“Denny’s Fable: A Love Story Between a Grumpy Old Man and a Little Mouse” by Denny Hamann— A Grumpy Old Man Loves

denny's fable

Hamann, Denny. “Denny’s Fable: A Love Story Between a Grumpy Old Man and a Little Mouse”, with illustrations by Steven Hempel, Create Space, 2014.

A Grumpy Old Man Loves

Amos Lassen

 We have all known grumpy old men but I am pretty sure that many of us have not taken the time to get to know them and perhaps understand why they are grumpy. Sometimes that is what it takes to see a grumpy old man became a nice guy. In “Denny’s Fable” we meet a grumpy old man who never had many friends and who was not happy with his life. Because he saw little joy in his future, he complained a lot— it seemed that nothing was right or good enough for him. Then one day, he met a field mouse and the two were able to converse and believe it or not that little mouse shows that grumpy old man “everything he could ever want . . everything in the world that little field mouse called home.

Okay, okay, you are asking why am I reviewing a book about a mouse? Look Aesop wrote all kinds of stories about animals and we learned a great deal from him so why not read something more modern that has reference to the way we live today. As I said we all know grumpy old men and wouldn’t be nice to do something for them so they can smile once in a while? After all, we all want to be loved. Here we can learn about not just what love is but what it can be. It is comforting to know that we are accepted and share our feelings with others and if it takes a field mouse to teach us that, so be it. We learn here that it is not hard to find love, we just need to know where to look. This mouse is innocent and he can teach us again and again.

This is a story about changing and transformation—-here both the mouse and the man learn something as they go on a journey together. I love this book and plan to go back to it whenever I meet someone who is lonely and when I feel alone. It is all about growing and Denny Hamann helps us grow. He did so with his beautiful book, “Purple Grass” and he does so again with “Denny’s Fable”. It takes a good writer and a good story to make my eyes fill with tears and that happened here several times. The ending really got to me. But in those tears, I found the ability to love something or someone I had not considered before and so it is all worthwhile.

“TANGERINE”— A Trans Sex Worker

tangerine poster

“Tangerine”

A Trans Sex Worker

Amos Lassen

“Tangerine” is a film that draws you in and makes you care about the characters even when the topics are prostitutes, pimps, drugs, sex, homosexuality and gender roles. We see individuals who have the  same, or even better, values than we have.

“Tangerine” was shot entirely on three iPhone 5s. I was told that at the Premiere, the audience audibly gasped when this rolled on screen during the credits. Sean Baker’s “Tangerine” is the story of a trans sex worker, Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), who “rages her way through Los Angeles on a quest to confront her pimp boyfriend, Chester (James Ransone), and the girl he slept with while she was in jail for 28 days”. There is a great sense of compassion here but it is not the result direct confrontation of issues of sex, gender, and race as they pertain to the characters’ lives. Sin-Dee is the target of anti-trans aggression at one point, but the moment is understood only as a way to look at change in the character. This is a film with a lot of style and it manages to transcend the boundaries of race and gender and sexual orientation by acting as if they never existed to begin with.

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Upon learning from her friend, Alexandra (Mya Taylor), that Chester was messing around with a “real girl”, Sin-Dee gets up from her seat at Donut Time and runs down the street with great intensity. of the film’s soundtrack.

The film’s drama is set on Christmas Eve, and whatever spirit grips Los Angeles is felt by many- we see that in the two police officers who don’t arrest Alexandra after a john stiffs her for not making him cum and the two tussle on a city street. Christmas seems to have become an invitation to chaos, though also, and more conventionally, a reminder of people’s devotion to others. Sin-Dee eventually catches up with the raggedy Dinah (Mickey O’Hagan), dragging her onto a city bus with the intention of foisting her before Chester like a trophy of war, only to remember her commitment to attend Alexandra’s performance at a local bar.

The film also has its own vision of a Christmas miracle, of finding sisterhood, even if it’s enabled by the effects of crack: Sin-Dee, despite her animosity for Dinah, meets her enemy halfway in the confines of a bathroom by helping her put her face on. Throughout Sin-Dee and Alexandra’s storylines is a third that involves a cab driver, Razmik (Karren Karagulian), whose work exists only to bring a convenient sort of anthropological attention to the politics of Los Angeles’s red-light district. We get the feeling that there is going to be a collision of worlds.

What we see is really just another day on the mean streets and the underbelly of Los Angeles— the home of some very sharp talking women and transsexuals who make their living by selling their bodies. They see themselves as fabulous and they run the street in the few blocks that they call their turf.

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As Alexandra and Sin-Dee rush around Alexandra tells Ramie that Sin-Dee is coming to see her perform later . He promises to come too but nothing works out as planned and Alexandra performs for an audience of one and her big break will just have to wait.

Now things get messy but it doesn’t matter because there is so much energy here that no one really cares. Besides we are riveted on the performances of the two lead transgender actors, Kiki Kitana Rodriquez and Mya Taylor.

“PINK MOON”— A World Where Gays Are In Charge

p[ink moon poster

“Pink Moon”

A World Where Gays Are In Charge

Amos Lassen

“Pink Moon” is about ‘LGBTQ and Reproductive Rights’ and is set in a society where gays run the show and heterosexuals are persecuted and abortion is forbidden. We meet two teens who are forced to hide an unplanned pregnancy before their secret romance is exposed.

Director Sal Bardo has said, “There’s an all-out assault on reproductive rights in this country, and the same thing is happening with LGBT rights. Both of those issues are about personal freedom, and they’re fundamentally connected.”

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Even though Ben (Brandon Tyler Harris) and Leo (Adam Jepsen) have been together for 4 months now, Ben refuses to put out – so much so that Leo grows suspicious … and he has every right to, because Ben is secretly … heterosexual, in a world where gay is normal and heterosexual is outlawed. Ben has a girlfriend, Emily (Cole Johnston), but they have to hide their relationship, not only from the law but also from their friendly neighborhood bullies who love to beat up heteros. There is a problem though, Ben has impregnated Emily, and a (secret and illegal) abortion fails, exposing their scandalous relationship.

What the film does is turn general perceptions of homo- and heterosexuality onto their heads in order to tell a subverted story that many will see as weird. It succeeds in creating an interesting “world” that its characters live in and it and tells its story with a lot of heart and plenty of suspense to keep the audience at the edge of their seats.

Bardo is considered to be one of the indie world’s up-and-coming filmmakers. “His willingness to speak truth is bold, entertaining, thought-provoking, and downright challenging”. “Pink Moon”skews our sensibilities” and that is what it is meant to do. It brings together

the worlds of reproductive rights with LGBTQ rights, worlds that are inter-connected yet not often presented with such clarity together. I understand that Bardo already has a feature-length version of the film in the works.

Brandon Tyler Harris embodies Ben as a “rather riveting young man whose efforts to maintain a facade against his closeted heterosexuality are painful to watch”. As Emily, “the young woman who truly holds his affection, Cole Johnston is a beautiful combination of natural sensuality and heartbreaking vulnerability”.

Bardo’s films have screened at over 50 film festivals in 12 countries. He has had up over 3 million views on Youtube and Vimeo in the last 18 months alone and in 2011 captured the Audience Award for Best First-Time Filmmaker at Washington D.C.’s Reel Affirmations for his film “Requited”. What I really like about his “Pink Moon” is that it provokes thought and to me that is the sign of a good film.

“STONEWALL”— The Little Riot— The Big Revolution

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“STONEWALL”

The Little Riot— The Big Revolution

Amos Lassen

Roland Emmerich’s next film is a conflict that took place on a small scale but had massive ramifications in the years afterwards – the 1969 Stonewall riots.

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‘Less than 50 years ago, in 1969, being gay was considered a mental illness.  Gay people would not and could not be employed by the government.  It was illegal for gay people to congregate, and police brutality against gays went unchecked”.

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”’STONEWALL’ is a drama about a fictional young man caught up during the 1969 Stonewall Riots. Danny Winters (Jeremy Irvine) is forced to leave behind friends and loved ones when he is kicked out of his parent’s home and flees to New York. Alone in Greenwich Village, homeless and destitute, he befriends a group of street kids who soon introduce him to the local watering hole The Stonewall Inn; however, this shady, mafia-run club is far from a safe-haven.  As Danny and his friends experience discrimination, endure atrocities and are repeatedly harassed by the police, we see a rage begin to build.  This emotion runs through Danny and the entire community of young gay people, lesbians and drag queens who populate the Stonewall Inn and erupts in a storm of anger.  With the toss of a single brick, a riot ensues and a crusade for equality is born.”

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The movie will arrive in cinemas later this year. Here are some of the stills from the film including the recreation of the 1970 Christopher Street Gay Liberation march. Christopher Street is the road that the Stonewall Inn was on, and after the riot Christopher Street days and marches began popping up in all sorts of cities and this is one of the reason that the Pride season in many places is in May or June.

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“The Giddy Death of the Gays and the Strange Demise of Straights” by Redfern Jon Barrett— Life in Wales

the giddy death of the gays

Barrett, Redfern Jon. “The Giddy Death of the Gays and the Strange Demise of Straights”, Lethe Press, 2015.

Life in Wales

Amos Lassen

Caroline and her Dom lead “normal” lives in Swansea, Wales. All was going fine until her dom fell in love with his “straight” roommate and the two have a life of craziness— for one thing, their love is non-sexual, passionate and secret. Nonetheless this is a chaotic love that includes cross-dressing, gender bending and free love. If you are looking to read about some fascinating characters then you have found the right book. Burt it is not only the characters that are fascinating here—we also have events and situations that range from homophobic violence to a terrible nightclub on fire, and the discovery of a love that none of the characters expected.

Richard is straight and very much so (at least in his own head) but he knows that he has to confront his own sexuality in order to deal with the way he feels about his roommate, Dom. Then Dom’s girlfriend, Caroline confronts the two men about how much time they spend together. Soon the three of them are in a polyamorous relationship. Each of the characters that we meet here has his/her way of getting by and these characters include graduate students who are stressed out and a perfume counter assistant who takes out frustrations on his customers. Friendships are created and destroyed or wear out. The one relationship that continues is between two straight men in a non-sexual love affair.

The comedy here is dark, witty and in your face. The small town of Swansea is populated with drunks and racists who go through life taking the paths that most would not dare to take. Author Redfern Jon Barrett gives us good stories, fun characters and social commentary as well as provocative ideas about the nature of love, relationships and sexual identity.

“SEBASTIAN”— Home to Mother

sebastian poster

“SEBASTIAN”

Home to Mother

Amos Lassen

There is a lot of talk about Carlos Ciurlizza’s film, “Sebastian”, the story of a Peruvian chef living happily in Los Angeles with his husband. Sebastian (the director Ciurliza) happy home life is thrown out of orbit when news of his mother’s deteriorating health sends him flying back to his hometown in Peru. The relationship between mother and child was never good and it had been many years since the last time they spoke to each other.

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Once there, he has to resume his previous life as a closeted son and learns that he is father of Lucia’s, his ex-girlfriend nine-year-old child. Reliving the past with Lucia makes Sebastian wonder if he still has feelings for her. Then his handsome husband Josh shows up unannounced – to the shock and disdain of his mother and her community and Sebastian is forced to confront two vastly different cultures, both of which have profoundly informed his identity.

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“THE GUEST” (“La Visita”)— Coming Home

the guest poster

“THE GUEST” (“La Visita”)

Coming Home

Amos Lassen

Mauricio López Fernández’s “The Guest” is about the awaited return of a son to his father’s funeral. When he arrives he stirs the hermetic family environment – he has come home transformed as a daughter, in a house where the residing women thought they needed men in order to survive. The son of a housekeeper who works for a conservative countryside family comes back after many years of absence to his father’s funeral.

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His mother, Coya (Rosa Ramirez), is waiting for him to do the honors and, to somehow replace the male figure that had been lost. However, he is now a trans woman whose name is Elena (Daniela Vega in an amazing performance).
The whole family seems to be disappointed for this sudden turn of events. After a confusing accident and several insinuations from Coya, Elena decides to wear her father’s old suit to honor his memory. The funeral day takes place during a stormy morning. The rain falls down to clean the house from all the lies.

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We see the shock the family feels seeing Elena and remembering that he was once a quiet, unassuming young man. The film is set entirely in a remote but lavish country house and it is a finely tuned, quietly surreal outing that starts with a bang and unfolds into an unsettling, macabre tale about family and isolation that asks whether we can ever really belong.

“THE HEROES OF EVIL”— Retribution

the heroes of evil poster

“THE HEROES OF EVIL”

Retribution

Amos Lassen

Zoe Berriatúa’s debut film is about three angst- ridden students, Artiz (Jorge Clemente), (and the other two played by Beatriz Medina and Emilio Palacios), find peace and comfort in a club of their own making: they call themselves “The Heroes of Evil,” a “scraggly faux-superhero collective that promises to violently attack anyone they think deserves retribution”. However, playful pranks turn dark as the three teens realize the seriousness of their intentions as well the sexual and romantic confusion they feel with one another. Here is a film that lets us know that atrocities by the hands of the young can indeed happen.

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The film looks deeply into the reasons why someone who is looking for meaning and his place in the world can go off to an unimaginable, and uncontrollable, extent. It all begins with the teens first day of school and the distribution of roles that each of our three characters will have to take on during the coming school year. It seems that three of them will end up being the butt of everyone else’s jokes, unless they can manage to rid themselves of their “weirdo” stigmas… and pass them onto someone else. This is when they enter a downward spiral that initially seems like fun, like childish mischief, but will soon become very dangerous.

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The first half of the film is lighthearted and happy: it portrays knowledge, secrets, complicities, everlasting fondness and shelter. Throughout the entire movie, director Berriatúa emphasizes the intensity characteristic of that age. In the second part, fun and games acquire a more serious and dangerous edge, begins to torment our conscience of the viewer and compels him to question his own morals. Berriatúa dares to make this sudden change of direction in the narrative towards more serious territory in order to show where the film is headed and it attempts to show how a kid can manage to go disastrously off without anyone even realizing it.

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A teacher is the only adult who appears in this movie that pulls us into the world of teenagers, a world in which parents barely even exist and are like strangers, unaware of what kids feel or have to put up with and are tormented by. We have all, at some time or other, been through similar situations; we have felt weird, confused, different, marginalized and eager to let ourselves be pulled along by impulses. Berriatúa reminds us of that feeling while at the same time warns us about how vulnerable and sensitive those who are undergoing the difficult transition towards maturity are when faced with the dark side.

“Visible City” by Tova Mervis— Boundaries

visible city

Mirvis, Tova. “Visible City”, Mariner Books, 2015.

Boundaries

Amos Lassen

In the evenings, Nina spies on the quiet, contented older couple across the street. Then came one night that while looking through same window, she sees a young couple making passionate love and she wonders who they are and what happened to the others that she used to watch. She eventually meets

both couples on the streets of her Upper West Side neighborhood and, as anonymity gives way to different forms of intimacy and all begin to face their own desires and disappointments. Using this as her backdrop, writer Tova Mervis looks at boundaries.

Nina is a lawyer by profession but she has become a stay-at-home-mom for her three-year-old Max and baby Lily. Looking out of the window of her Upper West Side apartment into the building across the street is one way she passes the time when she is free from her maternal duties. A middle-aged husband and wife who share their solitude with a young woman on crutches who lives with them are the ones she is drawn to. Because there is a new apartment building being constructed in her neighborhood, people are drawn out of their homes to see the progress. It is there that Nina meets Leon, a psychologist, the man she has been watching, whose wife, Claudia, turns out to be the college teacher whose class Nina loved and whose daughter, Emma, with her broken ankle, becomes the babysitter who is loved by Max and Lily. We read of the connections formed between the characters, including Claudia as well as Nina’s husband, Jeremy, a disenchanted real-estate lawyer and we see that looking into the lives of others helps them move forward in their own lives. The focus here is on the possibilities of change.

The characters tell their stories and as they do we see the ways that constraint influences the way we think and live and we do not always act upon how we really feel. There is a subplot about a group of men who walk around New York City and break into spaces that were once public and are now closed off. Then there is a theme about stained glass windows whose colors change with the light and we see metaphorically that they represent how our lives change over time based upon experience and time. We see the clear line between public and private and what is overt and what is covert and what we think is true even though there is evidence that it is not.

Mirvis exposes the differences between what we see on the surface and what lies deep within her characters and the city where they live.

“Father, Son, Stone” by Allen H. Goodman— History and Mystery

father son stone

Goodman, Allan H. “Father, Son, Stone”, Solomon Publications, 2014.

History and Mystery

Amos Lassen

It is the year 20135 and a grandfather and his grandson have entered the most controversial religious site in Jerusalem. The Jews know it as the Temple Mount and to Muslims it is the Noble Sanctuary. Speaking Arabic, the grandfather tells his grandson why Jews no longer pray at the Western Wall. This takes him back to the Six-Day War in 1967 and three Israeli paratroopers fighting in the battle for Jerusalem. The tale then moves ahead some fifty years to 2017 after a catastrophic event near the Temple Mount brings together the same three men who were paratroopers but the Prime Minister of Israel, a Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel, and a Mossad agent. As the crisis unfolds, the three search for the reason behind mysterious events that occurred on the Temple Mount during the Six-Day War. When the truth is learned and revealed it not only changes Jerusalem but also the people who live there. The enigma that we deal with here is why Moshe Dayan returned the Temple Mount to the Muslim authority immediately after the Six-Day War in 1967.

It was the result of events in 2017 at the Western Wall that lead to a examination of whether the Muslim Waqf should retain control of the Temple Mount. The private trial looking at this addresses the historical Jewish claim to the land, which is based on it being the site of the First Temple. Various experts are called in and take turns sharing information handed down to them through the generations as “testimony.”

Part of the book is the fascinating history of the old city of Jerusalem as it passed through Jewish, Babylonian, Roman, and Muslim rule between the First Temple and the liberation of the Six Day War. The descriptions of all of the time periods, including the 2017 trial and 2035 aftermath, are wonderfully described in great details and the characters that we read about are believable and compelling. Goodman has captured the codependence and similarities at the core of the 3 religions are, and how they are at their best when they coexist peacefully and adhere to their teaching without fighting over abstract ideas. Writer Goodman raises very important questions about the relationships between generations, the he shows how impossible it is to pass on traditions. He lucidly shows the connections between people and the land as well as what is owed to the past in order to maintain holy sites.

The story unfolds through the testimony that is presented at a unique judicial proceeding. A fictional judge who is at the center of this story is our guide and we are with him as he considers the evidence, searches for the truth, and delivers what he feels is the right decision.