Category Archives: Film

“FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS”—Meryl Streep as The World’s Best Worst Singer

florence poster

“Florence Foster Jenkins”

The World’s Best Worst Singer

Amos Lassen

Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant star in Stephen Frears’ film that focuses the true events of the latter days of America socialite, Florence Foster Jenkins. It is a very funny romp set in New York City towards the end of the second World War.


Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) was known for her very off-key performances as an opera singer, her appearances on-stage fully financed from her fortune left to her by her late father. BY her side is St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), her common-law English husband and manager who continuously protects his other half from ridicule, and limits her live performances to a music club in the Grand Ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in the city, where she would perform alongside her pianist Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg) to an extremely select audience. It really gets going when Florence decides to bring “her talents” before an audience, and eventually recording. She hires the constantly tortured McMoon, and then ultimately performing in front of an audience at Carnegie Hall.


Florence Foster Jenkins was a real person and a terrible singer. She was also an heiress and this explains how she managed to persuade people to do what she wanted. What she wanted was to sing. In The Forties in New York, with a World War going on overseas, she organized concerts, or rather her English husband, St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), bribed, cajoled and orchestrated these events. including the hiring of an unknown accompanist Her pianist, McMoon, had a nervous disposition and a fear of ruining his career before it had started by being associated with someone like Florence’s who really could not sing.


The embarrassment levels are high which must be the point unless this is a lesson in the power of money over integrity. The only person who refuses Bayfield’s charming advances is the NY Post’s music critic. His opinion of the Carnegie Hall fiasco is as true as it is cruel.


Meryl Streep, fat and wearing a wig is perfect and Grant proves that he is a good actor. Helberg actually walks away with the movie in his pocket. He is able to convey the feeling of being trapped as an alternative to being free, with all its fears and uncertainty. Wealthy New York socialite Florence Foster Jenkins has gone down in history as the worst opera singer ever. She caused music lovers to feel queasy while everyone else would be struggle to hold in laughter. Yet in Stephen Frears’ and Meryl Streeps’ Florence is so much more than a figure of fun.


Indeed, while the film finds hilarity in Florence’s awfulness as a singer it also finds something admirable about her pursuit of her musical dreams in 1940s Manhattan (even if those dreams are kept alive by a massive fortune, tremendous self-delusion and the loyal support of her partner, St Clair Bayfield).


St Clair manages Florence’s amateur career, arranging her private recitals and coaxing everyone in her orbit into delivering a positive response whenever she opens her mouth to sing. As the story builds towards Florence’s legendary Carnegie Hall concert of 1944, the film is not only very funny but also totally gripping. We cannot help but wonder about St Clair’s true motives. Does he really love Florence or is she just a way to enjoy the lavish lifestyle that her fortune allows him to do?


Streep wonderfully reproduces the horrible noise she made by singing Florence made with impressive fidelity, yet she also gives us insight into the heartaches and tragedies lying behind her desire to perform. Just wait until you hear her sing “The Queen of the Night” from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”.

“SLUGS”— “They Slime. They Ooze. They Kill”.



“They Slime. They Ooze. They Kill”.

Amos Lassen

People suddenly and mysteriously die in a rural community and no one knows what the cause is. Health inspector Mike Brady has a possible theory; he thinks that maybe the townspeople are being killed off by mutated slugs but the idea is not welcomed and is actually scoffed at by the mayor. With the help of a scientist and a sanitation officer, Mike decides to take action himself before any more people are die. Sure, this is a ridiculous premise for a movie but we have had worms and tremors, killer rats and centipedes so what is so strange about killer slugs—we don’t like slugs anyway. It is hard to think of a slug that lives in gardens being a monster but once seeing this movie….


Instead of having the police chief or local ranger/warden as the hero, here we have a health inspector and a sanitation officer. These two characters are incredibly boring men and not just because of their jobs. The actors (Michael Garfield and Philip MacHale) that play them show no emotion whatever and could have been easily replaced by robots. It does not help that the dialogue is also awful.


For small creatures, these slugs do some serious damage. A man eats a slug in a sandwich, only to literally blow up later on in a restaurant as the slugs eat him from the inside. A young couple find their bedroom floor covered in slugs and the girl slips on one of them and is promptly covered in slugs. A gardener puts on a glove to find a slug has squirmed inside. However the slug takes a firm bite of his hand and no matter how hard he tries to hit the slug on the bench or tries to cut it off with garden clippers, he can’t do it. So he cuts his own hand off, knocking a shelf of chemicals over himself in the process and blowing himself and his greenhouse up. 


There is a lot of gore and some great make-up effects are served but to get to those there is awful dialogue and robotic performances first. The setting is a picturesque little town built on a toxic waste dump. For whatever reason, this particular chemical concoction only seems to have an effect on our slime-trail leaving buddies, the slugs, who’ve acquired a taste for flesh. Mike Brady, the health inspector discovers the truth about the slug menace fairly early on, but the sheriff and mayor do not believe him. The body count continues to rise and Mike, his wife’s British professor pal, and sewer warrior Don and have a climatic battle to the death in the sewers below.


No sane person would believe that slugs could be a potential villain for a horror feature. The idea might be ludicrous but the concept works. A slug is really the last creature we’d expect to have evil intentions, but everybody involved takes it so very seriously. Of course, clichés abound. There are sex-crazed teenagers who get both barrels of the Slug-Gun as their sexual awakening is tempered by the “rampaging” slugs and a few lusty teenagers die horrible deaths. Those who die do so in places where slugs are usually found. The easiest way around this is to not go into gardens or sewers or open drains, yet somehow many characters find themselves in these situations and meet a grisly demise as a result. Other than a couple of brief moments where the slugs actually invade people’s homes much of the violence could have easily been avoided.


Some of the death sequences are so ridiculous that they’re brilliant. Most of these deaths are perhaps unintentionally hilarious and the film is gruesome and very funny at the same time.


By the finale, where we have two identically dressed men in yellow suits trying to avoid being eaten alive in the sewers beneath the town but we have known how the movie would end from the very beginning., you’ve known since the opening act how it will end. Even though these toxic slugs appear to explode violently when set alight, we know that there will be at least one left to wreak havoc another day. Spanish director Juan Piquer Simon gives us a tale of mutant slugs on the rampage in small-town America and as bad of a movie as it is, I had fun watching it.


Bonus Features:

* Brand new restoration from original film elements 

* High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation 

* Original Uncompressed PCM Mono Audio 

* Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing 

* Audio commentary with Slugs author Shaun Hutson

* Audio commentary with writer and filmmaker Chris Alexander 

* Here’s Slugs in Your Eye – an interview with actor Emilio Linder 

* They Slime, They Ooze, They Kill: The Effects of Slugs – an interview with special effects artist Carlo De Marchis 

* Invasion USA – an interview with art director Gonzalo Gonzalo 

* The Lyons Den – an interview and locations tour with production manager Larry Ann Evans 

* 1988 Goya Awards promo reel 

* Trailer

* Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Wes Benscote

“ROSEMARY’S BABY”— A Perfect Film

rosemary's baby

Rosemary’s Baby (The Criterion Collection[Blu-ray])

A Perfect Film

Amos Lassen


“Rosemary’s Baby” is a dark and unforgettable comedy that was also the American debut of director Roman Polanski. Adapted from the bestseller by Ira Levin, it stars Mia Farrow as a young mother-to-be who grows increasingly suspicious that her friendly elderly neighbors, Roman (Sidney Blackmer) and Minnie (Ruth Gordon) along with her self-involved husband, Guy (John Cassavetes) are hatching a satanic plot against her and her baby. Criterion has remastered the film and present it on a beautiful blu ray edition.


Rosemary and her husband are expecting a child but she has begun to believe that she has been impregnated by evil itself and everyone she knows might be in on it. When the film was released it was condemned by the Catholic Church and the Legion Of Decency.


John Cassavetes gives a wonderful performance as Rosemary’s husband and Mia Farrow is sheer brilliance as Rosemary. We sense her fears and her emotions and often just the look on her face communicates what she feels. This is a film that plays with the audience’s sensibilities.


I see the film as one of the finest horror films ever made. Polanski adapted Levin’s terrifying novel of ancient evil in a modern setting with every thrill intact. He has managed to convey a sense of claustrophobia and quiet panic on busy streets and sidewalks of New York City. The suspense is for 2 hours and 16 minutes and I must say that watching the film again last night, I still felt the tension throughout.


The special features are very special:

New high-definition digital restoration, approved by director Roman Polanski, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition


New interviews with Polanski, actor Mia Farrow, and producer Robert Evans


Komeda, Komeda, a feature-length documentary on the life and work of jazz musician and composer Krzysztof Komeda, who wrote the score for Rosemary’s Baby


1997 radio interview with author Ira Levin from Leonard Lopate’s WNYC program New York and Company on the 1967 novel, the sequel, and the film


PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Ed Park and Levin’s afterword for the 2003 New American Library edition of his novel, in which he discusses its and the film’s origins.

“A HOUSE IS NOT A HOME”— “No one gets out of this house alive or DEAD!”

a house is not a home poster

“A House Is Not A Home”

“No one gets out of this house alive or DEAD!”

Amos Lassen

“A House is Not a Home” begins with a bloody hand talking to a 9-1-1 operator saying, “They’re all dead. It’s my fault.” He repeats this over and over to the person on the phone who is trying to coax the caller for more information. Then the camera reveals the house’s current owner, Rafkin (Richard Grieco), who is something of a mess. He drops the phone, and moves toward a large, closed door, screaming to be taken; the door opens, we see a flash of light and then nothing. The caller is an obviously unstable man. Sometime after the man vanished, the house is up for sale.  


We then see Ben and Linda Williams (Gerald Webb and Diahnna Nicole Baxter) driving up to the house where they are greeted by a realtor, who calls himself “Paul” (Bill Cobbs) and shows them the house. Paul, he seems like a nice old man.  He’s friendly, he’s always smiling, and he comes across like he could probably sell anything.  However, it quickly becomes obvious that there’s something a little bit off about Paul.  By the time he finishes showing the house, we realize that his friendly smile seems to be more of a self-satisfied grin.


It did not take long for the Williams and their two teens, Ashley (Aurora Perrineau) and Alex (Melvin Gregg) to move in and begin unpacking and settling into their new home. Soon afterwards, Ashley is woken up in the middle of the night by mysterious laughter and, regardless of how many times she tries to move them, the same scary-looking dolls keep showing up on her dresser. Alex feels as if he’s being watched wherever he goes.  Linda, a recovering alcoholic, starts to drink again and her attempts to give piano lessons are made difficult by the fact that the piano occasionally attacks her students.  And Ben suddenly finds himself having nightmares and deliberately cutting himself so that the blood can drip down onto the kitchen table.



This is the first film by DeInstitutionalized production company. We see a family terrorized by some evil entity. The Williams are the perfect nuclear family (with their own demons). Ben that has the largest grief and we are aware of it throughout the film. He is plagued by strange noises, visions, and even some very deep-rooted nightmares.

Despite their good intentions, the family cannot shake the feeling that they are being watched by something. Their fears are realized when things inside the house take a supernatural and sinister turn. Ben and his family flee for their lives, but it is too late. The house isn’t finished with them and it traps the family in its labyrinth. The Williams must come together as never before to fight for their family, their lives and to escape.


To say anymore would ruin the viewing experience by those who have not yet seen the film but I can say that every assault is shown in ultra close ups, to heighten the fear. It is Webb’s performance that drags the family through his Hell, silently enduring the mental tortures of the house, while at the same time, stubbornly refusing to acknowledge what he has seen is true. As the attacks become more violent, physically assaulting his family, he finally contacts a voodoo priest (Eddie Steeples), who succeeds in cleansing the house… almost. We see that the house is also a character with its own agenda. Let it suffice to say that the climax is quite gruesome. We get a feeling of dread almost from the very beginning and this is what Grieco did do well.

“A House is Not a Home” has been called the “First Urban Horror Film since ‘Blackula,'” yet the setting is not really urban and takes place in a large, suburban single home, in the middle of nowhere. The film does have a primarily African-American cast with a good deal of star power.


The film has not been given a rating but some of the language is coarse and there is blood and gore. One word more—do not leave before the credits roll— director Christopher Ray has one more little surprise.

“ALL THINGS MUST PASS”— The Fall of Tower Records

all things must pass

“All Things Must Pass”

The Fall of Tower Records

Amos Lassen

Tower Records was established in 1960 and was once a retail powerhouse with 200 stores, in 30 countries, on five continents. From humble beginnings in a small-town drugstore, Tower Records eventually became the heart and soul of the music world, and a tremendously powerful force in the music industry. In 1999, Tower Records made an astounding $1 billion but in 2006, the company filed for bankruptcy. Everyone thinks that it was the Internet that killed Tower Records that’s not the story we learn here.

all 1

Directed by Colin Hanks, we meet Tower Records founder Russ Solomon. For seven years, Hanks worked on the documentary that both lamented and celebrated the Sacramento-based record store that grew from an American retail powerhouse.

When news broke in 2006 that Tower Records filed for bankruptcy and liquidation with plans to close its doors entirely that year, many of us were sad to see Tower disappear. Many younger people had little reaction as it was not common for them to actually shop at a music store. However, regardless of everyone’s feelings about the closing, Tower Records had changed the music business, set trends, and became an iconic store for the 40 plus years the doors were open.


“All Things Must Pass” documents the history of Tower Records from the original Tower Drugs store in Sacramento, California with a side business of selling new and used records at the drug store counter and expanded with the Tower Drugs’ owner’s son Russ Solomon who decided to open a store entirely for music, He opened the first Tower Records store on Watt Avenue in Sacramento opened in 1960. A few years later in 1968, Tower Records opened a new location in San Francisco, which at the time was the largest music store in the country. Later, stores opened up in Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, and more along the west coast. Japanese investors considered opening stores in Japan and Tower Records opened their first stores outside of the country in 1979. Following expansion around America in places such as New York, Boston, Nashville, New Orleans and Washington D.C., they also expanded international stores in Mexico, Canada, Thailand, Israel, Argentina, and more. Business was constantly growing and each financial risk they took seemed to only be a step in a positive direction.


Tower was known for the best selection available and the storers were very large and carried thousands of albums, singles, merchandise, from every genre. They stocked the major releases while also promoting the independents and obscure acts. It also helped that Tower Records employees were knowledgeable about music. The young people who worked at the stores were huge music lovers and showed their appreciation by recommending and pushing personal favorites. Since there was no dress code, employees were able to wear whatever they wanted, giving a fashion sense into the retail world with individual personality. Tower Records published “Pulse”, a free magazine available at all locations featuring everything from interviews, upcoming release information, “desert island discs” sections, and much more. Tower Records advertised heavily, on billboards and on television and it worked. Their national TV ads made people interested and their forward looking and creative TV ads were way ahead of the competition. It was one of the first music stores to open an online store back in 1995 with


Tower Records saw the potential very early on in the Internet age and worked very closely with record companies. The stores sponsored in-store performances and autograph signings to increase awareness. They helped with the artwork and promotion of upcoming records and Tower even had its own art department to create visuals for in store use. Events held at Tower Records were some of the most important ways that even newer artists could get their names known. It was no secret that the employees had a good time at the workplace, sometimes with extracurricular substances helping out the celebrations. For music loving kids it was a place they dreamed of working but it was widely known that there were Tower Records clerks who had total disregard for customers who “lacked knowledge”. For some, it might have made shopping intimidating for some but it was a great place for others. Quite naturally, we want to know what happened?

There were many to put the blame on the easiest target which was Napster with the illegal file sharing network becoming a fast growing way for people to get music for free without even having to go outside. But Napster was not the only cause of Tower Records’ downfall. There were multiple issues to blame for the closure that started from the late 90’s. There was competition from other retailers and pricing wars were issues, with superstores such as Best Buy and Wal-Mart opening stores everywhere, and their lower prices for CDs and DVDs. Superstores might not have had the big selection, but they did have the overall lower prices for the major releases. Failures of international expansion was another case. Japan held on, but places like Mexico, Thailand, Taiwan, and others were struggling.


The late 1990’s saw a time that recordable CDs became affordable for home use thus making copying in high quantities very fast and easy. Places like Thailand or Taiwan became heavily known for the places to buy bootlegged CDs for a fraction of the cost of the retail price, and for many in those countries, it made more sense to buy the unofficial CDs.. Record companies were also not helping things out. Their ideas were to sue Napster and its users and punish the downloaders rather that to find ways to work with the online distribution system. Because of lower sales figures, they decided to mark up the prices of the CDs, which would again prevent people from buying. Instead of taking chances on new bands or new styles of music, record companies cut back with letting go of employees and bands that were not worth the time and effort to market, while concentrating on bland pop music and bands that were guaranteed sellers. Essentially they were making it so it was more difficult for real music fans to actually buy music.

Hanks interviewed everyone that he could including Russ Solomon and his son Michael, as well as a large amount of former Tower Records employees that helped build it from the ground up. Hanks also includes interviews with famous musicians who talk about the Tower Records experience, Bruce Springsteen loved going to California to visit the stores, Elton John says he is probably the person who spent the most money at the business, and Dave Grohl who was an employee at a Tower Records in Virginia before concentrating on his music career. Throughout the documentary there is vintage film footage, vintage photographs and TV commercials to bridge the interview footage together. This is very well directed and well edited film that gets all its points across but there is something I would have liked to see— the viewpoint from the average shoppers.


Hanks and writer Steven Leckart are very lucky to have fortunate to have the colorful commentary of Russ Solomon, the l octogenarian who started selling records in the back of his father’s Sacramento drugstore in 1960, and steadily built a global chain of Tower Records outlets. Each store was a mammoth music marketplace where virtually every recording imaginable was displayed for just browsing, shopping and/or impulse buying. Solomon shares screen time with several former employees and associates, all of whom are nostalgic about the wild-and-crazy early days of Tower Records expansion, when sales clerks hired off the street could work their way up to management positions, and lunch breaks often expanded to allow for excessive consumption of booze and drugs. The opening of the first store in Japan served to increase company-wide confidence that the fun and making money would never stop.

But it did stop. Even before Napster and other streaming services in the 1990s, Tower Records suffered dearly for its inability (or unwillingness) to adapt and evolve. The artificially high price of CDs, along with the end of the CD single, bothered customers who gradually rebelled against paying for tracks they didn’t care to hear. It didn’t help much when big-box retailers such as Best Buy and Wal-Mart started slashing CD prices in a loss-leader campaign to increase customer traffic. Steadily mounting debt led to management shakeups and layoffs, desperate measures that proved to be too little, too late, to keep Tower Records afloat.

In 1999, the documentary tells us early on Tower Records recorded $1 billion in earnings. Five years later, the chain entered bankruptcy. What  happened to Tower is all too familiar. We have seen it with Borders and Radio Shack and Comp USA. Once thriving retail chains have found themselves on the wrong side of history. What could have been a boring story comes to life in the hands of Colin Hanks and it is a compelling tale.


Hanks interweaves talking-heads interviews, archival material and a retailer history lesson that is soundly constructed, briskly paced and affective. The film opens on the empty shelves that once contained endless stacks of CDs and records and then we see Solomon leaving for the airport.

Unfortunately, as the title of the movie tells us, all (good) things must pass. The ultimate reason for the decline of Tower was, as Russ Solomon says, “We weren’t successful in any of the other countries we went into,” further claiming personal responsibility by adding, “I’m stupid for saying yes to partnerships [in other cities] even though I didn’t totally believe in them.”

Solomon always seemed to believe in the people he hired, starting with down-to-earth Sacramentans who were relieved that their town finally had a place where its youth could hang out, even if that did mean essentially spending a lot of time in a parking lot. Heidi Cotler, who started out as a clerk and rose to the rank of VP of Operations, adds, “You know, in Sacramento, there weren’t very many places for kids to hang out. There was, like downtown, there was places. But in the north area, there was hardly any north area, so it was, you know, Tower Books and Records were in like this parking lot surrounded by nothing. And for kids in high school, that’s what you did.”


By the end ofAll Things Must Pass”, Tower’s world is shrunk from the global to the mere span of Japan, which kept the business open as a result of its independent management. And so, with the final store closing at the original location in Sacramento, it was written, “All things must pass. Thanks Sacramento.” And what Tower was really thanking its city of origin for was that it embraced Tower and that was so special and unprecedented.

There are lots of extras:

Deleted & Extended Scenes

– 8801 Sunset Boulevard (10:35)

There was a public hearing and decision on making the former Tower Records building into a historically preserved location for local cultural resource. This features interviews from city officials who are for it, city officials who are against it, and former patrons sharing their memories. The actual footage of the public hearing and testimonials are presented.

in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0

– Art of Retail (6:14)

Tower was known for the extensive artwork by the art department, from the outdoor paintings and indoor decorations. Foamcore, paint, cutouts, cardboard, glue, tape, and everything they could find were used.

in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0

– Bob on Sunset (3:34)

Bob Delanoy tells the unorthodox story of how he became manager of Sunset Boulevard store.

in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0

– In-House Advertising (5:24)

Chris Hopson was a liaison between Tower and record labels. He talks about the TV ads created by Tower Records and the use of artistic commercials for national ads. There are a lot of TV commercial clips offered.

in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0

– In Stores (7:52)

Former employees talk about some of their most memorable in store appearances by various bands.

in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0

– Pink Elephants (3:20)

The infamous Capitol Records promo which included a spray painted Pink Elephant is talked about in more detail. They also settle whether it was the elephant peed on the floor inside, or that the elephant peed outside.

in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0

– Record Supply (3:50)

Russell Solomon talks about trying to convince record companies initially and why they all said “no” to his crazy plans.

in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0

Trailer (2:03)

The original trailer is offered here.

in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0

“THE ASSISTANT”— Mourning a Son

the assistant poster

“The Assistant” (“La Volante”)

Mourning a Son

Amos Lassen

As he is driving his wife Audrey (Sabrina Seyvecou) to the maternity ward to give birth to their first child, Thomas (Mailk Zidi) accidentally runs over and kills Sebastian, a young man on the road. Marie-France (Nathalie Baye), the mother, cannot and will not get over the mourning of her lost son. Some nine years later, Marie-France has become Thomas’ secretary and dangerously starts to interfere into his life. She has only one idea in mind: to get closer to his son…

the assistant1

The death sets into motion events that will change everyone’s lives forever, including Marie-France (Nathalie Baye), who cannot recover from the trauma. When she takes a job as Thomas’s secretary he has no idea about her connection to his past. As Marie-France’s rage as a mother reaches tragic proportions, she insinuates herself into his life, his work and his family.

the assistant2

Marie-France is determined to avenge her son’s death and to prove that she can do so. You will undoubtedly see hints of Alfred Hitchcock here yet directors Christophe Ali and Nicholas Bonilauri manage to call this film their own and have provided a great deal of suspense. There are times that the plot is a bit too hard to believe but actress Nathalie Baye is so wonderful in the role that we can overlook that. She knows exactly when to keep on the right side of plausibility. There’s nothing really new or groundbreaking about “The Assistant”—it is just a well-structured, well-paced thriller of a film.

Now with his marriage on shaky ground, Thomas is no longer living with Audrey. He is living with his son Leo (Jean Stan du Pac) and working for a firm of architects. Over the intervening years Sebastian’s mother Marie France has been plotting her revenge and manages to secure a job as Thomas’ secretary. She works her way into his family and eventually marries his father Eric (Johan Leysen). All the elements are now in place for Marie France to make Thomas pay for the death of her son.

the asistant3

Revenge films are nothing new but this one is special because of the bravura performance of Baye. Even though Marie-France is in her late 60s, she still has a sex drive and she can instantaneously change from coquette to pure malice. Baye, herself is able to show a sexual confidence that would make other actresses envious. For her performance alone, this is a film to see.

“SAND STORM”— An Obscene Tradition

sand storm poster

“Sand Storm”

An Obscene Custom

Amos Lassen

Israeli writer-director Elite Zexer’s feature debut is about sexist cultural traditions in Bedouin society and the centuries-old Middle Eastern male dominance. It is a frustrating account of a mother and daughter and the cultural norms that favor the man. Set in the Negev Desert area in southern Israel, the characters are Bedouins who speak Arabic and polygamy is widespread.


Middle-aged Suliman (Haitham Omari) shows up on the eve of his wedding to his second wife-to-be. His daughter Layla (Lamis Ammar) is called upon to help fix up the fancy new home next door that Suliman has built for his new bride. His first wife Jalila (Ruba Blal-Asfour) must suffer the humiliation of being escorted away by the local religious boss to make way for her replacement.


Jalila accidentally learns that her daughter Layla is seeing a young man in a nearby town. Taking out her own unhappiness on her eldest daughter, she forbids Layla from seeing him again, which puts the young woman in the position of having to decide whether to remain an obedient daughter or to become a rebel within the highly restrictive community and within the context of a far more open, Western-oriented nation (of which we never hear the name).


Suliman guiltily obliges his older wife by quickly finding the first “worthy man” locally available for his eldest daughter and he finds a heavy older man for Layla to marry. The film represents a feminist (by local standards) critique of long-entrenched attitudes that are in conflict with more modern societal norms. This is a look at the inequalities that entrap women (and the men they love and resent) in a Bedouin village.


On the surface, the film presents a familiar feminist tale of a teenaged girl trapped between her desire to control her destiny and the constraints of her traditional family. It presents a sympathetic but clear-eyed look at the tangled inequalities that entrap women in a Bedouin village that sits somewhere between modernization and anachronistic patriarchy. The film was written and directed by a Jewish Israeli woman, Elite Zexer, and made with a Jewish-Arab crew. Visually the film is a feast for the eyes with its gorgeous shots of the desert.


Men are not permitted at a Bedouin celebration in Southern Israel to welcome (with variable enthusiasm) the arrival of a second wife. Jalila fumes and not just because she’s going to have to share power with the younger newcomer but she is also dealing with her daughter and her secret lover at school. Suliman who has given his eldest child many modern advantages such as a cell phone, driving lessons, yet his is willing to sacrifice her future to an arranged marriage to a village man that Layla barely knows. In this culture, men call the shots but women clean up the messes. Jalila and Layla remain caught between loyalty to their disintegrating family and hunger for autonomy and experience that are prohibited. The fake mustaches signal both strength and vulnerability.

sand storm1

The strands of her narrative come together to show that everyone is left the loser in polygamous marriage, a divide-and-rule institution that puts husband and wife against one another, but also hurts women who would otherwise be inclined to mutual support. There is no Hollywood ending here, only a bit of sad humor about interior décor. And yes, brides do wear dresses like the one you see here.

“WHEN JUSTICE ISN’T JUST”— The Reality of Justice



The Reality of Justice

Amos Lassen

David Massey’s timely documentary “When Justice Isn’t Just” looks at the concept and reality of justice in the United States, particularly in regard to racial disparities in the American criminal justice system. We see and hear from legal experts, local activists, and law enforcement officers as they explore the ongoing charges of inequality, unfair practices, and politicized manipulations of America’s judicial system. Even more important is that the film questions the tremendous number of police shootings of unarmed Black men and women.

when justice3

The documentary was filmed in cities all over America as it tries to discover why so many unarmed black people have been targeted and killed by law enforcement officers especially now that this issue that has taken such an important place in the American national consciousness. Director Massey asks the crucial question of how we can prevent more violence in this country, including Black on Black deaths.

whwn justice2

At its heart, the documentary examines our broken criminal justice system and focuses on the high incarceration rate of people of color. As we question the accountability of our justice system in cases of police violence, this film becomes an essential addition to the ongoing discussion about reform and renewal.

when justice1

David Massey tells us “we as filmmakers couldn’t sit on the sidelines without documenting one of the most important human rights issues facing America and the black community today.” We hear from Civil Rights Attorney Benjamin L. Crump, Dr. Cornel West, Black Lives Matter’s Dr. Melina Abdullah, Criminal Attorney Tom Mesereau, LAPD Deputy Chief William Scott, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill to name just a few.

“OUR LAST TANGO”— Rego and Copes

our last tango

“Our Last Tango”

Rego and Copes

Amos Lassen

Writer-director German Kral’s documentary “Our Last Tango” looks at the lives of some of its most prominent ambassadors, María Nieves Rego and Juan Carlos Copes, through the undoing of their 40-year symbiotic partnership. The very professional and romantic collaboration that had once been is replaced by memories of betrayal, resentment, and bodily decay. In archival footage of Rego and Copes as well as reenactments, we see the classic tango but in actuality, the film is more about the separation of the two dancers than it is about the tango itself. Here we see the tango as an embodiment of both love and hate. We have a union of two souls that is broken by a man who’s able to leave and move on but the woman stays behind never to recover.

María Nieves & Juan Carlos Copes in OUR LAST TANGO

María Nieves & Juan Carlos Copes in OUR LAST TANGO

“Our Last Tango” seems, at first, to be a look at the chronology of the dance as to the legendary two dancers who are now both in their 80s. Suddenly we realize that we never see we Copes and Rego never inhabit the same frame as each presents his/her version of what happened in the past. The film turns to leaving dancing behind and becomes an elegy to a couple that was once— “a testimony to classic heterosexuality’s perverse blueprint, as she belongs to him and he doesn’t belong to her”.

Ayelén Álvarez Miño and Juan Malizia in OUR LAST TANGO

Ayelén Álvarez Miño and Juan Malizia in OUR LAST TANGO

Throughout the film, the question of truth is equated to the essence of the tango. Copes sees that what happened between him and Rego as a chapter coming to a close and led him to a new lover, a younger woman. leading into a new love affair with a younger woman. Now that he has remarried, he is invigorated and appears to be flexible and confident in his old age and with no plans for retirement anytime soon. Rego still faces the end of a love story and joint career as a kind of terminal abandonment. She is alone and rehearsing her swan song even though she claims that this is not the case. Whatever she’s learned by the traumatic she is unable to internalize.

María Nieves & Juan Carlos Copes in OUR LAST TANGO

María Nieves & Juan Carlos Copes in OUR LAST TANGO

Copes’ memories go back to when they began to have problems immediately after their wedding in the 1950s. Rego took a beak and Copes, she says, just wanted to just tour by himself with other dancers. Copes dos not hold back and says that he could not stand her anymore. Director Kral never suggests that one version is closer to the truth than the other.

The question of truth is equated to the essence of the tango—“its ability to articulate emotional contradiction so stunningly, its existence inside a reality of paradox that never has to resolve itself”. Aggression and tenderness, passion and repulsion do not clash while dancing.


Rego remembers growing up in a poor home and watching her mother go through garbage to find food to put on the table. She has much to say about her love of the tango and shares her own understanding of the dance and how she became better at it as years passed. She also tells us that the only thing she would change about her life is having put so much other feelings in her former long-time dance partner and lover, Juan Carlos Copes.

Copes is more stoic and a far less animated speaker and is honest about his own faults, even though he doesn’t necessarily take responsibility for them. He talks about his infidelity, candidly sharing that he felt confined by the traditional romantic paradigm. And though he complains about Rego, he does try to say about how he was never able to replace her in the context of dance. We realize that the tango is a mirror of the love affair between the two dancers.


Kral uses re-enactments to visualize the historical aesthetic and mode of dance being spoken about when he interviews the two former lovers. The dancing that we see here is beautifully choreographed and wonderfully executed. Both the archival footage of the documentary subjects and the dancer recreations are highly compelling and this takes us away fro a linear documentation about the two former lovers. There is also some fine humor in the candidness of the characters and everyone will finds something to enjoy here.

“THERAPY FOR A VAMPIRE”— Freud and the Vampire

therapy for a vampire

“Therapy for a Vampire” (“Der Vampir auf der Couch”)

Freud and the Vampire

Amos Lassen

In Vienna in 1932 and Count Geza von Kozsnom (Tobias Moretti) has lost his feeling for life. His marriage has all but ended centuries ago and he no longer feels that he has a purpose in life. Dr. Sigmund Freud (Karl Fischer) has an innovative new approach to solving life’s existential problems and is accepting new patients. The count decides to see if Freud can help him get over his ennui. During their night sessions (as a vampire, Kozsnom can only be out at night), the good doctor suggests the Count appease his vain wife (Jeanette Hain) who is desperate to see her own reflection that she has commissioned a portrait of her by Viktor (Dominic Oley), an aspiring painter. However it’s Viktor’s headstrong girlfriend Lucy (Cornelia Ivancan) who most intrigues the Count who is convinced that she is the incarnation of his one true love. It doesn’t take too long before everything gets mixed up and comes crashing down on the hapless group. This is a very funny decadent comedy filled with camp and Austrian writer/director David Ruhm will forever change the way you see vampires.


I can only imagine how difficult it is to find something new about vampires with which to make a new movie. The topic has been so popular and so overworked that it is really hard to think of what has not been done. Director Ruhm, instead of picking one aspect of vampire life decides to use them all in this film. This makes “Therapy for a Vampire” a celebration of vampire cinema as influences pop up everywhere in the feature. The film tries to avoid the norm with elements of humor and horror and Ruhm’s love for darkness is seen throughout the movie that makes this a fun movie.


When Viktor agrees to paint Elsa’s portrait, Viktor exposes himself to the world of vampires. We see that both the count and Viktor have been living lives that do not satisfy them. Viktor has been hired by Freud to help illustrate his dreams that are to be collected in a book filled with odd imagery that touches on the surreal and the sexual. The count comes to Freud for help— to purge his phobias and concerns, finding an outlet for his frustrations with Elsa. His marriage is one of crisis since the husband and wife have been together for centuries and are both bored with their other half. The count’s tale of obsession is amplified by is own battle for satisfaction, sharing his fears (and furious OCD) with Freud, who challenges him on his decisions and self-image as he probes into his insecurities. Viktor has been taking Lucy for granted and he disturbed by her seemingly spiteful connection with the count. As Viktor paints Elsa we see that she is a self-conscious vampire who has been offered a chance to face her own existence after a loss of literal reflection. She welcomes art because it is a way to make herself whole again. For Viktor, the job is very unusual.


We film follows two sets of lovers with one couple undead and the other very much alive. It is Dr. Sigmund Freud (Karl Fischer) who brings the characters together since he’s both Count von Közsnöm’s therapist and Viktor’s employer of sorts. When Viktor leaves a painting of his wife with Freud the Count’s sows an interest, because he’s reminded of an old lover from hundreds of years back. In the painting, Lucy is has blonde hair because of a fantasy Viktor has and this is what makes her look like the count’s former lover.


Both Lucy and Elsa von Közsnöm act out against male counterparts who seem to have lost interest. I found Rühm’s take on vampires to be fun. Both Tobias Moretti and Jeanette Hain play the Count & Countess Közsnöm with reverence to vampire movies of old making this something of a horror/comedy.When the count is convinced that Lucy is Nadila (his former lover) reborn, we see a spark of life in his undead eyes as he thinks that a bite on her neck can make Lucy his. 


“Therapy for a Vampire” takes a unique wink at the troubles of a formerly fearsome count fighting to find the love that Elsa has denied him.  Not only does this satirize vampire movies but it also plays with parodying love and marriage. We see humans, and vampires, handle their significant others when there is a need for fresh excitement.


“Therapy for a Vampire” is more subtlety than slapstick with clever characters ably acted by a clever cast.