2.26.2010

Netflix One-Liners 2.10

Year One: Jack Black and the cast of Superbad star in this caveman movie that turned out to be a lot like Mel Brooks' History of the World (but not nearly as funny), so I'm really glad I missed this one in the theater!
Alien Nation: This is an excellent science fiction crime drama with James Caan and Mandy Patinkin (almost totally unrecognizable in make-up) that combines aliens with a hard-boiled cop plot (although getting drunk from spoiled milk is kind of dumb).
The Ramen Girl: I had this movie in my queue before I had even heard of the loss of Brittany Murphy, and it's a cute (if a little silly) story about a girl kind of stranded in Japan who decides to learn to be a Ramen chef with the same feel as The Karate Kid.
Louis CK / Chewed Up: My pal Chris introduced me to this absolutely hilarious comedian who does the best stand-up routine that I've seen in years, especially his jokes about overeating (which are so funny because they're true!).
Stan Lee's Mutants, Monsters & Marvels: This is a cool two-part interview of Stan Lee (creator of Spider-Man and just about every other Marvel superhero) by Kevin Smith, who does a great job as a true fan asking interesting questions and enjoying Stan's colorful answers.
Saturday Night Live / Adam Sandler: Although it can get a little old watching the same characters over and over, I kind of like the old Adam Sandler (especially Operaman) before he started making a hundred feel-good movies a year.
Saturday Night Live / Chris Farley: It was fun to spend some time "in a van down by the river" with Chris Farley, but I was kind of bummed than several of the exact same sketches from the Adam Sandler collection were included (which is cheating!).
Godzilla / Final Wars: I couldn't resist watching the last Godzilla feature film again when it showed up on Watch Instantly, and while it was really fun, I was definitely reminded of its flaws (it should have been so much better!).
Somewhere in Time: One of the best time travel romance stories ever with an incredibly beautiful Jane Seymour and a somewhat campy Christopher Reeve, I was so happy to see this was available on Watch Instantly since I hadn't watched it in years!
Planet of the Apes: I just had to watch the best Apes movie again (I couldn't help it), and I'm not ashamed to say I loved it as usual, and it always manages to somehow stay fresh for me (this time I enjoyed noticing that costume details really match my Planet of the Apes toy collection)!

2.25.2010

The Art of The Princess and the Frog / Jeff Kurtti : 5 of 5

It's been a long time since I've added a Disney art book to my collection, but since The Princess and the Frog is such a milestone in animation history, I knew I needed this one in my library, and my pal Ryan sent it to me for Christmas! Like most art books, this is a beautiful hardback with thick, high-quality pages overflowing with sketches and developmental artwork from the film (with far fewer production film stills than usual, which is a good thing!). Although there are tons more images than text, I was happy to read some wonderful words by John Lasseter (where he mentions the intentional Lady and the Tramp style, as well as the genius of directors Clements and Musker), followed by a nice mini-history of the three Golden Ages of Disney animation. The end of the book also has a great section discussing the current master animators (truly the equivalent of the Nine Old Men, and even taught by them!) and how this film allowed them to begin passing down their artform to new artists. Everyone was so excited to be working on this important movie, and it shows in every beautiful image! Although most of the paintings are produced digitally now (with tools that simulate brushes with amazing results), it's fun to see the animators sketches are almost always still in good ol' pencil. The amount of development work that was done to capture the essence of New Orleans is simply incredible (even with the interesting use of 3D assist to help with architectural perspective), and I loved studying how this contrasts with the feel of the bayou, which was based on the conceptual techniques pioneered in Bambi (everything is a building block in Disney animation, and everything is valuable!). It was fun finding new details I didn't really catch in the movie (such as the steamboat smokestacks on top of Tiana's restaurant), and I absolutely love looking at color scripts with all their vibrant energy. This book shows a true reverence for the art of animation and Disney animated features, and made me even happier and more grateful that this magical style still lives on in The Princess and the Frog!

2.24.2010

Going digital every day

My digitizing projects are well underway, and I've really been enjoying this memory-filled experience! I replaced my ancient Canon LiDE 30 scanner with a Canon LiDE 200 (which was actually a Valentine's Day gift from my parents), which isn't an expensive or fancy scanner by any means, but certainly makes my old one seem archaic! It's quite fast, and I love how I can just plop something down on the platen and the software will take care of edge-detection for perfect cropping and straightening (plus it can do up to four images at a time if they will fit on the scanner). My first project was to scan over 100 greeting cards that I had saved from Mom & Dad over the years, and it was so easy that I'm already finished! All that's important to me is the wonderful things my Mom writes inside each card (as well as her cute little doodles), and now I have all of them captured where I can instantly enjoy them, which is much better than burying them in a box that I never open. Seeing all these cards again was pretty emotional for me, and I was overwhelmed by how much my parents love me and how lucky I am to have grown up with such positive reinforcement my whole life! Now I've started working on photo scanning, which is really fun since these images help to "fill out" my iPhoto collection. For example, when I took my parents to Disneyland in 2003, I took lots of digital photos, but Dad shot regular print film. I've had the prints buried in an album (I even forgot I had them), but now they are scanned and included in the appropriate iPhoto event, making those memories more complete!

I've also been importing at least one cassette tape per day, but this takes much more time than scanning. I didn't even realize that I had some great software called CD Spin Doctor (which came with my copy of Toast) that has some great filters to remove tape hiss and add other enhancements. I'm sure I could get more control with better equalizing, but I just want to capture this stuff before these old tapes dry up and wither away! After working on the sound, it's fairly easy to split the tracks and bring them directly into my iTunes library. It's been weird to hear my old songs, poetry, and even childhood playtime with grade school friends in California again, and although most of this stuff is intensely embarrassing, I'm thankful that these recordings exist, since they are still part of what made me the person I am. I have so many more tapes to import, so there's no telling what I will have to endure listening to next!

2.23.2010

Music Moments 2.10

The Princess and the Frog / Original Soundtrack: I was glad when I found out that Disney's return to hand-drawn animation would be a musical, and even though it would have been nice to hear some new Alan Menken songs, Randy Newman did a surprisingly great job. This was the first CD I bought with my iTunes birthday money from my pal Melinda, and listening to it really makes me want to see the movie again! I love Tiana's voice on Almost There and the fun swinging feel of When We're Human (Louis the gator is great), but my favorite is definitely Ray's love ballad Evangeline, since he completely steals the movie for me!

Weezer / Red Album: I'm sure I've listened to Weezer's famous Blue Album a million times, but never considered checking out any of their newer stuff until I heard Pork and Beans on DDR Hottest Part 3 (see, video game marketing really works!). Weezer is quite a bit different on this album, but there are still a few standout tracks that really have their signature sound and attitude, especially Pork and Beans and Dreamin'. They also get musically creative with a couple long tunes (5-6 minutes each), as well as lyrically nostalgic on Heart Songs, which lovingly looks back at cheesy 80s songs as the soundtrack of life for our generation.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters / Original Soundtrack: From the moment I laughed my ass off in the theater during the opening snack bar scene, I knew I had to get this CD someday (even though most of the tunes aren't really my style)! Cut You Up With A Linoleum Knife (the crazy "don't talk during the movie" song) makes the whole album worth it, but I also love Master Shake's hilarious Nude Love. There are a few songs with lyrics about characters like Meatwad and Carl, as well as four hidden tracks!

mc chris / Part Six: Even though his raunchy lyrics are somewhat out of character for me, I'm totally a fan of mc chris' awesome nerdcore sound, so I finally got around to buying this album (which was actually released in parts as three CDs). mc chris will always be known for Fett's Vette (his amazing rap about Boba Fett and his car payments), so this time he continues the trend with IG-88's 57 Chevy, Zuckuss' Prius, and Dengar's Dumptruck, all of which are packed with detailed Star Wars references. He even has a Harry Potter track this time, as well as a touching love song about breaking up a long distance relationship because he doesn't know when his girlfriend farts (how sweet!).

2.22.2010

Street Fighter / The Legend of Chun-Li : 2 of 5

I really have no idea why I rented this DVD, since I've barely played the Street Fighter video game, but I guess I was just in the mood for a bad movie, which is exactly what I got! It was kind of fun to see Kristin Kreuk (Lana Lang from Smallville) play another role, and she definitely has her soap opera acting style down to a science. She's without a doubt the best thing about the movie and adds a bit of realism among a cast whose acting is so terrible that it goes far beyond camp. The guy who plays Nash, a tough cop who shows up in Bangkok to go after the bad guy Bison, is absolutely ridiculous (and the worst thing is that he's just as stupid during a real life interview)! The plot of the movie follows the origin story of Chun-Li (one of the most popular characters from the original game) and how she gets involved with the benevolent Order of the Web on her mission to rescue her kidnapped father from Bison. Along the way she learns some of the iconic fighting moves that she's known for in the world of pixels (such as the spinning bird and the cliched energy ball throw), and the movie does an OK version of keeping the feel of the character while updating her look (although the Chun-Li's usual hairstyle only appears in one extended scene). For a movie called Street Fighter, the fight scenes are actually too short in my opinion, making more time available to fill with melodrama or absolutely disgusting flashbacks, such as Bison's sacrificial ceremony to remove his conscience! There's not much else I can say about this movie, and I can't recommend it for anything other than an easy way to kill some time with mindless vegging.

2.20.2010

Phoenix / The Complete Collection : 5 of 5

"Life itself is that which never ends" is the overarching theme of this beautiful, philosophical, and supremely entertaining anime based on Osamu Tezuka's manga masterpiece. I rented and completely enjoyed this series in 2008, and finally got the boxed set for Christmas this year and loved every minute of watching it again! It's rare that I review something twice, but I just had to mention this series again, which actually does justice to one of the best manga ever created, and gives me such a peaceful, healing feeling. Without going into detail that I've covered before, Phoenix combines stories of the ancient past with tales of the extreme future, linked by the godlike Phoenix (firebird or Hi no Tori) who represents the resilience of life. I tried to notice new details in each story, since it had been just long enough for me to be surprised at dramatic events. I loved the moment that Nagi finally calls Saruta father in The Dawn, and smiled at how cute and kind Chihiro the robot is in The Resurrection. The story of the nun Bikuni and her never-ending time cycle makes The Transformation such a creative self-contained episode, and of course the long saga of the wolf-faced Ingugami in The Sun is simply epic. I was amazed all over again at the battle scene - while human armies fight on the ground, the spirits of Buddhism and Shintoism war above the clouds! Finally, I took note of how The Future was expertly edited from the manga version (removing all scenes in the underground cities), although I would love to see a longer version. But this story of Masato, who lives billions of years to see the recreation of life on the dead Earth, is unbelievably moving, and does such a wonderful job of summarizing the theme of the anime. Tezuka was a brilliant treasure, and I think he would have completely approved of this incredible adaptation of his life's work. I'm so glad to have this anime in my collection and I'm looking forward to watching it and being moved all over again!

2.19.2010

A brief pause

I hate to even mention the tragic event that happened in Austin yesterday, but I feel like it would be insensitive to post a review of some dumb DVD without saying a word about it. The building was just across the street from my old condo, so it's pretty shocking when something like this hits close to home (even if it's a former home). I only watched the news over lunch yesterday, but that was enough to depress me for the rest of the day, simply because I love life and I'm saddened by anything that is "anti-life". My prayers are with everyone affected by this event, but I'm emotionally moving on today, since ultimately my responsibility comes down to living the best life I can regardless of tragedy in this world. I'm going to get through my company's chaotic office move today and enjoy this weekend! Tomorrow WEBmikey will be back to the usual geek/Jpop/Disney/goofy subject matter!

2.18.2010

Morning Musume singles 41-42 catch-up

This week my copy of Morning Musume's 42nd single arrived from CDJapan, and I realized I had hardly mentioned their 41st single yet! While their 38-40th singles were some of their best yet (especially Shouganai Yume Oibito, one of the most emotional Morning Musume songs ever), Kimagure Princess took a while to get used to, mainly because of the bizarre chipmunk effect used on the verses (I have no idea what the reason was behind that!). The melody is still really cool, though, with built-in yells for concert performances, and the lyrics are some of the most risque in Momusu's catalog, especially since the stated "theme" of the song is oshiri (butt!). I really enjoyed the video, not only because the dance was sexy with lots of movements to illustrate the lyrics, but also because the slow-motion close-ups were fantastic (Sayumi and Risa look spectacular)! Momusu B-sides have been getting better lately (sometimes better than the A-side), and Aishite Aishite Ato Ippun is an awesome song, with much more even line distribution among the girls.

Their brand new single, Onna ga Medatte Naze Ikenai, is much better than Kimagure Princess in my opinion, rocking a super-energetic feel with real attitude! The instrumentation is interesting, since the drums (which sound more live than usual) basically play fills through the whole song, and the interlude in the middle is a violin solo (pretty creative)! Unfortunately, lots of the girls got snubbed again on lines, including Sayumi (but at least she gets the "Ah!" solos, which she joked about on her blog!). The video is pretty cool with a fashion model theme, including scenes of everyone doing make-up and strutting down the catwalk (although everyone looks great, Risa and Lin Lin are shockingly beautiful!). The B-side Nakidasu Kamo Shirenai Yo has a fantastic R&B sound with dramatic lyrics, and I love hearing Morning Musume doing something outside of their usual style. I'm going to enjoy listening to this CD single in my car for a long time, but of course the upcoming release of their 10th full-length album can't come soon enough for me!

2.17.2010

LEGO Star Wars / The Visual Dictionary : 4 of 5

Thanks to that first X-Wing set that I bought myself a few years ago, the majority of my LEGO toys are Star Wars vehicles, so my pal Melinda knew this book would be a great Christmas gift for me! This unique book is history of every Star Wars set that LEGO has produced, as well as a cool overview of the various ships and crafts of the Star Wars universe in general, overflowing with images and detailed information! Each page is a huge photo spread with various parts labeled to cover both Star Wars and LEGO trivia, making this a book that's fun to just study and drool over (since it really makes you want to buy and build more kits!). I loved the long timeline showing the incredible number of sets that LEGO has produced covering all of the movies and The Clone Wars series, and it's interesting to compare old and new models of the same ships (which always seem to get better). Of course, there's also lots of attention given to LEGO minifigs (I can't believe how many have been made!), and the book itself actually includes a limited edition (only available with this book) Luke minifig (wearing his medal from the end of Episode IV) encased in the cover, where mine will safely stay! The book includes a fascinating interview with the LEGO Star Wars team in Denmark who design all these wonderful toys (talk about a dream job!). They mention how they try to create models based on various price points (often determined by weighing the finished toy, something I never knew), and that each design has to be sent to LucasFilm for approval. There's also a photo of an unreleased set of the rebel base on Yavin which looks so awesome! Finally, there's a short section of fan creations, which are just spectacular (and amazingly huge). I wish I could go back in time and build some of the sets I missed, but this book definitely inspires me to keep up to date on all the current LEGO Star Wars releases!

2.16.2010

Studying kanji on the iPhone

One of the major areas that I need to improve to pass the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) N3 this year is my reading speed and accuracy, which means I need to really be able to look at kanji and just know the meaning fairly instantly. I've started getting serious about using several different study tools, and I think coming at the challenge from different angles is really helping! In the past I've tried Remembering the Kanji (Heisig's classic method), so I'm continuing to learn these helpful meanings with some great study goals available on Smart.fm. These word associations really help, but I've found I still need some solid brute force pattern recognition as well, so I'm also using Read the Kanji (which I can't recommend enough) as well as several iPhone apps to kick my brain into gear! I love it when these different methods seem to synchronize and reinforce each other.

My favorite is Japanese Flip, which focuses on kanji compounds. This is fantastic since I get to exercise my vocabulary as well as my kanji recognition! Japanese Flip works on a kind of honor system where you look at the Japanese, think the answer to yourself, and then honestly respond if you were right or wrong when presented with the correct response. It does a great job with advanced spaced repetition, and it's super-fast to launch and whip through a few words during any spare moment.

Next is KanjiBox, which uses a more traditional multiple choice interface where you choose the kanji combination based on a presented word definition. This app allows you to study individual kanji as well as vocabulary, and displays cool progress charts to help you decide what to study next. I really like that when you make a mistake, it displays the definition of both the correct and incorrect answers!

I've also been playing with iKanji Touch, which has the most elegant and beautiful interface design, but doesn't let me plow through kanji at the speed I like. Everything about this app is top notch, but for me it's just a little too thorough (which is probably by design to facilitate really solid learning). However, it's still a fun app and a really valuable tool to have in my study arsenal!

2.15.2010

Star Trek : 5 of 5

After watching this incredible reboot of the Star Trek universe that I enjoyed so much in the theater, now I feel like I've truly experienced the glory of Blu-ray (thanks to my pal Ryan's birthday gift)! Although the number of bonus features wasn't overwhelming, there were still hours and hours and fascinating material to dig into, and I learned so much about the filmmakers and their enthusiasm for this movie. JJ Abrams seems like just a wonderful geek (which gives a fan like me a good feeling since he's at the helm), and I thought it was interesting how they graphed the fandom of the five major guys behind the development of the movie, which helped make the new adventures of the Enterprise something that newcomers could enjoy as well. I was pretty amazed that Star Trek was shot on film (rather than digital), and that the signature flare effect was done in camera buy shining off-screen lights into the anamorphic lens! I love the fact that Abrams really tried hard to shoot in as many real world locations as possible (rather than creating everything with CG), using iconic spots like Vasquez Rocks and even a power plant and a brewery! Even the fantastic console displays on the Enterprise bridge were live computer monitors, simply shot right along with the actors (it's fun to watch these screens go through their paces during the behind the scenes shots). The deleted scenes were better than expected, including Spock's birth (which was better cut, since I just don't like Winona Ryder as Spock's mom) and a new twist on Kirk's Kobayashi Maru hack (using his green Orion girlfriend as an unsuspecting pawn). Blu-ray wise, there's a pretty incredible Starship Simulator feature that lets you inspect different angles of the Enterprise as well as the Romulan Narada, beautiful menus with super-detailed schematics, and a semi-lame use of BD Live that accesses NASA news over the web. Of course, the movie itself looks fantastic. I loved discovering new details (like Scotty's tribble), and watching it a second time with the commentary track was a pleasure, since the filmmakers are just so excited that they step all over each other trying to spout their favorite trivia! Star Trek could seriously become one of those movies that I watch almost as often as the Star Wars saga, so I'm thrilled to have it in my fledgling Blu-ray collection!

2.13.2010

Sayumi's new blog

Being a fan of Jpop idol groups like Morning Musume is so different than the usual fan experience, since the allure of the whole thing is feeling like you actually know and are even friends with the performers (and of course, this is entirely intentional!). Although I'm a fan of lots of people (like Disney animators, for example), I don't care what they had for breakfast or wonder if they're working too hard. Somehow with Morning Musume it's different! For this kind of fandom to thrive, everyday details are pure gold, which is why I've been so addicted to Sayumi Michishige's (my favorite member of Morning Musume) new blog! Sayumi has wanted to write a blog for a long time (she even mentioned it last year in the Anime Expo Q&A panel), but since their management controls their public life so closely, I guess it took a long time for them to approve it. Now that she finally has one, Sayumi has been blogging like mad (usually several long posts every day)! She writes about all the things you would expect a 20-year old girl to talk about (clothes, family, favorite fruits), but I totally love reading it! She takes pictures of herself with her cell phone (like the one shown here), sometimes without make-up and even in her pajamas, so it totally feels like you've got the inside scoop on her everyday life. There's nothing else I can read and think things like "Wow, Sayumi just ate out with her sister a couple hours ago!" or "Oh no, Sayumi ate too much cake on Jun Jun's birthday!" I can follow her Japanese for the most part, but thankfully two US fan sites have already started translating her posts (with great speed)! I know it's completely silly, but I can't help giggling with glee when she writes something new. I'm a happy Sayumi fan!

Visit site: Sayumi Michishige blog (Japanese)
Visit site: Hyakupa Subs (blog translation)
Visit site: Donmai! (blog translation)

2.12.2010

Reducing leads to more reducing

One of the fun things about decluttering is that as I continue to reduce the things I've been hanging onto, I discover new projects I can do to reduce even more! As I was going through some stuff in the garage, I came across a bunch of old cassette tapes I had made of songs from my guitar playing days, as well as various band rehearsals and jams from a million years ago. I don't even own a tape player, so those tapes are just taking up space while the magnetic media slowly deteriorates! So, I bought a cheap player (that I will eventually give away) and a USB sound adapter so I can rip all of those memories into my computer. Of course it will take a while, but it's going to be fun and embarrassing to hear that stuff again, and then I can toss the tapes after everything is backed up. Similarly, I've decided to scan lots of "flat stuff" that I've been holding onto, like souvenirs and some greeting cards. I don't mind keeping a few precious paper memories, but I will definitely be tossing a good portion of it after it's safely captured digitally. I want to do the same thing with photos that I have in albums, and then store the photos in compact boxes rather than bulky albums that I never look at! I guarantee that when all of these things are available to me on my computer, I will enjoy them a million times more, and more often! So I'm pretty excited about the cassette project and the scanning project, which will keep me busy for months to come.

Other progress I've made recently includes storing my CDs (that I'm only keeping as emergency backup) on spindles so they take up very little space. I'm almost ashamed to say I have about 600 CDs, but I'm never buying another physical CD again (not counting Jpop!). I've moved almost all of my dust-catcher collectibles into the Toy Museum, and I'm very happy to see many more clean, flat surfaces visible around the house. I also just started cataloging the remains of my comic book collection so I can trade them for store credit at a comic shop (if I'm lucky). I would much rather read paperback sets of comic sagas than worry about individual issues. Finally, I found a few more items to give away, including my iron, which is a fantastic example of the silliness of saving something to use "someday". I haven't touched that iron in at least 10 years, but all the time it has been sitting in my closet waiting for "someday", someone else could have been getting good use out of it! Hopefully now they will.

2.11.2010

Superman: The Animated Series Vol 3 : 4 of 5

One of the staples of my Christmas gifts each year is the continuation of certain cartoon DVD sets, and I've been enjoying this fantastic Warner Bros. series for the past few years. This third volume completes the Superman set, and it's filled with awesome episodes that manage to take on a very new feel so late in the show's run, including lots of innovative team-ups as well as the ground-breaking Darkseid/Apokolips episodes (based on Jack Kirby's Fourth World). These stories are packaged as incredible two-parters that include the introduction of Supergirl, the shocking death of Dan Turpin, and even the brainwashing of Superman to the point where the general public doesn't trust him, not to mention the first kiss of Superman and Lois! I absolutely love the team-up stories, because along with expected heroes like Batman, we also get to see Green Lantern (including an origin story for Kyle Rayner), Aquaman (in a very serious Atlantean protector role) and even the Legion of Superheroes from the future. All of the usual villains appear at least once, though Lex Luthor surprisingly shows up very little in this entire season. There are a few really unique (and not so great) episodes too, such as Unity, in which an alien spore takes over Smallville causing the residents to shoot disgusting tentacles out of their mouths, and Little Big Head Man, which features the comedy of Bizarro and Mr. Mxyzptlk (though I really like seeing Bizarro protect his little rock world). There are only a few episode commentaries and one interview, but I enjoyed them all since Bruce Timm is so funny with his dry humor and has definite opinions on his own and others work. While Superman: The Animated Series will never be as fondly admired as Batman: The Animated Series, it's still a landmark in superhero cartoons, and I completely enjoyed seeing it all again!

2.10.2010

Latest morning routine

The morning is my favorite time of day, so I love making the most of it. I like the morning so much that on the weekends I get a little bummed after lunch since I feel like the day is over! I've written about my morning routine several times in the past, but since it's constantly changing (in fact, I recently adjusted it about a week ago!), I think it's fun to record it here.

My new wake up time is 5:00 AM (that may sound crazy, but it's easy to do once your internal clock is trained), and the first thing I do is write my "one sentence journal" for the day. This is one of my 2010 goals, which I use to reflect on the previous day (and I've only missed one day so far, while I was in Los Angeles). Next is Japanese study on the web, which is a little more intense since I'm gearing up for the JLPT. I'm using two different sites to work on kanji (using different methods that help me from two angles), as well as standard vocabulary/sentence practice.

After exercising my brain, my body is next with 15 songs on Dance Dance Revolution (since I've been re-enjoying all my old PS2 mixes). After the workout, I've started writing my WEBmikey post for the day (which is the step I'm on now). I used to do this later in the day, but sometimes it was getting too easy to blow it off, so I moved it into the premium morning time and shuffled a couple activities (which are easier and less likely to be procrastinated) to later in the day.

Finally I get dressed, do a little more exercise (like sit-ups and light dumbbell lifts), then take my vitamins and eat breakfast while I read some manga or a couple chapters in whatever book I'm working on. At lunchtime I work in a couple more activities, which are checking my Jpop video downloads and importing/tagging another batch of images into iPhoto (I'm finally up to 2008, by the way!). During the day I make an effort to get in a couple walks (1.5 miles each), and if I have any spare moments (including potty time), I study a few more kanji using some fantastic iPhone apps I've bought recently with some birthday gift cards!

2.09.2010

Star Trek / The Key Collection Vol 4 : 3 of 5

I love Star Trek and I love old comic books, so this series is just perfect for me, and I've been enjoying reading volume after volume for the past few years! This collection contains eight issues from 1974-75, and although they aren't quite as good as some of the past volumes, I still really enjoyed following the Enterprise crew through crazy adventures that couldn't be produced for TV, yet feel very much like actual episodes if you step back and admire them. Of course, there are lots of outlandish situations, but that's part of the fun (like Scotty getting shrunk down so small that he has to fight a microbe)! It's interesting that several of the plots involve political or moral themes this time (something Star Trek has always dealt with), such as a war between red and blue races on an ice planet, or a cloned Samurai society that keeps the people in the dark about their origins. There's even a story that mimics Romeo and Juliet, right down to the lovers' suicide and memorial statue that brings peace to two feuding factions. But along with these somewhat serious stories, I get a kick out of finding hilarious details that always crop up in these comics. In one episode, Uhura is unmistakably drawn as a Caucasian, and in another Spock gives a lecture on the Big Bang by using an old school movie projector (reels and all)! There are some great lines, too, such as Kirk calling someone a "warp four looney", and once Uhura calls McCoy "Leonard" out of the blue (rather than "Dr. McCoy"). The artwork is pretty much the same as usual, with some nice shuttlecraft renderings and even a pod that looks like it was copied from 2001: A Space Odyssey! I could read these comics all day, so of course I'm getting the next volume (after I finish a huge pile of other books)!

2.08.2010

Transformers / Revenge of the Fallen : 3 of 5

Although the first Transformers movie definitely had its faults, it still had the initial awe of the CGI effects going for it. Now that the honeymoon is over, Michael Bay tries to keep things interesting, but all he knows how to do is add more explosions and cheesy cliches, turning this sequel into somewhat of a farce. There are still a few good things going for this film, though. Of course, the special effects are still cool - I love seeing the Autobots transform in mid-action, and I thought using Soundwave as a spy satellite was a nice touch. Bumblebee is still a great character, and Optimus Prime's voice will always be awesome. I also enjoyed some of the locations like the Air & Space Museum and the Egyptian pyramids. The general plot about the Fallen (kind of the original Decepticon) and the resurrection of Megatron isn't too bad, but it certainly doesn't stand up to the punishment of battle after battle that should have been cut. Not only is Michael Bay a terrible editor, but I just can't believe the stereotypical characters he gets away with (and that the general public seems to accept!). I don't care how red-blooded you are - Megan Fox is just too ridiculously slutty to be believable, just like all the other "normal" college kids in the movie (plus I got sick of the high contrast style that makes everyone look like they have a perpetual thin layer of sweat). This stupidity extends to the Autobots, especially the new "urban" twins that constantly spout the worst dialogue ever. With all that said, I still made it through this 2.5 hour saga and ended up entertained at the end. I'd enjoy this movie much more if it was just marketed as a parody, but the fact that Michael Bay (and his fans) think this is good filmmaking just irks me!

2.06.2010

Entering the world of Blu-ray

I've really been enjoying my new LG BD390 Blu-ray player that Mom & Dad got me for my birthday! Although I've only scratched the surface of Blu-ray coolness, there are still tons of little features that I love. When I first hooked it up, I had some trouble getting it on my wireless network - it just couldn't see my Airport Extreme router at all. I read that this model has a fairly weak Wi-Fi antenna, so I decided not to worry about it and just order an Airport Express to extend my network (and actually connect the player with an ethernet cable). But then a couple days later I decided to check again, and suddenly it could see my network and connected easily! I have no clue why it started working (possibly from upgrading and then downgrading my router firmware), but I was thrilled to check out the online features like Netflix and YouTube! I can already do this with my TiVo (and I can watch YouTube on my Apple TV, meaning I now have three ways to check out YouTube on my TV!), but the LG interface is really cool and works well.

I had so much fun watching my first Blu-ray disc, the new release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - even the trailers that I always skip were magnificent! What really impresses me is getting close to the TV and realizing the pixelation I'm used to seeing with standard DVD is almost non-existent! I also love how menus can be much more advanced and animated now. After my network connection started working, I had a blast checking out BD Live, which let me stream some Disney trailers right there on my player, and I was really blown away by the interaction that's possible now that the player is totally a computer. I loved it when the Magic Mirror said, "Good morning, Master. The winter cold has come to chill your bones. Shall I throw a log on the fire?", all because it could get time and weather information from the internet behind the scenes!

I'm even enjoying some added convenience when watching standard DVDs. They definitely load much faster and menu transitions are much smoother, but the best feature of all is that this player detects when to switch aspect ratios automatically! I watch a lot of cartoons on DVD, which are usually 4:3 but often have 16:9 menus and features. With my old DVD player I had to pick one ratio and suffer (or keep switching myself), but the LG does the right thing for me. I still have to keep my old Philips around to watch Japanese DVDs, but 90% of the time I'll be using my new LG and loving it!

2.05.2010

Last of the Jedi Vol 10 / Jude Watson : 4 of 5

After reading Volume 9 of this series, I was skeptical that everything could be wrapped up in this last book, but although the events seemed a little rushed, I ended up completely satisfied, surprised, and moved by the finale! Once again, lots of time is spent in the heads of the characters. Ferus now knows Vader is Anakin, and thinks back to their past adventures trying to discover why and how he changed. Vader is filled with rage and sadness while remembering choking Padme (as seen in Revenge of the Sith), and his inner conflict (fueled by the manipulations of the Emperor and the Dark Side) really generates a lot of sympathy in the reader. The big twist in this story (spoiler alert!) is discovering that the fledgling resistance had been infiltrated by a spy, who eventually causes the tragic ending of the last few Jedi that Ferus had rounded up, as well as the hidden asteroid base! There are many memorable moments getting to this point, especially when Ferus visits the destroyed Jedi Temple on Coruscant (where his flashbacks of childhood there are filled with beautiful descriptions) and finally faces Vader himself. Although I still think it's crazy that Ferus would carry around a Sith Holocron for so long, the way it speaks to him during this confrontation is interesting and makes for a really dramatic battle! I appreciated the various conversations between Ferus and Obi-Wan, some even taking place on Tatooine where Obi-Wan must help Ferus deal with his failure (as Ferus sees it). I absolutely never expected Last of the Jedi to end this way (I was even close to tears), but when Ferus ends up on Alderaan watching over the young Leia (just as Obi-Wan is watching over Luke on Tatooine), it definitely felt inspirational as Star Wars should!

2.04.2010

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs / Diamond Edition : 5 of 5

I thought it was kind of appropriate that my first Blu-ray experience was the first feature-length animated movie, and even though you might think a 1937 hand-drawn film wouldn't be the best way to enjoy my new Blu-ray player, Disney really did an incredible job with this new Diamond Edition release! The film itself looks practically brand new, and when you combine the Blu-ray clarity with the smoothness and quality of animation it seems impossible that this movie is over 70 years old! I was pretty impressed with Disney View, which uses tasteful paintings to fill in the sides of a 16:9 screen (since movies were good ol' 4:3 in the 1930s), and I loved how they change to fit the scene. Of course, the bonus materials on this release are absolutely bursting at the seams thanks to Blu-ray storage capacity, most of which are contained in the fascinating Hyperion Studio feature, which allows you to wander around the original Disney studio. Each room contains several short segments that provide a wonderful education about the making of Snow White as well as the process of animation in general, combined with classic Disney shorts to illustrate key points. I loved the vocal recreations of story meetings, the funny anecdotes about working for Walt, and of course seeing interviews with all of my animation heroes, both old and new. From Don Hahn's excellent explanation of the exposure sheet, I learned how the shadow effects in Snow White were produced with complicated double exposures, and I also discovered that the voice actress for the evil queen also did the old witch, but with her teeth out! The advanced capability of Blu-ray and BD LIve allows for some cool and unexpected interactions, such as the Magic Mirror (who narrates the menus) greeting you by mentioning the time of day and even the weather in your location! The games are also pretty amazing - Jewel Jumble is as smooth as any basic arcade game, and Scene Stealer allows you to upload photos to the web which are accessed to put your face on Snow White and some of the dwarfs! The amazing Platinum Edition of Snow White from years ago was fantastic for its time, but I am thoroughly impressed with what this new technology can do and how Disney is using it!

2.03.2010

The Star / Austin Lyric Opera : 4 of 5

Although I love seeing the usual opera hits over and over, it can definitely be a a fun experience to enjoy something completely new. Austin Lyric Opera hasn't been afraid to "take chances" with some relatively obscure productions in recent years, so I had no idea what to expect with their current opera, The Star, a somewhat modern French comedy opera. Opening night fell on my birthday, and I'm glad to say that The Star was a hilarious way to celebrate the occasion! While the music was certainly wonderful with accessible melodies and light songs that reminded me of The Magic Flute (especially the kissing song), this production is truly visual. The costumes are full of outlandish colors, combined with props like umbrellas, bowler hats, and even scooters, and the set is an unbelievable mix of mirrors, sloped floor, garish backdrops filled with eyes, and even six remote-controlled spotlights in the ceiling that can project shapes and move them all over the stage. There's even a huge inflatable throne! When I saw the combination of these elements it seemed like Magritte meets Laugh-In, but somehow it works! The plot is really clever and funny, and although it seems impossible to follow when reading a written synopsis, it actually flows easily. The lead male role is played by a woman, who did a fantastic job with broad comedic overacting, but I thought the king was the best role of of the show, especially during one hilarious song where he gets drunk with the count astrologer. This production of the The Star requires an open mind and definitely challenges various pre-conceived notions about opera, but there's no denying that every minute was sheer entertainment and fun!

2.01.2010

Birthday bonanza weekend

Considering all my birthday gifts and events, I think I should turn 43 more often! Mom & Dad started things off by getting me an LG BD390 Blu-ray player (which I enjoyed all weekend!), plus my new RedOctane Ignition dance pad that I have been dancing away on. They also sent me two cool cards, including a giant Star Wars card that plays the theme when you open it - it's so big that the music is loud with actual bass! On Friday at the office they treated me to healthy yogurt parfaits with all kinds of berries and granola, and that evening I got a package from my pal Dae with two excellent books to add to my "read soon" shelf. On Saturday I went to the opera with my pal Melinda, and afterward we went out for cake, where she gave me a huge pile of presents, including a new LEGO set, a Wii workout game, and other goodies! And finally on Sunday, several of my pals took me to Ruth's Chris for a spectacular, delicious, and expensive steak dinner, and on top of that there were more gifts. Matt & Kumiko got me a cool Mickey Mouse shirt and some unique beer, and Chris & Eliza loaded me up with iTunes Store credit. I am completely surrounded in birthday loot, and I can't thank everyone enough for their incredible friendship! (Be sure to check out Matt's photos of the steakhouse fun as well!)

View photos: Mikey's Birthday 2010
View photos: Matt's Steakhouse Dinner