Author Archives: Amos

“One Last Stop” by Casey McQuiston— A Romantic Comedy

McQuiston, Casey. “One Last Stop”, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2021.

A Romantic Comedy

Amos Lassen

Twenty-three year old August has moved to New York in the hopes of proving that “things like magic and cinematic love stories don’t exist” and that the only smart way to go through life is alone and by herself. She doesn’t see herself as a waitress and sharing an apartment but that all changes.  One day, she meets mysterious Jane, a beautiful girl on the train. August’s subway crush becomes the best part of her day, but she learns that there’s a major problem. Jane is actually displaced in time from the 1970s, and August realizes that she is going to have to use everything she tried to leave in her own past to help her. Has the time come to start believing again?

August has moved from university to university, state to state, looking the place where she would feel at home. She wants to find herself, her own way, and feel like she finally belongs somewhere. At the start of this story, Getting to New York where she hopes to finish her degree, she thinks that it might just be the right place. In order to have a place to live she has to team up with others and this is quite a group—Niko, a trans Latino psychic bartender, Myla, a queer Black electrical engineer turned artist and Wes, queer Jewish tattoo artist. The diversity of the characters is obvious.

On her first day’s commute to school, August takes the Q train where she meets a girl  who she cannot stop thinking about but the odds of her being at that exact spot again are low. But then, she sees her again and realizes  that she not only is on the Q every time August is on it, but in the exact same train car.

Jane is a Chinese lesbian who can’t remember anything about her past. August can’t stop thinking about her and decides to do whatever it takes to help her figure out Jane’s past. Their relationship advances and becomes sexual as well as romantic.

We read about the LGBTQ community and especially queer people of color. The book looks to the past in order to give us a story about the present and we see that there is a place for each of us. We have quirky characters, coming-of-age confusion, laughs throughout and many pop-cultural references.

 

“YALDA, A NIGHT OF FORGIVENESS”— Reality TV in Iran

“YALDA, A NIGHT OF FORGIVENESS”

Reality TV in Iran

Amos Lassen

In Iran, reality TV is a matter of life and death. The country’s traditions of “blood money” and legal retaliation have brought about real-life shows in which convicts seek pardons from those they have wronged. Young Maryam is a “contestant’ ON A SHOW but her TV appearance takes dramatic turns in screenwriter-director Massoud Bakhshi’s “Yalda”.

Yalda is the traditional Zoroastrian feast night during which Iranians celebrate Persian culture. It is not an ideal date for Maryam to beg for forgiveness, but with her execution fast approaching, time is important. Technically, she was only Nasser’s “temporary wife,” a longstanding Iranian relationship that is exactly what it sounds like. Temporary wives have no long-term spousal rights, but legal offspring have inheritance rights as long as they are male.

Maryam apparently allowed Nasser to die through sins of inaction following an accident. She was then convicted of murder and faces the death penalty, under the country’s “eye for an eye” criminal justice system. Her only hope is for Nasser’s daughter Mona to pardon her in exchange for blood money. A TV program facilitates such pardons but there are two problems: Mona does not want to forgive and Maryam does not want to ask for forgiveness.

Maryam, who is in her twenties, could easily pass for a girl in her early teens. There is clearly something in a society that so readily accepted Nasser’s marriage to a teenaged girl (at the time), especially in an exploitative temporary arrangement. Most of the drama in the film comes out of the gender and class-based inequalities of Iranian society. The film follows in the tradition of emotionally-draining dramas of Iranian films. The director revs up the tension in fascinating ways. This is an eye-opening look at contemporary Iran as well as a wild ride that shows a live TV broadcast going amok.

Sadaf Asgari as Maryam is young and vulnerable looking conveying something unpredictable and wild that keeps unbalances the viewers. Behnaz Jafari as Mona is severe and human at the same time and Babak Karimi is clever and cynical as Ayat the producer.

We see the way religious law penetrates every aspect of Iranian life, from a murder case to how a TV show is run. The perverse logic of temporary marriage, inheritance laws favoring boys and homicide laws stacked against wives and the practice of paying one’s way out of a hanging with “blood money” to the victim’s relatives are elements of the plot.

Arriving at the TV station in handcuffs, young Maryam looks dazed and dull while her mother is foolishly excited. The showrunner, an older man  assures her they are going to save her life on the program and the expectation is that Maryam is going to persuade her dead husband’s daughter the heiress to his ad agency to grant her forgiveness.

It soon becomes clear that Maryam’s nervousness and lack of self-control could threaten a happy ending. She has already served 15 months in prison and seems emotionally shattered. Her mother bothers everyone on the set and jeopardizes her pardon.

As the story of the “murder” comes out, outrageous facts follow.  The wealthy husband Nasser Zia was 65 and married when he decided to importune innocent young Maryam, his driver’s daughter. He convinced her that he loved her, got her to agree to “temporary marriage,” which avoids sin along with permanent commitment. But Maryam disregarded Nasser’s condition for marriage that there be no children, and when she got pregnant they began fighting. Maryam gave Nasser a push that made him fall in the living room of his apartment where he hit his head and died. She was sentenced to death by hanging.

The prosecutor is happy to commute this sentence to three to six years in prison if she wins the sympathy of enough viewers who vote in her favor and pays blood money supplied by the show’s sponsors.Halfway through, Mona Zia turn up at the station late and dressed entirely in black. She plan to use the blood money to go abroad. But her expected forgiveness is put into question by a last-minute plot twist.

Asgari is wonderfuly cast in the main role. Karimi leads the TV crew in taking the whole absurd situation seriously.

“THE INTERROGATION”— The Final Interrogation of Rudolf Hoess

“THE INTERROGATION”

The Final Interrogation of Rudolf Hoess

Amos Lassen

Israeli director Erez Pery’s “The Interrogation” is a look at Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Hoess, the longstanding commander of the Auschwitz concentration camp and is based on his autobiography. It recreates the final interrogation of the infamous German before his execution.

In 1946, Hoess was discovered by British troops in Gottrupel, Germany disguised as a gardener after his whereabouts were divulged by his wife who believed that her betrayal of her husband would bring about their son’s safety. Shortly afterward the former Auschwitz commandant was taken to the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg and later handed over to the Supreme National Tribunal in Poland and was sentenced to death by hanging.

The Supreme National Tribunal interrogated him to get a perfect confession. The interrogator assigned to Hoess is Albert Piotrowski (Marciej Marczewski), who speaks German and therefore is able to make progress with the Nazi because of this. During his time in prison before his execution, several attempts had been made on Hoess’s life, which he survived. The original confession affidavit written by Rudolf Hoess is displayed in a glass case at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. He was executed on April 16th, 1947 at the very same location that he had commanded years earlier.

In 1946, Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Hoess was the longest serving commander of Auschwitz concentration camp as he awaited trial in a Polish prison. Albert was a young and successful Polish investigation judge, who was appointed to interrogate him and get a perfect confession. The encounter between the two men shows the frightening routine and banalization of evil of Auschwitz. By introducing the use of Zyklon B in Auschwitz, Hoess carried out the most efficient mass killing process ever known and claimed the lives of approximately 1.1 million people. The film is based on the memoirs that he wrote before his execution.

The film “sets out to reveal the interrogation with a Soviet officer after his arrest with evocations of his youth, of his dreams of owning a large farm in a rural region of Germany in which to live from toil and peace, his engagement in the army and his evolution in the SS hierarchy until becoming the most important man of the Auschwitz camp, of his opinions as to the way in which the camp was organized as the impressions that ‘he was experiencing the two years in office during which thousands of Jews were horribly martyred, gassed and burned in crematoria.” The examining magistrate speaks little and asks only a few specific questions. Hoess tries to explain his role as director of the Auschwitz camp and his words are spoken in a monotonous almost mechanical way are terrifying and icy. We can only visualize and feel the facts he relates. We all know the horror of Auschwitz and this film assures that we will not forget everything that have happened, particularly for future generations. The film is bleak with heavy undertones throughout its short length.The actors are all very good despite the sets being minimalistic and the dark subject matter.

“The Handyman’s Storm” by Nick Poff— Getting There

Poff, Nick. “The Handyman’s Storm”, Old Space Productions, 2021.

Getting There

Amos Lassen

I have been reading Nick Poff’s “Handyman stories for years now and feel I have a relationship with the characters as I read of their experiences in life. “The Handyman’s Storm” is the sixth volume in the series (each book, however, stands alone and can be read separate from the others).

Here we find ourselves in the fall of 1989, a time of loss that Ed, the handyman and his partner Rick face. It was a time when our community was being devastated by the AIDS epidemic and the two men deal with the loss of a dear friend, Doug, who lost the battle. They are in mourning yet they decide that they must continue their lives as they had always done. They are dealt another blow when Effie Maude, their longtime Penfield Manor housekeeper, decides to retire. Coping has become difficult for the two men to the extent that a gap has come between them. To add to their problems, their foster son, Rex, is dealing with his own issues, unexpected guests have shown up at Penfield Manor and one of Ed’s clients presents new complications to their lives. It is not enough that they have to deal with the loss of their friend but also to rebuild their relationship.

The guys are very lucky to have a circle of friends and families that are there for comfort and companionship and are willing to be with them during this rough period.  Ed and Rick are aging but their love for each other remains young and they manage to deal with what they have to face. All of us have had to deal with similar situations, wondering if we are going to make it through or not. We often try to sublimate how we feel and this makes us all the more vulnerable for even more distress. For whatever reason, like Ed, we come to a point in life that we do not want to share our feelings with others or face what we feel internally. Eventually, however, we do have to face ourselves and question how we reached such a point and try to figure out how we got there. Seeing this through the lives of Ed and Rick can, hopefully, make it easier to do so for us. Even as a couple, they are each an individual and have their individual views on how to move forward.  Through their differences and the respect that they share for each other, they were able to face themselves, each other and their friends. Sure, there were breakdowns and conflicts but there was also love and the realization of being alive and keeping going.

Nick Poff is a terrific writer and here he takes us into the world of emotions. By reading this, we get ideas about how to deal with ourselves when hard times happen. As James Joyce says in the first sentence of his short story, “Eveline”, “Everything changes”. It is up to us to change or stay behind. While this is a novel about two gay man, what it has to say is both relevant and universal.

“A Brotherhood of Strangers: A Fictional Memoir” by Sunshine— Going to College

Sunfire. “A Brotherhood of Strangers: A Fictional Memoir”, City Man Press, 2021.

Going to College

Amos Lassen

In 1954 Marshal Swift enrolled in a small college in southwestern Ohio where he pledges his brother’s fraternity. The fraternity was founded by two men who knew they were outcasts in society and so they decided to build a brotherhood that of gay, bi- and straight men. Swift then sixty years later wrote his memoir based upon his college experiences sharing how the men came together and formed friendships and more. Six decades later Marshal writes this memoir. We are taken back to his freshman year as a pledge, the following summer as a houseboy on Fire Island, his sophomore year, when the men their brotherhood to include black men. He is open with his descriptions  of his own relationships and interactions with his fraternity brothers and explicitly writes about them. We read of his joys and his fears, as he learns to live in a world where most gay men felt they would have to stay in the closet for their entire lives. It was a different time back then and we really did to remember how it was so that we can better appreciate how things are today. We are taken on quite a ride that is fascinating and filled with memories for some of us.

“The Counting of Sins: A Love Story” by Robert Joseph Greene— A Capsule Review

Greene, Robert Joseph. “The Counting of Sins: A Love Story”, Icon Empire Press,, 2020.

A Capsule Review

Amos Lassen

It is impossible to discount the amount of influence that the Bible plays in our lives even for those who eschew what it says. Whether we believe what is says or not, we are aware that the concept of sin is everywhere. We learn about sin from an early age and for some reason many of us buy not only into the idea but we also believe that we can be forgiven. In fact, we are told that all of us can be forgiven of the odd number of 490 sins during our lifetimes. Does that mean that if we commit 491, we are not forgiven for that one as well? To better understand that question, we must also know what is defined as a sin.

Baxter Holm was raised in an affluent family in 1920s in Newark, New Jersey. He is torn in the struggle of dealing with his sexuality preference for men and having to choose between two men. His path to this decision is the focus of this beautifully written short novel that takes us to places that many other novels so not and it will have you thinking long after you finish the read.  In just about an hour’s time, your mind will be opened to some of the issues you do not readily admit that you think about and we see that faith does indirectly play a part in the way we live our lives.

“A Meeting of Two Prophets” by Judah Tasa— The Power of the Human Spirit

Tasa, Judah. “A Meeting of Two Prophets”, Independently Published, 2021.

The Power of the Human Spirit

Amos Lassen

Mo is a bright, young Muslim from Manchester who has struggled with depression his entire life. As he begins tentative steps toward healing, he embarks on a journey of self-discovery that surprises everyone , but most of all, himself.

Moishe is an eighteen-year-old Chasidic Jew from London who has always known where his life will lead. As he studies religious texts in Jerusalem, he awaits the day he will marry and start a family, however,  tough questions force him to face what he knows about himself but not dealt with. 

The two meet by chance and soon their lives come together in ways they could never have thought and with unavoidable consequences that force them to deal with political, religious, and social barriers. Both boys love God and their religions and the cultures that they live in. If it had not been that they were on the same airplane heading for Jerusalem, they might never have met. Mutual attraction is almost immediate but they are both aware that homosexuality isaforbiddentabooin both of their religions.

Nonetheless, they begin tospend time togetherand understand that theyare falling for one another, but that could mean that they will have to sacrifice their ways and their ways of life. They decide to share a vacation together near the Jordan valley to come to decisions.  An added problem with which they must deal is the Palestinian conflict, the backdrop on which the story is set. The cultural differences of the two boys and their inner conflicts are the focus of the novel. The story takes us on a journey of understanding and acceptance.

“Sex, Society, and the Making of Pornography: The Pornographic Object of Knowledge” by Jeffrey Escoffier— The Cultural Psyche

Escoffier, Jeffrey. “Sex, Society, and the Making of Pornography: The Pornographic Object of Knowledge”, Rutgers University Press, 2021.

The Cultural Psyche

Amos Lassen

Jeffrey Escoffier shows us that there is so much more to porn films that erotic entertainment in his new study, “Sex, Society, and the Making of Pornography: The Pornographic Object of Knowledge”. Through a combination of fantasy and filmed live sexual acts, porn indeed provides us with entertainment  but we should not forget that porn films also are documentations of history. We learn about the sexual behavior and the eroticism of different historical periods. We see how the making and production of porn is a social process that is heavily influenced by fantasy, script and the participants in the action as well as by the writers, directors, and editors. Porn has, in the technological age, become a kind of archive of sexual fantasies that are  a kid of sex education and self-help guides.

Escoffier covers porn’s relation to the sexual revolution, he movement from softcore to hardcore porn, the emergence of gay porn, identity through porn, porn screenplays, gay for pay, female actors in straight porn, porn stars, trans porn and porn and the technological revolution.

“Trio: A Novel” by William Boyd— Three Unforgettable Characters

Boyd, William. “Trio: A Novel”, Knopf, 2021.

Three Unforgettable Characters

Amos Lassen

William Boyd’s “Trio: A Novel” has a dark undertow and is  set around three unforgettable individuals and a doomed movie set. We have a producer, a novelist and an actress during the summer  ]of 1968 when war and assassinations, protests and riots were everywhere. While the world is reeling, the trio is involved in making a disaster-plagued, Swingin’ Sixties British movie in Brighton. All three lead secret lives that become increasingly more untenable. Pressures build and the FBI and CIA get involved. Someone is going to crack–or maybe all three will.

Anny is a young, popular American actress; Talbot is a beleaguered producer and Elfrida is married to the director. Their stories are told in alternating chapters.
The three characters also act off set, their inner lives hidden, secrets kept, fractured souls. Each has outward dramas, fears, insecurities that manifest in different ways. Some will succeed, others will struggle, not all happy endings.

Elfrida Wing is a novelist with early successes but now has had writers block for ten years and so she has turned to drink. She’s married to the philandering film director Reggie Tipton who prefers to go by Roderigo Talbot Kidd, a film producer of more than a dozen films, he’s married but in name only. Anny Viklund is an American star. We have descriptions which capture the tumultuous 60’s, the sex, drugs, political upheaval and huge political and social changes.

Boyd’s is quite a storyteller who mixes tragedy and comedy and emotion to give us this fast moving story. It is a comedy of manners that moves back and forth between the complicated inner and outer lives of its characters.

“LITTLE ENGLAND”— A Melodramatic and Romantic Film

“LITTLE ENGLAND”

A Melodramatic and Romantic Film

Amos Lassen

 Two Greek sisters fall for the same sturdy sea captain in “Little England” from Greek director Pantelis Voulgaris. Set in the first half of the twentieth century, on the island of Andros, where a community of women is left to look after themselves and each other while their fathers, brothers, husbands and sons are out at sea. From the first shot the presence of the surrounding water and the violence of the waves are stressed and suggest the perils of the sea and the safety of the land.

There’s a real sense of community that runs throughout the film, with the women collectively saying goodbye or welcoming back the ships that carry their men. The focus is on a triangle of Mina (Anneza Paladopoulou)  who complains that while her husband may run his ship, she runs the house, and her two daughters, Orsa (Penelope Tsilika) who is 20 when the film opens, and Moscha (Sofia Kokkali), her younger sibling.

, Orsa is secretly in love with second mate, Spiros (Andreas Konstantinou), who promises to marry her the day he’ll come back as a captain. But for her mother marries her off Orsa to Nikos (Maximos Moumouris), also a captain but who’s as nice as he is plain.

When Orsa comes back from Athens, where she had to go for health reasons, she learns that Mina has successfully managed to marry off her younger sister to Spiros (her mother was aware of Orsa’s feelings for Spiros but Moscha wasn’t).

To make things even more painful, the dowry of both women is a shared house that Mina had constructed, with the first floor for Orsa and the second for Moscha. The result is sleepless nights for Orsa since she can hear all the nightly activity of her sister with the man she loves.

This is a film about emotional ups and downs with a lot of downs, especially for Orsa during the passage of times. As we move toward the end, the fascinating complexity of the film’s overall idea is pushed into the background as the main intrigue takes center stage.

Because all three women lived in the same house, we see the complicated emotions and painful relationships. The film uses the surrounding ocean waves as a theme about perils of the sea that are counterbalanced by the violent conflicts taking place on land. (There is a war as well).