10.31.2009

Death Note / Re-Light Vol 2 : 3 of 5

I know you're wondering how I could possibly watch even more Death Note, but since I kind of enjoyed the first Re-Light DVD, which condenses the entire anime into a movie-length story, I pretty much had to watch this second part of the saga. While the first movie did its best to cram nearly all the major plot points into two-hours, this time around they went crazy with editing and simply chopped out huge sections of the story! I have to admit that while I was watching it I just decided to enjoy it and not worry about it, but afterwards I couldn't believe that giant dramatic segments like the death of Light's dad and great character backstory like Mikami's childhood were completely missing. Although it's a shame that so much good material was lost, Re-Light Vol 2 moves along at a much more even pace than Re-Light Vol 1, even finding time for things like Misa's dinner with Takada (one of my favorite scenes). Some of the editing may have been a good thing, since I kind of liked the way Near's SPK members are killed through Light's actions, rather than by Mellow's somewhat overly complex mafia subplot. There are only a couple of truly new scenes (not nearly as effective as the new material in Re-Light Vol 1), including L talking with some kids at the Whammy House (plus a look at Near's thought processes as he plays with a million dominos), and of course the new SPK killings (which is pretty intense). As always, I enjoyed the animation and Japanese voice acting, but it was a little obvious that the new scenes didn't have quite the same quality of the original anime. This DVD doesn't include any bonus material with the editors - it would be interesting to see if the same team worked on this film, since their methods are so entirely opposite. I've always thought the first half of Death Note is better than the second, so I guess the butchering of this half didn't bother me as much as it will some fans, and I still had a good time watching such a fantastic anime in a new way. As far as I know, there's no other Death Note incarnations left for me to see, so I guess this is truly the end!

10.30.2009

Christmas Toys 1970

Christmas this year was dominated by probably the physically largest gift I ever received! My Santa parents figured a four-year old should learn how to drive, so they got me a kiddie-sized dune buggy! It was a beautiful, red, battery-powered monster (none of those crappy pedal cars for me!) with real working headlights, and it could actually go forward and reverse. I remember driving it around the house (mostly from seeing myself in home movies), and I think I was stunned speechless by the whole thing! In addition to my "real" wheels, I also got a set of several Hot Wheels cars, a wind-up walking Charlie Brown (that I always made Mom wind-up for me), and another toy piano (I either needed an upgrade, or maybe I had broken the piano I got in 1967). There was also a toy rifle and William Tell dart game, and finally my highly anticipated stocking. According to the video evidence, apparently I was super excited about getting Chuckles candy this year!

10.29.2009

Astro Boy : 3 of 5

As soon as I first heard the rumors about an Astro Boy movie, I immediately had mixed emotions about it, since I knew that a modern "hip" American version of this classic Japanese character could never live up to what I've enjoyed in manga and anime. Of course, that wasn't going to stop me from seeing the film, and I definitely had a great time watching it! This movie is filled with things done right, but also riddled with things done wrong (especially for a serious Astro Boy fan). I guess I'll begin with the bad elements, starting with the bizarre changes to the story, which is now set in Metro City, a floating paradise above a WALL-E-esque trash heap Earth (which cruelly still has human outcasts living on it!). Dr. Tenma is now heavily involved with the military, and even the president of Metro City is a completely one-sided, ridiculously shallow warmonger. Astro ends up on junkyard Earth and makes friends with some orphan kids, who are unfortunately typical cookie-cutter "cool kids" found in way too many animated films. Even the music is a little obvious and heavy-handed, since even simple conversations are over-scored with dramatic themes! Finally, Nicolas Cage and Donald Sutherland deliver some of the worst voice acting I've ever heard (I wish studios would quit booking voices on celebrity recognition). Now it's time for the good stuff! The action sequences are excellent, and Astro's first flight through the city and in the clouds, as well as the discovery of his powers, is breathtaking! The design of Metro City architecture is really cool (quite a bit like the manga), and I really enjoyed the Tezuka Easter eggs (including a glimpse of the original Astro blueprints, and even a Hyoutan-Tsugi on the side of a building). And to counter those terrible voices, Freddie Highmore is fantastic as Astro himself! Without his sensitive and authentic performance, this movie would have been dismal! I suppose the filmmakers tried their best to Westernize this story (most likely under marketing pressure), but as an Astro fan I have to feel a little disappointed at what could have been an awesome addition to the world of Astro Boy. But if you're looking for some great animated action and a mild introduction to this fun character, don't hesitate to check it out!

10.28.2009

Music Moments 10.09

Morning Musume / All Singles Coupling Collection: I love special CD sets, and this three CD collection of all of Morning Musume's B-sides is fantastic for several reasons! There are lots of songs here that are entirely new to me (since I only have singles starting with Sexy Boy, and sometimes these extra tracks weren't part of their full-length albums), plus many songs that I have enjoyed in concerts but never had on CD until now. I also love having the recent B-sides (many of which are excellent) all together! The limited edition bonus photobook (which is actually hardback and great quality) is filled with cute shots, too!

MC Frontalot / Nerdcore Rising:
Being an mc chris fan, I'm no stranger to nerdcore (basically hip-hop/rap with geek-inspired lyrics), but until now I hadn't experienced the guy who invented the genre. After watching an excellent documentary about his career, I decided I had to get MC Frontalot's first album, which is hilarious and totally kickin' as well! The production quality is amazing, and while some of the songs are a little out-there, I can listen to this CD over and over and discover new funny references each time.

Lee Morgan / The Sidewinder: I was first introduced to the jazz standard The Sidewinder back when I played with Stone Bluff in Tulsa, and recently this song kept popping up on Last.fm, which brought back good memories. I hadn't bought a jazz CD in a while, so I decided I needed this best-selling, must-have jazz classic from 1963. I love listening to these long tunes (some 10 minutes or more) while I'm driving, and they're awesome on my iPhone while I'm walking, too!

Sarah Chang / Dvorak Violin Concerto & Piano Quintet: After seeing Sarah Chang play with the Austin Symphony, I wanted to have at least one of her recordings in my collection, so I decided on this CD after listening to some samples. I don't have much Dvorak, but these are wonderful pieces, full of emotion, which Sarah Chang expresses beautifully (I love her extremely controlled high notes!).

Metric / Live It Out: I've listened to Metric's Old World Underground album so many times that I figured it was finally time to buy another CD. Live It Out is their next release from 2005, and although it's not quite as good, it still has the same awesome feel with driving guitars and just the right amount of keyboards, as well as interesting and provocative lyrics (Poster of a Girl is pretty shocking!).

10.27.2009

Caprica : 3 of 5

I think it was a great idea for the modern Battlestar Galactica series to come to a natural conclusion (even with its bizarre ending, which I enjoyed), but it doesn't surprise me that the creators immediately jumped on the prequel bandwagon to grab some more cash! I haven't been totally excited to see Caprica (I rented the pilot on DVD, but the actual TV series begins next year), but now that I've finally watched it, I think it paints a pretty interesting picture of the twelve colonies (before they are under a single government) and especially the creation of the original Cylon. The story is set 58 years before "the Fall" (when the Cylons nuke the colonies at the start of Battlestar Galactica), against a backdrop of a really cool, semi-futuristic (but quite believable) civilization with awesome architecture, beautiful sets, simple servant robots, and personal computers that can be folded up like a sheet of paper. Eric Stoltz plays a scientist working on a prototype Cylon for the military, whose daughter Zoe gets involved in a radical group called Soldiers of the One, dedicated to a monotheistic religion. The religious ideas that were so prominent in the original series are even more obvious in Caprica, since there's lots of talk and debate about polytheism versus monotheism (and actually, the story provides fantastically clever clues into why the Cylon race is so militantly monotheistic!). There's far too much plot to get into here, but it involves the death of Zoe and her avatar's survival in a virtual world, as well as the Tauron mafia (with a shady lawyer who's son turns out to be a certain Battlestar commander) who steals a Meta-Cognitive Processor so the prototype Cylon can "think". I really enjoyed the nods to the classic Battlestar Galactica, from the glimpse of a professional Pyramid game to the traditional Cylon red eye (with appropriate sound) and even the awesome voice (that actually says, "By your command")! This DVD version of the pilot has a surprising amount of nudity (that will probably get cut for TV), but overall I really enjoyed the tone, the acting, and the plot of Caprica (though I still harbor a twinge of skepticism), so of course I'm ready for the series in 2010.

10.26.2009

Christmas Toys 1969

I'm sure Santa brought me lots of other toys for my third Christmas, but the space under the tree was dominated by three big ones! I got a classic red wagon with cool wooden sideboards (my huge teddy bear from 1967 was sitting in it), and a fantastic school desk with an attached seat and a flip-top that was filled with art supplies, plastic alphabet letters, and all kinds of other fun (and educational) stuff. But the best gift of all was my Show'N Tell Phono-Viewer, probably one of the most entertaining toys ever (and I'm not the only one who feels that way - my pal Barron also loved his Show'N Tell). I guess kids today would get a portable DVD player, but in 1969 this was serious tech! The Show'N Tell looked like a TV with a record player on top, but it played filmstrips that were vertically inserted into the top. As the record played, the filmstrip would advance to the next frame in sync with the story, so it was like a magical TV show! I know I spent hours and hours watching the same things over and over, but what is truly amazing is the titles that were available. Believe it or not, I had filmstrips of literary classics like Moby Dick and even Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, and I can actually remember them (I know for a fact I was a little spooked by watching Juliet die). I'm really thankful that my Santa parents gave me such a wonderful gift, and I'm proud to have been a Shakespeare fan at only three-years old! By the way, I discovered some fantastic scans of an old Show'N Tell catalog, so you can see the incredible variety of filmstrips that were sold. I wish I could watch these today!

10.24.2009

Manga Mentions 10.09

Black Jack Vol 1: Even though I've read every bit of Astro Boy, the Phoenix saga, and the epic Buddha, there's still so much more Osamu Tezuka for me to enjoy! Tezuka's classic renegade surgeon Black Jack used to be difficult to find in English, but now Vertical is publishing beautiful editions of this cool series. This first volume contains the origin of Pinoko (the little girl who lives with Black Jack who has a past too complicated to describe here), and a great assortment of wild transplant stories with lots of gross detailed medical illustrations!

Black Jack Vol 2: These new editions are pretty thick (printed on excellent heavy stock paper), but I had to continue with the next volume right away, which includes more of Black Jack's interesting past, such as the story of his facial scars and skin grafts. Pinoko decides she wants to go to school, Black Jack treats a killer whale, and one plot about a broken needle in a patient's bloodstream is filled with more disgusting detailed artwork!

Kaze Hikaru Vol 14: I still enjoy this series, especially because of the exhaustive historial research that went into it (evidenced by a bonus feature on ancient Japanese hairstyles!), but I have to admit that things are getting a little boring plot-wise, since everyone is just sitting around. There's a new character named Goro who sees through Kamiya's disguise as a boy, and Kamiya gets some serious training from Okita, but there needs to be a battle or something!

Nana Vol 1: I've already read the equivalent of the first several volumes of Nana in Shojo Beat magazine (before it was cancelled), but I couldn't resist picking up a few volumes on PaperBack Swap. Of course, I wanted to start over from the beginning, and I'm glad I did, since some scenes definitely seem longer (and less censored) than they did in the magazine! The first volume contains fantastic background stories about both Nana's before they meet.

Nana Vol 2: It doesn't matter how many times I've watched the movie (though I still need to see the anime!), I still enjoy the magical moment when the two Nana's meet on the train, then eventually get their apartment together by fate. This volumes ends with the arrival of Nobu and Nana's singing on top of the table (such an awesome scene), and I can't wait to keep reading, even though I know what's going to happen.

10.23.2009

Christmas Toys 1968

Moving on to my second Christmas, Santa continued to focus on some classic toys that every kid should have. The biggest gift of 1968 was my red tricycle, which I rode both inside and outside! Of course, I peddled it around on Christmas morning, and I know throughout the year I often tried to ride it in the backyard, where it would always get stuck in the grass. I also got the usual wooden board with pegs that could be hammered through, as well as a plastic horse (that one seems a little unusual, but I'll just call it my first action figure!). Another interesting gift that year was a toy phone - of course, kids today get toy cell phones, but mine was a big rotary model! I'm sure I pretended to call Santa Claus or someone like that with it. This year marked the start of my love for "giant mesh Christmas stockings full of junk", which always had a million little plastic toys and all kinds of candy, and I started getting one of those every year after that (it seemed like they kept getting bigger, too!). I wonder if they still sell those?

10.22.2009

The Human Vapor : 3 of 5

After enjoying The H-Man recently, I wanted to watch another one of Toho's "mutant" films right away, so I tracked down a copy of the 1960 classic The Human Vapor (unfortunately not officially available on US DVD, but you can find it if you keep your eyes open!). Although this movie doesn't typically get good reviews (mainly due to a butchered edited US version, which thankfully I didn't have to endure), I really enjoyed it, especially since director Ishiro Honda creates a masterful slow-build with the plot. In my opinion, this is one of Honda's strengths (also present in my favorite Godzilla films), since this movie is able to keep the audience interested even though there isn't a real special effects shot until the 40-minute mark! The story is about Mizuno, a man who can transform into mist or smoke, who uses his strange power to rob banks (and even commit murders) and gives the money to his beloved Kasuga, a traditional dancer who dreams of holding a big recital. In many ways the plot reminded me of Phantom of the Opera (especially because of the tragic ending), but most of the film unravels like a good detective movie. The Gas Man (as he is known in the original Japanese) is pursued by a cop and his journalist girlfriend (who has some great spunky lines and nice conversation scenes), and they eventually decide to destroy him via combustible gas in the dance recital theater (making for an intense, emotional ending!). Tsuburaya's special effects shots are truly incredible for 1960, showing Mizuno transform into smoke as his suit billows to the floor, and he even throws objects and suffocates his victims (via an animated effect) before our very eyes! Yoshio Tsuchiya is totally creepy as Mizuno, driven by his love for Kasuga (that she helplessly returns as if by fate) to an almost maniacal state. There are several long dance sequences which are interesting to Japanese culture fans, and the way the final dance is integrated into the film's finale is fantastic. The list of Toho films I still want to see keeps growing with no end in sight!

10.21.2009

Where the Wild Things Are : 5 of 5

Although my parents showered me with Dr, Seuss and other classics when I was learning how to read, somehow Maurice Sendak's 10-sentence masterpiece never made it into my library. But I was still super-excited to see this movie after watching the cool trailers and reading the good reviews, so I quickly enjoyed the book at the store to get ready for the film. Truthfully, the movie only uses the book as a seed, because the filmmakers have created an entirely new, deep, thought-provoking story that is an art film in every sense of the word. Yes, there are creatures amazingly created via live-action costumes and brilliant CG-animated faces, but there are simply no other aspects of a children's film to be found anywhere. Where the Wild Things Are is an adult movie, filled with real emotion and moments that I can't imagine a kid sitting through. But for me, this film was absolutely wonderful, giving me that beautiful melancholy feeling I get with other favorite films like Lost in Translation (I know that's a stretch!). The scenes of Max at home really help to setup his character, who simply struggles with the overflowing energy of childhood in a not-so-perfect world. When he interacts with the Wild Things, it's almost immediately obvious that each one is a part of Max himself, and by becoming their king and confronting each of them, Max sees what's going on inside and learns how to deal with it (just like real life, there's no "solution" - only a way to enjoy life and make it meaningful). Although the script uses a few lines from the book (which is cool), most of the Wild Things' dialogue is purely psychological and philosophical, and I ate it up! Along with the amazing animation effects, the cinematography (especially the prevalent use of hand-held shots) was gorgeous, and I loved how everything was always dirty, matted, and covered in dry leaves, as well as snot and tears. The voice work was astounding, too - James Gandolfini was perfect as Carol (and his trademark loud nose-breathing worked perfectly for this creature!). My opinion may be different from other film-goers since I didn't have a childhood connection to the book (plus I like weird movies!), but Where the Wild Things Are was truly incredible, and I have a feeling I'm going to want to watch it at home on a rainy day sometime!

10.20.2009

Christmas Toys 1967

It might be a little early to start writing about Christmas, but I thought I'd get started on this series of posts just to be sure I finish it before December 25th! Since my dad used to be a real home movie buff, I'm extremely lucky to have tons of magical childhood events captured on film, which includes reel after reel of me ripping open toys in my pajamas on Christmas morning. It's so much fun to study these Christmas movies and try to figure out what all the gifts are (which is sometimes difficult due to film quality), and I absolutely love reminiscing about all the fantastic classic toys I enjoyed, thanks to my extremely generous Santa parents! So I'm going to mention the main toys of each of my early Christmases, and I plan to cover at least 1967 through 1978.

I was born in January 1967, so by December 1967 I was old enough to do more than gurgle, and I got lots of classic baby toys that most people will remember, starting with the standard Fisher-Price Corn Popper (I can't believe they have been making that toy since 1957 and you can still buy it!). I also had the typical pole with rings on it (which I kept trying to eat like doughnuts), a wind-up music box "radio", a pretty cool fire engine to push around, a weird ball filled with chickens that would peck as you moved it, plus a huge teddy bear that was bigger than me! I also got a toy piano and a wind-up drummer boy, which no doubt got me interested in music right away. Of course, during most of the morning I ended up playing with boxes and Christmas ornaments more than the toys. As I "grow up", I'll have lots more to say about my beloved toys, but 1967 was just about the best first Christmas anyone could ever want!

10.19.2009

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny / Vol 3 & Vol 4 : 3 of 5

I'm still really enjoying this Mobile Suit Gundam series, and it moves so quickly that a DVD full of episodes is over before I know it! Although SEED Destiny is certainly cool, it's definitely not as moving as the original SEED, but it seems this sequel is becoming more and more like the first series all the time, especially since most of the original characters have returned, and they're even on the old Archangel together now. Volume 3 focuses mostly on Cagali, who is being politically manipulated to the point of allowing Orb to break their neutral ways and join an alliance, and she even agrees to marry a total weasel for the sake of her country. Thankfully, she's rescued (or kidnapped, depending on your point of view) by Kira piloting the classic Freedom Gundam, and she joins her old allies (including the Dessert Tiger, Lacus, Kira, and the original Archangel captain). They also introduce an awesome new opening theme by High & Mighty Color, which has been in my iTunes collection for years already! Volume 4 is full of battles, which are particularly exciting this time around, since they include some underwater action as well as some great cinematography as the mobile suits maneuver in and out of thick banks of clouds. Some of the best character development so far occurs when Athrun (who has now rejoined Zaft as an elite FAITH member) has a serious conversation with Shinn, and this series certainly needs more of those moments! Unfortunately, the super-long Impulse Gundam launch sequence animation gets reused a few times too many (even though it's definitely cool to watch), which comes across as filler to me. But SEED Destiny has just started to warm up, so I'm totally looking forward to watching it to the end!

10.16.2009

Walking and observing

I've been walking twice a day for several weeks now, and I've pretty much settled on the same 1.5 (almost) mile route in the neighborhood behind my office, so I see a lot of the same thing day after day. I have a lot of time to think and look around during these walks, and it's interesting to me the things I notice if I just take the time to observe (and I definitely have time during my walk!). When I first began, it seemed like every house was getting a new roof (thanks to a big Austin hailstorm a while back), so I got to watch them all going up, as well as observe which crews seemed to be doing a great job and which ones were sloppy. Two houses I pass have been getting some kind of fancy garage floor coating, so I get to see the same truck everyday with a guy whose job is just to sit there watching big fans dry the coating while he smokes. I seem to have the same schedule as the mailman for this neighborhood, so I've discovered that he's always puffing on a pipe while he works, which is kind of cool (and smells great)! I know that some kid on the block just turned eighteen, thanks to a yard full of streamers and all kinds of slogans written on their car. Just being observant also plants lots of details in my head, too! I realized that I pass three different houses with the same address number as my parents and I even know which houses have little barking dogs in them. A couple of times I have gotten some waves, probably because people are used to seeing me walking down their street at the same time every day. I'm really thankful for my walking time, not only because it's helped me lose weight, but because it helps me to relax and take notice of the little details of the world!

10.15.2009

Sold Separately / Classic Kids Commercials : 2 of 5

I don't remember how I found this DVD on Netflix, but it was probably because somehow they know I'm into old TV commercials (especially now that I'm seriously middle-aged), so I rented it to take an anime break. The DVD is organized into three sections: Cereal & Snacks, Toys & Games, and Celebrity Commercials, and there's about three hours of material, which is awesome at first, but gets a little old by the end. I also really would have preferred to watch these in chronological order, but instead they jump all over the place, from black & white to color and back again. There are lots of interesting ones that I really enjoyed, some totally new to me! I liked the old 1950s animation, and it was cool seeing cereals I had never even heard of (with free offers where you send your box tops to an address that didn't even have a zip code!). Some of the cereal commercials I remembered were great - I sang the Honeycomb song and loved seeing the free terrarium that came in Alpha Bits! The toy commercials are filled with war toys and baby dolls, so I got to see a three-dollar Barbie, original GI Joe toys, and even Big Jim (which was a toy I had, though now he looks pretty fruity!). It was nice to see the classic Connect Four spot ("Pretty sneaky, sis!"), and I had no idea the original Mr. Potato Head required a real potato! But overall, I was a little disappointed with the toy selection, since so many were from way before my childhood. The final section of celebrity commercials was okay, but way too long in my opinion, and actually has no business being on a DVD of "kids commercials". But it was still neat to see the Three Stooges sell car wax and the Beverly Hillbillies sell corn flakes! For someone who really wants to see classic toys of the 70s and 80s, I would recommend buying the excellent DVDs available at Plaid Stallions instead of watching this DVD, but if you're a tad older (or a fan of the 50s), you'll definitely enjoy this collection of commercials!

10.14.2009

Whiz kid Emiliano

Every few weeks or so I get to spend some time (and eat a free dinner) with my pals Chris & Eliza, which means I get to visit with their almost two-year-old, Emiliano! He was the first (and only) newborn I've ever held, so I really like playing with him and watching him grow up. I get to be his pretend-Uncle Mikey, and I'm glad he's my pretend-nephew! Last night he was pretty impressive, and Chris took every opportunity to show off his son. We played with dinosaurs (Emiliano can do a great roar), then banged on the drums for a while (it's amazing when he gets alternating hands going). Next Chris got out these alphabet letters, and Emiliano can actually make the sounds just by looking at them! Hold up a B, and he says "Ba!" Hold up a G, and he says "Ga!" He can also recite the last word of every sentence in one of his favorite books. Later he had a bath and I was watching TV by myself, and suddenly Emiliano ran into the room pantsless. I just laughed and said "You're naked!", so he decided to prove his nakedness by taking a whiz on the carpet (after kicking his toys out of the line of fire). It was hilarious! I haven't taken a photo of Emiliano in a few months, so check out Chris & Eliza's Flickr photostream for more recent pictures of my pretend-nephew.

10.13.2009

State Fair weekend

This past weekend was packed with three events for me, starting with the symphony, then a gig with the Greatest American Heroes, and finally my first ever trip to the State Fair of Texas! The Heroes played at the MS Walkathon at the Dell Diamond, and it was a great experience (nice and chilly outside, but we could play as loud as we wanted!), plus it was fun to hang out for free lunch (and a free T-shirt). Super-early the next morning, my pals Matt & Kumiko and Jonathan & Anne-Marie squeezed into Matt's car to drive to Dallas, and we made it to the fair by 10:00 AM (the ride was fun since we all made different mix CDs)! Matt was the tour guide for the day, so I had a blast not worrying about a thing, wandering around and soaking it all in. We tried lots of snack samples in the Food & Fiber pavilion, then did some browsing for Arts & Crafts (where we almost saw Oprah, who was filming at the fair, but we didn't care enough to keep waiting). Next we "met" Big Tex, who was huge and bizarro looking (but cool and historic, too)! After some nachos for lunch (this was not a day for healthy eating!), we saw the Birds of the World show, which was definitely the highlight of the entire fair. I couldn't believe they could let birds go from all the way at the top of the Ferris Wheel, where they would swoop right down over the audience to the trainers on stage! The next show was "dog dancing", which was cute and especially cool when we saw one dog walk on his front legs like a handstand! Then we looked at a million chickens, ate a delicious corn dog (necessity of the day), and finally saw the US Marine Drum & Bugle Corps perform. They were so precise and the sound quality was amazing, so we were all blown away and enjoyed it! Soon we were getting tired, so we started heading back to the car, and the timing could not have been better since the rain started coming down. We had a nice wet ride home (thanks to Matt's skillful driving), ending a really fun day with wonderful friends!

View photos: State Fair of Texas 2009

10.12.2009

Austin Symphony / Chee-Yun : 4 of 5

I was looking forward to the latest concert of Austin Symphony's 99th season for quite a while, since I love Mendelssohn's famous violin concerto and I was interested to see the soloist Chee-Yun for the first time. Maestro Peter Bay began with some friendly, insightful comments - although there were technical problems with his microphone, it was a good opportunity to show off the acoustics of the Long Center, since he was easily heard just speaking normally from the stage! He mainly spent time preparing the audience for Bruckner's 4th Symphony, which was entirely new to most of the audience (including me). But first was the Mendelssohn, and I thoroughly enjoyed it! I've always loved the first movement the most because of its emotional intensity, and Chee-Yun brought that out beautifully. I tend to enjoy hearing the "mechanics" of the instrument, and I enjoyed the somewhat "rough edge" feeling to her playing (not to mention that her 300-year old Stradivarius violin was fantastically resonant!). After a beautiful second movement, the incredibly difficult third movement was executed wonderfully. Although I'm always astounded at the technicality of this movement, unfortunately I've heard it so many times that it's hard to just sit back and enjoy it anymore. It was time for Bruckner after the intermission, and even though the piece wasn't something I would want to listen to everyday, I was happy to be exposed to it. Everything Peter Bay mentioned was certainly true, with each section playing lots of rhythmic unison like parts of an organ, and the full brass section sounded particularly spectacular (I just wish there had been more percussion than tympani). I had trouble appreciating Bruckner's extensive repetition, but I had a nice time watching all of the musicians and enjoying their intense concentration as they played. As usual, it was another great night at the symphony and I'm looking forward to the rest of the season!

10.09.2009

Three Small Things 10.9.09

Lately it's been a nice time to be a Morning Musume fan! Their 41st single Kimagure Princess is coming out soon, so the song and video are all over the web. While I prefer their last two singles to this one (I don't like the chipmunk voice effects on the verse, but the chorus is nice), the video is full of attitude and glamor and I can't believe how great everyone looks! I can't wait to get their new All Singles Coupling Collection, which has all 40 B-sides (many of which I don't have in my collection), and I'm really excited about receiving my first order from the new HelloStoreUSA. It's so cool to be able to buy Momusu goods that were next to impossible to get before! Of course, I'm not looking forward to Koharu's graduation, but only because of the effect it will have on the current line-up (Koharu is my least-favorite, so that makes it easier on me). I'm seriously dreading the day Ai-chan decides to graduate, but even then Sayumi should be around a few years longer!

Although I still study Japanese everyday, I don't spend much time writing Japanese essays like I used to when my pal Kumiko was tutoring me. So since my separate Japanese blog was pretty much stagnant, I've moved those essays into the flow of the main WEBmikey posts, and you can easily find them using the renshuu (Japanese for "practice") label. But speaking of Japanese, I've really been enjoying it lately, and I can kind of feel my vocabulary is substantially growing, so I've decided I want to take the JLPT again in 2010! Next year will be the first year with the new levels, so I'm excited about trying N3 (which is between the old Level 3 and Level 2, meaning it's a nice progression for me). That means I'll be re-focusing my studies next year (under Kumiko's tutelage), and I'm looking forward to it!

Finally, I wanted to mention that as of yesterday I've finished with this year's Christmas shopping! That may be a new record for me, but I have to order things early to give them time to ship, so I can wrap them and pass them off to my parents at Thanksgiving. On the subject of buying, using my Amazon Visa for everything (and always paying it off) has really raked in the bonus Amazon dollars for me. I've already earned over $425 bucks this year!

10.08.2009

Gorath : 3 of 5

Since this part of Ishiro Honda's "space opera trilogy" (which includes The Mysterians and Battle in Outer Space) isn't available on US DVD, it took a little effort to see this film, but I'm so glad I did! Gorath is another Toho science-fiction masterpiece from 1962 with an incredible story and jam-packed with special effects. Set in the far-flung 1980s (you can tell since everyone has a video phone!), the Earth is in danger from a runaway star called Gorath, which happens to have 6,000 times the gravity of Earth! This gravity is so strong that it destroys the first rocket sent to collect data (the crew screams "Banzai!" as they hurtle to their doom), and somehow causes amnesia for one of the crewman of a second mission. The entire world unites (an extremely strong theme in all of these films) to find a way to save the planet, and they decide to build huge jets at the South Pole to push the Earth out of the way! The miniatures used in the construction scenes are simply incredible and so detailed, including long shots of ships moving through the icy waters as well. Along with the amazing miniatures, there are also fantastic full-size sets, such as the spaceship interiors and the huge mission control room. Kumi Mizuno stars as the girlfriend of one of the astronauts, looking cute as ever (there's even a brief bubble bath scene!), and along with the regular Toho actors I also noticed the comic relief character from Ultraman in the crew. Most of Gorath is kaiju-free, but there is a brief sequence where a giant walrus is released from the ice (which famously was cut from the US version of the film) that has some nice composite work (even if the monster is kind of silly). When the star Gorath finally passes the Earth, its gravity causes tremendous tides that destroy Tokyo, but the message of the film, that mankind can do the impossible, is clear. I absolutely love these Japanese science fiction classics, and I intend to keep watching all I can!

10.07.2009

Routine Mikey

I’ve always been the kind of person that enjoys a routine, especially in the morning. It’s funny how I settle into something, which will last quite a while, then it will slowly morph into a different routine (I’m sure if you dig around on WEBmikey you’ll find several mentions of past routines!). Lately I’ve been pretty focused on a fairly extensive set of activities, and it always makes me feel great when I do them all! Of course, sometimes I leave things out, but here’s what a “perfect” day looks like for me.

I wake up at 5:30 AM (I’ve always loved getting up early, and it’s been so easy since I started using my soothing iPhone alarm instead of my awful alarm clock!), and sit down at my iMac. One of my current projects is moving my entire photo collection to iPhoto (which includes tagging faces), so I do a few sets of pictures (it will take me months to finish it all, but doing a little every day is the way to go). Next I usually upload one of my latest toy macro photos to Flickr. I take these ahead of time, which is sometimes the next activity. I shoot a few photos of whatever new toys I’ve added my collection, and these transfer to my iMac automatically via my EyeFi card (once again, doing just a few shots each morning is much easier for me than doing a ton all at once, since I will just keep putting that off). Now I’m ready to go downstairs, take my vitamins, and start studying Japanese. I do three lessons on Smart.fm, then at least 100 words on LearnTheKanji.com. After that I turn on some classical music and read a chapter or two of whatever book or manga I’m working on. Finally, I have a quick breakfast (oatmeal or yogurt) while watching a few minutes of whatever Jpop TV shows I have ready on my Apple TV. After all of this, it’s finally time to get dressed for work!

My weekday routine (aside from actual work in the office) starts during my lunch break. I almost always go home for lunch, and the first thing I do is fire up the Wii and play Gold’s Gym Cardio Workout before I eat, and usually post something on WEBmikey after I eat. Back at work, I’m in the habit of taking walks around 2:00 PM and 4:00 PM (a little under 1.5 miles each), which breaks up the day nicely. When I go home, I like to immediately work a little on whatever project I’m into, which currently is learning Final Cut Express, so I do a lesson from a book I’m working through. If I don't have band rehearsal or something going on with my pals, then most nights I watch a movie, and I even have kind of a schedule for that, somewhat rotating through purchased DVDs, Netflix rented DVDs, or Netflix Watch Instantly options.

On the weekends, I still do my usual morning routine, then on Saturdays I talk to my parents on the phone, and right after that I go to the Domain or the Arboretum for a long walk. Sundays are almost the same, except I go to church before the walk. Some of this rigidity (or monotonous repetition) sounds a little crazy even to me, but somehow I really like it. I always enjoy blowing everything off once in a while, but most of the time I’m just happy living the same day over and over!

10.06.2009

Death Note 3 / L Change the World : 3 of 5

Somehow Death Note continues to march on with a third live-action movie, featuring everyone's favorite bizarre mastermind detective, L. In the altered ending of the Death Note story (much different than the manga or anime), you may remember that L wrote his own name in the Death Note in order to trap Light, scheduling himself to die in 23 days. L Change the World happens to be set during those three weeks and two days, so we get to see what L does with his remaining life (each day is announced with a countdown), including solving a huge case that threatens humanity itself! I had to keep reminding myself that the live-action world is a different story universe, so I could get over silly things like Watari's network of alphabet letter agents (we get to meet F in Thailand and K plays a major part as well). The bulk of the story involves a group of environmental extremists who want to save the Earth's ecosystem by wiping out mankind with a deadly virus, and L is joined by two children (a mathematical genius boy who survived the virus test in Thailand, and a scientist's daughter whose blood holds the key to the antidote) to save the day. It's kind of fun seeing the introverted, socially inept L start to bond with the kids (initially by giving them sweets, of course). I really enjoyed the references to the original Death Note movies, including cameos by Watari (who dies in front of Misa) and even Ryuk (with dramatically improved CG effects, in my opinion), who watches L burn the two Death Notes. The dramatic climax of the movie is also super exciting, but there are other scenes (such as a scientist's death) that go on much too long. Unfortunately, there's quite a bit of English spoken by Japanese actors in film, and their pronunciation is so awful that it really should have subtitles (but unfortunately, only the Japanese lines are subbed)! There's a nice scene at the very end with a nod to the original manga that fans will enjoy, but honestly I think all three Death Note films are better suited to fans anyway. Now I'm wondering if they'll find a way to squeeze out more Death Note material in the future!

10.05.2009

Born Standing Up / Steve Martin : 5 of 5

Back in my school days, I remember listening to Steve Martin's comedy albums over and over on cassette, and I can still recite a few routines by heart. So since I enjoy his comedy as well as his writing style, I've been wanting to read his biography Born Standing Up for quite a while, and thanks to PaperBack Swap (once again!), I finally own a copy! This book has been a huge bestseller, and it's easy to understand why, since Steve's words are thoughtful and friendly, as though he were telling you about his life or discussing the evolution of his comedy act over lunch. Unlike the average biography, Born Standing Up really is as much about Steve's comedy "philosophy" as it is about himself, and it's fascinating to read how his talents in music and magic developed into what he calls a "parody of comedy". There's a full chapter on his childhood days at Disneyland, where he worked for years selling guidebooks and demonstrating tricks in the magic shop, and I loved reading about his experiences at the Golden Horseshoe and his overall love of the park. Almost as wonderful is his description of performing at Knotts Berry Farm (which really makes me want to visit to see the Birdcage stage!), full of nostalgia not only for the shows but also for his early love life there. Most of the chapters are comedy-focused, but Steve also adds some really touching and personal moments regarding his relationship with his parents (such a wonderful way to end the book). There's so much more to mention, such as descriptions of his early shows where he took the audience outside of the club, or his experiences writing for TV, or finally becoming appreciated by Johnny Carson, or anecdotes about writing and filming The Jerk. He also reproduces quite a few short bits, which are fun to read, and even drops hints at their origins in a wonderful foreshadowing way. Steve Martin's incredible comedy career was a one-of-a-kind phenomenon, so it's nice to be able to enjoy such sensitive, descriptive, and of course, downright funny memories from the man himself!

10.03.2009

Rockin' with CITGO

One of the more unusual bands I've played in as a drummer was called the CITGO All-Star Rock & Roll Revue, made up of employees in Tulsa. Around 1992, CITGO decided to put on a huge talent show to raise money for MDA (their biggest charity recipient each year) called the CITGO Follies, and one of my bosses and some other guys got the idea to form a band. They knew I was a drummer (and maybe they also thought it was good to have a "young guy" in the group), so we started rehearsing during lunch in our warehouse. One of the guys was a hardcore 50s and 60s rock & roll maniac, who knew every bit of music trivia you can imagine, so we decided to do a kind of timeline medley, starting with Rock Around the Clock and ending with Heart of Rock and Roll (I guess someone was a Huey Lewis fan!). The show was a pretty good success, and afterwards we were asked to play for some other parties and charity events, so suddenly we were kind of a real band! We started learning tons of songs, and the older guys would always be amazed that I had never heard most of these old tunes before! Actually, it was really good for me, since I expanded my knowledge a bit and totally nailed how to play a shuffle beat. We even had a band logo, and CITGO paid to get us custom embroidered shirts and shiny jackets, too!

A couple years later, there was another CITGO Follies, so we worked up a new show and added tons of people to the band, including backup singers and even a horn section (which is how I met my good friend Nick, since his dad was a CITGO employee). Another year there was a mock casino night, and we played a long set for the party (my parents were visiting Tulsa during that event, and got to see me go nuts during Ray Charles' What'd I Say). I really enjoyed some other great events, too, such as playing outdoors at Bell's Amusement Park right next to the roller coaster! I don't really remember how or why we stopped playing, but after our four or five year run, we eventually packed it up.

During our heyday, we were featured on a local Tulsa news broadcast, and now you can watch that ancient (probably 1995) video! I thought it was hilarious that they used me to begin the segment, with the crazy line "mild-mannered computer whiz by day, rock & roll drummer by night!" I was looking kind of silly in my Mod Mikey phase, but I secretly thought I was super-cool. Playing in the CITGO band sure made work more interesting, and definitely had a positive effect on my drumming ability today. I hope the other guys still find the time to break out their instruments, too!

Watch video: CITGO Band News Broadcast

10.02.2009

The H-Man : 3 of 5

I'm really developing a taste for classic Toho films of all types, so I've completely enjoyed watching the Icons of Sci-fi: Toho Collection DVD set, finishing up with the 1958 classic The H-Man (released in Japan with the more poetic title Beauty and the Liquid People). This is another Honda/Tsuburaya collaboration (along with the usual set of Toho actors), once again without giant monsters, but with plenty of suspense and science fiction horror to take their place! The plot begins like a standard crime drama involving a routine drug-runner case, but soon the scientist Masada shows up and reveals that the cops are actually dealing with something much more bizarre. It seems a fishing boat crew was exposed to high levels of radiation during an H-bomb test, causing their bodies to liquify into blobs, and now they feed on other humans by dissolving them with a single touch! The blob effects are really amazing, using clever techniques to make the gloop appear to move up walls and uphill, or even through an open window. The blobs can also stand upright in a glowing humanoid form, which looks just unusual enough to be totally creepy. The female lead is a nightclub singer named Chikako, who sings sultry songs in English during some seedy club scenes (which also include some wild bikini dancing!). There's a scene where a jazz drum solo is intercut with some cop/gangster violence that's really unique, and I thought the editing was simply brilliant! The film's finale involves a last-ditch effort to get rid of the blob people by filling Tokyo's sewers with ignited gasoline (giving Tsuburaya an opportunity for some awesome effects shots), but unfortunately the pacing is a little slow, almost like they padded the ending a bit because they ran out of story. But overall I really enjoyed this film, and I'm completed dedicated to discovering more Toho classics. I feel like I'm only getting started in this genre of 50s-60s Japanese cinema!

10.01.2009

Netflix One-Liners 10.09

Capricorn One: This was a fantastic movie to watch with the guys, featuring a semi-science fiction plot about a faked Mars landing, the "acting" of both Telly Savalas and OJ Simpson, and some of the most incredible airplane chase aerobatics I've ever seen (seriously)!
Celebrity: I've always loved this black & white Woody Allen film (with Kenneth Branagh practically doing a Woody impression in the lead role) about a writer's mid-life crisis, filled with awesome self-searching dialogue and a crazy night with Charlize Theron!
Batman Returns: Since I watched Tim Burton's Batman in my last Netflix batch, I decided to watch the sequel (definitely the only Batman sequel worth seeing), featuring Michelle Pfeiffer's cool version of Catwoman and Danny DeVito's totally disgusting Penguin.
Batman vs Dracula: I never got around to watching this animated feature until now, and I really wasn't missing anything, although it was kind of cool to get into this incarnation of the animated Caped Crusader (since I haven't watched The Batman series in a long time).
What's Up, Tiger Lilly?: Woody Allen's comedic re-dubbing of some classic Japanese spy films wasn't nearly as funny as I remembered, although I was really excited to see Kumi Mizuno (my favorite Godzilla girl) in one scene!
State and Main: I always get into David Mamet's dialogue, and I really like this crazy satire of Hollywood filmmaking as it takes over a small town, and even though I realized I had already seen this movie (after about 20 minutes), I still watched it to the end!
Space Battleship Yamato: Of course, I used to watch Star Blazers (the US dubbed version of this anime) as a kid, so I watched this two-hour "summary" version of the entire original series (in the original Japanese!), which definitely loses something in the reduction, but it was a blast to make it to Iscandar again!
The Animatrix: Although the live-action Matrix films get worse as the trilogy progresses, this collection of animated shorts set in the same world is absolutely fantastic, featuring incredibly clever and interesting writing, awesome animation, and fascinating back-story to the whole saga!
Big Man Japan: There's no way a kaiju fan like me wouldn't enjoy this funny mock-documentary of a super-sized protector of Japan, but the absolutely crazy ending (or non-ending, I should say) left my pals and me kind of flabbergasted.
The IT Crowd Season 3: Each season of this British series is funnier than the last, and this third season is totally genius, including an accidental armed robbery involvement and a hilarious parody of social networking called Friendface!