Monthly Archives: May 2016

“HOLY HELL”— Life with a Gay Messiah

holy hell

“Holy Hell”

Life With a Gay Messiah

Amos Lassen

“Holy Hell”, the documentary, was just screened at the Sundance Film Festival and received great reviews. It is about what happened to those who followed Michel, who founded Los Angeles-based spiritual community known as The Buddha Field.

Michel was gay, although sex was forbidden among the members of the community. Will Allen joined Buddhafield as their videographer, and as Michel’s personal masseuse. It did not take long before the relationship between master and pupil became sexual, and even then the life of peace and harmony they were all promised held everything together.

As so often seems to happen with cults though, the members began to see things about Michel they didn’t like— his paranoia, his need for control, his secrecy and his demanding nature, as well as revelations about his past and what he had been forcing members of the community to do. Things began to collapse and Will escaped, taking much of the footage he shot with him, which has become the basis for the film “Holy Hell”.

“#LGBT SUPERHEROES”— The Gay Treatment

super

“#LGBT Superheroes”

The Gay Treatment

Amos Lassen

Mike Buonaiuto is taking a look at gay superheroes in his new film. In the comic books, numerous characters are, or have been portrayed at various times as, LGBT (Iceman, Mystique and Catwoman). However, on-screen they and their superhero buddies have always been straight. Now we get the trailer #LGBT Superheroes that sets out to redress the balance somewhat.

The press releases simply says, “The project highlights the lack of LGBT superheroes in film after #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend trended on Twitter last week. But more concerning – the fact that characters who appear as LGBT in comics then become de-sexualized or turn heterosexual once the movie hits the big screen… As a response, the trailer calls for studios such as Marvel and DC to include diverse characters in their films and give LGBT kids a hero they can look up to.”

“GODS OF EGYPT”— An Epic Embarrassment

gods of egypt

“Gods Of Egypt”

An Epic Embarrassment

Amos Lassen

“Gods of Egypt” is a modern big budget epic blockbuster with bankable and up and coming stars and expensive special effects yet it is a mess. There is no depth, it is filled with clichés and stiff acting.

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The film’s director, Alex Proyas, is an ambitious yet taut master of tone and genre. He has had more misses in his career, he’s a filmmaker who always employs a specific and unified approach to each film. It seems that Proyas and his team set out to recreate one of those 1950s B-movie fantasies full of swashbuckling heroes battling monsters based on ancient myth without a hint of irony or an attempt at tinkering with the material to make it more palatable for a modern audience. It is neither an homage or a throwback to those films, it is one of those films but a bad one.

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The incredibly simple story follows the episodic structure of those old films, most of which set a basic goal for our hero, then spends a chunk of the story as the hero goes on a journey to find the magical items needed for that goal, only to quickly end the story with the goal is finished.

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The screenplay of “Gods of Egypt” has some attempts at contemporary banter between Horus (Nicholaj Coster-Waldau), a god who’s bent on revenge after his uncle Set (Gerard Butler) kills his father Osiris (Bryan Brown) in order to rule Egypt, and Bek (Brenton Thwaites), a lowly human thief who helps Horus on his journey in exchange for the possibility of his loved one coming back from the dead.

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They is a silly film about gods and mortals in ancient Egypt that sinks into sword and sorcery. Set, god of disorder wrests control of his kingdom from his brother, Horus in an opening hand-to-hand combat sequence where the siblings clang swords and beat on each other for a while, until they both assume the form of armored creatures that look like android warriors and leap through the air, knocking each other against pillars until Set finally tears Horus’s eyes out. At first, Set wants to kill Horus outright, but relents when the goddess Hathor (Elodie Yung) begs him to be merciful. Set then banishes the blind Horus to a crypt where he’s eventually set free by the intrepid mortal Bek, a resourceful thief whose beautiful young lover, Zaya (Courtney Eaton) died from an arrow wound and is now trekking through the underworld en route to her final judgment. According to lore, only the king of Egypt can free a dead person from the between-state and return them to the land of the living. That means Horus has only a few days to gain control of the kingdom from Set. If he doesn’t, Bek’s girlfriend will stay dead forever.

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“Gods of Egypt” is an adventure in what used to be called the “swords and sandals” genre. Every chest is waxed and every bosom heaves. The characters address crowds of thousands of extras, and run their enemies through with swords and spears and zap them with death rays and swear fealty to this and vengeance against that, and tromp around in metal tunics. The actors have great bodies but do not look Egyptian. Proyas sort-of-apologized last year for the casting, saying he would’ve hired more actors of color if it hadn’t made the movie so hard to finance at the budget level he needed. As is, the most prominent nonwhite actor is Chadwick Boseman who plays an incarnation of Thoth, the father of science, religion, philosophy and magic. Nevertheless, it’s a good cast. And there are extras galore:

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Storyboards: A series of animatics with CG that doesn’t look that different from the final product.

A Divine Vision: A fairly superficial look at the overall design of the film.

Of Gods and Mortals: A 10-minute EPK where the poor actors have to find anything good to say about the film. Truly cringe inducing.

Transformation: Another 10-minute EPK, this one about the costumes and make-up.

On Location: Footage of the shoot in Australia. Nothing really interesting here.

The Battle for Eternity: Another superficial, self-serving EPK, this one about the stunts.

A Window into Another World: Okay, now this is getting really sad. This is a 10-minute featurette where the visual effects artists talk about the “groundbreaking” CGI used in the film.

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If you like modern cheesy B-movies without any hint of irony or an attempt to modernize the episodic structure of those old films, you might love “Gods of Egypt”. However….

“Blue Days, Black Nights: A Memoir of Desire” by Ron Nyswaner— After Philadephia

blue days black nights

Nyswaner, Ron. “Blue Days, Black Nights: A Memoir of Desire”, with an introduction by Jonathan Demme, Lethe Press, 2016.

After “Philadelphia”

Amos Lassen

Many do not know that in the years immediately following his Academy Award nomination for Philadelphia, screenwriter Ron Nyswaner had a very dog period. This is his story of what happened and it is intimate and compelling yet at times humorous. It chronicles that time when a dangerous drug addiction hit an obsessive and almost fatal love affair head-on. Making a wrong turn down a one-way street in Sunset Strip’s Chateau Marmont led screenwriter Ron Nyswaner on a journey that nearly cost him all. We see here tragedy and the transformative nature of love. Even with the great success of “Philadelphia”, Nyswaner had been dealing with depression and thoughts of suicide. He told his psychiatrist (who was also his acupuncturist and herbalist) that he did not want to live a mediocre life that was empty after he had tried to hang himself with a leather belt. Then there was the trip that he took to Los Angeles where he met Johann, a hustler and fell in love with him. This affair led to Johann showing him “how to make a crack pipe out of a soda can, how to come down from a crystal meth binge, how to walk down a city street as if he owns it, how to beg in Hungarian, and how to lose oneself utterly in reckless passion”.

This is a human story that is told with brutal honesty— a story of pain and guilt and about living in a time when not all the answers are as cut and dry as we might like. Nyswaner came out on the other side of such a traumatic time in his life and has been able to write about it, speaks volumes about human spirit, about coping and loving.

We read of some of the darkest aspects of life that some gay men experience it but with no self-pity and we read of drug-addiction, alcoholism, loneliness, sickness, suicide impulses, and most of all about love – but a very special love: the one that he felt for a European hustler he met in a Los Angeles bar, whom he kept seeing without really ever knowing him, and for whom he developed intense feelings. We do not know if the person he loved was real or fantasy but since Nyswaner is no dupe, he knows that what he felt really was love, and that gives his book meaning. He shares real descriptions of the drug and alcohol binges he indulged in and what he writes about Johann is funny and tender. We can sense what Nyswaner went through and we can be thankful that he wrote it down.

Nyswaner opens his memoir at the end with the death of his escort and he soon learns that he didn’t even know the escort’s real name. Then, he goes back in time to where he first encounters Johann, a hustler. For whatever reason, he turned to Johann andNyswaner soon forsakes everyone as well as his job. His life revolves solely around Johann. At the same time, Nyswaner tries to get out of this bleak life. He seeks help and he thinks that he gets help from a quirky Asian counselor. Despite his attempts to turn his life around, he still falls for Johann. His turning point doesn’t come until Johann dies out of the blue. Nyswaner’s account of his struggle with real life demons great and small is heartbreaking and it is also very, very funny. Jonathan Demme who wrote the introduction to this new edition says “It delivers an emotional intensity that fiction, by comparison, can only hope to achieve.”

 

“Unlikely: Setting Aside Our Differences to Live Out the Gospel” by Kevin Palau— An Unlikely Patnership

unlikely

Palau, Kevin. “Unlikely: Setting Aside Our Differences to Live Out the Gospel”, Howard Books reprint edition, 2016.

An Unlikely Partnership

Amos Lassen

 “Unlikely” is the inspiring story of an unlikely partnership between a group of churches and the openly gay mayor of Portland and this led to unprecedented change throughout the city and launched a nationwide movement called CityServe.

Portland is one the most “unchurched” and politically progressive cities in the nation. We would not expect Portland to be home to one of the most successful partnerships between local government and area churches. But it is.

In 2007, Kevin Palau and a few dozen pastors approached Portland’s mayor and asked the question: “How can we serve you with no strings attached?” City officials then identified five initial areas of need—hunger, homelessness, healthcare, the environment, and public schools and it was here that began a partnership, CityServe, between the city and a band of churches that sought to live out the gospel message. Since then, the CityServe model has spread inspiring communities across the country to take up the cause in their own cities.

This is not just the story of the inception of CityServe, but it is also a challenge to readers to evaluate their understanding of the gospel. Today’s church is in the middle between social justice and direct proclamation. Here we have a proposal and scenario that shows how the gospel can truly penetrate and change an region by word and deed.

CityServe proves that when differences can be put aside for a worthy cause, real change can be attained, and unlikely beauty is born. Sam Adams was the first openly gay mayor in a major U.S. city. Kevin Palau is the son of evangelist Luis Palau. Their worldviews are miles apart yet Kevin Palau befriended Adams and they remain friends to this day. That might seem like an unlikely friendship but that’s what Kevin Palau believes to be a symptom of a Christian simply following Jesus’ command to love. And the love didn’t stop there. Unlikely is the story of Kevin Palau’s friendship with Sam Adams, and how Palau and thousands of other Christians around the Portland metropolitan area partnered (and continue to partner) with Portland political leaders, school officials, the LGBT community, and many others to “seek the welfare of the city” of Portland. When Palau and other Christians reached out to Sam Adams and others in the spirit Christianity, an unlikely story resulted.

“Party of One: A Memoir in 21 Songs” by Dave Holmes— Pain with Humor, Humor with Pain

party of one

Holmes, Dave. “Party of One: A Memoir in 21 Songs”, Crown Archetype, 2016.

Pain With Humor, Humor With Pain

Amos Lassen

Dave Holmes has spent his life on the margins of society but always wanted to be in. He grew up as the artsy son in a family that loved sports and when he went to all boys’ high school and Catholic college, he was the closeted gay kid surrounded by straight guys. And in his twenties, while in a career in advertising, he accidentally became an MTV VJ overnight when he finished second in “Wanna Be a VJ” contest and this changed his life forever.

Holmes’s stories are painful and very funny, sometimes at the same time. He structures his story around a mix of hits and deep cuts from the last four decades—from Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart” and En Vogue’s “Free Your Mind” to LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge” and Bleachers’ “I Wanna Get Better” and then punctuates it with interludes like “So You’ve Had Your Heart Broken in the 1990s: A Playlist” and “Notes on (Jesse) Camp.”

He has written this book for everyone who feels that they do not fit into their culture and society. The book will make you laugh, feel nostalgia and teach you something about music. Amid the humor and the pain of the stories, there are interesting things to learn about life and how to live it. We hear a different language than what we heard growing up different and we are told not to hide our differences but to love them.

Holmes had a somewhat unconventional upbringing and an unlikely road to the life he has now and it is a fun read about the guy who did not win the contest but got the job anyway. He is very clever the way he ties in his stories with a specific song from the era. As we read, we revisit cultural memories of our own . I knew nothing about Dave Holmes, yet I feel I got to know him in this book.

“Start With One: A Journey Through Homosexuality, Christianity, Societal Prejudices, and the Will to Prevail” by Adam Mastroianni— Accepting Each Other and Ourselves

 

start with one

Mastroianni, Adam. “Start With One: A Journey Through Homosexuality, Christianity, Societal Prejudices, and the Will to Prevail, CreateSpace, 2016.

Accepting Each Other and Ourselves

Amos Lassen

Adam Mastroianni was raised in a typical Italian-American community and had a fine family and many friends. However, he had a secret that he hid. This is his story and his journey to understanding his own sexuality, the struggles he faced coming out to his loved ones, and his conflicts with religion and morality. It is a story about being honest and true to oneself while at the same time dealing with the prejudices of the surrounding culture. Mastroianni shares with us the process that he went through to deal with these prejudices especially those that forced him to believe that the could not be both gay and Christian. He challenges us to call for

human equality and to know unconditional love. The author is passionate about making this world a better place and asks us to join him in doing so.

“King James and the History of Homosexuality” by Michael Young— Favorites of the King

king james

Young, Michael. “King James and the History of Homosexuality”, Fonthill Media, 2016.

Favorites of the King

Amos Lassen

 James VI & I, the man responsible for the King James Version of the Bible, was known to have a series of notorious male favorites. Michael B. Young looks at political history and recent scholarship on the history of sexuality to try to see whether the king’s relationships with these men were sexual. He also shows that James’s favorites had a negative impact within the royal family, at court, in Parliament, and in the nation at large. Those of the time worried that James would bring about a “sodomitical court and an effeminized nation” and therefore some urged James to engage in a more virile foreign policy by embarking on war. Queen Anne encouraged a martial spirit and molded her oldest son to be more manly than his father. Then there were serious repercussions that continued after James’s death that detracted from the majesty of the monarchy and contributing to the outbreak of the Civil War. England, it seems, became a world of political intrigue colored by sodomy, pederasty, and gender instability.

 

Writer Michael Young discusses both the personal history of King James and public perception of homosexuality during 16th and 17th Century England. King James’ history is established in the first chapter making it easy to follow the rest of the book. Following that are chapters that look at the evidence that the King had sex with his male favorites and how the people reacted to this as well an introduction to James’ contemporaries and a bit of information about sex between males. Young also discusses the relationship between homosexuality, effeminacy and pacifism vs. heterosexuality, masculinity and war and how James’s homosexuality affected the reign of his son, Charles. We also read what contemporary and later writers said about James’s sexuality, concluding with comments on the general history of homosexuality. It is important to note that there are claims here that are very thoroughly footnoted and annotated. We are given the evidence but ultimately it is for the reader to decide as to whether or not the sex did happen.

The “legal definition [of sodomy] was then very concise and narrow. It specified only one sex act between men, anal intercourse, and excluded all other genital sex acts.” History shows James to have been and Young says that he was “a notorious hypocrite where swearing and drinking were concerned; he could simply have been the same where sodomy was concerned.”

In reading what others have to say about the book, I found several detractors who claim that Young did not take into account “the customs of Stuart England, or the political situation, in order to slander a deeply religious man who is no longer alive to defend himself. A historian with his own agenda is capitalizing on insults by James’ contemporaries to twist the facts. Even today, calling someone gay is considered an insult (what?), so why would anyone accept such a claim without question? Throughout history, political figures have been insulted by their detractors; just consider the myriad insults directed at Barack Obama!” This reviewer goes on to say that assertions of the King’s sexual behavior were biased by those who did not find favor with him. Have a look at what this reviewer has to say:

“I believe Professor Young is blinded by his own bias. An academic career is based “publish or perish.” It doesn’t matter WHAT one publishes, all that matters is publishing SOMETHING. However, a degree doesn’t make a scholar infallible. The fact that this book appears to be self-published tells me that other authorities don’t believe Professor Young’s view carries any weight, at least in this case. That hasn’t stopped others from jumping on the bandwagon and spreading this gossip, unfortunately”.

“THE DARK SIDE”— A Powerful Documentary

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“THE DARK SIDE” 

A Powerful Documentary

Amos Lassen

After World War Two, Moshe Knable begins a journey of revenge against the Nazis. He felt he had no choice other than to pursue cold-blooded revenge. He had kept his stories, as well as the “holocaust” period of his life, a top secret from his children, and for many years they have been living in the shadow of the untold past. Now, at age 85, he begins to talk. He wants to reveal his secrets, so his children can know their father’s past, even if it means dealing with open wounds. Now, the entire family prepares to go on a journey to the depth of the dark past— a place that influenced their lives without knowing it.

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This is a journey with a past, but most of all with a future. We see the future of a second generation struggling to break the vicious cycle imposed upon them before they were born.

Moshe Knabel, at 86, seemed to be a regular grandfather.. Moshe Knabel, however, is anything but ordinary. He took revenge. Today, years later, he decides to take his three children back to his village in Poland, and tell them his story, the one with the dark side. Moshe’s children have heard stories about their father all their lives— his family being murdered during the Holocaust, how Moshe’s friends and neighbors turned his family in to the Nazis and how he hid in the woods with the partisans and survived. However, they always knew not to ask too much about what happened next.

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After the war, Moshe went back to Poland and took revenge on those responsible for killing his family. He joined the UB, the Polish secret police, a group that operated in Poland after the war with the purpose to fight those opposing the Communist regime, yet in secret they avenged victims and killed Nazis and their collaborators. 

“I don’t remember the first man I killed….I just remember his shoes because they hurt my feet for months…” 

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Right after the war when he was just seventeen-years-old, Knabel returned to his hometown in Poland for vengeance. He killed all who harmed him and his loved ones during the war. Seventy years later he returned again to Poland but this time with his siblings, to reveal all. Moshe  Knabel is a survivor who dared to do what many dreamed of… Moshe took revenge.

“The Inventors: A Memoir” by Peter Selgin— The Need to Feel Special

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Selgin, Peter. “The Inventors: A Memoir”, Hawthorne Books, 2016.

The Need to Feel Special

Amos Lassen

When Peter Selgin began the eighth grade in 1970, he fell in love with a teacher who came to the United States who had a passion for students. Peter was looking for love and respect. His father, an inventor, was emotionally distant and Peter had to vie with his twin brother for affection and attention. Peter needed to feel special and that is what he got from the teacher.

Peter and that teacher spent a great deal of time together at the teacher’s carriage house home. But then the teacher resigned suddenly but they corresponded for some ten years and met once in a while. It was not until that teacher died that Peter learned that he had been hiding from his past and often identified himself with lies such as being a Native American or even a Rhodes scholar.

With his father’s death, Peter learned that the inventor had been born the son of Italian Jews while he understood and his father like his teacher was an inventor who manufactured myths and who betrayed the trust of those who looked up to them. This is the story of a man and his search for his father and his own personal relationship with his teacher—-two mysterious people that shaped Peter’s journey to manhood and it is the story of promises, both kept and broken that Peter came across in learning about himself. Peter also became an inventor. It is a memoir that is both beautiful and disturbing— a meditation on life, love , truth and fiction.