Category Archives: Film

“HOMO SAPIENS”— Dilapidation and Decay


“Homo Sapiens”

Dilapidation and Decay

Amos Lassen

In Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s “Homo Sapiens”, we see 94 minutes’ worth of destroyed, decayed, and looted environments. There are no humans in this world and there is no narrative, we simply see only the traces of our violence and neglect. We see earth as a planet as if it has abandoned by people who made sure to ransack it on their way out to other planets and galaxies. There are deserted Japanese-style rooms filled with hundreds of stacked books; wrecked movie theaters with film projectors that are rotting; bars that are filled with mold and moss; flooded auditoriums; and dilapidated hospitals, corporate offices, prisons cells, and bowling alleys.


Instead of surveying landscape, Geyrhalter gives us an exercise endurance not because of the film’s pacing, but due to the filmmaker’s refusal to offer any sense of orientation (we do not know where we are in terms of location) or progress. What at first seems to be an examination of the deterioration of one single village becomes an inspection of the four corners of the world. The most beautiful moments are made up of birds flying indoors, sometimes coming in and out of structures as if playing a game of hide-and-go-seek with the camera. These creatures are the only things that breathe, and that actually move on the planet that seems to be rotting away. Human creations crumble and the birds seem to mourn as they play with the camera.


In this film without people, the camera focuses on the remnants of civilization— this is an anthropological investigation into the modern world that shows us the infrastructure of society. We feel that we are entering different spaces and being present for whatever small environmental changes (wind, rain) happen.


With no music, no dialogue, no people and no mankind, we see still-life portraits of abandoned structures, with each shot typically lasting fifteen to twenty seconds. It seems to be science fiction as it studies a seemingly post-industrial and post-apocalyptic planet abandoned by humans.


Geyrhalter has not filmed any abandoned private residences here; he’s more concerned with giving glimpses of the remains of once-valued social structures—of which there is a vast selection.


The film spends time on the two sorts of structures whose ruins have developed the most fervent followings: old movie theaters and shopping malls. Indeed, it’s interesting that the most melancholic, disquieting images are those of discarded places of entertainment and leisure: theme parks, playgrounds, bowling alleys, and discotheques. “The documentary is as much a portrait of shifts in mass amusement activities and the fleeting nature of leisure fads as it is a study of declining industries and societal neglect”.


We see entire towns that have been left to rot, as well as some large, mysterious structures whose original functions are not always apparent. Little camera movement and the duration of the shots allow us to see details that surely otherwise would have escaped notice (cascading leaves blown by the wind, dust particles in a beam of bright sunlight, raindrops forming small puddles).As the film nears it close, it moves further and further away from human life.

“ONE NATION FROM TRUMP”— On the Trump Train


“One Nation Under Trump”

On the Trump Train

Amos Lassen

Are we ready for a balanced examination of Donald Trump, the most talked about presidential candidate in history? Personally I am not but because I was asked to review this new documentary, I am going to tell you what I think of it and you probably also see what I think about Trump. The film wastes no time jumping into what it calls, “the unstoppable Donald Trump revolution”.


We get both the high and low points of the Trump’s improbable rise, from early speaking engagements to explosive televised debates to galvanizing speeches and public media feuds to, finally, securing the presidential nomination We are taken aboard the Trump Train from the very beginning and get an unflinching look at what may be the most important political figure of the 21st century. (How I hate calling Trump important).

Now this is not much of a documentary since it is just an hour of clips from Trump interviews and speeches. There is some voice over and the film reaches the end, the voice doesn’t match with what is on screen. The film is not insightful and is just simply a propaganda piece. We see no opposing views.


The film actually makes Trump look worse than he is. There is no continuity and there was no editor. Nothing holds together and it’s just Trump with his fake tan and terrible hair telling us that he is wonderful. We see and hear his fear mongering and agenda of hate. He comes across as a

“rancorous power hungry lunatic as someone who can’t fit the pieces together very well”. Like its subject, it is completely idiotic with a bunch of useless video clips. If there is a redeeming aspect of this film it is that it shows a disgusting presidential campaign that will go down in history as a shameful reflection of a country’s hatred and anger.

And from a Trump supporter who saw this film:

“My Yahoo handle is StocktonRob. I am a 68 year old Nam vet and a Republican. Trump is an honest man, albeit not perfect as he willingly admits. This excellent examination of Trump in his many interviews and rallies and meetings with Americans gives an overall view of a man who is very likely to beat Crooked Lyin Hillary in November. There did not need to be any opposing views in this documentary because it is dealing strictly with “the phenomenon of Trump” as a Republican presidential candidate and that is exactly what is examined. There is an unbridled enthusiasm at Trump rallies and within the Republican Party for this man who has put to one side his incredible business career in an effort to be elected U.S. President so he can use the same negotiating skills that have made him so successful in business in the international and national arenas of politics. I highly recommend this video to all Americans so they can see through the lies of the left and the mainstream media. (totally liberal) in the U.S. Stockton Rob”.



“The Tubes – Live At German Television: The Musikladen Concert 1981”

For the First Time on DVD

Amos Lassen

Here is the “phantastic” concert of The Tubes as they present their album “Completion Backward Principle” in Germany in 1981. The concert was completely filmed and shows Fee Waybill, Roger Steen, Bill Spooner, Rick Anderson, Vince Welnick, Michael Cotton and Prairie Prince in top form. The concert is a show with many scenes lots of dancers.


In April, 1981 Musikladen director Mike Leckebusch had the idea to have the Tubes do a live concert and so he offered the band (Fee Waybill, Bill Spooner, Roger Steen, Vince Welnick, The Prairie Prince, Rick Anderson and Michael Cotton) the chance to present their new album ‘The Completion Backward Principle’ live on TV. The band took the chance and added dancers and extras and the show was taped on April 24, 1981 when it went on stage and was broadcast some weeks later in several other countries aside from Germany. The album became the band’s most successful album and now we can see and enjoy the entire concert.


In the early 70s, The Tubes were much more than just a band, they were an event. Their music was eclectic and drew on punk, progressive music, R & B, hard rock and independent musical styles. The band is from San Francisco and includes two guitarists Roger Steen and Bill Spooner that two keyboardists Vince Welnick and Michael Cotton, bassist Rick Anderson and drummer Prairie Prince and all of them are accomplished musicians of the time. The Tubes also had Fee Waybill, a true frontman and passionate singer who just also could fully develop his acting skills in the Tubes.


Below is the track List:

Intro Part 1


A Matter of Pride

TV is King

Think About Me

Talk to Ya Later

Sports Fans


Mr. Hate


Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman


Mondo Bondage

Intro Part 2

Don’t Want to Wait Anymore

Power Tools

Business Dance

Don’t Slow Down

Sushi Girl

Tubes World Fair

Let’s Make Some Noise


“THEO WHO LIVED”— An Inside Look at Terror


“Theo Who Lived”

An Inside Look at Terror

Amos Lassen

David Schisgall’s documentary “Theo Who Lived” is the story of American journalist Theo Padnos, who was kidnapped in Syria and held by the Nusra Front (the Syrian affiliate of Al Qaeda)  for twenty-two months.


In 2012, journalist Theo Padnos entered Syria to report on the country’s civil war but was kidnapped by Al Qaeda’s branch in Syria soon after his arrival. He speaks Arabic fluently this causing him to be thought of as working for the CIA. He suffered brutal torture for months as he went to interrogation sessions. Because he was so much at home in the language of his captors, he eventually found a personal engagement with those that held him prisoner. Interestingly enough, this plus his openness, allowed him to become, by the time of his release, twenty-two months later, a confidante of Al-Qaeda’s top commander in Syria.


In this documentary, Theo Padnos returns to the to the Middle East and as he retraces the physical and emotional steps of his journey, shares his memories. He shows us what went on in his mind as he created a fantasy world that he used as means of mental escape. He was forced to deal with betrayal among others who were imprisoned with him, forced unlikely friendships, and tried to escape but was unable to do so. His personal resilience is what shines here alongside of the grace he exhibited in dealing with his situation. He lived staring into the face of hate and unlike other journalists from the west was able to survive and be released.


The film will open at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas in NYC on October 7 and at the Laemmle Monica Film Center in LA on October 21.

“CREEPY”— A Psychological Thriller



A Psychological Thriller

Amos Lassen


Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s “Creepy” introduces us to Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) is a former detective who after a violent and nearly fatal encounter with a psychotic young man leaves the police force to teach criminal psychology at University. With his wife Yasuko (Yuko Takeuchi) distracted by trying to get to know the neighbors in their new neighborhood, Takakura becomes obsessed with an old unsolved case. While he struggles to shake off his old occupation, he doesn’t notice his wife becoming friendly with the extremely creepy neighbor Mr. Nishino.


Koichi Takakura is called in to interview a young serial killer. There are, according to Takakura, three types of serial killer. The first two, the ‘organized’ and the ‘disorganized’, make up the majority but there’s a third, far rarer and harder to catch type: a killer with “mixed characteristics”. Before he can question him the perpetrator escapes and runs through the station, leading to a hostage situation in the film’s opening sequence. Seven years later Takakura has quit active service and moved to the suburbs to take a position as a university lecturer in criminal psychology. At first Takakura appreciates the peace and quiet but his hunger for the past means it doesn’t take much persuading to get him to assist on a missing person’s case that was closed six years ago.


The film’s focus is on the degeneration of the family as an unsolvable crime to be examined but never resolved. While Takakura becomes deeply involved in the case, his wife introduces herself to their new neighbors including Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa), a curious gentleman who greets her with an unnerving mix of hesitation and underlying hostility. Then, one day, Nishino’s daughter Mio appears at their door and reveals a shocking secret.

The film is based on the award-winning novel by Yutaka Maekawa. This is a chilling psychological thriller as what happens in the plot thread coincides with the daily activities of Takakura’s wife who makes repeated attempts to get to know her neighbors and is met with hostility until she encounters the eccentric Mr. Nishino.  Nishino alternates between socially awkward, rude, and somewhat charming but all with varying degrees of skin-crawling menace. Even his daughter, Mio, seems intimidated by him.  He’s precisely the type of weirdo that inspires the title of the film.


These two plot strands eventually come together as Kurosawa masterfully builds the tension and dread leading up to that moment.   Kurosawa favors atmosphere over gore, but he doesn’t shy away from ghastly imagery.  Though the modus operandi of the film’s psychopath is wholly unique, it also deflates all of the built up tension.  Once all of the puzzle pieces click into place, the pacing slows to a halt with it and this is disappointing and the ending is predictable yet even with that, “Creepy” is a testament to Kurosawa’s supreme mastery of slow-build suspense. It’s apropos that this film is called “Creepy” because, that is a great description of the film.


When Takakura realizes that the creepy neighbor lives in a cul-de-sac just like the lone survivor’s, he begins to suspect the man of being the culprit. What follows is a cat-and-mouse game that may leave Takakura and his wife’s rotting corpses vacuum-sealed in plastic.




“The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: A Tale Of Billionaires & Ballot Bandits”

Buying One’s Way

Amos Lassen

We have heard a lot of talk recently about rigging an election. Donald Trump has already stated that if he in not elected to be the next President of the United States, it is because the election is fixed. Greg Palast is an investigative reported for “Rolling Stone” magazine and he was able to bust Jeb Bush for stealing the election in 2000 by purging Florida’s electoral rolls of black voters. Now he has his sites set on Crosscheck, a dark operation by the Republicans that is designed to steal a million votes by November.


Kris Kobach controls and he is one of Trump’s henchmen and Secretary of State in Kansas. He says that his computer program has identified 7.2 million people in 29 states who may have voted twice in the same election–a felony crime. However there is a catch—  most of these “suspects” are minorities or to say it plainly, they are mainly Democratic voters. The lists and the evidence remain “confidential.”


Palast and his investigative partner Leni Badpenny have gotten their hands on the data, analyzing it to find the names of nearly one million Americans about to lose their vote by November.


They confronted Kobach with the evidence and are off to find the billionaires behind this voting scam.  The search takes Palast from Kansas to the Arctic, the Congo, and to a swanky Hamptons dinner party held by Trump’s sugar daddy, John Paulson, a.k.a. “JP The Foreclosure King.”  Palast and Badpenny stake out top GOP donors, the billionaire known as “The Vulture” and the Koch brothers, whom Palast is able to nail with a damning tape recording. Does this not sound like a plot for a movie? In effect, it is a movie; a real life detective story brought to life in a film noir style with cartoon animation, secret documents, hidden cameras, and a little help from Law & Order: Special Victims Unit detectives. (Ice-T, Richard Belzer, Shailene Woodley, Rosario Dawson, Willie Nelson and Ed Asner). Palast and his associates expose the darkest plans of the very rich to steal America’s democracy.


“The Best Democacy Money Can By” is bound to become the most talked-about movie of the election season. It follows Palast on the hunt for the big money people behind the scheme to purge votes from the rolls. The action goes from the Arctic where Palast gets clues from an Eskimo with a filthy mouth, then on to a speed-boat to a ritzy Hamptons soiree with hidden cameras and finally to the billionaire known as The Vulture.


This is a non-fiction movie that takes you on a real-life high-stakes detective mission. Palast is going to bust what he calls the new Ku Klux Klan.’

“ALMAYER’S FOLLY” — Akerman Adapts Conrad


“Almayer’s Folly”(La folie Almayer)

Akerman Adapts Conrad

Amos Lassen

The late Chantal Akerman gives us a loose adaption of Joseph Conrad’s novel of the same name. Almayer is a Dutch trader stationed in a Malaysian village and lives in the thick of the jungle and beside a winding river. His mixed-race daughter, Nina, is born out of his marriage to a local woman who later goes mad. Almayer passionately hates his wife and he passionately loves his daughter even though his relationship to her is complex because of his absolutist conception of race. He views his wife and the jungle that he lives in as malevolent and savage, and feels that the European race as superior. Because of his narrow view of the world, his daughter’s existence brings up complicated issues of race that he is unable to reconcile and this causes confusion and adds to his own madness. 


Nina is sent away to boarding school where because of her racial makeup, she becomes a target for both racial and cultural alienation. She becomes bitter and blames her white father for her being stigmatized, and returns home harboring deep hatred towards Almayer. 


We see beautiful shots of nature in all its greenery and the wilderness is a parallel to Almayer and Nina’s tangled thoughts and intense emotions.  This is the last feature from filmmaker Chantal Akerman and it is an eccentric exploration of cultural conflict, identity and colonialism.  It begins with a prologue causing us to think that this is a thriller. We see a man wandering through an unidentified Southeast Asian waterfront town until he pulls a knife and kills an outdoor music bar entertainer and leaving one of the accompanying dance troupe alone on stage. This turns out to be Nina (Aurora Marion) who, as child, was taken from her home in a remote corner of the jungle to be educated in the city. While at school, she harbored a burning resentment towards her father, Almayer (Stanislas Merhar), a European who dreams of making a fortune and returning to the distant continent that his mother described as paradise. Almayer is delighted when Nina, now an adult, unexpectedly comes back home.


However, Nina after meeting insurgent militant Dain (Zac Adriansolo), she becomes determined to find her own future elsewhere.When she returns home as an adult, Nina is an embittered young woman who doesn’t feel at home in either the west or in Malaysia. She eventually runs off with Dain, to the disgust of Almayer, whose love for his child has a creepy, semi-incestuous intensity. Almayer is a brooding, introspective guy who is uncomfortable in his environment but does not know how or even have the ability to improve his situation. He puts all his hopes on his broken relationship with Nina who is defined by her being resentful and emotionally cold.


Akerman and her cinematographer Rémon Fremont are rather more interested in exploring the jungle than on the story, it seems. The camera lingers on the world of greenery and swampy water. But these background elements, do not aid the viewer in understanding the characters and what they are going through. Too many crucial plot developments happen off-screen.

This film comes after a seven-year hiatus for Akerman and she chose to come back to the screen with this film that is based on a novel written by Joseph Conrad in 1895. Conrad’s writings have often proven to be unsuited for movies and that is the case here as well.


After a powerful opening scene and reasonably strong first act, the film begins to falter. Akerman pads the action out of with long stretches in which the characters don’t do much of anything, leading up to a climax. She removes many of the details of Conrad’s novel yet her adaptation is intricate in that we see no sympathy for Almayer as it changes perspectives and perceptions, making us identify with characters who have no narrative voice, or those that we only experience in incidental and tangential ways, most of whom are related to Nina in some fashion.


Akerman works within the boundaries of a classic colonialist narrative, with Almayer hopelessly trying and failing to harness the fruits of the land he believes is his to control. However, this plotline becomes the secondary focus, with more attention paid to the seething vibrancy of the jungle. What Akerman has found is the most interesting plot thread in an old and seemingly outmoded novel and trims it to look at the story of Nina who was born with a feet in two different worlds. Nina barely speaks but she has other means of expression, metaphorically associated with the power of the forest. This is a story of waxing and waning forces and we see this in the repeated motif of a pale moon shadowing the water.


Akerman has subsumed and repurposed Conrad’s story for her own purposes, diverting its channel just as the river bypassed Almayer himself.

“ARGENTINA”— A Political Dance Documentary



A Political Dance Documentary

Amos Lassen

Spanish filmmaker Carlos Saura brings us a look at the music of Argentina while he explores the heart of traditional Argentine folklore and its stunning musical heritage. He has spent the latter part of his long career making dance films that balance the real and surreal. In “Argentina”, we see folk artists tell the history of the “Other Argentina” through traditional music and dance reinterpreted by the Buenos Aires-based Ballet Nuevo Arte Nativo de Koki & Pajarín Saavedra. Saura sees everything as political and everything is process, from setup through rehearsal to performance.


The film begins with a slow look at a cavernous Buenos Aires soundstage, where a lidless piano with its hammers and strings exposed is being tuned. As the pianist warms up, a small band of local musicians of all ages tunes up in silhouette on a back-screen before they slowly move forward to be joined by members of the ballet company. The dancers wear bright, earth-colored costumes while they warm up and their preparations is a segue into a fluid intermingling of traditional songs, melodies and dances that represent the pain and endurance of the country’s indigenous peoples thus implying that  their influence on the art and culture of Spain came into being from Franco’s fascist yoke.


The dances that we see here— malambo, copla, zamba — have been influenced by the stately dances such as flamenco and tango but without the flash and glitter. They are inspired by laborers—muleteers and farmers from the Andean steppes. In an aerial shot we see a homespun marching drummers group become a majestic procession. We hear the whispers of dancers at rehearsal while a choreographer adjusts a company member’s position. Another musician taps out an atonal piece with drumsticks on the open piano and suddenly there is a café scene with customers singing.


The musicians sing and play and step out themes of poverty, love, loss, longing and suffering. Yet there is also joy as they sing and dance. It is, at times, like watching a travelogue of the history of Argentina and it is amazing. Everything builds toward the finale of a masked carnival piece that involves the whole ensemble dancing around a “bonfire.”


Carlos Saura gives us quite an introduction to Argentine traditional music and dance and those that are already familiar with it will adore this film. For those, like myself, who know nothing about it, this can be a frustrating film. Even though the forms are identified, we learn nothing about their origins and other details. We see, also, that where rock and pop are much in evidence, and dances developed in cities, like the tango, come across as dominant. I got the impression that the film tries to preserve traditions and educate about them. By doing so, the past of Argentina is captured. However, I would have enjoyed the film more had there been context.

“HURRICANE”— The Threat of Terrorism



The Threat of Terrorism

Amos Lassen

I think it is safe to say that most, if not all, of us are fearful of the threat of terrorism here in the United States. Christiano Dias’ short film “Hurricane” is a look at how these feelings of uneasiness and fear can make us imagine the very worst scenarios. Here we meet the Alduars family and in just fourteen minutes take a journey into the paranoia about terrorism that includes a bit of humor.


The film begins with Oslo Alduars (Corey Page) sitting at a table waiting for his dinner. Wife Eva (Lisa Roumain) brings a steak to the table and as husband and wife listen to music on the radio. eat and have a bit of a quarrel. Suddenly the radio is silent and while Eva thinks this may be the result of a storm, Oslo is reminded of a similar incident that at a neighbor’s house. A man discovered that there was a wiretapping device in his radio and suddenly disappeared. It is Oslo’s conjecture that he was taken by Communists, never to return.

The couple hear a knock on the door and it is a boy who introduces himself as Benjamin Shaw (David Jay). He seems to be selling newspaper subscriptions. Oslo is suspicious and thinks that the dead radio and the appearance of Benjamin is not coincidental. At the same time, the storm that Eva mentioned comes closer to the house outside. The audience is left to consider the various possibilities of what all of this means.


Director Dias takes back to that time in this country when the Cold War was on our minds. The set is composed on retro furniture style and color and when the radio was an important piece of furniture. We see how Oslo felt somewhat paranoid just from the way the set is constructed and by the heavy closed drapes on the windows. The eyes of the characters also play into this feeling and something certainly seems to be going on. There is another clue in the spat that the couple had at the table. It heightens the sense of paranoia and mistrust that usually result in bad choices and decisions.

Everything about this little film is excellent as it shows us how the very feelings of this paranoia and mistrust play on fears and misconceptions that can push someone over the edge.


Oslo’s thoughts accuse Ben of being a Communist spy and the film is an illustration of how the Cold War affected people at that time. As viewers, we also become caught up in what is going on in this very dark comedy. “Hurricane” shows the actuality of fear as a result of the Cold War alarm and how actions come before facts.

“HOT TYPE: 150 YEARS OF THE NATION”— Leaning Left with the Nation


“Hot Type: 150 Years of “’The Nation’”

Leaning Left with “The Nation”

Amos Lassen

Oscar winner Barbara Kopple’s new documentary, “Hot Type” is a profile of “The Nation”, the left-leaning magazine. “The Nation” is this country’s oldest continuously published weekly magazine. The magazine commissioned Kopple to make the film as part of its 150th anniversary, yet the film is not exactly critical towards its subject. Kopple was awarded total access to the staff of the magazine thus allowing us to see some of the weekly editorial meetings. We also get to follow several reporters are followed as they pursue their stories.


Director Kopple insightfully juxtaposes the magazine’s coverage of recent news stories with its reporting of related past events. Here are a few examples:

“A segment devoted to Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s recall election is contrasted with the magazine’s attacks on Senator Joe McCarthy. Coverage of the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti recalls a 1963 article about that country’s desperate plight under despotic rule. And the protests over North Carolina’s proposed voter suppression laws are interwoven with footage of the Civil Rights protests of the 1960s”. (The older stories are read aloud by celebrities such as Sam Waterston and Susan Sarandon).



The film opens with a montage of the magazine’s 150 year old history and goes on to show its development from when it was founded in 1865 by Republican abolitionists and move forward to when to became more liberal during Roosevelt and the New Deal. Contributors such as James Baldwin, Henry James, Willa Cather, Leon Trotsky, Theodore Dreiser and Martin Luther King, Jr. are highlighted and we see that one problem that has remained with The Nation during its 150 years has been financing. The magazine has relied on investors to keep it alive. Because it has remained independent from corporate financing, it has been able to publish some very hard-hitting stories. It was one of the earliest magazines to publish about the link between smoking and cancer as well as Ralph Nader’s groundbreaking expose of unsafe cars.


The film captures the daily life of staff writers, and reporters. We meet the leading voices—Katrina vanden Huvel and see them at work. We learn that everyone at the magazine had once been an intern and we are privy to the voices of all who work there. The film was shot over three years in cinema verite style that captures the day-to-day pressures and challenges of publishing. We really see that writers are the heart and soul of the magazine, and the film follows them extensively.


The Nation’s archival articles – and roster of writers play the part of historical touchstone and show how the past continuously influences the present.

There are moments of wonderful humor and the documentary is not a pleasure to watch, it is an educational experience.