Monthly Archives: May 2011

“TO DIE LIKE A MAN”– Erasing the Past

“To Die Like a Man” (Morrer Como Um Homem)

Erasing the Past

Amos Lassen

Strand Releasing gives us an Oscar nominated film that is shocking and uplifting. It is the story of a transvestite who tries to erase her past history as a male but dies tragically before she is able to do so and on her tombstone is engraved her male identity. The film begins with brutality—we see two young soldiers having sex and afterwards one kills the other and right away we know what the feelings are about male/male sex.

“To Die As a Man” is a film about a transsexual (or better pit, a would be transsexual) who lives with a young druggie. As Tonia, Fernando Santos pulls out all of the stops. She is a drag queen who is aging and is asked to leave the show at the place where she works. Her competition is Jenny, a young Black drag queen. This is not a new idea—we have seen it many times before but maybe not with drag performers.

Director Joao Pedro Rodrigues is going to be a force in film, and she shows here that he is not afraid on anything and will pit on the screen what he wants. At 44 years old he is one of the new talents on the queer cinema scene. This film is about transcending gender and stars middle-aged Santos who just happens to be the leading drag performer in Portugal and a devout Catholic. As he speaks of sex change surgery, he does so graphically and we learn that the silicone injections that he has received are leaking. As if that is not enough, he has to deal with his drug addicted boyfriend and son who loves guns as well as the new rival. Tonia owns the film and is on screen for most of it and although we never see Tonia perform, we are well aware of what he can do. We see that being a drag queen is not enough for Tonia and he is also a drama queen.

While Tonia is the star, the film also revolves around Rosario (Alexander David), a gay man much younger than Tonia that she has fallen in love with. He is a drug addict, a thief and an abusive partner and although we see this we are also privy to the love they feel for each other. Rosario is damaged, a product of a damaged environment.

I would probably classify the film as a character study of a relationship that goes against all what society thinks is “normal” and the director tends to be a bit too abstract for everyone. The camera does not always focus and I suspect that this is because we are to buy into the illusion, that although the characters are real, the world they live in is based upon inaccuracies. This is a total experience that no amount of talk will do it justice and the movie entertains as well as gives us reason to worry.

“BLITZ”– Tough Cop

“Blitz”

Tough Cop

Amos Lassen

“Blitz” is based on a simple idea—a tough cop is sent to dispose of a serial killer who has been killing other policemen. Jason Statham is a British Dirty Harry type which tends to make him a bit of a cliché but good camera work allows us to overlook that. Statham plays Statham in this British police drama and he is good at what he does, he just always does the same thing. He is an alcoholic bastard cop who stops at nothing.

Statham is Detective Sergeant Tom Brant and he rules the streets with his physical force instead of his mind. When the Blitz (Aiden Gillen) begins roaming the streets of London, things get hot. Brant his partner Porter Nash (Paddy Considine) try to catch him before he kills even more policemen.

The problem is that the script is funny without meaning to be. Brant is seen as a sexist homophobe who spends most of his time in pubs drinking and is not concerned with really finding witnesses but he does have some very good lines. None of the characters are deep but if you wait until about half an hour into the film it begins to pick up so I cannot totally discount it. However, this is not my kind of movie and really never has been. It is interesting that Statham takes on a Stallone type character and brings the police chase back to the silver screen. I suppose that is worth something.

“Wildthorn” by Jane Eagland– Lambda Literary Award Winner for Young Adult Fiction

Eagland, Jane. “Wildthorn”, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2010.

Lambda Literary Award Winner for Young Adult Fiction

Amos Lassen

 

Louisa Cosgrove is 17 and when she gets to Wildthorn Hall, her world suddenly changes. She is told that she is not well and that her name is not Louisa Cosgrove but Lucy Childs. She protests of course and she is told that she is just thinking she is someone else and because she thinks she is not sick that means she is that much sicker.
This is her story as she tells it to us and it is a nightmare. What led up to Louisa getting to Wildthorn? Her father encouraged her to study medicine while her mother tried to get her to be more of a girl and as she remembers this, she receives harsh treatment at Wildthorn which is a hospital. We are never really quite sure if Louisa is who she says she is but this all works out in the end.

When Louisa’s father died, she was tricked into going to Wildthorn where she is stripped of identity and she begins to plan her escape so that she can take care of those who betrayed her because of her interest in learning something that is not particularly feminine. Louisa is in no way a typical girl and in this modern gothic novel we get a look at insane asylums and sexuality of the period. Louisa’s sexuality is never directly written about but it is hinted that she was a lesbian as women who did not fit in were labeled.

We get the idea that excessive study often leads to insanity and that girls who studied too much were considered eccentric. I found myself pulled in on the first page and I actually finished the book in one sitting. The character development is superb and the characters are wonderfully drawn. The plot is excellent and the writing is beautiful. I found myself blaming everyone for the way Louisa was treated and I was so happy when she found some solace in Eliza. This is a compelling read and I can certainly see how young girls will love the book.

“Echoes” by David Lennon– Winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Mystery

Lennon, David. “Echoes”, CreateSpace, 2010.

Winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Mystery

Amos Lassen

Sassy Jones, a rookie police officer has been given the job of creating a profile of abduction when three girls go missing and she sees this case as a chance to become professionally established. She jumps into the case and becomes totally involved to the point that her personal life is hurt. We them move forward twenty-five years and Sassy’s husband committed suicide and left behind photographs which link him to the abductions. Sassy has since moved up in the ranks and is now a homicide detective but is on suspension because of something that happened on that first case. Sassy’s partner who has been on a leave of absence has now come back for the purpose of investigating  the connection between Sassy’s husband, Carl, are the kidnapping and/or murders of some thirty three girls. The novel is set in New Orleans and the chief investigator from the coroner’s office’s daughter was the final victim and he begins his own investigation. This all happened twenty-five years earlier and now everyone wants to know what Sassy knew.

Being from New Orleans I can say right off that the atmosphere of the town is perfectly captured here. Mixing dark and light, Lennon gives us New Orleans in all of its decadence and crime, a place where the cops enjoy having fun. The book is a perfect look into the closets of the police department and I do not think that anyone was ready for Sassy to be involved in a crime. But in New Orleans there seem to be skeletons in every family and Lennon manages to bring them out. There is a lot to think about here—aside from the crime we have gay New Orleans. This is part of the three book series and I definitely intend to read the other two.

 

“Pleasure” by Brian Teare– The Lambda Award Winner for Poetry

Teare, Brian. “Pleasure”, Ahsanta Press, 2010.

The Lambda Award Winner for Poetry

Amos Lassen

“Pleasure” is poet Brian Teare’s response to the death of a lover to AIDS. He writes about love and loss and regards the dead lover as an Adam figure and their love was Eden. The poetry is intense and each word is chosen like a jewel as it remembers that Adam gave us words and names. The loss of a lover is a major loss—it is the loss of Eden and the disaster of AIDS takes center stage in the book. The language used is the language of pain and if not pain itself then the thought of pain.

The collection opens with a prose poem about a house that has been stripped and left to ruin and what will happen to it is that it is at the hands of the outside world. It represents what happens when we write and how we write is influenced by the world around us. In poetic terms language is either extremely important or futile but it is directly related to the loss of the poet’s lover two years ago. He shows that language is inadequate to express how he feels and what he wants is a way to express his grief more expressively while not suffering any longer. Teare still uses language as he writes about his lover and that language is tender and intimate. The problem with language comes with expressing grief and it simply is not enough.

So naturally one wants to know if these poems are painful and yes they are. The loss of love is always painful and it appears to me that Teare examines his lost love in such the same way he examines language and wonders if either is ever enough. There is no resolution in the collection because Teare has never resolved losing the man he loved—neither has he resolved a way to deal with his grief.

“BEGINNERS”– Finally Coming Out–The Film of the Summer

“Beginners”

Finally Coming Out

Amos Lassen

 

As gay people we do not always like to talk about aging but it is a fact of life and now the movies have Christopher Plummer playing a 75 year old man, Hal, who comes out after his wife’s death. In doing so he begins living for the first time and it is a revelation for him to finally be who he is. The movie is not only about him, however—it is also about his son, Oliver, played by Ewan McGregor who has become who he is because of the influences of both his mother and father.

 

Actually the story is about Oliver and how he deals with his father being gay and is battling cancer at the same time. The film is perfectly cast and directed by Mike Mills. We see the world through Oliver’s eyes for when his father dies, he has to contemplate life. His relationship to his dad and all of the choices he has ever made. Hal waited until his wife was dead until he came out to his son and when he does it is touching and sensitive. Oliver is actually happy for his father and that he is looking for love but he also remembers how lonely his mother had been.

 

Oliver falls in love with a French actress and she cannot seem to handle relationships and Oliver realizes that he must work at this and so he begins to think less about his parents and more about himself. The plot of the film actually begins after Oliver loses Hal to cancer and has a lot to say about aging, life and death.

“The Big Boys’ Detective Agency” by Stephen E. Stanley– Changing Jobs, Changing Life

Stanley. Stephen E. “The Big Boys’ Detective Agency: A Jesse Ashworth Mystery”, Create Space, 2011.

Changing Jobs, Changing Life

Amos Lassen

Former teacher, Jesse Ashworth and Tim Mallory, former police chief buy the Bigg Security Company and no sooner than they do then strange cases come to them. This is the beginning of their lives as private detectives and they become known as The Big Boys Detective Agency. Come to find out that the Turner Art Museum in Portland, Maine has had some very shady goings on and the Big Boys have been asked to check it out. As they investigate a haunting they also discover a missing person and a few bodies.

This book makes up part of the Jesse Ashworth series and even though I am not a mystery reader, per se, I do intend checking the others out. The books are set in Bath, Maine and I can only suspect that the author knows the area well as his descriptions are so well done. Even though the main characters are gay and the books fit into the gay literary genre, there are so sex scenes.

“Who Dat Whodunnit” by Greg Herren– Floating High and Landing Hard

Herren, Greg. “Who Dat Whodunnit (Scotty Bradley Adventures)”, Bold Strokes Books, 2011.

Floating High and Landing Hard

Amos Lassen

 

Every time I read a book about New Orleans, I expect to look up from the page and see Bourbon Street but instead I see Markham in Little Rock and I quickly return to reality. This is a problem—either I can stop reading about New Orleans or I can move back. Since moving back does not even come into the picture, not reading would be the likely choice but if I do that that I will be forced to miss Greg Herren’s (among others) writing.

In his new book he takes us to New Orleans after the Saints won the Super Bowl and the Carnival/Mardi Gras season is growing nigh (love that word). Our detective, Scotty Bradley is not looking forward to the festivities—he has more important matters to deal with. His cousin Jared, a player for the Saints is suspected of murdering his girlfriend, former Miss Louisiana, Tara Bourgeois. Scotty is not exactly convinced that Jared is innocent and when he starts looking into Tara’s life, he finds that there were several people who wanted her dead. She may have been a queen but her life was sordid and she represented homophobia. The more he digs the more sordid a life was found and it seems that Tara had several sexy secrets that someone wants to make sure are not let out.

Tara spent a lot of time promoting herself and she was perhaps most famous for her Anita Bryant like homophobic ranting against gay marriage while the pageant was going on. She dated Scotty/s cousin Jared who was a member of the Saints football squad. However once the investigation began, Tara was not looking to good and even in death there was plenty to talk about. What we have is blackmail, sex tapes, hired assassins, mental illness and a dead beauty queen.

There are twists and turns all along the way especially when you think you have the whole thing figured out. Herren’s writing is polished and slick and he even manages to bring a bit of the history of New Orleans. Religious bigotry and having fun seem to hold hands in the Queen City.

“BULLIED: A Student, a School and a Case that Made History”– Dealing with Bullying

“Bullied: A Student, a School and a Case that Made History”

Dealing with Bullying

Amos Lassen

What makes “Bullied” special is that it is part of the Teaching Tolerance Program which is presented by the Southern Poverty Law Center. In 38 minutes we learn about Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover who hung himself when he was only eleven years old because he has been bullied at school.

Jamie Nabonzy was called into a courtroom to hear what the jury found dealing with his lawsuit against the Ashland Wisconsin School District and several administrators. Jamie who was defended by the Lambda Legal Defense Fund won the first lawsuit ever that dealt with gay bashing within a school setting. The film looks at the abuse that Jamie received from both middle school and high school students and how the administration reacted, how Jamie attempted suicide, how he ran away twice and the trial. The film is made up of reenactments, interviews and Jamie’s own speech as he addresses the viewer and a high school audience.

The administrators were found guilty but the school was not found liable and the case was settled with a payment of $900,000 and the gay students got the message that they are entitled to an education like everyone else and they cannot be threatened with harassment. Jamie says that he fought back for all those students who couldn’t.

“GAY REVOLT AT DENVER CITY COUNCIL”– Speaking for Rights

“Gay Revolt at Denver City Council”

Speaking for Rights

Amos Lassen

Gerald Gerash has been a mover and shaker in the area of gay rights and in his documentary here; he narrates what led up to a confrontation in Denver on October 23, 1973 at the City Council Meeting. It was there that rights were discussed and as early as just a few years after Stonewall. What happened at that meeting changed the way Denver treated its GLBT community. This is Gerash’s personal film and he shows us through accounts, photos and testimonies what happened that evening when the city council regarded gay activism as a joke. It as if we are there and we hear about some dealings that are very shady—roundups, arrests, entrapment and we find our mouths hitting the floor and the story continues.

What we see and hear is reminiscent of the way Blacks were once treated in this country and it made me sick to watch this even when I understand how important it is for us to know how things were and how they have changed. The film is a testament to the gay people who forged the path so that we can finally achieve the rights we are entitled to. The film is a very strong look at how our rights came to be and is a very important part of who we are.