Category Archives: Uncategorized

“UN TRADUCTOR”— Cuba and Chernobyl

“Un Traductor” (“A Translator”)

Cuba and Chernobyl

Amos Lassen

“Un Traductor” focuses on what happened after the catastrophic accident at the Soviet Union’s Chernobyl nuclear plant. Cuba opened its medical facilities to many of the Russian patients suffering from radiation-related diseases. This is the first feature film by sibling directors Rodrigo and Sebastián Barriuso. It explores this life-and-death diplomacy through one man’s unlikely  and government-mandated participation in it. Malin (Rodrigo Santoro) is a professor of Russian literature who’s ordered out of the classroom and into the hospital to serve as a translator between medical staff and patients.

While much of the film centers on desperately ill children, the film, it avoids the maudlin and we see the restraint mirroring the protagonist’s closely guarded emotions. The drama begins in 1989, three years after the Chernobyl explosion and in the early days of the Cuban program that went on to treat more than 20,000 patients over a 20-year period. The film segues smoothly from news footage of Mikhail Gorbachev’s Cuban visit to scenes that place Malin and his young son, Javi (Jorge Carlos Perez Herrera), among the Havana residents lining the streets for a glimpse of the Soviet leader.

Soon after, Malin’s home life with the boy and his artist wife, Isona (Yoandra Suárez), is disrupted by an assignment that arrives without the slightest warning or explanation. Russian Department classes were suspended, Malin and his university colleagues report, as instructed, to a hospital (one that has been turned into a facility dedicated to treating Chernobyl patients, and where the professors’ language skills are necessary crucial). After the traumatic initiation of having to tell a young mother that there’s no hope for her daughter, Malin tries to get out of his night-shift duties in the children’s ward. Malin puts aside his thesis and lessons on Gogol to research leukemia and becomes involved with all the kids on the ward, particularly a boy of about 10, Alexi (Nikita Semenov), who lies in isolation because of his compromised immune system.  Malin is sympathetic to Alexi’s watchful father, a high school teacher (Genadijs Dolganovs). In one of the film’s most affecting exchanges, the man recalls with bitter sorrow how honored he felt to be transferred to Pripyat, the town where Chernobyl stood, to teach the children of esteemed scientists.

Malin’s intimate workplace bond with Argentine nurse Gladys  (Maricel Alvarez) gives the film its heart and soul. Álvarez gives us an unforced blend of common sense and passion. Having escaped her native country’s dictatorship, Gladys is a proud participant in Cuba’s medical system, and a believer in its larger vision; she characterizes Fidel’s program for Chernobyl patients as “an act of kindness by a leader with a big heart.” Such praise flows organically and Gladys’ gaze says everything that needs saying.

Everything we see stands in contrast to Malin’s son who s healthy and pampered. The family is also influential and affluent. As a character, Malin is taciturn and emotionally opaque and Santoro delivers an understated performance that conveys Malin’s physical and mental exhaustion along with his deepening engagement in the work he is doing without having been asked. It is through this wok that we see the day-to-day effects of the breakup of the Soviet Union on Cubans. Economic strains and shortages of goods exacerbating the simmering conflict between Malin and Isona.

The most gripping scenes take place at the hospital. Malin is experiencing matters of such urgency that anything else pales in comparison to the point where he dismisses Isona’s work as “just art.” It is only when she sees drawings by the hospitalized children that she understands the depth of her husband’s work with them.

Shot in Havana, the film captures the distinctive time-capsule quality of an isolated country, where many aspects of the story’s 1989–90 setting bear the mark of earlier decades.

The Barriusos’ film addresses a specific set of events, but as it unfolds at the intersection of socialist ideals, economic realities and personal ambitions, it’s a timeless portrait of what it means to be a cog in the wheel of a single-party regime. Whether Malin’s life was enriched or destroyed by his assignment was never part of the greater equation.

Rodrigo and Sebastián Barriuso are not only brothers but they’re also the sons of the protagonist of the film. It takes place in the critical year of 1989, when the world was starting to change to how it looks right now in terms of political factions and events to come. Cuba had to deal with the fervor of communism and revolution and freedom from capitalism.

The film moves forward with the internal conflict of Malin as he finds himself constantly saying to parents that their children might not survive and the hours that he has to work at night without enough time to be with his son. We see him trying to quit, to find a way to cope with the inherently depressing ambience of the hospital, and thus he finds a way to translate popular Cuban short stories to Russian so he does a story time at the hospital every night, or he makes activities for the children to tell or draw their tales. All this is happening while the Berlin wall falls and the support of the Soviets diminishes, but it’s only through the strength of the Cubans that they are capable of moving their project forward.

The film becomes a bit too dramatic when it tries to equate the efforts of Malin with the wants of his family, who need him just as much as the children who are sick. The film beautifully portrays the coldness of the hospital and manages to find warmth in the white faces of the Russian children that are suffering. You just might shed tears as the film approaches its end but it manages to cause us to do so in a way that makes it worth it.

  “I Want to Go Home Forever: Stories of Becoming and Belonging in South Africa’s Great Metropolis” edited by Loren B. Landau and Tanya Pampalone— Belonging

 

Landau, Loren B. and Tanya Pampalone (editors).  “I Want to Go Home Forever: Stories of Becoming and Belonging in South Africa’s Great Metropolis”, Wits University Press, 2018.

Belonging

Amos Lassen

‘”I  Want to Go Home Forever’ is comprised of thirteen true stories about transformation, xenophobia and belonging in Africa’s metropolis. Chichi is a hairdresser from Nigeria who left for South Africa after a love affair went bad. Azam arrived from Pakistan with a modest wad of cash and a dream. Estiphanos hiked the continent escaping political persecution in Ethiopia, only to become the target of the May 2008 xenophobic attacks. Nombuyiselo is the mother of 14-year-old Simphiwe Mahori, shot dead in 2015 by a Somalian shopkeeper in Snake Park, sparking a further wave of anti-foreigner violence. After fighting white oppression for decades, Ntombi has turned her anger towards African foreigners, who, she says are taking jobs away from South Africans and thus aiding crime. Papi, a freedom fighter and activist in Katlehong, now dedicates his life to teaching the youth in his community that tolerance is the only way forward. 
These are a sample of the thirteen stories that make up this collection. They are the stories of South Africans, some of whom are Gauteng-born, others from neighboring provinces and they all have a common goal; they strive to realize the promises of democracy. There are also the stories of newcomers, from neighboring countries and from as far afield as Pakistan and Rwanda, seeking a secure future in those very promises. 

The narratives were collected by researchers, journalists and writers and they all reflect the many facets of South Africa’s post-apartheid decades. Taken together, they give voice to the emotions and relations emanating from a paradoxical place of outrage and hope, violence and solidarity. They speak of intersections between people and their pasts, and of how, in the making of selves and the other they are also shaping South Africa. Underlying these accounts is a nostalgia for an imagined future that can never be realized. These are stories of forever seeking a place called home.

We get an intimate look into the lives of migrants, the people they find along their journeys and the worlds they inevitably create together. We read of the complexity and contradictions of experiences of migration and understand that experience is inseparable from personal and political belonging, and perhaps even what it means to be human. 

Even though this is a “local” book, it has important lessons for a global audience on how people make sense of movement – theirs or that of others – within and across borders.

 So much has been written on xenophobia in South Africa, and yet so few have really listened with care and precision to the voices of the ordinary people. This book unsettles so many old assumptions and it  does this simply by creating a space in which people bear witness to their lives.

The stories run the gamut—the are all honest and personal and range from heartbreaking to inspiring. Each story is a study in journey-making. No matter where we may have been born, each of us looks for a place where we will be safe and respected for who we are. The stories in this collection illustrate that no journey is easy. It is always difficult to begin again. These stories also grapple with the making of a nation. They teach us about urban poverty and women’s struggles for space and freedom and of course they speak of racism. “Taken together, they illustrate the quest for dignity and so they tell the story of humanity and striving and ambition in the midst of profound difficulty.” Here is a set of global phenomena that are important to anyone who cares about the state of the world today.

“SHERYL CROW: LIVE AT THE CAPITOL THEATER”— Songs of Her Generation

Sheryl Crow – Live at the Capitol Theater (Blu-ray + 2 CD)

Songs of Her Generation

Amos Lassen

Sheryl Crow lit up the global stage in 1993 with the multi-platinum ”Tuesday Night Music Club” album and she has not looked back. Crow was one-time music teacher and studio vocalist from Kennett, Missouri  and has gone on to forge a career to become the finest female singer/songwriter of her generation. 

On November 10, 2017, at the historic Capitol Theatre in Port Chester New York, Sheryl Crow played the final night of her ”Be Myself” tour. The show features Sheryl with her all new band in top form, performing new songs from her 8th studio album. featuring the Title Track ”Be Myself” along with her newest hits ”Halfway There” and ”Atom Bomb” , and featuring her classic hits including Comon’ Comon All I Wanna Do, Leaving Las Vegas , First Cut Is The Deepest, Soak Up The Sun, If It Makes You Happy and many more hits. We have all of that right here as well as a vintage Black and White flashback introduction of many Legends who have appeared on the Capitol Theatre stage over the years, interspersed with exclusive interview segments with Sheryl recently filmed at her Farm in Nashville. 

Her classic hits are all here and at their best.

Featuring: 

Every Day Is A Winding Road
A Change Would Do You Good
All I Wanna Do
My Favorite Mistake
Be Myself
Long Way Back Home
Run Baby Run
Can’t Cry Anymore
The First Cut Is The Deepest
Atom Bomb
Halfway There
There Goes The Neighborhood
Leaving Las Vegas
Strong Enough
Heartbeat Away
Roller Skate
Best of Times
If It Makes You Happy
Soak Up The Sun
Midnight Rider
I Shall Believe

 It is good to see Peter Stroud playing with Sheryl again and Audley Freed too. The musicianship wis excellent and Sheryl puts on a great show. Sheryl really blows the audience away, performing her biggest hits along with her newest songs from her “Be Myself” Album, which are all great including “Be Myself’ which is vintage Sheryl. The film production and editing is fantastic and the sound quality of the stereo and 5.1 mixes are superb .

“There Will Be No Miracles Here: A Memoir” by Casey Gerald— Political and Personal

Gerald, Casey. “There Will Be No Miracles Here: A Memoir”, Riverhead Books, 2018.

Political and Personal

Amos Lassen

Gerald Casey managed to write the most urgently political, most deeply personal, and most engagingly spiritual statement of our time while looking out of a window and within himself. by just looking outside his window and inside himself.  Casey came of age just as America was coming apart and his generation began to look for new ways to live.
This is the testament of a boy and a generation who came of age as the world came apart. His generation searches looked for a new way to live.
Casey’s story begins in Dallas on New Year’s Eve 1999 with the congregation of his grandfather’s black evangelical church. His beautiful mother disappears frequently and mysteriously and so he and his sister live like Boxcar Children on her disability checks.

Casey’s father was a football legend  and like him, Casey is recruited to play football at Yale. While at Yale,  he enters a world he’s never dreamed of but even as he enters the inner sanctums of power, Casey sees how the world crushes those who live on its margins. He sees how the elite perpetuate the salvation stories that keep others from rising and he understands that his own ascension is part of the scheme. 

 Casey begins and ends his memoir by describing a photograph of his family taken in the early 1990s, and he says,  “See the family,” Gerald writes, “Savor them. Soon they will be destroyed. They will destroy each other. They will destroy themselves.” This is prophetic voice, that he probably learned in his grandfather’s evangelical church.

After Yale, he interned at Lehman Brothers, and studied for an MBA at Harvard. However, his great love for the written word and the language of literature beckoned and he returned to Texas to find himself. His memoir, “There Will Be No Miracles Here” is a depiction of the causes and costs of “upward” mobility. It’s not a prescription so much as a diagnosis, and as a result, we question what it means to be successful.  Gerald’s love of the written is  what makes this such a wonderful read.

While on his journey, Gerald  learns plenty about his country, the elites who run it and the underclass that is subject to their rule.

Gerald shares stories from a journey that began when he was a boy in a poor Dallas neighborhood and he shows that there are no more miracles.

Gerald started to explore his sexual identity with the help of the internet. He did so in secret because he was just finding himself and playing sports.

Casey Gerald is now in his 30s and still defining himself by a standard that includes equal parts angst, irony and glimmers of hope. The definitions he finds are what he shares with us here. As a youth, Casey somehow
got the impression that being black in the United States was a positive trait. It wasn’t until he went to college that he began to understand that being black might mean having something negative. His memoir is written in the stream-of-consciousness tell-all style and pulls us on immediately., Casey depicts his family’s interactions as something like “a blaxploitation Fellini movie.” are difficult

I did not know anything about Casey before reading of this book. I learned that he is quite remarkable with two Ivy League degrees, was a Rhodes finalist, and is a black gay man. He gives us a life-like, vivid picture of the unintended consequences of the American dream and delves into the meaning of “success.”

“THE SUNDAY SESSIONS”— A Look at Conversion Therapy

“The Sunday Sessions”

A Look at Conversion Therapy

Amos Lassen

There has been a lot said lately about conversion therapy and the movies have always been a reflection of what is going on in society. We have already had one big budget film from major studio on the subject and here comes a film that is much smaller but every bit as effective.

In the documentary, “The Sunday Sessions”, a religious young man s identity is called into question when he visits a conversion therapist. For those of you who do not know, conversion therapy is the controversial process that aims to convert an individual’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. Although it has been discredited by all major medical, psychological, and professional counseling organizations, some therapists still offer conversion therapy for reasons almost exclusively rooted in a conservative religious belief system.

Nathan is struggling to reconcile his religious conviction and sexual identity. The filmmakers were given total access as Nathan willingly attends clandestine therapy sessions, family sessions, and weekend camps with a therapist. The documentary chronicles two years of his journey from acceptance to skepticism, all leading to a profound epiphany.

This is an intimate portrait of one man’s struggle and it shows how far we have to go as a society to create a place where people don’t have to choose between authenticity and faith. “Director Richard Yeagley offers the viewer an intensely harrowing inside look at one of the cruelest forms of homophobia. Yeagley has captured something that has rarely been documented and it is intimate and revealing, a behind the scenes expose of “the flawed and discredited practice of what has become known as conversion therapy.”

Audiences need to be aware, during viewing, that conversion therapy is centered around religion conviction that homosexuality is a mental illness or the devils work with the assumption participants can be converted back to “straight”. Richard Yeagley does not include his personal opinions and lets the audience decide for themselves.

This  is hard to watch because of its subject matter. The point of a documentary is to show real life and it powerfully does so. While the ending is somewhat unsatisfying, it shows the reality of life.

“As a City on a Hill: The Story of America’s Most Famous Lay Sermon” by Daniel T. Rogers— A Founding Document of American Identity

Rogers, Daniel T. “As a City on a Hill: The Story of America’s Most Famous Lay Sermon”, Princeton University Press, 2018.

A Founding Document of American Identity

Amos Lassen

In “As a City on a Hill”, writer Daniel T. Rogers explains how an obscure Puritan sermon came to be seen as a founding document of American identity and exceptionalism. John Winthrop in 1630 warned his fellow Puritans  that “For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill.” Then some 300 years later, three centuries later, Ronald Reagan remade that passage into a timeless celebration of American promise. Winthrop’s long-forgotten words were reinvented as a central statement of American identity and exceptionalism. Rodgers tells the surprising story of one of the most celebrated documents in the canon of the American idea. In doing so, he illuminates the ideas that Winthrop’s text carried in its own time and the sharply different yearnings that have been attributed to it since.

We read here “how much more malleable, more saturated with vulnerability, and less distinctly American Winthrop’s “Model of Christian Charity” was than the document that twentieth-century Americans invented.” Rodgers traces striking shifts in the meaning of Winthrop’s words over a 400 year period and from Winthrop’s own anxious reckoning with the scrutiny of the world, through Abraham Lincoln’s haunting reference to this “almost chosen people,” to the “city on a hill” that African Americans hoped to construct in Liberia, to the era of Donald Trump. It is a new and fascinating way to look at our history.

We see as we read how Winthrop’s words and ideas became part of American consciousness. We see this as a reflection on “how nationalism encourages the invention of “timeless” texts to straighten out the crooked realities of the past.”

Daniel Rodgers “argues that the comparison of America to a city on a hill that politicians often use, quoting from John Winthrop’s 1630 lay sermon ‘Model of Christian Charity,’ is not true to the sermon’s original sentiment and distorts the historical legacy of the passage”. It wasn’t until much later, during the Cold War, that writers and thinkers revisited the ‘Model’ in search of evidence of America’s universal nature and ignoring the text’s historical context, it regained popularity. Rodgers very successfully illuminates the strange history of ‘a text that we think we know so well that we barely know it at all.’”
Much of the sermon is relevant to contemporary issues of work, charity, welfare, and class.

I really did not think that I would be interested in this book and quite honestly, I dreaded having to read and review it. Within two pages, I fell in love with it and the amount of thought and research that went into the writing of it. It challenges assumptions that we have held for two long and is provocative and an insightful read.

We can no longer use the phrase ‘a city upon a hill’ to mean that America is the exceptional nation and model for all mankind. It was to mean almost the opposite and has been used and misused throughout American history.

“POSSUM”— A Psychological Thriller

“Possum”

A Psychological Thriller

Amos Lassen

Matthew Holness’s “Possum” is quiet, moody and turns out to be psychological rather than bodily in nature, about buried trauma rather than specters or killers. 

Philip (Sean Harris) is a  loner living in Norfolk who carries a leather duffel bag with him wherever he goes. We see him in various rural places trying to dispose of the bag; the film’s first shot shows him standing over it in the woods, before cutting away just as something stirs inside. The film then takes its time showing us what is in the bag: a monstrous-looking puppet with huge, realistically sculpted spider legs and a blanched, lifelike mask of a man’s face in fact, it resembles Philip but with a distressed expression. The puppet-creature is named Possum, as we gather from voiceover recitations of a children’s poem about it, and it’s haunts Philip. Whether he leaves the bag in the woods or throws it in a creek, the next day it’s back in his room, hanging on the wall. 

We see Philip wandering around Norfolk and staring vacantly into empty spaces for a good deal of the film. It seems that trying to find a place to dispose of his bag or relive traumatic memories. These memories are depicted in symbolic images of Possum coming to life. Revisiting many of the same spaces, Philip seems to want to master this trauma, which may have something to do with the closed door in the run-down home he shares with a strangely hostile man named Maurice (Alun Armstrong). Every day Philip approaches the door, but he cannot bring himself to open it. What’s behind that door becomes the central mystery of the film. 

Philip lives in a hostile, dilapidated, and largely empty world, and he’s beset by strange visions and forced to confront the darker side of his psyche.  There are some hauntingly ambiguous images—such as the recurring, anomalous shots of black smoke that billow around a bundle of colorful balloons—but when the film finally travels through that mysterious door, what lies behind it isn’t as bracingly awful as we expect. 

“Possum” builds toward a revelation and that revelation is surprisingly reliant on dialogue. The creeping strangeness of the atmosphere is well constructed, but the film never realizes the horrifying final confrontation with Philip’s repressed trauma that it seems to promise throughout

Philip is coming home to rural Norfolk but is not look too happy about it. He does not have happy memories of his childhood in the village, but the shy, hulking brute really does not have any happy memories, from anywhere. The details are mysterious, but we imagine that Philip has returned under a cloud. His boyhood home will not exactly cheer him up, especially since he has to share it with his c cruel step-father, Morris and whatever-it-is in his leather satchel.

Philip just can’t ditch the bag, not matter how hard he tries. Regardless of its true nature, Morris takes sadistic glee in needling Philip over his deference to it. “Possum” may have implicated Philip in the presumed abduction of a local teen while he was in a dissociative state—as he has perhaps done before. The audience gets a prolonged feeling of dread.

Sean Harris and Alun Armstrong are remarkably good together. Harris makes it viscerally clear that Phillip is missing something. In contrast, Armstrong’s sly Maurice could be a real villain, if he were not so tacky and gross.

“Possum” explores the nightmarish nostalgia of Philip, a puppeteer who returns to his childhood home. That home is a frozen memory with school satchel and rope still hanging from a peg in the hall opposite a crucifix. This subtle religious imagery ties together Philip’s childhood with feelings of penitential guilt surrounding the disappearance of a classmate, which he feels he might have been able to prevent.

The embodiment of his fears lies in the bag that he carries. Inside is ‘Possum,’ a puppet with gangling spider’s legs and its own theme-poem written by Philip:

The tone of the film is a manic montage reflecting Philip’s descent into madness at being unable to destroy his puppet. The titular Possum is itself a terrifying creation By the film’s close, expect to find yourself checking that space in your own room.  

“IN A RELATIONSHIP”— The Five Year Itch

“In a Relationship”

The Five Year Itch

Amos Lassen

 “In a Relationship” is set against the backdrop of a Los Angeles summer. Director Sam Boyd (in his directorial debut) based the screenplay on his acclaimed 2015 short film.  What the film does in essence is take the romantic comedy genre and takes away a lot of the nonsense that people find annoying.

We have Hallie (Emma Roberts) and Owen (Michael Angarano),  Hallie’s cousin, Willa (Dree Hemingway) and Owen’s buddy, Matt (Patrick Gibson).  As Hallie and Owen are the July 4th Independence Day holiday, Willa and Matt are allowing their relationship to row. 

Despite their issues, Hallie makes the suggestion of moving in with Owen as a way to help with his rent payment issues.  She’s spending so much time at his place so naturally, it makes perfect sense.  By August, things have reached the point in their relationship in which they decide that it’s time for a break.

Matt has some quirks of his own. He lives at home with his parents, both of whom he says are “working on a Marvel movie in Atlanta.”  By taking his parents out of the picture for a few months, we manage to avoid any parental conflict that has become so cliché.

The characters feel real enough and have chemistry.  There’s some interesting moments that take place following the break-up but it’s best experienced without knowing what happens. What seem like vapid arguments by superficial people become intriguing as Boyd investigates all the posturing that goes on, with no one ever really articulating what they want as they stay in unhealthy relationships to keep up appearances. As Owen and Hallie’s romance  that begins to fizzle, Matt and Willow’s starts to take off, yet both have the same creaky foundation that the people involved aren’t connected to each other so much as an idea of where they think they should be in their twenties, trying to be adults more than in name only.

After about 5 years of dating, Hallie and Owen’s relationship has hit an odd pointe. Marriage isn’t something that is really talked about but it not being talked about seems strange in itself. Hallie is pretty much at Owen’s apartment all the time but he doesn’t want to move in together so…

But the film isn’t just about Owen and Hallie trying to figure out if their relationship has run its course or not. Hallie’s best friend Willa is in a relationship with Owen’s childhood friend Matt, and we see the ups and downs of their relationship. While Owen and Hallie exhibit the issues that come from being together as long as they have, Matt and Willa deal with not just the newness of their relationship, but also their clash of personalities. Matt is a nice guy, of an actually interesting variety, while Willa who doesn’t adhere to respectability politics. We wonder if  there will be a happy ending, a realistic ending, or a mix of both when it comes to these two couples.

There are quite a bit of compare and contrasts at play in the script which compares not just the relationships, but each character’s approach to relationships, how they approach love, and how they destroy or maintain it. Hallie and Matt are the types who seem like what they are looking for is long-term love with deep commitments. Then, on the other side, Owen and Willa who seem to enjoy honeymoon phase, but once things get too serious, they are ready to start sabotaging things.

 Hallie is at a point in her life where her career is taking off and with that, like perhaps a lot of millennials, there is this question of why one aspect of her life is progressing while the other is stagnant. At this point of Matt’s life, the validation he seeks in a relationship is just the idea of being worthy of being the only one someone sees.

For Willa, normalcy is unavailability and inconsistency. So with Matt giving and expecting this, she sabotages the relationship by venturing to what she was used to versus what she comes to realize she wants.

Owen would rather leave on a high than face the unknown and the challenges beyond the honeymoon phase. This pushes Hallie to wonder if there are guys like Matt out there for Willa. No one is seen as a bad person and there aren’t grand gestures to get back with someone. Everything is rooted in reality so while secrets are found out, people try to reconcile, tears are shed and hookups happen, they are no dramatic blow-ups.

The film is simply a slice of life. We see people have sex, argue, do boring things with one another, talk about their past, their future, their careers, drink and do drugs, and all without much in the way of flair. Nothing is sensationalized.

“The Real News!: The Never-Before-Told Stories of Donald Trump & Fake News!” by John Bernard Ruane— The Real Story

Ruane, John Bernard. “The Real News!: The Never-Before-Told Stories of Donald Trump & Fake News!”, Post Hill Press, 2018.

The Real Story

Amos Lassen

I remember when we used to laugh at some of the things that Donald Trump said but that was before he was “elected” president (lower case “p” is deliberate) of the United States and while we still might laugh. We do so with fear and disrespect for the highest office of this country. Without a doubt, Trump is the most controversial public figure in the world. What is so sad is that not only is he not qualified for public office but there is so much about hum that we do not know. Just the fact that he considers the media to be fake is enough for us to disrespect everything he says.

Journalist John Ruane takes us behind the scenes of Trump’s presidency and gives us a hilarious compilation of shocking news including the following: 

“A thrilling exposé on President Trump’s confirmed shooting of someone on Fifth Avenue to find out if he still had public support”.

“An all-access pass to Melania Trump’s unfiltered opinion of her husband”.

 “The secret meeting in the Oval Office where President Trump developed a plan to avoid the Washington Post’s fact-checkers and Pinocchio ratings”.

“The exclusive on the Democratic Party’s Secret Six, who discovered President Trump’s greatest weakness to gain his support on gun control”.

“ The untold story of former President Obama taking a flying leap off the Brooklyn Bridge”.

“The inside story on Oprah Winfrey’s final decision on running for president”.

Now all of this might sound quite funny but when we realize that so much of this is the truth, it loses laughs quickly.

John Ruane brings together satire and politics to give us a new way to look Donald Trump. We have learned in the past that political humor is not always funny but rarely has it been this sad before. We see how Trump’s remarks have had an impact on the political system both locally and internationally and while this is quite a fun read, it can also be seen as quite frightening. When comedy has serious irony and satire, it ceases to be funny and is taken for what it is and that is not “fake news.
Ruane looks at Trump and pokes fun at him but not in a mean or disrespectful way (something neither I or my friends would be able to do). Regardless of where you are politically, you will have plenty to laugh at here. Ruane is bipartisan in the way he explains how the American government got to where it is.

The book is a quick, fun read, with each chapter/story being self-contained.  It is up to you if you want to take it seriously.

“Santa’s Kinky Elf, Simon” by Damian Serbu— Not an Ordinary Christmas Story

Serbu, Damian. “Santa’s Kinky Elf, Simon”, Ninestar Press, 2018.

Not an Ordinary Christmas Story

Amos Lassen

Before you read Damian Serbu’s Christmas novella, “Santa’s Kinky Elf, Simon”, you might want to forget all you know about Christmas. Santa has decided that the time has come to reveal who he really is— a vampire. (He is eternal is he not and he does not seem to age from year to year. Santa always looks like Santa. Thinking about how to reveal this, Santa decides that the best advanced publicity comes from reality stories and he drafts Simon the Elf, a captive former human, to hit Chicago for the holidays and strike up a romance.

Santa knows his importance in the world and therefore wants Simon to document everything, so that people will understand what it is to live as a slave before the big story hits the streets.  give people a taste for life under Santa’s enslavement before the main story hits. Simon, at first, wants no part of this and resists Santa. He knows that any romance he finds will be short Forced to the Second City against his will, Simon at first resists Santa’s orders, knowing a romance would be short and cause some innocent victim to enter Santa’s depraved world.

What Simon did not take into account (and there was no way that he could have) was that he would meet a great and charming guy with a sharp wit and hot and sexy to boot.
Simon is enchanted by Jonah all the while knowing that what was to come would be horrible. Tragedy awaits the both of them. Santa captured and enslaved Simon… the old man is a vampire with a taste for death. He forces Simon to look for love in the gay bars of Chicago and then… (Did you ever notice that if you rearrange the letters in Santa’s name, you get an evil name that we have all been taught to fear?). The idea for the story is clever and Damian Serbu is a fine writer (who knows about vampires) and while I have never personally celebrated Christmas, there is something about the season that is intoxicating. However, here there is quite a different feeling.

I have long been a far of Damian Serbu and I anxiously await his literary output. He manages to give us characters who are “morally ambiguous” and that is exactly what we have in our elf, Simon. I got the feeling that this is the beginning of something that is yet to come from its author. I would love to read an expanded edition of the story and I have the feeling  that it is not far off.

I realize that I have not said a lot about what happens in the plot and that is because I do not want to spoil anyone’s read. I recommend picking up a copy of this for s fun holiday read and remember to think twice before you sit on Santa’s lap this year.