Category Archives: GLBT Film

“SUFFERING OF NINKO” (“Ninkō no hunan”)— An Irresistible Priest


“SUFFERING OF NINKO” (“Ninkō no junan”)

An Irresistible Priest

Amos Lassen

Ninko (Masato Tsujioka) is a Buddhist priest who is cursed to be sexually irresistible to all around him. He is a novice Buddhist monk living during the Edo period, based at Enmei-ji, a temple in the mountains. He is, in fact, an ideal monk, adhering to asceticism to learn his religion, dutifully cooking, cleaning, and praying every day. Despite his diligence he has a problem – Ninko attracts females and his popularity is truly astounding. When he travels to the local villages asking for alms a cry goes out, “Ninko’s come!” and he is mobbed by many fawning female fans forcing their way past the other monks so they can get their hands on him.

We see him swamped by a wave of beauties bounding in from the bathhouses and back alleys of the town and from the mountain’s forests and it looks great for anyone interested in the fairer sex. For a Buddhist monk, however, sex with women is a sin so it’s not so great for Ninko.

But it isn’t just the ladies who have taken a liking to Ninko. Two monks have their sights set on bedding Ninko and this vexes him just as much. He blames himself for the lust and suffering he causes in others. He feels he needs more training and that he is not virtuous enough. The head of his temple notes that Ninko has dark desires of his own which he must face and conquer if he wants to put others at ease. These dark desires attract a faceless demon that sets from a series of horrific visions that force Ninko to act.

This demonic meeting leads to a journey that takes the film from ribald comedy to dark horror as Ninko meets Kanzo, the manslayer who takes him on a demon-hunting quest. Their mission is to kill Yama-onna, a sexy lady in red rags who lures men with her physical form into having sex during which she sucks their vitality out. The narrative brings Ninko face-to-face with this creature.

The film goes from live-action to animation and draws upon traditional Japanese arts and crafts. Shoji screens, ukiyo-e, and Buddhist illustrations are some of the techniques used to deliver the story and atmosphere and it is done with ease because Norihiro Niwatsukino, a director, writer, producer, special effects supervisor, and animator has used many mediums from film to animation. He brings visual elegance here so that while the cinematography seen on screen might not be mind blowing, the film remains visually engaging. Ninko may not travel to too many different places but the landscape illustrations that depict Ninko’s travels are vividly drawn. Animation is used quite often and it’s exciting at times such as a surreal sequences of slow motion chases led by women in a village that is alternated with interpretive dance that moves back and forth from live-action to animation. The faces of actors are filled with lust before they are transformed into figures that look like they could have come straight from a steamy sex education manual. The use of animation, song and dance, and drama highlight the film’s genre breaking form that makes it so enjoyable. You will want to know whether Ninko conquers his inner-demons and overcomes the lust of others and all I can say is that the ending will take the audience by surprise.

Norihiro Niwatsukino plunges the viewers into the world of Edo-era Japan making them the witnesses of a weird, surreal clash between celibacy (read: repressed sexuality) and libidinous desires (posing as a dark side of sorts).

This is a fairy tale that takes a comedic turn, borrows a road-movie trope or two, flirts with folklore-inspired horror and ends on an ecstatic note, all the while defying genre classification and filled with potential to become a cult film. The film

blends softcore erotica with a sensual dance performance, bringing ancient manuscripts to life through short animated vignettes that are both naughty and beautiful. They also reflect the unrestrained creativity of their author who is credited as producer, director, writer, editor, animator and VFX supervisor.

“THREESOMETHING”— When Three Is Not a Crowd

“Threesomething”

When Three is Not a Crowd

Amos Lassen

It is good to laugh about sex every now and then and, in effect, we all do so (just not publicly). What could be a great humorous premise for a film then three friends having sex together? First we meet Charlie and Isaac who are best friends yet want to take that friendship to a new level. It is not so difficult to imagine what that level and I understand that between best friends, everything goes… or does it? Everything has changed so quickly regarding sex that there seem to be no taboos left (with the exception of passing gas loudly at a charity function. They will not remember your donation to the charity but you can bet your life that your tootin’ will not be forgotten.

Charlie (Sam Sonenshine) and Isaac (James Morosini) invite Charlie’s friend Zoe (Isabelle Chester) over for dinner and explain that what they really want is for her to join them in a threesome. She is stunned at first but she soon becomes intrigued with the idea. (After all, it is an interesting alternative to desert). Zoe agrees but then cannot decide whether she is only interested in the physical or is looking for love. As you can imagine, this is a comedy yet it gives us things to think about. What we know about sex, intimacy and friendship has certainly changed since our parents were dating and how we got to know each other. Did Zoe and the guys not think that this could get a little weird?

Zoe is a free spirit, a cosmic bohemian wild woman, if you will, who is living in a glass tree house and actually just trying to get herself together. Zoe and Isaac fall in love, fast and hard while Charlie has a crisis of masculinity. It seems to me that our three characters are looking for something that is out of reach and are trying to understand what is best for them. There is a great ending coming which I will not share but if comes only after self-searching and examination. There are some risqué moments here and even though our two male leads play straight men, there is a good deal of homo eroticism, as we might expect. The two guys are good looking and make nice eye candy in various states of undress.

Check back with me in a couple of weeks, all of my opinions could very likely change.

“50 YEARS OF FABULOUS”— The Imperial Court

“50 Years of Fabulous”

The Imperial Council

Amos Lassen

“50 Years of Fabulous” is a fascinating documentary that celebrates what makes San Francisco a unique, powerful, and heartwarming home for the LGBTQ community. Filmmaker Jethro Patalinghug does this through concentrating on the vibrant history of the Imperial Council, the oldest LGBTQ charity organization in the world.

The Imperial Council was founded in San Francisco by activist and drag queen José Sarria, (who was also the first openly gay man to run for political office in the United States), in 1961 and since then the Council has helped shape LGBTQ life and history in San Francisco. Each year, the colorful Council crowns an Emperor and Empress who become the faces of the non-profit group. The Imperial Council celebrates unity, pride and a dedication to helping others as it advocates for human rights, hosts rousing events, and generates s lot of money for Bay Area charitable organizations.

The documentary combines historical footage and photos with contemporary interviews and delightful performances, spotlighting gay culture that shows the group’s impact, as well as some of the challenges it currently faces.

 Director Patalinghug takes a look at the history of the organization history as it celebrates its 50 year anniversary and now starts to question if there is still place for it in today’s LGBTQ community.

Sarria believed that the community should not just come out of the shadows but be proud of what he called the nobility of being gay. Thus the Court system was created with a system of royal titles to recognize the roles that its members would play.  He intended that the Court would join with other LGBT organizations and lead the move to equal rights.

The organization is part social, part political but its real greatness is as a dynamic fundraising operation that would help fund crucial LGBT services and charities.  It naturally really came into its own during the AIDS Epidemic which devastated their hometown far more than most.  By mounting daily events it raised much-needed millions of dollars to help people pay for medications, rent and even funeral services.

The Council/Court excels in all its traditions especially the annual election and coronation of its Empress & Emperor who must use their year in office to not just further the cause but raise a substantial amount of money.  They all dress up in their elaborate regal drag with their huge wigs topped off with crowns and tiaras, and even the Emperors get to sport gold laurel leaf crowns.

Patalinghug interviews some of the Courts past Empresses and Emperors and what we see is their happiness of being a part of this rather wonderful old organization.  It includes a clip from a 2004 interview with Sarria himself, but the most moving part of the film by far is his funeral held in a Cathedral with the entire Court in their best black drag and dressed up to the nines in his honor.

The latter part if the film is given over to discussing how the LGBT community has both evolved and embraced this new age of technology giving us different perspectives on how we now congregate and interact with each other.  

“BUDDIES”— A Gay Classic Restored— The First Film About AIDS

“Buddies”

A Gay Classic Restored— The First Film About AIDS

Amos Lassen

“Buddies” has finally been released on DVD/Blu ray and as the first film about AIDS, it deserves a special place in the LGBT cinema canon. It looks at friendship and love and what was known about AIDS when it was released in 1985 (which was early on in the pandemic).

 The plot is relatively simple. A gay man, David, who is in a happy monogamous relationship, becomes a buddy to another gay man, Robert, who is dying from AIDS. As they get to know each other, they become closer and closer. The film was written and directed by Arthur Bressan, Jr. who was himself an AIDS victim and died soon after.

David (David Schachter), a naive graduate student, has volunteered to work as a ‘buddy’ for people dying of AIDS. He is assigned to the intensely political Robert (Geoff Edholm), a lifelong activist whose friends and family have abandoned him following his diagnosis. The two men, each with notably different world views, soon discover common bonds, as David’s inner activist awakens and Robert’s need for emotional release is fulfilled. Independent filmmaker Bressan Jr.’s “Buddies” is an intensely personal study of love, death, and the need for activism during the earliest years of the AIDS crisis.

 This is a movie that will make you weep and tear you up and for many this film was how they learned about AIDS. With excellent acting and a literate script, the film is a must-see. The climax is shattering and it is almost impossible to see this film without crying. It is powerful and depressing yet it is also uplifting. The film brings the viewer to the situation that gay men were coming to terms with as we see how people are forced to look at their prejudices. Watching it, you will probably be shocked to see how those who had AIDS were treated.

David begins to see Robert’s politics and he becomes aware that his community is being killed off. Bressan wrote this film in five days and then shot it in nine and the film comes across as being extremely personal. He tried to bring public attention to the epidemic but the movie became his swan song and his legacy.

This was Bressan’s last film and he was lost to AIDS just two years after finishing filming. For the longest time it was almost impossible to see “Buddies”. It had a brief theatrical release but was never officially released on home video. I am lucky enough to have a copy of it that was taped during one of is few cable television showings. Now, come July, 2018 during ‘ “Buddies” is finally making its home video debut. It has newly restored from its long lost 16mm negative, courtesy of Vinegar Syndrome and available in a Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack with special features that include interviews with co-star David Schachter and film historian Thomas Waugh original trailer, production photos and articles.

“MALE SHORTS: INTERNATIONAL V1”— Five Short Films

“Male Shorts: International V1”

Five Short Films

Amos Lassen

Is too bad that most of us do not get to see the many LGBT short films that are made every year. We usually have to wait until a releasing company puts out an anthology DVD. Breaking Glass Pictures bring us volume 1 of a new collection and gives us hope that there will be more volumes coming. I am always amazed at how some people can do in a short film what others cannot do in a full length feature. This collection is made up of five short films focusing on men, including “Just Past Noon On A Tuesday,” “La Tepette (The Mousetrap),” “The Storm (La Tempete),” “Neptune,” and “PD.” Each short is presented in its native language (Portuguese, French or English) with English subtitles for all.

Just Past Noon on a Tuesday

Two strangers visit the penthouse of a recently deceased lover, only to find themselves learning more about each other.

La Tepette (The Mousetrap)

Baptiste is a gay man who can’t stop dreaming about a woman who works at a local pub. His desire for her makes him go on a journey that he could have never imagined.

The Storm (La Tempete)

Leo fantasizes about his weather forecaster. His obsession may be realized when he meets Luca. The night they spend together will take them through both desires and doubts that last into the early morning hours.

Neptune

A chance encounter with another swimmer at a local pool develops into an obsession. But the city has many opportunities for sex. Follow the growing desire between Sandro and Maicon.

PD

A cruising area takes on majestic proportions as we discover Greek-esque male bodies in the forest. The sonnets 18, 57, 20 by William Shakespeare add to the “Midsummer Night’s Dream”-like ambiance of the film.

“RIVERDALE”— The Complete Second Season— Archie and the Gang Are Back

“Riverdale: The Complete Second Season”

Archie and the Gang Are Back

Amos Lassen

Based on the characters from Archie Comics, “Riverdale” is a subversive take on small-town life. Archie is determined to protect the sanctity of his town in the wake of his father’s shooting (final episode of season 1). In season two Archie is seeking vengeance and as a civil war brews between the Northside and the Southside, loyalties will be divided. Betty and Jughead’s relationship enters fragile terr. Betty becomes plagued by the news of her long-lost brother. Kevin Keller, Archie’s gay pal, finds a new love and Veronica finds her life upended by her father Hiram’s arrival given that it’s their first reunion since his arrest and Archie’s rivalry with Reggie grows. This is certainly not the Riverdale of the comic books. In the season opener, Jughead (Cole Sprouse) is eating a hamburger in Pop’s with a pool of blood still glistening on the floor after a masked man shot Fred Andrews (Luke Perry). Then Archie (KJ Apa) drives his fading father to the hospital. This is a different Archie than season 1. He is more endearing and expressive than ever. He is finally providing ample crush material.

While Archie worries his father, who’s wandering through dream-sequences in the middle space between life and death, Veronica (Camila Mendes) welcomes back her cold, ex-con father (Mark Consuelos). Betty (Lili Reinhart) challenges her mom with stories of her would-be sexual exploits; Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) restricts the air tube from her mother (suffering from severe burns after last season’s Blossom house fire) and hisses that she will now have control over her air, her food, her movements, her life itself.

This is Riverdale filled with drama. Season 2 is not just about a single, isolated murder that needs to be solved; there is now an immediate threat: a masked villain is knocking off people and providing cliffhangers.

The second season of any show is always the most crucial time in any series. It’s the time to prove that the first season actually deserved a renewal. “Riverdale’s” first season was a great blend of murder mystery and teen melodrama with a great whodunit in the middle of the story. The main story of season two revolves around the aftermath in the shooting of Fred Andrews leading to the emergence of a mysterious serial killer named the Black Hood. As Archie, Betty, Veronica and Jughead try to uncover find out who the masked man is, the killer continues to murder. Veronica’s estranged father Hiram takes Archie under his wing to learn the family business while trying to legitimize it. Tensions rise as the north and south sides begin to show hostility towards one another and Betty’s estranged brother returns home. As the mayoral election approaches and the town stays divided on their decision, the gang must convince many different parties to come together and fight a common enemy.

“Riverdale” takes the whodunit that surrounds the town from “Twin Peaks”, the love triangle and relationships is a mix of “Gossip Girl” and “Dawson’s Creek”, the teen melodrama of small-town America is from “Pretty Little Liars”, the teen detective aspects are from “Veronica Mars” and it is great fun.

As with the first season, “Riverdale’s” main story centers on a murder, but this time there is much more happening behind the scenes. The main four characters deal with their own issues that occasionally overlap and remind us of that this is a campy teen drama. The adult characters play a bigger role this season as the focus shifts from a show about Riverdale the school to Riverdale the town. With the introduction of Veronica’s father, the re-emergence of Archie’s mother and the many familial storylines that play out, the parents become just as important as their kids.

Season 2 takes everything great about the first season and multiplies it while adding more layers to the darkness that surrounds this small town.

Here is an episode guide (without spoilers):

As Fred’s life hangs in the balance following the shooting at Pop’s diner, Archie struggles with the emotional aftermath of what he witnessed. Meanwhile, as Veronica steps out of her comfort zone to support Archie, she learns that her father Hiram has arrived to Riverdale earlier than expected.

Elsewhere, at Pop’s diner, Pop Tate recounts the chilling details of the shooting, which leaves Jughead and Betty questioning the gunman’s true motives. Lastly, after running into Cheryl at the hospital, Betty and Kevin are surprised to learn about the fire at Thornhill.

Chapter Fifteen

With the gunman still at large and the residents of Riverdale on edge, Betty leads the charge to save Pop’s after learning that the diner may be forced to close its doors forever. Meanwhile, the gang becomes increasingly concerned for Archie’s well being after noticing a string of unusual behavior from him.

Elsewhere, Betty and Veronica approach Cheryl and Josie for their help saving Pop’s, while Jughead’s attempt to find FP a new lawyer may have some serious repercussions. Finally, when a past betrayal unexpectedly comes to light, Veronica finds herself at a crossroads with Hiram and Hermoine.

Chapter Sixteen

Frustrated by the lack of progress made in catching his father’s shooter, Archie takes matters into his own hands in order to send the gunman a message. Meanwhile, Veronica is thrilled when Hiram’s attempt to start fresh means she gets to introduce him to her friends, including Archie. Elsewhere, Jughead starts his first day at Southside High and is befriended by a Southside Serpent named Toni, while Kevin’s attempt at having a little fun causes Betty to grow concerned for his safety. Finally, an unexpected turn of events leads the town to realize their darkest chapter may be far from over.

Chapter Seventeen

When Archie’s attempt to take matters into his own hands spirals out of control, Mayor McCoy calls an emergency town hall meeting to deal with the growing chaos in Riverdale. Meanwhile, when Betty finds herself at the center of a deepening mystery, her decision to keep some parts of it from Jughead causes further friction between the two. Elsewhere, Veronica grows concerned for Archie when she realizes the lengths he would go to seek revenge against the person terrorizing Riverdale. Finally, tensions between the North and Southside finally come to a head and leads to an unexpected showdown.

Chapter Eighteen

When Alice publishes a fiery piece in the Riverdale Register blasting the Southside, Jughead is forced to take matters into his own hands to try and keep the peace. Betty turns to Archie for help after receiving an ultimatum that could potentially destroy some of her closest relationships. With their SoDale open house fast approaching, Hiram and Hermoine enlist the help of an unlikely ally to get some potential investors on board. Finally, Veronica welcomes her old friend Nick St. Clair to Riverdale, but his plans for a wild night with the gang quickly takes an unexpected turn.

Chapter Nineteen

After a charge led by Mayor McCoy threatens to further escalate tensions between the North and Southside, Jughead, along with Archie, tries to put a stop to a dangerous alliance being considered between the Serpents and a long-time rival. Betty turns to Veronica for help when she’s thrust into the center of a burgeoning mystery surrounding The Sugarman. Finally, Cheryl confronts her mother Penelope after a traumatic run-in forces her to make a stark realization.

Chapter Twenty

Riverdale remains on edge after a chilling letter from the Black Hood challenges the town’s residents to remain sinless for 48 hours — or he’ll strike again. Meanwhile, Jughead and Archie’s friendship gets tested after Penny Peabody unexpectedly calls in a favor that Jughead owes her. Elsewhere, Betty and Veronica team up to investigate someone who Betty thinks could be the Black Hood killer. Finally, things take an unexpected turn for Josie when a secret admirer takes things one step too far.

Chapter Twenty-One

When Jughead learns that FP is getting released from prison, he and Betty organize a welcome home party with the Serpents to ease him back into his former life. Meanwhile, Archie and Veronica reach a crossroad in their relationship, but are forced to push their issues aside after Jughead and Betty ask them to take over the Black Hood investigation.

Chapter Twenty-Two

After snooping around for Christmas gifts, Veronica uncovers a major secret Hiram has been keeping from her. Fallout from Jughead’s encounter with Penny Peabody creates tension between him and FP. Meanwhile, a defiant Cheryl takes matters into her own hands after Penelope tells her they cannot afford Christmas this year. Finally, Betty and Archie’s vow to take down the Black Hood once and for all leads to a dangerous showdown.

Chapter Twenty-Three

Tensions mount when the sudden shut down of Southside High forces Jughead and his fellow serpents to transfer to Riverdale High. Veronica ensures Hiram and Hermoine that she’s still on board with their plans for SoDale. Archie is conflicted when he is asked to gather some information on Hiram’s suspicious business dealings. Betty sets out on a quest to find her long-lost brother, Chic.

Chapter Twenty-Four

Amidst preparations for the town’s annual Picken’s Day festivities, Jughead interviews Toni’s grandfather and learns some shocking details about Riverdale’s history. In an attempt to get closer to Hiram, Archie tries out for the Riverdale wrestling team after learning of Hiram’s love of the sport. Meanwhile, Betty unearths some dark secrets about her brother Chic, and Veronica and Josie clash as they prepare for their Picken’s Day performance.

Chapter Twenty-Five

As preparations for her confirmation ceremony get underway, Veronica becomes concerned that Archie, who’s agreed to be Hiram’s “intern,” may be learning too much about her family’s secret business dealings. Jughead and FP lead the charge after an incident at Pickens Park leads to increased tensions among the Serpents. Meanwhile, Chic (guest star Hart Denton) helps Betty deal with her inner darkness, while Archie finds himself in over his head after a high-stakes poker game with Hiram’s shady inner-circle goes awry.

Chapter Twenty-Six

Betty turns to Jughead for help when the consequences of a hasty decision come back to haunt her. Veronica organizes a face to face meeting after tensions between Hiram, FP and Jughead spiral out of control. Elsewhere, Archie is forced to make a tough decision after Agent Adams (guest star John Behlmann) takes things one step too far.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

When Hiram suggests that Veronica and Archie head up to their lake house for the weekend, Veronica decides to invite Betty and Jughead to join them. Determined to uncover Hiram’s plans for Riverdale, Jughead uses his time at the lake house to press Veronica about what she may know. Back in Riverdale, Cheryl makes a surprising connection with an unlikely friend, while Josie lands in hot water after revealing a secret to Kevin.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

After learning that his dad is considering running for mayor of Riverdale, Archie begins to grow concerned that the Lodges may have found their newest pawn in Fred. Meanwhile, Betty becomes increasingly suspicious of Chic’s strange behavior and enlists Kevin’s help to figure out what Chic is hiding. Finally, Cheryl and Penelope are surprised when they learn that Clifford left a secret will, and Jughead makes a major discovery in his quest to take down Hiram.

Chapter Twenty-Nine

In the aftermath of Hiram’s newly announced plans for Riverdale, Jughead resorts to drastic measures to voice his opposition. After making her own big announcement, Hermoine’s friend Andy Cohen comes to town to lend a hand. Meanwhile, Veronica goes against her parent’s wishes to keep a low profile when she decides to run for student council president. Elsewhere, Mary arrives in Riverdale just as tensions between Fred and Archie reach a breaking point. Finally, following a series of mysterious events, Cheryl begins to fear that someone is out to get her.

Chapter Thirty

Just as the town’s mayoral race gets underway, Riverdale High’s own student council election heats up. Archie steps up to help after learning that Hiram’s mobster associates have come to Riverdale to stir up some trouble. Meanwhile, things take a dangerous turn for Alice, Betty and Chic when an unexpected guest shows up at the Cooper residence. Finally, Toni, Veronica and Josie team up to solve a strange mystery involving Cheryl.

Chapter Thirty One

As Riverdale High begins rehearsals for its upcoming production of “Carrie the Musical,” the arrival of an ominous letter forces director Kevin to make a difficult decision about the show. Jughead uses his cover as the musical’s documentarian to solve the mystery behind the letter. Meanwhile, tensions between Betty and Veronica continue to escalate just as Alice announces she is joining the musical to spend more time with Betty. Elsewhere, Hiram enacts a devious plan to further drive a wedge between Fred and Archie, while Cheryl channels Carrie White during a showdown with her mother.

Chapter Thirty Two

After an incident at Riverdale High leaves the town on edge, Archie leads the charge to uncover the culprit. Meanwhile, the reveal of a devastating secret leads to a violent showdown between Chic, Jughead, Betty and Alice. Elsewhere, Veronica takes matters into her own hands when someone from her past comes to town seeking revenge. Finally, Hermoine and Cheryl conspire to take down Sheriff Keller.

Chapter Thirty Three

As the town’s mayoral race between Fred and Hermoine heats up, Hiram sets his sights on a new ally – Sheriff Minetta. Betty turns to Cheryl for help when she has a suspicion about the Black Hood. Meanwhile, the reveal of a dark secret forces Archie and Jughead to try and ease tensions between the Bulldogs and Serpents. Finally, on the eve of the mayoral debate, a mysterious message leaves everyone on edge.

Chapter Thirty Four

When an incident at the Sheriff’s station triggers an all-out war between the North and the Southside, Archie and Jughead find themselves in the fight of their lives. Meanwhile Veronica makes a devastating discovery about Hiram, just as someone from his past arrives in Riverdale looking for revenge. Finally, Betty comes face to face with the Black Hood.

Chapter Thirty Five

With Fred trailing in the polls, Archie steps in to lend a hand in his dad’s mayoral campaign. Veronica stays one step ahead after uncovering Hiram’s latest scheme. Elsewhere, Cheryl finalizes her emancipation from her mother, while FP makes a surprising announcement to Jughead and the Serpents. Finally, Betty confronts her darkest demons.

“DEVIL’S PATH”— A LGBT Psychological Thriller

“Devil’s Path”

A LGBT Psychological Thriller

Amos Lassen

LGBT actor Matthew Montgomery moves to the other side of the camera which his direction of “Devil’s Path”, an intriguing and bloody psychological LGBT thriller. Set in 1992 in a large remote forest, we soon learn is a rather notorious cruising area for gay men along a hiking track called Devil’s Path. After several gay hikers have gone missing, part of the main trail has been closed off by the local authorities that cannot find any leads or bodies.  This hasn’t stopped the men seeking some pleasure in the woods. Two strangers, Noah (Stephen Twardokus, also the co-writer with Montgomery of the script) and Patrick (JD Salzo) meet there for the first time.

It does not take long to realize that the two men re opposites and that Noah is not the kind of guy that he is attracted to, yet something is established between them. Later they are suddenly forced off the main trail after a confrontation with other hikers and soon find themselves running for their lives and the only place to hide is in the trees.

I cannot say anymore about the plot except that it is filled with twists and turns and no one is really who we had assumed they are. The tension does not stop and this is wonderful addition to the canon of gay film.

“SIMON’S QUEST”— An Allegory

“SIMON’S QUEST”

An Allegory

Amos Lassen

When HBO’s “True Blood” began its run on prime time television, I was surprised at how many people took it as it was and not as an allegory/satire on the way the LGBT community was treated in this country. In fact, I still know people who refuse to see that aspect of the series. Now along comes Marley Yaeger’s 22 minute “Simon’s Quest” that uses the same idea but so much better.

Simon is a gay werewolf who must come to terms with his condition in order to start dating again or condemn himself to a life alone (While I am not [yet] a werewolf, I have been there and done that.) The short film is set in a world in which monsters are just beginning to “come out” and become publicly known and it is hard to miss seeing that the way they are treated is much the same as the way the LGBTQ+ community was treated not so long ago. Token acceptance and tolerance were not acceptable to those who were regarded as different and sinners in some places while in other places there were no problems.

In the alternate universe of the film, vampires, werewolves and demons are real and live in society along with everyone else. Of course, we understand that their interactions and relations with non-monsters are not always good. “Simon’s Quest” begins with an infomercial of a fire and brimstone televangelist selling weapons designed to kill “monsters” as they are collectively called. But not everyone is antagonistic and violent. We hear of support groups to help “monsters” accept themselves for who they are.

We meet Simon (Johnny Pozzi), the subject of a documentary and see right away that he has problems with self-esteem. But then his case is quite special since he had just begun to deal with coming out as gay when he discovers that he is also a werewolf. We can imagine his fear in trying to maintain contact with others. By and large, society disapproves of both of these aspects of Simon.

His support group activities are both sad and funny and he wins us over immediately. I saw something of myself in Simon and wanted to yell at him that it does get better. However Gwen (Talley Gale), the photographer making the documentary serves that purpose and is determined to help Simon. However, her assistant, Robert (Lucas Brahme) is not sure that this is the best thing to do. Writer/director Jaeger brings us a wonderful little film that has a great deal to say. Try to find this one— you won’t regret it. (And yes, that is Tim Cox in the picture below.

“TRUTH OR DARE”— A Horror Movie?

“TRUTH OR DARE”

A Horror Movie?

Amos Lassen

“Truth or Dare” is not campy nor emotionally involving enough to be more than the sum of its awful parts. This is a PG-13-rated horror movie where college seniors are persecuted by a haunted version of Truth or Date, a party game that’s more menacing than Twister, but not as dangerous as Spin the Bottle. Now those of you who follow my reviews known that I rarely give a negative review in the first sentence but have a look at this and you will understand why. In fact, I am surprised that I wrote more than one sentence.

The makers of “Truth or Dare” have tried to make their protagonists just sympathetic enough that we care what happens when they try to impale themselves on a pool cue, or gouge out an eye with a fountain pen. Unfortunately, director Jeff Wadlow and his three credited co-writers don’t humanize their immature subjects and/or make them die amusingly sadistic deaths and the film overall seems to hate itself.

There are a few scenes that serve our canned expectations of who these characters are and what their pre-graduation lives are like. But many of these assumptions are based on superficial generalities. We have several stock types  ion. Our heroine is, of course, reserved Olivia (Lucy Hale), a moral-minded, smarter-than-average piece of nothingness who gets roped into one last pre-college spring break by her flirty best friend Markie (Violett Beane) Markie brings along a number of their mutual best friends, including Ronnie (Sam Lerner), a leering but harmless horndog, and Brad (Hayden Szeto), an indistinct supporting character whose most exciting trait is that he’s openly gay. Now here is a cast of famous people, yes? I have never heard of any of them before and after this bomb of a film, I do not think we shall see them once again on the screen.

Brad and Ronnie are the most under-developed characters in the film but they are not as offensive or bothersome as Lucas (Tyler Posey), a prize for Olivia and Markie to fight over and law student Tyson (Nolan Gerard Funk—who?) an in-your-face attitude of a garden variety jock, a quality that’s mildly amusing given his chosen area of study.

Ronnie is a one-note joke who screams “no homo” before he is teased with the possibility of giving another guy a lap dance. As with Lucas, Ronnie has a moment where he suggests that he’s capable of growing out of his adolescent need to hit on any woman in sight. But this isn’t college (as we know it—the place where young adults are supposed to learn who they are or maybe who they want to be).

Brad’s queerness is almost exclusively defined by his fear of coming out to his police officer father. The reaction that Brad’s dad gives him after he comes out is supposed to be unexpected, but it’s not, really, once you consider the confusing paternal tone that defines “Truth or Dare.”

Here a sentient game of Truth or Dare is a messed-up parenting tool. These bright young things are going learn to be truthful to themselves, even if it means hurting themselves or others during the learning process. Because apparently, stabbing yourself in the eye when you fail to come clean in a job interview is a fitting punishment. And surviving trauma since considering ways to come clean to your best friend about your not-so-secret crush on their boyfriend builds character. 

The joke is on our heroes, but this time, every cruel punch line is seemingly pulled at the last minute. We’re supposed to like these victims, not gasp in horror and delight when they’re compelled to die campy deaths by an evil game.

When we meet Olivia, she seems like a decent person, as she’s planning to spend the spring break of her senior year of college volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. But her friends put a wrench in this and take her to Mexico where they booze it up, beach it out, and French kiss like crazy. They’re very ugly Americans, setting themselves up to seem like they deserve all the devastation and death they’ll soon encounter.

At any moment, a roomful of strangers, your closest friends, or dead bodies could transform into fiends who demand the revelation of sensitive secrets or the performance of mean-spirited stunts: coming out to a homophobic parent, breaking your best friend’s hand, or having sex with your best friend’s boyfriend.

The dares can also be deadly, like finishing a bottle of booze while walking along the edge of a roof, or stealing a cop’s gun and making him beg for it. But there is no mystery here and this is a silly horror flick that is unconcerned with its silliness. But every once in a while there are flashes of the darkness that one wishes that the film had used more often. The amiability of the group of college pals is built upon a delicate web of deceit that quickly comes undone when they’re forced to tell the truth, and the disclosures become increasingly nasty and vicious— one character must confess while having sex to loving someone else; another must declare a cringe-inducing connection to a friend’s father’s recent suicide. In this most cynical and black-hearted of films, even the kindest of people are filled with sinister secrets.

“DISOBEDIENCE”— A Complicated Relationship

“Disobedience”

A Complicated Relationship

Amos Lassen

Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio’s “Disobedience” is set in London’s Orthodox Jewish community and depicts the complicated relationship between two women born into this world, whose paths in life have deviated after an earlier affair. What makes this so brilliant a film is how Lelio manages to sidestep overly familiar discussions on sexuality and religious prejudice in order to examine the very nature of freewill when it comes to accepting a love frowned upon by a belief system. It’s a film that is equally romantic and philosophical and I am quite sure that “Disobedience” will be on many ten bests lists for 2018.

It has been adapted from Naomi Alderman’s controversial and gorgeous 2006 novel of the same name. It follows Ronit Kruschka (Rachel Weisz) the estranged daughter of a beloved rabbi who has long since fled to New York to pursue a career as a photographer. Upon hearing about the sudden death of her father, she returns to the London community where she grew up to pay her respects, and finds herself to be something of a ghost. While she is welcomed with open arms and shown kindness, yet her existence as her father’s only child has been eliminated from her father’s newspaper obituary, and a renewed social tension has emerged due to the nature of a previous affair with Esti Kuperman (Rachel McAdams).

Esti is now married to her father’s apprentice Rabbi, Dovid Kuperman (Alessandro Nivola) who lets her stay in their upper middle class home. Since they last saw each other, Esti has become a pillar of the local community and teaches English literature at a local girl’s school. The only thing setting her back from true happiness is that she is incapable of feeling physical attraction to men and knowing that confessing otherwise could jeopardize her devout faith. This becomes even more complicated when she slowly rekindles the relationship she had with Ronit year’s prior.

The film deals with the numerous factors in a person’s life that can stop them accepting their true identity and how that struggle intensifies following the death of a loved one. Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams perfectly communicate the frailty that comes with seeing a former flame following the aftermath of a sudden end to the relationship, and the separate anxieties the two share about the developing nature of their romance.

In the opening scene, a rabbi, Rav Kruschka (Anton Lesser), delivers a sermon at a North London synagogue about angels and beasts, free will, and choosing the tangled lives we live. His tone is doctrinaire, poisonous even, so it’s perhaps no surprise that the frail-looking man drops dead on the spot. Meanwhile in New York, his daughter, Ronit, is putting his words into action. She is a photographer and is in session when she receives a phone call one alerting her to her father’s death, after which she’s seen impassively skating around an ice rink, with a time-out for a random hookup with a man inside a bathroom stall.

We’ll learn why she turned her back on the Orthodox world she was born into yet her personhood will remain foreign to us. Everyone in “Disobedience” is representative and every scene is declarative. With the help of her old lover, Esti, Ronit goes to her father’s home to gather some belongings. Seeing an old radio, Ronit turns it on and we hear a song whose lyrics completely speak to the situation of the two women: “You make me feel like I am home again/Whenever I’m alone with you/You make me feel like I am whole again.”

It is here that Ronit and Esti find themselves alone for the first time in many years. They finally talk about their romantic past in a single long take, and it’s some kind of masterstroke how the tension of their reminiscences and flirtations in tune with the audience’s wondering when the shot will dare to cut away.

At first glance, Esti seems to be an obsequious adherent to orthodoxy. When she passionately kisses Dovid, we understand that this is compensatory and to show that the past with Ronit is indeed the past.. But then she plays with Dovid’s beard, and subtly communicates the sense of the genuine love that exits between this husband and wife—an impression that’s confirmed when Esti later repeats the gesture with Ronit. But theirs is a different kind of love, and we finally get a sense of what that is when the two women are alone and trysting in a hotel room and Ronit casually sends a stream of her saliva into Esti’s mouth.

Director Lelio understands that the community at the center of the film is rooted in old-school tradition, but as it’s physically rooted in a cultural capital of the world, no one here is a stranger to gays and lesbians, and so the reactions to Ronit and Esti’s rekindled love affair never rises to hysterics. Ronit is asked at one point why she isn’t married and response is understood as a matter of course. In fact, in the subtlest of glances exchanged between the women of this community, one senses a certain respect for Ronit having broken away from tradition to find her own path through life. Esti, on the other hand, may have the courage to admit to Ronit that she’s only attracted to women, but she isn’t so brave to stand by her when they’re caught kissing by some friends and her survival instinct kicks in and she bolts from the scene. The film is less about the subjugation of the self to the group than the courage to embrace uncertainty by breaking out of the world one has been born into. And the triumph of the film is the grace and gracefulness of the performances and style.

Repression is a major theme Esti and Ronit have always had a special relationship, and they rekindle a love that becomes more than just friendship. But, of course, this community, and Esti’s marital status, can never allow it.