Ride Review: California Adventure’s Hollywood Tower of Terror

What is it?

In Disney’s California Adventure, there’s a Twilight Zone themed ride called the Tower of Terror, which opened on May 5, 2014 and that will be closing on January 3, 2017 to make way for a re-themed ride “Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!” For the past month, the park has been running a “late checkout” which allows guests to ride the attraction in complete darkness.

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Concept for the remodel

 

 

The Good

tumblr_nkclj1pcmc1tw2a73o4_r1_1280This ride is amazing. The first time I rode it I was grinning ear to ear because of my love of Twilight Zone as a kid and how great that it was that Disneyland’s California Adventure incorporated it into their park. The entire building is themed, sometimes even having live period music. Much like the Enchanted Tiki Room’s waiting area and the Haunted Mansion, the story is introduced in a waiting room, playing a synopsis about the strange occurrence that occurred in the hotel themed attraction and readying guests for what is to come ahead. After, the line leads through an amazingly detailed boiler room area full with a furnace and antiqued set-up.

When the ride started doing their “Late Checkout” where guests rode in total darkness, I knew I wanted to check it out, but was surprised to find just how much more terrifying it is without lights or sound effects (aside from an eerie narration). During the 2-3 minute ride, the pauses before the drops seemed to drag on forever – letting each rider feel the tension and anxiety in everyone else, even when they couldn’t see their hand in front of their own face. Everyone was holding their breath, myself included, as the usual cues for when the fall would begin were absent.

unnamed.jpgSomething cool, is after you get off the ride, but before you reach the gift shop/picture area under the staircase, you can see the a set of feet sticking out from behind a crate. When facing the stairs as if you would walk up them, the feet are under the right-hand staircase. Ask a cast member to show you if you have trouble finding them, it’s definitely worth it to see in person.

 

The Not-So-Good

Although I think it is a good thing, the overall ambiance of the ride is about as “creepy” as the Haunted Mansion (my favorite ride), but may scare young children. If you’re planning to check into the hotel (ride this attraction) expect the line to be an hour to two hours long, and fastpasses go pretty quick, especially now that the ride will be taken out, which is disappointing considering how popular it is. It’s also important to understand that the ride does close frequently for maintenance and in cases that it breaks down, but tends to reopen in a couple of hours. If you don’t like free-fall rides, or are afraid of heights/falling, this ride is not for you, as at the top of it, doors will open up, giving riders a view of the park, before dropping them to a 130 foot free-fall.

os-disney-tower-terror-guardians-galaxy-rumors.jpgI think it’s also important to note that the Tower of Terror ride in Orlando Florida is a bit more interesting than the straight drop in Anaheim’s California Adventure. The Hollywood Studios (Orlando) ride moves not only vertically, but horizontally, taking guests through different rooms, which was less plausible in the Anaheim location because of the physical space available for the ride.

Final Thoughts

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Overall, I’d give this ride a 9/10. Even though it’s nowhere near as anxiety-causing as other free-fall thrill rides, such as 6 Flags Magic Mountain’s Lex Luthar Drop of Doom, it’s a fun, fairly family friendly attraction that will add some adventure and excitement into your California Adventure Trip. Remember, the ride will be closing January 3, 2017, despite petition to keep it open, however there are not currently any plans (or rumors) to close other The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror rides at other Disney parks.

towerofterror_mgmOther parks that have The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror Ride:

  • Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Orlando, Florida – USA)
  • Tokyo DisneySea (Tokyo, Japan)
  • Walt Disney Studios Park (Paris, France)
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Video Game Review: Life is Strange (2015)

What is it?


An M-Rated episodic video game with an interactive non-linear story developed by Dontnod Entertainment and published by Square Enix. The game is a cross-platform single player game, available on Steam (Mac and PC) PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. The full game is 5 episodes long, and was released worldwide with the first episode launching January 2015 and the final episode in October of 2015. 

The Good

urlThere so many good things about this game. Any of the reviews you read on Steam are just about guaranteed to rave about the game’s music, composed by Jonathan Morali. I am not an exception. One of the first things I do when playing a game is adjust the music and sound effects so that I can listen to other things (people chatting in Skype/Ventrillo or Netflix going in the background). I was pleasantly surprised that this game had an indie music feel to it, meaning the music was phenomenal and I highly recommend to any gamer to keep it audible while playing.

From the very first episode the game itself was engaging, immersing the player in the fictional town of Arcadia Bay Oregon. I was pleasantly surprised with how painless and streamlined the tutorial was. I was also excited when I saw how the game both allowed players to skip any backstory they weren’t interested in, but made sure it was there, for those who were interested or those who would eventually want to go back and get a more thorough experience. This optional depth played through in the later episodes as well, allowing for players to get exactly as much story as they needed while letting them get as much backstory and additional information as they wanted. Plus, most of the game has voice over, where Hannah Telle , the voice of Max Caulfield and Ashly Burch, the voice of Chloe Price did a phenomenal job. (I think it’s worth mentioning that the original script was in French and Dontnod had decided allocate more of the script to their voice overs and script than any other part of the game).

life-is-strange-allusionOriginally, I was going to say the shout out to Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was a slightly annoying marketing ploy, but upon further research and a brief conversation with a friend about how Platinum Games, the developers of Bayonetta II, did a shout out to Nintendo for letting them make the game, I realized I couldn’t just assume that Square Enix requested the Easter Egg. I also found it cool that there were a lot of other geeky references that I enjoyed, and a few I missed during my play through.

Although the game is not very long, it is a very content rich game. One of the things I felt was done exceptionally well was Dontnod Entertainment’s ability to tell an interactive story that actually changed with the decisions the player made. Although overall story wasn’t changed all that much, the decisions the players made had an impact on the options for decisions they could have in future episodes. I loved how real they were able to make the game, despite having fictional characters and a fantastically unrealistic mechanic (time travel) allowing it to combine entertainment and engagement. Not only did the player have to think, but they often had to feel the consequences of their actions. That being said, this is not really the type of game to play while half asleep or if you want a game to just pick up and play for some mindless fun. Luckily, even though the subject matter was pretty heavy and fairly deep, the controls and general gameplay was simple to understand, making the player focus on the puzzles they need to solve, rather than the format of the controls (even though I had a hell of a time controlling the camera even up until level 5… I’m still not sure why it gave me so much trouble).

I also wanted to give the story props for hitting a subject that is seldom touched upon in games such as suicide, abuse (emotional and physical), abduction, and the gritty portrayal of victims. These along with the sociopathic portrayals can be a daunting thing to put mass market on an entertainment platform, but they were done in such a way that was both indelicate and well received.

jtrmf6djjhwsbqybmeypFinally, on the expected story path, the game was very well written, making players feel the emotional baggage. When I first started playing, I had started streaming the game on my Twitch.tv channel (a site that allows people to watch gamers play a game live). When I was about a third of the way through the first episode, someone came in my channel and told me “I hope you like crying on camera,” then left. Now, I’ll be the first to tell you that I cry pretty easily during movies, especially Pixar movies, those guys really know how to tug my heart strings, but I had made it to episode 5 without sheading a tear, even though I was pretty emotionally invested in the story. However, I can tell you with fair certainty, that one of the possible endings is very likely to make most players at least well up, with how it’s told (and yes, I did cry).

The Not-So-Good

SPOILER ALERT – Until “Final Thoughts”

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So the core of the game, and its story, circled around how Max had a vision of destruction, then obtained time control powers… from taking a picture of a butterfly? The way the game seemed to go was there was a phantom deer that represented Rachel, and the butterfly seemed to represent Chloe, but it didn’t make much sense to me how she got her powers, unless it was just some sort of weird cosmic happenstance to teach her a lesson… but even then, why would she have had a vision of what was to come if she kept using her powers, before she got her powers…? The whole thing probably could have been explained and/or thought through just a bit better.

ce612875d67d9f49cc27ddb7ea393186Another major problem I had with the game was the alternate ending (the one that the developers didn’t want/expect players to see). It felt like a total cop out, or something that had to be quickly thrown together because the developers ran out of either time or money. Whereas the scene that I (and presumably most) players chose first is rich with emotional hardships for sacrificing one person, the ending where you let the entire town die to save your best friend just shows the player the wreckage without any heartfelt turmoil as you get to drive into the sunset of rainbows and unicorns leaving responsibility and regrets behind you, even though you passively murdered your best friend’s mother, she’s just OK with the whole situation. It was like they just parachuted something in to “appease” those who chose an ending beside what they wanted/expected. At the end of the game, when it shows the statistics of who picked what, you find that about half of the players chose the disappointing ending (although as I mentioned before I’m going to assume that most of those were people replaying the game to see the alternate ending, because you know you were curious – I just looked it up on YouTube, but still!).

Final Thoughts

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Overall, I’d give this game a 9/10 stars, deducting a star because of the secondary ending and the lax explanation of how Max obtained her time travel powers to begin with (as well as her random psychic ability?)

 

What did you think of the game? Please leave your comments below!

Movie Review: Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

What is it?

Based on the Original story by Shannon Tindle, Kubo and the Two Strings is a 3D stop-motion film, rated PG, and created by Laika, the same company that made Coraline (2009), ParaNorman (2012), and The Boxtrolls (2014).

The Good

Oh, where to begin. Watching this movie, I could feel the love the creators must have had for it. The entire movie was graphically stunning. From the sets to the characters, color pallets to the animation, everything seemed to have been considered for the final feature.

KUBO-AND-THE-TWO-STRINGS-12.jpgThe movie’s sets, such as the oceans, at times felt so fluid and alive that they felt like they could pass as computer generated (CG). After the movie, it occurred to me that that these sets were all real, tangible pieces of individual artwork that were created and used to tell a larger story. Even though this is ‘typical’ of a stop-motion animation, it makes the whole movie (and medium) that much more amazing to think about.

Another cool thing I noticed, was that since the movie is set in a more traditional Japan, I was very happy about the color pallet that Laika used. Just as you wouldn’t expect to see neon colors in a western, the colors of this movie were more earthy, autumn colors. I felt it really helped immerse me in the story as a whole and helped me to get lost in the world they created.

849905_084.jpgAs strange as it may seem, I have to say that one of the most mesmerizing parts of the movie was how Monkey’s fur moved. In general, all of the animation was phenomenal, but for some reason, I found her character movements to be incredible to watch.

It’s so rare these days to find an original story, and although feelings of belonging and loss with a quest for a 3-part object aren’t exactly new, the way the story was presented didn’t feel like anything I’ve seen, at least not anything I’ve seen recently. I also wanted to make a shout out to the main character being a young boy with a disability. Aside from How to Train Your Dragon’s Hiccup, there really aren’t any characters from children’s shows/movies that have a physical disability (although almost all of them are of slight stature or physically unimpressive in some way).

KUBO-village-set-300px.jpgOne of the main reasons I went to see this movie (aside from my excitement that it was a new stop-motion film) was when I found out that there was an exhibit for it in the Japanese American Art Museum. Lately, Japanese culture has been a bit of a fad here in America, but growing up half-Japanese, I’ve always taken a special interest. I was, however, impressed with how they created a story that was inspired by eastern culture, without making it feel forced or overly westernized, but still appealing to a western audience. What I mean by this is a lot of stories created here in the US about eastern culture have a westerner (usually America) come in and show an eastern country (some mash up between China, Korea, Vietnam and Japan – all which have their own distinct cultures) their ways in order to win some victory, in order to appeal more to a western audience. I am quite pleased to say that was not the case here, and the themes, ideas and stories were closer to human emotion than specific cultures or knowledge.

kubo-clip-facebookJumbo.jpgEven though it felt a bit gimmicky, I really liked how they implemented origami into the movie. Although I was happily surprised to hear George Takei’s (famous for playing Sulu in Star Trek) voice in the movie, one of my favorite quotes was said by Monkey, voiced by Charlize Theron, when she saw origami made by Kubo. She said something along the lines of “That’s not real origami, there had to be scissors involved.” Although I feel like it was a reference to how the origami characters had to have been made in order for the animators to articulate them, it reminded me of what my mother said to me when I was a child and learning origami, unsure how the paper would stay without glue and scissors.

 

The Not-So-Good

kubo_newtrailer-580x326.jpgThe only nitpick I can think of (aside from the origami being a bit gimmicky) was the very beginning. In the introduction scene, I was taken out of the movie for a minute, wondering how one of the main character could have possibly survived being washed up onto the shore (as a baby). I was a bit disappointed that this was glazed over and never mentioned again, but about 15 minutes into the movie, I had forgotten about it completely, and was immersed into the world. It wasn’t until I started writing this review that I once again wondered about this introduction scene.

 

Final Thoughts

10Stars.jpg

Overall, I’d give the movie a 10/10 star review. Although it does target a seemingly niche audience, many who see this film could easily mistake it for CG graphics or even a CG/Stop-Motion hybrid. Although this movie feels like it was created for children 7-14, I would extend the recommendation to anyone over the age of 7, as some parts of it do get a bit dark and there is some cartoon violence. I’d say this movie ranks up there with it’s CG competitors (Pixar and Dreamworks) and is a highly enjoyable film for the whole family (or date night).

 

After Credits Feature?

Personally, I always stay through the credits of a movie I like, I feel it’s respectful to those who worked on it. That being said, during the credits, there is a time-lapse showing the Laika team animating one of the massive characters in the movie. It’s pretty astounding to watch and it plays relatively early on in the credits.

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What did you think of the movie? Please leave your comments below!

 

Review #2 – Suicide Squad (2016)

What is it?

SQ_banner.pngWarner Brother’s new movie based on DC Comics characters. Starring Will Smith as Will Smith, I mean Deadshot, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, and Jared Leto as some crime kingpin who calls himself the Joker… there are other characters, but these three get the most screen time.

 

The Good

Suicide-Squad-Team-Poster.jpgMargot Robbie did a great job portraying Harley Quinn. I loved how she did the role overall and the backstory was accurate to the character’s origin story. Fun Fact: Harley Quinn originally appeared in the TV show as a throw away character, as the studio wanted someone to pop out of a cake, however they thought it would be too weird for Joker to do it himself, even though he later did. However, due to such a positive fan reaction to her, she was brought back and later added to the comics. Even though she was not one of the earlier members of Suicide Squad, she did become one in the New 52.

Viola Davis did an amazing job playing Amanda Waller. I’m going to go out and say almost all of the acting in this movie was very good and it made for an incredibly immersive and enjoyable experience, as long as I didn’t think too hard about it, which I did…

I also want to commend them on the special effects. I thought they were fantastic and found myself smiling over the attention to detail here as well as their soundtrack selection.

 

The Not-So-Good

photo.jpgUhm, what kind of organized crime kingpin are you trying to pass off as Joker, seriously! After the credits rolled, one of my very first comments was “I didn’t like the Joker” (which is strange coming from the girl who has a water color print of the Joker hanging on her wall…

Okay, so let’s just give them a pass for… whatever that was, because we all know that the Joker is a sociopath, therefore making him incapable of empathy/love. However, it seems that this particular Joker didn’t get the memo, and instead decides to treat Harley Quinn as more of an equal rather than his pet.

Speaking of Harley, the main two complaints I had about her are 1. She was, again, too oversexualized. Yes, Margot Robbie is beautiful, but I really don’t need to be seeing her butt for 90% of her screen time.

While we’re talking about characters, I might as well mention what everyone is thinking. Will Smith as Deadshot? Come on! Really? I mean, he’s pretty committed to be Will Smith in every movie he does these days. I know he’s a recognizable name and all, but I’d prefer my Deadshot to have been, ya know, an actual badass. Instead I get “a brooding smart mouth with a sensitive side.” I’ve resolved myself to be forced to accept that this Deadshot is alright with making idle threats and is cool with lacking follow through.

Suglyquilt.jpegpeaking of follow through (kinda, not really, but I needed a  – not the motorized ones…) the movie was just so chopped up. Yes each scene was well put together, but it kinda felt like how I’d imagine my first quilt would look. A bunch of random beautiful fabric kinda pieced together a bit wonkily with some string that’s almost the right color. One of the main things that stuck out in my head was how Harley had two origin stories in the movie. Although yes, in the original lore, Joker visited her multiple times in the asylum, where she fell in love, but do you really need to give two very different ways for her to become Harley Quinn? Was that really necessary?

Before I rant and say too much, the story. Yeah, there’s no way I can talk too much on this without spoilers, so just know that it’s 1. Incredibly predictable. 2. Immensely choppy. 3. You really need to ignore some major moments of “well, this is just going to have to work ‘cause we need it to and we don’t have the money or creativity to do it differently…” ***SPOILER*** I’m talking like how the duck was the Temptress able to survive her heart being stabbed, repeatedly, and then go to her brother and be like “BROTHER… LEND ME YOUR STRENGTH” get more powerful than she was before, then not die when he dies!? Tell me how that makes sense, please! And also, Flag, do you really think we didn’t see you send that seal in to die!? Oh and speaking of that, where the duck was that two second timer bomb hiding that whole time!? I thought Temptress took it and would have like, hid it or something… that’s what I would have done if… oh gosh I need to stop or I’ll continue forever… ***END SPOILER***

Also, anyone who sees this movie as their introduction to Suicide Squad, Deadshot is not the leader, Flag is… Wanted to make that clear, ’cause the movie didn’t.

Final Thoughts

5Stars.jpgOverall, I’d give the movie a 5/10 star review. Even with all the crapiola that I didn’t care for in the movie, I was pretty buzzed through the beginning 30 minutes of exposition and Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn was a great choice. I’m also a decent fan of random action and pretty sets, so yeah, maybe a 6/10 but probably like a 5.

I’d recommend to watch it if you liked Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman. Otherwise, wait for your friend to buy it or rent it, and watch it then!

 

What did you think of the movie? Please leave your comments below!12489243_1674589672821667_4430624289856009994_o.jpg

Review #1 – Book- Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Sorry for my tardiness on this post… without further ado, my review!

Disclaimer: I try not to include any spoilers in my review, however, it’s possible that I give parts of it away by describing my outlook on it. Please understand that these are my opinions on the book and I do not expect everyone to share my thoughts.

What is it?
This Sci-Fi/Dystopian book takes place in the near future of 2044, where there is a global energy crisis, overpopulation, and in general, less than satisfactory living conditions. The book, however, does not dwell much on this veering it away from dystopian and into the world of science fiction. The majority of the book takes great lengths to describe a virtual world, where most of the world’s population tends to spend the majority of their days.

The Good
As an avid gamer and full-time all around nerd, I thoroughly appreciate all of the thought and research that had to be done in order to create the near-future world of Ready Player One. Although I am not terribly familiar with 80s pop culture, Cline accurately described many of the games, music, and movies I do know, without giving too much detail as to pull me from the created world. Likewise, he was able to put just enough description into his writings of references I was less, or even reading about for the first time, to allow me to picture them vividly.
The style that the book was written made the fast-paced action scenes both easy to visualize and decently suspenseful, the book was immersive and enjoyable for anyone’s inner nerd/geek/enthusiast. I was also pleased when I heard the Wil Wheaten audio book version of this book. It was very well read and I was pleasantly surprised, as I typically am not as captivated by books on tape as I am sitting down with their printed counterparts.

The Not-So Good
Although the majority of the book was filled with suspense and page-turning action, there was a thin love-interest plot blanketed over the main story. There were also many parts of the story that I now refer to as “filler” where they really didn’t do anything to drive the main part of the story or build character and just seemed to be used as a “cool-down” or “calm part” between battle scenes. Another disappointing point to the book was that the main character seemed to always have luck on his side, which ruined a lot of the believability of the story for me.

Final Thoughts
I would recommend this book. Even if you are not a die-hard nerd, you will have no trouble following along. This book is an easy read with a story that’s different than anything I’ve seen out there.