Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Memorial Day at the Tull's in Philly

What a great weekend. It started with a thankfully uneventful drive down to philly accept for a sudden torrential downpour at the end. We got to my parents house at around 9 pm. We were really psyched to see the makeover they did to the new house since they moved, back in January. The place looks amazing now with a new family room, new landscaping and a newly cleaned and painted pool.

Friday night, Ruby, Mom, Dad, Cliff, Sarah and I, sat around in the brand new family room (with a small powderroom) that takes up where most of the 2 car garage use to be. We discussed at length the absence of the most important feature in the room: a giant television. Dad had asked me to research televisions the week before, and so I came prepared with knowledge of all the
new crazy terms that are required to navigate the current TV market including: HDTV, HDMI, DVI, DLP, LCD, D-ILA, LCoS, ATSC, composite, component, interlaced, progressive. I thought the best tv, size-wise and quality-wise for the best price was going to be one of the rear projection TVs like DLP or some variation of that. I had a specific model chosen, and had called the local Best Buy to be sure it was in stock.

During the tv debate there was a clear division on size. Mom wanted something small and definitely flat panel, something about an obnoxiously large piece of technology didn't fit in with the french country style she was going for. The others including Ruby (that's my girl) seemed to be of the opinion bigger is better. We were looking for something that would be clearly visible while floating in the pool in the backyard. We agreed to go to Best buy the next day and get a better look at the 52" monstrosity that I was recommending and that night I did a little more research on flat panel tvs.

Saturday morning we able to fully appreciate the landscaping in the front and back. Years of undergrowth had been removed to expose cool little paths that weaved in and around all the unusual trees, plants and the pool. It was more like a nature exhibit than a backyard.

Having had enough nature for the time being, we decided to postpone the outdoor art exhibit we had planned to go to, in order to get to Best Buy early. No, it's not sad.

At Best Buy we could finally see the TV I was talking about. Man, it was big. Not crazy big, though, I could definitely handle it and I think it would have fit in their room okay, but it was big enough for mom to immediately turn around and start looking elsewhere. I found conversing with the Best Buy employee rather easy as I had the new vocabulary down. We spread out and started looking at all the tvs. We settled on one that seemed an excellent combination of size, quality and price: a 42" Plasma HDTV by Panasonic. It was discounted because it was the floor model and we had an additional coupon making it an awesome deal so it turned out to be actually cheaper than the 37" model right next to it which Mom had been hoping for. It has all the latest connections on the back. In addition, I convinced them their DVD player had to be upgraded to take advantage of the HDMI connection. Everything worked out rather well, except they couldn't find screws for the stand, after 45 min of searching we left without them. best buy seems to have a policy that whatever monetary deal you get out of them they need to make up for it with your time.

After a nerve racking drive home we set up the TV and new DVD player and popped in Blade Trinity. The picture was incredible and the size worked really well for the room.

I think the flat panel choice was a real good one. Of course we couldn't get Cable to work and I still don't know why, but the Best Buy warranty will ensure the problem is taken care of, or they get a brand new model.

As we planned on seeing episode III the following day later that day we picked up Star Wars episode II and Clone wars. We were particularly amazed at how good Clone wars looked on the large screen.

Sunday morning we woke up and got to see the beginning of filling the pool, which we then continued to watch all day long. Mom and Dad had a barbecue with yummy pork, chicken, burgers, hotdogs, and sausage.

Our grandparents and Greg and Jean came over. It was a relaxing day of eating, talking, and watching the pool fill. Ruby and I got the usual questions of what are we going to do and where are we going to live. At least Pop pop reassured me that I won't have to worry about money in the future because I should be making 3 figures when I graduate. At 8:30 we went to see Star Wars Episode III. It was my parents first time, Cliff's second and our third. Everyone pretty much liked it. Although mom and dad both seemed to notice the decline in importance of Padme. From queen to senator to pregnant housewife. Barring that, I think it gets better each time I see it. Especially because I can ignore lines like "No, it's because I love YOU so much" and instead concentrate on good lines like "I have failed you Anakin" and anything said by Palpatine.

Monday morning we woke up and finally went for a walk in nearby Alverthorpe park and checked out the outdoor art exhibit at the abington art center. I hadn't been there in 15 years so it was really cool to see.

When we got back to the house, the weather was great, the pool was full, sarah went out sunning herself (as she was for most of the weekend), and it was time for us to leave. I said goodbye to the pool and television, promising I would be back soon. Then we said goodbye to the family and headed north.

Friday, May 20, 2005

The circle is now complete...

With the much-anticipated Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith coming out, we set up our own Tull Cinema in preparation and celebration. We even got our own custom made M&M's.

On Tuesday, May 17th, Sam and Emmy joined us for our 7pm showing of Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. The DVD is an extended version, so it was a little longer than we had expected. It had been a long time since I had seen the movie, and I was surprised at how sensitive I was with Jar Jar again, being that I had seen it several times before and that Jar Jar had, to a certain extent, become background noise. Ugh, he's just so utterly ridiculous. Being the absolutely best part of the movie, the Darth Maul duel was fantastic to see again. That night, we treated ourselves to the M&M's, chips, dips, and yummy honey mustard pretzels.

On Wednesday, May 18th, Geoff joined us for a double feature of Episode 2: Attack of the Clones and The Clone Wars, the animated series. We were going to show Episode 4: A New Hope, but it was just too late by the time we finished The Clone Wars. This time, aside from the M&M's, we treated ourselves to yummy Thai food. Geoff devoured his in no time, while I ate at a consistent pace for about twenty minutes. With both Episodes 1 and 2, we occasionally paused the movie to discuss and confirm plot lines. But for Episode 2, there was definitely more chatter during the movie, mostly about Padme's "Let's just be friends" clothing. Bringing some healthy treats, Sam joined us with about 15 minutes left in Episode 2, coming from a crepe-making dinner.

We weren't sure about seeing The Clone Wars beforehand, but for anyone who hasn't seen Episode 3 yet, we highly recommend renting/buying the DVD. Because only volume 1 is on DVD, you'll have to watch the last five chapters (volume 2) online at http://www.starwars.com/clonewars/. It takes about 2 hours to watch both volumes. Not only is the animation done very well, but the overall series complements the movies so perfectly, describing the events that happen between Episodes 2 and 3. LOTS of action. After watching volume 1, we hooked up Geoff's computer, on which he downloaded volume 2, to one of our monitors to watch the last 5 chapters in full screen.

It was around 12:30am when we finished, a half hour into Episode 3 for those who went to see the midnight showing. Brian said that ten theaters at the Loews Boston Common, where we watch most of our movies, were being used for the midnight showing. Crrrraaaazy.

The big day: Thursday, May 19th

We bought our tickets on May 7th for the 5:40pm DIGITAL (DLP) show. There were only a limited number of shows for the digital version, and the time we chose was at the matinee price, so it was a double bonus for us when we got them. I got to the theater at 3:45pm, expecting a line to be there already since the last digital show was at 2:20pm. A line had already formed, and I asked if it was for the 5:40pm show. People on line were like, "No, it's for the 4:20pm show..." Oookaaay. So much for that. After talking with Elmer for a little bit, I called Brian around 4:00pm who was half a block away from the theater with Geoff. We headed back to area where the line was, and the 4:20pm folks were already let in. There were about 12 people waiting on line for the 5:40pm show. Who knows, they could have been there the entire time...

Anyways, it was good we got there early, for the line grew steadily soon after. We were entertained with the variety of Star Wars music that was playing overhead. Brian said that in the men's bathroom, there was a commercial being played for a Star Wars Christmas CD with treats like Chewbacca's "Silent Night" and Yoda's "Twelve Days of Christmas."

Sam and Emmy later joined us in line, and we watched as the 2:20pm crowd walked by. For the most part, there were smiling, chatty faces. A good sign, perhaps. We tried to avoid hearing any chatter by talking amongst ourselves and by humming, at least I did (Brian and I both avoided reading anything or even watching the trailer after seeing it just one time way back when...and while we can mute our TV, it was played during the previews for several movies we had recently gone to, so even though we closed our eyes, we still heard the audio...yes, we're freaks).

Brian was really adamant about getting seats in the third or fourth row in the main section, and when we entered the theater, the people ahead of us had taken the fourth row center, so we took the third row. The theater was smaller than expected, but we had prime seating. Jonathan joined us a few minutes later, with the theater already pretty full, and our row completely filled, except for his seat in the center. We shared amongst ourselves Twizzlers, M&M's (both milk/Jedi and dark/Sith chocolate), and Reese's pieces, which I haven't had in ages and tasted really good..."Eeeeeteeee phhhooooone hoooome."

We waited three long years for this, and it seemed like we were going to wait just a wee bit longer. They never showed the "Thank you for coming to Loews, sit back and relax, enjoy the show" nor any commercials, but they did show LOTS previews, and a man in front of us was freaking out every time the green preview rating would pop up. It was hilarious. We saw previews for (in no particular order):

Batman Returns
War of the Worlds
Fantastic Four
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
The Da Vinci Code
Mr. and Mrs. Smith
Cinderella Man
Wedding Crashers

The Pink Panther

...and finally, the familiar sound of 20th Century Fox drums and trumpets soon followed the last trailer as the audience burst into clapping and cheers...

I went in with giddiness and excitement, and as the opening scroll of words appeared, I felt like, "Wow, this is it."

All I have to say is that this movie is an emotional rollercoaster that doesn't disappoint, from a fantastic opening scene to a powerful, tear-jerking conclusion. Makes you question who you should be routing for. And basically knowing what's going to happen, the experience becomes so tragic. Watching as the credits roll at the end, I was left with a sense of sadness and finality, because even though the quality of the movie makes up for the last two and that it closes the gap in the storyline, the saga has finally ended. Geoff quite appropriately said that they should come out with an animated series for the time between Episode 3 and 4.

Afterwards, we all went to dinner at Bennigan's to contemplate and hopefully reverse the gross effects we were experiencing from all the candy we just ate.

Like the last two, Brian and I will be making our multiple theater visits in the upcoming weeks, as we complete our revolution and watch the last 3 episodes just to make our way back to Episode 1 and repeat the cycle.

A short random addition: No spoilers here, just some clapping from the end of the movie that I captured, combined with photos from Yahoo!

Like Jonathan said, "...this is the official end of my youth."

p.s. "Sith Destroys Single Day Record" with $50,013,859

"Impressive...most impressive"

Monday, May 16, 2005

Hoong-San's 30th Surprise Birthday

Yay! Another fun weekend back home in NJ/NYC.

On our way, we picked up some good ol' Italian food, meat ravioli and spaghetti bolognese, from our favorite Italian diner and then watched some tv in an otherwise empty house. Mom and Dad had gone on vacation and wouldn't be back until Sunday afternoon.

I had to get up super early on Saturday since I was finally going to officially change my last name to Tull. So the first step was changing the driver's license. The lines at the DMV are usually dreadful, so I aimed to get to the place by 7:15am, it being open at 8am. Well, getting there even earlier than I planned at around 7am, I ended up being the third person in line. Not too bad. And the only reason the other two people were there was that they thought it opened at 7am. (So, I overestimated the situation a bit.) I finally got my new license, with a screwed up signature since I forgot I had to sign it and hadn't practiced signing my new name.

I couldn't really function all that well, having woken up super early, so naturally, I fell asleep again.

Elmer had sent everyone very well-designed invitations, detailing the delicious 9-course menu and time we all had to be at the restaurant (called Megu located in Tribeca), which was 7:30pm. Brian and I drove into the city around 4pm and found parking in pretty much the best spot you could find, right in front of the restaurant. At Elmer's request, we had to bring in flower arrangements he set aside for us at home, so parking there made transporting them quite easy.

To pass time, Brian and I walk around Tribeca, Soho and the village. It was forecasted to rain, and luckily it was sunny and didn't end up raining at all. Lots of people out and about, enjoying the weather. I was determined to find a vintage Star Wars shirt to wear on Thursday for the release, but unfortunately just stumbled upon ones that weren't to my liking. Up by NYU, we hurried back down to Tribeca just after 7pm and arrived back at the restaurant around 7:30pm to find Teddy waiting for us.

Okay, so I was wearing my usual black jeans, all-stars, and a t-shirt, relying on Elmer's dress code approval of wear whatever you want. Outside the restaurant, there's a red carpet AND a velvet rope with a tall man dressed all in black standing out front. Hmm...I did bring nice shoes and a different top just in case, but I decided to side with comfort and stick with my all-stars, considering I may be doing a little bit of running around, and just change my top. The tall man didn't seemed bothered with my attire as I entered so, awesome, no need to change.

Amelia was next to show up, followed by David, Joanne and Gene (Congratulations! I never did say it that night.) It was 7:50pm at this point.

Elmer left me a message about 5 minutes earlier saying that they are on their way. Well, that's seven down with five more left to arrive. We all went to the private VIP Juraku Lounge Elmer had reserved and waited restlessly for the others to show up. By 8:10pm, Sunny, Darice, Emily, Sam and Kathy had arrived. Thank goodness Elmer and Hoong-San were running late. They didn't get there until around 8:30pm.

Here's Hoong-San's reaction on video:

Our dinner menu included:

- fresh edamame on branches (from which David, Elmer, Brian and I each removed and kept our own green ice cube...quite reminiscent of our wedding)

- Japanese Yuzu caesar salad
- spicy Zaru Tofu stew (one of my favorite dishes of the night...soooo good)
- Tatsuta-fried Chicken in a Jubako box (yum...KFC...)
- Bincho-tan charcoal grill skewers (all I have to say is tender Kobe beef...)
- silver cod Hosho Yaki in Yuan Miso with Shimeji mushrooms (memories of Nobu...but with yummy strange-looking mushrooms)
- Kalbi of Kobe beef grilled on a river stone (fun and interactive, cooked to your liking, with your very own lard, or as we would prefer, Lard Lite, for non-stick purposes)

- sushi (fresh wasabi grounded on shark skin, usually provided by the waiter, but having fascinated several of us, was a task we took upon ourselves...the waiter left us long before we noticed, abandoning the root and skin)

- Montagne de Fraises (with the added bonus of sparklers, provided a la myself)

The food was deee-licious, accompanied with a fruity drink called "Harmony" that David and Amelia both had as well. After dinner, we took a tour of the restaurant and admired the decor, including a great mirror illusion near the bathrooms and a kimono room.

Then we headed to a familiar place...BINY for karaoke...

Other friends of Hoong-San and Elmer joined us there as many impressed us with their vocal stylings. The hardcore ones turned out to be Jinny, Hoong-San and Gene. And out of nowhere near the end of the night, not having sung anything up to this point, Harry whips out a to-the-tee rendition of "Dead or Alive" by Bon Jovi. Old school 80's dancing was provided by Teddy along with the comedic quirks of Fran.

There was an earlier debaucle of the originally reserved room not having the karaoke machine work, so we all had to squeeze into a smaller room. Because of that, I think, we were offered a round of free shots. Ten of us decided to go with the flow. But as the group dwindled and it got later and later, there were no shots to be seen. Good thing there was just enough of us still there when they finally brought them, just minutes before we left the place. Fruity jolly rancher shots.

One of the memorable moments that ended the night was when after Brian and I sang "What's My Age Again" and some random music continued to play in the background, Teddy did his own solo acappella version of "Somebody" by Depeche Mode. FAN-tastic. He and I seemed to be the only ones who knew all the words, and it was a good thing a mic wasn't near me.

It was around 3:30am when we all headed in our respective directions. On the way back to the car, we saw a tiny car get pulled over that I think had 7 or 8 passengers, with two in the front passenger seat. It was funny to see it happen, because since the car was so small, it was hard to miss that there were way too many people in it. Driving back, our shuffled mp3 CD entertained us with alternative power pop, swing and rap.

Happy 30th Birthday, Hoong-San!! Hope you enjoyed the night as much as we did!

Monday, May 02, 2005

The All-American Rejects visit Beantown

We just got back from the AAR's show at Axis in Boston. It was FANTASTIC! I wish they had more music out so that they could have performed longer. Their set was only 45 minutes long. Definitely too short, but every minute ROCKED. It was awesome...

We've been fans of their music since we first heard "Swing, Swing" on the radio in 2003. I even remember listening to their songs, mixed along with The Postal Service, while painting our blue room in our other apartment that summer. So I jumped at the opportunity to go see them in concert, finding out just two short days ago that they would be in town.

We had to wait in the will-call line as those with tickets moved quickly by us. Brian made the interesting observation that it seemed that the older fans ended up in the will-call line. Older meaning being around our ripe age of 28 or even just 21 since most of the fans were young teenage girls, wearing small t-shirts and glitter makeup. Okay, so many didn't have glitter makeup...Nevertheless, being on line, it was like I was in the middle of an eighth grade school trip. Parents were there just to buy tickets for their kids. It was really amusing how the doorman asked if anyone was buying for their kids, just so the parents didn't have to stand in line and could leave. He also came by and asked if there was anyone 21 and older that would be getting a drink inside...he must have given out 5 bracelets, including one for me and one for Brian, and we weren't even planning on drinking, getting it just to differentiate us from everyone else (we did end up sharing one small cup of beer). But in the end, it really doesn't matter that their target demo is young girls (all their merchandise on their web suggest it's so), as long as the music is worth listening to.

We got really dinky "Admit One" ticket stubs instead of nicely printed tickets. That really stunk. But I guess the overall size of the venue made up for it. It was so small that we couldn't figure out where to stand, in the pit or on the stairs, and eventually we tried our luck in the pit/dance floor (Axis is a club).

Hello Goodbye was one of the opening acts. I liked their songs, especially their last one which briefly fused into a dance techno song, singing "What is Love?" by Haddaway (that's the song for Chris Cattan and Will Ferrell's head shaking skit on SNL). Fu-un! The second band was Armor for Sleep and was a little too hardcore for my taste. They're from Jersey and reminded me of another band from back home that a couple of my high school classmates are in.

After Hello Goodbye was done, we debated whether to move to the stairs, 'cuz even though there were a lot of short people like me in the crowd, we didn't want to be squooshed, so we headed to the stairs. Plenty of room to dance and move around, and a big bonus for being able to reach the bathrooms easily. We stood right next to the roped-off section of the main control panel area and had an unobstructed view of the whole stage (I could see all the members of the band at once...unlike in the pit, where occasional tall people would block my view. I could barely see the drummer).

But enough of that, on to the good stuff...The All-American Rejects

They performed pretty much their entire first album, with the exception of one song, I think "Drive Away", and performed a new one off their upcoming new album called "Move Along". I had only previously seen a small fragment of one of their videos on VH1 or MTV, but it was a blast seeing them perform live. They were really kick ass, engaging the audience with such great stage presence and a flair of theatrics mixed in with some non-obligatory but amusing cuss words, shocking the girls standing near me. And of course, great vocals and music that lived up to and even surpassed our expectations. Plus, we were standing dead center stage in front of Tyson, the lead singer, and it seemed like he was always singing to us since we were pretty much at his eye level with no one in front of us. He pointed one time in our direction, and I told Brian that Tyson had pointed at him...

This video captures some of the experience, from fairly audible and visual to just plain chaos...sorry, that's because I couldn't stand still. Just had to rock along. You can hear my lame singing in the background, too. The mic on the camera isn't the best for environments like these, but maybe you'll recognize one of these songs: "Don't Leave Me" "Swing, Swing" and "Last Song"

"Last Song" was their, er, last song/encore. (I had to splice in "...this is the last song..." at the end since the video cut off at just the exact moment it shouldn't have.) It's one of my favorite songs on their album, and their performance was both amazing and heartbreaking, since we all knew it was their last song, and it DEFINITELY left you wanting more. Can't wait til their next visit around here...I even considered going to see them at Irving Plaza this Thursday (now I feel like I AM in eighth grade without posters all over my room), but it's sold out. Good for them.

Post show recap:
Okay, so I read online that the band sticks around after their shows, so what the heck, we're not in a rush. But what a mess...first the exit is jammed because a) the merchandise table is at top of the stairs near the exit, b) no one wants to move, and c) Tyson makes his appearance in the foyer near the exit. Brian went to get my things from coatcheck as I tried to wiggle my way into the madness. Shirts, ticket stubs, and even shoes were being used as autograph material.

Look how young they are...

Poor Tyson. He seemed a bit tired and overwhelmed. Turns out he didn't pick the best spot, so the giant mass of girls moved with every step that Tyson made, first from the foyer, to down the stairs, and then finally to the main dance floor area, where a line miraculously forms, thank goodness. I'm on that line, of course (yes, I'm one of those starstruck people, but how many times do you get to meet the band, the lead singer at that, without needing a backstage pass?). Brian stood on the wayside the entire time as I made my way closer, and thankfully joined me on the dance floor, where he could take the photo, and I didn't have to worry about someone else taking a bad photo.

It was a little ridiculous how many of those in line had to take self-portraits of themselves, so when I was up front, I decided to step up and help out. I'm a photographer for goodness sake.

That's a funky cool photo. Tyson is crazy wacky on stage but is totally down to earth as I finally made some decent banter with someone famous, instead of usually choking on my words and saying something stupid. Famous here, I guess, is relative, since you may not have heard of them, but they definitely rock the casbah.

New album out July 12. . .Tyson told me it's better than the first...can't wait!

p.s. flash back to September 2004 where we captured "Swing, Swing" in the background on our Dr. Sheehy video at around the :25 mark