Month: September 2011

Pop Revolutionary V.V. Brown Roars Back With “Children” (feat. Chiddy)

I’ve been waiting for this day for what feels like ages. And I couldn’t be happier to report that it’s finally. Freaking. HERE!

V.V. Brown returns with an infectiously saccharine, candy-coated electro-infused pop gem “Children”, which features fellow artist Chiddy, released on iTunes today.

The single, the first off her to-be-titled 2012 follow up to “Travelling Like the Light”, harnesses Brown’s signature larger-than-life pipes and marries them to an uplifting, skipping-to-and-fro beat.

Chronicling the lengthy process of crafting of her upcoming album on Twitter (@VVBrown) since she began touring the U.S. with Maroon 5 back in 2010, Brown has hinted at  everything from experimentation with tribal drums to electropop-tinged confections , and “Children” delivers in more ways than one.

The contemporary UK music scene, once a hitmaking juggernaut for up-and-coming ladies since the late Amy Winehouse paved the road nearly 6 years ago, has hit a rough patch as of late. Duffy’s latest tanked, Adele converted to American standards (What? No? I know, but I had to conform her style to fit the point I was trying to make somehow…) and Lily Allen’s all but dropped off the face of the earth. Brown’s drastic departure from the pop-funk vibe that pervaded her freshman LP breathes new life into not only the British front but into the lungs of pop music in general.

Here’s hoping the sophomore LP is as groundbreaking as the first.

Follow Brown’s progress on the album in a series of video and live chat events, which the singer will release over the course of the next month or so on her website, www.vvbrown.com

The first of such teasers:

 

Listen to (and purchase) the new track on iTunes today.

“The Future” is an intriguing, baffling, distant Indie oddball

Miranda July stars in, writes, and directs the vague “The Future”

Miranda July’s “The Future” is a smart film in more ways than one.

At once it’s a film that cleverly frees itself entirely from any criticism it might receive; “The Future” tells what seems to be a highly autobiographical (albeit fantastical) version of its creator’s life. To subject it to normative standards of conventional films would be like accusing someone’s family photo album of being a pretentious mess.

It’s unreasonable to slam another person’s opinion, and “The Future” is not so much a film as it is a deep expository peep into the ticking that makes Ms. July tock as she firmly cements herself as the film’s sole creative (and driving) force. She writes, directs and stars in a narrative that prides itself on its own reflective, musing qualities versus actively being “about” much at all.

To summarize the plot of “The Future” would be to suggest there is a concrete one at the film’s core in the first place. Instead the film plays like a barrage of off-the-wall happenings strung together by an equally odd overarching narration from a feline’s perspective.

The cat in question, named Paw Paw, is a rescue animal in residence at a local animal shelter. Sophie (Ms. July) and her boyfriend of four years, Jason (Hamish Linklater), adopt Paw Paw under one condition; she must remain at the shelter until she’s fully recovered, which could take up to 30 days.

Those 30 days become the film’s focus, over the course of which Sophie and Jason undergo drastic alterations to their daily lives. Sophie is a dance instructor, bored with her job and made to feel inferior by her coworkers who, in their spare time, enjoy posting sexy videos of themselves on YouTube and boasting about the 10,000 viewers they’ve aroused. Jason is a tech support specialist working from home. Both are over thirty, but not quite over the hill as of yet. Still, a hint of adolescent anxieties concerning fears of aging and domestic responsibility (the “anchor of life,” if you will) persist as they come to learn that Paw Paw’s illness will afford her with, according to the veterinarian, a maximum of five years to live.

“We’ll be forty in five years,” Jason says. “Forty is the new fifty, and the rest is loose change.”

As byproducts of the digital age, the couple spends most of their time lounging around the house on their computers, connected to the outside world through the internet and telephone; not entirely foreign to today’s digital culture, but this makes it easy to see how 35 years of life could pass them by so quickly.

July is joined by Hamish Linklater as her boyfriend and “Paw-Paw”, the feline narrator of “The Future”

The territory Ms. July takes the audience into isn’t altogether revolutionary; fantastical representations of subjectivity are commonplace in mainstream cinema. Just take a look at Michel Gondry’s 2004 masterpiece “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” or even, to an extent, Darren Aronofsky’s deeply disturbing “Black Swan,” released last year. Those films expose their characters’ subjectivity more as an atmospheric compliment to the narrative whereas “The Future” exists as Ms. July’s contemplative, lyrical exposition of a deep internal space as she projects it through her characters, becoming less about  how we, as an audience, “should” perceive it and more an expression of individuality on her part.

The film will appease those willing to disregard their conditioned role as active analysts and become passive cinematic receivers, because “The Future” functions best as something viewed with caution from afar.

While “The Future” will prove frustrating and baffling for a vast majority, those who will find themselves scratching their heads in disbelief and/or confusion probably aren’t going to be the ones buying a ticket to see it in the first place.

The end of the film opens more doors than it closes; we never receive a triumphant moment of closure or sense of satisfaction that what we have been watching for the past two hours has in fact ended to our liking. But Ms. July doesn’t necessarily end “The Future” as much as she simply cuts the audience loose from her fantasy, allowing us only a brief glimpse at something that is for her, as Paw Paw describes death, “only the beginning.”

Tyra Returns with “Top Model”; Does the Fashion Industry Care? Contestants dish on Illegitimacy of Show, Returning for “All-Stars”

Note: Although originally published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, this started as an idea for this blog. I’ve always been interested in ‘Top Model’, yet the show’s aim at creating a real supermodel has always fascinated me in its absurdly presented (and impossible) format which has no relevance to the fashion industry at all. For this piece, I interviewed Jade Cole, Bre Scullark, Monique Weingart, and a slew of people ranging from Ford Models and Anna Sui booking agents, executive producers, and fans and fellow (non-ANTM, I should add) models alike. I was very proud of the piece (front page of Mag section! Holla!) and even more proud of the fact that I royally pissed off Cycle 10’s Lauren Utter with the nerve I had to dare ask her for an interview. She called me “fraudulent” and told me she’d interview with me if I didn’t betray her by spewing her secrets to everyone. I’m sorry, if my memory serves me properly you blabbed to ANYONE who would ask about ‘Top Model’ and its illegitimacy to anyone who’d ask on the IMDB ‘Top Model’ forums. So, again, thanks for blaming your own big-mouthed antics on me even though you told multiple people heapings more than what you revealed to me. Anyway, on to my article:

Originally Published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

By Joey Nolfi (me)

Despite the popularity of “America’s Next Top Model,” former contestants and fashion industry insiders don’t believe the show is an avenue to supermodel stardom.

One of fashion’s greatest minds, Karl Lagerfeld, describes Tyra Banks’ “Top Model” as “trash that’s funny for 5 minutes” but says its contestants “will never become the next Gemma Ward.”

“Modeling is a phenomenal opportunity, a great job, and a s—-y career,” supermodel and former “America’s Next Top Model” judge Paulina Porizkova says in a Huffington Post article about the cutthroat modeling industry.

So why then, since 2003, have countless model hopefuls scrambled for a chance to compete on Ms. Banks’ wildly popular television show in hopes of walking the same runways as Gisele Bundchen and Agyness Deyn?

An all-stars version of Ms. Banks’ hit show returns for Season 17 (seasons are better known as cycles to fans) at 9 tonight on The CW. The show’s format will remain the same as it has for the past 16 installments — 14 contestants will compete for a contract with IMG models, an Express fashion campaign and a cover of Beauty in Vogue magazine. The “All-Stars” version is chock-full of contestants from past seasons again competing for the coveted title.

Since its first airing, the show has garnered millions of loyal viewers and critics on the Internet. Seas of message boards dedicated to praising and bashing particular contestants can be found on countless websites.

Amanda L’Heureux, a 22-year-old Bangor, Maine, resident and avid “Top Model” fanatic, has been watching the show since its fourth season in 2005, blogging about it on her site, “My ANTM Addiction Starts Here.” Ms. L’Heureux says that “All-Stars” is bound to be great television, but will do little to help raise the show’s credibility as a full-fledged representation of the fashion industry.

“I think ‘Top Model’ succeeds as a reality show in a way that a lot of others don’t,” she says. “Despite seeing the purpose of the show fail time and time again, faithful viewers are invested in the contestants for many different reasons. Some people will always support the best model while some tune in to see the funniest girl or the most tragic story. There’s a nice, healthy mix of trash, absurdity and a prize that makes the show decidedly watchable.”

Returning “All-Stars” include fan favorites such as Allison Harvard (Season 12 in 2009) and Shannon Stewart (Season 1 in 2003), but also some of the most notoriously abrasive girls the show has ever seen, namely Camille McDonald (Season 2 in 2004), Angelea Preston (Season 14 in 2010) and Dominique Reighard (Season 10 in 2008).

No longer newcomers on the modeling scene, each has matured well beyond their initial appearance on “Top Model” according to “All-Stars” and Season 5 alum Bre Scullark.

“It’s amazing to see how everybody’s grown and who they’ve become,” said Ms. Scullark, made famous through her involvement in a granola bar theft incident on the show in 2005. “We all have a little more experience and exposure. This time I’m living in a house with girls that really are models. It’s a lot different from [the first time around] living with girls who don’t know if they want to be models or TV stars.”

The blogosphere is abuzz with speculation about the legitimacy of the show as a “serious” fashion endeavor because of the inclusion of “mature” models — the oldest “All-Star” is 33 years old — in the upcoming cast. A model’s career in an industry that craves young, “fresh,” and often unknown faces usually is over by age 25, let alone 33. This has fans and industry insiders alike echoing Mr. Lagerfeld’s criticisms.

“It’s stupid to watch the show as if it’s like the real world,” 22-year-old longtime fan and British model, Avess Arshad, says. “It’s on television, so it loses credibility. [Tyra] is running a superficial show and trying to give it depth beyond anything it ever could have and that’s why it’s so cheesy.”

Detractors of the show have often been those directly involved with production. Janice Dickinson and Ms. Porizkova publicly criticized Ms. Banks and the show after their tenures as judges. Season 5 cast member Lisa D’Amato shocked fans by returning for the “All-Star” season after a very candid interview in 2010 with Out.com where she slammed the show, calling its contestants “[Tyra’s] little monkeys,” saying that Ms. Banks is “absolutely insane,” and that the show “absolutely does not portray the life of a real model.”

In the show’s initial 16 seasons, it has produced successful actresses. Season 3’s Yaya Dacosta starred in Best Picture nominee “The Kids Are All Right” alongside Julianne Moore and Season 10’s Analeigh Tipton garnered critical acclaim for her turn in “Crazy, Stupid, Love” with Steve Carell.

“Top Model” alums also have gone on to become public speakers, television show hosts and lead singers in rock bands, but the one thing “Top Model” has failed to produce is, well, America’s next top model.
“There are very few traditional supermodels these days and models have evolved into reality stars who can model,” said Laura Fuest, executive producer of “America’s Next Top Model. “‘ANTM All Stars’ takes some of the most successful former participants, who have used their experience and exposure on ‘ANTM’ to expand their modeling careers, and helps them to continue evolving their individual brands and entertainment career choices.”

International versions of the “Top Model” franchise have provided star-making platforms for some of the industry’s most in-demand new faces. Winner of the third season of “Australia’s Next Top Model,” supermodel Alice Burdeu, went on to appear on runways around the world, in campaigns for brands such as Dolce & Gabbana as well as gracing the cover of Vogue Australia twice.

Still, the American audience has come to perceive the U.S. version as somewhat of a joke because its first winner, Adrianne Curry, failed to make much of an impact on the fashion industry, instead opting for a career as a television personality with appearances on “The Surreal Life” and “My Fair Brady” after marrying actor Christopher Knight.

“I think the place where ‘ANTM’ has failed the most is dragging along contestants solely for their Cinderella stories or gimmicks,” Ms. L’Heureux says. “Too many times someone who has ‘overcome’ something wins over someone more deserving. That ‘story’ is what they’re recognizable for, not their modeling potential, and that ultimately doesn’t make them bookable.”

With the exception of Ms. Harvard, none of the “All-Stars” contestants was picked for her modeling skill during her previous season, Ms. L’Heureux says.

“They are most notable for their antics. Every single one of them has a notable incident in the show’s history,” she says. “So, this is a brilliant idea as far as the reality aspect of the show is concerned. As a modeling show? Not so much.”

Former contestants on the show agree.

Monique Weingart, Cycle 16, discusses the unfair stigma ANTM leaves contestants with

“I don’t think you can go on the [American version of the] show and expect to become a supermodel,” says contestant Monique Weingart, who appeared in Season 16. “I went to L.A. Models to meet with their New Faces division [after my season]. They laughed at me. I’ll go on castings and meet every requirement and bond with the client. They’ll say ‘You look really familiar.’ I’ll tell them I was on ‘Top Model’ and I never get a callback.”

Although some former contestants feel being on the show has been detrimental to their modeling careers, Ms. Scullark has enjoyed a career that’s to her liking.

“I think people don’t like rejection. I think that people don’t like to hear ‘No,’ whether it’s for a show or at a casting. Those are the excuses people hear, but it really just has to do with them personally,” she says. “I can only speak for myself. I have a Garnier Fructis campaign, print ad for Ambi Skincare and Dove Chocolate. I’ve worked really well with great clients after [Season] 5.”

Still, some winners, who usually receive a print campaign with CoverGirl cosmetics, a cover of a magazine (winners have graced everything from Seventeen to Elle Girl) and a contract with a prestigious modeling agency (from Wilhelmina to Elite) have trouble working in the industry. More than half of the show’s champions barely lasted two years with their prize agency. Contestants who won seasons three through six received representation by Ford Models, an agency with offices from Los Angeles to New York. But, when asked whether the winners booked a respectable amount of work while with the agency, a Los Angeles representative for Ford Models chuckled.

“Not necessarily,” he said.

“Breaking into the fashion industry and doing a reality television show are two different things,” Season 6 contestant Jade Cole says of the unfair “stigma” that followed her around after her appearance on the show.

Miss Jade, the Ace of Spades, Cycle 6’s notorious fan favorite discusses her time on ANTM

Ms. Cole, one of the most notorious contestants in the history of the show, declined to return for “All-Stars,” citing a “bogus” and “one-sided” contract.

“As much as I would have loved to be back on TV, I felt I possibly would be misrepresented if appearing on [Season] 17,” Ms. Cole says. “[It’s basically] signing your rights and life hypothetically away. … Reality shows frequently portray a modified and highly influenced form of reality. [We’re] often persuaded to act in specific scripted ways by off-screen ‘story editors’ or ‘segment television producers,’ with the portrayal of events and speech manipulated and contrived to create an illusion of reality through direction and post-production editing techniques.”

Still, a faint glimmer of hope remains for past contestants and the upcoming All-Stars. A booking agent for Anna Sui, one of the most successful labels in the fashion industry, said that he would consider booking a model that’d already been exposed to a wide audience on the show.

“It all depends on her look, I guess,” he said. “Anything is possible, but I’m afraid I haven’t been following that program.”

“Life, Above All”; A Truffaut-esque Portrait of a Modernizing Africa

 
Originally published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
by Joey Nolfi (Me)
 
 

A tiny South African town is the backdrop for “Life, Above All,” a vibrant film about grim subjects.

Its opening chronicles the selection of a tiny casket for a tiny body, by a tiny body; its focal character is a child, 12-year-old Chanda (Khomotso Manyaka), enduring the struggles a small African community faces in the midst of modernization. Commercial prosperity, new hospitals and even time to have backyard block parties are all indicative of a society on the rise. But the threat of death and disease is still very real, and Chanda must deal with them largely on her own terms. She is wise and persevering far beyond her years, choosing a small coffin to house her baby sister’s body, returning home to dirty dishes and unfinished homework.

Although HIV and death are still ever-present concerns for the citizens of Chanda’s small community, “Life, Above All” does not paint them as a downtrodden Third World embodiment of destitution; this is a South Africa on the mend. Their homes are well-kept and their social lives active. It’s paranoia, however, that holds these people back.

Chanda’s mother, Lillian (Lerato Mvelase), comes down with “the bug,” as the townspeople call HIV. Not even behind closed doors is it acceptable for Chanda to speculate about her sickness, let alone suggest the appropriate treatment. Mrs. Tafa (Harriet Lenabe) is a neighbor with ulterior motives. She feigns concern for Lillian and offers to help the family in small ways here and there, but she’s an active member of many gossip circles. Mrs. Tafa is testy, quick-tempered and acid-tongued, as are many of the adult characters in “Life, Above All.” Paranoia spreads faster than any disease can throughout the tiny community, and Chanda’s family becomes the easiest target.

It’s the strength of the town’s children in spite of their superiors’ pettiness that makes “Life, Above All” an engrossing picture of oppositions. Children act with enough emotional depth as an “adult” should; they are earnest, wise, self-sacrificing individuals in the face of the real adults, who are self-serving and stubborn.

Director Oliver Schmitz handles his juvenile characters much like a modern-day Truffaut, keeping his audience in close enough proximity to understand his subjects yet pulling back far enough to render them as an entirely alien force that we, as adults, can hardly empathize with.

The children in “Life, Above All” are independent and good-natured yet harbor complexity that extends far beyond the reaches of their elders. Children like Chanda are byproducts of a progressive modernizing society, but it is not until their forefathers eventually give up their retrogressive ways that even the tiniest glimpse of a better society can endure.

Chatting with Filmmaker/Actress Jillian O’Neil; Pittsburgh native, Cannes honoree

Note: While my original interview with Ms. O’Neil appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, I just want to preface it a bit by saying how proud I am of Pittsburgh as it increases its national identity as an artistic, cultural, and altogether more relevant asset to the film industry. The fact that we’re producing such talent is beyond euphoric for me considering all the attention the city has been receiving over the past few years for the vast chunk of Hollywood elite choosing to make Pittsburgh a home away from home for the duration of production. The Dark Knight Rises, Adventureland, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Warrior, One for the Money, Love and Other Drugs, Unstoppable, The Next Three Days…Anne Hathaway, Tom Cruise, Christian Bale, Viola Davis, Marion Cotillard, Jake Gyllenhaal, Kristin Wiig, Denzel Washington…the list of esteemed films and those who create them increases ever so greatly and I couldn’t be more proud to call myself a Pittsburgher. I’ve also started an Internship with Warner Brothers, furthering my own pursuits of working in the film industry one day…hopefully as an actor, but for now I’ll stick with the reviewing/writing/screening side of things. I guess what I’m getting at is that I’m so thankful for people like Jillian O’Neil who are helping to pave the way for the rest of us Pittsburghers still working to make Pittsburgh’s star on the cinematic map that much bigger.

Originally Published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

By Joey Nolfi (Me)

 
 
 
Jillian O’Neil portrays Lily in “A Separate Life,” which she also directed.

 

It’s not every day you bump into Jude Law on an elevator.

That’s exactly what happened to local filmmaker and actress Jillian O’Neil as she rubbed elbows with the Hollywood elite at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival with her film “A Separate Life.”

“I didn’t know what to expect other than that I was filled with excitement,” she said. “I was walking around a place I’d only seen on TV or in magazines. It was amazing to be there with my film.”

The Mars native wrote, directed, produced and stars in the short film about a man with terminal cancer and a family reunion filled with tears and final goodbyes.

“I’d been working on the story for quite a few years. I’m drawn to real-life stories that show personal, raw emotions people go through,” Ms. O’Neil, 36, said. “The film deals with recognizable characters. There’s a sister, a brother, a lost love, a current love — relationships that everybody forms in life. There’s so much drama that sometimes you don’t need anything additional other than a good story.”

“A Separate Life,” also starring veteran actor Patrick Gorman (“Gettysburg”), found a home at Shorts International after its screening at Cannes in May. The company will distribute the film to DirecTV users as well as AT&T U-verse subscribers on the West Coast. The film also will be released in 46 countries via satellite.

Ms. O’Neil also impressed audiences at the Action on Film Awards in Los Angeles. She took home the title of “Best New Director” for her work on “A Separate Life” at the ceremony in July.

Her career in performing arts began when she was only 7 years old as a child performer with the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera Mini Stars before pursuing acting at The Academy of Musical Theater and Point Park University. She didn’t complete her college degree, however; an audition for a part in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “Starlight Express” led her to a five-year tenure in Germany instead.

“I figured why go to school for dancing and singing when I already have a contract doing something that I want to do?” she said.

Soon after a string of live international performances onstage, Ms. O’Neil set her sights on Hollywood. She moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in film and television, eventually landing acting jobs in advertisements for Burger King, Kmart and Verizon as well as stints on TV shows such as “All My Children,” “Mad Men” and “Accidentally on Purpose.”

The struggle to maintain that career, however, hasn’t always been easy for Ms. O’Neil.

“The largest misconception about actors is that they do one job and then have so much money at their fingertips,” she said. “But, you’re always wondering where the next job is going to come from. Everybody in L.A. is waiting for their next job, too. The person that’s delivering your mail is a [Screen Actors Guild] member. Your dentist is a SAG member. When you go to an audition that calls for a certain type, you walk into a room full of 30 to 40 of ‘you’ and that’s very humbling.”

But it was acting that sparked her interest in taking a step behind the camera.

“As an actress, on set all I would do was study and watch,” she said. “I would learn what everybody behind the camera was doing. Watching all of the pieces put together and how much hard work it takes to get pulled together led me to find my new passion behind the camera.”

Ms. O’Neil has since moved back to Pittsburgh where she teaches industry hopefuls about managing the business end of breaking into the film industry.

She also founded Wright Road Productions in 2009. Her next project with Wright Road is another short film titled “Letters From a Soldier.”

A feature-length adaptation of “A Separate Life” is planned for production in Pittsburgh sometime next spring.