“DAMN YANKEES”— A Fun Faust

damn yankees

“Damn Yankees”

A Fun Faust

Amos Lassen

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I love when a movie made years ago is still fun to watch. The other day while at the library I saw the DVD of “Damn Yankees” and brought it home. It was the first Broadway show I had ever seen in a Broadway theater and so it is special to me. I remember seeing the film years ago but not much else about it but then it was made in 1958. Tab Hunter was quite a looked then (but not much of a dancer so his scenes opposite legendary hoofer Gwen Verdon are quite week—but then she would steal the spotlight from anyone).

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“Damn Yankees” is quite simply delightful filled with great show stopping songs and Bob Fosse’s exuberant choreography and you even get to see him dance with his then wife, Vernon. The producers and directors of the film made a very wise choice to keep the original story and a lot of the original Broadway cast.

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Here is a different kind of Faust story that is fun to watch. From book to Broadway to Hollywood, the Faustian adaptation has had more than its share of tellings and re-tellings but here we get baseball and the devil together. Joe is a suffering Washington Senators fan. He is a total average Joe and when he is offered a chance to trade his soul to the devilish Mr. Applegate (Ray Walston) in exchange for a shot at becoming the long-suffering team’s savior, he takes the offer, transforming into Joe Boyd (played by Tab Hunter), a small-town boy who bats his way into a walk-on spot on the Senators and a chance at wrestling the pennant away from the Yankees. However, Joe realizes there’s more to life than hitting home runs but Applegate tries to thwart him and keep their deal in tact.

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“Damn Yankees” is full of energy and catchy songs. They all compliment the film nicely and add depth and comedy to a spin on a familiar tale. As a film, Bob Fosse’s choreography is fun and works well for the screen. While there are plenty of song and dance routines, there’s also lots of narrative. The result is a nice balance. The film’s most affecting aspect is its sentimentality. It is Americana as we see in the Boyd household with its comfy chairs and patterned wallpaper immediately evokes grandma’s house, at least for kids of my generation.

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Tab Hunter has been much criticized for being the Hollywood no-talent crammed into a Broadway cast but even though he can’t dance he does admirably in the final Two Lost Souls number. He’s also a fine foil for Gwen Verdon’s Lola, a fiery redhead with a wonderfully corny ‘vamp’ number that makes fun of every seduction scene in history. The big winner in Damn Yankees is Ray Walston and his devil Mr. Applegate was his most famous role. Applegate gets all the good lines and best bits of business; audiences are immediately charmed by his red socks and laugh at his cracks about politicians and parking lot owners. Fans of “All in the Family” will love seeing Jean Stapleton in a supporting role as one of a pair of old-maid sisters. Everything she says is memorable.

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It ends on a right emotional note and disappoints a lot of people who are expecting a finale musical number.

“Last Tent City Blues” by Walter Beck— The Poet Speaks

lost tent city blues

Beck, Walter. “Last Tent City Blues”, Drafty Attic Press, 2015.

The Poet Speaks

Amos Lassen

Walter Beck is one of those poets that bores into you and does not let you go. I just had a look at my reviews and I see that this is the tenth book of poetry of his that I am reviewing and his poems make up in reality what some feel they lack in beauty. His poetic influences tend to jump off of the page—we see Bukowski and Kerouac but we see the poetry of the heavy metal bands. Yes the influence is there but the poems are brand new and they really can only be compared to themselves.

Walter Beck has ties to camping (the real kind) and we immediately become aware of the way he feels about it—there is something about the wilderness that lights something in him and acts as a catalyst for his writing. We surely have seen this before in other poets and their communions with nature but while their feelings are hidden in the lyricism for their poems, Beck’s poetry cries out to be read and released from within. We also see that nothing is sacred and Beck is willing to take on anything from latrines to deep friendships.

“Last Tent City Blues” is divided into sections—“The Spirit”, “In the Field”, “Brotherhood”, “Uprising” and “Exile/Redemption” and they act as a road map to the poems collected here. I suppose I could say something about each poem but I do not want to because I want you to have the experience of meeting Beck and reading what he has to say. My recommendation should speak for itself.

“FOLSOM STREET’— Music and Festish for 2015.

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“Folsom Street”

Music and Fetish for 2015

Amos Lassen

A friend of mine sent me the link to this short film about the Folsom Street Fair and I feel like I have to share it. It is not often that we get to see fetish in a Broadway-like production number.

In Folsom Street, the famed San Francisco fetish street fair gets melded with a bit of Broadway for a leather, sex and latex musical number.

Aron Kantor who made this film was hired by the organizers of the Folsom Street Fair to make a short film to be used to promote the event. The idea was to celebrate the rich history of diversity that pushes the limits of raw sexuality and makes San Francisco the cultural haven it has always been.

Kantor has said that because of the gentrification of San Francisco, he wanted to make a time capsule that celebrates its diversity and culture. “The city’s queer community is tremendously diverse, talented and beautiful, and the production of this film became a celebration, a joyful homage to this city’s sexually deviant history and gloriously seedy heyday.”

Folsom Street Fair 2015 is Sunday, September 27, 11am – 6pm on Folsom Street between 8th and 13th streets in San Francisco, CA.

“OLVIDADOS” (“THE FORGOTTEN”)— Haunted by the Past

olivados english poster

“OLVIDADOS” (“THE FORGOTTEN”)

Haunted by the Past

Amos Lassen

Retired General José Mendieta (Damián Alcázar) had a heart attack and then became haunted by his dark past as an officer in Operation Condor the CIA-backed campaign of political repression in Latin America that saw the disappearance of over 60,000 people in the 1970s.

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 In a journal written to his son Pablo (Bernardo Peña), Mendieta admits to the role he played in the abduction, persecution, and execution of countless men and women during his time in Chile.  Journalist Marco (Carlotto Cotta,) and his pregnant wife Luciá (Carla Ortiz) were among those who were arrested with their activist friend Antonio (Tomás Fonzis) and dancer Andrea (Ana Calentano,).  They suffered terribly under Mendieta and his cohort Sanera (Rafael Ferro) and when Luciá gave birth in prison, it triggered a cascade of betrayals, secrets, and stolen lives that from many generations.

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 “Olvidados” was Bolivia’s Foreign Language Film submission for the 87th Academy Awards® was filmed in Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile, and is the first film to specifically address the horrors perpetrated by Operation Condor, the late-1970s continent-wide military drive to wipe out communism from the continent.

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At the opening of the film we see images of dictators that include Videla in Argentina, Pinochet in Chile, and Banzer in Bolivia — and of the damage they did. Mendietais an ailing former general with a troubled conscience about the atrocities he was responsible for under Operation Condor 40 years earlier. After taking a walk during which he comes face-to-face with, presumably, one of his former victims, he collapses and spends most of the rest of the film convalescing, attended to by his nurse, Gloria (Schlomit Baytelman). Back in the ’70s, Mendieta, along with sadistic sidekick Sanera to whom Mendieta delegates the really nasty stuff is sent to Chile to implement Operation Condor. We see the two of them dragging supposed dissidents to prison and torturing and killing them. What we see is presented from Lucia’s perspective who in one speech in jail angrily tells a cellmate that the right- and the left-wingers are equally bad — in other words, “violence is bad.” There are extensive, explicit torture scenes, which involve electrodes that are presumably there to show the true horror of what took place. Beautifully acted and directed this is a painful film to watch but an important one.

“THE EPIC OF EVEREST”— Newly Restored on Blu Ray

the epic of everest

“THE EPIC OF EVEREST”

Newly Restored on Blu Ray

Amos Lassen

“The Epic of Everest” is now newly restored in 4k by the British Film Institute. It features truly breathtaking images of the Himalayas. This is silent travelogue that depicts the 1924 historic expedition to the summit of Mount Everest by climbers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine, whose untimely deaths resulted in uncertainty as to whether the men had indeed reached the peak of the mountain. Captain, John Noel, inspired by his long-time interest in Mount Everest, created a stunning visual document of the journey that also presented valuable, early-filmed records of life in Tibet.

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More than 90 years after its release, this documentary has undergone a painstaking restoration that brings the film to new audiences in its entire original splendor. All of intertitles have been reconstructed and restored from the original film and along with the original color tints and tones. This edition features a newly commissioned music score by Simon Fisher Turner.

The 1924 Everest expedition ended with the deaths of two of the finest climbers of their generation, George Mallory and Andrew Irvine, and brought about an ongoing debate over whether or not they did indeed reach the summit. This film is an awe-inspiring travelogue of their perilous journey.

It was filmed in brutally harsh conditions with a specially adapted camera by which Captain Noel captured  images of breathtaking beauty and considerable historical significance. The film is also among the earliest filmed records of life in Tibet and features sequences of Phari Dzong (Pagri), Shekar Dzong (Xegar) and Rongbuk monastery. But what we really see and feel here is the vulnerability, isolation and courage of people living and persevering in one of the world’s harshest landscapes.

The restoration by the BFI National Archive has transformed the quality of the surviving elements of the film and reintroduced the original colored tints and tones. Revealed by the restoration, few images in cinema are as epic — or moving — as the final shots of a blood-red sunset over the Himalayas. There are new special features that include

“Introducing “The Epic of Everest” with Sandra Noel”,

“Scoring ‘The Epic of Everest’ with Simon Fisher Turner” and “Restoring “The Epic of Everest” with BFI curators” and a trailer.

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“The Epic of Everest,” is a film that depicts the incidents in the valiant attempt, in 1924, to conquer the summit of Mount Everest. The last sight of the two men who died is revealed on the screen, the scene having been taken by a telescopic lens from a distance of 3,000 yards at an altitude of 22,000 feet.

We learn of the heights at which the different camps were established, the affect the atmosphere had upon human beings see that the wind is the mountaineer’s chief enemy, and that the peak of Everest is lashed by a continuous 100-mile-an-hour gale. Long before reaching the summit this wind was such a handicap to the explorers that they had to lie down and grip the ice to prevent themselves from being swept to their death.

There are several film stretches that were taken from a distance of a mile and a quarter and a mile and a half. It’s not until the film’s final few moments that “The Epic of Everest” becomes beautifully poetic and even mythological when we hear how the native Nepalese both revere and worship the mountain that so many Westerners have traveled to conquer. This is an astonishing historical document. The film frequently transcends mere documentary status with its images of the imposing mountain face that are sometimes dotted with minuscule human figures.

“COFFEE TALK 2—Football”— Being True

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“COFFEE TALK 2—Football”

Being True

Amos Lassen

I just watched any amazing shirt film about gay college football player Cage who didn’t check out his new teammates. His flamboyant roommate Larry wants him to be true to himself. Here is what the official blurb says:

“A gay college football player’s first day at the team. Is he courageous enough to flirt with his teammates?

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Cage, a gay college football player, would tell if somebody asks about his sexuality, but his flamboyant roommate and college friend Larry is upset that Cage didn’t dare check out his new, hot teammates just to avoid trouble. Can he motivate him to overcome his self-restraint?”

“’Coffee Talk 2 – Football’ seems to reflect the zeitgeist: In 2013, professional soccer player Robbie Rogers came out and blazed a trail as one of professional sports first openly gay athletes. In the same year, Jason Collins became the first active openly gay basketball player of the NBA. And finally, Michael Sam became the first publicly gay football player in the history of the NFL. And in 2014, Chip Sarafin became possibly the first publicly gay college football player”.

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“Young players are often scared of coming out to their teammates, because they think they are not allowed to play anymore. In this respect, professional gay athletes act as role models for youth. Their and our short film’s message is clear: Don’t be afraid of who you are. You can succeed as a gay athlete. And you have more friends than you think”.

“CAPTIVATED: The Trials of Pamela Smart”— Sex, Drugs and Betrayal

captivated

“CAPTIVATED: The Trials of Pamela Smart”

Sex, Drugs and Betrayal

Amos Lassen

The trial of Pamela Smart was the first fully televised court case. In 1990 in a small New England town Pamela Smart, an attractive blond teacher was having an affair with one of her students. She was  accused of plotting her husband’s murder. Jeremiah Zagar in this new documentary looks at how the media coverage manipulated the case and sealed Pamela’s fate. The Pamela Smart trial shook the consciousness of America. America tuned in and reality TV was born with this case. The trial, the non-stop media attention surrounding it, and the events that caused it have inspired over 20 years of television, books, plays, and movies.

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It seems that it was not enough that Smart slept with a student but she also talked that student into murdering her husband. Here was fodder for a pop culture phenomenon that lost the truth of who Smart was and what actually happened. “Captivated” closely examines the impact of the media frenzy but manages to steers clear of giving an opinion on the guilt or innocence of Smart. It provides a penetrating indictment of  the public’s guilt in feeding the news sharks. It’s an incredibly relevant discussion in our reality television obsessed age.

Zagar was given surprising access to the life-without-parole prisoner Smart and most of the major players surrounding the trial and media circus. He discovered some intriguing new revelations and perspectives. Zagar began making this film with the hope to shifting perceptions on Smart. The problem is that no matter how poorly Smart was treated at the time or how exaggerated the story became in the media, or how guilty her teenage associates seemed to be, some of the evidence contradicts it all and it’s very hard all these years later to find the truth. There’s no question that Pamela Smart’s trial was far from fair yet her innocence remains questionable and when Zagar hits a dead end, he changes his focus to blaming the preconceptions of his viewers. The filmmaker isn’t necessarily wrong on all counts, but his ending just seems to be cheap and inappropriate. Nonetheless, there’s still a great deal to enjoy and admire about the film but be prepared to become frustrated.

The film rewinds the facts. It probes whether the media’s insatiable storytelling combined with Pamela Smart’s demeanor and naiveté settled the verdict long before the case was even argued in court. We begin to question everything we’re told as the line between news and entertainment continues to blur. The authorities talked the three teenage boys who were responsible for actually killing Smart’s husband into ‘plea bargaining’. They were told that if they gave evidence at Pamela Smart’s trial, they would only be charged with 2nd Degree murder.  Smart, who however, who was not present when the actual murder took place, was still charged with First Degree murder. The boys would end up serving a fixed time sentence before being freed, where she would face life imprisonment without parole. This is just one of the many disturbing facts that Zagar’s documentary uncovered.

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Another example of what we learn in the film is Smart’s teenage intern, Cecelia Pierce, who had been coerced to being a witness had been fitted with a ‘wire’.  The tapes she made while she was talking to Smart were almost completely unintelligible but the prosecution had them greatly enhanced without the involvement of a licensed audiologist that the defense offered to provide. This made a media star out of Pierce who also pocketed $100,000 for her life story and it further locked Smart in prison.

Two days before the trial even started Smart’s story was turned into TV movie starring Helen Hunt with the local newspaper reporter playing himself.  Despite this and the daily deluge of coverage by a hostile media that had already convicted Smart in newsprint and on air, the Judge refused to sequester the jury and they went home every night and heard broadcast after broadcast. Never before had the media been so instrumental in shaping how the American public learned about a small-town murder case, and they yelled for Smart’s blood.

It took only eighteen days to convict Smart and put her in the Bedford Correctional Facility in New York for being an accomplice to first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and witness tampering. She will never ever be released unless she receives a personal pardon from the Massachusetts Governor. Each of the young men involved in the case received lesser sentences, two have already been released and the other two are up for parole in 2015. 

There have been two movies based on the story. One stars Nicole Kidman— ‘To Die For’  but it was the earlier TV one that had the most effect. One of the teenagers who had accompanied the murderers that fatal night was set to re-confirm his original statement that the Police had suppressed as it had supported Smart’s claims of innocence, but he now reneged on this and all he could remember, word by word, was the fictional movie version. Zegar tries his best to get beyond what he presents as a travesty of justice and in effect puts the media on trial for its coverage. In doing this, he is in fact adding yet another layer of speculation and opinion making. Here is another case of media manipulation.

“Blood and Dirt: A Russ Morgan Mystery” by Lloyd A Meeker— A Family Feuding

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Meeker, Lloyd A. “Blood and Dirt: A Russ Morgan Mystery”, Wilde City Press, 2015.

A Feuding Family 

Amos Lassen

I have always felt that family arguments are the worst in the world and I really used to stay away as far as possible when I sensed that one was about to begin. Looking back, I miss them now—there is very little family left and those of us who are still would rather relax than argue. Our psychic private eye Russ Morgan soon finds himself right in the middle of a family feud while investigating a vandalized marijuana field in Colorado. Five siblings are fighting over Ellis Ranch, the family property that is soon to go bankrupt if not saved by marijuana sales. Of course, as we all know from our own experiences, no one agrees and there is one who is willing to do what it takes to make his point.

As if this family is not enough of a headache for him, Russ is dealing with his own personal issue; his relationship with Colin Stewart who is younger than him by half his age. On one hand he feels that this relationship will only break his heart but on the other hand it has grounded him and it is a good partnering.

For those of you who are not aware of Lloyd Meeker’s writing, this is his second book in his Russ Morgan series. Before this came “Enigma” and it was there that we learn about Russ’s uniqueness as a private eye. It is not necessary to read the prior book in order to enjoy “Blood and Dirt” but in doing so, you will better understand Russ.

Evan Landry has hired Russ to investigate the marijuana incident at the ranch. It is there that he meets the five siblings—Stanford Sr. and his adult children Stanford Jr., Marianne, Billy, Evan and Sarah. It is impossible not to notice the sibling rivalry but it is actually more than just rivalry. Russ is soon caught up in the whole mess and that includes dealing with Stanford Senior, the father, who questions whether he did the right thing. Soon the destruction of the property leads to murder and Russ realizes that he is involved in this whole business more than he had planned and it is not easy for him to be around people who are so vindictive and greedy.

Deputy Sheriff Heath Baker enters the story to investigate the murder. There is something put-offish about him and even though he flirts with Russ, he does not want his help on the case. Russ does not take this so easily and he uses some of his psychic ability to let Sheriff Heath know who he is.

I mentioned earlier Russ’s relationship with Colin and now we see that Colin really wants to be with him while Russ thinks that they both could become hurt. Russ is also a bit scared of the fact that Colin is so much more mature than others his age. Colin and Russ are careful with their feelings for each other and it is clear that neither man wants to hurt the other in any way.

Now some of you are wondering why I so quickly dropped the case and wrote about Russ and Colin. If I had said anymore about the ranch and the family, I might have given something away that would ruin the read for others. Meeker gives us a wonderful read with fascinating characters written in excellent prose and I do not want to spoil anyone’s read and enjoyment. But I might add that if you are interested in growing medical marijuana, this is a good place to begin reading about it.

“PURPLE SKIES”— Pain, Trauma, Hope, Happiness

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“Purple Skies”

Amos Lassen

“Purple Skies” is made up of stories of pain, trauma, hope and happiness of lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in India and what we see is an evocative, endearing tapestry of contemporary Indian LBT lives. Some of the stories are sad and some are very painful to hear but there are also happy stories and funny ones too. We hear from those whose lives have been victimized and subjugated by law, family and society as well as hopeful stories of younger LBT persons who have managed to overcome barriers to live openly with dignity.

What makes this film so special is that homosexuality has recently been made a criminal offense in India and now the community there has to fight against stereotypes, gender and sexual bias, rigid family values and a law that makes them criminals.

“Purple Skies” is a feature documentary by award winning filmmaker Sridhar Rangayan, weaves together heartrending stories of LBT people. The film is seen in the context of the historic struggle of the LGBT community in India and by juxtaposing personal stories with critical analysis of issues by activists and advocates; we get a compelling inside view of Indian LBT lives. It features interviews with Betu Singh, Maya Lisa-Shanker, Sonia Singhal, Maya Sharma, Jaya Sharma, Sumathi Murthy, Sunil Mohan, Shobhna S. Kumar, Siddhant More, Anand Grover, Meena Gopal, Raj Kanuajiya, Ushma, Sonal Giani, Upasana Nathani, Prashansa Gurang, Sapana Mhatre, Vineeth, B.T.Venkatesh, Ruth Vanita, Shohini Ghosh, Chayanika Shah, Ketaki Ranade.

“MESSI”— The Best Soccer Player in the World

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“Messi”

The BestSoccer Player in the World

Amos Lassen

Lionel Messi is considered to be the best soccer player in the world. Director Alex de la Iglesia tries to tell us how that happened in his documentary feature. However, it is unfortunate that Messi is not fascinating enough to have a film made about him.

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We enter a restaurant where most of the tables are occupied by people from Messi’s past and present. His primary school teachers are at one table, at another, are Messi’s childhood pals from his Rosario neighborhood in Argentina and they reminisce over photos. At another table are Barcelona teammates Iniesta, Pique and pals. There are other tables with club trainers, football journalists and even his doctor. But neither Messi nor members of his family are there. Instead we have actors pretending to be those people.

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We learn something of Messi’s problematic move from Argentina to Barcelona and learn that he nearly played for Spain. Maradona, is not actually in the room, but he does make a cameo appearance telling Lio how much he loves him. However, he leaves the question of who is the better player up in the air, believing the question should be discussed at the end of Messi’s career. There is some archive footage of both players scoring goals, with the pundits pointing out the uncanny similarities between them.

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It is clear that Iglesia wanted to come up with a new format for getting information out of his guests, and you can see that a gossiping about someone in a restaurant over a few bottles of wine might work. However his seating plan could have been much improved and interesting facts could have come out of that. No one is there to push the speakers into giving more information, no interviewer probing the interviewees.

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The movie about Messi is messy. There’s very little in the film that we don’t already know, if you follow soccer. The goals and the technique look great, but Iglesia keeps cutting back to his own biopic fragments, insisting on their relevance.  One of the journalists even admits that Messi is a dull subject to interview.