Category Archives: Film

“WILL READING”— A Fun Comedy about a Morbid Truth

“Will Reading”

A Fun Comedy about a Morbid Truth

Amos Lassen

As I began watching Jamie Insalco’s “Will Reading”, I found myself groaning at the amateur aspects of the film. I thought that this had to be some kind of a joke and could not understand how anyone could have made something so bad and then proudly enlisted reviewers to see it. I was prepared to write to director Insalco and tell him that this was the worst movie I have ever seen and for those of you who follow my reviews know that there is nothing I dislike more than giving a negative review. Therefore I pushed everything aside and sat on what I thought for a while and then went back and watched it a second and third time. It is still very amateurish and the acting is nothing to write home about but the cast is really into what they do and suddenly I realized that I had read the movie totally wrong.

Our characters come together to read the will of Wendy’s (Katie Weigl) late husband. is hosting one nonetheless, after the recent death of her husband Will. Sadly, there’s no mention in the film as to whether or not his last name is Reading, but I like to think it is. Wendy is a vegan chef, so this is a dinner party as well as a will reading, but she isn’t exactly starting with a recipe for success. Will’s brother Wayne (Jamie Insalaco) is the first to arrive at Wendy’s where everyone will have a nice dinner before the reading. Wayne and Wendy have never gotten along and he immediately chides her for not having any wine to go with the meal and leaves to go and buy some.

Steve (Greg Vorob) arrives. He had once been Wendy’s high school crush and is now a lawyer. Tom (Marc Seidenstein) is a psychologist who seems to be doing ok but he has many bills because of this ill father. Finally there is Dave (Dan Conrad), a nerd who owns a comic book shop, except this is also struggling. So it’s no surprise and he is also dealing with finances. All of the characters think about the money that might be left to them in the will.

At the reading, our characters learn that the inheritances are located somewhere in the house. We learn that Will was afraid of the IRS and chose to hide his estate rather than having others pay taxes on it.

Now begins a treasure hunt— each person has an idea where to look but no one knows anything for sure. We watch the four of them begin to stress out, alliances are made and broken and as the craziness ensues, we cannot help but wonder how this will play out. I realize just how much I dislike all of the characters so I did not root for any of them. However, the actors are having such a good time making this movie which made me hope that at least one of them would be endearing.

There are some fun laughs and some of the humor is quite dark. The score has a lot of music and one old fashioned kind of duet that caused me to groan at first but that quickly changed to laughter. This is a small almost one-set film and I thought to myself that this is a throwback to the kind of romantic comedies that Hollywood used to make; almost a homage. But again in this I was wrong. There is really nothing old-fashioned about “Will Reading” except for a totally inappropriate song and dance number that kind of just happened with nothing really leading up to it. Perhaps I was too tense the first time I watched it and was not willing to let go of the kind of day I had had or, more likely, I was not in the mood for a movie like this. I thought I had been laughing at the movie instead of laughing with it.

“SUNTAN”— “There is Nothing New Under the Sun”

“Suntan”

There is Nothing New Under the Sun”

Amos Lassen

Although I have entitled my review of “Suntan” as “There is nothing new under the sun”, please do not misunderstand— we can still enjoy something that is not new and it is a story that has been done before. Kostis (Makis Papadimitriou) is a middle-aged doctor who is beginning a new job on a small island in Greece. He looks and feels depressed; he barely interacts with the townspeople, and seems to give the most basic diagnoses to his patients. But that was all about to change when summer season comes and a bunch of young tourists ask him to have a look at and help out their friend Anna (Elli Tringou) who has hurt her leg. We see the young people in this group as looking for fun; they just want to be free and do not appear to have respect for anything. Half seriously they invite Kostis to come and hang with them on the beach and are very surprised when he comes to them. Slowly Kostis enters the group, especially with Anna who shows him the same physical attention that she gives to others. We can be pretty sure that a tense situation will arise because of this.

What we see with Kostis is his general unhappiness and it seems clear that he does not want to be on the island. When he starts to hang out with the young people, he begins to drink more and he does not quite understand that he is not really accepted among them and that he is being humored. The kids like goofing off and being open with anyone willing to be part of their scene but Kostis is not really friends with them; they are amused that he is with them and so they tolerate him. However, when Kostis gets more desperate and clingy about Anna, things change.

At first I thought that Kostis is a metaphor for all the unfulfilled promises that we all think we have, but his actions cause him to look pathetic and sad so that we see no humanity there and we cannot imagine being who he is. But then we realize that we really know nothing about him. We see that his career as a doctor does not satisfy him and he does not seem to have any friends save one that he sees at a party and speaks with him telling him that his life did not turn out how he had planned it. His friend replies telling him that says that these young people and this kind of party are not for them. I am curious as to why he had no friends. He knows that these youngsters are not real friends but he continues to go to them and actually becomes obsessive over Anna. Unfortunately Kostis is far from interesting.

Kostis obviously desires Anna but we are sure that he wants her, the person or because she is a symbol of something else. Anna is open to levels of physical affection with him yet we see the ending coming early on. Instead of going deeper into Kostis as a person, we just see him partying, drinking and often ignoring his duties as a doctor.

Director Argyris Papadimitropoulos is able to make the progression of Kostis’s regression make sense. When we see him partying and feeling connected, we believe that there is something meaningful with him but then this changes and desperation to get Anna overcomes him. That obsession starts to ruin his life.

The Greek island of Antiparos with its 800 residents sees more of a way station for the elderly than an island paradise, and Kostis settles into the mundane motions of the job. This isn’t quite the scene he would have chosen for himself, but we suspect that particular choice may have been out of his hands. He makes acquaintances as the weeks pass, but new friendships seem anathema to his preferred daily routine until the young people arrive. As the movie progresses we see clearly that everyone appeals to someone, at least while on a hedonistic vacation. Kostis applies his own label, and that low self-worth, when faced with Anna’s fleeting but sincere attention, makes him something of an underdog at first. We see him as a man who acknowledges his shortcomings but refuses to see them as limitations.

The harder he tries to fit in the more painful it becomes to watch. It’s not long though before our fear for him changes into a fear of him. There is something unhealthy going on here. Director Papadimitropoulos contrasts all that firm, smooth, golden flesh of youth with Kostis’ paunchy, pale skin. “Suntan” wonderfully captures the explosive aura of youth with breathtaking potency. Right from the opening scene of Kostis on the ferry, do we sense his loneliness.

“THE LEGACY OF MENLA”— Cancer and Tibetan Medicine

“The Legacy of Menla”

Cancer and Tibetan Medicine

Amos Lassen

Director Adam Miklos brings us a new look at Tibetan medicine in the story of three different Indian women who have been diagnosed with different stages of cancer. These women have opted to follow their faith in doctors from Tibet and go against the wishes of their families and/or the advice of Western doctors. Tibetan medicine comes from the bringing together of Buddhism and science and both believers and non-believers have taken heed of its progress. Not only do we see the film through the eyes of these three women but also we see the progress of medicine in Tibet and how doctors there are educated. We get a look at the past, present and future of the way these doctors heal their patients and it is absolutely fascinating to watch. After all, we know that hope and faith are beneficial to making people feel better and even though no cure is promised, patients achieve a different way of looking at death.

The rest of the world searches for a cure to cancer while at the same time doctors in Tibet diagnose and treat patients. This movie shows an alternative view of cancer. We follow Dr. Dorjee Rapten Neshar, Chief Medical Officer of Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute (TMAI) Bangalore Clinic, and one of the Tibetan doctors specializing in cancer treatment today. The doctor works with cancer patients of differing ages and backgrounds and at differing stages of their treatments and these patients share their emotions and lives as they are touched by Tibetan Medicine.

Through the doctor and his patients, we become aware of the results and limitations of Tibetan Medicine in how it deals with cancer. We also see the challenges that Tibetan Medicine faces in the production of medicine as it becomes more and more in demand and the environmental concerns that arise out of it. For me, the most exciting thing we see is how the Tibetan Medical tradition is adapting to today’s global world.

Director Miklos and two of his producers went to Tibet and spent two months with Tibetan Doctors in various parts of India. During that time, a month was devoted to Dr. Neshar. Their goal was to show how different this medical system is from those of the Western world. Then they went to Dharamsala, the new home of the Dalai Lama. The central institution of Tibetan Medicine, the Men-Tsee-Khang is located there and it was where they met three people who proved invaluable to their filmed study— a Russian medical student, a Buddhist monk who is responsible for the medicine production and a cancer patient. We learn that the approach to health is more important than the treatment itself. We are given a lot to think about here and I doubt we will ever see cancer or Tibetan doctors the same way again.

“DEFARIOUS”— An Experience in Fear

“Defarious”

An Experience in Fear

Amos Lassen

Chase Michael Pallante’s short film, “Defarious” introduces us to Amy (Janet Miranda), a young woman suffering from nightmares that are so terrible that she finds it difficult to distinguish between them and the real world. Reminiscent of horror film from the 1980s, Amy suffers not only from nightmares but also from visions of her dead mother and the line between dream and reality is blurred for most of the eleven minutes of the film. In her latest nightmare she was she was threatened by clown like villain, Defarious (Jason Torres), and this leaves her so upset that she wants to call a friend but she is unable to find her cell phone and she hears glass breaking even though she is alone at home. As she looks around she finds the character from her dream but sense that there is no waking up this time. She understands that he has come to kill her.

What is so fascinating is that in a short eleven-minute scene that is little more than a standard horror scene, this one is told with such style that the viewer is totally into what he/she sees and even though it is very simple, we are totally involved.

Director Pallante uses visual imagery and keeps the pace of his film at just where he wants it to be thus providing a view filled with the macabre and foreboding. The cinematography is shades of blue that expresses a sense of cold that makes this look surreal and brings fear to the audience. There is little dialogue and we do not know the motivations for what we see and there is virtually no exposition. It is up to us to figure out what is really happening.

In a very short amount of time, Pallante tells a short yet comprehensive story with no gimmicks and we seem to enter Amy’s mind and experience what she feels. The villain is terror, personified coming out of the shadows as something of a shadow himself even though he is totally apart from them and singular. When we see him in total, his eyes appear to be alien and coming from hell and he completely unnerves Amy and the viewer.

“CINEMA NOVO”— A Movie Essay

“CINEMA NOVO”

A Movie Essay

Amos Lassen

Director Eryk Rocha shines a new light on a major movement in Latin American Cinema: Brazil’s Cinema Novo of the 50’s and 60’s. In this film he introduces us to the work of dos Santos, Rocha (Glauber), Hirszman, de Andrade, Guerra and many others. Cinema Novo was influenced by Soviet Revolutionary Films, Italian Neo-Realist, French New Wave and South American revolutionary ideas of its time.

This is a documentary that is more of an essay about film than anything else. Through interviews we get the background and then Rocha goes on to praise the work of the directors he features and we see the various ways of influence on cinema come from these people. There is no didacticism in the memories that are shared and we get quite a good sense of creative liberty. We soon understand that the process of chronicling a film movement is the same as creating one and this film is something of a love letter from son to father since his Eryk Rocha’s own father was co-founder of Cinema Novo. He is certainly qualified to make this film and he truly appreciates the value of using his subject and its guiding forces as a mechanism to explain it. He is able to draw on both his personal connection and his background in both factual and fictional efforts.

Rocha wonderfully captures the spirit and substance of a genre that swept a nation fifty years ago. The result is perfect for those who couldn’t be there to experience it for themselves.

“Cinema Novo” attempts to usher the audience into the requisite mindset. “It was an era where art, utopia and revolution walked together, an adventure of creation, friendship and non-conformism that presented new images of Brazil to the world,” the feature tells us and then it tries to validate such florid language with a well-edited assemblage of movie excerpts and interview footage.

It is a creation of fragments and segments, the former expertly excised from the works of or discussions with the elder Rocha and his contemporaries and the later bringing the clips together.

While the film starts with the features created during the period, before segueing to their makers and then rhythmically moving back-and-forth between the two, both remain equally fascinating. It is full of information and is a rich viewing experience. We move through Cinema Novo’s origins as an antidote to popular movies of the time, detailing the political and human motivations to make films that depicted the true state of the nation, and exploring both the success and the difficulties that arose along the way.

“AN AMERICAN TRILOGY”— Cyril Morin Directs Three Films About How We Live

“AN AMERICAN TRILOGY

Cyril Morin Directs Three Films About How We Live

Amos Lassen

“An American Trilogy” is made up of three films by Paris and L.A.-based filmmaker Cyril Morin that give us a perspective on three significant moments in modern American culture and history.

THE ACTIVIST” is a riveting and intimate political thriller set during the Wounded Knee events in 1973 and it recreates the paranoid culture of the 1970s. It shows the corruption and political scheming after the arrest of two Native American activists. What happened at the insurrection at Wounded Knee shows a tragic story of American subjugation of Native Americans by the government led by president Richard Nixon and how it was an attempt to subvert the actual events for political gain. This film genuinely develops the various characters in a layering manner. Directed by Cyril Morin this is an intense political thriller based on an actual report called the Sacrifice Zone that President Nixon signed off on.

Bud “One Bull” Ward began as a rebel who started an Indian immersion school and then had that taken away from him. As a result he turned to the American Indian Movement as way to fight the problems that existed at Pine Ridge prior to 1973.

Most of the film is set within a jail cell where Marvin Brown and Bud were sent after the unexplained death of Marvin’s wife. A brutal officer guarded their every move as Nixon’s representatives tried to stop the negotiations to end the Native American riots and the survival of the two of the two prisoners becomes an uncertain dispute.

“NY84” is the story of three young artists and lovers who are part of the New York art scene of the early 1980s and see their future challenged by the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. We look at the

creative and emotional lives of Kate, Anton, and Keith. They are young and carefree but this all ends in 1984 when Anton and Keith contract a mysterious illness known as the “gay cancer.” As her music career takes off, Kate tries to save her friends in this bleak but affecting portrait of New York as it changed so drastically because of the disease.

 Singer-poet Kate (Sam Quartin), photographer Anton (Chris Schellenger) and painter Keith (Davy J. Marr) live in a crummy apartment. They work, party and play, feeling happy and safe in their cocoon. But then AIDS hit and people started getting sick.

The movie’s narrative has limited dialogue and back-story. It relies more on mood and impressions, scenes of photo and recording sessions, pensive one-sided chats with an unknown interviewer, and tightly shot imagery that deftly shows the way they struggled against the epidemic.

“HACKER’S GAME” is a modern, relevant, and suspenseful thriller will keeps on the edge of our seats. Soyan, a hacker hired by a high profile cyber security firm, and Loise, a cyber detective, embark on a dangerous romance.

Soyan (Chris Schellenger) lands a job at BL Reputation Management after he’s caught breaching its IT system and potentially exposing sensitive information about its clients. The company specializes in creating new identities and rewriting histories — much like the witness-protection program except available to any VIPs or corporate entities.

At the same time in the Human Search Organization, human-rights lawyer Alice Carson (Gayla Johnson) has Loise (Pom Klementieff) tracking down families of victims of illegal arms trade. Soyan and Loise become romantically involved, while BL partner Russel Belial (King Orba) tries to seduce Alice under the false pretense of offering her a job so that he can sideline her. Soyan seeks to dump classified corporate, government and banking information on the independent Leak.

For the first time the three films are packaged as a trilogy in a 2-disc Bluray pack.

“INDOORS”— Trying to Make It Big

“INDOORS”

Trying to Make It Big

Amos Lassen 

  Eitan Green’s “Indoors” introduces us to Avram (Yuval Siegel), a small-time building contractor who is trying to make it into the big time, gambles on projects that exceed his capabilities. His family lives in the shadow of his career ambitions until one of the projects overwhelms him in debts that he cannot pay back.

Doron (Danny Steg),  Avram’s 14 year old son, is a star athlete who escapes from the difficulties  at home by leading  his school’s team to the Tel Aviv Basketball Championship.  His success on the court is an emotional force which helps his dad.

As the story opens Avram’s wife Dassi (Osnat Fishman), a nurse, is a member of a medical delegation on a humanitarian mission in one of the impoverished areas of Eastern Europe. When the situation at home becomes critically complicated she returns to Israel and discovers how much she worries about Avram and how much she really loves him.

Both his son and his wife go through a rough time due to Avram’s financial downfall but, in their shared effort to help him, they rediscover the strength of their family ties.

 

 Israeli Academy

Awards Nominee for

Best Screenplay

2016

Offical Selection

Jerusalem International Film Festival 2016

 

“VAUGHAN, STEVIE RAYE— 1984-1989: LONESTAR”— Quieted Too Soon

“Vaughan, Stevie Ray – 1984-1989: Lonestar”

Quieted to Soon

Amos Lassen

I must claim ignorance here. I do not know anything about Stevie Ray Vaughan. I was out of the country during his popularity and later death so this documentary is all I really know about him.

In the mid-1970s, when Stevie Ray Vaughan first emerged as a modern blues guitarist with great ability and passion. These two qualities distinguished his playing from that of just about all his contemporaries. His kinds of blues, however, did not really impact the mainstream in terms of buying his music via CDs etc. and so he struggled to nail a record deal. But by the time his debut album, “Texas Flood” was released in 1983, things changed and Vaughan became an international phenomenon and an artist of great importance in the revitalization of the blues genre.

This documentary gives us the up till now untold story of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s best years— that period between the release of that debut album and his tragic death in a helicopter crash in 1989. The documentary is made up of rare film footage, exclusive interviews with many close friends and confidantes, contributions from the industry professionals and music writers who documented his career as it unfolded. Included are seldom seen photographs and other features and this is an excellent way to enjoy the performer whose life ended too soon. This film is the sister feature to Sexy Intellectual’s previous documentary, “Rise Of A Texas Bluesman – Stevie Ray Vaughan 1954–1983”.

“DOWN ON THE FARM”— A Clever Animated Film

“Down on the Farm”

A Clever Animated Film

Amos Lassen

When a bale of hay goes missing on the farm, mystery-solving Oink The Flying Pig and his know-it-all pal, Boink the Owl, set off on an adventure to discover which of the farm animals is responsible. In order to discover who took the hay, Oink and Boink have to first learn all there is to know about all the suspects. We join them on their mystery-solving

They work together to uncover clues and inform the other animals of their findings. Directed by Kostas MacFarlane from a script by Lisa Baget, this story contains facts about horses, rabbits, chickens, and many other farm animals. It is educational and entertaining for the intended audience. We are proud to award it the Dove “Family-Approved” Seal for all ages. We hear the voices of Bobby Catalano, William MacNamara, Bill Oberst Jr., Jason Pascoe, KJ Schrock and April Rose.

“FIVE NIGHTS IN MAINE”— Unspoken Resentments and Visual Mtaphors

“Five Nights in Maine”

Unspoken Resentments and Visual Metaphors

Amos Lassen

  Sherwin (David Oyelowo) arrives at the coastal home of his cancer-stricken mother-in-law, Lucinda (Dianne Wiest) while in the midst of grieving the sudden death of his wife, Fiona (Hani Furstenberg). He does not understand why he is there but it could be for any number of reasons. Maybe he is hoping for closure or looking to stop his recent reliance on cigarettes and alcohol or maybe he is just curious about his wife’s past claims that Lucinda disapproved of Fiona having a black husband.

“Five Nights in Maine” is a film that is full of the unspoken resentments and visual metaphors that propel any solemn drama about grief and mourning but even more interesting is that there is also a sense of gothic horror in it. Lucinda’s white, mansion home seems to give an idea that it has been coastal abandoned and Lucinda only greets her son-in-law during candlelit meals and then appears as regal and loud.

Lucinda and Sherwin’s uncomfortable dinners take place after we see long views following Sherwin as he washes dishes, explores the local woods, or interacts with Lucinda’s part-time nurse, Ann (Rosie Perez). The film tries to speak of his race without speaking its name and we see that Sherwin receives long glances from strangers at the grocery store, and he panics after hearing gunshots in the forest. These buttress Sherwin’s alienation from the film’s rural setting, but we had already felt that when he first entered Lucinda’s.

The film’s central characters are complex and difficult to understand. Through flashbacks we see the love and tension in Sherwin’s relationship with Fiona, but there is little about life outside of their marriage. Sherwin has lost his center while we do not see a center in Lucinda. Their brief relationship is uneasy and elusive.

We follow following Sherwin as he silently washes dishes, paces slowly through sparsely furnished rooms, smokes, and makes egg salad as the film captures the internal process of mourning.

Sherwin had only one tender moment with Fiona before learning that she had been killed in a car accident. Marooned in his home with a liquor bottle, and too paralyzed to deal with funeral arrangements, when Lucinda invites him to come to her home in Maine, he goes. Lucinda is very cold and dying from cancer. We do not know much about Sherwin’s life before the accident, although there were clearly some rough patches in his relationship with Lucinda. Fiona visited her shortly before her death, and we sense that this didn’t go well. As the two share dinner-table encounters over the next five nights, Sherwin’s depression slowly becomes quiet anger with the way Lucinda is treating him.

In the absence of much understanding of either of these characters, it is up to the audience to fill in the details by themselves. Director Maris Curran does not prod her characters into exposition and this is very clearly intentional. Grief is an emotion that is internal and one rarely sees it for what it is. Sherwin appears to be the only black person in this particular county and while this is never directly addressed, we see it in the way others stare at him.

Oyelowo gives a precise and controlled performance. Wiest never quite locates a middle ground between Lucinda’s terminal vulnerability and her use of verbal cruelty.

This is gut-wrenching drama that looks at the stages of grief and troubled communication. With his wife’s death, Sherwin is destroyed, unable to process the loss. He almost refuses to function as the process and only finds support from his sister, Penelope (Teyonah Parris). Accepting an invitation from Lucinda, Sherwin enters an uncomfortable situation, receiving guidance from her caretaker, Ann. Lucinda is a guarded woman struggling with terminal illness, leaving Sherwin in a difficult position of engagement. He is unsure how to discuss issues with Fiona’s mother and often remains distant as he takes in the remote location and the intense introspection it causes to happen.

Fragmented memories play an important part in the picture as the character breaks down his heartache into psychological puzzle pieces. When we meet Sherwin, he appears to be a happy man in a loving marriage. This idealized representation of the pairing from his perspective, the film breaks down the reality of the domestic situation with Sherwin, who grows more sensitive to past arguments and behavioral blockage as he grieves. He then surrenders to depression after losing his spouse, cutting off contact with the outside world as he lives in denial of what happened.

Visiting Lucinda clarifies that he is both family but also a stranger. There is dysfunction and unresolved issues between Lucinda and Sherwin and they play with pain and contempt that is very much like a blame game. We see the hostilities and confusion that are all tied to Fiona’s behavior over the last few years and her final exchange with her dying mother. There’s always something brewing beneath the surface here— tensions are taut and vulnerabilities are exposed.

The power of the belongs to Wiest and Oyelowo, who deliver portrayals of anguish and a tentative partnership in grief. Oyelowo captures the mental process of a man who doesn’t know what to do with himself and looks for any opportunity to exorcise his boiling feelings. Wiest plays a woman with a specific reason for social resistance as she holds the feature’s mystery. We as the audience eventually understands her isolation and hesitance to bond with Sherwin. It would have been enough just to watch these two but Curran has prepared something special, transforming a simple tale of reconnection into a maze of confusing emotions.