Category Archives: Uncategorized

“THE VIOLENT YEARS”— A Girl Gang

“THE VIOLENT YEARS”

A Girl Gang

Amos Lassen

“The Violent Years” was originally released in 1954 and is the sordid saga of Paula Parkins (Jean Moorhead), whose parents are too busy to realize that their daughter is the leader of a Gang of Four female delinquents responsible for a series of robberies in town. We see the gang in action as they hold up a gas station, then attack a couple on Lover’s Lane, making the girl strip down to her lingerie, tie her up, then take the young man into the woods and force him to have a gangbang. Paula and her pals fence their ill-gotten goods with Sheila, who hires them to trash their school.

The girls wreck a classroom but the noise has brought the cops and there is a shootout with the police. and Paula kills a cop! They head to Sheila’s place, and when Paula tells her they killed a cop, Sheila threatens to call the police herself. So Paula shoots Sheila.

But the cops are on Paula’s trail, and a chase ensues in which Paula crashes into a plate-glass window, killing her last remaining friend. She is caught and locked in the jail hospital ward. Paula is sentenced to life in prison.

The legendary Ed Wood wrote the screenplay about teenage girls who move from simple armed robbery to unlawful kidnapping and sexual assault. The film just gets wilder and wilder and, in fact, it gets so crazy that it is impossible to review this without giving something away.

 

“Mink Eyes” by Max McBride— Duty, Fatherhood, Friendship and Love

McBride, Max. “Mink Eyes”, Arjuna, 2017.

Duty, Fatherhood, Friendship and Love

Amos Lassen

In “Mink Eyes”, author Max McBride gives us a look at both “the formal and informal workings of our legal system and the schemes and scams germinating in the underbelly of the business world”.

Our story begins in October 1986 when we meet Private detective Peter O’Keefe a man who is physically scarred and emotionally torn Vietnam vet. His best friend, ace attorney Mike Harrigan hires O’Keefe to investigate a mink farm Ponzi scheme in the Missouri Ozarks. Soon, O’Keefe finds himself in a web of money laundering, cocaine smuggling, and murder all under the hands of a–woven by a mysterious mobster who we come to know as known as “Mr. Canada.” Tag Parker, a beautiful woman, is also involved in all of this but she also becomes the object of O’Keefe’s dreams and nightmares.

Yes, this is a detective story about “murder, addiction, obsession, sex, and redemption” and we see these through the themes of duty, fatherhood, friendship and love. Peter O’Keefe is a reluctant hero who struggles every day to choose in favor of life over death.

I cannot say much about the plot because to do would ruin a wonderful read. The story is propelled by its larger than life characters and it moves rapidly. Be prepared to clear you day before you start to read because one you do, it is hard to walk away from this book.

 

“OPERA”— Sumptuous Horror

 

“OPERA”

Sumptuous Horror

Amos Lassen

After an unfortunate car accident makes a career casualty of opera star Mara Cecova, a young understudy named Betty (Cristina Marsillach) is pressed into service as the new lead by her director, Marc (Ian Charleson). Charleson is a horror movie pro who is trying to move upscale. Betty’s agent, Mira (Daria Nicolodi), feels nothing but enthusiasm for her young star in the making and Betty’s debut turns into a smash success. However, an usher is murdered in one of the theater boxes during the performance and this seems to indicate that one of Betty’s new fans may have homicidal tendencies. Inspector Santini (Urbano Barberini) investigates the mysterious goings on, while Betty’s celebratory but unsuccessful opening night meeting with the stage manager (McNamara) turns nasty when the killer arrives and performs gruesome acts while pinning Betty’s eyes open with taped needles. Terrified and confused, Betty falls into a disoriented state in which she acts as the pawn of a devious mind with violent ties to Betty’s past.

There is a lot of gore including a jaw-dropping slow motion bullet sequence that just cannot be adequately described in words. The film is beautiful, shocking, frustrating, and totally entertaining and is one of those films that becomes better with time.

Dario Argento’s “Opera” was inspired by his abortive attempts to direct an Opera (Verdi’s “Rigoletto”) and his long-standing interest with Leroux’s “Phantom of the Opera” but it is not an adaptation of that famed volume. Rather, the film simply takes the idea of a masked psychopath, obsessed with the understudy who has more talent than the Diva, who stalks the opera house. Argento adds sadomasochistic fantasies and the then current AIDS epidemic, and it is a deliriously over-wrought and thrillingly obsessive film that stays with the viewer for days afterwards.

The understudy is Betty (Cristina Marsillach), who takes over the lead role in a stage production of Verdi’s Macbeth that is being directed by Marco (Ian Charleson) – best known for his horror films – after the Diva, The Great Mara Cecova, is hit by a car. Her brilliant performance is hugely acclaimed, but also attracts the attentions of a sadistic hooded killer, so Inspector Alan Santini (Urbano Barberini) is called in to investigate.

The visuals are amazing with the camera gliding constantly tracking, panning, or indulging. The film contains two of Argento’s strongest and most daring images. First we see Betty’s eyes wide open and she is forced to stare through an array of needles taped beneath her eyes, unable to close them without ripping her eyelids to shreds. The other key image is a close-up shot of the killer’s brain pumping with blood and as it pulses, the whole screen pulses with it, as if the image and the ideas behind it were so powerful almost rip through the very fabric of the film itself.

 “Opera” is heavy sexualized nature but not in a literal sense. The film was made at the peak of the AIDS crisis, and Argento’s concern with this is paramount with the killer wearing protective sheaths over his black gloves. It’s a film almost entirely without love, at least in the conventional sense – Betty is unable to sleep with Stefan, in the closest the film gets to a loving relationship. The only way sexual feeling can be consummated here is through violence and the murders become a bizarre courtship between Betty and the killer, although for her it is more like rape. We, of course, wonder, why Betty doesn’t tell anyone exactly what happened. Likewise, countless rapes go unreported; Betty feels she has been violated, she can’t bear to think about it and desperately wants to forget.

“Opera” has a genuine love-it-or-hate-it ending (I love it) and some of the most disturbing moments Argento has yet filmed.

“FREE TO ROCK”–The Power of Music

“Free to Rock”

The Power of Music

Amos Lassen

“Free to Rock” is a documentary that looks at the power of Rock & Roll and how it has affected social change behind the Iron Curtain between the years 1955 and 1991. We also see how Rock & Roll contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union and to ending the Cold War. This music inspired youth to demand freedom to listen, play and record rock music and to enjoy basic human rights and freedom from oppressive communist rule. As it follows the key political, musical and activist players as the KGB cracked down hard with arrests, beatings, death threats and imprisonment. Thousands of underground rock bands with millions of passionate supporters gave rise and fueled independence movements that eventually caused the Soviet communist system to fall apart from within and without blood shed or civil war.

I was surprised to see how the people there knew all the music and the words of the Western musicians who came to play at a concert in Budapest. We come understand just how rock and roll and other forms of western music managed to get past the repressive and sometimes violent acts by the authorities to try to keep it out. It is wonderful to see a film that brings together both politicians and musicians to understand one of the most significant historical upheavals of modern times.

It took ten years to make this documentary that also gives us archival source material that shows the pivotal role that American rock music played as a soft power accessory in helping to escalate, if not cause social change throughout the Cold War and in Communist-dominated Eastern Europe. This is the most up-to-date and comprehensive cinematic film of that time. Aside from the music we have interviews with Jimmy Carter and Mikhail Gorbachev. It is amazing to see how many people were isolated all over former Eastern Bloc and that especially includes Moscow, Riga, Kiev, Budapest, and East Berlin. Music was the most significant factor in bringing together solitary individuals and engaging them in the fight for freedom.

The film is emotionally powerful and historically compelling work and is a treat for the eye and ear.

“THE RIFT: Dark Side of the Moon”— Three Against All

“THE RIFT: Dark Side of the Moon”

Three Against All

Amos Lassen

 “The Rift” opens with introducing us to CIA agent Liz Waid (Katarina Cas), who has a mission to find and secure the remains of a downed military satellite deep in the mountains of Eastern Serbia. She is to work with the soon-to-be-retired agent John Smith (Ken Foree). It is important to remember that Liz has been off from work for two years after she lost a child. Liz and John, using his unconventional techniques, his unconventional techniques, discover the body of a long-dead astronaut enshrined in the basement of a secluded woodland property and this leads them to suspect that things are far from what they seem. The found astronaut holds the secret of an ill-fated mission and the body that they found is a carrier of a mysterious virus that threatens mankind by bringing the dead back from the grave.

This is said to be Serbia’s first ever sci-fi film and is aimed at an international market and as broad an audience as possible. It is a well made, slow burning sci-fi thriller that looks at the themes of god, religion, faith, human existence and where we fit in the wider universe. It plays like a classic

mystery thriller and is essentially a story about an alien invasion. However this is a quiet invasion and a look at what happens to those people in a small town when someone or something invades their space. And do they invade!!!!! They bring the dead back to life but not to eat the living but to deliver messages.

The cause of this is the titular rift, which somehow extends from the moon to a small field in Serbia, crossing not only space but also time. While certainly not a great film, it is a film of quality and originality and filled with atmosphere and a sense of menace. The two heroes are joined by Professor Dysart (Monte Markham) and we have three against the multitude. It is fun to watch and will leave you thinking.

“Academic Affairs: A Poisoned Apple” by Peter Likins— Mysteries Can Be Fun

Likins, Peter. “Academic Affairs: A Poisoned Apple” Darby Books , 2017.

Mysteries Can Be Fun

Amos Lassen

I am not much of a mystery reader so I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Peter Likins’ “Academic Affairs”. It is, quite simply, a fun read. Before you read let me to tell you to forget your ability to figure everything out since everything changes before the last few pages.

The setting is Sparta, a rural Alabama in the 1930s and the title is misleading since we do not think of Alabama and academia together. Beaufort Prendergast is the president of Chickamin Christian College who suddenly dies due to what seems to be a heart attack. He outside the office of the Executive Dean for Academic Affairs Jerry Pilkington who was murdered in his office the day before. He had eaten a poisoned apple brought to him by Mary Belle, a beautiful young coed There were those who insinuated that an affair was going on between the dean and the student but she seemed to be a bit too obvious of a suspect. Jake Muffett, the sheriff who with his son and daughter and now, for the first time in his tenure there was their murder case. Actually there was another murder, that of Beaufort Prendergast and now there were two murders. One could only wonder if the two murders were connected in some way. Yet the case seemed simple enough in Pilkington’s’ death; all that had to be done was to find out who touched the apple before it proved fatal. However it all becomes very complicated with the death of Prendergast and the appearance of a young journalist, Katy O’Halleran and we understand that this is a story of sex, power, and blackmail.

I cannot share any more of the plot with you because to do so would cause me to say things that could ruin the read. Wrier Peter Linkin has created quite a cast of characters and a mystery that is laced with humor. It will keep you guessing and entertained and you will that the myth of the genteel south is not much more than a myth.

“THE MORNING AFTER”— Decision Time

“The Morning After”

Decision Time

Amos Lassen

Harry (Joshua Burg) wakes up one morning to find himself in bed with a naked man. He has no memory of how this came to be but he does remembering being very drunk the night before. Thom (Luke Striffler), his bedmate, tells him that in addition to talking about his girlfriend for half the night, he wondered what it would be like to have sex with a man.

Naturally Harry is both confused and worried that they did more than only sleeping and when he lives Thom’s apartment, he goes to see Lucy (Juliet Lundholm,  his ex-girlfriend for  a quickie and to check his heterosexuality but he remains confused when things did not happen the way he hoped. Now Harry has to work out what happens next.

Bruno Collins directed this short film about a guy who has to deal with his repressed homosexuality and to decide whether to stay with the same plan and continue dating Jess (Jane Alice), his girlfriend or find out how to understand his own desires.

“SEBASTIAN”— In The City

 

“SEBASTIAN”

In The City

Amos Lassen

Sebastian (Alex House) comes to Toronto for a week’s visit and he meets his cousin’s boyfriend, Alex (writer-director James Fanizza). There is an instant attraction between the two that takes them to explore a forbidden passion. They connect on an emotional level but the problem they have is that Sebastian has to return to Argentina and both men wonder if their love for each other will continue.

The film is a triple-header for James Fanizza who writes, directs and stars in his film. As Alex, he meets Sebastian and actually initiates what is to happen between them. Alex’s boyfriend is Sebastian’s cousin and both Alex and Sebastian feel bad about what they’re doing, but that does not hinder them. They both know that the relationship will end when Sebastian goes home yet they cannot help how they feel. Their short but passionate changes them, unlocks deep feelings inside of each.

The short length of time in the film makes us wonder how these two could even realize what is happening to them and yet we see them quickly act on their feelings. The audience anticipates what will happen but they certainly are blind to it at first. (For the young, falling in love happens quickly. But love is complicated, and Alex and Sebastian face that as well. Alex knows that Sebastian is the of his life and he’s leaving to go back home to Argentina forever. He also knows that a relationship is impossible but in his last 10 minutes with Sebastian he knows that he must let him go. We all know that sometimes the opportunity of love comes to us at inopportune times and we are faced with the challenge of making very quick but life-changing decisions with no guarantee. If we do not do so, we live with feelings of regret of what might have been and sometimes by taking the risk we find true happiness. We really only know later what will happen if we decide to wait.

Both the screenplay and the actors are superlative and Fanizza does a wonderful job of presenting the situation. We see the emotions of the characters clearly and we get a really fine first film from this director.

“FINDING JOSEPH I: THE HR FROM BAD BRAINS DOCUMENTARY”— The Life and Struggles of Paul “HR” Hudson

 

“Finding Joseph I: The HR From Bad Brains Documentary”

The Life and Struggles of Paul “HR” Hudson

Amos Lassen

I must be honest from the very beginning. Before I watched this film I had no idea of who Paul “HR” Hudson was; I had never heard of him before. Not that I know I have no idea it that makes me a better person or not but I must say that I learned something watching this film.

“Finding Joseph I” is a feature documentary that chronicles the eccentric life and struggles of punk rock reggae singer, Paul “HR” Hudson, a.k.a. Joseph I, the lead singer of Bad Brains. I understand that his energetic and explosive live performances helped pioneer hardcore punk rock with the Bad Brains, one of the most influential bands to come out of the 1980’s. HR’s devotion to the Rastafarian faith guided him in a spiritual direction and he left the band several times to explore his love for reggae music as the solo artist, HR Human Rights. Over the years, the Bad Brains have reunited several times only to struggle with his unpredictably. His behavior became increasingly strange and abnormal and there were many who were many convinced that was because of his suffering from psychological troubles while others believe he is still living out his journey as one of the greatest front men in rock and roll history. If the latter is the case, I cannot help but wonder why I had never heard of him before.

This documentary features interviews with musicians and peers that HR has worked with and influenced him and as share their stories and first hand experiences. Most importantly we also hear from HR himself about his life, philosophies, and career and we see that he continues to write, record, and perform while he spreads his message of universal peace and love.

The film does not shy away from addressing HR’s mental state and this is not a film about Bad Brains, the band but about the amazing and odd and troubled singer who leads it. We see his tragic decline into various (mostly unidentified) mental illness problems and his story is both powerful and sad and HR has really been “gone” for the last two decades.

Director James Lathos traces HR’s psychological issues (including rumors of schizophrenia) that have plague his adult years. We gain an understanding of where he was coming from, what he has experienced and how he is seen by others. I understand that this aspect of HR’s life has never been seriously delved into before.

“All the Dirty Parts” by David Handler— Tantalizing Title/Tantalizing Book

Handler, David. “All the Dirty Parts”, Bloomsbury USA, 2017.

Tantalizing Title/Tantalizing Book

Amos Lassen

Daniel Handler’s “All the Dirty Parts” looks at the erotic impulses of an all-too-typical young man. Cole is a boy in high school who runs cross-country, sketches, and jokes around with friends. He also constantly thinks about sex. He fantasizes about whomever he’s looking at. He loves pornography and he sleeps with a lot of girls. Because of this his reputation around school is tarnished. He really has only his best friend for company. Suddenly something starts to happen between them but then he meets Grisaille.

The book is a take on teenage desire in a culture of explicitness and open communication where sex feels like love, but where no one knows what love feels like. With short chapters, we get a tender, brutal, funny, intoxicating portrait of an age when sex seems to guide the world. This is not a love story.

Cole’s “sometimes” high school friend, Kristen, tries to help him and his male high school friends are “mystified” in that they don’t think Cole is so hot to get so much sex. Cole could care less what they think because what matters to him is sex and he thinks bout it non-stop and he acts upon it at every opportunity and as often as he can.

Cole narrates his raunchy, sexually explicit story of an adolescent with a one-track mind and body. He does so in short episodic vignettes in which he shares all. Some have called this book the gentile “Portnoy’s Complaint” (1969), the story a Jewish bachelor who is obsessed with sex and has no problem talking about it in vivid detail. However, Portnoy was an adult while Cole is still a high school student. However, times have changed and some adolescents, especially some males, are quite sexually active at a young age. For many readers, this means that this book might be shocking while for others Cole’s thoughts, feelings, and actions and the way he describes them at times are both quite funny and vulgar.

Cole’s disrespect toward and treatment of others impacts and his relationships with others, especially Alec. He is an unreliable kind of guy and Alec shows him that. Grisaille, Cole’s primary love interest is more than he could ever want (and perhaps more than he can handle).

We see what goes through an average teenage boy’s head and while Cole might be the extreme end of this spectrum, we see that he is obsessed with porn and sex. His behavior is questionable at best and often he seems to come across as a sexual predator. He is not an exemplary teenage boy and his classmates clearly distinguish him from other guys at the school and I am quite sure that some readers will find his stories uncomfortable. On the other hand, there is so much sex in the book that it is easy to become numb to it.