Category Archives: Film


“The Reports on Sarah and Saleem”

Power and Privilege

Amos Lassen

Muayad Alayan’s Palestinian drama “The Reports on Sarah and Saleem” is, in his own words, about  “an extramarital affair in Jerusalem that ignites a dangerous game of deceit between those who hold power and those who don´t”).

Sarah (Sivane Kretchner) is a Jewish café owner in West Jerusalem and is married to David, a colonel in the Israel Defense Forces and have a young daughter.  She is known for  closing up her shop because of her husband´s relocations. Now David is waiting for a promotion and this means that they will be moving once it comes through.

Arab Saleem (Adeeb Safadi),  lives in East Jerusalem and works in West Jerusalem delivering bakeries. His low-paying job is a problem since his wife Bisan will soon give birth to their first child. Bisan´s brother is helping them make ends meet while Bisan hints she is studying. Saleem feels emasculated in  his conservatively-gender-stereotypical environment, and Sarah is frustrated with her distance husband and has too much work on her hands. These feelings from both of them lead them into the back of Saleem´s van for sessions of steamy sex at dusk. There are no deep emotions attached and the sex is purely therapeutic reasons. This sexual hook-up is supposed to be temporary and insignificant, and they develop a secure routine. Saleem’s attemps to raise more money leads him to accept his brother-in-law’s offer to smuggle items to Bethlehem late at night.

On one fateful night, Saleem cuts short the session with Sarah because of a delivery. Sarah decides to accompany him, and while being aware of the bad combination of Arab and Jew and Bethlehem, she tries to pose as a European tourist. A conflict with a local emerges after he adamantly hits on Sarah and Saleem loses his temper.

As soon as the secret affair crashes with the politics of the territory, the film becomes a political thriller and social drama about the history of the region and the current stereotypes controlling it, such as racism. A friend of Sarah´s, for example, does not care she is cheating on her husband, but on the fact she is cheating with an Arab.

Muayad and Rami Alayan are brothers who made the film. They unite  arthouse drama and a political thriller shrouded as an illicit affair. The dramatic plot, street action and a suspicion of treason included, builds up suspense and pulse-racing rhythm. Rami Alayan, who wrote the screenplay succeeds in weaving all the local particularities into the script without  trying to school the audience.

In the end, whatever the two of them may have felt, the weight of other people’s imagination is sufficient to do the damage. Because it’s not just about the fact that they’re married to other people – it’s about the fact that she’s Israeli and he’s Palestinian.

“ALL YOU EVER WISHED FOR”— A Romantic Comedy


A Romantic Comedy

Amos Lassen

 Tyler Hutton (Darren Criss) is a young New York fashion executive whose business trip to Milan becomes very strange when he is kidnapped for ransom and taken to a remote Alpine village.  Neither he nor the men who kidnapped him know that the cottage where they spend the night is under a gypsy love spell.  Upon waking up the next morning and this meant that each of the men fall in love with the first living soul they see. Tyler becomes smitten by Rosalia (Madalina Ghenea), a beauty with a sharp tongue and reluctant heart.

Tyler Hutton came to Milan to manage a deal that can make him understand the importance and delicacy of the family business. Arriving in Italy, he is however abducted by 3 inept rogues who, in an attempt to obtain a huge sum as ransom, take him with them to a mountain refuge. The four end up in a small mountain community, where they suffer the effect of a mysterious spell, able to make the affected person fall in love with the first person that happens under the eyes. Thus Tyler ends up being enchanted by Rosalia (Madalina Ghenea), who runs a local inn.

This is essentially a fairy tale for children and is filled with childish humor. I doubt adults will enjoy this film. With a thin and linear plot and based on themes that have been used and reused over and over (the contrast between the rural environment and the city and/or love between people of the opposite social class), the film has not much going for it.

I really wanted to like this film but couldn’t because it is so weak. It just all seems so artificial with its embarrassing sketches and subplots.

“THE SOWER”— When the Men Are Gone


When the Men Are Gone

Amos Lassen

“The Sower” is a true story that tells us what happens when all the men disappear from a remote Alpine village that needs to procreate and regenerate in order to survive. Set in 1852 after the army of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte crushes the resistance of the Republicans.
 Violette (Pauline Burlet) lives in the foothills of a remote Alpine mountain village. With all the local men of the resistance arrested by Napoleon’s troops, the girls spend months in total isolation. Violette and the other girls, encouraged by her, thereby take an oath: if a man comes they will all share him.

Not long afterwards a stranger wanders into the village, Jean (Alban Lenoir), who is a travelling blacksmith. Tensions erupt over the vow made by the ladies, as matters of love arise. With the background of the grape harvest as symbolism for the feminist subtext, the film moves forward raising emotional tensions among the women but without violence. After Napoleon’s December 1851 coup d’état, Republican forces and sympathizers all over France were ruthlessly suppressed. Many adult men were killed or deported, leaving whole communities populated solely by women and children. Tumultuous early scenes depict the bloody crackdown in kinetic detail, after which Violette and her fellow survivors run to a hilltop village  and safe refuge.

With the arrival of Jean, Violette is deputized to make the newcomer welcome, and the two bond over literature, Violette being one of the few women in the area able to read and write. Passionate feelings quickly develop, clouded by Violette’s knowledge of what the women have in store for Jean.

Living without men and away from the trappings of civil society — in effect there is no church, no police, no government — the females, most of whom are instinctively of a free minded Republican persuasion, quickly come up with new social rules and norms as their circumstances demand. This aspect gives an intriguing political and philosophical subtext to a film which works perfectly well as a moving, sensual love story between the innocent Violette and her worldly love interest. The ensemble cast is excellent; Burlet is particularly affecting (as a character some years older than her literary equivalent) and visually the film is gorgeous to watch. Cinematographer Alain Duplantier achieves some fleeting moments of transcendent pastoral beauty while conveying the restrictions of this remote microcosm by concentrating on bodies and faces.

BONUS FEATURE: Bonus Short Film – Les Voisins(Directed by Marine Francen | France | French with English subtitles | 20 minutes) — Violaine, a shy twenty-year-old woman, spends her time photographing people in secret. One day she rescues her neighbor from a gas leak, an event that brings her out of seclusion to learn more about the man she saved. 

“LIFELIKE”— Becoming Wealthy

“Life Like”

Becoming Wealthy

Amos Lassen

James (Drew Van Acker) has inherited a business of some sort and a large house. He and his wife Sophie (Addison Timlin) move in but she has trouble adjusting to life with domestic servants. She is an idealist and lets the entire staff go (with plenty of future pay) and she quickly learns that the affairs of the house are too great to handle on her own. In an attempt to find some common ground, James brings up the idea of a robot valet. They pick one out from the dealer/inventor, Julian, a dryly slimy fellow (James d’Arcy) dressed much like a Catholic priest, (collar and all) and he ensures them that their new helper is a perfected form of humanity in every way and will only do that which pleases them. It’s not long at all, though, until Sophie, apparently feeling rather neglected, becomes attracted to Henry, their robot (Steven Strait). Things escalate, with James acting cruelly toward Henry. As the marriage seemingly unravels, Henry exhibits the early signs of feelings.

The script understands what’s going on but we’re left to assume Sophie’s is not quite ok mentally. James doesn’t fare much better, as he spends his days dealing with his father’s business, which is never defined in any way, though we get the hints that global deals are involved and that he’s not very competent at business. When not at work, he’s emasculated by Henry and tries to dominate him, leading to some actually welcome even-handedness in the screwing-the-robot department. Since there’s no sense of time there and it feels too sudden, too quick  and too capricious.

On the technical side of things, the acting is mostly very good and direction is ok, the cinematography is nothing to write home about, the camera is as static and lifeless as can be, the music is pretty much stock  and the editing further stretches out a plot that’s already stretched to incomprehensibility. It turns out that Henry is developing emotions, something he was guaranteed not to do, and these emotions are taking their toll on the household marriage. Whilst confronting one another and working to shut Henry off and kick him to the curb, Henry goes after Julian, whom he calls a liar. After a series of events that makes it look as though Henry may have killed Julian, we find out, rather suddenly and without setup, that, indeed, we have all been lied to: Henry – and his fellow robots – are not, in fact, robots at all, but are actually brainwashed humans. Apparently Julian and his father abducted young children who had been abandoned (at least, that’s how it sounded, it was quite unclear in terms of details) and raised them to think they were robots.

I almost love this film because of the twist and in that it approximates a real-life movie with a point, but it just doesn’t quite get there.

“LORD OF CHAOS”— The Early-‘90s Oslo Death Metal Scene

“Lords Of Chaos”

The Early-‘90s Oslo Death Metal Scene

Amos Lassen

“Lords of Chaos” gets off being salacious through church burnings and murders that brought bands like Darkthrone and Burzum to the attention of the world while treating the music itself dismissively and even with contempt. The movie is based on Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind’s sensationalist cult book of the same title and centers on Mayhem founder, label owner, record-shop proprietor, and all-around scene guru Euronymous (Rory Culkin), who was stabbed to death by his friend and bandmate, Varg (Emory Cohen). Euronymous narrates the story of his own murder from beyond the grave. We see Euronymous as, more than anything, a marketing genius, whose fascination with evil and Satanism stemmed in large part from its branding potential. Even the horrific suicide of his band’s original lead singer, Dead (Jack Kilmer), serves as an opportunity to shine his own brutal image. Instead of immediately calling the police when he discovers the body, Euronymous runs out and buys a disposable camera, which he then uses to take grisly photos of his friend’s cratered head. Later, he even presents his bandmates with necklaces made from what he claims are fragments of their buddy’s skull.

It seems that “Lords of Chaos” attempts to deromanticize this most mythologized of scenes, to show that this “supposedly frightening cabal of vampiric Scandinavian Satan worshippers was really just a bunch of degenerate teenagers using their parents’ money to play-act at being evil bad asses.” There’s some truth in that observation, but director’s approach is too superficial to get any real insight. We see scene after directionless scene of guys sitting around talking about how evil they are.

This approach downplays the severity of the scene’s truly unsavory politics— racism, homophobia, misogyny, and anti-Christianity. “Lords of Chaos” simply reduces Norwegian black metal to the story of a bunch of wild and crazy young men doing stupid messed-up things.

The film follows Norwegian black metal hands and examines the bitter rivalry between two major players on the scene, which in 1993 led to the murder of musician Øystein Aarseth.

Jonas Åkerlund’s film is Nietzschean and about up turning society and social norms, promoting evil, inspiring fear and terror in the media and population. They saw themselves as the Übermenschen of rock and cultivated an underground and deviant form of self-expression, the delicious irony at the heart of the film is in how their repeated distaste for publicity and fame ultimately led to worldwide notoriety.

The film finds plenty of humor in the antics of Euronymous (Aarseth’s nom de guerre) and once-polite teenagers lashing out against bourgeois conformity

Quite basically this is ultimately a coming-of-age story, or rather coming-of-death, of a group of privileged boys.

“Rondo”— “Part Black Comedy, Part Slasher, Part Revenge Thriller. All Exploitation!”


“Part Black Comedy, Part Slasher, Part Revenge Thriller. All Exploitation!”

Amos Lassen

Drew Barnhardt’s “Rondo” is a darkly sexual, craftily stylized and wildly entertaining crime and revenge melodrama. It is also totally twisted.

Paul, a troubled young veteran, is told by a psychiatrist that sex is the solution to his dependency and drinking problems. However,  things turns out otherwise as Paul and his sister become part of a criminal underworld where sex and murder happen daily and revenge is a way of life. 

Paul (Luke Sorge), like so many others who have returned from war, is struggling. His world now seems to be filled with so many who do not seem to care about anything and there is no meaning to everyday activities. He has taken to moping around the house and this concerns his sister, Jill (Brenna Otts) who feels that something drastic will have to happen to bring him back to who he was before.

It’s not uncommon for people returning from war to struggle in a world where nobody gives them clear instructions and everyday events seem devoid of meaning. Paul (Luke Sorge) is moping around the house so much that his sister Jill (Brenna Otts) feels drastic action is needed. She send him to visit a therapist. On arrival he is told that he could be prescribed drugs but, most likely, all he really needs is to get laid. Various suggestions are made about fetish-related activities whilst he sits there looking dumbstruck. Then he is told about a very special service that may be suitable for him. His prescription is an address and a password: “rondo”.

He must decide whether or not to fill it and of course he does. When Paul arrives at the address, he is told to fill out a form and surrender his phone. A young woman (Iva Nora) enters the room, introduced as Mrs. Tim, who is announced to be a willing participant in proceedings. She’s quiet making it hard to tell if she’s in subspace or on drugs, and Paul doesn’t know how to react, so he just nods politely when he is told what he and the other two men will be expected and permitted to do to her. He speaks with one of the men while the other goes into the bedroom with her. This guy is apparently a regular at events like this, and his casual attitude puts Paul at ease. But later, when he went outside for a cigarette, he sees something that leaves him shocked.

We are reminded of the exploitation classics of the Sixties and Seventies,  and although it deals with the subject of sexual violence, there’s actually very little of that. It features one other act of violence that some viewers may find particularly traumatic, and some of its violence is highly stylized, slowed down and shot close up and we can see bullets ripping into bodies, but it doesn’t get much more violent than that.

The plot here is simple and the the film works with its combination of its deliberate style and confidence of its delivery. Director Drew Barnhardt has approached every shot as a perfectionist and with the cinematography from John Bourbonais  they have created an intense atmosphere, make everything look sleazy or beautiful (or both).  I know I have not told you much about the storyline but due to the nature of the film, I can’t.

 “ROOM 37 – THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF JOHNNY THUNDERS”— A Supernatural Horror Thriller


A Supernatural Horror Thriller

Amos Lassen

“Room 37 – The Mysterious Death Of Johnny Thunders “is a supernatural horror-thriller written and directed by the Cordero Brothers – Vicente Cordero and Fernando Cordero Caballero and features Leo Ramsey, Devin McGregor Ketko, Timothy Lee-Priest, and Jason Lasater, and includes the infamous Johnny Thunders song “Born to Lose.” There is also a vocal appearance by legendary New York Dolls member Sylvain Sylvain.

In the film, famed rock and roll guitarist Johnny Thunders arrives in New Orleans to begin a new chapter of his life by following a new musical sound and staying clean from drugs in order to see his kids again.  After he settles into the St. Peter’s Guest House Hotel, things go awry. His room is robbed and the last of his money and his only methadone supply is gone.  Johnny’s journey to recovery quickly turns dark when he takes desperate measures to get better, all which force him deeper in chaos that ultimately leads to his unexplained mysterious final hours.

Because this is a thriller, I can’t say anymore about the plot except to say that this is a film you do not wang to miss. The film will also be released in a limited-edition BLU RAY / DVD / CD Soundtrack format packaged in a gorgeous, six-panel Digipak on May 24th, 2019. The soundtrack includes performances by the real Johnny Thunders as well as his former bandmates Walter Lure and Sylvain Sylvain.


“THE INFILTRATORS”— A Documentary About Immigration


A Documentary About Immigration

Amos Lassen

 “The Infiltrators” is a powerful documentary film that revolves around the member of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance created by the Dreamers, or, the undocumented immigrants of US. The nature of their work is straightforward and very risky; they infiltrate into detention centers, gather information about the people that await deportation, send the information outside, and begin putting pressure on the government to stop the deportation. They don’t get paid, they work for joy of helping others.

The film pushes the boundaries of form while delivering a message of burning content. Following two undocumented activists as they successfully get themselves arrested and thrown into a detention center in Broward County, Florida, the film reveals the degrading, terrible and sub-standard treatment our country metes out to those it deems are unwanted. Mixing footage of its real subjects with that of actors portraying them, directors Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera create a hybrid work that is equal parts journalistic exposé and high drama, and cinema at its finest

The main characters are each introduced as their actual selves followed by their fictional counterparts. The story, itself, starts with the arrest, by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers, of one Claudio Rojas, for overstaying his visa. After he is thrown into the Broward Detention Center. We learn that this is  a facility where, people are being held, without due process, for years at a time. The time has come for NIYA (National Immigrant Youth Alliance) to do something about the situation.

NIYA is made up of mostly undocumented twenty-somethings, some of them have learned that public protests often lead to the release of detainees; ICE much prefers to do its dirty deeds in the shadows. One of their own, Marco Saveedra, infiltrates the center, soon to be followed by Viridiana (Viri) Martinez on the women’s side. Once inside, they start the process of informing the prisoners of their rights, so those on the outside can better help them get free.

We are basicallya nation of laws, but as but as this documentary makes clear, we often ignore them. Sadly, this particular story takes place in 2012, with a brief coda set in 2016, raising the question of why the delay and, more importantly, how much has changed since the election of Trump. For those who believe that previous administrations have always been kind to immigrants, this film reminds us that we have long had problems being on our best behavior.

The actors in the recreations are all engaging and one of them, Claudio Rojas, was recently deported even though he remains free in the documentary.  

“FIRSTBORN”— Masculinity and Revenge


Masculinity and Revenge

Amos Lassen

Latvian director Aik Karapetian gives us a nerve-wracking balance between the intrigue of his strange film and the narcissism and cowardice of his central character, Francis (Kaspars Znotins). We get a  portrait of a loveless couple trapped in marriage.

When the film opens, Katrina (Maija Doveika) and Francis are thinking their former relationship. At a house party, Katrina, who is drunk, jokes about adultery as Francis quietly takes it in. On their walk home, the two are accosted by a young, handsome biker who punches Francis, sexually threatens Katrina, then walks away with her purse. They are obviously upset, but even more important is that Francis’ pride is deeply hurt, and he spends the next few days being possessive and paranoid about Katrina’s interactions with other men.

Francis takes matters into his own hands when he realizes his fears that someone else may ultimately be able to help Katrina seek justice. He finds the culprit (Dainis Grube) and, in the middle of the woods, with nobody else around, tries to force him to apologize to his wife by offering him the money in his wallet. When this doesn’t work, the issue escalates. The confrontation changes Francis but and he and Katrina continue to have problems even though they find themselves bound tighter together by a pregnancy. We understand what Francis is upset about but we wonder if he knows. There is an undercurrent of humor running through the film with the  filmmakers seemingly entirely aware of Francis’ more snarky qualities and use them to great effect but, by and large,  the mood is generally somber, understated, and claustrophobic. Karapetian focuses his attention on the quiet, interstitial moments, and he underplays big plot points to maintain focus on the anxiety and dread that begins to take over the characters.

Visually, the film is gorgeous and refined aesthetically. Location and set dressing are inventive, memorable, and slightly left of realism as  we see in the couple’s straight-up haunted nursery decor, or the attacker’s lair of industrial ruin in the forest. Much of the storytelling is visual and it seems that Karapetian wants to  drown his characters in atmosphere.

In one scene we see  a family (who are friends of the couple) with painted faces and Japanese attire, acting scenes of heroic battle. This is in contrast with Francis’ anti-heroic qualities.  As hero, we should want that he succeed or to be redeemed, but Francis’ motivations throughout seem so narrow and selfish that it is very difficult to take his side and root for him. The film’s view of humanity is very nihilistic. In that, we get lost in its desolate atmosphere, and that nihilism goes down kind of easy.

There is a mean, menacing undercurrent in “Firstborn”. We feel it as we follows the travails of Francis (as he deals with the aftermath of a disturbing incident. From outward appearances, Francis is a middle-class intellectual, a calm and deliberate introvert whose actions are always carefully calculated. Katrina is equally accomplished and intelligent, an extrovert whose warm behavioral inclinations nicely complement Francis’ tendencies toward cool isolation. 

Because he was unable to defend his wife as he thought possible and stricken by jealousy when he realizes that Katrina has struck up a comfortable acquaintance with the police detective assigned to their case, Francis decides to track down the motorcyclist himself. 

Violent trouble soon follows but Francis is strangely emboldened yet discomfited by all that is happening, and his emotional balance is further disrupted when Katrina reveals that she is pregnant. It’s all a bit too much for Francis to take, and he begins to act out his frustrations upon Katrina, who will only stand for so much neglect and verbal abuse. Francis and Katrina are the traditional “opposites attract,” yet it’s also clear that they have a relatively strong relationship that’s already survived a

Francis is very competent, with firm convictions and a definite surety in his manner of dealing with others. He knows what he’s supposed to do, and mostly does that. When deviations on his chosen road appear without warning, his meticulously crafted personality begins to come apart at the seams. He lacks the emotional capacity to reach out to others for help — either because he’s too hard on himself or perhaps because he’s been too crushingly disappointed in the past by others and he makes it harder for himself to deal with the new tensions that arise because of his attempts to resolve the situation with the motorcyclist himself. 

Francis is too often a stereotypical man, or at least what he imagines such a character to be. He vainly attempts to imitate the flawed picture in his head of a man, what he himself thinks he should be, and fails utterly to meet his own rigid standards. Katrina starts to shut him out emotionally in response to his continued behavior. And once their romance begins to crack, there’s no telling if or when repair is possible. It is important to understand that nothing I have written has been overtly stated— rather it is based upon suggestions.

“ALL IS TRUE”— The Final Days of William Shakespeare


The Final Days of William Shakespeare

Amos Lassen

Director Kenneth Branagh’s “All Is True” is a bitter-sweet look the troubled final days of William Shakespeare and is “a good, honorable, solid, old-fashioned film”.

When his Globe Theatre in London burns down, Shakespeare returns to Stratford, where he is haunted by the death of his only son Hamnet and tries to fix his broken relationships with his neglected wife Anne Hathaway (Judi Dench) and daughters. 

This is film about loss, missed opportunity, death, old age, and personal failings and has its charms and its entertainment value. Ben Elton who wrote the screenplay has something to say. Branagh gives himself the star role. Obviously he looks, nothing like William Shakespeare but he gets by on acting. He is not great as he has been in the past but he is quite good. Obviously Judi Dench and Ian McKellen are way too old for their roles, probably 30 years too old, but it seriously doesn’t matter a jot. They are actors, great actors, and this finds them good roles. Both are very touching and if the film is good, it is quite a lot to do with them. As Henry Wriothesley (Southampton), McKellen does not really have much to do. It looks like it was about two days’ work. It is basically one long scene in a dialogue with Shakespeare. But McKellen is an old scene-stealer and really rips up his few pages of screenplay. Dench has much more to do, and she is excellent.

Nobody else in the film is quite as good as the three stars. But that is right and fitting, just as it should be. It runs like a filmed stage play, but that works too, with some good touches like the interior scene cinematography filmed solely in candlelight and some bad ideas like Shakespeare running in slow motion at a crucial plot point. The year is 1613 and there was no slo-mo.

This is a film for an older audience and there is nothing wrong with that, but young audiences might find it boring. Older, wiser folks can easily find the virtues here, maybe learn a few things about our most famous playwright, while being  entertained.Though Kenneth Branagh has spent decades performing in and adapting Shakespeare productions for the stage and screen, “All Is True” is  the first time the actor has played the Bard himself. Set in the low-key, unproductive period in Shakespeare’s life, the film manages to successfully strip away much of the legendary aura surrounding the playwright to show that he is, much like everyone else, a flawed, complicated human being. And by structuring the film around a series of fraught moments in Shakespeare’s family life, with wife Anne and daughters Susanna (Lydia Wilson) and Judith (Kathryn Wilder), Branagh demonstrates the perils of genius.

The title “All Is True” is both a nod to the alternative name for “Henry VIII” (the performance of the play that caused the Globe to burn down) and a bit of irony, since the film presents speculation and rumor regarding aspects of Shakespeare’s life as fact. This includes Shakespeare’s historically uncertain love affair with Henry Wriothesley, third earl of Southampton,. During a visit Wriothesley pays to Shakespeare, Branagh toys with literary legacy by recontextualizing the writer’s sonnets—appreciated by the mass public for their artistic value—as intensely personal love letters meant solely for Wriothesley.

We see Shakespeare’s inability to get along with his family and that it stems from his neglect as a father and husband. It’s a point that’s mainly underscored through his daughter’s feelings of intimidation and how they lead her to try and gain his acceptance by composing poetry. Though Judith, per her father’s wishes, eventually marries, the film shrewdly leaves open the question of whether she did so completely of her own volition.

Perhaps the depth of Shakespeare’s flaws is best conveyed in a monologue in which he speaks of a dream involving his deceased son’s penknife. The monologue, laced with lines that see Shakespeare touting his brilliance, perfectly channels the playwright’s storytelling skills. Branagh suggests that the characters Shakespeare became known for may have resulted from genius, but it was a genius due to his profound understanding of his human frailty.