Category Archives: Film

“GREASEPAINT”— The Art of the Clown



The Art of the Clown

Amos Lassen

Joey Thurmond is a clown along with the rest of his family. In this documentary we are with Joey as he travels America performing as a clown. We immediately sense his love for the art of clowning and he is always ready to show others the human side of his profession. Unfortunately the art of the clown is a dying institution.

Even though Joey is the focus of this film, we meet other circus performers who speak about the positive and negative ways people feel about clowns. Joey shares with us how he is able to maintain a family life at the same time he works as a clown and we become very aware of his passion for what he does—so much so that has put his life savings and police pension into his ultimate passion.  He has even gone as far as updating his show to make it relevant to day but the problem that he faces is that he and his family never know, in advance, if they will be able to make it another year. Jamie, his wife, is the money manager and she works hard to see that the family is financially solvent. Tyler, Joey’s son, is in the midst of deciding whether to continue on his father’s footsteps or to begin a new career. So we spend a little time with clowns here and we see how taxing traveling all year can be.

Hernan Colonia has joined the family and is adjusting to a new country and dealing with immigration at the same time. We get to see and hear the stories of others in the circus milieu and spend time listening to how Joey moved from professional wrestling to law enforcement to becoming a clown. This is a story about humanity and familial love.

Director Daniel Espeut takes us through the life of a first generation family of clowns and in the process we get a taste of the history of clowns. I was surprised to learn about the sociological and psychological aspects of being a clown. Joey founded the Nojoe Clown Circus and we become privy to some of the special treats found there. He has also founded the Nojoe Foundation that raises money to support seriously injured children and other charitable organizations.

Espeut and Joey met when the circus hired him to make a promotional film and the two men became fast friends—this is a product of that friendship. I certainly was taken back to my childhood with the film and as I watched I remembered the times my father and I, the two males in the family, would go to the circus together every year. This was he one time that was ours and we both looked forward to it. I never would have thoughts that clowns were so human had I not seen this film and I must say that “Clowning is no easy business”.

“PIZZA SHOP: THE MOVIE”— Raunchy and Irreverent Fun

pizza shop

“Pizza Shop: The Movie”

Raunchy and Irreverent Fun

Amos Lassen

I recently received a request from Cole O’Bart to review his film, “Pizza Shop”. He let me know in the request that the movie was indeed irreverent and off-color. It stars Robert Bielfelt, Cian Patrick O’Dowd and Brett Buzek as it tells the story of what happens in the life of a pizza deliveryman. We see the competition that occurs between  workers and how customers are treated. Pete (Robert Biefelt) has been with the shop a long time and we see him having to deal with a new deliveryman, Jason (Cian Patrick O’Dowd) and this begins a battle between them as to who will cone out on top and who will leave and find a new job somewhere else.


Now I must admit that I was not prepared for what I was about to see and I had to keep reminding myself that it is all in fun and not to worry that I was having pizza for dinner. The film is strange and it will undoubtedly appeal to some people but certainly not to everyone unless we are sure that they like toilet humor and I mean that in every sense of the word, “toilet”. Here is a film that both makes you laugh and disgusts you and here you might just find out what happens between the time that a pizza leaves the restaurant and gets to the place where it was ordered.

I was reminded of a t-shirt I once saw a waiter wearing that said, “God Knows When You Don’t Tip” and when you watch this film you will understand exactly why I included that here.

There are some really good ideas here and this movie could have been so much better had the cast not been so wooden—you will not find any great performances here nor will you find a great plot (which I cannot describe except to say that you might worry before you order your next pizza). I can remember that as I was growing up, several friends who took jobs as waiters always seemed to have the desire to do something to a disrespectful customer’s food and that is the hint I give you about what happens here. I am sure that we have all noticed that those who order in seem to have a sense of entitlement that is lacking in those who are stuck preparing their meal (in this case, pizza). Not tipping is code for getting back at those who order and pay the exact amount. Here they are punished in ways that might cause you to stop ordering out.


We have quite a cast of characters here and they include a 97-year-old stripper, a serial killer, and an affection starved, full bodied ebony Amazon with a taste for chocolate syrup and young men. But the real action comes with getting back at a regular customer who orders pizza delivered on a regular basis but never tips the guy who delivers it. There is another aspect here and that deals with the struggle to be on top—whether that means getting the most tips and/or being the best liked by fellow workers. There are a few very funny moments here and I believe the film could have been that much funnier had it not dealt so much with toilet humor. I could be saying that because I am so old and knowing that the youth of today will find this very funny.

“kabbalah me”— A Personal Journey

kabbalah me

“kabbalah me”

A Personal Journey

Amos Lassen

the lower case letters are as they appear in the film 

I just received word that “kabbalah me” is premiering in New York City on August 22. The film is a documentary and a personal journey into Kabbalah, a mystical spiritual experience that is linked to Judaism. Kabbalah is rooted in the Torah and the Talmud and has been studied by leading Judaic scholars for many centuries. However, many Jews are unaware or uninformed about Kabbalah and its significance. This film tells the story of how co-director Steven Bram, feeling a spiritual void in his life, immerses himself into the world of Kabbalah.


Bram was raised in New York as a secular Jew and without much interest in organized religion. He grew up to lead a conventional life – marrying a nice Jewish woman from the suburbs, fathering two beautiful daughters, living on the Upper West Side, and working at a sports and entertainment company. But after 9/11, he felt a longing for a deeper and more fulfilling spiritual life. This longing leads him on a five year journey that includes reconnecting with his Hasidic family members, studying with Judaic scholars, and taking a pilgrimage to Israel, where he immerses himself in the history and traditions of the Holy Land and meets with charismatic Rabbis, Talmudic scholars and spiritual leaders. As Bram’s spiritual journey progresses, the mystical and complex world of Kabbalah, with its varying interpretations and myriad rituals and lessons, slowly unfolds, leading to profound changes in all aspects of his life. The film is directed by Bram and Judah Lazarus.

 Steven Bram has been the COO of New York-based Bombo Sports & Entertainment, LLC since it’s founding in 1999. He has produced over 50 sports films for television, DVD and digital release. He also sits on the board of the Aish Center in New York. Judah Lazarus is a music video director whose work includes videos by AZ, Reakwon of the Wu Tang Clan and Trick Daddy. As an actor Judah played opposite Tim Robbins in Noise. Judah also developed the Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner The Believer, starring Ryan Gosling. Judah and his partner Moshe Lazarus now run High Line Productions, which is developing a TV series about Brooklyn’s Hassidic Hipster subculture.

“BROKEN BRANCHES”— Loss, Family and Hope (An Animated Documentary)

broken branches poster

“Broken Branches”

Loss, Family and Hope (An Animated Documentary)

Amos Lassen

When Michal Rechter was only 14-years-old, World War II was on the verge of breaking out. She left her family in Poland and went to Israel. Today she is 92 and she tells her story to her granddaughter, Ayala Sharot, the director of this film. Sharot then brings her grandmother’s memories to life in this beautifully animated film.


We see essays that Michal wrote when she was a Polish schoolgirl. In one of these, “The Land of Israel”, she writes of a beautiful and magical place. In another essay she describes her life in the Polish village and the rise of Adolph Hitler.


Michal’s parents wanted her to have a good life so they sent her with a Jewish youth group to live in an Israeli boarding school. They were to have followed her to Israel the following year but when the war began everything changed.


With Michal’s arrival at the school, she soon saw that her life would now be completely different and that she had to forego her Diaspora identity and become a “Sabra”, a real Israel. She was not alone—there were other classmates who left their parents behind and as the war moved forward, communication with Poland was extremely difficult. Her father and her sister wrote to her and described the despair that they were thrust into yet Michal remained an optimist. School took her away from her worries about her family and she eventually realized what their fate would be.


Michal relates her story as she remembers it—through the eyes of an innocent child who had no pain or regret. She shares pictures and letters from her childhood, and gives us a glimpse of how she viewed the world as a young girl. Even at 92, there is a youthful energy that shines through the film. She left home filled with hopes and dreams and even with all that was happening, she was able to remain innocent and able to build a new home and a new life in Israel.


half the road

“Half The Road: The Passion, Pitfalls & Power of Women’s Professional Cycling”

“Equal Pay for Equal Pedaling”

Amos Lassen

Kathryn Bertine, the director of “Half the Road” explores the world of women’s professional cycling, focusing on both the love of sport and the pressing issues of inequality that modern-day female athletes face in male dominated sports. She uses footage from some of the world’s best races along with interviews with Olympians, World Champions, rookies, coaches, officials, doctors and family members to give us  unique insight to the drive, dedication, and passion it takes for a female cyclist to thrive. 

We see some of the women who have achieved inroads in other sports, such as Katherine Switzer, the first woman to officially register (as “K.V. Switzer”) and run the all-male Boston Marathon in 1967. Her photograph finishing the race has been considered of the “100 Photographs that Changed the World” by Life Magazine.half1

The film is a convincing argument for the disparity in fairness between men’s and women’s cycling in her impassioned documentary.” It explores the world of women’s professional cycling, focusing on both the love of sport and the pressing issues of inequity that modern-day female riders face in a male-dominated sport. Both on and off the bike, the voices and advocates of women’s pro cycling take the audience on a journey of enlightenment, depth, strength, love, humor and best of all, change and growth. While this is film about women’s professional cycling, it is also about society and equality. There is a great deal to be gleaned from this film and we sense the feeling that one day the entire world will see sports not as divided by gender but as games in which all are equal. 


The DVD’s special features include a bonus film, “The Five C’s of Change”, a photo gallery and a biography of the director.

“ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL”— An Almost Accidental Romance

ali poster

“Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” (“Angst essen Seele auf”)

 An Almost Accidental Romance

Amos Lassen

A German women and a Moroccan migrant decide to marry and because he is twenty-five years younger than her, everyone around them is appalled. Rainer Werner Fassbinder directed this in 1974 and it is finally making it to DVD. The film widens the age gap and deals with racism and the characters move forward in a battle for social justice.


Emmi (Brigitte Mira) falls in love and marries an Arab worker, Ali (El Hedi ben Salem) and this subsequently incurred the scorn of the separatist world around her. Fassbinder foreshadows Emmi’s dilemma from the start, when the woman walks into the bar where she meets Ali and the people inside seem frozen around her. Throughout the film, Fassbinder employs a series of remarkably simple framing devices to reinforce the isolation of his characters—from the harsh German culture, each other, and, ultimately, themselves.


The film’s original German title reads Angst essen Seele auf, which actually translates into English as Fear Eat Soul. Deliberately ungrammatical, the original title references both Ali’s limited German and his naïve innocence. Ali’s terse speaking matter is ripe with aphorisms (“Think much, cry much” and “Money spoils a friendship”), but it’s also another way for Fassbinder to evoke the suspended animation of his character’s lives. The great irony here that the film’s victimizers exhibit the very uncivilized behavior they see in Emmi’s marriage to Ali.


The film’s famous sea-of-yellow-chairs sequence can be seen then as a rhetorical shift of sorts through which Fassbinder sees the push-pull effect of racism. Suddenly it’s as if Emmi’s tears have healed the world and the film’s racists are seemingly redeemed: Emmi’s son Bruno (Peter Gauhe), who may or may not have killed the family cat when he was younger, sends his mother a check for a new television, and Elli’s neighbors begin to ask for favors and commend her on her remarkable kindness.


We see that almost from the moment they met the lonely cleaning lady and the handsome Arab that the two are very much into each other. They become a couple and have to face the societal ramifications. Their prosecution ranges from oblique to blatant. The two seek happiness in a world that will not let them rest. Fassbinder continually reinforces the couple’s isolation by framing them in cramped shots. The claustrophobia induced by the camera helps us share their discomfort and oppression. The camerawork is amazing but that is not the only reason to see this.


Emmi is portrayed by a great German actress, Brigitte Mira. She exudes an impressive array of moods and emotions, each more convincing than the last. She runs the gamut from euphoria to desperation, and we feel with her at every turn. El Hedi ben Salem gives Ali a stoic approachability. He is serious but displays a great sense of humor. His moments of desperate frustration lend realistic dissonance to their relationship. El Hedi ben Salem was Fassbinder’s when the picture was made during two weeks in 1974. The DVD is one of the Criterion collection and it is filled with extras.

“MAIDENTRIP”— Sailing the World Alone



Sailing the World Alone

Amos Lassen

Here we meet Laura Dekker, a 14 year old who decides to take a two year voyage around the world. It is her goal to be the youngest person ever to sail around the world alone. Director Jillian Scheslinger brings us a brave and defiant Laura as she sets out to make her dream come true. We are with Laura as she is far from home and family and receiving a lot of attention that she does not want. She travels the world looking for freedom and adventure as she shares her videos from such places as the Galapagos Islands, French Polynesia, Australia, and South Africa among others.

It all began in 2009 when she announced that she was planning to sail around the world alone. The government of the Netherland immediately stepped in— they did not wanting to allow a 12-year-old girl to embark upon such a dangerous adventure on her own. The Dutch courts were able to temporarily prevent Dekker from setting sail because she was still under the shared custody of her parents. However, eventually, a Dutch court ended Dekker’s custody arrangement and this permitted Laura to begin her excursion in a 38 ft two-masted Jeanneau Gin Fizz ketch named “Guppy”.


Taking several video cameras with her, she was able to document her journey that lasted 16 months. Her cameras quickly became her friends and “her most loyal confidant”. As we watch we realize her true motivation in making this trip— she just wants freedom, and being out at sea gives her that. Dekker was born sailing— the first few years of her life were at sea as her parents completed a seven-year sailing trip. She has an intense connection with the sea and when she was just six years old, she already owned her own boat. By the time she was ten she was already going out to sea alone.

This documentary has to good deal to say about the mind of a teenager. It captures Laura’s thoughts and insights as one who has abandoned society for a long period of time and while this does affect the way she thinks, we see that ennui is her greatest enemy. Being alone and sitting quietly in the middle of the sea is more frightening to her than the terror of sailing over reefs and experiencing storms.

Of course we know that this footage is heavily edited, yet she still provides us with a frank interpretation of her journey. We see how she feels about her family as she thinks about her parents and her sister. She also considers the nature of existence and what are the things that make her happy.

The solitary nature of this trip allows Dekker to think about the meaning of her existence and what makes her happy. It is as if she has taken a time-out from life. Because we do not know how her journey ends, it is even more exciting.

Dekker’s trip quite naturally has caused a good deal of debate about allowing the young to make their own decisions. Dekker is an example as to why kids should be allowed to think for themselves — especially when permitted by their legal guardian(s) — without intervention by the government.

This is actually a transcendent coming of age story that is a perfect vehicle for female and teenage empowerment.

The film does not really deal with the legal issues but instead gives us the details of her court battle.

Before she was able to go on her journey, Laura had to fight a Dutch court, which stepped in due to the objections of the local authorities. The Netherland’s child protection bureaucracy sought custody of Laura to prevent her from going on her trip. It took 10 months but a family court allowed Laura to finally get her journey started. As her father puts it, “They tried to break Laura down but she’s too strong.”

Once she sets sail, the film is just about her and we see that she had no intention of breaking a record—she just wanted to see the world and to meet people.

Laura had her struggles at sea—she not only missed her parents but she had to deal with the media that was occasionally frustrating. During the actual sailing, there was only one real moment where Laura really feared for her well-being as well as for her boat. “Sailing along the Torres Strait, which is one of the toughest places to navigate for any sailor, Laura has to avoid reefs, islands, and large ships. She was able to make it through the Strait but at a cost. Her father flew in to Australia and the time they spent together was to repair Guppy. Traveling through the Torres Strait destroyed the sails, broke the steering wheel, and damaged the boat as a whole”.

This is really the story of a girl wanting to be her own person. When her journey ended in 2012 at St. Maarten, Laura did not go home, she kept on sailing and actually became a role model for many.

There is certainly a level of ego that goes into the sheer act of sailing around the world solo—especially if, like Laura Dekker when she sets out on her trip, you’re only 14 years old. And yes, there’s already some narcissism built into the fact that much of the footage in the film was shot by Dekker herself, but Jillian Schlesinger’s film uses Laura’s astonishing two-year feat to look at more universal desires— living one’s life to the fullest, exploring the wide world and to discovering what inspires passion. Laura didn’t exactly set out to “find herself”—or, if she was intending to find herself, she didn’t realize it at the beginning. She tells us that the trip started simply from a love of sailing that developed in her earliest years. With that love came the desire to see the world, and in the early stages of her voyage, that’s exactly what she does. The longer she sails, however, the more she begins to embrace the introspective solitude of simply being out in the open sea, with none of the modern-day technological creature comforts at her disposal—she even is hostile to a reporter who tells her that she really only wants to be the youngest person to sail around the world despite Laura’s repeated claims that she was never interested in breaking records. The surprise here is that she is not interested in fame or glory. When the journey comes to a close and she’s greeted with a hero’s welcome, she says that she’s tempted to simply sail right past them all and keep on going.



“Driven: From Wheelchair to Race Car”

Back on the Track

Amos Lassen

Mike Bauer lived a fast life and some say it was because he was born too fast. He lived out his dreams—singing, acting and motor sports but then a tragic accident put a hold on everything. A motorcycle accident not only left him paralyzed and in chronic pain but as we can surmise, depressed. Mike Bauer was on the verge of suicide when he met Dr. Scott Falci, a rehabilitative neurosurgeon and an amateur race enthusiast, who saw Mike s potential. The two men dared to venture into the uncharted territory of designing a race car with adaptive controls specifically designed for the paraplegic driver.

Falci immediately recognized the signs of Bauer’s depression and then went on to learn about his patient’s earlier life of which racing cars was a part of.
Bauer was a man who could reinvent himself in a moment and he was constantly on the movement before the accident. Falci saw what Bauer needed and he had been working on developing new technologies to put wheelchair bound race enthusiasts into some kind of racing experience. His goal was to have “motorsports” added to the existing athletic and recreational sports. He did not want those who suffered spinal cord injuries to be deprived of something they loved and he began to develop adaptive technology. For Mike Bauer, he built a 2001 Corvette C5 Stingray that is equipped with hand acceleration controls, an infrared shifter and a hand brake. The design team of RaceKraft worked with him to get Bauer back behind the wheel.

It is very obvious that for director Brian Malone that this film was made out of love. It could easily have become melodramatic but it manages to keep us smiling as we watch. Malone looks at a family whose life was pulled apart by a tragic accident and then how so many people come together to give Mike Bauer a life of importance and one of which he can be proud. There is a great deal to be learned here—not just about “motorsports” but about humanity and love for each other. You cannot help but feel good after seeing this. I actually felt as if Mike Bauer is my friend and that is the highest praise I can give.

The DVD has special features that include feaurettes, “The Car Build” and “Mike’s Test Lap”, a trailer, photo gallery and interactive menus.


“BORDER LIVING”— A New Documentary from Israel

 border poster

“Border Living”

A New Documentary from Israel

Amos Lassen

“Border Living” is Ronit Ifergan’s new documentary about a young family that after experiencing hard time decides to move and set up home on the Israel/Gaza border. They soon find themselves dealing with a reality that places them in an ongoing state of insecurity. New questions arise— How do they face this new challenge and what do they learn about the boundaries of happiness?


They could no longer afford big city living and they decided to take their two kids and leave central Israel for the cheapest place they could find to live in. That happened to be Kfar-Aza, a beautiful kibbutz on the border of the Gaza Strip. Kfar-Aza is a prosperous kibbutz and enjoyed a relaxed atmosphere even in its proximity to the “occupied” territories. They adjusted (or so they thought) to kibbutz life quickly but then came the first Qassam missile from Gaza followed by a second and a third and the new life that they had embarked on was starting to fall apart.

This film shows the last three years when the missiles falling on the kibbutz became routine.  The family debated with themselves as to what was the ‘right’ thing to do. They faced tough questions about their family and their responsibility as parents as they struggled with their children’s and their own anxieties.  Although it may seem unbelievable, they found the courage to cope with the situation and eventually they became even stronger.


As we watch this intimate documentary of a family’s survival in a complex Israeli reality in a place that makes one re-examine all one’s boundaries and beliefs, we find ourselves doing the same. 

“LIVING STARS”—-At Awesome Fest, July 3 and Free

“Living Stars”

At Awesome Fest, July 3 and Free

Gary M. Kramer

Living Stars 1


One of the highlights of Awesomefest’s summer line up is the free July 3 screening of the irresistible documentary, Living Stars, at 9:00 pm at Clark Park
, 4398 Chester Ave, in Philadelphia. This infectious, plotless film is an hour-long assemblage (by directors Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat) of various home videos of Argentine people dancing to popular music. The film opens with Fabián Biscione, a dentist, grooving to Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” in his office. His animated expression belies a joy that shows how music and dancing is not only a form of self-expression, but also a form of escape from his work. Biscione encourages his daughters to perform for the camera as well, as he accompanies each of them in separate dance routines later in the film.

Living Stars 3

Most of the dancers in Living Stars perform in their kitchens and living rooms. Rosita, a housewife, is arguably the most ingratiating dancer. Two of her friends perform an enjoyable backup routines as she dances away in her foyer. Usually, when other friends or family members are in the frame, they tend to be expressionless, sipping mate, or even trying to appear otherwise engaged. This aspect adds a layer of voyeurism to the activity on display. Meanwhile, one of the more impressively choreographed performances belongs to Ivan Pacek, a student who performs cartwheels, splits, and other gymnastic contortions in his backyard as “Titanium” by David Guetta (featuring Sia) plays on the soundtrack. He may not quite have rhythm, but he is amazingly limber.

The short videos strung together here are typical of the YouTube clips that have propagated in our digital/internet culture in this age of twerking, but amateur performance has also been encouraged by the success of (American) TV programs like American IdolSo You Think You Can Dance, and Dancing with the Stars (which have Argentine iterations). The filmmakers here are presenting their “Living Stars” without irony; these are joyous celebrations of people just having fun in their homes. Any inference otherwise is up to the viewer to ascribe.

Living Stars 2This lack of judgment on the performers may be why it’s more amusing than creepy to see a young girl dance interpretively to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” or a young boy kick up his heels to the Weather Girls’ gay anthem “It’s Raining Men.” Likewise, it is highly entertaining to watch a pizza delivery guy perform Britney Spears’ “Toxic” in drag—especially when his wig falls off. Britney Spears is a popular singer for the Argentine dancers in Living Stars. Her hit “…Baby One More Time” is performed twice in the film: once by Santiago, a student, in a precisely choreographed routine, and later by another student, Sofía, whose rendition in her kitchen is more free form. In fact, Sofîa cannot help laughing when her mother starts to steal the spotlight and gyrates to the music.

There is a thinly veiled sexual component to all of the dancing, but songs like “I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred, as performed by Luciano, a handsome actor, proves his failure to grasp the lyrics’ meanings. In contrast, a realtor’s rendition of “I’m Sexy and I Know It” by LMFAO is actually somewhat seductive. As for two students dancing in their underwear, this vignette plays more as a goof than any kind of erotic (or homoerotic) gesture.

Living Stars 4

The “costumes” the performers showcase are another fascinating aspect of the film. From sparkly black hot pants to tight-fitting silver pants, or a guy dressed up like a cowboy, the way the dancers construct their looks reinforces much about their identities and performances. Similarly, the interior designs of the performance spaces are fascinating, and often more interesting than the dancing. The backgrounds, like the outfits, reveal subtle cues about class and gender. The choice of songs and dance style is also quite telling.

Significantly, the performers are mostly unselfconscious—whatever their level of talent, they all dance with heart. And this is why Living Stars is so enjoyable. Seeing Sebastian, a young man, dance to Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” it is clear he put considerable thought into his routine, which he no doubt practiced. He is obviously having fun, even if he is performing moves that might make the Material Girl cringe. And while a boy named Marcos does a rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” that is far from the King of Pop’s graceful moonwalking, he exhibits a good sense of rhythm. Such is the jubilant nature of the film.

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While Living Stars does have a repetitious quality to it, and some of the vignettes get a little tedious, the film never really wears out its welcome. Perhaps this is because the music is mostly upbeat and varies between Latin music, rap, and American pop hits such as Elvis’s “All Shook Up,” which prompts a retired couple to swing, and Kim Wilde’s 80s classic “Kids in America,” which a young woman named Aime performs on roller skates. Living Stars certainly offers viewers a good time watching these dancers. And audiences may be laughing with them as much as at them. Moreover, this film may even prompt folks who see it to go off and create a video performance of their own.

Gary M. Kramer is the author of Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews, and co-editor of the recently published Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.