Double Review: Laputa - Castle in the Sky and Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind

In final preparation for going to the Studio Ghibli Museum in Tokyo yesterday, I loaded my iPhone up with these two films to view in the bullet train to/from various points in Japan, hoping to get them viewed in time.  And I did!

Laputa - Castle in the Sky

I'll start this off by saying this is my favorite Miyazaki so far.  Yep, even better than Howl's Moving Castle.  This film is also set in a steampunk universe but flows MUCH smoother than Howl's.  The basic premise revolves around a girl (surprise!) with a mysterious and powerful crystal.  She escapes pirates and military captors before being befriended by a young mining boy and what soon follows is a fun-tastic chase film and one that harnesses Miyazaki's environmental message quite well.

There are many characters to like/dislike in the movie and overall it gave me a bit of a 'Goonies' vibe.  This is one of Miyazaki's earlier films and the vibrant colors he used were really refreshing.  The kids weren't dumbed down, and the adults acted appropriately...sometimes overly so, as I audibly gasped when a henchman shot a gun at one of the kids.  Whatever it takes to harness all-powerful technology, eh?  I loved the last robot in the garden of Laputa, and equally enjoyed the enormous statue at the Museum.

I liked the synthesized score, the animation style, the story, the characters...really, a wonderful film that I WILL own when I get home.

Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind

This is based on a manga work that Miyazaki is involved in, and I had high expectations coming in.  Would it trump Laputa as that film had trumped Howl's?  Nikki had also let me know that she'd seen this film and enjoyed it...not only that, but it was one of Brad's favorites as well.  Who knew?  I settled in for a great film.  And while it WAS great, it wasn't as good for me as Laputa was.

As most of Miyazaki's films do, this film has a strong environmental message and features a strong/central female personality.  It tells the story of a long distant future, where technology increased to the point of humanity's annihilation.  The few surviving rebuilt kingdoms dedicated to the Earth, but as time passed a poisonous forest threatens to strangle those who remain.  Not only that, but several of the kingdoms have tried to re-harness the old buried technologies in order to achieve domination.  It was a good story, and had quite the English dub cast (Capt. Jean-Luc Picard as a swordsman?  Sweet!) but I felt it was REALLY similar to Princess Mononoke.  Admittedly, this movie had a much clearer beginning-middle-end structure.  Things actually got resolved!  And I enjoyed the fate of the Giant Machine.  

So, thus ends my lightning tour of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli animation.  There are a few films I missed, but I think I'll take a break for now.  I am a big fan and ALL of these films would be a welcome revisit in the future.


Double Review: Kiki's Delivery Service / Howl's Moving Castle

Kiki's Delivery Service

Another one of Indi's favorites. I sat down prepared for a cute animated film and was not disappointed. I don't think it carried near the heft that Totoro did as far as the story is concerned, as it felt like a more traditional fish-out-of-water coming-of-age story, just in a slightly fantastical reality. It was thoroughly enjoyable, though, if nothing terrifically specially. I enjoyed the cat quite a bit.  Not a lot more I can say here, though, except that I felt the adults were well written and I always relish a slightly alternate near-modern universe.

Howl's Moving Castle

This one sits at the top of the pile so far; absolutely mesmerizing! At the beginning of the movie, when the titular moving castle literally walks into the frame, I stared at the screen open mouthed. Is that really animated? It was so intricate and complex! It was so ugly, yet beautiful. Once the world started to materialize and I was introduced to characters, I was immediately drawn in.  Steampunk for the win!

It became obvious to be here that Miyazaki prefers female leads. Sophie is a fine addition to the roster but oh man. She is cursed early on in the film into being an old woman. It was inexplicably SHATTERINGLY SAD to me and I had to laugh at verbal tics and mannerisms of the Old Sophie in order to not cry. She was not just like, 'WTF I'm old!' it was like she woke up and had GROWN old, i.e. her mind worked like an old person, she had the ailments and seeming familiarity one would have if they'd lived a much longer life...as if she'd woken up from a dream in which she had been young. And mid-way through the movie, when she storms out of the castle...I can't handle old folks crying. It's too much!

Howl is dubbed by Christian Bale, while his fire demon companion is dubbed by the brilliant Billy Crystal. It definitely helped the film for my ears and endeared me to the characters instantly. The story arc of maturity, patience, and endurance were well done. My favorite character, by FAR, is the scarecrow Turnip Head. Much like Wall-E, he says a lot without saying anything at all.



I've discovered something interesting in Cambodia. There is a channel dedicated to professional wrestling. At first, I thought it was a sponsored WWE channel, but after a few disjointed cuts between episodes, I realized it's a guy with a recorded-from-TV DVD collection that would make my brother jealous. I know this because occasionally the channel changes to a DVD manufacturer screen saver with a 'stop' icon in the corner, followed by 'play' and more WWE action. Some of the episodes are of questionable quality up-to-and-including DVD artifacting. It's hilarious.

24 hours a day, this channel broadcasts random episodes of RAW and Smackdown in one hour increments...it's frustrating to watch the first half of a RAW only to have it rudely interrupted by some other random first-or-second half of RAW or Smackdown. I've seen matches as far back as 2002 and as recent as a few weeks ago. I just listened to Stephanie McMahon (not Helmsley) berate Stone Cold for stunning her whole family on RAW after seeing Jeff Hardy defend his championship against CM Punk on Smackdown.

Given such a snapshot of weekly wrestling history, I've realized several things.

1. I may never stop enjoying professional wrestling.
2. WWE has produced some really terrible shows over the years.
3. The current WWE product is rather amazing.

I don't know who all out there still watches on a regular or semi-regular basis, but I haven't watched for years. I was extremely surprised to see that Jeff Hardy held the World Heavyweight Championship, and he seems to defend it regularly and competes well. There is a host of new names on both rosters and everyone has put together some really fantastic matches, some of even PPV quality. There seems to be a greater focus on in-ring psychology and clean finishes and I haven't seen any scuzzy ratings-grab type storylines or gimmicks. It has just been quality sports entertainment.

Last night this channel pulled a dirty trick: it aired the first half of the Eddie Guererro tribute RAW episode. Brought back many memories. Also, it was REALLY WEIRD to see Chris Benoit wrestling. For those who don't know, this is a guy that later killed his wife, kids, and himself at his home. I don't quite know how to feel about it. On one hand, this guy is a murderer and a coward for offing himself afterwards. But it was in the future and from all accounts he was a decent guy before this roid rage thing happened; is it wrong for me to appreciate his wrestling ability before this incident occurred?


From (R) to (D). What Happened?

I was born and raised in Oklahoma, one of the most conservative of the United States. My parents are Republican, as is just about everyone else. Growing up, I was raised to believe in the basic Republican tenets:

1) Fiscal Conservative
2) Smaller Government
3) Strict Constitutional Interpretation
4) Environmental Awareness

Ronald Reagan was the Prez during my early youth, and he was a joy to watch at my young age. When Bush Sr. took office, I was still very young and honestly don't recall much from that time except the feeling that he took us to war after a Bad Man invaded a country and we won. However, he raised taxes when he said he shouldn't so this Clinton guy got elected.

Even though Clinton was Prez during most of my teen years, I didn't pay a whole lot of attention. I remember Whitewater and the Lewinsky scandal, of course, and I was appalled. I don't remember health care and I don't remember welfare reform or NAFTA. I do remember paying a good deal of attention to the 2000 election, as that would be the first I could vote in.

I was taken by George W. Bush and his style of speaking. He sounded like someone I could meet down the street. Al Gore, on the other hand, struck me as a stuck-up college professor, a stiff robot that I couldn't relate to. I remember watching the debates and feeling good about my choice. I cast my vote with pride.

When the election results started dragging due to the Florida debacle, I followed with great interest. What surprised me more was Gore throwing in the towel when EVERYONE was saying to hang in there. He said that he wanted the country to move on. This made me happy. My guy won, and Gore was classy about it. Good on him.

When September 11th happened, I was once again happy with my choice. I thought for sure that major happenings were moments away, but we seemed to stay calm and search with precision. This is good, I told myself. At least we're not just going to war with some random country.

When we first went into Iraq, I was happy with my choice. I was told that Saddam Hussein was not only a bad man (I already knew that) but he was conspiring against by building destructive weapons and had given an assist to Bin Laden and his cohorts. Go get 'im, I thought.

However, soon after my happiness faded. The links between Saddam and the terrorists dried up. Dick Cheney, whom I never liked, double-faced and said that no one ever linked the two, when video footage exists of he himself asserting that as fact. Bush looked more and more like an uneducated buffoon at press events, fumbling his words and being belligerent with reporters. The country as a whole took the 'if you're not with us, you're against us' approach and many of our international allies turned their backs. The war in Iraq started to look like a mission built on revenge.

Guantanamo Bay was opened. What were we going to do with suspected terrorists? Good question...but torture? Really? I'm fairly naive when it comes to war and what is required of men in such conditions, but that kind of behavior is against INTERNATIONAL LAW for a reason. Further distortions from the top brass of the Republican Party didn't help matters.

As the 2004 election approached, I looked more evenly at the playing field. No longer satisfied with Bush, I checked out his opponent, John Kerry. He wasn't anything special either, but I looked at his war record and felt, 'Surely a soldier, especially a Vietnam soldier, would make the best decisions for our troops overseas.' Plus, the basic Democrat tenet of Regulation/Oversight should help with the burgeoning problem of issues in Iraq like the Blackwater incidents. Also, the (surprising) lack of support for environmental issues from the red side of the house helped turn my '04 decision to the Blue ticket; helping out oil companies is not important to me. Not only that, but I thought Kerry handled himself very well in the debates. The fates did not see it that way, however, and another four years went in the books.

The 2008 election is when I started thinking of myself as a Democrat instead of a Republican. Sure, I still believe in the basic tenets of Republicanism, but do they? The election season was marred by horrible attacks from the right and unfathomable support for names like Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck. Freedom of speech is a right, but why do people have to be so ugly to one another? When Obama won the election, I thought it would settle down and we could move on to fixing the broken parts of the country.

So far, I'm wrong. The other day, Sarah Palin said Obama's health care proposal could have her baby with Down's Syndrome killed.

This is the huge problem. People are already upset because Obama is black. People are upset because they think he is a Muslim. People are upset because they think they/their parents aren't going to have proper medical care with the current debates about health care reform. Palin comes in and says this statement, with no base in reality, and adds kerosene to a fire.

All the Republicans seem to be about these days is attack and tearing down others. Health Care is a problem we ALL need to solve. Don't like the opposing solution? Fine. Present an alternative. Don't go out and make statements that have no basis in reality. People are already up in arms about health care; I read a story today about a guy who took a GUN to a town hall meeting that Obama was supposed to show up to and a sign that spoke of watering the tree of liberty. COME ON!

Complaints about his birth certificate. Asserting he is Muslim. Blocking legislation important to the American People. Getting on a soapbox and telling everyone the President wants what is Worst for the country and that we should do something about it. This isn't the America I grew up in. There doesn't seem to be any debate anymore. Just mud slinging and name calling. Vague threats. Even John McCain, a politician I respect, fell to these devices.

I don't want any part of that. That, in a very large nutshell, is the logic and story behind my switch from firm Republican to centrist Democrat. There's more, but this post is a book already.


Casio: In Mourning

I've worn a Casio watch for the majority of the time since my father got one for me back in middle school. I wrote about the death of that watch (after a decade of faithful service) on Livejournal:

Casio NL-11
1993 - 2006

My Casio was a good, nay, a great watch. It stuck with me through middle school, high school, and beyond. It went to Italy with me. It went to Disney World with me. I went on my first date and got married to Indi with it. It came with me when I bought my first, then my second house. It rode with me in the mythical Scorpio and was on me when Dad's Explorer fell off the tire jack and crushed my hand.

Through thick and thin, the watch kept on keeping the time. I replaced the band more often than the battery. I spent the better part of an hour just last month taking it apart and meticulously fixing the bent contacts the Wal-Mart employees had carelessly damaged. Unfortunately, at 4:12 PM on January 5th the watch broke for good. One of the pin-holding catches crumbled, never to allow a band to be attached again.

I will miss my old Casio watch, and will give it a ceremonial burial in the backyard. Maybe on those quiet summer nights when I'm enjoying a refreshing beverage on my porch I will still hear it beep. Rest in peace, friend.

I had a Fossil watch for a while afterwards, but I finally found another Casio, similar to my old one, in April of '08. I wrote about THAT on Blogger:

On Thursday, January 5th of 2006 my wonderful Casio NF-11 watch broke. I had replaced the strap three times (battery twice) in its 10+ years of service but the watch itself had broken and would no longer fit a pin for the wrist strap. With a heavy heart, I placed it in a drawer and sought out a new timepiece.

I wanted the same functionality, but I had a hard time finding a simple watch that told me the time, day, and date. I settled for a nice Fossil watch and moved on. Yesterday, I finally told myself I'd had enough. The watch I purchased was nice, sure, but it was hard to read. It was TOO dark and the light was dim at best. I decided to try to find a suitable replacement for my old watch.

Behold. The Fossil mistake cost me $75(!) but the Casio cost me $16. All Hail the Return of the Magnificent Casio! (The old face is in the background on the mousepad...still ticking away.)

Just before I left home this past April, I carelessly broke the band. It was my fault, I caught it on a door and forced it. It had been working flawlessly. Since it was a $16 watch, I just bought another at Wal-Mart. Indi gave me much trouble about it being a 'crappy watch' and I regaled her (again) with the tales of Casio greatness that I have known in my lifetime.

After four blissful months, the battery died today.

I was heartbroken. Indi, vindicated in her claims that the watch was horrible, barely contained her glee and "I told you so"-itis. It was with much sadness that I bought a cheap knock-off watch from a street vendor in Malaysia today. A great legacy of watches sleeps forever tonight. I will miss my friend.

(Note: the first Casio was STILL WORKING in a drawer when we had our estate sale. I buried it in the backyard.)


Michael Jackson Memory

Most that know me know I'm a child of the 80's. I love 80's memorabilia and especially music. When news broke that Michael Jackson was dead, I was as shocked as everyone else. Seeing it on Indonesian TV was a little surreal.

I'm not going to talk about "omg he was innocent" or "he molested children and nobody should care" or get into any of that. I liked his heyday music and that's that. I have one particular memory I want to share.

I was riding down to Houston in late March of 2001 with Mark Moreland, on the way to Wrestlemania 17. We were in Mom's old Explorer (RIP) and 'Billie Jean' came on the CD player. Like always, I bopped my head to the music, Mark seemed light-years away as he did school work in the passenger seat. The song played on.

People always told me, be careful of what you do...don't go around breaking young girl's hearts.


When the 'EE-HEE' hit, Mark and I both sang it aloud, completely unaware that the other was going to do it. We had a good laugh about it, but I think about that from time to time. His music tied a generation together. May he find the peace in death he could not find in life.


Four Year Wedding Anniversary

It was four years ago today that I stood before friends and family and confessed my love and lifelong devotion to my beloved wife.

We've been together for a bit over five years (I wrote about our first date here). Although we are about to go on a fantastical journey, she has already taken me far beyond the borders I had when we first got together.

Today I am more comfortable in my own skin and more confident in who I am. She has challenged me to think and analyze where before I might not have. She has opened up so many doors for me. [Figuratively, of course :)] Thank you. I love you. I hope I have been able to bless you as much as you've blessed me.


Praise for Otterbox

When I got my iPhone, I invested in an Otterbox Defender case. My customers had been telling me it was the best in the biz, and reviews around the net generally said the same. It added a little bulk, but it was more stylish than I expected. Today it stood the test.

I haven't ridden my motorcycle in a few weeks due to some clutch adjustments I needed to make. The weather was nice enough today so I went out and did some work. I figured I had it right so I hopped on and rode it around the block. It rode perfectly. I was so happy!

My happiness went away when I realized my phone was no longer in it's holster. I panicked. This phone was a gift and I had already squandered it. I hopped on the scooter (easier to multi-task) and rode out. I drove around for a few minutes until I saw a black speck on the road ahead of me. My stomach developed a black hole. I knew that was my phone. In the middle. Of the road. It had to be toast. I was so ANGRY at myself. How could I be so stupid?

I rode up and picked it up. Miraculously, it had a small scratch on the shell where it had hit the road, but the screen is fine and the rest of the case looks brand new. Unless I point it out, I doubt anyone would notice. The phone works fine.

This case was definitely worth the $50.

Happy Birthday Indi!


Die Hard

Cinematical did a posting today about a fan video that someone put together of all the Die Hard movies, showcasing every scene that had fire in it. I got about a minute in and realized it had been too long since I've seen the original film and rented it from iTunes.

Die Hard is probably the first R-Rated movie that I saw. It has only a brief snippet of nudity in it, no sex, just language and violence. My folks were okay with that when I was 12 or so; at least, I think I was that old. Anyway, this film was a watershed film for me. It introduced me to the Action Film(tm). Oh, and quotable movie lines. Do I sound like I'm ordering a pizza? Come out to the coast, we'll get together, have a few laughs.

For the uninitiated, Die Hard was released in 1988 and starred Bruce Willis as a celluloid newcomer. Most folks knew him from the hit TV show Moonlighting and there were questions whether or not he would be able to pull off a convincing action hero, a la Kurt Russell with Escape from New York. It seems silly now that you see Bruno's resume since this movie but at the time it was a moderate gamble. Nevertheless, it was a smash hit and has become a landmark movie. There are countless clones and several sequels. To this day, people refer to new films as, "Die Hard on a [insert situational location here]." But enough history. On to the movie itself.

John McClane (Willis) is a New York cop who travels to Los Angeles for a Christmas Party that his estranged wife's (Holly, played by Bonnie Bedelia) company is having. Midway through the party, some terrorists show up and man-against-many ensues. Stand out moments for me are:

- The Score. Michael Kamen's score is one of my all time favorites and is one of the first that I took notice of. Mixed with Beethoven's Ninth and full of the Kamen trademarks, I can listen to it any time. As soon as the movie starts, it fills me with nostalgia and admiration.

- Meeting Takagi. Early into the film, McClane is introduced to the CEO of the Nakatomi Corporation. He is pleasant, respectful, humorous, and confident. He doesn't back down from his responsibilities and gives his life (literally) for his employees. This is a guy that I wanted to work for...and still do. I love it when McClane says, "I didn't realize they celebrated Christmas in Japan," he replies, "Hey, Pearl Harbor didn't work, so we got you with tape decks." Classic.

- Hans Gruber. The terrorist leader played by Alan Rickman. The gentleman terrorist, if you will. Watching McClane terrorize (ha) him with his antics and intteruptions still provides me with unmitigated glee. Rickman is a masterful actor and I still see him as the villain because of this role. "Mr. Takagi did not see it that way, so he won't be joining us for the rest of his life." Hahaha!

- Richard Thornburg, TV Reporter. William Atherton plays such a dick. He was also the EPA guy that shut down the Ghostbusters containment grid. He still has the bar set for me on annoying supporting characters. His face flattening at the end was extremely gratifying.

- Great Stunt Work. There are a lot of good action pieces in this film, from the gunplay to the explosions. McClane jumping from the roof while it explodes is an iconic 80's image. We're gonna need a few more FBI guys.

- Technology. This isn't really a moment, but it's interesting to see how much things have changed in recent history. Tape decks are standard, mobile phones are an ultra-luxury, computers are extraordinarily basic, and most cars are very boxy; however, I don't think of this film as outdated. Except maybe with Ellis says, "It's a Rolex." That doesn't mean as much as it used to. LOL @ portable TV. Also, $.77/gal gas for unleaded and $.74 for regular. I imagine there are multitudes of people now that are all like, "What's regular gas?"

This movie doesn't get old. It has all the ingredients that it needs and ranks up with The Fugitive as a movie I'll watch any time I see it on.



Maybe we see you. Maybe we don't!
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Evidently this guy wrecks wheelchair-bound folks.
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The 1992 film, 'Toys' by Barry Levinson is an unappreciated gem of a film.

I noticed it was available on Hulu and watched it for the first time since VHS was king. I didn't appreciate the art direction; it is beautiful. The movie is very surreal and looks amazing. It has many stars of today (Robin Wright-Penn, Joan Cusack, Robin Williams, and MICHAEL GAMBON! Dumbledore is in this movie!

It has a great score and a fantastically also-surreal soundtrack. If you watched this back in the day and dismissed it as ridiculous...give it another try.

You may still find it ridiculous, but you just may find an amazing experience.



It's been Real...

Good. Bye.


I turned on the TV to watch the inauguration, made myself a peanut butter sandwich, and grabbed an RC cola. I sat down to watch and after about 10 seconds the CNN camera panned back to show the enormity of the crowd.

I burst into tears. I am proud of my country and so hopeful for our future.


Mood Swings

I'm sitting here tonight, not really into playing WoW, not really wanting to watch a movie, not really wanting to do much of anything.

It could be the Baconator I had for dinner.

I've grown increasingly upset about the food I eat. It has to change. I went to Pei Wei the other night with Indi and had mongolian beef and rice. That was good. Flavorful meat, but not a ton of it, and some nice steamed white rice. I left still feeling mostly mobile and able to function as a person. My normal diet (fried foods, stuffed to the gills) does not afford that luxury.

So, tonight, I make a pledge. No more junk. If I want meat, get something grilled and less than what I would normally order. Force myself to eat more veggies, as I may come to like them. Dig in deeper with my daily walks and shape my body into an ally instead of an enemy.

Also, it has been pointed out to me lately that my confidence isn't what it used to be. I've let myself backslide into the unsure, withdrawn kid that I was back in high school. As with most things in life, inattention breeds dilapidation. We move on Friday and that will be a good 'shake up' to get things moving.

I've also started reading again. 1984. I think I'll pick that back up now and disconnect for a bit.


I'm a kid again!


About Last Night

Gratz to Baron von Swagger for putting on a terrific show last night @ the Flytrap Music Hall. It was a great time!

On that note, I had a bit too good of a time. See, I don't drink that often and I have realized that I haven't a clue where my limits are. I had about 12 beers and got sick. I hadn't really drank since LAST new years, and the same thing happened then...just on liquor instead.

I was told that I'm more fun sober. I'm not really sure that I understand that; when I'm tipsy/drunk, I feel that I talk more, am funnier, smile more, and am more friendly. I don't know if people are comparing my soberness to my "omg sick" phase or if I'm not seeing something. Anyone who has anything to add on this I'd like to know if you feel the same way or if you can shed some light on that. I'm perplexed.

In any case, it'll prolly be a long while before I drink again.