Monthly Archives: July 2011

“THE SHAFT”— Three Stories in One

 

 

“The Shaft” (“Dixia de tiankong”)

Three Stories in One

Amos Lassen

 

“The Shaft” from China is a collection of three stories in which all of the characters live or work in a mine in a small Chinese town. Beautifully photographed, we get a look at a mining community that is very interesting. I know that a film about Chinese mine workers is not something that is going to pull people into a box office but it is more than that—it is a look at contemporary China. The people in the town are very poor and the place where they live is not pretty. We see the strains of life that the people feel and director Zhang Chi focuses on a family of three who live in a cramped apartment and their stories are told in three segments.

In the first segment, the pretty daughter works in the mine. She has a boyfriend who rides her home on his bicycle. He buys her shoes that she does not take because it is considered bad luck to buy shoes for a woman because she may use them to walk out on the person who gave them to her. She is accused of having sex with the mine manager because she got a promotion. The other workers turn on her and she leaves and moves to Beijing and marries an older man.

The second segment is about her young brother who dreams of becoming a pop singer. He quits school and ends up in prison because he abetted a thief and after his release he begins working in the mine, something he had vowed not to do.

The third segment is about the father who retires after a lifetime of working in the mind. His son and daughter throw him a birthday party for his 60th and this is an embarrassment for him. He wants to look for his wife who deserted the family some 20 years before.

The common theme between the stories is yearning. The daughter finally starts a new life, the son is taken through a series of awakenings and the father dreams of his lost wife. We see lives which are propelled forward by desire. Major issues are looked at here—the shortage of women in China and the improbability of economic stability. Desires are held within and the characters must find a way to deal with their yens.

 

“ORDINARY PEOPLE”— Coping

“Ordinary People”

 

Coping

 

Amos Lassen

 

Seven soldiers are sent to an abandoned farm with no information and a bus of frightened men arrives and the soldiers are informed that they are the enemy. If you want to know about ethnic cleansing, here is a good place to begin. We meet the soldiers when they are told to execute the enemy who just happen to be defenseless and between the ages of 15 to 70. Our soldiers really cannot deal with the situation and they just do what they are told to do and then get drunk to forget.

The film is quite drab with no music and little dialogue, no hero, no action and no judgment. What we see is a very realistic look at a very hard situation. Set in Serbia, the landscape is quite bleak and the movie could very well have become totally self-indulgent. Each scene is very raw and real.

The film is basically a psychological study of making a documentary and while many will not be pleased with what they see, this is quite an important film. We do not often see honesty of this kind in film and it seems to me that the theme is the banality of genocide. Writer/director Vladimir Perisic made this film to be quiet and devastating and I do not think that many can talk after seeing it. The theme is simple and the movie is slow and I found it to be an elegant look at war.

“Blood and Money: Why Families Fight Over Inheritance and What to Do About It”— Inheritance and Us

Accettura, P. Mark. “BLOOD & MONEY: Why Families Fight Over Inheritance and What To Do About It “, 2011.

 

Inheritance and Us

 

Amos Lassen

 

Aside from missing a loved one when he dies, there is the problem of inheritance. Many times settling the estate results in a warlike situation among those named in the will. This book takes us through the process and it explains the psychology behind why people fight over inheritance as well as it gives us the steps to be taken to prevent arguments and disputes. This is a complete explanation of the process.

 

Accettura has been involved in estate law for over thirty years and has done extensive research as to how to make inheritance problems much easier to deal with. The greed and pettiness of the family members are really the struggle that they want to feel as if they belong. “The fight for money and things” affect self esteem and security. Many times there are family fights because one member of the family is having a hard time accepting the death. In many cases those involved are members of dysfunctional families or suffer from some kind of mental illness or some other problem. We have people who leave everything to their pets and then we have those that bequeath their estates so that they can used for the betterment if society.

 

We also learn about which legal protections are available so that the least amount of damage is done. We are given some 60 recommendations that help family members and their legal counsels so that things go smoothly. The book also looks at the dynamics of family as it is important to estate planning. Taking into account demography, this is a book that we should all become familiar with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“WITHOUT A HOME”— Understanding Homelessness

“Without a Home”

Understanding Homelessness

Amos Lassen

Director Rachel Fleischer made this film as a way of helping her understand homelessness in Los Angeles where she was raised. It was a four year adventure and it took her into the lives of several homeless people as they went through the struggles of everyday life including just survival, staying clean and finding a home. She started filming the homeless in 2003 and four years later she had a documentary film. Most of us know nothing about the homeless and I would even say that we do not want to know. Fleischer made some decisions before she began filming—no crew and no protection. She approached people without the camera, she decided not to ever shoot at night and she would always stay in an area that was populated so that she could be seen. She hit the streets with a video camera and began to look for the homeless.

She met Joby who became her friend and even though he was both drunk and high, he took her to a place near 134 Freeway and to a homemade (or is that homelessmade) tent. This was what Joby called home. The interviews that she was able are compelling and she discovered that hope was on the mind of the people that she spoke with. These people are the true other half (“of the expression of how the other half lives”). Soon she was a friend to the homeless and she witnessed that they were asking for help.  She could not say no and she was soon visiting them whenever she could and as she did she learned a great deal and we see that in her film. The good deeds that she did—from making phone calls to driving them places—filled her with compassion. This was especially true when she found the humanity of the homeless.

I personally feel that this is a very important film especially with the economy as it is now. We need to become aware of those less fortunate and we have to know how to react to them. Have a look here—it will certainly give you a new way to look at the homeless.

“Fork on the Left, Knife in the Back” by Michael Musto— Culture ala Musto

Musto, Michael. “Fork on the Left, Knife in the Back”, Vantage Point, 2011.

Culture ala Musto

Amos Lassen

Michael Musto is one of those guys who has “been there and done that? And now he presents his views on pop culture in his new book, “Fork on the Left, Knife in the Back”. Not only does he look at pop culture but he tells us how it got that way. Some of the essays are reprints of his very popular column. “La Dolce Musto” in the “Village Voice” while others were written especially for this book. He hear the big news about celebrities whether they needed help or just plain famous for being famous. Musto seems to know everyone and been everywhere and as he writes about others, he also writes about himself. And Michael Musto wears many different hats—he is a radio commentator, he is a newspaper man, he is an author and he is a man about town.

Nothing seems to stop Musto and he tells us about everything we ever wanted to know or never cared about. He will run after a blind item until he gets the story and he knows who is hiding in the closet. Musto is witty and funny and writes with just the right amount of raunchiness. Often talked about in the same breath, Musto and Perez Hilton have nothing in common and we learn here that Musto hates Hilton and the way he gets his scoops.

We learn how Musto came to love gossip and he writes about the hedonistic life of New York City where people are out so that they can be seen.

Michael Musto meets Michael Lucas for a chat about passing gas. It seems Lucas was being flamed for faking flatulence in his movie “Farts!” He writes about Warhol and disputes the Warholian theory of fifteen minutes of fame. He admires the luck of Lady Gaga and the nerve of Courtney Love. For Musto the club scene and club kids are fodder and he tells us what we need to know.

Musto also writes about gay New York and tells us that the bars in the west Village are the best and that he tends to visit the older established business rather than the new “in” spots. The book is dedicated to those who are still speaking to him and with a dedication like that; you already get a general idea of what is between the covers.

The book is divided into six sections, “Celebs in Need of Crisis Counseling”, “Cheap Thrill–Seeking and Other Personal Journeys”, “Starry, Starry Nights and an Occasional Lunch”, “Wierdos Are My Heroes”, “Legally Blind” and “After Dark My Sweet”. The Michael Musto who wrote this is a softer man than his previous book but the sharp insight is still there. This is a fun book that also happens to tell us a lot.

“I LOVE DICK”— A Retro Sitcom

“I Love Dick!”

A Retro Sitcom

Amos Lassen

“I Love Dick” is a retro sitcom by Brian Pelletier and Tony Jerris. It is a very funny look at a young gay couple, Dick (Michael Ciriaco) and Mickey (Jeremy Lucas) and is set in the 1950’s (even I can’t remember the 50’s) in West Hollywood. In the 50’s gay people were not out and had to struggle to try to fit into a world that did not want us around. The guys movie in together and rent an apartment from Edie (Sarah Gabor) and Fran (Patricia Vitally), two lesbians. Mickey is very successful in his career as an actor and quickly climbs the ladder to success leaving Dick to be lonely at night when Mickey is away. We all know what happens when loneliness sets in and that is what the twelve episodes are about. There is nothing modern here—the series is in black and white and very low budget but it is also lots of fun and is loaded with charm, humor and wit.

 

“BEASTLY”— A Modern Retelling of “The Beauty and the Beast”

“Beastly”

A Modern Look at “The Beauty and the Beast”

Amos Lassen

“The Beauty and the Beast” is one of those immortal fairy tales that can be adapted for any place and any age. Here it is set in New York City and a teen is transformed into a hideous monster so that he can find true love. Kyle (the good-looking Alex Pettyfer) thinks that he is the best thing to come along in centuries and at his high school he acts as if he is God’s gift to the world. He plays a trick on Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen) but he does not know that she is a witch. In turn Kendra puts a curse on him by changing his appearance to a horrible beast and she grants him a year to find someone to love him or remain beastly forever.

Well what I can say? Teens will love this but I doubt that many thinking adults will give it a thought. The original story is changed and everything here happens very quickly and the tragedy of the original is not there.  Kyle may look like a best but he acts like a brat who just whines and actually comes across as a comedic character. Neil Patrick Harris turns in a wonderful performance and he actually saved the movie from being dismal. That Olsen girl is ok but she always looks as if she had just stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine and not at all like a witch. This is not an awful movie—it just is not a good movie and the ending was totally without meaning.

When the ending finally came there are no surprises as there was really no beginning, no middle and no end.  The story went through a major butchering and that hurt the project but if this your thing, by all means, go and see it.

Young Adult Novels About Diversity, a List thanks to Elliott Mackle

I thought you book guys would be interested in this item that turned up on my gay-veterans message board. The Folded Leaf (William Maxwell) might also qualify.

Several children’s books that I’d recommend to families about diversity acceptance:

– The Sissy Duckling (Harvey Fierstein)
– Oliver Button Is A Sissy (Tomie dePaola)
– When Grown-ups Fall In Love (Barbara Lynn Edmonds)
– Who’s In A Family? (Robert Skutch)
– Heather Has Two Mommies (Leslea Newman)
– Daddy’s Roommate (Michael Willhoite)
– Number The Stars (Lois Lowrty) {historical fiction}
– Define Normal (Julie Anne Peters)
– A Separate Peace (John Knowles)
– Am I Blue? Coming Out From The Silence (Marion Dane Bauer)
– Keeping You A Secret (Julie Anne Peters)
– Luna (Julie Anne Peters)
– Geography Club (Brent Hartinger)
– So Hard To Say (Alex Sanchez)
– Boy Meets Boy (David Levithan)

As with any book recommendation, I recommend the parents read them first to be informed about your children’s reading material. Plus I believe these books would be good for family discussion. Check them out.

“The Abode of Bliss: Ten Stories for Adam” by Alex Jeffers— Who We Are

Jeffers, Alex.”The Abode of Bliss: Ten Stories for Adam”, Lethe Press, 2011.

Who We Are

Amos Lassen

Identity is a major issue in our community as so many of us do not take the time to understand who we are while at the same time expecting others to accept us. Our main character here is Ziya, a young man from Istanbul who learns who he is while he explains himself to Adam, his lover and in his stories are our stories.

Ziya was raised in Istanbul, a cosmopolitan city and he grew up bilingual. He spent a lot of time in Bodrum, an Aegean resort city and then went to college in America where he found friends and sex. We see from his stories that we are all the same in many aspects and that we all basically share experiences. In the ten stories here, the world becomes a much smaller place. While the locations are not the same, the experiences are similar and it is easy to transpose ourselves into some of what is written here.

Alex Jeffers is a writer’s writer and I remember reading his work as it came out but it has been a long time since he gave us something new. The wait is over and as much as I hate to say it is worth it (because I would have liked something during that wait), it is well worth it. Here is a book of stories in which each one is sheer perfection. The prose is sublime, the characters are beautifully drawn and we get a chance to see what the word literature means (as opposed to writing). I think we should all write to Alex Jeffers and let him know that we do want to wait another fifteen years for him to write something.

 

 

“August Farewell” by David G. Hallman— Saying Goodbye Forever

Hallman, David G. “August Farewell “, iUniverse, 2011.

Saying Goodbye Forever

Amos Lassen

In August, 2009 the doctor told David Hallman and his partner Bill Conklin that Bill had pancreatic cancer and nothing else could be done for him. This book is about the sixteen days that followed and when David said his final goodbye to the man he has lived with and love for thirty-three years. As David remembers Bill we are treated to his talking with humor and affection for the man he loved. Both men were involved in social justice and they cared about our environment, loved the arts and to travel and they were both deeply spiritual men.

As I read, there were times that I felt as if I was violating the author’s privacy as this is such a personal book. Their beautiful and loving relationship ended quickly and David gives us an intimate look at what they shared. We do not feel the anger that David might have felt about losing his partner and we actually get to know both David and Bill here. We are with them as they travel and I found it amazing that I was there with them.

I do not want you to think that the book is depressing because it is not. Rather it is uplifting and since we know how it will end, we are ready for that. Being with David and Bill during some of their shared moments is a treat and the author has written about them beautifully. One cannot help being pulled into the narrative and I found it to be an affirmation of life. I feel I must make note of David as a caregiver—he is so strong and showed his love while many of us might not have been able to do what he did.