Category Archives: Film

“SURGE”— A Change of Behavior

“SURGE”

A Change of Behavior

Amos Lassen

Joseph (Ben Whishaw) is a British airport security officer who responds to his alienating environment by snapping and going on a crime spree. Director Aneil Karia, however, takes us away from the fantasy of white male grievance that it could have been.

Joseph’s snap is more of a crumbling as we see when Joseph has to pat down an older traveler who seems to recognize him. Joseph has never met him before, can’t remember him, or won’t acknowledge any past with him. The man complains that the metal-detector wand is burning his skin and tells Joseph to follow him in exactly 63 seconds before running, only for security to immediately subdue him. Even if the man doesn’t know Joseph, he suggests that they are comrades in psychosis, allowing Joseph to recognize some kind of aberration in himself, even though it might just be a product of his imagination.

Joseph’s reaction escalates by doing a favor for his co-worker, Lily (Jasmine Jobson), by fixing her television set. The job calls for a cheap cable, but when the ATM eats his bank card, he goes to the bank, but they won’t accept his bus pass as identification. He writes a note saying he has a gun, and the teller empties the register. The bank robbery, combined with that of the unanticipated sex he has with Lily begins a chain reaction of norm-shattering behavior.

Filmed with a handheld camera that remains close to Whishaw’s face is both nauseating and exhilarating as we see Joseph’s disorientation.  

Joseph revenges himself on objects and his spree is seen as inevitableand inevitably short-lived. Bythe end,  Joseph’s gun turns out to be a banana and the wounds he’s sustained to his face become joyful.

Whitshaw’s performance is incredible and burning. He provokes people into beating him up on the streets of London but by the end his whole experience is like being trapped in a broken-down subway car with a mental patient.

Joseph’s increasingly manic mood is so strange that it’s almost believable. The film continues with incident after incident, until it just stops giving us very little about Joseph except that he’s very unhappy.

Frantic, kinetic energy propels the film but it never seems entirely sure where it has been or where it is going.

“THE UNIVERSALITY OF IT ALL”— “We are all part of the same story…”

“THE UNIVERSALITY OF IT ALL”

“We are all part of the same story…”

Amos Lassen

Shot in Paris, Berlin, London, New York, USA, Sarasota, Vancouver, San Jose, and Costa Rica, “The Universality of It All” is focuses human migration and inequality. The film is intimate and informative explaining the complexity of human migration through important data and information and shows that these affect the reality of two friends and their daily lives.

 Emad is a refugee from Yemen living in Vancouver who realizes the interconnectedness of all the major events of the 21st century. We are taken around the world, looking at different cases of migration from an economic and historical perspective and understanding the life, thoughts, and experiences of Emad. The juxtaposition between narratives allows us to see the similarities and correlations that are common to all migrations. 

We also look at climate change, colonialism, neoliberalism, globalization, identity politics, fertility rates, wealth gaps, trade wars, terrorism, and the media.

Interviewees include Catherine De Withol (Research Director at the French National Centre for Scientific Research), Radha S. Hedge (Professor in the Department of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University), Ives Charbit (Professor of Demography, University Paris Descartes), Carlos Sandoval (Columbia Journalism School) and Nicolas Boeglin (Professor of International Law at the Law Faculty, University of Costa Rica).

What we see is that“everything is connected”.

“WITKIN & WITKIN”— Twin Artist Brothers

“WITKIN & WITKIN”

Twin Artist Brothers

Amos Lassen

“Witkin & Witkin” explores the artistic achievements of identical twin brothers Jerome and Joel-Peter  Witkin. Jerome is a painter, Joel-Peter a photographer and each is a noted figure in his field. They grew up in great physical and emotional proximity but now they speak and live a significant distance apart, the one in upstate New York, the other in New Mexico.

Recently, they have begun to exhibit together. The film follows each sibling on his own and also takes us to Mexico City for their first joint international show, where the Witkins are surprised to see, that they share certain themes in their work. Director Trisha Ziff tells the story of each brother’s journey from twin to individual, how and why they grew apart as we learn what their creative expression means to them and to the world.

Jerome is a mostly figurative artist who often tackles socio-political subjects in his paintings; Joel-Peter analyzes similar topics, but does through surrealist tableaux where models wear costumes while frozen in provocative poses. Their falling-out seems to be based, at least in part, on the fact that Jerome blossomed early as a painter and was seen as a genius right away, while Joel-Peter had to find his own way. Jerome is an introspective introvert while Joel-Peter is an extrovert. This perhaps explains their differences.

We learn about their lives. Both have suffered losses Jerome lost a son, Joel-Peter lost a wife  and now they are almost 80. Each twin is unorthodox and unique in his own way and their story is an intimate portrait of their relationship— a meditation on art and a vivid biographical look at the two men.

“LEGEND”— Limited Edition, 2-Disc Limited Edition

“LEGEND”

Limited Edition, 2-Disc Limited Edition

Amos Lassen

Director Ridley Scott and writer William Hjortsberg have created a breathtaking cinematic fairytale with one of the screen’s most beautiful depictions of Evil. In an idyllic forest, the pure-hearted Jack (Tom Cruise) takes his true love Princess Lili (Mia Sara) to see a pair of unicorns at the forest’s edge. Little do they know, however, that the Lord of Darkness (Tim Curry) has dispatched his minions to capture the unicorns and cut off their horns so that he may take the world into everlasting night. After Lili and the unicorns are taken prisoner, Jack must form a group of forest creatures and enter Darkness’ subterranean lair to deal with the devilish creature before it is too late. “Legend” has been restored to Scott’s original cut to give us his unique vision of a world beyond our imagination.

The plot and other aspects of the film  are somewhat problematic, however yet we get a hint that “Legend” could have been something truly special on all counts, but  it never quite made it. 

Set in a fantasy universe, the film opens with the Lord Of Darkness upset that something as pure and good as unicorns still exists in the forests. He sends one of his followers off to try and destroy them, as he himself is so evil he can’t go out in the sun and do it himself. In the forest is nature-boy Jack  who is friends with a beautiful princess. He takes her to see the unicorns, but when she breaks the rules of the forest and touches one of the animals, she may have sealed the world’s fate and that an age of darkness is soon to come.

This leads Jack on a quest that brings him into contact with all kinds of characters in a bid to save the world – and possibly the Princess too from going into darkness.

It’s a fairly simple story and to be honest it suffers for that. The script assumes that because this is a fantasy world, everything will be taken on faith. Jack’s a forest boy, but we never really learn what that means, and we never really find out what Mia Sara is the princess of. Everything feels random and it’s difficult to truly care about what happens and this is a shame because of the visual feast that the movie presents. This fantasy world never goes deep. The film is amazing to watch but it is frustrating because so much is not explained.

Absolute evil is pitted against absolute good  in a battle for the soul of the land. It all hinges on a pair of unicorns, one of which is made vulnerable by the touch of a beautiful but foolish princess. Fascinating in the way only a wrongheaded film by a great filmmaker can be, there is beautiful imagery, but the story keeps it in the  land of kitsch.

Much of this is due to the dullness of the characters. Mia Sara’s princess is one of those celebrated visions of loveliness but she has no personality at all, though she does undergo a shift into something more interesting toward the end. Tom Cruise’s earnest young hero is sweet but bland. Tim Curry gets the plum role, hamming it up gloriously as the demon Darkness, but he’s hampered by a costume that undermines the imagery of the film. But I love this film even with all if my criticism.

Some of the special features include:

  • Theatrical Cut Isolated Score: Also of interest is the disc’s Isolated Music Score, which features uncut music cues by Tangerine Dream. While the cues fall out of sync with the picture on occasion, they’ve been intentionally preserved to focus on as much of the music as possible. Other scenes incorporate alternate cues that were not used in the final film.
  • Creating a Myth: The Making ofLegend (SD, 51 minutes): Strange, lyrical opening aside, “Creating a Myth” is a terrific behind-the-scenes documentary that charts the course of the film’s production, from its earliest stages of development to its enduring legacy as a fantasy film. Key members of the cast and crew are on hand to discuss anything and everything fans could possibly want to learn about, and little ground is left uncovered.
  • Lost Scenes(SD, 13 minutes): Two scenes are available — “Alternate Opening: Four Goblins” and “The Faerie Dance” — both of which look every bit as terrible and incomplete as you might imagine. two unfinished, long-lost scenes would.
  • Music Video(SD, 5 minutes): Bryan Ferry’s “Is Your Love Strong Enough.”
  • Photo Gallery(HD): More than ninety images are included.
  • Theatrical Trailers(SD, 3 minutes)
  • TV Spots(SD, 2 minutes)

“DEAD PIGS”— Social Satire and Family Drama in Modern China

“DEAD PIGS”

Social Satire and Family Drama in Modern China

Amos Lassen

Cathy Yan’s “Dead Pigs” is made up of intertwining stories of those living through social modernization in Shanghai. We see the stories of a man in financial trouble in the wake of the death of his pig stock and an investment that went wrong, a woman who refuses to leave her family home that is being destroyed for gentrification purposes, and a troubled young man in love with a wealthy woman and they both fail to understand their different worlds. As the stories progress we see how these character’s stories come together interpersonally, and within the city undergoing change.

Dead Pigs opens with Wang (Haoyu Yang) buying a virtual reality set. He is mesmerized by the abilities that technology has to immerse people. He is then met with a pack of dead pigs that have died mysteriously. The characters reflect the growth of Shanghai and its and it becomes clear from the onset that the character’s involvement in the new world is limited.

On the same day Wang makes his purchase, a swine plague strikes his village. The local river is soon infested with hundreds of dumped pig carcasses. Wang can’t repay his debts and falls prey to ruthless local thugs.

Wang’s sister, Candy, (Vivian Wu) is the successful owner of a beauty salon. Her motto is “There are no ugly women. Only lazy ones!”  and this also is a slogan for a China where failure is stigmatized and success must constantly be performed openly. Candy clashes with her bungling brother over his haphazard business affairs.

Wang’s mistakes show Candy’s own crisis. Candy may be an image of icy perfection, but she is a sentimental at heart.

She holds onto to ramshackle family home. When she’s pressured by developers, the stage is set for Candy’s showdown against progress.

Director Yan looks at some moral complexities of late-capitalism in China. In a parallel thread, Wang’s son, Zhen (Mason Lee), barely makes it, working as a waiter at a restaurant in Shanghai. Rather than tell his father the truth about his job, he pretends to be successful. He then falls for a young, lonely socialite, Xia Xia (Li Meng).

Zhen and Xia Xia’s quasi-romance never touches on class difference or social status in any meaningful way since Yan gives us a fantasy about the rich helping the poor. Yan doesn’t say much condemning the developers’ urge to imitate. The new China, like the old Wang’s virtual reality, is a puzzling simulation. The characters aren’t as worried about aesthetic or cultural claims to authenticity as they are about finding a place in the new pecking order.

The film follows the effects of a singular event across different strata in modern-day China.

THE ULTIMATE RICHARD PRYOR COLLECTION: UNCENSORED

“The Picasso of our profession”
–  Jerry Seinfeld
“Complete genius”
– Jamie Foxx
“Transcendent”
– Jon Stewart
“There’ll never be anybody as important as Richard Pryor.”
– Howie Mandel
THIS SEPTEMBER, EXPERIENCE GREATNESS WITH
A REMARKABLE DVD COLLECTION BRINGING TOGETHER THE
VERY BEST OF THE MOST INFLUENTIAL COMEDIAN OF ALL TIME
— NEVER BEFORE AVAILABLE!
THE ULTIMATE RICHARD PRYOR COLLECTION: UNCENSORED
Capturing the Full Scope of Pryor’s Groundbreaking, Rule-Bashing Career,
This 13-Disc Set, Packed with More Than 26 Hours of Raw, Uncensored Pryor – from His Unforgettable Stand-up to His Fan-Favorite TV Appearances and Shows – Along with Never-Before-Released Footage, Acclaimed Documentaries and a No-Holds-Barred Interview with Pryor’s Widow, Jennifer Lee Pryor,
Will Be Available Exclusively at TimeLife.com/RichardPryor
Fairfax, VA (September 13, 2021) — Richard Pryor was born to tell it like it is. From Peoria, Illinois poverty to Hollywood affluence. From abandonment by his mother to adoration from millions. From school class clown to one of the top entertainers of the ‘70s and ‘80s. From tragedy to triumph and back again, Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor (December 1, 1940 – December 10, 2005) was a legendary stand-up and multi-talented entertainer who reached a broad audience with his keen observations and storytelling style, and is widely regarded as one of the most influential comedians of all time.
This September, get ready to experience greatness when Time Life releases THE ULTIMATE RICHARD PRYOR COLLECTION: UNCENSORED. Featuring all of Pryor’s most memorable stand-up and television performances together in one collection for the very first time, the 13-disc collector’s set contains more than 26 incredible hours of comedy. The groundbreaking stand-up, the mesmerizing TV appearances, the NBC show that was too hot for TV, and so much more.
Raw, sometimes shocking and always thrilling, Pryor — a once-in-a-generation innovator — pushed the envelope and was almost single-handly responsible for the comedy evolution that continues to this day. He won an Emmy®, five Grammys®, was the recipient of the very first Mark Twain Prize for American Humor (1998) and in 2017, Rolling Stoneranked him #1 on its list of the 50 best stand-up comics of all time. There has simply never been a comedian like him: totally genius and outrageously funny, and that’s on full display in this superlative set, which features:
  • All four of Richard’s full-length concert films – Live & Smokin, Live in Concert, Live on the Sunset Strip, and Here and Now
  • Richard’s 1977 NBC TV Special and all four controversial episodes of The Richard Pryor Show, featuring Robin Williams, Sandra Bernhard, Tim Reid, Marsha Warfield, and more!
  • Richard’s most memorable TV appearances on The Merv Griffin Show, The Dick Cavett Show, and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
  • The feature film, Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling, written, produced, and directed by Pryor
  • Never-before-released footage from Richard’s infamous first film, Uncle Tom’s Fairy Tales, lost since 1968
  • Exclusive footage of Richard’s final performances and a tribute event at The Comedy Store
  • Two acclaimed documentary films – Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic and I Am Richard Pryor
  • Extras including deleted scenes, outtakes, and a no-holds-barred interview with Richard’s widow, Jennifer Lee Pryor
  • Plus, a Collector’s Booklet with personal photos, diary entries, tour notes and more!
Pryor’s comedy will live on forever in our hearts, our minds and now in THE ULTIMATE RICHARD PRYOR COLLECTION: UNCENSORED, available exclusively from Time Life at TimeLife.com/RichardPryor.
About Time Life
Time Life is one of the world’s pre-eminent creators and direct marketers of unique music and video/DVD products, specializing in distinctive multi-media collections that evoke memories of yesterday, capture the spirit of today, and can be enjoyed for a lifetime. TIME LIFE and the TIME LIFE logo are registered trademarks of Time Warner Inc. and affiliated companies used under license by Direct Holdings Americas Inc., which is not affiliated with Time Warner Inc. or Time Inc.

“DEMIGOD”— A Horror Film

“DEMIGOD”

A Horror Film

Amos Lassen

When her grandfather dies, Robin (Rachel Nichols) and her husband Leo (Yohance Myles) return to her birthplace in Germany’s Black Forest where they find a terrifying secret. At her grandfather’s secluded hunting cabin, Robin realizes that the inheritance left behind for her is far more macabre than she had bargained for.

Robin dismisses the legends as stories told after too much whiskey, but things quickly become quite dark as she and her husband are confronted by Druid-like figures who summon forth the horned god. In Celtic traditions, Cernunnos is depicted with large antlers and worshipped as the “lord of wild things.” Historic texts about the god no longer exist and he is often thought to be the god of nature, hunting, and fertility..

Robin learned that her huntsman grandfather has died and left her all his worldly possessions but a terrifying secret forces her to face her family’s past and a mysterious ritual she thought was a fairy tale.

“THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING”— Campy Science Fiction

“THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING”

Campy Science Fiction

Amos Lassen

Aplant-man falls in love with Dr. Arcane’s daughter and must rescue her from her father’s nefarious and murderous plans. If you like campy over the top humor, this is a film for you and surprisingly this film is much more comedy than it is action or even sci-fi. Once you understand it’s more about campy fun and over the top acting you’ll enjoy yourself. This is 80s schlock and has plenty to enjoy if you’re into “so bad it’s good” cinema.

This is, of course, a sequel to Wes Craven’s original “Swamp Thing” but it doesn’t carry over much from the original. Louis Jourdan continues his dastardly ways as Anton Arcane and Dick Durock plays Swamp Thing. Aside from that the entire premise is more about superhero versus villain with a strange romantic subplot and plenty of stupid henchmen to say and do stupid things. Since it’s so campy it’s hard to take it too seriously especially when Abigail Arcane (Heather Locklear) falls in love with Swamp Thing because he’s strong and saves her. It’s worth a look however because it leads to a somewhat erotic and strange sex scene between the two and an interesting happy ending.

This is much more a superhero movie than a monster film and is evident the minute Swamp Thing shows up. He stops a monster from killing some redneck hunters. The film was made in 1989 when special effects are all practical and on a low-budget. Aside from punching and throwing his enemies, for instance, Swamp Thing doesn’t have powers beyond regeneration. There’s a great moment where he does grow back, but he seems to have learned his lesson.

The comedy goes from bad to so bad it’s good. The delivery of lines can be iffy at best and there are scenes that run on to serve a bit rather than do anything for the story. This was superhero movie making before anyone got it right and it’s fascinating to see how much of a mishmash the film was. There’s comedy, straight action, and classic sci-fi elements that don’t quite come together and that’s evidence they were still trying to figure things out.

Before the credits, we get a sequence where a bunch of hunters are out in the swamp.  One man gets separated and attacked by a leech-faced monster.  Fortunately for him, Swamp Thing shows up and goes all super-hero on the monster, tossing it out of frame. 

At the Arcane manor, we are treated to bizarre characters.  The lead scientist is a nerdy man who has a weird fetish for monsters, while the lead mercenary is one step away is an idiot.  He is often shadowed by an equally-quirky and violent woman. Arcane is working on some sort of mysterious project and angered by Swamp Thing’s mere existence. 

Arcane unleashes his master plan and gets around to explaining some things.  His men show blow up Swamp Thing  who restores himself and goes to attack the mansion. Before he can confront Arcane, we learn that the lead scientist is now a monster.  The big fight lasts a few minutes before the new monster is killed.  During all of this, Arcane does nothing.  Swamp Thing leaves with the near-dead girl and the house blows up…killing Arcane. 

This movie is fun, actually even though the whole thing is silly, makes almost no sense and is really over-the-top.  It doesn’t try to win any Academy Awards- it’s just fun. 

Bonus features include: Photo Gallery (accompanied by Chuck Cirino\x27s film\x27s score), 1989 Promo Reel (, 6 Promotional TV Clips , 2 TV Spots, 2 Greenpeace Public Service Announcements, Original Theatrical Trailer (New HD Transfer from original 35mm materials), Interview with Lightyear Entertainment Executive Arnie Holland , Interview with Editor Leslie Rosenthal, Interview with Composer Chuck Cirino , Interview with Director Jim Wynorski, Audio commentary from Director Jim Wynorski , Audio commentary from Director Jim Wynorski, Composer Chuck Cirino and Editor Leslie Rosenthal, DVD made from Brand-New 2K High-Definition Transfer , Original 2.0 and 5.1 Stereo Audio

“HARRY & SNOWMAN”— A Man and His Horse

“HARRY & SNOWMAN”

A Man and His Horse

Amos Lassen

Dutch immigrant Harry DeLeyer came to the United States after World War II and “developed a transformative relationship with a broken down Amish plow horse that he rescued off a slaughter truck headed for the glue factory. Harry paid eighty dollars for the horse and named him Snowman. In less than two years, Harry & Snowman went on to win the triple crown of show jumping, beating the nation’s top pedigree horses and wealthiest socialites. They became famous and traveled around the world together.” It was the chance meeting at a Pennsylvania horse auction that saved them both and brought about a friendship that lasted a lifetime.

This is the unbelievable story of a deep friendship between man and horse. Harry risked his life during his Dutch teen years to rescue fallen American soldiers from Nazi threat. Coming to the United States with not much more than the shirt on his back, he became a trainer and instructor at a prestigious girls’ school. For $80 he bought an old plow horse on its way to being turned into horse meat. This began a bond between them. When the horse was then sold, he kept jumping his neighbor’s fence to return to the man who saved him. Harry bought the horse back and the two become friends and collaborators in an unexpected jumping career that won Snowman back-to-back Horse of the Year awards at the largest and most important horse show in America. Harry went against the blue-blood establishment with his daring equestrian moves atop the white plow horse. Headlines of 1950s newspapers announced their victories and Snowman’s talent won Harry the reputation and respect he’d always strived for. Harry’s wife and eight children all work the horse farm with him, but his need to excel sometimes put the family’s wishes and well-being at risk.

Written and directed by Ron Davis, this   is a documentary about an immigrant and the horse who makes him famous. Snowman was considered part of Harry’s family. Snowman joined the family on trips to the beach; he was as much a family pet as he was a prize winning champion. It is the friendship between Harry and Snowman, and the adoration the DeLeyer family have for Snowman, now long gone, frame this film.

Harry is described on several occasions as a ‘tough’ father, although of his eight children only three are interviewed for the film, the rest are curiously absent. Harry has a mildly arrogant streak, which is possibly tempered with age. The breakdown of Harry’s marriage as a result of his preoccupation with his horses is only briefly discussed. Harry’s involvement in the resistance in World War Two is brushed aside by Harry and his brothers with comments that they don’t like to talk about that time. This film is about Harry’s relationship with a horse he saved, and the successes they shared from their fruitful companionship. But without interrogating anything else, this film seems incomplete, as though something is missing.

Yet as a story about persistence and the immigrant made good and as a story about the bond between a man and his horse, this film works. However, there is the sense that there is part of the story is left untold.

“ESCAPE FROM AREA 51”— Conspiracy Theorists

“ESCAPE FROM AREA 51”

Conspiracy Theorists

Amos Lassen

“ESCAPE FROM AREA 51” begins when a group of teenage conspiracy theorists try to raid the infamous military base, Area 51, in the Nevada desert. No one gets in  but someone gets out. 

Sheera (Donna D’Errico), a sexy alien warrior uses a power glitch and escapes from captivity at Area 51. Her using a portal gun sets off an energy signature which attracts the attention of her arch-rival in space Sklarr (Chris Browning). She must now elude an Area 51 scientist, as well as Sklarr, to rescue her fellow warrior and find her way back to her planet.

The film is short coming in atonly one hour and sixteen minutes long but it seems to be a lot longer because of bad acting, bad visual effects, bad lighting and bad everything. This is a modern version of those old cheesy Sci Fi films that were so bad that they were hilarious.