Monthly Archives: September 2011

“On Wings of Affection” by George Snyder— Murder in WeHo

Snyder, George. “On Wings of Affection”, Lulu, 2011.

A Mystery in WeHo

Amos Lassen

I love a good mystery and we get that and so much more from George Snyder. Sam is a gym bunny, Pam (Agnes) is what we call a “poor little rich girl” and Didier is the partner of a high class decorator and these are the first characters that we meet. When the decorator is killed and Didier flees as he is the main suspect and then things get really wild with Sam now becoming a suspect and there is a disaster and one thing follows another to the point that the plot becomes really hard to follow—but great FUN. If you try to keep things organized you will lose the joy of this reading. You must suspend belief and just fall into it and go with it.

Snyder is great at sarcasm and there is plenty of it here. I love that and I had one laugh after another. It is the mystery that draws you in but it is the humor that keeps you reading. Our trio of characters is delightful and I can see them coming back in future novels. We get a lot of twists and turns in the plot and everything is just a fine backdrop for murder. We see West Hollywood as a place of lust and jealousy just as we see in so many gay communities elsewhere

Sam narrates with humor and tongue in cheek and if I have a complaint it is that the plot, as I said, is a bit difficult to follow. Otherwise this is a delightful read. Don’t worry if you get lost—everything comes together in the end.

“Beginnings: Reflections on the Bible’s Intriguing Firsts” by Meir Shalev— In the Beginning…

Shalev, Meir. “Beginnings: Reflections on the Bible’s Intriguing Firsts”, Three Rivers Press, 2012. (Paperback).

In the Beginning…

Amos Lassen

It is always a treat to read Meir Shalev in English, something I was not able to do when I lived in Israel (he was only available in Hebrew). His new book looks at the firsts in the Hebrew Bible and I found it not only enlightening but great fun.

For example, the first kiss was not a kiss of love or affection, the first love was not between man and woman and the first hate was a man for his wife. Interestingly enough, the first laugh was the only one so it was both first and last. Many of us will learn about the firsts for the first time and Shalev has done a wonderful investigative job here. I am sure that he has discovered things that many Biblical scholars have missed or never thought about.

Shalev not only finds the eleven firsts, he investigates them to discover the meaning and in doing so we learn about how the first Jewish (Hebrew) king came about as well as other pieces of history that he looks at from a secular point of view and in this way the text of the scriptures becomes easily accessible and understood.

Shalev also explains what is important about the firsts and each of these has its own chapter in the book. I never considered the love of Isaac and Rebecca to be the first love or Abraham being the first prophet. Reading this is like reading the Bible as a novel. Yet it is more than that because we learn something as well.

“ENTRY DENIED”— a new documentary—feel free to help

About this project

PLEASE JOIN US ON FACEBOOK and TWITTER!!

WHAT IS THIS FILM ABOUT

Imagine you meet someone and fall in love. Now imagine that the immigration laws of your country don’t allow you to live together. This is the reality for thousands of gay and lesbian Americans in bi-national relationships.

While an American citizen can sponsor a family member (spouse, child or parent) for a green card, an American citizen in a same-sex relationship can’t. That’s because the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman. This documentary is not about gay marriage but rather about the basic fundamental right that everyone deserves to be with the person you love.

WHY THIS FILM IS IMPORTANT

As an immigrant, I have always been well informed about the U.S. immigration laws. In early 2001 I came across an organization that provided support to gays and lesbians dealing with immigration issues.  I was invited to attend one of their monthly meetings. I was astonished to learn that there are more than 36,000 bi-national gay and lesbian couples in the United States, most of whom live with the constant fear of seeing their partners deported and their families torn apart. Many of the couples are forced to live apart because the U.S. fails to recognize same-sex couples for immigration purposes. The couples I met had common stories of hardship and heartbreak, as well as a strong desire to speak out against the injustices that continue to separate them from the people they love.

I was moved by the passion and conviction I witnessed at the meetings, and decided to document the issues and the human stories behind them.  For the past nine past years I have followed the stories of three bi-national same-sex couples and their struggles to stay together. The sole purpose of this film is to raise awareness on this issue, which only recently has started to gain some media coverage.

WHY KICKSTARTER?

Most of the funding for Entry Denied has come from the generous contributions of people and organizations that believe in the project. I have been lucky to receive two grants (Film Arts Foundation and Horizons Foundation) to help with the production phase. And I’ve received many in-kind contributions that, along with my own money, have made it possible to reach this post-production stage. We now need $15,000 to complete a final cut just in time to submit it to film festivals, so that the film can be screened in 2012.

After nine years of working on this film, I owe it to the couples I followed, and to all the many others who share their plight, to finish the film and give it the exposure it needs. Your contribution will make this possible.

HOW THIS CONTRIBUTION WOULD HELP!

If you support our project, your donation will be used for post-production, which includes:
-Final editing
-Color correction
-Special effects
-Sound mix
-Score and music use fees
-Translation and subtitles
Crowdfunding is not just about raising money; it’s also about raising awareness of the project. If you can make a contribution, we’ll be eternally grateful, but please don’t stop there. Help us spread the word by increasing the “likes” on our Facebook page and by becoming a Twitter follower. If you have a blog or website please help us spread the word about the Entry Denied Kickstarter campaign.

Kickstarter is all-or-nothing, if we don’t make our $15,000 goal within the 30 day window, we don’t get any of the donations raised.

Please help us raise $15,000 so that we can finish the film and begin to raise awareness! 

PLEASE JOIN US ON FACEBOOK and TWITTER!!

“Paper Conspiracies” by Susan Daitch— The Dreyfus Affair as Backdrop

Daitch, Susan. “Paper Conspiracies”, City Lights Publishers , 2011.

The Affaire Dreyfus

Amos Lassen

The Dreyfus Affair is one of the memorable events in European history and as a result of it the political Zionist movement began which eventually led to the creation of the State of Israel. Beginning with the affair the novel takes us the film studios of Georges Melies and we meet a film restorer who us suddenly involved in political intrigue. Daitch manages to use a historical event that teaches us about the way we live today.

The Dreyfus Affair exposed anti-Semitism in France as well as being a trial for treason. We usually hear only about the main characters but here we get a look at the others who were operating in other areas while the trial was going on. We see just how far reaching the trial of Dreyfus was and that we are still feeling the effects today.

“SHAMELESS” (USA)— Fabulously Dysfunctional

“Shameless” (USA)

“Fabulously Dysfunctional”

Amos Lassen

There has been a lot said about “Shameless” and most of it has to do with a comparison to the original British series (see my review here). I am not going to add to that discussion except to say that I enjoyed them both. The series is about a dysfunctional family unlike any other—the Gallagher’s. The father is a drunk who lives in a perpetual stupor leaving his six children to cope as best they can. The mother let long ago and Fiona, the eldest daughter, tries to hold the family together. Eldest son Philip (Lip) trades his physics tutoring skills for sexual favors from neighborhood girls and middle son Ian is gay. Debbie, the youngest daughter is stealing money from her UNICEF collection and ten-year-old Carl is a budding sociopath and an arsonist. The baby Liam is just might be black although has an idea how this happened.

I find the acting to be excellent and we are reminded of people we know by the characters. The main difference here is that they all belong to one family. Set in Chicago, William H. Macy is the father who spends most days drunk and lying on the floor. Emily Rossum is Fiona and she is the mother here which is not a job for a young girl.

It takes a while to get into the story but once you do you will find it endearing and even the family becomes fun.

“IF…”— “Which Side Would You Be On?”

“If….”

“Which Side Would You Be On?”

Amos Lassen

It is hard to believe that “If…” was released more than 40 years ago. The film is an allegory using a British boys’ school that undergoes a revolution by the students. This is a powerful film set in a school which does not allow students to totally express themselves. This was Malcolm McDowell’s first film and he is excellent as Mick, the ring-leader of a group of dissatisfied students who just do not fit into the ultra-conformism that the school requires.

The film has the feel of a documentary as it depicts a violent rebellion. Everything is excellent and it is as effective as it was when it was released. McDowell owns this film and we can easy see how this was his beginning to create his character for “A Clockwork Orange”. So much can be said ablaut the film but it would be better just to tell you to go and see it and then listen to your own reactions.

“SHAMELESS” (UK)— A Unique Family

“Shameless” (UK)

A Unique Family

Amos Lassen

I do not think many will argue about the high quality of British productions. Most of all of them are of superior qualities and “Shameless” is one such production. “Shameless” is a serial about a young group of siblings who have been almost totally abandoned by their parents. They survive by wit and humor on a Manchester, England estate. Never wanting to admit that they need help, they find it in a guy named Steve, a young guy who falls for one of the girls, Fiona. She is the oldest and for some reason Steve finds himself attracted to this family. And there are characters in the group—a very bright fifteen year old boy who struggles to come of age even with a belligerent father, a gay brother who is deep in the closet, a psychotic sister and a neighbor who is an internet porn star.

 

The script is absolutely wonderful and the actors are both funny and fresh. The Gallagher family is made up of the father, Frank, and his six children. Frank spends most of his time drinking and only returns home when he is dragged there by the police. The kids, therefore, raise themselves with Fiona, at age 20, acting as the mother.

 

One might think that this would be depressing but it is far from that. The kids and their neighbors form an extended family where there is love and support for all and the result is lots of bawdy, rude and uplifting. The exploits of the Gallagher family are guaranteed to offend the viewer or cause him to hold his sides from laughter.

 

Some of the things that might offend include personal hygiene, social depravity, lawlessness, homosexuality, heterosexuality, sexuality in general. This is definitely one of the best series seen on TV today and now it can be seen on DVD. The realism of the show makes for issues that we can all relate to. It is brilliant and should not be missed.

“Hello, Cruel World:101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws”, by Kate Bornstein— Listening to Alternatives

Bornstein, Kate. “Hello, Cruel World:101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws”,  Seven Stories Press, 2006.

Listening to Alternatives

Amos Lassen

It has not been a good time for our youth lately. Just as we thought teen suicides had stopped, there was another one lat week that really broke our hearts. I took some time to see what was available for us to read on the subject (aside from the wonderful “It Gets Better” antgology) and I found this by Kate Bornstein who has been in the vanguard for transsexual rights and she has some really good information here.

Sometime we can not always use the orthodox methods to survive in this world as we do live a bit outside of the box. Here we get 101 alternatives to suicide to “the totally irreverent to the highly controversial”. The book  is meant to encourage readers to talk about what is bothering them and ways to deal with it. Bornstein is a bit radical yet she is sensitive and she wants us to live.

“I’ve written this book to help you stay alive because I think the world needs more kind people in it, no matter who or what they are, or do. We’re healthier because of our outsiders and outlaws and freaks and queers and sinners. I fall neatly into all of those categories, so it’s no big deal to me if you do, or don’t. I’ve had a lot of reasons to kill myself, and a lot of time to do it in, and I stayed alive by doing things that many consider to be immoral or illegal. I’m glad I did it, because I’ve really enjoyed writing this book. This may be a scary time for you, and if that’s so, I hope I can help you find your courage again. If we meet some day, let me know what worked”. —from Hello, Cruel World by Kate Bornstein

“Blue’s Bayou” by David Lennon—- Murder and Blackmail and a Great Read

Lennon, David. “Blue’s Bayou (The Quarter Boys)”, Blue Spike Publishing. 2011.

Murder and Blackmail

Amos Lassen

David Lennon, Lamdba Literary Award winner, brings back Michel Doucette and Sassy Jones, the detectives we first met the first Quarter Boys novel “The Quarter Boys” and then got to know a little better in “Echoes” and “Second Chance”. This time we move a bit away from New Orleans (a great town for mystery thrillers) and go to Bayou Proche where Verle, Michel’s cousin has been accused of murder. As Michel tries to prove Verle’s innocence, a blackmail plot is uncovered and a close friend of Verle’s is involved in what seems to be a conspiracy to get the control of the mineral rights on Verle’s property. But things get even more interesting as Michel is forced to confront his own childhood memories.

We now get the chance to meet Michel as a young man and we get a look at his roots and family—not just the family that we are born into but the family (of friends) that we build ourselves. Now as a Louisianan, family is important and reading about the conflicts that Michel faced as a gay man definitely ring true. Many think of New Orleans as the haven of American bohemian life where gay men can b e free. That is not really the case is the same challenges that gay men face everywhere are faced there as well. And I myself can remember blackmail attempts on gay men when I was growing up in New Orleans.

David Lennon tells us in his author’s note that Michel is not in any way autobiographical although there are some shared traits and experiences only proves my idea that all gay men go through similar trials.

I am amazed with every book of Lennon’s as how he manages to convey Louisiana to the reader. I find that the settings of his novels also serve as characters within them. But more than anything else is the way the plot is thought out and then given to us. Lennon I a master storyteller and while I did not tell you much about the plot, let me just say that “there is a method in my madness”. I have learned that there are really two kinds of people that read reviews—those who want a little taste and those who want to know it all before they buy a book. I you know it all there is no point in buying or reading the book. What I will say is that reading Lennon is a treat and once he hooks you, you will find yourself waiting for each new book. I know that I do.

“SLEEPING BEAUTY”— Deconstructing a Fairy Tale

“The Sleeping Beauty” (“La belle endormie”)

Deconstructing a Fairy Tale

Amos Lassen

Three witches struggle to find an antidote to the death sentence that has been placed on Anastasia, a young princess. Anastasia was cursed the day she was born. An evil fairy has decided that she will die at age 16 after pricking her finger and the three witches learn of this. They try to find a way to change the curse and instead of dying, Anastasia will sleep for 100 years and live only in a world of dreams. As she dreams she will discover love and loss. This is how Catherine Breillat deconstructs the story.

Breillat usually deals with what happens to the female body and here she transfers that to a fairytale. Here our princess played by Carla Besnainou is a tomboy who wants to be called by a male name (Vladimir) and hates her breasts. In her dreams she looks for a boy named Peter and we wonder if her search for Peter is actually a search for self or is it something about emasculation?

Anastasia is able to break free of being a lady by doing some very masculine things. It seems to me. At least, that the underlying theme here about children who do not fit into their assigned gender and wish to change. The film is replete with ghosts and ogres, lesbian gypsies and albino princesses. The deconstruction of gender isn’t a new subject for Breillat; she has used it in “Anatomy of Hell” but what is new here is the fairytale approach.

Here the sleeping beauty is awakened to be the hero of her own saga in a story told by a wicked aunt. The story is set in France of the 1800’s. Anastasia goes into the unknown (in her dreams) to rescue Peter (Kieran Mayan) and we see an unusually cruel boy here. Her adventures are like chapters of a dream: penetrating the castle of the albino prince (Paul Vernet) and princess (Laurine David), is captured by brigands, befriends a gypsy girl (Luna Charpentier), and trudges across the tundra on a reindeer to take advice from a knowing grandmother. All of these things tended to happen haphazardly.

When 16-year-old Anastasia (Julia Artamonov) is woken by her modern-day prince (David Chausse) and been ushered into womanhood and the dream and its power fade. Anastasia has lost her innocence.