Monthly Archives: March 2014

“MODUS OPERANDI”— Jack Lives!!!

modus

“Modus Operandi”

Jack Lives!

Amos Lassen

This is going to be a different kind of review than I usually write—in fact, I am not even sure that this is a review. Director James Helsing sent me a preview DVD of “Modus Operandi”, the film he is making now and hoping to get funding for. Let me say this—if this is the kind of film that we have to look forward to, then I predict that it will knock the LGBT film history off of the map. Everything about it is spectacular. In fact, the opening credits are so amazing that I found it hard to believe that I was even watching the film. You have seen London or San Francisco look like before. I just wanted them to keep on going.

The story is about a Jack the Ripper copycat who is stalking San Francisco. The murderer has Telegraph Hill almost in a state of Panic. Police inspectors Vincent Sanchez (Douglas Spain) and Roman Parry (Francisco Pryor Garat) have been assigned the case and they have been charged with finding the person responsible and bringing him in. Working with them is retired Scotland Yard unorthodox inspector Irene Quirey (Kay D’Arcy) and a mysterious and cocky male dancer (Reynaldo Pacheco). And that is where it ended for me. My curiosity is aroused and I want to see the rest of this film but I understand that we are looking at about a year before that will be possible. I know that I have the reputation of being a reviewer that always finds good in something but here I just do not have the vocabulary to describe the little that I have seen here. On the jewel-box of the film I received is the blurb, “History Repeats Itself” and that is what I think will happen to our movies when others see the high quality that we have here. Keep your eyes open for this one—it is going to be very big.

“TOO SANE FOR THIS WORLD”— Looking at Autism

too sane for this world

“Too Sane for This World”

Looking at Autism

Amos Lassen

Dr. Temple Grandin provides the introduction for “Too Sane for the Word”, a film that explores the challenges, gifts and unique perspectives of 12 adults on the autism spectrum. We learn that many adults on the autism spectrum discover their condition much later in life, some being diagnosed as late as the age of forty. When a person knows that he/she is on the spectrum, it is easier to gain relief and understand can bring a great relief from and understand. Autism comes with a label and a set of societal discrimination’s. The questions for the interviews were devised by adults on the spectrum, and this film is a collaboration between “neurotypical” and A-typical filmmakers. The film  also is about exhibiting the strengths, discussing he challenges and exposing the immediate need for society to address the concerns within the autism community. In the film, we meet

Andrew who struggles with words but communicates vividly through his art. Robyn Steward and Rudy Simone are remarkably articulate about the less visible problems autism causes for them.  The movie neither inspirational nor horrifying.  It does not minimize the problems of autistic adults by pretending that autism has not made life difficult and painful for most of us and it does not over-dramatize the problems that confront people with autism. What we see are, quite simply, people.

Directed by William Davenport we see immediately that this film was made from the heart. Through fascinating interviews, Davenport takes us into the lives of those with autism. There is a lot to be learned here and the way the information is presented makes us begin to look at autism and Aspergers with different eyes.

There is a scene in which four random people in Berkeley are stopped on the streets and asked what they know about autism and they answer either from their own experience with those on the spectrum of autism. It is interesting to see both how much and how little people know.

“Andre & Oscar” by Jonathan Fryer— Two Literary Greats

andre and oscar

Fryer, Jonathan. “André & Oscar”, Thistle Publishing, 2014.

Two Literary Greats

Amos Lassen

Oscar Wilde was one of the first literary celebrities in the modern sense of the word. Unlike celebrities today—Kim Kardashian, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Wilde had style and talent. His scandalous life is still spoken of today. Andre Gide was a literary man who was recognized as the most important French stylist during the first half of the 20th century. He was awarded many honors including the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1947. Of course the French were not so uptight about Gide’s sexuality. What many new readers will find surprising is that the lives of Gide and Wilde overlapped for about ten years. They came together by fate in France, Algeria and Italy. In Algeria, Wilde used the meeting to initiate Gide into “the pleasures of the flesh”. Gide, by the way, was raised a strict Protestant.

The two men had quite a stormy relationship with each other and each with his own mother. Wife and lovers. The dramas of the two men rival anything ever seen on the stage.

The author spends a good bit of time writing about the gay lifestyles of Wilde and Gide and he does so with style. The 19th century was not the best to be gay, we see but it some ways it was better than in the 20th century in America. This is such a fascinating read and Fryer adds a lot to stories either known or spoken about. We see Wilde as a role model as well as a warning to Gide. How their relationship develops, you will learn by reading this book.

“SUMMER VACATION”— A New Israeli Short Film

summer vacation
“Summer Vacation” (“Hahofesh Hagadol”)

A New Israeli Short Film

Amos Lassen

Yuval (Yiftach Klein), his wife Michaela (Hilla Vidor) and their children Gaya (Bar Minali) and Einav (Ruslan Levchuk) are on summer vacation at the beach during the last week of August. While playing in the sand, Yiftach becomes buried and cannot get himself out. This causes the family to panic and run for help. Help comes in the form of two hot looking men—one of whom is Yiftach (Oded Leopold) who is on vacation with Noam (Ido Bartal), a twink. Yuval immediately recognizes his ex-lover, Yiftach and as soon as he is rescued wants to get home as soon as possible. Innocent childish games in the sand and an accidental savior turn this vacation into a series of revelations of family secrets and an unexpected love triangle. The film moves swiftly– in the first minute we already see a life-threatening incident, and the husband is unexpectedly and surprisingly saved by an old friend he has not met in years. The dynamics between the husband and wife, and between the husband and friend are strong and the viewer feels the tension.  We soon that all is not what we expected it to be and things coast along to an ending that is totally unexpected. I did not want to see it end and it is a rare short film that is beautifully shot, with beautiful people and a soundtrack that is perfect. It is perfectly hope and the undercurrent of sex is incredibly strong. Summer Vacation is a perfect example of what a film should be. The film is included on the DVD of “In the Name Of” by Film Movement.

summer vacation1

 

“DRUNKTOWN’S FINEST”— Three Young Native Americans

drunktown's finest

“Drunktown’s Finest”

 Three Young Native Americans

Amos Lassen

An adopted Christian girl, a rebellious father to be and a promiscuous transsexual attempt to escape life on the Indian reservation. Gallup, New Mexico (also known as Drunktown, America) is the setting of our three Navajo characters who battle alcoholism and the whitewashing of their roots. Sickboy (Jeremiah Bitsui) has a real problem with alcohol and because of this his future as a father and a soldier in the army are in danger. Felixia (Carmen Moore), an actual pre-operative transgender Navajo woman cannot find her place in society even though her own family is totally accepting. Nizhoni (Morningstar Angeline) was raised by white Christian parents and has been cut off from her Navajo roots and is searching for her identity before going off to university.

drunk1

 All three share having been raised in a New Mexico Navajo community,  and their totally separate stories about finding themselves eventually cross paths towards the end. These characters are having a rough time as they search for love and acceptance in a town that is famous for having one of the highest rates of alcohol abuse in the country.  The beautiful and promiscuous Felixia hooks up with Sick Boy when he is high at a party one night. However the drunk and angry father-to-be runs off when he realizes what he is actually in for when he puts a move on her. When the very earnest religious Nizhoni learns that her ‘white’ parents have lied about her birth family, she goes to look for living grandparents and discovers that she is related to Felixia.

Life on a Reservation shows the characters and the viewers that there is an excess of alcohol  mixed with the sheer desperate lack of employment. Nizhoni escaped by default, and now the other two are desperate to get out too no matter how severe their methods maybe. It is surprising that Felixia does not suffer persecution because of her gender—she is accepted as a “two spirit” person that is part of Navajo tradition. 

This is director Sydney Freeland’s directional premier and it is sincere and authentic. It took six years to develop this film but it was worth the wait. This is probably because of the way it deals with alcoholism, sexuality, gender and religion.

drunktown2

Generally Native Americans are represented as two types of character in film—the wise elder or the angry youth. The director wanted to show how the reservation actually is, so she made the three different environments: The macho world, the religious contemporary non-native, and with Felixia—who represents the LGBT community.” In Navajo, there exists the concept of a “third and fourth gender.” Although the director grew up on the reservation she wasn’t aware of this until after she moved to San Francisco. The outside world inspired her to research deeper into her own culture. From this, she decided that she wanted to convey characters beyond stereotypes and it was out of this that the film came to be.

 The movie portrays  a small community where the stories of everyone are bound to crash into each other. Felixia divides her time between her sex job, coping with her own limitations/advantages and a contest to be part of a calendar of Navajo women. Sickboy is a married man  who constantly falls for other women, booze or drugs, while he waits for the army to take him away – the only job he could find to help provide for his wife and expectant child. Nizhoni wants to know her heritage and the meaning of her dreams.

Felixia’s tale is by far the most interesting story for me. She mixes the problems that she has with her condition with her own free will and realization of her desires (either sexual or otherwise) through chance, luck, She is perhaps one of the best transsexual characters that I’ve seen in a while.

2014banner

“FUN IN BOYS SHORTS”— Seven Short Films

fun in boys shorts

“Fun in Boys Shorts”

Seven Short Films

Amos Lassen

fun

So often we miss good gay short films if we do not have the chance to attend a film festival. Strand Releasing has been one of the releasing companies that bring us anthologies of shorts. In the newest collection, we get seven films:

“Spooners” directed by Bryan Horch and running 14 minutes is the story of a gay couple discussing buying a new futon. Nelson is forced “out” while shopping for a comfortable mattress and to say more than that would be to ruin the movie for others.

Wade Gasque’s “Housebroken” (15 minutes) tells about a hopeless romantic who learns about living in a relationship from the perfect couple.


“Bald Guy” directed by Maria Bock (12 minutes) is, as you can guess, about hairstyles (or lack of hair styles). While parents get to see their son again after a while, he tells them that he has had sex with a bald guy and the mother is shocked wanting to know why he could not have found someone with hair. At this point…..aw, get a copy for yourself.

“Alaska is a Drag” is directed by Shaz Bennett (13 minutes) and is about 
Leo’s dreams of being an international superstar but he works in a fish cannery. Leo is unique and outspoken and stands way far away from the crowd and all he has are his dreams until a new boy starts to work at the cannery and sees Leo for the international superstar he was destined to be.

Emilio Marti Lopez brings us “Unanimated”
(8 minutes) about a cartoon character who goes into therapy because he feels rejected in a “live-action” world. He thinks the world dislikes him because he is different and he shares his reflections on the nature of prejudice. Ultimately he has to decide whether to conform to the “norm” or live life his own way.

Sabbatical” directed by Glenn Kiser (12 minutes) is about taking a break from a long-term relationship. When the two partners “reunify”, they play a game about questions and we learn something that is very interesting.

“P.D.A.” directed by Patrick Hancock looks at an urban couple that argue about holding hands in public and this leads to an exploration of their relationship and so much more and in just 8 minutes.

The movies here are all award winners and even if you are sure you like short films, you may very well change your mind after seeing these.

“THE APPLE TREE”— Another Look”

the apple tree

“The Apple Tree”

Another Look

Amos Lassen

Even though I have already reviewed “The Apple Tree”, I discovered while watching it again, that there is so much that I did not say. Let’s have another look.

Gabe and Jonathan fell in love in the 1940s and they decided that it would be there secret. Tines changed as they grew together and they eventually were able to be open about their relationship but then Jonathan died unexpectedly. Gabe found that he was faced a new problem—one which many gay elder face and that was to return to the closet. This 30-minute short has quite a strong message about the fate of the older generation.

Gabe and Jonathan fell in love when they were just high school students and were only separated for brief periods when they were young. Then Gabe went off to war (World War II) and came home having to live in a wheelchair. They remained totally true to each other but then Jonathan died and Gabe was alone for the first time and forced to start a new life in a retirement home. At first, everyone was friendly but Gabe learns about the antiquated views on homosexuality of others and he had to decide to live his life as he is or hide by going back into the closet that he broken from years earlier. The acceptance that he had fought so hard to achieve was now on the line.

The movie moves back and forth across time and takes a very important look at both homophobia and the issues that LGBT senior citizens face. The performances of Jay Renshaw and Ryland Shelton as the young lovers and Jerry Bornstein as the older Gabe are wonderful. The two men had been together for over sixty years and the adjustments were difficult. Gabe had really not anticipated going through another series of adjustments.

Matthew Ladensack directed this film that tugs at your feelings and reminds you that we all are going to get old. He also shows the importance of reaching out to others—especially for the younger generations to reach out and help the people who paved our way and earned us the rights and acceptance we enjoy today.

“THE EVANGELIST”— In Provincetown

the evangelist

”The Evangelist”

In Provincetown

Amos Lassen

When a Cape Cod theater director adopts a 12-year-old boy who is a religious fanatic, we can only imagine that their lives together will not be easy. Danny Ziegfeld adopted Gideon Bellamont and had no idea about his religious views. When he learns that Gideon is on a mission to convert the local population to Christianity, he reluctantly agrees to help until he boy’s religious views cause trouble in the community.

evangelist 1

This is not a religious film but rather a look at a place with a majority population of gay people and how it reacts to religion there. The film is shot in stark black and white and it is interesting in that a kid and not the older generation is the religious fanatic here.

“Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?: A Memoir” by Kenneth M. Walsh— A Nice Guy from Michizona

wasn't tomorow wonderful

Walsh, Kenneth M. “Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?: A Memoir”, Magnus Books, 2014.

A Nice Guy from Michizona

Amos Lassen

I had never heard of Michizona before reading Kenneth Walsh’s memoir and I learned that it is the author’s own way of describing the suburbs of Detroit and Arizona where he grew up. Michizona was the past and Walsh wanted to get to New York City and as he followed his heart, there were several adventures along the way. It is his journey to the Big Apple that is his coming-of-age story. As I read I felt that Walsh was in the room with me relating what happened and it is not that a writer can be so real that we imagine that we are sitting there with him.

Right away he tells us about his feelings of being different and not just mentally—there is a physical difference as well that embarrassed him and caused him to set himself apart from the other guys (read the book, I am not going you what it is but I will say that it had to do with that area between his legs). Walsh loved tennis but he was bullied by his tennis teammates and they even had the temerity to tell his mother that he was gay.

Walsh was a victim of his own anxiety and he blushed, seemingly, at will (and even without wanting to) and soon realized that he did better with one person than a group. That anxiety seems to have been the result of seeing Kate Jackson booed on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight” show when she spoke about a film she had made about AIDS (“Making Love”). He felt what he thought was homophobia (and it probably was when we consider that the film came out in 1982. Walsh immediately became a loner and the anxiety went with him.

Walsh’s father was an alcoholic and absent most of his youth and he suffered a childhood filled with trauma (but there were also good times [which are not as interesting]). Times with his father were not good and it was not until many years later when, as an adult, that he tried to form some kind of relationship with his dad who had already begun to sink into dementia and was housed in a hospital.

As we know, life is not always rotten and there really fun chapters here. There was the time when he went after a serial killer and Walsh’s own babysitting service (the KKK—Kenny’s Kid Kare) and the story of the time his father vanished.

It took him until he was 31 years old to get to Manhattan and along the way there was Hollywood (alright, so a bit out of the way) and Washington D.C. He once lived with a porn star (after wonder why a person who makes one porn movie is known as a star?). He found pictures of a CNN new anchor displaying all and Walsh seemed to be almost everywhere at one time.

What really one me over with this memoir is the honesty with which Walsh wrote. The man has had quite a life and we are lucky that he has chosen to share it with us. We may not always agree with what he says or how he says it but he says it and holds nothing back. He tells us about how he dealt with handling his sexuality at a time in history when people were not open about it (1970s and 80s).

Walsh is a maven of popular culture and there is a great deal about it here. He combines humor and heart and he is serious when he needs to be. He is not afraid to tell is that he is selfish and impatient and even, at times, intolerant (so he is like so many of us with the difference that he writes about it). We both laugh and cry as we read, we harbor a bit of jealousy for the life he has lived but more than anything, we get a great read that we are able to identify with.

“NOAH”— Not Quite the Bible

noah

“Noah”

Not Quite the Bible

Amos Lassen

“Noah” is Darren Aronofsky’s “uneven but undeniably bold, personal, visually extravagant take on the Old Testament tale will surely polarize critics and audiences”. The story of Noah is one that is steeped in tradition and fantasy. The film respects the Biblical story but it also takes liberties with it by adding to the basic foundation found in the Hebrew Bible and creates both a world and a scenario that add to the basic tale and this causes the story of Noah and the flood to be a distinct tale that sets it apart from the narrative of the Book of Genesis—for a religious person the message of the original is here and for the non-religious, there is still a story to relate to.

noah1

Aronofsky who both directed and co-wrote the screenplay imagines the story as theater with beautiful tableaux and the backdrop of sky in bold colors. At first, everything is representational and then the scenes expand—the six creations are told to us orally and visually and then we move from darkness to the earth that is represented as a molten mass. The days are actually millions of years and we see the creatures enter the picture in time-lapse sequences. Humans appear in a golden glow in Eden, a paradise. We see Cain kill Abel and the soldiers killing each other throughout history. Noah (Russell Crow) tells us his vision from the Creator of an earth under water and then Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), his wife appears. We see them as ancestors, as shadows against a dark sky and science and religion, history and legend are blended as the lines between them are blurred. The story begins.

We see Noah as a young man standing alone; the last in the line of Adam and Eve; he is the son of Seth and he was witness to Cain’s tribe that was responsible for killing of his father. The conflict between the tribes continues and it is the descendants of Cain who believe that humankind should hold dominion over the Earth and its resources. The line of Seth believes they are stewards of creation.  The progeny of Cain, fueled by a mineral that emits energy, has overtaken the globe in a collection of industrial cities.

As an adult, Noah is the father of three sons and  his vision is to seek out his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) to discover the meaning of the world.  The answer to the riddle of the submerged earth is a massive ark to hold two of each species of animal in the world, restarting the natural course of Earth while human being perish in a great flood. Here Aronofsky adds to the story with a group of fallen angels who are known as “Watchers” and it is their duty to come to earth and protect humanity after the expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

“They are giants composed of rock and mud, with four arms and faces contorted into a gnarled version of the tragedy mask—a visage of perpetual sadness for those with no place in the Creator’s universe.  They may appear out of place, but there’s a biblical basis for these creatures.  They answer the question of how Noah and his small family construct a gigantic ark and also serve as the family’s guardians”.

noah2

One of the problems in understanding the Noah story is if there is to be a watery apocalypse intended to wash away all of humanity, surely there would be other humans determined to survive.  They arrive led by Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), the king of the great cities of Cain’s descendants, and want their place on the ark before the rains begin to fall and geysers of water erupt from the ground.  Within the family, there are divides, primarily on the part Noah’s son Ham (Logan Lerman), who is jealous of his brother Shem’s (Douglas Booth) romance with Ila (Emma Watson) and resentful of his father’s apprehension in finding a wife for his middle son.

Aronofsky’s film is an ambitious, brave and visually stunning adaptation that offers a grandiose reinterpretation of Noah’s fabled salvation and the regular Bible reading. We know the story of Noah—God (or “The Creator” as he is referred to in the film) is angry at what his world has become and intends to wipe out all of humanity in order to start anew. His wrath is communicated to Noah who soon finds himself with the monumental task of not only building an ark so that he and his family can survive, but also gathering two of every animal so that the futures of entire species are assured.

Of course, the ark is built, the flood arrives and the dove flies in at the end with the olive branch in its mouth. The basic elements of the story are all here. It’s what Aronofsky does in between and around the core story, however, that gives Noah its unique and intriguing identity. I do not want to spoil the story for anyone so I am going to write anymore about the plot but it is important to remember that this is not a simple retelling of the Bible. It’s a dark, gritty and fantastical adaptation that pulls no punches and presents a portrait of Noah that we’ve never seen before. What Aronofsky gives us will probably offend Biblical purists but with that said, the film is fascinating in every aspect. “Instead of writing Noah as a righteous, honest and upstanding man, the director gives us a complex character study of an almost obsessive follower of God, a zealot, who finds himself at the crossroads between serving a higher power and doing what he thinks is right”. Crowe is excellent but the screenplay by Aronofsky and Ari Handel is what makes the character so interesting. Noah is a man driven by faith and his duty to God. Above all else, he wants to serve God, and he’s willing to do almost anything to complete His will. And when I say anything, I do mean anything. When things get dark, the film ventures into very questionable moral territory.

noah3

 

What makes Noah, the character,  so interesting is the dichotomy between his actions and beliefs, and the constant struggle between blindly following his faith and doing what he believes is just. We ask these questions ––Is Noah simply carrying out God’s will? How can a mere mortal stand up to the Creator? Isn’t the very foundation of religion based around obeying what God says? Is it wrong if it’s what God commands? The film asks many tough about how far man can be driven by faith, and as a commentary on religious fanaticism; “Noah” is an extremely interesting piece of work. It leaves the viewer with so much to think about that we will have it in our minds for days after seeing it.

Aronofsky’s film comes to us in five clear and distinct acts and each has its own special tone and feel. The special effects of the flood are spectacular (as we all thought that they would be). There is a battle sequence that is amazing and the acting is superior throughout the film. Soon after the battle, “Noah” becomes a whole other film entirely. “On the ark, it steps down in scale to examine morality, faith, religious fanaticism, family dynamics and pressure so great that it can sever life-long bonds between loved ones”. Because of excellent direction, the transition is smooth and natural.

The film is more than just a film— it is a powerful but complicated experience that’s deeply fascinating in the way it subverts expectations. “It will crash over you like the flood itself, knocking you back, allowing you to take in awe-inspiring visuals but also forcing you to contemplate complex questions. As an absorbing character study and an action epic all at once, it is wonderful. 

The arrival of the animals, which appear to self-organize by phylum, is a similarly marvelous sight. This followed by the storm that is amazing in its beauty and it will difficult to forget “the image of humanity’s last dregs clambering for a foothold on a lone rocky outcropping as it, too, is finally swallowed by the sea”.

After the tide has ebbed and a new day has dawned, the film finds its purpose— Noah, the man is an exhausted hero who can’t understand why, if all mankind was meant to perish, he and his family should be saved. Noah has no one to ask. Russell Crowe lets us feel his torment and then the film leaves us with the image of a man who feels adrift when he is finally standing on dry land — and all of us immediately relate to what we see on the screen.