Monthly Archives: December 2016


“Brad Paisley: Life Amplified World Tour: Live From WVU”

The Elite Singer of Country Music

Amos Lassen

Brad Paisley gives a concert in front of over 30,000 people at West Virginia University in front of a hometown crowd and which 20 cameras recorded. Directed by award-winning director Daniel E Catullo III, Brad plays and sings for two hours as rain came down. The concert includes all of Paisley’s hits and a very special version of the John Denver song “Country Roads,” which has become an anthem for the university. Songs included in the show are: “Crushin’ It”, “American Saturday Night”, “Water”, “Online”, “Perfect Storm”, “Celebrity”, “Letter to Me”, “This is Country Music”, “Mama Tried”, “I’m Still a Guy”, “She’s Everything”, “Mountain Music”, “Ticks”, “Country Nation”, “Old Alabama”, “Then”, “Beat This Summer”, “Remind Me”, “Country Roads”, “Southern Comfort Zone”, “Mud on the Tires” and “Alcohol”.

Brad Paisley is always working to find new ways to make his set little tighter and to bring audience closer to the show. His jam sessions go just the perfect lengths to pull you in to his artistry. This concert shows us why Paisley is one of country music’s elite acts.

His Life Amplified World Tour: Live From WVU CD/DVD combo pack shows how important his live performances are to his success. We see how he commands the stage and has hit after hit. He is energetic and he loves what he does.

Personally, I am not a fan of country music but I am a fan of Paisley because of his professionalism. He is a master of both the electric Telecaster guitar and the acoustic guitar.

This concert was recorded in September 2016 in a large field next to the football stadium at West Virginia University, the night before a big football gamer – Paisley sings for a crowd of 20,000 students, and fans for 90 minutes.

“Creampuffs” by Steve Milton— Finding Love

Milton, Steve. “Creampuffs”, (Straight Guys: Volume 11), CreateSpace, 2015.

Finding Love

Amos Lassen

 Daniel Cohen is a used car salesman who works for Nick, a sociopath and closeted gay man. Set in Wheeling, West Virginia in the 1990s, we see that Nick is a sadist who seems to humiliate everyone he comes onto contact with. Daniel is a star salesman who works really hard so as not to incur Nick’s wrath. Nick has an office ritual that he refers to as “eating the snake” and this is a bit too much for Daniel to deal with do he creates an erotic plan to deal with Nick. He really hates Nick when he gets into these kinds of moods yet he knows that he and Nick are two of a kind, gay men trying to live with a little bit of dignity in a cruel world. “Once their hate is exhausted, they can only find love”.

This little story is really about homophobia and self-hated and we see how these bring about strange behavior. It also shows us that love is powerful and can win in the end. It took Daniel finding the courage to show Nick that it is just fine for two men love each other regardless of what others think and say and when he did, things began to change. At first I was a bit off by the way Nick is presented to us but as the story moved forward I understood when writer Steve Milton was going. It is a concise well-written story whose message is hidden at first but makes sense once we understand where it is heading.

“LEFTOVERS”— Compelling and Stunning


Compelling and Stunning

Amos Lassen

Tofiq Rzayev’s short film “Leftovers” is set in the Turkish mountains as two plain clothes police officers (Ismail Mermer and Erhan Sancar) take a man (Gokberk Kozan) to a crime scene to identify the body of a young girl. We see that the backseat passenger is highly upset and since we have no background we can only wonder if he is being taken to his own execution. We, however learn that he is to identify the body of someone who is believed to be a family member. He, however, does not know that and his fear becomes so powerful that the policemen must stop the car to let him out. This is significant in that police officers are trained to deal with grief but could not handle the torment that the man exhibits and they are shaken by it. As we watch so are we affected by his anguish.

We learn that our passenger had days earlier notified the police that his eight-year-old sister was missing and now a body has been found at a picnic area in the mountains.

Emotions take over the individual and the police pull over as the man climbs out of the car and his stomach heaves. As viewers we are shaken just as he is and we see one of the policemen go over to him and tries to give him a bit of comfort while the other talks to their commissioner on the phone. That policeman gets some bad news (which I am not about to share here) and we see the same reaction from all three of the men and our hearts break a bit.

I cannot remember when I was so affected by a film before and even more interesting is that this is a short film. The camera continues to show the faces of the three characters and I am sure that if they could see us, we would all have the same look of loss on our faces. Quite simply, this is a gorgeous film.

“DIMONA TWIST”— Female Strength and Resiliance

“Dimona Twist”

Female Strength and Resilience

Amos Lassen

If you have ever visited Israel, you probably did not get to Dimona. Some time right after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the desert town of Dimona was established and it was to be the home of Israel’s atomic weapons. Otherwise there is nothing there. In all of the years that I lived in Israel, I went to Dimona once—I did not exactly go to Dimona, I passed through it on my way to somewhere else but that also could be a trick of memory since Dimona doesn’t sit on the road to anywhere else. Nonetheless I do remember driving through.

Seven women who arrived in Israel by ship in the 1950s and 1960s were sent straight to Dimona and became “the women of the desert”. How they were able to start new lives and a build a society in the middle of the desert s what this film is about. Michal Avid made this documentary as a tribute to them and their strength and resilience. Israel, until recently, was not an easy country to live in especially for Europeans and Americans. It required sacrifice and change. If I could describe my first visit to an Israeli bank, you would understand. Immigration to Israel, in many cases, is the result of Zionist upbringing and the idea of helping to build the Jewish state. Immigration can also be an act of desperation as well as an act of hope. That desperation comes from what were once rough living conditions somewhere else and the hope that it will be better in a different place.

In the early years, new immigrants to Israel found harsh conditions and unwelcome environments and for the seven women who came to Dimona, this is exactly what they found. Dimona was settled in 1955, mostly by Jewish immigrants from the Northern Africa. This documentary is the extraordinary story of that settlement as seen through the eyes of the women who went there. They share their stories which are exciting and many times dangerous. All of them save one came form North African countries, mainly Morocco and Tunisia. Hana Levinstein came from Poland and all seven were in search for the “promised land”. The documentary is divided into five chapters with chapter about a different period of life in Dimona. The narrators guide us as we explore the extreme circumstances and the difficulties of settling down in the new inhospitable city.

I found that fascinating probably because I am an Israel citizen and also because so much interesting archival information and photos tell a story I had only heard in bits and pieces. There is sheer physical beauty all around Dimona and when we add footage of the places in North Africa that were once home to six of our women, we get a visual treat. The Dimona that we see here is not the Dimona that the average Israeli imagines (and I am sure there are many who have never been anywhere near Dimona).

Looking across the Mediterranean Sea and hearing the women we learn that when they lived in North Africa, they had a good deal of freedom and independence that these women used to have when they lived in North Africa. Morocco and Tunisia were colonized by the French until the 1950s and Jewish women had a high level of freedom and autonomy: they lived alone, they worked, they went to the cinemas and to theatres – they were modern, independent and dynamic women.

In a period when it became very common and in style for Jewish people to migrate to Israel, these young women (some of them still underage) left North Africa for Israel. However, when they arrived, they were sent directly to the recently established town, Dimona. Dimona sat in an empty desert with few buildings and isolated from the rest of the world. Our women began from nothing and started from to create a new life and a new society where none had been before. There women were determined and because they wanted so badly to have new lives, they succeeded. Their attitudes are inspiring as is their psychological resilience and the determination.

“Who Did You Say Your Father Was?” by Sam Tallerico— Searching for Dad

Tallerico, Sam. “Who Did You Say Your Father Was?”, Pronoun, 2016.

Searching for Dad

Amos Lassen

In 2009, adult adoptee Sam Tallerico went on a search for his birth mother and during the process, he was led to believe that his biological father was the actor/singer Bobby Darin. This book looks at adoption and deals with questions that many adoptees face. We read how Sam Tallerico dealt with them. He faced trials and tribulations that simply trying to learn his biological background. We feel his frustration, pain and his longing.

Most adopted children, at some point in their lives. want to find their roots and Sam is no different. The search is difficult, and the results are both heartbreaking and surprising. Sam shares the story of his growing up, the search for his original parents and trying to just confirm his true identity and does so both with angst and humor.



“On Herring Cove Road: Mr. Jew and the Goy Boy” by Michael Kroft— Salvation Through Friendship

Kroft, Michael. “On Herring Cove Road: Mr. Jew and the Goy Boy” (Volume 1), CreateSpace, 2014.

Salvation Through Friendship

Amos Lassen

Michael Kroft’s “On Herring Cove Road” is a fun and touching story about an old and emotionally broken introverted Jew and a lonely nine-year-old son of a racist bigot ho find salvation found through their forced friendship.

Mr. Rosen who had once been an extrovert and a prankster, is now a stoic, thirty-year converted introvert who hates change, has little, if any, interest in people and is more than content to have his wife direct his life. Since becoming an introvert, there have been almost no changes in his life, and for the few that there were his wife has walked him through them, including their recent move to a smaller home in a lower/middle-class neighborhood. He now lives next door to a racist whose nine-year-old son addresses him as Mr. Jew. 

Rosen knew that the move would come one day but pays no attention to it or to the rest of the world. He does sense, however, that change is coming and he will have to be the one responsible for his own life. It did not take long before his world begins to implode and this all began with his neighbor’s son and family. As the old man and the young boy draw one another out of their self-imposed shells, they develop a bond and a friendship.

The story is set in set in the 1970s in Halifax and causes us to look back a our childhoods. This is a story about the power of love and is heart-warming and beautifully written. It is basically a simple story of the daily lives of a shy old man and a lonely young boy who are unlikely neighbors yet become best buddies changing one another’s lives for the better. This is a beautiful story of tolerance or perhaps the lack of it.

“I AM MICHAEL”— We Finally Have A Trailer

“I Am Michael”

We Finally Have a Trailer

Amos Lassen

I was beginning to wonder if we would ever see, “I Am Michael”. After all, it had its premiere two years ago at Sundance and it has taken that long for it to come to VOD and a few cinemas in the US in January.

The film is adapted from Benoit Denizet-Lewis’ New York Times Magazine article “My Ex-Gay Friend”. It is the true story of Michael tells the real-life story of Michael Glatze (James Franco), formerly a leading US journalist for prominent gay magazine XY, and an activist working for LGBT rights. After a profound and life-changing epiphany, Glatze gradually renounced his homosexuality and turned to Christian ministry, becoming outspokenly opposed to queer lifestyles.

Zachary Quinto plays his ex-boyfriend, Bennett, with Emma Roberts, Daryl Hannah and Charlie Carver in supporting roles. When first screened it received a mixed reaction at cinemas probably because it is about the difficult subject of ex-gay ministry, and makes its ‘hero’ a man who went from gay to outspoken homophobe, and who to this day is married to a woman.

“Love and Fury: A Memoir” by Richard Hoffman— Inherited Values

Hoffman, Richard. “Love and Fury: A Memoir”, Beacon Press, 2014.

Inherited Values

Amos Lassen

Richard Hoffman tells quite a story about his family but he also tells us about the social and ethical scene in the United States when he was growing up. Beneath it all is a look at what it means to be a good man in America, a question most of us ask from time to time. This seems to be changing constantly and I am sure that as long as there are men on earth it will continue to do so. There is really nothing extraordinary about Hoffman’s life and family and with that as his base, Hoffman shares his life. We read of what he has experienced as a son, a father and a grandfather and the pivotal instances that have shaped his life. There was his father who had been diagnosed with a terminal bone-marrow disorder, his son’s unexpected return home after being unsuccessful at university, and his unwed daughter’s decision to carry a child to term. These and other challenges caused changes to his life as a writer and husband. Hoffman takes us into his family where we meet his son, daughter and the father of his daughter’s child, Damion. Hoffman is forced to reconcile his relationship with Damion, a man of Jamaican descent, with the racism he inherited from his father. We read as Hoffman manipulates time by giving us “his memories of family loyalties, honest dialogue, and difficult loss”.

Hoffman shares that there were times that he felt he had two fathers— his real father who raised him and an imaginary father who he talked to on the phone and in his head. Even though he and his real father were close, his father was an enigma, a man composed of both tenderness and rage. When his father was diagnosed with cancer that would prove fatal, Hoffman faces the struggle they shared getting to know each other. He came to understand that each was a mystery to the other. Hoffman connects past and present telling about his grandfather, a miner in Pennsylvania at just ten-years-old and young grandson, whose father is one of the estimated one million young black men incarcerated today. In order to deal with this, he is forced to look at the way the values of American after the Second World War regard class, war, women, race, masculinity, violence, divinity, and wealth. Through self-scrutiny, fairness, intellectual rigor, and emotional bravery., Hoffman faces himself and layer-by-layer he searches for who he is and what his obligations are. We see how we are tied to the past by racism, patriarchy and class-stratification. We become acutely aware of the connection between fathers and sons and it is exhausting, frustrating but necessary. I have yet to be able to do so. I last saw my father in 1967 and he died in 1989 when we had not spoken in all that time.

Richard Hoffman focuses on his particular class: “white, Catholic, American academic from an East Coast mill-town working class family who was sexually abused as a child by an athletic coach, whose long-suffering mother smoked too many cigarettes, whose father, after retirement, ended up sitting in soft chair watching TV all day”.

Hoffman moves between past and present, exploring his questions about why he is unable to understand his father even though he loves him. He had to deal with his mother’s death and the deaths of two of Hoffman’s three brothers due to muscular dystrophy. At the same time he faces those losses he also faces serious problems within his own family— his wife is diagnosed with a serious illness, his son fights an addiction, and his daughter has a child with a black man who ends up being sent to prison. To understand his own family, he probes the changing lots of working class America, the racism with which he was raised, and the current prejudices faced by blacks in this country even if they are immigrants from the Caribbean and therefore not really part of the long history of the African American experience of bigotry. He provides no answers because there are none so he just describes what he has been through.

“GAY: A Short, True Story of Self Discovery” by Brendon Hartwig— A Sexually Explicit True Story

Hartwig, Brendon. “GAY: A Short, True Story of Self Discovery”, CreateSpace, 2015.

A Sexually Explicit True Story

Amos Lassen

I am sure that most of you have noticed that in every early conversation between two or more gay men, the question of when and how someone came out is always there. “Gay” is a sexually explicit true story. The following is a true story. Author Brendon Hartwig says that this is the tale of a beautiful memory, told as accurately as he remembers. It was when he was sexually naive, in the late 7os when he was just eighteen-years-old, a time when there was no cell phones or the Internet. “A time of discovery, in so many ways”.

Let me tell you that I was pulled in with the first sentence and I did not want this to end. It was just too short but I understand that Hartwig was testing the water and will extend the story if there are readers. This is a story that is nearly perfect (I do not want to say perfect because there is always room for improvement). And yes there is sex here but that is what we do. Having experienced gay sex, we came out. We really did not have anything else and our culture before we received the rights and freedoms we now have was based upon sex. We, are, after all, homosexuals. We wanted more but no one was ready to give it to us and it is important to remember that the gains we have made have all been of late. I am not going to share anything else about the story because this is one you must come to on your own terms.

“Glamour and Mischief!: Hollywood’s ‘Undercover Costume Designer’” by David V. Jervis and Michael Woulfe— Dressing the Stars

Jervis, David V. and Michael Woulfe. “Glamour and Mischief!: Hollywood’s ‘Undercover Costume Designer’”, edited by Eve Allsbrook. David V. Jervis, 2016.

Dressing the Stars

Amos Lassen

During the Golden Age of Hollywood, Michael Woulfe was a lesser-known costume designer. Born in Brooklyn, he was star-struck early on but his big break came when Judy Garland personally requested him to design her gowns for the gala film premiere of “A Star Is Born”. Before that, however, Woulfe has been on an arduous journey. His first designing job for the movies was to dress Sylvia Sidney in “Blood on the Sun”. Early on he discovered the nasty attitude that lay under the bright lights of Hollywood as well as the difficulty of working under the personal direction of Howard Hughes at RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.

Woulfe was one of the youngest costume designers in history to receive screen credit as Gown Designer. He was lead designer on more than sixty films and created glamorous wardrobes and gowns for Hollywood stars Claudette Colbert, Larraine Day, Ava Gardner, Judy Garland, Susan Hayward, Janet Leigh, Marilyn Monroe, Terry Moore, Debbie Reynolds, Jane Russell, Jean Simmons, Barbara Stanwyck, Sylvia Sydney, Claire Trevor, and Loretta Young.

Woulfe and Hughes worked together for more than 25 years beginning at RKO Radio Pictures and ending at Hughes Productions. Hughes’s meddled a great deal and he stifled creativity in costumes with his demands for plunging necklines which caused censorship in several films. We go from RKO’s wardrobe room to the executive suites and get quite a look at how Hollywood worked. The book includes over 200 images, including color sketches, photographs, newspaper clippings, and personal letters giving us a humorous and insightful look at Hollywood.

We get some great stories about behind the scenes of a great studio but I would be remiss if I did not mention the many pages of gown design from Woulfe’s original sketches. In many cases we see the original sketches with studio still photos of the stars wearing the finished creations.