Category Archives: Film

“ADDICTED TO FRESNO”— Looking at Dependence

“Addicted to Fresno”

Looking at Dependence

Amos Lassen

Shannon (Judy Greer) is a self-destructive sex addict kicked out of rehab and back into the care of her long-suffering, lovelorn sister Martha (Natasha Lyonne). Joining her sibling in her work as a motel maid in a dead-end town, Shannon soon upsets the quiet through the “accidental” murder of a guest.

The chaos caused by Shannon’s affliction and its inherent selfishness has been underlined sufficiently well before the point at which she accuses an innocent (though sleazy) man, Boris (Jon Daly), of rape and then kills him for no better reason than to hide an from her sister that she is experiencing a relapse. The movie sets out to explore the complex issues surrounding addiction and recovery. As such, the central plot point is a heavy-handed step too far that omits any sign of sympathy that we might have had for Shannon.

 

The script includes poor decisions yet there is a degree of personal redemption among the members of the cast. There’s a believable sisterly chemistry between Greer and Lyonne, who prove themselves worthy of promotion of bigger roles.

The comedy tries to be a pertinent statement on matters of dependence. The sisters work to cure themselves and mend their tenuous relationship, with Martha giving Shannon a place to stay and getting her a job as a maid at the same nondescript hotel where she works.

For a while, director Jamie Babbit gives us a character study but then suddenly, it all changes when Shannon sleeps with a hotel guest and inadvertently kills him. And in the name of the sister code, Martha agrees to help cover up the crime, with a blackmail attempt then prompting poorly reasoned schemes to gain money.

The corpse, which becomes cumbersome only when the plot requires it, is intended as the way to the sisters’ salvation. Yet with each passing minute, the film’s larger points fall by the wayside in the name of black comedy that loses its edge. The narrative just stops as Shannon confesses to the crime and is hauled to jail. This staunch rejection of real resolution might have been the film’s biggest joke if it hadn’t been rendered with such earnestness.

 When Martha walks in on Shannon and Boris, her sister claims that she was being sexually assaulted and accidentally kills Boris in the confusion. They then have to get rid of the dead body. They try to distract Boris’s suffering sister (Molly Shannon) while they raise a small fortune to have pet cemetery caretakers (Fred Armisen and Allison Tolman) cremate the corpse. What could have been funny comes off as silly and I really wanted to like this movie.

The middle of the movie is when Shannon and Martha’s attempt to earn money quickly to pay for the cremation, with one scheme finding the ladies stealing a tub of sex toys to resell to female softball players at an awards ceremony back at the hotel. Another has Shannon and Martha crashing a boy’s bar mitzvah to swipe a box filled with cash. As we reach the final third of the film, things get better and we realize that Shannon’s sexual addiction is very real and that she is a broken woman even with her cynicism and carelessness.

Redeeming Shannon is a steady undertone of female solidarity that rises to the surface in scenes like the one where Shannon insists on releasing her sister’s hair from its scrunchie and brushing it out and in scenes like this, we see that sister can raise one another up.

“SILICON COWBOYS”— Three Friends and a Computer

 “Silicon Cowboys”

Three Friends and a Computer

Amos Lassen

Three friends dream up the Compaq portable computer at a Texas diner in 1981, and soon afterwards find themselves at war with IBM for PC supremacy. Their journey changed the future of computing and shaped the world we now know. When the film is over we are left with the feeling that we have just finished a university level course in computers.

This is a fast-moving look at the start-up and rise of Compaq Computer and what make it so interesting is that it is grounded in people as well as technology, and that makes the lessons especially engaging. In the early 1980s, Rod Canion, Jim Harris and Bill Murto, formed a company based on some brash ideas that included compatibility and portability and the timing was absolutely opportune.

Wearing nice suits, the three presented and thick glasses to present their products to customers and investors. Not long afterward, they were surpassing IBM and this continued for some ten years. Film director, Jason Cohen, illustrates how the company presaged current trends in technology. Through the use of old footage of cheesy advertisements, bulky machines and out-dated fashion, we realize that we are really glad that the 80s are over.

Through the use of broad generalizations to explain events, director Cohen has us become very sympathetic to the company and its three bosses. “Silicon Cowboys” prizes the human drama behind business events and we see that it is the people and not the technology that is the real star here.

At the time, of course, “portable” was a relative term in the PC world. The first Compaq was more precisely a “luggable” device roughly the size of a sewing machine, with two floppy-disc drives and a built-in monochrome monitor smaller than most modern-day iPads. The debut product of the Compaq Houston start-up actually could run the IBM software, thanks to some canny (and quite legally questionable) reverse-engineering and a great deal of trial and error on the part of Canion, Harris, Murto. There is an indication here that IBM was too short-sighted, or too arrogant, to immediately recognize Compaq as a competitor, even as the startup was posting record first-year sales. Cohen contrasts the corporate mindsets of the companies with clips of their TV advertising and we immediately see the differences in approach that obviously mattered to the consumer.

“Silicon Cowboys” strongly suggests that the Compaq founders achieved breakthrough success not only because they offered a good product, but also because IBM made so many mistakes when they launched their counteroffensive in the marketplace. (There is irony here in that when IBM finally did get around to launching a competitive product, their version was found to be inferior by early purchases because it could not run IBM desktop software.) Ultimately, it was left to IBM’s patent-savvy legal team that was able to slow down Compaq’s progress. And even then, Compaq — aligned with other manufacturers of PC clones — managed to undermine IBM’s other attempts to stifle competition.

“Silicon Cowboys” is a vivid and evocative portrait of an time when innovators could rough-sketch their grand plans for PCs of the back of restaurant placemats, then rely on bank loans, not venture capitalists, to turn dreams into reality. It tells a fascinating story that includes cautionary references to the ways that corporate success can cause family ties to fray and in which visionaries are replaced by simple mathematicians.

Despite uncertain beginnings (in one of the film’s most revealing moments, Canion recalls a brief impulse to open a Mexican restaurant rather than a tech firm), but then the three strikes pay dirt by producing a 28-pound portable “clone” of an IBM PC that stokes the ire of the massive mega corporation and eventually sets off a virtual war between the two companies.

Cohen relies on the well-worn tools of the documentarians’ trade—such as reenactments, stock footage, and voiceover—to grant a fairly straightforward telling of a fairly straightforward story but this time he does so with a degree of dramatic flair. The sheer volume of primary sources—worn photos, scan-lined video, and actual business forms—on display throughout the film is mind-boggling. When IBM releases a new computer with a chip that nobody has seen before, we see photo after photo of Compaq personnel ripping out the circuit boards of their competitor’s machine the same day, trying to figure out what makes the magic happen. When CEO Canion talks about IBM’s marketing team being behind the times, we’re convinced of their ineptitude by footage of a 60-second spot, which features a Charlie Chaplin lookalike in a pie factory. Indeed, the emphasis on television and magazine ads for computers of the era is an indelible part of the film’s charm; each clip is a time capsule in itself, and does much to establish the tenor of the era.

As the dollars rain from the sky and the three compatriots all leave the company for various reasons, the timeline jumps forward 10 years and quickly ends. In 2002, staggered by the dot-com bubble, Compaq merged with HP, only to be marketed as their B-level brand and unceremoniously jettisoned a decade later. Such an ending makes clear why this film is presented as the story of the people behind Compaq, and not the company itself.

“Demolition”— Life After Death

“Demolition”

Life After Death

Amos Lassen

Shortly after his wife, Julia (Heather Lind), dies in a car accident, Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal) tries to buy a bag of M&Ms from a hospital vending machine. The bag gets stuck, and Davis begins a series of letters to the company responsible for maintaining the machine. He uses this incident to rid himself of years of anxieties and repressed emotions.

Davis sees and presents himself as a totem of white male privilege, having spent years commuting from a modernist house in White Plains to the Manhattan investment bank where he works for his father-in-law. His only problems were that he didn’t love his wife or his life. Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts), the vending machine company’s lone customer service rep becomes interested in his letters and from on the film becomes somewhat strange— a stalker comedy, a chaste romance, and a look at act of wish-fulfillment.

Almost all of the characters here are in some kind of crisis over identity. Karen is a bored, pot-smoking single mother, and her son, Chris (Judah Lewis), is exploring androgyny and realizing that he is a homosexual. Davis is an archetypal man without feelings who suddenly and decisively becomes a man of action. He begins to take things apart and his co-workers are concerned about him when he quits his job.

Davis feels that everything is a metaphor and it becomes difficult for the viewer to decide whether or not the film is ironic. We are not sure whether we understand the purpose of all of Davis’s destruction. He gains no identifiable emotional awakening and we do not find any sense of morality here. His hysterical acts of demonstrated by Gyllenhaal’s amusing but impenetrable acting. He cannot adapt to everyday social graces and this is a very important part of who he is. His is strange sensibility and his unpredictability negate his chances of being seen as a sympathetic character.

Director Jean-Marc Vallée tries to show what Davis thinks as he explores Davis through his letters to Karen. There seem to be clues in his wardrobe and grooming patterns and we see him shave his chest as a sign of independence but that is just one somewhat mild example. He obviously is having an identity crisis. It all starts when he and his wife are arguing while driving in New York traffic when their car gets suddenly sideswiped killing Julia and we begin to expect more trauma. we are on edge expecting more trauma at any moment. Davis goes into a state of shock and then takes his frustration out on a hospital candy machine.

Davis has no idea how to act the next day and he goes to work at the investment company where his father-in-law (Chris Cooper) , the owner is understandably at home grieving the loss of his only daughter. Davis’s behavior gets more irrational as the days go on and he writes that letter to the vending company. After receiving a couple of letters from Davis, Karen realizes that he just needs someone to talk and as he unburdens himself while talking to her on the phone, she thinks that he is the most honest man she has ever come across. What follows is a cat and mouse game with each other before they start a friendship, and when they do  Karen’s son Chris finds a soul mate in Davis as they both seem to encourage each other to be rebellious.  In Chris’s case, he has to accept his sexuality, but in Davis’s case there is the need to accept that he feels totally cold and emotionless about his wife’s death, their marriage and the superficial life they had together. Because it is too late to take his marriage apart, he then starts taking everything down in order to understand how things work.

Gyllenhaal is wonderful as the troubled Banker who does these wild and questionable things, and although it is hard at times to sympathize with his seemingly lack of compassion, we always root for him. “Demolition” is not an easy film with Davis’s initial lethargy and emotional shutdown and the rather extreme measures he later takes to deal with his grief. But it is worth seeing if just for the very fine performance of Jake Gyllenhaal.

 

“HOMEPORT”— After Life at Sea

“HOMEPORT”

After Life at Sea

Amos Lassen

Veteran seaman,  Aharon Avitan,  ‘lands’ after 30 years at sea, for the birth of his first grandchild,  looking forward  to living a normal life at last. He is appointed Head of the Marine Department at the Ashdod Port. Almost immediately he clashes with the “Big Man” at the port, Azulay. On one hand, Azulay is a corrupt bully, but on the other he is warm-hearted and open to the troubles of the port workers, who admire him.

The clash disrupts the status quo that has reigned at the port for years.  Aharon is willing to go all the way with this dispute, even if he is forced to “get his hands dirty”. Simultaneously, he falls in love with Yelena, an attractive single mom who works as a customs official.  Yelena too, like many others at the port and in the city, is implicated in Azulay’s tangled web. 

Aharon will eventually have to make a cruel choice only to discover that a much larger force – privatization – has reshuffled the cards. Here is a drama about trying to build a life on unstable ground. 

 

 

“THE BRIDE” (“LA NOVIA”)— Lorca Onscreen

“The Bride” (“La novia”)

Lorca Onscreen

Amos Lassen

With “The Bride” director Paula Ortiz brings the bold and deeply felt symbolism of Federico García Lorca’s famous matrimonial drama, “Blood Wedding” to the screen and she opens Lorca’s rich thematic veins and beguiling visual motifs for all to see. are screaming from the page to be fully realized on screen. Before this there was an attempt by Carlos Saura to bring the play to the screen but it was done with ‘s flamenco dance. The movie is a visual feast.

Ortiz has opted for a somewhat simplistic presentation of Lorca’s multi-faceted classic. She strips away much of the social commentary and more lyrical top-notes and centers her work on repressed desire and gorgeous close-ups of hands skimming water and the touch of skin against cotton. The use of poetry and song to foreshadow tragedy is all present and correct. The film glows in shades of sepia and the arid locale and the period authenticity are right in front of us.

A series of strange portents begin to undermine the confidence of the eponymous Bride (Inma Cuesta) in her decision to marry her Groom (Asier Exteandia). Beginning at the end, the catastrophic conclusion has already been alluded to so it is clear when the ruggedly handsome, horse-rider Leonardo (Álex García) appears on the scene that he is trouble. He is passion to the groom’s reason and we see and hear loose metaphors about fertility and the natural cycle and death being pointed throughout. Unfortunately, they are never satisfactorily embraced. We are aware of the fear of loneliness that drives the Groom’s mother (Luisa Gavasa), who veers between matriarch and Machiavelli, twisted by loss and harboring a bitter grudge against Leonardo’s family. 

Guavas totally steals the movie with her pained longing and she exemplifies Lorca. The opening scene already spells trouble. A bride flounces about in the mud, before taking her horse to a dilapidated home in the middle of the arid Spanish countryside, where three people (herself, her father and her new mother-in-law) are waiting for her. She (her name is never given) tells the woman she has come back because she is ready to die, and she explains why she left her equally anonymous husband during the reception and ran off with the mysterious, brooding Leonardo. While her fiancé/husband offered her safety and stability, she was attracted by the risk and uncertainty that Leonardo represented and it made no difference that he is married to her cousin.

We wonder about this scene that seems to be either a vision of heaven or a vision of hell. The landscape is arid and desolate, and the atmosphere among the members of this group is filled with sadness. From this scene we know that the bride left her husband on their wedding night to spend the evening with another man.

When we see Leonardo, we can understand why the bride went with him. He is a muscular silent type with long black hair and he has eyes that beckon. Because we know how all of this comes out, the wedding seems tedious.

There are a few scenes in which we see Leonardo on horseback stalking the Bride (in the background) as if he is a reminder of opportunities not taken. Throughout, the landscape takes the form of sexual appetite, as on many occasions we see rock outcroppings looking like giant male members that have sprung up from the barren wasteland.

Things finally start to get tense by the time the wedding rolls around, where Leonardo shows up and visibly charms the Bride’s heart. But every now and again, the film stalls out with extended slow-motion shots, or in the case of the anticipated sex scene, nearly an entire slow-motion scene that educes laughter instead of either passion because of the act, or dread because of the consequences.

At other points, including one moment during the sex scene, the film grinds to a halt to make it possible for a character to deliver a long speech that obviously comes from Lorca’s text. There is no movement in the frame, and the vast range of possibilities that the medium of film has to offer are not really used to support the words.

One visual highlight, however, is a procession of roughly a dozen characters over a ridge that stretches from left to right across the screen. We see them moving along at sunset, and they appear only as silhouettes, as if in a macabre dance of death.

Whenever the film focuses on the sexual tension between the Bride and Leonardo, it is absolutely enthralling, but these moments are very few and far between. The far-flung exoticism of the landscape is wonderful but the unnecessarily lengthy presentation of some of the scenes and the use some of the major characters, like the Groom, as tools for the narrative’s mechanics is disappointing.

The screenplay, written by Ms. Ortiz and Javier García, is packed with emotional charge and suffocating atmospheres in a film that exhibits arid landscapes, eroded houses, and a love triangle that ends up in a terrible adversity. We can say that the movie is artistic because of the gorgeous cinematography but it is just not cinematic (which may seem contradictory but is not).

We see three childhood friends, a woman and two men, as their lives dangerously are at the edge of an abyss when two of them decide to marry each other. Apparently, they are happy and exchange promises of eternal love, but, the reality is quite more complicated than that because of Leonardo The bride is divided and can’t stop the uncontrollable attraction that she feels whenever Leonardo is around. It’s no surprise to anybody that the wedding is a big mistake and is condemned to fail.

“The Bride” is about fate, guilt, and anguish but it does not reach the kind of climax we expect. Ortiz has refreshed Lorca’s timeless masterpiece and made it into a kind of epic female western, full of beauty and misfortune. This visceral, bloody and torrid film is somewhere between sublimity and pretentiousness but it does adhere to Lorca’s original lines, which are recited by the actors with a natural spontaneity.

“THE GREAT GAME”— (“Le grand jeu”) Politics Are a Game of Intellectual Manipulation

“THE GREAT GAME” (“Le grand jeu”)

Politics Are a Game of Intellectual Manipulation

Amos Lassen

Director Nicolas Pariser’s “The Great Game” is an elegant, low-keyed political thriller about the game of misdirection and deception. Devious Joseph Paskin (André Dusollier) “just happens” to run into handsome has-been writer Pierre Blum (Melvil Poupaud) at a casino. Joseph is there to gamble, obviously (or so he says), but Pierre is there for the wedding of his ex-wife. We soon understand that none of this was by chance and that Joseph has a use for Pierre. There conversation is a combination of wit and naiveté and the two men lead into a world we’ll never quite understand. It is a world where events at the top are all a matter of hidden manipulation, and a writer can make a difference, if properly used. Joseph is a lawyer who works behind the scenes of power and has a writing job for Pierre.

Pierre wrote a political novel 15 years ago that was much celebrated. He has had ties with the extreme left whose leader he detested. He has written nothing since. Pariser gradually looks into Pierre’s life and experience and here and throughout the film there are shifts and surprises.

We see cynical discussions at the Élysée Palace, the center of French power, where it’s said that whoever wins elections runs things at the top. In his latest scheme to bring down a top minister, Joseph is warned he’s going fatally far. Joseph seems to be wrapped up in secrecy, knowingness, and danger while Pierre is a handsome loser who once had everything and now lives on the edge of nothing. He has just moved into a tiny garret apartment that no one knows about and he has changed his phone number but Joseph leaves a note for him there setting up a meeting. Joseph explains to Pierre how a book can launch other books, and a lot of writing on one side can bury writing on the other and that work better than censorship.

The story is told with a sleek, old-fashioned efficiency and it is intelligent and original. We get anenticing glimpse of how the wheels turn behind the facade of Paris’ Elysee Palace. Americans have been conditioned to expect car bombs and conspiracy theories in their political thrillers, though the cynicism tends to be much subtler in France, a democracy where a popular majority elects the leaders, and yet, as the film makes clear, a select few pull the strings.

The puppet master here is Joseph Paskin, an elder statesman. At first, Joseph pretends not to recognize the 40-ish writer (and why should he, since it’s been 15 years since he published his one all-but-forgotten novel?), though time will soon reveal that there are no coincidences where Paskin’s character is concerned.

His idealism broken by an indifferent public, Pierre has lost faith in his potential to make a difference. Then Paskin makes him a job offer— “to write the ultimate masterpiece in the subgenre you mentioned,” and in so doing, help him bring down the Minister and oust his allies.

We see that Blum is, in effect, being hired as an intellectual assassin. In France, , the freedom of speech is more powerful than censorship, and that an idea, if articulated well enough in print, could move public sentiment enough to bring about a revolution. That is exactly what happens, though not exactly to plan, Blum’s anonymously published “Itinerary of a Letter” swings the left into action and sets off a slow-motion chain of events that ultimately endangers his ex-wife Caroline (Sophie Cattani), activist love interest Laura (Clemence Poesy) and their entire circle of separatist protestors (who’d rather cut themselves off from politics than change it).

At age 40, Pariser has had time to form such impressions on how the world works from his own education and interest in politics. This is a well-acted, engrossing motion picture that may well keep you on the edge of your seat. Be ready for twists and turns that will keep you guessing.

“WORLDS APART”— Three Stories

“Worlds Apart” (“Enas Allos Kosmos”)

Three Stories

Amos Lassen

 Three Greeks have chance encounters with strangers in three interconnected narratives set in Greece. Daphne (Niki Vakali), a young Greek woman, falls in love with Farris (Tawfeek Barhom), a Syrian refugee after he rescues her from an assault. However, their relationship is forbidden by her domineering, anti-immigrant father, Antonis (Minas Chatzisavvas). Giorgios (Christopher Papakaliatis) is a salesman for a struggling company who meets Elise (Andrea Osvart), a Scandinavian woman, at a hotel bar and they end up sleeping together. What a began as a one night stand changes when they realize that they have developed feelings for one another. To make things complicated, Elise is the efficiency expert in charge of laying off the employees at the company that Giogios works at. Maria (Maria Kavoyianni), a housewife in an unhappy marriage, has a conversation with a friendly stranger, Sebastian (J.K. Simmons), a retired professor from Germany, in front of a supermarket. They agree to meet once a week at the same day and time at the supermarket and their friendship gradually become sweetly romantic. while sparking a friendship that blossoms into a sweet romance.

Writer/director Christopher Papakaliatis tells three compelling stories with complex characters and he does so with avoiding stereotypes, melodrama and caricatures. Each character feels like a living and breathing human being and we feel the chemistry between each of the couples. Beneath the film’s surface there are sociopolitical and socioeconomic commentaries that provide plenty of food for thought and are quite timely, relatable and universal.

The three stories are presented consecutively and have different styles. The first is romantic and affectionate, while dark at the same time. The second one is humorous and sexy and restrained. , like the things that Papakaliatis likes to do. The third is more of a private story takes place only in a supermarket.

The one problem I had is the difference in tone between the three stories thus making connecting them seem both forced and violent and the connection seems forced. However, we also see that Papakaliatis cares for what he has written and has written it well. Here are three different stories with three separate notation heroes who are either responsible as foreigners or as Greeks who experience what is going on in Greece today. The dialogue is realistic, simple, human and intelligent as are the characters. The film beautifully portrays emotion and I found myself really identifying with what was going on even though I have never spent more than a few hours in Greece.

THE VESSEL”— Transformation

“The Vessel”

Transformation

Amos Lassen

 Julio Quintana’s “The Vessel” is a beautiful parable about the spiritual transformation of a community after a tragedy. Just ten years ago, the people of a small Puerto Rican village were frozen in grief after a giant wave crashed into their schoolhouse and killed 46 children, sweeping them out to sea where they drowned. Since then the women have dressed in black and refused to consider having more children. The Catholic priest, Father Douglas (Martin Sheen), is distraught about the community’s depression and low attendance at church and awaits some sign of hope and renewal among the people he loves so dearly.

Leo (Lucas Quintana) is a caring son who looks after his mentally unbalanced mother Fidelia (Jacqueline Duprey), who lost her other son in the tidal wave tragedy. When he learns that his best friend Gabriel (Hiram Delgado) is leaving town, he gives him a motorcycle. The two young sat together and drank too much during their last evening together and the following morning, they were both found dead by fisherman, who confirm that they were drowned in the sea. However, somewhat miraculously, Leo turns out to still be alive.

For Father Douglas is convinced this is the sign he has been waiting for— this inexplicable resurrection is God’s sign to the townsfolk that He is present among them. Soraya (Aris Mejias), whose husband was the schoolteacher died along with the children and she is the object of Leo’s secret affection. Because of what happened to him, she is now moved by her own emotions to align herself with him. She take her most colorful dresses out of the closet and wears them again. Then a couple comes to Father Douglas with news that they want to have a child and it is almost as if things begin to return to where they once were.

This is a very moving film about the spiritual transformation of individuals and an entire community. I was fascinated watching the villagers slowly come alive. What we see here is that hope is contagious and can be given to others as nourishment for the future and escape from the past. I think what is truly unique about “The Vessel” is that it leaves so much unsaid and unexplained. The film has several references to Jesus and his passion, the rest of the story is filled with mystery. And that is what makes it a worthy work of cinematic

We begin with seeing debilitating grief amid tragic loss and the search for hope. The film looks at real life human and spiritual questions and struggles that we all have and does so through beauty.

Father Douglas is the sole Catholic priest in the community and he hopes that he can gently and patiently help the villagers through their grief and into a stare of healing and hope. It has not been easy. He wants the couples to begin having children again but they do not listen and the weight of what is going on affects the Father. He begins to doubt himself. 

Leo is part of a generation that wasn’t entirely affected by the tragedy. He wasn’t a parent ten years ago and hasn’t felt the terrible loss those around him have but he has become restless living in this paralyzed community. He stays because he is devoted to his mother, Fidelia (Jacqueline Duprey), who has been lost in a catatonic mental state since the event. Another reason keeping Leo from leaving with his best friend, Gabriel (Hiram Delgado), who is heading to the mainland to escape the misery, is Soraya, a young woman Leo has long had feelings for but yet she is also struggling with loss of her husband who was the teacher and the school and who died with the others. What happened then as I stated earlier changes everything for the village and the villagers.

The deeply religious people begin to examine the resurrected Leo’s every move, thinking he’s been touched by God and looking for more direction in their lives. Father Douglas knows that such an obsessive reliance on man and not faith can lead to disappointment and further desperation and he finds himself attempting to calm the frustrations of the townspeople who search for hope. Leo surprisingly decides to build a structure out of the remnants of the school house and this confuses the villagers and the Father as well who are unsure of this new creation crafted from material that conjures haunting memories. Just as others are looking to Leo for a spiritual sign, Soraya is drawn to him and the two begin to develop a closeness while Leo’s mother slowly comes out of her catatonic mental state. As Leo turns his structure into a boat, the confusion of the people rises, resulting in a combination of hysteria and possible deliverance.

There is a lot of Biblical symbolism in “The Vessel” but it never distracts from the story. Granted, Leo’s comparison to Christ isn’t so subtle – he rose three hours later (unlike yet similar to Christ being risen from the grave three days later) and he winds up with a nail through his foot while building his structure but the comparison stops there and Leo never heals or stops to tell parables. He’s still Leo, dealing with how and why he is now alive after being dead. This doesn’t stop others from seeing him as some kind of messiah and there is, for example, a villager who steals a button from Julio’s shirt and feeds it to his sick donkey with the hope of it being healed. At the same time, Leo is both celebrated by the townspeople upon his resurrection and then shunned when he doesn’t fit who they expect him to be. Quintana’s decision to include religious imagery caused me to think about the world and the spiritual symbolism that often goes unseen in my everyday life.

As much as there is symbolism throughout “The Vessel” there is behavior and emotions that will feel very real and relatable to viewers. We have either known or heard of someone who has been mentally and emotionally crippled after the loss of a child or loved one. We have seen mass mourning and frustration after a natural disaster and we all know someone who struggles with spiritual awakening.

What we see here is universal and applicable to all of humanity. Like the characters here, we struggle and grieve the passing of life and we celebrate a new life. Quintana takes these concepts and themes and takes them to this distant environment which actually is just like the world we live in and is enveloped in good and cruelty.

Producer Terence Malick whose own films are contemplative and delicate has obviously influenced the director and if you have seen his films you know what I mean. Sheen comes across as natural and fitting in this setting as the other actors. He brings a needed patience and wisdom to the role, but also an understandable underlying frustration of a priest’s work and the state of his village. Lucas Quintana and Aris Mejias disappear into their roles and effectively convey the confusion, curiosity and passion that they must show.

“The Vessel” at times seems heavy-handed but that can be overlooked when we consider that this is Quintana’s first film who ambitiously captures the delicate line between faith and fallible humanity. Bravo!!

“THE MEN’S CLUB”— A Discussion Group

“The Men’s Club”

A Discussion Group?

Amos Lassen

I had absolutely no idea what to expect in this movie— I do not remember hearing anything about it before so it was a complete surprise to me. Basically, it is the story of a group of men who get together to form a “discussion group” at one of the guy’s house.. They share their feelings about women, life, love, and work. The party gets rowdier and rowdier, and then the host’s wife returns home. Even after being thrown out, the men are not yet willing to call it a night…

Could this be the male bonding answer to sisterhood?. Women seem to have always gravitated toward groups and this is a misogynistic statement. I understand that many women’s group were created for support but that is not what we see with the seven men here. The screenplay by Leonard Michaels comes from his 1982 novel. The men we meet range in age from the 30s to the 50s and they get together at the Berkeley, California home of a psychotherapist (Richard Jordan) and they take turns talking about their experiences with women.

Cavanaugh (Roy Scheider) is a former baseball star, who is tough toward women but also vulnerable. Solly (Harvey Keitel) is a tough yet vulnerable businessman. Harold (Frank Langella) is a lawyer and something of a prude filled with romantic longings, and Phillip (David Dukes) is a relatively wholesome, if irritable, homebody and a college professor. Terry (Treat Williams) is supposedly e a doctor with a swinging bedside manner, and Paul (Craig Wasson) is the manager of an auto pasts store and he is the friendliest and nicest in the group.

Cavanaugh (Roy Scheider), college prof Phillip (David Dukes), milquetoast lawyer Harold (Frank Langella), stressed-out businessman Solly (Harvey Keitel), doctor Terry (Treat Williams), and auto parts store manager Paul (Craig Wasson). Occasionally there is some horseplay involving the whole group or an angry exchange between a couple of them, but mostly we’re watching a set of men of whom some are amusing and some are not.

After talking for a while about their wives who don’t perform up to par and other women who exceed expectations , the guys raid the refrigerator and make a shambles of the psychotherapist’s house. Kramer’s wife (Stockard Channing) comes home and puts an end to the festivities. The men then (except Kramer who is bleeping from his wife hitting him on the head with a Pot) head to the House of Affection, where they are warmly greeted by dolled-up women whose mirrored bedrooms have satin sheets.

Here again, the actors get a chance to act out their hostilities and craziness. Suddenly the movie loses its sense of direction and goes every which way. The session at the brothel strips them to the awkward and occasionally degraded core. Peter Medak’s direction is fine until the end at which point he seems to have taken a break from his film. It tries to expose the anxieties and absurdities of modern masculinity but can’t seem to find its way.

At best, Kramer is eccentric at best and at worst, he is deranged. The characters and these scenarios are unplayable and they guys are loathsome to begin with yet they are implausible. They’re not playing “real” people.  When they take a break in the discussion to destroy the inside of Kramer’s house, we have to wonder where this group of men came from.

House of Affections is a high-class brothel run by a madam (Ann Wedgeworth) who has a creepy ventriloquist dummy. The men get turns with ladies of their choosing and Solly immediately falls for Allison (Marilyn Jones).

David Dukes, who died in 2000, was interviewed and explained that the actors got together for two weeks prior to the start of filming and talked, improvised, worked out scenes, and generally got a feel for one another and how they would work that into the film.  He further said that shortly into filming, it became apparent that what they were doing wasn’t working.  Other films have explored men’s issues and male bonding and the whole “boys being boys” thing with the unabashed raunchiness that we see here. However it did not wok well.

I’m not sure what kind of movie this is and I cannot really begin to describe it. Nonetheless, I enjoyed seeing it.

“BLACK SOCIETY TRILOGY”— Three from Miike Takashi

“Black Society Trilogy”

Three from Miike Takashi Trilogy

Amos Lassen

The “Black Society Trilogy” proves that director Miike Takashi is a specialist in bloody spectacle and that his films are among the finest to deal with the way violence and brutality can unexpectedly destroy even the most innocent of lives. The films that make up the trilogy are “Shinjuku Triad Society” (1995), “Rainy Dog” (1997) and “Ley Lines” (1999). The three basic themes we see in each of the films are alienation, formation of a makeshift family and the desire for a better life in a foreign land.

The films are three separate entities without storyline crossovers and were neither filmed nor released consecutively. Tomorowo Taguchi plays a prominent role in all three of the films but as different characters.

Takashi Miike’s “Black Society Trilogy” is available on both Blu-ray and DVD. These were the films that put Miike on the cinematic map and proved he was more than just a specialist in blood and guts but rather as one of the masters of Japanese crime cinema. The films are beautiful high definition transfers and the set contains a host of special features including a brand new interview with the director himself. These three thematically connected, character-centric crime stories were the director’s first films made specifically for theatrical release, and his first for a major studio. They show that Takashi cannot be pigeonholed into one genre even though the three films beautifully show how he deals with violence and brutality and how they can unexpectedly destroy even the most innocent of lives.

Miike has never been a director to stick to one style of shooting during a film and we see here that he experiments with different lenses, handheld and static camerawork and conjures up all manner of interesting camera angles. The shock level is high and there’s gore and sexual violence some of which is necessary to the plot, some less so. But the films are never boring and the pacing is amazing.

Takashi Miike isn’t really much of a judgmental or political director, but his films do have a tendency to show Japanese society in a rather harsh light.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:

High Definition digital transfers of all three films

Original uncompressed stereo audio

Optional English subtitles for all three films

New interview with director Takashi Miike

New interview with actor Show Aikawa (Rainy Dog, Ley Lines)

New audio commentaries for all three films by Miike biographer Tom Mes

Original theatrical trailers for all three films

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the films.