Monthly Archives: April 2012

“THE INVISIBLE CHRONICLES”— Updating HG Wells

“The Invisible Chronicles”

Updating HG Wells

Amos Lassen

I admire David DeCocteau for taking classic works of literature and updating them and giving them a gay theme. Here, Griffin is a genius college student who spends most of his time working in the school lab. One evening he is the victim of physical assault perpetrated by three buffed jocks ad he wants revenge. He constantly thinks of ways to avenge the crime. He discovers a new serum that gives him the means to do so.

This time, however, DeCocteau does not succeed in adapting and updating Wells and if you did not know the story of the invisible man, you would not recognize it here. The film is extremely light and voyeuristic. Griffin, when he becomes invisible yearns for male flesh but we do not see any frontal nudity as we would suspect that this is what Griffin wants to see. Instead we get a bunch of good-looking guys in tighty whities. However looking at pretty boys allows us to understand that there is no real plot here and instead of drama, we get many shower scenes (not that there is anything wrong with them). It just seems that the guys have no other pastimes than taking showers (and then we only see them from the waist up).

“DAVY AND STU”— In Love for the First Time

“Davy and Stu”

In Love for the First Time

Amos Lassen

Davy and Stu would meet at night on a Scottish peat bog where they are not disturbed by others. They are young and are not sure what their relationship means. This is a film that is carried by the actors and both actually hit a home run. Filled with emotion, the two guys struggle with the way each feels for the other yet they are aware of their love and do not want others to see them. Facial expressions tell us how they feel and while the love they share is unspoken, we are intensely aware of it. They live in a small farming community where the goal for most men is to be macho and play sports. Davy and Stu know they do not fit and we are well aware of that throughout this short film that is simply presented and full of homoerotic intensity.

We can all look back and remember how we reacted to first love and for me, it is the realism of the film and the fact that we can identify with it that makes it so good.

“DIFFERENT FOR GIRLS”— An Odd Couple

“Different for Girls”

An Odd Couple

Amos Lassen

The idea for this film is not new but it is such a touching movie that we forget that. Directed by Richard Spence, this is basically a look at an odd couple. Paul Prentice is a delivery boy on a motorcycle and through his work he runs into Karl Foyle, a former classmate of his. However Karl is now a woman. He had gender reassignment surgery and is now Kim, a woman of refinement who writes verses for greeting cards. Paul, on the other hand, has not changed at all and is still the rough guy that he was in school. He is discontented with society and strikes out when he can. As the two reclaim their friendship, Kim begins to wonder if Paul is the guy for her or if she would not be better off without him in her life.

The film was made for the BBC and its transgender issues with respect and dignity. There is something to learn here especially about the nature of gender and sexuality and sexual preference. I love that both characters profess that each is “straight”.

Steven Mackintosh and Rupert Graves give excellent performances and they are total opposites. There are several subplots that move the action away from them however. We see Kim’s relationship with her sister and her sister’s military man of a husband but we are really only interested in the relationship between Kim and Paul.

 

“Menage” by Xavier Axelson— Three in One

Axelson, Xavier. “Menage”, Seventh Window Publications, 2012.

Three in One

Amos Lassen

 

It is a pleasure to inform you that three Xavier Axelson novellas have been published in a single volume, “Menage”. Each of the three (reviews below) is an exciting and stimulating read and Axelson seems poised to inherit the crown of gay erotic writers. The stories here are “Dutch’s Boy”, a cowboy story with very strong characters; the second is “The Incident” aout a cop and the third is “The Birches” which deals with the pleasure of the culinary. I have reprinted my original reviews here.

Axelson, Xavier. “Dutch’s Boy”, Seventh Window Publications, 2011.

Following a Dream

Amos Lassen

Have you ever read something that made you say “WOW!”? All of us have and I certainly have done so more than once. I just got floored again by Xavier Axelson’s “Dutch’s Boy” because it reminded me so much of growing up and making decisions. The future is so unknown and we can only deal with by going through it and such is the story of Harry Reynolds, Harry dreams of leaving home and riding broncos but his father, Dutch, does not want him to go until he feels his son is ready to do so. Obviously Dutch is a bit out of town with the younger generation because we know that once someone wants to do something, not much can stop him. Harry feels like this is something he has to do and he has to do it now and he makes the move and leaves before his father can stop him. His dream of riding gets a few extra additions as he experiences sex and love out on the road. Now that Harry is on his own, he has to grow up and do so quickly.

I fell in love with Harry. Axelson gives us a loveable character with him and he is wonderfully fleshed out. All of us are bound to see a little something of ourselves in Harry and it seems, to me, at least, that his rebellious nature makes him that the kind of guy you just want to grab onto. I could not help but think how much he and I were alike. I was determined to leave home and move to Israel and nothing was going to stop me and I saw this kind of determination in Harry.

However this is not a tale of wanderlust but it is a story of following dreams and finding oneself. Harry told his best friend, Reb, that he was leaving and it is here that we get a hit of what awaits us. Harry felt he had to find out who he was and he was not about to let his father stop him. The road his self-discovery was peppered with good times. I can’t say too much more about the plot because I want you to read this. What I will say is that this is a story that held my interest from the very first sentence and I did not stop reading until I finished it. My only complaint is that I wanted more.

The market is flooded with stories of young men on identity quests and what makes this different is that Harry knew what he wanted. He just did not know what would happen to him on the road to finding himself. Axelson has quite a story here and his skill in telling it is felt all the way through.

 

Axelson, Xavier. “The Birches”, Seventh Window Publications , 2011.

Striving for Perfection

Amos Lassen

I remember my father telling me to strive for perfection but learn to make peace with mediocrity. Of course, he would have never accepted my being mediocre and to him, life was about the quest for perfection. Leo, the character in Axelson’s new book is also a perfectionist. He is driven by not just being the best but being perfect. He wants to be the perfect chef and while perfection is an ideal, it is one that s not easily reached and Leo’s drive also drives his friends and family to the edge. It also made love almost impossible because there is always someone a bit better, a tad more perfect.

Finally Leo is able to see that his goals are not realistic but it took his meeting Dock for that to happen. The new and happening restaurant, The Birches, belongs to Doc and it is very successful despite the fact that Dock has not been trained as a chef. Nevertheless, he supervises  and does the cooking. Leo loves the food there and also harbors a crush on Dock but even more important than that, Leo learns that he has set his goals to high.

If you have read Axelson, you know that he is a master of the erotic and he does not slack off here. In fact, he uses the kitchen for more than cooking and gives us a wonderfully romantic story with two very real characters. I am not really a big fan of erotic literature but every once in a while, I will pick up a book that is classified as such. I must say that this is one on the best that I have read in quite a while and the reason for that is because Xavier Axelson is a great storyteller. Here the story supersedes everything else and I think that is because it is so real. We all know a character like Leo, or some of us might even be “Leos” and I have always found that being able to identify with a character is a way to discover what makes a good read. This is more than just a good read, it is a mighty fine one and I suggest that you get a copy.

Axelson, Xavier, “The Incident”. Seventh Window Publications, 2011.

Making Decisions

Amos Lassen

I learned of Xavier Axelson with the release of “Dutch’s Boy” and I loved it. He recently sent me his new book, “The Incident” and I have been pondering on how to write a review of the book without giving important information away. I suppose that I should say at first that the plot is excellent and the writing is wonderful.  Axelson deals with making decisions and how they affect us and he makes the point that we sometimes forget that there is an outcome—any decision that we make will affect us in some way and while we think that the effect will be over and done with, we forget that there are also long range results.

When I received the book late last week I immediately replied to the author that it might be a while before I get to it as I have a stack of books on my desk that I am working on. Then I made the mistake of taking a peek and that was it—I was hooked. I have always loved reading about how our lives change based upon the choices we make and Xavier Axelson shows that very clearly here. Michael Carmac made a “split-second” decision that haunted him long afterwards. Because of the guilt associate with what he decided, he began to drink and he tried to find solace in the friendship he shared with his partner, Bertram. Bertram and Michael were close friends and nothing more than that but Michael discovered that the more he depended upon Bertram for support, the more he realized that there was something more than friendship there and it ate at him. How does one flip a friendship into a love affair? Suppose it happened at an inconvenient wrong time? How do we handle rejection and acceptance? These are the questions you will find yourself asking and than answers are in the book.

What sets this above other m/m novels is that it deals with real happenings as well as ideas and all of us have been in a very similar situation. Without giving anything away, let me say that Axelson handles the situation beautifully. I know that he has solidified my hold on his literary output. Everything is balanced, the characters are real and the story will keep you flipping pages as fast as you can. (Can I say that about an ebook?).

There seems to be some kind of bond between those who work together in law enforcement and many times beneath the hard guy exterior is a man with a heart of gold and who is only too ready to share his love with someone else. Axelson deals with the power of forgiveness and redemption and the guilt that goes along with making a decision.

Michael must go on this journey and find love so that he can continue on. Axelson uses erotica, to a degree, so that Michael can be seen as true to himself and get past the guilt that he feels (and no I did not say why he feels that guilt). To be a good cop it takes not only responsibility and honesty. It also involves love and when one works in a small place where nothing is ever forgotten makes things twice as difficult.

As I said, the plot is good, the sex is hot and if Michael really needs solace, he can feel free to call me.

 

 

 

James Franco on Dylan and Crane (By Dorri Olds)

 James Franco on Dylan and Crane

By Dorri Olds

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Actor James Franco was named by Salon.com as one of “10 men who might just inspire the rebirth of Jewish male cool.” Though of Russian Jewish heritage on his mother’s side, Franco never had a Bar Mitzvah. “I wish I had though,” he said wistfully. He played a Jewish drug dealer in Pineapple Express and was accused of appearing stoned when he hosted the 83rd Academy Awards. Nominated as Best Actor for his lead role in “127 Hours,” Franco is also known for his role in “Milk” as Sean Penn’s lover, as Allen Ginsberg in “Howl,” and for his latest movie, “The Broken Tower,” in which he plays Hart Crane, an American homosexual alcoholic poet who committed suicide by jumping off a ship at age 32.

“The Broken Tower” is Franco’s New York University film school thesis project, which he wrote, directed and stars in. Previously, Franco earned two masters in writing, from Columbia University and Brooklyn College. Voted Sexiest Man Alive by People magazine, Franco has said he never relaxes and doesn’t even like to sleep because “there’s too much to do.” That seemed apparent when he showed up disheveled for his recent interview with The Arty Semite.

Dorri Olds: Why did you want to make a movie about Hart Crane?

James Franco: I find that one of the keys to filmmaking is to have some element of the movie that I respect greatly — whether that’s an actor, a book, or a subject. In this case it’s the life and poetry of Hart Crane.

Why is the movie shot in black and white, with a handheld camera?

Black and white is to give a feeling for the time — the 1920s. By contrast, shooting handheld makes it more like a documentary. One of the things I find with period films is the emphasis on production design — they want to present the earlier period in all of its glory, something that can suck the life out of the story. Shooting handheld was a way to work against that. The style of the film is partly influenced by the financial restraints we had.

Did you find it constricting to work on a low-budget student film?

No. I’ve been acting professionally for 15 years and been in all kinds of movies. The biggest budgeted movies, those that broke box office records, movies that have won Oscars, had the highest critical acclaim and so I already know what all of those things feel like.

How have your colleagues reacted to your directorial choices?

All through the development process people said to me, “Maybe you should give it more of a conventional arc or more conventional scenes.” And I thought, no. I tried to be as true to Crane as I could. That’s something Sean Penn taught me. When you go into a project you never know how it’s going to do at the box office. I know this is not going to be like “Spiderman,” but whatever the response is, if you know that your intentions had integrity then you fulfilled your role as an artist or actor or director.

What draws you to the subject of homosexuality?

Crane was very comfortable with his sexuality at a time when that was unusual. It was threatening to his straight poet friends but he wasn’t shy about it. The only people he kept it from were his parents because he thought he wouldn’t inherit his father’s millions if they knew he was gay. I thought if I put these explicit sex scenes in, it would give a sense of how Crane came off to his friends — but not just in a suggestive, clean way, afraid to offend movie audiences. The sex scenes are surprising and in juxtaposition with the slower-paced and more poetic scenes. I wanted to show a balance of Crane’s personality.

Former NYU professor José Angel Santana claimed that he was fired because he’d given you a D. Do you have any comments about that controversy?

What are you working on next?

I directed a movie based on a book by Cormack McCarthy called “Child of God.” It’s slated for release in 2013.

Do you have a personal style, an icon? Somebody that you admire?

Bob Dylan has good style [tussles his hair in Dylan-esque fashion and grins].

Paul Russell First Two Time Winner of Publishing Triangle Award

Cleis Press Home
Cleis Press Home

We Knew All Along This Book Was Extraordinary

April 2012

Last week the members of the Publishing Triangle concurred, and named The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov the winner of the Ferro-Grumley Award for Lesbian and Gay Fiction published in 2011.

Mr. Russell is the first repeat winner of the Award, having been honored in 2000 for his novel The Coming Storm.

We are waiting with baited breath for the June 4th announcement of the recipient of the Lambda Literary Award for General Gay Fiction, during BEA, for which  The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov is a finalist.

Lambda Literary reviewed the book: “The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov displays linguistic artistry through portraying ruin in all its forms—the scattering of family ties, the loss of one’s country, and the consequences of war, death, addiction and forbidden love. It’s a life story that does, in fact, seem ‘unreal,’ and is made all the more remarkable for its veracity.”

Reviewers continue to be captivated:

Library Journal gave it a star: “A story that will make you laugh and smile then breaks your heart, this is a rich tapestry of the human condition. Highly recommended.”

The Washington Post named it among its “Top Novels of 2011,” writing, “The title of Russell’s splendid novel hints at its contents: Sergey Nabokov was the younger, homosexual brother of Vladimir, and in this fictional biography, we learn of his mingling among the greats in Parisian salons and of the difficulty of living in his brother’s shadow.”

The Wall Street Journal said: “This fictional memoir is a tender account of a troubled soul trying to slip out from under the shadow of his big brother.”

The Millions said: “Paul Russell has taken this forgotten figure, a footnote in the biography of a twentieth-century genius, and brought him back from the shadows in a remarkable novel.”

The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov is being translated into Russian by Sergei Borisovich Iliin, the Russian translator of Vladimir Nabokov’s titles, for publication by Phantom Press this summer!

The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov

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The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov
By Paul Russell

In this novel based on the extraordinary life of the gay brother of Vladimir Nabokov, Paul Russell re-creates the rich and changing world in which Sergey, his family and friends lived: from wealth and position in pre-revolutionary Russia, to the halls of Cambridge University, and the Parisian salon of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. But it is the honesty and vulnerability of Sergey, our young gay narrator, that hook the reader: his stuttering childhood in the shadow of his brilliant brother, his opium-fueled evenings with his sometime lover Cocteau, his troubled love life on the margins of the Ballets Russes and its legendary cast, and his isolation in war- torn Berlin where he will ultimately be arrested, be sent to a camp and die in 1945.

A meticulously researched novel in which you will meet an extraordinary cast of characters including Picasso, Diaghilev, Stravinsky, Magnus Hirschfield, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Cocteau, and of course the master himself, Vladimir Nabokov, this is ultimately the story of a beautiful and vulnerable homosexual boy growing into an enlightened and courageous man.

“Words to Die By” by William Holden— Dark Stories

Holden, William. “Words to Die By”, Bold Strokes Books, 2012.

Dark Stories

Amos Lassen

Sixteen stories compose William Holden’s new collection of dark stories. Dealing with many different themes including “revenge, jealousy, paranoia, or the uncanny operations of a supernatural force, these stories lead you onto new heights of fear… and arousal”.  There are several really scary stories here and the characters are forced to face their fears. All of us love a good dark story and here you have several. I recommend reading these stories with the lights on and with the ability to take several breaks. Because of the natures of the surprises in each story, I will not write about them but will tell you that this is a book that certainly deserves a read.

 

 

 

 

 

“Twelve O’clock Tales” by Felice Picano— Paying Homage

Picano, Felice. “Twelve O’clock Tales”, Bold Strokes Books. 2012.

Paying Homage

Amos Lassen

In one of my other recent reviews, I mentioned that Felice Picano is one of the writers that I love to read especially because he is one of the writers that helped to usher in LGBT literature. Whether fact or fiction, Picano gives us a look at who we are and how far we have come. In this collection of short stories, Picano pays homage to those writers he has loved since he was a youth—Edgar Allen Poe, E.F. Benson and H.P. Lovecraft as well as his personal friends Arthur C. Clark and Harlan Ellison. The eleven stories here are dark and strange and they both excite and disturb. Different settings and different times are themes here.

Picano says that this is the book that he has been writing for years and we can see as we read the progression that he makes. Poe is a definite influence on him as is Lovecraft, especially when we think of dark stories.

There is great variety here and some of the stories are brand new while others were written a few years ago. I found it interesting to read Picano as a writer of short stories and even though this is his fourth short story collection, he is primarily known as a novelist. These stories read so much better late at night because then the full eeriness can be felt. One never goes wrong with a Picano collection and that is about the best review I can give.

 

“Toughskins” by William Masswa— Learning to Love

Masswa, William. “Toughskins”, Bold Strokes Books, 2012.

Learning to Love

Amos Lassen

I really believe that it is impossible to love someone else if you cannot love yourself. That is the premise of “Toughskins”. John and Bret are both 23 and love to wrestle. They are often paired opposite each other in the ring and face another struggle outside the wrestling. Each fights with his inner demons about their sexuality. John is still hurting from a romance he had when he was 17 and Bret is tired of the men in the Pacific Northwest.

The wrestling causes them to punish each other when they are in the ring and I believe they use these matches as a way of overcoming what happened in their pasts. They are physically attracted to each and little by little and learn to trust and love each other. Coming out and coming to terms with one’s homosexuality is often very difficult and the process is a journey. As I read about Bret and John accepting themselves, I found myself reminiscing about my own coming-out and self-acceptance.

There are several tender loving moments in the book and the book is beautifully written and very sensitive. I found the title to be misleading and the cover art made me think that this was going to be an erotic read. I also felt that the guys hid their feelings by “being tough” and it seemed as if they were afraid of becoming involved but this is because neither man was really comfortable with his gayness.