AFTERGLOW” & “RAY MEETS HELEN”— A Double Feature

AFTERGLOW” & “RAY MEETS HELEN”

A Double Feature

Amos Lassen

I missed both Alan Rudolph’s “Afterglow” and “Ray Meets Helen” during their original runs so this Blu ray was a great surprise. Double Feature] [Blu-ray]

“Afterglow” is a  romance about a handyman who wreaks havoc and builds romance in two marriages. Desperate to have a baby, Marianne hires Lucky Mann to remodel a nursery. There’s just one problem: Marianne’s not pregnant and her husband isn’t interested in sex.

“Afterglow” stars Nick Nolte as Lucky Mann and Julie Christie as a blue-collar husband and wife who have separate affairs with a much younger couple: cold, distant businessman Jonny Lee Miller and Lara Flynn Boyle, a horny, unhappy homemaker whose life gets a boost from the advances of Nolte’s handyman womanizer. Christie is in many respects the ideal Rudolph heroine: gorgeous, radiant, otherworldly. She provides a poignant and heartbreakingly human center to the beautifully realized universe of damaged souls and missed connections. Nolte more than holds his own against Christie complementing her aloof, depressed beauty.

In “Ray Meets Helen” we have bizarre, unrelated turns of events. Ray (Keith Carradine) and Helen (Sondra Locke,) each happen upon large sums of money which give them the chance to re-invent themselves. This new wealth lets the two old-timers to flirt with rebooting their lives

Ray is a onetime boxer who never made it, who now works  for insurance investigator Harvey (Keith David). On one such job investigating an armored-car mishap that left millions of dollars just laying around, he sees Andre (Joshua Johnson-Lionel), a young kid sneaking around with a suspicious backpack. He later realizes the boy has a large stash of money.  Andre is strangely blasé about the money thus allowing Ray to walk off lots of money and plans to reinvent himself.

Helen is a loner from farm country who stumbles across a woman who has just killed herself. Mary (Samantha Mathis) left her a note, an impromptu will leaving her estate to whoever should first encounter her corpse. Weirdly, Helen takes her up on the offer, leaving the body for someone else to worry about.

Both protagonists share their homes with ghosts of their younger selves filled with reminders of the possibilities they once had.

“SOUTHLAND TALES”— How the World Ends

“SOUTHLAND TALES”

How the World Ends

Amos Lassen

Writer/director Richard Kelly’s “Southland Tales” looks at the collision of the forces of totalitarianism and anarchism against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic, near-future world .  Set in Los Angeles in 2008, the city is on the brink of social, economic and environmental chaos. The characters include  an amnesia-stricken action star (Dwayne Johnson), an adult film star developing her own reality TV project (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and a police officer whose identity has split in two (Seann William Scott). They come together and intertwine with all humanity. Kelly gives us a movie that is a mind-melting multi-media experience. We have a universe to get lost in.

The film opens with a nuclear blast in Texas in an alternate-universe in 2005. It seems that the United States responded to a nuclear attack on that date by taking a fierce rightward turn.  This was World War III and it brought pain to Iran, North Korea, and other supporters of evil including an entity called US-IDENT that spies on the American population and totally polices the world-wide internet.

A revolutionary group known as the neo-Marxists (Amy Poehler, Nora Dunn, Cheri Oteri) has brainwashed the Iraq War veteran played (Scott) as a way of faking a Rodney King-like videotape that exposed police brutality in hopes of instigating a revolt against the new social order.

Meanwhile, the amnesiac action star with ties to the Republican has written “a screenplay that predicts the destruction but it is ignored. His girlfriend, a porn-star/current-events-chat-show-host and one-woman media empire works with him.   “Southland Tales” isa pop art look at a coming apocalypse and a dark sci-fi comedy filed with surrealism. It is both courageous and audacious as we visit a world we do not know but might expect. It is also a mess of non-continuity. Watching it is like being in the dream of someone else.

2-DISC LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS

  New 2K restoration by Arrow Films, approved by director Richard Kelly and director of photography Steven Poster

  High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentations of both versions of the film: the 145-minute theatrical cut and the 160-minute Cannes cut , which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2006

  Original lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and PCM 2.0 stereo soundtracks

  Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

  Audio commentary on the theatrical cut by Richard Kelly

  It’s a Madcap World: The Making of an Unfinished Film, a new in-depth retrospective documentary on the film, featuring contributions by Richard Kelly and members of the original crew

  USIDent TV: Surveilling the Southland, an archival featurette on the making of the film, featuring interviews with the cast and crew

  This is the Way the World Ends, an archival animated short set in the Southland Tales universe

  Theatrical trailer

  Image gallery

  Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jacey

  Limited edition collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Peter Tonguette and Simon Ward

“JSA – JOINT SECURITY AREA”— Two Warring Nations

“JSA – JOINT SECURITY AREA”

Two Warring Nations

Amos Lassen

In “JSA”, filmmaker  Chan-wook Park brings us a story of deceit, misunderstanding and the senselessness of war. When gunfire breaks out in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, two North Korean soldiers are dead while a wounded South Korean soldier (Lee Byung-hun) rushes to safety. The tenuous peace between the two warring nations is in trouble. A neutral team of investigators, headed by Swiss Army Major Sophie Jean (Lee Young-ae), is sent to question both sides to find out what really happened.

The DMZ is perhaps the tensest political border in the world and an incident like this doesn’t go overlooked. A special investigation is soon held under Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission and her written disposition of what happened is different from the other deposition written by another investigator..

We go back to before the incident and believe that the film is going to be a political thriller as we wonder about what actually happened that night. What the flashback presents is totally unexpected. Rather than taking the expected suspenseful thriller approach, JSA is a heartbreaking human drama.

We see how characters from both sides of the border can only act as far as their respective governments allow and how a sincere, harmless friendship eventually is buried under political constraints. Most South Koreans probably haven’t got much of an idea of how things are going on in the North and do not seem to care. It is quite surprising that one of the most distinct looks at this was made twenty-one years ago..

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

  High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

  Original lossless Korean DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and PCM 2.0 stereo soundtracks

  Optional English subtitles

  New audio commentary by writer and critic Simon Ward

  Isolated music and effects track

  Newly recorded video interview with Asian cinema expert Jasper Sharp

  The JSA Story and Making the Film, two archival featurettes on the film s production

  About JSA, a series of archival introductions to the film by members of the cast

  Behind the scenes montage

  Opening ceremony footage

  Two music videos: Letter from a Private and Take the Power Back

  Theatrical trailer

  TV spot

  Image gallery

  Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Colin Murdoch

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector s booklet featuring new writing by Kieran Fisher

“BATWOMAN” & “THE PANTHER WOMAN”—Double Feature (4K Restoration) [Blu-ray]

“BATWOMAN” & “THE PANTHER WOMAN”

Double Feature (4K Restoration) [Blu-ray]

Amos Lassen

If you are looking for a fun double feature here is one for you. While these are not great fils, they are enjoyable escapes from the state of America today.

“Batwoman” takes place after the body of a professional wrestler is found off Acapulco’s coastline. At first it is believed that he drowned but the autopsy reveals a different and disturbing prognosis.  The coroner finds that the victim’s pineal gland has been surgically drained of all fluid. This looks the autopsies of murdered victims in Hong Kong and Macao so the police turn the investigation over to Mario Roble, who enlists the help of Batwoman (Maura Monti), a beautiful crime fighter. Their investigation takes them to a neurosurgeon who uses the drained fluid in his attempts to genetically create a half fish, half man hybrid.

“The Panther Women” is about the  attempt by cult members to resurrect the dead leader of their satanic sect and the Panther Women (Olga Petrova) must perform blood sacrifices in order for him to return to life. Using the wrestling ring as their sepulcher and their unsuspecting opponents as their blood sacrifice’s, As they conduct their life-resurrecting rituals,  the cultists members cause the shedding of blood of innocent people. Their activities are ended when  Captain Diaz becomes aware of their evil dealings and quest.

“On Love and Tyranny: The Life and Politics of Hannah Arendt” by Dr. Ann Heberlein— A New Biography of Hannah Arendt

Heberlein, Dr. Ann. “On Love and Tyranny: The Life and Politics of Hannah Arendt”, translated by Alice Menzies, Anansi International, 2021.

A New Biography of Hannah Arendt

Amos Lassen

As a huge follower of Hannah Arendt, I try to read whatever is available about her and have been waiting to read a new biography for sometime now. It is not easy to write about a philosophical icon whose influence has been felt large and wide so my expectations were especially high. Biographer Dr. Ann Heberlein uses a unique approach to the life of Arendt, the German Jewish intellectual whose political philosophy and understandings of evil, totalitarianism, love, and exile became essential study with the rise of the refugee crisis and authoritarian regimes around the world.
According to Heberlein, the most important thing that we can learn from Arendt to that we must love the world as much as possible and understand that change is indeed possible. But of course, that idea is too simple for Arendt and she has so much more to say. Arendtian thought spans a very crucial and important period of history of the Western world. It was a time of the Nazi regime, the Cold War and the rise of dictators.

Arendt examines our ideas about humanity and its value and its guilt and responsibility and we see here that her thought is based upon what she experienced in life and her ideas about evil (having had to personally deal with it), love, exile, statelessness, and longing. The book is a study of political themes that are very much a part of us today especially in the ways that democracies can easily become totalitarian state as well as the very personal and intimate recollections of Arendt’s circle of lovers and friends— Martin Heidegger, Walter Benjamin, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean-Paul Sartre (although I did feel that these sections were a bit to gossipy but very readable) and the moral deconstructions of what it means “to be human and what it means to be humane.”

We read of a Hannah Arendt for today, a philosopher whose own examinations into the nature of good and evil and love and as relevant as ever. We see how thought, life and the personal come together and cannot be separated.

“The Wondering Jew: Israel and the Search for Jewish Identity” by Micah Goodman— Bridging the Divide

Goodman, Micah. “The Wondering Jew: Israel and the Search for Jewish Identity”, Yale University Press, 2020.

Bridging the Divide

Amos Lassen

Israeli author Micah Goodman looks at the roots of the divide between religion and secularism in Israel today and presents a way to bridge the divide. One of my great pleasures is reading philosophical approaches to Judaism and Goodman here adds both political and social approaches to the religion as well as he examines the
place of religion in the modern world.

Zionism which began as an ideological movement full of contradictions looked to the past while at the same time harbored desire to bring about a new future. As a result, Israel has become fragmented between those who rely upon religious tradition and those who break with that tradition. Today, however, there seems to be a new middle between religious and secular Jews who want to engage with but not be restricted by heritage.

 Goodman explores Israeli Judaism and the conflict that exists between religion and secularism which has become one of the major causes of political polarization all over the world. By referring to and examining traditional religious sources and exemplary works of secularism, he shows us that each has an openness to learn from the other. He challenges both orthodoxies and proposes a new approach to bring religion and secularism together and provide a way to heal society that has been torn apart by extremism on both sides.

Before reading this, I read Goodman’s “Catch 67” and was amazed by his scholarship and sense of reason in looking at a situation (Israel/Palestine) where no solution was in sight. Yet he managed to propose ideas to, at least, begin working toward some kind of agreement. The gap between tradition and secularism is another situation of the same kind and is an important read for those who care about the future of the Jewish religion, of the Jewish people and of Israel. Through analyzing the situation, we are better able to understand why Goodman’s work is so highly respected. He dares to go where others do not.

In trying to understand any situation, we must examine all sides and the pluses and minuses that they present. Through his originality and deep insight, we are guided to do the same. Not only are we better able to see the culture and religion of Israel differently, we are able to place ourselves into it.

“Pamela Means And the Reparations: Live at Northfire”— More Than Music

“Pamela Means And the Reparations: Live at Northfire”

More Than Music

Amos Lassen

I do not usually review CDs but I am doing so now because I am so very impressed with “Pamela Means And the Reparations: Live at Northfire” and especially because of the first song on the album “Impeachment Now”. Lead artist Pamela Means’ family comes from Tennessee during the time of the Jim Crow laws. Her father moved North in the 50s and saw that not much had changed. Racism was everywhere and there seemed to be no end in sight as we learn from the powerful lyrics.

While the album is a condemnation of Donald Trump, it is so much more. Here the ugly ravages of racism are pushed out of the shadows and directly into our minds. The Trump administration is simply a conduit to release the pent up emotions that have been held by so many for far too long. And this is done through “in-your-face” song. Gentility is not a highlight of this album of six songs with the titles of “Impeachment Now”, “James Madison”, “Color of the Skin”, “Cinnamon and Chocolate”, “My Love” and “Hands Up”.

We are aware of the problems and while we may not know solutions for them, Means gives us some ideas. We have protested and protested and we have not seen much progress (although there are those who think we have progressed).

Accompanying Means are Cinamon Blair on bass and I-Shea on percussion and the subtlety of the lyrics comes as a surprise. We sense love and we feel disappointment and the humanity to the personal ways the songs are presented. Above all, it is the voice of Pamela Means that reigns supreme here and the call to action that reminds us that there are still plenty of challenges to face and that we must face them.

Note” The CD is the “clean” version of the lyrics).

“THE MALE GAZE: HIDE AND SEEK”— Five Short Films

“THE MALE GAZE: HIDE AND SEEK”

Five Short Films

Amos Lassen

New Queer Vision has rereleased its anthology “The Male Gaze: Hide and Seek”, five short films that will leave you thinking.

“LOLO” from Brazil and Germany and directors Leandro Goddinho and Paulo Menezes is the story of Lolo, an openly gay 11-year-old boy who tries to convince Max, his first love, to go public with their relationship at the school dance. By his side are Elena and Toby, flamboyant best buddies with a taste for magic and feng shui. This is a sweet and playful look at growing pains and the formation of identity.


“THE DEN” (“La Tana”) from Italy and director Lorenzo Caproni is set at the seaside where a family is enjoying themselves in the sun and sand. The appearance of another man, whose past reveals a secret darkens the day. This is a parable about the roles we play and the games we play them in.

“STANLEY”, a Brazilian film by Paulo Roberto is a young man remembering seeing his father having a conversation with another man and wanting to kiss that man’s sensual lips. Then when a woman dances provocatively in a roadside nightclub, two men dance with her. As the night progresses the two men share their bodies and their words.

“IF ONLY YOU WERE MINE” (“Keby si bol môj”) is a Slovakian film directed by David Benedek. Dominik is a young graduate in a relationship with the older Adam, who becomes a mentor, idol and first love. There are great uncertainties. Dominik feels that he does not belong to Adam’s world – one populated with young and hip Bratislavan writers and intellectuals. Despite this, he tries to make their relationship work.

Irish director Eoin Maher’s “NO STRINGS” is about  Bryn, a jaded young man new to London,  who is finding it difficult to cope with his new surroundings. Seeking a distraction, he invites Sean, an intrusive extrovert, over to his apartment. After a casual sexual encounter, Bryn wants to be alone again but Sean doesn’t want to leave.

“Water Sports; Or Insignificant White Boys” by Jeremy O. Harris— Being Fluid

Harris, Jeremy O. “Water Sports; Or Insignificant White Boys”, 53rdState Press, 2021.

Being Fluid

Amos Lassen

On July 6, 2015 James Baldwin went to the MacDowell Colony where he planned to write his gay novel, “Giovanni’s Room. However, first he was to have brunch with Robert Mapplethorpe. We are immersed into the situation in this new work of fiction by Jeremy O. Harris who takes us deeply into his own psyche as he discovers how to be “fluid” and begin “the work of decolonizing their desire.” To say anymore would be to ruin the reading experience.

 

 

“MAMBO MAN”— A Film to Listen To

“MAMBO MAN”

A Film to Listen To

Amos Lassen

The wonderful Afro-Cuban soundtrack of “Mambo Man” makes this a film to listen to. The story that goes with it is pretty thin— an impresario-farmer-get-rich-quick-schemer is the main character in Edesio Alejandro’s new film.

JC (Hector Noas) is the godfather of the East Cuban music scene but we never see him pick up an instrument. He is just finishing an album with music producer Mo Fini (playing himself). One day, his childhood friend Roberto returns to Cuba from Ecuador and offers JC a great opportunity. The matriarch of a family he knows has to sell her collection of jewelry to pay for her transit to Miami for $50,000. We suspect that this is a deal that is too good to be true.

The film is a very cleaned-up look at the oppressed and depressed Cuban society. The rich and rhythmic soundtrack includes such notable artists as Juan De Marcos Gonzalez & the Afro-Cuban All-Stars, Eliades Ochoa, and Omara Portuondo, Arturo Jorge, Julio Montoro Y Alma Latina, and Candido Fabre. Sometimes the music is peppy and upbeat, other times it is elegant and it always sounds great.

 Noas is wonderful as JC, but he is also something of a caricature. There’s something exotic about Cuba for Americans probably because the rules and restrictions have kept most of us away. “Mambo Man” allows  viewers to see the country’s landscapes as well as the lifestyles of Cubans.

JC is a Cuban farmer and music producer who seems to be involved in nearly every business in his small town—but none of them are profitable. Everyone knows him and every musician in town respects him for his contributions. However, he’s run out of money, and he’s becoming desperate to provide for his family. JC hesitates about the deal at first but then decides to take a chance on it get out of debt for good.  

As JC and his driver, David (Alejandro Palomino), travel from the farm, through the countryside, to the market, to the big city, we get a glimpse of life in Cuba. This isn’t the glamorous Cuba of mobsters and old Hollywood stars. It’s a place where Cubans just can’t seem to make ends meet. JC’s farm equipment is falling apart, the crops are failing, and it seems that everyone who has the drive to work has already left for Miami.  

Yet,  this isn’t a desolate, depressing Cuba. As JC tries to hustle his way through a deal that promises to fix all of his problems, the film also shows the life and vibrancy of the country, its streets, and its people. It’s a dynamic, film filled with color and busy markets, lively clubs, friendly outdoor cafes, classic Cuban music.