Author Archives: Amos

“Villiany” by Andrea Abi-Karam— Coming-out in Public

Abi-Karam, Andrea. “Villainy”, Nightboat Books, 2021,

Coming-out in Public

Amos Lassen

In beautiful poetry, Andrea Abi-Karam explores “protest as a poetic formation’ and shows us that it is “desires that bring queers into public space.” Seeing poetry as a destination to being oneself, we go into the admonition that does not allow us to be real. We are taken through
emotional states and the desires of the queer community for acceptance. and desire to which queers must tend during protest. This is not easy and Abi-Karam demands of us to break the influence of today’s fascism and take on the antifascists, street medics, and queer exhibitionists  as we risk the safety of our lives. We must act directly through demand and disruption and engage everyone. The goal is to bring down the  hierarchy in order to “establish a participatory, temporary autonomous zone in which the targeted other can thrive.”

This is poetry that is anti-poetry that is very wise and confrontational. To make a new way we must “unmake” an older way and suffering comes with this. Andrea Abi-Karam uses language and the body as ways of becoming and unbecoming that lead us to new futures and possibilities. Here is the language for a new world and a new activism. It is intense, vital and relevant and impossible to define in a review of this kind.

“THE PERFECT DAVID”— Coming-of-Age

“THE PERFECT DAVID”

Coming-of-Age

Amos Lassen

After a workout, David (Mauricio di Yorio), a young bodybuilder, reluctantly poses for his mother Juana (Umbra Colombo) and she runs her fingers across his chest and shoulders, looking at spots for improvement. Juana’s examinations of her son’s body are treated with a detached calculation and when she later measures David, she finds a one-centimeter difference between his shoulders that to her is a striking flaw.

Juana is an artist and uses David to craft a “perfect” physique to use as a model for her latest sculptural creation. David is put on a strict training regime including early morning workouts, a diet requiring him to eat in the middle of the night and take supplemental pills to increase his strength. Although Juana assures David that his progress is almost complete, his motivation becomes less and less and his training interferes in his personal life. After events including an unsuccessful sexual encounter and a violent episode that leads to his suspension from school, David becomes more and more obsessed with sculpting his body into something that is totally unhealthy. He is surrounded by intense pressures and driven to extreme measures and faces consequences and unexpected revelations.

The themes of art, bodies, and obsession are everywhere. The physical, mental, and emotional toll on David’s health and self-esteem is evident all of the time and the relationship between mother and son is a strange psychological dimensionthat is guided by artist and subject. Juana sees David not as her son, but a body to be used as a clay to mold to her artistic desires. We see David’s life torn apart by steroids, hormonal rage, and bad relationships. The film ends with a clash  with everything that came before.

Director Felipe Gomez Aparicio tells the story of a young man’s journey of self-discovery through intense pressures by family and society to look and act in a certain way and a character study of a troubled teen bodybuilder.

David’s sexuality is being shaped by others to fit an ideal. In a twist, we understand the horror of why David’s mother is so obsessive about her son’s physique. David is only starting out in the world of bodybuilding, yet it seems that he’s already burnt out and drained psychologically and exhausted physically.

“SURGE”— A Change of Behavior

“SURGE”

A Change of Behavior

Amos Lassen

Joseph (Ben Whishaw) is a British airport security officer who responds to his alienating environment by snapping and going on a crime spree. Director Aneil Karia, however, takes us away from the fantasy of white male grievance that it could have been.

Joseph’s snap is more of a crumbling as we see when Joseph has to pat down an older traveler who seems to recognize him. Joseph has never met him before, can’t remember him, or won’t acknowledge any past with him. The man complains that the metal-detector wand is burning his skin and tells Joseph to follow him in exactly 63 seconds before running, only for security to immediately subdue him. Even if the man doesn’t know Joseph, he suggests that they are comrades in psychosis, allowing Joseph to recognize some kind of aberration in himself, even though it might just be a product of his imagination.

Joseph’s reaction escalates by doing a favor for his co-worker, Lily (Jasmine Jobson), by fixing her television set. The job calls for a cheap cable, but when the ATM eats his bank card, he goes to the bank, but they won’t accept his bus pass as identification. He writes a note saying he has a gun, and the teller empties the register. The bank robbery, combined with that of the unanticipated sex he has with Lily begins a chain reaction of norm-shattering behavior.

Filmed with a handheld camera that remains close to Whishaw’s face is both nauseating and exhilarating as we see Joseph’s disorientation.  

Joseph revenges himself on objects and his spree is seen as inevitableand inevitably short-lived. Bythe end,  Joseph’s gun turns out to be a banana and the wounds he’s sustained to his face become joyful.

Whitshaw’s performance is incredible and burning. He provokes people into beating him up on the streets of London but by the end his whole experience is like being trapped in a broken-down subway car with a mental patient.

Joseph’s increasingly manic mood is so strange that it’s almost believable. The film continues with incident after incident, until it just stops giving us very little about Joseph except that he’s very unhappy.

Frantic, kinetic energy propels the film but it never seems entirely sure where it has been or where it is going.

“THE UNIVERSALITY OF IT ALL”— “We are all part of the same story…”

“THE UNIVERSALITY OF IT ALL”

“We are all part of the same story…”

Amos Lassen

Shot in Paris, Berlin, London, New York, USA, Sarasota, Vancouver, San Jose, and Costa Rica, “The Universality of It All” is focuses human migration and inequality. The film is intimate and informative explaining the complexity of human migration through important data and information and shows that these affect the reality of two friends and their daily lives.

 Emad is a refugee from Yemen living in Vancouver who realizes the interconnectedness of all the major events of the 21st century. We are taken around the world, looking at different cases of migration from an economic and historical perspective and understanding the life, thoughts, and experiences of Emad. The juxtaposition between narratives allows us to see the similarities and correlations that are common to all migrations. 

We also look at climate change, colonialism, neoliberalism, globalization, identity politics, fertility rates, wealth gaps, trade wars, terrorism, and the media.

Interviewees include Catherine De Withol (Research Director at the French National Centre for Scientific Research), Radha S. Hedge (Professor in the Department of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University), Ives Charbit (Professor of Demography, University Paris Descartes), Carlos Sandoval (Columbia Journalism School) and Nicolas Boeglin (Professor of International Law at the Law Faculty, University of Costa Rica).

What we see is that“everything is connected”.

“WITKIN & WITKIN”— Twin Artist Brothers

“WITKIN & WITKIN”

Twin Artist Brothers

Amos Lassen

“Witkin & Witkin” explores the artistic achievements of identical twin brothers Jerome and Joel-Peter  Witkin. Jerome is a painter, Joel-Peter a photographer and each is a noted figure in his field. They grew up in great physical and emotional proximity but now they speak and live a significant distance apart, the one in upstate New York, the other in New Mexico.

Recently, they have begun to exhibit together. The film follows each sibling on his own and also takes us to Mexico City for their first joint international show, where the Witkins are surprised to see, that they share certain themes in their work. Director Trisha Ziff tells the story of each brother’s journey from twin to individual, how and why they grew apart as we learn what their creative expression means to them and to the world.

Jerome is a mostly figurative artist who often tackles socio-political subjects in his paintings; Joel-Peter analyzes similar topics, but does through surrealist tableaux where models wear costumes while frozen in provocative poses. Their falling-out seems to be based, at least in part, on the fact that Jerome blossomed early as a painter and was seen as a genius right away, while Joel-Peter had to find his own way. Jerome is an introspective introvert while Joel-Peter is an extrovert. This perhaps explains their differences.

We learn about their lives. Both have suffered losses Jerome lost a son, Joel-Peter lost a wife  and now they are almost 80. Each twin is unorthodox and unique in his own way and their story is an intimate portrait of their relationship— a meditation on art and a vivid biographical look at the two men.

“once upon a twin: poems” by Raymond Luczak— Would It Have Been Different?

Luczak, Raymond. “once upon a twin: poems”, Galludet University Press, 2021.

Would It Have Been Different?

Amos Lassen

Growing up deaf in a hearing Catholic family of nine children, Raymond Luczak’s mother once shared conflicting stories about having had a miscarriage  either after or around the time he was conceived. Now he has written an elegy to his lost twin, this book asks wondering how different his life would have been had his twin survived.

Luczak takes us into his hopes for connection and belonging. He believes he has a twin even with the mystery around his mother’s pregnancy. He does not fit into hid family since he is deaf from a young age and was not allowed to use sign at home. He was sent out for speech lessons, and stayed with several different families. He is laughed at and bullied at school and finds that he is attracted to his own sex  and this was something his family could not and would not accept.  He felt that the only one who loved him was his grandmother who had a stroke and died.  He writes that twins have a deep bond yet his family created a toxic atmosphere for him and no one listened to him. His twin would have provided for his needs

I have always loved Luczak’s poetry and the fact that he goes into unconventional territory with this new collection makes him love it even more. We see that memory  and cannot always be trusted and that our visions of childhood change over time. Loneliness is emphasized as all of us seek connection at different times in our lives. Looking for a twin is looking for another self that mirrors who we are and it has continued throughout history and it metaphorical for how memory and reality come together. The poems become part of a method for searching for identity and while the idea of a twin is romantic, it is also present in our lives and part of who we are.

For me, reading poetry is an emotional experience and a way for me to look deeply within myself and introspect. I really found that here. The poems here are very real and relevant and as the poet here delves into his own personal memories so do I. Lyrical and beautiful writing emerges on every page and I am not likely to forget “Once Upon a Twin” anytime soon.

“Better Davis and Other Stories” by Philip Dean Walker— Looking Back at Gay Life and the Beginning of AIDS

Walker, Philip Dean. “Better Davis and Other Stories”, Squares and Rebels, 2021.

Looking Back at Gay Life and the Beginning of AIDS

Amos Lassen

Philip Dean Walker’s “Better Davis and Other Stories” looks at gay culture and the beginning of the AIDS epidemic during the late seventies and mid-eighties by taking us into the personal worlds of celebrities, artists, playboys, and female pals. The stories present  the lives of minor American icons who are not so remembered today. Drag queens, sitcom stars, Broadway impresarios, movie divas were beginning to come out as AIDS played havoc with their lives. Art, sex and death are the major themes.

With his vivid imagination and fine prose, characters come to life. Walker imagines his characters’ inner lives so realistically that every things seems very authentic. We see how both they and the communities to which they belong faced the epidemic even before it was known as AIDS. It was a time filled with problems and a time of rebellion as well as a look at loss and understanding. Humor and tragedy are brought together to give us a look at a community about to face devastation.

Jim J. Bullock thinks about his past relationships and his own HIV diagnosis, Natalie Wood fights with husband Robert Wagner on the night of her death, Elizabeth Taylor and Maureen Stapleton go to a drag club after performing on Broadway, a drag queen impersonates Bette Davis, an airline steward continues to have wild sexual exploits while hiding his Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions; and Michael Bennett, director of the musical “A Chorus Line” is replacing a cast member who has AIDS only to die himself from it a few years later. We see that in the entertainment industry, gay life is symbiotic as the characters use each other.

I am not much of a reader of short stories but Walker has opened new doors for me and I am now quite a fan. 

“A Quilt for David” by Steven Reigns— Revisiting David Acer

Reigns, Steven. “A Quilt for David”, City Lights, 2021.

Revisiting David Acer

Amos Lassen

In the early 1990s, eight people who were living in a small conservative Florida town alleged that Dr. David Acer, their dentist, had infected them with HIV. Because David was gay and appeared to be sickly because of his own AIDS-related illness, he was the ideal scapegoat and victim. It was a time during the early years of AIDS when not much was understood, and homophobia was everywhere. Accuser Kimberly Bergalis managed to get an interview and cover story in “People” and others appeared on talk shows and on the front page of newspapers.

In “A Quilt for David”, poet, Steven Reigns examines the life and death of Acer and the society that used stigma against those who are vulnerable. We see how the present Covid 19 pandemic is also being looked at through medical misinformation and cultural bias. Reigns looks at an American history in a different light by questioning Acer’s accusers and reconstructing the life of a gay man that has been depicted with secrecy and shame.

Those of us who have been around for a while remember all too how we have had to live lives of secrecy and discrimination simply based on our sexuality. We have had to deal with discrimination and questions about who we are and how we live and love. Even though things are so much better now, the past history has left an indelible mark on us and we have been scarred. Reigns takes this very serious as he returns honor to those who died of AIDS and looks at Acer’s life and death as representative of the way we lived. As I read, I was moved to tears and uplifted by hope. This is not only Acer’s story but our story as well. Now, some thirty years after his death, Acer becomes the symbol of hate and lies that have hurt our community for way too long and Reigns’ words bring this home to a new generation.

Poetry is based on emotion and it is impossible not to be emotionally moved by what we read here. We do not often get a look at what happened during AIDS in the way we do here and while it is heartbreaking, it is also liberating. I have long been a fan of Reigns as a writer and as a person and he has surpassed himself with “A Quilt for David”. Each word is important and shows his devotion to his subject. I find it hard to write about this book as I am so deeply affected by what I read here. I am quite sure I will never forget it.

“LEGEND”— Limited Edition, 2-Disc Limited Edition

“LEGEND”

Limited Edition, 2-Disc Limited Edition

Amos Lassen

Director Ridley Scott and writer William Hjortsberg have created a breathtaking cinematic fairytale with one of the screen’s most beautiful depictions of Evil. In an idyllic forest, the pure-hearted Jack (Tom Cruise) takes his true love Princess Lili (Mia Sara) to see a pair of unicorns at the forest’s edge. Little do they know, however, that the Lord of Darkness (Tim Curry) has dispatched his minions to capture the unicorns and cut off their horns so that he may take the world into everlasting night. After Lili and the unicorns are taken prisoner, Jack must form a group of forest creatures and enter Darkness’ subterranean lair to deal with the devilish creature before it is too late. “Legend” has been restored to Scott’s original cut to give us his unique vision of a world beyond our imagination.

The plot and other aspects of the film  are somewhat problematic, however yet we get a hint that “Legend” could have been something truly special on all counts, but  it never quite made it. 

Set in a fantasy universe, the film opens with the Lord Of Darkness upset that something as pure and good as unicorns still exists in the forests. He sends one of his followers off to try and destroy them, as he himself is so evil he can’t go out in the sun and do it himself. In the forest is nature-boy Jack  who is friends with a beautiful princess. He takes her to see the unicorns, but when she breaks the rules of the forest and touches one of the animals, she may have sealed the world’s fate and that an age of darkness is soon to come.

This leads Jack on a quest that brings him into contact with all kinds of characters in a bid to save the world – and possibly the Princess too from going into darkness.

It’s a fairly simple story and to be honest it suffers for that. The script assumes that because this is a fantasy world, everything will be taken on faith. Jack’s a forest boy, but we never really learn what that means, and we never really find out what Mia Sara is the princess of. Everything feels random and it’s difficult to truly care about what happens and this is a shame because of the visual feast that the movie presents. This fantasy world never goes deep. The film is amazing to watch but it is frustrating because so much is not explained.

Absolute evil is pitted against absolute good  in a battle for the soul of the land. It all hinges on a pair of unicorns, one of which is made vulnerable by the touch of a beautiful but foolish princess. Fascinating in the way only a wrongheaded film by a great filmmaker can be, there is beautiful imagery, but the story keeps it in the  land of kitsch.

Much of this is due to the dullness of the characters. Mia Sara’s princess is one of those celebrated visions of loveliness but she has no personality at all, though she does undergo a shift into something more interesting toward the end. Tom Cruise’s earnest young hero is sweet but bland. Tim Curry gets the plum role, hamming it up gloriously as the demon Darkness, but he’s hampered by a costume that undermines the imagery of the film. But I love this film even with all if my criticism.

Some of the special features include:

  • Theatrical Cut Isolated Score: Also of interest is the disc’s Isolated Music Score, which features uncut music cues by Tangerine Dream. While the cues fall out of sync with the picture on occasion, they’ve been intentionally preserved to focus on as much of the music as possible. Other scenes incorporate alternate cues that were not used in the final film.
  • Creating a Myth: The Making ofLegend (SD, 51 minutes): Strange, lyrical opening aside, “Creating a Myth” is a terrific behind-the-scenes documentary that charts the course of the film’s production, from its earliest stages of development to its enduring legacy as a fantasy film. Key members of the cast and crew are on hand to discuss anything and everything fans could possibly want to learn about, and little ground is left uncovered.
  • Lost Scenes(SD, 13 minutes): Two scenes are available — “Alternate Opening: Four Goblins” and “The Faerie Dance” — both of which look every bit as terrible and incomplete as you might imagine. two unfinished, long-lost scenes would.
  • Music Video(SD, 5 minutes): Bryan Ferry’s “Is Your Love Strong Enough.”
  • Photo Gallery(HD): More than ninety images are included.
  • Theatrical Trailers(SD, 3 minutes)
  • TV Spots(SD, 2 minutes)

“DEAD PIGS”— Social Satire and Family Drama in Modern China

“DEAD PIGS”

Social Satire and Family Drama in Modern China

Amos Lassen

Cathy Yan’s “Dead Pigs” is made up of intertwining stories of those living through social modernization in Shanghai. We see the stories of a man in financial trouble in the wake of the death of his pig stock and an investment that went wrong, a woman who refuses to leave her family home that is being destroyed for gentrification purposes, and a troubled young man in love with a wealthy woman and they both fail to understand their different worlds. As the stories progress we see how these character’s stories come together interpersonally, and within the city undergoing change.

Dead Pigs opens with Wang (Haoyu Yang) buying a virtual reality set. He is mesmerized by the abilities that technology has to immerse people. He is then met with a pack of dead pigs that have died mysteriously. The characters reflect the growth of Shanghai and its and it becomes clear from the onset that the character’s involvement in the new world is limited.

On the same day Wang makes his purchase, a swine plague strikes his village. The local river is soon infested with hundreds of dumped pig carcasses. Wang can’t repay his debts and falls prey to ruthless local thugs.

Wang’s sister, Candy, (Vivian Wu) is the successful owner of a beauty salon. Her motto is “There are no ugly women. Only lazy ones!”  and this also is a slogan for a China where failure is stigmatized and success must constantly be performed openly. Candy clashes with her bungling brother over his haphazard business affairs.

Wang’s mistakes show Candy’s own crisis. Candy may be an image of icy perfection, but she is a sentimental at heart.

She holds onto to ramshackle family home. When she’s pressured by developers, the stage is set for Candy’s showdown against progress.

Director Yan looks at some moral complexities of late-capitalism in China. In a parallel thread, Wang’s son, Zhen (Mason Lee), barely makes it, working as a waiter at a restaurant in Shanghai. Rather than tell his father the truth about his job, he pretends to be successful. He then falls for a young, lonely socialite, Xia Xia (Li Meng).

Zhen and Xia Xia’s quasi-romance never touches on class difference or social status in any meaningful way since Yan gives us a fantasy about the rich helping the poor. Yan doesn’t say much condemning the developers’ urge to imitate. The new China, like the old Wang’s virtual reality, is a puzzling simulation. The characters aren’t as worried about aesthetic or cultural claims to authenticity as they are about finding a place in the new pecking order.

The film follows the effects of a singular event across different strata in modern-day China.