REVIEW: Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2010)

Acts one and two are seldom striking yet generally involving, with cinematography so intimate a cut to wide feels awkward. I occasionally recall last year's "Public Enemies", in which Michael Mann's shaky-cam stylings sailed overboard, rendering even calmer close-ups headache inducing. Widely, though, Laurence Dunmore's "The Libertine" comes to mind with swirling, long takes encircling performers as organic extensions of their craft. The intense, unbridled third act redeems its predecessors' intermittency with indelible imagery and payoffs for each setup, with the single exception of a questionably included sub-subplot. One could deem the qualitative progression a humble representation of our lead's own shifted demeanor, though little is humble here.

This is a film seen through mirrors. Weighted, reflective symbolism tells our tale, with many major plot points and the main character arc occurring solely through allegory. Advantageously these emblematic layers interlock seamlessly and sensibly in context, from catalysts and symptoms to their victims and beneficiaries and beyond - to the audience ourselves. Not only does Nina's story reflect "Swan Lake" and see extensions of that relationship personified, it all centers on a performance of the notorious ballet itself. Touches of fawning, nonverbal melodrama and Clint Mansell's strong, accent-heavy score create an occasional ballet-as-film feel - not necessarily reliant on but often accompanied by the presence of actual dance.


INTERVIEW: Steve-O, Star of "Jackass 3D"

Published in the Winter 2010 issue of Icon Magazine.

What follows are EXCERPTS (in this case, generous ones). For more on the worlds of entertainment and fashion, subscribe to Icon Magazine.

Live-action Looney Tune Steve-O" has built a career on the edge of self-destruction. For years, his recreational life followed suit. Between drugs and a death wish, the "Jackass 3D" star battled deep depression before a revelation steered him toward recovery. He is now almost three years sober with an autobiography on the way. I had the pleasure of speaking with him as he lounged in his Los Angeles apartment with his pound-rescued pooch. With a signature rasp, he communicates warmly with knowing chuckles. He calls South Florida home and offers insights regarding his new lifestyle, social issues, spirituality and his own dark journey...

ICON: It's easy to look at your TV shows and think you're a fool, but you're actually very dedicated to your stunts. Has that changed since going sober?

STEVE-O: I feel like there are a lot of people that think I'm boring or lame at this point, so making this new movie I definitely had something to prove. The most important thing has been to learn how to have separation between what I do and who I am. [When "Jackass Number 2" came out], I had no identity separate from the persona of "Steve-O". Just going to that premiere it seemed to dawn on me that I wasn't going to have a career forever, you know? I kinda came unraveled. This time around I've really put a lot of work into the separation between who I am and what I do. When I show up to work it's just "game on" and after that I can come home and be a pretty boring guy and feel happy about it.

I: And you're writing an autobiography?

S: I've been keeping myself real busy lately. Writing the book, doing stand-up comedy. I can't break bones and shove stuff up my butt forever, so I'm trying to figure out the next thing to do. I've done some stand-up before but now I'm hitting the comedy clubs every night and it's going great. I've had Dane Cook mentoring me. The other night I went on a couple comics after Sarah Silverman and immediately before [Cook].

I: You're vegan now. Is that related to the sobriety?

S: It's a fuckin' trip how it all went down. [My psychosis] started in 2006. I don't understand it. I have my theories, but the fact is I started hearing voices. I remember them telling me that I was gonna have to face consequences for everything that I did. There were some voices telling me that it was really important to them that I hold my breath. Suffocate myself. I'd be writhing around on the floor trying to do it, hysterically kicking. I'd take in some air and these voices would be mad at me, calling me a loser, telling me I was nothing. I can only describe those voices as demons.

[The demons] would make my apartment do wild shit. Curtains would be opening and closing, lights would be flashing. They wanted me to throw away my drugs and all my shoes were impatiently tapping their toes like, "We're waiting." One time I was sitting in a [swivel chair] with this pile of drugs in my body and thinking, the way I was going, I wasn't gonna live much longer. Very distinctly I thought, "I don't care if I die." Right when I thought those words, it was like a hand reached in. The chair spun around as if a big strong guy had grabbed it. It was like a fuckin' mechanical bull. The spirits were saying, "Think again man, that's not gonna work."

Some voices would chime in and say they were really worried about me. I remember there being a completely organized, full-on intervention. When [Johnny] Knoxville came and did [my] intervention, it was really like my third intervention. I had just hallucinated the first two.

There are all kinds of hallucinations. Tactile hallucinations are where you see it and feel it. I saw, heard and felt all this stuff. That's fact. Still to this day I do not believe that all those hallucinations were the products of drugs. At the risk of sounding hokey, what I believe is that the drugs tore down barriers between me and the spirit world and opened me up. I was made accessible. If these voices and hallucinations were products of drugs there would be variation going on, and there weren't.

I became obsessed with this spirit world. I was at the end of the line. I came across this video on YouTube and here's this Hare Krishna guy from India. This guy bluntly says, "How can you expect to be saved if you eat meat??" He's just perplexed by this. He's like, "What rational person can go around killing and eating meat and think they're gonna be saved?" So I'm sitting here snorting, smoking and drinking and my reaction to this is "Hey! I've gotta quit eating meat!!"

It's so funny, filling myself with drugs and alcohol but immediately when I watch this YouTube clip it becomes imperative for me to quit eating meat. It's a drug-crazed maniac that arrived at this but I've been sober for two and a half years and my belief has not changed one bit. After this life there's more to deal with, and that's a rad thing, but I immediately got so freaked out by what this guy said about being saved and eating meat that I became terrified about what the voices told me about facing consequences. You hear about the concept that we're all one and we're gonna experience everything we did to everyone else. Fuck man, I don't wanna take on all the fuckin' suffering I'm blowing out! I stopped eating meat right away. I had no motivation other than fear.

Less than a month later, Knoxville rolls in with the gang and they do this intervention on me and they lock me up in the psych ward. I bounced around different psych wards and rehab centers for a full six months, then I went into a sober living environment. I was serious enough about being sober that I kept myself in that halfway house until I had two full years of sobriety.

Over this course of time I became hip to the idea that it's important to replace fear as a motivator - to not be motivated by fear but rather by faith. Well, people don't like the word "faith". I think "love" is synonymous. So I worked past being afraid of punishment for eating meat. That doesn't mean all of a sudden I was cool with eating meat, all it means is I shifted my perspective. By not eating meat and having a more compassionate lifestyle, every time I eat I'm respecting myself, other life and the planet.
I don't wanna be on a soapbox and tell other people what to do. I'm not saying everyone should become a vegan. I'm not gonna save the world because I'm vegan. I'm just trying to get results out of myself, and the results are that I'm a happier person.

I: Are you still involved with your shoe line, Sneaux Shoes?

S: I can safely say that I burned that bridge with the Sneaux Shoes people. It was a good relationship - those people are great and I've got a lot of gratitude - but I don't wear anything that comes from animals anymore. What was so rad about it was that I also got creative control over the television commercials. The commercials are fucking great, man. "Sneaux Shoes: so tough, alligators can bite your feet! No problem!" And an alligator bit my foot! When I was in high school applying to universities, my major was communications. That was the first real, solid plan I had for myself - to become an advertising executive. I wanted to persuade people. So that relationship with Sneaux Shoes, it's probably the closest thing I did to fulfill that first dream.

But you know what sucks about leather, man? Not to harp on this, but I used to feel leather was fine because I was a meat-eating person. I wanted to be like the American Indians who would use every part of the animal. But the thing is, any leather products like purses, shoes, clothes... none of that comes from beef cows. There's leather cows they slaughter just for the leather and they throw away the meat, and [vice versa]. That's fuckin' bullshit!

I steer clear of all that stuff. If people knew what went into their leather and fur and meat... they work so hard to stay ignorant about what's behind all that...

I: Because it might scare them into a new lifestyle?

S: Yeah, and who am I to fuckin' change my lifestyle, then start pointing fingers and telling everybody else what to do? The thing that sucks the most is an asshole on a soapbox. I just feel like if people were to get educated, they would be more inclined to steer clear of that kind of cruelty.

I: What's the story behind your dog?

S: His name is Walter. We go tearing through the town on a longboard and he just hauls ass. He's the cutest little dog, but he's just so messed up. He's got issues. Nobody wanted him. I saved him from death row. He bites people, he destroys shit, he's a complete fucking pain in the ass, he won't shut up... he's just like me. I can totally relate to hurting people, destroying shit, being a complete non-stop pain in the ass. I dunno if this is like a living ammends, but he's my little angel and he's come into my life to teach me about love and tolerance and give me a lot of my own medicine.

The thing is: adopt, don't shop. In just America, there's millions of dogs being put down. The way they kill dogs, the last thing we need is more puppy mills.

Rescuing dogs from shelters, that's another thing like being vegan. This little dog is helping me so much because I gotta build my self-esteem. And who knows man, maybe this could all be training to start a family. Ha!! You never know. I think a lot of people would rather me keep taking blows to the nuts to prevent me from having a kid! We'll see what happens.

I: How would you like to be remembered?

S: Since I was a kid, there's been this riddle of our existence. We have one dominant instinct: to survive. This instinct overrides everything else about us. Fight or flight, you know? The only guarantee is that we're gonna die, and our strongest instinct is to try not to. That sucks! So for me I felt like the purpose of life is to figure out how it's cool to die. For me, I felt like the solution to the riddle was in the video camera. I could document my life and create a legacy. I was like, "After I die, people can still watch my shit! I won't actually be dead!"

Now I look at it entirely differently because sure, the footage will be around forever but it's got an expiration date. Kinda like milk. "Best before". "Sell by". "Jackass 3D" is like a carton of milk that says "Sell by October 15th." So October 15th the movie comes out and just like the milk. It's soured. Expired. I've really had to reevaluate what's up with that, you know?

I feel like I just want what everyone else wants. I just wanna be happy. That was kinda my downfall. I was getting too worried what other people thought. And I still have that in me. Like I said, I want to prove to everyone else that I haven't become lame because I'm sober, but what's most important - and it's the most important thing for everybody - is to be happy, and that's what I'm working on.

INTERVIEW: Patti Stanger on Men, Dating, Love & Money

Published in the Winter 2010 issue of Icon Magazine.

What follows are EXCERPTS. For more on the worlds of entertainment and fashion, subscribe to Icon Magazine.

Fresh into a newly NYC-based fourth season of her hit show on Bravo, "The Millionaire Matchmaker", the outspoken Patti Stanger is a busy gal. For a decade she's been running The Millionaire's Club, an exclusive dating service for successful singles in search of ideal mates. She receives millionaire clients through audition videos and interviews before commencing the matching process and is known for her quick tongue and equally quick and accurate compatibility evaluation skills.

In the midst of a characteristically hectic afternoon at the Millionaire's Club, I was lucky enough to speak with Patti about life, love and fashion. She carried on precisely as any fan might imagine - with wit, candor and speed. Ever the multi-tasker, between statements she'd call to assistants, ensuring certain matters were in order and adding an endearingly authentic quality to the conversation. At times I almost had to remind myself to return volley, as listening to Patti's insights is as captivating as watching her program. The questions are Lindsay Meholick's, Lindsay herself being a Florida-based matchmaker and the founder of Behold Florida.

ICON: Have you seen [relationship] values change with the 21st century?

PATTI: We live in a text/disposable society, it's "Next, next, next, next, next!" And that's why you have delayed adolescence. It used to be 40 years old for a mid-life crisis. Well, now it's become 50 and 60. Guys are not getting married, they're not having children, and they're having children out of wedlock. Just walk over the streets of Hollywood, AKA Matthew McConaughey and George Clooney.

I: Did you always know you would go into matchmaking?

P: No, no... I never was going to do it ever, actually.

I: You were more in the fashion world originally, right?

P: I wasn't even in the fashion world. Basically, I was going to be a screenwriter. I went to film school at the University of Miami. I wanted to be Sherry Lansing.

I: What do you feel is the first step for men who struggle with confidence issues?

P: They think they can text the girl and ask her out. They also feel they can talk about other women to her and she's gonna accept it, because they're trying to prove that they're desirable - that women want them. Keep those skeletons at home! And if you can't call me on the phone, you've got issues. If you're e-mailing me and texting me and talking through the internet or the phone, you're a ghost. You're a phantom. That means you've got some serious, serious, serious intimacy issues. A real man wants to pick up the phone and hear your voice.

I: What should a girl not wear on a first date?

P: You should never show all the assets. Too much skin kills the beast. If you want to show a little cleaveage, fine, but then cover your legs or your arms up. Don't reveal the entire package! You wanna leave something for dessert.

I: I do find myself attracted to girls who are more conservative from the get-go.

P: Right, because you want to imagine what she looks like underneath. You want to do the secretary thing. That Maggie Gyllenhaal thing. You wanna go, "Ooh, I wonder what her breasts look like. Ooh, I wonder what her stomach looks like!" You're imagining! And that's what lingers in your mind when you leave the date and that's what makes you want to call me again. If I show everything and you have sex with me, oh my God! You're thinking I'm a whore, I must do this to everybody!

I: So what should men like me be wearing to a first date?

P: Jeans and a t-shirt and a great leather jacket in the Winter is phenomenal, but if you're in Florida you wanna wear a really nice button-down, striped Ben Sherman shirt, a really great pair of Rock & Republic jeans and cool sneakers if you're doing the Converse thing... or if you can't afford really nice, expensive shoes. But when you do the Gucci loafer, no socks on, white pants and the striped pink and white shirt, you either signal 'gay' or that you're a pansy man. I'm gonna walk across the street. I wanna see my rugged guy. And most women say to me, "We don't want metro!" This is an urban myth. No one wants to date their girlfriend. I wanna know that you hit the gym. If you're in Florida and you've got a little short sleeve on, like a Donna Karan t-shirt, I wanna see a little pop at the end of the sleeve, you know?

COVER ARTICLE: Keeping Up With Kim

As published in the Winter 2010 issue of Icon Magazine.

What follows is my introduction for Icon's interview with Kim Kardashian. For more on the worlds of entertainment and fashion, subscribe to Icon Magazine.

The family sitcom has gathered Americans around their televisions for decades. Most everyone did indeed love "Raymond", want to be part of the "Full House" or see what "All in the Family" and its spin-offs were going to do next. Where Maude and Uncle Jesse got to hang up their hats and resume private life after each taping, most modern screen families don't see that luxury. Since the millennium, mainstream programming has undergone a reality makeover and its reigning champion is E! Network's "Keeping Up With the Kardashians", led by none other than its princess, Kim.

Kim makes headlining this breed of show look easy. Some may challenge, "Hey, I have a family, why not 'keep up' with me?" To those challengers: try maintaining Kim's level of charisma - or her admirable air of modesty in the face of high-profile fame and fortune - 24/7 while putting your deepest personal predicaments and family foibles up for mass scrutiny. Yeah, Kim makes it look easy, but each moment before unrelenting "Keeping Up" cameras is a demanding one. What's more, the celebutante founded high-end clothing boutique Dash, continues to design and tirelessly promote her own fashions and fragrances and during her show's off-season still makes appearances on her sisters' program, "Kourtney & Khloe Take Miami". She's a brave, beautiful and busy girl.

Born and raised in Los Angeles the daughter of famed defense attorney Robert Kardashian, Kim was intentionally denied certain luxuries to teach the values of work-ethic. With these parental lessons at heart, she networked with the social elite and became a stylist in Paris Hilton's entourage. At 5' 2" and a voluptuous 35-26-40, Kim became a camera magnet and earned her own slice of the glitterati spotlight. Before long she was launched to household-name levels of notoriety.

Still ascending ladders of fashion and fame with no end in sight, Kim Kardashian keeps a few secrets in her clutch for maintaining simultaneous success and style, along with a nugget or three regarding current and upcoming projects.


REVIEW: The Fighter (David O. Russell, 2010)

Some filmmakers sure like to flex their versatility. Though they share themes, Darren Aronofsky's films differ wildly from one to the next. Those of Danny Boyle are structured similarly but employ dynamically varying shooting styles. Then we have the famously hot-tempered David O. Russell, whose films' common thread seems only a director credit (and, okay, Mark Wahlberg). I'm hard-pressed to think of any striking similarities between Spanking the MonkeyThree Kings and  Huckabees, the latter two of which I favor greatly. The Fighter continues the reinvention trend, though this time I'm not quite as enamored.

Russell's technique is more than adequate, as shows through naturalistic performances across the board (not just from the "names") and handheld camerawork that would be documentary-like were it not for the expert blocking. With the exception of a sparse few cringe-worthy moments (and an awkward sound mix, not that that's relevant), the result meshes subjective and complex layers of emotion with objective humor and is not nearly as hackneyed as the cliché-ridden theatrical trailer suggests.

Bringing unexpected meaning to the title's implied singularity, this story is about the tight-knit community surrounding Micky Ward (Wahlberg) before it is about Micky himself. We open on a meager documentary crew following these comfortably dysfunctional family members and friends. Like the documentarians we try to capture and register what information we can as we fly through overlapped character introductions. As we continue, though, we only ever catch glimpses of Micky's stance. Contrary to boxing film trends as seen in the likes of Requiem for a Heavyweight and Rocky (and a couple Rocky sequels), the brawler is more a local icon held up by those attached to him than a compelling character in his own right, which renders the final match more obligatory than such a thing usually is.

The Fighter really gets by on the aforementioned performances, with a yet again physically deteriorated Christian Bale (like Russell, also noted for an on-set outburst) leading the way. His character Dicky Eklund's arc, which could have used a more fleshed out second act, is the foundation. Bale inhabits Dicky perfectly, adding still another fascinating performance to his résumé. An epilogical clip of the real Dicky (with the real Micky) is a testament to this, as seeing the man's true behaviors is like seeing what we come to recognize as Bale's through a different body.

With technical aspects intricate at best and sufficient at worst with an organic blend of difficult realities and humorous deprecation, The Fighter is another mostly impressive entry from David O. Russell with a handful of good, memorable scenes, but it never really amounts to much and doesn't know when to throw in the towel.


REVIEW: Exit through the Gift Shop (Banksy, 2010)

There's a story I once heard... or read, I don't quite recall. The details are fuzzy, but here 'goes. A nighttime custodian at a big time museum - The Louvre or The Prado, perhaps - drew a custom floorplan of the building's restrooms. Not quite a blueprint, the original image helped streamline the custodian's sanitation schedule. One shift, this man thought up a prank. He switched a less secure painting with his floorplan. The next day's reaction was not one of distress over missing art (safely stowed in a restroom), but one of awe over the new "modern masterpiece" the facility had apparently decided to showcase. Not unlike Marcel Duchamp's readymade "Fountain" put-on, the floorplan had critics and admirers baffled... but astonished. Often to find something cryptic is to find it superior to you. Enigmatic. This blue collar prank brings question to the interpretation and evaluation of art by its audience.

Is the story true? I've no idea. Does it matter? Well, I'm not concerned with its authenticity, anyway. Exit through the Gift Shop has met with much speculation over its own authenticity, and while I'm convinced its ultimate story is factual, I don't suppose my reaction would change were it revealed as hoax. Like our custodian, Gift Shop's relatively elaborate tale humorously contemplates art's true meaning, this time not only from a consumer perspective, but also from that of the (not necessarily ordaining) creator.

I think we can all relate to artistic creation to some degree. At least in the sense presented here through subject Thierry Guetta, who haphazardly documents every moment of life he has tape for. Each fleeting moment is already gone forever by the time we register it - like a temporary work of street art - but the camcorder provides an illusion of control. Even if no one ever sees them again, they are preserved in some form for better or for worse. I, nor a vast percentage of us, can say we're near as extreme as Guetta, but between camcorders, cameras, camera phones and the internet, we are constantly documenting our lives. I have a shoebox full of home videos - sixty-minute tapes of seventeen-year-old me doing flips into a pool or playing with my pet iguana... walking around Disney World after hours or watching "the guitar guy at the party" sing Green Day. My Facebook profile boasts over one thousand pictures, and that's only accounting for ones I'm tagged in. Before all this, I kept journals and sketchbooks.

Hardly any of this casual output is meritable, but my creator mentality was always "If someone discovers this someday, it will represent my life." I'll confess to occasional delusions of grandeur. For example, though I intended no profound significance recording myself leaping headlong into a swimming pool, I often hoped the videos would one day cause people to read into nonexistent meanings. If that extreme hypothetical occurs, will I then be distinct as an "artist"? Well, most probably not, especially considering a professional daredevil like Steve-O who got his start recording himself leaping headlong into... well, cement. Is this admittedly odd example's message "art is not safe"? I'm not sure. Is it Gift Shop's? Maybe.

Though not assembled too differently from other found-footage documentaries, Exit through the Gift Shop got me thinking more in-depth on a subject I already greatly enjoyed pondering. Its Palahniukian presentation of modern counterculture introduces to wider audiences the intricacies of street art while making certain questions about art in general more accessible for contemplation. Just remember to purchase a souvenir when the ride's over.