Category Archives: Film

“FRANCESCO”— The Life of St. Francis

francesco poster


The Life of St. Francis

Amos Lassen

The 1989 film of the life of St. Francis by Italian auteur Liliana Cavani, will be released on Blu-ray and DVD by Film Movement Classics on September 1st to coincide coinciding with the celebration of Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States.

It was nominated for a Palme d’Or at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival and is included as one of 15 “Religion” movies in Pope John Paul II’s Pontifical Council for Social Communications list of “Some Important Films” – better known as the Vatican Film List – created in 1995 for the 100th Anniversary of Cinema.


The basis for the film is Hermann Hesse’s “Francis of Assisi and it tells the life of the iconic and influential Saint Francis, played by Academy Award-nominee Mickey Rourke, and the rise of the Franciscan order that he founded. As they mourn his death, “Francis’ devoted followers recall episodes from the saint’s life and charts his transformation from the pampered son of an aristocrat into a selfless man of faith devoted wholly to a life of apostolic poverty”. The film also stars Helena Bonham Carter as Saint Clare, Francis’ spiritual inspiration and disciple. With a Beautiful soundtrack by composer Vangelis (Chariots of Fire), the film is “a deeply human portrait of one of the most beloved and complex figures in the history of religion and civilization”.

Francis is seen as a figure in secular history and a model of secular virtues and the film downplays his uncompromisingly ascetical and authoritarian religious practice and beliefs The film is a fiery and fascinating depiction of the saint that’s surprisingly contemporary. Mickey Rourke is excellent in this movie of a saint wrestling with himself. Cavani’s St. Francis is a young virile man grasped by, and growing into, the awareness of God. It is grace that leads him from curiosity about God and about human suffering to a radical love for simplicity rooted in creation and the Catholicism. That radical love is seen in a desire to alleviate that suffering whenever possible through works of mercy, all depicted movingly in this film. He loved voluntary poverty and detachment from the bondage of the love for material things. Possessing nothing, he would possess all and give all.


Cavani also shows the true willingness of Francesco’s bishop to give him a chance to show that he was not simply another heresy-prone enthusiast, which plagued the Church at the time. This film is far from a subtle polemic with subtexts against the Church. Francis is indeed a reformer but not a bitter revolutionary. Like a true reformer he was always reforming including self-reformation.


The film skips back and forth to Francis’s eulogy where Clare and other key followers grieve and honor his passing and the resonance he brought to their lives. While this facet of the movie is effective at the end and in some other key places, it is a bit jarring and takes away from the absorbing moments shown during his life.

Mickey Rourke’s portrayal of St. Francis is sensitive, controlled, subtle, but also prepared and delivered. The film as a whole was magnificent -a true example of ensemble acting at its finest. We get the feel of life in the 12th century just as Europe was coming out of the Dark Ages and change was happening everywhere.


St. Francis and his followers did not intend to begin a worldwide movement of a monastic order, and his confusion, disappointment, and frustration at the response to his “rule” was palpable and heartbreaking. Each of the young men in the original group was as diverse as could be, yet they were all brought together under the loving care and friendship of Francis. The humor and antics balanced their rather grim existence and made them all the more human. There were moments of intense sadness, but also of joy and we experience these emotions in this film.


The bonus features include excerpts from the Cannes Film Festival press conference, a collector’s booklet with a forward by director Liliana Cavani and an essay by film critic Aaron Hillis.

“CHOCOLATE CITY”— Amateur Night

chocolate city poster

“Chocolate City”

Amateur Night

Amos Lassen

Michael, a struggling college student faces changes when he meets the owner of a male strip club who convinces him to give amateur night a try. “Chocolate City” is an all black take on “Magic Mike”.

Michael realizes that stripping is his natural calling and overnight becomes a big star. He had been working part-time selling hamburgers to help support his mother (Vivica A. Fox) and older brother. What he really wants is a girlfriend and he is enamored of Carmen (Imani Hakim) but because he does not have a car she refuses to go out with him.


Just when his family was about to have their electricity cut off, Michael was approached in the Men’s Room of a club and offered a job dancing at a women’s club but he decides it was not for him. But then his brother who knows how much money he can make urges him to reconsider because of the amount of cash he can make. Michael was soon working really hard and this caused his grades to suffer but he was able to buy a car and have sex.

Of course the stripper/dancers are all wonderfully handsome and built men and their routines are very, very hot. Of course his mother began to worry about where Michael’s sudden wealth was coming from and both and Carmen had no idea that he was making it dancing for screaming women.


The other dancers resent Michael because he got top billing and he was new and he made more money than they did. Unfortunately, “Chocolate City” is filled with clichés, and stereotypes, and the dialogue is just awful. I have no idea what Writer/director Jean-Claude La Marre was thinking when he took on this film. There are some good dancing/stripping routines and Robert Ri’chard as Michael has a great body and can really move. However the film is so obviously a rip off and does not approach the original.

“ROCK IN THE RED ZONE”— Life and Music in Sderot, Israel

rock poster better

“Rock in the Red Zone”

Life and Music in Sderot Israel

Amos Lassen

Sderot, Israel is in the war zone. The town once known for its rock scene that revolutionized Israeli music, has for the thirteen years been the target of ongoing rocket fire from the Gaza strip. Through the personal lives and music of Sderot’s musicians and from the filmmaker’s personal narrative, we see the town’s trauma as well as its enduring spirit.


Israel established the desert city of Sderot in the 1950s as a transit camp for immigrants from Arab countries, followed in the 1980s by Ethiopians. Even thought for many it was Jerusalem that they wanted to see, they ended up here working in factories. When then prime minister Ariel Sharon launched his 2005 initiative to disengage from Gaza. Sderot was in a vulnerable position for frequent close-range Qassam rocket bombings from Gaza. Amidst casualties, maimed neighbors and crumbling buildings, Sderot’s youth found a way to deal with both their anger and their hope in rock music. They wrote lyrics to western style music, first in English and then in Hebrew and this brought Middle-Eastern melodies to new and unique sound. Bomb shelters turned into music clubs. For many of these musicians, Tel Aviv’s opportunity was weighed against Sderot’s authenticity. Filmmaker Laura Bialis arrived in Sderot in 2007 for a three-week stay to document the rock music scene and then two months later, she returned to live there. Bialis found a community, love and a new family. Her film documents Sderot’s efforts to gain attention from Israel’s large cities. Like the best films, Rock in the Red Zone raises and deals with serious questions about roots, a person’s sense of belonging, and other issues. For many of us who have lived in Israel, Sderot is a desolate and forsaken place. This is not true for our filmmaker. She fell in love with Sderot and with a local resident who she married and who later became her child’s father. What many do not know is that Sderot is home to an important part of the Israeli music scene. It’s the place of origin for bands that employ both contemporary Israeli and North African rock influences that we hear in such groups as Teapacks, Knesiyat Hasechel (Church of Reason) and Sfatayim (Lips). Bialis met Avi Vaknin, a musician who would soon become her husband, as well as Hagit Yaso, an Ethiopian immigrant who won Israel’s reality TV show, “A Star is Born,” in 2011, and musician Micha Biton. The movie is about Sderot the place but even more so it is “an investigation of the creation of art under fire.”


Bialis was born in Israel but grew up in Los Angeles. After finishing her film “Refusenik” about the thirty-year movement to free Soviet Jews she returned to Israel. Bialis studied at Stanford and at the University of Southern California film school and thought about going to Sderot after a friend sent her an article about the rockets , Bialis considered traveling to Sderot after an Israeli friend sent her an article about the many rockets that land there.

Many maintain that it is Sderot brought East and West together in a new rock fusion and the culture of Israel today reflects that diversity. Then there is the story of how the people of Sderot have dealt with the years of rocket attacks from Gaza. Bringing these two stories together gives us a fascinating documentary about Israel.


Here is a film that focuses on real people to whom right- or left-wing means little. What the people of Sderot share is being hit by rockets from Gaza and the music that they turn to for comfort. As she narrates the film, Bialis follows the sounds of Sderot while also taking the viewers into the hearts of the people of the city.

The film combines footage of rocket attacks of which some of involve some of the main subjects in the film, cinema verite scenes of debates, breakdowns, Color Red siren chaos and loving moments surrounding music. Surprisingly a film about a music scene becomes a look at “life and resilience, choices, defeats and triumphs”.


We meet principal people in the Sderot music scene and the time we reach the end of the film, we have seen them grow and change and we care about them and their city. The documentary contains humor, drama and a compelling narrative and it affects us. Every time we hear a siren we stop and think about the people we see here. It is so interesting to see of Bialis’ own transformation. It is quite a distance from Los Angeles to Sderot and quite a different culture and way of life.


In the movie we get a snapshot of the “real” Israel with concentration on the effects of politics on the lives of people while at the same time staying away from politics. Sderot seems to sit between Hamas on the one side and an uncaring government and fellow Israelis on the other. Some of the residents can’t stand the onslaught of rockets and leave, others have no other place to go.

rock poster

“Rock in the Red Zone” raises and deals with serious issues and questions about roots, a sense of belonging, a country’s responsibilities are to its citizens, and salvation through music. As we watch, we are forced to think about these issues and a film that does that deserves five stars.

“THE LOST KEY”— Sex Advice? from the Torah and Kabbalah

the lost key poster

“The Lost Key”

Sex Advice from the Torah and the Kabbalah

Amos Lassen

“The Lost Key” a new documentary about sex advice gleaned from the Torah and Kabbalah, is not only anti-gay and anti-women but also contradictory throughout. The focus begins on Venezuelan

Ricardo Adler whose divorce was very difficult for him and he decided to try to discover how to achieve a fulfilling and lasting marriage. His search took him to Rabbi Manis Friedman, who introduced him to Kabbalah’s ancient secrets to attain the highest form of intimacy. The film than concentrates on his transformation in a new marriage and also looks at how other couples have responded to what the rabbi and the film consider to be a revolutionary way to sexual connection. I ask how revolutionary it can be when it comes from texts written hundreds of years ago. The film claims it is about forgotten wisdom and that it can “inspire society to rediscover intimacy, one bedroom at a time”. I say, “Give me a break, sex has not changed since the beginning of time and while methods vary, sex has remained the same”.


“The Lost Key” has absolutely nothing new to say and it is reminiscent of the religion classes of the 1950s. Ricardo Adler gives Rabbi Manis Friedman, credit for saving his love life and course for happiness by teaching him the Kabbalah’s ancient secrets for achieving intimacy and that is what this film is; a tribute to the rabbi and not much more than that. What is said and seen here is completely outdated both in regards to sex, but also regarding gender equality and to the rights of people of diverse sexual orientations. It is ultra-conservative and it seems to me that it attempts to teach that intimacy is the best when it involves giving and receiving (duh!!!) but I do need a rabbi or anyone else to tell me that. But that is not all— Rabbi Friedman maintains and insists that only a man can do the giving and that the woman is the one who gets the receiving. (Does his wife dare to tell him that she is in the mood for receiving or does only he get to say when he feels like giving?). What this means according to the rabbi is that the penis is the only giver and the uterus is the only receiver. Therefore penetration of the vagina is the only acceptable way for couples to achieve intimacy. After all, the rabbi says, “The harmony of giving and receiving is something that exists only between a man and a woman”. Does this mean that there is no intimacy in this world outside of sexual intimacy and that those who practice it differently are therefore, by biblical definition, abominations?

The film has been winning prizes at festivals but that is because of the make up of the audiences where the majority consider themselves to be heteronormative. It will be even more interesting to hear the reactions when it is screened in liberal cities like Boston where there is a huge Jewish population that is made up of all the colors of the rainbow. I do not think that the rabbi’s definition of intimacy will float there.


The film puts women in a passive role by frequently saying that females are categorically incapable of any performing any role in intimate relationships other than being a receptacle. Further, Rabbi Friedman states that the missionary position is the one and only route for achieving intimacy (since the man does what he does while the woman waits to receive him.

There is a sequence in which the Rabbi shares this with a couple being counseled and the wife suggests to the Rabbi that she finds diversity in their sex life a wonderful way for partners to explore and learn about intimacy between them. The Rabbi interrupts her and says that women should not be so active in intimacy. When the husband defends his wife, he tells the rabbi that he is narrow minded in his view on intimacy and the rabbi agrees. The very fact that he does agree tells us where this is all going. I realize that all of this is just foolish out-of-date jabberwocky but I keep watching and hoping that something will change.


The husband then defends his wife and suggests that the Rabbi has a “narrow” view on intimacy to which the Rabbi smiles and agrees. The lessons of The Lost Key are so out of whack with 2014 that it’s hard to appreciate a word of the film. The Lost Key is honestly one of the most inaccessible documentaries I’ve ever seen because it leaves no room for interpretation or conversation. The film probably succeeds in preaching to the converted, but there is little opportunity for anyone else to accept its lesson.

There are other that scenes both support the rabbi’s views so I am not quite sure what kind of audience will watch this dreadful documentary just as I am sure that not many people will go home and practice what the rabbi has to say. Listening to the rabbi here supports the present day state of America in terms of organized religion—why bother? But he is not alone as we see other talking heads/sex experts who look like fools as they speak. Is there no wonder why there is such a small percentage of people who ascribe to organized religion in the LGBT community? What about the straight community? When a religion dictates what intimacy is, we need to ask ourselves several questions and then hit the door. I am an observant ands active Jewish gay male and have always been. I love my religion because it is sane. Yet every group has its kooks and this rabbi undoubtedly was standing next to Moses when he etched the Ten Commandments into stone.


Aside from the film’s content, it is a very amateur attempt at a documentary. The camera even shakes—perhaps the cameraman was trying to be intimate with it. Those who do see this film and pay to do so would be better off spending their money on corned beef on rye or falafel on pita.  Those who do opt to see will not likely be surprised to see a bearded, traditional Orthodox rabbi telling them that missionary-style with a man on top, a woman on the bottom in near total darkness within the confines of marriage is the “right” way to have sex. But then comes the surprise— the same rabbi tells then that it is this position that will lead to a heightened, perhaps even holy, intimacy and that this and other lessons from the Torah can “usher in a new era of sexual relations,” and I quote from the film’s press release.

The documentary is headed to American US theaters on August 12. We are told that it promises to reveal to audiences “how a sexual relationship can go beyond mere physical pleasure and become a spiritual experience where two become One.”

It sets out to prove that the lessons of traditional, Orthodox Judaism can lead to better sex by showing couples how to create a heightened sense of intimacy. Director Ricardo Adler says that the oneness with God is the singular and “highest form of physical intimacy.” Now I have to wonder how many people stop to think of God while having sex?


I should have suspected something the moment I saw Rabbi Friedman in his black suit and long grey beard—I know these kinds of rabbis. We now see that it is not beyond them to take the life of a teenage girl at a gay pride parade. (I know, that is not a fair statement but then neither is murder a fair way to deal with that you do not like).

The rabbi is flanked by a press representative wearing in a yarmulke and a larger man who is also dressed in traditional clothing. Was he afraid to address us alone? I wonder if he has read either “Kosher Sex” or “The Kosher Sutra” by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach or if he knows that there is a kosher sex toy industry. I do not see how this film can possibly offer a “revolutionary way” for couples to improve their sense of connection without knowing this. We have already heard about intercourse with the lights off and the man on top of the woman and that this is considered the best ways to achieve the highest level of intimacy. But guess what—there is more. There are other limits for intimacy that restrict other sexual activities in order to allows this intimacy to be exclusive to heterosexual, married couples. Does the rabbi not think that unmarried people do not have sex or is that the sex they have is not intimate? Now Friedman says that this kind of sex has to be fine because it has been going on for 5000 years. Does that mean that oral sex is too new to be considered intimate because people have only been having it for say 4000 years? I would like to see where it is written down that these people who have been intimate share that with us.

Why Friedman doesn’t think about those 5,000 years that have been also filled with “not only unhappy marriages, but physical and sexually abused women, a subjugated LGBT population, and a sexual culture of restriction and shame”. I am stunned that this film ever got made and I am even more stunned that people will pay to see it. Which is the bigger shonda? I have no idea but I do know crap when I see and hear it.


Not only is this film factually not true, it implies homosexual couples cannot achieve this highest intimacy. I understand that Adler reacted to that statement with “You’re talking to a guy who has been heterosexual since day one, whose family is heterosexual”. Is that a valid excuse for leaving something out of the film? It would like making a movie about vegetables and because I do not like green peas, I ignore the fact that they exist. I also do not like people who think that are making the definitive version of something when they have no idea of what they are talking about. Is it no wonder that Adler’s marriage fell apart? He probably sexually bored the hell out of his wife.

“CUB”— Only a Weekend Camping Trip

cub poster


Only a Weekend Camping Trip

Amos Lassen

What could possibly go wrong on a weekend camping for a troop of innocent cub scouts and their teen chaperones? First we have an evil psychopathic killer, then his wild young protégé who place some ingenious traps in the woods that bring bloody and violent results. This is “dark, bloody, imaginative fairy tale” about a camping trip that turns deadly. We meet 12-year-old outcast Sam who, along with his fellow cub scouts, are forced to confront and deal with unspeakable evil. At the camp in woods there are rumors of a mysterious and deadly werewolf. Sam is certain that the woods are inhabited by something evil and he comes upon a feral young boy and then later upon his evil psychopathic mentor. He tires to convince the others of what he has found but they do not listen until traps begin to take their violent toll on the group.


Belgian director Jonas Govaerts brings us a film that is fast paced and entertaining but also very scary. The werewolf is merely a ruse perpetuated by the older scoutmasters to scare the boys before their trip begins. Sam (Maurice Luijten), never buys the story; he knows the truth behind the myth is really the masked wild child called “Kai” living in the forest (as introduced in the prologue). Because he does not have parents, Sam is the outcast of the bunch and his obsession with Kai makes him an easy target to be bullied and teased by the other scouts. Sam a voyeur and an explorer who is confused and conflicted over his place in the world. He sees this camping trip as both excursion as a way to escape. (and find Kai).

Kai is the true mystery of the movie. He lives in a giant tree nest and he is more of a thief than a beast yet there is something menacing about him. Kai is only the signpost to the evils lurking within the woods. The forest is covered with elaborate and deadly traps and we have no idea who is minding and setting them. It does not take long before the killing begins.


We can say that this film is a summer camp slasher. It borrows and repurposes several horror tropes when the bodies start piling up including picking up a token female character in an otherwise all male cast. What makes the movie unique though is what it does with the bodies of the dead.

It all starts deliberately slow through the first half hour and only giving an occasional hint of what’s to come. It’s when Sam and Kai finally meet that movie really turns up the intensity and the blood starts. And when that starts the film becomes kinetic and brutal, gory and graphic with a bit of comedy as well.


Actually there is a prologue that is quite creepy and misleading. Then we meet Sam and the scouts and leaders. Something happens with two bullies that causes a change in direction and the group goes further into the woods than originally planned and a story around the campfire about Kai scares the scouts. In the story, Kai, a werewolf is rumored to be stalking its prey in those very woods.

Sam runs into a savage young boy wearing a mask and he is convinced he has found the real Kai and is laughed at. Although Kai is not a mythical beast, there remains the threat of something sinister brewing in the air. The group is actually being stalked by a flesh and blood skilled and patient killer, and Sam quickly realizes that the legend of Kai is not so important.


This is the first feature film directed by Belgian Jonas Govaerts and it brings weaves together a campfire yarn and 80’s slasher. “Cub” doesn’t break new ground, but it does deliver a perfectly solid gut punch from a new director.

On the way to their campsite the counselors start telling tales of a werewolf in the woods in the hopes that it will keep the kids in their tents. Sam becomes fascinated with the idea and starts searching for the woodland monster. When Sam comes upon Kai wearing a wooden mask, he learns that he lives in a tree house.


Instead, he stumbles upon a feral child, wearing a disturbing wooden mask, who lives in an elaborate tree house. Sam and Kai become reluctant friends but unfortunately Kai has a father who is a more traditional slasher type. In fact, Kai and his father have a knack for setting up elaborate booby traps in the very woods where this peaceful camping trip is taking place.

This is a horror film that is built with stock elements but the way it is presented makes it unique. Govaerts knows exactly how to shoot an effective scare sequence and the music score by Steve Moore is perfect.

The shock and suspense sequences have just enough gore to keep bloodthirsty viewers happy. The movie establishes enough danger early on to make it clear that anyone or anything could die at any moment, and Govaerts is happy to provide the killings.


Kai as a snarling, drooling, and feral child is really creepy. His father, the slasher is a bit more conventional, but both are plenty ominous thanks to how little back-story we get. There’s just enough to understand what we’re dealing with, but never enough to understand why. Towards the end, the film begins to fade and becomes a generic slasher film and that is too bad because up until then it had been quite an experience. Nevertheless it is a solid look at horror and unexpected journey into the woods.

Bonus features include Deleted scenes, SFX reel, Short film (Blu-only), Music video (Blu-only), Trailers.

“MANNEQUIN”— Falling… in Love



Falling… In Love

Amos Lassen

Jonathan Switcher (Andrew McCarthy) is a young artist. He just doesn’t have any lucky keeping a job. Having nothing better to do, he builds a mannequin that is so perfect that he falls in love with it. The mannequin ends up in the window of a big department store. When he saves the life of an old lady who happens to be the owner of that store, he is rewarded by getting a job at the store as stock boy. Later the mannequin comes to life as Emmy, who was an ancient Egyptian living in the year 2514BC. The two redesign the window display to make it most eye-catching in town enraging the store’s competitors who will do anything to stop them!


Here is yet another version of “Pygmalion” but it is a pretty poor one at that. When the mannequin (Kim Cattrall), she explains that she is the latest incarnation of an Egyptian princess who has enjoyed a series of lives through the centuries. We learn that she can only come alive when she is alone in the presence of Jonathan. She gives no explanation why this is how it goes.


Michael Gottlieb directed this without a sense of style making the movie come across as very clumsy. When the mannequin comes to life, she gives him the inspiration to decorate great windows and that is basically the film in its entirety.

Looking at he supporting characters we see Felix, the dim-witted night watchman who spends most of his time talking to his dog, Hollywood, the flamboyantly gay black window dresser who becomes the hero’s only friend. Mrs. Timkin (Estelle Getty), the good-hearted owner of the department store and Roxie, the hero’s bitchy former girlfriend, who is jealous of the dummy and there are more. All of these people do exactly what we expect them to do, exactly when we expect them to do it. I have already mentioned the gimmick of the film—that the mannequin can only come to life when alone with Jonathan but the film seems to forget this at times.


We also do not learn how the mannequin was able to leave ancient Egypt and land in 1987, understanding the language and everything else about modern-day Philadelphia.


The opening scene perfectly sets the tone of the film— it take place in a mystical mummy’s tomb in Edfu, Egypt “a really long time ago, right before lunch”. Ema ‘Emmy’ Hesire (Cattrall), is a young ambitious woman who avoids being betrothed to a long list of ineligible men at any cost, and has her sights set on inventing things and above all else wanting to fly. We then flash-forward to 1987 where Jonathan is seen creating his muse Emmy the mannequin. Jonathan strives for perfection makes his way through a collection of short-lived jobs with horrible bosses. He has been a party balloon blower, garden hedge sculptor, and pizza-topping maker. Finding his way in the world as a department store window dresser and meeting the doll of his dreams sets a domino effect of success and antics in motion for Jonathan.


The overly flamboyant Hollywood Montrose (Meshach Taylor) offers much comic relief to the chaos that prevails while Jonathan’s secret is trying to be exposed. He finds comfort in working with someone stranger than him. “Mannequin” has its laughs but unfortunately they are not new.

“THE WOODS”— Private School, Lessons in Death

the woods

“The Woods”

Private School, Lessons in Death

Amos Lassen

Alice (Emma Campbell), Heather’s mother has had it with Heather’s out of control behavior. The last straw was when after the two had an argument and Heather set fire to a tree and nearly burnt their house down. Heather’s father, Joe (Bruce Campbell) isn’t really in agreement with the whole shipping Heather off to boarding school thing but Alice wears the pants in this family and so she goes.. Arriving at Falburn, Heather meets the head mistress, Ms. Traverse (Patricia Clarkson).

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We immediately sense Heather’s anger. Not only is she very upset by being sent away but she has no interpersonal skills and she really does not fit in at the school. She does, however, become friendly with Marcy (Lauren Birkell) who she sits next to one day at lunch and who has the bed beside her in the dormitory. Their friendship is sealed one night after lights out when they bond while listening to

Marcy’s prized transistor radio. It is important to note that even though she now has a friend, it does not mean that she is happy at Falburn Academy. The teachers are all strange and everyone seems to operate according to an unspoken set of rules. There is also something about drinking milk in the dining hall. Then there is the fact that because her mother had requested financial aid, Heather has to take a special class—a one on one with Ms. Traverse and who asks some really personal questions.

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After a really rough day, Heather phones her mother and begs to be allowed to return home. When her mother won’t hear of it, Heather decides to run away and sets off into the woods. However, in the dark forest Heather finds she may be worse off than ever. She becomes disoriented and begins to panic when she hears strange sounds and sees what appears to be something or someone moving among the trees. When she runs, she soon finds herself back at Falburn – and everyone is outside, having found Heather was missing. No one on the staff is particularly happy to see her and Ms. Traverse gives her a very unsympathetic glare.

The following night in the dormitory a few of the girls tease Heather about her runaway attempt and they soon start talking about the woods. It seems that there is a story about the woods that everyone has heard but Heather. One day, a long time ago, three young girls came out of the woods and were taken in by the school. Sometime later a few of the students found the three in an empty classroom – doing some sort of spell or ritual. The three was considered to be witches and the students tormented them and they were chased back into the woods and it was then that the three were determined to get revenge for the way that they were treated. They supposedly offered the souls of the student body to the woods and soon the spirits in the woods indeed took possession of the students. Then Clara, the leader of the three decided that they had to kill the headmistress with an ax.

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Heather does not react to the story in any way other than not believing it but she is having nightmares – about the one empty bed in the dorm and about something that comes in through the windows as the girls sleep. Heather asks about the vacant bed and is told that the girl who it belongs to is in the hospital after having had an accident. Then girls begin disappearing and their beds found to be covered with leaves. Heather becomes suspicious about the school and what is really going on.

At first, “The Woods” seems to be just another girls’ school indie horror flick. However with the presence of Patricia Clarkson and Bruce Campbell we might think a bit differently. Heather needs to get to the bottom of the mystery but the woods will not let her escape. The film seems to be totally predictable and by the end of the fist fifteen minutes, I had it all figured out. The real shock is that the film works even with its many weaknesses. The shocking thing is how well the film works despite these weaknesses. Director Lucky McKee doesn’t simply rip off horror conventions because he clearly understands how they work.

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The performances by and large are quite good. While Bruce Campbell doesn’t put much enthusiasm into his limited screen time, he also doesn’t upstage the main players. Patricia Clarkson wonderfully underplays her role, realizing that often the creepiest thing to do is just sit there. Agnes Bruckner gives a fantastic performance here, one that carries the film and lowers the impact of some of the plot holes. We care about Heather enough that it doesn’t matter why she’s in danger and how it came about, we just want to see her make it through. That is due to Bruckner’s performance. The special effects come together with very skillful editing, and director McKee understands that what we don’t see has sometimes has more impact.

“BLIND”— Eskil Vogt’s Award Winning Debut Feature



Eskil Vogt’s Award Winning Debut Feature

Amos Lassen

“Blind” was the winner of the Screenwriting Award for World Cinema at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. It is the story of Ingrid (Ellen Dorrit Pettersen), a woman contending with the loss of vision. As she tries to navigate a world without sight, she spends her days attempting to remember the visual world as she once knew it. In an effort to maintain a connection to reality, she begins to write a sexually charged story, and speak through the characters. She says that what’s real is not important as long as she can visualize what it looks like. She also realizes that her loss of sight heightens her creative ability and imagination. While the main topic is blindness, the film is also about loneliness and writing.


When we meet Ingrid, she has already been gone blind and we see that the movie is about what is inside her head. Her loss of sight was due to a genetic condition. She had been a teacher but now she spends her time at home. She rarely goes out even with her husband Morten (Henrik Rafaelsen), an architect who, she believes, sometimes sneaks back in when he’s supposed to be at work and voyeuristically spies on her. Perhaps he does as we see that the line between objective and subjective is very thin and we never really know if whether what we see on screen ever really happened.


In the beginning of the film, it plays as a kind of sensory procedural, showing us the world as “seen” through sightless eyes. Ingrid is disoriented and even making a cup of tea is difficult and filled with suspense. This is director Vogt’s first feature film and it has a wry sense of humor especially in the depiction of Ingrid’s interactions with her voice-assisted microwave oven, cell phone, and a wand that announces the color of any object against which it is pressed. For me this really hit close to home since I have a good friend who is blind and became so after having been a person with sight.


The film brings us the idea that Ingrid spends much of her time writing, creating a fictional narrative that allows her to see in her mind what she can no longer see with her eyes. We meet Elin (Vera Vitali), a single mother newly relocated to Oslo from Sweden and who Einar (Marius Kolbenstvedt), a shy shut-in whose appetite for Internet porn rivals seems to know no boundaries is an object of infatuation. He spies on Elin from his apartment across the street. Ingrid writes her real-life husband, Morten, into her fiction as a rival for Elin’s hand, and it is then that Vogt’s film becomes quite playful.


Vogt shows us a writer’s “fickle temperament” and this includes the sets and locations and even the gender of one character. As they evolve in Ingrid’s mind, they change onscreen. There is a bending and splintering of the surface reality of the film, all his formal strategies issue directly from Ingrid and her fragile, profoundly human psyche. Ingrid’s blindness affects every thing she does or thinks as well as how she moves, writes, dreams, and how she feels about herself as a woman.


The film opens with Ingrid’s voice-over as she talks about her blindness. Ingrid, when home alone, has taken to writing stories and that not everything we see is necessarily real. We see the connectivity of everything that happens everything is connected and realize that we are all dependent on something or someone.


We finally get to see Ingrid’s complex and flawed psyche. The movie begins as visual poetry and we immediately empathize with her. As she deals with her lack of sight, she begins to narrate the lives of a few people. Writer/director  Vogt turns us around before allowing us to go forward and herein lies a sense of mystery. We are taken into the mind of a blind person and it is quite a fascinating experience.

“BLUMENTHAL”— Died Laughing at His Own Joke



Died Laughing at His Own Joke

Amos Lassen

Harold Blumenthal (Brian Cox) was a celebrated playwright who died after cardiac arrest while laughing at his own joke. Harold was both unmarried and childless and was survived by his brother Saul (Mark Blum), Saul’s son Ethan (Seth Fisher who also wrote and directed the film), and Saul’s wife Cheryl (Laila Robins). Even though he was estranged from his brother, Saul finds himself feeling somewhat numb about Harold’s death and this included a serious case of constipation. Saul also resented that so many of his brother’s plays were based on their family life and felt that his life was plagiarized for Harold’s work.  Cheryl, an actress who hadn’t worked in a few years and worried that her age is preventing her from landing roles.  Ethan, is a smug complainer who thinks he can do better than his current girlfriend Christina (Mei Melançon), but was himself unable to move on after dumping her.


At the core of the film are the unresolved issues between Saul and his deceased brother yet we see Ethan on the screen more than anyone else. He is a pharmaceutical sales rep who thinks far more highly about himself than he ought to, is a terribly abrasive person, the type who tells everyone around him that they’re doing everything wrong with zero tact. 


As for Harold Blumenthal, we only see him in clips from an interview show where he talks about his life and his career yet his his presence all through the film. Since the film revolves around him this should be no surprise. — not surprising, considering Cox’s estimable screen charisma — the story revolves around the personal turmoil of Blumenthal’s remaining family members.

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Saul suffers from severe constipation which seems to be the result of his jealousy of Harold. Cheryl, Saul’s second wife is an actress who once starred in Harold’s plays who wants to get back into show business but is very worried about her appearance.

Ethan sells birth control pills and hormone replacements but seems to have no understanding of the women in his life. By and large, the film is a quirky study of mostly unappealing characters whose problems are filled with clichés. Ultimately each finds peace. Cheryl regains her self-confidence through making-out with her gay dog walker (Kevin Isola); Saul overcomes both his emotional and physical blockages after meeting Harold’s mysterious lover (Nicole Ansari), who shares a secret about his bother’s writing; and Ethan, with the helpful advice of his best friend (Alexander Cendese), manages to overcome his relationship issues.


There are some funny one-liners but the film never manages to sustain comedy and falls again into the use of clichés. We wait fore appearances by Cox and Blumenthal since he is the best thing in the film.

“MARAT/SADE”— A Total Experience

marat:sade poster better

“The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade.” (“Marat / Sade”)

A Total Experience

Amos Lassen

It is July 13, 1808 at the Charenton Insane Asylum just outside Paris. The inmates of the asylum are mounting their latest theatrical production, written and produced by who is probably the most famous inmate of the facility, the Marquis de Sade. The asylum’s director, M. Coulmier, is a supporter of the current French regime led by Napoleon, encourages this artistic expression as therapy for the inmates, while providing the audience – the aristocracy – a sense that they are being progressive in inmate treatments. Coulmier as the master of ceremonies, his wife and daughter in special places of honor, and the cast, all of whom are performing the play in the asylum’s bathhouse, are separated from the audience by prison bars. The play within a play is a retelling of a period in the French Revolution culminating with the assassination exactly fifteen years earlier of revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat by peasant girl, Charlotte Corday. The play is to answer whether Marat was a friend or foe to the people of France.


“Marat/Sade” is the film version of Peter Weiss’s play-within-a-play about some drama therapy at the insane asylum of Charenton under the direction of the Marquis de Sade. Since this is about the French Revolution, there are guillotines and long twisted monologues about walking through the bloody streets of Paris, rolling like a river of severed heads and blood, and bath steam, and the special way syphilis makes you insane. Hydrotherapy might help briefly but there’s no cure for the madness of trying to create a government for the people when the people are all corrupt, murderous, uneducated, unwashed denizens— is that what this is about? You will have to make that call yourself.

There are always problems with bringing a play to the screen but director Peter Brook’s does so flawlessly with “Marat/ Sade”. The play on Broadway was difficult to stage— it does not have a conventional plot and the way it is constructed is peculiar. We immediately become aware of the differences between the stage and reality.


Here was a vexing and difficult play, lacking entirely in the conventional kind of plot and suspense. Because of its peculiar structure, it made us aware at all times of the gap between the stage and reality. On one level, the inmates of the asylum at Charenton performed a play about the assassination of the French revolutionary figure, Marat. On another level we are aware that this play was directed by the Marquis de Sade who was an inmate at the asylum. The audience was a collection of members of Napoleon’s court and followers. There is a third and fourth level. The third level is the tension during the presentation— would the inmates who are at different kinds of insanity and distracted by the play actually be able to finish the production? They could possibly riot. The fourth level, of course, is the dramatic situation itself. This was a play being performed in 1808 by madmen, before an audience of reactionaries, 15 years after the revolution.


We ask ourselves if this is relevant to the way we live today. In the theater everything was quite clear by thee fact that the audience went to a play to see another play within it. Brook made a motion picture about a production of the play. He retained the original script, unaltered so far as I could tell and he used most of the members of the Royal Shakespeare Company in their original roles. He reproduced the large communal cell of the stage production and sitting behind the bars is the audience and we only see them in silhouette. He then added the techniques of cinema. A film director has, the ability and the power to make us see what he wants us to see. A stage director cannot do this because we can look anywhere we want when something is going on.


Brook uses two cameras here—one under the ceiling and looking down dispassionately on the cell and the audience alike, the other is in the cage with the madmen following them around. The entire cast is wonderful. Patrick Magee is de Sade and we see him first, he looks into the camera and we sense the terror of his perversion. As Charlotte Corday, Glenda Jackson moves back and forth between her mental illness, narcolepsy and the fire and demands of her role as murderess. Ian Richardson as Marat continues to advocate violence and revolution even though thousands of people have died and nothing has changed.


In 1964, German playwright Peter Weiss wowed the international theater scene with his Berlin production of “Marat/Sade” and it was an instant sensation. Peter Brook’s staged productions in both London and New York totally captivated the theater-going public. He began his film of the project in 1966 and it has remained as one of the best-loved screen adaptations of a play by both critics and theater fans alike. The action focuses on the Marquis de Sade, who, while imprisoned at Charenton Asylum, writes and directs a play starring his fellow inmates and he presents it as an entertaining whim for the tiny audience of asylum director Coulmier (Clifford Rose) and his family. Brook’s presentation faces us with “jagged language, sounds and visuals, in an attempt to shock the movie audience into dissatisfaction and action against the status quo, mirroring the way de Sade’s play within the film stirs the asylum inmates to high dudgeon and revolution”.



Brook took an important play, made it more immediate and powerful than it was on the stage, and at the same time created a distinguished and brilliant film. The “play” within the movie follows events from the French Revolution pertaining to Marat, and is put on for the asylum’s leader and the local gentry. The local gentry are shocked at times, and the asylum leader interrupts the play several times with interjections concerning the play’s radical ideas and how the gentry are depicted. As the play reaches its culmination, the inmates inevitably begin to stage their own revolution. The action is often confusing, but the emotions conveyed are so intense, that the film can be enjoyed on a visceral level.


The direction of this film is quite brilliant, and it must have been pretty shocking when it was released in 1967. It deserves the praise it has received especially in regard to the intellectual pyrotechnics in the debates between Marat and de Sade, and the Marat’s monologues are filled with fine revolutionary polemics. This is a musical but probably like no other musical you have ever seen. The songs are incredibly well integrated into the play and are quite witty and enjoyable. As the play about a revolution ends, a real revolution begins behind the bars and the film ends in chaos. It is all so beautiful and disturbing that it is no wonder it has achieved the place that it has.