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“An Outlaw Makes it Home: The Awakening Of A Spiritual Revolutionary” by Eli Jaxon-Bear— Finding Fulfillment and Love

Jaxon-Bear, Eli. “An Outlaw Makes it Home: The Awakening Of A Spiritual Revolutionary”, New Morning Books, 2018.

Finding Fulfillment and Love

Amos Lassen

We live in a world filled with many diverse people yet I am sure that we all search for love regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc. and that search takes us on journeys that are all very different. Eli Jaxon-Bear shares his journey with us and he has an ulterior motive of teaching something as we accompany him on his quest. This is his personal memoir that is sensitive, funny, exciting and an enjoyable read. As in any memoir, there are surprises and changes along the way. There is not a boring sentence here.

This is more than just a story of a search for a better lifer—it is an odyssey and a journey of self-discovery. I became so involved in what I was reading that before I realized it I had read through lunch and dinner and then half of the night and this is something that I rarely do. If you lived through the 60s, you have an idea what to expect here. Jaxon-Bear had a Brooklyn childhood and came of age during that radical decade. Of course, there comes a time when sex, drugs and rock and roll no longer provide what we want out of life and it is necessary to look elsewhere. For me it was to go and live on a kibbutz and help build the state of Israel but for Jaxon-Bear it was a serious quest for spiritual wisdom and enlightenment. It’s a lofty goal and the quest for it is filled with mistakes and sidesteps. Rather than these deterring our author, they made him stronger and more determined. I especially love that he challenged traditional teachings and followed the path he set out for himself and we see that the end res not the way of getting to it.

I am quite sure that it I the honesty of this book that kept me reading I do think that it is important to understand that liberation only means freedom after it has been achieved. The freedom that Eli Jaxon-Bear sought was the freedom to be himself and we see that this is only possible after someone discovers who he really is. We read about his being outside the law, his escape to Peru, his usage of drugs and women, places such as Japan, Morocco, India, a return to the earth as a farmer and the discovery of what home is and means.

Jaxon-Bear had been attacked on a civil rights march in Alabama; he became a federal fugitive in a cabin in Colorado, spent time in the uncharted Andes and at a Zen Monastery in Japan and at a Sufi initiation in Morocco. Yet he returns to where he wanted so badly to be— home.

“THE STEAM ENGINES OF OZ”— A New Look at Oz

“THE STEAM ENGINES OF OZ”

A New Look at Oz

Amos Lassen

Without a doubt Frank Baum’s Oz stories have stood the test of time and ever since they first appeared in 1925, there have been many adaptations. “The Steam Engines of Oz” is yet another of these but it is a steam punk version and animated. It is based on the graphic novel of the same name and features the voice talents of Ron Perlman, William Shatner and Julianne Hough.

The story is set a century after Dorothy first clicked her ruby slippers together and the Emerald City is no longer a magical land but a toxic, heavily industrialized wasteland ruled by the iron fist of the once beloved hero, the Tin Man, who seems to have lost all heart.

Oz’s only hope rests with a young engineer named Victoria Wright, who is able to assemble a motley crew of  ill-mannered munchkins, mischievous flying monkeys and, a once cowardly Lion and Scarecrow who set out on a quest to find the tin man’s heart. As the travel together, they ultimately learn that friendship and determination can overcome any obstacle, and together end, up teaching everyone in Oz that a heart should not be judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.

“Autonomy: The Quest to Build the Driverless Car And How It Will Reshape Our World” by Lawrence D. Burns— Changing Our Way of Life

Burns, Lawrence D. “Autonomy: The Quest to Build the Driverless Car And How It Will Reshape Our World”, Ecco, 2018

Changing Our Way of Life

Amos Lassen

There has been a great deal of talk lately about driverless cars and this is something that many of us have a hard time understanding. All of the automobile countries are involved in a race to build and perfect the vehicle that will change all of our lives. Lawrence D. Burns is a veteran insider of the automotive industry and in his book, “Autonomy”, he shares what he knows on the subject.

Burns is a former General Motors executive and now serves as advisor to the Google Self-Driving Car project. In his book, he presents a history of the race to make the driverless car a reality. In the past decade, Silicon Valley companies including Google, Tesla and Uber have put themselves into positions to change and revolutionize the way we get around by developing driverless vehicles while at the same time auto companies (General Motors, Ford, and Daimler) have been fighting back by partnering by with new tech start-ups. It is no longer a question of whether the self-driving car will disrupt the automobile industry but now rather a question of when, how, and who will do so.

It is predicted that the first driverless car will likely hit markets in less than five years and it is sure to change lives. Burns explains how this new technology will impact our lives (removing the hassles of driving, parking, and refueling our cars, to eliminating 90 percent of road fatalities and drastically reducing our carbon footprint, and automating yet another segment of blue collar industries thus putting more workers out of their jobs). Just think how the smart phone has so tremendously changed the way we live now.

We are already a part of a technological revolution that promises to fundamentally change how we interact with our world. To understand all of this we need to be aware of the past, able to understand the present and ready to move into the future. A chronicle of the past, diagnosis of the present, and prediction of the future. Along with the driverless car, there will be many more changes and technological advances.  Burns was one of the first people to understand the enormous implications of driverless cars. His  involvement with those who have invented and commercialized this technology makes “Autonomy” not only a fascinating read but a very important read as well.

“Chesapeake Requiem:


 A Year with the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island” by Earl Swift— An Isolated Community Facing Extinction

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p style=”text-align: center;”>Swift, Earl. “Chesapeake Requiem:


 A Year with the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island”, Dey Street, 2018.

An Isolated Community Facing Extinction

Amos Lassen

Earl Swift gives us a look at a two-hundred-year-old crabbing community in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay as it faces extinction from rising sea levels. Tangier Island is a 1.3-square-mile strip of land in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, an hour’s journey from the Virginia coast. Swift’s book is both the natural history of an extraordinary ecosystem and a meditation on a vanishing way of life based upon man’s relationship with the environment.

Tangier Island, Virginia is a unique American community. It was mapped by John Smith in 1608 and settled during the American Revolution. Today 470 people live there and they do so between two worlds— the modern world of the 21st century and the past. It is a twelve-mile boat trip across the nation’s largest estuary to reach the place and the water that surrounds the island is not always easy to cross. This same water has for generations made Tangier’s fleet of small fishing boats a chief source of the Chesapeake Bay blue crab and Tangiers is the soft-shell crab capital of the world.

But Tangier is disappearing. The same water that has long sustained is now eating away the land and since 180, the island has lost 2/3 of its size. Today the shoreline loses fifteen feet a year and this means that the island first American town to feel the effects of climate change.is the will likely succumb first among U.S. towns to the effects of climate change. Experts predict that without intervention by the federal government, the islanders could be forced to abandon their home within twenty-five years. The conservative and deeply religious Tangiermen think about the end times.   

In “Chesapeake Requiem”, we get an intimate look at the island’s past, present and shaky future. Swift has spent much of the past two years living among Tangier’s people observing its long traditions and odd ways. This is the moving story of a world that has, quite nearly, gone by and a in-depth report on Tangier’s future. The destiny of the island foreshadows what can happen to many other coastal communities in the not-too-distant future.

“A BUCKET OF BLOOD”— Horrific and Satirical

 

“A BUCKET OF BLOOD”

Horrific and Satirical

Amos Lassen

Roger Corman was a director who dared to go where others would not. “A Bucket of Blood” is horrific, satirical and layered with subtext about Corman’s own aspirations. Dick Miller stars as Walter Paisley, the ridiculed busboy at beatnik coffeehouse The Yellow Door, whose dream in life is to be an artist. Unfortunately he has no talent and spends his free time squeezing a lump of clay into even lumpier shapes. When he accidentally kills a cat, covers it with clay, entitles the work “Dead Cat”, he is acclaimed a genius by local Beats and this sends his ego out of control. He becomes obsessed with winning the woman of his dreams and moves onto larger pieces (like “Murdered Man”).

The movie is filled with pseudo-hip dialogue and excruciatingly poetry as it takes us back to a time that was. The Yellow Door club is the haunt for the most fashionable beatniks around but for Walter it’s just somewhere to work, as he has a job as a busboy there. He carries out menial tasks but he has ambitions of his own as his heart’s desire is to become a sculptor. Everyone around him denigrates his dreams and does not believe he will amount to anything more than cleaning up after the patrons of his boss, Leonard (Antony Carbone). Only Carla (Barboura Morris) encourages him, and he is grateful for that, but when he finally gets some clay home to his one-room apartment…

Walter was not exactly a simpleton, but he was easily led, and comes to believe what others say. Walter has a solution to his lack of talent that he accidentally realizes when he tries to free his pet cat from the wall of his apartment and stabs it to death by mistake. Suddenly inspired, he covers the corpse with clay, allows it to set, and brings it to the club as an artwork and is met with admiration at the piece’s perceived truth and skill (it has the knife still sticking out of it), and soon the crowd wants more. They get one with “Murdered Man”, a life study of a figure afflicted by a deep crack in its skull, which should give you an idea of what it actually is, an undercover cop Walter panicked and killed when he was accused of holding narcotics. Carla remains oblivious, as does everyone else except Leonard who sees the high prices the art is amassing and keeps quiet about it.

“THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW: IN COLOR— Unreleased Episodes

“The Jackie Gleason Show: In Color”

Unreleased Episodes

Amos Lassen

From 1966 to 1970, “THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW” was taped in color in Miami Beach, Florida. Jackie entertained the audience with his classic characters, celebrity guest stars, and hilarious sketches – including the beloved Honeymooners.

This DVD contains 4 never-before-released episodes unseen for almost 50 years including 3 unreleased “Honeymooners” sketches. Gleason’s show delivered an hour of entertainment every week consisting of singing, dancing, and lots of comedy and guest stars (Milton Berle, Red Buttons, George Carlin, Nipsey Russell, Phil Silvers, Florence Henderson and Frankie Avalon among others).

It featured the comedian’s most indelible and legendary creation — Ralph Kramden — as well as a gallery of characters he himself created and fine-tuned. But most memorably, Gleason and Art Carney revived their “Honeymooners” roles, with Sheila MacRae and Jane Kean added as the new Alice and Trixie. The chemistry between Gleason and Carney was as wonderful as it was back in the 50s, but Ms. MacRae and Ms. Kean lacked the earthiness and warmth of their predecessors.

Since variety TV shows are a rare commodity nowadays, it is fun to look back at Gleason and the weekly show built around him. The show became a casualty when CBS decided to modernize its programming and many shows and the Gleasons, Skeltons, and “Beverly Hillbillies” were eventually replaced with Archie Bunker, Maude and hipper programs.

Three of the four episodes featured are fairly mediocre and Gleason is fun to watch. But the shows are all incomplete, each 50-minute episode hacked to around 42 minutes and this is never explained.

The show was done in Miami Beach y so that Gleason could play golf year-round. Gleason played his many various characters.

The first episode featuring Phil Silvers in wonderful. Gleason’s introduces Silvers as one of the all-time great comedians, and star of television’s all-time funniest comedy, obviously referring to Sgt. Bilko. Unfortunately the episodes are not well chosen. Red Buttons appears on two shows, doing virtually the same thing. Edie Adams does a kind of half-baked nightclub act, complete with celebrity impersonations that are embarrassing and a very young George Carlin is featured but his standup is far from his best since he had to adapt to the family show-like atmosphere.

The Honeymooners segments are okay, but they’re all slight variations of sketches done better in the past and feel tacked on. Gleason chain-smokes his way through hosting duties and really seems to be enjoying himself most of the time, and that enjoyment is passed along to the viewing audience.

 

“THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ANDRE”— A Life Devoted to Fashion

“The Gospel According to André”

A Life Devoted to Fashion

Amos Lassen

André Leon Talley stands out  as a 6’ 6” African American man. He has a deep booming voice and has spent his life breaking down barriers. He was raised in Durham, North Carolina in the segregated south. He remembers the degradation of Jim Crow laws and watching the Civil Rights Movement play out. As a child, Talley had rocks thrown at him on a college campus as he was walking across town to pick up the latest copy of Vogue magazine at a news stand. Talley sought and found solace and refuge in fashion magazines and books. He read about fashion icons as he watched the pulse of modern fashion. In an interview with one of his high school teachers he recalls a grey Dior-inspired skirt she had some forty-plus years ago. Anna Wintour, a close friend of Talley’s and colleague at Vogue, admitted that her fashion history wasn’t strong when she started at Vogue and she relied on Talley for that knowledge.

Talley is something of a news junky and he tracks the progress of the 2016 presidential election throughout the filming of the documentary. The film ends in November 2016 with Talley and the rest of the world coming to terms with the results of that election. In most of the film Talley speaks about the way he was raised and the necessity of braking barriers in a matter of fact way. When he speaks about his grandmother, however, his tone and mannerisms change. She worked as a domestic maid in a dorm to support them and she gave him the freedom and courage to be what he is today. He and his friends talk about how there was a lot of pressure on the African American population to be the best and this was the only way that there would be upward mobility.

the greatest strength of director Kate Novack’s documentary is Talley himself, who when on screen performs wonderfully at whatever we see him doing. his own master of ceremonies, whether at dinner with friends, sitting on his front porch in White Plains, observing a fitting, or revealing some of the more painful details of his past. He possesses great ability to contextualize his experiences both past and present that makes Novack’s frequent shifts to other voices seem distracting. There are exceptions, such as Fran Lebowitz, who explains her time at “Interview” magazine with Talley through anecdotes but Novack keeps dragging her focus back to the industry perspective as a whole.

Talley’s youth in a lower-class African-American family is a “black superhero” story and his legacy helps redefine perceptions of black masculinity and power. Talley’s idea of fashion as an “escape from reality” is treated by Novack as a flight of fancy and not as the freeing of one’s mind from the constraints that separate upper and lower classes of wealth.

This is a straightforward documentary mostly composed of straight-to-camera interviews, historical footage, or on the street footage. But it is fascinating to watch because Talley and his life is fascinating. The clothes in the film are wonderful and we see many clips from fashion shows throughout the years along with fashion spreads from magazines full of beautiful clothes.

Talley admits to a few of his fashion mistakes over the years and most of the time we see him in draped in expensive coats or his colorful caftans and large jewelry (that have become his signature dress). He is nearly seventy years old now and the film takes a look at fashion throughout the decades and some the key signature pieces and designers. We see black women in the 1940s who used their weekly church trips to express themselves with their clothes and hats and go through the disco seventies and through 2016 when the film was shot. The interviews are made up “who’s who” of the fashion world, including Marc Jacobs, Manolo Blahnik and Isabella Rossellini.

Talley struggled to get to the top of the fashion world. After leaving the segregated south he had to work hard to get himself to a position of power. He used his intelligence, sense of style, and charisma to get him there. He tells us that he is offended when people say he slept his way to the top or did anything other than what he did to get his level of success. We see his strength and how he used it to get to where he is and that some of those cruel memories still are for him.

This is the story of one man breaking down racial barriers and becoming a success in a time when African Americans had few opportunities in the fashion world. Talley brought a new perspective to fashion and never backed down when people questioned it. He is loud, boisterous, colorful, intelligent, and funny. Beyond being a documentary about a fashion icon, “The Gospel Accord to André” is a look at how strong people dealt with great odds at a time of great division and racial tension in America. We get a whole new meaning on the expression ‘larger-than-life’. He is one of a kind and there will probably never be anyone like him in the future.

“ELIS”— A Life Cut Short

“Elis”

A Life Cut Short

Amos Lassen

Elis Regina was one of the best loved singers in the history of Brazil. She only had 36 years but in that was a 25 year career and she was celebrated around the world. The new biopic, “Elis”, barely mentions her time as a child star and instead begins with into her late teenage years, when she was singing in bars to make ends meet while dreaming of much bigger things. Andréia Horta, who has a remarkable physical resemblance to the singer in her later years wonderfully portrays Elis who was known for her voice yet struggled with a lack of stage presence.

Director Hugo Prata brings us the mood of Brazil in the Sixties, Seventies and early Eighties, when social values were becoming increasingly liberal but the right wing military government was moving in the opposite direction. It was a dangerous time for artists, and though this is not overplayed in the film, there is a single scene that is chilling to watch. An interrogator makes reference to Elis’ infant son illustrating the kind of pressure many found themselves under. At that time, it was also a highly creative period despite this. Elis is warned that she must keep up with the times when she’s barely into her twenties. In the latter half of the film, Horta presents us with a fiery character, moving between relationships, producing children, growing increasingly frustrated with the music business and the fickleness of a public that was all too ready to believe she was selling out. She gets harsh criticism from those who consider her moodiness self-indulgent and egotistical and this helps to keep events in proportion. It also looks at how society treats its creative talents; whether wanting Elis to be exuberant and happy or achingly soulful, people seem to pay no attention to the impact of all this emotion, and there’s a sense that they may simply not have recognized the toll it was taking.

RGB tiff image by MetisIP

Born Elis Regina Carvalho Costa, she went by just plain Elis and released several confusingly eponymously single-named albums. She had the misfortune of coming on the scene shortly after the military putsch put a freeze on recordings sessions, but her talent would not be denied. Initially, she was a country naïf from the south, who sure could sing, but under the tutelage of producer/impresario Ronaldo Bôscoli, she incorporated seductive elements into her stage presentation. This worked so well that he became her first husband. Jazz musician-arranger César Camargo Mariano would be her second husband.

Elis was proud of her success. She sang samba, bossa, BPM, and even rock. It was her popularity that kept her out of prison, but the increasingly radicalized singer would be ironically slammed by the left when she agreed to perform at a ceremony for the military junta. The climax of the film comes with her attempts to re-establish her dissident credentials. We also see about twenty-minutes of a grouchy, self-destructive Elis, who isn’t much fun and we might consider this to be one of the problems with biography-based films that are often locked into not especially cinematic conclusions because of the historical reality.

Biographical dramas about musicians usually follow a familiar trajectory and that is true here as well. “There is the early explosion of success, the mid-career struggle with inner demons, and finally the redemptive third act that is eventually cut short by physical or emotional baggage rooted in the second stage.” The redemptive part here is shorter than usual but that was her life.

Andréia Horta is absolutely wonderful as Elis and the music I wonderful. Truthfully, I had never heard of Elis until I saw this film and I am now quite a fan. It is sad that there is no more music coming from her.

“MY LETTER TO THE WORLD”— The Seasons of Her Life

“MY LETTER TO THE WORLD”

“The Seasons of Her Life

Amos Lassen

“My Letter to the World” is an examination of the life and work of one of America’s greatest  poets, with world experts and renowned scholars helping to unravel the enigma of Emily Dickinson, who has spent the 130 years since her death being pigeonholed as a mysterious recluse.

Directed and co-produced by Solon Papadopoulos, this documentary takes us on a journey through the seasons of Emily Dickinson’s life in mid-1800s New England. The film explores her experiences and relationships via her impassioned letters and poems. As new theories come to light about both Dickinson’s life and poetry, experts bring their often conflicting opinions to the screen.

“MOSAIC— “Her Story Begins When Her Life Ends”

“MOSAIC”

‘Her Story Begins When Her Life Ends’

Amos Lassen

“Mosaic” follows two timelines; the relationships between a successful children’s author (Sharon Stone) and two different men (Garrett Hedlund, Frederick Weller) in her life, and the attempt four years later to find out who murdered her. This mini-series seems to have everything going for it from a fine cast to the excellent direction of Steven Soderbergh and the secrecy surrounding the plot. well before the show has even premiered. Then there is the accompanying app that allows viewers to see the story from multiple character perspectives. as it unfolds. All of these things piqued my interest to the point where I was completely sold on the show before I even saw the first episode.

The plot centers around the character of Olivia Lake (Sharon Stone), who is a famous children’s book author that lives on a large property in Summit, Utah. Her land is potentially worth millions based on geological findings and has now become the focal point of rival businessmen in the area although she dos not know this. They set out to force her to sell her property through deception and subterfuge, but before that can happen she goes missing and is presumed dead. What follows is a murder mystery That spans four years and involves a con-man fianceé, a hopeful artist who is living with her, the local sheriff and the aforementioned businessmen.

Everyone is a suspect as the pieces begin to slowly fall into place episode by episode and while that might sound intriguing it is all pretty slow. The story is interesting at times but a lot of the development was is quite boring and slow. Each episode excels at revealing a small piece of the conspiracy a little at a time which made me want to keep going in order to get to the end but once the result arrived, it just did not work. I was left me with many questions because so many threads were left unresolved. It was, as if, the viewer is supposed to be confused. The potential to be an intriguing murder mystery that keeps the audience guessing with each new episode is there but as it is now it doesn’t work.

The series main distinction is the way in which its story is told. Director Soderbergh’s whodunit introduces us to Olivia Lake, the author of a classic children’s book and a celebrity in her small, snowy town of Summit, Utah, but she’s lonely and looking for love. She thinks she’s found it when she meets handsome newcomer and aspiring artist Joel (Hedlund) but just as their relationship sours, she meets another handsome newcomer: Eric (Weller) who has hidden financial motivations behind his charm offensive. When Olivia turns up dead, it’s up to detective Nate Henry (Devin Ratray who steals the entire series) and Eric’s sister, Petra (Jennifer Ferrin) to unravel the mystery that’s tearing Summit apart. 

Something is missing when looking at the central mystery. Sharon Stone is still a star and effortlessly holds focus and Paul Reubens who plays her best friend is excellent. But the male foils set up to make us wonder which of the two bumped Olivia off are colorless and underwritten.