Category Archives: Uncategorized

“Three Daughters of Eve” by Elif Shafak— A Forgotten Love

Shafak, Elif. “Three Daughters of Eve”, Bloomsbury USA, 2017.

A Forgotten Love

Amos Lassen

Peri is a married, wealthy, beautiful Turkish woman, who while on her way to a dinner party at a seaside mansion in Istanbul has her purse snatched by a beggar. While wrestling with the beggar, a Polaroid photograph of three young women and their university professor falls to the ground. It is a relic from a past; a love of a love affair that Peri has tried desperately to forget.

When she arrives at the party, Peri tries to navigates the tensions between East and West, religious and secular, rich and poor. During the course of the opulent dinner, terrorist attacks occur across the city. At the same time, Peri is dealing with the loss of the picture and her memories that it brings up. It was taken when she went to Europe for the first time Competing in Peri’s mind however are the memories to attend Oxford University. As a young woman there, she became friends with Shirin, a charming, fully assimilated Iranian girl, and Mona, a devout Egyptian-American. Their arguments about Islam and feminism found focus in the controversial and charismatic Professor Azur, who taught divinity in unorthodox ways. As the terrorist attacks come ever closer, Peri remembers the scandal that tore them all apart.

Elif Shafak is the number one bestselling novelist in her native Turkey, and her work is translated and celebrated around the world. In “Three Daughters of Eve”, Turkish writer Elie Shafak has given us a moving story about the profound changes of the modern world and we begin to think where we stand regarding religion and spirituality. We are taken into Peri’s journey as she is at the dinner party. Through flashbacks we learn about her adventures at Oxford and we realize that is filled with contradictions, just like life itself. What happened between her and her two female friends an a male professor is at the center of the story.

We move between conversations in the present about the political situation in Turkey, and in the discussions about the nature of religion and belief in the flashbacks. The professor has a seductive allure and students come to him all of the time to discuss the philosophy of religion. More about the plot would be unfair to write about but I do want to say that we get some interesting insights into life in Turkey.

Peri grew up in a dysfunctional family where most of the tension came out of the struggle between traditional religious devotion versus interest in modernization and rational science. Once at Oxford, she once again found herself dealing with the struggle as her professor tries to find out something about the true nature of God. We also see universal truths dealing with love, family, and the pressures that come with being a female.

“The Faerie Handbook: An Enchanting Compendium of Literature, Lore, Art, Recipes, and Projects” by Carolyn Turgeon and the editors of Faerie Magazine— Myth, Mystery, Romance and Beauty

Turgeon, Carolyn and the editors of Faerie Magazine. “The Faerie Handbook: An Enchanting Compendium of Literature, Lore, Art, Recipes, and Projects”, Harper Design, 2017.

Myth, Mystery, Romance and Beauty

Amos Lassen

I have never really thought about faeries so when I received this book, I was not sure how to react to it. As I thumbed through the pages before sitting down to actually read it, I was amazed at its physical beauty (from the bright lilac cover to the incredibly beautiful photographs). I realized that this was a very special book. Then as I read, I also realized the beauty of its prose and before I knew it, I was transported to a magical realm. The book is organized into four sections; “Flora and Fauna”, “Fashion and Beauty”,  “Arts and Culture”, and “Home, Food, and Entertaining”. There is something for everyone here—exquisite vintage and contemporary fine art and photography, literature, essays, do-it-yourself projects, and recipes and it is quite easy to become lost while reading. It is the prefect holiday gift for the person that you can never decide what to give to.

An enchanting read that takes the reader on a fantastical journey through Here is faerie lore presented as a sort of manual about the world of faeries and it pulls you in immediately. We learn where to find fairies and get history, craft ideas, fashions and even recipes. I was very aware that as I read, I had left the mundane world in which I usually live. I must also add that this is a serious look at the faerie world and there is no kitsch. Many of us read in order to be taken to places we do not usually go and I found it totally fascinating to believe that I was surrounded by faeries as I read and what a beautiful experience that was.

There is even a look at the sinister aspects of the Faerie world and we see the balance between vintage and modern references to Faeries. It was here that I understood the way the television mini-series “True Blood” depicted the faerie world. Who knew there is so much folklore and history about faeries and the more I read, the more I was drawn in. I do not recall seeing books about faeries that are comprehensive as this is and it is wonderful to have all of this between the covers of a single volume. This is truly what the subtitle says it is— “An Enchanting Compendium of Literature, Lore, Art, Recipes, and Projects”. It is the perfect escape and I have a very strong feeling that I will be enjoying it even more in the days to come.

“We Wear the Mask: 15 True Stories of Passing in America” edited by Brando Skyhorse and Lisa Page— The Need to Pass

Skyhorse, Brando and Lisa Page, editors. “We Wear the Mask: 15 True Stories of Passing in America”, Beacon 2017.

The Need to Pass

Amos Lassen

“Passing” has come to mean, for some, opportunity, access, or safety. Then there are others who do not willingly pass but are “passed” in specific situations by someone else. This anthology of writings is illuminating and timely anthology as it examines the complex reality of passing in America.

This tradition of “passing” seems to have always been a part of American society. Originally it just meant passing as white when one has African American ancestry. Today, however passing deals with race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion and social class. In this book we get fifteen narratives from people who are (or have been) passing in one way or another. We really see this in the LGBT world where until recently many had to pass as straight for housing and employment opportunities. While this is not directly mentioned with reference to gay men in this anthology, those of us who had to do so are well aware of the challenges that it brought.

Each story we get here is a fascinating look at a person’s life. Our ideas of what it means for one to present him/herself as a member of a specific group or category changes after reading this. We see that

all of us, at some time or other, passes for something that we are not and this book helps us to think more broadly about what passing really means.

Editor Brando Skyhorse writes about his Mexican mother bringing him up as Native American despite the fact that she knew the family was really Latino. A person usually chooses to “pass,” but here it is the mother who raised her son to be something he wasn’t and the result was that Skyhorse was a member of two communities and did not know how truthful he should be.

Editor Page shares how her white mother didn’t tell friends about her black ex-husband or that her children were biracial. Gabrielle Bellot writes about truths of passing as a woman after coming out as trans, and MG Lord, who, after the murder of her female lover, embraced heterosexuality. Other examples include Patrick and how he “accidentally” passes as a waiter at the National Book Awards ceremony, and Rafia Zakaria frets over her Muslim American identity when traveling through domestic and international airports. Other writers include Trey Ellis, Marc Fitten, Susan Golomb, Margo Jefferson, Achy Obejas, Clarence Page, Sergio Troncoso, Dolen Perkins-Valdez, and Teresa Wiltz.

 

We read about economic “passing,” when someone pretends one is of a financial status or the opposite. We wonder about transgender persons who are living under a different gender and bisexuals who pass from one identity to the other: “straight with their straight friends, family members, or acquaintances and gay with their gay friends and lovers.” American Muslims have to make tough decisions about whether to pass as non-Muslim in order to be safe or to be who they are and remain true to themselves. I remember that during my own visits in the Arab world when I was told to keep the fact that I am Jewish to myself.

The essays here are diverse and give us a variety of scenarios and each selection has relevance and each is true. I find it interesting that in today’s world passing and identity have not become important topics. We want DNA to prove what we always knew was true. We do not want surprises. However, when a surprise comes, it is usually hidden, treated as an entertaining human-interest story, and then disregarded.

After reading this book, we see that we all pass for something. “(Think about teenagers passing as older to get admitted to a movie or a nightclub. Think about individuals who lie about their age and make themselves older or younger, perhaps to better fit their partner in a new relationship. And who hasn’t pretended to agree with an old aunty about politics while knowing that her views are the total opposite of ours? Don’t rock the boat. People pretend to be religious even though they haven’t been to church in years and may not even believe in a God, but it makes it easier to be around relatives and it keeps the family peace.)” We have all passed for something that we were not at some time and while passing is a complex issue, it is a part of American life.

I found this collection to be of uneven quality: some of the essays are wonderful while others should never have reached the printed page without having been completed edited.

 

“THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES: THE BOB HOPE SPECIALS DELUXE COLLECTION”— 37 Hours of Classic Bob Hope

“THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES: THE BOB HOPE SPECIALS DELUXE COLLECTION”

37 Hours of Classic Bob Hope

Amos Lassen

“Thanks for the Memories” is the ultimate Bob Hope collection and is more than 37 Hours of Bob Hope and his legendary celebrity guests, This 19-Disc Set Includes 39 Specials. It includes twenty shows that have not been seen again since their original and many bonus features Including Hope’s Dean Martin Celebrity Roast, a 32-gage Memory Book filled with rare archival photos and stories. All of this is part of a deluxe collector’s box set.

Many feel that Hope was America’s greatest entertainer of the 20th century and you watch what is in this set, you will probably agree. I can remember that when Bob Hope came on television when I was growing up, everything stopped so we could watch him.

The TV DVD archivists at Time Life have selected the very best of Hope’s 250 network specials spanning fifty years (of which many were in support of the U.S. Armed Forces) for this ultimate boxed set that celebrates Bob Hope. This is one-of-a-kind collection and contains comedy, music, dancing, movie stars, and Hope’s memorable monologues.  

 On 19 DVDs, we have Specials and celebrity guest appearances from the biggest stars of the era including John Wayne, Bing Crosby, Raquel Welch, Desi Arnaz, Jack Benny, Don Rickles, Barbra Streisand, George Burns, Dean Martin, Ann-Margret, Lucille Ball, Steve McQueen, Lola Falana, Tom Jones, Carol Burnett, Angie Dickinson, Andy Williams, Lana Turner, Jayne Mansfield, Redd Foxx, Zsa Zsa Gabor and many others.

THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES: THE BOB HOPE SPECIALS is made up of: 

  • THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES: THE BOB HOPE SPECIALS (6 Discs) — Featuring 13 specials from 1956 to 1996, this DVD set contains hilarious compilation shows that spotlight the best moments from years of remarkable footage: a full episode of all-time classic bloopers, Bob Hope’s first show in color, his 90th birthday party special, Laughing with the Presidents, and more.  This collection also includes the bonus show Shanks for the Memory, on the world of golf according to Bob Hope. 
  • BOB HOPE: ENTERTAINING THE TROOPS (4 Discs) — Featuring 10 shows from 1950 to 1993, this DVD set features several USO Christmas specials filmed before troops serving in locations all over the world – from the Cold War through the Vietnam years to the Persian Gulf. The set also contains the holiday-themed DVD Hope for the Holidays,featuring a compilation of Bob Hope’s most hilarious Christmas sketches through the years along with his very first Christmas special, as well as the bonus feature Memories of World War II with rare clips, highlights from Bob Hope’s Armed Forces Network radio show, and Bob and guests reminiscing about the era. 
  • BOB HOPE: TV LEGEND (8 Discs) – The American treasure is at his very best in this singular collection of 16 classic variety specials from 1958-1973, including 10 USO holiday specials from the Cold War through Vietnam featuring dance, music and comedy and dozens of celebrity guests.  Aside from touching interactions with troops the world over, memorable moments include a star-studded comic ensemble sending up network censorship, a rollicking Western showdown between Bob’s comic colleagues and Hollywood cowboys and a nostalgic Tribute to Vaudeville 
  • BONUS DVD: THE DEAN MARTIN CELEBRITY ROASTS: BOB HOPE (1 Disc) — This bonus disc features the star-studded roast of Bob Hope hosted by the irrepressible Dean Martin.  Among the roasters featured are Jimmy Stewart, Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Don Rickles, John Wayne, and many more!  

Hope’s storied life and career spanned more than a century, during which he left an indelible mark across vaudeville, Broadway, recordings, concerts, radio, films and TV.  And this comprehensive collection of his television specials, exclusively from Time Life, showcases the beloved entertainer’s inimitable magic like never before!

“ATHEIST AMERICA”— A Look at Non-believers

“ATHEIST AMERICA”

A Look at Non-believers

Amos Lassen

Ralf Beucheler’s “Atheist America” looks at “The Atheist Experience,” a television show produced in Austin, Texas that is the only atheist TV show in the United States. Every Sunday afternoon, two atheists debate callers for an hour. We meet the show’s protagonists, and hear the discussions between the hosts and callers. The debates we watch between believers and skeptics are funny, touching and shocking in turn. And are interspersed with footage of the very public religious displays in the state of Texas. This is an intimate, concentrated, and entertaining look at culture wars, and is both inspiring and frustrating at the same time.

“The Atheist Experience” has been televised for over twenty years and it has grown from a local event into a nationwide internet phenomenon. The film also shows how religion has permeated public life in Texas (“from prayers before rodeos, NASCAR races and Republican party rallies to Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church and David Barton’s “WallBuilders” radio show”).

“SUMMER OF ’82: WHAT ZAPPA CAME TO SICILY”—Frank Zappa’s 1982 Italian Tour

“Summer of ’82: When Zappa Came to Sicily”

Frank Zappa’s 1982 Italian Tour

Amos Lassen

Salvo Cuccia, one of Zappa’s big fans shares his behind the scene stories of Frank Zappa’s star-crossed concert in Palermo, Sicily that ended in public disturbances and police intervention. Now some thirty years later he has collaborated with Zappa’s family to re-creates the events through a combination of rare concert and backstage footage; photographs; anecdotes from family, band members, and concertgoers; and insights from Zappa biographer and friend Massimo Bassoli to tell his personal story of that summer.

This is a look at the rise and heyday of Frank Zappa’s career as an “innovative composer and libertarian provocateur”. While in Sicily for the concert, Zappa visited Partinico, the birthplace of his father and grandfather and three of Zappa’s children, Dweezil, Moon Diva and his wife Gail, return to meet their relatives there for the first time.

Cuccia idolized Zappa but did not arrive in time to attend that concert, but he has kept and guarded the ticket for all these years. In this documentary, he follows the Zappa trip, the visit to Partinico and the encounter with other relatives giving us a look at Sicily and Palermo as it was back then. We also get an interesting of Frank Zappa, as an individual and an artist.

Zappa’s importance and influence on the world music scene of the 20th century is undeniable, and anyone who has loved him wants to keep the memory alive. That is what Cuccia does here.

“Punishing Disease: HIV and the Criminalization of Sickness” by Trevor Hoppe— AIDS and Punishment

Hoppe, Trevor. “Punishing Disease: HIV and the Criminalization of Sickness”, University of California Press, 2017.

AIDS and Punishment

Amos Lassen

I have always found it interesting that from the very outset of the AIDS epidemic that it has always been thought of as punishment. As I read this, I was also reminded that whenever there is a huge tragedy of some kind, biased thinkers try to say that the reason it happened is due to immoral behavior. After Hurricane Katrina, for example, there were those who said that New Orleans was hit because of the homosexual activity that took place there. With AIDS, there were calls to punish people living with HIV (mostly stigmatized minorities) and this started before AIDS was even named.

“Punishing Disease” looks at how HIV was changed transformed from sickness to punishment under criminal law and writer Trevor Hoppe investigates the consequences of inflicting penalties on people living with disease. Now that the door to criminalizing sickness is open, we can only wonder what other ailments will follow? With moves in state legislatures to extend HIV-specific criminal laws to include diseases such as hepatitis and meningitis, the question is so much more than academic.

Hoppe explains how and why legislators, courts, public health officials, and police across the United States have ‘criminalized sickness’ in the case of HIV/AIDS and he does so through thorough and well-documented analysis. This book is to be seen as is a wake-up call about the dangers of punitive approaches to stopping the spread of disease.

Hoppe’s clear analysis shows how the meanings of disease and illness have significant consequences socially, politically, and health wise. We see the idea that people are responsible for their own health and our increasing reliance on the criminal justice system to effectively criminalize HIV status.

“Curse of the Coloring Book: A Novel Inspired by a True Story” by Howard L. Hibbard— Cherishing Life

Hibbard, Howard L. “Curse of the Coloring Book: A Novel Inspired by a True Story”, Ghost Dog Enterprises, 2016. December 20, 2016

Cherishing Life

Amos Lassen

Herald Lloyd is an attorney and family man who faces a legal-malpractice lawsuit and this so unnerves him that he begins having Vietnam War flashbacks. He uses alcohol medication and this is not a smart since drinking does not really solve anything. As a young man, he quit college to join the Army. In Vietnam he was a decorated combat platoon leader in commanding of some very strange men. After the war, Hibbard was relieved that he could stop fighting but sees that is not the case with this lawsuit. This is a different kind of war and he must fight to save his client, law practice, and family.

We meet Lloyd when he was a young and naive college student who joined the army and became a combat infantry lieutenant headed for Vietnam. Afterwards, he came hoe and became an attorney but is plagued with memories of the time he spent along the Cambodian border. “Curse of the Coloring Book” is a description of Lloyd’s army experience and trying to forget what he saw. His life after the war, his marriage and law practice have all been influenced by his combat experiences. As bad as there were for him, Lloyd has been able to keep his sharp sense of humor and it seems that he never takes himself too seriously. Yet he is never able to escape his memories of his time in Vietnam. He shares some of these graphic memories and we see how these influence his life as a lawyer and family man. We read his descriptions of fear and friendship and it often feels that we are standing next to him as he vividly describes what he saw. There is nothing glorious about war but one good thing came out of it for Lloyd and that is that he became a leader. But he also has to deal with PTSD and survivor’s guilt.

This is quite an intense read and it is difficult to review the book because of that intensity. There is nothing I can say that can reflect what we read here and it is very important that we understand what some war veterans have to deal wit. Ordinarily this is not the kind of book I would read but because I have deliberately not read anything about PTSD I decided to give it a go and I find that my eyes have opened a great deal wider. As for the title, you will have to read the book to understand that.

“78/52”— Two Suppressed Protagonists and One Scene

“78/52”

Two Suppressed Protagonists and One Scene

Amos Lassen

In “78/52”, director Alexandre O. Philippe interviews film scholars and professionals about Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, “Psycho”. The first half of documentary is features observations that will be familiar to Hitchcock fans. Peter Bogdanovich discusses the way the film was influentially marketed (the insistence that viewers see the film from beginning to end and promise not to divulge its secrets). We are reminded that audiences were once more casual about film-going, walking in and out of a theater and seeing only portions of movies (a culture that Hitchcock helped to do away with).

 

“78/52” really comes to life with the psychosexual perversity of Hitchcock’s film, which changed cinema’s relationship with sex and violence. Philippe shows how responses to the film can vary by the gender of the viewer. Guillermo del Toro speaks about the film’s Catholic guilt, observing that Marion must die for stealing money from her employer despite seeking atonement before her murder. But Illeana Douglas says that Marion is killed for sexually arousing Norman, while Karyn Kusama states that this scene is “the first modern expression of the female body under assault.” The variety of these responses shows a source of the film’s troubling power: “its simultaneous devotion to social structures (the rules of religion, work, and of puritanical sexual decorum) and awareness of the chaos that such structures ultimately fail to contain.

We see how Hitchcock prepared the audience for the shower scene that explodes social and cultural fault lines. When Marion packs to go on the trip that will doom her, we see a shower stall behind her profile. When a police officer pulls Marion over, he suggests that she sleep in a motel. Ideas of “mother”—as an epitome of 1950s entendre, surveillance, and hypocrisy are all over the dialogue. Then there is the scene between Norman and Marion in the parlor of the Bates Motel. Every line of dialogue contains multiple meanings, indicating that there will be two catharses: Marion resolves her madness while Norman surrenders to his fractured id.

These two protagonists are conjoined by variations of the same form of suppression. Norman was conditioned by his mother to fear sex and he is stranded by location at the motel. Norman Bates is a deranged relic of the authoritative family loyalty that was on television in the 1950s. On the other hand, Marion Crane engages in an affair with a married man that leaves her stymied and frustrated. Norman and Marion are both victims of disproportionate sex: One’s desexualized while the other is relentlessly sexualized relentlessly. These tensions come into conflict when Marion is stabbed to death in the shower.

Seventy-eight is the number of cuts in the shower scene and 52 is the number of seconds that the sequence lasts. Director Philippe named his film after the sequence’s DNA code and tries to break it apart to reveal the inner workings of Hitchcock. He slows the shower scene down, freezes it, rewinds it, and adds interview subjects and becomes more impressive when taken apart.

Philippe finds details that many have never noticed— Norman’s mother’s eyes as she pulls the shower curtain aside to stab Marion and the phallic knife as it rips through a curtain of water giving it a Freudian intensity. Philippe juxtaposes storyboards, script passages, and the final cut of the sequence, showing the Hitchcock’s devotion to creating a moment of brutality.

The identity of Marion’s destroyer is yet another acknowledgement of the gulf between the genders: Norman assumes the persona of a woman who enslaved him so as to enact a bitter homage and transactional revenge to his mother. Norman is patriarchy, as well as one of its many victims.

Here is an entire movie about a scene from another movie, and it comes in at about 60 times the length of the original material. We see here that “Psycho” is more than just a great film in that it’s practically the a look at the modern cultural discourse on topics from sex and violence in America.

“REPATRIATION”— “Exploring the Past and Retracing a Life Left Behind”

“REPATRIATION”

“Exploring the Past and Retracing a Life Left Behind”

Amos Lassen

Chad Tyler (Ryan Barton-Grimley) has returned home from the army and is welcomed in his Midwestern hometown by new and old friends alike. He visits his old regular places and tries to get reacquainted as he has a drink at each stop. Chad was once the star of his school’s baseball team and is still loved by many. Before long, he has a bit too much to drink Chad. Cad comes upon Camille (Jes Mercer) a girl who had a crush on Chad years earlier and together they continue to visit the bars, play pinball, bowl but then Camille takes off after hearing some nasty rumors about Chad. We also learn more about Chad and begin to wonder if this is the same guy we met just a little while before. From the time that we meet him at the bus stop, his life seems to be good and everyone is happy to see him but then the story changes its course.

Ryan Barton-Grimely, an actor I had never heard of, suddenly came my way in two different movies in a period of a week. Elsewhere on my site, you will find a review of “Elijah’s Ashes” where he turns in an unforgettable performance as a drunk homophobe. In “Repatriation”, his performance as Chad is nothing short of brilliant. Chad (or I should say Barton-Grimely) pulls us in at the very beginning and we find him charming even after he lets us see who he really is (and I am not going to share what that is). This is the kind of performance that we usually find by chance. A movie like this is the kind of movie all of us should have the chance to see.. Technically this film is almost flawless and everything about it held me captive as I watched. Everything in my life was put on hold until it was over and then for about an hour afterwards.

Director Douglas Muellar has every reason to be proud of his first feature film. Unfortunately for you I can only praise the plot because to tell you about it would ruin a very exciting cinema experience.

PTSD is not a new theme for films but it is explored differently here. This is a film that you do not want to miss so search to see where it is bring shown near you.