Month: August 2011

Getting a little informal about Britney; She’s not the same and you know it.

"Britney, with no means of escape" - awkward with fans, awkward onstage

Forgive me for the informality of this post, but I’ve been itching to say something about this. My interest in Britney has been waning ever since I saw her mope around Mellon Arena back in March of 2009. I was less than inspired to purchase a ticket for the “Femme Fatale” tour. Especially since Nicki Minaj was sitting the Pittsburgh date out.

And missing a Britney tour because the opener is absent is not something I thought I’d say five or so years ago.

Here’s a link to the preview I did (I also did a few other items on discography, her looks throughout the years, memorable moments, etc. but that didn’t make it into the online version) Britney Spears battles her demons and finds her way back on top of the charts

Accusations of not being a real journalist, that other pop stars are irrelevant (lol), and basically many others offended simply because they read something that wasn’t a squeaky-clean jerk off to their pop idol is what I’ve been hearing from fans and friends alike.

Talking about Britney without mentioning her “troubles” and failing to note that she’s an entirely different performer than she used to be is like talking about the World Trade Center like it’s still there. What terrorist attack? A question like that could only be asked in a state of delusion, and that’s what a lot of these Britney “stans” are in.

Being a “stan” is a lot different than being a true “fan”. As Chris Crocker points out in his fabulously spot-on “Britney, Leave the Stage Alone” video (linked below) a true fan does not blindly accept their idol in spite of a true tectonic shift in their creative output.

One response in particular simply sounded like one of those stans Crocker downright despises. Making a bunch of points that aren’t really defendable simply because you love an artist doesn’t give you any sort of validity whatsoever. One of the published letters (in today’s Weekend Magazine section, on the last page) accuses Beyonce of having nothing to do with tracks she “co wrote”. If the credits on an album are going to be given to a co-writer on one track (for example, she’s listed as a co-writer on “Who Run The World (Girls)”) but not on another (she’s not listed on the writers credits for “I Was Here”),  an accusation like that loses all basis. Unless you honestly believe the label wanted to fool a fanbase into thinking Beyonce actually co-wrote all but one track on “4”. Perhaps they wanted to save money in printing the album booklet. One more mention of Knowles’ name would have been one too many.

If they’re going to take the time to not credit her as a co-writer for one track yet credit her on the other 11, chances are she actually had something to do with, you know, “co-writing” the song. Queen B is also credited with producing a fair amount of songs on her latest LP as well.

Britney, perfecting the art of sleepy time while performing (the mask hides it well).

On “Femme Fatale”, however, Britney’s songwriting credits and production credits stand at a staggering zero.

Basically all the stans are saying is “I’m a Britney fan and I think Britney is great.” That’s perfectly fine, but talking about her past is necessary to pinpoint why she’s such a different performer than she was 5 or 6 years ago. A true fan is able to recognize when an artist isn’t performing at their best and won’t accept anything less than their best.

Britney is very visibly not up to par with the standard she set for pop stars, and both critical and fan reception backs that up (the Femme Fatale tour is selling nowhere near as well as the last one) and reviews have been equally declining for it in comparison to The Circus Starring Britney Spears.

No one “hates” her so to speak, it’s just necessary to mention the “negative” things to understand her image as a whole because it’s primarily to blame for the way she is now. I mean, come on, she didn’t even have a single production or co-writing credit on “Femme Fatale” at all. I think that’s the first time that’s ever happened on one of her albums since “…Baby One More Time”.

She’s on a retread, resting on the platform she built for herself (and Lady Gaga…and Beyonce…and Ke$ha…and Katy Perry…) and it’s scary to think she’ll never overcome that.

“Bionic” might have flopped alongside its planned tour, but at least Christina still belts it out live whenever her fame whoring ass gets a chance to (I’m looking at you, Super Bowl Aguilanthem).

“Marble Hornets” Creators Talk Terrifying Audiences, Future of Digital Media

A feature by Joey Nolfi
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @joeynolfi
Originally Published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Web series “Marble Hornets” has given big-budget gloss a run for its money.

Grainy, amateur video filmed by “real” people under the guise of documenting a “real” event — horrifying subjects ranging from the extraterrestrial to the paranormal — has been taking over since “The Blair Witch Project” first horrified audiences 12 years ago. You know what to expect from these kinds of movies by now, right?

Troy Wagner and Joseph DeLage, creators of the popular and downright terrifying YouTube series are trying to change that.

In 2009, Mr. Wagner and Mr. DeLage began production on “Marble Hornets,” a Web-based horror series that combines the handheld gimmick of “Quarantine” and “Trollhunter” with the same mysterious storytelling techniques that made “Lost” an international hit.

That “Blair Witch” verite style has grown into an overused phenomenon. It was a novelty in 1999. But, the “shaky cam” gimmick was ultimately an expert scare tactic contributing to the film’s freakish effect. It was good at harnessing audience trust in its authenticity but different from the way audiences were used to seeing a narrative unfold.

“The Blair Witch Project” was a massive hit, making back its production budget, a mere $60,000, almost 4,200 times over in worldwide box office receipts. A revitalization of studios distributing smaller independent productions surfaced.

Without the film that exposed the world to infamous snot-and-tears confessionals, a tongue and teeth wrapped in a handkerchief and a grown man standing in a corner, indie-turned-blockbuster hits like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” never may have found studio-backed distribution. And what would the romantic comedy genre be today without its highest grossing picture of all time?

While verite-style films such as “Cloverfield” and “Paranormal Activity” exploded onto screens around the world after “The Blair Witch Project,” two friends set out with a meager budget, a standard recreational camera and a great idea.

“I see this as a giant experiment that got entirely out of hand. At first it was a thing to keep us busy during the summer,” Mr. Wagner said, fumbling for words and looking to Mr. DeLage to describe the series. “It ballooned into this big phenomenon. … Well, it’s not that big … you want to help me out here?”

The project’s complexity baffles even its creators.

The story revolves around a young man, Jay (Mr. Wagner), trying to uncover the circumstances surrounding the mysterious disappearance of his friend Alex (Mr. DeLage), who’d been working on a student film until he abandoned the project for mysterious reasons. Jay posts archived videos from Alex’s collection on the YouTube account “MarbleHornets” (search the username on the site for the channel) as he comes across them. Sometimes he posts on a weekly basis. Other “entries,” as they’re called, have appeared months apart to coincide with events in the narrative. What Jay uncovers, though, is a tangled web of paranormal occurrences, masked antagonists and terrifying appearances from a mythical creature known affectionately by fans as the Slender Man.

Unlike other studio-backed productions, the Alabama duo’s homespun filmmaking style epitomizes true independent spirit.

“Our budget was 100 percent out of pocket when we first started out,” Mr. DeLage said. “We had no advertising revenue, so we had a budget of maybe $500 for the first 26 videos.”

The first video passed the 1 million mark in total viewership, with subsequent entries garnering just as many.

That’s quite an accomplishment for two University of Alabama students who hold down part-time jobs, attend classes, maintain a social life, and produce one of the biggest Internet hits this side of Ray William Johnson. They’ve achieved a fair amount of Internet fame as actors in the series, and they’re recognized at work or in class as being “from the Internet.”

“Marble Hornets” poses thought-provoking storytelling combined with visceral thrills that set it apart from its competition.

But “Marble Hornets” is still very much a product of the digital age. Its creators say the idea was fostered on a message board where users would create myths surrounding various paranormal/mythical creatures. One in particular, the Slender Man, piqued their interest.

“For whatever reason, I can’t explain, everyone on the forum gravitated toward that one character,” Mr. Wagner said. “I decided to build a narrative video of this. I wrote a quick story up and posted the whole introduction all in text on the thread, I called Joseph, and we decided to make a video.”

Aside from the idea of the Slender Man, the project came out of an ease of access to a media outlet that didn’t require studio backing.

“I think things like Netflix and YouTube are definitely the next final frontier,” Mr. Wagner said. “Assuming the Internet doesn’t become so expensive that no one can afford it, it’s very exciting what it could do and what it’s becoming.”

“Until they can digitally imprint shows on your brain, the Internet has changed everything,” Mr. DeLage concurred, “That is the only direction the media can go into. We’re never going to see anything that really challenges something that can provide what Netflix or YouTube can. Everything else just seems like a step backward.”

While “Marble Hornets” has found a faithful YouTube audience (nearly 100,000 subscribers have viewed each of the 46 entries almost 19 million times), its creators say they’ve been approached by production studios interested in the project. But, they say that the series wouldn’t function as well as a 90-minute film.

“Even though once it’s said and done, [“Marble Hornets”] is about the same length as a movie,” Mr. Wagner said. “But it’s like making a comparison between a movie and a TV show. When you watch a movie you kind of have this unspoken rule that if the movie goes over two hours long it has to be good. In a [series] season, once all said and done, it’s 12 hours. You have much more character development and story arc than a movie at the same time. Each entry is to be its own kind of standalone thing.”

While the thought of a television deal is appealing to them, both say that they are content with continuing to please fans online. While television may provide a much bigger platform, their creative control would significantly decrease. With “Marble Hornets,” Mr. Wagner and Mr. DeLage have placed their work on display and allowed the audience to gravitate to them. It’s even gotten the attention of Roger Ebert, who has called the series “remarkably well done.”

“We were in total shock and awe,” Mr. DeLage said. “We couldn’t really accept that a guy who’s that hard to impress was impressed with what we were doing.”

While “Marble Hornets” — in its second season — has maintained a large following, its creators say they foresee its end after a third season. Although the series may come to a close, its creators will work on other projects.

“I couldn’t even tell you how many Google documents full of ideas we’ve come up with,” Mr. DeLage said. “We consider ourselves more comic than formatic, ‘Marble Hornets’ just happens to be our first foray into serious anything. A lot of our proposed projects aren’t thriller mysteries, but they’re not just silliness either.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @joeynolfi

Imperfect ‘Host’ Serves Mediocre Dish

A Movie Review by Joey Nolfi

Originally Published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The opening of “The Perfect Host” introduces a criminal who knows exactly what he’s doing.

John Taylor (Clayne Crawford) is hot off a heist. He’s stolen $300,000 from a bank and is on the run. He removes a wig and sunglasses, tosses his escape vehicle (an unlikely bicycle) into a dumpster, and coolly rejoins the populace on the streets.

The cops won’t find him in one of Los Angeles’ ritzy mansions, he thinks. So he’ll smooth talk his way into the homes of one of Los Angeles’ most exclusive neighborhoods.

But, he can’t even fool his first would-be victim, a churchgoing lady living by herself. “Can I please use your phone? I’m a Jehovah’s witness, too,” he tells her after noticing a religious symbol in her window. She points out that he is not wearing a cross. “Perhaps you’ll get a new one next Christmas,” she says, testing him. “Yeah, hopefully,” he replies. He is blind to the error, his charm wearing off as his guilt pecks away.

His next attempt yields a drastically different outcome. Warwick Wilson (David Hyde Pierce of “Frasier” fame) is a much easier target. A wealthy bachelor with antique furnishings, a flair for fine wine, and the most feline of physical gestures, which reek of sexual ambiguity. Warwick is a pip-squeak but also an accomplished BS-er. John meets his match in more ways than one.

Warwick turns out to be a criminal of sorts as well, with “plans” for the thief he intentionally lets into his home. To say anything more would spoil the film’s “surprise,” which ultimately ends up as not that, well, surprising. Let’s just say things get violent. That’s always enticing.

The film’s first act functions as a ping-pong match between two fantastic performances, its leads keeping the tension thick between two characters constantly one-upping the other. The journey to the film’s conclusion, however, includes an ambitious (but uneven) display of musical numbers and sadomasochistic sexual exploits, which Warwick partakes of with countless “personalities” existing in his head and invisible to John.

Both men are criminals, which expertly creates no clear side for the audience to take. Warwick’s psychological disorder is demonized as is John’s brash, gritty insensitivity. That is, until the film lamely gives John’s actions moral justification. Things get sappy and ultimately less fun.

The film’s ambiguous depiction of its leads is enticing before this revelation. After it, however, the film dives into shallow “good vs. evil” water. The audience is forced to tread water there throughout the film’s final act, but it becomes entirely too frustrating when the ship boarded sails away in a different direction

“Submarine” Plunges into Depths of Teenage Spirit

Movie Review by Joey Nolfi (Originally Published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

“I often imagine how people would react to my death,” says 15-year-old Oliver Tate.

Momentary glimpses into the mind-set of a teenage boy engulfed by adolescent angst take shape in such asides throughout the glorious coming-of-age masterpiece that is “Submarine.”

Oliver (Craig Roberts) relishes the thought of candlelight vigils held in his honor amidst press conferences where family and friends can barely speak through their tears. He feels comfort in expecting to be missed, and even more so in smugly sharing that sentiment with a willing audience.

As gloomy as his outlook tends to be, Oliver paints his externalized fantasies in a highly engrossing fashion. He creates a compartmentalized bubble within which we see the world as he does. The resulting atmosphere is as stagnant as the dreary clouds that seem to consistently linger just above his tiny Welsh home, but the realities of suburban mundanity are refreshingly punctuated by the imaginative spirit only a child can muster.

While the part of Oliver that ponders his funeral procession is endearing, he becomes too engrossed in his fantasies to notice the death of his parents’ marriage. He knows they aren’t having sex (“the bedroom dimmer is never left halfway down anymore,” he observes), which makes it all the more comical when Mr. Tate (Noah Taylor) awkwardly tries giving his son advice on how to seduce girls. (“You know I once ripped my vest off for a woman,” he boasts.)

The dissolution between Mr. and Mrs. Tate comes as no surprise to us, seeing as our experience as spectators is not entirely isolated to Oliver’s perspective. He lets us in when he wants to, an art every teenager perfects at his age.

We’re ultimately invited to feel superior to the mundanity we see before us. Mrs. Tate (marvelously played by Sally Hawkins) leads a life in which the only perks are in simply getting by. “You look good for your age, for a mum,” says her son. And so we realize happiness comes in small doses disguised as feelings of simple adequacy, seeing as in her world “on your birthday, you’re responsible for bringing your own cake to work,” Oliver informs us.

The barrier between Oliver and reality eventually shatters, thanks to his blossoming affections for classmate Jordana (Yasmin Paige), which allow him to funnel his naive feelings toward (not “of,” mind you) love into a plot to reignite his parents’ passion.

Oliver’s plan isn’t elaborate or inventive, but it does force him to ponder the complexity of menial details in his everyday life that often go without notice. It’s through his eyes that we grow with him, seeing as the film plays like a lyrical expression of teenage angst teetering between innocent fantasy and sophisticated adulthood.

“Submarine” is undeniably a coming-of-age tale, albeit in beautifully alternative fashion that values the retention of the teenage experience as one ages. While Oliver may not have completely come of age, he’s certainly a bit older by the film’s end.

Am I Wrong to Mourn Amy Winehouse?

(Originally Published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

He can only hold her for so long,

The lights are on, but no one’s home.

Amy Winehouse

It’s a seemingly trite verse lifted from a tune which appears on the late Ms. Winehouse’s sophomore (and, unfortunately, final) album “Back to Black.” Without context, it doesn’t mean much. When examining the all-too-brief life of the woman who wrote it, though, it becomes as searing as her out-of-this-era voice.

The lights were certainly “on” in one way or another for Ms. Winehouse. Five Grammys. International sales certifications named after every precious metal in existence. Top 10 hits in what seems to be every country that hosts broadcast radio.

But no one seemed to be “home” to discipline the young lady with all the accolades. Certainly not Ms. Winehouse herself.

Images of the singer trolling the streets of London, barely coherent, come quickly to mind. This seems to be how the media favored her. She was the celebrity screw-up. The headline disaster that struck once a weekend. An easy target. The butt of the joke. All for being brutally honest about her life, including her addictions to alcohol and crack cocaine.

She was an addict. But she was also one of my biggest inspirations.

Fans know the tragic last years of her life as the “old” Amy. This wasn’t the Amy they wanted to see come out with another album. This was the Amy that preyed upon; certainly not the Amy I hoped would survive.

The media awaited — and at certain points, even I painfully expected — the breaking news of her death-too-soon.

“I’m absolutely disgusted that her death is receiving more coverage than the tragedy in Oslo,” one of my friends said to me. “People are crying for Amy but can’t even point out Oslo on a map,” he continued, “It’s just proof of this country’s pathetic obsession with fame as well as the total lack of empathy with the common person, albeit in a different part of the world.”

His frustrations have been echoed by many a hipster-Greenpeace-vegan hybrid since the news arrived of Ms. Winehouse’s death. I mean, “anti-establishmentism” is the bees knees nowadays.

It’s not hard to see that Ms. Winehouse was a godsend to many. The fact that news of her death impacted so many people is no fault of the media which is reporting it. If a story is being read, it would only make sense for an outlet to cover it. The public has spoken, and news of Ms. Winehouse’s passing seems to be hitting home with far more than just those “pathetically obsessed with fame”.

News of her death hit me as hard as the first note I heard escape her tiny, delicate frame. I was 16. She was around the same age that I am now. But her voice smoldered with tinges of another era (though it’s done heapings of injustice by any comparison whatsoever) that took me to a place I could experience only by way of headphones and “Back to Black” on repeat.

The time I spent with her music was time I spent getting to know her. Loving Amy was not, for me, about an obsession with fame, as my friend seems to think. When an artist becomes a celebrity because she expresses extraordinary creativity, as Ms. Winehouse did with every song she wrote and performed, she forms a relationship with her listeners. Not only of a consumer-supports-artist nature, but even on a spiritual level.

The darker side of life pervaded Ms. Winehouse’s music. Whether it was in crooning a beautifully subdued rendition of the 1958 Teddy Bears’ hit “To Know Him Is To Love Him” or tackling original tracks like the disturbingly honest “Rehab,” Ms. Winehouse never downplayed her struggles. She needed no safety net, and the public certainly never provided her one.

Underneath the veil of fame was a dark, lonely, self-deprecating human being who placed herself on display through her art. Any fan of hers will tell you that. Her songs are like a diary, written for all of us to read.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as big of a Britney Spears fan as the next guy, but I’ll never be more than a “fan” of music products like her. We feel safe with products. Ms. Winehouse was anything but “safe,” in both her artistry and her personal life.

She was a danger to herself and no one denies that. But her public struggle made her a shoulder to lean on for so many people she never knew. And it made her death more tangible to those who loved her. Ms. Winehouse’s lyrics touched the similarly afflicted hearts of those who clung to her as the second coming of Billie Holiday.

Many of the hundreds of thousands mourning her death are simply mourning a friend. We’re not elevating her death above the tragedy in Norway; we’re grieving a personal loss that just so happened to coincide with an unspeakable act of terrorism.

As a culture, we seem to have an “I told you so” mentality. Amy Winehouse detractors “aren’t shocked” or “couldn’t care less” about her death, as I gather from countless Facebook postings and conversations with friends. Now that their “prophecy” has come true, the stake needs to be driven deeper. It can’t suffice that she succumbed to a disease that’s little different from a fast food-induced heart attack or smoking-induced lung cancer. We feel the need to keep talking. Like it’s an addiction.

The song “He Can Only Hold Her” continues:

How can he have her heart,

When it got stole?

Ms. Winehouse’s heart may have been damaged and easily stolen in her search for acceptance, but I’m thankful that I was given at least a piece of it in recompense for the part of mine she’s since taken to the grave.

Rest in peace, Amy. I have a feeling the angels will be doing more listening than singing thee to rest.

Dark Knight “Rises” In Pittsburgh; Hathaway, Cotillard, Bale in the Steel City

"The Dark Knight Rises" Filming in Oakland, Pittsburgh. Photo by me.

Oh, you know. Just Batman fighting some bad guys on the streets of Pittsburgh.  No big deal.

And no, I’m not talking about one of the crazy PAT bus patrons trolling the streets of Oakland at 1 AM  who think they’re Batman. Nope, this is the real deal. And it’s all unfolding about four streets over from my house in Oakland.

I know the photo is terrible, but it’s a miracle I even got that shot because I was having such frantic bursts of excitement. I cannot contain myself over the fact that I was about 100 feet away from Anne Hathaway. That kind of stuff drives me crazy.

Not to mention the fact that Marion Cotillard and I have been breathing the same smoggy air for the past week or so, and will be doing so until the end of August. If I see her on the street, I’m thinking of taking an alternate approach to the whole “rabid fan meets idol” thing. Perhaps I’ll just stand with my back hunched a bit, arms outstretched, frantically wailing “MARCEEEL! MAAARRRCEEELLLLLLL!”. Insert laughter from those who also love “La vie en Rose” here.

The scene in the picture above, however, yielded only momentary glimpses of the action. Bale and Hathaway were spotted leaving the set about a minute or two before I got there, and filming quickly concluded about 30 seconds after that. Dozens of extras dressed in Gotham police attire boarded about 6 busses outside the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning, where Bigelow (the street directly in front of the building) is closed off to house trailers and equipment trucks.

Today production is taking the crew to Heinz Field, where a mock football game is being held with hundreds of extras. That should be interesting. Pittsburghers know how to chear a damn team. I’m just concerned about how those bright yellow monstrosities also known as “Heinz Field seating” are going to look onscreen.

In other news, I’m currently trying to get Michael Keaton’s reaction to the franchise he’s such an iconic part of filming in his hometown. Hell, I went to the same high school as him. The same church. I even lived about 10 houses down from where his late mother resided until her death.

Keaton sent me this message, however.

Thank you very much but I am working on different interview pieces right now and don’t want them to overlap and I can’t find the time right now anyway.  Thanks again. MK

According to the movie editor here, I should simply reply in a week with five questions he can answer via email. “He’ll definitely do that” she says. I certainly hope so.

Val Kilmer and Adam West have also been contacted on my end. Here’s to hoping I don’t have to flash any bat signals in the sky to muster a response from any of them.

When Art Becomes the Artist; ANTM Winner, Model, Musician, Naima Mora is a Melting Pot of Expression

An Interview with Naima Mora

By Joey Nolfi

She’s a world-class fashion muse and a quirky tomboy; the face of an industry that prides itself on the image of untouchable perfection while still finding time to mentor crowds of young people as a very tangible inspirational speaker. And she’s about as different as she appeared on reality television as the words “Chanel” and “men’s clothing” are from each other.

Naima Mora is a slew of contradictions, and that’s certainly not a bad thing.

Mora’s catapult to fame as the winner of the fourth season of Tyra Banks’ wildly popular “America’s Next Top Model” is only a blip on the radar of this young artistic maven’s long list of career milestones. From posing on the beaches of the Cayman Islands to rocking out onstage with her band at a gig in New York City, Mora can do (and has done) it all.

Hailing from Detroit, Michigan, Mora’s roots run deep within the realm of artistic expression.

“My parents are musicians, and I remember waking up every morning to some different kind of awesome music from a different part of the world,” she says of her childhood, “They always encouraged my twin sister and I to follow our artistic endeavors.”

After studying art at summer camps and crafting the illegal kind in her free time (she says she enjoyed slumming downtown, tagging and spray painting trucks and abandoned buildings), Mora channeled her interests into the fine art of dance.

“In slight contradiction to my tomboy way of life I was a ballet dancer and I loved it,” she says, “When I moved to New York City I was dancing all day with my ballet company and in the evenings I went to night school for creative writing.”

Soon after, the same girl who was so graceful onstage in ballet slippers was soon gracing the set of “America’s Next Top Model”, a competition Mora says far exceeded her expectations.

“America’s Next Top Model was a very emotional journey,” she says, “When I do build the nerve to watch back a couple of episodes, I look back on a younger me. I think I had a lot of balls going out to win that competition, although I can tell I was really nervous most of the time.”

Mora’s nerves proved for naught, seeing as she was crowned “America’s Next Top Model” by Tyra Banks herself, winning out over runner-up Kahlen Rondot, who has since quit the modeling industry.

For every ounce of fame Mora has garnered since her appearance on the show, now heading into its 17th bi-annual “cycle”, an equal amount of backlash follows. Claims of the show being “fixed” after Cycle 9’s winner, Saleisha Stowers, appeared in countless national print ads (as well as on “The Tyra Banks Show”) prior to her tenure on the show have led to some fans questioning the legitimacy of the show itself as well as Ms. Banks’ investment in the girls.

Mora says those claims, echoed loudly and publicly by other former contestants (namely Lisa D’Amato, Lauren Utter, and Adrianne Curry) are simply not true.

“I do believe Tyra genuinely cares about all the girls on the show and I believe that she wants all of the models to move on to pursue wonderful careers,” she admits, “But we cannot expect Tyra or the network to just drop the jobs and work into our hands. I have had to learn the ropes pretty much on my own since winning the show. ‘America’s Next Top Model’ is not only mentorship between Tyra and the models, it is a business as well. There have been a lot of contestants, and while I do believe Tyra cares, I also know that she is working on not only the show but other facets of her own career.”

While Mora enjoyed her time on “Top Model”, she admits that the pressure of having a crew document her every move over the course of a few months took its toll. The audience, however, responded in a largely positive manner to her onscreen character as the rather subdued “reformed party girl”.

“It all depends on how you portray yourself,” she explains, “It’s sad to see though that with more reality television arising, people feel the need to portray themselves in such a bad or negative light to get attention and the American public feeds this by supporting it.”

Whether she was “edited to look that way” or simply too nervous in the spotlight, Mora’s demeanor on the show has facilitated her fans’ confusion with the next step of her career; hard rocking frontwoman of the band Galaxy of Tar.

“The idea that you can know someone completely from a month’s worth of filming is a bit odd,” Mora says in response to the confusion, “I have always loved rock music and the older I get the more I have matured inside of rock culture. I think people were given a chance to witness the kind of person I am, but not who I am entirely from the filming of ‘America’s Next Top Model’. I have always been a bit dark and I’m intrigued by the more magical side of things.”

“Dark” and “magical” are yet another opposing set of descriptors that perfectly profile Galaxy of Tar’s sound. But her current frontwoman position of the group isn’t Mora’s first foray into the realm of sonic heaven.

“A couple of years ago my best friend invited me to sing for his band,” she says of Chewing Pics, the band in question, “That project broke up last year, but it gave us a chance to do something we really wanted to. [We] were interested in pushing some boundaries while the other musicians wanted to make safer music. After we all agreed that it wasn’t going to work out we moved on.”

Despite the demise of Chewing Pics, Galaxy of Tar has achieved success. The band released their first EP, Pneuma, in May of this year.

Although Mora says that she enjoys crafting music and the artistic outlet it provides, some of the output puzzles her just as much as it has for her fans.

“Galaxy of Tar sounds weird a lot of times to me, but that’s a great thing in my book,” she says, “we constantly aim at creating something new. I love the challenge of making sense out of [bandmate Elias’] creation. Most of the music I love now and that inspires me was difficult to understand at first, but the project is particularly special to me because it is something I have set up in my life that will consistently challenge me and perpetuates my own artistic and humanistic growth.”

And she’s got the fiercest onstage moves this side of Karen O., to boot.

“Performing is an extension of myself. It’s definitely evolved since the days of Chewing Pics,” she says, “I just wrap myself up in the moment and the music and allow myself to go wild for a while. I allow myself to fall desperately in love or become angry with vengeance.”

While she moves like a veteran rocker she also maintains the elegance and grace of a model walking down a Versace runway. Although “My music has one hundred times more of an effect on my modeling than vice versa,” she says.

Whether it’s tearing up the stage in front of a crowd of fans or promoting only the most chic of fashions in an ad campaign, Naima Mora says the one thing that keeps her going is self confidence.

“At least once a week I question whether what I am doing is crazy or not,” she says, “all my heroes are crazy too or at least were perceived as crazy at first. I brush that doubt aside. It only lasts for a moment or so.”

While that goes to show that even the most pristine of faces can crack, Mora says that remaining an independent force amidst an industry of deprecation is key to finding success.

“I have sacrificed jobs for integrity. I have sacrificed sometimes integrity for jobs. But that is the growing process of life and learning,” she says, “I really don’t like the politics of a lot of things in both the music and modeling industry, but I have learned to approach these things on my own terms.”

And those of us that get to admire her beautifully diverse career are genuinely appreciate of that.

Follow Naima on Twitter: @NaimaMora

Follow Joey on Twitter: @joeynolfi

Viva “Riva” ‘s Refreshing Tread on Familiar Territory

(Note: Originally Published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Money. Sex. Violence. Three of the most common exploits any filmmaker has at their disposal.

To say writer-director Djo Munga paints the Congolese metropolis of Kinshasa red with those elements in “Viva Riva!” opening Friday at the Harris Theater, Downtown, is an understatement. With each stroke of his lyrical craftsmanship, a candy-colored, blood-soaked neo-noir tale comes alive within the darkest corners of an urban Congo. Money, sex, and violence are a way of life for these people.

“Money always kills you in the end,” one character says. And on the brutally violent streets of Kinshasa, so can a night of steamy sex.

Riva (Patsha Bay) learns these truths the hard way. He’s a smuggler, but not in the typical sense. There’s a gasoline shortage, and he’s stolen a large amount from a gaggle of Angolan gangsters. They’re none too pleased, and use the money-hungry Congolese citizens to retrieve it.

There is no moral high ground hovering over any part of “Viva Riva!” Every character is deeply flawed, a criminal or demonized in one way or another. This makes for some interesting reversals on traditional values. But it also makes everything devilishly fun.

“Viva Riva!” ultimately covers familiar ground popularized by the films of Michael Mann or Ben Affleck (as director, that is).

It does, however, offer something new in its fantastical, mystical representation of familiar gangster narratives with an exotic twist.

But, like the click of a safety, “Viva Riva!” is over before you know it, thick gunsmoke lingering in its absence.

Sure, you’ll witness a fair share of dollars raining, steamy encounters and buckets of the bright red stuff along the way. But like a young Tarantino, Mr. Munga’s fresh perspective reminds us that distinctive stylistic cinema is all about how the dirty work is crafted, not simply hawking gruesome subjects and praying for a reaction.