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.

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.

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.

American Pessimism and the Cultural Implications of “Night of the Living Dead”


George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is a film that, upon its release, flew almost entirely under mainstream audiences’ radar. An independent production with characters played by no-name actors, the film opened gradually in drive-ins and rundown theaters after being rejected for distribution from AIP  because it “lacked a romance and had a down-beat conclusion” while Columbia Pictures declined to distribute it because of its grainy black and white style (Merritt 237). Though the film was written off the mainstream map before it was even unleashed, its impact within American society was felt as the film connected with audiences and film scholars alike through various aesthetic elements and symbolic cultural implications upon its release. Through its newsreel and cinema verite-esque visual associations as well as its depiction of a group of “normative” and societal “others” thrust together in an ill-fated apocalyptic setting, Night of the Living Dead represents both the countercultural movement and atypical 1960s culture as self-implosive entities within a hopeless era of American pessimism.

The countercultural movement in the United States arose as a byproduct of the suburbanization of 1950s American culture. Initiated as an “opposition to the war in Vietnam and embracing tolerance, free love, and common property,” the countercultural youth revolution of the 1960s functioned as a rebellion against normative cultural standards established in postwar American society (Phillips 82). The anti-establishment social climate of 1960s counterculture stemmed from a “generation that grew up, largely, in the protected and isolated environment of 1950s suburban culture…” where “…the desire for liberation and experimentation became almost an obsession” (Phillips 86).  Night of the Living Dead stages a narrative which mirrors the countercultural societal climate within which it was produced, depicting a massive and fear-inducing challenge to “normative” life in the form of an assault by “ghouls.” In the case of the film, this is overcome by simply surviving as one of the “living” (not subdivided into “minorities” or “others” just yet) and not assimilating into the group of counter-normative monsters.

The social dissolution and hopeless social mentality which pervaded 1960s American society is codified in Night of the Living Dead first through a scene which depicts a young woman named Barbra fleeing from a ghoul and stumbling upon a secluded house in rural Pennsylvania where other survivors have taken refuge. The scene reflects the notion that the film is essentially a parable about Americans consuming themselves (Merritt 238). As Barbra enters the home (which is prim, tidy, and well-kept in terms of its décor) the mise en scene drastically alters to reflect increasing social anxieties in 1960s society concerning the traditional American household. A deafening score mirrors Barbra’s anxieties as quick-paced shots juxtapose her progress with that of the ghoul’s pursuit. But, as Barbra enters the house the score immediately cuts out, replaced by the stark silence of the stagnant, seemingly empty home. The lighting setup shifts from the brightly-lit exterior shots (ironic because the supposed threat exists “outside”) to a chiaroscuro effect, highlighting the foreboding interior atmosphere which eventually facilitates the deaths of everyone inside. The American home, typically represented in 1950s media (such as “Leave It to Beaver,” etc.) as facilitating healthy familial relations, is instead ominously alluded to through the foreboding and moody mise en scene as a trap for interpersonal conflicts.

In Hollywood: From Vietnam to Reagan…And Beyond, Robin Wood describes horror films as generally representing a normative society threatened by a monster which results from the repression or oppression of certain aspects of the Self (66). Wood indicates that the repressed/oppressed entity of the Self is often represented, in horror, as the “Other,” or “that which bourgeois ideology cannot recognize or accept but must deal with…” (65). The “Other” is often represented by women, ethnic groups within the culture, and children (Wood 66-67). In Night of the Living Dead, the group of people Barbra encounters in the house is comprised of a mix of “Others” (a black man named Ben and a single woman named Barbra) as well as people who fall in line with what Wood would describe as “boringly constant” normal societal institutions (a heterosexual couple named Tom and Judy and a nuclear family, the Coopers, comprised of a father, mother, and young daughter) (71).

In order to facilitate the group’s survival, Ben takes on the role of barricading the house’s doors and windows with wooden boards, hoping to keep the ghouls from entering the house. In a scene that literally and figuratively deconstructs traditional societal notions concerning the familial living space, Ben disassembles a dining room table to use in the barricading process. A long shot shows Ben entering the room, which the mise en scene indicates was once used as a traditional dining space (seeing as the table is adorned with an elaborate tablecloth on which a serving dish delicately rests) for the family who once lived there. Ben proceeds to systematically deconstruct the table, first removing the tablecloth, moving the chairs away from it, flipping the table over, breaking the legs off, and tearing it to shreds. The camera alternates between medium shots of Ben, hacking away at the table, and Barbra, who clings to the discarded tablecloth as a child clings to a blanket. This symbol of the “safe” haven of the American family, which she rubs over her neck and face, provides Barbra with comfort in the midst of a grim situation; she clasps the blanket as if grasping the only connection she has to the now tarnished “normal” life which preceded the ghoul invasion.

As the group eventually finalizes a plan for escape which involves Ben and Tom exiting the house to pump gas into a getaway vehicle (a truck stationed just outside the house), Judy expresses her concerns for her boyfriend’s safety as he is about to embark. For Judy, Tom represents her “normal” half, seeing as she is part of a heterosexual couple. If Tom should die,  Judy becomes the “Other” without him to complete their heterosexual union. Women were already condemned by Harry Cooper, who speaks of them with contempt when discussing their escape plan. He notes that the group has three anchors weighing them down in the form of “two women, [with] one woman out of her head.” Because Judy does not want to be left alone as a single woman, she decides to go with Tom as he runs out of the house. Her decision ultimately leads to both of their deaths as the truck catches fire and explodes, leaving their bodies for the ghouls to devour in graphic detail. While heterosexual couples are generally a stable normative societal institution and not a part of Wood’s list of “Others,” it is the second of such social institutions (“Other” or otherwise) to meet a grim end in Night of the Living Dead (the first death being that of another social institution, Johnny, a heterosexual male). The fact that the heterosexual couple meets such a gruesome end before the “Others” mirrors the violent happenings (such as John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the Vietnam War, etc.) in an increasingly pessimistic 1960s America (Phillips 81).

The violence and brutality that is present throughout Night of the Living Dead also has cultural implications beyond the scope of its own narrative context. In Projected Fears, Phillips discusses the shifting attitudes of the American counterculture from peaceful opposition to violent rebellion, stating that “…in the face of the long list of assassinations and escalations, the movement became violent and divisive. Violence, indeed, became an almost defining characteristic of what had been a largely peaceful cultural revolution” (89). Since both representatives of normative social institutions (such as Tom and Harry) and social “Others” (like Ben) resort to extreme acts of violence in the face of their slow-moving foes, Romero shows his audience characters who are united by their dominant expressions of self-preservation instincts which manifest in acts of violence. Scenes that exemplify this include one towards the beginning of the film where Ben, after stating that there are only two ghouls outside, ventures outside to beat them repeatedly. Tom also hacks away at a ghoul’s hand as it reaches through an already well-barricaded window, knocking off fingers and flesh in the process.

Images of violence were not foreign to the general American public as a result of the Vietnam War. Romero’s use of a filming style reminiscent of newsreel films shot with hints of cinema verite style connects Night of the Living Dead to the vast amount of wartime images that circulated in the United States during the Vietnam War. Films shot in color were no stranger to the film industry by 1968. The fact that Night of the Living Dead is filmed on black and white stock aligns it with wartime images from the Vietnam era, most notably those which depict graphic realities of the violence occurring during the war. According to Caroline Brothers in War and Photography the Vietnam War brought countless shocking images of the realities of war (most notably in the form of news motion pictures) into the homes of millions of Americans, giving a wide audience “access to scenes of combat and [the media’s] vivid representation of it…” (202). Often the media broadcasted photographs or video documentations of the war in black and white, similar to images that show the conflict overseas (a photo showing General Nguyen Ngoc Loan shooting a Vietcong soldier in the head) to the horrors unfolding as a result of countercultural war reactions on homeland soil (including photos depicting the shootings at Kent State war protests).

Night of the Living Dead employs a visual style similar to the grainy, black and white news documentation of the violent atrocities occurring as a result of the Vietnam War. Romero ultimately utilizes key characteristics of cinema verite style in a fictionalized context, most notably in the form of the static camera which lets events unfold directly before the viewer as if they were there (Pramaggiore 289). The images shown to the public on news stations broadcasting coverage of the Vietnam War were often explicitly violent and gruesome (similar to the shots of Ben’s body at the end of Night of the Living Dead), assaulting the audience with the realities of war and sparking a cultural opposition to the United States’ involvement similar to Romero’s use of shocking and assaultive violence in his film. While not a true cinema verite film, Night of the Living Dead’s visual style aesthetically aligns the picture with news documentation (photographs and motion pictures) of the war occurring at the time of its production.

By the film’s end, each of the original survivors (including Barbra, Ben, and the Cooper family) have succumbed to the ghouls’ attacks. As the core group of characters has died (the “Others” as well as normative social institutions such as the heterosexual couple and the patriarchal family led by Harry Cooper), the film cements itself as a reflection of and increasingly violent society where “the hope of a peaceful future seem[s] lost” (Phillips 86). While the majority of the film is spent observing the group’s interpersonal displays of dominance and assertion (generally on the end of the males) over one another despite their “Otherness” or complacency within their normative social role, the end of the film presents the audience with a void where each of the characters once existed, eradicating any point of familiarity with the fictional space, therefore implicating 1960s American society as one where hope for a better future was lost in the midst of social rebellion, war, retaliatory acts of violence, and a youth reacting against suburban confinement.

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Brothers, Caroline. War and Photography: A Cultural History. London: Routledge, 1997. Print.

Merritt, Greg. Celluloid Mavericks: The History of American Independent Film. New York, NY: Thunder’s Mouth, 2000. Print.

Night of the Living Dead. Dir. George A. Romero. 1968. DVD.

Phillips, Kendall R. . Projected Fears: Horror Films and American Culture. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2005. Print.

Pramaggiore, Maria, and Tom Wallis. Film: A Critical Introduction. London: Laurence King, 2008. Print.

Wood, Robin. Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan…And Beyond. New York: Columbia UP, 1986. Print.

Mac Miller “Knock Knock” Music Video Premiere

I’m going to break from my usual pseudo-reporting bitchiness here and announce that the new Mac Miller music video premiered today…and I’m more or less super pumped because it stars none other than yours truly. And when I say stars, I mean I was casted as a “1950s model” and am literally focused on screen for about two seconds, but I’ll take mine where I can get them. See me flaunting my booty and generally being a mess throughout the background of the video as well. The shoot was absolutely amazing, and Mac (“Malcolm” as his darling mother kept referring to him as) was a freaking blast to be around and the energy on the shoot was incredible. I tend to like photoshoots better, but after the fantastic experience I had with the Rex Arrow Films crew and everyone I met on the set (holla Lauren McKool and Hannah Hager Phenicie and the AMAZING makeup artists!).

Click here to watch the uber-exciting video. And click here to follow my beautiful ass on twitter.