“CREEPY”— A Psychological Thriller

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“CREEPY”

A Psychological Thriller

Amos Lassen

 

Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s “Creepy” introduces us to Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) is a former detective who after a violent and nearly fatal encounter with a psychotic young man leaves the police force to teach criminal psychology at University. With his wife Yasuko (Yuko Takeuchi) distracted by trying to get to know the neighbors in their new neighborhood, Takakura becomes obsessed with an old unsolved case. While he struggles to shake off his old occupation, he doesn’t notice his wife becoming friendly with the extremely creepy neighbor Mr. Nishino.

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Koichi Takakura is called in to interview a young serial killer. There are, according to Takakura, three types of serial killer. The first two, the ‘organized’ and the ‘disorganized’, make up the majority but there’s a third, far rarer and harder to catch type: a killer with “mixed characteristics”. Before he can question him the perpetrator escapes and runs through the station, leading to a hostage situation in the film’s opening sequence. Seven years later Takakura has quit active service and moved to the suburbs to take a position as a university lecturer in criminal psychology. At first Takakura appreciates the peace and quiet but his hunger for the past means it doesn’t take much persuading to get him to assist on a missing person’s case that was closed six years ago.

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The film’s focus is on the degeneration of the family as an unsolvable crime to be examined but never resolved. While Takakura becomes deeply involved in the case, his wife introduces herself to their new neighbors including Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa), a curious gentleman who greets her with an unnerving mix of hesitation and underlying hostility. Then, one day, Nishino’s daughter Mio appears at their door and reveals a shocking secret.

The film is based on the award-winning novel by Yutaka Maekawa. This is a chilling psychological thriller as what happens in the plot thread coincides with the daily activities of Takakura’s wife who makes repeated attempts to get to know her neighbors and is met with hostility until she encounters the eccentric Mr. Nishino.  Nishino alternates between socially awkward, rude, and somewhat charming but all with varying degrees of skin-crawling menace. Even his daughter, Mio, seems intimidated by him.  He’s precisely the type of weirdo that inspires the title of the film.

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These two plot strands eventually come together as Kurosawa masterfully builds the tension and dread leading up to that moment.   Kurosawa favors atmosphere over gore, but he doesn’t shy away from ghastly imagery.  Though the modus operandi of the film’s psychopath is wholly unique, it also deflates all of the built up tension.  Once all of the puzzle pieces click into place, the pacing slows to a halt with it and this is disappointing and the ending is predictable yet even with that, “Creepy” is a testament to Kurosawa’s supreme mastery of slow-build suspense. It’s apropos that this film is called “Creepy” because, that is a great description of the film.

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When Takakura realizes that the creepy neighbor lives in a cul-de-sac just like the lone survivor’s, he begins to suspect the man of being the culprit. What follows is a cat-and-mouse game that may leave Takakura and his wife’s rotting corpses vacuum-sealed in plastic.

“THE BEST DEMOCRACY MONEY CAN BUY: A TALE OF BILLIONAIRES & BALLOT BANDITS— Buying One’s Way

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“The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: A Tale Of Billionaires & Ballot Bandits”

Buying One’s Way

Amos Lassen

We have heard a lot of talk recently about rigging an election. Donald Trump has already stated that if he in not elected to be the next President of the United States, it is because the election is fixed. Greg Palast is an investigative reported for “Rolling Stone” magazine and he was able to bust Jeb Bush for stealing the election in 2000 by purging Florida’s electoral rolls of black voters. Now he has his sites set on Crosscheck, a dark operation by the Republicans that is designed to steal a million votes by November.

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Kris Kobach controls and he is one of Trump’s henchmen and Secretary of State in Kansas. He says that his computer program has identified 7.2 million people in 29 states who may have voted twice in the same election–a felony crime. However there is a catch—  most of these “suspects” are minorities or to say it plainly, they are mainly Democratic voters. The lists and the evidence remain “confidential.”

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Palast and his investigative partner Leni Badpenny have gotten their hands on the data, analyzing it to find the names of nearly one million Americans about to lose their vote by November.

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They confronted Kobach with the evidence and are off to find the billionaires behind this voting scam.  The search takes Palast from Kansas to the Arctic, the Congo, and to a swanky Hamptons dinner party held by Trump’s sugar daddy, John Paulson, a.k.a. “JP The Foreclosure King.”  Palast and Badpenny stake out top GOP donors, the billionaire known as “The Vulture” and the Koch brothers, whom Palast is able to nail with a damning tape recording. Does this not sound like a plot for a movie? In effect, it is a movie; a real life detective story brought to life in a film noir style with cartoon animation, secret documents, hidden cameras, and a little help from Law & Order: Special Victims Unit detectives. (Ice-T, Richard Belzer, Shailene Woodley, Rosario Dawson, Willie Nelson and Ed Asner). Palast and his associates expose the darkest plans of the very rich to steal America’s democracy.

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“The Best Democacy Money Can By” is bound to become the most talked-about movie of the election season. It follows Palast on the hunt for the big money people behind the scheme to purge votes from the rolls. The action goes from the Arctic where Palast gets clues from an Eskimo with a filthy mouth, then on to a speed-boat to a ritzy Hamptons soiree with hidden cameras and finally to the billionaire known as The Vulture.

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This is a non-fiction movie that takes you on a real-life high-stakes detective mission. Palast is going to bust what he calls the new Ku Klux Klan.’

“AMERICAN MALE”— Avoiding Being Seen As Gay

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“American Male”

Avoiding Being Seen As Gay

Amos Lassen

Society still puts a lot of pressure of people to fit with gender norms and while we might want to admit it, it is true especially for those trying to hide their sexuality. Often internalized homophobia combines with external homophobia to create pressure to conform to a set of social cues that they hope will ensure no one would ever thing they were anything but heterosexual.

“American Male”, a short film, looks at this, with a frat bro living an outwardly incredibly masculine life, while in voiceover he dissects the way society tells men and women to be and how he’s altered himself to fit in with the way that he thinks he’s supposed to behave. Underneath this runs a current of homoeroticism, and well as a taste of the ugliness of masculine behavior that has gone too far.

Michael Rohrbaugh directs and his film was one of the winners of MTV’s Look Different Creator Competition.

“Rendezvous With God: Revealing the Meaning of the Jewish Holiday and Their Mysterious Rituals” by Rabbi Nathan Laufer– Understanding the Holidays

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Laufer, Rabbi Nathan. “Rendezvous With God: Revealing the Meaning of the Jewish Holiday and Their Mysterious Rituals”, Maggid, 2016.

Understanding the Holidays

Amos Lassen

I did not realize how little I know about my religion until I read this book. I grew up not asking what I did not understand and that is now it was for many. I always wondered why Jewish holidays begin on the eve and last through sundown the next day or why we light two candles on Shabbat or why in order to pray formally, I must do so in group of the men. Of course, there were always questions about the holidays.

Rabbi Nathan Laufer looks at the seven major Jewish holidays (Passover, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shavuot, Shemini Atzeret and Shabbat) and we see that our holidays are directly linked to our history. We also revisit the original encounters with God as we read in our Bible and learn that our holidays come from these encounters. Within he holidays are the deepest secrets of Judaism as well as our reason for existing.

Rabbi Laufer takes us to the Torah readings related to each holiday and we learn, in effect, that in celebrating these, we emulate God. By celebrating, I mean the various customs, prayers, rituals and Torah readings. We see the holidays in ways most of us have never thought about.

The celebration of these seven holidays are the celebration of the seven revelations of God during the first year of the coming together of God and Israel. Bringing together the many biblical rituals with later rabbinic ordinances and popular holiday customs into a seamless whole, we see that Judaism is a religion of “ethical and ritual dimensions”. Our holidays are actually a celebration of our romance with God and the sanctity of place comes together with the sanctity of time. We also become very aware that that “our purpose as a people is determined by the stories we tell”. These holidays are not celebrated by rote but by the ritual acts we perform be that blowing the shofar, building a sucker, or the Passover Seder. Each of the holidays takes us back to a foundational time of birth, maturation and growth. Once we understand why we pray what we do and perform the rituals that go with each holiday, we again experience something about the foundations of Judaism. The holidays also bring us together so that we can celebrate as a nation. I have always felt tremendous emotion when sitting down to the Passover meat because I understand that most every Jew in the world is doing exactly the same thing.

“Against Everything: Essays” by Mark Greif— Something to Think About

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Greif, Mark. “Against Everything: Essays”, Pantheon, 2016.

Much to Think About

Amos Lassen

During the past eleven years, Mark Greif has been published many provocative essays about such topics as “the cultural, political, and intellectual life of our time as the tyranny of exercise, the tyranny of nutrition and food snobbery, the sexualization of childhood (and ev­erything else), the philosophical meaning of Radiohead, the rise and fall of the hipster, the impact of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the crisis of policing. Four of the selections address, directly and unironically, the meaning of life”. In this collection, each essay is original, thoughtful and entertaining.

Greif is a young intellectual who, with his writing and with his peers, is “reinventing and reinvigorating what intellectuals can be and say and do” as he brings the historical philosophers of dissent. We are asked here what it means to be against everything (hence the title of the book). These essays do not represent nihilism, as Grief is not one who writes out of anger; he is a hopeful thinker who envisions the world to be better.

Grief grew up not far from Walden Pond and he felt close to Thoreau even with the generations separating them. For Grief, Thoreau was a symbol of strict judgment and now Greif has become a leading literary and intellectual spokesmen. He has reached that position through sincerity and hope. Today he is firmly on the left and his inspiration comes from the Frankfurt School’s project of radical cultural critique. He believes that to change the world you first have to interpret it. He critiques himself in the book and tells us that he is speaking for the middle classes and when he looks at and analyzes the vices and illusions of that class, he does so in the first person plural. He is actually speaking to a small group, a young, urban, bourgeois intelligentsia who went to the best colleges and then became part of a world they had no part in making.

In a number of essays here, we get a meditation on the meaning of youth and adulthood and that is exactly what Grief is experiencing. At 30 years old, He recognizes the power of this nostalgia, but he is close enough to his own adolescence to know that youth will develop only in adulthood.

An intellectual’s job is to provoke thought and argument, and this Greif does as well as anyone writing today. He makes the point that not all ideas are equal and the desire to become an adult is to be in a world that is better. He sees that the present is moving away very, very quickly and in fact much of the future has been signed to in the present and thus becomes the past.

 

“America in the Teens” by Andrew J. Dunar— Opening the Door to the Modern Age

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Dunar, Andrew J. “America in the Teens”, Syracuse University Press, 2016.

Opening the Door to the Modern Age

Amos Lassen

The teens were a pivotal decade in the history of America and this is what author Andrew J. Dunar shows us here. We read of the important issues such as politics, diplomacy, military society as they developed and their consequences and connections.

Dunar begins with the election of 1912, social changes and the World War. This was the Progressive era in this country’s history and among the areas covered here are the influence of war on women and minorities, and changes in the motion picture industry. It was during this period that social life experienced tremendous changes and we not read about them but look at how Americans reacted to them. With World War I, America became a great power yet there were still divisions among the citizens regarding racial tensions, immigration issues, and labor-management disputes. Women earned the right to vote; American industry moved quickly forward with mass production and the arts won universal acclaim. Dunar’s narrative meets intelligent analysis thus allowing us to gain a new understanding of America at the onset of the twentieth century.

“ALMAYER’S FOLLY” — Akerman Adapts Conrad

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“Almayer’s Folly”(La folie Almayer)

Akerman Adapts Conrad

Amos Lassen

The late Chantal Akerman gives us a loose adaption of Joseph Conrad’s novel of the same name. Almayer is a Dutch trader stationed in a Malaysian village and lives in the thick of the jungle and beside a winding river. His mixed-race daughter, Nina, is born out of his marriage to a local woman who later goes mad. Almayer passionately hates his wife and he passionately loves his daughter even though his relationship to her is complex because of his absolutist conception of race. He views his wife and the jungle that he lives in as malevolent and savage, and feels that the European race as superior. Because of his narrow view of the world, his daughter’s existence brings up complicated issues of race that he is unable to reconcile and this causes confusion and adds to his own madness. 

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Nina is sent away to boarding school where because of her racial makeup, she becomes a target for both racial and cultural alienation. She becomes bitter and blames her white father for her being stigmatized, and returns home harboring deep hatred towards Almayer. 

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We see beautiful shots of nature in all its greenery and the wilderness is a parallel to Almayer and Nina’s tangled thoughts and intense emotions.  This is the last feature from filmmaker Chantal Akerman and it is an eccentric exploration of cultural conflict, identity and colonialism.  It begins with a prologue causing us to think that this is a thriller. We see a man wandering through an unidentified Southeast Asian waterfront town until he pulls a knife and kills an outdoor music bar entertainer and leaving one of the accompanying dance troupe alone on stage. This turns out to be Nina (Aurora Marion) who, as child, was taken from her home in a remote corner of the jungle to be educated in the city. While at school, she harbored a burning resentment towards her father, Almayer (Stanislas Merhar), a European who dreams of making a fortune and returning to the distant continent that his mother described as paradise. Almayer is delighted when Nina, now an adult, unexpectedly comes back home.

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However, Nina after meeting insurgent militant Dain (Zac Adriansolo), she becomes determined to find her own future elsewhere.When she returns home as an adult, Nina is an embittered young woman who doesn’t feel at home in either the west or in Malaysia. She eventually runs off with Dain, to the disgust of Almayer, whose love for his child has a creepy, semi-incestuous intensity. Almayer is a brooding, introspective guy who is uncomfortable in his environment but does not know how or even have the ability to improve his situation. He puts all his hopes on his broken relationship with Nina who is defined by her being resentful and emotionally cold.

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Akerman and her cinematographer Rémon Fremont are rather more interested in exploring the jungle than on the story, it seems. The camera lingers on the world of greenery and swampy water. But these background elements, do not aid the viewer in understanding the characters and what they are going through. Too many crucial plot developments happen off-screen.

This film comes after a seven-year hiatus for Akerman and she chose to come back to the screen with this film that is based on a novel written by Joseph Conrad in 1895. Conrad’s writings have often proven to be unsuited for movies and that is the case here as well.

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After a powerful opening scene and reasonably strong first act, the film begins to falter. Akerman pads the action out of with long stretches in which the characters don’t do much of anything, leading up to a climax. She removes many of the details of Conrad’s novel yet her adaptation is intricate in that we see no sympathy for Almayer as it changes perspectives and perceptions, making us identify with characters who have no narrative voice, or those that we only experience in incidental and tangential ways, most of whom are related to Nina in some fashion.

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Akerman works within the boundaries of a classic colonialist narrative, with Almayer hopelessly trying and failing to harness the fruits of the land he believes is his to control. However, this plotline becomes the secondary focus, with more attention paid to the seething vibrancy of the jungle. What Akerman has found is the most interesting plot thread in an old and seemingly outmoded novel and trims it to look at the story of Nina who was born with a feet in two different worlds. Nina barely speaks but she has other means of expression, metaphorically associated with the power of the forest. This is a story of waxing and waning forces and we see this in the repeated motif of a pale moon shadowing the water.

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Akerman has subsumed and repurposed Conrad’s story for her own purposes, diverting its channel just as the river bypassed Almayer himself.

“KIMCHI FRIED DUMPLINGS”— Gay Brothers

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“Kimchi Fried Dumplings”

Gay Brothers

Amos Lassen

“KImchi Fried Dumplngs” a festive themed short film about two gay siblings trying to find common ground, despite the different lives they’re leading and one feeling abandoned by the other.

Queer Canadian Asian writer-director Jason Karman’s film has been getting raves at film festivals a couple of year ago.

“Christmas, sometimes you have to be there. After a prolonged absence, Carl returns home for Christmas with a new boyfriend only to find hostility from his brother, who is also gay, for being left to take care for their aging parents. Tensions come to a breaking point, but once emotions are out in the open Carl learns to focus on what is important.”

“DIEUX DU STADE 2017 CALENDAR”— Sexy Naked Men

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“Dieux Du Stade 2017 Calendar”

Sexy, Naked Men

Amos Lassen

While the ‘Gods Of The Stadium’ initially featured naked dudes from top French rugby teams, it’s since expanded its focus to those who play other sports, this year including judo, handball and mixed martial arts. What is not in doubt looking at the teaser video below, is that there are a lot of hot guys involved.

If nothing else, it’s a testament to how many positions you can put the male body in, in order to show a lot of skin, without actually displaying the whole goods.

This year’s calendar is raising money for for French breast cancer charity, Le cancer du sein, parlons-en! (Let’s Talk About Breast cancer!).

“TRUTH SLASH FICTION”—Gay Erotic Fan Fiction

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“Truth Slash Fiction”

Gay Erotic Fan Fiction

Amos Lassen

The Internet has unleashed some unexpected things on the world, one of which is the popularity of Slash Fiction (people take real and imaginary characters and write their own stories about them, taking things in an extremely erotic direction). Many of these slash fiction stories gay-themed, with some of the most popular featuring boy band members who may profess to be straight in real life, but get very, very gay in fan fiction.

A TV series in the waiting, “Truth Slash Fiction”, takes a long, hard look at this phenomenon. It is not afraid of laying on the gay action, which has made some feel it’s more likely to find a home on a streaming service than a traditional TV network.

“.Truth Slash Fiction.nities of adolescence. Through it all, Emma clings tightly to the songs of the boy band “Truth”: a One Direction-style super group whose romantic earnestness is Emma’s only refuge from the often cruel and anxiety-filled social interactions that make up her world. Emma’s love of those sultry-voiced boys leads her to join a group of like-minded fans who channel their devotion in an unusual way: they write slash fiction (i.e. “gay erotic fan fiction”) involving the band they love so much.”