Author Archives: Amos

“SUNBURN”— A Relaxing Weekend?

“Sunburn”

A Relaxing Weekend?

Amos Lassen

Vicente Alves do O’s “Sunburn” is a sexy mystery-thriller about four friends leave Lisbon for the south of Portugal and a weekend at a luxurious but isolated villa. There is a pool, a lot of wine and many unspoken tensions. Their  weekend is disrupted by the return of the mysterious David, who had left the country 10 years previously.

Each of the four in the house has some form of history with David, romantic, sexual or otherwise, and his return  turns the weekend upside down as old tensions return and new relationships are threatened. David’s return (or even just the mention of it) is felt throughout the film as a tension that undermines everything else.

This is an LGBT film where the focus isn’t on the characters and their sexuality. Quite simply, it is a film about four friends and their flaws; they just happen to be gay. This kind of mainstream, almost irrelevant treatment of sexuality is fascinating as minorities are people with people problems like majorities and their sexuality isn’t a be all and end all.

It is set in a house on a small island in the sea of forest that surrounds them and it’s here that all action takes place. However, there is a forced sense of Portuguese intellectualism and we realize that there aren’t the people I know or associate with.

“MISS ROSEWOOD”—A Transgender Terrorist

Miss Rosewood

A Transgender Terrorist

Amos Lassen

Helle Jensen’s  “Miss Rosewood” is the self-appointed transgender terrorist on New York hardcore performance scene, “a walking scandal on high heels, and the only woman in town with enough balls to empty a condom into the hair of Leonardo DiCaprio.” Nothing is too sensitive to be transgressed by the lovely lady, who spreads both terror, horror, admiration, as well as bodily fluids left and right in an environment that is otherwise accustomed to pretty much everything. We see that there is a sensitive and likeable person behind the thick makeup and Helle Jensen has been able to reach through to her in the film and is not afraid to take ‘a walk on the wild side’, but he also joins Rosewood, backstage, where she uses the name Jon Cory, and a family that has learned to understand the persona with whom she acts out her dreams and fantasies.

“”ANOTE’S ARK”— What if your country was swallowed up by the sea?”

“ANOTE’S ARK”

“What if your country was swallowed”by the sea?”

Amos Lassen

The Pacific island nation of Kiribati is one of the most remote places on the planet.  It is far-removed from the pressures of modern life and yet it is one of the first countries that must confront imminent annihilation from sea-level rise. Kiribati president Anote Tong tries to find options, from mass migration to building underwater cities. But the water grows higher, and citizens are fleeing the island, leaving behind 4000 years of Kirabati culture.

“Anote’s Ark” captures the shifting dynamics of climate change while at the same time give us  a portrait of the Kiribati people that reveals their strength as they face the waters head on. At first, director Matthieu Rytz’s documentary  seems like it’s going to be yet another climate-change film, created in hopes that the right people see it and start to set us on the right path before all is ruined for future generations. It does tackle the subject of climate change, but it focuses on a real-world situation that can be witnessed right now. 

This isn’t a film about whether climate change is real; it’s a film about an island nation of 100,000 people that is on the verge of oblivion due to rising sea levels. It is punctuated with beautiful drone shots and hypnotic native music and follows the life of the president of Kiribati, Anote Tong, as he pleads with the world’s nations to adopt environmental standards in order to halt, or even just reverse, the damage that has been done to our planet. Tong istrying to work with countries like Fiji and Australia on creating an escape plan for when his people are forced to leave their homes after the ocean swallows them up. Two villages on the islands have already been devoured, and as it stands now – by the end of the century – the entire country will be no more.

We get a fascinating look at this small country, the dedication of its people and its president, and the positive steps for change that become laid out due to the Paris Agreement. The film was msde before Trump was elected as the U.S. president and attempted to leave the agreement and just before, as the film states preceding the end credits, the Kiribati president elected after Tong’s term began working to undo all the progress he made. 

Director Rytz spends a lot of time around the island, showing its amazing beaches and tranquil landscapes and introducing us to its people – connecting us on a personal level to Kiribati, which lies on the equator and straddles both hemispheres.

We see President Anote Tong doing his best to tell the world about the problems in his country – not so people will stop driving cars or change their way of life to stop climate change – in hopes that other countries will help when the time comes. At the Paris Climate Summit in 2015, President Tong’s government negotiates with New Zealand to allow some Kiribati’s citizens to purchase land and emigrate each year. 

These are pro-active things he CAN do, because he cannot hold back the ocean. We also see these changes through the eyes of Sermary, a mother who wins one who emigrated to New Zealand. Currently, when a storm comes, the ocean floods into her house. She is glad it happens during the day because she worries they might not have been able to get the children out in time had they all been sleeping. These aren’t the kinds of fears most mothers have to face. Worst of all, due to high airfare cost, Sermary must emigrate to New Zealand alone; leaving her 6 young children for 6 months in order to raise the money needed to bring them over.

With drones we are able to see the Earth from above thus showing us what we’ve been doing to it – how we’ve been changing it, without regard for natural processes. Being able to sweep over the ocean and see these islands from above made me realize how small they are.

Imagine if you were  given this kind of news: “Your entire country will be completely uninhabitable within this century due to rising sea levels. All your countrymen must find new homes and new livelihoods in foreign lands. Your culture, history, and your spiritual connection to the land will become echoes of the life you once knew. Now, imagine if you were president of this country. This is the reality faced by Anote Tong, the president of Kiribati, and the main character of Anote’s Ark.

Kiribati (pronounced ‘Kiribas’) consists of 33 atolls that span about the same width as the United States, and is just about a meter (3.28 ft.) above sea level. Anote served as Kiribati’s President from 2003 to 2016 (the maximum term limit) and now continues to search for a solution for all 100,000 residents of Kiribati who are destined to become some of the world’s first climate change refugees as their islands are inundated by rising sea water. Anote also appeared on the Sundance Institute’s panel “The New Climate” along with other leaders of indigenous peoples whose way of life is currently being disrupted by the effects of climate change.

 “It’s too late for Kiribati,” says Anote in the film. “For a long time I thought there was nothing I could do. It was this depressing feeling I had to get over.”

The film follows Anote as he travels to U.N. negotiations, the Vatican and the Paris Climate Agreement talks. The film also explores some of the solutions he’s envisioned for his community. The very core of Anote’s mission is to maintain his people’s dignity by preventing them from becoming victims of global catastrophe, and being pro-active about the writing on the wall–or–water on the horizon.

The film’s cinematography is a breathtaking tour of a paradise on earth. A single raft bobs in the waves, isolated and at the mercy of the sea. There are scenes of tribal celebrations, life in low-ceilinged woven huts, young children playing. Early scenes show Sermary — an important secondary character of the film and mother of six — and her husband preparing a meal for their family: laughing and splashing each other as they catch fish in the daylight, clean and cook the fish, and finally feast on their hard-earned meal by nightfall. Life on Kiribati appears simple and happy.

The ocean and the land become characters too, as Rytz’ juxtaposes footage of the paradise-like land with footage of the brutal, furious typhoons that tear the island homes to shreds. Tong hopes that with this film that there are people who will actually be affected by what they see here

“CRYSTAL CITY”— Meth Addiction in the Gay Community

 


“Crystal City”

Meth Addiction in the Gay Community

Amos Lassen

While the LGBT community is basking in its new  freedoms and in the post-AIDS years, there is another plague on in some of our communities. Today, New York and other centers of gay life have new generations of LGBT people who feel free and safe another threat is hurting the community— crystal meth, a synthetic drug that found a quick and willing home in the gay dance and sex club scene.  Crystal meth gives the user a manic rush to intensify physical and sexual activity and addiction is almost instantaneous. This documentary is both frightening and hopeful as it explores the many causes and effects of crystal meth addiction and the long path to recovery. The stories we see here are bravely told by men who are either recovering or currently using and these stories are raw, shocking, and honest and both a warning siren and a beacon of hope. Terrence Crawford’s “Crystal City” focuses on LGBT people even though this crisis touches everyone.

 

The documentary is an investigation of a resurgence of crystal meth addiction in New York’s gay community. The non-judgmental revelations show us a scene that is quite alarming.  Highly personal interviews with current and past addicts send us a message of mixed emotions that give us a feeling of both change and hope.

Crawford shows the start of the growing use of meth by gay men, most of whom are already HIV positive, comes from a real need to be able to lose any inhibitions when having sex.  Any feelings of self-loathing  about their sexuality or low self-esteem are cast away when they can have the most extreme and possibly deviant sex when on a meth driven high.  Interesting enough one addict admitted that he had never had ‘sober’ sex in his entire life and was even unsure if he could.

Crystal meth, or Tina is a very expensive habit which several of the younger users financed by becoming  sex-workers.  After taking a hit they were more sexually liberated so it was relatively easier to satisfy the needs of older gay guys to get them to  pay enough for their habits and living expenses.

Nearly all of the talking heads professed to having sober periods at one time or another, and even the ones that were the most successful in doing relapsed several times along the way.  To stop using meth is not the hardest thing but accepting and dealing with what replaces it is what causes far more problems.

Most of the men feel a need to change and stop and are totally aware of the irreparable damage long-term use can do both physically and mentally. There are a very few, like Kristian who have come to terms with the fact he will never stop his addiction completely and resigned to however that affects his life’s outcome. Meth he says, gives him a feeling of not ever having to care.

 

One of the young addicts says part of the problem is that navigating New York on your own with no immediate circle is  very difficult.  There are many uplifting and positive stories in the film. Andrew swapped out being a rent boy to getting a job walking dogs regular sessions with a mentor and by the end of the film he is celebrating being sober for one whole year.  Jacob, a long-time user is already 2 years sober and finds his hope and salvation by throwing himself into his art backed up therapy sessions with a professional counselor who is also an ex addict.  Matthew who is now sober has found his way back to a career in music which he claims gives him a bigger high than his addiction to meth, and we see him now marrying Loic his very cute boyfriend just before the final credits role.

The whole conversation comes full circle with one guy saying that finally there is evidence that the crystal city is beginning to see the noticeable start in the decline of and this cannot come fast enough. Director Crawford gives us a well-documented and even-handed look at a major problem that we hope will disappear soon.

Ten Movies Not to Miss @Wicked Queer, The Boston LGBT Film Festival 

 

Ten Movies Not to Miss @Wicked Queer, The Boston LGBT Film Festival 

 This year marks the 35th anniversary of “WICKED QUEER”, the Boston LGBT Film Festival and here are ten films you do not want to miss. I have reviewed all of these films and you will find those  reviews right here at reviewsbyamoslassen.com

BIRDS IN THE BORDERLANDS

CRYSTAL CITY

HEART + KNIFE

JOSE

JUST FRIENDS

MISS ROSEWOOD

SAUVAGE

SORRY ANGEL

THE COMING BACK OUT BALL MOVIE

THE GARDEN LEFT BEHIND

 

“NEVRLAND”— A Transpersonal Journey

“NEVRLAND”

A Transpersonal Journey

Amos Lassen

17-year-old Jakob wants to feel alive and nothing more. Because of uncontrollable anxiety he is prevented from doing so and he is forced to escape into virtual worlds. One night, he meets 26-year-old Kristjan in a cam chat. This is the beginning of a transpersonal journey to the wounds of their souls.

17 year old Jakob (Simon Fruhwirth) has just graduated high school and as it is the summer, his single-parent father fixes him up with a  temporary job at the abattoir in town.  They live in an isolated house in the country with Jacob’s elderly grandfather who he is expected to take care off.  Jacob’s relief from all this slightly oppressive domesticity is his computer on which behind closed doors he can cruise the gay chat lines.

It in these wee hours at night that he feels alive.  He suffers from uncontrollable anxiety attacks which one day actually made him collapse while taking a shower at work. A thorough examination at the hospital in Vienna showed that there is nothing physically wrong with him and that his problems are all psychological.

 He thinks the answers to his problems may lie with Kristjan (Paul Forman), a hunky 26 year old who has pursued him online and now wants to meet up in person.  After his grandfather has died Jakob agrees to meet with Kristjan, who has more than a few issues of his own.  The older boy persuades Jakob to take a hit of a strong hallucinatory drug telling him that it will help him face his fears. but it just doesn’t quite happen  as planned.

Austrian writer/director Gregor Schmidinger  calls this a post-gay coming of age story.  When Jakob embarks on his voyage of discovery it is an opportunity to show his vivid imagination as one very extended hallucinatory trip. This is an intense and multi-layered look at how one youth deals with his sexuality and tries to feel alive after having felt abandoned and almost dead inside. Schmidinger’s movie will resound with those who remember the difficulties of their own passages into manhood. Jakob never really feels at home whether at work or at home. He surfs the web  for love.

But even with his ever-growing escapes into digital sex he cannot free himself from his inner demons. He feels strangely excluded and does not feel real emotions, either in verbal contact with his father or in the daily care of his increasingly senile grandfather. His inner cry for tenderness that masturbating in front of the laptop does not help leads him to speaking one day on a sex-cam chat with handsome Kristjan.

“MOYNIHAN”— A Man of Ideas And Deeds

“Moynihan”

A Man of Ideas and Deeds

Amos Lassen

Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003) did not just live in the twentieth century, he spanned it as a colossus of ideas and a man of deeds. He was an influential intellectual and sociologist, policy specialist, ambassador and long-serving senator. In an age of rigid ideologies,  Moynihan was a man who embraced the contradictions and complexity of public policy who never despaired of the role of government in the lives of its citizens. Now, fifteen years after his death, as the nation falls deeper into hyper-partisanship and politics has become dominated by social media, the first feature length documentary about his life captures Moynihan as never before.

He was a New Deal Democrat, but he was also one of the Ford Administration’s best appointees when we look at him from a conservative perspective. As America’s UN Ambassador, his plain-spoken defense of the American democracy and our shared values shook Turtle Bay, especially his withering rebuke of the notorious resolution equating Zionism with racism. Directors Joseph Dorman and  Toby Perl Freilich show us the political career and scholarship of the longtime New York senator.

Moynihan was smart, flamboyant, and capable of working with the other party. His first major government job came under Johnson, helping shape the initial conception of the “War on Poverty.” Much to people’s surprise, especially his wife’s, Moynihan also served as Nixon’s domestic policy advisor (and later ambassador to India).

Dornan and Freilich’s many interview subjects make it pretty clear the administrations changed, but Moynihan and his commitment to fight poverty never wavered. His passionate term at the United Nations made Moynihan a folk hero. I found it refreshing and invigorating to watch this film at a time of such partisan polarization, because a healthy percentage of the talking heads are politicians and commentators associated with the conservative movement (or at least they were in the pre-Trump era), including Norman Podhoretz, George Will, Michael Barone, Trent Lott, and Suzanne Garment. It is fitting, because much of Moynihan’s work, particularly his influential and maligned “Moynihan Report” on persistent unemployment in the African American community, often cut both ways.

 

The documentary also reminds us of a time when the less extreme candidate could still win a party primary, although in the case of Moynihan’s “whopping one-percent” victory over New Left firebrand Bella Abzug was quite close.

The filmmakers and their interview subjects spend a good deal of time on Moynihan’s dry wit and his way with words and definitely take a great deal of time and effort to codify Moynihan’s standing as a liberal, which he was. It is too bad that they did not spend more time on his UN tenure, because it had a unifying effect on American society and across party and ideological lines. This is a thoughtful look at a man whose belief that “if you have contempt for government, you will get contemptible government’ sounds especially valid today.”

“JIHADISTS”— Extremist Islam

“JIHADISTS”
Extremist Islam
Amos Lassen
Banned in France (as ‘Salfistes’), the film , “Jihadists” looks at the Salafi movement and reveals the inner workings of extremist Islam.
Two Western filmmakers, Lemine Ould Salem of Mauritania and François Margolin from France were granted unparalleled access to fundamentalist clerics of Sunni Islam who proselytize for a “purer” form of Islam–including jihad of the sword and they do so in Mali, Tunisia, Iraq and Afghanistan. We see their theoretical interpretations are juxtaposed against images and footage from recruitment videos showing the hardline application of sharia law. The film, gives us  a stark look everyday life under jihadi rule.

An earlier version of the film was released following the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris where it was mistakenly interpreted as an empathetic portrayal of jihadism. If you have ever wondered what indoctrination by an extremist group would be like, you can find out by watching this.
We see “a context-free series of interviews with hardline fundamentalist clerics and believers from sharia strongholds in Mali, Tunisia, Iraq and Afghanistan, interspersed with propaganda videos of varying levels of queasiness and horror”. We hear from ultra-pious adherents who want to turn back the clock  and the result is an uncritical presentation causing the film to almost being  banned in France because it sounded like propaganda.  We see reality including everyday violence, unapologetic defenses of cruelty, killing and hatred wrapped in soft-spoken praising of God.
 What we see is an observed lesson that reveals the inner workings of a vocal minority. To know what’s out there is valid and director Margolin says we should “fight with ideas.” In 2016, France restricted  the documentary “Jihadists” (there called “Salafistes”) over fears that it provided a platform for Islamic extremists to spread propaganda.

This version is updated and re-edited and features interviews from over several years with militants and extremists in Mali, Tunisia and Mauritania. Co-director Margolin tell us about the importance of listening to them. “They are not crazy,” he says, as if madness were the sole reason for withholding a soapbox. “They have not escaped from psychiatric wards. However, it is not clear what Margolin thinks is educational about showing unfiltered extremist ideology. In an early moment in Mali, Oumar Ould Hamaha, a militant allied with Al Qaeda who was murdered in 2014  claims that there has been no more theft “since we started stonings” and “cutting off thieves’ hands.” As the film proceeds, subjects praise the Sept. 11 attacks and the Charlie Hebdo shooting in 2015 and inveigh against women, gays and Jews
Those interviewed openly discuss their ideology and have no shame in admitting that homosexuals anyone who doesn’t agree with and obey their laws and ideologies are killed. The jihadists appear brainwashed, simple-minded and cruel. The filmmakers are quite courageous and bold for risking their lives to bring attention to these people and their twisted ideologies that fuel ISIS. Anger toward such hatred, bigotry, extremism and evil.
What the film does not do and should is look at the nature of evil and if it is banal or not. This, however, is very difficult to do and I can tell you first hand that my own experience in teaching courses on Hannah Arendt and the banality of evil have proven that to me and that we really are at a loss to define the word evil as a stand-alone noun. We tend to see evil as the opposite of good and there is so much more involved.
 “Jihadists” is an alarming and controversial film especially when it  describes plans for taking on the President of the United States. During its brief 75 minutes’ running time, you will be accosted by words that will make you shudder, encourage you to shelter yourself and your small children. After agreeing to cut some of the scenes that went too far over the top—such as images of a police officer killed in France—the French Ministry of Culture lifted the ban. There are those who wonder whether this film is an apologia, or defense, of ISIS ideology and it is indeed possible that watching  it might sway people to the cause because those who are interviewed appear mentally fine. They explain their positions calmly, as though implying that they would be perfectly willing to debate the opposite side but as equals.

Specifically “Jihadists” deals with the Sunni Islam extreme sect of Salafistes, the spokesmen—all men by the way—lecture us without a smile or laugh on their faces. And that’s a good thing because if they came across as entertainers they could influence far more people than they have done to date. We see one guy whose hand is amputated for stealing and we see two homosexuals tossed from the roof because their “crime offends God” and makes them “no better than animals.” In one unexplained strip of film, a couple of jihadists drive by in their car gunning down people with automatic weapons and we are not told why.
The film ends with a final scene of an elderly gentleman smoking his pipe despite criticism from a passing ideologue. He demanded and received the return of what gives him pleasure saying that his health is not anybody else’s business.
The film is in French, English, Arabic and Bambara with subtitles.

“HAGAZUSSA”— The Humanization of Evil

 

“Hagazussa”

The Humanization of Evil

Amos Lassen

 In 15th Century Austria, a woman takes cares of her young daughter, Albrun, in a cabin in the Alps. The two suffer regular harassment from nearby villagers, but generally seem to have a safe and happy life together. One winter day, the mother collapses in the snow and some doctors are called. They discover that she has the plague and quickly disperse, leaving Albrun to care for her mother alone until the inevitable horrible death. Years later, Albrun has her own cabin alone in the woods, and cares for a newborn. She again suffers harassment from some nearby villagers, but one kind woman and the spooky local priest reach out to her. To say any more wouldn’t be fair to the movie as a narrative or concept but the plot only matters insomuch as it drives gorgeous and methodical exploration of character.

“Hagazussa” is an atmospheric tone poem and though horrifying in its own way, director Lukas Feigelfeld aims first to give us a portrait of a woman. Filmed with loving artistry and sadistic commitment, this is a vivid fable with clear disinterest in popular acceptance. It touches explicitly on every dark implication of Witchery in Medieval Europe, yet it remains steadfastly sympathetic to its  heathen. Feigelfeld turned this thing in as a graduation film.

Sound is vital to this picture, and though dialogue is limited, Feigelfeld uses meticulous sound mixing to pull the audience into his characters’ world. W ordless interaction is more revealing than pages of dialogue.

We see long, lingering shots of dead or eviscerated animals, human suffering, bodily decay, and there are disturbing. This is the story of a 15th Century goat herder and her mother, who live alone in the woods, isolated from the local villagers. At once, we can tell that something’s not right with the mother, who doesn’t cast spells, but does fall prey to fits.

Time goes on, and the mother dies from disease, but the daughter still hears her name being called. As she grows up, she bares a child as well, another girl doomed to be taunted and cast aside by the villagers, who don’t seem to understand much outside their own lives. The daughter believes she has made a friend and so are we tricked into believing that things might be okay. A series of events pulls out the worst in the woman we follow, and she begins a furious but quiet vengeance that takes out her tormentors.

“Hagazussa” is hard to review since it has little dialogue and little  plot structure. We remain in an abstract void as visceral and unforgiving terrors happen. It’s a hard watch that is photographed beautifully. There is beauty to behold in these little deaths.

“Working Woman”— A #MeToo Film from Israel

“Working Woman”

A #MeToo Film from Israel

Amos Lassen

“Working Woman”, a new Israeli film explores the problems surrounding a grey area of sexual harassment at work. Orna (Liron Ben Shlush) recently started working in the real estate business.  The work place seems to be good at first.  Unfortunately there’s more than meets the eye with her married realtor boss, Benny (Menashe Noy).  Instead of being a respectful person, Benny soon starts pressuring Orna into having sex. Like so many other men, he can’t see to keep his hands to himself.

As for Orna, her husband, (Ofer), has been working hard to start a restaurant business.  They have three children so they badly need the money if they want to live comfortably.  The restaurant struggles over the course of several months so Orna feels pressure to continue working for Benny.  It is because of the struggles, it’s Orna who must bring home the check.  All the while, she continues to pay the unwanted price in emotional

We see the film through Orna’s eyes and we see that director Michal  Aviad is not afraid to take a risk in telling this story.

There’s a few things going on for “Working Woman”.  One of which is the aforementioned issue of sexual harassment in the work place.  The other of which are these young families who are struggling to live financially.  If one does not have the money to afford a family, should they wait?  This seems to be another understated angle that director seeks to explore in the film.  It’s surely an issue affecting religious families more so than secular.

It was only a matter of time before we started to see the serious effects of the #MeToo movement be reflected on the big screen.  Female filmmakers are no longer afraid of having to keep their voices silent.  It’s in the best interest of the filmmaking industry, both Hollywood and foreign alike, to have this stories be told.  We are reminded that sexual harassment happens in the workplace, too.

With the current climate surrounding the #MeToo movement and women bravely telling their stories of harassment and assault, this fictionalized account (which feels all too real) is more than topical.  In fact, it could easily have been headlines.

Lead actor Shlush is well cast in her role as Orna and she is able to easily portray her character’s clear discomfort in her body language or even just a tense facial expression.  In contrast, Noy is introduced as a charismatic individual, likeable and charming until he begins to abuse his power.  Together this dynamic helps to bring this story to realistic life, and the seriousness of Orna’s emotional journey is well handled.

Orna becomes so traumatized and falls apart leaving her job,  eventually confessing to her husband why she is so distraught. The only weak part of this very compelling story comes now as  Orna fails to explain the circumstances properly to her husband and he therefore directs his anger at her and not Benny.