour the web for inside information about Morning Musume autograph sessions, as well as planning which Disney restaurants to book for reservations!

6.18.2009

Pinocchio / Platinum Edition DVD : 5 of 5

I finally got around to watching the first Disney Platinum Edition release of the year, and it’s always a joy to experience a true classic like Pinocchio again! Even though it seems silly to keep buying these movies when they are re-released on DVD, I’m always satisfied with the awesome new bonus materials that Disney includes. This time there’s a full hour-long documentary, featuring all my current animation heroes that I love to listen to, and I really learned a lot about this 1940 masterpiece that some call the “ultimate animated film”. It never occurred to me before that Pinocchio was a bridge between the shorts animators and what would soon become the Nine Old Men, so this film is just bursting with talent (and since the studio was flush with cash after the success of Snow White, they spared no expense!). Eric Larson’s animation of Figaro the cat makes him one of my favorite characters (I especially love the white dry-brush technique on his fur!), and I’m always amazed at the incredible camera angles used, such as the shot from above as Honest John, Gideon, and Pinocchio sing their way through town (just think about what it takes to accomplish that and your mind will boggle!). Of course, there are other fascinating techniques like the breakthroughs in water effects, but I also enjoyed finding new details like the Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland books (movies Disney would make in the future) in the background as Jiminy Cricket opens the film. Along with the great documentary, there’s a cool re-enactment of a “sweatbox” session (where animation is viewed and scrutinized) with an actor playing Walt in the shadows (with a pretty realistic voice), as well as lots of discussion about how live-action reference footage was used by the animators. Of course, there are huge image galleries available, but this time they also included some 360-degree rotations of original maquettes. Every scene of Pinocchio is filled with rich detail, so much that it’s estimated it would cost $100 million to create this masterpiece today. As always, I had a fantastic time watching it again, and I’m sure I’ll be watching it a few more hundred times in my lifetime!

6.17.2009

Annual baseball adventure

Last weekend my pal Barron and I drove to Arlington for our yearly Major League Baseball game, and this time we took along Barron's oldest son, Bay. The weather was beautiful and Barron's Prius was super-comfortable, so the trip was a breeze. The game was the Texas Rangers versus the Los Angeles Dodgers, and we were both rooting for the Dodgers (they are Barron's favorite team, and I wanted the Rangers to lose since that helps the Angels!). It was fun to see Bay's reactions to the ball park, since this was his first time to see a pro game, and I tried to enjoy watching everyone eat awesome junk food, since I kept my diet intact (I actually limited myself to one peanut per inning!). There was some nice action in the game, but there were also some incredibly slow sections, which gave me time to do exciting experiments with Bay like watching cotton candy dissolve in Sprite! The Dodgers ended up winning 6-3, and we all went home happy. I was pretty tired from sitting outside in 95 degrees so long (thankfully we had shade!), but it was so worth it. I wonder who we'll go see play next year?

6.16.2009

Land of the Lost : 2 of 5

I am seriously late with this review, since I saw Land of the Lost with my parents in Oklahoma City over a week ago, but better late than never, right? Even though I was a fan of the Saturday morning live-action TV series, I probably wouldn't have seen this movie on my own, but it was a perfect light-hearted comedy to enjoy with a beer in the balcony of the Warren Theater. Will Ferrell has really been churning out mediocre movies lately (I wonder if he will ever make something totally funny again?), but at least Land of the Lost could draw on the original series for laughs. My favorite moments of the film were when they brought up lyrics to the TV theme song (talking about going on a "routine expedition", or screaming "the greatest earthquake ever known"), and along the same lines, it was fun to see Will sing the song around the campfire. I enjoyed Cha-Ka and their cave home, but the best part was the Sleestaks, who looked absolutely identical to the way I remember them, even though they could have created something much more menacing with today's technology. Of course, there are some good dinosaur special effects and action sequences, but simply not enough laughs (was this supposed to be a comedy or an adventure movie?). Actually, the funniest moments happen at the beginning and end of the film when Will is interviewed by Matt Lauer, who does a great job playing himself. I wouldn't really recommend Land of the Lost to anyone except Saturday morning fans, but I still had a good time watching it with Mom & Dad.

6.15.2009

Godzilla / Final Wars : 3 of 5

Even though I watched Final Wars, the last Godzilla movie made so far, a few years ago, I decided I had to check it out again so I could totally say I've watched all 28 Godzilla films in order (which makes this a re-review)! Now that I've seen them all and my brain is filled with Godzilla history, knowledge, and appreciation, I have to say that Final Wars didn't impress me near as much as it did when I was a novice Godzilla fan. There are certainly some fantastic aspects, like seeing so many monsters in one movie (and actually knowing who they are now!), as well as lots of classic actor cameos, but the balance between the "human story" and the "monster story" is way off, especially for a grand finale film. For example, there are plenty of long sequences like motorcycle chases and hand-to-hand battles between the Earth Defense Force humans and the humanoid aliens, but no one watches a kaiju film to see martial arts! Instead, the monster battles are sometimes ridiculously short, making it seem much too easy to defeat these huge beasts. Even so, it's great to see classic kaiju that haven't shown up in ages (I loved seeing Ebirah again!) rendered with modern special effects. Although I'm not so much into CG in monster movies, I have to admit that Rodan's flight through New York City, bursting apart buildings by sheer wind force, was definitely spectacular! I also liked Godzilla's moves against King Ghidorah, especially when he uses one of Ghidorah's heads to blow off the other two. The characters aren't too bad (Miyuki the biologist was super cute!), but as I said, they just got too much screen time in comparison with Godzilla. Overall, Final Wars isn't a terrible film, but it's barely half as good as the previous two or three Millennium movies, so it's a bummer to think of it as the last Godzilla film ever. I hope someday Toho decides to bring Godzilla back, but until then it's been a complete blast to watch all 28 movies, and I wouldn't mind doing it again!

6.13.2009

Old band clips with iMovie 9

Transitioning to my new iMac has been really cool for lots of reasons. First, it helped me get some files organized that I had forgot I even had, such as tons of short video clips (mostly shot with still cameras using movie mode) that needed a little editing! Next, it gave me a great excuse to try out iMovie 9. I'm kind of an "expert" when it comes to the old iMovie HD, but after I saw how radically they had changed the application in the last version if iLife, I didn't even bother upgrading. But since the latest iLife came with my iMac, I wanted to see what it can do. It definitely takes some getting used to, since almost none of my "skill" applies to this version! But for short clips, the transition and title capabilities really make it worth it (I would never use it for a long project, but I hope to be learning Final Cut Express in the future!). Finally, the speed of my new iMac really made it a joy to mess with this stuff!

So, I have three "never before seen" clips of a couple of my bands. The first is my old jazz combo Stella, back in the days when we played some crowded, well-paying gigs! The next two are Halloween shows of the Greatest American Heroes playing in costume at the Carousel Lounge. It's fun to watch people dancing, and it's also quite historically important to have preserved footage of Ernesto dressed as Jeannie!

Watch video: Stella
Watch video: Greatest American Heroes 2006
Watch video: Greatest American Heroes 2008

6.12.2009

Star Trek Year Four: Enterprise Experiment / DC Fontana : 4 of 5

Since I really enjoyed reading the previous Star Trek Year Four graphic novel, I was excited to discover this new five-part saga, actually written by DC Fontana, one of the most popular screenwriters for the original series! She does an incredible job of weaving together an incredible tale that works as a kind of sequel to no less than three original series episodes: The Enterprise Incident (where they steal the Romulan cloaking device), Errand of Mercy (where the Organians halt the Klingon/Federation war), and even The Paradise Syndrome (where Kirk loses his memory and becomes an Indian). DC Fontana really knows her stuff, making sure all the parts of the plot fit together nicely, and including classic characters such as the Klingons Kor and Koloth, as well as animated series characters like Mr. Arex (who plays an important role). I loved the character insight (especially in McCoy's flashback memory of his daughter's graduation), as well as the small details like the old space suits they wore in The Tholian Web. The awesome story is the real star of this book, but the artwork is also spectacular (even better than the previous collection)! All of the main characters really look like the actors (even the Klingons), and the use of colors really has the feel of the original series. As a bonus, the text of Fontana's story proposal is also included, which is really interesting to read to see how she developed the plot. More than any other Star Trek comic book, the Enterprise Experiment really captured every aspect of the original series perfectly. I only wish there were more books in this series for me to enjoy!

6.11.2009

Godzilla / Tokyo S.O.S. : 4 of 5

Unlike the other Godzilla movies in the Millennium series which all stand alone (and keep rebooting the timeline), this 2003 film is a direct sequel to Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, finishing up the Kiryu (Mechagodzilla's name) saga. It also has direct ties to the original Mothra, since the main characters are Shinichi Chujo (played by the same actor from the 1961 film!) and his family. I'm so glad I had just watched Mothra, since these details would have meant nothing to me before! In this movie, Mechagodzilla is being repaired from the last film, but the Small Beauties from Infant Island (who look cuter than ever) show up to tell Chujo that Godzilla's bones (which make up Mechagodzilla's "skeleton") must be returned to the sea, or Godzilla will keep attacking! Of course, Mothra is there to help, and looks better than ever with lots of insect fur, tiny legs, and beautiful color. The CG work of Mothra's flight is fantastic, though I still prefer to see the real-life creature on wires. On the subject of special effects, there are some incredible compositing shots (such as soldiers standing in front of a giant iconic Maser cannon), and the kaiju battles are great (though it hurts to see Godzilla bite off one of Mothra's legs!). Not only do the fights feature Godzilla, Mechagodzilla and Mothra, but two newborn Mothra larva twins are born and swim to Japan to help out. I really enjoyed the characters this time around, especially because of the ties to Mothra, and I thought Shun (Mechagodzilla's mechanic who saves the day) was much more interesting than Akane in the last film. The DVD includes some cool behind-the-scenes material, showing how a particular shot was done followed by the finished scene in the film. Other reviewers may not agree, but Tokyo S.O.S. is definitely one of my favorite Millennium series films! Now I've actually watched all 28 Godzilla movies, but I still have to view Final Wars again to complete my project!

6.10.2009

Five days in OKC

I spent the past few days with my parents during my typical summer trip to Oklahoma City, and we had a great time together as usual! I got to enjoy Mom's cooking (which was like heaven after my recent dieting), and it was nice to see all the improvements Mom & Dad have been making around the house, including the nice new swing and furniture on the patio. Of course, we had to get our slot machine fix at Riverwind Casino, so we went three times (winning-wise, one day was terrible and one was fantastic!). We also saw a movie in the Warren Theater balcony, watched some old video tapes that I dubbed onto Mini DV, and I got to dig through three boxes of childhood books (I found some incredible Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica stuff!). On top of all of that, most of my time was spent getting Dad up to speed with all kinds of technology! We did lots of iPhone and iTunes stuff (he's really excited about burning CDs now), but the coolest thing was hooking up the new huge Samsung TV with wireless internet and Yahoo TV Widgets! It was really amazing to see my latest Twitter and Flickr updates right there on the TV. As always, it's kind of a bummer to get back to real life, but it sure was a nice way to spend a five-day weekend!

6.04.2009

Mothra : 3 of 5

While I was reading all about Eiji Tsuburaya, I got excited about seeing the original 1961 Mothra, since I had only seen her (yes, Mothra is female) in Godzilla movies. Unfortunately, there's not a current US DVD release of this landmark kaiju film, but Showa Video came to my rescue again (I definitely recommend them for any kaiju emergency!) with a great widescreen DVD with excellent English subtitles. I really enjoyed the movie, although it was a little different than I expected - I was hoping for something more like Rodan (one of the most "realistic", best-paced kaiju movies ever), but Mothra is a little less serious, especially since one of the main characters is a famous Japanese comedian. There's some extra comedy added by the large amount of actual spoken English (not dubbed, but part of the original film), which just comes across terribly (it's also somewhat funny that America is represented by the fictional "Rolisika", and Mothra attacks the sprawling "New Kirk City"!). However, I did enjoy the slow build-up (Mothra's egg doesn't even hatch until the 45-minute mark) and the use of lush color and music. Speaking of music, everyone loves the classic Mothra song sung by The Peanuts (the original "small beauties"), and their harmony is simply mesmerizing. The effects are a mixed-bag, but do include some fantastic scenes of larval Mothra swimming across the ocean while jets drop fire-bombs, and there are some awesome miniatures (really detailed signage!) and optical compositing (although for every great shot, there's also a bad one). I guess since Mothra and Rodan both attack basically the same way (via wind damage), I've been spoiled by the excellent effects in Rodan, which seemed a little better even though that's an earlier film. The real appeal of Mothra is the story itself, which has a King Kong feel with an island expedition and an evil tycoon who exploits via show biz, and of course Mothra herself is just a beautiful, mystical creature. I'm really glad I decided to buy this DVD, since I soon discovered that the next Godzilla film on my list is directly tied to the storyline of this movie!

6.03.2009

Manga Mentions 6.09

Dr. Slump Vol 18: I’ve been reading Dr. Slump since around 2005, and I’ve really enjoyed Senbei and Arale’s crazy adventures (plus I thought it was cool to get into characters that just about anyone you meet in Japan will know!). Overall, this series was a little too long, but I still loved this final volume, which managed to introduce some new characters at the last minute (Biker Boy riding his motorcycle with his bare butt showing was hilarious)! Most of the book is filled with another Penguin Gran Prix, but the end is still really touching, including just about every character from the entire series. I’m going to miss them!

Kaze Hikaru Vol 12: Although I’m a big fan of this series, this volume was pretty much filler. I enjoyed the emotions expressed about Yamanami’s seppuku from the last volume, and there’s a semi-interesting plot about Soji’s old love Sae, but generally not much happens (there’s also a re-introduction to the whole story which is kind of a re-run). Of course, the artwork is still stunning, though! I’m hoping the next volume will get some more action or romance going.

Hikaru no Go Vol 15: Finally something interesting is happening in this story, although I think 15 volumes is way too long to make it to this point! Sai (the Go master spirit that haunts Hikaru) disappears, and Hikaru travels around to several historic sites in Japan looking for a way to get him back. Even though Hikaru has become a Go expert, without Sai he wants to give up the game! I hope it doesn’t take too much longer to get Sai back in the story, or at least start explaining why he was there in the first place.

Monster Vol 13: I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel with this series, so I decided to kick it into high gear and read two volumes this month. I’m always amazed at how seemingly unimportant new characters are introduced with full background stories, such as the criminal who helps Tenma escape from jail. Eva has some interesting flashbacks about her former marriage with Tenma, and a new lawyer enters the picture to help Tenma’s cause.

Monster Vol 14: A lot of stuff is revealed at last in this volume, so I read it cover to cover in record time! Thanks to some childhood flashbacks, we get to see what went on at the Red Rose Mansion, as well as it’s connection to those creepy children's books. I was pretty shocked to see Johan dressed as his sister Anna, which is making the gears in my brain start to turn. The entire series has finally been published, so I’m going to focus on Monster for a while (just a few more volumes to go)!

6.01.2009

Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters / August Ragone : 5 of 5

Although I'm pretty close to finishing all my Christmas DVDs, it takes me longer to get through my Christmas books! I've been reading this incredible biography sporadically for several weeks, and I finally finished it since I've been so fascinated by Godzilla movies lately. Eiji Tsuburaya is the father of Japanese special effects, who pioneered all of the filming techniques that we associate with kaiju movies today. His life was really interesting, and made me think of Walt Disney in many ways, since he always took risks (financial and otherwise) to continually improve his methods. Not only was he technically brilliant, but his studio was also responsible for creating many Japanese hero icons, such as Ultraman! After covering his childhood and early interest in miniatures and film, the book quickly starts covering each of Tsuburaya's movies with interesting anecdotes about their development and shooting - there are so many incredible films mentioned that I want to watch them all! I enjoyed learning more about the philosophy of Japanese special effects, embodied by a great quote that mentions how many shots would have been cheaper to film with actual tanks, cars, and so on, but miniatures were used to convey a sense of wonder. The quality of this hardcover book is simply amazing - its graphic design is bold and artistic, right down to the quality of the paper. I could go on and on about the photos, which are truly a delight for any kaiju fan. There's just something awesome about seeing Eiji standing in the middle of a miniature city, smoking a cigarette and talking to Godzilla! I can't imagine a better book on this subject ever being produced, so I definitely recommend this fantastic work to any fan of Japanese film (Godzilla or otherwise).