Author Archives: Amos

“Against the Wind” by Jim Tilley— Relationships

Tilley, Jim. “Against the Wind”,  Red Hen, 2019.

Relationships

Amos Lassen

Six characters whose lives come together after three of them have a chance meeting are the relationships we meet in Jim Tilley’s elegantly written, “Against the Wind”. The six include an environmental lawyer who realizes that everything about his work has betrayed his core beliefs, a high school English teacher who asks her former high school love to take up her environmental cause, a teen transgender male  who is raised by his grandparents and who struggles to excel in a world that is hostile to his kind of people, a French-Canadian political science professor who discovers that he has a choice between his cherished separatist cause and his marriage and family, an accomplished engineer is chronically unable to impress his more accomplished father enough to be named head of the international wind technology company his father founded and the Quebec separatist party’s Minister of Natural Resources, a divorcée, who is caught between her French-Canadian lover and an unexpected English-Canadian suitor.

We follow these characters as their lives intersect during one year. Ralph, the environmental lawyer, as at the center of the novel. Now, at the end of his career, he tries to overcome regrets from his youth, first, by rekindling a romance with his high school sweetheart and then finishing a canoe trip that ended in disaster. While Ralph’s story is the anchor, each character has space to become a fully formed character: Lynn, the high school girlfriend, Jules, her son, Jean-Pierre, her estranged husband, Monique, a Canadian politician, and Dieter, who has inflicted harm on others throughout his life. Tilley writes in detail and is sympathetic about his characters.  We get to know each one as we see the ways in which the present is so shaped by the past. We sometimes forget that we are not only responsible to the world and to those around us but also to ourselves. The novel is both political and personal  as it looks at gender, adultery, wind energy, business acquisitions but even more so it is about hope, love and loss.  

Set in Canada and the U.S., the novel is told mostly from Ralph’s point of view, and looks at the contemporary issues of the environment and transgender parenting while at the same time reminding us that it is difficult to be a man in a culture that judges us harshly. 

The personal, the professional, and the political are totally intertwined here and we recognize the characters as people we know and the situations as parts of our lives. This is an important novel about characters facing the ends of their professional lives and the approach of what is to come with age.

“On Swift Horses” by Shannon Pufahl— Go west

Pufahl, Shannon. “On Swift Horses”, Riverhead, 2019.

Go West

Amos Lassen

Muriel is a lonely and restless newlywed who has been, transplanted from rural Kansas hometown where she grew up to the dust San Diego. Her new life seems to be closing in on her and she misses her freethinking mother who dies dead Muriel was nineteen. Her brother-in-law, Julius who is both sly and itinerant made the world feel bigger than she had ever imagined. Muriel begins sneaking off to the Del Mar racetrack to bet and eavesdrop and learns the language of horses and risk. Meanwhile, Julius is in Las Vegas, working at a local casino where tourists watch atomic tests from the roof. He is falling in love with Henry, a young card cheat. When Henry is discovered for what he is, he is run out of town. Julius goes in search for him in the plazas and dive bars of Tijuana, swapping Vegas, a city of dangerous illusions and indiscretions for Tijuana, a city of dangerous illusions and indiscretions. 

“On Swift Horses” is a story of love and luck and of two people trying to find their place in a country that is coming apart even as it is a land of promise. Here are dreams deferred and defiant living. Through it we explore life that is filled with “hazard and touched by grace, furnished with the longevity of a postwar classic and the immediacy of the present tense.”

The gorgeous prose is lyrical and bold as are the two main characters.  We have adventure, quest, loss  and raw, guarded characters in a wonderfully and beautifully imagined search for lost time, lost luck, lost landscapes and lost love.

 

“Queer Faith: Reading Promiscuity and Race in the Secular Love Tradition” by Melissa E. Sanchez— Queer Logics of Postmodern Religious and Secular Texts

Sanchez, Melissa E. “Queer Faith: Reading Promiscuity and Race in the Secular Love Tradition”, (Sexual Cultures), NYU Press, 2019.

Queer Logics of Premodern Religious and Secular Texts

Amos Lassen

“Putting premodern theology and poetry in dialogue with contemporary theory and politics, Queer Faith reassess the commonplace view that a modern veneration of sexual monogamy and fidelity finds its roots in Protestant thought.” If we suppose that this narrative of “history and tradition” suppresses the queerness of its own foundational texts, what becomes the result. “Queer Faith” looks at key works of the prehistory of monogamy (from Paul to Luther, Petrarch to Shakespeare) and shows that writing assumed to promote fidelity actually speaks about the affordances and benefits of promiscuity, both in its sexual sense and in the designation of all that is impure and disorderly. Writer Melissa E. Sanchez does not see promiscuity as the ethical, queer alternative to monogamy and she instead shows how ideals of sexual liberation are themselves attached to nascent racial and economic hierarchies. Because discourses of fidelity and freedom also deal with racial and sexual positionality, understanding the complex historical entanglement of faith, race, and eroticism is not only necessary but urgent to contemporary queer debates about normativity, agency, and relationality.

We see new conceptual frameworks at the juncture of secular and religious thought, political and aesthetic form  and this is because the assembly of these ideas have been deliberately unfaithful to disciplinary norms and national boundaries. The contexts, objects, and authorized genealogies of queer scholarship are enlarged and retracing a history that did not have to be. In doing so, Sanchez recovers writing that “inscribes radical queer insights at the premodern foundations of conservative and heteronormative culture.”

“God on the Big Screen: A History of Hollywood Prayer from the Silent Era to Today” by Terry Lindvall— Coming Together

Lindvall, Terry. “God on the Big Screen: A History of Hollywood Prayer from the Silent Era to Today”, NYU Press, 2019.

Coming Together

Amos Lassen

Terry Lindvall’s “God on the Big Screen” demonstrates that the way prayer is presented in film during each historical period tells us a great deal about America’s broader relationship with religion. In the book, film history meets church history through the ritual of prayers.

Moments of prayer have been represented in Hollywood movies since the silent era and they often appear unexpectedly in films as diverse as “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm”, “Frankenstein”, “Amistad”, “Easy Rider”, “ Alien 3” and other non-religious films  as well as in religiously inspired classics such as “Ben-Hur” and “The Ten Commandments” and in epic films about the Holocaust such as “Schlinder’s List”. Terry Lindvall examines how films have reflected, and sometimes tried to prescribe, ideas about how one should pray. He surveys the landscape of those films that employ prayer in their narratives, beginning with the silent era and moving through the uplifting and inspirational movies of the Depression and the Second World War, the anti-establishment films of the 60s and 70s, and the sci-fi and fantasy blockbusters of today. Lindvall looks at how the presentation of cinematic prayer varies across race, age, and gender, and places the use of prayer in film in historical context thus showing the religious currents of those time periods.

I understand that “God on the Big Screen” will have, a companion documentary that is being prepared now.

“Otherhood” by William Sutcliffe— Three Mothers

Sutcliffe, William. “Otherhood”,  Bloomsbury, 2019.

Three Mothers

Amos Lassen

William Sutcliffe originally published “Otherhood” as “Whatever Makes You Happy” which then inspired the Netflix film. “Otherhood” in which three mothers try to save their grown sons from themselves.

Gillian, Helen, and Carol are three suburban mothers who are friends who have known each other since their sons were babies, and have met in a regular coffee group for years. Now their sons are thirty-four-year-old slackers with no wives and no children. They never call it does not seem that they will ever reach post-adolescence. lifestyles anytime soon. Carol has an idea that each woman should drop in on her son for an unexpected weeklong visit and find out what’s really going on. The mothers then set out to check on their sons. 

Both very funny and insightful about family life, this is a great read for parents who yearn for a closer relationship with their adult children, and for the younger generation who seem to have just the opposite but who really hope that their parents will make everything better.

Matt is an editor for a men’s magazine called “BALLS!”, and his life is all about videogames and sex with underage models. Paul lives in a gay commune and has secretly fathered a child with a lesbian couple; and Daniel, who gone to Edinburgh to grieve after breaking up with the love of his life.

I love the characters, both the  slacker sons and the meddling mothers who attempt to take their sons apart. Of course, having had a Jewish mother myself, I have a point of reference. What I really love here is how writer Sutcliffe is able to use hilarity and heartbreak at the same time and even in the same sentence. He gives us a sensitive and moving look at the evolving relationships between mothers and adult sons while at the same time presents a meditation on miscommunications between sexes, generations and families. Romance, humor and pathos come together beautifully.

“Mennonite of the Living Dead” by Tim Brough and illustrated by Arkady Roytman— Meet a Mennonite

Brough, Tim. “Mennonite of the Living Dead”, illustrated by Arkady Roytman, Fair Page Media. 2019.

Meet a Mennonite

Amos Lassen

Several years ago before I moved to Boston, I came upon a member of the Mennonite community in Arkansas, I believe. I don’t quite remember how we met but during the course of conversation, I mentioned my love of studying the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) and I was invited to join his Bible study group. I was amazed at the similarity of interpretation between his group and the way I was raised and at the same time I was stunned by the Mennonite sense of community and the way they lived. I learned that they are hardworking, honest and peaceful and keep to themselves but I could not subscribe to this kind of life nor could I fully understand it. I figured that they certainly have secrets but I would never really know….. or so I thought until Tim Brough wrote “Mennonite of the Living Dead” (which is fiction). It is a great fun read and I am not sure whether it is satire or just fun for fun. Here is a zombie story disguised by religious extremism but written non-offensively and for purely an enjoyable read.

Quite basically the story is about a group of teens coming home from a class trip to an amusement park when they suddenly find themselves alone and out of a comfort zone. Their survival depends on the promise of help to come and their wits, neither of which is guaranteed. Both Brough, the author and Roytman, the illustrator show great imagination in the way the story is told and this is the reason I can’t say much about the plot without ruining the read for others. There are twists throughout and as many turns as there are pages. Take an hour or two and just enjoy the creativity you will find here.

“SPIDER IN THE WEB”— Maintaining Relevance

“SPIDER IN THE WEB”

Maintaining Relevance

Amos Lassen

Israeli filmmaker Eran Riklis brings us a new spy drama starring Ben Kingsley as  an aging Mossad agent who is struggling to maintain his relevance. He bonds with a younger operative sent to monitor him while he’s on a secret mission in Europe and this is a reflection on human relationships as well as “on the Europe of today – fragile, troubled, under constant threats from the outside and in turmoil on the inside.”

Adereth (Sir Ben Kinsgley), is a once-lauded but now aging field agent of the Israeli Mossad and his superiors feel that he has past his prime. There are those above him that are sure that he’s been fabricating intelligence to maintain his relevance and so they send Daniel (Itay Tiran) a young operative to insure that Adereth does not deviate from his mission to deliver the crucial information regarding a chemical weapons sale to a Middle Eastern dictatorship that he claims is waiting for him. This isformation leads to the mysterious Angela (Monica Bellucci), who might be a target, a lover or an enemy. (or all of these or none of these). Lines of trust become and Adereth realizes the hunter may become the hunted. 

Seduction is involved and there are many double-crosses  as we move toward the end of the film. As you are on the edge of your seat, it all come together.

“WE ARE THE LEAGUE”— England’s Most Notorious Punk Band

“WE ARE THE LEAGUE”

England’s Most Notorious Punk Band

Amos Lassen

George Henken’s documentary, “We Are the League” is the complete and uncensored story of how four guys, Animal (Nick Culmer),  Magoo (Chris Exall), Winston (Clive Blake) and PJ (Pat Scabies), a biker, a skinhead, a grammar school boy and a Persian exile came together with no musical talent or experience and no respect for anything or anyone were able to dominate the music charts of the United Kingdom with their first single. Filled with archival footage from their first London show, the film also contains clips from Stewart Copeland’s punk-art film “So What!”. We see how these four guys left their marks through outrage and disgust and we see that they continue to do so today.

Also included are interviews and a CD of 19 previously unreleased live performances. This is not a film for the weak of heart. You might recognize some of their songs, all written by Nick Culmer and Chris Exall except where noted. Published By Head Music Publishers, except where noted.

  1. “We Are The League” 2:40
  2. “Animal” 2:39
  3. “Woman” 2:57
  4. “Can’t Stand Rock ‘N’ Roll” 1:57
  5. “(We Will Not) Remember You” 2:00
  6. “Snowman” 3:00
  7. Streets of London” (Ralph McTell; Essex Music Int’l.) 3:16
  8. “I Hate….People” (Remix) 2:21
  9. “‘Reck-A-Nowhere” 2:27
  10. “World War III” 2:41 (P.J., Winston)
  11. “Nowhere Man” 2:27
  12. “Let’s Break The Law” (Remix) 3:06
  13. So What” (Culmer, Exall, Clive Blake)
  14. “I Hate….People” (single version)
  15. “Let’s Break The Law” (single version)
  16. “Woman” (single version)
  17. “Rocker” (Culmer, Exall, Blake)
  18. “For You”
  19. “Ballad of J.J. Decay”

“BATHROOM STALLS & PARKING LOTS”— A Look at Underground Gay Culture

 

“BATHROOM STALLS & PARKING LOTS”

A Look at Underground Gay Culture

Amos Lassen

I have noticed that Brazilian gay films tend to be a bit more audacious and daring than those from other countries and director Thales Correas even says that he wanted to make a film that was indeed daring and audacious and that is what he has done with “Bathroom Stalls and Parking Lots”. It also happens to be a picture of our community as it is in terms of looking for and finding acceptance. We will not find such an authentic film as this any time soon.

Leo (Correa) is a Brazilian who has come to live in America (like the director) and he decides to go to San Francisco to see what he has heard so much about. He is surprised to find Totah (Felix Olmedoz), his American sex buddy also visiting there but that doesn’t change his plans for fun. He gets together with his friend, Donnie (Izzy Palazzini) as they go through the clubs in The Castro District and force a casual encounter to show Totah that there can be compatibility aside from sex. Donnie’s straight friend, Hunter (Oscar Mansky)  a hopeless romantic, joins them as they try to teach Leo how to turn a relationship based on casual sex into something more meaningful. As they bar hop and go to seedy places, they find themselves dealing with unexpected  obstacles that challenge how they approach relationships and they might even end up risking their own friendship.

As they “run” the streets of San Francisco to follow an American fling that they had begun on Grindr, they do whatever they have to, even if it means going to the seedy club scene where hookups take place in bathroom stalls and parking lots. As they spent time in this milieu, they discover truths about themselves and what modern dating is all about. The film has already won several prizes and is on its way to win even more.

This is an outrageous new comedy with a title that dares to say what so many of us come face to face with. Our players are also immigrants who speak their own language as well as broken English. While the movie is quite funny, it is also a look at the  sexy underground gay world and the culture of romantic relationships among gay/bisexual young men in the Castro (Although every town has its version of that district). More important is that we see “how dating apps have turned relationships into disposable and meaningless experiences.”

As Leo learns from this experience, we see some fun scenes including an underwear party Leo’s relationship with Donnie moves toward a quietly powerful climax. As honest and funny as it is, “Bathroom Stalls and Parking Lots” is also sweet and a look at being young, gay and a bit promiscuous.

“SHIRAZ: A ROMANCE OF INDIA”— Moving Melodrama

“Shiraz: A Romance of India”

Moving Melodrama

Amos Lassen

Franz Osten’s 1928 silent film “Shiraz: A Romance of India” is an epic historical love story between Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (Charu Roy) and his wife, Mumtaz Muhal (Enakshi Rama Rau), for whom he built the Taj Mahal. The film invented a tragically weepie backstory for the couple which involve desert caravans, sex slaves, a love triangle with a humble potter, Shiraz (Himansu Rai), and a closely averted execution by elephant foot. Director Osten was able to round up horses, camels, elephants, and an army of human extras dressed in period attire, but the greatest charms of this film aren’t the pageantry or sentimental romance but rather its documentary-like qualities.

“Shiraz” was completely filmed on location in Agra using natural light. Due to the British Film Institute’s beautiful new restoration of the original camera negatives, the film has become a gorgeous record of the Taj Mahal’s interiors, as well as other locations in and around Agra. Osten shoots his actors from a distance, allowing the beauty of the palace to fill the frame. The film’s costumes, which were based closely on literature and paintings from the Mughal Era give a stunning sense of history.

However, this sensation is dulled somewhat by the film’s plot. William A. Burton’s screenplay provides plenty of opportunity for sensational set pieces—a slave auction here, a massive gathering at the palace there—but the story drags when it moves away from spectacle and toward the hackneyed romance at the film’s center. Anoushka Shankar’s expressive new score is full of sitar, tabla, and basuri that attempt to enrich the characters’ emotions. This is a shamelessly romantic and fairly romanticized, telling of the love affair honored by one the most beautiful mausoleum in the world.

Shiraz is a humble, but exceptionally talented potter, who feels deep love for his adopted sister Selima who is sold as a slave into the royal court and they are separated. A love affair slowly begins to spark between Selima and Prince Khurram. Meanwhile, general’s daughter Dalia (Seeta Devi) is plotting to get the prince. The story may seem slight, but it is beautiful to watch. The romantic leads are very sweet, with the halting love story between Selima and the Prince  that is believable. The location backdrops of the mountains and palaces are gorgeous.

The action sequence that opens the film, with a caravan raided on its way across the desert, leaving the baby Selima behind, is brilliantly staged. Frequent cuts to her nurse anxiously peeking out at the incoming danger ramp up the tension. There are moments of violence elsewhere too, notably two gruesome threats lobbied at Shiraz himself and the “elephant’s foot” moment caused me to audibly gasp. It’s a fairly dark story, in truth, with poison, plotting, torture, vengeance, heartbreak and loss.