Month: June 2011

Norwegian “Troll Hunter” a Monster Delight

“The Troll Hunter”

A Film Review by Joey Nolfi

Originally Posted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette June 29, 2011

A supposed bear poacher ends up hunting trolls in "The Troll Hunter"

Norway. A nation that’s taken on a mystical quality within itself. A beautifully untouchable land that exists (literally and metaphorically) far north of American minds, shrouded in a veil of frigid environments and a language filled with words that appear incredibly hard to pronounce.

But, with Norwegian director Andre Ovredal’s “Troll Hunter,” the latest entry into the “shaky cam” subgenre (yes, it’s officially become a classification now), the spirit of this often cinematically overlooked country clearly shows through in a unique and expertly crafted mixture of horror-camp perfection and culturally specific folklore.

“Troll Hunter” comes packed, shipped and delivered with its own seal of authenticity. You know, that little disclaimer found at the beginning of the likes of “Cloverfield” and “Paranormal Activity” informing us that what we’re about to see is in fact an account of nonfiction.

Upon electing to see a film with the word “troll” in the title, it’s playfully obvious that you’re unlikely looking to the film the same way you would a National Geographic special. And that’s the kind of smarty-pants irony the film sets for itself right from the get-go.

While following the verite presentational trend popularized for commercial audiences by “The Blair Witch Project” more than a decade ago, “The Troll Hunter” places us within the perspective of a trio of film students trekking deep into the Norwegian wilderness to document a supposed bear poacher. In short, the alleged poacher is not a poacher at all. And the furry creatures in question are, well, not exactly bears.

Instead, the film students ultimately find themselves deep within the forested mountains, toe-to-toe with trolls they were convinced existed only within their childhood nightmares. The buildup to the exposition is slow, almost intentionally functioning as proof that the picture is in fact a serious one. But once again, the subjects of the film are 40-foot trolls. The binary opposition between “serious” and “camp” thickens.

The whole “reality” aspect quickly unravels once we’re introduced to the behemoths who perfectly adhere to everything you’ve heard in Norwegian mythology. They can smell a man of faith a mile away. They turn to stone in sunlight. And yes, some even have three heads.

It’s this adherence to folklore values that cements the film with an intentionally false fictional feel. Not consumed by its attempt to come off as “real,” Mr. Ovredal is free to take you on a most absurdly fantastical (and sometimes genuinely frightening) insanity trip.

The film ultimately ends up as creepy as it is smart about itself, utilizing its devices as a “shaky cam” film to its own betterment rather than simply a gimmick to garner authenticity cred. For example, it’s not easy to make a giant three-headed version of Dopey from “Snow White” seem intimidating.

Viewing the creature through the night vision of a trembling man’s camera as a distant, unintelligible blur allows the fear to manifest from the unseen and unclear — resonating far more than overt depiction would have.

It takes a while to process that what’s engrossed you for the past hour and a half is one of the best horror-camp displays this side of “Shaun of the Dead,” surpassing its genre brethren with visceral thrills and lowbrow mockery of verite-style authenticity in favor of weighty social commentary.

Somewhere between the lowbrow hilarity of listening to troll flatulence and the tactful re-contextualizing of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s real-life televised acknowledgement of the creatures’ existence you’ll realize it.

But willingly, we’ll all play along; at least someone finally got him to admit it.

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We’re Glue; ‘Rubber’ Bounces Off the Wall Style Onto Audience, Sticks It Well

“Rubber”
A Film Review by Joey Nolfi
Originally Published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on June 23, 2011
A tire, the film’s protagonist, approaches a mannequin in ‘Rubber’

 A barren desert landscape. An old rusty muscle car barreling through a forest of folding chairs. A policeman steps out of the trunk and informs you (yes, you in the audience) that many of the things you’re about to witness will happen for “no reason.” He picks up a glass of water, dumps half of it out, and gets back into the trunk. Yep, this is going to be weird.

And not to make “weird” sound like a negative descriptor, because writer/director Quentin Dupieux’s “Rubber” is a film that delights in its absurd qualities and presents them in a technically astounding package.

Channeling all the avant-garde oddity only a 1960s James Broughton release could muster,  Dupieux’s film is keen on appealing to anyone who is intrigued by the thought of following a narrative with a tire as its sole protagonist. “Rubber” is indeed that narrative, and it’s definitely not a film for the masses. Dupieux tries his hardest to let you know that he knows that.

The tire inexplicably comes to life, meanders through the desert, and progressively becomes an “angry” inanimate object, using its unexplainable telekinetic powers to stop car engines, shatter beer bottles, and gruesomely dismember any fluffy little bunny rabbits that happen to cross its path. The whole thing could have functioned as an anti-conventional gimmick, what with aligning an audience with a lifeless object, but here the tire’s presence thematically facilitates things on a grander scale considering there are human characters to deal with, too, many of whom meet the same fate as the poor little bunnies.

While the visual exploitation of flesh and violence aren’t shied away from, Mr. Dupieux places everything within a diegetic space that is very much his own, and uniquely so. Although we’re constantly reminded that the film contains things which happen for “no reason,” that very declaration ultimately gives the film, well, reasonable meaning. Whether Mr. Dupieux realizes this is questionable, considering his script contains characters clearly meant to represent a shallow commercial public as well as deliberately defying causal logic we’ve all been conditioned to ever since watching our first film.

“Rubber” defies cinematic convention like the bad kid at the back of the class throwing spitballs while the teacher’s back is turned. Sometimes it rings humorous, but often it’s deliberately irritating, and that’s unmistakably Mr. Dupieux’s intent. “Rubber” is his war cry against cinema’s most staunch traditionalists, bathed in tonal absurdity and tossed-aside logic.

Dupieux mocks commercial audiences with a diegetic crowd pouncing on food

As the film progresses, commentary on mainstream culture becomes all the more vicious, but getting analytical about things would be a waste. “Rubber” is a clear test of its audience’s tolerance level. So, it’s best not to view it as one of those “arty” movies with a loaded statement. If you do, you’ll only frustrate yourself even more. The film is instead a challenge to everything you think you know about cinema. If you open your mind a bit, you might walk away from it feeling as accomplished as tolerating an assault on your conditioned conscience can make you feel. In essence, the film will anger only those who let it.

“Rubber” deserves praise (and a viewing) if only for its absurd spirit alone, but the film is probably best digested when applying its self-proclaimed “no reason” logic to understanding it as a whole, and of course there’s some meaty social commentary on its bones as well.

But if any of this isn’t your style, you can at least still appreciate the simple hilarity of exploding bunnies, right?

The French Didn’t Get the Memo…’Mia’ Much of What Americans Already Used To

“Mia and the Migoo”
A Film Review by Joey Nolfi
Originally Pulished in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on June 23, 2011
Mia encounters the Migoo, a mythical forest creature
“Mia and the Migoo” comes as the latest import from France’s teeming animated film industry. While American audiences have grown accustomed to the avant-garde stylings of French animators such as Vincent Paronnaud and Sylvain Chomet, a film like “Mia and the Migoo” functions as its brethren’s antithesis, serving up more of what Americans are used to versus breaking new ground.

The film’s plot is standard, never once attempting to rise above the watered-down family fare audiences have grown accustomed to since the days Walt Disney’s features first took off decades ago. The story involves children with missing parents, giant cuddly creatures that talk, and greedy moguls keen on destroying the environment to make way for flashy new resorts. You’ve seen it before, and you’ve seen it done better.

The thing that saves “Mia” from being a total bust is the fabulous art direction. The film’s director, Jacques-Remy Girerd, is a product of a Beaux-Arts school in Lyon. His film is chock-full of whimsical imagery with clear influence coming from the works of artists ranging from Degas to Cezanne. It’s this kind of calculated inclusion of a highbrow familiarity with art history that gives “Mia” a delightfully sophisticated quality.

While it’s pleasing to indulge in the classic visual references at work here, “Mia and the Migoo” also boasts an offbeat style that’s definitely an acquired taste. The film can be amusing when it’s treading middle ground, although it’s not nearly as bizarre as “The Triplets of Belleville,” it’s not exactly a stroll down Pixar lane either. But, each of the film’s 500,000 hand-painted frames does create a visually complex, fantastical spectacle unfortunately bogged down by far too many familiarities. It’s a shame, because the artistic craftsmanship in “Mia and the Magoo” is four-star quality within itself. But, if we’ve learned anything from the likes of Miyazaki and Disney, it’s that a pretty picture is worth far more than a thousand words — that is, once a first-rate film is crafted around it.

“Untouchable” Documentary Exposes Iconic New Zealand Legends

Jools and Lynda Topp are “The Topp Twins”

A film review by Joey Nolfi, originally published in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette 6/16/2011

“On paper, they should not work. On paper, they should be commercial death.” Such are the words carefully spoken by an interviewee within “Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls,” a sweetly sophisticated documentary opening Friday at the Harris Theater, Downtown.

The duo supposedly headed for a harsh mainstream demise is comprised of Jools and Lynda Topp, two of the most iconic women on the international music front you’ve probably never heard of.

The Topp Twins have favored guitars to guns for the better part of New Zealand’s recent history, driving their sociopolitical message into the hearts of the country with their down-to-earth demeanor, plaid attire, and homespun neighborly hospitality you’d think was only accessible this side of Tennessee.

While the Topps’ messages remain altogether unintimidating, it would be a boldfaced lie to say the pair doesn’t come as a tough sell to those not familiar with New Zealand. Or yodeling. Or liberal offbeat subcultures.

To sum up the Topp Twins in an easily digestible, commercially pleasing way would be difficult and a complete disservice to their legacy of social commentary, something the film and its director, Leanne Pooley, work very hard to preserve for those quick to write them off as a quirky foreign novelty.

But, in a nutshell, the Topp Twins are lesbian sisters who market themselves within a package of yodeling and cross-dressing tied together with a country melody ribbon.

They could very easily be perceived by a U.S. audience as intruding on the “American” ideals of country music, which Ms. Pooley undoubtedly foresaw as a frustration to conservative traditionalists, but then again those aren’t the people who will be watching this film. So she edited in some of the Topps’ anti-American jabs for good measure.

But purely in terms of the art, Ms. Pooley succeeds at exposing an audience to entirely unfamiliar territory, sort of like the first cold read of an actor’s script. But a quick affection is learned through Ms. Pooley’s lens, one that immerses an initially alienated audience within the world the Topp Twins have expertly crafted for themselves within a mainstream culture that begged them to fail.

The film itself follows a classic concert documentary format; segments from a Topp Twins concert are interspersed within archival footage tracing New Zealand’s history, including uprisings against laws banning homosexuality to similar backlash concerning nuclear experimentation.

No matter what sort of turmoil blossomed throughout Kiwi history, a Topp Twins duet always accompanied. It’s this sort of bond the sisters formed with the public that makes them so endearing.

Ms. Pooley’s work showcases a clear affection for her subjects, but it’s her depiction of the twins’ enticing qualities that makes the film itself a bit hard to judge as, well, a film.

As the sisters croon their subdued ideals it’s hard not to fall in love with their laid-back, care-free lyrical presentation that ultimately serves as relevant New Zealand social commentary.

It’s these enchanting moments that beg to question whether you’re falling in love with a film or simply its subjects. At times it’s only the sisters. At times it’s the beautiful juxtapositions that only the moving picture can accomplish. And sometimes it’s both, creating a diverse yet uneven depiction that could have worked just as well as a simple concert film.

Ms. Pooley’s most effective decision is perhaps her unwillingness to indulge what would be the best “selling point” of the film, but thankfully the sisters’ sexuality is not exploited as a defining trait.

Instead it’s elicited when necessary, whether that be to flesh out lyrical inspiration or to facilitate the film’s brief segment documenting gay rights history in New Zealand. But the sisters are never objectified by the lens that views them, a wise directorial decision that helps to cement the twins as artists versus figures.

The word “untouchable” is predictably something delicately observed throughout “Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls,” yet it’s also wholeheartedly underscored by Ms. Pooley’s intimate direction, which allows these legendary women to become altogether more tangible for an unfamiliar audience.

Paris in Pittsburgh; An Interview with Paris Nicholson

The following Interview was written by me and published in East End Fashion Magazine’s June 2011 issue.

Paris NicholsonA coffee shop in the middle of Pittsburgh’s Oakland district is just about the last place you’d expect to run into a world class male model fresh off the runways of Milan. And pokemon stuffed animals are just about the last thing you’d expect to see gracing the interior of any serious model’s bedroom.

But the day I interviewed editorial model and photographer Paris Nicholson, I encountered both.

To describe Nicholson’s approach from across the room as an intimidating experience would be a colossal understatement; to place it into perspective for those of us “normal” people not chiseled from a perfect statuesque mold, it’s probably one of the most intimidating experiences you’ll ever have in your life. His bone structure, towering height, and altogether…well…godlike physicality can’t help but place you into a complete frenzy of self-deprecation. He’s probably going to look down on you in more than just a literal sense. His topical savvy is probably going to make your fashion “knowledge” look rudimentary at best. He probably swaps texts with Anna Wintour about all of the meaningless peons like you who just can’t seem to come close to touching them up on Mt. Couture Olympus. In short, next to Paris, you’re probably going to feel like a three seasons-old Martha Stewart sweater collection being hawked next to Von Furstenberg’s Fall line.

And to be quite honest…I was wrong. And our conversation was easy.
Paris Nicholson
The second Paris begins talking, each and every one of the aforementioned (and altogether unsubstantiated) pretenses melts away. Although he might look like one on the most superficial of levels, you immediately realize you’re not talking to just another vapid, pampered mannequin who uses his good looks to coast through a fashion-related “career”; Paris is, at his core, a quirky photography student with the same relatable qualities that you’ll probably find amongst your own social circle…that is, if you don’t hang out with the fashion elite.

That’s right…Nicholson is almost as ideologically disconnected from the fashion snobs of New York and London as your grandmother who considers tax returns her own personal Spring collection. That’s not to say he doesn’t care about fashion, because he certainly does. It just doesn’t have a pretentious reign over his life. “I definitely think more people should understand fashion in a city like Pittsburgh,” he says, “but I don’t like indulging in it. I like creating it as an art form, but I would never personally buy something ‘designer’ if I could get it cheaper somewhere else.”

It’s this kind of unpretentious, realistic view towards fashion that sets Paris apart from others in his field. He tells me that rubbing elbows with the likes of fashion royalty doesn’t impress him much, rather he enjoys meeting a person versus a fashion “name”. “It’s funny because at a party I could be talking to a really sweet older lady and think nothing of it, walk away, and somebody will be like ‘oh my god that was Donna Karan’. It still doesn’t faze me.”

Even after hearing something like that, you’d still wholeheartedly expect his experience modeling for clients such as Givenchy, Missoni, and Dior to have warped his perception of a city like Pittsburgh for the negative. But that’s not the case, considering he’s in the city building the foundation for a career in fashion related areas.

Paris NicholsonParis is currently a photography student at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. He focuses primarily on fashion photography, which is entirely unsurprising; however, what got him started in the medium undoubtedly is. “When I first started doing it in sophomore year in high school, I had absolutely no interest in photography whatsoever,” Paris says, “I only took the photography class because the teacher was hot, but while other kids were taking typical pictures of like, a flower or a plant, I was getting inspiration from the shoots on America’s Next Top Mode.l” In essence, he styled and shot his friends in outlandish costumes and elaborate, amateur-couture pieces while the other students continued to play it safe. From then on, Paris’ interest in shooting fashion concepts grew to encompass his career ambitions.

Paris hopes to become a successful fashion photographer and make a decent living, and who wouldn’t? But his ambitions don’t stop there. “I like creating images that stir the pot and force people to reconsider their ideas towards something whether they like it or not,” he says, “I guess I like to be obnoxious and force my own opinions on people.” A playful smirk crosses his face as he says this. I can tell he has something more on his mind. I ask him what he means, and he immediately lunges into a full-on description of his latest concept he was obviously waiting for me to ask about. To describe the concept in family-friendly terms is next to impossible, considering the description I received from Paris. The project is essentially a mock ad campaign for Prada. All the basic elements for a typical Prada ad are there; a gorgeous model, the product perfectly showcased, and perfect fashion lighting and composition dominating the frame. The only thing that keeps the shot from gracing the pages of Vogue as a real advertisement is the presence of a thick white residue that happens to be splattered across the model’s face. I’ll leave it to your own perception to figure out what Paris told me the substance is meant to be, but I have the feeling that if I’d seen the picture first without him explaining anything to me, it’d take me a minute to fully understand what exactly I was looking at. And that’s the beauty of his images; they’re not always thematically intelligible upon first glance, which is undoubtedly a refreshing alternative to the explicitly overstated images photography students typically craft. His outlandish ideas often come from his dreams, a surreal place he often taps into when he’s fresh out of concepts and wants to challenge himself to present an image.

It’s this kind of perspective that gives Paris and his work such an alluring quality. There’s a mischievouParis Nicholson photographys, almost childlike quirkiness about the attitude he possesses as well as work he does, and that truly sets him apart from most of his peers. But that doesn’t mean Paris doesn’t harbor a great appreciation for the skills of others pursuing fashion careers in the city. “If you weed through all the bullshit, as you’d have to do in any field, there are definitely other talented people in fashion in the city,” he says. Specifically he mentions fellow students, photographers, stylists, and local fashion designers he feels all have potential to make a name for themselves within the industry. “There are definitely people in Pittsburgh who do awesome work and are going to make something of themselves” he says, “I really have a great appreciation and admiration for others around me doing the things I can’t do myself.” Paris specifically cites the photographic skills of Danielle Yagodich as well as the fashion-savvy styling prowess of Danny Lutz, both of whom are also students at the Art Institute.

Paris also hasn’t kept his face out of circulation in Pittsburgh fashion publications either. Another local fashion magazine recently recognized and utilized Paris’ skills as a photographer and model when they allowed him to shoot and star in an editorial for a local brand.

But what interested me most about our conversation had to be Paris’ clear favoring of topics concerning his photography versus his modeling. “To be honest, I’d much rather be known for my photography than modeling,” he says, “modeling is definitely more of a job to me than a lifestyle…photography gives me the chance to be creative and express myself by injecting my own personality, and with modeling you can’t fully do that.”

Paris NicholsonDespite his low-key attitude towards the exposure modeling has garnered him, that hasn’t stopped the public from lapping up every tear sheet or runway appearance he can credit to his name. There’s even an online forum dedicated entirely to his modeling work, with various users gushing over his many endearing physical qualities like a lion to fresh meat. “By far my biggest fans would have to be my family,” he says, “my mom goes crazy when she sees me on a runway, but in all honesty I don’t understand why simply working for a designer is much of an accomplishment. It’s just a job to me.”

Despite his humble feelings towards modeling and fashion, it’s undeniable that Paris’ modeling career has thus far been an incredibly diverse one. Jobs have taken him everywhere from New York City to Milan, with agencies like Boss and D’Men. It’s this kind of experience that gives Paris an elite, untouchable quality reminiscent of a true world class fashion model…that is until he shows me pictures of the pokemon toys he has sitting around his room. “I’m a total dork” he says excitedly. And he’s certainly proud of it.

At one point during our interview I paused to gather my thoughts on which direction I should take the conversation next. The silence was broken by an impromptu rendition of Yael Naim’s “New Soul” coming from across the table. I stared at Paris for a second and couldn’t help but laugh. I asked him what made him decide to sing. “Wasn’t that like, the song that was just playing in here?” [side note: It definitely wasn’t]. My interest is entirely piqued at this point, considering I’ve never had anyone burst into song during the middle of an interview. But then again I’ve never interviewed someone quite like Paris Nicholson before. It’s not often you come across a model or photographer as experienced as him, especially in a mid-sized city like Pittsburgh. But it’s even less likely to find someone of Paris’ stature who will freely confess their undying love of video game characters and McDonald’s. Because of his elite background in the fashion industry, Paris (and anyone else of his standing, for that matter) ultimately comes with a slew of preconceived notions unfairly tacked on to his personality simply because of how he looks. But I think I can gather, at least from the short time I spent with him, that Paris would much rather be seen for being a thought provoking visual artist than a pretty face. Someone who idolizes animated characters versus someone who’s attended parties with New York fashion royalty. And ultimately someone who enjoys being the person who can push through such superficial judgments. “I just like doing me,” he says. And as many times as we’ve all heard people say that before, I think with Paris we can all actually believe it.

A New Direction

As most of you loyal readers (I can actually say that I have those now…for real) have probably noticed, this blog has pretty much been inactive since the final Oscar was handed out a few months ago. Contrary to popular belief, I certainly did not die from my bitter (alright…”violent”) reaction to The King’s Speech winning Best Picture, so this was not the reason I’ve been neglecting this blog. School swamped me this past semester, not gonna lie in the slightest. What I feared would happen ended up…well…actually happening. You see, my major (and life’s passion) deals with the art of cinema. I’m a Film Studies (I bolded that for those of you who automatically think any major in film is the same as another), in other words I can totally beast a 12 page paper on the aesthetic qualities of the French New Wave, but you’re shit out of luck if you want me to shoot a motion picture and present it as an assumed coherent piece of art. Basically, I don’t fuck with film production; studying the art is my game. And I’ve loved doing just that ever since I can remember. Countless weekend hours spent watching movies in my room instead of going out to parties like the “normal” kids, going to a 1:00 PM showing of The Queen without any other people in the room under the age of 60…this is how I spent high school. I used film as a distraction from doing real work while I attended the University of Pittsburgh’s Johnstown branch campus before I could transfer to the Oakland campus. I managed fantastic grades and maintained my passion for film amidst a hick wasteland where the only theater in town played the latest superhero/sequel/PG-13 horror film for about 5 weeks straight until the next corporate schlock managed to slither its way onto the screens of Johnstown (I swear the people there are direct, unevolved descendants of the fools who ran from the train at the Grand Cafe in Paris…”them pictures is movin’ up on the screen!”) [side note: yes, I know people didn’t actually run from the train on the screen at the Grand Cafe, I just needed to make a point].

But when I arrived at the Oakland campus to study the artistic realm of the moving picture, I began to associate it with school. I can safely say I’m much more intellectual about film and my approach to it, but I seem to have lost some of my passion for it. The last thing you want to do after taking 4 exams on Film Theory and writing 2 papers on film movements or aesthetics is sit down and watch a movie. At least that’s how it is for me. I’m currently re-developing my love for the art during the summer, but that too will soon fall victim to work vs. passion; I’m about to begin a 4-month stay at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s entertainment section as an intern. Doing what? You guessed it; screening and reviewing movies. This is everything I’ve ever dreamed of. Sharing my own bitchy opinionated ideals on a large, published, city-wide scale is all I want to do. Hopefully the next step for me is somewhere along the lines of Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, or even Premiere. Variety might be overshooting it. But I can dream, eh?

I’ve also had a couple of things published locally around Pittsburgh…two fashion magazines have taken an interest in my writings and are publishing my interviews (with Paris Nicholson and Naima Mora of America’s Next Top Model) and articles, so that’s very exciting.

I guess as my dreams are being realized, I’m losing a sense of what made me love them in the first place considering I’m now associating them with work and stress. But I have done quite a bit for myself over the years…I’ve got a ton of writing credits, have interviewed some amazing people (Naima, for example, and Alex Young, Jenn Hoffman…all notable people who have professionally worked with people such as Kanye West, Janice Dickinson, etc.), and the modeling/acting thing is going well too (peep your boy lighting up the screens on late night MTV in the “Knock Knock” video by Mac Miller…yeah, I can’t believe it either).

All I’m saying is that this blog is probably going to be heading in a new direction once the Post-Gazette places into persepective everything I’ve ever wanted to do.

Stay tuned, bitches. Shit’s about to get interesting.