Category Archives: Film

“THE DANCE GOODBYE”— A Dancer Says Goodbye

the dance goodbye

“THE DANCE GOODBYE”

A Dancer Says Goodbye

Amos Lassen

Merrill Ashley’s departure from the New York City Ballet as an acclaimed principal with the company is the subject of the new documentary by Ron Steinman and Eileen Douglas. Ashley faced a turning point in her life when the time to leave arrived and all of us have faced moments like this. Do any of us know how we will react when we reach a milestone such as this?

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With Merrill Ashley, her career was her life and she struggled as to what would be the next step. Today, she is a world traveler who teaches Balanchine to companies that perform the works that she once did. Here story is our story as we face the twists and turns that come with life.

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 Dancers have a shorter career with dance that many of us in other careers. Every dancer one day faces what Ashley did and it can be devastating (We can all imagine how it feels to no longer be able to do what we love because we are not as young as we once were. Transitioning is a journey of rediscovery of who someone is but we also see that when the dance is finished, the dancer is not as we see here.

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“WOLF HALL”— The Rise of Cromwell

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“Wolf Hall”

The Rise of Cromwell

Amos Lassen

Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance) was born the son of a blacksmith who rose from personal disaster to become one of the most powerful men in the history of England. King Henry VIII (Damian Lewis) was a man obsessed with protecting the Tudor dynasty by securing a male heir to rule after him. This is the story of these two man and how they changed the course of British history. The story is told to us from Cromwell’s perspective and it follows the complex machinations and back room dealings of this pragmatic and accomplished power broker who’s duty it was to serve the king and the country while at the same time having to deal with deadly political intrigue, Henry VIII’s tempestuous relationship with Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy,), and the religious upheavals of the Protestant reformation.

The British miniseries is based on the novel, “Wolf Hall” by Hilary Mantel and is actually more about politics than romance. The concentration is on the intricate politics of the time and the historical ramifications they had. Henry and Boleyn actually become minor characters since this is the story of a man and his personal relationships and interrelationships.

The pacing is deliberately slow so that the characters can become more real and we can get to know then better. The action we see is the thoughts of the king and his advisor minus the pomp and ceremony that we usually get about Tudor England. It is not totally historically accurate but it is a compelling drama and probably one of the best shows ever produced by the BBC (and that is saying something).

We are familiar with the story of Henry’s wives and his attempts to have an heir so this is quite a change of pace and I mean that in the most positive way. The script is wonderfully written and gives us quite a look at Cromwell and as more than just a two-dimensional character. He is complex and quite human here; a man who loves his family, shows compassion for others; a man who even gives serious advice to his enemies and has a wry sense of humor.

We see Henry’s court from many different angles and with many characters. We do learn a bit more about Cromwell’s relationship with Ann’s sister, Mary Boleyn who he saw as one of the king’s mistresses. The entire series mesmerizes the viewer and this is due to the fabulous performances especially that of Rylance as the worldly wise, cunning advisor whose heart seems to be in the right place. We also see a physical side to Cromwell.

The brilliant Jonathan Pryce is arch schemer, Wolsey, Cromwell’s sponsor and Anton Lesser is excellent as Sir Thomas More but is not “a man for all seasons” here but rather little more than a vindictive and sanctimonious snob. What we really see is Cromwell as a man of humble origins with the qualities of

loyalty, courage, iron will and ambition that get him promoted to the highest offices of the land but whose real job was as a kind of `nursemaid’ to a spoiled brat of a king; a man for whom he fixed successive toys.

“EATEN ALIVE”— Feeding the Pet

eaten alive

“EATEN ALIVE”

Feeding the Pet

Amos Lassen

Tobe Hooper who brought us “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” gave himself a tough job to follow. With it he had created an almost perfect example of American horror. He decided to follow it with “Eaten Alive”, the story of a psychotic redneck who owns a dilapidated hotel in rural East Texas and kills various people who upset him or his business. He then feeds their bodies to a large crocodile that he keeps as a pet in the swamp beside his hotel. However, it did not have the success that was hoped for.

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It stars Neville Brand as Judd, a loony, one-legged innkeeper whose backwater hotel serves as a place for some real craziness. Alone with a mannequin, a monkey in a cage, a Nazi flag, and a hungry alligator, Judd’s madness reaches a breaking point after he murders a prostitute. Before long, he begins terrorizing a cast of character actors who include Mel Ferrer, Carolyn Jones, Marilyn Burns, and a young Robert Englund. The movie is very strange yet totally implausible. What it is, I believe, is a wonderful example of exploitive horror at its untamed best.

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 Judd is a sexually repressed nut who runs the disheveled Starlight Hotel somewhere in the swamps of Louisiana. We never learn why he behaves the way he does, but in one single night, he decides to initiate a frenzy of bloodshed. The first guest is a wayward prostitute, Clara (Roberta Collins), who is released of her duties by the local madam, Miss Hattie (Carolyn “Morticia” Jones, unrecognizable in heavy repulsive makeup) after she refuses to indulge a client’s awkward sexual fetish. Almost immediately after she arrives at the hotel, Clara is slaughtered by Judd with his scythe, and then fed to his giant crocodile that wallows in a large pen surrounding the hotel. By the way, Judd lost his leg in an encounter with his pet crocodile.

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In the movie’s most disturbing scene, a little girl’s cute pooch is swallowed alive by the hungry croc, leaving the poor child traumatized. After settling into a room, Roy, the girl’s father, himself, seeming to be nuts, goes out to kill the giant reptile, only to be assaulted by Judd and fed to it. Judd then chases the poor little girl under the house (where she stays, hiding until the finale) and gags and ties her mother to a bed. Meanwhile Clara’s father Harvey Wood (Mel Ferrer) and daughter Libby (Crystin Sinclaire) show up looking for their long lost family member. They enlist the help of the kindly Sheriff Martin (Stuart Whitman) since nobody in town admits having seen Clara or knowing her whereabouts. They too stay at the hotel as the body count continues to rise.

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Hooper’s direction is fine and he never lets the film drag. We really do not learn anything about the characters but most of them do not have too much screen time before they become dinner for the croc.

Judd mopes around the hotel uttering nonsense to himself while country/western music continually plays in the background. One minute, he seems like an old, oddball hillbilly who’s cordial to his guests and the next minute, he’s a madman, viciously killing just about anyone that shows up at his porch. Also in the cast is Robert Englund as Buck, the town pervert who’s excellent in an early role as Buck, the town’s trouble-making young pervert. Janus Blythe gives us some nude scenes that have nothing to do with anything. There’s plenty of gore— the crocodile attacks are well edited and quite impressive.

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 DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

  • Brand new 2K transfer from the original camera negative
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
  • Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Audio commentary with co-writer and producer Mardi Rustam, make-up artist Craig Reardon and stars Roberta Collins, William Finley and Kyle Richards
  • New introduction to the film by director Tobe Hooper
  • Brand new interview with Hooper
  • My Name is Buck: Star Robert Englund discusses his acting career
  • The Butcher of Elmendorf: The Legend of Joe Ball – The story of the South Texas bar owner on whom Eaten Alive is loosely based
  • 5ive Minutes with Marilyn Burns – The star of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre talks about working on Eaten Alive
  • The Gator Creator: archival interview with Hooper
  • Original theatrical trailers for the film under its various titles Eaten Alive, Death Trap, Starlight Slaughter and Horror Hotel
  • US TV and Radio Spots
  • Alternate credits sequence
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin

 

 

“CEMETERY WITHOUT CROSSES”— Revenge that Never Ends

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“Cemetery Without Crosses”

Revenge that Never Ends

Amos Lassen

The Dollars Trilogy by director Sergio Leone was internationally successful and spawned and inspired many other films. “Ceremony without Crosses” is a spaghetti western in the purest sense of the definition. It totally captures the spirit of what the term means. The American west here is seen through the eyes of Europeans. So many of the stories that came out of the American west were myths about the history of the country while this film is a myth about the myth. In other words, this film is about the “dance of death”.

The old American west seen through the eyes of fascinated Europeans. If American westerns were myths about history, this is a myth about a myth set in an iconic world. The film opens with a sepia colored sequence as a rider is being chased by a gang riding horses. It is the excellent camera work and fine character portray that makes this a film to see. Most of all this is a classy film.

Having seen her husband Ben (Benito Stefanelli) being killed by the Rogers family, Maria Caine (Michèle Mercier) wants revenge. She knows that she cannot trust for brothers-in-law to assist so she looks for help from Ben’s best friend, Manuel (Robert Hossein) who joins the Rogers gang in order to capture the only daughter. This gives Maria the perfect ransom and a way to avenge her husband’s death. Not long afterwards there is bloodshed. Manuel possesses unnerving ability with a gun; he is a gunfighter there is a definite reluctance to become too embroiled with Maria’s plot. His involvement here comes his feelings for Maria. Manuel is the only person here who lives in a ghost town and before each fight, he puts on a single black glove.

The cinematography is brilliant and the film has an overall feel of loneliness. And I suppose that is because it is set in the deserted ghost town where Manuel lives all by himself. We meet a lot of bitter characters in the film and they all seem to be motivated by revenge. Maria is a beautiful woman who wears black as if to show that she is mourning the death of her husband. She feels that she has nothing to live for besides avenging the murder that took him away from her. Her relationship with Manuel intrigues us and it is not until the end of the film that we understand it.

The movie is violent replete with bloodbaths and dead bodies. Manuel saves Maria when he joins forces with her and this ultimately leads to a bloody showdown between the Rogers and Caine families.

There are extensive special features including a new restoration of the film:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
  • Original Italian and English soundtracks in uncompressed PCM mono audio
  • Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
  • Remembering Sergio – an all-new interview with star and director Robert Hossein, filmed exclusively for this release
  • French television news report on the film’s making, containing interviews with Hossein, and actors Michèle Mercier and Serge Marquand
  • Archive interview with Hossein
  • Trailers
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by James Flames
  • Illustrated collector’s booklet containing new writing by Ginette Vincendeau and Rob Young

 

 

“STRAY CAT ROCK”— “The One Time Badass Action Queen”

stray cat rock

“STRAY CAT ROCK”

“The One Time Badass Action Queen”

Amos Lassen

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Meiko Kaji was known as the “badass action queen” and even though I had never seen her until now, I must agree with the statement. This video set contains her five films that gave her the title and had I not seen them I would have thought that something was lacking in my education. All five are stories of rebellious youth and Kaji stars alongside of Bunjaku Han and Tatsuya Fuji. The films were directed by Yasuharu Hasebe (Massacre Gun, Retaliation) and Toshiya Fujita (Lady Snowblood) and they feature a psychedelic mix of girl gangs, bikers, sex, drugs and rock and roll with plenty of ass-kicking to boot. All is captured “in a delirious mash-up of pop aesthetics including split screens, freeze frames, injections of color, frenetic editing and dizzying angles, making these films a riotous joy from beginning to end”. Each is a visual feast.

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The films are addictive yet they contain adult content and are usually exploitive with soft-core sex scenes. The films deal with conflict, rebellion, crime and femme fatales. As a friend of mine said, “everything that makes life worth living”. The films are fun but that really depends on the mindset of the viewer.

 “Delinquent Girl Boss” is about a girl gang that goes up against the criminal organization the Seiyu Group that sheds blood afer a fixed boxing match. where following a fixed boxing match blood is shed and friendships are tested. In “Wild Jumbo”, Kaji and the gang get involved in a kidnapping and the robbery of a religious organization. “Sex Hunter” has Kaji’s girl gang go up against The Eagles, a group led by Fuji where sex and violence erupt over the treatment of ‘half-breeds’. In “Machine Animal” gang rivalry is once again the focus with two gangs pursuing some LSD pushers looking to make a big score. The series swansong, “Beat ’71” is the final film in which Kaji is framed and sent to prison by her boyfriend’s father and with the help of some hippies she strives to be re-united.

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There are a plethora of special features:

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  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of all five films in the Stray Cat Rock series
  • Original Mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-rays)
  • New English subtitle translation of all five films
  • Interview with Yasuharu Hasebe director of Delinquent Girl Boss, Sex Hunter and Machine Animal
  • Interview with actor Tatsuya Fuji, star of all five films
  • Interview with actor Yoshio Harada, star of Beat ’71
  • Original Trailers
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the films by Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp
  • stray5

“THE NUN” (“La religious”)— The Cloistered Life

the nun

“The Nun” (“La religieuse”)

The Cloistered Life

Amos Lassen

Set in France in the 1760s, we meet Suzanne (Pauline Etienne), a beautiful young girl who has a natural talent for music and enjoys a quietly privileged life. With no explanation, she is sent to a convent where she resists structure at every angle. Then she discovers that she is an illegitimate child and since there is no other option for her, she takes her vows and suffers the consequences of her mother’s sin. Uncertain of her path and oppressed by aggressive and inappropriate Mother Superiors, she continues resisting imposed religious values and the dehumanizing effect of a cloistered life. The film is based on the classic novel by Denis Diderot. 

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In the beginning, Suzanne wanted to escape the life of religion and was trying to revoke her vows when the Mother Superior who had given her solace and care, died. She was succeeded by Sister Christine

(Louise Bourgoin) who is sadistic and cruel and constantly humiliating Suzanne and deprives her of food and clothing. Suzanne is transferred to another convent and there, she meets a new Mother Superior Saint-Eutrope (Isabelle Huppert), who develops an inappropriate affectionate bond with her. As if that was not enough, this Mother Superior is a predator and she makes Suzanne her favorite nun. This caused Suzanne torment of another kind and it seems as if she doomed to be unhappy. Eventually Suzanne succeeds in smuggling a letter out and, thanks to a persistent lawyer and a sympathetic reluctant priest makes a secret dawn escape.

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The film actually begins with a prologue that is set at the time of Suzanne’s escape. The film is overblown into epic proportions thus destroying the intimacy of the original Diderot novel. It was obviously intended to be an allegory about the oppression of women in religion and even by the state of France. We see Suzanne early on as a person who has faith and is deeply religious but she is forced to rebel in order to keep her individuality and freedom in the face of the authoritarianism of the Catholic Church and her enforced cloistered life. Pauline Etienne is perfect as Suzanne, an innocent who surprises us with unexpected depths of determination and gradually learns to take some control of her life, while somehow without ever losing that innocence. But the film seems to have lost its way as it moves from the drama of Suzanne’s first incarceration at the first convent and then spirals downward into Unfortunately, the film descends from the potential drama of her initial incarceration in the first convent into “the sub-porno absurdities of her lascivious victimization in the second and the obsessive sexual pursuit and hysteria in the third.”

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Even with those flaws, the cinematography and music are wonderful and there are times that it feels like we are watching oil paintings come to life on the screen. The secular scenes are warmly lit while the convents appear dark and dank. The nuns often look like they are prisoners and we get a strong anti-Catholic vibe. Guillaume Nicloux directed and wrote the screenplay based on Diderot’s novel (this is the second time a film has been made based on the novel). The first film (which I watched after seeing this version shows great anger against the church and it was made some fifty years ago.) Here Nicloux treats the church fairly and we see Catholic authority figures that are sympathetic to Suzanne. What is missing is sympathy for the viewer.

Nicloux does not seem to have the skill to do this successfully. Because the film is so cold, we do not have any real emotional ties to Suzanne and I never became riled up watching her having injustices thrown at her. With Isabelle Huppert playing a lesbian Mother Superior, the film becomes something farcical and I am quite sure that this was not intended to be so.

“MARFA GIRL”— Relationships

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“Marfa Girl”

Relationships

Amos Lassen

Adam (Adam Mediano) is celebrating his 16th birthday by having sex as much as he can (or so it seems). He also talks about sex, smokes dope and just hangs around with his friends with no apparent direction in his life. Among his friends is his girlfriend (Mercedes Maxwell) and neighbor (Indigo Real), a single mother with a boyfriend who is jail. She thinks a great birthday present for Adam is to have sex with him. Adam comes across as clever but is not into any kind of formal education. His teacher (Lindsay Jones) is pregnant and she also has a birthday gift for him, a birthday spanking. The film is director Larry Clark’s look at adolescent life in a small town in Texas where nudity and sex are common and having a life without direction seems to be the rule.

There is no real storyline, rather the film is made up of a series of happenings that include a somewhat out of touch border patrol officer (Jeremy St. James) interested in Adam’s mom (Mary Farley) and Adam’s birthday celebration.

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Adam tends to stay out past curfew and we see that the border patrol agent seems to have it but for him or else just uses his tactics to get Adam’s mother to notice him. Clark evidently likes to make movies about directionless teens and while Adam is the main character, the movie really does not emphasize just one protagonist. The emphasis is not so much on characters as it is on the environment in which it was filmed—an atmosphere where adults are stuck (unhappily) and where youngster’s dream of getting out as soon as they’re able.

We see Adam as an average composite of what the heterosexual rural teen might seem like. His best scenes happen to be shared with Drake, an art intern with privileged pretensions eager to teach Adam and every other “stupid” male why girls should be able to have just as much sex as guys and without the social stigma that follows. As played by Drake Burnette, her character is somewhat wooden yet easily shocked.

Everything comes together in an event that is over the top. When the agent shows his psychological unbalanced self, he becomes violent and bizarre and a dramatic shift moves us toward the finale of the film that is totally strange. But let’s backtrack a moment and see what people in Texas talk about. Mary and Tina discuss in great detail the recent deaths of loved ones, and guitar plucking on the soundtrack makes it all sound melancholy as if to complement their spiritually inclined exchange. Something’s amiss, as we can indisputably hear someone named Rodriga listening along, but Tina and Mary never make eye contact with him, and he is not identified. Eventually, the Marfa girl (Drake Burnette), a visiting nude artist, joins the circle and, after a brief heart to heart with Tina about sonic therapy, starts engaging the previously ignored Rodriga. The sequence splits off into a second movement. This time there’s no musical accompaniment, Tina and Mary are the ones disregarded by camera and characters, and the conversation between Rodriga and the artist—about her “studio” where we’ve seen her sketching two freshly pleasured Mexican teens just moments before—plays like a porno’s clumsy dramatic foreplay. The scene presents us with a feeling of bouncing between different tonal registers and thematic angles that are amateurish and inconsistent with the rest of the film.

We can only assume that the film is made up of the simple observation of social interactions among emotionally guarded kids. When the film goes into the larger narrative dynamic between the aimless curiosity of the teenagers, the free-spirited sexuality of the Marfa Girl, and the pervasive hostility of the Border Patrol force, things get interesting for a minute Because we really have no back-story about any of the characters, it is hard to understand where the film is really going, if anywhere at all.

 

 

“CREEPER”— A Sexual Fantasy or Is It?

creeper“CREEPER”

A Sexual Fantasy or Is It?

Amos Lassen

There is nothing like a good horror movement when home alone at night and the mind starts to wander. “Creeper” is set “in the seedy underbelly of city life” and it one depraved movie with three different people telling the story from three different perspectives. From the moment that the film starts, we know that we are in for quite a ride. Right off we see several women who are bound and gagged and then raped and murdered and the opening credits have not yet rolled across the screen. These responsible for those opening heinous acts are not in any associated with each other and these are three characters that are introduced to us and who share their own debauchery. Each of the men deals with his own dark and strange tendencies even though the methods are quite similar. We meet Eddie (Bloody F. Mess— don’t ask me, I don’t name them) a cab driver who has a penchant for attacking his female passengers. He is nothing to look at but there is something very about him and wild eyes. Yet he still manages to attract women. Dale (Kurk Kasparian) is homeless and while he is remorseful about his actions, he does not stop and often awakens drunk and covered with human blood. Then there is Oliver (Levi Anderson), something of a nerd who works in an office where no one seems to know that he even exists. Yet he knows how to treat the women he meets and his method of attack is a system he has developed from drugging to molesting to torture.

One night Oliver meets Maggie (Chloe Rosenthal), a women he works with and has lusted after, at a local bar, and because she seems to have had too much to drink, she seems to him to be a perfect victim. He takes her home under the pretense she will fall to his trap, but something happens and Oliver falls for Maggie. He lets her go and then the two find themselves in a relationship with each other.

Director Ron Huffstutter lets it all hang out as he explores why there three men do what they do. While the end result in most cases is the same, the way it is reached is not. Now you know I am not going to spoil the plot in any way so you will have to see the film for yourself and go with it where few films venture and it is one wild experience.

I love the way the film’s blurb describes it: “ Among the lights and sounds of the city a predator roams night clubs and bars searching for victims for his sexually twisted fantasies. Even people with normal everyday jobs have their secrets that they hide from the rest of the world.” Now stop reading and go and find yourself a copy.

“THE DOVEKEEPERS”— Masada, 70 B.C.E.

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“The Dovekeepers”

Masada, 70 B.C.E.

Amos Lassen

It has been a big couple of years for the Bible with “The Red Tent”, “Exodus: Gods and Kings”, “Noah” and now “The Dovekeepers”. There has been, however, one problem for all four films—not one of them is particularly good. I am not sure if there is a message in that or not.

“The Dovekeepers is based on the true events at Masada in 70 C.E. (which in itself is interesting since we have no real eyewitness accounts). After being forced out of their home in Jerusalem by the Romans, 900 Jews went to a fortress at Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert. Besieged at Masada, the Jews held out for months against the vast Roman armies. The film attempts to give us the events from the perspective of a few extraordinary women who arrive at Masada with unique back-stories. What they share a common bond for survival. The women, who work together daily as dovekeepers, all conceal substantial secrets.

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“The Dovekeepers” is premiering as a miniseries on CBS television in two two-hour broadcasts. It is based on the novel by Alice Hoffman and I understand that it is emphasize both the biblical an historical aspects of the story.

Yael (Rachel Brosnahan) and Shirah (Cote De Pablo) star as two women telling their tale to a judgmental Roman scholar, Josephus (Sam Neill). They are joined by an ensemble, but principally Kathryn Prescott and Diego Boneta.

It features strong women, the central players, who listen to their hearts. We see them as heroic and noble, though they engage in adultery and other unsavory acts. They pray to a god whose orders they do not obey, and live in a time where such trespasses could bring severe punishment. Are we to admire them for sleeping with married men at a time that women could be killed for doing such a thing? We ask ourselves if bravery also means disregarding the rules and morals of society.

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Since the main stress here is on the women, the male characters are not as developed and some of them seem to be there just to give us something to look at. There is a lot of romance and many obstacles that prevent happy endings. I really wish I could say that this is great storytelling but it isn’t. The movie moves very slowly and there is really only one point of view but it is not a total waste of time. There are some very good parts.

This movie is excellent in the way it portrays the multidimensional aspects of the major characters on both sides. Flavius Josephus, a Jew born and raised in Jerusalem, is the only historian to provide a detailed account of the Great Jewish Revolt and the only person who recorded what happened on Masada so he is the source along with whatever anyone else wanted to add.

Instead of the emotions and the struggles of women faced with horrendous decisions, while still trying to have day-to-day lives, we also get gratuitous sex, and adultery almost all the way through and with no balance. I just do not understand so much emphasis on sex when there was so much here that could have been put on the screen, the concept of having the surviving women tell their story to another Jew, who had chosen to survive among the Romans, was a novel concept that never really came to fruition.

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Masada is one of the most inspiring stories in Jewish history, an example to many of great martyrdom and courage and most of what we know of Masada comes from the writings of Josephus, a Jewish-born historian who wrote “The Jewish War.” For many years there was some question about its veracity, until the actual site of Masada was identified in the mid-19th Century. Still, discrepancies remain. Only a few bodies and the count varies depending upon the source — were found, not the 960 who supposedly died there.

The Dovekeepers

Still, whether Masada is legend or history, there is enough here for an intelligent book and film.As Josephus (Sam O’Neill), says: “Never forget. You are my prisoner and you will remain so until I hear the whole story.”

Shirah is tattooed, which means she is a prostitute or a witch or both. It’s not entirely clear. Yael’s father hates her because his wife died when Yael was born. Both women find married men exciting. We are told that Shirah and her daughter were raped by bandits. Thankfully, the daughter repressed that memory, prompting her to ask: “Is that why you made me live as a boy?” Shirah tells us that she has vowed that no one would hurt her and that she changed her name and decided that she would be a boy to save her from “the fate of women”. I do not recall in all of the years that I have studied the bible ever seeing something like that. And then there is the question of the doves. How many people (women) does it take to raise doves and if they were uses, as I have read, for food….

What should have been cut is dialogue of this sort, which is repeated throughout the film. In its place, someone might have explained why the Jews needed so many doves at Masada that five women (in the book) and two main ones (in the film) were needed to take care of them. (“The Siege of Masada” documentary suggests that the doves were kept as a food source and that their excrement was used as garden fertilizer.) I have been a student of Jewish studies all of my life and I am awe struck that Eleazar ben Ya’ir, the commander at Masada, passionately argues that death is better than capture, he tells his girlfriend Shira that she needs to escape so the story of the martyrs lives on. In Judaism the highest quality is life and nowhere is non-being preferred to being. There is a wonderful word in Yiddish to describe this film—hazerai.

“SAGRADA— THE MYSTERY OF CREATION”— A Building Project

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“Sagrada – The Mystery of Creation”

A Building Project

Amos Lassen

The Sagrada Familia of Barcelona is a building project by Antoni Gaudi who was something of controversial genius. Together with a large army of workers he has been working on a building that has been in progress since 1882 (you read that right) and it is yet half finished.

This documentary explores the fascinating story of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. This enormous church has been under construction since 1882, when Antoni Gaudi first imagined a structure unlike anything else ever seen. Only half completed, the film looks at the history of the church, as well as the various artists, architects, and workers who have continued the work that Antoni Gaudi started over 120 years ago. A bit of time is spent on Gaudi’s life and his dedication to the building but that is not the focus of the film. Rather, director Stefan Haupt spends time exploring how various artists have interpreted Gaudi’s work and how they apply what they learn to the continuing construction of Sagrada Familia.

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Although a little bit of time is spent looking at the life of Antoni Gaudi and his dedication to Sagrada Familia, this isn’t really the focus of the film. Director Stefan Haupt spends much more time exploring the ways in which various artists interpret the work of Gaudi, and how they apply this to the continued construction of Sagrada Familia. The film actually looks at the history of the church through the kind of spiritual way each artist undertakes this ongoing construction and the film becomes something of a biography.

Then there is how Sagrada Familia has come to represent something beyond being just a church. One sculptor is agnostic, but still contributes to the creation of a church because of his respect for Antoni Gaudi. Another artist wonders if the actual building of the church is its own search for spirituality, suggesting that the completion isn’t as important as the process of getting there.

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Sagrada Familia is an eye-catching stunning building, and it’s almost impossible to really grasp the beauty and size of the building through the film. We see the tremendous stained glass windows, gigantic pillars, unique structure, and various sculptures, but this is surely a building that must be seen in person. What we get to see is “wow”able, but it does feel like there’s a lot we’re not able to look at and it this film has a fault, that is in. In fact, I was not even sure I really wanted to see this film but it blew me away and I am totally fascinated by the Sagrada Familia and I want to learn all about it.

It is interesting that today because of complications, there are those who oppose the fact that its new architects aren’t adhering to Gaudi’s vision. Director Stefan Haupt gives us a quick look at of what’s happening with La Sagrada Familia in modern times, but he barely scratches the surface where the tensions between the critics and architects could be further explored. More interviews with its critics could have provided more information and balance to all the perspectives, like those of Etsuro Sotoo, a Japanese sculptor who converted to Catholicism to be closer to Gaudi while building the church. He explains in detail the relationship between him and the inanimate objects that “permit” him to sculpt them. While bits of info are interesting, they don’t really go to the issue behind Sagrada.

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It is possible that La Sagrada Familia will be completed in some of our lifetimes but few people are taking bets on it.

 DVD Extras include 6 Short Films: Entering Sagrada FamiliaA Very Unusual Construction Process My First Memories with Architect Jordi Bonet Through the Temple with a Theologian When I First Came to BarcelonaOn Stadiums and Cathedrals