“MINE 9”— Survival

“Mine 9”

Survival

Amos Lassen

 When Ryan (Drew Starkey), an Appalachian teenager shows up for his first day at work, he has no idea that it might also be his last dah at work. Director  Eddie Mensore takes us into the claustrophobic world of the mines and leaves us o experience a  coal mine collapse. We learn that it was corporate cost-cutting that allowed the collapse to happen.  The miners will not be rescued quickly so that we can feel what they feel.

Ryan hadn’t seen the warning signs that mineworkers debate during the opening moments of “Mine 9”. The workers crew have seen methane levels in the mine increase are flare-ups becoming common but most are averse to side with their section leader Zeke (Terry Serpico), who wants to report these safety violations to regulators. The common thought among the miners are that if one dies on the job, his family gets an insurance settlement; if authorities shut down the mine, they get nothing.

 

Zeke’s brother and Ryan’s father, Kenny (Mark Ashworth) sees his son going to work in the mines is what a man has to do. Ryan, as a new miner, has to take his co-workers’ hazing. Of course there is also the Jesus lover among the workers and tells the others that Jesus is watching them even during the explosion that kills some right off and then by the debris caused by the flooding that followed. We watch those who survived as they work to stay alive hoping that those above ground will look for them.

 

Director Eddie Mensore  shows us the workers searching for ways out and things get tough. They never hear from their bosses and the “rescuer” units on their belts have just an hour’s worth of breathable air in them but that will not prevent the methane from causing dangerous hallucinations.

The realism of the film is incredible. The men who ply the miners know what mining is all about. They understand that fate determines their lives and they have no control. As they panic so do we and as they hope, we do too.

Eddie Mensore is a wonderful story teller and this movie takes from both survival and horror films and we know from the very beginning that something terrible is going to happen. The near-disaster in the prologue forewarns us that methane levels put  the workers of Mine 9 in danger and that the system isn’t equipped to do anything about it. The miners say that whenever a mine gets shut down by safety regulators, they do not get  paid. If one of them dies on the job, at least their family will get a payout and this is better than  unemployment       

However, we learn very little about the characters and we learn one trait about each of them. If I had to say there was something  did not work, this is what it is.. And even though the film is short , it is impressive in the way it involves the audience. We begin by seeing

a silent coal black screen for 40 seconds and then, in small white print, the Coal Miner’s Prayer by W. Calvert and then onto the film itself. As well as we seem to be    prepared, we watch in horror and see and hear the noisy mechanical grinding of the underground continuous mining machine. We see men bent over, making their way through a cold underground stream in a dark tunnel. And we are off…..

“PRETENDERS WITH FRIENDS”— Live in Atlantic City

“PRETENDERS WITH FRIENDS”

Live in Atlantic City

Amos Lassen

Grammy Award-winning, multi-platinum selling band The Pretenders featuring the Legendary Chrissy Hynde performs with special guests including Iggy Pop, Shirley Manson of Garbage, Kings of Leon and Incubus, recorded live at the Decades Rock Arena in Atlantic City, NJ. 

Featuring:

Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders
Iggy Pop
Kings of Leon
Incubus
Shirley Manson

Songs include:
Brass in Pocket
Message of Love by Incubus
I’m Only Happy When It Rains by Shirley Manson
Precious; Candy by Iggy Pop and Chrissy Hynde
Talk of the Town; Back on the Chain Gang; Drive by Incubus
Mystery Achievement, Fools Must Die by Iggy Pop
and Middle Of The Road encore performance featuring The Pretenders with Iggy Pop, Incubus, Kings Of Leon and Shirley Manson.

Bonus features include: DVD includes Bonus interviews with Band members, Slide show, Trailers & More! 

Track Listing: 

The Wait
The Losing
Back In The Chain Gang
Talk Of The Town
I’m Only Happy When It Rains With Shirley Manson
Day After Day
The Bucket with Kings Of Leon
Up The Neck
Drive with Incubus
Message Of Love
Precious
Fools Must Die
Candy with Iggy Pop
Mystery Achievement
Brass In Pocket
Middle Of The Road

 

“THE LAVENDER SCARE”— Premiers on PBS, June 18

“THE LAVENDER SCARE”

Premiers on PBS, June 18

 

“Fascinating and horrifying — and timely.”
–The New York Times

NATIONAL TELEVISION PREMIERE
Tuesday, June 18th | 9 PM
PBS


Praise from Reviewers

“A gripping, nimbly assembled documentary examining the decades-long campaign to excise homosexuals from all corners of government.”
— Los Angeles Times

“An essential and absorbing documentary.”
–Variety

“A film that should be essential viewing in these times when intolerance is on the rise. One of those rare documentaries that feels too short.”
​Hollywood Reporter

“Josh Howard’s incisive documentary The Lavender Scare offers a stirring depiction of gay travails during that era that’s as shocking as it is illuminating.”
–Roger Ebert Reviews

​“Thoroughly researched and evidenced, wonderfully detailed, informative and authoritative but always in touch with the human story at its heart.”
–​Eye for Film

“A must-see… this film belongs on LGBTQ studies syllabi nationwide.”
–The Playlist

“It’s stories are undeniably enraging, moving, and inspiring. And it’s essential information to have today.”
–Common Sense Media

“A Very important film— not to be missed” — Amos Lassen, reviewsbyAmos Lassen.com

 

“ROLLING THUNDER REVIEW: A BOB DYLAN STORY”— Scorsese and Dylan On the Road

“Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story”

Scorsese and Dylan on the Road

Amos Lassen

In 1975, Bob Dylan, who had just started touring again after an eight-year break (probably because of his infamous motorcycle accident), decided to put together an unconventional tour and tour group. Instead of simply playing concerts, he’d headline a “revue,” accompanied by a rotating group of fellow musicians (including Joan Baez, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Joni Mitchell, Roger McGuinn, Mick Ronson, etc.), a poet laureate (Allen Ginsberg), a screenwriter (Sam Shepard) for an accompanying film project, and a cameraman (Howard Alk) to shoot material both onstage and behind the scenes. Some of this footage became part of  Dylan’s directorial debut, “Renaldo And Clara” (1978) and was not well received. The rest of it was in a vault for decades, until Martin Scorsese found it and made it into a semi-coherent film. Scorsese also decided to add his own element of his own, one that transforms the film from an historically significant afterthought to something of a  myth.

It’s unclear how many of Rolling Thunder’s 57 shows were filmed. Most of the concert footage appears to come from just one and focuses almost entirely on Dylan (sometimes singing with Baez), performing songs from “Desire”, his 1976 album he recorded with the same backing band—as well as blistering rock-and-roll arrangements of some of his folk-era classics like “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” It seems likely that many of the supporting acts just didn’t get filmed. But while the tour’s “revue” aspect largely gets lost, Dylan himself is on fire, as he takes the microphone in the white face paint he wore most nights, apparently as a glam-influenced mask. I was very frustrated that Scorsese repeatedly cuts away mid-song in order to contextualize what we’re seeing with talking-head interviews. The film is strongest when watching the legendary performances, that have been largely unseen for forty years. 

All of the archival footage (most of the movie) was not shot by Scorsese or his team. He invents a tour filmmaker, Stefan van Dorp (Martin von Haselberg), who appears in present-day interviews complaining about the degree to which his contribution is being undervalued. There’s no onscreen indication that Van Dorp is fictional, however.

 

Apparently, the idea behind these fictional interludes is that they represent Dylan’s prankish side—he was known to falsify his personal background, claiming to be from New Mexico rather than Minnesota, and makes a point of noting here, when asked about his face paint, that someone wearing a mask is more inclined to be truthful. This playfulness is a distraction and there is too much authenticity here  so there is no need for creative fiction. There are some wonderful behind the scenes moments involving Joni Mitchell: We see her teaching Dylan and McGuinn the riff to “Coyote” (then a brand-new song) during a casual jam session and joining a large group in an impromptu rendition of “Love Potion No. 9″ on the tour bus.

Ultimately what will stay alive and endure is the footage of Dylan himself. He is this project’s true auteurand it’s fitting that the film concludes with a truly startling rundown of literally every day he’s spent on the road since kicking off the Rolling Thunder Revue—which is to say, over the majority of his adult life. There have been no breaks since.

“TEHRAN: CITY OF LOVE”— Three Lonely Characters

“Tehran : City of Love”

Three Lonely Characters

Amos Lassen

Ali Jaberansari’s “Tehran: City of Love” is about three  disenchanted and gloomy people with low  aspirations are low. Hessam Fezli (Amir Hessam Bakhtiari) is a lonely champion body builder who has won three championships. He works in a gym as a physical trainer for ordinary guys and old men. He gets hired for a film with shoot is some time in the future. 

A handsome young bodybuilder, Arshia (Amir Reza Alizadeh), who is disenchanted with his previous trainer, comes to Hessam to tentatively train him for a competition. This is a dream come true for Hessam, who isn’t interested in women. We know that because he gives the brush off to Mina Shams (Forough Ghajabagli), the overweight receptionist at a beauty studio where he goes to get botoxed. When the body builder seems contented with Hessam, Hessam resigns from the film, breaking his contract, to devote himself wholeheartedly to the young man. 

Mina (who is obsessed with ice cream) makes suggestive calls to men on a secret cell phone for only that purpose. She sets up dates using fake pictures in this game of hopelessness that she plays. She attends a life class proposed to her by Niloufar (Behnaz Jafari). Reza who is already a student in the class takes an interest in Mina, inviting her out, not caring that she’s overweight.
On one of their dates, Reza tells Mina that he is married with a young kid. He’s getting divorced, but it is taking a long time. So he’s not really as available as he had let her assume for a while.

Meanwhile, Hessam seems to always be down even  when he’s standing behind his handsome young body builder, guiding his arms in a hard workout. He never cracks a smile. Mina does smile and looks pretty when she’s with Reza, and Vahid gets lively when he’s performing at the parties. Maybe the young aspiring champion body builder feels uneasy with Hessam’s attentions, especially after he’s invited to Hessam’s father’s house. The young body builder tells Hessam a lie to get out of their relationship, claiming that his travel schedule for work just doesn’t allow him time to train and he must give up the idea of the competition (which isn’t true).

The third gloomy person is Vahid (Mehdi Saki) who works  as a singer at religious funerals in a mosque. He’s estranged from  his fiancée which doesn’t seem to upset him beyond having to break the news to his religious parents. His best friend decides the way out of his depression is to start singing happy songs and gets him booked as wedding singer instead.

 

So Hessam, Mina, and Vahid wind up more or less back where they started. Director Jaberansari finds his perfect final image in Mina with the giant teddy bear that Reza sent her to say he was sorry, Vahid, and Hessam, all sit far apart, alone together, on an empty bus riding home.  

The hopelessness and loneliness of some urban lives is painful to watch but it seems to reflect modern Iranian urban culture, with its severe restrictions on fun.

“STRAIGHT UP”— Intellectual Soul Mates

“STRAIGHT UP”

Intellectual Soul Mates

Amos Lassen

Jams Sweeney’s “Straight Up” is about Todd (who might be gay) ad Rory (who would not let Todd’s sexuality influence their friendship in this romantic-comedy drama with a twist; this is a love story without the thrill of copulation.

Todd (Brendan Scannell) loves the movie “Legally Blonde” and holds very strong opinions about decorative pillows. We meet him while he is experiencing a sexual identity crisis. He has still not met his soulmate while dating men and is afraid he’ll spend his life alone, so he enters the heterosexual dating pool where he meets Rory (Katie Findlay) an aspiring actress who hates cats. Rory has a sharp wit and a great vocabulary. Together they are an intellectual match but can a (probably) gay man and a straight woman be a truly happy couple?

Reminiscent of a Nora Ephron romantic comedy, “Straight Up” is fun to watch as it shake up the genre’s tropes and staples. “Sweeney mines the depths of our collective anxieties around loneliness, relationships, and love for the perfect modern thinking person’s date night movie.”

 

“The Flight Portfolio” by Julie Orringer— Meet Varian Fry

Orringer, Julie. “The Flight Portfolio: A Novel”, Knopf, 2019.

Meet Varian Fry

Amos Lassen

Julie Orringer’s near perfect novel (for me, at least), “The Flight Portfolio” is inspired by a World War II story that many of us are unaware of—the real-life quest of an unlikely hero to save the lives and work of Europe’s great minds from the impending Holocaust. I must admit that I had heard of Varian Fry and of all places, I heard of him when I lived in Arkansas. A friend made me a copy of the film “Varian’s War” and I was introduced to a character who was to influence my thought for some time to come (because of his relationship with one of my philosophical heroes, Hannah Arendt and that will be explained in this review).
 In 1940, Varian Fry traveled to Marseille carrying three thousand dollars and a list of  artists and writers he hoped to help escape within a few weeks. He ended up staying more than a year, working to procure false documents, find emergency funds, and arrange journeys across Spain and Portugal, where the refugees could leave for safer ports. Among his clients were Hannah Arendt, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, and Marc Chagall (and these are just my favorites). He was soon involved in a race against time to save them and this was a high-stakes adventure that demanded great courage. We also learn. That Fry was involved in a love affair that could have cost him everything that he worked so hard for.
 
This is a big book that I could not put down and I read all 562 pages in almost one setting. We see the power of art and love beautifully depicted here (even though one reviewer found the bisexual and gay love scenes to be distasteful. To her I say, “Wake up, we are in the twenty-first century where love is no longer expressed by gender.

“The Flight Portfolio”, is named after a collection of paintings, drawings, and other artistic endeavors put together by fleeing artists and authors in Marseilles, France in 1940. Marseilles was Vichy, France and the artists and intellectuals were trying to get to Portugal or North Africa. From there they would be able to make their way to freedom in the US, Cuba, Mexico, or, in some cases, Martinique. Most were short of money and hope. Many should have left Europe earlier and not as the German noose began to encompass France and they wanted to leave now. A group had been set up and staffed by mostly non-Jewish Americans  who were busy “pulling strings, paying ransoms, bribing officials, and making up counterfeit documents.” This was the  “Emergency Rescue Committee” and one of their most important jobs was deciding who was worthy of being sponsorsed and saved by the Committee.
The novel is actually two stories. The first is the story of the rescues of so many people and the way the ERC operated in and around Marseilles. Included in that story is how the Committee was able to smuggle people in  and out of France to go to safer places from which to get a boat or a plane to the US. Author Orringer uses real people as both rescuers and the rescued. The other story is the love affair between the married Varian Fry, the man who was in charge of the ERC  and his old college lover, Elliott Grant. While Grant is a fictional character, he is based on Fry’s real lover, Lincoln Kirstein. Obviously Fry was bisexual because he fathered two children with his second wife. Kirstein went on to found the New York City Ballet and was a noted cultural figure and philanthropist and in 1984 was awarded the Presidential Meadow of Freedom.

Julie Orringer’s writing is beautiful and she manages to juggle the comings-and-goings and the personal stories of the main characters. She evokes Vichy France and  descriptions of the wartime France that are gorgeous to read and she shows the tension that Fry was under and the fragility of civilization itself and the heroic efforts necessary to preserve it, “all made personal in the work of artists and intellectuals that provide the artistic portrayals we need to see and the ideas we need to contemplate.” Varian Fry’s efforts are finally commended and beautifully so.  The book is a fantastic story with heroic people who labored against all odds and every obstacle to preserve the good, true, and beautiful.

“A Rabbi and a Preacher Go to a Pride Parade: and Other Musings, Sermons, and Such” by Bert Montgomery— A Collection

Montgomery, Bert. “A Rabbi and a Preacher Go to a Pride Parade: and Other Musings, Sermons, and Such” Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2019.

A Collection

Amos Lassen

 Assembled together in one collection, se have Bert Montgomery’s “LGBTQ-related musings, columns, and sermons.” Through humor, stories, and the Holy Scriptures, Montgomery challenges the heresy of homophobia within the church and calls for full inclusion and affirmation (in both church and civic life) of our LGBTQ family members, friends, and neighbors. And yes, a rabbi and a preacher really did go to a Pride parade!

Bert Montgomery lives in Starkville, Mississippi, cheers for the Mississippi State Bulldogs, writes, teaches, and is even called “pastor” by a few hearty souls. His previous books include Going Back to New OrleansPsychic Pancakes & Communion Pizza, and Elvis, Willie, Jesus & Me.

 

 

“SPIDER MITES OF JESUS, THE DIRTWOMAN DOCUMENTARY”— Donnie Corker, a Richmond, Virginia institution and Cult Figure in the LGBT Community

“SPIDER MITES OF JESUS, THE DIRTWOMAN DOCUMENTARY”

Donnie Corker, a Richmond, Virginia institution and Cult Figure in the LGBT Community

Amos Lassen

Jerry Williams’ documentary about Donnie Corker, “Spider Mites of Jesus, the Dirtwoman Documentary” is a look at a man who lived his life like as a cult figure right out of a John Waters movie. I had never heard of Corker before so I had no idea what to expect from this film. It took me quite a while to understand the title but it all made sense when I learned that Corker’s mother in trying to speak about his childhood illness found it difficult to say spinal meningitis. Regardless of the issue, Corker managed to live a life that insured that he would be remembered by his home town. He was a very big and very loud drag queen with few inhibitions. He was a well-known (and well-loved) fixture of the LGBT community in central Virginia.

Donnie seemed to have always been big—as an adult he weighted 300+ pounds and he seemed to have always had a big mouth and loved to wear women’s clothing. Naturally this caused him to face problems growing up and he was thought to be mentally disabled. Others picked on and tormented him for being gay and was raped by several men. Yet he showed his strength and his defiance was to proudly walk the streets looking for sex and he would protect his neighbors by being able to defusing criminal encounters. The cops even looked to him as a guy with street smarts who kept them informed of oncoming trouble.

This film shares all of this with us by using a combination of interviews and shots of Corker on the street living as he did. We see how he was named (you’ll have to see the film), his performances when he danced and some pretty horrible episodes of his life. He hungered for fame and found it in strange places (or it found him).  His last days were not happy and his death was unpleasant but we also feel the love the filmmaker has for him.

I can’t say that I loved this film but I found it both interesting and fascinating. I just wish that some of the stories we see and hear do not seem any point. There is also something said about respecting diversity and we realize that our world is made up of all kinds of different people and we can learn to accept them all. Donnie died in 2017 and he is missed by many. He was a local legend who will not be forgotten soon.

“TO BE ME”— Struggling with Gender Identification 

“TO BE ME”

Struggling with Gender Identification 

Amos Lassen

“To Be Me” is the latest Revry Original series added to their Pride Month slate. It is a scripted drama in the form of a queer digital series telling the story of a young, mid-western African American who struggles with their gender identity. Played by Kate Rose Wilburn, a non-binary trans female, along with Emmy award winning actor Kim Estes as their father, and transgender model Corey Rae as their best friend, “To Be Me” is here to shed light on the under supported subject of gender identity.

Amanda Dash and Daan Jansen, both producers on ABC’s The Bachelor, joined forces to create this series when it dawned on them that positive and realistic representation for the LGBTQI+ community in the media was few and far between.

Dash, who served as a producer and writer on To Be Me, said, “I’ve been lucky enough to live in cities that are widely accepting compared to other parts of the world, yet there are still instances where I witness others dehumanizing my friends, and it breaks my heart every time.” She went on to say, “As a TV producer in today’s society, I feel it’s not only my duty to cover the subjects that aren’t shown enough in mainstream media, but to tell stories that truly reflect the lives of my friends.”

Jansen, who directed and co-wrote the series, echoed those sentiments and stated, “It frustrates me that people who are transgender or struggling with their gender identity, do not receive that love and support and have to live their lives in fear. During our research, I met so many amazing people that inspired me to do anything and everything I can to make sure that their stories are being told. All humans, no matter who they are, deserve love and support to be their true selves.”

To Be Me is campaigning for the Outstanding Short Form Comedy or Drama and the Outstanding Actor In A Short Form Comedy or Drama for Kim Estes. This is the fourth year ever of all short form categories. To everyone involved with To Be Me, the short form category represents emerging creatives. It represents the work of those who may not have the support of a huge studio or multi-million dollar platform. Everyone involved with To Be Me voluntarily committed their time to create this story because of the passion they all had for the project. Regardless of how campaigning turns out, we know that everyone who watches the series will feel its impact.