Category Archives: Film

“TUPAC– ASSASSINATION III: BATTLE FOR COMPTON”— Deconstructing the Context

“Tupac – Assassination III: Battle For Compton”

Deconstructing the Context

Amos Lassen

The murders of rap legends Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace have resonated with the public for over 20 years and are still unsolved. In this documentary we look at why these murders remain cold cases. We look at new evidence as well as at the power structure behind the politics of corruption inside and outside Death Row Records. We see, in detail, the embedded corruption that led to Death Row Records and the perfect storm that allowed them to operate. It seems that the problem with these two cases was that everyone was looking for hard facts but not at the context in which those facts are presented. This film deconstructs the context that led to the shooting and does so reasonably and in-depth and provides context to the events surrounding, leading up to, and after these murders. Beginning with the ‘shaping of the narrative’ in the aftermath of the killings , cover-ups are exposed and we see that there were evidence leaks from Death Row Records to the LAPD.

“Battle For Compton” clarifies the environment in which these murders happened and the reasons for the case is still open.

The body of works contained within this film makes the case of what exactly happened 20 years ago, and what has happened during these years to cover up the shameful badge abuse running rampant amongst the Compton and Los Angeles Police Departments.

The film gives proof that cops were involved with both murders, and reveals what the Los Angeles Police Department hid from us at its attempts at pinning the Shakur shooting on gangs and how their story changed many times. Through audio clips and the documents, firsthand accounts and supporting court and police documents show how corruption was present in almost every aspect of the case.

Connections ran deep between the LAPD and the gangs of Los Angeles. This is probably the reason that the police have no interest in solving the case. Blame has been thrown around during the years following the murders and there have been many theories about what really happened. We see definitely here that the case is actually much bigger than anyone has ever thought.

“PORTO’— A Love Story


“Porto”

A Love Story

Amos Lassen

Jake and Mati are two outsiders in Porto who once experienced a brief connection. There is something mysterious about the moments they shared, and in searching through memories, they relive that time. “Porto” is an American-abroad love story starring the late Anton Yelchin. Director Gabe Klinger deconstructs a one-night stand from what was and from what could have been.  

Jake (Yelchin), is an American with no direction in his life and he exists in a state of self-exile, who has coming to Porto perhaps because it’s so beautiful. Mati (Lucie Lucas) is a French archaeology student with long-nurtured sorrows of her own.

One rainy day, Jake and Mati’s eyes meet at an archaeological dig and later run into each other in a cafe, initiating an impromptu date that lasts until morning. This brief encounter is the skeleton for the screenplay by Klinger and Larry Gross. The story is deconstructed and retold three times; first from Jake’s perspective, then from Mati’s and then from both together. Each time we see subtly different connections that were made and missed on that night. Through long, seemingly simple and void sequences, we see life and its most beautiful and devastating moments in just a few minutes. Yelchin owns this film. Once he appears on the screen we concentrate on him and realize that we do not need to look at anything else. Lucas as Mati is beautiful and stunning. She is loving, sweet, passionate and scared. She needs someone but she also needs her space. She’s perfect in her contrasts.

The Old-World city of Porto, Portugal, was the filming location chosen by Klinger, who is a writer and film-studies professor as well as a director —and perhaps as indebted to his past as the couple whose brief but intense romance provides the heart of the film. Set against the streets of Porto, we watch Jake and Mati fall in love if even for a very short time. Their memories flit between one place and another, between past and present, as we are invited to imagine, relive or even try to understand what it was that so mesmerized them at the time of their meeting.

Klinger appears to be telling us that the only thing that can hold together the different phases of our lives is love. We see love here as a mystical force, capable of propping up something as ethereal and elusive as the ambiguous portrait of a memory.

“THE KLANSMAN”—Alabama, the Sixties

“The Klansman”

Alabama, The Sixties

Amos Lassen

“Terence Young’s “The Klansman” is set against the racial confrontations that destroy a large part of the population of a small Alabama town in the nineteen-sixties. Trace Bascomb (Lee Marvin) is the town’s sheriff and a card-carrying member of the Ku Klux Klan who probably joined it for the same reason one joins organizations en masse in any small town—that is, to get elected. Breck Stancill is the town’s most eccentric (Richard Burton), the last member of an aristocratic family (eight generations on the same ground) who finds the Klan ridiculous and abhorrent but who is only slightly less out of touch than the residents who are redneck farmers.

The rape of Nancy Poteet (Linda Evans), a young white woman leads the racist authorities to assume the culprit was a black man. Local sheriff Track Bascomb (Lee Marvin) arrests Willy Washington (Spence Wil-Dee), even though he doubts that he is guilty and the Klan that is led by deputy sheriff Butt Cutt Cates (Cameron Mitchell) lynches, burns and kills any African-Americans they find.

Liberal landowner Stancill is caught up in the chaos, especially after he welcomes his civil rights activist friend Loretta Sykes (Lola Falana. Bascomb convinces Stancill to shelter rape victim Poteet when the whole town turns against her. However, Garth (O.J. Simpson) an angry black militant fights back, waging a one-man war on the racist rednecks.

Yes Garth is played by O.J. Simpson and this film was made in 1974 way before he fled the cops and was a former pro-football star who was among the most beloved black celebrities in America. It seems that the filmmakers intended Garth to engage audiences, specifically urban African-American audiences but, he comes across like an idiot whose antics, which include assassinating a KKK member in the middle of a civil rights march, only make things worse for every other black person in town. Garth justifies what he does by saying that “The only thing the man understands is violence. History proves my way works.”

“The Klansman” aspires to a style of socially relevant thriller and hits on one interesting idea when town mayor (who holds the position of Exalted Cyclops in the Klan) Hardy Riddleston (David Huddleston) admits the Klan’s opposition to civil rights is as much motivated by economic factors as by racial hatred. We see that the Klan but spreads its misanthropy evenly between racist rednecks and liberal do-gooders. Several of the activists are portrayed as self-righteous, condescending and misogynistic in their attitude towards Loretta. The way that Poteet’s rape is dealt with is both bizarre and offensive implying that a victim’s foremost worry is whether she will ever be seen as desirable again. When abandoned by her husband, Nancy finds solace in Breck’s bed, strangely ending his romantic subplot with sheriff’s secretary, Trixie (Luciana Paluzzi).

The direction of “The Klansman” rambles and appears to be quite messy. Richard Burton and Lee Marvin, two of the men who were the most respected actors in cinema are not at their best here. Burton stumbles about in a booze-induced stupor and even though he mumbles unintelligibly, Marvin presents an intriguing character of a sheriff more concerned with keeping the peace, than morality. Neither man fares well in the depressing climax that implies that Garth was right all along. (By the way, we never found out who raped Nancy Poteet and this was the event that riles the numerous Klan members in Atoka County and they set about finding the rapist). The film is erratic, slipshod, mean spirited, sloppy, ill conceived and yet it is considered by many as one of “the best, worst movies of the 1970’s”, the decade where seemingly anything was possible. It tries and wants to be an important film on race relations in a small Alabama town, but fails at this. It, however, succeeds in being a tasteless, lazily put together and big budget exploitation movie.

Racism is used purely for shock value. Whatever moralistic intentions inherent in the original script, or Young’s original vision is lost in a combination of misplaced monologues and attempts at poignancy. It is predominantly concerned with violence and as many creative uses for the ‘N’ word as possible. Yes, it does present a dark side of humanity that still exists today but could have done so much more.

“BLACKHEARTS“— A Look at Black Metal

“BLACKHEARTS“

A Look at Black Metal

Amos Lassen

“Blackhearts” is a documentary that looks at three die-hard fans of black metal. For those of you who are unaware of what Black Metal is (just as I was before watching this), it is a hard rock sub-genre that gained worldwide notoriety because of its links to Satanism, church burnings, and murders 25 years ago in Norway.

Our three fans are Sina from Iran, Hector from Colombia and Kaiadas from Greece who are on a journey to Norway, the home of the music that has formed their lives. As we watch them, we cannot help but wonder what makes someone risk his/her life to get thrown in jail or sell his soul to Satan. Sina, the only active black metal artist in Iran, faces a potentially life-threatening situation if he chooses to follow his dream and travel to Norway. Hector is a devoted Satanist and organizes a satanic ritual to sell his soul to the Devil in order to help his visa application and Kaiadas represents the extreme right-wing party Golden Dawn in the Greek Parliament by day, and is the front man of the black metallers in Naer Mataron by night. He is facing up to 20 years in prison after being arrested for association with a criminal organization.

What makes this film different from others on the same topic is that it looks at the fans rather than the sub-genre and in doing so we see three very different personal stories of dedication, ambition and expectations as we learn about our three men here. The film presents an unfiltered view behind the imagery and myth that surrounds Black Metal. There is humor here as well as a disturbing sense of the surreal. We see just how far humans are willing to go in pursuit of what they believe in. 

 

“TANNA”— The Power of Love”

“TANNA”

The Power of Love”

Amos Lassen

Set on a remote Pacific island, covered in rain forest and dominated by an active volcano, “Tanna” is the story of a sister’s loyalty, a forbidden love affair and the pact between the old ways and the new. Wawa falls in love with her chief’s grandson but when war with their enemies escalates, she becomes betrothed as part of a peace deal. The young lovers run away, but are pursued by warriors of both tribes.  With their lives on the line, the star-crossed lovers must choose between their hearts and the future of the tribe.

The film is based on a true story that took place in 1987 in one of the world’s last tribal societies.  The people of Yakel, on the island of Tanna, are fully aware of the outside world, but have chosen to live according to the ways of their ancestors, after resisting the colonial powers that once controlled the area, the missionaries that tried to assimilate them to a Western way of life, and the temptation of money.  The film was made with the full collaboration of the islanders and is the first feature film to be shot entirely in the nation of Vanuatu, an archipelago of 83 islands and an estimated 110 different languages.  On Tanna is an active volcano, which plays an important part in the film, as well as in the culture of the tribe.

None of the cast had ever acted before. They still hunt with bows and arrows and make their clothes and houses entirely from materials gathered in the surrounding jungle. None of them had ever seen a movie before this.

Wawa (Marie Wawa) meets a fellow tribe member, Dain (Mungau Dain), the grandson of her village’s chief, Charlie (Chief Charlie Kahla). According to the traditions of her Yakel tribe, Wawa is expected to have an arranged marriage with Imedin, a man from a rival tribe in an attempt to bring peace to both tribes. She goes against tradition by falling in love with Dain and secretly spending time with him. Only her younger sister, Selin (Marceline Rofit), knows about her secret.

Each of the actors gives a natural performance, and we sense the chemistry between Wawa and Dain l. This is a film filled with humanism and there are several sweet and uplifting moments during the beautiful love story that we see here. Watching it is a feast of both the eyes and soul. Directors Martin Butler and Bentley Dean’s blend a fictional narrative loosely modeled on Romeo and Juliet with a docudrama about the Yakel tribe.

The setting is in a green and leafy wooded portion of Tanna that is presided over by a volcano that is considered to be a place of worship. Materials for clothes are hammered out on rocks, while mothers and daughters discuss the political textures of their lives. Shaman come to the volcano to preach of maturity to unruly youth, and lovers go to the peak to consummate their affection. Throughout the film there’s a sense that the narrative and the setting are at odds with one another but none of this matters as the audience sits stunned by the beauty on the screen.

“WILL READING”— A Fun Comedy about a Morbid Truth

“Will Reading”

A Fun Comedy about a Morbid Truth

Amos Lassen

As I began watching Jamie Insalco’s “Will Reading”, I found myself groaning at the amateur aspects of the film. I thought that this had to be some kind of a joke and could not understand how anyone could have made something so bad and then proudly enlisted reviewers to see it. I was prepared to write to director Insalco and tell him that this was the worst movie I have ever seen and for those of you who follow my reviews know that there is nothing I dislike more than giving a negative review. Therefore I pushed everything aside and sat on what I thought for a while and then went back and watched it a second and third time. It is still very amateurish and the acting is nothing to write home about but the cast is really into what they do and suddenly I realized that I had read the movie totally wrong.

Our characters come together to read the will of Wendy’s (Katie Weigl) late husband. is hosting one nonetheless, after the recent death of her husband Will. Sadly, there’s no mention in the film as to whether or not his last name is Reading, but I like to think it is. Wendy is a vegan chef, so this is a dinner party as well as a will reading, but she isn’t exactly starting with a recipe for success. Will’s brother Wayne (Jamie Insalaco) is the first to arrive at Wendy’s where everyone will have a nice dinner before the reading. Wayne and Wendy have never gotten along and he immediately chides her for not having any wine to go with the meal and leaves to go and buy some.

Steve (Greg Vorob) arrives. He had once been Wendy’s high school crush and is now a lawyer. Tom (Marc Seidenstein) is a psychologist who seems to be doing ok but he has many bills because of this ill father. Finally there is Dave (Dan Conrad), a nerd who owns a comic book shop, except this is also struggling. So it’s no surprise and he is also dealing with finances. All of the characters think about the money that might be left to them in the will.

At the reading, our characters learn that the inheritances are located somewhere in the house. We learn that Will was afraid of the IRS and chose to hide his estate rather than having others pay taxes on it.

Now begins a treasure hunt— each person has an idea where to look but no one knows anything for sure. We watch the four of them begin to stress out, alliances are made and broken and as the craziness ensues, we cannot help but wonder how this will play out. I realize just how much I dislike all of the characters so I did not root for any of them. However, the actors are having such a good time making this movie which made me hope that at least one of them would be endearing.

There are some fun laughs and some of the humor is quite dark. The score has a lot of music and one old fashioned kind of duet that caused me to groan at first but that quickly changed to laughter. This is a small almost one-set film and I thought to myself that this is a throwback to the kind of romantic comedies that Hollywood used to make; almost a homage. But again in this I was wrong. There is really nothing old-fashioned about “Will Reading” except for a totally inappropriate song and dance number that kind of just happened with nothing really leading up to it. Perhaps I was too tense the first time I watched it and was not willing to let go of the kind of day I had had or, more likely, I was not in the mood for a movie like this. I thought I had been laughing at the movie instead of laughing with it.

“SUNTAN”— “There is Nothing New Under the Sun”

“Suntan”

There is Nothing New Under the Sun”

Amos Lassen

Although I have entitled my review of “Suntan” as “There is nothing new under the sun”, please do not misunderstand— we can still enjoy something that is not new and it is a story that has been done before. Kostis (Makis Papadimitriou) is a middle-aged doctor who is beginning a new job on a small island in Greece. He looks and feels depressed; he barely interacts with the townspeople, and seems to give the most basic diagnoses to his patients. But that was all about to change when summer season comes and a bunch of young tourists ask him to have a look at and help out their friend Anna (Elli Tringou) who has hurt her leg. We see the young people in this group as looking for fun; they just want to be free and do not appear to have respect for anything. Half seriously they invite Kostis to come and hang with them on the beach and are very surprised when he comes to them. Slowly Kostis enters the group, especially with Anna who shows him the same physical attention that she gives to others. We can be pretty sure that a tense situation will arise because of this.

What we see with Kostis is his general unhappiness and it seems clear that he does not want to be on the island. When he starts to hang out with the young people, he begins to drink more and he does not quite understand that he is not really accepted among them and that he is being humored. The kids like goofing off and being open with anyone willing to be part of their scene but Kostis is not really friends with them; they are amused that he is with them and so they tolerate him. However, when Kostis gets more desperate and clingy about Anna, things change.

At first I thought that Kostis is a metaphor for all the unfulfilled promises that we all think we have, but his actions cause him to look pathetic and sad so that we see no humanity there and we cannot imagine being who he is. But then we realize that we really know nothing about him. We see that his career as a doctor does not satisfy him and he does not seem to have any friends save one that he sees at a party and speaks with him telling him that his life did not turn out how he had planned it. His friend replies telling him that says that these young people and this kind of party are not for them. I am curious as to why he had no friends. He knows that these youngsters are not real friends but he continues to go to them and actually becomes obsessive over Anna. Unfortunately Kostis is far from interesting.

Kostis obviously desires Anna but we are sure that he wants her, the person or because she is a symbol of something else. Anna is open to levels of physical affection with him yet we see the ending coming early on. Instead of going deeper into Kostis as a person, we just see him partying, drinking and often ignoring his duties as a doctor.

Director Argyris Papadimitropoulos is able to make the progression of Kostis’s regression make sense. When we see him partying and feeling connected, we believe that there is something meaningful with him but then this changes and desperation to get Anna overcomes him. That obsession starts to ruin his life.

The Greek island of Antiparos with its 800 residents sees more of a way station for the elderly than an island paradise, and Kostis settles into the mundane motions of the job. This isn’t quite the scene he would have chosen for himself, but we suspect that particular choice may have been out of his hands. He makes acquaintances as the weeks pass, but new friendships seem anathema to his preferred daily routine until the young people arrive. As the movie progresses we see clearly that everyone appeals to someone, at least while on a hedonistic vacation. Kostis applies his own label, and that low self-worth, when faced with Anna’s fleeting but sincere attention, makes him something of an underdog at first. We see him as a man who acknowledges his shortcomings but refuses to see them as limitations.

The harder he tries to fit in the more painful it becomes to watch. It’s not long though before our fear for him changes into a fear of him. There is something unhealthy going on here. Director Papadimitropoulos contrasts all that firm, smooth, golden flesh of youth with Kostis’ paunchy, pale skin. “Suntan” wonderfully captures the explosive aura of youth with breathtaking potency. Right from the opening scene of Kostis on the ferry, do we sense his loneliness.

“THE LEGACY OF MENLA”— Cancer and Tibetan Medicine

“The Legacy of Menla”

Cancer and Tibetan Medicine

Amos Lassen

Director Adam Miklos brings us a new look at Tibetan medicine in the story of three different Indian women who have been diagnosed with different stages of cancer. These women have opted to follow their faith in doctors from Tibet and go against the wishes of their families and/or the advice of Western doctors. Tibetan medicine comes from the bringing together of Buddhism and science and both believers and non-believers have taken heed of its progress. Not only do we see the film through the eyes of these three women but also we see the progress of medicine in Tibet and how doctors there are educated. We get a look at the past, present and future of the way these doctors heal their patients and it is absolutely fascinating to watch. After all, we know that hope and faith are beneficial to making people feel better and even though no cure is promised, patients achieve a different way of looking at death.

The rest of the world searches for a cure to cancer while at the same time doctors in Tibet diagnose and treat patients. This movie shows an alternative view of cancer. We follow Dr. Dorjee Rapten Neshar, Chief Medical Officer of Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute (TMAI) Bangalore Clinic, and one of the Tibetan doctors specializing in cancer treatment today. The doctor works with cancer patients of differing ages and backgrounds and at differing stages of their treatments and these patients share their emotions and lives as they are touched by Tibetan Medicine.

Through the doctor and his patients, we become aware of the results and limitations of Tibetan Medicine in how it deals with cancer. We also see the challenges that Tibetan Medicine faces in the production of medicine as it becomes more and more in demand and the environmental concerns that arise out of it. For me, the most exciting thing we see is how the Tibetan Medical tradition is adapting to today’s global world.

Director Miklos and two of his producers went to Tibet and spent two months with Tibetan Doctors in various parts of India. During that time, a month was devoted to Dr. Neshar. Their goal was to show how different this medical system is from those of the Western world. Then they went to Dharamsala, the new home of the Dalai Lama. The central institution of Tibetan Medicine, the Men-Tsee-Khang is located there and it was where they met three people who proved invaluable to their filmed study— a Russian medical student, a Buddhist monk who is responsible for the medicine production and a cancer patient. We learn that the approach to health is more important than the treatment itself. We are given a lot to think about here and I doubt we will ever see cancer or Tibetan doctors the same way again.

“DEFARIOUS”— An Experience in Fear

“Defarious”

An Experience in Fear

Amos Lassen

Chase Michael Pallante’s short film, “Defarious” introduces us to Amy (Janet Miranda), a young woman suffering from nightmares that are so terrible that she finds it difficult to distinguish between them and the real world. Reminiscent of horror film from the 1980s, Amy suffers not only from nightmares but also from visions of her dead mother and the line between dream and reality is blurred for most of the eleven minutes of the film. In her latest nightmare she was she was threatened by clown like villain, Defarious (Jason Torres), and this leaves her so upset that she wants to call a friend but she is unable to find her cell phone and she hears glass breaking even though she is alone at home. As she looks around she finds the character from her dream but sense that there is no waking up this time. She understands that he has come to kill her.

What is so fascinating is that in a short eleven-minute scene that is little more than a standard horror scene, this one is told with such style that the viewer is totally into what he/she sees and even though it is very simple, we are totally involved.

Director Pallante uses visual imagery and keeps the pace of his film at just where he wants it to be thus providing a view filled with the macabre and foreboding. The cinematography is shades of blue that expresses a sense of cold that makes this look surreal and brings fear to the audience. There is little dialogue and we do not know the motivations for what we see and there is virtually no exposition. It is up to us to figure out what is really happening.

In a very short amount of time, Pallante tells a short yet comprehensive story with no gimmicks and we seem to enter Amy’s mind and experience what she feels. The villain is terror, personified coming out of the shadows as something of a shadow himself even though he is totally apart from them and singular. When we see him in total, his eyes appear to be alien and coming from hell and he completely unnerves Amy and the viewer.

“CINEMA NOVO”— A Movie Essay

“CINEMA NOVO”

A Movie Essay

Amos Lassen

Director Eryk Rocha shines a new light on a major movement in Latin American Cinema: Brazil’s Cinema Novo of the 50’s and 60’s. In this film he introduces us to the work of dos Santos, Rocha (Glauber), Hirszman, de Andrade, Guerra and many others. Cinema Novo was influenced by Soviet Revolutionary Films, Italian Neo-Realist, French New Wave and South American revolutionary ideas of its time.

This is a documentary that is more of an essay about film than anything else. Through interviews we get the background and then Rocha goes on to praise the work of the directors he features and we see the various ways of influence on cinema come from these people. There is no didacticism in the memories that are shared and we get quite a good sense of creative liberty. We soon understand that the process of chronicling a film movement is the same as creating one and this film is something of a love letter from son to father since his Eryk Rocha’s own father was co-founder of Cinema Novo. He is certainly qualified to make this film and he truly appreciates the value of using his subject and its guiding forces as a mechanism to explain it. He is able to draw on both his personal connection and his background in both factual and fictional efforts.

Rocha wonderfully captures the spirit and substance of a genre that swept a nation fifty years ago. The result is perfect for those who couldn’t be there to experience it for themselves.

“Cinema Novo” attempts to usher the audience into the requisite mindset. “It was an era where art, utopia and revolution walked together, an adventure of creation, friendship and non-conformism that presented new images of Brazil to the world,” the feature tells us and then it tries to validate such florid language with a well-edited assemblage of movie excerpts and interview footage.

It is a creation of fragments and segments, the former expertly excised from the works of or discussions with the elder Rocha and his contemporaries and the later bringing the clips together.

While the film starts with the features created during the period, before segueing to their makers and then rhythmically moving back-and-forth between the two, both remain equally fascinating. It is full of information and is a rich viewing experience. We move through Cinema Novo’s origins as an antidote to popular movies of the time, detailing the political and human motivations to make films that depicted the true state of the nation, and exploring both the success and the difficulties that arose along the way.