Author Archives: Amos

“The American People: Volume 2: The Brutality of Fact: A Novel” by Larry Kramer— The Story Continues

Kramer, Larry. “The American People: Volume 2: The Brutality of Fact: A Novel”,  Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020.

The Story Continues

Amos Lassen

Larry Kramer completes his fictionalized monumental history of the United States with “The American People: Volume 2: The Brutality of Fact: A Novel” but you will have to wait until January to read it. Kramer reimagines this country’ history radically and takes us from  the brothels of 1950s Washington, D.C., to the activism of the 1980s and beyond, giving us a “phantasmagoria of bigoted conspiracists in the halls of power and ordinary individuals suffering their consequences.” With wit and sarcastic, ironic bite, he explores the sex lives of every recent president; the behavior of America’s two greatest spies, J. Edgar Hoover and James Jesus Angleton; the rise of  this country’s favorite magazine “Sexopolis” and the genocidal activities of every branch of our health-care and drug-delivery systems. If you thought you were outdone by Kramer’s “Faggots” about gay life in this country then “you ain’t heard nothing yet”.

Narrated by (among others) the writer Fred Lemish (remember him?) and his two friends, Dr. Daniel Jerusalem, who works for America’s preeminent health-care institution, and his twin brother, David Jerusalem, a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp who was abused by many powerful men. Together they follow a terrible plague that strenghtens as the government ignores it.  These bold and imaginative activists set out to shock the nation’s conscience. They way Kramer sees it, “the United States is dedicated to the proposition that very few men are created equal, and those who love other men may be destined for death.” You have never read anything like this before.

“Rain and Embers” by Ali Nuri— Poems of an Iraqi Refugee

Nuri, Ali. “Rain and Embers”, Ali Nuri, 2019.

Poems of an Iraqi Refugee

Amos Lassen

 “Ali Nuri was born to a Shi’a family in the southern marshlands of Iraq at the height of the Iran-Iraq War. As a persecuted religious sect, they were attacked by the tyrannical government under Saddam Hussein and fled across the desert to escape. He spent his childhood reeling from the trauma of being uprooted and forced to migrate. Ali survived four grueling years in a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia before being granted asylum by the United States at the age of 7.” Like many others, Ali’s feelings of oppression and alienation  led him into writing. He shares with us his self-portrait and his thoughts about migration, trauma, abuse, racism, religion, philosophy, intimacy, love, loss, forgiveness, and redemption. I love that his poetry is raw and the fact that it is written in a learned language rather than a mother-tongue makes it all-the-more special.

We cannot help but feel his sense of alienation since Ali move from one oppression to another. Here is a look at an Iraqi refugee in post-9/11 America. Since it is so realistic, it is quite naturally heartbreaking. If you have ever wondered what immigrants to this country feel, you simply have to read this. Having experienced similar feelings when I left this country to live somewhere else for many years, I can tell you that you really never miss a homeland until you do not have one.

“I’ve got words
residing inside me
freely meandering
reshaping a wasteland
into the prospect
of treasured home again”

Home is not where you hang your hat but where your heart is (or wants to be). We are all too familiar with immigrants who have had their human rights taken from them as they leave one country and move to another. You really feel that here.

While this is Ali’s story, it is also the universal story about the desire to survive and about self-acceptance. Ali grabs us by promising to share his story but we are not quite ready for the depth to which he goes.

he tears into the reader, begging them to see him for only a brief moment, as he opens his mouth to express the words he had hidden deep within. It is something of an assault of the senses but I mean that positively. Ali wants to be treated like the human that he is. He does not ask for more than that but it is necessary that we hear about the traumas and the nitty-gritty of his life, if only to get to know him better. We all want a place that we can call home even if our homeland is torn from us by the ravages of war.

Ali’s words flow into a special kid of poetry, lines that ask why subliminally and they come from his heart and go into our hearts and mines. Even though this reads as the poetry of emotions, it hits us as the poetry of thought.

I chuckled and I wept as I read but more than all I was moved. I do not think that anyone can read this without being moved. We are angry at the way the administration is treating immigrants and after reading this that anger becomes rage. Dare we remain silent? We are all roamers looking for homes. Let’s all do so together.

“JUDY”— Remembering

“JUDY”

Remembering

Amos Lassen

This year is the 50th anniversary of the death of Judy Garland and director Rupert Goold’s movie about Garland sometimes stumbles. “Judy” takes place during Garland’s final London performances in the winter of 1968, when her voice was not at its best. Renee Zellweger who plays Judy performed the songs herself, and she does a remarkable job without trying to match Garland at the peak of her vocal powers.

The film actually begins with a younger Judy (played by Darci Shaw) on the set of “The Wizard of Oz”. While the opening scene is visually striking, it starts the film on the wrong note since it then moves forward to the older Judy, who we see facing financial problems and  a custody battle with ex-husband Sid Luft (Rufus Sewell). It is her financial desperation that leads her to grab the offer for a series of concerts at a London supper club, and even though she depends upon booze and pills, she is a bit victorious as she tries to make a comeback. She is long past her prime yet she gets involved with a younger man, Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock), who became her fifth husband.

Zellweger looks uncannily like Garland yet remains Renee Zellweger as well. She captures sides of Garland’s personality that not everyone acknowledges, particularly her self-deprecating sense of humor. When Deans meets her at a party, he makes a comment about “the greatest entertainer in the world,” and Garland asks, “Is Frank Sinatra here?”

In other scenes of the singer in a state of disheveled disarray, Zellweger tells us everything we need to know about Judy’s damaged past. There are fantastic musical performances;  Zellweger’s rendition of one of Garland’s classics, “I’ll Go My Way by Myself,” is a breathtaking tour de force, and the actress lights up the screen with “Come Rain or Come Shine.” Her final performance of “Over the Rainbow,” of course, doesn’t compare to the Garland original in “The Wizard of Oz”, but the aging Garland, her voice hoarse and broken asks the audience to forgive her.

This final sequence ends on an overly sentimental note, when the audience at the supper club stands to help her complete the song. There are other questionable interludes such as Judy’s friendship with a couple of middle-aged gay fans that has some poignant elements but this works a little too hard to accentuate Garland’s connection to the Stonewall Riots. There are other great scenes, though. Jessie Buckley gives a superb performance as the woman hired to be Garland’s assistant; Buckley’s reactions of impatience are mixed with sympathy and brilliant. Wittrock has just the right touch of sleaze as the young lover.

Director Goold works beautifully with Zellweger, who gives a bravura performance. Her take on Judy Garland pushes her to the front of the awards queue. It’s a great performance in an otherwise so-so biopic, which brings the legendary entertainer to melancholic life.

“THE GROUND BENEATH MY FEET” (“Der Boden Unter den Fusen”)— In the Workplace

“THE GROUND BENEATH MY FEET” (“Der Boden Unter den Fusen”)

In the Workplace

Amos Lassen

Lola Wegenstein (Valerie Pachner) has had a complicated history. She is an orphan and has suffered traumas in her childhood; sent to a foster home and having an elder sister that is in her care now. She puts up a very strong appearance, hiding psychological issues, needing affection, thinking about the childhood and dealing with a very demanding job.

Lola’s sister, Conny (Pia Hierzegger)has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and is unpredictable, strange and upsetting. Lola takes care of her sister, but not in the way the Connie wants. Conny talks about moving out of the institution where she is supervised and where she imagines that the others are stealing from her. She believes is in danger and now  Lola has to get another place.

Lola is in a shaky relationship with Elise (Mavie Hörbiger), who is her boss and this complicates matters since the two women work together. The sex scenes between them are intense even though they are very short and there is little nudity. Eroticism is suggested instead of being exposed. Lola is often insecure and sometimes unstable, overwhelmed by the heavy demands of her job. When a client who is unaware of Lola’s sexual orientation or that she is abusive and a chauvinist, wants to have drinks with her at the bar, after they have lunch with another partner in the company, the consultant explains that they will maintain 85% of their workforce, people from her firm would come on sight to deal with issues, only she seems not to be one of those on the list, to the regret of the man who says her that he is sexually interested in her.

At another point, one of Lola’s colleagues makes her sign a sheet with wrong figures and that causes a confrontation with Elise, who speaks about the fact that others have started to talk about ‘burn out’. After this, Lola follows the man who cheated and placed her in a terrible position so that he has the advantage.

The man flashes his penis and says that this is the advantage he has thus confirming one of the themes of the film— the idea that men take advantage of the old privileges, the ascendancy they still have over women, in today’s world. Lola is close to a breaking point, she seems to imagine a call from her sister. She thinks she hears Conny on the phone, mentioning that she is naked and she can see her, causing her to run out of a hotel on the street to find Conny who must have escaped supervision. However, when she calls the place where Conny is being taken care of she is told that her sister is a sleep and did not use the phone.

Since it is really impossible to show the life of a corporate executive is impossible to sincerity onscreen we are left a bit in the dark.  Lola is disassociated from the world around her. She prioritizes her career at all costs, and begins to lose her grip on reality as a result of it.  We do not know if it is fatigue from the 48 hour days she’s been working, or if is it a hereditary mental illness beginning to come to her years after it took a hold on her sister. Director Kreutzer refrains from giving an easy answer and the story is  ambiguous.  

Lola’s job largely consists of meeting with high profile clients and suggesting which employees they fire to save money. She practically lives in anonymous hotel rooms, using the few free moments she allows herself outside of work to either exercise intensely, or pursue a secret affair with boss Elise and  even when she’s just having sex, it somehow is connected to her all-consuming day job. Lola and her older sister Conny have no parents, and Elise is Lola’s legal guardian, but now the tables have turned, and Lola is Elise’s guardian – a role she tries to avoid confronting as much as she can.

The first half hour of the film made me think that this  is a  capitalist satire where selfish professionalism is more important than the lives of those whose jobs are at stake. But that film is cleverer than that, forcing the audience into a false sense of security only to reveal that it has been chipping away at Lola’s demeanor. The phone call sequence, roughly half an hour in, initially feels like it came out of the blue before we see that it just might be a crack in the realist sheen.

The most overtly damning critique of business consultant culture is unspoken; the contrasts between Lola’s anonymous hotel suites and business meetings, and the colorless surroundings of Conny’s temporary home show that both sisters are imprisoned in one way or another.  What we see is an exploration of the emotional toll on women in the male dominated world of business.

“MOM + MOM” (“MAMMA + MAMMA”)— Two Women

“MOM + MOM” (“MAMMA + MAMMA”)

Two Women

Amos Lassen

Karole Di Tommaso’s “Mom +Mom” is the story of two women who love each other and want to have a child together. They decide upon in vitro fertilization but are unaware of challenges involved. As their desire becomes stronger they suffer pain and fatigue but they also realize that  miracles might happen. They share a small apartment with an ex-boyfriend who does not make things easier. They have to deal with him because he has the power to allow them to have a child but after their first fruitless attempt, the challenges begin to pile up yet they are determined to keep trying.

 

Times have changed and it is not nearly as difficult for members of the LGBTQ community to have and to raise but as we see here the road is never easy.

Beautifully acted by  Linda Caridi, Maria Roveran, Andrea Tagiaferri, Sylvia Gallerano and Stefano Sabelli, “Mom + Mom” is an honest look at two women who are deeply in love who want to be mothers.

“THE CONDUCTOR” (“De Dirigent”) —To Be Oneself

“THE CONDUCTOR” (“De Dirigent”)

To Be Oneself

Amos Lassen

Antonia Brico (Christanne de Brujin) was sold by her biological mother and raised in a family that was not her own. She works under the name of Willie in a concert hall as an usher and as such, she is supposed to leave the premises once the performance is in progress, but she wants to dedicate her life to music and therefore wants to stay. She loves to listen to the music and learn for her future what she hopes is to be her future career. She wants to sit near the front, to see the Conductor at work and takes a folding chair and sits on it, right in the front row, between the regular lines of chairs, to the astonishment of the public and in particular of the Thomsen family.

There is a love hate relationship Willy and the Thomsens. Willy  is summoned by Frank Thomsen, the young, handsome man who is a manager at the concert hall and she is fired because she dared to sit during a concert. She tries to try to find a job and applies for a typist and after the exam she is told she has been fast, has short nails and made no mistakes, but the other woman competing for the position and was the opposite gets the job. The other woman was sexy, made mistakes, was slow and had long nails yet was preferred in spite of her professional shortcomings because of her looks.

Willy is helped getting a job  by Robin Jones, a talented piano player who is invited soon to Thomsen family mansion where Mr. Thomsen is kind and hospitable, while his wife is rude and remains so. Willy joins her at the affair. Frank Thomsen he is soon infatuated and enraptured with Willy, the very same women he fired, who tells him that she wants to be a conductor. However, this is a male profession and it is thought that women are not able to conduct.

 Dutch filmmaker Maria Peters based her film on the true story of Antonia Brico. She was a Dutch musician who becomes the first woman to conduct the New York Philharmonic in the 1920s. This is the story of an unhappy adopted girl with a very strong feminist streak who insists on fighting with every man who gets in her way of her dream.

The sub plot of Robin  (Turner Schofield) gives the movie realness and heart.  Robin is Willy’s best friend and confident who gets Antonia a job playing piano in a Drag Bar so she at least has a living wage whilst she is studying to be conductor.  Antonia has no idea of Robin’s past until, he chooses to reveal it to show Antonia that everyone must be who they are.  

“MADAME”— A Difficult Relationship

“MADAME”

A Difficult Relationship

Amos Lassen

Swiss director Stéphane Riethauser’s first full-length film, “Madame” is an honest and unflinching portrait of an aspect of his past in desperate need of reconstruction. The title refers to Caroline, the director’s grandmother (and muse), an elderly woman who is anything but resigned. She is a seemingly controlled and bourgeois individual with a surprising strength of character. 

We see the close and often difficult relationship between the director and his grandmother who is an undisputed model of courage and determination. The direct and wholly sincere dialogue which establishes itself between these two people is seen through the rich family archives: short films shot in super 8 (filmed by the director’s father, but also by the filmmaker himself when we was just a small boy), footage of Riethauser questioning his grandmother and slides and photographs of the family as well as through visual testimonies of the director’s past. 

Riethauser uses his film to give meaning to an aspect of his past which isn’t always linear. His current status as a director and spokesperson for the LGBT cause seen through out the suffering he has had to deal with in the past. He has felt obliged for a very long time to conform to a patriarchal, bourgeois version of society dominated by alpha males. The most important thing, it seems, is to “appear” to conform physically and mentally to a standardized version of “masculinity” which is both ridiculous and extremely arduous. Men, as described by the director’s father, should “be courageous, fight for their family and their country. Yet, today we are taught that  gender roles are not biologically fixed but socially constructed. 

Riethauser not only paints a picture of the strong bond he shared with his grandmother but he also explores the patriarchal and bourgeois society within which genders must be interpreted and performed by following enforced instructions. The young Stéphane ended up creating his own alter ego called “Riton”, a façade of pure arrogance and machismo behind which he could hide and disappear. By doing this, the clichés surrounding gender are revealed. The director converses with the affluent, grandiose and complicated character of his grandmother, but he also uses his own inner dialogue, looking for traces of the “self” that lies hidden beneath the way he behaves as a result of a past governed by bourgeois respectability. 

 The power of this documentary is in the balance between intimacy and meticulousness, between the humor and the tragedy that is found in a reality based only on appearances. Film permits Reithauser to express all those things that he was unable to say about love and sex during his childhood and adolescence. He takes a dispassionate and ironic look at how things once were, and, for this reason, we get a liberated voice to a past that is dominated by “things unsaid”. 

Madame is Caroline, a ninety-year old self-made woman who´s countered and overcome sexism all her life with wit and with humor. Stéphane is a victim of  homophobia. when he tries to overcome that which he´s internalized, he finds his grandmother externalizing it for and onto him.  The sufferings of grandmother and grandson both come out from sexism. However, as the film moves forward and he comes to accept his homosexuality, she becomes part of the problem.

The documentary is beautifully structured and narrated, as it examines the sexism in society, founded on homophobia, and so encompassing that it makes Stéphane turn against himself and against nature.

Madame and her grandson are both very charismatic and together with the narration, the structure, the editing, the music, and the attempts to understand oneself and each other makes this both a glorious and timely film. “Madame” goes way beyond a standard autobiography to look at the stifling of human desires that can take place even in the most comfortable setting.

Granted, Riethauser grew up in an affluent Geneva family and where, as the firstborn son, he was pampered and adored by his attractive parents. This adoration came at a price, though and he felt pressure to grow up into an exaggeratedly masculine alpha male, something he was clearly not destined to be or do. We shows us sex roles anew: “a conception of women as mystical, helpless, and revered; men as controlling, aggressive and entitled, with shame and hate the fate of anyone who dares to move beyond the constructs.” We enter the milieu in which he grew up, and his first-person narration adds to the slow awakening and eventual withdrawal from that environment.  At the same time, a parallel story  about his grandmother Caroline comes forth and we see her concealing pain beneath her rough exterior without a trace of self-pity. Like her grandson, she was punished for wanting something other than what proper Swiss father figures decreed was what was expected of her. Riethauser has a stronger than usual awareness of male privilege, and his empathy for his grandmother is moving. For her part, she encourages him to lead the fullest life he can.

The film traces the director’s his life journey to become a liberated man and gay activist in his forties. He beautifully exposes the repression he was lucky and young enough to escape.

“Anyone: A Novel” by Charles Soule— The Realistic Future

Soule, Charles. “Anyone: A Novel”,  Harper Perennial, 2019.

The Realistic Future

Amos Lassen

Charles Soule’s “Anyone: A Novel” takes us into a of technology in a realistic future. We meet a female scientist who creates “a technology that allows for the transfer of human consciousness between bodies, and the transformations this process wreaks upon the world.”

As she searches for a cure for Alzheimer’s, she finds herself mysteriously transported into her husband’s body and this occurrence, a mistake, changes her life forever.

We move ahead some twenty years where “flash” technology allows individuals the ability to transfer their consciousness into other bodies for specified periods, paid, registered and legal. Now one can “Be anyone with Anyone” the slogan of the company that now offers the ultimate out-of-body experience. Beyond the reach of the law and government regulators is a black market called the “darkshare”, where desperate “vessels” anonymously rent out their bodies, no questions asked for anything including sex, drugs, crime or even worse. 

Soule brings together today’s story of the discovery and development of the flash and the story of one woman’s crusade to put an end to the darkness it has caused in the world twenty-five years after its creation. This is speculative fiction that  takes us to a world where identity, morality, and technology collide— a vision of a future, we have never expected to see. We look at gender, power, and what it means to be human and this stays with us after we close the covers of the book. The same technology that can lets us cure the problems and woes of the world can take us into a world where selfishness and greed rule.

“DENIAL”— Short and Sweet

“DENIAL”

Short and Sweet

Amos Lassen

Misti Dawn Garritano (co-director [with Mackenzie Leigh Barmen] and writer),  and Timothy J. Cox are a married couple experiencing another day. In just three minutes we see cute interactions and amusing action. However, what can happen in just three minutes? Let me just say that you will be surprised. I can’t possibly summarize what happens without giving something away. But I can say that if you have ever been involved in a serious relationship, you will be familiar with what happens here.

The unnamed wife calls for John to fix the toilet but she realizes that he is spending quite a bit of time in there causing her to check on him to see what could possibly be taking him so long. The two performances are amazing all around. Cox as John comes across as a husband who will do anything for his wife but there is more below the surface. He and Garritano have great chemistry. They seem like a married couple living in the house that they have always lived in and, of course, we sense immediately that this is comedy. Everything works here and for three minutes, you can lose yourself in “Denial”, albeit for a short time.

 

 

“THE MIGHTY KONG”— King Kong for Kids

“THE MIGHTY KONG”

King Kong for Kids

Amos Lassen

“The Mighty Kong” is an animated, family-targeted, period “King Kong” adaptation. Dudley Moore gives his final performance. He is Carl Denham, a movie director with a nerdy sidekick who’s his cameraman and assistant only the nerdy sidekick, Roscoe (William Sage). They make musicals of wild animals appearing silly but at some point “Mighty Kong” gives up its script.

 

Carl Denham’s  wild animal Broadway show sure needs a new attraction, so when he learns about an island where these is a giant gorilla seems to be just the thing. So he, his leading lady Ann Darrow (Jodi Benson), his assistant Roscoe and their guide Jack Driscoll (Randy Hamilton) go to Skull Island, where they soon find out the natives aren’t friendly; they kidnap Ann to offer her to their giant gorilla Kong. Kong likes Ann, but doesn’t care for the other members of Denham’s expedition and tries to drive them off the island. Finally, Jack saves Ann and they knock Kong out and bring him to New York City, where he’s to star in Denham’s latest Broadway production. However on opening night, Kong escapes, wreaks havoc to the city, and ultimately grabs Ann and climbs the Empire State Building but naturally is no match for fighter planes, etc.  

The animation is interesting and the film has a sense of charm even with its bad songs  and music and the performances have a lot to be desired.  I was never a fan of the original Kong story so it would have taken a lot to impress me here but it just did not happen. It might have been a lot of fun.