Category Archives: Film

“THE STATE OF TEXAS VS. MELISSA”— A Death Sentence

 

“THE STATE OF TEXAS VS. MELISSA”

A Death Sentence

Amos Lassen

Melissa Lucio tells the camera that “The State of Texas wants to kill me” in the opening minutes of Sabrina Van Tassel’s documentary “The State of Texas vs. Melissa. Lucio”. She has been on Texas’ death row since 2008 for the killing of her 2-year-old daughter.

Lucio’s story is not new— every year, Black and brown Texans appeal death sentences because of poor trial defense, a history of abuse and poverty, and mental health issues, all of which should keep them from being executed. Some are probably innocent but he state nor the courts rarely side with the prisoner. Texas is the state with the highest number of executions in this country.

Lucio, from Harlingen in South Texas, is believed to be the first Latina woman sentenced to death in Cameron County. Her case is filled with ineptitude and corruption. Ironically, the film shows us the natural beauty of Texas alongside its messed-up legal system Texas’ unfiltered natural beauty alongside the cruelty of its legal system through interviews with Lucio’s family (her now-grown children, her siblings, and her mother) along with interviews with her appellate attorney, her trial attorney, and a private investigator. We see other parts of the story are told through film footage that includes arious interviews following the child’s death and clips from Lucio’s near-seven-hour interrogation and of her children being asked to discuss their home life. We see that the children are calm, nervous, and well-behaved  yet Lucio’s trial defense attorney insisted her kids were wild and would not have behaved in a courtroom. 

Director Van Tassel who both wrote and directed the film focuses on Lucio and her family as well as gives us a look at poverty. We also see the inhumanity of the  death penalty.  We cannot help but wonder whether Melissa be on death row if she were white or wealthy, if she could’ve afforded a lawyer who called even a witness to speak on her behalf. It seems that poor lawyering is part of the criminal justice system and it has failed failed Lucio or, at worst, framed her for a death she didn’t commit.

“Are you a cold blooded killer or just a frustrated mother?” One of three cops demand of Lucio during her interrogation; they ask her to show them how she beat her daughter. She repeats, “I don’t hit my children.” Her confession, which acts as the film’s prologue, showcases how the system treats poor brown women. Though it’s a gut-wrenching story, The State of Texas vs. Melissa, works hard to offer viewers the smallest semblance of hope.

Melissa has been a death row inmate for the last 11 years, convicted of beating and murdering her two-year old daughter Mariah. She is waiting for her final appeal. Her story is an example of justice that has been rendered incorrectly. Her case was filled with questionable strategies by her lawyer, uneasy and unfair interrogations and a legal system that opposed her from the start.  

Melissa was molested at a young age, married at sixteen, attached to problematic and manipulative men, and later was either homeless or living in various of two-bedroom apartments with her large family. She was an easy target for a conviction that villainized showing how society often turns troubled victims and the poor into just another number on a prison roll. We see footage of her interrogation during which authorities denied her food and water and showed her pictures of her dead daughter’s bruised body.

From the first sequence, we see that a false confession was forced by the police team during which she was uncomfortable and did not believe what she is saying. It is hard to believe that either she would have done this or that she could even do this and not other children in her home be effected by it.  This is a clear case of a mistrial. Melissa had  no representation to help her be judged fairly and her social class, gender and race made it that much worse.
It isheartbreaking to see the lack of support she receives from her family or closest friends. Her mother and kids have done nothing to get her help or to try and appeal the cases. Everything that Melissa is doing is through her own research and communication.

Here we really see the systemic issues that remain in the legal and justice systems. The film makes a strong case that the death penalty should not exist especially due to the irreversible nature of the process when many innocent people have been exonerated after their time has gone.

“MEAN MAN: THE STORY OF CHRIS HOLMES”— The Last True Rock ‘n Roller!


“MEAN MAN: THE STORY OF CHRIS HOLMES”

The Last True Rock ‘n Roller!

Amos Lassen

From iconic guitar player to construction worker, Chris Holmes has been an iconic guitar player and a construction worker— he is a man whose life is filled with  highs and lows. After he lost the publishing rights of his own songs dealt with addictions, he had to start over as he lived with his mother in law’s basement in Cannes, France. Now he feels that he is ready to go to Europe with his new band. In this films we are with him as he  meets many fans and shows once again that he is still a showman just as he was once a young rockstar. This musical journey is his story that uses the parallel stories of the rise, fall and rebirth. 

“Mean Man is a new documentary about the  former W.A.S.P. guitarist. W.A.S.P. was a savage band that was mistakenly categorized as a glam band, something it never was. At most, it reflected a glam band with big hair and animal print leggings but there was nothing glamorous about that. Band members were were tall beasts who, by the end of their shows were usually covered in sweat and fake blood. They looked and sounded like a nightmare.

At the center of the band were, Chris Holmes and Blackie Lawless, the creative genius who was mysterious and private.  He focused on the band’s ‘brand’ and direction. When he was not onstage, he was soft-spoken and intelligent. He wrote most of the lyrics and made himself the face of W.A.S.P. during the Eighties. Holmes was seen  as the mascot and sidekick to Lawless. He brought the wildness.  Lawless was the brains of the band and Holmes was the heart.

There was always more to W.A.S.P. than met the eye. Holmes’s guitar playing was world-class. His guitar tone was all his own – raw and nasty and he was years ahead of what many black/extreme metal artists would do years later. Seeing  him play on stage was an experience. But Holmes had demons. He was an alcoholic who had no self-esteem. But this is a story of redemption and we see that Holmes is now in his 60s, sober and happily married, living in France and he has found his place, touring in Europe with a new band.

We see Holmes as someone who’s become comfortable with himself and his fame. He admits that he had no desire to be a rock star and he has  hung up his guitar several times and taken menial jobs in construction, etc. He’s happy to play guitar but does not know how good he is.

There are a couple of tragic anecdotes about friends he’s lost to alcoholism and he talks about how rejection of his Mormon upbringing led him to use drugs as a teenager. We never learn why he went into hiding for so long but then we do not really need to know that.  He seems to have found the best way to express rage is through his performance and still thrashes around onstage.

This is a story unlike the usual rock survivor stories. Holmes never bemoans that he could have been great. He shrugs it all off, straps on his guitar and plays brilliantly. He has had a rough life but he is still here.

“THE MARY MILLINGTON MOVIE COLLECTION”— A Special Collector’s Edition

“THE MARY MILLINGTON MOVIE COLLECTION”

A Special Collector’s Edition

Amos Lassen

“The Mary Millington Collector’s Edition is a apecial collector’s edition (numbered and limited to 3,000) that includes 5 disc Blu-ray releases of “Come Play with Me”, “The Playbirds” and “Confessions From the David Galaxy Affair”. It comes with an 80-page booklet, brand new extras that include short films/documentaries and an. audio commentary.

However, if you are expecting hardcore European porn, you will be disappointed.. This collection presents the softcore British produced titles she was featured in up to the early 1980s. Today these titles would be rated R in North America for nudity and suggestive explicit sex. The purpose of this collection is a tribute to her work and focuses on the tragedy that was her life.

There are five blu-ray discs and a color booklet included in the set. Discs 1-4 each are the four major softcore British titles she was featured in. Each disc also contains clips from some of her hardcore 8mm titles (no hardcore action included!), and at least one short documentary on each disc. Disc 5 is the 2015 produced documentary of her life and I found it to be the interesting title of the set.

Mary Millington’s untimely death before age 35 was tragic. She dealt with a lot of demons throughout her life and these  probably contributed to her tragic outcome. The documentary aspect of this collection highlights the human faults that may be attributed to a life associated in the porn industry.

This is not a set for everyone, of course. If you don’t mind 1970’s and early 80’s English cheeky nudie films, you will find it to your liking.

“THE EL DUCE TAPES”— Behind the Singer

“THE EL DUCE TAPES”

Behind the Singer

Amos Lassen

 Filmmaker Ryan Sexton took his camcorder into some of the seediest clubs and the filthiest apartments in Hollywood in the 1990s to film hours of footage of the offensive Shock Rock band The Mentors and their lead singer, El Duce. 

It took 30 years before the long forgotten and unseen footage was found. As it was pieced together a picture of the man under the black executioner’s hood emerged and we can see his offensive acts and controversial views and what they have to say about today’s America.

“The El Duce Tapes is “one of the best music docs to come along in a while. Funny, honest, grotesque and fascinated by a pot-bellied miscreant most would run a mile from, the film is a thought-provoking foray into anti-commercial art and outsider lifestyles.”

Eldon Hoke once made a cameo appearance in Nick Broomfield’s “Kurt & Courtney” and we could tell that he was a strange person. Under the nom de guerre El Duce, he was later killed on a train track. His untimely death was recorded as misadventure.

Directed by Rodney Ascher and David Lawrence,the filmis hinged on the discovery of archive footage. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, as a young actor, Sexton began recording concerts and interviews with El Duce and The Mentors, on video camera.  The Mentors wrote and performed songs primarily about male sexual dominance. El Duce describes their genre of music as ‘rape rock’. The sang odes to golden showers, with profane lyrics. They became a cult band, with male and female fans coming to their shows in dive bars and clubs. With strange names such as Sickie Wifebeater, El Duce, Dr. Heathen Scum, they performed wearing black executioner’s hoods. The Mentors were crafting transgressive art.

Hoke is seen as an emotionally damaged man headed for self-destruction and behaving badly. Yet beneath the black hood b and provocative statements about women, Hitler and other controversial figures, he was a guy with self-esteem issues that only alcohol could temporarily alleviate. He came from a conservative middle-class background in Seattle, and was a rebellious kid and a man who could not deal with his demons. Hoke had fantasizes about being an American dictator yelling that he would “build a Berlin Wall which is actually a Mexican wall, and not allow any immigrants to sneak into this country.” He called himself an advocate of “The 4F Club, Find her, feel her, fuck her, forget her.”

The film begins with a quote from D.W. Griffith arguing for the freedom of movies to venture into dark areas. Did Hoke really believe the madness he screamed or was it just an attention-grabbing joke. The film suggests that Hoke might be the kind of artist born to outrage and go out of control. It explores the tension between a real person and the mask he wore. Was Hoke an untouchable pariah or “just a manifestation of a widespread culture.”

Near the end ofthe film, Hoke sometimes shares his toxic misogynist, neo-Nazi, barbarian persona and says that he has all kinds of friends including blacks and El Duce recalls high school vandalism like peeing in jars and spilling the contents on radiators, distributing little packages of feces wrapped in foil, and using vomit for whatever. “He was the “Number One Nuisance,” who also became hopelessly alcoholic.”

Steve (Dr. Heathen Scum) Broy tells that Hoke played in a child symphony. He was serious about music, and his fellow musicians were once aspiring jazz fusion musicians. His  transition from jazz to perversion was a “conscious sell-out,” Broy says. 

There are g revelations from Duce and his sister that their father beat them viciously with a paddle. Maybe El Duce’s fascist posturing was more about outraging his father who had created the napalm bombs that maimed, tortured, and murdered in Viet Nam.

Ascher and Lawrence give us a look at the underground music world in the 1990s and what it meant to love sleaze. The first 2o minutes are disgusting— we see El Duce onstage screaming about raping women and hailing Hitler. During interviews he yells, burps, blows raspberries, and chugs plastic bottles of malt liquor while yelling about hate, sex, and alcohol. At first, we think that the film that will just showcase the heinous nature of the band and their lyrics and that would make it impossible to watch but  the documentary begins to transition into a deeper look at the character of El Duce, his desire to create art, and what it meant to pursue that art.

The film does not justify his actions. It tries to understand why someone who was so talented on the drums and loved jazz fusion, entered a world of perversion and used his art was perversion, a way to entertain audiences and speak to them about life, even though it was a life most didn’t want to face. He loved to make people uncomfortable, no matter what it took. Yet, Despite the heinous lyrics and the joking about sexual assault, we get a bit of understanding the methods to his madness.

“INTERSECTION”— A Thriller

“INTERSECTION”

A Thriller

Amos Lassen

Forty-year-old Jake Galloway is a charming and well-dressed conman who is the best wheeler and dealer in Sydney wheels and dealer in Sydney. One evening he receives a mysterious message with a picture of a gun being held to his son’s head that forces him to let go of a deal he has been working on.He then has to drive around the streets of the city in order to protect his son from his kidnapper and as he does, he realizes how the things he has done have affected other.

Jake (Matt Doran) understands that a stranger has kidnapped his son Josh (Daniel Kajtaz), and to keep his son from being killed, he is required to take care of certain tasks. The first thing he has to do is to help a business associate (Ishak Issa) with some legal troubles. Jake has only looked at life as a way to make and this is his punishment for that. The mysterious caller kills his two assistants (Lianne Mackessy, Gary Boulter) and Jake also finds a tied up woman (Lucy Fry) in his trunk who seems to be the key to it all although he has no idea how. The caller chases Jake to town, forces him to exceed speed limits, to tie up a policewoman (Liz Harper), to admit to his wife that he has cheated on her, and to commit murder while, at the same time, claiming that all these tasks are to make him a better man. But then, the caller asks Jake to pay the ultimate price …

The only focus of the film is Jake thus making this filled with suspense as his fears become very real. He must deal with his feelings as  a father, a husband and a human being. Doran gives a powerful performance as Jake and the direction by Samuel Bartlett is on point.

 

“QT8”— The First Eight: 21 Years of Quentin Tarantino

“QT8”

The First Eight: 21 Years of Quentin Tarantino

Amos Lassen

“QT8” looks  at the first eight films directed by Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino. Tarantino began his career with the trilogy of “Reservoir Dogs”, “Pulp Fiction” and “Jackie Brown”. In “Reservoir Dogs” we see how Tarantino had an incredible vision; “Pulp Vision” and “Jackie Brown” remained with us long after the lights came up.

Tarantino has said that he only ever wants to make ten films  but he actually has already done that. “QT8” contains chats from many cast and crew collaborators who go through every one of the films.

Michael Madsen talks about after his final scene with Tim Roth in “Reservoir Dogs” and how they were so covered in fake blood that when they hugged after it ended, it was so sticky that they had to be pried apart. He also shares that there were plans for a ‘prequel’ film but time has long since moved on, so we won’t get that now

There are many scenes in Tarantino’s films that are ‘stolen’ from previous ones and he admits this. To say anything about the director means that we must also hear something about the production company Miramax, and Harvey Weinstein and we hear about the allegations. However, we do not see Tarantino, himself.

Director Tara Wood immediately lets us know what she is doing in this film.  This is not an expose of Tarantino’s childhood but rather the work of a fan looking at her cinematic hero.

We go on a journey through the past 21 years of Tarantino’s filmography with Wood as our guide through the creation and release of those films. We learn how he turned his residuals from “The Golden Girls” into a feature film career,  about his inspirations and motivations and about his wide knowledge of cinema history.

Wood lets Tarantino’s fellow artists be the backstory, explaining how much love and reverence Tarantino pours into every shot, line of dialogue, reference, and detailed moment he commits to celluloid. We gain an understanding of the method behind the man who is obsessive and appreciative of the art of movies. We also gain a

a deeper appreciation for the man himself who had once worked behind video store counter. It all started for him in 1992 with his breakthrough film, “Reservoir Dogs”.

The film is divided into three distinct chapters: “The Revolution”, “Badass Women” and “Genre Play and Justice”.  Wood has captured the career of a visionary director through the lens of cast and crew. 

 

“ALONE WITH HER DREAMS”— A Coming-of-Age Story

“ALONE WITH HER DREAMS”

A Coming-of-Age Story

Amos Lassen

In this Italian coming-of-age story, “Alone with Her Dreams”  (“Picciridda”), one young girl’s life is shaped by a traumatic year. It tells the heartbreaking story of Lucia (Marta Castiglia), a young girl who’s left behind when her parents leave Italy to find work in France. Lucia is left in the care of stern grandmother, Donna Maria (Lucia Sardo), who’s revered in the community, even though she holds a very strong but secret grudge against her sister and her family. As Lucia struggles with life without her parents, she finds herself drawn to the forbidden part of the family and their secrets.  

 
 

Lucia spends a lot of her time being reprimanded by her grandmother and she’s so lonely that, at one point, she takes to leading a chicken around on a leash. Soon we see that all isn’t right for this family. The film eventually reveals what some of these strong women have had to endure to make them strong and that increases the weight of Lucia’s experience. 

As the film  comes to a close, the story is tied together quickly. We see a grown-up Lucia decades later, after the death of her grandmother. In the end, Lucia’s part in this family’s experiences feels underplayed—something that would add more depth and an emotional connection to the film—but it does offer more insight into some of the characters around her.  Lucia’s story is filled with challenges, pain, and difficult relationships, yet in the midst of the grim realities of this little girl’s life, the strong female characters manage to shine through. 

Lucia is caught in the middle of a family feud that goes back to her grandmother’s generation – as the stern woman has forbidden Lucia from having anything to do with Maria’s sister Pina (Ileana Rigano) or Pina’s daughter Rosamaria (Katia Greco). As Lucia waits to join her family in France, she struggles to find out just what led to this. Realizing that the truth of the situation is much darker than the gossip she’s been led to believe, history soon repeats itself in a twist of fate as the tragedy of the women’s past threatens to suck Lucia in as well.

The film takes a good thirty minutes to pull you into the Sicilian environment. The population is small and everyone seems to know everyone else. We see a timeless, foreign, and remote town where nothing happens. Themes of how abuse, trauma, and shame are passed down from one generation to the next under the guise of secrets and lies are an intricate part of the film. 

The film requires patience but that is really unimportant when looking at the film as a whole. It grows both more compelling and more universally relatable with each scene.  It is a special film about what it means to be a girl growing up in an oppressive Catholic culture where there’s much more going on beneath the surface than women are traditionally allowed to discuss. 

 

AFTERGLOW” & “RAY MEETS HELEN”— A Double Feature

AFTERGLOW” & “RAY MEETS HELEN”

A Double Feature

Amos Lassen

I missed both Alan Rudolph’s “Afterglow” and “Ray Meets Helen” during their original runs so this Blu ray was a great surprise. Double Feature] [Blu-ray]

“Afterglow” is a  romance about a handyman who wreaks havoc and builds romance in two marriages. Desperate to have a baby, Marianne hires Lucky Mann to remodel a nursery. There’s just one problem: Marianne’s not pregnant and her husband isn’t interested in sex.

“Afterglow” stars Nick Nolte as Lucky Mann and Julie Christie as a blue-collar husband and wife who have separate affairs with a much younger couple: cold, distant businessman Jonny Lee Miller and Lara Flynn Boyle, a horny, unhappy homemaker whose life gets a boost from the advances of Nolte’s handyman womanizer. Christie is in many respects the ideal Rudolph heroine: gorgeous, radiant, otherworldly. She provides a poignant and heartbreakingly human center to the beautifully realized universe of damaged souls and missed connections. Nolte more than holds his own against Christie complementing her aloof, depressed beauty.

In “Ray Meets Helen” we have bizarre, unrelated turns of events. Ray (Keith Carradine) and Helen (Sondra Locke,) each happen upon large sums of money which give them the chance to re-invent themselves. This new wealth lets the two old-timers to flirt with rebooting their lives

Ray is a onetime boxer who never made it, who now works  for insurance investigator Harvey (Keith David). On one such job investigating an armored-car mishap that left millions of dollars just laying around, he sees Andre (Joshua Johnson-Lionel), a young kid sneaking around with a suspicious backpack. He later realizes the boy has a large stash of money.  Andre is strangely blasé about the money thus allowing Ray to walk off lots of money and plans to reinvent himself.

Helen is a loner from farm country who stumbles across a woman who has just killed herself. Mary (Samantha Mathis) left her a note, an impromptu will leaving her estate to whoever should first encounter her corpse. Weirdly, Helen takes her up on the offer, leaving the body for someone else to worry about.

Both protagonists share their homes with ghosts of their younger selves filled with reminders of the possibilities they once had.

“SOUTHLAND TALES”— How the World Ends

“SOUTHLAND TALES”

How the World Ends

Amos Lassen

Writer/director Richard Kelly’s “Southland Tales” looks at the collision of the forces of totalitarianism and anarchism against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic, near-future world .  Set in Los Angeles in 2008, the city is on the brink of social, economic and environmental chaos. The characters include  an amnesia-stricken action star (Dwayne Johnson), an adult film star developing her own reality TV project (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and a police officer whose identity has split in two (Seann William Scott). They come together and intertwine with all humanity. Kelly gives us a movie that is a mind-melting multi-media experience. We have a universe to get lost in.

The film opens with a nuclear blast in Texas in an alternate-universe in 2005. It seems that the United States responded to a nuclear attack on that date by taking a fierce rightward turn.  This was World War III and it brought pain to Iran, North Korea, and other supporters of evil including an entity called US-IDENT that spies on the American population and totally polices the world-wide internet.

A revolutionary group known as the neo-Marxists (Amy Poehler, Nora Dunn, Cheri Oteri) has brainwashed the Iraq War veteran played (Scott) as a way of faking a Rodney King-like videotape that exposed police brutality in hopes of instigating a revolt against the new social order.

Meanwhile, the amnesiac action star with ties to the Republican has written “a screenplay that predicts the destruction but it is ignored. His girlfriend, a porn-star/current-events-chat-show-host and one-woman media empire works with him.   “Southland Tales” isa pop art look at a coming apocalypse and a dark sci-fi comedy filed with surrealism. It is both courageous and audacious as we visit a world we do not know but might expect. It is also a mess of non-continuity. Watching it is like being in the dream of someone else.

2-DISC LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS

  New 2K restoration by Arrow Films, approved by director Richard Kelly and director of photography Steven Poster

  High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentations of both versions of the film: the 145-minute theatrical cut and the 160-minute Cannes cut , which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2006

  Original lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and PCM 2.0 stereo soundtracks

  Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

  Audio commentary on the theatrical cut by Richard Kelly

  It’s a Madcap World: The Making of an Unfinished Film, a new in-depth retrospective documentary on the film, featuring contributions by Richard Kelly and members of the original crew

  USIDent TV: Surveilling the Southland, an archival featurette on the making of the film, featuring interviews with the cast and crew

  This is the Way the World Ends, an archival animated short set in the Southland Tales universe

  Theatrical trailer

  Image gallery

  Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jacey

  Limited edition collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Peter Tonguette and Simon Ward

“JSA – JOINT SECURITY AREA”— Two Warring Nations

“JSA – JOINT SECURITY AREA”

Two Warring Nations

Amos Lassen

In “JSA”, filmmaker  Chan-wook Park brings us a story of deceit, misunderstanding and the senselessness of war. When gunfire breaks out in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, two North Korean soldiers are dead while a wounded South Korean soldier (Lee Byung-hun) rushes to safety. The tenuous peace between the two warring nations is in trouble. A neutral team of investigators, headed by Swiss Army Major Sophie Jean (Lee Young-ae), is sent to question both sides to find out what really happened.

The DMZ is perhaps the tensest political border in the world and an incident like this doesn’t go overlooked. A special investigation is soon held under Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission and her written disposition of what happened is different from the other deposition written by another investigator..

We go back to before the incident and believe that the film is going to be a political thriller as we wonder about what actually happened that night. What the flashback presents is totally unexpected. Rather than taking the expected suspenseful thriller approach, JSA is a heartbreaking human drama.

We see how characters from both sides of the border can only act as far as their respective governments allow and how a sincere, harmless friendship eventually is buried under political constraints. Most South Koreans probably haven’t got much of an idea of how things are going on in the North and do not seem to care. It is quite surprising that one of the most distinct looks at this was made twenty-one years ago..

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

  High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

  Original lossless Korean DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and PCM 2.0 stereo soundtracks

  Optional English subtitles

  New audio commentary by writer and critic Simon Ward

  Isolated music and effects track

  Newly recorded video interview with Asian cinema expert Jasper Sharp

  The JSA Story and Making the Film, two archival featurettes on the film s production

  About JSA, a series of archival introductions to the film by members of the cast

  Behind the scenes montage

  Opening ceremony footage

  Two music videos: Letter from a Private and Take the Power Back

  Theatrical trailer

  TV spot

  Image gallery

  Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Colin Murdoch

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector s booklet featuring new writing by Kieran Fisher