RECAP! Face Off: Skull Island: Reign of Kong

We’re down to the semi-finals. Four contestants left. Only three can move forward into the finale. Here we go.

Mel, Melissa, Walter, and Rob are being driven through what looks like the Universal Backlot (or subsequent outdoor set) in a green caravan. The dramatic music combined with the overreactions of the artists make it seem like it’s much scarier than it is. Once they arrive, McKenzie greets them, then informs the remaining crew that their challenge will involve Skull Island and King Kong.

Standing with McKenzie is Executive Produce for Universal Creative, Mike West. He’s here to explain (read: plug) Universal Orlando’s new attraction – Skull Island: Reign of Kong. He tries to explain the ride without giving too much away, and I’m left a little confused. Is it like Indiana Jones, where you’re in a real vehicle going through a real set? Or is it more of a virtual reality + ride like Transformers? I just don’t know.

But it doesn’t matter right now. The artists are tasked with creating “evolved” intelligent being from a set of animal-like creatures. Bonus! The winner of this challenge gets a trip for two to Universal Studios Florida. Hooray!

By claiming fossils of these creatures, the artists choose their inspiration.

Walter has a Terapusmordax. Looks like a giant, giant bat. Walter’s deciding the move the wings from the arms to the back, leaving the creature with arms free for fighting.

Mel’s is really bug-like, with insect armor.

Rob is working with a dinosaur hybrid – Vastatosaurus Rex, or V. Rex, to his friends. Rob is making a conscious effort to keep realistic goals and not over-burden himself like last week.

And finally, Melissa’s got crab. Well, it’s a huge crustacean-like scavenger.

Back at the lab, Walter’s spending lots of time on the face. Lots of wrinkles and details. Melissa’s already planning the weird antennae and all that she’ll be sticking onto the face. Rob’s initial sculpt is a little silly-looking, with a big grin, so he adds teeth to… well, give it some bite.

The Westmores show up. Mr. Westmore warns Rob to pick and choose what will be seen and to hide everything else. With Melissa, he suggests she bring the face sculpt down to the neck, just for seamlessness. He gives some painting advice to Walter. And with Mel, it’s a little tougher. She’s putting in several fake eyes, and Mr. Westmore warns this could look too much like a mask.

This promptly puts Mel in panic-mode, as she realizes she’s doing things the judges hate: static eyes, beak around the mouth. She decides to start over.

Rob is putting lots of effort into the scaling of his piece. Melissa is adding texture to her piece using pearls.

Day 2 starts with Walter making a slip cast of his face so he can properly line it up with his cowl. Mel is starting all over again, again. Now, she’s creating plates out of geometric shapes, placing them on the face, trusting they will work together. So far, they do.

Rob is working on a back piece, giving his overall character a cool silhouette, he hopes.

Walter is now fabricating the giant wings. His plan was to create a mechanism where his model can pull a string and the wings would pop up. But, as is often the case in these situations, it doesn’t work. The springs bent, and now Walter must think of a new plan involving static wings.

Melissa is also fabricating like a fiend, creating pinchers and a piece that will go around the back of the head, in lieu of a cowl.

Mel, on the other hand, is hesitantly fabricating. She admits it’s not her strong suit, but she’s gonna have a go at it. She’s creating a chest and an “insect butt” with l200 and A LOT of duct tape.

Day 2 ends with Walter frustrated about his latex wings and the crew sit around mulling their futures.

On Application Day, Mel is working hard on painting her fabricated piece. Melissa is still fabricating away, before jumping into painting. Rob only begins his paint job with less than an hour until Last Looks.

In Last Looks, Mel is still using duct tape to put her look together. Rob is really unhappy with his progress, and ends up throwing grass onto his model just to cover him up.

My Amateur Impressions:

Mel’s Decarnocimex: Hmmm. I kinda like it. The back is really cool. And I like the colors. But there’s something weird with the mouth.

Walter’s Terapusmordax: Truthfully, not a huge fan of the wings. The face is good, though it eerily reminds me of a silicon mask we have at the haunted house.

Melissa’s Arachnocidis (or Arachno-Claw, because only some get nicknames): It looks pretty cool. The paint job and detail are amazing. You can see the model’s lips, though, and I’m not sure if that’s intentional, but it throws me off a little.

Rob’s Vastatosaurus: Ummmm…. huh. Kind of disappointing from Rob. While the detail scale work is obviously incredible, the paint job and bare skin on the model are total drawbacks.

The Professionals’ Impressions:

Glenn wishes Mel’s mouth was synthesized with the model. They wish Walter’s wings were instead folded on the back instead of up and out. They are very impressed with Rob’s sculpture, not so much his cover-up job.

The three going into the finale are… Melissa, Rob, and Walter, with Melissa winning the trip to Universal Studios.

Poor Mel is going home, just missing her shot at the finale.

Overall Thoughts: Even though I can’t necessarily argue, I’m really sad to see Mel go. I’m also curious to know how Rob’s makeup would’ve been judged in an earlier round, without all those wins behind him. The challenge itself was okay, and while there was the usual stress, there wasn’t much drama, which is also usual this season.

Beauty in Words:

“I don’t want to toot my own fabrication horn but…… toot toot.” — Mel.

“It’s super good to meet you I’m just spray painting your butt right now.” — Mel.

“I really did like the form language.” — #Nevellism. Drink!

 

One more left, folks! And a 2-parter!

(I need something else to RECAP until Face Off comes back! But what? Kimmy Schmidt? Game of Thrones? Help me out with some suggestions!)

 

RECAP! Face Off: Bottled Up

Before we begin, I’d like to apologize for missing a week. I was unexpectedly whisked away on a trip, and I felt that posting a recap nearly a week later was silly. But briefly, I was sad to see Anna go. I liked her.

With six contestants remaining, we’re nearly at the end. Right now, I’d say Rob has the best odds of taking the whole thing, but we’ll see where it goes.

Tonight, we’re teased with the challenge of genies, and plenty of Whole New World puns abound.

Upon lab arrival, it’s clear we’re being set up for a Foundation Challenge. Darn. The artists must develop a valkyrie using the model’s given wings as inspiration. McKenzie hits us with a little Norse mythology before introducing Douglas Knoe as the guest judge here, asking “Will your valkyrie tell your story without uttering a word?”

Of course, we can’t have a valkyrie challenge without Robert singing “Ride of the Valkyries.”

Knoe seems to like most of the makeups, having many good things to say. He favors Yvonne and Melissa, with Melissa winning the coveted immunity for the week. And that’s that.

At the start of the Spotlight Challenge, McKenzie is standing in front of a set of itty-bitty living spaces, explaining the challenge would be to create their own genie. But she doesn’t really give parameters on what the judges might be looking for, other than using the words colorful, devious, and mysterious. So going in, I’m already a little confused as to what I should be expecting.

Mel zeroes in on the carving of a gazelle on her genie vessel, so she starts on a human-gazelle hybrid, though her initial sculpture looks very cat-like.

Melissa admits she knows very little about genies (aren’t we all kind of in the same boat here?), but she has immunity, so it’s not a big deal.

Walter is pulling inspiration from the dragons on his vessel, creating a reptilian fantasy character.

Robert’s bottle is probably the prettiest, and he’s developing a cat creature who loves to party. Sure.

Michael Westmore offers LOTS of advice to each of the artists, solidifying the idea that no one actually knows what they’re supposed to be doing. He suggests Mel start over, using the patterns from the vessel, not the animal. Michael isn’t quite sure what to make of Robert’s cat. There’s clearly some work to be done.

Day 2, Mel’s feeling better about her plans. Walter’s hard at work on his cowl. Robert’s molding away. When it comes time for Walter to mold, he’s lost track of time and is just covering everything as fast as humanly possible. With “mere minutes” left, he attempts to open his mold. With help from Melissa, he manages to open it, then Yvonne jumps in the help him clean it. Team work!

On Day 3, Walter sees his piece, and it seems to be okay. But it’s kind of fuzzy how this happened. The show never really explains *what* the artists must have done at the end of the day. From what we saw, Day 2 ended with Walter’s (mostly) cleaned-out mold. Now, he has a fully formed piece, meaning overnight, someone actually ran the mold in foam (or whatever substance they decide to use), let it set, and got it out. Meaning, this step in the process seems to be taken care of by, I don’t know, Face Off PAs? And that’s fine, but sometimes it makes the “drama” of the clock a little confusing, since we’re not actually certain what should be done by time.

Anyway, the models arrive and it’s time for application. Everyone seems to be mostly okay, justifying their paint choices. Rob is the only one who seems a little concerned about time. Last Looks goes by uneventfully.

At the reveal stage, we see  Bill Corso is a guest judge.

My Amateur Impressions:

Mel’s Former Gazelle now Green Goblin: Odd. The face is really strange, and the nose looks sloppy. I’m a little disappointed. But I like the cowl.

Melissa’s … genie: It looks okay, I guess. Sprightly.

Walter’s Dragon Witch: Tons of detail, and it looks great. I’m not sure if it reads “genie” to me, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with it.

Yvonne’s Elephant Man: It’s a smooth, clean sculpt. It feels odd she went with skin tones, but it’s okay.

Rob’s Incan Handle Head: I kinda like it. I like the coloring and the handles are pretty cool.

Robert’s Cat Woman: Oh god. That’ll induce some nightmares. She looks like a reject from Cats, and that’s pretty sad. But it’s not bad. It’s just really scary. And not genie like. At all.

The Professionals’ Impressions:

Glenn thinks Melissa’s is more pixie or fairy than genie. Ve questions if Yvonne’s elephant counts as a genie. Glenn, like Mr. Westmore, just doesn’t know what to make of Robert’s Cat Woman.

Rob and Walter are the top looks, with Walter winning this one.

And sadly, Robert is leaving us. They kept him around as long as they could. The remaining contestants just got a lot less interesting. Ah, well.

Overall Thoughts: Not one of the better episodes thus far. As an audience member, I just wasn’t sure what the challenge was looking for, and I think that came through in the makeups. Here’s hoping the last remaining episodes pick up the pace a bit.

Beauty in Words:

“It’s Bill Corso!” a very excited Rob, with an adorably cracking voice.

“It’s an absolute literalization of a pachyderm.” – #Nevilleism

“…form language.” – #Nevilleism AND Glennism. Drink!

The One Super Easy Fix to Save The Muppets

I adore The Muppets, who will be here out referred to as people.  I’ve loved them for as long as I can remember. And I’m certainly not alone on that one. So whenever “they” decide to bring The Muppets out – in film, TV, what have you, I’m excited. But I’m also nervous. Case in point: ABC’s The Muppets.

I was not a fan of this reincarnation of The Muppets. The humor was mismatched and it felt like they were trying to hard to make you feel like the Muppets were hip. That’s insane. The Muppets succeed because they aren’t hip. They’re real and genuine and eager. If they got big because they were cool, they wouldn’t have lasted this long. “Cool” changes. It’s ambiguous. Sincerity is well-defined. It’s constant. This is why the Muppets are legit.

So I watched, with bated breath, the “reboot” of a currently running series, which is bizarre but whatever. In short, they replaced their showrunner, since the series was bombing.

And… it’s better. It feels a little more Muppety. The plot of this first reboot was super meta, including how the show needs more joy, more Muppets, etc. The only time I felt real Muppet joy was during the impromptu Muppets Theme Song performance in the writer’s room. I also LOVED martini-swilling baby penguin Gloria Estefan and Uncle Deadly. They are my new favorite show.

But, okay. There are still problems. The biggest problem is with the format of the show. They’ve taken the loudest, most dramatic theatre folk, and stuck them in corporate. It’s the actualization of what happens to Kermit in The Muppets Take Manhattan.

But let’s go even more specific. There is ONE element to the new Muppet show that is precisely why the show doesn’t work yet. And it’s the talking heads.

Muppets are not meant for talking heads. Because they themselves are living (I know), breathing (I KNOW) talking heads. Here’s a breakdown:

The “Talking Head” shot has been super popular over the last 2+ decades, particularly in comedy. It’s become its own joke structure. A TH serves, in comedy, as a scene for a character to convince the camera, thereby the viewer, of their true feelings.

That means that what we’ve seen thus far of the character, has not been “true.” The TH serves as a “confessional,” like in the Real World days, where the character can finally say what they’ve been thinking, or maybe reaffirm their beliefs after some time to reconsider what they’ve said openly.

The other, simpler purpose of a TH is physically comedic. It relies on the actor’s delivery – tone of voice, body language, facial expressions. Clever use of these traits allow the actor to share with the camera how they actually feel – Are they being sincere and raw? Are they playing to the camera? Are they desperately trying to convince themselves? A TH with a good actor will let us know. This brings us to our first problem.

Problem 1: It’s not their strong suit for physical comedy.

I say this with love. But the Muppets do not always lend themselves well to facial expression and body language up close. Most of the Muppets are designed to emote with their mouths. The Muppeteers go to great strides to bring to life these foam creations, and for all intents and purposes, they are real. But up close, they’re boxed in. Some are lucky enough to have a second moving part – eyelids, eye brows, hands. And that works, to an extent. But it’s limiting. There’s only so much comedy that can be pulled from a Muppet in a TH shot. Attempts at physical comedy on such a minute scale feel stiff and underplayed.

Problem 2: It’s an energy-killer.

The Muppets THRIVE on energy. They’re the best when they’re interacting with each other. Even the drier characters (Sam the Eagle, I love you) are hilarious because they give their lines amidst the chaos. (Sam’s “Why am I here?” in the Muppet Family Christmas might be my favorite Muppet line ever. But it was funny because he said it surrounded by Christmas craziness. If he stared at the camera, by himself, speaking, sure it could be funny with the right timing. But not classic.)

THs are usually used as scene interrupters or buttons, intentionally placed to break up or cap energetic scenes. This works AGAINST the Muppets in every way. The Muppets are the embodiment of theatrical energy. Putting them in an office setting, under florescent lighting? Offices instantly bring with them tension. Tension is bottled energy. Talking heads are supposed to be a safe place to alleviate tension. The Muppets are not tense. They are open, honest, unbridled energy. Which leads us to…

Problem 3 – The biggest problem of them all: The Muppets have nothing to hide.

They emote openly. Whatever their feelings, whatever their attitude, there’s no shame, no fear, no protecting their reputation. They say what they mean. Every time.

This is what makes them unite as a group, as a family: Unabashedly being yourself,  speaking your mind, wearing your heart on your sleeve. Using THs implies there’s a distance now between them and us, and between the Muppets themselves. For some reason, they can’t just be themselves here.

Additionally, and along the same lines, THs make the Muppets too self-aware. Now they’re playing a game. This immediately depletes any sincerity or eagerness that made us root for them in the first place.

A well-used TH should not only be funny, but build emotional complexity. It should make characters appear more human, more relatable with lots of “That’s what I was thinking!” moments. This is just not the case with the current Muppets.

In fact, I might argue it takes away from them emotionally. In past productions, some of the most emotionally-heavy moments have been when any given Muppet (though most often Kermit, since he’s the one who bears the most responsibility) is in a scene alone or as a pair. These scenes serve as serious punctuation marks to the typically maniacal movement of the Muppets. Kermit, sitting at his big desk, in his giant chair. The camera pulls back as he looks down. He’s feeling alone. He doesn’t need to say it or explain it to anyone. We feel for him in that moment. And that heaviness, that weighty, real-world emotion is what The Muppets’ “realness” hinges on. It’s not ironic or deliberate. It’s a felt frog puppet emitting a wave of emotions without being asked to.

 

There are other issues with the new show, as well. Firstly, making Piggy the talk show host was questionable. Piggy is a diva. Divas don’t share the stage. A good talk show host shares everything. This puts Piggy in a position that in effect diminishes her character.

Denise is a problem. I know in this episode, they’re pulling her back for awhile, so we’ll see where that goes. But Denise made Kermit mean. And Kermit is not mean. He’s warm and emotional and frazzled and loyal. But he is not mean.

Ultimately, the Muppets need space. They need space to play, to run, to be free. Boxing them up, whether literally in a closed office space or figuratively in a one-shot, is the worst. It’s like keeping a Golden Retriever in a studio apartment. It’ll be fine. But it won’t be living up to its potential.*

So I say again – if a talking head is a scene where a character expresses their true feelings, either verbally or physically, to an audience, then each Muppet is a living (I know), breathing (I KNOW) talking head, living in an open world of dozens of other talking heads. Feelings and words and actions, all intermingling in a brilliant ball of buzzy optimism and fun.

Let’s ditch the talking heads, the cold, corporate environment, the sad need to be trendy. We’re the ones who must live in that world; the Muppets don’t.

We need the Muppet world more than the Muppets need ours.

Honestly – how else would a pig love a frog, a prawn and a rat be BFFs, and a Gonzo exist?

* I live in a studio apartment and desperately want a dog. This is what I tell myself every day I walk by the dog park.

 

Why I Didn’t Care About No New Footage and Other Comic-Con Thoughts

This was my 5th year at San Diego Comic-Con. And as each year comes, I think to myself, “Maybe this will be the year that I’ll get cynical. Maybe this time, I’ll see what others complain about.” But…

I am still head-over-heels in love with Comic-Con. And it just keeps getting better.

I love Comic-Con. I love the people. I love the cos-play. I love the long lines and crammed ballrooms. Some people find that surprising, like when they find out I actually love public speaking or theatre and improv. And I get it; I’m an open introvert with social and generalized anxiety. You would think large crowds, tight spaces, and lots of noise would be the last place I would be, since I can’t even make a phone call without breaking into a cold sweat. But the truth is, I’ve always found comfort in crowds. It’s because I can assess and respond in a situation quickly based on others around me. Is that like, a superpower? It should be.

This year, Cory and I actually didn’t know if we would make it until literally 2 days before. But thanks to some inside knowledge and a little luck, we were good to go. But because of the uncertainty, and the whole wedding thing, we did not put in for the hotel lottery. No, instead we decided to rough it and walk from our apartment, which is a little over 1 mile straight up from the convention center. “Up” being the key term there. While a mile walk isn’t bad, at a typical con, we’re each lugging 15-20 lbs worth of stuff. Still, not too bad, right? Except that the way back is uphill. Not steep, but a long, grueling incline that catches up with you. We had to do it, though.

Since we really didn’t know if we were going until the last minute, we didn’t take a lot of time to plan. The one thing we knew we wanted: The Star Wars panel.

Thursday afternoon, after an okay panel on pitching, we decided to check out the line, around 1 pm. And it was massive. For those unfamiliar with the convention center and Hall H, the line weaves in and out of tents alongside the building, then crosses the street and lines the sidewalk all the way around to the back of convention center, where it then goes up the sidewalk along the marina to the Hilton, then back down the gate to the Embarcadero, where it loops up and down the lawn and basketball courts before starting again back on the sidewalk of the marina down toward Seaport Village. It can be literally miles long. When we got in line, it was behind Joe’s Crab Shack on “the island,” or the Embarcardero. All things considered, it was a good spot – soft lawn, shade from the trees, breeze from the bay. Cory and I were kind of at a loss — we weren’t expecting to be in line so early. Luckily, the girl ahead of us and the man behind us offered to watch our things if we left for food or panels. Then, we made friends with the brother and sister nearby. Before we knew it, we were a hearty little group of six, sharing blankets and stories from cons past. We stuck together, taking turns going into the Con, seeing panels, grabbing food, etc. We got our wristbands (the guarantee of entry to a certain point) around 11 pm. One super generous member of our new gang offered to hold our spots for the night. He’s a good guy.

The next morning, after a missed alarm and a mile jog downtown, we found our friends, bought breakfast, and waited. We eventually got into the cavernous Hall H before any panels started, and there, the six of us settled in for a long day to get to ….

The Star Wars Panel —

Yes, it’s true. They didn’t really reveal anything new. They showed some (amazing) behind the scenes footage, and I know it was picked apart on the Internet minutes after its release.

So there seems to be 2 schools of thought here: the panel was either a big fake-out or the greatest experience ever.

As someone who lived it, I’m here to tell you – It was the Greatest. Experience. Ever.

It’s easy to get excited about being the first to see new stuff. And hey, I’ve been there, too. It is great – you feel special. For like, 3 minutes. But it doesn’t take long for the whole world to catch up to where you are. Even this year – they premiered the latest Batman Vs. Superman trailer. I was not there. I WAS, however, on the convention floor, near the DC booth when the stars came over right from Hall H to sign autographs. And they showed the trailer. On a loop.

Now listen, if you’re going to do a panel in one of the big rooms, you gotta bring something. The Game of Thrones panel earlier on Friday was pretty lame-o for several reasons, but mainly because there was literally nothing new to show. Nothing new to talk about. There are no more books. They maybe *just* started filming. They’re still figuring it out. And it was boring.

JJ and Co tantalized us by bringing out a real puppet who walked across the stage. They staggered bringing out the new stars, giving the crowd a chance to ask questions to each group.

They carefully kept Harrison Ford until the very end.

Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and Harrison Ford
Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and Harrison Ford

And I’ll admit, at this point, I was starting to feel a little disappointed. I had desperately hoped for a truly mind-blowing experience and I just didn’t have it. Even with Harrison. I knew the panel was coming to an end and I wasn’t sure if it was worth it. Until JJ made the big reveal.

A surprise concert, behind the convention center — right where this whole journey began.

During the panel, Mark Hamill mentioned that everyone seems to have a Star Wars story. I mean, he’s right. I wrote about mine. And that, that was the point of being there. In a line with thousands of other people. Sitting on the lawn for twelve hours. Making friends. Saving spots. Bringing coffee and doughnuts. Sharing anticipation and excitement. This is what Comic-Con, at its best, is about. Yes, there’s swag and celebrities and new teasers. And yes there are comics and toys and art and memorabilia.

But this is about sharing your love of something with others who love it just as much as you do. It takes what could be a very isolated feeling and propels it into a universe of those who feel the same way, turning loneliness into acceptance and a sense of belonging. That’s freaking awesome.

So no, I don’t care there wasn’t any “new” footage or trailers. I had an amazing experience with new friends that will forever bond us together. And I can’t wait until next year.

Because Pop Culture is Personal

I’ve attempted to keep several blogs over the years. And while I’d gotten some interest, I found myself bored and frustrated, lost in the crowd of the other millions of blogs voicing opinions on recent happenings.

But this time, it’s personal.

Instead of posting bland commentary on current pop culture or yearning for the days of the ’90s, I am going to focus my efforts on one main argument: Media, particularly television, is important for more reasons than you think.

I always bristle when I hear that age-old argument “Too much TV is bad, it causes obesity and ADD and autism and anger issues, and everything else under the sun.” I am living proof that’s not true. Well, okay, maybe not the ADD part, but definitely the rest of it. I spent LOTS of time playing outside as a kid – biking, swimming, playing imaginary games with other kids in the neighborhood. I was never obese, though I enjoyed my fair share of cookies and chips. And I’m pretty smart, so…. there ya go.

I’ve also gotten a little tired of the constant snark-cycle that is social media. Everybody has an opinion, and it’s more sarcastic than the last one. Who will be the first to come up with the perfect line to dismiss someone’s creative work? Hey, I’ve tweeted my fair share of snark – it just comes naturally, sometimes. But all the passive-aggressive comments drown out any genuine thought, feeling, or appreciation. So this will be a safe place, not necessarily snark-free, but snark-lite.

To me, media is important because of the connection. Because you, your mom, and a stranger’s family 3,000 miles away can all share the same experience – laughing at a silly sitcom, crying at a family drama, hiding under a blanket from a scary movie. And this is true now more than ever, thanks to sharing those experiences over social media. And while THAT buzz has short life, it’s still a moment, a burst of collective energy.

So this blog will be highly personal, which is rare for me. I want to share my life experiences connecting media – TV shows, but also films, plays, and music – with those I experienced them with. So you’re going to hear a lot about my family – my mom, my dad, and my younger brother James, as well as my fiancé Cory. You’ll also hear a lot about my friends from childhood through today, and pretty much anybody who might have played a part in a media moment.

Of course, I’ll throw in topical commentary, as well. This isn’t like a diary or anything.

And the whole point of this is to prove it’s possible to appreciate media in a way that isn’t entirely snarky or cynical. I adore pop culture and I want to show you why.