Author Archives: Amos

“If I Remember Him” by Louis Flint Ceci— Everything Changes

Ceci, Louis Flint. “If I Remember Him”, Beautiful Dreamer Press, 2020.

Everything Changes

Amos Lassen

It is 1935 and a catastrophic tornado changes the lives of those in the tiny town of Croy, Oklahoma forever. Lerner Alquist a wealthy resident of Croy becomes obsessed with building a library as a memorial to his wife, Ada, a victim of the tornado.  By 1952, Croy has been rebuilt along with its many secrets. Andy Simms, the church music minister, is dating Pastor Matthew Jacobs’s daughter, Susan, but he is in love with a man, a Sikh artist Sundar “Sunny” Singh Sohi. Virginia, Alquist’s neglected daughter, is secretly married to Harry Edom, a Chickasaw handyman. When the library is finally finished and dedicated, things come to an ugly head.

All of this occurs on a town that is religious and populated by residents with prejudices and at a time in history where being straight white and Christian was the way people lived. But that was on the outside only. Writer Louis Flint Ceci shows us  the hypocrisy of those who claim with the confines of their religion but who at the same time treat others in ways that are opposed to what their faith teaches them.  We really see this in Alquist’s prejudices and that these feelings cost him all that he holds dear. Any of us who have grown up in a small town or within the confines of overbearing religion will see ourselves here.

It is easy to get lost in the plot but even easier to enjoy the author’s gorgeous prose and the characters he has created here. Perhaps we do not need to be reminded that sexual bigotry still exists in this world but when depicted by Ceci, it makes for a wonderful read. We see clearly what bigotry and prejudice can do.

Alquist wanted the library to preserve the history of Croy and to be a shelter should they have to face another tornado. (If you have lived through an act of nature such as this, it is easy to see why he thinks a shelter is so important). It was not an easy idea for the town because the land for the library would have to come from places where his tenants lived but he was so obsessed with it and preserving the memory of Ada that he saw it as a necessity for the town. It took seventeen years for see his dream completed. The idea of a statue of Ada takes us to the artist Sunny Sohi, who has never been accepted in town because he is Asian. Soon music minister Andy, is fascinated by Sonny who got the job to sculpt the statue but it is seen by the town elders as controversial. They also saw the whole library project as controversial and especially that an outsider was to create the statue. There are tensions in the town and things come to a head and we see clearly that everything is not what it seems. Yet this is also a love story as much as it is a story about prejudice in mid-20th-century Oklahoma.

“The Big Tow: An Unlikely Romance: An Unlikely Romance” by Ann McMan— A Different North Carolina

McMan, Ann. “The Big Tow: An Unlikely Romance: An Unlikely Romance”, Bywater Books, 2020.

A Different North Carolina

Amos Lassen

I began reading Ann McMan some ten books ago and I continue to do so not only because she is such a fine writer but because each book is a surprise. McMan’s wit and plot lines are always intelligent and fun to read.

In “The Big Tow” we meet Vera “Nick” Nicholson, an overtaxed and underpaid attorney living in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and feeing that she is  killing time while  working at Turner, Witherspoon, Anders, and Tyler (TWAT) where she sees little chance for career advancement. But then she get a special assignment—- to recover the missing high-priced luxury car belonging to one of the firm’s top clients. She is to find and recover the car and its contents but without any help from the local police. It is then that we meet Fast Eddie and his men at The National Recovery Bureau, a repo agency in the town of K-Vegas. 

Suddenly Nick’s job and Nick are furloughed at the law firm and she decides to join Eddie’s gang and becomes an agent and is teamed with Frances “Frankie” Stohler, a third-grade teacher who has taken the job to supplement her income. Frankie’s parents have been members of the society of Winston-Salem and they know everyone and everyone knows them.

What follows is a visit to the very strange world of repo and a trip into a North Carolina that most of us have never seen before and where nothing seems to go right. But this journey also brings Nick and Frankie both together and the financial independence that they both seek. It was not an easy road to travel but the result was well worth it.

I could not help myself from laughing aloud as I read and the humor is intelligent. I never knew what to expect from page to page and I was kept reading, finishing the book in almost a single session. The characters are wonderfully drawn. I really love that you never know what is in a book until you experience it and I do not use the word “experience” lightly. “The Big Tow” is so much more than a read, it is a total experience.

“LIBERTY”— Total Perversion

“LIBERTE”

Total Perversion

Amos Lassen

Albert Serra’s “Liberte” is totally perverse. In 1774, fifteen years before the French Revolution Madame de Dumeval, the Duke of Tesis and the Duke of Wand came together somewhere between Potsdam and Berlin. They had been expelled from the court of Louis XVI and were hoping to gain support from the Duke of Walchen, a German free thinker and notorious seducer. He was alone in his country, a place where hypocrisy and false virtue was the way of life. The three French visitors wanted to being their  libertinage to Germany. It was a philosophy that was based on the rejection of morality and authority and they needed to find a place so that they continue their sexual activities.

The film is pornographic that is shocking. It is also boring and monotonous. There is no entertainment here even if you are into sexual fetishes. Serra shows humanity at its most debauched and depraved.

“NO ORDINARY MAN”— Rewriting the Past

“NO ORDINARY MAN”

Rewriting the Past

Amos Lassen

Directors Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joyntrewrite the past by correcting the story of jazz musician Billy Tipton through voices he inspired. 

The film confronts the often-circulated but incorrect narrative that Tipton was a woman who passed as a man to enjoy a musical career during the 1940s and ‘50s. The film honors the musician’s life and music by reminds audiences that Tipton was a transgender male who took a courageous path while pursuing his passion. We see the importance of considering the duties and responsibilities entailed within telling a story that is not one’s own.

Interviewees reflect upon Tipton’s story, their own transitions, and the pervasive erasure of transgender experiences from the mainstream. Audition scenes let the diverse cast members perform an idea of Billy Tipton and further expand the boundaries for trans-masculine representation. Ironically, by queering Tipton’s story the film straightens out the past.

“GOOD JOE  BELL”— Gay Teen Suicide

“GOOD JOE  BELL”

Gay Teen Suicide

Amos Lassen

“Good Joe Bell” follows a father, Joe Bell (Mark Wahlberg) coming to terms with his son Jadin’s (Reid Miller) suicide. He undertook a walk across the United States to raise awareness of bullying following the suicide of 15-year-old Jadin.

The film moves between Joe’s inspirational march and the tragic homophobia that Jadin experienced. The real Joe Bell was killed after being hit by a car just 8 months after the death of his son, but his family was closely involved in the project. 

Along with homophobia, Jaden suffered visible embarrassment at home from his father”, and thus “Joe could have been permanently broken by regret, but instead sets out on a mission.”  Joe loved his children very much was a very complex man. Due to be released soon, this is one to watch for.

“FALLING”— Attempts at Reconciliation

“FALLING”

Attempts at Reconciliation

Amos Lassen

Homophobia is at the center of actor and director Viggo Mortenson’s “Falling”, a personal film. Lance Henrikson gives an abrasive performance as Willis who is experiencing his last days. His son has to deal with him one last time.

Willis is suffering from dementia and is a racist, sexist, homophobic guy who pushes everyone around him with aggressive slurs and emotional abuse. His son John (Mortensen) has brought him to California, which does not make the old man happy and allows for all kinds of cultural clashes, including ones with John’s husband Eric (Terry Chen). John’s sister (Laura Linney) is notas willing to not take Willis’ bait as her brother does. 

 The film’s melodrama  is repetitive and grueling. We don’t care about Willis with his off-putting hate.It’s a tough film to watch as it all hinges on healing rifts that cannot be healed. Willis is one of the most unlikable patriarch’s  ever and it is frustrating watching him bulldoze his way through everyone’s life as they constantly turn the other cheek. This is a film that’s hard to relate to unless you’ve had the distinct misfortune of suffering through a relationship with someone similar.

Divided between Mortensen and his older dad’s fractured relationship and scenes showing Henriksen as a young man (Sverrir Gudnason) and his tortured relationship with his wife (Hannah Gross) and kids. You never really get a sense of what’s made him such a horrible man, other than the fact that he assumes anyone with even the slightest sense of agency either seeks to dominate him or betray him. This is  aggravated later by the fact that his son has no choice but to take over his life as his health begins to fail.

We are voyeurs, watching horrible family dysfunction without it ever really amounting to much, other than the fact that there’s some grace to forgiveness even if its undeserved.

“SUMMER 85″— Passionate Love Between Teen Boys

“SUMMER 85”

Passionate Love Between Teen Boys

Amos Lassen

François Ozon’s “Summer 85” takes us in the footsteps of a passionate love between two teenagers. During that summer when he was just 16, Alexis (Félix Lefebvre), while out at sea on the Normandy coast, is heroically saved from the sinking by David (Benjamin Voisin), 18. Alexis just met the friend of hisdreams. But will the dream last longer than a summer? Alexis, who gradually gives in to his teenage passions, must hide his attractions within a family governed by a traditional father whose wife is ready to support him on the sly.

The first part of Summer 85 is about emerging romantic behaviors but Ozon’s feature film does not stop at this. He multiplies genres by taking a surprising turn in the middle of the film. The love of the two young people also looks at transsexualism through Alexis’ uncle disowned by his family and mourning is also an integral part of this romantic drama, including love presented as a way to heal wounds. The film owes a lot to the genius of its director and it owes just as much to its two main performers, Lefebvre and Voisin.

From the first minute of the film, we know from the voice-over of Alex / Alexis that there will be a death, and that is what it will be in the story that will be told. Alex will break the “fourth wall” by addressing the spectator to let them know that if he doesn’t want such a story he shouldn’t stay. We know that something… serious happened. “Summer 85” takes place in two stages: that of the narration and that of before the action.

Facts unfold in the present. They have to do with an “action” by Alex that involves the police, a psychologist, his literature teacher (Melvil Poupaud). He is a  teacher who inspires Alex to write a “what happened” account. Six weeks and a little longer later, David is “saved from the water” and when the fulfillment of a promise requires him write his life for a third party (and for the viewer). This is a story where the narrator will anticipate what will come to disturb a relationship (in particular the arrival of Kate, the young Englishwoman (Philippine Velge); because something happened, the fulfillment of a promise or a wish that the viewer discovers shortly before halfway through the film.

In the summer of 1985, thousands of men worldwide died of love. Most  died from AIDS and a few from an accident. From the first minutes of the film, it is clear that a youth is going to die. Ozon’s seems to want to put love back into 1980s homosexuality; to replace the AIDS and gender inequality that dominated the image of the time with passion and desire.

With a boring weekend at a swimming pool, a murder in a family mansion, or even a marriage that breaks anyway, Ozon knows how to turn this into a party time and again. In the opening scene, an innocent solo sail turns from a leisurely stretch to a life-threatening capsize in minutes, and in the same breath into a heroic rescue. Ozon does not want to offer you a real, but a remembered summer. He wants us to experience the sentimental pleasure and not look for the story.

The summer of ’85 is glorified by Ozon; even more than the thin thriller plot and the budding sexuality, the eighties themselves are the subject of the film as is the summer in which everything and everything is essential and vital for a seventeen-year-old. The summer we see is sentimental and endless. The boys are handsome, the widowed mother lascivious but no matter how interesting a mixture of adolescence, a sexual exploration and a dead eighteen-year-old, it is all silenced under sentiment in this southern French summer. The first half hour is full  of recognition for some of us but what is left at the end of the party is little more than sentiment.

“7 MINUTES”— Father and Son

“7 MINUTES”

Father and Son

Amos Lassen

Setin Toulouse, France, “7 Minutes” is the story of Jean, a 55 year-old policeman who discovers his son, Maxime, and his son’s boyfriend dead by hanging in a hotel room. As I watched the film, I began to wonder how a film can represent the void that a deceased person leaves behind and this is something that we have seen many times on film although usually unsuccessfully. Mastro dedicates himself to this difficult subject in “7 Minutes”. Jean (Antoine Herbez) is a 55-year-old police officer from Toulouse and learns that his son Maxime (Valentin Malguy) and his friend Kevin (Paul Arvenne) have hanged themselves in a hotel room. As viewers, we know more than Jean from the start, as we are in the hotel room with the two young men in the opening sequence. We know that Kevin died of an overdose and that Maxime, in his desperation, saw no other way than to stage a double suicide. The film shows how Jean wants to get to know his deceased son’s everyday life better. As a short phone call before Maxime’s death suggests, the two had a good relationship. The film is not one of those stories in which a parent tries to establish a connection to the alienated child only after the death. Jean’s main concern is to better understand his own son posthumously – to empathize with him and his surroundings or even to slip into his role a little and thus, somehow, to keep him alive.

Jean visits the queer club Bisou and gets closer to Fabien (Clément Naline), a friend of Maxime and Kevin. He poses as a writer and claims to want to write about the club. Fabien takes a liking to Jean, who will soon be wearing his son’s clothes and become more and more immersed in the club where being gay is primarily thought of as a shadowy existence between hedonism and elegy.

The film draws its strength from the interesting presentation of the father figure and from Antoine Herbez’s reserved performance. He enters his son’s world without evaluating it. He is looking for answers and closure. The relationship that gradually develops between him and Fabien is not (only) about the emergence of a surrogate-father-son relationship or the “rescue” of another young man as a substitute act or a seduction on the part of Fabien, which leads to the acting out of Jeans’ queer side. It is far more complex; seeming to be about the basic human need to give and receive affection. Herbez embodies his role poignantly and makes the desire to give love tangible. His world collapsed when he learned  of the death of his son Maxime and what exactly happened in those minutes. And why did his son have to die?

As good as the relationship between father and son may have been, we question how well do we know another person. What do we really know about him, even after years with him? In the beginning, “7 Minutes” seems to want to go in this direction when Jean sneaks a place in the world of Maxime under a false name. The fact that Jean is a police officer makes the investigation plausible, especially since the double death seems puzzling. However, this is not a crime thriller since we know from the beginning what happened.

The search for truth is put aside; the film does not attempt to capitalize on the tragedy of the events. One can wonder about it, find it good or bad, just as much of the film leaves one with a vague feeling. What Mastro wants to say or achieve with the film is incomprehensible for viewer and for Jean. Because if he gets involved with Fabien, gradually becomes a different person, then one can speculate strongly why this is happening now.

Jean shows no shyness during his tour of discovery— he is driven by a mixture of sadness and curiosity, as well as the longing to be close to his son. That can also mean imitating his life. It is not clear whether this is successful or not. The film leaves a lot unsaid and is not as cathartic as other films like this. It’s an interesting variation on a story that you thought you already knew.

“DATING AMBER”—Coming-of-Age in Ireland

“DATING AMBER”

Coming-of-Age in Ireland

Amos Lassen

David Freyne’s “Dating Amber” is a coming-of-age film set in an Irish small town in the 1990s. We meet two gay high-schoolers, Eddie (Fionn O’Shea) and Amber )Lola Petticrew) who decide to enter a fake relationship to dispel the rumors and jokes about them. Their friendship is the heart of the film. Eddie is deeply closeted and determined to join in the Army to “become a man”. Amber is much more confident and just waiting for the school year to end so she can escape to London with the money she’s been saving. At the beginning, their fake relationship is awkward and full of comedic moments, but it soon evolves into a life-changing and life-saving friendship.

We watch the two lonely characters finally find someone they can confide in and be themselves. Their performances are wonderful and they shar incredible chemistry. The first cracks in their relationship occur when they starts exploring their sexuality in gay bars, Eddie not fully ready yet to accept himself. He is afraid of facing himself and society is too scary for him, especially after feeling the comfort of the fake relationship with amber. His difficult journey is i well-written and gives depth to the story, turning it bittersweet but hopeful. This could have been a superficial comedy but instead it is an intense film that yanks our heartstrings.

Eddie and Amber are outcasts of their fellow peers. They feel the pressure to fit in with the suffocating heteronormative society so they devise a plan to enter into a fake relationship with one another to avoid suspicion about their sexualities. Both characters are layered, and these two strong forces come together beautifully, making their on-screen friendship completely believable.

The film is also a commentary on society and we see this in newspaper headlines, opinions on divorce, and most notably, a sex education video shown at school that has a heavy focus on keeping religion in sex, as well as an unsurprising emphasis on heterosexuality. Even though this is a comedy, it highlights the harsh reality and guilt many people in the LGBTQ+ community face.

The behavior of their contemporaries comes across as disgusting but it is predictable. The world depicted in the televisual backdrop is obsessed with sex – and not in a good way. We see messages about sinful sodomy, the sanctity of marriage and “helpful”/obscene gestures from a smiling nun. The first half of the film is an amusing, interesting satire on the rural approach to sex and sexuality (in 90’s Ireland). About mid-way through, the focus moves to the surrounding society to how Amber and Eddie will take their lives forward. This is an engaging, very watchable movie about teens growing up and dealing with a hostile society. Sometimes the laughter has to stop.

“Suitor” by Joshua Rivkin— Desire, Family, Memory and Forgiveness

Rivkin, Joshua. “Suitor”, Red Hen Press, 2020.

Desire, Family, Memory and Forgiveness

Amos Lassen

In “Suitor” Joshua Rivkin’s writes of desire, history, memory and forgiveness. He examines maleness as it is in the world today and how he sees it.Divided in two sections with a lyric essay, “The Haber Problem”; we read of suitors as an observer in the first section and in the second section, the observer becomes the subject.

It begins with a group of poems abouta mother’s boyfriends and lovers, and how these relationships influence the poet’s  understanding about Eros and masculinity. The essay, “The Haber Problem,” retells the story of the scientist Fritz Haber. Other poems then deal with the past with erotically and through desire and longing  directness, longing, and lyric intensity. We are led to think about what it means to be a suitor and to follow and chase our desires.

Rivkin’s mother had quite a collection of boyfriends and we read of them in the opening poem. We also read how the poet perceived them. We then move on the essay where the subject is compared to the writer’s father, who left his family in the name of science. Even with that we see that the poet still loved his father. We then move to the second section which is a collection of the poet’s sexual relationships with men and women, real or imagined and human desire.

Taken as a whole, the poems are an exploration of desire, history, family and memory. Rivkin looks at the psyche through poems about sex. He looks at the relationship between parents and children and how their stories make up the story of civilization as it is. Rivkin studies behavior to show the yearning for connection with others. We are all waiting for that connection.