Author Archives: Amos

“THE NIGHT OF THE TWO MOONS”— “You don’t need love to have children, just sex”

“THE NIGHT OF THE TWO MOONS”

“You don’t need love to have children, just sex”

Amos Lassen

Miguel Ferrari, the Venezuelan actor, director and screenwriter, brings us “The Night of Two Moons” based on a real event (which took place in Italy) in which two women had an embryo implanted in the belly of the other by a clinical error. Set in locations in Caracas, on the outskirts of the capital’s political and social upheaval, we get an emotional and inclusive approach to surrogacy.

In the third month of pregnancy, Federica (Maria Barranco) discovers that the baby she is expecting does not have her DNA. She goes to the clinic where the in vitro fertilization treatment took place and they acknowledge having made a mistake, exchanging her embryo with that of another couple. The clinic identifies the woman who had her embryo implanted, but she has had an abortion. Federica decides to continue with her pregnancy and keep the baby, but her biological parents will fight to get it back.

Federica is an ambitious young woman who decides to ask her gay best friend to give her the opportunity to be a mother, through in vitro fertilization. The other young couple start a fight against the clock to be able to get the baby back. The emphasis is on the emotional aspect of the characters and the fears and uncertainties that the passing of the time causes in such a difficult situation for everyone.

Excellent performances and cinematography make this a film you will not soon forget.

“The Wasteland” by Jameson Harper and W.A.W. Parker— T.S. Eliot: A Life

Jameson, Harper and W.A.W Parker. “The Wasteland”, Level 4 Press, 2021.

T.S. Eliot: A Life

Amos Lassen

T.S. Eliot works at a bank and has the same routine, day after day. He walks past life, seeing it only through cracks or around corners. However, he has a vivid imagination. One day he meets the out and proud Jack as we was being beaten and Eliot intervenes changing his life forever. After recovering, Jack shows him the gay underground and introduces him to feelings that Eliot had locked way. Now feeling free, Eliot expresses himself through poetry, probably becomes he feels freed for the first time.

The people of London love his poetry and he becomes known—but at a price. He must conform to society’s expectations as the world faces religious intolerance and the expectations to adhere to traditional values. His new success forces him to make a decision and that decision could once again change his life with devastating consequences.

This is the untold story of T.S. Eliot, his secret struggle with being gay, those people who were left in the wake of his career trajectory as well as the madness that allowed him to create his greatest work. We are taken into the places to which homosexuals had to be during the

Jazz Age in London T. S. Eliot has a tumultuous life, struggling to fit in society and reach his potential as an artist at a time when poets were highly regarded and his private life was condemned. We get a look at the Modernist movement and the history of homosexual persecution. 

If you love poetry, reading this is a plus but not necessary. We read of Eliot getting swept up in the wasteland of his mind as he struggled with his insecurity, his desire for fame, and his quest for self in 1920s London.  While he was in the limelight, he moved further and further away from who he really was. This is an absolutely fascinating read.

 

 

“The Prophets” by Robert Jones Jr.— A Forbidden Love

Jones Jr. Robert. “The Prophets”, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2021.

A Forbidden Love

Amos Lassen

“The Prophets” by Robert Jones Jr. is the story of the forbidden union between Isaiah and Samuel, two enslaved young men on a Deep South plantation and the solace and refuge they find in each other and a betrayal that threatens their very beings. 

In the barn the two took care of the animals and each other. The barn became their place of refuge where they could be intimate away from their hard masters. However, when an older man who was also a slave tries to gain favor by preaching the master’s gospel on the plantation, the two young men begin to turn on their own. Their love, which was once so simple becomes sinful and a danger to the harmony of the plantation.

Through the voices of slaver and enslaved and from the women that surround them, author Jones tells the story. As tensions build, a climactic reckoning ensues and we read about “the pain and suffering of inheritance” alongside of hope, beauty, and truth allowing us to better understand the power of love.

We read of the brutality and cruelty of slavery and colonialism, abuse, the beauty of two black gay men in love, the l treatment for both men and women and religiosity. It is hard not to weep while reading.

Halifax plantation was surrounded by wilderness and treacherous waters. Many people died on the plantation. It is difficult to share the story of the two gay teens who were slaves there and the book is so much more than their story. We see how their relationship affected the other characters while at the same reading of slavery.  This isn’t an easy read and it is a total experience.

Here is a look at Black queerness as well as an account of slavery in the antebellum South that highlights lives over plantation life and the humanity of the slaves over the inhumanity of slavery. Jones gives us a look at the evils of white supremacy and fanaticism yet with hope and heroism and humanity.The prose is lyrical in his debut novel. The characters are wonderfully drawn and haunting.

“The Unicorn, the Mystery: A Novel” by Janet Mason— The Seven Tapestries

Mason, Janet. “The Unicorn, the Mystery: A Novel”, Adelaide Books, 2020.

The Seven Tapestries

Amos Lassen

A Unicorn shares the story of the seven tapestries in Janet Mason’s “The Unicorn, the Mystery”. The tapestries are known as“The Hunt of the Unicorn” and date back to the 1500s and can be seen in “the Unicorn Room” in The Cloister in Manhattan, part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Together they tell the story of an “unsolved mystery” that occurred in an abbey in France near the place where the tapestries were discovered. The unicorn while being pursued by hunters spends its time observing birds, smelling and eating the abbey flowers and fruits including  fermented pomegranates. It chases chaste maidens and even speaks to other animals. A monk shares the unicorn’s story with the mystical animal.

The basic theme, it seems to me, is the nature of wisdom and how to use it. Both the monk and the unicorn see themselves as wise yet are filled with inconsistencies as we all are. As the unicorn views the tapestries, we see a reflection on life during different periods yet time demarcations are not noted. We also get a discussion about the church through the views of two nuns. They are a couple who feel that their religion sees their relationship as sinful. Through then we become more aware of how Christianity sees morality and truth giving us a lot to think about. To me, this is the purpose of literature—- thinking about what we have read after we close the covers of a book.

Mason very cleverly brings together questions of religion and theology with some wonderfully drawn characters that deal with issues that we all face in our lives. Her prose is gorgeous and her storytelling had me turning pages as quickly as possible once the plot began. I have always loved the medieval period but it had been a while before I read a book about the period. The union of myth and history is spellbinding and I really loved looking at the emotions of redemption and love and lust and insecurity. I have been a fan of Janet Mason since I read her book “Tea Leaves” and my respect for her writing is firmly cemented by “The Unicorn, The Mystery”.

“FULL GAS”— Changing the Odds

“FULL GAS”

Changing the Odds

Amos Lassen

“Full Gas” is a new film from Israel— the story of Tomer, 17,  who moves with his mother to a small village at the edge of the desert. Everyone is preparing for the under-18 Motocross National championship due to take place a month later, with arrogant Nimrod,17, – the village’s alpha male – the clear favorite to win. Tomer’s arrival changes the rules of the game. At first Tomer is harassed by Nimrod and his gang while battling over the heart of beautiful Amalia,17, but soon enough the story hits high octane when Tomer meets Albert, 50, – an aging, lonely Motorcross ex-champion, who hasn’t stepped out of his house for the past 20 years.

Meeting by chance, the two become true friends: Tomer peels off Albert’s dark secrets, while Albert becomes Tomer’s bike master – preparing him for the race of his life against Nimrod. Will the ugly duckling shock everyone, including himself, by winning the championship?

“DRAW WITH ME”— Art as an Outlet

Ithaka Films and the Onassis Foundation are proud to present the theatrical release of the official Oscar entry for Documentary Short Subject, DRAW WITH ME, about the journey of trans youth – Brendon Scholl – who uses their art as an important outlet while navigating life’s challenges with their their family, featuring a special introduction by their aunt Jennifer Lopez. The film runs theatrically now at ArenaScreen through Feb. 9th.
DRAW WITH ME
DRAW WITH ME is the story of talented teen artist, Brendon Scholl, who identifies as trans non-binary and whose art has been a vital outlet for self expression. From coming out as trans and consequently attempting suicide, to becoming an advocate…this intimate portrait of Brendon and their supportive family’s trials dives deep into what was endured and overcome in this heartwarming journey of acceptance.  
“Talking about your identity as a person – sexual preference has to do with who you go to bed with, and your identity is who you go to bed as,” shares Brendon’s mother, Leslie Ann Lopez.
DRAW WITH ME was created in partnership with The Trevor Project (the leading suicide prevention line for LGBTQ+ Youth) and powered by the Onassis Foundation. The film has had a wonderful impact on the LGBTQ+ movement having been presented at Tribeca Film Festival with the support of GLAAD, having been the subject of the first-ever panel at the United Nations on Transgender Health, and having screened at numerous high-schools in conjunction with the New York Department of Education. National Coming Out Day, October 11 2020, marked a milestone for the film when President Elect Joe Biden supported the LGBTQ+ movement in an award show that screened DRAW WITH ME and honored Brendon with the Revry Visibility Award presented by Jennifer Lopez. 
“The film is important and timely in its story and message, and can have a huge impact, ” says Jennifer Lopez in the film. “It’s a story that is very close to my heart, because it is a family affair. It’s about accepting change and challenges with love, and that knowing when we do, everything is possible.”
“Although I knew that telling this story came with a lot of responsibility, I felt ready and the family truly made me feel safe and comfortable in doing so,” shares Director, Constantine Venetopoulos. “The entire family joined as one in supporting Brendon and the film.. What I truly believe drew me to the story, though, was Bredon’s confidence in knowing who they were at such a young age, and being ready to use their experience as a tool for other youth who were struggling with their identity and coming out. I thought ‘I wish I had someone like Brendon to talk to when I was struggling in the closet as a kid.’
Brendon has expanded their artistry beyond drawings and painting, and is now a sophomore in college studying acting. An advocate for acceptance, Brendon’s message for all those whose family, friends or co-workers may be trans is simple and clear, “Believe us when we say who we are.”
The full 24 minute film is available to the public at: ArenaScreen.
Full Director’s Comments Below:
When I first heard about the Trevor Project I remember thinking “I wish there was something like that for me when I was struggling in the closet as a kid in the small suburbs of Greece”. Fast forward a decade later I would find myself at the United Nations sitting on a historic panel on Transgender Health on the 50th anniversary of the Stone-Wall riots, with the subject matter being our film and its impact. People see a short documentary, but what they don’t see is the series of events that led to it. One of my earliest childhood memories is that of observing my toy action figures examining their anatomy while wondering who I was. What would follow would be a long journey of self-acceptance from marrying a woman (though I was a gay man deep down), to coming out of the closet and pursuing my dreams as a filmmaker in the United States. At the first opportunity I joined the Trevor Project as a volunteer of the chat life-line and have since done my best to support many youth going through their own coming out journeys and struggles with suicidal thoughts. 
A lucky turn of events connected me with Leslie Ann Lopez, a talented opera singer set to perform in my first feature film MAN IN THE ATTIC. Through Leslie Ann I met her child; Brendon Scholl, a youth with whom I clicked immediately. It was friendship at first sight. I remember walking into Brendon’s room enamored by it being filled with art, covering every crevice of the wall and ceiling. Brendon was very open about their art and what it meant to them, and they shared the story behind some of their drawings and how art had saved them. My coming out journey was not easy either, so Brendon’s story spoke to me in a profound way, though being gay and being trans are vastly different journeys. As our friendship continued to unfold the CEO of the Trevor Project who was also a friend mentioned that it would be an honor to have Brendon as a speaker in one of their events. When sharing the invitation with the family, I also shared my wish to document the family’s story and Brendon’s transition and coming out story in a film preceding their speech. Brendon and their family joined with excitement, ready to share their story in order to support other youth going through similar journeys. That was when all the dots connected, becoming the beginning of DRAW WITH ME. 
Although I knew that telling this story came with a lot of responsibility, I felt ready and the family truly made me feel safe and comfortable in doing so. The entire family joined as one in supporting Brendon and the film, from their loving grandmother to their aunts Lynda and Jennifer who both joined the film; Lynda by using her voice as a journalist asking the right questions and Jennifer with an educational introduction shared with millions of her followers. What I truly believe drew me to the story though, was Bredon’s confidence in knowing who they were at such a young age, and being ready to use their experience as a tool for other youth who were struggling with their identity and coming out. I thought “I wish I had someone like Brendon to talk to when I was struggling in the closet as a kid”.
Since then the film has screened at The Trevor Project, has been selected by GLAAD and has been the topic of discussion in panels at TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL during PRIDE and the United Nations among others, and has been employed as a tool of diversity education by organizations such as Esteé Lauder and JP Morgan. A personal highlight was when DRAW WITH ME screened at my school in Greece with an audience of teachers, parents, and my own family. There were many feelings in the room. One thing that stood out was when my older brother asked one of the counselors “What should a parent advise their child if they come out to them as gay or trans?” The reply of the counselor has stuck with me: “It’s not about what you should tell them, it’s about just listening to them”.  
So listen to us… and as Brendon says so well, “Believe us when we say who we are.” 
DIRECTOR / PRODUCER – CONSTANTINE VENETOPOULOS 
Born in Athens Greece in 1980 -3rd generation in a lineage of ship builders- Constantine Venetopoulos graduated from London’s CASS Business School with a Master’s Degree in Marketing, embracing his family’s cruise line heritage while staying faithful to his passion for poetry, literature, and the film world. In addition to publishing two novels, his films have premiered at Tribeca Film Festival among others. His most recent work ‘Draw with Me’ created in partnership with ‘The Trevor Project’ about Brendon Scholl a youth in transition, featuring Jennifer Lopez amnd President Elect Joe Biden -the leading suicide prevention line for LGBTQ youth- made history at the United Nations, commemorating 50 years from the Stonewall riots and has been presented to schools world-wide including NYC’s Department of Education, as well as being deployed as a resource for diversity by organizations such as Esteé Lauder and JP Morgan. He has directed ABT’s prima ballerina Luciana Paris and actors Bill Skarsgård, and Ian Alexander among others. HIs first feature film MAN IN THE ATTIC, a psychological thriller featuring Emma Hepburn Ferrer Is anticipated to hit the cinemas in 2021. He is the founder of ‘Kuntaur Film Festival’, a children’s film festival in the remote village of Kuntaur in West Africa lacking access to electricity, sharing the cinema experience with the youth by deploying mobile generators and he is the creative director of The Lamin Koto Super-School Prototype for which 2020 marked a milestone when a mass scale photo posting was installed in collaboration with French artist JR’s INSIDE OUT social impact platform. Constantine was recognized by JR as the face of Greece in a PHAIDON educational publication in 2020, is supported by the Onassis Foundation, and is a frequent speaker at Tedx Talk events. Constantine Venetopoulos has been an author, filmmaker, and advocate for human rights since 2010 is fluent in German, English, and Greek and his plans for the future involve further narrowing the gap between social impact initiatives & film, while currently developing a film that will document the first ever venture by a disabled person into outer space, among other projects. 
SUBJECT – BRENDON SCHOLL
Brendon Scholl is a visual artist and college sophomore majoring in theater arts. Their art has been an integral part of their life since childhood, as evidenced by the crayon compositions covering the heating units of their room, followed by mural artworks around the walls. Their entire room is an expression of their artistry, in a 360º art gallery of their inner world. As they continue to evolve as an artist, they simultaneously carry this passion into their activism and advocacy. They were one of the leaders of their GSA in their high school and marched proudly this past spring in the Black Lives Matter protest marches. Brendon was honored by the Trevor Project -the leading suicide prevention line for LGBTQ+ Youth- during their annual fundraiser in 2018. Soon thereafter Brendon made history when a documentary about their life of advocacy was screened at the United Nations, in a special anniversary commemorating the 50th Stonewall riots. Brendon led the first ever United Nations panel on Trans Health matters, as the voice of the youth. Brendon hopes to continue with their activism and their art throughout their lifetime and to see the changes necessary for this country to live up to the promises made to ALL Americans, by setting a world-wide example for equal rights and opportunities without exception.

“Life After Losses: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Life” by James LaVeck— An Intimate Journey of Dealing with Grief

LaVeck, James. “Life After Losses: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Life”, James Laveck, 2021.

An Intimate Journey of Dealing with Grief

Amos Lassen

We are all aware of how difficult it is to lose someone that we love and that the grief process is one of the roughest things that we face in life.

James LaVeck shares his experiences with loss and grief. He tells the story of his first love, his husband Bob, who he lost after 7 years together. He takes us on his journey of healing and ultimately of falling in love yet again, with his second husband with whom he had two children. Laveck lost his second husband as well, after fifteen years together.

Through beautiful storytelling and with practical advice, LaVeck hopes that his own journey toward healing can help anyone else dealing with grief of their own. We cannot avoid grief but we can transverse it. LaVeck has come to the other side of this grieving process and shows us he modelled this journey for his children as well. 

LaVeck’s story is both heartbreaking and uplifting and helps anyone who has dealt with grief and loss. He is optimistic and straight-forward with what he shares. Above all we see  the power of hope.

“Wild Visionary: Maurice Sendak in Queer Jewish Context” by Golan Y. Moskowitz— The Intersection of Queer and Jewish Studies

Moskowitz, Golan Y. “Wild Visionary: Maurice Sendak in Queer Jewish Context”, Stanford University Press, 2020.

The Intersection of Queer and Jewish Studies

Amos Lassen

Golan Y. Moskowitz’s “Wild Visionary: Maurice Sendak in Queer Jewish Context” examines the life and work of Maurice Sendak in terms “of queer and Jewish studies and their intersections” and it is fascinating. I was well aware of Sendak’s sexuality but I was not prepared to enjoy this study of him as much as I did. He was a Jewish gay man who found his way into popular culture through his children’s books that he based upon his own childhood.

Sendak was born Maurice (Moishe) Bernard Sendak in 1928 and from his early days in Brooklyn, he sought the truth of the world. He became a working artist while dealing with his own emotional issues and what he felt society expected of him and remained totally aware of societal pressure which he projected into his art.

Writer Moskowitz examines Sendak’s personal alienation in American life but where he was in terms of the aspirations of his family. It was a time when immigrant families like the Sendaks worked for success in this country while still hanging on to the traditions with which they had been raised. It is here that Sendak faced gender and sexuality issues. To be Jewish and an American, it was often necessary to re-examine how one saw and performed the roles of masculinity and femininity as well as other mores that were expected in America. The dominant culture was the ruling factor. America was based on traditional binary concepts more than traditional Eastern European Jewish communities and American immigrant children stood somewhere between the two. Even though they only knew the world of Eastern Europe through stories, they were somewhat bound to the way of life there. Through his art, Sendak was able to express this double-bind and was able to navigate modern American life. It reflects his own experiences as a Jewish gay man. He represented his childhood with realism and imagination, exposing his “Inner child” and he relied both on his Jewish and queer sensibilities to do so.

This is so much more than a biography of Sendak; it is also a cultural history of being a gay Jewish artist in this country. Sendak was affected by the Holocaust, the AIDS epidemic as well as the Great Depression. Moskowitx explores this through examining the time in which Sendak lived, his illustrations and correspondence. We read of the influences that allowed him to add the queer element to the books he wrote for children and what pushed him to do so and we see him as a provocative radical at a time when there were not many others in the field of children’s literature.

Moskowitz has done amazing research to show us the influences on Sendak’s work and life. We are taken into the imagination of the man and see the tremendous influences that he shared with the world. Not only did I learn a great deal but I also had an extremely pleasurable read.

“Forgiving Stephen Redmond” by A.J. Sidransky— Dealing With Trauma

Sidransky, A. J. “Forgiving Stephen Redmond”, Black Opal Books, 2021.

Dealing With Trauma

Amos Lassen

Set on an August day in 2008, A. J. Sidransky’s “Forgiving Stephen Redmond” introduces us to New York City’s detectives Tolya Kurchenko and Pete Gonzalvez. They have been called to a strange murder scene in a vacant wood frame house that is about to be demolished. Inside a partially destroyed wall, they find the body of a murder victim with the dried blood on the suit jacket hanging on the corpse which his part skeleton and part mummy.  As the detectives investigate, they search for answers. Who put him there and why? So begins a cold case that will bring Kurchenko and Gonzalvez full circle in their search for answers.

This is the final book in Sidransky’s “Forgiving” saga. We are leads us back to Washington Heights in the 1950’s and 1960’s when  both the neighborhood and New York were going through a period of change.  The dead man had been there for at least 40 years, and even though those who had once known the victim are probably dead, the detectives are determined to solve the case even though they have to deal with the property director who wants to get on with razing the building.

If you have read Sidransky’s other two books in the series, “Forgiving Maximo Rothman” and “Forgiving Mariela Camacho” you are already familiar with Kurchenko and Gonzalvez, partners and best friends. (Although the book stands alone as well). They are fantastic investigators but they need time for this case and time is at a premium. Their captain only gives them a few days and the homicide in NYC is constantly rising. They are determined— this is their neighborhood and they want to know what happened.

There were rumors that the house that had once been a boarding house was haunted. No one had lived there for years and the rumors about the place began after Fernando Vargas, a resident disappeared. The detectives learned that the house had once belonged to Máximo Rothman and Ernest ‘Erno’ Eisen, Jewish immigrants from Europe via the Dominican Republic. Three years earlier, the same detectives investigated Rothman’s murder.

It seems that the connections between the Dominican Republic and the former owners of the house have something to do with what is going on. Interviewing Erno, the detectives learn that he claims to having killed Vargas but as the investigation continues, there are deeper issues. They learn that Rothman and Erno met  in the Dominican town of Sosua where Jewish refugees from the war had been welcomed. Even though dictator Rafael Trujillo allowed this to happen, he was a dictator and that aspect did not reflect the way he ran the rest of the country. He ruled by force and blood and with his assassination in 1961, many of his loyalists ran to New York and this could have been the reason to “take him out”.

The detectives then turn to Rothman’s son, Rabbi Shalom Rothman who was 12 when Vargas disappeared in the hope that he shed light about what happened in the rooming house forty years ago. Shalom is forced to face memories that he put at the back of his mind and never expected to deal with again. Like so many others, his father’s faith in God had been destroyed by the horrors of the war so that when his son decided to enter a religious profession, the two men suffered a chasm that was never to be bridged. It is through Shalom that we look at the relationship of father and son and the breakdown of obligations between them, The fact that Rabbi Shalom has a son with autism further explores the father/son relationship. In fact, the book is really a look at relationships— not only between father and son but between friends as we see in the detectives and between Rothman and Erno Eisen.

Another theme deals with change of the way we live. We see that in the Jewish life in the Dominican Republic and in the Jewish neighborhood of NYC. Immigration. The conflict between cultures and general change are important issues here. Both Rothman and Eisen were forced to shape and reshape their lives with every move they went through. Now another change comes with the demolition of the rooming house and the new gentrification.

Sidransky’s character development is nothing short of brilliant in this story that is based upon memory and the need to readapt. This is a new kind of murder mystery that has the reader turning pages as quickly as is possible. Murder as self-protection is something we do not often read about.

“You Can’t Die But Once” by Penny Mickelbury— Coming Together

Mickelbury, Penny. “You Can’t Die But Once”,  (A Gianna Maglione/Mimi Patterson Mystery), Bywater Books, 2020.

Coming Together

Amos Lassen

Police Lieutenant Gianna Maglione is a new Captain in the Hate Crimes Unit and is recovering from a life-threatening gunshot injury. The unit has just been assigned a new boss, and a new squad—the Special Intelligence Mobile and Tactical Unit, of which hate crimes is a part. Gianna’s colleagues in the group are a team that is diverse and loyal. Mimi Patterson quit her job as the lead investigative reporter for the top newspaper in Washington DC’s top newspaper is persuaded to back to work. She quit because she did not want to apologize to a racist, sexist homophobe. The editor  that ordered her to do so is now gone, and coworkers are glad to have her back but on the condition that  she will not write about corrupt government officials and politicians as was her style and passion. They want her to focus stories that help people in the community.

The novel is set at a time when hatred is everywhere and seemingly become worse all of the time. Both Mimi and Gianna have no hope and certainly realize that women are those that receive most of this hate, especially young girls. When the two women get a tip that there is a group of men and women that are dealing in the sex trade reporter and the Captain are tipped off about a depraved ring of men and women by buying and selling young girls for profit, Mimi writes the story and opens the door for Gianna and her team to destroy the group. They become focused on helping the girls while at the same time working with themselves to get over past traumas.

This is not an easy read because of the subject it is about. It is, however, important for us to be aware of such things that happen in our world.

Mimi and Gianna are lovers who are self-forced into dealing with the situation and we are with them as they grow together. They have made mistakes and have continued to do so and by working together, their relationship becomes stronger as they learn more about each other and themselves. Their two storylines come together beautifully and this is the kind of book that, heavy as it is, does not let the reader rest while reading (and even afterwards).