Category Archives: Film

“HILLBILLY HORROR SHOW” (Volume One)– “Nuttier than a Squirrel Fart”

hillbilly

“Hillbilly Horror Show” (Vol. 1)

“Nuttier than a Squirrel Fart”

Amos Lassen

Volume One of “Hillbilly Horror Show”  is a one-hour anthology of short horror films created by up-and-coming filmmakers and hosted by our  three favorite, fun loving and beer-guzzling hillbillies, Bo (Bo Keister), Cephus (Scott Geiter) and their “Smo-Kin” cousin Lulu (Rachel Faulkner). The anthology was created by award winning writer and producer Blu de Golyer (House Of Good And Evil) and veteran actor and producer Bo Keister (Remember The Titans). The team selects and curates some of the scariest, most entertaining horror shorts found on this here planet.

The four films in volume one are:

franky

FRANKY AND THE ANT  — Franky (Emmanuel Todorov) and the Ant (Anthony Pavelich) are driving to work not talking about anything much., mostly talking trash. Franky teases the Ant since the Ant is still living with his mother. “Work” of course is burying the woman (Christine Woods) who lies in their trunk, all tied up and her head in a bag. She’s still alive but not in the best position to remain so much longer. She makes an escape attempt, but since she doesn’t see a thing through the bag, it’s doomed to fail – and fail she does. But for Franky, this is more than just another kill, something much more personal … The dialogue is witty and there are a few sight jokes to ease the tension. We see lots of blood until we arrive at a surprise ending.

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 AMUSED–Martha (Elise Rovinsky) arrives home from shopping,  to find her daughter on the kitchen floor – dead. Her assailant (Ryan G.Metzger), an obvious lunatic, leaning over her, scalping her, then using the scalp as some sort of hat. Martha drops everything including her cell phone and car keys and this attracts the attention of the madman, who comes after her. Martha finally manages to hide from the lunatic in a shack in the middle of nowhere, and once she’s sure she has shaken him, she makes her way to her neighbor’s house … to find her on the floor, dead, and next to her is the very same madman that killed and scalped her daughter. He is soaking up the neighbor’s blood with a banana and eating it. Weirdly enough, the madman is wearing different clothes and seems to have washed the blood off his face since the last encounter … Once again he comes after Martha. There is no dialogue but the film manages to find the balance between gore and suspense (in just 9 minutes).

 DOPPELGANGER — A lonely skeleton goes on a journey to find more of his own kind, only to find more than he bargained for. This was inspired by Ray Harryhausen’s animation.

THE NEST — Here a rancher must fight to survive when a swarm of over-sized flesh-eating bees escapes from a beekeeper that depends on their honey to keep her diner in business.

 There are three completed volumes so far. Volumes 2 and 3 will be released in 2015 and will feature gag reels and extra footage.

1ST ANNUAL ANTEBELLUM FILM FESTIVAL

“WAITING”— Israel at War

“WAITING”
Israel at War
Amos Lassen
 

 

 ,Waiting was released back in 2009, the film has become even more relevant, following the tragic death of its protagonist Lt. Col. Dolev Keidar, who was killed during operation Protective Edge, in July 2014.

 

waiting-thefilm trailer
Waiting – Trailer

 

It is 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning in the Israeli suburban town of Modiin. There are parallel lines of identical houses each flying flags from the front porches. Men in uniform, many of them carrying weapons, emerge from the houses and drive away. They will come back in two weeks.

 

 

What we see is a military neighborhood with 170 houses built for the families of army officers who leave their wives to deal with real, everyday life while they go to prepare for war.
 

 

This is a personal film made by the wife of one of the officers. It follows the life of a women left behind as their men go to “save the homeland”. The film is an attempt to understand an upside-down country where one is often expected not to simply enjoy life but rather to expect war and early death.
 

“HUGH HEFNER: THE FOUNDER AND EDITOR OF PLAYBOY”— An Interesting Look

hugh hefner

“Hugh Hefner: The Founder and Editor of Playboy”

An Interesting Look

Amos Lassen

Coming in October is a good-humored look at Hugh Hefner, a man who almost singlehandedly changed the morality of America. Tony Palmer made this documentary on “The Hef” in 1973 and it flashed a light on the multi-millionaire Hugh Hefner and his Playboy empire. It gave Hefner the opportunity to tell his story and, of course, it offended the usual suspects. The film shows Hefner’s rise from a small-time publisher to Playboy becoming one of the world’s best-known brands. 

 As Hefner says: “We had no money at all, and I mean literally no money. I doubt that any major magazine in our time has ever been started with as little initial investment. My own investment in Playboy was $600, all of it borrowed. The entire enterprise is now valued, in 1973, at something around $200 million.” 

 He continues: “The real essence of Playboy was trying to put not just sex, but the whole notion of play and pleasure, back into the American concept of living. And that proved to be a little more revolutionary than I realized when I started.”

Some of the critics responded”

 ”As distasteful as one might have expected.” 

- The Daily Express

 ”It blatantly flouted TV’s legal obligation not to offend against good taste and decency” 

Mary Whitehouse

“GROWING CITIES”— Growing Food in the City and Expanding Awareness

growing cities

“GROWING CITIES”

Growing Food in the City and Expanding Awareness

Amos Lassen

There are men and women in this country who are challenging the way we grow and distribute food in this country. Filmmakers Dan Susman and Andrew Monbouquette took a road trip to find these people and they show them to us in this film. They go from coast to coast and bring us the stories of urban farmers, city residents and activists who challenge the way we are fed in this country. There are those that grow their own food in their backyards, on rooftops and wherever they can and do so not just to save money but also for health reasons. It is about much more than good food.

The beauty of this film lies in its simplicity. Dan Susman is an easy-going person and he deals with the people we meet here directly and openly and we see the honesty and the inspiring nature of the farmers and gardeners that he interviews here. Susman brings forth the simple truth about growing one’s own food and we see how this brings people and communities together and even empowers them. They take control of what they eat, ensuring that the food they grow is healthy and the techniques used to grow it are earth-friendly. 
We live in a culture that has cut itself off from the roots of existence, the earth, and is suffering the consequences of that. We see this in rising crime, drug addiction, extreme wealth disparity, poverty, homelessness and abusive behaviors. Here we see people from across the country and from all walks of life coming together to grow their own food and teach the young people in the community how to have this simple kind of empowerment over their lives. This transforms them and their communities.

Dan Susman and Andrew Monbouquette are two young men from Omaha, Nebraska who became disillusioned with the lack of urban farming projects in their hometown and so they went on a road trip to search for people who grow their own food, who believe in the tremendous potential of urban farming and who are changing their communities through growing food.

It’s no wonder that the West coast has many well-established urban farms but there are also other places. “In San Francisco, municipal laws are lenient toward urban farmers, even inner-city livestock; and Seattle provides land to anyone willing to farm. Milwaukee, Chicago, and Detroit boast incredible operations that feed thousands, build community, and offer employment opportunities. New York City boasts impressive rooftop gardens; Boston continues to maintain an original, World War II-era Victory Garden; and farmers in Atlanta and New Orleans are working to make urban spaces green and productive, while training underprivileged youth”.

Urban farming is beneficial for many reasons. Aside from offering much-needed nutritious food to urban dwellers. Many Americans nowadays live in what’s called a “food desert,” where local stores don’t stock fresh produce regularly. Urban farming teaches Americans how to view vacant land in a new light. Wherever there’s space, there’s an opportunity to grow something. Even if you don’t own the land, many landowners are happy to have someone actively improve and beautify their empty lot for free, while benefitting the community.

What we need is a cultural shift in the perception of agriculture. Farmers need to be elevated in our society and regarded and respected, as are doctors and engineers. They are the ones who feed us.

“Growing Cities” is an inspiring, lighthearted, and educational film that has a lot to say. Try to see if you can and you just might find yourself thinking about growing your own next meal.

“HILL START”— A New Comedy from Israel

hill start

“Hill Start”

A New Comedy from Israel

Amos Lassen

In this comic drama Ora is in a coma as the result of a car accident.

 

 

As her children and other family members try to help her regain consciousness the viewer meets plastic surgeons, a wheelchair-bound marathon coach, a tough private investigator, a yoga instructor, a sensitive belly dancer and a big star in the Arab cinema. 

“HERO OF THE DAY”— Redemption

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“Hero of the Day”

Redemption

Amos Lassen

Mark Chambers (Mo Anouti) is a former football player who is down on his luck as he realizes that his life is not going the way he had hoped and planned. Allen, a documentary filmmaker wants to film Chambers on a typical day in his life but what he did not know was that this was going to provide redemption for Chambers. As the film begins we see Chambers trying to sell his championship ring (his finances are severely messed up). He also gambles at an illegal club and he seems to live his life on impulse. As we can all know impulsive living can be quite dangerous.

The film, while fiction, comes across as very real and this I attribute to the actors. As Mark, Mo Anouti gives a brilliant performance and Paul Dietz as Allen is convincing throughout. Many of us do not know what happens to heroes that were when life takes a turn for the worst and herein is the value of this film—how do we cope when the downside slaps us across the face? It is not just the financial difficulty that one has to face; there are social implications as well. Chambers loses his family and has other issues and we are reminded that many of the big names are just like us and we all suffer from similar problems. When Chambers makes the wrong decisions, he is not the only one affected and Allen sees this. He tires to find a way to stop Mark from defeating himself and we become more aware of the humanity of both of our characters.

   As I watched, I understood that this film is a labor of love and we see how easy it is for one to slide from the top to the bottom. 

“THE LITTLE BEDROOM”— A Story of the Heart

the little bedroom

“The Little Bedroom” (“La petite chambre”)

A Story of the Heart

Amos Lassen

Edmond’s heart is no longer strong but it still works and Edmond is still independent and against the idea of moving into a retirement home. He also refuses help from Rose, the person who takes care of him at home. Rose, however, stands up to him and she also knows what happens when someone is forced into doing what he does not want. Her own heart is still unhealed from some thing that happened to her in the past. It took a bad fall to get Edmond to accept help from Rose.

Rose (Florence Loiret Caille) returned to work to soon after a personal neonatal tragedy. On her rounds as community nurse she meets one of her new patients, 80 something Edmond (Michael Bouquet). Circumstances bring the two into close contact frequently and an unlikely bond of friendship gradually develops between Rose and Edmond. Edmond is not an easy patient. He lost his wife

, some 40 years earlier and now has only his unloving and unsupportive son Jacques (Joel Delsaut) to call ‘family’. Edmond is a diabetic and life seems to hold few surprises or joys. He is undisturbed at the idea of giving up on the will to live. Jacques intends his father be taken into care so that he, himself, can start life anew in New York.

Rose has a warm heart and clear mind. She encourages Edmond to do the simplest of things such as eating, and to accept insulin shots. They do not say much to each other but it is her presence and willingness to regard Edmond as a man and as a real human being has a profound effect on Edmond and it brings back his will to live a little every day. When a small fire in Edmond’s home occurs, Rose is there and deals with it even though the kitchen is charred. When Jacques sees it, he blames his father for starting the fire and accuses Rose of being too involved with his father. It is here that her boss decides Rose is not yet ready to return to work so soon after losing an unborn child and forces her into taking a long vacation.

Marc (Eric Cavayaka), Rose’s live-in partner, chooses to leave her to work abroad. After their separation Rose finds she has plenty of time available to care for Edmond whom she then takes to her own apartment where he stays. We realize that Rose needs a substitute for her lost child and this she finds in caring for Edmond. A strong friendship develops as they talk, dine together and go out. Edmond takes an interest in Rose once he realizes that she miscarried and still grieves long after her tragic loss. Rose takes Edmond to her child’s cemetery; where at the graveside he shows her which plants will last longest. Some might find this a bit morbid but it is actually quite touching.

The movie has fine acting from the two leads. Edmond stays with Rose, and they keep this as their secret. Jacques who is unaware of this situation reports his father as a missing person. Marc returns to Rose and also forms a bond with Edmond. 



There are some powerful dramatic moments such as when Edmond chooses to go on a mission and journeys alone to where memories of his deceased wife are strongest. Rose is deeply affected by what she though was Edmond’s disappearance. At this point to do any more summation of the plot would spoil the film. Stéphanie Chaut and Véronique Reymond co-direct and co-write with empathy, immaculate timing. We find ourselves swept up into the lives of the characters and the themes of humanity, compassion, dignity, and life’s unexpected events are constant throughout the film. This is, quite simply, a beautiful film.

“WAGNER’S JEWS”— A Strange Brotherhood

wagner's jews 

“WAGNER’S JEWS”

A Strange Brotherhood

Amos Lassen

From what we know of history, Richard Wagner was a notorious anti-Semite.  His writings about Jews were important to and embraced by Hitler and the Nazi party. However, this film teaches us something we did not know about Wagner and that is that many of Wagner’s closest associates were Jews – young musicians who became personally devoted to him, and provided crucial help to his work and career. Even more interesting is that as Wagner called for the elimination of the Jews from Germany, many of his most active supporters were Jewish.

I am sure that some of you are thinking what I thought when I first learned this— why were Jews drawn to him and with all of the hate for Jews that he harbored how could he accept them? These two questions are what this film answers and it is, incidentally, the first film to look at Wagner and his personal relationships with Jews (I almost feel like using the word Jew here is an anti-Semitic act). I remember all to well the volatile arguments that went on in Israel when I lived there as to whether or not the Israeli Philharmonic could play Wagner’s music.

The film was made in Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, and through the use of archival sources, re-enactments, interviews, and performances of original musical works by Wagner’s Jewish colleagues, we get a different look at Richard Wagner. The film also looks at the controversy in Israel and Zubin Mehta; the conductor of the Israel Philharmonic is interviewed here, as is Leon Botstein. The questions remain the same throughout history: “is it possible to separate the art from its creator? Can sublime music transcend prejudice and bigotry, and the weight of history”?

Directed by Hilan Warshaw the film is an intense look at the Wagner situation and does so evenly. The issue is still as complex as it has always been and because the director himself is a musician, he is able to look at the issue “polyphonically, pursuing many different voices and balancing contradictions, without once taking the floor himself at all.”

Wagner changed the face of the music of the west and he was without doubt a musical genius. But Wagner was also a hateful man—egotistical, selfish, a betrayer of friends, and a liar. His writings about the Jews are disgusting and vile and he was the personification of anti-Semitism. His essays were vitriolic rants that often crossed over into the delusional. Later Hitler adopted his writings and they helped cause even more hate in Germany.

How could it have been that Wagner had many rich Jewish supporters and admirers? He had Jewish musicians and conductors working for him, some who considered Wagner their mentor. Who were they? Why did they work for him or give him money? This documentary looks into stories of Jews who worked with Wagner or were tutored by him— Carl Tausig, a piano prodigy who was 16 when Wagner mentored him; Joseph Rubinstein, pianist and composer, and, most tragically, Herman Levy, a proud and accomplished conductor, the chief conductor of the Munich Orchestra, who was bullied and belittled by Wagner yet conducted the first performances of the Ring Cycle and Parsifal. We learn of the history of Wagner and the Jews as well as whether Wagner’s music should be banned in Israel. The eternal question pops up again and again— can or should we separate the person from his art? Wagner is the ultimate test of this question.

The DVD has several extras: Extended Interviews • Musical Performance: Rubinstein’s Parsifal • Deleted Scene: Death in Venice • Filmmaker Interview

“A PEOPLE UNCOUNTED: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE ROMA”— The “Gypsy” Holocaust

a people uncounted

“A PEOPLE UNCOUNTED: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE ROMA”

The “Gypsy” Holocaust

Amos Lassen

Many associate the Holocaust with the attempt at annihilation of the Jewish people and we forget that others were also destroyed at the same time. The Roma (Gypsy) appear almost only as an afterthought when we look at the darkest period of history in the existence of the world.

 The Roma (Gypsies) faced annihilation during the Nazi ‘Final Solution,’ yet have been relegated to a footnote in history. The Roma are still victims of extreme and often violent racial persecution. This film is the story of Europe’s largest minority group.

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A People Uncounted is a powerful journey exposing the tragedy of Europe’s largest minority group. Director, Aaron Yeger, visited eleven countries and interviewed many Roma (artists, historians, musicians, Holocaust survivors) and we see here the very rich and the very difficult lives led by the Roma. Through their music, words and poetry we see their story and learn that once again that in Europe there is racism and genocide for some ethnic minorities. We must never forget the lessons of history and be aware that it can, indeed, happen again. This is the first nonfiction feature dedicated to Romani victims and it consists of visual evidence, historical commentary and survivor testimonies.

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The Roma migrated northward from India during the Middle Ages, landing everywhere from Russia to the U.K. In some places they were forbidden to settle or own property and in other places they were segregated into ghettoes. Vlad the Impaler, Henry VIII and Maximilian I were among those who authorized their exile, persecution or outright murder. Nonetheless, a romantic popular stereotype of footloose freedom persisted. Today they are Europe’s largest minority as well as the European Union’s most discriminated against. They are widely associated with theft and miscellaneous other misdeeds and this gives right-wing politicians and ethnic nationalist groups a license to brand them undesirables and encourage hate crimes against them. We see one woman here that is so afraid that her educated, successful children will be tainted by association that she’ll only discuss her heritage while being photographed in silhouette. 

The Nazis targeted them and because their skin was somewhat dark and they lived in isolation they became easily identifiable. The Nazis had every intention of erasing them from the face of the earth and referred to them as “gypsy scourge”. Many perished in concentration camps; while countless others were simply shot or starved to death in their homelands. Survivors of this holocaust, which claimed up to 90% of Europe’s Roma population, tell frightening stories here, including one man who was subjected as a boy to Mengele’s experiments.

The catastrophe of the Roma was not hardly recognized after the war. There was no information about or mention of them at the Nuremberg trials and until recently they have not had academic or political voices.

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“A People Uncounted” primarily looks at the genocide of the Roma and Senti people during World War II. Yeger and also touches on parallels with the American Civil rights movement as well as genocide that has taken place in more recent years. There is a lot of ground covered within an hour and a half, maybe a bit too much for a film of that length but it is better to have a film that tries to say too much, than a film that essentially says very little.

There is no accurate count of Roma and Senti people who died in death camps or the various round-ups, but it estimated that the population loss was close to 90 percent. We see the historical perspective as well as current laws, in places such as in Italy where Roma people are registered and have been forced to move from cities such as Milan, where municipal laws are able to circumvent European Union rules. A montage of clips from movies and television shows touch on how “Gypsies” have been portrayed in popular culture with a mix of both prejudice and fanciful romanticism. It is the first person accounts that make A People Uncounted worth watching, both for providing some added historical perspective on a minority people, but also as an antidote to those who insist on trivializing history for their own dubious purposes.

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 Genocide is defined and the modern white power movement is deconstructed, giving a broad overview of the many issues and secondary indicators of ongoing discrimination and hate. The intent is to give a bigger picture idea of how the persecution of the Romani people that we see as an umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of different cultures — has persisted throughout history and is perpetuated in modern society.

 The modern motto of “We must NEVER forget, lest it happen again” reminds us that we do FORGET and in many cases, “we” do not even know or adequately acknowledge the existence of genocide being perpetrated against so many groups throughout the world – the Turkish genocide of Armenians, Stalin’s purges and Holodomor against 10,000,000 Ukrainians, the recent and various “ethnic cleansings” within the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda’s decimation of Tutsis by the Hutus – to name but a few. Yeger’s film is superbly researched and emotionally wrenching. We see the Roma as a people who have been “uncounted”.