Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Yeah!!!  July 2012 was my first month to hit 1000 views.  The second most highest month was July 2011 when I did a Blogskrieg.  I got 720 views that month.

Thanks for all your views!  I've got more posts coming...

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Disney's Hollywood Studios vs. Universal

I took the week off to do some hard core vacationing with the fam.  We did one day at Disney's Hollywood Studios and two days at Universal Studios, both in Orlando, FL.  It was a fun, magical week, and now that it's over, I can take the time to tally a few scores.  Today I'll compare a few aspects of the two parks and follow up in subsequent posts with reviews of individual rides.

Overall Experience
Both parks were extremely fun and worth the money we paid.  It was also extremely hot and crowded.  If you can at all help it, I would suggest NOT going to either place in July.  You have kids out of school and an relentless ball of fire pounding down on you, which means fewer rides ridden and more sunburns.

My son had gone to both parks during spring break on a school trip, and he reports that the lines at that time were nowhere near as long as what we experienced.  So, if you really can't take your kids out of school, I'd highly recommend going during spring break--just go any time other than June, July, August in order to maximize your enjoyment.

Other than crowd and sun, we had memorable experiences.

Universal provides much better deals in pricing if you're looking at a shorter vacation stay.  A one-day two-park ticket is quite expensive, but if you add a second day, you save 86% on the price of that second day.  Then you save 90% on the price of a third day, and get this: 95% on the price of a fourth day.

Disney's deals don't really begin until you get to the fourth day.  With current pricing (one park a day), the second day only saves 1%.  The third day saves 26%.  The fourth saves 84%.  The fifth saves 86%, and each day after that saves 89%.

If you really, really, really, really like Disney, then your best bet would be to buy the 10-day ticket park hopper with the No Expiration option.  You'd get a great deal, but WOW!  What a commitment!

Universal also wins in one other respect.  The Universal two-park one-day ticket is about the same as the Disney one-park one-day ticket.  But in Universal's parks, there are at least double if not triple the number of rides as there are in Disney's Hollywood Studios.  For the short vacation stays, Universal definitely provides more bang for the buck.

In both parks (unless you buy a No Expiration option), if one of your party gets sick and can't make it to the park one day, then you forfeit that whole ticket.  You can't transfer the ticket to anyone else (you must verify with a fingerprint).  You can't use the ticket past 14 days.  And you can't get a refund.

This sucks--as you don't get to enjoy what you paid for.

Parking, Entering, and Exiting
Universal Studios provides a shaded garage that holds an amazing number of cars.  Shade is always nice for cars.  But once you park, you must walk all the way to the entrance.  There are a few moving sidewalks to help you rest or walk faster - though beware the "Three Amigos" that always end up standing next to each other and clogging up traffic.

Disney provides a large open unshaded parking lot.  A tram carries you to the park.  In the morning, the trams are very efficient, and you're at the gate relatively quickly.  They're not quite so quick taking you back to your car when everyone's trying to leave at the same time.

Both parks have tight parking, so beware.  At Universal, we even saw a broken side mirror in a parking spot.  Ooops!

Both parks check bags for security.  Universal does this much, much, much, much more quickly.  Disney could possibly learn a few pointers.

Once we got in our car at the end of the day, it seemed that Disney was easier to leave.  Possibly a drawback of a parking garage at Universal?

Water Quality
This is worth mentioning--only because Orlando has really bad water.  It's not the worst I've experienced, but it tastes and smells awful.  It also has a greenish tint if it collects long enough.  I'm not sure if this is rust or some kind of swamp algae.

And I only mention this because Disney water is NOT Orlando water.  At least the stuff they let us drink isn't.  I don't know if they treat the water differently or if they import it from some other source.  Either way, the water there tasted great.  Even the water fountains were refreshing.

Universal, on the other hand, used Orlando water EVERYWHERE.  The water fountains reeked of it, and you could even see some of that green collecting I mentioned.  In several spots of the park, there was this strange, strong, vomit-like smell.  We never figured out what it was, but I think it was the water.

Both Disney and Universal provided ample shade in most locations.  Except: Both parks had city scenes with almost no shade at all.  You wouldn't want to stay in those spots for very long.

Both parks provided some kind of misting stations.  Universal seemed to do better with this.

However, Disney wins big time on the most important area of providing shade while waiting in line for the rides.  While you're waiting in line, you have little choice on where to stand.  Disney either had most of the line-waiting inside of air-conditioned buildings, or in well-shaded and decorated outside areas.

Universal, on the other hand, has several rides where you could spend a good amount of time standing in the open sun.  The worst offender was the Amazing Spiderman ride.  We were standing outside in that line for a bad hour (it wasn't a "good" hour).  The awning above us was so high that the sun easily found a way to peek underneath it and hit the backs of our necks.  Everyone in that line was MISERABLE, and hardly anyone was talking.  Once we got inside the building, we saw that 20% of the first room was dedicated to regular people and the other 80% was for Express/Single-riders, and it was practically empty.  That made many of the people in the regular line very ANGRY.  But once we got past that first room and cooled off, everyone's spirits seemed to lighten up and the happy talk came back.

Both parks were fun and well decorated.  The Disney workers (sorry--I mean cast members) did a much better job at playing their part and keeping on a happy face.  As a performer myself, I know what it's like to put on that Barbie-like facade, even during times when you're bored to death or in a lot of pain.

At Universal, we poked our heads into a restaurant just to take a look.  My kids said, "Wow!  It looks just like in the movies!"  I said to the waitress, "This really is impressive."  She answered, "Not really.  You get used to it pretty quickly."  Since we had gone to Disney first, this contrast of being out of character was striking.

There were even a couple of workers on the rides at Universal who were downright rude and bordered on being antagonistic (more on that when I get to the individual rides in a later post).  But most workers were helpful and happy.

Most of all, we loved the overall magical feel of Disney and the awesome job Universal did with the Harry Potter world.

In both parks, food is expensive.  Universal offers the Meal Deal, while Disney doesn't appear to offer a similar plan (unless you stay at one of their resorts).

We tried Universal's Meal Deal for one day, and I'll go ahead and tell you ... that plan is not for everyone.  At first it sounds like an awesome deal.  Pay $21 a day for all you can eat (averages out to two meals).  Kids cost $10 a day.  But before you splurge on this deal, consider the following:
  • Your choices are limited and tends to be more like "fast food."  My kids likened it to school cafeteria food and they had a difficult time stomaching it.  The desserts are limited to cake, cookies, or jello.
  • On a hot day, you probably can't eat more than one of these meals in a day.
  • Since there are only 7 restaurants that sell that food, you are competing with a whole bunch of other people who bought the same deal you did.  If you really want a second helping, be prepared to wait a very long time in line--again.
  • If you want soda, that's an extra $9 a day, but you get this souvenir cup to hold it.  On the other hand, if you ask for water, (unlike Disney) they give you this dinky plastic cup that holds only a few gulps.
On the positive side, there are two specific restaurants I'd like to mention...

Pizza Planet at Disney's Hollywood Studios: The pizza was decent, though understandably overpriced.  (Can't argue with supply vs. demand.)  The salad they serve with it was also decent.  Plus, it was cool to sit over the arcade and watch the lights.  Did you know they have a life-sized "Fruit Ninja" game?  Awesome!

Confisco at Universal - Islands of Adventure: We almost walked right past this restaurant while searching for a place to get good non-Meal-Deal pizza.  I'm glad we stopped there.  You have to wait to be seated, but the service was very quick.  The pizza (I'm told) was very good for "amusement park pizza." I ordered the Cobb salad, which was very good with crisp healthy lettuce and fresh vegetables, eggs, and well-cooked bacon.  Our kids ate everything on their plates, which almost never happens.  The waitress was very friendly and even helped us to remember to use our AAA discount (which we didn't know existed until she told us).  Even without the discount, the prices were very reasonable--in the $9-$14 range.  (Steaks are more expensive.)  If you're looking for speed, good quality, and reasonable prices, this is the place.  You can find it as you enter Islands of Adventures just before you make that right turn that leads towards Seuss Land.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

It was worth it.  The Dark Knight Rises is an explosive ending to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy.  And something that doesn't happen much in trilogies--this third installment is the best one.

At first I was a little concerned.  Bane is my least favorite Batman villain, especially after Schumacher's version.  And The Dark Knight is a tough act to follow.

During the eight years after Batman defeated Two-Face and the Joker, Bruce Wayne put himself into seclusion and becomes a broken oldish man.  Crime is practically eradicated thanks in large part to the inspiration of the late Harvey Dent, ... or so they thought ... they didn't know Bane.

The first quarter of the movie was a little confusing.  This is normal with Jonathan Nolan scripts (that's Christopher's brother).  Sometimes you have to watch his movies two or three times to figure out exactly what's being said.  On top of that, the actors don't always speak clearly and sometimes the music or sound effects are too loud to hear the voices, especially in the scene where we first see Bane.  (I'm still not sure exactly what happened in that scene.)

There's even one scene where I thought, "Where in the world did this come from?"  That scene was not set up in any way, nor was it resolved later, so I'm still confused.

But once the real action started, the movie was practically perfect.  It was very satisfying.  Tom Hardy did an excellent job with Bane.  I love the eyes.  The voice sounded a lot like Sean Connery, but I got over that.  In contrast with Schumacher's Bane, it was refreshing to have such an intelligent and insane villain.

Anne Hathaway made a great Catwoman.  It's a toss-up who's better: Hathaway or Michelle Pfeiffer.  (Remember to give Pfeiffer a handicap for working with an inferior script.)  I'm sure some of you purists might say Meriwether or Ertha Kitt blow them both away.  To each his own.  :)

The movie builds to an awesome ending.  Enjoy!  Though, remember Nolan isn't one for "gimmicks."  Half of the audience stayed till after the credits, and there's nothing to see.

And finally, if you were to throw a rock at the screen, it would be nearly impossible to miss an Inception cast member.  This is not a complaint.

My recommendation: Go see this movie.  See it now before your coworker spoils anything.  Be part of one of the record-breaking weekends.  And if I haven't said it already ... Enjoy.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The End of Eureka

It's finally over.  SyFy's Eureka has come to an end.  After a weak third season, it closes with a decent fourth season and a strong fifth.  At one time I couldn't care less if they took the show off the air, but now I believe I'm going to miss it.

I'm going to miss Colin Ferguson and his quirky stupid-yet-smarter persona.  That guy said "thingy" about as much as I do.  (Don't believe me?  Ask my wife.)  I'm also going to miss the ever-smiling Deputy Andy and the dorky Fargo with his crackpot schemes.  Even Wil Wheaton was starting to grow on me.  Did you know he has a blog?  It's pretty funny.

Eureka had its moments.  The science was actually pretty bad, but I never cared.  Sometimes it got a little annoying that the One Helpful Experiment always happened to be going on at the same time as a crisis occurred, and only Sheriff Carter figured out the connection--but that never really bugged me that much, either.

The funny situations these characters got into is what made the show work so well.  They had time travel, wormholes, alternate realities, disasters that could destroy the world but didn't, spaceships that could travel at the speed of light, and all kinds of cool gadgets and experiments.

I believe this show ended at the right time.  Yes, I know SyFy basically cancelled them and gave them one last season to wrap things up, but this last episode was a good ending.  I could have done without the "we're shutting you down" thingy.  And toward the end, I feared that a diabolus ex machina was going to take away Sheriff Carter's life--especially when he saw his Eureka life flash before his eyes.  But luckily he just landed on the pavement with a big bump.

Everyone lived.  Even the dog.  Eureka was saved.  And as Sheriff Carter drove out of the city limits, ... well ... you knew it was coming.  Didn't we all see that ending coming ever since the first episode?  (Or was that a later episode with one of those time travel thingies?)

What was it Sheriff Carter said?  "We'll take care of that tomorrow."

That was funny.

Eureka had a good run.  Goodbye, all you geniuses!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Postmortem: Awake

A few months ago in my review of Awake on NBC, I wrote:
Unlike The Firm on NBC, Awake is actually a good mid-season show.  I've been watching this over the past two months, and I'm hooked.  I'm bummed that there's a 90% chance it will be cancelled.  Not Firefly bummed, but I would still like to see another season of this show (or see a satisfying end over the next month or so).
The show did get cancelled.  It didn't even stand a chance with its ratings.  But get this ... it had a SATISFYING ending.  I was almost blown away.  The ending does leave the possibility of 2nd season, but it also closes the entire story arc for the whole show.  There was no rushing the end like in Pushing Daisies.  There was no unresolved cliffhanger like in Alcatraz.  Everything was figured out except for one small detail, and I'll get to that in a moment.

If you haven't watched the show yet, I recommend that you stop reading this post right now to avoid spoilers, and go watch its 13-show run.  Right now, Hulu Plus is showing all the episodes.  The last 5 episodes are free to watch, both on Hulu and NBC.com.  iTunes is selling the whole season for $29.99 (or $2.99 an episode).  Netflix doesn't have it yet, but probably will in a few months.

And if you have watched it all, here come the spoilers...

When I watched the season finale, I thought I had it all figured out.  The blue world was real and the red world was the dream.  The events in the red world were becoming more and more insane.  The red world was the one that tended to contain the hallucinations and the hints of a conspiracy theory with the male psychiatrist.  The red world was where Detective Britten processed information from the blue world and figured everything out, which he finally did.  But then even after saying goodbye to his wife one last time, and talking to the female psychiatrist, he created a third, even more absurd reality (with no added color tones) in which both his wife and son are alive.  The look on his face said it all at the end ... something was wrong, but he didn't care--he was happy.

But then, I discussed the show with my actuary friends online, and one of them provided a totally different take.  The red world was real, and the blue world was the dream.  I was about to argue my points as to why I was right when I realized we were both right.  In my friend's view, Detective Britten couldn't handle his son's death, the hallucinations, and his boss winning the battle.  So, he created the blue dream world which was more stable--a perfect getaway.  Then in the end, he completely lost it and retreated fully into his safe blue dream world.  But then deciding it wasn't good enough--why not retreat even further into another alternate reality where everyone survived the crash?

Then there's another possibility where that last world is the real world, but that point of view is difficult to support.  Was he in a coma the whole time, and he just woke up to find everyone alive?  No, that doesn't quite work out.

My actuary friend and I agreed on one point.  The show came to its best point in the last episode when the two psychiatrists finally met each other (in his midway dream sequence).  The female, Dr. Evans, was practically gloating that she was winning, while the male, Dr. Lee, was explaining why this was a terrible development.  And that's actually what pushed the whole show along--all those sessions with the psychiatrists.  Their analyses were excellent.  They always brought up good points, and at the same time they were a little self-serving, almost as if trying to protect their own existences.

Either way, in the end, Detective Britten figured out the purpose of his car accident.  The bad guy died.  In the blue world, he succeeded in stopping his boss.  In the red world, he failed miserably.  And whichever world it was that was real (now that we're 95% certain that at least one was a dream), it doesn't matter, as Britten lost himself entirely to an impossible reality where he can finally be happy.

Awesome ending.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Postmortem: Alcatraz and Napoleon Dynamite

I know - I'm late with my postmortem tributes for Spring 2012.  I've been behind on my TV viewing, but now I'm caught up.

Today I say goodbye to two FOX shows:

Alcatraz:  It had a few good episodes, though they were mostly formulaic.  It felt like it was just beginning to establish itself in its short 13 episode run.  The show's mythology was just beginning to gain momentum.  Could they have kept the energy going?  Perhaps.  Eventually they would have to stop introducing new bad guys and bring everything more together.

The ending was very disappointing.  Not necessarily because it was poorly done, but because it was a cliffhanger that will never get resolved.  I would really like to know what would have happened next.

On the other hand, this is a show I won't miss.  It was good, but not Firely good, or LOST good.

I will miss Hurley.  TV needs a good teddy bear, so I'm sure we'll see him again.  Rumors are that he may join the crew of Once Upon a Time.

Napoleon Dynamite:  I'm really upset about this one.  Napoleon was different.  It had some really funny moments.  Even my kids loved it.  They would go around for days spouting quotes from the show.

What made it so funny?  You just never knew what was going to happen next.  Like in the movie, the pace was a little on the slow side, but when they delivered, you never saw it coming and it slapped you across the face with laughter.

And we only get 6 episodes?  You can fit all of that on one DVD.  Just one!

Why did it fail?  My guess is that it just didn't fit in with "Animation Domination."  There weren't enough naked people running around, and not enough sex jokes.  Even The Simpsons appears to be pushing its own envelope just to keep up with its brother toons.

Producers of Napoleon: in the unlikely event that you read this, just know that I, for one, would keep watching if you made more episodes.  They were funny, and I'm going to miss that type of humor you just can't find anywhere else.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Review - Brave

I'm beginning to wonder if Pixar is capable of creating a bad movie.  Brave continues their winning streak.  What is their secret?  As always, it's the script.  The animation is superb, but Pixar knows what most people really care about.  It's the characters and story that pulls people in.  Who can hate a redheaded hothead who's frustrated with her queen mother and who simply wants to control her own life?

This one simple secret explains where Pixar excels while other animation companies fail.  Putting together a full-length computer animation takes a lot of work, and if the script isn't up to the task, all that animation effort is just a grand waste of money.  If the script sucks, people aren't going to say, "But look at the breathtaking animation."  They're going to say, "You don't need to see this movie."

Brave is funny.  It's serious.  It's exciting at some points.  It gets a little scary.  There's even a little funny semi-nudity (note that none of my Mormon children got embarrassed--you can see one instance in the trailer).  In short, this movie has everything.

I'm struggling to come up with any good complaints.  I suppose I would have liked to see more sci-fi action.  I mean, every story could use more sci-fi.  Right?  Well, this movie works fine as it is now, so tough luck for me.

I watched this movie in 2-D and didn't feel like I missed a thing.  Unless you really like having those clunky glasses on your face, I'd suggest saving the $3.  Remember, it's the script that makes the movie such a great success.