Charlize Theron and Her Icy Hot Glamour in Atomic Blonde

It’s not the fashions that make the actress. It’s the actress that makes the fashions. Charlize Theron is the undisputed ice queen of Hollywood Cinema and her fashion sensibilities (and those of her stylists) are on glorious display in her latest film, Atomic Blonde. The movie is a delicious viewing experience for lovers of glamour, sex appeal (the old-school version that leaves plenty to the imagination, not the pornographic obvious kind) and the sight of a beautiful woman wearing beautiful outfits while playing an emotionally-transfixing secret agent with a propensity for vodka on the rocks, French female spies, and ass-kicking.

Courtesy of Focus Features

Atomic Blonde isn’t a movie really. It’s more of a 2-hour fashion spread in digital video, complete with an 80’s pop soundtrack (New Order, Queen, Nena, Bowie, etc.). Between the black and white set pieces, the exquisite set designs and the notable and notably-stylized wardrobes, one can see the upper-most limits and limitations of the use of 1980s nostalgia in mainstream cinema as much as the role of clothing in character development.

What makes the film most memorable, however, is its starlet.

Charlize Theron has always possessed a rarefied mixture of cool sexuality with an icy demeanor and a preternaturally pretty face. From her ad campaigns for Dior to her roles in films like Head in the Clouds, 2 Days in the Valley and The Italian Job, her physicality and beauty are seemingly fused into a rare and transgressive iteration of contemporary glamour not often depicted in today’s films and television programs. What separates Theron from other actresses is her guileless star power and her lack of vanity. She is glittery and glorious in a seemingly natural way, with just that right amount of artifice that Angelina Jolie, with her fillered lips, vainglorious self-awareness and eating disordered frame can never be.

Theron’s performance in Atomic Blonde, while earning praise and press for an array of stunts, fight sequences and general girl spy badassness, would be best explored as a testament to the influence of haute couture in certain film circles with a little overdose of 1980s cold war nostalgia mixed in for good measure. The use of high fashion in Hollywood is nothing new and dates back to at least the 1940s. What make Atomic Blonde special in contemporary American cinema however is how the film becomes a vehicle for Ms. Theron’s iconography. Since she is a producer, you can bet that she was hands-on when it came to choosing the wardrobes and set pieces, all of which dramatically add to her steely reputation and untouchable aura.

There is no real drama or story line per se in Atomic Blonde. Big Hollywood blockbusters, and this is one of them, are immune to authentic character development and emotional story-telling. That’s not their point and it’s disingenuous for critics or others to criticize these films along those lines. Atomic Blonde is, however, a vehicle for Ms. Theron’s raw sexuality and cosmopolitan aura. While the term “cosmopolitan” has recently been warped into a pejorative in certain American political circles, Ms. Theron embodies everything that makes being a worldly woman sensually irresistible.

Born in South Africa and having lived in the United Kingdom and the USA, few actresses today travel across the semiotics of “Englishness” in all its global manifestations as well as she does. Her utterance of “cock sucker” is one of the nastiest, sexiest and best moments in Atomic Blonde”. It deserves it’s own avant garde release as a limited issue vinyl 7-inch single with a b-side of snippets from her turn in The Devil’s Advocate playing a good ol’ Southern girlfriend to Keanu Reeves.

For my money the most impressive aspect of Atomic Blonde is Ms. Theron all dressed up in Stuart Weitzman, Dior, Burberry, Max Mara, Yves Saint-Laurent, John Galliano collections from the 1980s and the current day. It’s not just a movie star wearing beautiful and fabulously expensive clothes that makes Atomic Blond so much fun and oh-so captivating in that Helmut Newton way. It’s how Ms. Theron wears those accoutrements with such dignity, danger, and effervescence that makes the film so special and a much-needed respite from the inane adolescence of super hero movies.

In fact, the film’s costumes end up becoming a supporting player in the story line: from James McAvoy’s bad boy faux military overcoat to the track suits and skater gear. The film’s costume designer Cindy Evans is interviewed at Fashionista where she illumines the sartorial variables involved in the conception and making of the movie.

Indeed Atomic Blonde is a film made with a rare visual sophistication that doesn’t get too caught up with itself and contributes to the flow of the film’s narrative in a way not seen since the John Wick films. In fact the film’s director, David Leitch, was also the director of John Wick, perhaps the masculine antipode to Atomic Blonde with its muscle cars, expensive suits and neonish lighting.

I can see a beautiful melding of universes in a future film: John Wick teams up with the Atomic Blonde to fight evil spies in Paris.

Somebody please make this movie!

From the fabulously glorious white trench coat to the Christian Dior stilettos Theron’s embrace of style counters today’s trend among many actresses to take on roles that make them appear ugly and un-desirable in a ridiculously vain attempt to transcend their looks so as to appear to have earned a certain movie star gravitas. Theron has made a fine career of discerning curatorial statements when it comes to choosing roles in films that will maximize her looks without reducing her to a caricature.

It’s a foolish trend and someone needs to tell producers that the very reason we go to the movies is to see beautiful men and women look beautiful and sexy in the first place!

With the case of Charlize Theron, we have an actress (yes, I am using the “feminine” term and no, it’s not sexist) who, at the age of 41 is not afraid to fully display (in the literal and metaphorical sense) her unconventional beauty on screen without ever appearing vain in doing so. It is this quality that makes her mesmerizing.

There is almost a safely quotidian and accessible element to her smile and a fantastical steeliness to her personae as evidenced in such films such as Prometheus and Mad Max Fury Road and Snow White & the Huntsman.

For Atomic Blonde one has to congratulate the producers, stylists, director and other decision-makers for making eye candy for lovers of glamour, haute couture and eclecticism in a time when it seems Hollywood has lost its way when it comes to combining beauty with style and mystery.

The word is “alluring” and it is lost on so many of today’s actresses, singers, and others in the spotlight. With out-sized displays of crass pseudo-sexual potency and downright sluttiness masquerading as transgressive feminism today’s female celebrities, be they pop singers or actresses, appear to have confused glamour with attention-seeking. Ms. Theron’s career and performance in Atomic Blonde provide an alternative dignified model of sexual desirability and elegance, one that many of today’s females in the harsh starlight of fame would do well to learn from.



2017 Venice Biennale Journal: Day 1

I decide to immediately head out and brave through my stomach virus. I stopped at a tiny bakery and ordered food to sustain me. My order was prosecco, focaccia with olives and sopressata, and a scoop of hazelnut gelato, all fantastic.

Venice is all mazes and alleys, no cars, no bikes. It is easy to get lost in this amazing city. Having lost my iphone I was resorting to old-school navigation, asking for directions in my limited Italian and writing things down. Immediately I recall the fun of getting lost and not caring about time. This is a very special phenomenon in Venice. You cannot be in a hurry and you must enjoy the trip, no matter how brief, as much as the mission or destination. It reminded me of my first time here ten years ago. Old sensations, thoughts, and ideas re-emerged from that trip in October of 2007. I was reminded of how much I love the light, the colors, and the textures of the buildings. I was reminded of how nice the Italians are to all the local tourists. I was reminded of fast-paced and stressed American life is by comparison to life in Venice.

An Installation by Thu Van Tran

Most of all, I was reminded of my first night in Venice on that trip ten years go. I had no cel phone and I forgot to write down the address of my apartment. Heading out for a late night and not know the city, with people already home in bed I got very lost and very desperate around 2 am to return to my place. I was so dreadfully tired that I nearly decided to sleep on the corner of a little alleyway till I eventually found my apartment.
Tonight, fortunately, the memories of that misadventure helped me remember the discipline of getting my bearings right away and writing down the main square right near my apartment. It’s called Campo San Polo and it is lovely.

After my lunch I went straight to the Arsenale, the main event of the Biennale. I saw the press office and went in hoping my email request for press passes was accepted. Fortunately, it was and I was granted a two day pass with a reduced admission rate.

The Aresenale shows were mostly excellent. Sculpture, installation and odd videos predominated. The space is immense. I was still battling my stomach problems but they were not minimizing my joy and sense of wonder at discovering the immensely high rate of contemporary art. What makes the Venice Biennale so special is not that it is the oldest such exhibition in the world. It is, in my opinion, the most wonderful contemporary art experience because the work displayed is not about selling per se and the locations for the work are magnificent. By locations I mean both Venice and the particular spaces/galleries in the Arsenale and the Giardini.

I spent about three hours in the Arsenale though I needed about. I simply had to get back to my room to shower and sleep a bit. But before I made my stop I was just so excited to see the city that I disembarked at San Marco Piazza and noticed there was an exhibition of Bosch’s paintings at the Palazzo Ducale. I went in thinking I had to see it as Bosch has always been one of my favorite Flemish painters. The show was incredible. It portrayed the history of two Bosch triptychs in Venice and some work from other cities. It included other Flemish artists like Memling and a variety of drawings and related histories, documents regarding the provenance of the ownership of the Bosch works, which were once owned by Pop Pius IX, who lived in Venice during his Papal reign.

To make matters even more arduous I also stopped quickly at the Taiwanese Pavaillion, near San Marco Square. Many countries have their representational shows for the Biennale off-site at various locations in the city. The artists was Tehching Hsieh, famous for photographing himself every hour of every day for an entire year. It was a superb show of his career work, mostly conceptual performance art. I enjoyed it, particularly within the setting of Venice.


An Email To David, My Trump-Voting Friend

George Magalios

Note: This email was written in response to a link ( sent by my friend David. 

Hi David, Great seeing you and Silvia Friday. I really enjoyed it. 

Thanks for this article. I say thank you because the article inspired me to think about you and my other friends who voted for Trump and who continue to be swept up in the false bravado and cynicism of so-called Conservative beliefs. 

Let me start by addressing the article you sent. I usually just delete links from you and my other friends when I realize they are going to garbage websites that try to stoke the worst values in people. I dismiss them like I dismiss misguided beliefs of people I love. But this time I felt compelled to write you a proper reply and to convey my truest emotions and thoughts. I hope you will take this reply as a genuine act of respect and friendship. 

Apart from being inflammatory and baseless, the article is an example of nonsense, untruth, and very poor writing. It is not based on fact in any way and I imagine its sole purpose is to stoke the paranoid, angry flames of those who find comfort in death and destruction, for the type of person who would rather by guns to prepare for the apocalypse then give to a charity or support a neighbor in need. 

 The website in which this article appears is a gigantic garbage dump of paranoia, empty political hatred and weak thinking masked with the racist and neo-pseudo-apocalyptic ramblings of the terrified little child in all those who wallow in the thought that the end is near.

First, the French government are not planning or currently tracking everyone. The USA does this with our smartphones. There is no privacy. The only way to be off the grid is to live off the land in a 19th century way without technology. The days of privacy are gone. Second, the French, British and other countries have a national identity card to give all citizens an easy way to be identified and to have their records registered. I really like this idea and the USA should implement it too. The driver license is a bogus form of identification since pretty much anybody can get one and it does not distinguish between citizens, resident aliens, and illegal immigrants. 

Third, this website and article are simply examples of truly horrible attempts at news that feed into the biases and fears of the financial elite. While I do not agree with the French tax structure for the wealthy, this is not a website you or any self-respecting and honest person should be reading. All it does is feed into the bullshit and lies of the right and the libertarian mindset that is based on empty quasi-macho anger and offers no real solutions. 

Articles like this:

are examples of what I mean. No self-respecting scientist denies climate change is caused by humans and technology. It appears to be an irrefutable fact. Even it if is only a belief, it is one I abide by as I witness the ridiculousness of our weather patterns over the decades. Two days ago, on February 22, it was 70 degrees in New York city. This is matched by hard scientific data in terms of the melting of the ice caps, the increasing rise in average annual temperatures for the whole planet and much more. 

Even if Global Warming were refutable, what is wrong with energy conservation, renewable energy and living in balance and in tune with the planet? 

How can the political stance and lifestyle that values ecology and environmental protection be objectionable to anyone who loves nature, clean water, clean air and who wants their children and grandchildren to swim in clean seas and live without fear of water shortages and air pollution?

I love you but your right wing, semii-Libertarian angry white man politics are tiresome, insulting and quite frankly, very predictable. I hope you can evolve and push yourself to question your assumptions and beliefs, which I find infused with the racist resentment and bitterness of the stereotypical gun-toting libertarian living in the woods bemoaning the fate of his country and hating everyone and everything. 

I know you are not hateful person but all the links you send me and all your political beliefs are suffused, infused, and undergirded with animosity and venom toward so-called liberals, African Americans, environmentalists, the French, etc…

Do you see a patten here? 

I implore you to analyze the tone and source, the agenda and origin of this hate. 

Any website that puts up articles like these is pure junk and demeans anyone reading it. 

Photos of Al Gore breathing fire? Really? Is this where you get your news? 

This brings me to the revelation that you heaped upon me recently: your vote for Trump. That you voted for a madman and sociopath for President leaves me dismayed. This past election was arguably the most unusual and problematic of any American election in the past 100 years. The stakes are always high but never in our country’s history has there been a more despicable and humiliating excuse for a candidate as Donald Trump. How can anyone who loves this country and who claims to be educated and enlightened support this man? 

How can you vote for someone who is a misogynist, serial liar, and a cultural ignoramus who is entirely devoid of dignity, good taste and even a hint of respect for others (except for Vladimir Putin)? 

What level of anxiety and angst in your life could possible make you think Trump is worthy of being President more than Hilary Clinton? There is no rational, moral, legal, financial, political or cultural basis to support the conclusion that Trump is worthy of the office of President.

What emotional trauma or rage are you living with that could cloud your intellectual and moral judgement so badly, so completely? 

Do you not respect kindness, goodness, women, and the right of all human beings to have a good job and healthcare? 

How could you support Trump’s brazenly racist, xenophobic, proto-fascist beliefs?

By voting for Trump you voted against all the good sense, righteousness, tolerance, love, humanity, and humility you display in your life. 

Did you really think Trump will defend us from the corporatism that has ravaged and savaged every aspect of our lives, from real estate and healthcare to insurance and education? 

Do you really believe Trump will best represent the working men and women just trying to get by and feed their families? 

Did you really believe his lies, bogus promises and insidious comments about our economy and political structure? 

Did you really think he is competent, intelligent, and emotionally stable enough to represent the United States and lead us in a time of crisis?

Do you really think he will lead this country into a prosperous and peaceful future with his unstable mental state, his belligerence and his gargantuan ego matched only in magnitude by the smallness of his mind and his confidence? 

Don’t you see that all narcissists like Trump are really small, feeble, fragile, and scared individuals living in constant fear? 

Don’t you see how dangerous such people are? 

Don’t you recognize the ultimate form of courage is humility, as demonstrated in the life and teachings of great people like Jesus, and your own family members?

Don’t you see that true confidence, greatness, and strength in a political leader does not breed antagonism and strives for kindness, peace and understanding in defense of the poor, the weak and those less fortunate than our political and financial elites? 

How can someone who calls himself a Christian support the hateful, violent, mendacious, racist, and perpetually insulting and degrading behavior of Donald Trump?

Don’t you see that truly strong people believe in empathy and compassion, and more importantly, practice it to all without regard to wealth, status, or skin color? 

Don’t you see that Trump represents the very antithesis of honest, hard-working, and welcoming Americans? 

How could you vote for someone who, in every phase of his business practices, was fraudulent, mendacious, evil, and incompetent? 

The David I know is a very righteous and kind man. You have always been a warm friend and example of the authentic earnestness of the MidWest American spirt that I have admired ever since I met you and ever since I traveled across the country. 

Don’t you see that your support of these websites and this President is an affront to your very own beliefs and dignity? 

Your Friend,


BASK and TES ONE, Pound & A Bear Hug at CASS Tampa

Tes One, Transfer, acrylic on wood panels, 2015

Tes One, Transfer, acrylic on wood panels, 2015

The Contemporary Art & Studio Space (CASS) in Tampa, Florida just opened a new exhibition called Pound & A Bear Hug featuring the work of Bask and Tes One, two graffiti artists and friends who often work in parallel methods with divergent results.

The work of both artists transcended the often predictable paradigms of graffiti art in both stylistic elements and thematic targets. Largely graphic in its execution, the work of Tes One harkened back to a strange kind of 1970’s t-shirt nostalgia of faded space rock sci fi fantasy chromatic elements. The subdued hand and hint of chaos approached abstraction while staying within the borderlands of design. The paintings, such as Transfer, hover along many boundaries without every seeming too strained or pastiche-like. The work as fine art and yet the roguish tendencies of street art, populism and graphic design provide a hint of structure and stability.

Viewers will come away with a refreshed take on how artists from a more urban and street-art lineage may apply their techniques and interests in a more fine art setting. I make the distinction in spite of the neo-democratic ideology of equating each art type and form as a neutral, equally-valid creative expression. The truth is, street art, graffiti art, comic art and other forms of more populist and graphic expression are simply not concerned with the same stylistic elements and audience found among contemporary artists whose principal venue is the clean white cube we call an art gallery.

The show at CASS heightens sensitivities as it punctures assumptions. It is also a success because the work is solid and is made with a profound sense of earnestness and belief in paint as craft.

Faith and Baseball

San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum pitches in relief against the Philadelphia Phillies on July 22, 2014

San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum pitches in relief against the Philadelphia Phillies on July 22, 2014

A I sat through a baseball game that lasted 5 hours and 46 minutes last night I began to experience a moment of occlusion regarding the relationship between faith and baseball.  I had a glimpse into the meaning of faith, at least from the point of view of my little baseball-centered fandom.

When you are a baseball fan, especially an overly emotional one as I am, you learn fast about the essence of disappointment. Baseball will provide you with bliss one day and misery the next. In fact, it will bring optimism and joy along with fear and agony often in the same game!

To worship a team, to invest emotionally in its players over the course of days and years, is almost always an exercise in futility. I write this from first-hand experience as someone who started out in 1969 as a Montreal Expos fan. The Expos were a team that played for more than 40 years without even going to the World Series. I also feel guilty because soonafter I lived in San Francisco I became a Giants fan, the very same year Barry Bonds single-handedly saved the franchise from moving to Tampa in 1993. I say I feel a bit guilty because the Giants won the World Series in both 2010 and 2012. To assuage my guilt I tell myself my first love, The Expos, made me suffer enough so I feel like I earned these championships later in life.

But back to faith! I had lost so much faith and conviction as a baseball lover through the years, decades of utter mediocrity and disappointment of the Expos that I had internalized a pessimistic and fatalistic sense of doom whenever I cared enough to root for the Giants. In short: I was one of those people whose prior relationships had left emotional scars, a certain sporting baggage that was no less prominent than those who have suffered from bad relationships with their former lovers…

But last night’s game helped me see the error of my ways.

Because the game is so unpredictable and the season so long, aseball teaches both athletic and moral insights about the daily victories and defeats of life itself. Baseball teaches you how to embrace life’s shortfalls and life’s joys very swiftly. It teaches you how to live in the moment with an understanding of the marathon of living well. Each and every game is its own little epic in a long 162 game season.

First, let me begin with the facts about an extraordinary game between the San Francisco Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies, a game won by the Giants in 14 innings where the last outs were recorded by Tim Lincecum, a starting pitcher called on for an emergency relief appearance because the Giants had depleted their entire corps of relievers over the course of a game that had was effervescent with drama, mystery and anxiety, enough to thrill you and to make you question your existence at the same time.

Buster Posey hits a game-tying home run in the 9th inning against Jonathan Papelbon

Buster Posey hits a game-tying home run in the 9th inning against Jonathan Papelbon

Giants catcher Buster Posey tied the game dramatically with one out in the 9th inning by hitting a home run off the Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon. It was a powerful, shocking homer off one of the best relief pitchers in the game. It was a stunner, a blow that defied game’s destiny…

While watching this drama unfold I realized I was experiencing phenomenon that was sublime, something that transcended the banality of simple sports. That moment was a lesson, an illustration of how great things happen at the strangest times. Of course, for a passive, overly sedentary fan like me sitting on my couch the home run by Posey appeared to be some sort of gift from the Baseball Gods. But, in fact, the event was a fascinating study in causality and experience. Athletes like Posey train long and hard for their game. They put in countless hours of running, weight-training and skilled practices to get where they are and to achieve these glorious moments. The event in itself was not a gift. It did not come from nowhere. It was an occurrence, a result of a world-class athlete’s dedication and commitment to his profession.

Faith is a funny thing. Like being a dedicated sports fan, it requires the absence of critical thinking, the absence of intellect, the absence of factual concerns – the very things that make one enlightened and informed in life. Most of all, faith and the love, be they for a baseball team, a religion or another person,  begins with passion. With passion you risk both joy and anxiety. True passion and true faith are fearless spiritual states of mind that are strong enough to face any threat or adversity.  Cheap fandom, on the other hand, the kind most associated with bandwagoners and negative nellies who detest everything about their team after a loss, are cynical and lazy. They do not experience true faith and they are symptomatic of a society that lacks discipline, patience, and an awareness of the bigger picture..

There is a beauty in believing even with the risk of disappointment. Disappointment is a phenomenon based on expectation based largely on empirical evidence. Faith supersedes such concerns with the rational. It is a beautiful thing to believe when facts should tell you otherwise. Faith is the human spirit’s answer to reason, perhaps its complement…

Reason will tell you it is a silly endeavor to love a sports team or a player. It is even sillier sill to devote precious time and energy to following your team. Bu is it really?  Perhaps faith in a sports team is a metaphor for the importance of believing in something non-rational. One may argue it is this spiritual capacity in humanity that its downfall/saving grace… That depends on your religious or philosophical world-view ultimately.

I argue that faith, true inspired faith that transcends doubt, helps us reach the sublime. I believe it helps humans yearn and achieve. Passion is a powerful component of faith. It is the driver that can take many forms: The inspiration of an artist, the obsessive inquisitiveness of a scientists; the devotion of a pious follower…

Faith it its own reward. Whether your team wins or loses, it does not really matter. The effort of believing, against rational thought, against facts that say you should get ready for a loss, is in itself a beautiful experience. Faith is the resistance of pessimism and an embrace of rapture. The very act of faith is an affirmative stance in and of itself that requires optimism in the belief in the balance between agency and fate, or between believing you have the power to play a part in your future and believing you are simply a product of higher workings…

Because baseball has no clock, the duration of its games vary greatly. In this way time is irrelevant…

Faith in and support for a sports team, particularly a baseball team is essentially a tribal commitment where a logo and colors represent your tribal affiliation. Sports are such a huge business and powerful cultural force in the world not solely because they entertain, but because team sports are vibrant metaphors of the primal war struggle inherent in humanity’s relationship to others and to the natural world. Sports are a displacement of the battle between life and death. Winning and losing are akin to living and dying and the appeal of a game like football, with its militaristic and territorial paradigm illustrates this phenomenon perfectly.

To have faith is to believe in the possibility of victory a metaphor for life in a sporting contest where outcomes are never pre-determined.This is why as an artist I am so entranced with baseball. It is a mysterious game, a game that transcends causality because it is so hard to predict, easily the most difficult game to bet on.

While cultural output, be it fine art, music, theater or film, is all predicated on a pre-determined finite notion of a beginning and end,  baseball is truly infinite in its possibilities… Baseball games can last 2 hours or 6 hours. They can last 9 innings or 27 innings… (The only comparable experience in team sports is playoff hockey with its potential for long over time games that end in sudden death goals but these are all still regulated by clocks and are are exceptionally rare in most seasons).

It is a beautiful and exhilarating feeling when your baseball team wins an epic come from behind extra inning game that appeared to be lost on many occasions. The experience is exhilarating because of how it challenges your faith and your proclivity towards the avoidance of disappointment out of weakness. Embracing and expecting defeat are cowardly acts born out of the fear of disappointment and un-met expectations.

The Giants-Phillies game made me feel ashamed of my doubt and pessimism. It made me feel ashamed of my tendency towards rationalizing defeat and predicting it before it happened (when things looked so utterly hopeless) so I could more readily accept a loss emotionally once it occurred. In short, the game taught me the virtues of faith and the courage it requires. Valuable life lessons indeed.