“Portraits” by N.A. Diaman— Three Men


Diaman, N.A. “Portraits”, Persona Press, 2016.

Three Men

Amos Lassen

Theo Demetrios, Sebastian Brown, and Conrad Runningdeer live in three different places (San Francisco, Paris, and San Miguel de Allende) yet they are united by love.

After college, Theo returns to San Francisco and rents an apartment, visits his parents, and becomes involved in a Bohemian literary circle. He works in a bookstore, tries his hand at writing, meets a guy and falls in love. and so spends most of his life in the city of his birth working in a bookstore and later as a writer. Sebastian spent his early childhood in New York and later moved to Paris. He came back to America and headed west but was unable to find a job for what he wanted to do and when he is offered a position that interests him, he has to return to Europe where he stays. Conrad who was from New Mexico was unlucky in love and seemed to be always moving from relationship to relationship. He is an artist and this allows him to have a comfortable lifestyle until things begin to change and he leaves America for Mexico where he makes his home.

We all have our own definitions of “home” and quite naturally it means different things to different people. Each person must find the definition that fits him and this is usually based on economics, art, love and/or family or even a combination of all of these factors. Here are three stories of three men each trying to find home.

“ON THE MAP”— Winning the European Cup



Winning the European Cup

Amos Lassen

Dani Menkin’s documentary, “On the Map” is the story of Maccabi Tel Aviv’s 1977 win of the European Cup and it also gives the broader story of Israel and the Jewish people during the Cold War. We see Israel, the underdog basketball team was able to prevail over CSKA Moscow (known in the West as “Red Army”), a team that refused to play against Israel. Moments after this highly charged and historical win, Israeli-American basketball hero Tal Brody captured the heart of Israel when he said, “Israel is on the map, not just in sport, but in everything”  and this became another motto of the nation.


The documentary focuses on the six American basketball players who joined Maccabi Tel Aviv and were responsible for shaping the team that beat Russia. We also get interviews NBA  legends Bill Walton and
 David Stern. We see that bssketball is filled with action and in Europe it has become a high-stakes game. Israeli fans love the game and it seems to reflect the nation that wins even though the odds are against them.


ON THE MAP also features interviews with Michael Oren and Natan Sharansky among other notable Israelis.


The documentary opens in in Los Angeles on November 25 and in New York on December 9.

“THE WOMEN’S BALCONY”— The Path to Happiness


“The Women’s Balcony”

The Path to Happiness

Amos Lassen

When the women’s balcony comes crashing down during a bar mitzvah, a local rabbi (Avraham Aviv Alush) offers to repair the damage and lead the community. But it did not take long before the new rabbi promoted a stricter interpretation: perhaps the reason the balcony crashed was because the women of the congregation were not modest enough? The women must organize to rebuild the balcony and reclaim their place in the congregation. For those of you who are not aware, traditional Orthodox Judaism forbids men and women sitting together and women are to sit above and behind the men and often behind a curtain so that they are not seen and do not distract their husbands at prayer.



“The Women’s Balcony” is a humorous, feminist narrative about finding the right path to happiness and the subjectivity of righteousness. Beliefs suggest that the men had not instructed their wives to live modestly enough and the collapse was a holy warning. This unfair theory was accepted by some and threatened to tear apart families and friends who discovered they could not agree on the status of the new women’s balcony.

Before Rabbi David’s arrival, everyone in the congregation was content. The men and women respected and appreciated each other and the roles they fulfilled. However when the new rabbi, who spoke so passionately and confidently, told the men that their wives needed to wear scarves to cover their heads, they dutifully went out and bought scarves to present to their spouses. When the rabbi chastised the women for not conforming enough, he actually caused some of them to feel ashamed of the decent lives they had led. When he refused to release the funds raised by the women to rebuild the balcony, all of the men fell silent. However, the women saw it as the last insult from a stranger attempting to change/ruin their happiness. They protested against both the rabbi and their husbands, using tailored tactics to deliver their messages.



Director Emil Ben Shimon’s first feature comes complete with a lot of effortless humor and wit. To find happiness, everyone has to discover it in his or her own way and we all now that what’s good for one may not be good for another and vice versa. Outsiders can give advice and opine but in the end every couple must find what works best for them. Unfortunately when someone exerts great influence in our lives there is an indication that we believe that we are doing something incorrectly and it difficult not to heed what they say. Here longstanding tradition is challenged by a persuasive figure.

On the morning of a bar mitzvah in Jerusalem, all the boy’s family and friends walk to the synagogue together to celebrate the blessed event. The men take their place on the lower level, where they adoringly peer up at the women’s balcony where all the female attendees observe the weekly service.


The husband, Zion, (Igal Naor) and wife, Ettie, (Evelin Hagoel) who are the most secular of the group and are at the centre of the story as a model couple until the rabbi divides them. Suddenly he began to criticize the women and Ettie was not afraid to tell her husband and the rabbi what she thought about his disapproval. She became an unofficial leader amongst the women and she was determined to make sure that the women would regain their status as equal to their husbands. In the meantime, the men are provided with plenty of opportunity to right their wrongs and remedy the rabbi’s errors. What becomes most interesting is the men are unable to defy the rabbi directly and chose to passively challenge him. Conversely, the women prefer action and they are decent, resourceful and stubborn. It is great fun to watch the women take charge of the narrative and hold on to their characters’ identities.


Using the themes of religious devotion, division between the sexes, comparing oneself to other and fighting for rights we get a movie that while very funny has a lot to say about religion in the modern world and the role of women in it. The story starts and ends with two significant events a bar mitzvah at the outset and a wedding to conclude. In between the members of an Orthodox synagogue in a small Jerusalem community interact, love and fight amongst each other after a catastrophic events strike their synagogue.


Comedic timing works very effectively in the film especially when the faithful debate amongst themselves their level of devotion. The comedic element also helps to defuse many highly contentious religious issues.


“The Women’s Balcony” is an excellent commentary on how a happy and healthy community can be upset by an unexpected series of events. One should also be wary of seemingly pious saviors that enter one’s life. A community will gain more in the long run by banding together to reach a solution with equal input from everyone even if it’s a slow and hard process.

“GOAT”— Toxic Masculinity



Toxic Masculinity

Amos Lassen


After having to deal with an assault over the summer, Brad Land (Ben Schnetzer) is ready to start college and is determined that things go well and getting his life together. Brett (Nick Jonas), his brother, is already at the school and a member of a fraternity that assures Brad that he will be protected, gain popularity and establish friendships that he will have for life. Brad is happy to join even though Brett has reservations about it and their friendship/brotherhood becomes divided over this. After pledging, hell week is on the near horizon and this is a time that is supposed to mark the passage to manhood and consists of a series of torturous and humiliating events. Traditionally hell week involves the formation of brotherhood along side some supposedly harmless hazing of pledges. However, things get out of hand and the friendship and the relationship of the two brothers are put to the test.


Brad is desperate to belong but as he sets out to join the fraternity his brother exhibits reservations, a sentiment that threatens to divide them. As the pledging ritual moves into hell week, a rite that promises to usher these unproven boys into manhood, the stakes violently increase with What occurs in the name of “brotherhood” tests both boys and their relationship in brutal ways. While this is not a gay movie in any sense of the word, there is a sense of homoeroticism in watching what goes down.


There are a lot of “shirtless shenanigans” and it is produced by James Franco.

“HARMONIA”— A Contemporary Take on a Bible Story



A Contemporary Take on a Bible Story

Amos Lassen

“Harmonia” is contemporary adaptation of the biblical tale of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, set in the world of the Jerusalem Philharmonic Orchestra. Conductor Abraham and his wife Sarah, the orchestra’s harpist, cannot have children. Hagar, a beautiful, young horn player from East Jerusalem, offers to have a baby with Abraham for the couple. However, when the child is born, it grows estranged from Sarah. “Harmonia” is a poignant metaphor to the struggle between the rival sibling religions that inhabit Jerusalem.


When Hagar joins the orchestra, Sarah’s world changes greatly. She and Hagar are irresistibly attracted to each other and develop a unique friendship that is challenged when Hagar offers Sarah to have a baby for her, from Abraham. When the baby is born, Hagar leaves the orchestra and leaves the newborn child with Sarah and Abraham. Twelve years pass. Ben is 12 and a wonderfully phenomenal pianist, but wild and uncontrollable.


Ben resists all his mother’s (Sarah) efforts to impose discipline upon him. Something is wrong and Ben feels it deep inside. At the same time Sarah gets pregnant in her late forties, and gives birth to Isaac. When Isaac is 3, it is the right time for Hagar to return to the orchestra. The reunion of Hagar and Sarah is sweet and sour and Ben was never told the truth about the way he was brought to the world. When the …


I loved watching the very famous biblical story about Abraham-Sarah and Hagar, being “transformed” in a modern-day story. The cinematography is gorgeous and this interpretation deals also with the Arab/Israel conflict in a very different and gentle way.

“THE DRILLER KILLER”— Death by Power Drill


“The Driller Killer”

Death by Power Drill

Amos Lassen

Abel Ferrara is Reno, a struggling artist and a man pushed to the edge by the economic realities of New in the late seventies. Then there is the No Wave, a band that is constantly practicing in the apartment below. Soon, his grip on reality begins to slip and he takes to stalking the streets with his power tool in search of prey.


“The Driller Killer” is the definitive look at NYC’s underbelly. Abel is a slasher who is as much at home in the art house as it is the grind house.This is a darkly fascinating look the late-’70s New York punk and pop-art scenes as well as a horror film. Ferrara stars as a misanthropic painter who lets his frustration with insensitive art dealers and obnoxious neighbors push him over the edge and that means causing him to commit homicide by power drill. Ferrara’s fascination with New York subcultures overtook the project, leading him to use half the picture hanging out with fringe-dwellers before finally getting around to offing them.


Reno wanders into a church, sits down next to some guy with a white beard and stares at him. Then the guy grabs Reno’s hand, and he freaks out and runs and gets into a cab with his girlfriend Carol, going on about how the guy was loony, when it was clearly him that is the crazy one. We have no idea what this means. He goes into this punk club and then home to his apartment building where a nubile young woman is trying to drill a hole in a door. She has gotten wound up in the cord and can’t decide where she wants Reno to drill the hole for her. And so it begins.

There’s an awesome scene in which some woman at the punk club warns Carol to stay away from her man. Then finally Reno snaps and gets to drilling someone. He picks a homeless guy.


I later read that Fererra made this movie over the course of a few years, just picking up the camera at various points and shooting a bit and then leaving it for a while, finally trying to fit it all together into a narrative.

The movie is a nightmare with poor film quality and mediocre acting but the story line is very interesting.


Bonus Features

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Michael Pattison and Brad Stevens



“Don McLean: Starry Starry Night”

Classic Folk/Rock

Amos Lassen

Don McLean’s concert at the beautiful Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas is a pleasure to watch. It is a one-of-a-kind celebratory performance, beautifully staged and filmed. The bonus footage alone makes this a special treat.


Don MacLean has written some of the best popular music ever and his intelligence, his lyricism and his sensitivity make for a great musical performance. At first, it all looks so simple but as the concert progresses, it becomes more and more interesting but it never becomes complex. The big hits are there, but many great songs are sadly missing. The special features on the DVD, we see Don is shown in vintage performances from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. The 70’s portion features 3 songs shot probably on 16mm when Don was at his peak as a forceful singer with passion and not the crooner he has become.


Track Listing

  • Castles In The Air
  • Jerusalem
  • Crossroads
  • You Gave Me a Mountain
  • Crying
  • Singin’ The Blues
  • Vincent
  • Angry Words
  • Raining In My Heart
  • And I Love You So
  • Fashion Victim
  • If We Try
  • It Was A Very Good Year
  • You’re My Little Darlin’
  • American Pie

“MORPHINE: JOURNEY OF DREAMS”— Documentary of the “Low Rock” Band from Boston


“Morphine – Journey Of Dreams”

Documentary of the “Low Rock” Band from Boston

Amos Lassen


In the 1990’s the Boston-born “Low Rock” band Morphine burst on the international music scene. They began in small local clubs and were on indie and major labels. Soon with high and wide critical acclaim their concerts were packed shows until the band’s untimely demise. The trio’s unique and mesmeric sound continues to resonate with its fans and music lovers as the group ascends to legendary status. This documentary is the definitive, in-depth tale of this unique musical act’s compelling career and life together and their musical creativity. The film doesn’t just get behind the music but inside the band. The story is told by the trio’s surviving members, saxophonist Dana Colley and drummers Billy Conway and Jerome Dupree plus the close-knit familial coterie that worked with them as well as Sandman’s girlfriend Sabine Hrechdakian. We get incisive commentary and observations from such friends and admirers of the group as Henry Rollins, Joe Strummer and Steve Berlin of Los Lobos. There is also plenty live performance footage from across Morphine’s career and we are reminded the band’s innovative yet at the same time classic, timeless sound. We go on tour with the band seen through Colley’s Polaroid pictures and Super 8 films. “Morphine: Journey of Dreams” is not just a tale of music business struggle, triumph and tragedy, but it is also a love as well as an adventure, drama, travelogue, and a roller coaster ride. Plus, when all is told, an evocative and loving tribute to a rock band that was like no other.


Mark Shuman brings us a groundbreaking biographical documentary with “Morphine Journey of Dreams”. The interweaving of audio and video recordings made by the man who was Morphine’s creator and backbone, Mark Sandman, recent reflections by the people who surrounded him, from before the band formed, until Mark’s tragic death, distinctly unique tour journals by Dana Colley, master sax-man, being read by the man himself, gives us inside information rarely found in any biography, especially one in which the main person is no longer living. The film flows seamlessly from the days before the inception of Morphine and it’s tragic conclusion nearly 16 years ago on a scorching hot day in central Italy. Shuman found a way to bring Sandman back to life, to make him a part of this well crafted work. The film makes Morphine’s legacy available for generations to come.


Bonus Materials

40 Minutes of Extras including Interviews with Morphine Members and Henry Rollins, Joe Strummer and Steve Berlin, Dana Colley’s Journal Readings and Mark Sandman’s photographs.


“Swamped by Fear: Critter Catchers Book 3” by Hank Edwards— Friends in Love


Edwards, Hank. “Swamped by Fear: Critter Catchers Book 3”, Wilde City Press, 2016.

Friends in Love

Amos Lassen

If you have read the other volumes in Hank Edwards’ “Critter Catchers”, then you have met business partners and best friends, Cody and Demetrius. Now on vacation in Florida visiting Demetrius’s parents, the two men realize that their feelings for each other are much deeper than just friendship. Now they have to deal with the new emotions that come with love as well as Demetrius’s mother’s health. They are very aware of the emotions that come with love and they also understand that they can either kill their friendship and business or take it even deeper. To make things even more interesting, a missing person’s case hits a little too close to home and they have to face a new adventure that is frightening. As usual, Hank Edwards tells a great story.

“LAZY EYE” A Reunion of Past Lovers



A Reunion of Past Lovers

Amos Lassen

When Dean (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe), a 40-year-old graphic designer, surprisingly hears from Alex (Aaron Costa Ganis), the ex he hasn’t seen in 15 years, the two decide meet for a weekend at a house in the desert near Joshua Tree. I love that the film is about the progression of time by showing Dean having a midlife crisis by having him adjusting to progressive eyeglass lenses as a symbol of reaching middle age.


Everybody has someone from their past, that one love that got away and perhaps broke your heart. “Lazy Eye” is about what happens when that person reappears. Dean is lonely, frustrated in his work and his life. He gets quite the surprise when Alex, an ex he hasn’t seen or heard from in 15 years, contacts him out of the blue. When they meet, secrets are revealed, truths told, and old wounds reopened as they share hopes of burying the past and starting over.

Over the course of a weekend at a vacation house in the desert, they must determine whether or not they have a future together. The film looks at roads not taken, unfinished business, and the struggle to protect oneself from hurt.


Alex is self-assured and free-spirited. He disappeared without a trace after a summer fling 15 years earlier and now is with Dean in the Southern California desert. It is soon clear that he harbors his share of doubt and regret over what happened. What begins as a passionate second-chance fling becomes an emotionally charged rehashing of their past romance as both men deal with the decisions that have led them to this point.

We look at the question of whether turning back to the past is ever a viable way to move forward. Tom Kirkman directed this thoughtful and sexy romance. Even with some deep and bitter regrets over their break-up fifteen years earlier, they are both able and perhaps want to taking up where they left off. However, it is not that simple, and first they both have to discover the baggage and commitments that they have each accumulated over time.  If they are able to deal with each other’s secrets and truths, they might be able to do so.


We have no idea as to what will happen and the idea of wanting to know how our lives would change if the major love of our life came back for a second round is fascinating and relatable thus making us care about the characters.

Dean with the biggest secret to share comes over as the more honest of the two, and with Alex it seems that there is much more to his story about the past 15-year that he is willing to share. I fell in love with the film but then I am a hopeless romantic.