Monthly Archives: July 2011

“FORGED”— Trying to Forge a Bond

 

“Forged”

Forging a Bond

Amos Lassen

A father is sent to prison for the murder of his son’s mother and when he comes home he tries to repair the damage he was caused his son. This is a film with lots of action and some excellent acting.

Chuco (Manny Perez) is released from prison after serving time for blowing his wife’s head off and tries to reclaim his life and reconnect with his son. Machito is now 13 years old and has been living on the street after escaping his foster home where he was beaten. He has been surviving by servicing men and some of these scenes are very upsetting. Machito blames his father for what he has to do and wants revenge on the man who robbed him of his youth.

Even though he wants to go straight, Chuco is seduced by his old friends and they offer him coke and pretty girls if he will come back to them but he messes up on a drug deal and steals a large amount of money. He decides that the time has come to start over and he plans to use the stolen money for a better life but his gang is looking for him and his son. We see a very bloody chase and a confrontation that is excessively violent. The film is realistic in its grittiness and as I said the violence is graphic.

Perez gives a powerful performance and one scene breaks the heart. Interestingly enough Perez also wrote the screenplay. There is no happy ending and we see that revenge does not satisfy and when one’s circle of friends is evil people, there is little hope. This is quite a depressing film but excellently done.

 

“God vs. Gay?: The Religious Case for Equality” by Jay Michaelson— Embracing Who We Are

Michaelson, Jay. “God vs. Gay?: The Religious Case for Equality”, Beacon Press, 2011.

Embracing Who We Are

Amos Lassen

I am often asked how I reconcile my faith (Jewish) with my sexuality (gay) and I simply answer that I do not need to reconcile anything. I am a gay Jew or I am a Jewish gay man and that is simply who I am. I feel no conflict and there are no questions to ask or to answer because I understand who I am. Others–many, many others are not so lucky and they spend much of their lives looking for answers to non-existent questions. We have allowed ourselves to be bullied into believing that as gay and lesbian people,  there is no place for us religiously and the ideas that are cited  and/or used are totally erroneous. Jay Michaelson says a great deal about this in his new book, “God vs. Gay?: The Religious Case for Equality” so if you are looking for answers, here is a good place to start

This is such an important book and it shows us that religion is a liberating force without regard to sexuality or religious belief. Michaelson examines Jewish and Christian teachings about homosexuality and he shows us that both traditions allow for the embrace of our LGBT brothers and sisters. Furthermore the book is a guide to understanding the debate in America about religion and homosexuality.

The idea that religion and homosexuality are opposites of each other is, according to Michaelson, a “pernicious myth” and that gay rights should be championed by religion instead of the opposite. Both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament stress love, equality and compassion and if we begin our reading of the holy books with that in mind, we soon see that the reading we get is much different to what comes at us from pulpits in this country. Moral principles found in these texts (please note that I use the term Hebrew Bible instead of Old Testament in order that there be no confusion that one is older and one is newer) are aimed at acceptance of all people, specifically the LGBT community and the verses that are usually cited against homosexuality by conservatives are ambiguous at best. It is now time to end the discussion on God’s view of certain people when there is nothing written to that effect at all.

Both the Christian and Jewish Bibles place a great deal on the concepts of love, compassion and equality and there is no denying that these call for the inclusion of members of the LGBT community. Using this as a jumping off point the author looks at gay rights and states that the morality  ideals presented in the holy books show that acceptance is necessary and that the verses that are espoused by fundamentalist Christians are taken out of context and misunderstood. It is time to get rid of the “God split”. Michaelson goes on to show the idea of God vs. gay has been misinterpreted and in actuality God and gay not only go together but they complement each other. It is time for religious alienation to end and we should move to spiritual wholeness and thereby move closer to God. The book shows us how to heal and move from rejection to inclusion.  Michaelson says what many of us have always felt and once the words are out, we will see the differences they make. By looking within ourselves and our souls and our traditions we can see that religion can free us from the suffering that we have had pushed upon us.

Jay Michaelson is certainly in a position to make these statements. He is both a religious scholar and a gay activist and the founder of Nehirim which is an organization that provides programming for LGBT Jews. He has been listed by Forward newspaper as one of the fifty influential Jewish leaders in America. What he has to say is timely and very important and it provides a great deal to think about. The book is long overdue and I sincerely hope that with its publication others will begin to write on the topic as well. When we consider the amount of damage to our community brought about by religion, we should want to read this just to make sure that it will never happen again.

“Reckless” by Rick R. Reed— The Letter

Reed, Rick R. “Reckless”,  Excessica Publishing , 2010.

The Letter

Amos Lassen

It has been a while since I reviewed a Rick Reed book so I went looking for something by him that I had not read. If you like Reed, you will love this as it is typical Reed. By that I mean you have no idea of what to expect.

One rainy afternoon Paul met Max at a Starbucks in Chicago and he really wasn’t looking or anyone that day. However, Max was fun and a pleasant way to spend an afternoon since his boyfriend was on a business trip. What we soon learn is that Paul is HIV positive and a short while after the romp, he received a letter from Max with some legal facts about HIV and that infecting someone was a criminal act and the news that he had infected him and now he was going to have to pay.

Paul tries to visualize that day and he could not remember if he told Max and whether or not they used a condom but he was quite that he had and that they did. The letter severely affects Paul and he begins to consider what happened. Max let Paul know that he was pressing charges against him and this really set Paul off. He surely would be exposed as gay, HIV positive and quite possibly he could be convicted of the crime.

This is just  short story but its thirteen pages are packed and the emotions that take up the end of the story will have you reeling. The possibilities of something like this in real life is that it could happen and all of us keep a secret about ourselves that if revealed could destroy us. We empathize with Paul because it could have happened to us but we must also remember that Paul was not looking or sex the day this happened. We see the importance of the details of our lives and this is a story that is guaranteed to make you think.

“Sex Fiends, Perverts and Pedophiles” by Chrysanti Leon— Dealing with Sexual Offenses

Leon, Chrysanthi. “Sex Fiends, Perverts, and Pedophiles: Understanding Sex Crime Policy in America”, NYU Press, 2011.

Dealing with Sexual Offenses

Amos Lassen

Crimes involving sex are considered by many to be the most heinous of crimes and almost every state in the United States has laws to punish sex offenders. Legislation for being especially hard on sex offenses is of high priority after a sex crime has been committed and the punishment is usually very harsh and long. Some Sexual crimes result in the offender having to wear a GPS for life and only being allowed to live in certain areas which are approved for that purpose. In this book we see clearly that not all sexual offenders are alike and the one policy for sex crimes can cause some to be so severely punished and those guilty of lesser crimes get the same kinds of punishment as those who commit much more dangerous crimes and by this, sexual offenders become pariahs of society.

I think we can all agree that prison is not necessarily the answer or all people. We learn here that we have reached the point where all sex crimes are lumped together and all perpetrators share the same punishments undermines public safety. We have a huge sexual offender population in prisons today and many will be released. When this happens, the offenders face barriers to the achievement of success and there is little help available. The blame lies on the institutions that are charged with helping them to find suitable employment and homes and this causes them to become marginalized. Those who work with rehabilitation are responsible for the fact that these offenders are never really integrated back into society.

The book contains an extensive bibliography and a historical overview of the situation as well as two supplementary chapters, one on research methodology and the other, a timeline on the contexts of sex crime policy.

“Emma Lazarus” by Esther Schor— A Woman for All Seasons

Schor, Esther. “Emma Lazarus”, Nextbook Schocken, 2008.

A Woman for All Seasons

Amos Lassen

Most of us know Emma Lazarus as the woman who wrote “The New Colossus”, the poem on the Statue of Liberty. In this biography of the poet, we learn that she was as ardent Zionist and a feminist as well as a famous Jewish writer.

Esther Schor had access to Lazarus’ personal letters and from them she is able to tell us what Lazarus was all about. She was born in America in 1849 to a rich Sephardic family and she, at 17, published her first volume of poetry and while her family was not religious, Lazarus had strong feelings for Judaism, Jewish history and the idea of peoplehood. She felt strongly about the Jews of Eastern Europe who had come to America although she shared nothing with them.

Until this book saw the light of day, Lazarus’ reputation was based only on “The New Colossus”. We learn that she was very smart and had once been the protégé o Ralph Waldo Emerson and was in contact with Henry James and Robert Browning. She was a Zionist before the concept even existed. We learn of her philanthropy and her championing of Russian Jewish refugees and she was the kind of woman that many yearn to be. She struggled with the creation of an identity in which Jewish and American were side by side.

Most of her poetry is impressive and she was also a reviewer and an essayist. She tried to show that it was possible to be both Jewish and secular as well as literary yet she was not religious. We can find Jewish themes in most of her writings which is interesting as she indeed was secular. She wrote about social justice and ethics. Religiously, I suppose, she would be classified as a Theist.  Her “By the Waters of Babylon” is regarded as the first prose poem that was written in English and it expresses her views on Judaism.

It is too bad that Lazarus is almost forgotten and perhaps this book will make people aware of her. Several of her poems are included as well as an extensive bibliography.

“The Stranger’s Child” by Alan Hollinghurst— Time and Memory

Hollinghurst, Alan. “The Stranger’s Child”, Knopf, 2011.

Time and Memory

Amos Lassen

Without question, Alan Hollinghurst’s new novel has been one of the most anticipated books of gay literature and I was lucky to get a copy from the United Kingdom and have an advance look at the book that will not be published in America until October, 2011.

Hollinghurst is the acclaimed author of “The Swimming Pool Library”, “The Folding Star”, “The Spell” and “The Line of Beauty”, the Man Booker Prize winner and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He is also the recipient of other major literary awards.

As can be expected, the book is beautifully written and looks at the changing moral landscape of the world. This is an epic novel that pulls you in and holds you tight. Te theme is about how time and memory affect us and it covers the years from 1913 to 2008 and is filled with wit and irony. We read of the decline of England through stories of friendships and encounters and we sense the immediacy of the theme. Cecil Valance, our hero, had a short life and died in war. Now his reputation was being formulated posthumously and it is memory that must be relied upon so that he gets his due. Cecil and George had been lovers but because of the times they carried out they lived their lives secretly. Nonetheless, they were influential but it took time and in many cases their union became the unconscious pattern or others. Such relationships were, for the most part, shrouded in secrecy, whereas today things are very different.

Hollinghurst has written his novel in the tradition of those that came before him, notably E.M. Forster with the intricate plot structure and the comedic sections about class, art, sexuality and politics. Valance is remembered but that memory becomes myth filled with incorrect assumptions and lies. The novel is set in Corley Court, a Victorian home of the Valance family and it also becomes a character in the novel. It is through the house that we learn of characters and their frailties and obsessions. It is dialogue that moves the plot forward and it is filled with irony.

One reviewer says that this is “Brideshead Revisited” in reverse. The world that we get is the world of satire. The villain is time and as time passes, we all know too well, things change. Here is realism with detail and it is wonderful to see the melancholy that exists  tempered with humor. Following the lives of two aristocratic families, desire is everywhere and mortality and mythology unite with aesthetics and history.

It has been seven years since we last heard from Hollinghurst and we see here what he was doing. In 1913, George Sawle brought Cecil Valance to his family’s home near London or a weekend. George and Cecil were classmates at Cambridge and George was infatuated with Cecil as his sixteen year old sister, Daphne. Cecil regales both with stories of Corely Court, the estate in the country which he will inherit but he also writes something in Daphne’s autograph album that will have long range results and change their lives. It was a poem that will later be recited by every British schoolchild after Cecil is killed in the War. With the poem came stories and as they spread, secrets are buried until years later the truth is discovered by a biographer who threatens to tell all. We see the power of desire and the ability of the heart to make its own history.

It is so good to have a new Hollinghurst novel and this book is going to be very big. It is already claiming fame in England and come October it will do the same here in America.

“DEADLY BELOVED”— Five Friends

“Deadly Beloved”

Five Friends

Amos Lassen

When five college friends get together is a deserted mansion for the wedding of their best friend, they are disturbed by an unhappy ghost who resents their intrusion to his home. Toni is a gorgeous New York cop who has psychic abilities develops a bond with the ghost but we have to wait and see if that is enough to save herself and her friends. There is lots of drama and humor here and a totally unexpected ending.

The girl who is getting married is doing so with a man that none of the five have ever met or even seen. Everything was going fine until one of the friends sees the ghost, Victoria, who had been killed in the house some years ago. The ghost is trying to warn them that something is not right and the five do not understand why none of the groom’s friends in attendance for the wedding. Having seen the ghost’s diary, they notice the resemblance of the man to Victoria’s brother.

I found the movie to be a fun watch and the cast does a fine job. There are plenty good one liners and the special effects are quite good. I love that this was done ala the old horror movies we used to get and the music just it’s perfectly. The tight script keeps the tension and we keep wondering what is going on. I guess the best thing I can say is that this is an old fashioned ghost story.

 

 

“UNHAPPY BIRTHDAY”— coming to us soon

“Unhappy Birthday”

Coming to Us Soon

Amos Lassen

Coming soon from Wolfe Video is “Unhappy Birthday”, a thriller set on a remote island named Amen where three outsiders battle the morals of an “antiquated community”. The film deals with the fear of isolation and nature against nature. What was to have been a special birthday party becomes not a party but a nightmare for Sadie, Rick and Johnny who come to the island to visit Corinne. Only those invited to Amen can come there and once there it seems impossible to leave. Our friends soon find that they are trapped by the tide and are at the mercy of the nature of the island. Starring David Paisley, Jonathan Keane, Christina De Vallee and Jill Riddiford and directed by Mark Harriott and Mike Matthews, we find ourselves at a birthday celebration unlike no other and we  see that those in attendance wish that they had never gone.

“The Werewolves of Central Park” by Tom Cardamone— In the Park

Cardamone, Tom. “The Werewolves of Central Park”, Starbooks Press, 2010.

In the Park

Amos Lassen

I took a recommendation from Michael Graves (“Dirty One”) and read this. It is wild as we go to Central Park at midnight  and find stereotypes of New York gay culture in the guise of creatures from Greek mythology. This is a story of desire and is a sexual fantasy of love and danger. We do not often read about gay love and sex with such energy as here. To really enjoy the book, you must imagine New York as “Faery Land” that is filled with creatures with great sexual urges and desires who follow them to excess and who are constantly being transformed. There is a lot of sex and the characters are wild but this is a fun read which takes werewolves to a whole new level with men transforming into werewolves who are on the prowl for pleasure and we get a seductive story of hunter and prey. The ideas are new and I find the whole concept to be refreshing and highly erotic. What the book lacks in plot is made up for in originality and this is a book you will not soon forget. And did I mention that it is full of sex? There is even a little romance.

“The Evolution of Ethan Poe” by Robin Reardon— Coming Out

Reardon, Robin. “The Evolution of Ethan Poe”, Kensington Books, 2011.

Coming Out

Amos Lassen

I became a fan of Robin Reardon with her first book and have remained one through all three and now she comes along and gives us a coming out story that is one o the most beautifully heartfelt story I have ever read.

At 16, Ethan Poe knows he is gay and he is faced with a struggle o being balanced in life (and all of us can identify with that). Things have not been going well—his parents are splitting up and his brother Kyle is on a purity kick. His best friend, Jorja, is praying for Ethan to be straight and Ethan has a crush on Max Modine as his whole world seems to be falling apart. Ethan lives in a small town in Maine and everything seems to be going wrong. To make things even crazier, Ethan is pulled into a conflict about whether Intelligent Design should be discussed in the science classroom at school and the debate is becoming nasty. Against this Ethan has to deal with coming out and he has to decide just how far he is willing to stand up for what he really believes. All of this happens in a relatively short time period. Dealing with his parents is hard enough for Ethan but his brother seems to have gone off the deep end and his friend trying to pray Ethan’s gay away just further complicates everything. Ethan also has to deal with his father and juggling both fitting in and still standing out. And then there are his feelings for Max.

As the debate over Intelligent Design heats up, people come apart and the school becomes a war zone and Ethan is forced to take a stand. Ethan manages to survive all of this and becomes who he feels he should and was meant to be.

The story is very real and is actually based upon an incident that really happened. Now we must understand that aside from his sexuality, Ethan was already an outsider, he dressed in Goth style and was proud that he was related to Edgar Allan Poe. Jorja also considers himself to be Goth but he is also a practicing Christian. When Ethan finally hooks up with Max, he is thrown into the debate at school and the town takes sides with the Fundamentalist Christians on one side and the secular citizens on the other.

Granted there is a lot going on in the novel but Reardon manages not only to keep us on tack but to do so with style and with this style we get to know Ethan. I wanted to hold him and tell him that everything was going to be all right. We feel his tension  and we identify with him. Reardon takes the coming out story and reinterprets it in a way that grabs us and holds us.