Author Archives: Amos

“FAMILY”— Getting Rid of Relatives

“FAMILY”

Getting Rid of Relatives

Amos Lassen

 “Family” directed by Veronica Kedar is a family horror film with stylized cinematography and Hitchcockian references. The lead (played by Kedar herself) murders her screwed-up family members, one by one. This a film from Israel and it is important to know that there is a cult of family in Israel. There is little tolerance for single people who are pressured to get married and procreate, or at least procreate (sperm-bank babies are popular here). There are very few married couples without children and those that do exist elicit sympathy and advice.

If there had been a perfect world, Lily Brooke would have a father who cared about her, a mother who was not addicted to pills, a sister who really cared for her and who had a conscience and a brother who had strange masturbatory practices (that included her being naked). But things did not work out that way. One day Lilly finds herself in her living room, looking at four dead bodies. She goes to her therapist after hours, to confess and to try to understand what happened that day. However, the therapist was not at home make sense of this confusing day. But Lily’s therapist isn’t home and the only person there was the therapist’s teenage, judgmental and insensitive daughter. Lilly needs attention and she isn’t going to get it there.  

Of course, it’s important to understand genre conventions of this beautiful stylized film – had it been drama and not horror, the film would have dealt with the violence and responsibility for it very differently. But as it stands now, the murders in the film feel liberating, whereas the family oppression is all too real

Israeli filmmaker, Veronica Kedar, writes, directs, and stars in this film about a fractured family. It explores why Lily would all of a sudden kill her entire family. The plot is non-linear and this is a great technique to keep us guessing and imbue the film with a sense of mystery.  

The film begins with a gruesome murder scene and from there it follows a structure similar to a session of therapy. It becomes a psychological puzzle that’s filled with twists and turns as it centers around a family portrait contest where a picturesque look at a perfect family is taken just moments before they all die.  This shows us that people can hide who they are and the lies that photos can tell. Lily takes family portraits of the family now that are all brutally murdered and then the non-linear plot takes us through time to chronicle Lily’s various experiences with her family and just how she began to resent them so much. Lily begins this film as a monster, but she slowly receives her humanity as her life goes on and by the end it’s hard to not be on her side.

Kedar wonderfully shares the nuances of family trauma and dysfunction and she does so viscerally and beautifully. But this is also a look at a fractured family tat is upsetting and quite jarring. The film is “nominated for three Israeli Academy Awards.

“ALL MALE, ALL NUDE: JOHNSONS”— All Male and All Nude, Indeed

“ALL MALE, ALL NUDE: JOHNSONS”

All Male and All Nude, Indeed

Amos Lassen

Director Gerald McCullouch’s documentary “ALL MALE, ALL NUDE: JOHNSONS” is something of a  sequel to “All Male, All Nude”. It takes us into the world of male strippers at Johnsons in Wilton Manors, Florida, America’s Second Gayest City per capita. Matt Colunga who has been in the male adult entertainment business for 23 years followed his dream and created the club.

Director Gerald McCullouch has spent over 10 years uncovering the world of male stripping with this second Cinéma Vérité feature length documentary.

We meet several of the dancers includingn26-year-old Alexander, who spends his days dressed as Spider-Man and who creates early memories for children at kids’ parties. He spends his nights stripping down to his G-String for gay men. Other strippers are single fathers and young men putting themselves through college with the money thy make stripping. The men who compose the heart of Johnsons are diverse, unique and captivating.

What I really like about this film is that to enjoy it requires no thought—I found it to be totally relaxing with a cast that is fun to look at and even dream about

“MR. TOILET: The World’s #2 Man”— Meet Jack Sim

“MR. TOILET: The World’s #2 Man”

Meet Jack Sim

Amos Lassen

Jack Sim is a man who is obsessed with toilets and a crusader for global sanitation. He was born in the Singapore slums and  knows firsthand the problems of not having a proper toilet. He has dedicated his life to a crisis no one dares talk about: Poop. We learn here that not having a place “to go” isn’t just an inconvenience; it’s a problem that impacts 2.4 billion people worldwide. In India alone, some 200,000 children die each year from lack of safe sanitation and women are regularly raped because they have to defecate in public spaces. Sims is full of jokes and he uses humor as his weapon to fight an uphill battle against bathroom taboos. He founded the World Toilet Organization and spent the last 13 years lobbying 193 countries to raise awareness for proper sanitation. He says that he is “Turning poop culture into pop culture is the fastest way to solve the sanitation crisis”. He has successfully lobbied the United Nations to create World Toilet Day (November 19), the first International day of celebration for the toilet.

Now he is in the middle of his biggest challenge yet, securing 6 million toilets for the “Clean India” initiative. With few resources and no help from the government, his epic project and reputation are in jeopardy. Jack’s once supportive staff begins to doubt him; and when his family bonds start to fray over his obsessive dedication, Mr. Toilet realizes there is a price to pay for being the world’s #2 man.

“MR.TOILET: The World’s #2 Man” is a documentary film directed, produced and written by Lily Zepeda and produced and written by Tchavdar Georgiev. It will open at Laemmle Monica in Los Angeles on November 8 and at Village East Cinema in New York on November 22. Other cities will follow. 

Here are some toilet facts to think about:

ALMOST 40% OF THE WORLD’S POPULATION DOES NOT HAVE ACCESS TO SAFE SANITATION

MORE PEOPLE HAVE A CELL PHONE THAN THEY DO A TOILET

ALMOST 1 MILLION CHILDREN DIE EVERY YEAR FROM DIARRHEA DUE TO LACK OF SANITATION; THAT’S 2,000 CHILDREN A DAY

OVER THE PAST 200 YEARS, TOILETS HAVE ADDED 20 YEARS TO THE LIFESPAN OF HUMANS

IN 2013 MATT DAMON STAGED A FAKE PRESS CONFERENCE ON YOUTUBE FOR WORLD TOILET DAY TO ANNOUNCE HIS “TOILET STRIKE” IN AN EFFORT TO RAISE AWARENESS FOR SANITATION

1/5 GIRLS IN INDIA DROP OUT OF SCHOOL WHEN THEY START HAVING PERIODS DUE TO THE LACK OF SAFE, PRIVATE TOILETS.

WORLD TOILET DAY IS SINGAPORE’S FIRST UN RESOLUTION TO BE ADOPTED

JACK SIM WAS NAMED ONE OF THE HEROES OF THE ENVIRONMENT FOR 2008 BY TIME MAGAZINE

“COPA 181”— Revisiting the Gay Sauna

“COPA 181”

Revisiting the Gay Sauna

Amos Lassen

There was a time when a town’s bathhouse was the site for many different occasions including business deals, mortgages, loans and what have you. Usually situated on a major square in town, it was a place everyone knew of and to which many people frequented. Plumbing changed and people had bathrooms in their homes but public bathhouses continued to flourish although not so much in this county where bathhouses were thought to be havens for gay sex, which in some cases they were.

“Copa 181” is set in a gay sauna much like the old Continental Baths in New York City. Here there was no pretense; it was a place where groups of strangers came looking for anonymous sex and/or company for a few hours. Copa 181, located in Rio in a corner of the Copacabana neighborhood in Rio was also a site for high drama. There we meet Tana, a hardware shopkeeper and his wife Eros who stops by every once in a while. She is an opera singer who finds acceptance for her incredible gift at the bathhouse. Joining them are a men ready to pay for the muscle-bound escorts. There is Leo who is happy with his trans girlfriend Kika but only within the physical confines of the sauna. Kika is a housecleaner by day and an entertainer by night and she dreams of becoming. Star and often feels that she already is. Everyone at Copa 181 comes “under the joint spell of the sex and escape from mundane reality the bathhouse offers”.

Watching this film will also pull you under that same spell.  Director Dannon Lacerda uses the theme of chosen family but this time at a sauna. Speaking of drama, just wait until you see what  happens between Tana, Eros and Kiki.

“THE ROAD TO LOVE” [“Tarik el Hob”]— How Gay Films Were Once Made

“THE ROAD TO LOVE” [“Tarik el Hob”]

How Gay Films Were Once Made

Amos Lassen

Karim (Karim Tarek) lives in a seventh-floor walk-up with his doting girlfriend, Sihem (Sihem Benamoune) and. he decides to make a documentary about homosexuality in the Arab world for his class at the Sorbonne.

He tries to track down some gay Muslim men to interview, first by hanging around in front of a gay tea shop, then by placing an advertisement in a newspaper. All of Karim’s respondents make advances toward him. They are seemingly provoked by his slight frame and large, expressive eyes. He is disturbed at first, but before long he begins to feel flattered by all the attention. He strikes up a friendship with Farid (Riyad Echahi), a serious young flight attendant who puts him in touch with gay Muslims in Paris and elsewhere while at the same time feeling his own crush on Karim. As Karim spends more and more time with Farid, Sihem becomes more and more anxious.

The film is crudely shot with what seems to be an amateur video camera and has few stylistic compensations. Karim uncovers the complicated and often contradictory attitudes toward homosexuality in Islam.

Homosexual relationships, he finds, are tolerated in many Muslim cultures as an outlet for pent-up desires that must otherwise wait until marriage. There was even one relatively modern culture, centered in the Siwa oasis in Egypt, where marriage ceremonies between men were performed, but these marriages were dissolved when the time for grown-up, reproductive marriage arrived. Only passive homosexuality, Farid explains to Karim, is considered truly shameful. Sex, in other words, is power, in which a sense of domination counts for everything. Karim begins to wonder if he is using his film as an unconsciously way to reveal his preference for men. When he goes with Farid to Marrakesh for the weekend, we see that this could be happening.

During the second half of the film, director Lange gives us a significant amount of information about the whole history of homosexuality in the Arab world. The film was originally released in 2001 and we really see the caution with which LGBTQ films were once made.

“COUSINS” (“PRIMOS”)— Bonding


“COUSINS” (“PRIMOS”)

Bonding

Amos Lassen

There is nothing like a sweet film to boost spirits and that is exactly what “Cousins” is— a sweet movie. Lucas (Paulo Sousa) lives with his aunt Lourdes (Juliana Zancanaro) in a quiet country town. Lourdes is a religious woman and Lucas helps her proselytize by playing biblical songs on his keyboard. Aunt and nephew live a quiet life but all that changes when Lourdes tells Lucas that another named Mario (Thiago Cazado) is coming to stay with them.

Mario has just been released from jail and now he and Lucas are going to share a bedroom. There are personality clashes between the two cousins but then an unexpected attraction begins bonding them together.

When I used the word “sweet” in my first sentence, I was speaking not only about the romance between Lucas and Mario but also about the simplicity of the plot. There is no real drama and no twists and turns. What we see are portrayals of two young men who fall in love while living among Christian values and Catholic customs.

The two lead actors have amazing chemistry and we feel the love that they feel for each other. Of course Lourdes with her Catholic upbringing and devotion to her religion. The ending might leave you a bit dissatisfied but I found it an interesting way to tie everything together.

“Philosophers: Their Lives and Works” by DK— The World’s Great Philosophers

“Philosophers: Their Lives and Works”, DK, 2019.

The World’s Great Philosophers

Amos Lassen

I must recommend DK’s “Philosophers: Their Lives and Works” because it is such a beautiful book. It brings together some of the great philosophers of all time from Confucius and Plato to Karl Marx and Noam Chomsky and gives us beautiful portraits and biographies.  Each philosopher is introduced with his portrait and the biographies give us the ideas, friendships, loves, and rivalries that inspired the great thinkers and influenced their work. We also get revealing insights into what drove them to question the meaning of life and think up new ways of understanding the world and the history of ideas. Illustrations include not only portraits but also photographs and paintings, their homes, friends, studies, and their personal belongings, pages from original manuscripts, first editions, and correspondence. This is an easy way to see the key ideas, themes, and working methods of each featured individual. Their ideas are set within a wider historical and cultural context. Taken as a whole, the book shows the development of ideas across the centuries in both the East and West, from ancient Chinese philosophy to the work of contemporary thinkers. Not only do we read about philosophies but we also get a look at  the personal lives, loves, and influences of the great philosophers.

 

“When Islam Is Not a Religion: Inside America’s Fight for Religious Freedom” by Asthma T. Uddin— The Rights of Muslim Americans

Uddin, Asma T. “When Islam Is Not a Religion: Inside America’s Fight for Religious Freedom”, Pegasus Books, 2019.

The Rights of American Muslims

Amos Lassen

Religious liberty lawyer Asma Uddin seeks equal protection for Evangelicals, Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Jews, and Catholics alike and she shares that she has seen, of late, an ominous increase in attempts to criminalize Islam and exclude American Muslims from their inalienable rights. 

The view that Muslims aren’t human enough for human rights or constitutional protections seems to be moving  into the mainstream along with the claim “Islam is not a religion.” This affects all Americans because the loss of liberty for one means the loss of liberties for everyone.

When Islam Is Not a Religion also looks at how faith in America is being secularized and politicized, and the repercussions this has on debates about religious freedom and diversity.

As she writes of what is happening on the national scene, writer Uddin tells her own story. She combines her experience as a person of Muslim faith and her legal and philosophical appreciation that all individuals have a right to religious liberty. She looks at the shifting tides of American culture and gives us an outline for a way forward for individuals and communities. 

For years now, Uddin has been the preeminent defender of religious freedom for American Muslims and has been explaining why her faith is no threat to non-Muslims. “When Islam Is Not a Religion” is her  plea for tolerance in which she brings together legal analysis with her personal story. She presents us with an argument for religious liberty for all. She pushes back forcefully on anti-Muslim sentiment and presents us with excellent research, intelligence, and eloquent writing in which she corrects  misconceptions about American Muslims. Not only is this an accessible introduction to key Islamic concepts, it is also a call for the protection of everyone’s religious rights.  This is necessary reading to better understand the scope and the stakes of the religious liberty debate. It explores Islam’s legal place in American society and takes us into one American family’s Muslim faith. Uddin counters ignorance with grace and humility while giving the reader thought-provoking examples of religious persecution that ultimately threaten the religious freedom of all Americans.

Americans began to challenge and persecute Muslims after 9-11 and we have seen numerous examples of this all the way up to President Trump trying to institute a travel ban for Muslim majority countries. Uddin outlines early attempts to portray Islam as a political system in the early chapters of the book and does so by examining speeches and interviews by commentators, television hosts, and political leaders and then showing  how they cast Islam as a terrorist organization.  Uddin traces the development of religious liberty and shows how bias against Islam has found its way into judicial decision-making with Muslims facing hurdles in the legal system that others do not. Stereotypes about Muslims are responsible for this.

Uddin dispels the stereotypes that have led forty-three states to consider bans against Sharia Law. She states that Sharia Law is not a political system but rather a code by which Muslims live similar to the Ten Commandments of other religions. We see how the hijab has become a political symbol and that some Muslim women take off their headscarves because they fear for their safety.

Uddin’s detailed analyses of the legal cases surrounding Muslims in America that have spanned the last decade is important and interesting to read. This is a well-written analysis of the impact American jurisprudence has had on the constitutional rights of Muslim Americans in today’s post 9/11 era. t is an engaging and insightful synopsis of the development of religious liberty doctrine in the United States, and a study of the limits of that doctrine when applied to Muslims. We are challenged to imagine a religious liberty doctrine that is elastic enough to meet the needs of American pluralism. Religious liberty is one of the bases that this country was built upon and “it’s weakness is our collective weakness.

“Love Falls On Us: A Story of American Ideas and African LGBT Lives” by Robbie Corey-Boulet— Not the Same in Africa

Corey-Boulet, Robbie. “Love Falls On Us: A Story of American Ideas and African LGBT Lives”, Zed Books, 2019.

Not the Same in Africa

Amos Lassen

 Robbie Corey-Boulet’s “Love Falls on Us,” looks at the complicated relationship between African LGBTQ activism and American foreign policy and its shifts on gay rights which have often exacerbated their difficulties simply by giving a global spotlight to ways of living that might have been unnoticed. Corey-Boulet keeps his focus the three countries of Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Liberia and on activists and individuals there rather than attempting to take on the entire continent. He looks at the peculiarities of these countries’ respective political and cultural contexts.

With the major changes regarding LGBTQ rights in this country, there is little consensus on how to advance those rights beyond the United States and Europe. LGBT activism and allies have created international winners and losers. This is especially true in Africa where  those who easily identify with the identities of the global movement find support, funding and care. Those whose sexualities do not match up and left out in the cold.

Corey-Boulet shows that LGBT liberation does not look the same in Africa as it does in the United States or Europe. We are now at a time when there is great interest in LGBT life in Africa and there are actual attempts at reversing LGBT rights across much of the “developed” world, we see that there have been failures in the past. There must be a right way to come together on LGBT issues in Africa and it is in this book that we begin to learn how to do so. Reading this helps us to understand those who do not have the same rights as the free Western world.

Corey-Boulet has great knowledge of LGBT rights in Africa and a deep connection with local activists. He understands “the complex relationship between well-intended outside human rights groups and the local activist community.” He is both sensitive and connected to the people whose lives and struggles he writes about giving him a great advantage.  

When Hilary Clinton gave her speech on International Human Rights Day in December 2011, announcing that “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights”, it was, in part, directed at the African countries where homosexuality was and, in some places, still is a crime punishable by death. She was lauded in the West due to growing popular support for LGBTQ issues. However, in Africa, the speech might have had negative consequences for LGBTQ communities that had gone underground and away from public view.

Corey-Boulet makes it clear that his book is a series of looks and not a “single, generalized picture of gay life across an often maligned and misunderstood continent.” He is very much aware of the common mistakes that are made by writers and journalists make about Africa and that is basically “the mistake inherent in conceiving of sexual minorities in one city, or one country, or anywhere, as a kind of monolith”. Therefore, he avoids hierarchical language and stereotypes choosing to humanize his subjects by showing the complexities and differences among LGBTQ lives, closeted or not.

We gain. understanding of lives “beyond the persecution described in Western media.” We see the importance of awareness to avoid sensationalizing minority life, and to show its full range. The writers and the activists that we meet here are critical of those from the West who seem to be looking at this issue that a colonial mindset which simply means not allowing Africans “to discuss the issue on their own terms, but instead to respond to what Westerners were doing and saying.”  What we really see is the challenge that exists when we attempt to raise the regularity of LGBTQ life in Africa to those who simply want to live peaceful lives free of persecution in the countries of their choice.

“THE KIDS’ TABLE”— Understanding Bridge

“THE KIDS’ TABLE”

Understanding Bridge

Amos Lassen

Four novice, millennial Bridge players train and compete for a year on the National Bridge Circuit – where the average age of their competition is 76 – to study and understand how the most popular game in America only 50 years ago now sits on the brink of extinction.

Directors Stephen Helstad and Edd Benda tell the story of four friends, Benda, Monique Thomas, a comedian, Stefanie Woodburn, the host of Twitch and actor Paul Stango who are new to the game yet they train and compete for a year on the national Bridge Circuit. The film takes us behind the scenes of the world of competitive Bridge, a game whose players are on the average in their 70s. We see as the young players learn the highs and lows of how to play, how to compete and we meet the Bridge community. The young players also hope to build a foundation that will ensure the future of the game.

If you have ever had questions about Bridge, the film might just answer them and even if it does not, you will have fun watching it. I loved learning about the game so painlessly. The characters are engaging, their story is compelling and they make you root for them.