Monthly Archives: August 2015

“THE EPIC OF EVEREST”— Newly Restored on Blu Ray

the epic of everest

“THE EPIC OF EVEREST”

Newly Restored on Blu Ray

Amos Lassen

“The Epic of Everest” is now newly restored in 4k by the British Film Institute. It features truly breathtaking images of the Himalayas. This is silent travelogue that depicts the 1924 historic expedition to the summit of Mount Everest by climbers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine, whose untimely deaths resulted in uncertainty as to whether the men had indeed reached the peak of the mountain. Captain, John Noel, inspired by his long-time interest in Mount Everest, created a stunning visual document of the journey that also presented valuable, early-filmed records of life in Tibet.

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More than 90 years after its release, this documentary has undergone a painstaking restoration that brings the film to new audiences in its entire original splendor. All of intertitles have been reconstructed and restored from the original film and along with the original color tints and tones. This edition features a newly commissioned music score by Simon Fisher Turner.

The 1924 Everest expedition ended with the deaths of two of the finest climbers of their generation, George Mallory and Andrew Irvine, and brought about an ongoing debate over whether or not they did indeed reach the summit. This film is an awe-inspiring travelogue of their perilous journey.

It was filmed in brutally harsh conditions with a specially adapted camera by which Captain Noel captured  images of breathtaking beauty and considerable historical significance. The film is also among the earliest filmed records of life in Tibet and features sequences of Phari Dzong (Pagri), Shekar Dzong (Xegar) and Rongbuk monastery. But what we really see and feel here is the vulnerability, isolation and courage of people living and persevering in one of the world’s harshest landscapes.

The restoration by the BFI National Archive has transformed the quality of the surviving elements of the film and reintroduced the original colored tints and tones. Revealed by the restoration, few images in cinema are as epic — or moving — as the final shots of a blood-red sunset over the Himalayas. There are new special features that include

“Introducing “The Epic of Everest” with Sandra Noel”,

“Scoring ‘The Epic of Everest’ with Simon Fisher Turner” and “Restoring “The Epic of Everest” with BFI curators” and a trailer.

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“The Epic of Everest,” is a film that depicts the incidents in the valiant attempt, in 1924, to conquer the summit of Mount Everest. The last sight of the two men who died is revealed on the screen, the scene having been taken by a telescopic lens from a distance of 3,000 yards at an altitude of 22,000 feet.

We learn of the heights at which the different camps were established, the affect the atmosphere had upon human beings see that the wind is the mountaineer’s chief enemy, and that the peak of Everest is lashed by a continuous 100-mile-an-hour gale. Long before reaching the summit this wind was such a handicap to the explorers that they had to lie down and grip the ice to prevent themselves from being swept to their death.

There are several film stretches that were taken from a distance of a mile and a quarter and a mile and a half. It’s not until the film’s final few moments that “The Epic of Everest” becomes beautifully poetic and even mythological when we hear how the native Nepalese both revere and worship the mountain that so many Westerners have traveled to conquer. This is an astonishing historical document. The film frequently transcends mere documentary status with its images of the imposing mountain face that are sometimes dotted with minuscule human figures.

“COFFEE TALK 2—Football”— Being True

cofee talk 2

“COFFEE TALK 2—Football”

Being True

Amos Lassen

I just watched any amazing shirt film about gay college football player Cage who didn’t check out his new teammates. His flamboyant roommate Larry wants him to be true to himself. Here is what the official blurb says:

“A gay college football player’s first day at the team. Is he courageous enough to flirt with his teammates?

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Cage, a gay college football player, would tell if somebody asks about his sexuality, but his flamboyant roommate and college friend Larry is upset that Cage didn’t dare check out his new, hot teammates just to avoid trouble. Can he motivate him to overcome his self-restraint?”

“’Coffee Talk 2 – Football’ seems to reflect the zeitgeist: In 2013, professional soccer player Robbie Rogers came out and blazed a trail as one of professional sports first openly gay athletes. In the same year, Jason Collins became the first active openly gay basketball player of the NBA. And finally, Michael Sam became the first publicly gay football player in the history of the NFL. And in 2014, Chip Sarafin became possibly the first publicly gay college football player”.

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“Young players are often scared of coming out to their teammates, because they think they are not allowed to play anymore. In this respect, professional gay athletes act as role models for youth. Their and our short film’s message is clear: Don’t be afraid of who you are. You can succeed as a gay athlete. And you have more friends than you think”.

“CAPTIVATED: The Trials of Pamela Smart”— Sex, Drugs and Betrayal

captivated

“CAPTIVATED: The Trials of Pamela Smart”

Sex, Drugs and Betrayal

Amos Lassen

The trial of Pamela Smart was the first fully televised court case. In 1990 in a small New England town Pamela Smart, an attractive blond teacher was having an affair with one of her students. She was  accused of plotting her husband’s murder. Jeremiah Zagar in this new documentary looks at how the media coverage manipulated the case and sealed Pamela’s fate. The Pamela Smart trial shook the consciousness of America. America tuned in and reality TV was born with this case. The trial, the non-stop media attention surrounding it, and the events that caused it have inspired over 20 years of television, books, plays, and movies.

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It seems that it was not enough that Smart slept with a student but she also talked that student into murdering her husband. Here was fodder for a pop culture phenomenon that lost the truth of who Smart was and what actually happened. “Captivated” closely examines the impact of the media frenzy but manages to steers clear of giving an opinion on the guilt or innocence of Smart. It provides a penetrating indictment of  the public’s guilt in feeding the news sharks. It’s an incredibly relevant discussion in our reality television obsessed age.

Zagar was given surprising access to the life-without-parole prisoner Smart and most of the major players surrounding the trial and media circus. He discovered some intriguing new revelations and perspectives. Zagar began making this film with the hope to shifting perceptions on Smart. The problem is that no matter how poorly Smart was treated at the time or how exaggerated the story became in the media, or how guilty her teenage associates seemed to be, some of the evidence contradicts it all and it’s very hard all these years later to find the truth. There’s no question that Pamela Smart’s trial was far from fair yet her innocence remains questionable and when Zagar hits a dead end, he changes his focus to blaming the preconceptions of his viewers. The filmmaker isn’t necessarily wrong on all counts, but his ending just seems to be cheap and inappropriate. Nonetheless, there’s still a great deal to enjoy and admire about the film but be prepared to become frustrated.

The film rewinds the facts. It probes whether the media’s insatiable storytelling combined with Pamela Smart’s demeanor and naiveté settled the verdict long before the case was even argued in court. We begin to question everything we’re told as the line between news and entertainment continues to blur. The authorities talked the three teenage boys who were responsible for actually killing Smart’s husband into ‘plea bargaining’. They were told that if they gave evidence at Pamela Smart’s trial, they would only be charged with 2nd Degree murder.  Smart, who however, who was not present when the actual murder took place, was still charged with First Degree murder. The boys would end up serving a fixed time sentence before being freed, where she would face life imprisonment without parole. This is just one of the many disturbing facts that Zagar’s documentary uncovered.

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Another example of what we learn in the film is Smart’s teenage intern, Cecelia Pierce, who had been coerced to being a witness had been fitted with a ‘wire’.  The tapes she made while she was talking to Smart were almost completely unintelligible but the prosecution had them greatly enhanced without the involvement of a licensed audiologist that the defense offered to provide. This made a media star out of Pierce who also pocketed $100,000 for her life story and it further locked Smart in prison.

Two days before the trial even started Smart’s story was turned into TV movie starring Helen Hunt with the local newspaper reporter playing himself.  Despite this and the daily deluge of coverage by a hostile media that had already convicted Smart in newsprint and on air, the Judge refused to sequester the jury and they went home every night and heard broadcast after broadcast. Never before had the media been so instrumental in shaping how the American public learned about a small-town murder case, and they yelled for Smart’s blood.

It took only eighteen days to convict Smart and put her in the Bedford Correctional Facility in New York for being an accomplice to first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and witness tampering. She will never ever be released unless she receives a personal pardon from the Massachusetts Governor. Each of the young men involved in the case received lesser sentences, two have already been released and the other two are up for parole in 2015. 

There have been two movies based on the story. One stars Nicole Kidman— ‘To Die For’  but it was the earlier TV one that had the most effect. One of the teenagers who had accompanied the murderers that fatal night was set to re-confirm his original statement that the Police had suppressed as it had supported Smart’s claims of innocence, but he now reneged on this and all he could remember, word by word, was the fictional movie version. Zegar tries his best to get beyond what he presents as a travesty of justice and in effect puts the media on trial for its coverage. In doing this, he is in fact adding yet another layer of speculation and opinion making. Here is another case of media manipulation.

“Blood and Dirt: A Russ Morgan Mystery” by Lloyd A Meeker— A Family Feuding

blood and dirt

Meeker, Lloyd A. “Blood and Dirt: A Russ Morgan Mystery”, Wilde City Press, 2015.

A Feuding Family 

Amos Lassen

I have always felt that family arguments are the worst in the world and I really used to stay away as far as possible when I sensed that one was about to begin. Looking back, I miss them now—there is very little family left and those of us who are still would rather relax than argue. Our psychic private eye Russ Morgan soon finds himself right in the middle of a family feud while investigating a vandalized marijuana field in Colorado. Five siblings are fighting over Ellis Ranch, the family property that is soon to go bankrupt if not saved by marijuana sales. Of course, as we all know from our own experiences, no one agrees and there is one who is willing to do what it takes to make his point.

As if this family is not enough of a headache for him, Russ is dealing with his own personal issue; his relationship with Colin Stewart who is younger than him by half his age. On one hand he feels that this relationship will only break his heart but on the other hand it has grounded him and it is a good partnering.

For those of you who are not aware of Lloyd Meeker’s writing, this is his second book in his Russ Morgan series. Before this came “Enigma” and it was there that we learn about Russ’s uniqueness as a private eye. It is not necessary to read the prior book in order to enjoy “Blood and Dirt” but in doing so, you will better understand Russ.

Evan Landry has hired Russ to investigate the marijuana incident at the ranch. It is there that he meets the five siblings—Stanford Sr. and his adult children Stanford Jr., Marianne, Billy, Evan and Sarah. It is impossible not to notice the sibling rivalry but it is actually more than just rivalry. Russ is soon caught up in the whole mess and that includes dealing with Stanford Senior, the father, who questions whether he did the right thing. Soon the destruction of the property leads to murder and Russ realizes that he is involved in this whole business more than he had planned and it is not easy for him to be around people who are so vindictive and greedy.

Deputy Sheriff Heath Baker enters the story to investigate the murder. There is something put-offish about him and even though he flirts with Russ, he does not want his help on the case. Russ does not take this so easily and he uses some of his psychic ability to let Sheriff Heath know who he is.

I mentioned earlier Russ’s relationship with Colin and now we see that Colin really wants to be with him while Russ thinks that they both could become hurt. Russ is also a bit scared of the fact that Colin is so much more mature than others his age. Colin and Russ are careful with their feelings for each other and it is clear that neither man wants to hurt the other in any way.

Now some of you are wondering why I so quickly dropped the case and wrote about Russ and Colin. If I had said anymore about the ranch and the family, I might have given something away that would ruin the read for others. Meeker gives us a wonderful read with fascinating characters written in excellent prose and I do not want to spoil anyone’s read and enjoyment. But I might add that if you are interested in growing medical marijuana, this is a good place to begin reading about it.

“PURPLE SKIES”— Pain, Trauma, Hope, Happiness

purple skies

“Purple Skies”

Amos Lassen

“Purple Skies” is made up of stories of pain, trauma, hope and happiness of lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in India and what we see is an evocative, endearing tapestry of contemporary Indian LBT lives. Some of the stories are sad and some are very painful to hear but there are also happy stories and funny ones too. We hear from those whose lives have been victimized and subjugated by law, family and society as well as hopeful stories of younger LBT persons who have managed to overcome barriers to live openly with dignity.

What makes this film so special is that homosexuality has recently been made a criminal offense in India and now the community there has to fight against stereotypes, gender and sexual bias, rigid family values and a law that makes them criminals.

“Purple Skies” is a feature documentary by award winning filmmaker Sridhar Rangayan, weaves together heartrending stories of LBT people. The film is seen in the context of the historic struggle of the LGBT community in India and by juxtaposing personal stories with critical analysis of issues by activists and advocates; we get a compelling inside view of Indian LBT lives. It features interviews with Betu Singh, Maya Lisa-Shanker, Sonia Singhal, Maya Sharma, Jaya Sharma, Sumathi Murthy, Sunil Mohan, Shobhna S. Kumar, Siddhant More, Anand Grover, Meena Gopal, Raj Kanuajiya, Ushma, Sonal Giani, Upasana Nathani, Prashansa Gurang, Sapana Mhatre, Vineeth, B.T.Venkatesh, Ruth Vanita, Shohini Ghosh, Chayanika Shah, Ketaki Ranade.

“MESSI”— The Best Soccer Player in the World

messi poster

“Messi”

The BestSoccer Player in the World

Amos Lassen

Lionel Messi is considered to be the best soccer player in the world. Director Alex de la Iglesia tries to tell us how that happened in his documentary feature. However, it is unfortunate that Messi is not fascinating enough to have a film made about him.

messi

We enter a restaurant where most of the tables are occupied by people from Messi’s past and present. His primary school teachers are at one table, at another, are Messi’s childhood pals from his Rosario neighborhood in Argentina and they reminisce over photos. At another table are Barcelona teammates Iniesta, Pique and pals. There are other tables with club trainers, football journalists and even his doctor. But neither Messi nor members of his family are there. Instead we have actors pretending to be those people.

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We learn something of Messi’s problematic move from Argentina to Barcelona and learn that he nearly played for Spain. Maradona, is not actually in the room, but he does make a cameo appearance telling Lio how much he loves him. However, he leaves the question of who is the better player up in the air, believing the question should be discussed at the end of Messi’s career. There is some archive footage of both players scoring goals, with the pundits pointing out the uncanny similarities between them.

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It is clear that Iglesia wanted to come up with a new format for getting information out of his guests, and you can see that a gossiping about someone in a restaurant over a few bottles of wine might work. However his seating plan could have been much improved and interesting facts could have come out of that. No one is there to push the speakers into giving more information, no interviewer probing the interviewees.

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The movie about Messi is messy. There’s very little in the film that we don’t already know, if you follow soccer. The goals and the technique look great, but Iglesia keeps cutting back to his own biopic fragments, insisting on their relevance.  One of the journalists even admits that Messi is a dull subject to interview.

“American Dream” by Michael Derison— A Techno Thriller

american dream

Derison, Michael. “American Dream”, Boylston Press, 2015

A Techno Thriller

Amos Lassen

While playing baseball game at a boys’ camp in Maine, the body of a murdered woman is found. The victim was identified as Doctor Sarah Litel who was a chemistry scholar and involved with the Ion Disruptor, a weapon that has the power to vaporize matter on a devastating scale. It just so happens that the detective on the case, Marc Halvers, the Maine detective initially investigating Litel’s murder, had been involved in an affair with Litel some eight years earlier when he was her bodyguard in Asia. Litel was them working for Anders Research Institute. She had been brought in to assist U.S. Army technicians testing the Ion Disruptor.

Almost right after the investigation has begun, the FBI stepped in an took over while simultaneously, the Federal Internal Security Trust, a Department of Homeland Security agency also became interested in what was going on.

—also takes an acute interest in the case. It also just happened that the United States was also in the midst of crisis when the middle class fell apart and Congress was forced to stop working and the population of our middle class split into smaller factions. Before anyone realized what was happening, an international incident was evolving.

Politicians, senior military officers, capitalists, operatives of the National Security Agency and former commandos fight for control of both the Ion Disruptor and the government of the United States. Halvers now finds himself along with Adam Pershing, a former colleague of Litel in a struggle against terrible odds from enemies that are corrupt.

Derison has written a novel with great action and a romantic subplot. He writes with a detail that only someone who knows the places where the story takes place could do. At times it is a bit difficult to follow what goes on but eventually all falls into place and we get a fascinating and well-written read. You might ask if this is a book with a gay plot and to that I answer that it certainly is but that is just part of the story. In fact, as we read the romantic sections of “American Dream”, almost all else falls into the background as it waiting for us to return to the story. We become much more interested in the future of this country than the romance and whether or not a democracy can ever take place again.

“SECRETS OF WAR”— Three Children

secrets of war

“SECRETS OF WAR”

Three Children

Amos Lassen

Tuur (Maas Bronkhuzen) and Lambert (Joes Brauers)are best friends who live in a Nazi-occupied Dutch village. They spend their days playing soldiers and they love to go exploring in the local caves. They also make fun of the war that seems to be much farther away than it really is. Maartje (Pippa Allen) joins their class and everyone notices that she is different from the ret of her classmates but the loves immediately invite her into their company and the three children form a very special friendship and bond. They share adventures, secrets and mischief. It does not take long until the realities of war get to them and Lambert’s father who is a Nazi sympathizer, becomes mayor of their town. Tuur discovers his own father and brother have joined the resistance, and now the two best friends are at odds with each other. Maartje, we learn, has a secret of her own, one that not only threatens to tear the new friends apart, but also could lead to terrible consequences for anyone involved in keeping it. The film lets us see both the danger and the humanity of wartime friendships where three children must face extraordinary circumstances but do so with maturity that exceeds their years.

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We actually have two stories. The first is about the ways a friendship between two newly-adolescent Dutch boys, Tuur and Lambert is tested, first by Maartje, a girl that they both like and then by World War Two, something neither child initially understands. The second story is an anti-war treatise that shows the ways war tears apart uninvolved lives. 

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All three young actors are very good, especially Allen who convincingly shows us her secrets long before the screenplay has her tell them to us. The real scene-stealer is Loek Peters, who plays Tuur’s father. Peters (and the other grown-ups in Tuur’s family) is the vehicle through which director Dennis Bots and writer Karin van Holst Pellekaan show us the horrors and tragedies of World War Two, but without much dialogue which means communication about the seriousness of the situation is related non-verbally.

It is the talent of the young actors (their facial expressions convey genuine emotions), the wonderful musical score and the skillful work of director Dennis Bots in giving us a look at a friendship that makes this film so special.

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“Secrets of War” is a period piece. Lambert’s father is collaborating with the invading Nazis, while Tuur’s father quietly works to maintain independence. The boys are not separated by politics but instead by Maartje, the new girl in town who is said to be visiting family, but we are able to understand what her secret is. This is a very strong movie that has a great deal to say to both youngsters and adults.

“Lethal Elements” by Joel Gomez-Dossi— Rocky Ground

lethal elements

Gomez-Dossi, Joel. “Lethal Elements”, Bold Strokes Books, 2015.

Rocky Ground

Amos Lassen

Tom Burrell and his husband Roman are going through a rocky phase in their relationship. When Tom receives an offer to do mineral studies in the Adirondack Mountains, he quickly signs on. However, while doing the tests, he gets lost in the wilderness and is chased by someone who wants to kill him. Now Roman has to find a way to rescue his lover. However before he can do anything he has to find out what caused Tom’s disappearance and he has to understand the goals of the company that Tom is working for. If he can’t then Tom will ultimately die and therefore be eternally lost. The same is true of the ecosystem that Tom was working on.

It is interesting when we bring gay life and ecology together because it shows us as people who care about how and where he live and it also challenges the idea that so many uninformed people have of us—-that we live to have sex. Joel Gomez-Dossi writes with enthusiasm and knowledge of his subject and I love that he chose to use short chapters to tell his story. I did find the story to be almost unemotional making it difficult to identify with the characters but it is a fast read that is well written and paced well. But then the story is really not about the characters as it is about crime and how international organizations are able to move their operations wherever they need to be. Political power and money protects them and they will do whatever it takes to achieve what they want.

“The Heart’s Eternal Desire” by David Holly— Preserving Love

the heart's eternal desire

Holly, David. “The Heart’s Eternal Desire”, Bold Strokes Books, 2015.

Preserving Love

Amos Lassen

It is not easy to hold on to love when facing enemies that want to see that love dead. Seaton French and Dustin Marley face just that—there is a conspiracy and they want to find out who the conspirators are and expose them. As things get really bad, Dusty experiences a shift in personality and Seaton has to deal with his lover who has become of many different personalities. Soon both men go through psychological states as conspiracies threaten their very existence and they become weird and continually make less and less sense. As out two lovers try to understand what is happening, they find themselves exploring strange religions and very secret societies that could prove fatal to them. Ultimately they are able to get to the source of the problem but this means that they have to learn to survive from minute to minute and there is not much they can do. The only redemption they seem to be able to find is with each other.

I am just not sure how I feel about this even though it is a provocative read. The characters seemed to be well developed until I got them mixed up. I am familiar with David Holley’s work but this was unlike anything else of his that I have read and I found myself frustrated trying to follow what was happening.