12.31.2009

Looking back at 2009

2009 was an incredible year for me, filled with significant and miraculous (in my opinion) events! It's time to take a look at what my goals were for the year and see how I did. For the past few years, I've structured my New Years resolutions as general areas to improve, so here's what I focused on last year.

Healthy Life: My biggest accomplishment in 2009 was finally making this happen, after a few years of failure. I visited the Grand Canyon for the first time, and seeing its immense size suddenly made the challenges in my life seem very small. When I got home from that trip in May, I knew I could change my body. I lost 35 pounds and really shifted the way I eat and how I think about food. I have to keep at it every day (for the rest of my life), but now I know I can actually lose weight if I ever have to face this again (or to lose a few Christmas pounds!). I love using my Wii for fitness and taking long walks (often quite meditative), and my grocery list couldn't be simpler.

Frugal Life: I think I did a good job of adding to my savings and stopping to think twice about purchases, with the only exceptions being new acquisitions for my Toy Museum! I love using PaperBack Swap to avoid buying books when I can, I've done some DVD and game pruning, and I feel like I'm on top of my finances more then ever before.

Simple Life: My thought here was to create blocks of unstructured time, so I got rid of some activities and commitments that were wearing me down. I think I went a little far by cutting too many at once (I was left with a "what do I do now?" feeling), but things that I really enjoy (like Japanese) found their way back into my daily routine naturally. I'm so glad I made this goal though, because it made me examine what I really like but needed more time to do (like reading).

Creative Life: I guess I would say I failed at what I was thinking about for this goal (doing video projects, composing music), but I definitely succeeded to some extent. I've been blogging more regularly than ever before (which is therapeutic and fun for me, regardless of how the world feels about my drivel), and I met several learning goals by doing lessons in Final Cut Express, basic piano, and even iPhone development. Of course, I also kept playing with my bands and took part in a theater production as well.

Home Life: This goal actually means that I needed to buy some furniture, which I would put off forever if I didn't make it a requirement! I've finally replaced almost all my inexpensive furniture with new pieces that make me happy, and of course I've continued to declutter all year long.

2009 was also a year of wonderful experiences that I will never forget! No matter how silly it sounds, being able to meet Morning Musume was really emotional for me, not only because I admire their hard work, but because it was a real "dream come true" experience, since I truly thought it could never happen. I was able to enjoy some fantastic vacations in Arizona, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, as well as one of the most tip-top perfect Walt Disney World trips in history. I owe all of these memories to my family and friends, and I'm looking forward to more wonderful times in 2010!

12.30.2009

Enjoying iPhoto at last

For the past several months I've been moving my entire photo collection into iPhoto, and it's going really well. For a few years I avoided using iPhoto, since it used to have problems choking on as many photos as I take every year, but since it's a mature application now I decided to make the move, and it's doing fine with 20,000 images so far (though I have many more to add!). I really love the concepts of Events, Faces, and Places, and as I bring in old photos I'm taking the time to be sure every face is recognized (which is why I'm only doing a small batch every morning!). I'm also really enjoying the full screen mode, which helps me find the best image to post on Flickr from all my macro toy photos that I'm so obsessed with taking! I'm also learning a lot about the various enhancement features (thanks to reading David Pogue's Missing Manual that I borrowed from Dad), I finally understand what a histogram means and how to manipulate it to get my preferred "blown out" white background look. I even used iPhoto for this year's calendar gift that I always make for my parents (it was so easy to do the layout and ordering), and while I was in Oklahoma City recently I was able to do some quick image tweaking (straightening, removing dirty lens spots) before uploading my Christmas photos. I guess iPhoto has finally become indispensable software for me, and I can't wait to see what Apple does in the next version (hopefully in the near future)!

12.29.2009

Sherlock Holmes : 4 of 5

Whenever I'm in Oklahoma City, my parents and I try to see several movies in the incredible Warren Theater balcony, so we braved the somewhat icy roads to check out Sherlock Holmes the day after Christmas. Although I had only watched the trailer once, I knew this was going to be a cool film, re-inventing the classic super-sleuth with a Batman feel. Of course, the plot is still set in turn of the century London, but the movie-making style is 100% modern, using unusual editing methods (both slow and fast motion) and altered colors that make things appear as a kind of watercolor wash at times. The character of Holmes is really interesting, since he's kind of like a James Bond with attention deficit disorder. Without a problem to occupy his mind, his life falls apart, but when he's on a case, his thought processes are razor sharp, as shown through the film's unique "flash forward" technique that shows how Sherlock plans something (such as how to win a lightning fast fist fight) in the wink of an eye. There's also lots of flashbacks to show how small clues aided Holmes' famous deductive powers. All of the acting is really enjoyable (with fairly convincing, yet understandable, British accents), and Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law make a great team as Holmes and Watson. There are some serious action showpieces that really give this intellectual story a superhero flair - the slaughterhouse escape scene was especially exciting and intense! I was surprised that Professor Moriarty is only hinted at in this story, which makes this film kind of an introduction to the real saga that will hopefully begin with the first of many sequels. Seeing Sherlock Holmes was a fantastic way to finish off Christmas vacation with my parents, and I'm definitely looking forward to more adventures from the 221B Baker Street boys.

12.28.2009

Pucchi Best 10 / CD & DVD : 3 of 5

When I first became a fan of Morning Musume and Hello! Project, I was so excited to learn about the Pucchi Best (or Petit Best) releases, which give a great overview of all the major songs from the previous year. The CDs are a great way to hear from your favorite artists as well as discover new ones, and the DVDs are filled with music videos, which I love to watch even if I've already seen them. I thought the Pucchi Best series was so cool that I searched out and bought all the past editions, so of course I'm going to keep buying the new ones as they come out. This year's Pucchi Best 10 CD is kind of unique, because along with the previously release songs, there are also lots of new releases from the shuffle groups (introduced on the Chanpuru wedding album). 2009 was an eventful year for Hello! Project due to the mass graduation of some really big names, so it's nice to have the final H!P releases from Nacchi and Ayaya (I hadn't even seen the video for Nacchi's song, and it was really good), plus Yaguchi Mari's "comeback" song. I don't really care about the super-young groups yet, but the tracks from the major groups are all good ones (especially Rival from Berryz Koubou and My Boy from Buono). Of course, Morning Musume's incredible number one single Shouganai Yume Oibito is my favorite, and I never mind listening to it or watching the video one more time (or 100 more times). If you're looking to discover more Hello! Project music, or just like seeing a retrospective of the H!P year, I definitely recommend the Pucchi Best CDs and DVDs, including this 10th edition!

12.26.2009

Blizzard for Christmas

It's hard to believe it's already the day after Christmas! To continue with our adventures, we spent an evening driving around local neighborhoods to look at Christmas lights, enjoyed Mom's delicious brownies made in a new pan (so every brownie has edges!), and played lots more Wii together (Mom has become a serious bowling competitor). The biggest news is that we had a totally white Christmas, since Oklahoma City was hit with an unexpected blizzard that left 14 inches of snow! None of us believed the weather forecast, but we ended up watching the snow fall and listening to the howling wind all day on Christmas eve. Dad and I did lots of shoveling and helping neighbors get their mail and get their garbage cans to the curb, and truthfully I had the best time stomping around in drifts that went up to my knees! Christmas day itself was wonderful, and I was amazed as usual by the huge haul of gifts that Santa brought (so many books and DVDs). After the unwrapping we watched the Disney Christmas Parade, and later enjoyed a wonderful meal (with lots of wine for me!). Today Dad and I have been doing more "snow work" and we're all going to see another movie in the luxurious Warren Theater later today. Hopefully my flight will get me back to Austin tomorrow, but I'm in no hurry to leave this magical Christmas wonderland!

View photos: Christmas 2009 (Part 3)

12.24.2009

Jam-packed Christmas

I can't believe how many fun activities my parents and I are cramming into this Christmas vacation, so here's another update on the fun! We went to Bricktown (part of Downtown Oklahoma City) to take a free holiday boat ride on the Oklahoma River and see some of the city Christmas decorations, then enjoyed seeing Avatar at the awesome Warren Theater (accompanied by great food and beer). To add to our casino repertoire, we drove to Tulsa to spend a few hours at the Hard Rock Casino, and it was cool to play some slot machines next to exciting memorabilia like the Jonas Brothers' pants and Britney Spears' miniskirt. Mom & Dad took the plunge and ordered their new kitchen countertop remodeling project, and then we drove to Pauls Valley to visit the truly amazing Toy & Action Figure Museum (which I had read about in Wired). The museum was even better than I thought it would be, and we loved seeing all the toys! During the evenings at home, we've all been opening presents (and I also received some great surprise gifts from my pals), playing bowling on the Wii (Mom is throwing strikes like crazy and can beat Dad now!), and eating Mom's wonderful meals like homemade chili and super nacho! I also got to setup Dad's new universal remote, and I'm really impressed with the results. Today is Christmas Eve and PJ Day, since the snow will be falling later today, so we're going to stay inside and try to play all the Wii games that Santa has been bringing (about ten of them!). The time has been flying by so quickly that we're not going to build the traditional jigsaw puzzle this year, but there's always next year! Merry Christmas, everyone!

View photos: Christmas 2009 (Part 2)
View photos: Toy & Action Figure Museum

12.22.2009

Avatar : 5 of 5

Even though I've been excited about seeing Avatar for a long time (mostly because I know one of the CG supervisors on the film), secretly I was extremely skeptical about James Cameron's monumental film. As much as I enjoy CG animation, I have to admit that I don't want motion capture to be the future of filmmaking - I will always lean toward real people, real sets, and even real miniatures and effects (strings and all). But after the first 30 minutes of Avatar, my opinions started to sway, and after the first conversation between Jake and Neytiri, I was absolutely amazed. Never before in the history of CG filmmaking have facial emotions been created with such realism and believability, and I'll say right now that as I was crying during the movie's finale I realized that I was completely wrapped up in these pixel-based characters. For me, that makes Avatar a complete success, since it was able to grab my heart in a way that Zemeckis couldn't do in a 100 years, and the reason for this is that Cameron still knows how to make movies. He came up with a brilliant story that felt like Pocahontas and Romeo and Juliet, he overcame the usual zombie issues with motion capture, and above all (for my taste), he cut the film using "traditional" editing and camera angles, rather than succumbing to the stupid video game floating camera style that has killed other CG films. All of the acting was fantastic - Sam Worthington was so convincing, and Sigourney Weaver was excellent (and added lots of fun Alien geek credibility). Avatar is overflowing with awesome details (I really enjoyed the console user interfaces and the menagerie of Pandora creatures), and even though this is a relatively long movie, I can easily see myself sitting through a much longer director's cut! Rather than adding comments that you can read in a million other reviews, the best thing I can say about Avatar is it made me realize that the kind of movie I don't want to be made can actually affect me emotionally in a way I never thought possible. If this has to be the future of filmmaking, at least I'm glad that James Cameron is leading the way.

12.20.2009

Christmas in full gear

Another Christmas season with my parents in Oklahoma City has begun, and we're filling every spare moment with fun! Of course we've been to Riverwind Casino, where we enjoyed the Star Trek slot machines (Dad reached the highest Starfleet rank, so he can order Mom and I around now), and we've been shopping for new kitchen countertops for Mom (my main Christmas gift this year is helping them out on the remodeling cost). I've been eating Mom's Christmas cookies every five minutes or so, along with a huge spaghetti dinner, but this year I'm also minimizing the weight damage by working out on their treadmill every morning. To earn my keep I've been busy as Dad's personal Geek Squad: I swapped out the cable modem, backed up his MacBook, setup a new soundbar for the TV, completely hooked up a neighbor's AV system, and threw in a few How-To lessons for Dad, too! Dad got a Nintendo Wii this year, and it took about three seconds for Mom and Dad to both get hooked on bowling, so we've been having matches every night (Dad came as close to a perfect game as I think I'll ever see). We've been opening other gifts too, such as matching Santa shirts (to go with our matching hats), and I got a Star Trek Tricorder with cool lights and sounds! I also had fun building a LEGO Christmas Toy Shop (probably a new yearly tradition), and we all enjoyed going out to a local dinner theater for a "Dean Martin" Christmas show. We have many more holiday adventures planned - this sure is a jam-packed Christmas!

View photos: Christmas 2009 (Part 1)

12.18.2009

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny / Vol 5 & Vol 6 : 3 of 5

Although I don't think this series has a chance of being as good as Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, these two DVDs do a great job at the attempt! Lots of storylines are going on at this point, crisscrossing each other and making it necessary to really pay attention (especially when many characters look so similar!). One plot involves Lacus Cline and her attempted assassination, while a fake Lacus is doing concerts to boost troop morale (and definitely being used to control people's loyalty!). There's a lot of focus on the Phantom Pain group, especially Stella, who is saved by Shinn when she almost drowns, causing her to form a bond with him (not knowing they are on opposite sides of the war, of course). Later they fight each other in their Mobile Suits while Stella tries to protect the place she was "born" - a diabolical laboratory where Naturals (humans) are "enhanced" with drugs and memory wipes to become perfect soldiers (which really casts an evil spin on the Earth forces). There are a couple of the usual recap episodes, but these are some of the best I've seen, since they are constructed as flashbacks for Shinn in order to reveal a much deeper level of his character (finally!). There's also a tense meeting between Kira and Athrun, who find they have lost each other's trust and seem to be on opposite sides of the conflict yet again. Of course, there are also some cool extended battle scenes featuring all sorts of Mobile Suits and other craft, plus there's a switch to a new opening theme song and beautiful title sequence. Whenever I finish watching one of these DVDs I always wish I had the next one ready to pop in the DVD player, so that's definitely a good sign!

12.16.2009

Crazy Christmas CDs

By this time in December, I'm listening to Christmas music non-stop, and my collection is full of the classics from my childhood (my parents got me hooked on the Ray Conniff Singers) and lots of contemporary stuff, too. But there are a few totally bizarre CDs that I love to listen to, even if they are a little out of character for me! Although I love Christmas with all my heart, for some reason I get the biggest kick out of irreverent, raunchy, dirty, hilarious Christmas parodies and spoofs! I've had Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics for a few years, and I love listening to the South Park characters totally destroy all the carols, especially the songs sung by Mr. Hankey himself. You have to be prepared for a unique experience when you listen to a CD with smiling turd on the cover! My newest CD is Have Yourself a Meaty Little Christmas featuring the characters from Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and I have been crying with laughter over this one! I can't decide which track I like more: Master Shake singing the soulful I Sure Hope I Don't Have To Beat Your Ass This Christmas or Meatwad happily singing Santa Left A Booger In My Stocking (with lyrics like "Santa pulled his mitten off and shoved his finger up the booger trough and pulled a gift down his nose chimney")! Maybe I'm a little deranged - I'm sure I look funny singing these in my car with a huge laughing smile on my face!

Speaking of Christmas, the wait is finally over, and tomorrow I'll be flying to Christmas Town (which happens to be my parents' house in Oklahoma City). For the next 10 days I won't be writing many WEBmikey posts, but I can't curb my Twitter addiction, so you'll know what's going on (if you want)!

12.15.2009

Christmas Toys 1978

By the time Christmas of 1978 rolled around, Kenner was cranking out the Star Wars toys by the ton, and of course I had already been collecting Star Wars action figures all year long! My Santa parents took the holiday opportunity to deliver some of the larger Star Wars toys, including the massive Death Star playset, which had a unique design to represent a multi-level “slice” of the space station. I went nuts with this toy, since there was so much to do with it, and I’ll never forget the cool trash compactor (filled with bits of foam garbage). I also got a TIE Fighter (sized so a figure could pilot it), and I loved carefully putting on the decals and then pressing the secret buttons to pop off the wings to simulate battle damage! Aside from action figures, I got the human-sized Stormtrooper Rifle that had some pretty cool firing effects and was a blast to hold. It was definitely a Star Wars extravaganza!

But as usual, Santa brought even more amazing stuff, such as Electroman, which was a cool large action figure with a big light on his forehead and sensors to detect movement (he was the same size as the Six Million Dollar Man, so they went well together). I also got the Star Bird Avenger, one of the most innovative space ship toys I can remember, which changed its electronic engine sounds to match the angle of the ship, and it even had fantastic laser sounds and lights. I even got the Star Bird Command Base to go with it! I have no idea how all this stuff fit in my room.

After 1978, Dad stopped using the old home movie camera, so I can only dream about the spectacular toys I received in 1979 and beyond. I know that when I read nostalgic toy sites like Plaid Stallions I am constantly reminded of cool stuff that I had, all thanks to my incredible parents (and being a spoiled only child). Every Christmas brings joy and happy surprises, and it’s been fun remembering my childhood treasures!

12.14.2009

Pasta for Christmas

I feel extremely lucky to have so many wonderful friends in my life, so I decided it would be fun to get everyone together and buy them all dinner for Christmas! Since we're all growing up and there are several kiddies in the bunch now, we don't often get to all be in the same room together, so it was a really special night for me, and I think everyone had fun. We ate at Buca di Beppo, and there were 24 of us to completely fill the Velvet Room, which made for a nice semi-private atmosphere where we could be loud and crazy. The tables were overflowing with food and desserts, as well as six liters of Chianti! I got several surprise Christmas presents, but the real gift was just seeing everyone together having a good time!

View photos: Christmas Dinner Party

12.12.2009

Pure Drivel / Steve Martin : 3 of 5

Since I've enjoyed everything I've read by Steve Martin lately, I looked around on PaperBack Swap and found a few more short books to get. Pure Drivel is a collection of short essays, many of which appeared in The New Yorker magazine, and most of these are much more in line with Steve's usual off-the-wall humor, but with a definite literary flair. Some of the essays are only a couple pages, so this book reads very quickly, but I enjoyed every bit of it. Every now and then an essay will cross over from the comedy world and become a moving, beautiful piece, which is the case with Hissy Fit, by far my favorite of the collection. The way Steve writes so lovingly about the city of Los Angeles is incredible - he finds meaning in the simplest details and weaves it into poetry. I also really enjoyed Bad Dog, which is told from the dog's point of view as it struggles to resist the urge to bark at the FedEx man, and the lengthy description of how the bark begins to rise in the dog's throat is just amazing! Of course, there are several essays that are just sheer nonsense, but clever and funny at the same time. One of these is Schrodinger's Cat, which begins by explaining the famous quantum mechanics paradox, and then goes on with a bunch of hilarious "similar" situations with names like "Chef Boyardee's Bungee Cord"! While I would recommend Steve Martin's novels over this collection any day, Pure Drivel is still great for a quick, intelligent laugh.

12.11.2009

JLA / New World Order : 2 of 5

I probably wouldn't have picked up this book at a comic book shop, but I couldn't resist getting it from PaperBack Swap, especially since I've read so little of the recent adventures of the Justice League. This is a four-issue collection with a pretty standard alien invasion plot (although there's a nice twist involving the Martian Manhunter). I thought the first half was pretty lame, since I wasn't enjoying the overly-busy artwork, and even the dialogue was a little boring. Some of the drawing is really crazy, too - a few faces look particularly sloppy! But somehow the book really turned around for the second half, with a better pace and great one-liners from the heroes. Maybe I was just happy that Batman ends up solving the mystery, since he's the only plain ol' human in the bunch! I enjoyed how some portions of the book focus on a particular character, which was even more interesting to me since heroes like the Flash and Green Lantern are actually different guys than when I was growing up. For essentially free, this was a really fun book, but I'm definitely not on the search for more books in this series.

12.10.2009

Christmas Toys 1977

When I hear the year 1977 mentioned, I immediately think of Star Wars, so you would think that Santa’s sleigh would have been overflowing with Star Wars toys this year. Actually, the toy companies had no idea that Star Wars would be such a success, so when Christmas rolled around almost nothing was available! However, Santa did manage to get me the Escape from the Death Star board game, which I thought was the coolest piece of cardboard in the whole world (I’m sure I played it a million times with my friends).

Instead of Star Wars, 1977 turned out to be the Christmas of the Micronauts! I don’t even remember how I got into these toys, but suddenly they were all I wanted (just like my friends, cousins, and everyone else). Micronauts were a bit more expensive than your average toy, but my Santa parents got me all they could, including individual figures like Acroyear and cool vehicles like the Galactic Cruiser. But my favorites by far were Baron Karza (all black and Vader-esque) and his horse Andromeda, who had fantastic magnetic joints that gave them excellent posability as well as making them interchangeable (so you could turn the two into a centaur!). I was a Micronauts freak for years, and I really wish I had Baron Karza on my toy shelf today!

12.09.2009

Hello! Project 2009 Summer Kakumei Gannen / Hello! Chanpuru : 3 of 5

Since I really enjoyed the Chanpuru / Happy Marriage Song Collection CD, which shuffled all of the Hello! Project girls into different groups to cover famous pop songs often heard at weddings, I was really looking forward to this concert to see the mixed-up line-ups in action! This two-hour show is set in a smaller venue than usual, but that only makes the stage look more packed with energetic girls. Along with the songs from the CD, there are several other unexpected numbers (possibly older songs from the original shuffle groups), and of course, plenty of Morning Musume, Berryz Koubou, and C-ute hits (often performed by non-group members, which is always fun). A few performers definitely stood out for me in this show, starting with Lin Lin, who can seriously turn on the energy (unfortunately, she didn't perform her solo from the CD, which was so disappointing)! Saki from Berryz Koubou is one of the best dancers in Hello! Project, and I enjoyed watching her make every move perfectly. Risako (also Berryz) is so intense, and regardless of how you feel about her voice, she can definitely belt it, which really works for her! Reina's solo was nice (wonderfully clear, high notes), and Ai-chan's solo was just stunning (although cut way too short). Speaking of Ai-chan, she is literally an actress on stage, making the lyrics come from her heart! I was really excited to see Zoku Biyuuden since Sayumi is part of the group, and I loved their performance of Only You. The costumes were fun overall with High King's being the most stylish by far. Truthfully I was a little bored by Ice Creamusume and the other baby groups, but the finale was huge and cool. I guess overall I was hoping for a better concert, but I still really enjoyed this show and I'm sure I'll watch it again some time!

12.08.2009

The Princess and the Frog : 5 of 5

It's not often that something so anticipated meets every expectation, so I had my fingers crossed when I went to a sneak preview (thanks to Melinda, of course!) of Disney's new animated feature The Princess and the Frog. This movie is so important to the future of animation, and marks several "returns" for Disney - a return to hand-drawn animation, a return to fairy tales with a princess, a return to true musicals - so I've been hoping with all my might that this film could start a new renaissance just like The Little Mermaid did so long ago. I'm so happy to say that Disney has done it - The Princess and the Frog brings back the magic and spirit of all the classics that Disney fans love! From the moment the movie began I was tingling at seeing a true cartoon on the big screen again - there's just something about knowing human hands made this living artwork that's overwhelming to me. The animation was never disappointing, with fantastic, expressive character designs, detailed lip-sync on human characters, and hilarious variety of movement. Of course I could keep gushing about the animation (I love it that the incredible Mark Henn has another beautiful princess in his portfolio), but truthfully the most important element is the story (as any Disney fan would tell you), and directors Clements and Musker (who thankfully were willing to come back to Disney after the animation shakedown) have managed to craft an absolutely beautiful tale. Each character has a perfect fit in the plot, and everyone (not only Tiana) is allowed to grow in a wonderful way. The songs are wonderful, especially since they're influenced by New Orleans Jazz, and there are several giant music numbers that really bring the house down (think of the pizzazz of I Just Can't Wait to be King from The Lion King, then multiply it by three)! Tiana is a truly lovable and admirable character, Prince Naveen has some hilarious lines, Louis the gator is a reincarnation of Baloo from The Jungle Book (and that's a compliment!), and Dr. Facilier is a welcome addition to Disney's gallery of villains. But the character that shines with brilliance (pun intended) is Ray the Cajun firefly, who creates an emotional sob-fest that ranks right up there with Bambi's mom and Dumbo's tear (all I can say is, be prepared to cry). I absolutely cannot wait to see The Princess and the Frog again - I'm going opening day to "vote with my wallet" for the future of hand-drawn animation!

12.07.2009

Petting piglets, popping pies

My weekends usually include some kind of event or get-together with friends, but this Saturday was jam-packed with three big ones! I started the day by seeing a sneak preview of Disney's new animated feature The Princess and the Frog (completely gushing review coming soon) with my pal Melinda, then grabbed some lunch and a nap before heading to Emiliano's second birthday party! Chris & Eliza hired a petting zoo for their front yard, so there were all kinds of bunnies, goats, pigs, chickens, and even a baby cow, horse and burro! Everyone totally loved it (adults as well as kids), and had fun playing with all the cute, fluffy animals. Of course we sang Happy Birthday and Emiliano got to devour a birthday cupcake, while everyone else snacked on pizza and other delicious foods with coffee. After another quick break at home, it was time for the third event, Jonathan & Anne-Marie's annual Pie Party! Their newly remodeled kitchen was put to good use, since everyone filled it to overflowing with pies, including non-sweets like quiche and Frito pie. Jonathan was an amazing host, providing awesome booze and cigars, which we enjoyed by the outdoor fire. It was so much fun to talk with everyone and we even sang Christmas carols! Around 2:00 AM reality caught up with me (so to speak), but Sunday was a nice recovery day. I feel pretty lucky that my pals throw such unique and awesome parties for me to enjoy!

View photos: Emiliano's Birthday 2009
View photos: Pie Party 2009

12.04.2009

Manga Mentions 12.09

Honey and Clover Vol 1: When Shojo Beat magazine was still being published, I looked forward to reading Honey and Clover in each new issue, since it always had a relaxing effect on me. So even though I've enjoyed most of the manga piece-meal (as well as enjoyed the live action drama and movie), I decided to read it again! It's amazing how much I love this story, considering the bizarre artwork (not really my style), but the narrative is so well-written that it warms my heart every time! This first volume just gets things going with the art school students, and I'm looking forward to what happens next (even though I know already).

Nana Vol 3: Speaking of re-reading, I'm still having a good time with my second-favorite Shojo Beat series, so I picked up a couple more volumes on PaperBack Swap. In this volume Shoji starts cheating on Nana with Sachiko, but there's quite a bit of character development to demonstrate Shoji's internal conflict, making it a much more interesting situation. Also, Yasu moves to Tokyo to play drums with Nana's band, completing the line-up!

Nana Vol 4: Nana discovers that the other Nana had a relationship with Ren, so she starts scheming about getting her to see his band in concert. I love the scene where they see each other from the stage, and I was really moved by the line about crying because emotion fills the heart to overflowing (kind of a profound explanation).

Hikaru no Go Vol 17: It's becoming so easy to sum up Hikaru no Go lately: fantastic artwork, a bunch of Go games, and nothing much happens. I just have to keep reading since I'm come so far, and at least this volume includes a confrontation between Hikaru and Akira (who senses the presence of Sai), as well as a nice dream sequence with Sai himself (I hope he comes back soon).

Kaze Hikaru Vol 15: This volume has an interesting plot where a doctor friend of Sei's father comes to examine the troops (obviously a problem since Sei is a girl posing as a guy!). There's a little development in Okita's feelings for Sei, and the crisis resolves itself in a creative diagnosis that will support Sei's cause among the troops for quite a while. Now how about some action?

12.03.2009

Christmas Toys 1976

Although every Christmas I've written about so far was fantastic (and we haven't even got to Star Wars toys yet), I think if I had to pick one Christmas morning to live again it would have to be 1976. Every toy I received that year was simply spectacular, and I'm not the only one who thinks so, judging from all the fond memories other people have written on the web! I guess I'll begin with the biggest LEGO set I've ever owned (I remember it included lots of large green bases which were so useful), followed by the absolutely huge Earthquake Tower (a very strange toy when you think about it, but I liked it because it was almost as tall as me!). To add to my Star Trek collection, I got a cool Controlled Space Flight toy so I could fly the Enterprise (with a propeller!) around in circles, plus the magnificent Mission to Gamma VI playset for my Mego Star Trek action figures! It was such a beautiful set with a giant mouth (which reminded me of the episode The Apple), with a rubber band trap and a "living" plant monster (a green glove!). Next was practically a whole collection of Six Million Dollar Man toys in one shot, including the Steve Austin figure himself, the incredibly-named Bionic Transport and Repair Station (which was a big rocket), and the awesome Mission Control Center, with its cleverly designed inflatable dome structure! I had so much fun putting these together, applying decals and attaching tubes. But there's still more! This same year I also received the Space 1999 Eagle (definitely a Holy Grail for many collectors), which was so giant you had to fly it around with two hands. I was crazy about Space 1999 as a kid (I even drew my own comics of the show), so I really enjoyed this toy, and every time I'm in my parents' garage I am taunted by the original box (which is being used for storage)!

But even with all of these great gifts, the best was yet to come with my beloved Star Trek Tricorder. This was the one toy I wanted the most that year, and my parents decided to pull the same trick from A Christmas Story by hiding it until the very end of Christmas morning. I can remember pulling back the drapes and seeing Kirk and Spock on that box, and I can't express how much I loved that souped-up cassette recorder! Throughout the year I began to record my own pretend radio shows (with lots of help from Dad), and of course I had a lot of Star Trek adventures as well. I'm kind of overwhelmed just writing about all this fun. What a Christmas!

12.02.2009

Last of the Jedi Vol 9 / Jude Watson : 4 of 5

Usually a lot more time passes by before I read the next book in this series, but since I lucked into a copy from PaperBack Swap I could continue the story right away. This next-to-last volume was particularly great because it has lots of connection with classic Star Wars characters, including a toddler Princess Leia! Several kinds of plots are going on at once. Ferus (still undercover working for the Empire) is on Alderaan to throw off the Empire from researching Leia (who has shown Force-sensitivity by saving the life of a nanny), but he's also stupidly carrying around a Sith Holocron that the Emperor gave him! His internal dialogue is interesting, since he keeps hearing voices to tempt him to give in to his anger, but it seems a little crazy to me that he would even carry around something so dangerous. The next plot involves digging into Vader's past, and Ferus' friends discover the connection to Mustafar through some detective work, while at the same time Vader himself is still pushing Empire scientists to develop a selective memory wipe drug so he can stop his tormenting thoughts of Padme (how sad). There are some really cool conversations and details, such as Obi-Wan talking with Bail Organa (whom he last saw at the end of Episode III), and even some mentions of Captain Antilles and the Tantive IV, which every fan knows will set the scene for the beginning of Episode IV! The ending of this volume felt pretty rushed, and there's so much happening that it's hard to believe it can get wrapped up in the next volume, but I'm enjoying every chapter until then!

12.01.2009

Varan : 2 of 5

This movie was the third DVD included in the Toho Pack I recently purchased, and although this is a pretty weak kaiju film, I still enjoyed watching this 1958 black & white classic. Actually the first thing I noticed was the incredible Ikufube score, which features lots of drums and chorus vocals (and even some unexpected piano), and also includes a few themes that would later be re-used in Godzilla movies. The main characters are scientists (what else?) plus a cute reporter named Yuriko, but unfortunately there's almost no character development. Sine Varan was made only a few years after Godzilla, it's interesting to see how movies from the same genre can be so different (perhaps aggravated by the fact that Varan was originally planned as a TV release). The monster himself appears at about 25 minutes into the movie (with no mysterious build-up, unfortunately), and he's designed mostly as a traditional lizard (on all fours). At times the costume is so convincing that it looks like a real reptile, with detailed skin texture and cool spikes. Varan's unusual power is he can fly with arm/leg membranes like a flying squirrel, which is pretty creative, but he only does it once! There are some interesting attacks both in the sky with planes and even underwater with depth charges, but truthfully the battles are quite slow moving and drawn out. The final showdown occurs on a nice miniature Haneda airport set, where poor Varan is tricked into swallowing bombs (because he likes to eat flares)! The DVD includes a great Japanese commentary track with one of the special effects artists, who loves to talk about the various techniques he used, as well as a fascinating Japanese TV show where the same artist demonstrates how Varan's skin was created (an incredibly long process that really shows the devotion of the special effects crew!). Although this movie isn't high on my "watch again soon" list, I'm still enjoying experiencing these Toho classics for the first time!