Monthly Archives: July 2012

“Faun” by Trebor Healy— An Urban Fantasy About Lust and Faith

Healy, Trebor. “Faun”, Lethe Press, 2012.

An Urban Fantasy About Lust and Faith

Amos Lassen

I received word yesterday that Trebor Healy’s new book “Faun” will be released in September and I just wanted to let you know about it. Here is the description released by Lethe Press.

One morning Gilberto Rubio wakes up with a five o’clock shadow. Puberty. But why are his legs getting so furry? And what are these little horn nubs pushing out of his scalp? What’s that nub of a tail that’s making it so hard to sit on anything but couches?

His peers begin to treat him like a freak, while his anxious mother Lupita crosses herself and worries about his eternal soul and what might be happening to it. When his mere presence begins to stir the hormones of anyone nearby and the pregnancy rate suddenly skyrockets at Buenaventura High, Gilberto panics and, hopping aboard his trusty skateboard, vanishes into Hollywood before hitchhiking out of Los Angeles to find the mysterious stranger he met online, who just might have some answers.

So begins an urban fantasy, a new fairy tale about lust and faith, Los Angeles and devotion, as only award-winning author Trebor Healey can evoke, in the pages of Faun”.

“DOORMAN”— Accepting Self

“Doorman”

Accepting Self

Amos Lassen

Diego (Jamil Mena) is a doorman at a New York apartment building and his life is falling apart. Then he is seduced by a rich college boy (and then dumped by him) who lives in his building.

Let’s face it—a doorman has a boring job and director Etienne Kalios shows us this. Diego is infatuated with one of the tenants in the building where he works and when he gets the chance to act on that feeling, he jumps at it. There had been a great deal of erotic tension between the student and the doorman. Diego has been living in the closet and struggling with his sexuality while our college boy has been very sexually active. When he finally has the chance to act, he does so with a guy who had no intention of anything more than a onetime encounter. Now he has to face the reality of who he really is but discovers that he was “used” as nothing more than a pastime. We see his feelings and Mena plays the part beautifully with wonderful facial expressions. As we are with him on his journey of self-acceptance, we feel what he feels and that is a very hard thing for a director to convey in a short film. Yet the movie succeeds and we can only hope that there are more films coming from him.

“BAD BOY STREET”— Passion and Lies

Bad Boy Street”

Passion and Lies

Amos Lassen

Claude (Yann deMonterno) is in his forties and when we meet him he is in the middle of picking up a much younger man that he sees lying in the gutter. He takes him home even though he knows nothing about him. Claude puts the stranger in his bed and goes to sleep on the sofa downstairs. The next morning the stranger comes down stairs, wearing nothing, and thanks Claude by taking his penis into his mouth (does a blow job sound better?).

The stranger has a name—Brad (Kevin Miranda) and we learn that he is an American and soon the two men fall for each other. However, there is something mysterious about Brad and it certainly seems that he is hiding something. As we learn more about him, the relationship of the two men is on very slippery ground. When we do learn who he is, we see director Todd Verow’s take on living a lie. It seems that because of his profession, Brad cannot be openly gay and must hide who he is. I cannot say anymore about who Brad is without spoiling the film for those who have not seen it but I can say that Verow takes issue with people who refuse to come out and be who they are.

Both of the actors turn in wonderful performances and because of this the relationship that they project is exciting and filled with passion. Claude is a man filled with desire and passion and as an “older” gay man, we feel his fear of being rejected. Miranda is visually beautiful and his body and face are perfect.

I am a huge fan of Todd Verow and love that he never stops pushing the envelope and going where others dare not go. His use of full frontal male nudity is always perfect and never gratuitous and when we see the two in naked carnal embraces, we fall for them as they did for each other. In this film, Verow tells us not only to be who we are but to embrace our identities and to be at peace with them. He always seems to have his next film up his sleeve and with each new film, he offers something new. His films all have strong messages and he presents them to us with subtlety and with grace. Using raw passion to show how these two men feel about each other is his way of not sermonizing. Yet, we get his message and a visual feast at the same time.

 

“ALI”— The Documentary

“Ali”
The Documentary
Amos Lassen


1971 was a magic year for Muhammed Ali. He fought the fight of the century with Joe Frazier and the two undefeated heavyweight champions went after each other. The documentary shows how things went to arrive at the point. Maybe several of us have forgotten that Ali lost his boxing license when he refused to go into the army and since he could not fight, Frazier won the championship in 1970. Finally Ali was able to make a comeback and Ali beat Frazier in 1971. Ali said, “It’ll be a thrilla and a killa and a chilla when I get the Gorilla in Manilla.”  We also get to see the fight in Zaire, “The Rumble in the Jungle” when Ali beat George Foreman and claimed the championship.
We see a lot of footage which is quite rare and that is one of the things that make this movie so interesting ad we see Ali in Great Britain where he participated in some early but professional fights. Most of us in the United States have seen this footage before. In fact, it was in London where Ali proclaimed, “I’m the king”.
Bert Sugar narrated this Lee Krantz film and he and Ali had a special relationship. You really need to see this film to see Ali as who he is and why he is the “greatest”.

 

“WE ARE THE HARTMANS”— Silly But Fun

“We Are the Hartmans”

 Silly but Fun

 Amos Lassen

 Richard Chamberlain portrays Hartman, the owner of Hartman’s Rock Club and when he gets sick, his family from whom he has been estranged comes to town to sell the place and pocket the money. They certainly did not expect to find a rebellion made up of drag queens, drunks and musicians.

 The film looks at the demise of local businesses with the influx of large chains taking over. The Club had its own personality and people who frequented it always felt at home and they do not want to lose it. Hartman’s is that kind of place where people who do not fit anywhere feel good when they come in. Even though the film gets very silly at times, this is a movie with lots of heart. Aside from Chamberlain, the cast is made up of unknowns and they work well but ultimately this is Chamberlain’s film and he is excellent. It is really fun to watch him in a comedy role. He “plays the moribund, very-often-stoned, owner of [the] small town” watering hole.

Laura Newman wrote and directed this film about a club in a rural community but it could really be anywhere. Like in so many places, chain stores and restaurants have moved in and have caused the demise of the “mom and pop” stores and what was folk country becomes like any place else. Hartman is an aging hippie who has always lived in his town and he is a true free spirit. However, his lifestyle catches up with him. His wife and daughters left him long ago but they come back when the bar is for sale. We learn when Hartman tells his daughter that he built the club for his children. The town is filled with eccentric people and Hartman is like the acting mayor. We meet him when the film opens and he is organizing a benefit so that he can keep the club and make sure that the Big Box (Wal-Mart) will not come in. He brings in a rock star, Baxter (Jonah Spear) to lead a concert. Suddenly Hartman becomes very sick and others must take over.

The entire cast is excellent and we are aware of the collaborative efforts of everyone. While the film is a comedy, it carries a very strong message. The music is wonderful in this film that leaves you with a sense of feeling good.

 


 

 

 

“POSTCARDS FROM AMERICA”— Three Sides of David Wojnarowicz

“Postcards from America”

Three Sides of David Wojnarowicz

Amos Lassen

“Postcards from America” is an avant garde film based on two autobiographies of David Wojnarowicz, the performance artist and writer who died in 1992 from complications due to AIDS. We see three sides of his life—his suburban childhood and the abuse that his alcoholic father put on him, his teen years when he worked s a hustler on the streets of New York City and his other criminal activity and finally his adult life, an abstraction which shows him walking through a desert. But what happens when these three identities are established makes the film a bit hard to follow as there is no chronology and the three Davids play on each other.

The reason I chose to publish this review now is because Cynthia Carr’s wonderful biography, “Fire in the Belly” has just been published and while the film was released in 1995, it made little sense and was not well received. Now after reading Carr, everything falls into place. However when we compare Wojnarowicz’s work and see what intensity and fury exists there, the film cannot really measure up. James Lyons who plays the adult David almost manages to capture the man. The film’s intentions are great and the film is at times effective and quite beautiful to watch, the style of it disturbs the viewer from getting the complete picture.

“Postcards from America” is based on both Wojnarowicz’s life his two autobiographical books “Close to Knives” and “Memories that Smell like Gasoline”. These two books are basically “a series of essays that sketch the horrors of his childhood, his sexual experiences as a prostitute and on the road, and his battle with AIDS”. The filmmakers just did not know what to do with the good ideas they had when they began to make this film. The style of the film, directed and scripted by Steve McLean, mixes scenes of Wojnarowicz’s childhood, his teenage years, and his later years on the road. In each case Wojnarowicz is played by a different actor at each stage of his life, and overall the effect is quite interesting and the performances are quite a bit better than you might expect. The cinematography by Ellen Kuras is also quite fine. Unfortunately the script needs work even though most of it is made up of Wojnarowicz’s own words. I believe that the real reason the film did not originally succeed was that it was impossible to bring the fury of the man to the screen and when his anger is missing, we do not get to know him. Nonetheless, I found this to an interesting film and even if it is not what we call a landmark film, it keeps us watching.
 
 

“America’s Boy: A Southern Boy’s Triumph Over Husky Jeans, Beauty Queens and Broken Dreams” by Wade Rouse— Growing Up Different

Rouse, Wade. “America’s Boy: A Southern Boy’s Triumph Over Husky Jeans, Beauty Queens and Broken Dreams”, (originally published 2006), Magnus Books Reprint, 2012.

Growing Up Different

Amos Lassen

I first met Wade Rouse through this book—hs story of growing up in the Ozark Mountains, a place certainly not easy for a gay boy to come of age. In fact Rouse says that it makes the guys in “Deliverance” look like the Jonas brothers. Rouse dreamt of being Robbie Benson and if it was not hard enough otherwise, his parents and family did not make things easy for him. His father was an engineer and his mother was a nurse with the gift of gab  and she never stopped talking. His older brother was a champ at what ruralboys do—fishing and huntng and Rouse hated partaking in those activities.

The Ozarks may be beautiful but not an easy place to grow up. When his brother was killed in an accident, everything changed and when his borther was buried, Rouse buried his own identity with him. Here is Wade Rouse’s story and we see how he gained self-acceptance and pride and how his famly came to accept him. There is a lot of laughter and as many tears in his story and for a first book, it is a wonderful read.

“America’s Boy” is a brutally funny, heartbreakingly honest account of a boy struggling to grow and despite his struggles, there is a great sense of love in his writing. He honors his past, his family and where he came from, in spite of how difficult his path was. It is beautifully written and Rouse avoids sappiness as he tells us how it was for him.

Rouse takes us to his world and he does so wth style and wit. In  reading I found mysef undergoing a re-evaluation of who I really am. He tells about sex and how he found the “real world” and it his both his honesty and quick wit that helps make this such a fun read.

 

“ZOMBIE A-HOLE”— “an action packed zombie slasher flick with grindhouse attitude! “

“Zombie A-Hole”

“An action packed zombie slasher flick with grindhouse attitude! “

Amos Lassen

I am sure that the title “Zombie A-Hole” has piqued your interest and I am pretty certain that is why it was chosen. Now try to think what a Christian cowboy, a lost soul and a beautiful one-eyed grease monkey have in common. That’s right—they all seek vengeance on the same zombie who lusts after and preys on naked twin girl. He is about to get a rude awakening. This very same zombie is (in the words of the director, Dustin Mills) “low-down, dirty, disgusting, depraved, sadistic, psychotic, hell-bent, grade F”. The world of this film is one of sleaze where the men are hard noses and the women are models of awesomeness. These are the sexiest avengers ever seen on film and while, yes, this is an exploitation film, it is one with “southern gothic flair” (and you can find your own definition of that term).

There are plenty boobs, lots of blood and lots of lunacy here and I am willing to bet that most of you have never seen a film like this.

The film  is about voodoo, vengeance, twins, and the frantic hunt for a particularly menacing zombie and it is a mixture of live action, computer animation, and a gritty but stylized grindhouse tone. “Zombie A-Hole” blends gore, humor and sleaze and while many may love it, it will have its haters. I love that Dustin Mills dared to make this and I am sure he still has a few more tricks up his sleeve. If you do not catch my opinion of the film, reread this review.

 

 

 

“OUT SPOKEN: A VITO RUSSO READER” edited by Jeffrey Schwarz— The Companion to the Film, “Vito”

Schwarz, Jeffrey, editor. “OUT SPOKEN: A VITO RUSSO READER”, White Crane Books, 2012.

The Companion to the Film, “Vito”

Amos Lassen

Now that the new Jeffrey Schwarz documentary is being shown on HBO, we have the two volume set, “Outspoken”, edited by Schwarz that are readers that accompany the film. Vito Russo is one of our great gay heroes and it is time that we look at Nestor Almendos, his life and his contributions to our rights. I am sure that were he alive today, he would be very proud of the strides that have been made.

Volume I or Reel One as it is named contains Vito’s essays on show people and the list of those here is amazing—Bette Midler, Ronee Blakely, Lily Tomlin (Vito’s dear friend), Valerie Harper, Martin Sheen, Debbie Reynolds, Tennessee Williams, Peter Allen, Pat Bond, Kaye Ballard, Allan Carr, Nestor Almendros, Paul Verhoeven, Kenneth Anger, Pedro Almodovar, Whoopi Goldberg and Ian McKellan.

There are two more sections, one entitled “The Lavender Lens and the other “Russo on Film” and these are his writings which include movie reviews and his opinions on such issues as the future of gay film, “Malice at the Movies”, Hollywood and New York, the lies that films have told us and so on. There is not a boring essay here.

Reel Two is divided into five sections which are lead off with a foreword by Arnie Kantrowitz, “Remembering Vito Russo: An Appreciation”. “Politics and Power” consists of eight political writings which show us that Russo had strong opinions and were not afraid to voice them. “Out Takes” is a series of articles about the movies and gay life and there are articles on “Cruising”, the film, “Making Love”, gay documentaries, Rock Hudson, Joe Orton, gay television as well as other important topics.  “I’ll Take Manhattan”, section three is more or less self-explanatory and contains essays about New York City. “The Final Reel” is made up of four powerful essays about AIDS: “Profile on an Epidemic”, “Michael Callan: Singing from a Purple Heat”, “Coming Out as a Person with AIDS to One’s Family” and “Why We Fight”. Finally, “Post Scripts” is a look at Vito by three people who knew him well—Larry Kramer, Anne Russo (his mother) and Assotto Saint. This is the only section in which we hear about Russo from others; all of the other writings are by the man himself (aside from the introductions and forewords).

The book is quite obviously a labor of love and Jeffrey Schwarz makes sure that we know Vito Russo and he has chosen the selections here that allow us to do just that. The books are that much important since Russo’s “The Celluloid Closet” is out of print and the remaining copies are very expensive. I only hope that this new interest in Russo will bring the book back into publication. I quote from the blurb on the covers because it says it all so well.

“From the rough-and-tumble beginnings of the gay and lesbian movement in New York City in the late-1960s, A Vito Russo Reader travels through the excitement and discovery, turmoil and tragedy that engrossed the next two decades — until Vito’s death from AIDS in 1990.

“These books, like the film, bear witness to the makings of a remarkable man”.

 

 

 

“BONSAI”— A Romantic Comedy

“Bonsai”
A Romantic Comedy

Amos Lassen

“Bonsai is the story of Julio, a young writer whose life has stalled. He does not have a job and is having something of an affair with his neighbor. When he gets an interview with a famed author for a job transcribing his book, Julio things that maybe things will get better but he didn’t get the job. He is too embarrassed to accept the truth so he lies to his girlfriend and pretends to transcribe the novel when what he is doing is writing his own book. He searches for inspiration and an idea for the plot and looks back on a romance that he was involved in eight years ago and lost. The movie looks at how the lies we tell ourselves so that we can get by get us into trouble.

Julio’s relationship with Blanca dies because of Julio’s preoccupation with his earlier romance with Emilia that he lost when she died. He and Blanca got together because they were bored with their lives so their relationship really never went anywhere. Julio continuously looks back and when he starts to lie to Blanca, he seals the fate of their “relationship”. Even though the lies he tells are not serious, they catch up with him and undermine everything he does. Julio names his book “Bonsai” and is an autobiography of his relationship with Emilia.

The movie is named “Bonsai” because of the title of Julio’s “book” and it is a metaphor for his relationship with Emilia because “to grow a bonsai, one must tie down the plant’s branches in order to imitate the weight of snow in nature. The mildly depressing comparison is drawn to his own past relationship with Emilia, in which the two unceremoniously tied themselves down and took on each other’s burden in order to remain together”. Additionally, we learn that once a Bonsai is removed from its [pt, it will no longer be a Bonsai but will grow in the same way a normal plant does. In order for a relationship to last, it needs a strong foundation> Julio and Emilio both loved literature but they lied to each other that they had both read Proust.
“Carefully interwoven into the narrative is also a quote from Proust’s novel In Remembrance of Things Past in which the protagonist falls asleep and wakes up only to find he has become a character in his own story. With this as a backdrop, everything that happens to Julio is called into question. We’re left wondering throughout the film how much of Julio’s actions create his life or how much of his life is being molded to fit the story”.

Jiménez effortlessly transitions between Julio the college student, and Julio the struggling writer working eight years later in a bookstore and tutoring Latin. Each timeframe parallels the other: as a student, Julio falls in love with Emilia, telling a small white lie (he read Proust) the first time he sleeps with her; as a writer, Julio’s ability to craft a story has matured, his deception becomes more elaborate, his use of language more creative”.

The film is directed by Chilean Cristian Jimenez and he tells his story in a nonlinear fashion with flashbacks and fast forwards. Literature is cleverly used as are plants and music and because of this the film can be seen on many different levels. I found the movie to be clever and totally enjoyable.