Category Archives: GLBT Film

“UNSENT LETTER”— A Veteran and his Lover

“Unsent Letter”

A Veteran and His Lover

Amos Lassen

A new short film by Christian Gordine has been stealing hearts. In 1961 the pro.gay magazine ONE received a letter with no explanation. All that was sure was that it had been written by ex-World War II serviceman, Brian Keith to his wartime lover, Dave, and that it had never been sent.  When filmmaker Gordine  caught sight of the letter he felt compelled to make a short film story of the real-life relationship between a WW2 veteran and his lover whom he met whilst stationed in Algeria. Here is love like we rarely see it.

Gordine explained that he came across the original letter a few years ago and was greatly moved by it’s rawness seeing it fifty years later. Reading something like this can be painful especially knowing that it had never been sent and contained so much emotion that the person who was to get it never had a chance to experience. The letter also  reveals the sheer difficulty for LGBTQI+ people to simply love one another.

The film brings a beautiful story to us and to life and it is told  from the perspective of an older gay man. Being an older gay man myself, I can tell you that we often do not think about bit we should since we all get there.  The short film and the original letter remind us of where we have come from and shows the progress we have made as a community and there is still a lot left to do.  Gordine says that, “I want this film to be viewed as a homage to the people from our community whose lives weren’t as easy as ours are today, but to also remind people of those love letters that they never sent.” Have a hanky near by when you watch this.

“NOW APOCALYPSE”— “Shedding Light Onto the World of Sexuality”

“Now Apocalypse”

Shedding Light Onto the World of Sexuality”

Amos Lassen

While on a journey to find love, sex and fame, Ulysses (Avan Jogia) dreams cause him to wonder about the possibility of a dark conspiracy. Gregg Araki directs the series airing on March 10.

Araki is the cult director of films like “The Doom Generation”, “Nowhere”, “Kaboom” and “Mysterious Skin”. Set in Los Angeles, the show follows a group of sexually active 20 and 30-somethings as they face the peril and promise of urban life. A crisis begins when Ulysses begins having frightening visions of alien rape and impending doom.

With the Millennial generation coming of age, sociologists want to defy labels. They don’t want to be gay, they don’t want to be bisexual, they just want to be

 Sexual fluidity seems to be a  requirement for a millennial. Ulysses sleeps mostly with men, but he sometimes in his life does sleep with women yet he is really not bisexual. He refers to himself as an “ever-oscillating Kinsey 4.”

He does not feel a need to be in a specific box, and that the label of his sexuality is not at the forefront of his identity. There are some very frank moments of sexuality in the show with graphic nudity and sexual activity. The sex scenes are not porn. Now we have to wait to see the finished product and I have the feeling that it is going to be major.

“WOKE: Season One”— A Muslim in France

“Woke: Season One”

A Muslim in France

Amos Lassen

In Season One of “Woke” we meet Hicham (Mehdi Meskar)  who has run away from home to look for Thibaut (Eric Pucheu), a young guy who tried to kiss him years earlier. Thibaut is one of the activists who work at the ‘Point G’ LGBT Center in Lyon. Even though he is apprehensive at first, Hicham is soon drawn into a new world. As he begins a journey toward discovering his own identity, he starts to learn that Thibaut isn’t exactly who he appears to be. “Woke” is a story about the struggles of a Muslim young man in France as he searches for sexual awareness and his self-chosen subjectivity beyond gender, religious, political labels.

Hicham Alaoui, 22, suddenly decides to run away to from home and go to Lyon, France and leave behind his family who has no idea about his sexuality. In fact the only gay person he knows is Thibaut Giaccherini, a 28 years old  activist for LGBT rights.  As Hicham searches for intimate, political and sexual identity, he finds a reference in Thibaut. Hicham admires his fights and is fascinated by his commitment. He wants the strength and self-assertion that Thibaut has but as he gets to know him better, Hicham more and more sees his flaws and contradictions. For Hicham to  find who he is, he will have to find his own path .

Thibaut is in full battle with a local politician and this fascinates Hicham. Thibaut can lift his head against the injustices of the world, and Hicham is so impressed that he joins the G-spot, the militant gay association of which Thibaut is a part. Then opens a new world for Hachim and it is a world filled with contradictions, inspirations and more or less fragile people who try their best to face life.

Cut in ten-minute episodes, the series follows Hicham who will have to learn, little by little, to detach himself from Thibaut and take the reins of his own life. Hicham is vulnerable and soft and he and Thibaut carry the series and one can only attach themselves to their characters without too much bruises to the soul and the body.

The episodes are about homophobic attacks, inappropriate comments and loneliness, the malaise of youth, the problem of being part of a political ideology of which we do not necessarily share. There are 10parts to the web series consisting of 10-minutes episodes. Despite the light-hearted approach, contradictions and power struggles along the episodes, the dialogues are salty and filled with great one-liners and reflections, “Activism is like trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon (but even so…)”. The whole 10-part story is less. Than  100 minutes long and as a serial it can be more focused on Hachim’s self-awakening journey, which is reflected in the titles of the episodes like “Running Away” / “Gathering Together” /  “Kissing Each Other” / “Emancipating”, etc.

“Woke” looks at LGBT activism, self-discovery, freedom and much more. Mehdi Meskar gives a very subtle and touching performance as Hicham Alaoui and we can’t help but  fall in love with the city of Lyon.

“WHERE’S MY ROY COHN?”— An Angry and Impressive Look at an Angry and Unimpressive Man

 

“WHERE’S MY ROY COHN?”

An Angry and Impressive Look at an Angry and Unimpressive Man

Amos Lassen

“Where’s My Roy Cohn?” takes its title from a question that Donald Trump asked those around him when they failed to stop attorney general Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from the Russia investigation. Then we take a trip back in time to Trump’s formative years followed by interviews and archival footage and we are off on a chronological tour of the critical events that followed. Director Matt Tyrnauer has a knack for pacing and gives us a documentary that gets more engrossing as it goes along; the most vital bits are reserved for the bitter end, when, even in death, Roy Cohn still refuses to admit defeat.

Roy Cohn was a corrupt lawyer, political dirty trickster, mafia associate and all around scumbag. He was a self-hating Jew who powered the engine of one of the worst anti-Semitic moments in American history, the demonization and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. He was a closeted man who refused to publicly identify as gay even as he was dying of AIDS. He was famous for being a mean bastard.

Cohn was born in New York in 1927 was heir to a number of fortunes on his mother’s side. She was said to be so ugly that she had trouble finding a husband. Cohn’s father agreed to an arranged marriage so long as her powerful family made him a judge. This blatant, unfeeling corruption came to be a hallmark of Cohn’s life. He graduated from Columbia Law School at the age of 20 and quickly found himself as one of the leading “red-baiters”, rooting out communists in government positions and the U.S. Army for the good of democracy. He worked with Senator Joseph McCarthy whose last name is a now a synonym for political witch-hunting.

McCarthy and Cohn’s harassment of presumed communists and sympathizers has overshadowed a subsequent “lavender scare” in which the pair harassed and exposed homosexuals. (It is rumored that McCarthy, like Cohn, was also secretly gay as was FBI head J. Edgar Hoover, who encouraged these witch hunts.) A series of hearings in 1954 suggested that much of McCarthy’s pressure on the US army was led by Cohn’s desire to secure a better position for a man named G. David Schine, who was either Cohn’s boyfriend or someone he was infatuated with.

Cohn fueled himself off accusations and fighting. His strategy was always to deny then lie even louder. As a personal attorney he would win high-profile cases through the use of “deflection, misdirection and fear-mongering.” He had powerful friends and attracted wealthy clients in New York, most notably the heads of organized crime families and the young real estate mogul Donald J. Trump.

Tyrnauer’s film is a collection of talking heads (including and news clips. We see that despite a twenty year age difference between Trump and Cohn, Trump seems to have been nurtured by Cohn’s disgusting work, the two were close for many years. They first bonded over a shared love of denying African-Americans  their civil rights. This led to corruption and kickbacks during the erection of Trump Tower. Cohn loved to see his picture in the paper, and was known for his must-attend parties, so there are ample images in this documentary to make you sick.

This film is part of a forthcoming wave from film-makers who are trying to grapple with just how in the hell we got to where we are making this an important film. For many years, Donald Trump was a joke (and never a harmless one). The damage he’s currently doing makes us ashamed that we laughed at him especially as he strives to get the last laugh. “This film connects a direct line between Roy Cohn’s belligerent, boorish and obstructionist ways and our current, less eloquent nightmare.”  We now know “where’s my Roy Cohn?”— he is in the White House.

Tyrnauer exposes Cohn as a modern Machiavelli who influences our country today at the highest level. Cohn first came into the public eye as an assistant to J. Edgar Hoover and handled the prosecution of Julius and Ethyl Rosenberg, a Jewish couple  who were arrested, tried, convicted and executed for spying for Russia and securing Manhattan Project documents for the Russian government. Cohn was then a twenty-three-year-old fast-rising attorney and he claimed to have not only persuaded the presiding judge, Irving Kaufman, to impose the death penalty but also to have had said Judge Irving assigned the case. Cohn’s reward for the Rosenberg execution was an appointment as special counsel to Joseph McCarthy.

Tyrnauer provides compelling evidence that Cohn was responsible for much of McCarthy’s demagoguery and rise to power. Soon, however, Cohn would cause his own and McCarthy’s fall from grace. During the Army-McCarthy hearings, direct questioning it was revealed that Cohn had a “special relationship” with G. David Schine and pressured the U.S. Army to give Schine preferential treatment. Cohn would resign after he was humiliated and pummeled with homophobic comments during the televised hearings. He, then, claimed that everybody wanted him to stay on. According to those who worked with Cohn, this was not the case.

Cohn came to be the personification of the dark arts of 20th-century American politics. Cohn became a mover and shaker of dubious and odious means. He fluffed his persona despite inflicting financial losses on his clients and family. Trynauer reveals how Cohn, a deeply troubled master manipulator, has shaped our current political world. He continually and persistently defended himself by attacking his adversaries and using the press to generate sensational public sympathy for his plight.

It appears that his political clout came from his wide social circle of wealthy, influential friends. Cohn was known for throwing lavish parties and hobnobbed with almost every imaginable socialite of the day including then artist, Andy Warhol. Cohn became a New York power broker, mafia consigliere, white-collar criminal, and he mentor of Donald J. Trump who began his flamboyant rise first on Cohn’s shoulders and then his back. Eventually, Trump became the master of personal attacks, hyperbole, sensationalism, and using the press to get out in front of the story.

As a closeted homosexual, Cohn was at the forefront of “The Lavender Scare,” and convinced Dwight D. Eisenhower to ban all gay men from working in the federal government; when dying from AIDS-related complications several decades later, he insisted that he was suffering from liver cancer, and used his celebrity to provoke contempt for other victims of the growing plague.

Cohn had an unparalleled talent for making the worst of every bad situation. He always attacked and he never surrendered. Cohn was a byproduct of trying to outwrestle his own insecurities and lack of self-worth.

Cohn might have been a footnote in American history until the 2016 election. It was then that he became seen as a modern Machiavelli. That this delayed emergence of him as a figure of immortal, worldwide political importance is fascinating and sickening at the same time.

The film is a Must-See, given the times we’re living in. It’s no exaggeration to say that Trump learned everything he knows from Cohn. Every time we see him lie outrageously, every time you see him respond to an attack by attacking back with twice the force, we see    Roy Cohn’s legacy at work. And when Trump finally finds himself in court, as he inevitably will, they will never get him on anything. He’ll just use Cohn’s tactics to bury everyone involved in counter-lawsuits.

“THIS IS NOT BERLIN”—Mexican Society from an Adolescent Point of View

“This Is Not Berlin”

Mexican Society from an Adolescent Point of View

Amos Lassen

Hari Sama’s “This Is Not Berlin” is a politically fearless, individual, and subversive film that showcases a period of Mexico’s society from an adolescent perspective. The film pulls pansexuality and identity into the anger of those dissatisfied with the way things are. The director is hungry, pointed, and gives us an avant-garde portrait of youth finding their people. It’s a coming-of-age for those who are marginalized, underrepresented, “weird,” and outliers. 

We meet Carlos (Xabiani Ponce de León) when he’s standing aimlessly amid a horde of classmates clashing and having a brawl with rival school boys as they mean to prove some sort of machismo upper hand. It’s 1986, the World Cup tournament is taking place and for Carlos this marks the time in which the world will suddenly shake to evolve him. He enjoys simmering in boredom with his best friend Gera (José Antonio Toledano), staring at his friend’s older, much cooler, sister Rita (Ximena Romo). His mother (Marina de Tevira) medicates herself daily and is the background although she walks away with every scene she’s in. When Carlos uses his homegrown engineering abilities to fix a synthesizer for Rita’s punk band, the two friends are suddenly allowed to enter i the underground venue Azteca, a smoky, gender-liberated dive where drugs, sex, and alcohol are alive and well. Soon Carlos and Gera are tantalized by the underbelly culture scene that will define who they are.

The striking performance art sequences. and the electrifying, energetic music, the film looks at forms of repression, that of the weak, the forgotten, and the tired. When this comes together with Carlos and Gera’s sexual awakenings, we see what happens. The new social scene leaves Gera and Carlos a on opposite sides of the orbit as one struggles with his identity while the other may just be looking to fit in.  When Rita recites the poetry of Patti Smith in class, there’s a demonstration forming in the narrative that’s radical. She calls her own shots, her own battles, and her own devilishly cool lyrical outcries as a form of protest against the status quo. They’re the pioneers of their own liberties in a time that so scornfully rejects them.

As Carlos to use his body and mind in the performance arts, he strips naked on the streets covered in red paint that reads “Gay!,” it liberates him in ways that only this closely knit group of friends would understand, which in turn causes tension with Gera, who really wants to belong. For Carlos, it was his uncle (Hari Sama) who entertained his creativity while his dad wasn’t around. He’s a motorcyclist and was probably a hippie in his heyday. He is a role model to Carlos and tells him  to live freely, with no regrets or contempt. What Carlos does with this urgency of identity is up to him but it comes with its own consequences. The film is told through lmoments of self-reflecting overdose, fearless demonstrations, and electrifying music. We see  sexual promiscuity and over-the-top dissents allowing only its true colors and queer identities to guide it. With a cast that is both beautiful and talented, we get a colorful, literate and enjoyable film.

Director Sama loves the creativity of his actors and what they bring to the film, exploring personal angst and sexual prowess. The film will likely be  unnerving to some, but if you like “artsy, sexual deliverance in revolt”, this is a movie you do not want to miss. This is a wild take on the coming-of-age story.

We meet Carlos as an aspiring engineer of sorts. Under the tutelage of his cool uncle Esteban (Sama). He learns how to fix and build small machines, and repairs Rita’s surly boyfriend’s synthesizer. Nico (Mauro Sánchez Navarro), the relatively older but still young proprietor of Azteca wants Carlos’ and Gera’s first dalliances with the Azteca to be their final ones because they’re underage. The best-friend pair keeps returning, however, and they endear themselves to the crowd, integrating themselves into a lifestyle of sex-driven art, hard drugs, queries of their own sexualities and political activism.

“This Is Not Berlin” celebrates the (sexual and artistic) counter-cultural liberation of the punk scene in the ’80s. Sama’s storytelling is extraordinary and transcends the trappings of typical rite-of-passage films by way of its content’s extremities. For some, Carlos’ journey may be relatable—but even so, the film’s sexy and salacious scenes conjure excitement about its anarchism.

The non-normative sexuality of the film can be seen as  understated in the film. Amid the conservative climate of Mexico in the ’80s, homosexual acts and queer signifiers were quite risky yet the way this film depicts its punky group is how the people on which it is based expressed themselves in real life. The ending of “This Is Not Berlin” is one that could only be inspired by real life.

The outcasts from “civilized” society are what every generation needs to wake itself from. There is no place for  complacency and  for the oppression of a political and economic hierarchy dictated by race, gender, and sexuality. The events onscreen are semi-autobiographical for Sama and this is a document of the turmoil that the and others his age faced when external expectations and internal hopes clashed. At its center is love that can together opposite and/or tear us apart.

“JOSE”— A Look at Male Sexuality

“Jose”

A Look at Male Sexuality

Amos Lassen

“Jose” is a Guatemalan drama that looks at male sexuality in a culture where machismo rules. Chinese-born American filmmaker Li Cheng cleverly lets the plot unfold in such a subtle way that the movie has a documentary feel to it. This year it won the Queer Lion at the Venice Film Festival,

José (Enrique Salanic) is a 19-year-old living with his single mother (Ana Cecilia Mota) and his siblings in Guatemala City. The family is struggling as the gap between rich and poor widens. José is against the deep-seated religious culture of Guatemala and has had  to hide the fact that he’s gay. He limits physical encounters to strangers he meets on a phone app, and no one knows his secret. But then he meets Luis (Manolo Herrera), a construction worker from the countryside who has taken a job in the city. As they fall in love, Luis, who is open about being gay, asks José to run away with him. But José feels like he can’t abandon his mother.

Having been raised in a hyper-religious world, José believes that he is not entitled to  romantic happiness. We follow him as he begins to discover that maybe he has a choice in the matter. When Luis disappears, José has to make a choice: does he return to his previous life, or does he risk it all to try to find Luis? Director Cheng and cinematographer Paolo Giron skillfully put the characters within the context of a bustling city with its powerful traditions. Images cleverly contrast the pristine countryside with the grubby urban sprawl. Most scenes are dialogue-free; the story is tracked  through glances and touches that convey thoughts, feelings and attitudes. Because the film  feels more like a slice-of-life than a constructed narrative, we let it become part of us as we watch. 

The actors deliver remarkably relaxed, open-handed performances, so much so that the intimate moments make us feel like voyeurs. The connection between José and Luis is visually strong, so much so that they don’t need to say much. So when Luis leaves, the audience feels his absence as strongly as José does. He hides his pain from his mother whose entire life is informed by her faith, including her desire that her children follow the same path.

Subplots add additional texture to the story as they deal with criminality, natural disasters and economic injustice. As a poor gay man, José doesn’t seem to have a chance.

Director Li Cheng had extensive interviews with gay and marginalized youths across Latin America as the foundation for this film that is a reflective drama set in Guatemala and looks at love, loss and queer desire the shadows of a culture defined by crime, violence, macho attitudes, strict religious beliefs and binding family ties. To compensate for its underfed narrative, we see a tender observational quality backed by confident visuals. Its treatment of gay sex and nudity, while somewhat  homoerotic, they depict emotional candor.

Jose’s mother sells sandwiches without a license at street markets around town; he works a busy intersection directing passing motorists to a cheap-eats outlet. While Jose watches his straight co-workers express affection, his search for connection is channeled through a hookup app on his phone. He checks it constantly, whether during his afternoons on the street or when he’s alone in bed at night. His encounters take place in a flophouse and he lies to his mother about his reasons for coming home late and bringing in less cash.

When he meets Luis, a spark gently ignites that’s emotional as well as physical. In one delicate scene, they examine each other’s scars; Luis indicates one resulting from a beating when his brothers caught him with another guy from the village. He is working at a site converting a fire-damaged former luxury hotel into condos (a metaphor) and he intends to leave the city when Once Jose borrows a friend’s motorbike and he and Luis ride to a remote countryside spot. They steal kisses and caresses along the way, making out in a bamboo field once they get there. Talk of love follows the next time they meet, prompting Luis to ask Jose to go away with him, possibly leaving Guatemala for someplace better. But Jose hesitates since he feels that he should  stay and help his mother who is not oblivious to her son’s secret life.

Cheng shows how just keeping your head above water is a constant battle in José’s world. We are immersed in the daily grind, while at the same time we see how society is largely held together by family and religion. The story is slight, but Cheng treats the subject matter with care, allowing a slow but certain feeling build between José and Luis, capturing the way that straightforward sex becomes increasingly supplemented by gestures of fondness as their relationship grows.

Although the director makes sure we’re aware of the expectations of wider Guatemalan society, he keeps the emotional focus tight on José as he grapples with the choice between ‘potential’ futures that are suddenly presented to him. Although the emotionally saturated music cues do the film no favors and it meanders a little towards the end, this is nevertheless a worthwhile look at a part of Guatemalan society infrequently captured on film.

It is the chemistry between Salanic and Herrera that makes this movie so enjoyable and so electric.  We have new men men who are simply content in the joy of finding each other and having a moment of happiness away from their tough impoverished lives.

“GIANT LITTLE ONES”— A Post-Gay Film

 

“Giant Little Ones”

A Post-Gay Film

Amos Lassen

“Giant Little Ones” is a post-gay look at adolescence. Franky Winter (Josh Wiggins) is on the swim team at school and the guys are close—they shower together, shave together and sling homophobic slurs together, apparently without irony. Franky’s best friend Ballas (Darren Mann) is on the swim team too and they do almost everything together. For Franky’s 17th birthday he is planning something without Ballas–the loss of his virginity to his girlfriend who is nice enough and pretty enough but she is  not that interesting.

Franky’s mom, Carly (Maria Bello) leaves the house unattended for the party but things don’t go exactly as planned, and at the end of the night it’s just Franky and Ballas, like the sleepovers of their childhood. Except this one ends in a blow job. In the morning, Franky is surprised by this turn of events, but Ballas is ashamed, upset and angry. Nic destroys their friendship, and Franky’s reputation, and makes Franky’s life at school hell. The only person who doesn’t desert him is Ballas’s sister, Natasha (Taylor Hickson).

It is refreshing to see Franky’s openness to this experience.  Franky doesn’t question his identity, he just absorbs it as part of it. It doesn’t need a label or a judgement. But there is a complication: Franky’s father, Ray, (Kyle MacLachlan) has recently left the family because he’s gay. Franky’s resentment is mostly due to the abandonment and not the sexuality, but his feelings are complicated and confused and it makes dealing with this more difficult than it has to be.

Over all the film is a refreshing take on the coming of age and coming out of the closet stories of adolescence. Franky quickly approaches a turning point in realizing his sexual identity as he approaches his seventeenth birthday. His sort-of girlfriend Cil (Hailey Kittie) desperately wants the mark the occasion by losing their virginity together, but Franky isn’t in a rush to get it on with his girl. He is taking his time in coming into his own as a sexual being. Director Keith Berhman’s portrait of the confusing time of adolescence is at its most authentic when it gives Wiggins lingering pauses and moments to explore his character’s self-doubts.

Ballas is virile and muscular, a true alpha male compared to the smaller, shyer Franky. The camera lingers on him as director Berhman peppers the film with brief moments of curiosity as Franky looks at his friend with a view that isn’t quite longing, but not necessarily platonic. It’s one of questioning. Nic loves to boast about his sex life, like bragging about doing it six times in one night, but it also seems like a bit of an act that insecure jocks are prone to explore.

Soon the night of Franky’s birthday arrives and there are no fireworks to be had with Cil. Ballas, ever a good BFF, keeps Franky company as they ride their bikes through their small town. The boys simply enjoy the recklessness of their youth and explore that fleeting period between adolescence and adulthood, zipping through the streets, and being loud. Ballas presents Franky with his birthday gift: a flare gun, which they fire into the night and watch as the sky burns.

Later in the evening, moans of pleasure are seen and heard in Franky’s bedroom. It’s a confusing and disorienting moment, and purposefully before Ballas erupts from the covers and flees. The boys have crossed a line and explored a new side of their friendship.

What follows from the intimate tryst is an all-too relevant tale of bullying and homophobia in a culture that preaches openness and fluidity, but practices intolerance and conservatism. Franky becomes ostracized in his high school, considered to be a deviant, terrible, and wrong. Something beautiful becomes something horrible as Franky is pushed into his sexuality rather allowed the right to discover it for himself. 

We see sexual fluidity with refreshing candor as Franky further explores the dimensions of his identity. He develops a relationship with Ballas’s younger sister Tasha and this teaches him the values of intimacy and consent. His parents wrestle with their own questions of love and self-acceptance as his mother Carly finds herself in a revolving door of dates years after Franky’s father, Ray, discovered that he was gay. Through each of the film’s relationships, Behrman injects elements that allow Franky to understand himself within a growing conversation on the inclusiveness of sexuality. 

“VELVET BUZZSAW”— a Satire

“Velvet Buzzsaw”

A Satire

Amos Lassen

 I had not really thought about it before but as I watched the star-studded “satire of the art world”, I realized that cliché and satire do not always go together. “Velvet Buzzsaw” relies on the usual clichés about money and society taking priority over actual work. Dan Gilroy’s film is slick and glib but not a whole lot more. A gallery owner, Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo) tells critic Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal) that money is easier to discuss than art. She’s correct and as she speaks we hear a note of despair in what she says but it is ambiguous. Get ready for one of the campiest movies you will ever see, this  is a  psychological sci-fi thriller about how greed in the art world can have fatal consequences.

Everyone is  beautifully dressed and living in spectacular contemporary L.A. mansions with the exception of Josephina(Zawe Ashton), junior Art Gallery agent who lives in an old apartment downtown. When one of her reclusive neighbors dies she discovers that his apartment is filled with extraordinary and disturbing art.

When her boss, Vandewalt who is also a famous critic (her soon to be temporary boyfriend decides this art is the work of a genius, they steal it all and present it to the world with the idea that they can make a tremendous amount of money.   However what they do not know is that  a supernatural force will take revenge on those who have allowed their greed to get in the way of art.

Gyllenhaal is excellent as the outrageous critic who ditches his live-in-hot boyfriend to try his luck with Josephina and he is probably the only reason you might want to see the entire film.  It’s silly story but it show the vapidity of the art world. I also realized that I really have not missed Rene Russo a bit. I always thought of her more as a name than an address and we certainly see that here. , and gives us another (and too rare) opportunity to see Rene Russo back on our screens.

 “Velvet Buzzsaw” attempts to remind us of  the decadent, self-consciously chic art it parodies. When Josephina discovers abandoned paintings left behind by a deceased tenant, she unleashes a supernatural force that implicitly kills people for not believing in art for the right reasons, whatever those may be. “The sort of naïf art that’s celebrated by the rich, these paintings offer chillingly pastoral depictions of insanity and isolation that seem to be on the brink of tipping over into murder, and they steer Velvet Buzzsaw into an unexpectedly strange realm.”

Gallery owners, museums and dealers are all fighting for a piece of the deceased man’s work, despite his explicit instructions to destroy the paintings all upon his death. What we quickly discover is that there is a far more dangerous entity at play here that will seek to end all those that aim to profit from the artist’s work. Gilroy’s addition of camp is to make sure that that no one takes anything in the film too seriously. Like pieces of satire,  this is not something that will appeal to everyone, but I found the juxtaposition between the pseudo-intellectual art snobs and the senseless over-the-top gore to be a lot of fun to  watch, although it’s totally dense and ridiculous.

There a clear distinction made between the artists and those who profit from other peoples’ art, essentially claiming it as their own, with John Malkovich and Daveed Diggs playing artists showing their pieces in Haze’s gallery. The haunted paintings have a very different effect on these two compared to those who view the paintings as a commodity, rather than a piece of the artist’s soul. Perhaps “Velvet Buzzsaw” will keep people out of galleries and maybe it will make them think a bit more about the artist who created the pieces that they’re considering buying. Will class guilt work on comfortable audiences?

“POSE”: Season One— Gender, Race, Sexuality and Class

“Pose”: Season One

Gender, Race, Sexuality and Class

Amos Lassen

Ryan Murphy’s “Pose” “gives good face from its opening moments.” Inside the house of Elektra Abundance (Dominique Jackson), the musical beats of Taana Gardner’s “Heartbeat” order a group of queens to strike a pose. The mood is a mix of warmth, sauciness, and narcissism that will make perfect sense to fans of “Paris is Burning”, Jennie Livingston’s documentary about the golden age of New York City’s drag balls.

 “Pose” features the largest cast of transgender actors in history for a scripted television series exploring the drag ball scene which is defiant of gender norms and we see the internalized racism—the playing at being white—with apprehension. “Pose” reflects a more confused than confident image of that culture back to audiences.

This is a show about young people of color trying to loudly own their identities during the dawn of AIDS, but it doesn’t even try to pretend that New York City isn’t submerged in a sea of gentrification. Multiple references to Donald Trump—several characters work for his corporation suggest that Murphy may be playing some kind of game: that the aesthetic of the show will be placed in some kind of meta-conversation with the façade of Trump’s existence. The show’s characters are defined by their present conditions—looking forward toward a dream they probably know isn’t realistically within reach. Only Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain), a young black dancer, gets any sort of backstory. He was kicked out of his house for being gay, made his way to New York and is eventually taken in by Blanca (Mj Rodriguez), who’s recently estranged from Elektra and is looking to populate her House of Evangelista. Blanca is wise beyond her years announces that “We do not have the luxury of shame,” as she charges into the New School’s dance department, with Damon in tow. By the end of the episode, he’s auditioning for Helena St. Rogers (Charlayne Woodard), one of many characters throughout the series who are committed to being mothers to the lost queer boys and girls of the city.

“Pose” is  at its best when devoted to advancing its representational politics. In another storyline, Angel (Indya Moore), a sex worker and recent House of Evangelista inductee, begins having an affair with a married businessman, Stan (Evan Peters). In a series dominated by people of color, almost all unknowns, the appearance of Peters and especially James Van Der Beek—playing a broadly drawn real estate hustler—initially feels like a focus-pulling blunder. But Murphy is careful to neither center Stan in the series’ narrative nor talk about his attraction to Angel. In fact, it’s Stan and Angel’s relationship that allows the series to widen its scope as a consideration of gender in relation to matters of race, sexuality, and class.

Stan and Angel’s scenes lay the foundation for our awareness of why characters like Elektra and Angel are so desperately driven to undergo gender-reassignment surgery, which promises them a certain freedom even as it threatens to alienate them from their lovers. There is a scene of Damon kissing Ricky (Ryllon Burnside)—a moment captured with a confrontational tenacity that feels like a rebuke to the melancholic sense of self-pity. It’s a scene that will surely be very important to any queer person of color unaccustomed to seeing their passions depicted on screen so openly and without shame.

Set in the 1980s, “Pose” looks at the juxtaposition of a few fragments of life and society in New York: the ascent of the extravagance Trump-time universe, the downtown social and artistic scene and the ball culture world. Diminishes and Mara star as New Jersey couple Stan and Patty, who get sucked into the fabulousness and interest of New York City back then.