Tuesday, November 27, 2012

"RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars": The winner revealed (thank god it's over)

Posted By on Tue, Nov 27, 2012 at 11:48 AM

And so we come to the end of the short, disappointing season that was "RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars." I think the general consensus out there was that this season was not what ANYONE hoped it would be (I suspect that's especially true for the contestants), and that the ultimate winner felt like an anticlimax to a show that was already struggling to gain momentum.

The Final 4 - Raven, Jujubee, Shannel, and Chad Michaels - were blessedly freed from the shackles of the season-long teams format and competed individually in the final task, a three-pronged challenge that was ostensibly a take-off on "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," but which really just amounted to three different activities tied together by rides in a dragged-out van. (Special shout outs to S1's Ongina and S3's Delta Work, who were the chauffers, but sadly not in drag.) The queens first had to do a group interview with terrifying E! correspondent Marc Malkin (is it just me, or does that guy seem utterly soulless?), then they had to do a public appearance at restaurant Hamburger Mary's, and then they had to do a stand-up routine at the Comedy Store.

I've heard people complaining that this final challenge was all over the place, but honestly I thought it was a much better task than the typical "Drag Race" finale, which is essentially "dance in the background in a video for a 2-year-old RuPaul song." This format actually has practical applications for these queens' careers. For all my complaints about the season overall, I'd like to see this kind of challenge used in "Drag Race" finales going forward.

As far as the queens' performances in the challenges -- and taking into consideration only what the editors chose to show viewers -- it appeared that Jujubee got overshadowed in the interview portion, everybody seemed to do well at Hamburger Mary's, and Shannel was all over the place at the comedy club. But to my surprise, nobody full-on bombed at the stand-up. In fact, I was shocked at how good most of them were, especially Raven and Jujubee. As guest judge Cheri Oteri (completely unrecognizable from her days on "Saturday Night Live") pointed out, Raven should seriously consider a career in stand-up. She killed it with her routine on prison love.

The finale runway was oddly disappointing. Chad's shiny jumpsuit was polished but unexciting (fitting, given that's how I've felt about Chad all season). Jujubee was a straight-up mess; the judges were too kind about her throwaway dress that would have looked cheap in Week 1, and which was totally unfitting for a finale presentation. Raven gave us boudoir couture, while my beloved Shannel pulled out what I can only refer to as Lobster Showgirl Realness. Several members of my viewing party hated it, but I thought it was ridiculous and wonderful. I only wish she had pushed around a cauldron of boiling water and doused herself with drawn butter at the end of the runway. Commit to the look, you crazy bitch!

It became clear from the judges' critiques that the Top 2 were Chad and Raven, leaving Jujubee and Shannel out of the running. I'm a little torn on that. Going into the finale I wanted Jujubee to win. She's been a bright light in this mostly dull season. It's true that she once again choked in the home stretch (on "Untucked" Ru got to the source of this tendency, which Juju identified as her people-pleasing personality), but I was still rooting for her. Shannel can be proud of the fact that she redeemed herself after her polarizing stint on Season 1. The editing in the last few "All Stars" episodes hasn't done her any favors, but the bottom line is that whether you like her or not, Shannel is an ENTERTAINER. She is ridiculous and over the top and she loves it. That's who she is. And I would pay good money to see her perform, because that is a lady who knows how to put on a SHOW. Again: sister came out on the runway last night looking like a Vegas lobster. That takes guts.

That left two previous runners-up, Raven and Chad Michaels, lip synching to Ru's "Responsitrannity" (not my favorite song). Personally I thought Raven won this easily. Chad's moves were a little predictable, a little old-fashioned, almost a little desperate. Raven just did her sexy, sultry thing, but commanded attention. Alas, she once again came in second place as Chad got the crown and the first spot in the Drag Race Hall of Fame.

Chad's win is, believe it or not, somewhat controversial. On social media I've already seen multiple posts along the lines of, "Raven was robbed. Again." But as was pointed out to me, if you look at the entire season, you kind of had to give it to Chad. Raven might have outperformed her in the final episode, but Raven was also curiously a nonentity for most of the "All Stars" competition. Her Bea Arthur impersonation was flat and forgettable. She was totally overshadowed by the rest of the Final 4 during the street pranks. Her supervillain was great, but she really didn't step up until the last two weeks. So from the big-picture perspective, it's fitting that she's once again just shy of the win. But at least this time she didn't lose to Tyra effing Sanchez.

Conspiracy theorists would have you believe that this entire season was rigged just to give Chad the crown many people - including Chad - thought was rightfully hers in Season 4. I don't know about that. I don't think Chad acquitted herself nearly as well this time around, but then again, few of these queens did (aside from the breakout star of the season, Tammie Brown; I'm pissed we won't get a reunion only because I wanted more Tammie in my life). Regardless, I actually feel a little bad for Chad. Yes, she got the win she wanted. And she is deserving of a win if you take her entire "Drag Race" career - and her drag career in general - into consideration. But pretty much everybody hated this season, which makes being the winner of it kind of like being the queen of the shit pile.

The big question now is, will there be another "All Stars" season? Ru seemed to suggest it was a possibility; she repeatedly referred to the winner as "the first in the Drag Race Hall of Fame." But given the overwhelmingly negative response to the team format, I can't imagine they're going to attempt that fiasco again. Will they find the cash and time necessary to do a full season with previous queens? Will they go for a shorter season featuring fewer queens in single combat? Will queens from this season be eligible to compete in future "All Stars" seasons? If they do another one, I certainly hope that last item is the case. There aren't that many "Drag Race" alum who weren't included here that I'd be interested in seeing back. (Off the top of my head: Ongina, Jessica Wild, Shangela, Morgan McMichaels, Mariah, Willam, and maybe Dida Ritz, Tatianna, and Phi Phi O'Hara, just for drama.) There's no doubt that if this was single-elimination things would have shaken out much differently. Manila Luzon did nothing wrong and was out in Week 3. She deserves another solid shot at the title.

In the meantime, at least we have Season 5 coming up quick in January. If you haven't gone over to Logo's website to check out the new girls, get on it. It looks promising. After this boner of a season - which should have been a slam dunk given the amazing queens they brought back - RuPaul better make sure not to fuck it up.

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Video Game Review: "Lego Lord of the Rings"

Posted By on Mon, Nov 26, 2012 at 5:44 PM

I'm not a hardcore gamer, but I've got my franchises: "Resident Evil" (except I'm ready to bail on "Evil" after the lackluster "RE 5" and the dreadful "RE 6"), the Batman "Arkham" series, and the "Lego" games by Traveller's Tales.

The "Lego" games are endlessly inventive -- I've played all of them -- and I often find myself wide-eyed with admiration for the designers. The worlds are richly imagined, the interplay between the characters is often amusing, and there is a ton of replay value.

"Lego 'Lord of the Rings'" is clearly influenced by its progenitors: the "ghost studs" that appeared in the first Lego Harry Potter are here, for example. The map is thankfully more intuitive and easier to use than the map in "Lego Batman 2" -- though you still have to go through a few steps to get there. (Can't we have the map somewhere on the screen for constant access, with a blow-up option?)

There are no prisoners to rescue, though you are asked to complete a number of quests for random villagers, Orcs, and ginger lumberjack types. (Seriously, let me stop saving the world for a few hours so I can go look for your soup pot.)

I have not read the Tolkien books, and have seen only fleeting glimpses of the movies, so I worried that ignorance of the source material would hinder my enjoyment of, and ability to complete, the game. Those fears were unfounded, however. I'm making do just fine. Having played previous Lego games helps.

I love "Lego LOTR," but the game has some killer glitches -- frankly, the most and the worst I've ever encountered in a Lego game -- and what I assume to be design flaws. I'm playing on a PS3 and the game has frozen several times. Other times, the game gets "stuck" and you can't proceed. Example: in the "Taming Gollum" level, you're supposed to use Sam to tie Gollum up, after you've lured him down with a fish. The prompt to use the rope appeared, then disappeared and never came back. As a result, Gollum sat there tearing at his fish until I restarted the game.

Without a doubt, though, the most frustrating component is the character switching. If a task requires me to be a certain character, but my partner is already that character, the action simply switches to my partner. And in the half-second it takes to switch back, my original character has reversed all the progress I've made. Sometimes the action switches to my partner even when I'm trying to be a different character.

Maybe the game tries to do too much. Buttons have several uses and the game doesn't always correctly intuit which action I'm trying to accomplish. And Legolas' aim sucks.

Bottom line: Great game, but the glitches are maddening.

Anyone know the next TT title?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

TEDxRochester 2012 and the Butterfly Effect

Posted By on Wed, Nov 7, 2012 at 3:10 PM

Common threads in this year's TEDxRochester talks, held Monday, November 5, at Geva Theatre, included risk taking, technology in education, and ways we might shift toward more effective approaches to education, transportation, and connecting with others in our communities. Each and every one of the nearly 20 presentations was captivating and inspiring, but here are just a few highlights. If you want to attend the next TEDx, watch tedxrochester.org for information on applications.

Andrew Phelps, founding director of the School of Interactive Games and Media at RIT, kicked things off with an exploration of how a generation that grew up with video games has learned the scientific method through gaming in his talk, "Rocket Jumping through the Game of Life." Phelps spoke of the implications of hacks and cheating in the little avatar worlds we've created, and wondered if the veneration our generation has for these shortcuts is connected to our veneration for entrepreneurs.

1975 Gallery owner Erich Lehman spoke about "those defining moments" in life, our reaction to them, and the long-lasting effect they have on us. His talk touched on two pivotal moments from his youth: the murder of his 38-year-old mother when he was just shy of 12 years old, and the birthday at which he received his first skateboard, which set him upon the path of appreciating the skate- and street-culture art that he adores and represents in his space. Lehman is about to turn 38, and spoke of reflecting on that crucial-to-him age, of embracing life, taking chances, and leading by example.

One Dance Co. and its frequent creative collaborators, The Pickpockets, performed a deeply moving, abridged version of its piece, "In You is Home," in which a young man moves through tumultuous relationships with three different women. For a little while, two musician-dancer pairs co-played instruments while they moved, creating an achingly sweet discord familiar to anyone who's ever loved.

The audience responded enthusiastically to the screening of a fantastically produced teaser trailer for the longer (upcoming) video created by Phil Night about this past summer's "Wall/Therapy" event. Directly afterward, "Wall/Therapy" founder Dr. Ian Wilson took the stage to talk a bit about the project, framing it as a thank-you to the community that has given him so much. Of the growing project, Wilson stated that "a tall tree is only as strong as its root system. The roots are here in Rochester," issuing a challenge for us to take initiative and tend the grove together.

Next up, Craig Cypher spoke about the new and unexpected ways that people are using ever-developing technologies to enhance their everyday lives. Cypher created the Cohesive Self app, which allows users to access information on relaxation techniques and exercises, and to track their mood over time, and this information can be shared with a psychologist who can detect patterns in the chart, thus enabling the expansion of care beyond the typical hour-per-week session and enhancing the connection between patients and providers. Cypher also touched on developing user-managed technologies that will include skin sensors to read biofeedback, which has the potential to help patients identify trouble and make changes before the problem is a 10/10.

Doug Ackley from the Center for Teen Empowerment walked on stage with Shanterra Randle, a young woman who benefitted from the program and is now its associate coordinator. They spoke about engaging Rochester's youth, who are disconnected from each other and "screaming for resources," who are seeking empowerment, and "will get it one way or another." The program connects youth between the ages of 14 and 20 with leadership positions and opportunities to creatively express what life is like in their communities, and to be involved in finding solutions. The program also enables leaders in Rochester to identify future leaders.

Davin Searls, who heads up Discovering Deaf Worlds, talked about Rochester's deaf community, and how it is "the ideal community to show what deaf people are capable of and what the hearing population is capable of." But of course there is always room for improvement. Searls told us of the 1850's community in Martha's Vineyard that was entirely integrated, in that hearing people would use sign language not just to communicate with the deaf population, but in other practical ways, such as parents conversing with each other silently after the children had gone to sleep. We too use infrastructure that we assume is just for the deaf population - ever been grateful for that closed-captioning on the TV in a noisy bar? It's not people who are disabled, says Searls, but environments. Our way of thinking about this matter is what needs fixing.

Mike Governale, graphic designer and creator of the Roc history-loving blog rochestersubway.com, gave an enthralling talk about Rochester's world-class transit system of the past, the bad decisions that have led us to this point in the road, and his struggles both to help preserve threatened landmarks and to increase awareness of viable shifts in our current and future trajectory. Governale cited Maggie Brooks's smug responses to his letters regarding our transit system and the roadways that strangle our neighborhoods, in which she said that Rochesterians are satisfied with the status quo. "Rochester: the city with the 20-minute drive to nowhere," he says. "This is reversible, but for now, we don't even know we have a problem," he says.

The conference was full of heightened focus on our interconnection, the audience was fired up with inspiration and challenged to carry the flames and encourage them in others. The organizers of the event alluded to an expanded version of the programming, called TEDx365. We'll poke you with an update when we have more info.

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