Category Archives: Film

“ALL THINGS MUST PASS”— The Fall of Tower Records

all things must pass

“All Things Must Pass”

The Fall of Tower Records

Amos Lassen

Tower Records was established in 1960 and was once a retail powerhouse with 200 stores, in 30 countries, on five continents. From humble beginnings in a small-town drugstore, Tower Records eventually became the heart and soul of the music world, and a tremendously powerful force in the music industry. In 1999, Tower Records made an astounding $1 billion but in 2006, the company filed for bankruptcy. Everyone thinks that it was the Internet that killed Tower Records that’s not the story we learn here.

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Directed by Colin Hanks, we meet Tower Records founder Russ Solomon. For seven years, Hanks worked on the documentary that both lamented and celebrated the Sacramento-based record store that grew from an American retail powerhouse.

When news broke in 2006 that Tower Records filed for bankruptcy and liquidation with plans to close its doors entirely that year, many of us were sad to see Tower disappear. Many younger people had little reaction as it was not common for them to actually shop at a music store. However, regardless of everyone’s feelings about the closing, Tower Records had changed the music business, set trends, and became an iconic store for the 40 plus years the doors were open.

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“All Things Must Pass” documents the history of Tower Records from the original Tower Drugs store in Sacramento, California with a side business of selling new and used records at the drug store counter and expanded with the Tower Drugs’ owner’s son Russ Solomon who decided to open a store entirely for music, He opened the first Tower Records store on Watt Avenue in Sacramento opened in 1960. A few years later in 1968, Tower Records opened a new location in San Francisco, which at the time was the largest music store in the country. Later, stores opened up in Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, and more along the west coast. Japanese investors considered opening stores in Japan and Tower Records opened their first stores outside of the country in 1979. Following expansion around America in places such as New York, Boston, Nashville, New Orleans and Washington D.C., they also expanded international stores in Mexico, Canada, Thailand, Israel, Argentina, and more. Business was constantly growing and each financial risk they took seemed to only be a step in a positive direction.

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Tower was known for the best selection available and the storers were very large and carried thousands of albums, singles, merchandise, from every genre. They stocked the major releases while also promoting the independents and obscure acts. It also helped that Tower Records employees were knowledgeable about music. The young people who worked at the stores were huge music lovers and showed their appreciation by recommending and pushing personal favorites. Since there was no dress code, employees were able to wear whatever they wanted, giving a fashion sense into the retail world with individual personality. Tower Records published “Pulse”, a free magazine available at all locations featuring everything from interviews, upcoming release information, “desert island discs” sections, and much more. Tower Records advertised heavily, on billboards and on television and it worked. Their national TV ads made people interested and their forward looking and creative TV ads were way ahead of the competition. It was one of the first music stores to open an online store back in 1995 with tower.com.

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Tower Records saw the potential very early on in the Internet age and worked very closely with record companies. The stores sponsored in-store performances and autograph signings to increase awareness. They helped with the artwork and promotion of upcoming records and Tower even had its own art department to create visuals for in store use. Events held at Tower Records were some of the most important ways that even newer artists could get their names known. It was no secret that the employees had a good time at the workplace, sometimes with extracurricular substances helping out the celebrations. For music loving kids it was a place they dreamed of working but it was widely known that there were Tower Records clerks who had total disregard for customers who “lacked knowledge”. For some, it might have made shopping intimidating for some but it was a great place for others. Quite naturally, we want to know what happened?

There were many to put the blame on the easiest target which was Napster with the illegal file sharing network becoming a fast growing way for people to get music for free without even having to go outside. But Napster was not the only cause of Tower Records’ downfall. There were multiple issues to blame for the closure that started from the late 90’s. There was competition from other retailers and pricing wars were issues, with superstores such as Best Buy and Wal-Mart opening stores everywhere, and their lower prices for CDs and DVDs. Superstores might not have had the big selection, but they did have the overall lower prices for the major releases. Failures of international expansion was another case. Japan held on, but places like Mexico, Thailand, Taiwan, and others were struggling.

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The late 1990’s saw a time that recordable CDs became affordable for home use thus making copying in high quantities very fast and easy. Places like Thailand or Taiwan became heavily known for the places to buy bootlegged CDs for a fraction of the cost of the retail price, and for many in those countries, it made more sense to buy the unofficial CDs.. Record companies were also not helping things out. Their ideas were to sue Napster and its users and punish the downloaders rather that to find ways to work with the online distribution system. Because of lower sales figures, they decided to mark up the prices of the CDs, which would again prevent people from buying. Instead of taking chances on new bands or new styles of music, record companies cut back with letting go of employees and bands that were not worth the time and effort to market, while concentrating on bland pop music and bands that were guaranteed sellers. Essentially they were making it so it was more difficult for real music fans to actually buy music.

Hanks interviewed everyone that he could including Russ Solomon and his son Michael, as well as a large amount of former Tower Records employees that helped build it from the ground up. Hanks also includes interviews with famous musicians who talk about the Tower Records experience, Bruce Springsteen loved going to California to visit the stores, Elton John says he is probably the person who spent the most money at the business, and Dave Grohl who was an employee at a Tower Records in Virginia before concentrating on his music career. Throughout the documentary there is vintage film footage, vintage photographs and TV commercials to bridge the interview footage together. This is very well directed and well edited film that gets all its points across but there is something I would have liked to see— the viewpoint from the average shoppers.

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Hanks and writer Steven Leckart are very lucky to have fortunate to have the colorful commentary of Russ Solomon, the l octogenarian who started selling records in the back of his father’s Sacramento drugstore in 1960, and steadily built a global chain of Tower Records outlets. Each store was a mammoth music marketplace where virtually every recording imaginable was displayed for just browsing, shopping and/or impulse buying. Solomon shares screen time with several former employees and associates, all of whom are nostalgic about the wild-and-crazy early days of Tower Records expansion, when sales clerks hired off the street could work their way up to management positions, and lunch breaks often expanded to allow for excessive consumption of booze and drugs. The opening of the first store in Japan served to increase company-wide confidence that the fun and making money would never stop.

But it did stop. Even before Napster and other streaming services in the 1990s, Tower Records suffered dearly for its inability (or unwillingness) to adapt and evolve. The artificially high price of CDs, along with the end of the CD single, bothered customers who gradually rebelled against paying for tracks they didn’t care to hear. It didn’t help much when big-box retailers such as Best Buy and Wal-Mart started slashing CD prices in a loss-leader campaign to increase customer traffic. Steadily mounting debt led to management shakeups and layoffs, desperate measures that proved to be too little, too late, to keep Tower Records afloat.

In 1999, the documentary tells us early on Tower Records recorded $1 billion in earnings. Five years later, the chain entered bankruptcy. What  happened to Tower is all too familiar. We have seen it with Borders and Radio Shack and Comp USA. Once thriving retail chains have found themselves on the wrong side of history. What could have been a boring story comes to life in the hands of Colin Hanks and it is a compelling tale.

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Hanks interweaves talking-heads interviews, archival material and a retailer history lesson that is soundly constructed, briskly paced and affective. The film opens on the empty shelves that once contained endless stacks of CDs and records and then we see Solomon leaving for the airport.

Unfortunately, as the title of the movie tells us, all (good) things must pass. The ultimate reason for the decline of Tower was, as Russ Solomon says, “We weren’t successful in any of the other countries we went into,” further claiming personal responsibility by adding, “I’m stupid for saying yes to partnerships [in other cities] even though I didn’t totally believe in them.”

Solomon always seemed to believe in the people he hired, starting with down-to-earth Sacramentans who were relieved that their town finally had a place where its youth could hang out, even if that did mean essentially spending a lot of time in a parking lot. Heidi Cotler, who started out as a clerk and rose to the rank of VP of Operations, adds, “You know, in Sacramento, there weren’t very many places for kids to hang out. There was, like downtown, there was places. But in the north area, there was hardly any north area, so it was, you know, Tower Books and Records were in like this parking lot surrounded by nothing. And for kids in high school, that’s what you did.”

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By the end ofAll Things Must Pass”, Tower’s world is shrunk from the global to the mere span of Japan, which kept the business open as a result of its independent management. And so, with the final store closing at the original location in Sacramento, it was written, “All things must pass. Thanks Sacramento.” And what Tower was really thanking its city of origin for was that it embraced Tower and that was so special and unprecedented.

There are lots of extras:

Deleted & Extended Scenes

– 8801 Sunset Boulevard (10:35)

There was a public hearing and decision on making the former Tower Records building into a historically preserved location for local cultural resource. This features interviews from city officials who are for it, city officials who are against it, and former patrons sharing their memories. The actual footage of the public hearing and testimonials are presented.

in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0

– Art of Retail (6:14)

Tower was known for the extensive artwork by the art department, from the outdoor paintings and indoor decorations. Foamcore, paint, cutouts, cardboard, glue, tape, and everything they could find were used.

in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0

– Bob on Sunset (3:34)

Bob Delanoy tells the unorthodox story of how he became manager of Sunset Boulevard store.

in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0

– In-House Advertising (5:24)

Chris Hopson was a liaison between Tower and record labels. He talks about the TV ads created by Tower Records and the use of artistic commercials for national ads. There are a lot of TV commercial clips offered.

in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0

– In Stores (7:52)

Former employees talk about some of their most memorable in store appearances by various bands.

in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0

– Pink Elephants (3:20)

The infamous Capitol Records promo which included a spray painted Pink Elephant is talked about in more detail. They also settle whether it was the elephant peed on the floor inside, or that the elephant peed outside.

in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0

– Record Supply (3:50)

Russell Solomon talks about trying to convince record companies initially and why they all said “no” to his crazy plans.

in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0

Trailer (2:03)

The original trailer is offered here.

in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0

“THE ASSISTANT”— Mourning a Son

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“The Assistant” (“La Volante”)

Mourning a Son

Amos Lassen

As he is driving his wife Audrey (Sabrina Seyvecou) to the maternity ward to give birth to their first child, Thomas (Mailk Zidi) accidentally runs over and kills Sebastian, a young man on the road. Marie-France (Nathalie Baye), the mother, cannot and will not get over the mourning of her lost son. Some nine years later, Marie-France has become Thomas’ secretary and dangerously starts to interfere into his life. She has only one idea in mind: to get closer to his son…

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The death sets into motion events that will change everyone’s lives forever, including Marie-France (Nathalie Baye), who cannot recover from the trauma. When she takes a job as Thomas’s secretary he has no idea about her connection to his past. As Marie-France’s rage as a mother reaches tragic proportions, she insinuates herself into his life, his work and his family.

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Marie-France is determined to avenge her son’s death and to prove that she can do so. You will undoubtedly see hints of Alfred Hitchcock here yet directors Christophe Ali and Nicholas Bonilauri manage to call this film their own and have provided a great deal of suspense. There are times that the plot is a bit too hard to believe but actress Nathalie Baye is so wonderful in the role that we can overlook that. She knows exactly when to keep on the right side of plausibility. There’s nothing really new or groundbreaking about “The Assistant”—it is just a well-structured, well-paced thriller of a film.

Now with his marriage on shaky ground, Thomas is no longer living with Audrey. He is living with his son Leo (Jean Stan du Pac) and working for a firm of architects. Over the intervening years Sebastian’s mother Marie France has been plotting her revenge and manages to secure a job as Thomas’ secretary. She works her way into his family and eventually marries his father Eric (Johan Leysen). All the elements are now in place for Marie France to make Thomas pay for the death of her son.

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Revenge films are nothing new but this one is special because of the bravura performance of Baye. Even though Marie-France is in her late 60s, she still has a sex drive and she can instantaneously change from coquette to pure malice. Baye, herself is able to show a sexual confidence that would make other actresses envious. For her performance alone, this is a film to see.

“SAND STORM”— An Obscene Tradition

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“Sand Storm”

An Obscene Custom

Amos Lassen

Israeli writer-director Elite Zexer’s feature debut is about sexist cultural traditions in Bedouin society and the centuries-old Middle Eastern male dominance. It is a frustrating account of a mother and daughter and the cultural norms that favor the man. Set in the Negev Desert area in southern Israel, the characters are Bedouins who speak Arabic and polygamy is widespread.

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Middle-aged Suliman (Haitham Omari) shows up on the eve of his wedding to his second wife-to-be. His daughter Layla (Lamis Ammar) is called upon to help fix up the fancy new home next door that Suliman has built for his new bride. His first wife Jalila (Ruba Blal-Asfour) must suffer the humiliation of being escorted away by the local religious boss to make way for her replacement.

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Jalila accidentally learns that her daughter Layla is seeing a young man in a nearby town. Taking out her own unhappiness on her eldest daughter, she forbids Layla from seeing him again, which puts the young woman in the position of having to decide whether to remain an obedient daughter or to become a rebel within the highly restrictive community and within the context of a far more open, Western-oriented nation (of which we never hear the name).

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Suliman guiltily obliges his older wife by quickly finding the first “worthy man” locally available for his eldest daughter and he finds a heavy older man for Layla to marry. The film represents a feminist (by local standards) critique of long-entrenched attitudes that are in conflict with more modern societal norms. This is a look at the inequalities that entrap women (and the men they love and resent) in a Bedouin village.

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On the surface, the film presents a familiar feminist tale of a teenaged girl trapped between her desire to control her destiny and the constraints of her traditional family. It presents a sympathetic but clear-eyed look at the tangled inequalities that entrap women in a Bedouin village that sits somewhere between modernization and anachronistic patriarchy. The film was written and directed by a Jewish Israeli woman, Elite Zexer, and made with a Jewish-Arab crew. Visually the film is a feast for the eyes with its gorgeous shots of the desert.

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Men are not permitted at a Bedouin celebration in Southern Israel to welcome (with variable enthusiasm) the arrival of a second wife. Jalila fumes and not just because she’s going to have to share power with the younger newcomer but she is also dealing with her daughter and her secret lover at school. Suliman who has given his eldest child many modern advantages such as a cell phone, driving lessons, yet his is willing to sacrifice her future to an arranged marriage to a village man that Layla barely knows. In this culture, men call the shots but women clean up the messes. Jalila and Layla remain caught between loyalty to their disintegrating family and hunger for autonomy and experience that are prohibited. The fake mustaches signal both strength and vulnerability.

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The strands of her narrative come together to show that everyone is left the loser in polygamous marriage, a divide-and-rule institution that puts husband and wife against one another, but also hurts women who would otherwise be inclined to mutual support. There is no Hollywood ending here, only a bit of sad humor about interior décor. And yes, brides do wear dresses like the one you see here.

“WHEN JUSTICE ISN’T JUST”— The Reality of Justice

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“WHEN JUSTICE ISN’T JUST”

The Reality of Justice

Amos Lassen

David Massey’s timely documentary “When Justice Isn’t Just” looks at the concept and reality of justice in the United States, particularly in regard to racial disparities in the American criminal justice system. We see and hear from legal experts, local activists, and law enforcement officers as they explore the ongoing charges of inequality, unfair practices, and politicized manipulations of America’s judicial system. Even more important is that the film questions the tremendous number of police shootings of unarmed Black men and women.

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The documentary was filmed in cities all over America as it tries to discover why so many unarmed black people have been targeted and killed by law enforcement officers especially now that this issue that has taken such an important place in the American national consciousness. Director Massey asks the crucial question of how we can prevent more violence in this country, including Black on Black deaths.

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At its heart, the documentary examines our broken criminal justice system and focuses on the high incarceration rate of people of color. As we question the accountability of our justice system in cases of police violence, this film becomes an essential addition to the ongoing discussion about reform and renewal.

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David Massey tells us “we as filmmakers couldn’t sit on the sidelines without documenting one of the most important human rights issues facing America and the black community today.” We hear from Civil Rights Attorney Benjamin L. Crump, Dr. Cornel West, Black Lives Matter’s Dr. Melina Abdullah, Criminal Attorney Tom Mesereau, LAPD Deputy Chief William Scott, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill to name just a few.

“OUR LAST TANGO”— Rego and Copes

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“Our Last Tango”

Rego and Copes

Amos Lassen

Writer-director German Kral’s documentary “Our Last Tango” looks at the lives of some of its most prominent ambassadors, María Nieves Rego and Juan Carlos Copes, through the undoing of their 40-year symbiotic partnership. The very professional and romantic collaboration that had once been is replaced by memories of betrayal, resentment, and bodily decay. In archival footage of Rego and Copes as well as reenactments, we see the classic tango but in actuality, the film is more about the separation of the two dancers than it is about the tango itself. Here we see the tango as an embodiment of both love and hate. We have a union of two souls that is broken by a man who’s able to leave and move on but the woman stays behind never to recover.

María Nieves & Juan Carlos Copes in OUR LAST TANGO

María Nieves & Juan Carlos Copes in OUR LAST TANGO

“Our Last Tango” seems, at first, to be a look at the chronology of the dance as to the legendary two dancers who are now both in their 80s. Suddenly we realize that we never see we Copes and Rego never inhabit the same frame as each presents his/her version of what happened in the past. The film turns to leaving dancing behind and becomes an elegy to a couple that was once— “a testimony to classic heterosexuality’s perverse blueprint, as she belongs to him and he doesn’t belong to her”.

Ayelén Álvarez Miño and Juan Malizia in OUR LAST TANGO

Ayelén Álvarez Miño and Juan Malizia in OUR LAST TANGO

Throughout the film, the question of truth is equated to the essence of the tango. Copes sees that what happened between him and Rego as a chapter coming to a close and led him to a new lover, a younger woman. leading into a new love affair with a younger woman. Now that he has remarried, he is invigorated and appears to be flexible and confident in his old age and with no plans for retirement anytime soon. Rego still faces the end of a love story and joint career as a kind of terminal abandonment. She is alone and rehearsing her swan song even though she claims that this is not the case. Whatever she’s learned by the traumatic she is unable to internalize.

María Nieves & Juan Carlos Copes in OUR LAST TANGO

María Nieves & Juan Carlos Copes in OUR LAST TANGO

Copes’ memories go back to when they began to have problems immediately after their wedding in the 1950s. Rego took a beak and Copes, she says, just wanted to just tour by himself with other dancers. Copes dos not hold back and says that he could not stand her anymore. Director Kral never suggests that one version is closer to the truth than the other.

The question of truth is equated to the essence of the tango—“its ability to articulate emotional contradiction so stunningly, its existence inside a reality of paradox that never has to resolve itself”. Aggression and tenderness, passion and repulsion do not clash while dancing.

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Rego remembers growing up in a poor home and watching her mother go through garbage to find food to put on the table. She has much to say about her love of the tango and shares her own understanding of the dance and how she became better at it as years passed. She also tells us that the only thing she would change about her life is having put so much other feelings in her former long-time dance partner and lover, Juan Carlos Copes.

Copes is more stoic and a far less animated speaker and is honest about his own faults, even though he doesn’t necessarily take responsibility for them. He talks about his infidelity, candidly sharing that he felt confined by the traditional romantic paradigm. And though he complains about Rego, he does try to say about how he was never able to replace her in the context of dance. We realize that the tango is a mirror of the love affair between the two dancers.

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Kral uses re-enactments to visualize the historical aesthetic and mode of dance being spoken about when he interviews the two former lovers. The dancing that we see here is beautifully choreographed and wonderfully executed. Both the archival footage of the documentary subjects and the dancer recreations are highly compelling and this takes us away fro a linear documentation about the two former lovers. There is also some fine humor in the candidness of the characters and everyone will finds something to enjoy here.

“THERAPY FOR A VAMPIRE”— Freud and the Vampire

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“Therapy for a Vampire” (“Der Vampir auf der Couch”)

Freud and the Vampire

Amos Lassen

In Vienna in 1932 and Count Geza von Kozsnom (Tobias Moretti) has lost his feeling for life. His marriage has all but ended centuries ago and he no longer feels that he has a purpose in life. Dr. Sigmund Freud (Karl Fischer) has an innovative new approach to solving life’s existential problems and is accepting new patients. The count decides to see if Freud can help him get over his ennui. During their night sessions (as a vampire, Kozsnom can only be out at night), the good doctor suggests the Count appease his vain wife (Jeanette Hain) who is desperate to see her own reflection that she has commissioned a portrait of her by Viktor (Dominic Oley), an aspiring painter. However it’s Viktor’s headstrong girlfriend Lucy (Cornelia Ivancan) who most intrigues the Count who is convinced that she is the incarnation of his one true love. It doesn’t take too long before everything gets mixed up and comes crashing down on the hapless group. This is a very funny decadent comedy filled with camp and Austrian writer/director David Ruhm will forever change the way you see vampires.

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I can only imagine how difficult it is to find something new about vampires with which to make a new movie. The topic has been so popular and so overworked that it is really hard to think of what has not been done. Director Ruhm, instead of picking one aspect of vampire life decides to use them all in this film. This makes “Therapy for a Vampire” a celebration of vampire cinema as influences pop up everywhere in the feature. The film tries to avoid the norm with elements of humor and horror and Ruhm’s love for darkness is seen throughout the movie that makes this a fun movie.

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When Viktor agrees to paint Elsa’s portrait, Viktor exposes himself to the world of vampires. We see that both the count and Viktor have been living lives that do not satisfy them. Viktor has been hired by Freud to help illustrate his dreams that are to be collected in a book filled with odd imagery that touches on the surreal and the sexual. The count comes to Freud for help— to purge his phobias and concerns, finding an outlet for his frustrations with Elsa. His marriage is one of crisis since the husband and wife have been together for centuries and are both bored with their other half. The count’s tale of obsession is amplified by is own battle for satisfaction, sharing his fears (and furious OCD) with Freud, who challenges him on his decisions and self-image as he probes into his insecurities. Viktor has been taking Lucy for granted and he disturbed by her seemingly spiteful connection with the count. As Viktor paints Elsa we see that she is a self-conscious vampire who has been offered a chance to face her own existence after a loss of literal reflection. She welcomes art because it is a way to make herself whole again. For Viktor, the job is very unusual.

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We film follows two sets of lovers with one couple undead and the other very much alive. It is Dr. Sigmund Freud (Karl Fischer) who brings the characters together since he’s both Count von Közsnöm’s therapist and Viktor’s employer of sorts. When Viktor leaves a painting of his wife with Freud the Count’s sows an interest, because he’s reminded of an old lover from hundreds of years back. In the painting, Lucy is has blonde hair because of a fantasy Viktor has and this is what makes her look like the count’s former lover.

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Both Lucy and Elsa von Közsnöm act out against male counterparts who seem to have lost interest. I found Rühm’s take on vampires to be fun. Both Tobias Moretti and Jeanette Hain play the Count & Countess Közsnöm with reverence to vampire movies of old making this something of a horror/comedy.When the count is convinced that Lucy is Nadila (his former lover) reborn, we see a spark of life in his undead eyes as he thinks that a bite on her neck can make Lucy his. 

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“Therapy for a Vampire” takes a unique wink at the troubles of a formerly fearsome count fighting to find the love that Elsa has denied him.  Not only does this satirize vampire movies but it also plays with parodying love and marriage. We see humans, and vampires, handle their significant others when there is a need for fresh excitement.

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“Therapy for a Vampire” is more subtlety than slapstick with clever characters ably acted by a clever cast. 

THE BUNKER”— Home Schooling

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“The Bunker”

Home Schooling

Amos Lassen

A nameless young student (Pit Bukowski) seeks quiet and solitude to focus on an important project ends up as the teacher of a peculiar boy who is home-schooled by his parents in an isolated bunker mansion. “The Bunker” is a dark, twisted, and funny tale about childhood, growing up and education.

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A serious university student rents a windowless concrete room in an underground bunker to work on his research and discovers that the family from whom he rents the room wants him to home-school their son. Nikias Chryssos brings us a weird and funny movie filled with absurdities. We are never quite sure what is going on in the family’s home, where an unnamed father (David Scheller) and mother (Oona von Maydell) live with their overgrown man-child Klaus (Daniel Fripan), but something’s definitely not right. When a nameless student answers the family’s ad for a room to rent moves in, he soon finds himself tutoring young Klaus, who is being groomed for great things by his parents even though he has obvious mental shortcomings. The student also begins an affair with the mother who still wants to breast feed her adult son. The mother also has a talking scar on her leg that she claims is really an alien intelligence.

The setting is claustrophobic and this along with the small cast of just four people is at times uncomfortable for the viewer. The film seems to be mainly concerned with the unrealistic expectations parents can place on their children, the lengths they will go to in order to get them closer to achieving those goals, and the often unhealthy desire to keep seeing their offspring as children even when they become adults and should be breaking away on their own.

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The movie is twisted, trashy and a lot of fun. I suppose we can say that it is a dark fairy tale with a tablespoon of sci-fi, and a dash of camp. The son thinks that he is being groomed for the American presidency even though he will always be eight-years-old in the mind of his parents.

When the student arrived at the place where he rented a room, he finds that it is a bunker and that the ;lake-view that was advertised is non-existent. In fact any view is non-existent since the bunker is underground. The family that lives there is an odd bunch to say the least. This becomes clear when student is forced to take over the home schooling of Klaus at the insistence of Heinrich, the opinionated alien overlord who lives inside mom’s voluptuously swollen leg.

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Even as the film moves from one surprise to the next, director Chryssos has steady command of everything. Even though the film is totally unrealistic, it has something to say about the dangers of burdening a child with unrealistic expectations, such as the parents’ insistence on Klaus’s preparation for his future in the White House (the fact he’s a German citizen is the least of this kid’s problems, as Klaus can’t even remember the capitals of Belgium and France). Everyone keeps pretending that 30-year-old-looking Klaus is a preteen whose mother still needs to breastfeed might at first register as simply another absurd occurrence, though it is actually the idea that the parents don’t want their baby to grow up because that would mean that he’d leave them to their own lives and without a common project, an idea that plays right into the film’s perfect ending.

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“YHOMELESS”— To Be Homeless

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“yHomeless”

To Be Homeless

Amos Lassen

Most of us have never experienced what it is to be homeless. Director Glen Dunzweiler was faced with the threat of becoming homeless and it seemed very real to him. As far as he knew, those who were homeless were drug addicts and the mentally ill and the realization that he might be soon joining them caused him to question what it is like to live on the streets. To find the answer to this, he traveled across America to meet with the homeless of this country. Several years ago, I did the same and decided to live for a month among the homeless and I gained a whole new understanding of what homelessness is.

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Just recently, homelessness was declared to be a state of emergency in nine states in America. We began to see that there is an upward trend in this country that began after the recession. Many began to understand that thy were just a few steps from the street. This film focuses on the new homeless. In 2015 California, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii and New York were among the nine states that were declared to be in a state of emergency. In that same year, New York City reported that between 2011 and 2014, homelessness rose at an astonishing rate. Statistics show that 60,939 men, women and children were living in municipal shelters.

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Using money that he had emarked for the bank, Dunzweiler went on the road to thirteen American cities where he interviewed homeless people and service providers to find out what it is like to be homeless in America. The new homeless were those who lost their homes due to a job loss or the economic downturn and these were the people that Dunzweiler was interested in. He was on the road for four months, living out of and sleeping in his car (or on friends’ couches) and taking showers at a local branch of his gym. He did the interviews and the filming himself and he soon learned that what he had thought about the homeless was incorrect.

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He thought being homeless meant that a person was an addict or a mental case and while in some cases this is true, it is certainly not true for all homeless people. He interviewed people living on the streets in Santa Monica (CA), Riverside (CA), Sacramento (CA), Los Angeles (CA), San Francisco (CA), Las Vegas (NV), Portland (OR), Denver (CO), Kansas City (MO), Washington (DC), Memphis (TN) and Springfield (MA)] and he interviewed service providers in the same places.

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His film looks at the misconceptions many have about the homeless. We see that not all people “choose” to be homeless and that panhandling does not supply one’s basic needs. Many have thought that panhandlers make good money and se see here that this is not the case at all. We also see that not all who are homeless and living on the streets are addicts or mental cases. It might surprise some to learn that while men are more visible, thee are many families and women who also are homeless. It seems that homeless veterans get better care than just the homeless but in some cities the number of homeless veterans is one in four. One of the main reasons for being homeless is the lack of affordable housing and incomes that decline for whatever reason.

“TYRANT”— Going Back to Abuddin

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“TYRANT”

Going Back to Abuddin

Amos Lassen

Barry Al-Fayeed has been living in the United States for twenty years, during which time he got married to Molly Olson, and had two children (Sammy and Emma), with her. He a pediatrician in Pasadena. This When he was sixteen, he, whose family names was then Bassam, escaped his e middle eastern country of Abuddin, where the Al-Fayeeds have been the dictatorial rulers for generations, normally of violent and repressive regimes which he could not morally tolerate. He has not been back to Abuddin since. On his mother’s urging, he decides to go back to Abuddin with Molly and family in tow. He may find that leaving Abuddin this second time around is more difficult as he gets ensconced in the troubles the Al-Fayeeds are facing in general as they continue to rule the country as a repressive dictatorship. The longer Barry stays, the more it affects the only life of democratic freedom Molly, Sammy and Emma have ever known.

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Set in a make-believe land called Abbudin a country that is economically prosperous but politically oppressed because of the iron-fisted rule of its dictator Khaled Al-Fayeed (Nasser Faris), with an assist from his deranged oldest son, Jamal (Ashraf Barhom).

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Enter, Barry (Adam Rayner), the younger son, who moved to America 20 years ago and hasn’t been home since. Now he has come back for his nephew’s wedding brings Barry, his wife Molly (Jennifer Finnigan), and their teenage children, Emma (Anne Winters) and Sammy (Noah Silver) back to Abbudin. Molly thinks a heart-to-heart with his dad will be good for Barry’s soul. Sammy is, of course, enticed by his family’s wealth, and oblivious to the dangers around him. Barry, however, knows that dark secrets and violence are a family legacy, and indeed, he understands both the risk and the allure of power. He wants to leave as soon as possible. The family, however, won’t let him.

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The entire population of Abbudin is divided between the obsequious and the murderous but we must remember that Abbudin does not exist even though what we see may indeed exist somewhere else. Barry had hoped to cut all ties to this kind of life, and we see why through flashbacks to some of his earliest days. His older brother Jamal was clearly chosen to take over, and Barry was largely ignored. Such is the way of second sons. Jamal has grown into a psychopath but he isn’t quite as bright as his younger brother.

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Despite the atrocities his father visited upon him in his youth, and the fact that he fled to the U.S. all those years ago, he decides to return for a visit.

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We also realize that Barry doesn’t head back to America in the near future from almost the moment the show begins.

“JEKYLL AND HYDE… TOGETHER AGAIN”— A Raunchy Comedy

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“JEKYLL AND HYDE… TOGETHER AGAIN”

A Raunchy Comedy

Amos Lassen

If you are in the mood for a raunchy comedy, Mark Blankfield as Henry Jekyll, whose split personality turns him into a crazy “macho man” Jerry Belson directs Blankfield and Bess Armstrong in this early ‘80s cult comedy favorite, being brought to DVD here for the first time.

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 Belson turns the Robert Louis Stevenson classic upside down.  While researching a drug that would make surgeries obsolete, Dr. Daniel Jekyll inadvertently discovers a substance that unleashes the animal that lives inside every man. Using himself as a guinea pig, Jekyll reverts from his shy, self-effacing, serious self to the hypersexual, non-stop party guy alter ego, Mr. Hyde.

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 While most film adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, tend to center their attention on the story’s memorable portrayal of a dual persona split in two, others have tried to rework the material for comedy. These usually focus on the underlying sexual connotations. Here is one that is both very funny and very clever. Hubert Howes (Peter Brocco) comes to Our Lady of Pain And Suffering in dire need of a complete transplant — heart, lungs, kidneys, testicles, the works. He has unlimited funds at his disposal and has specifically requested that Dr. David Jekyll one of the world’s leading surgeons, be scheduled to perform the risky and demanding procedure.

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Unfortunately for Mr. Howes, Dr. Jekyll has decided to turn his back on surgery and instead is focusing his attention on pharmaceuticals. His ongoing research in creating a drug that would enhance one’s natural animal instincts have yet to produce any positive results, but Jekyll has stayed firm trying achieving his goal. Not even Jekyll’s boss Dr. Carew’s (Michael McGuire) empty threat of intervening in the young doctor’s engagement to daughter Mary (Bess Armstrong), will deter him from turning his back on surgery. After a long night of cataloging earlier failures, Jekyll inadvertently snorts a powdery concoction that transforms him into the spastic, gyrating Hyde. He has chest hair, a gold tooth and an unruly head of hair and gathers as much of the white powder as he can and goes out into the night in search of a good time.

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He meets Ivy (Krista Erickson),a prostitute and is smitten by her. Hyde tracks her down at the local sushi parlor/punk rock club, Madam Woo Woo’s, where performs with her new wave band, The Shitty Rainbows. Hyde talks himself into Ivy’s bed but the following morning, it’s Dr. Jekyll who awakens. Filled with guilt, Jekyll tries to spice up his relationship with his fiancée, but the feeling of freedom and sexual empowerment that Hyde has introduced to him becomes addictive. Eventually he agrees to perform the surgery on Mr. Howes and Jekyll attempts to break free from his alter ego by flushing the remaining powder down the drain.

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This is a movie with no political correctness as it pokes fun at the issues of the day (the 80s) including the popularity and use of cocaine as it exploits such trends as video arcades and the emerging hardcore punk scene. Mark Blankfield seems to be having great fun in the dual role and gives us quite a performance as Hyde. Produced by Joel Silver, we see a number of familiar faces, most of whom have less than two lines of dialogue, if any. Tim Thomerson plays cross-dressing plastic surgeon Dr. Lanyon, and is a key player in one of the film’s many unforgettable scenes. Distracted by collogue Jekyll’s emotional confession, Dr. Lanyon botches a boob job to epic proportions, although the surprisingly thankful patient doesn’t think her husband will mind. Lin Shaye plays the nurse opposite Hyde. A young Barret Oliver gets an egg smashed into his hair at a supermarket. George Wendt plays an injured patient wary of Dr. Jekyll’s peculiar behavior, but look quick because he is only briefly heard and seen in profile. Cassandra Peterson (Elvira), who plays Dr. Jekyll’s right hand nurse, has a number of scenes but wears a facemask with a lipstick kiss imprint throughout her screen time that completely covers her lovely face. If it were not for her distinctive voice and recognizable chest, you’d never know it was even her. Robert Louis Stevenson even makes a brief cameo just before the end credits..

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The people behind this movie knew what kind of movie they were making. Not only did they say that Robert Louis Stevenson, would be turning in his grave, they went right ahead and showed him doing exactly that in the final moments of the film. This is the kind of comedy that isn’t afraid to over-do it and they use slapstick, sexual innuendos and drug humor.