Category Archives: Film

“THE STORM MAKERS”— Cambodia’s Human Trafficking

the storm makers


Cambodia’s Human Trafficking

Amos Lassen

Guillaume Suon’s “The Storm Makers” is the story of Aya, a Cambodian peasant girl former slave who at the age of 16, the young Cambodian peasant was sold to work as a maid in Malaysia. While in Malaysia, she was exploited for two years and received no salary. She was beaten and abused. When she could return to her village, she was just as poor as she was before she left and she brought with her a child conceived during rape.

the storm makers 1

The film looks at modern-day slavery in Cambodia by giving viewers the fate of this young woman and the daily lives of two human traffickers, a local recruiter and the head of an agency. Cambodian people call these traffickers “Mey Kechol” (the Storm Makers).

More than half a million Cambodians work abroad and a third of these have been sold as slaves. Most are young women who are held as prisoners and who are forced to work in terrible conditions, sometimes as prostitutes, in Malaysia, Thailand and Taiwan.

the storm1

The “storm makers” use deception to funnel a move poor and illiterate people across the country’s borders. French-Cambodian filmmaker Guillaume Soon presents here an eye-opening look at the cycle of poverty, despair and greed that fuels this brutal modern slave trade. The film provides brutally candid testimony as it exposes this horrible practice and it is an eye-opening look at the complex cycle of poverty, despair and greed of this brutal modern slave trade.

The story is told from the perspectives of three people, a former slave whose return home is greeted with bitterness and scorn by her mother; a successful trafficker who works with local recruiters to move the slaves across borders, and a mother who supplies the recruiter with not only local girls, but also with her own daughter.

the storm 3

Aya was eventually able to run away but after she was recaptured, she was brutally rape, only to be captured and raped. When she returned home with an infant son, her mother greeted her not with anger that her daughter had come back and brought with her another mouth to feed instead of money.

Cambodians call places like the village that Aya came from “ghost towns.” Director Suon and his assistant director, Phally Ngoeum, researched and filmed for three years, spending long periods in Cambodia’s villages and cities, and were able to gain the trust of both the victims and perpetrators of trafficking.

the storm3

Pou Houy, 52, is a successful trafficker who runs a recruitment agency in Phnom Penh and claims to have sold more than 500 girls. He is surprisingly outspoken and shameless and expresses no remorse, rather he sees himself as a smart businessman, a good provider and even a good Christian. Although his company has been accused of trafficking by the local media, he has never been investigated by the police and continues to recruit young and poor Cambodians to work abroad. His business depends on local recruiters, who bring him candidates from their rural communities. One of these, Ming Dy, sold her own daughter and continues to bring Houy h new recruits from her village. She justifies her actions by claiming she has no other way to pay her bills.

the storm4

One of the most emotional scenes shows Ming Dy’s husband who cannot bring himself to speak to his daughter when she calls from a new job abroad, where she earns a dollar a day. He says that he told his wife not to sell young people from the village—. “Buddha condemns those who sell people like animals. I could have sold the bike and the oxen to pay back our debts. . . . this money will bring us bad luck.” In another, a woman shows a picture of her 20-year-old daughter, who committed suicide in Cambodia after being trafficked. says Ming Dy. The mother tearfully warns a new candidate for migration to not go.

Pou Houy, the trafficker, supports not only his immediate family, but a dozen or so other relatives as well. His modern home, fancy car and concrete driveway are in sharp contrast with his relatives’ house right next door and its dirt road. But food is plentiful, and they are all better off than most people. He had been starving before he began his business and he promised himself never to be poor again. He tells us that in Cambodia one has only two choices: to be a slave or a trafficker.the storm5

We can only wonder how a country can become a state where trafficking family members and neighbors become acceptable. We are told that about five or six years ago, during the financial crisis, a lot of factories shut down in Cambodia and thousands lost their jobs and had to find a way to earn money. Trafficking networks took power because they were able to send thousands and thousands of people abroad — for them it was a golden opportunity, because people were starving.

The film not only explores the political and economic roots of human trafficking but also the moral choices being made by those on both sides of the equation. Cambodian migrants have been reduced to the status of slaves. They are transparent, or worse, completely invisible.

Both men and women are affected by the trafficking and despite recent economic growth, 26% of the adult population cannot read and write and nearly 20 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. The ongoing political tensions in the country combined with the significant unemployment triggered by the 2008 financial crisis led to hundreds of thousands of people desperately looking for work.

The director lived in Cambodia for seven years, including in the country’s villages, where most of Cambodia’s trafficking victims come from. Nearly everyone knows someone who has taken the journey, and villagers were quick to point out the “storm makers” within the community. Due to the sensitivity of the issue, Suon and his small team had to spend time gaining the trust of locals. This is film is the result of those years.

“OF MEN AND WAR”— Portraits of American Veterans

of men poster

“Of Men and War”

Portraits of American Veterans

Amos Lassen

After years of military service away from home, a group of American veterans come home and they are very angry. While physically they are here, their minds are still on the battlefield thousands of miles away. What these military men share is memories that are traumatic and their lives are filled with ghosts and the echoes of the war that they thought that they had left behind. Their wives and families have to deal with those memories and the fractured spirits that these man have to deal with. “Of Man and War” looks at their journeys to recovery as the men try to make peace with themselves and their families.

of men1

“Of Men and War” is a sensitive plea for help for these men and it is a film that is not only emotionally honest but a look at a moral and psychic imperative. argues for emotional honesty as a moral and psychic imperative. Director Laurent Bécue-Renard avoids the politics of modern warfare and maintains a rigorous focus on past traumas and present struggles of its subjects of this group of PTSD-inflicted veterans who now live at a health-care facility in California’s Napa Valley. A pioneering PTSD therapy center, The Pathway Home, tries to help them readjust and find meaning in their trauma and they work with a therapist who, himself, is a veteran who saw action in Vietnam. Early in the film one of the veterans speaks about his first experience killing another man: “I don’t know what he looked like before he got shot. I know what he looked like after.”


The camera then leaves his face and reveals a room full of soldiers gripped by similar images they can’t escape, regrets they can’t shake, or decisions they can’t take back. This camera movement defines the format of treatment at work here—group therapy—and its ultimate purpose is as one doctor says, “to bear witness to you sharing yourself.”


The director remains an invisible presence throughout his film. We wonder as we watch if the reason that half of the vets in these therapy sessions wear sunglasses because of the presence of a camera or because they’re afraid to have their peers look them in the eyes. We see men in varying states of anguish, and with varying ambitions for recovery. They must be brave if this therapy is to take root and help them. Most of the shots we see here are of isolated faces in front of cement walls; a moderating therapist is mostly invisible and an authoritative voice from behind the camera, not unlike a director. Sometimes the patients interact with one another on camera but by and large, the vets are alone to overcome their individual traumas. The film insists that other bodies and voices are crucial to their hopes for recovery, but reminds us of the walls that must come down first. While we develop an investment in the health of these subjects, but remain aware that we’re unable to reach out to them.

of men3

Slowly, we begin to see something that looks like a path to recovery that moves out into broader social spheres. The faces of therapists are revealed, and then the film hesitantly introduces familial and community relationships: wives and girlfriends appear; then children; then friends, schools, and sports teams. These scenes are emotional and beautiful— we see one veteran whose leg shakes uncontrollably as he sits through a college undergraduate lecture; another scolds his child too harshly, and just barely seems to realize that his anger is misdirected.

of men4

Bécue-Renard, shot this film over the course of six years and he observes these moments with a clinical eye, rarely altering his gaze and insisting that patience and self-regard are essential to healing. The flow of events mirrors the nature of recovery, and the impossibility of a cure. As each vet deals with impermanence, we see that they scarred. In the film’s final shot, a father hoisting his child onto his shoulders and walking away from the camera, points out that even a spontaneous moment of tenderness can be the result of anguished confessions and persistent efforts at self-improvement.

After two hours of these sessions, we feel our trust to be lies not with the apparatus of recovery but with the men themselves. It is not that they will never live easier and the film in no way masks or simplifies the harsh realities of PTSD. This stubbornness, an insistence that the roughness of war be taken seriously is what makes this such an important film and an essential document of 21st century American conflict. 

of men5

”Of Man and War” opens across the United States after a New York opening on November 6 at The Cinema Village and the Los Angeles Release will be on November 13. It then will begin to platform in the top 50 markets on November 20.

“BEST OF ENEMIES”— Vidal and Buckley

best of enemies

“Best of Enemies”

Vidal and Buckley

Amos Lassen

The year 1968 was an important one for television news. ABC was in third place news wise and it was searching for ways to raise their ratings so the network hired two towering public intellectuals to debate each other during the Democratic and Republican national conventions. William F. Buckley Jr. was a leading light of the new conservative movement. A Democrat and cousin to Jackie Onassis, Gore Vidal was a leftist novelist and polemicist. Neither man trusted the other and they each felt that the other’s political ideologies were dangerous for America. They pummeled out policy and personal insult – their explosive exchanges became vitriolic name-calling. Live and unscripted, they kept viewers riveted. Ratings for ABC News skyrocketed, and a new era in public discourse was born.


The documentary, “The Best of Enemies,” is a replay with commentary on the 1968 debates between the two. From the very beginning, the two men argued and by the eighth debate, Vidal called Buckley a “crypto-Nazi” and Buckley responded by calling Vidal a queer, a first for live television. Neither man ever completely recovered from this; their remarks haunted each of them the rest of their lives.


Buckley and Vidal debated issues back then that are the same issues that talk about in 2015: money, the right to assemble peacefully, the far right versus the far left. It is very obvious that these debates were harbingers of what was to come on television. Unfortunately no one since Vidal and Buckley has risen to the level of these two fierce debaters—regardless of which man you are rooting for or if you remain neutral. As the documentary opens, we see Vidal talking about old pictures hanging up in his house and one of them is of Buckley and Vidal at one of those debates. We then get some background as to who these two men are, and why ABC chose to have the debates rather than traditional convention coverage.


The documentary is co-directed by Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon, who are affiliated with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank. However that does not mean that the film is kinder to Buckley than it is to Vidal. The two men show vehement disdain for each other, even before these debates, and much more so afterwards. One reporter commented that the debates were “a confrontation of life styles”. ABC’s ratings went through the roof, and the other mainstream networks quickly realized they had to have their own versions of these “point-counterpoint” programs. The Buckley-Vidal debates set into motion what would eventually become the Fox’s and MSNBC’s news channels. The film also examines the long shadows cast be the debates over the personal lives of both Vidal and (even more so) Buckley.


best4It is great fun to watch two intelligent, articulate combatants engage in ten debates. The combination of such intellectual heft with the drama of the times makes for compelling viewing.


As it tries to be balanced, the film does have certain liberal assumptions. It states that the call for “law and order” by politicians like Nixon, who was running for president for the second time in 1968, was merely a kind of code for racial prejudice. This is something liberals have accused Republicans and conservatives of for years. But it ignores the very real fears people had of crime, civil unrest, and violent riots which were taking place during the late 1960s. The film implies that Vidal “won” the debates because Buckley lost his composure and called Vidal a “queer” on live national television. However, as the film makes very clear, from the beginning Vidal had set out not to substantively debate issues with Buckley, but to provoke him with personal attacks including calling him a “crypto-Nazi” which was, at that time (and still is) a less than polite term. The main thesis of the film, that the Buckley-Vidal debates paved the way for the decline of civil disagreement and replaced it with the shouting matches we see so often today is totally true.

“AFERIM!”— Gypsy Slavery



Gypsy Slavery

Amos Lassen

Radu Jude’s “Aferim!” is set in early 19th century Wallachia. A local policeman, Costandin (Teodor Corban) is hired by Iordache (Mihai Comanoui) , a boyar (local noble), to find Carfin, a Gypsy slave who had run away from the boyar’s estate after having an affair with his wife, Sultana. Costandin sets out to find the fugitive, beginning a journey full of adventures. Gypsy slavery lasted from the 14th century up until the middle of the 19th century, a situation which is very little known and almost nonexistent in the public debate today, although Romania’s social life still feels its impact.


“Aferim!” is Romania’s Official Entry for the 88th Academy Awards (Best Foreign Language Film). It won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival, and was the Official Selection at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. It will open at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas in New York, and at the Laemmle Royal in Los Angeles on January 22, 2016. A national release will follow. It is the only contemporary Romanian film to address the issue of Gypsy slavery and it does so with dark humor as it touches upon the long history of anti-Roma prejudice in Romania.


Two riders cross a barren landscape in the middle of Wallachia. They are the gendarme Constandin and his son. Together they are searching for a gypsy slave who has run away from his nobleman master and is suspected of having an affair with the noble’s wife. While the unflappable Constandin comments on every situation with a cheery aphorism, his son takes a more contemplative view of the world. On their odyssey they encounter people of different nationalities and beliefs: Turks and Russians, Christians and Jews, Romanians and Hungarians. Each harbors prejudices against the others which have been passed down from generation to generation. And even when the slave Carfin is found, the adventure is far from over…


This is a Balkan western filmed in black-and-white, and it shows us that Romanian cinema is becoming excitingly progressive, exploring new themes and genres and tackling difficult subject matters. There is so much here—beautiful black and white photography, use of Romanian folk music, bombastic performances, crass jokes, wonderful landscapes, boundless energy, and an exultation of the expressive possibilities of cinema. It is a commentary on the treatment of Romas in Romania, suffering ill treatment and violent injustice. Back then, the country was a crossroads in southeastern Europe between the Russians and the Ottoman Empire, the film evokes the fears and suspicions of this superstitious time – from cholera and clerical anti-Semitism to bible myths about Adam kicking Eve in the stomach.


“Aferim!” reminds Eastern Europeans how trite and old their views really are – just the kind of self-critical approach that is needed. It is also an important contribution to the popularization of Roma history, whose plight is shown to have structural reasons reaching back at least to the 19th century.

“Hard Labor”— A Modern Thriller

hard labor eng poster

“Hard Labor”

A Modern Thriller

Amos Lassen

Opening Friday, October 30 in New York at Cinema Village and then streaming exclusively on Fandor ( is “Hard Labor”, a thriller about a middle-class couple that slowly succumbs to the allures of entrepreneurship – and the horrors of an increasingly schizophrenic job market.


Helena (Helena Albergaria) and her white-collar husband Otavio (Marat Descartes) are in sync emotionally but suddenly find themselves at opposite ends of the labor force: just as she gets ready to open a grocery store (and become a business owner), he is fired from a his job. As Otávio goes through a series of humiliating and ego crushing job interviews (and is forced to re-invent himself for a new job market), Helena jumpstarts her grocery store in a mysterious building that is falling apart. Soon enough, her enthusiasm for a better future begins to give way to a dark, pervasive doom and Otávio seems to be going through some kind of transformation.


“Beautifully translating the evanescent forces of cyber-age economics into a Grand Guignol of kitchen-sink sensibilities, “Hard Labor” is unlike any other Brazilian film you’ve seen in the last decade”.

Helena hires a maid, Paula, to take care of her house and daughter. She had not planned on Otavio losing his job and she becoming the only breadwinner. Now Helena is left to support the family alone. As Otavio fails to find work, he becomes increasingly alienated and the pressure on Helena builds. To make things worse, she discovers that one of the building’s brick walls where her new store is located seems to be crumbling. Helena begins to wonder if that may be the cause of all her problems.


The movie blends horror elements with socioeconomic concerns, becoming a film take on neoliberal policies that have radically altered labor relations in Latin America’s largest nation. When horror and social realism come together, we get a fresh film that gnaws at boundaries without betraying the legacies of its genres. On one level, we think we are watching a horror film with the new grocery store representing a place of evil. A foul-smelling black substance seeps out of the floor, there is a growing patch of rot on one of the walls, supplies go mysteriously missing, something appears to be moving in the aisles at night even though nobody is there. The building has an ominous past—there is talk that the previous owner’s wife having gone mad, while the skeleton of some type of unknown animal/creature is found buried inside the wall. The building seems to infect people with its malevolence and it is hard not to pay attention to Helena’s blandly anonymous look at the start that becomes increasingly harsher and more drawn as she accuses her employees of theft, pressures them to work longer hours and obsesses over missing supplies, while her husband seems to fall deeper and deeper into depression after being laid off from work. This is quite certainly material for a ghost story. The supermarket is a location that nobody has yet tried but this film\ refuses to conform to any of the tropes of the haunted house genre.


Directors Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas never engage in any atmosphere generating tactics and do not seem interested in wanting to scare us; the film is directed with a plain middle of the road approach the entire way. Even more so, however, this is a ghost story that comes without any resolution. There is no explanation of what the creature in the wall is, if it or anything else in the building is influencing people or if the changes in Helena’s behavior are just general financial and psychological stress. The movie ends with a non-ending. 
On a different level, we can see it as a metaphor for the effects of the current recession. The directors set out to depict the effect that this has had on all strata of society with Helena representing the independent small business owner and the stress that they are experiencing in trying to make financial ends meet; her husband represents the middle-aged middle-management that is suddenly facing redundancy and a shrinking job market; while the maid represents the underclass of people on the margins as she searches for registration (some unique to Brazil and from what I can tell is similar getting a legal work permit) and is forced to accept tough job conditions, including a month’s trial without pay, in order to become employed. However, in trying to be a ghost story as well, we have confusing and unresolved plotting ends.


The pressure for Helena’s store to succeed is high and as the stress mounts, so do the changes in Helena’s temper. As the sole breadwinner, it’s up to her to keep the family afloat and things are not going well. The store slowly catches on and for nearly three months into their new life, they can’t afford to pay all of their bills (yet they can still afford the maid?). While home life is slowly disintegrating, things aren’t going much better at the shop. Helena calls in her handyman, Mr. Antunes, who pokes a hole in the wall before telling her that the entire thing will have to come down and be replaced – just after carnival. But on a particularly bad night, Helena closes up shop and takes a sledgehammer to the wall discovering an unexpected mystery.


 The directors are much more interested in building a drama about a family going through a significant change than about a horror story. The leads have a natural chemistry and their faltering relationship as they deal with the pressures of their new reality feels real. There aren’t any dramatic blow-ups or arguments but the two quietly begin to drift apart. The same is true for the shop subplot which quietly builds a supernatural angle. The missing groceries, strange noises, unexplainable smells, the reveals are so small and commonplace that one is never really sure if anything strange is going on or if Helena’s paranoia is simply a side effect of stress. Albergaria turns in a wonderful performance as the overworked, overstressed business owner and she adds some great ticks to her character that become more pronounced as the stress mounts.

“BLACK CATS”— Two versions of “The Black Cats”


“THE BLACK CAT”— Two Versions

(These films have been reviewed separately here at


“The Black Cat”

One Version

Amos Lassen

The release of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat” contains two Adaptations, one by Sergio Martino and the other by Lucio Fulci. The story itself has been celebrated in numerous films over time of which the two most stylish are by Sergio Martino and Lucio Fulci.

Martino’s version is classic giallo. Teacher Oliviero (Luigi Pistilli) finds himself under suspicion for murder when one of his students and mistress is found brutally murdered. As more bodies start amass, Oliviero’s niece (Edwige Fenech) come for a visit and this brings added complications.

Fuldi’s “Black Cat”, on the other hand, begins when Scotland Yard Inspector Gorley (David Warbeck) is summoned to a sleepy English village to investigate the recent murder of a young couple. With no obvious signs of entry at the murder scene, Gorley is forced to start considering the possibility that his suspect may not be human.

Now you can see these two films together on Blu-ray and in new 2K restorations from the original camera negatives.


-Brand new 2K restorations of the films from the original camera negatives

-High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations

-Original Italian and English soundtracks in mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)

-Newly translated subtitles for the Italian soundtracks

-Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtracks

-Brand new interview with director Sergio Martino

-Dolls of Flesh and Blood: The Gialli of Sergio Martino – a visual essay by Michael Mackenzie exploring -Sergio Martino’s unique contributions to the giallo genre

-Stephen Thrower, author of Beyond Terror – The Films of Lucio Fulci, on The Black Cat

-Reversible sleeves featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin

-Limited Edition 80-page perfect-bound book featuring new writing on the films, Poe’s original story and more, illustrated with archive stills and posters

This is one of the two film in “The Black Cat” boxed set.


“Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key” (“Il tuo vizio è una stanza chiusa e solo io ne ho la chiave”)

A Burned Out Writer

Amos Lassen

Sergio Martino’s “Vice” borrows an Edgar Allen Poe plot about a man who fears he may unconsciously be a killer. Oliviero Rouvigny (Luigi Pistilli), is a failed writer and husband, who lives with his wife Irina (Anita Strindberg) in a sprawling mansion near Venice. He has all but dedicated his life to torturing his wife, who he holds an incredible amount of antagonism for despite her being sweet and loving to him. He beats, humiliates and tortures her on a daily basis. He keeps a cat that she hates, which is aptly named “Satan”, and throws wild parties with the young hippies who live nearby. When his mistress is killed, it leaves Oliviero as the prime suspect for the local police who question him thoroughly on the issue. Oliviero pleads his innocence but it falls on deaf ears. Especially with his wife, who knows that the night the young woman was murdered – Oliviero was actually late making it in.

Things start to look worse whenever the maid who lives with this married couple turns up murdered in the hallway. Irina is at first going to report it, but Oliviero stops her due to the fact that no matter what is said Oliviero is going to once again fall under suspicion. Now Irina, who has never had it easy with this man, begins to fear for her life. With their niece, Floriana (Edwige Finech), coming in by train something is going to happen that will change the course of lives… and deaths. (A black cat named Satan watches what is going on.

“Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key” is a Giallo film that challenges its own genre. The characters are complex and continually change up genre conventions so your anticipated feelings are swept to the side and only this film and this world matters. The character of Oliviero is placed in what would absolutely be a staple of Alfred Hitchcock’s famous “man framed for a crime he did not commit” archetype, however unlike in any film of Hitch’s we do not so much as like this character! In fact, we hate him and we know that his wife would be better off with him serving a prison sentence.

The film switches its gears when he is genuinely found innocent, due to the actual culprit being arrested! This constant bait and switch that the film plays upon its audience is what l makes it so effective when it comes time to eventually reveal an actual mystery! This reveal comes about in only the last quarter of the film and is so effective because the rest of what you have watched has been a constant game. The film toys with its audience on a subconscious level but while it’s doing that, it is engaging you. It wraps you up in this story until you’re helplessly enthralled in this situation.

Despite it being a film with a tremendous amount of taboo shattering sexuality, its power comes mostly from the storytelling. That taboo sexuality of course comes from the Edwige Fenech character Floriana who during the course of the movie has sexual relations with family members, random gentlemen she has just met and ultimately creates an atmosphere of sexual deviancy and power. Her character in the movie knows what she can get away with and how to use her sexual prowess to fool others, and even though Oliviero is a mentally abusive pig, ultimately Floriana isn’t much better.

The film is part of  the “Black Cats” box set.

“SPOTLIGHT”— Breaking the Story



Breaking the Story

Amos Lassen

“Spotlight” is the riveting true story of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe investigation that rocked the city and caused a crisis in the Church, one of the world’s oldest and most trusted institutions. When the newspaper’s tenacious team of reporters delved into allegations of abuse in the Catholic Church, their year-long investigation uncovered a decades-long cover-up at the highest levels of Boston’s religious, legal, and government establishment and touched off a wave of revelations around the world. Tom McCarthy’s film is a tense investigative dramatic-thriller, tracing the steps to one of the biggest cover-ups in modern times.


It all began in June 2001 when Cardinal Bernard Law, the archbishop of Boston at the time, filed a response to allegations filed against Father John Geoghan, one of his former priests. When this was filed there was the admission that in 1984, when he assigned Father Geoghan to a local parish, Cardinal Law was aware of previous molestation allegations against him. This filing also coincided with the appointment of Martin Baron (Liev Schreiber) as editor of “The Boston Globe”. Being from Florida and not having a Catholic background, he saw this peculiar event as an opportunity for his paper to focus on local investigative journalism and this was part of his overall strategy for the paper.

Here we see the work that the Globe’s Spotlight team — Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) did while uncovering the sexual abuse scandal within the Boston Catholic Archdiocese. All of the scenes are focused specifically on the fact-gathering expedition. While most of us are familiar with the outcome of the investigation (a Pulitzer Prize for the Spotlight team and roughly 150 priests, in Boston alone, standing accused of sexual abuse) we learn here about the specifics of how it came to. Spotlight” gives us the details of the cultural climate and political hierarchy of church-led influence in 2001 Boston. When Baron moved to Boston, the Cardinal immediately set up a meeting to start what he presumed would be a copasetic, back-scratching relationship, much like one he presumably had with the previous editor. In fact, everywhere team turned led them to someone connected to the church who was either demonstrating the sort of addictive and erratic behavior associated with childhood sexual abuse or else offered stern warnings against digging too deep.


Aspects of the story are implied through juxtaposition and narrative momentum rather than outright statement them in case there is no concrete fact. The sense that these sexual abuse cases should have been investigated by the newspaper sooner, as when an abuse victim and a shady Archdiocese lawyer Eric MacLeish (Billy Crudup) both point out that they fed the paper proof of such years prior, there is the suggestion that someone is hiding something.

Even though Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery) was in a position to do something when this proof came in, it’s never outright stated that he or anyone else deliberately buried the story. Similarly, while Rezendes, as portrayed by Ruffalo (in the standout performance of the film) has the nervous energy and seemingly self-destructive sensibility of an abuse victim, it is never outwardly asserted that he too might have been one of the victims.


Director McCarthy is careful to stick to facts, and it’s vital to the success of this film that he does so. We can all remember when there was responsible reporting and there is a hint that had the same thing happened today, it would have been handled differently and disastrously (This was before the age of bloggers). Each tidbit would be released to the public as it was discovered and this allowed the Catholic Church to refute and distort the facts or shift the focus elsewhere. If McCarthy were to cheat on the facts or add too much embellishment (some of the events in the film, such as personal threats against the journalists, could have been made up at some point along the way), his film would ultimately derail this message and itself become sensational and tawdry, exactly what the film indirectly criticizes. the sort of tawdry sensationalism that it indirectly criticizes. The film engages us totally and presents a powerful work of importance.

Set almost entirely in the newsrooms of “The Boston Globe”, we are reminded that newspapers and journalists everywhere need to go after those entrenched in power. “The Globe” historically preferred not to hit out at the Catholic Church and thereby risk alienating over half of their readership. As Robby and his team continue their investigation, that reluctance and hostility becomes evident inside and outside of the newsroom, on the golf course and in the bars, partly through incredulity and partly through a wish not to rock the boat. We hear over and over again that, “The Church does so much for the city” and even though the story is scandalous and horrifying, McCarthy approaches it with admirable restraint. McCarthy trusts the journalists and the words that they can use, preferring not to revert to shocking flashbacks. We hear the testimonies and see the devastation caused to the lives and clear and present danger, especially when reporter Matt Carroll (Brian D’Arcy James) found that one of the treatment centers the Church that was used for child-abusing priests was just a block from his own house.

Tension is built slowly, unveiling the enormity of the story and giving us the same feeling of revelation as the reporters themselves. Deputy editor Ben Bradlee’s initial disbelief that becomes anger mirrors our own reactions. The film is driven by dialogue and it is amazing to see just how quickly the cast inhabits its characters and get to work.


The enormity of the revelations and the impact they had only becomes apparent when the final credits roll. The penitence of the Roman Catholic Church is more than apparent in the fact that Cardinal Law, the man who oversaw the Catholic Church in Boston during the period in question, was installed in the cushy post of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore within the Vatican.

“Spotlight” is a tense thriller that perfectly captures the investigative journalism and does so with great detail. This is not a film you will soon forget. 

“ADAM ANT: THE BLUEBLACK HUSSAR”— An In-depth Documentary

adam ant

“Adam Ant ‘The Blueblack Hussar’”

An In-depth Documentary

Amos Lassen

Jack Bond, captures Adam Ant’s comeback, after years of mental health problems.  “The Blueblack Hussar” is Adam’s latest persona and with it he sets out on his first tour for 15 years with a new band, ‘The Good, the Mad and the Lovely Posse’. For the first time since his Punk roots, we see Adam playing with a young, hungry band, and collaborating with Boz Boorer (Morrissey, The Pole Cats, etc). The film includes electrifying live performances, starting at London’s 100 Club and culminating at Hyde Park, before an film on the wall’ direction includes intimate scenes of Adam at home, backstage and even getting a new tattoo. The film exposes Adam’s complex personality through the characters that he meets on his journey and they include Amy Winehouse producer, Mark Ronson, Jamie Reynolds of The Klaxons and the legendary Pop Artist Allen Jones (‘A Clockwork Orange’), Adam’s art student days’ mentor

The film takes in the atmosphere pervading Adam’s life in London, including his explosive show at the 100 Club. We are taken to Paris to watch him record his ‘Bardoesque’ backing singer, Twinkle and the film star, Charlotte Rampling, who inspired his first album, ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’. Jack Bond is one of Britain’s most innovative directors and here he returns to his Cinema Verité roots.

The documentary is an honest look at “a troubled, but ultimately triumphant natural talent”. The years may have marched on but Adam Ant has remained a true star.

Bonus Materials include:

Live performance of ‘Whip in My Valise’ at The Scala, London

Live performance of ‘Young Parisians’ duet with Boy George

Live performance of ‘Deutsche Girls’ at the Electric Ballroom, London

Q&A Jack Bond and journalist John Robb

“IN THE BASEMENT”— A Look at Austrian Basements

in the basement german poster


A Look at Austrian Basements

Amos Lassen

Ulrich Seidl takes a look at the dark side of the human psyche in his new documentary, “In the Basement”. We go into Austrian basements that have been fitted out as private domains for secrets and fetishes. What I find so interesting is the fact that there is humor here as well outrageousness. People from suburban Austria give us the opportunity of looking into their private lives, to a degree, by allowing to see what is in the basements of their homes. The people we see here range from those who are involved in “the cult of Nazism to sadomasochism, going into guns and shooting, vanity and prepotency, baby-addiction and solitude”.

in the basement

For example, we meet Fritz, a former soldier who teaches at his illegal home-keeping shooting club and has a knack for singing opera. There is a married woman in her late fifties still dreams about having babies, using baby dolls that she conceals in boxes. Hitler’s admirer and Gestapo’s target, Josef Ochs, who also plays horn in a band, takes us to his Nazi retreat where he often drinks with his friends to share just a few.

This leads us to ask if what we see here has a purpose. Is there truth involved in the basements that we see? What we do not see is a cross-section of Austrian basements as the subjects were carefully chosen so that the film will exploit their freakishness to the maximum. The freakiest get the longest screen time while those who are “normal” just look out if place and odd. These Austrians have nothing to say while those who are really strange say a lot. I felt that manipulation took place in that regard.

The way Seidl introduces his characters in his “narration” is through extended static shots in which they simply stare at the camera and in the way they irreparably expose their deepest and sometimes unsettling truths.

in the basement2

Some of what we see is just disgusting. A man plays a tuba and gets drunk with his friend in a basement decorated with portraits of Hitler and Nazi memorabilia and explains how the Führer’s portrait was the best gift he received at his wedding. Another licks his bathroom’s toilet seat, following the orders of his dominatrix, before they make their way to the basement for even harsher punishment and ‘truly serious domination’.

Director Seidl effortlessly manages to entertain and infuriate us at the same time. There are shots that are certainly engaging but by and large the film is akin to a freak show.


xmas postewr better


Two Families

Amos Lassen

Two families living worlds apart in the same community come together in Alicia Dwyer’s “Xmas Without China”. Chinese immigrant Tom Xia challenges the Jones family to celebrate Christmas without any Chinese products. Fed up with toy and food recalls, the Jones family accepts the consumer mission-impossible and is drawn into a surprising intercultural exchange with the Xia family. As the Joneses deal with the tremendous influence of China in their lives and Tom struggles to get beyond the stereotypes, he realizes that he has begun a journey to understand the complexities of his own divided loyalties between the U.S. and China.

The difficulty of avoiding products from China is a near impossibility today. Looking at the tags on the products around us reminds us that most of the electronics we’re using have at least have components made in China.

Manufacturing in China is kind of a hub for any discussion about the nature of globalization. There are different ways to look at it: the ecological impact (e.g., pollution, particularly from coal), the ethical concerns (e.g., the Apple/Foxconn factory issue), and the economic realities of the 21st century (e.g., the rise of the Chinese middle class).

What Alicia Dwyer does here is provide other unique ways to approach the matter, though at a micro level and through the interaction between strangers who get to know each other through different and odd circumstances. It all starts with a challenge: go the month of December (including Christmas) without buying or using any products made in China.


If we stop to imagine that we were immigrants from China living in the states right around the time when toys and food products were being recalled due to the discovery of lead paint and other hazardous material in the products, we would most certainly be annoyed.  Tom Xia was annoyed and rightly so about all the China bashing and so he decided to conduct an experiment—he decided to challenge his suburban American neighbors to see if they could survive the Christmas season (Dec. 1 to Dec. 25) without ANY Chinese products.  In Alicia Dwyer’s documentary, we discover if the Joneses have the wherewithal to accomplish this seemingly impossible consumer diet.

The film begins with Tom defending China and coming up with this idea to challenge his community.  We see him talking to some hardcore Americans who give the idea a thought and then deny the challenge.  What makes it more difficult is that he isn’t offering any money as an incentive but eventually he meets the Joneses and they could not have been a better find.  The husband Tom is a musician and the wife Evelyn is a schoolteacher and they have two young children, a son and a daughter and a dog, a cat and a couple of ducks.

Things get started and it’s amazing to see how many of the items in the house are taken because they were “made in China.”  Items like the light bulbs, the coffee maker, the X-box and more have to be put in the storage container outside their house, leaving them living by candlelight.  Tim tells his father, Victor, that “all the kids’ toys are gone and so are their plates. They have to eat off paper plates.  Due to a lack of understanding about the Christmas season, Tom later begins to question the challenge further when Victor says to him that Christmas is American’s favorite holiday and that he shouldn’t ruin it for them.

As the days go on and things start to get tougher, we begin to feel bad for the Joneses.  Evelyn is finding it really hard and Tom is having trouble coping without his X-Box, his distraction from the memory of his mother’s passing during Christmas time a year ago.  Throughout the film we see the evolution of both Tom and the Joneses perception of the challenge change.  Tom’s father tells him that the Christmas season might not have been the best time to challenge people to do this.

The challenge of not using Chinese products is the focal point of the film but the film also looks at Tom’s family and his parent’s mission of achieving the American dream. Even though he moved to the states at the age of eight, Tom never actually applied to get his citizenship so even though he’s more American than his parents; he’s the only one of the three who technically isn’t and at one point he lies about being a citizen by later admits that he lied. I think that the fascination with the film is   that while we witness the Xia’s American dream becoming reality, we witness the demise of the Jones family’s American dream.

This is not the most exciting or compelling documentary, but the idea is brilliant and is something that should be explored further.  The thesis is a bit strange in that to do what the film says is economically impossible ands we know that.

Domestically made products are extremely expensive and tough to hunt down, so is this a truly great idea in the first place? With an economy that is slowly making a return to form, the purchase and support of domestic products is important and influential within the grand scheme of the US economy, but it’s not something most US households can totally commit to.

The viewer is shown how difficult it truly is, and with beautiful photography and direction, and it is in the moments of difficulty or introspection that the film is at its best.

After its world premiere at South by Southwest in 2013, the film was nationally broadcast on PBS and went on to become a festival favorite, showing in 13 festivals so far, and is now finally coming to DVD and VOD!

World Premiere, South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival

Film Society of Lincoln Center – Green Screen Series

Friars Club Comedy Film Festival – “Best Comedy” Award

Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival – People’s Choice Award

Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival – Best Environmental Theme Award

Edmonton International Film Festival

Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival

Mountain Film Festival, Telluride and Aspen