Monthly Archives: November 2012

Universal 100th Anniversary Collection (Blu-ray)— Now Available

Universal 100th Anniversary Collection (Blu-ray)

Now Available

For 100 years, Universal Pictures has been entertaining audiences with some of the most unforgettable movies ever made. Featuring prestige Academy Awardr winners such as To Kill a Mockingbird and The Sting, genre-defining classics like Dracula and Spartacus, captivating storytelling such as Field of Dreams and Do the Right Thing, blockbusters like Jurassic Park and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and pure entertainment with franchises including The Bourne Identity and The Fast and the Furious, these movies continue to have an enduring impact throughout the world. Now, for a limited time only, own a piece of Hollywood history with the Universal 100th Anniversary Collection featuring a selection of 25 unforgettable films that helped shape the legacy of one of the most successful movie studios of all time.

Here is the list of movies that are included in this set:

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
American Graffiti (1973)
Apollo 13 (1995)
Back to the Future (1985)
The Birds (1963)
The Bourne Identity (2002)
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Buck Privates (1941)
Despicable Me (2010)
Do the Right Thing (1989)
Dracula (1931)
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
The Fast and the Furious (2001)
Field of Dreams (1989)
Jaws (1975)
Jurassic Park (1993)
Mamma Mia! The Movie (2008)
National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)
Out of Africa (1985)
Pillow Talk (1959)
Scarface (1983)
Spartacus (1960)
The Sting (1973)
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

Schindler’s List (1993) (DVD version only)
Dracula Spanish (1931) (Blu-ray version only)

Supplementals alone are worthy of the investment. GoBoSox     

Instead, this set seems to be akin to the world’s most expensive box of chocolates–something for everybody, but nothing for any one person. J.R.E  |

Depending on where youbuy it and the set costs between $250 an $350.

“HAVA NAGILA: THE MOVIE”— “Let Us Rejoice”

 “Hava Nagila: The Movie”

“Let Us Rejoice”

Amos Lassen

Hava nagila, hava nagila
Let us rejoice, let us rejoice

Hava nagila ve-nismecha
Let us rejoice and be glad

Hava neranena, hava neranena
Let us sing, let us sing

Hava neranena ve-nismecha
Let us sing and be glad

Uru, uru achim
Awake, awake, brothers

Uru achim be-lev sameach!
Awake, brothers, with a joyful heart!

“Hava Nagila” has become as Jewish as matzoh and brisket, bagel and lox and it has way past its origins and has been sung by almost every major recording artist from Presley to Dylan. This is a movie about a song that has moved from Eastern European shtetls to almost everywhere in the world. Hava Nagila is every bit a symbol of Judaism as is the star of David. It seems that everyone knows it— Jews and Gentiles alike. It is heard at weddings, bar mitzvahs, Major League Baseball games and this year at the 2012 Olympics. It brings back memories ye it is so much more kitsch and has become the unofficial anthem of the Jewish religion and it is tied to history, hopes and dreams and shows how one song can express and sustain identity as well as send culture across generations.

Films bring back memories as well and when we have a film about a song that has been an integral part of our lives for what seems like forever, it is only natural that people will relate to it.

Watching Roberta Grossman’s “Hava Nagila (The Movie)” is if not a religious experience it is very definitely a celebration of Jewish identity in which we remember events in our lives that have been tucked away in our memories and recognition of our heritage. There are many twice a year Jews and people who identify as Jewish yet never set face in a house of worship, yet they recognize Hava Nagila and probably know the words.

The film is a documentary journey through the history, mystery and meaning of the song which has gone on to become a standard. There are interviews with Harry Belafonte, Leonard Nimoy, Connie Francis, Glen Campbell, Regina Spektor and more, the film follows the song on its fascinating journey “from the shtetls of Eastern Europe to the kibbutzim of Palestine to the cul-de-sacs of America”. The film is fun and entertaining but more than that, it is a look at the universal themes of happiness and joy and the power of a people who have survived against tremendous odds.

I could feel I was smiling as I watched the film and it gave me a sense of belonging to a much larger Jewish community, something I have not felt since I lived in Israel (although now living in Brookline, Massachusetts is pretty close to that feeling). I remembered movements in my life when I heard the song—my bar mitzvah, my sisters’ weddings, my parents’ anniversary parties, synagogue functions, etc. I can imagine what this film does to those Jews who do not regularly go to synagogue or temple and have never been to Israel yet Hava Nagila is as much a part of them as it is of me and every other Jew.

 HAVA NAGILA opens in New York City on March 1; in Florida on March 8 and in Los Angeles on March 15.  and the web site is :

http://www.havanagilamovie.com/

“LET MY PEOPLE GO!”— A New Gay/Jewish Comedy

“Let My People Go”

A New Gay/Jewish Comedy

Amos Lassen

Ruben (Nicolas Maury) is something of a nerd yet he managed to find a really good-looking boyfriend (Jarrko Niemi). However things have not been good for them and their relationship falls apart. Ruben had come to Finland, bankrolled by his uncle, to study comparative sauna culture but feel in love and stayed instead of returning home to France where his Jewish family lives. He is a postman and because of a package with money, a lover’s quarrel; occurs and Ruben leaves Finland where the guys have been living and runs home to his Jewish family in Paris. While his family is traditionally Orthodox Jews, it is also dysfunctional. Just as he arrives, his mother is preparing for Passover and things get crazy. One of the golden agers from the Jewish community, Maurice Goldberg (Jean-Luc Bideau) makes advances on him and he has to fight him off. He gets no help from his ditzy mother, his philandering father, his ill-tempered brother or his sister who has married unhappily. The film is an attempt to bring Jewish and gay cultures together and one crazy situation after another ensues giving us a super-perverse film.

The movie is a farce that is filled with stereotypes but it also filled with bright colors that just give the viewer a good feeling. The only down side is that Ruben seems to attract bad luck (which is actually one of the sources of humor in the film). His family is one of many crazy members (and I mean that behaviorally and not mentally). His mother (Almodovar actress Carmen Maura) is an asthmatic who smothers her son with affection ala Jewish mother style. His father has been cheating on his wife for years and notices that Ruben’s testicles are unbalanced; his sister is totally stressed out and on the verge of divorcing her non-Jewish husband who has brought no joy to the family and his brother has a hot temper and is ready to punch people whenever.

There is craziness and more craziness and Jewish jokes everywhere and I found myself having a great time watching the film. I had not thought about this before but it just occurred to me that the main character of Ruben was probably named such because of his resemblance To Paul Reubens of Peewee’s Playhouse and public bathroom fame.

“Exactly who the people that need to be freed in this mildly amusing comic farce is never really made clear.  Could it be Jews, or the Homosexuals, or the French or even the Finnish”?  It really makes no difference because the movie is such fun. The film opens in New York City on January 11, 2013 and in Los Angeles on January 18.

Here is the film’s website:

http://www.zeitgeistfilms.com/film.php?directoryname=letmypeoplego

 

“The Indignities” by Graeme Aitken— Keeping Up with Stephen

Aitken, Graeme. “The Indignities”, Clouds of Magellan, 2010.

Keeping Up with Stephen

Amos Lassen

Graeme Aitken introduced us to Stephen Spear in his earlier novel, “Vanity Fierce” and now set some ten years later Stephen is back and is now with Blake with whom he has been for the past three years. Stephen is good looking and talented and Blake, unlike other men who have sauntered into Stephen’s life, is honest and true. Blake makes the rules and is determined to have his way but he has changed a bit and is suspicious that Stephen might be having an affair on the side. Of course it does not help that a good looking man, Rick, who is a legend in the Sydney gay community, has moved in next door and has Stephen going mad with lust. Stephen hatches a plan to “get” his new neighbor and here we see the Stephen that we knew earlier, a man who is enraptured with good looks and who is determined to get what is not meant for him. We all recognize that Stephen’s story is not uniquely his and all of us know someone like him. This might be a satire on gay life in Australia but it is also a look at gay life everywhere.

Aitken writes with a quick wit and uses irony to show us how we live. However, it is not really irony and the truth might just burn some people. He depicts gay culture with all of its foibles and all of its truths and while there may be some exaggeration in what he writes, all of us will find something we recognize.

In this country and internationally, Aitkin’s books are available in e-format. “The Indignities” is published as a three ebook sequence under the titles of “Time to Upsize”, “Private Party” and “Me, Myself and Someone Else”.

“Kinky/Pubes” by Mykola Dementiuk— Mick Does It Again

Dementiuk, Mykola.”Kinky/Pubes”, JMS Books, 2012.

Mick Does It Once Again

Amos Lassen

Not many authors would be as bold as to entitle something that they have written, ”Kinky/Pubes” and perhaps that is one of the things that I love about Mykola (Mick) Dementiuk—he dares to go where others do not and he offers no explanations. He is bold, erotic and sometimes down and dirty but he is so using wonderful language as he paints realistic pictures of the way things were (and the ways things are but not spoken about).

Our main character is “Pubes” (yep, that’s his name) and while he loves beer and anonymous sex, he does not”go all the way”. However, he meets “Kinky” (Todd) and discovers that he is different from anyone he has ever known before especially with the kinks that he likes.

Their first meeting was reminiscent of the way we used to meet new “tricks” back then—little talk and lots of sexual maneuvering (not to mention beer). I will not tell you what or who goes down between  Kinky and Pubes but I will tell you that this is a story that you will not quickly forget because, aside from being hot, it reminds you so much of a time that is gone.

The story is short coming in at less than 12,000 words but every word seems to have been especially chosen. In fact there is more told here in this short “novella “than in many longer books that I have read lately but be warned, this is not your regular gay romance and sex is prevalent. It also has something to say about drinking.

“THE POINT: THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTOR’S EDITION”— The Classic Returns

“The Point: The Definitive Collector’s Edition”

 The Classic Returns

 Amos Lassen

 The animated classic “The Point” returns to DVD with 25 minutes of bonus features. If you remember “The Point” (1971), it is the story of a kingdom where everyone and everything is pointed except for a young boy named Oblio who has a round head and many friends. An evil count is jealous of Oblio because he is more popular than his own son and states that Oblio is an outlaw because he is not like everyone else. The count exiles Oblio and his dog, Arrow, to the Pointless Forest and there he has many adventures which teach him that it isn’t necessary to have a pointed head or to be point in order to have a point in life. The story and music were written by Harry Nilsson. Ringo Starr narrates. The film is considered by many to be the best animated film of modern times.

 Fred Wolf directed and also did the drawings of this film with its anti-discriminatory message. Oblio is regarded as a curiosity from the moment he is born because he is pointless but the movie still retains its “point” and it is as true today as it was when it was first released. But it is not the message alone that makes this film so endearing—Nilsson’s music and the animation charm the viewer. In 1971, Disney had almost a monopoly on animation and this is an exception to what was around at the time. Oblio and Arrow steal our hearts and the other characters are just as charming.

 The film is delightful for children and for adults and while it is atypical fable it is so wonderfully presented that it immediately pulls the viewer in.In the Pointless Forest there are numerous strange creatures and have many adventures, and Oblio and Arrow learn that physical or not, everybody has a point..The songs include the following:

Me And My Arrow

Everything’s Got ‘Em

 Poli High

 Think About Your Troubles

 Life Line

 P.O.V. Waltz

 Are You Sleeping?

 Included in the bonus material are four never seen before featurettes:

  Who Is Harry Nilsson?

 Pitching The Point

 Making The Point

 Legacy Of The Point

“Vanity Fierce” by Graeme Aitken— Stephen in Love

Aitken, Graeme. “Vanity Fierce”, Random House Australia, 1998.

Stephen in Love

Amos Lassen

You may wonder why I am reviewing a book that was written in 1998. I can explain easily—I have been discovered in Australia and I am highly flattered that Graeme Aitken has asked me to review his work which is being rereleased and of course I am glad to. We meet the very talented and good looking Stephen Spear and because of this he thought he would be lucky in love. However, he learned when he fell in love that it was one-sided. He realized that he would conquer this with whatever means it would take.

Aitken has written a novel about gay Sydney and we not only get a look at a gay romance but at gay Australia as well. The story of Stephen and Ant (the guy he falls for) could happen anywhere but here it takes us to the other side of the world. This is a very funny look at a guy who will do whatever necessary to be in love with the man he wants. He is dismayed when he sees that his love for Ant is not returned but then again he is not really sure but he takes no chances. Stephen is determined to get his man and the interesting thing is that we do not know why other than physical attraction. This is a love story but there is nothing typical about it. It is just interesting to read how Stephen regards love and then makes it more complicated that it really is. We see through Stephen’s antics that there are no boundaries when it comes to getting what he wants.

Aitken has a quick wit and uses it throughout the novel and I cannot remember when I have had this much fun reading a book. There is also a certain sweetness to it.

 

“Spiritual Probation” by Rich Merritt— Believing

 Merritt, Rich. “Spiritual Probation”, CreateSpace, 2012.

Believing

Amos Lassen

I bet we spend more of our lives trying to find truth than any single other thing and by truth I mean in any of its forms whether it be religion, about friends or just truth in general. To me that says something very fundamental about how we live—that truth is not evident or obvious and we have to look for it. Yet fundamentalism has become an important part in our loves and in our government and we really know nothing about it except what we are fed by the media. We hear about religious bullying and abuse but we do not really check it out and then we wonder why it goes on.

Rich Merritt uses fiction to look at this issue but his fiction is based upon something that really happened right here in America which caused the lawsuit of Baker vs. Bob Jones University; the story of how one young man, Nate O’Connor, took on the issue of religious abuse. O’Connor was a senior at college at Bob Jones University which is a school that prides itself as being the flagship of American fundamentalist education. He and his closest friend were put on spiritual probation and accused of being disloyal and unfaithful to the university. Any attempt the two made to repair the damage did not work and Nate met two women and everything he believed changed, he them met with tragedy and the life that he knew changed forever.

Let me say very clearly here that I am not talking about the dangers of religion and I am an observant Jew myself. What we are looking at there is the ability to discern and to make judgments based on our own value systems and without indoctrination. I went through a young life of religious indoctrination and it took a very long time and a lot of introspection for me to decide what was best for me but my religion, to some degree allows that, unlike fundamentalist Christianity that makes those decisions for you.

Merritt gives us a very real and in-depth look at life in a cultish interpretation of Christianity on the college level and it is frightening. There is no questioning or exploration of faith but there is total blind acceptance of how someone else sees faith and God and salvation. If one dares to question, he is put on spiritual probation and regarded as heretical. (I think the basic question is why would anyone even consider an education of that kind? —college is where we are really taught to think and blind acceptance is frowned apart by most academics and scholars). Most thinking people are aware of the dangers of fundamentalist thought and Merritt shows that beautifully here.

I recently spoke to a graduate student of mine who had attended a fundamentalist Christian university and he told me that there was total control of students by faculty and administration and students were even expelled if caught masturbating alone even if off campus. Students are made to feel guilty about so much that in addition to having to study they have to deal with this guilt for whatever. I had an undergraduate student once who was very bright and verb good looking who came to see me one day to tell me was transferring schools to a fundamentalist seminary. I was stunned and even more so when he said that the reason he was doing so was because in working the spread the word of the Lord, he would be able to see the world. I told him that he could see the world if he worked, say, for IBM but he said it was not the same. He has been living for the last few years in poverty somewhere in South America converting the natives. It is amazing to think that people allow themselves to be taken in but out-and-out manipulation and control (in the name of God).

Merritt is an amazing storyteller and he pulls the reader in on the very first page and holds him tightly. His knowledge of Bible and Scripture is astounding but even more astounding is how he uses it. He is just as good a secularist. Even though this is fiction, it totally rings true and that is probably because Merritt was raised as a fundamentalist and he, himself, attended Bob Jones U.

All of us need to read this book and I am so thankful that Merritt wrote it. I wish that those depicted here would also read it but we know that will not happen. As thinking Americans and world citizens we owe to ourselves to know what we are up against and the amount of power that these people have at their disposal. A couple of years ago I watched a documentary called “Jesus Camp” and it upset me for months but it tell with children. This book deals with supposed adults.

 

“Dark Sorcerer Threatening” by Damian Serbu— Chaos and Romance

Serbu, Damian. “Dark Sorcerer Threatening”, Mystic Books, 2012.

Chaos and Romance

Amos Lassen

I love a man with an imagination and if he can tell a good story than he was won a place in my heart. Damian Serbu won that place some time ago with his two books in The Vampire’s Angel Series. However, I was very surprised to read his new book and find it different from his vampire stories and it is a very positive difference. I don’t know much about Serbu the man; I really just know him from his writings but I believe he is the kind of guy you can bring home to momma and he would keep her entertained telling wonderful stories.

In his new book we get speculative fiction as we are transported to a kingdom of men loving men and it is well hidden from the world. At least it was well hidden until a dark sorcerer threatens to expose it. Right there, I was tempted to say I know where this is going but as I read on, what really struck me was the way that Serbu brought history and story together and it makes no difference how fantastic a story may sound, when it is backed by history, it seems to become very real. I suppose that having my undergraduate degree in historical theory and historiography made me aware of those references here and while sometimes history can be very boring, I can tell you that there is not a dull line in this novel. I am so tempted to share some of the plot but I am not going to say very much because I could spoil a wonderful read.

This is more than a novel, it is an epic and it is romantic. Titian, the king, has two concerns—to save his kingdom and to save his lover, Phillippe. This is a new love for the king and he finds that it is threatened by the forces of black magic which threaten to not only destroy it but the world in which that love has grown. We are faced with wanting Titian and Phillippe’s love to survive the chaos and both the love story and the battle will keep you turning pages as quickly as you can. Reading as much as I do, I discovered long ago that there are some books that are immediate and must be read in one sitting (at least for me) and this is one of those. I suggest that you clear your day to read this because you will be so taken in by the story and by Serbu’s skill as a narrator that you will not want to stop reading.

 

“Bias Incident: The World’s Most Politically Incorrect Novel” by Ari H. Mendelson— More Worrisome Than Fun

Mendelson, Ari H. “Bias Incident: The World’s Most Politically Incorrect Novel”, Create Space, 2011.

More Worrisome Than Fun

Amos Lassen

I thought that when the author chose to call his novel “the world’s most politically correct” that I would be in for satire but I found this novel to bother me more than to make me laugh. Perhaps the problem is that it is just too real.

Jeff Jackson is an innocent kid who has-been home schooled and discovers that when he gets to a college campus, his views are totally different than everyone else. Jeff chose Tinsley College because of the promises of intellectual freedom that it promised and he soon discovers that there is little freedom there at all. The college administration is left-wing and this is something that Jeff knew little about. It was not enough that the school was so liberal, it was not discussed as just taken as part of the college life. Jeff also did not realize that there are some things that are just not spoken of in the atmosphere of Tinsley and he made the mistake of espousing his own ideas in an essay written for the very liberal Professor Bancroft Tarlton in which he discusses happiness and sexuality. Tarlton believes Jeff to be a homophobe as well as a “pomophobe” (Tarlton considers himself to be “pomosexual”). Jeff also gets into with a classmate and a battle ensues and things escalate and end up in the college court.

Now instead of being politically incorrect, the left comes across as demonic and foolish. The portrayal of the left is extremely one-sided but then this is supposed to be satire and in good satire anything goes. However, good satire is very difficult to write and while Mendelson tried very hard, it did not always work here and that is too bad because this could have been the book I believe the author meant it to be. Even with that, I enjoyed the attempt and I wish that more writers would try this sort of thing.