Monthly Archives: April 2017

“Where He Lay Down” by Anthony Ramirez— An Unwavering Sense of Self

Ramirez, Anthony. “Where He Lay Down”, Black Magic Media, 2017.

An Unwavering Sense of Self

Amos Lassen

Grayson has always known exactly who he is. He is “intelligent, witty, often drunk, Jewish, and deaf”. He cannot deny any of these traits. When he was just four-years-old and heard his mother says his name for the first time and until he received his master’s degree and became a physician assistant, his strong sense of self has been with him. However, when Grayson moved to Willsboro to begin his career and then met Aidan who was a nerdy engineer and friend of his roommate’s, things changed. Suddenly everything Grayson thought he knew about himself is questionable. He suddenly found himself unable to concentrate on his work and every time Aiden came near him, he had a strange feeling. Grayson then began to struggle to understand why life would not stop throwing problems at him. Remembering that he is deaf is important here and we see that it was years before he was able to hear for the first time, and years after that before he could speak like everyone else around him. He certainly never expected to have feelings for another boy, and unlike his deafness, there’s nothing he can do to translate his feelings into something he could understand.

It took some help from his best friends Max and Will, and his roommate Amelia before Grayson was able to go on a journey of self-discovery to answer the question he wasn’t even sure he could bring himself to ask about whether he was gay or not.

What a beautiful read this is and for anyone who has ever wondered about who he or she is, this is a must read. It is a book filled with drama, humor, compassion, and love and Anthony Ramirez is a wonderful storyteller. We are all aware of how difficult it is to find someone to share our love but we often forget how difficult it is to love ourselves.

Because of being born deaf, Grayson had an extra problem but he later found himself among the hearing thanks to a cochlear implant. This he can turn off or on as sees fit and it allows him to move “from an internal space of intense silence to the disorienting chaos of the noisy world of the hearing”. As far as he knew, he had always been straight and then to his surprise, he fell for a man. He had been rooted to one city, but then found in a different place with different thoughts about the future. His journey is one to a life beyond categories.

I love finding new authors who thrill me with their prose especially being as old and jaded as I am. Ramirez has given a shot of adrenalin to gay literature and those of you who are writing now are going to find it difficult to reach his standards; the standards he sets with this book. This book is not just beautiful, it is a gem to be cherished.

 

 

“THE WORLD’S MOST BEAUTIFUL SWINDLERS”— Swindling Around the Globe

“The World’s Most Beautiful Swindlers” (Les plus belles escroqueries du monde”)

Swindling Around the Globe

Amos Lassen

“The World’s Most Beautiful Swindlers” is made up of four swindle stories, taking place successively in Tokyo, Japan (“Les cinq bienfaiteurs de Fumiko”), Italy (“La feuille de route”), Paris (“L’homme qui vendit la tour Eiffel”) and Marrakech “Le gran esroc”.Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard , Ugo Gregoretti and Hiromichi Horikawa are the directors represented here and the casts include Jean Seberg, Catherine Deneuve, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Francis Blanche and Ken Mitsuda. Each of the short films is a gem. However, to say anymore about any of the segments would spoil the film for others and so I will simply say that this in one you do not want to miss and the transfer from Olive Films is a gem.

Originally there was an Amsterdam segment, “A River of Diamonds” (directed by Roman Polanski), but it has been removed from presentations of the film at the request of the director.

“AGATHA CHRISTIE’S FAMILY MURDER PARTY”— A New Mini-Series

“Agatha Christie’s Family Murder Party”

A New Mini-series

Amos Lassen

Based on Agatha Christie’s iconic novel “Hercule Poirot’s Christmas”, “Agatha Christie’s Family Murder Party” is a new four-part French mini-series that is  sexy, witty and a lot of fun. Superintendent Larosière and Inspector Lampion are the lead investigators on a mystery that begins when chateau owner Simon Le Tescou is found dead in his home and all of his grown children have motives for murder! 

It takes place during World War II and each

90-minute installment is a single story. The plots are filled with twists and turns thus giving the characters plenty of opportunity to meet untimely demises. Each character has suffered with an aspect of Le Tescous cruelty, and each has something to gain from his death. Larosière and Lampion investigate the murder in classic Christie style: Superintendent Larosières passion for beautiful women is matched only by his love of solving puzzling crimes, and his young colleague Inspector Lampion has sensibilities that sometimes clash with those of a less-enlightened age. The fun comes from their combustive dynamic. Larosière thinks he knows it all, until Lampion sets him straight and in the process we get a wonderful and mysterious adventure.

The series stars Robert Hossein, Elsa Zyberstein, Bruno Todeschini, Antoine Duffy and Gregor Derangere.

Here are short synopses of the four episodes:

  • Season 1 – Episode 1 



The mystery begins when Simon Le Tescou is found dead in his home – and all of his children have motives for murder!


  • Episode 2 Rookie inspector Emilie Lampion reports for his first day of work, and Simon Le Tescou invites his family to his castle for his 70th birthday.


  • Episode 3 



The murderer still seems to be among the group when Alix gets clobbered by a vase one floor above her.


  • Episode 4 



In the dramatic conclusion, the murderer gets exposed in a surprise plot twist.

“ALL GOVERNMENTS LIE: Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone”— Indie Journalism

“ALL GOVERNMENTS LIE: Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone”

Indie Journalism

Amos Lassen

Fred Peabody’s “All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone” is “a documentary about the original indie journalist I.F. Stone, and his contemporary inheritors” is a film that we can both agree and argue with at the same time. While the title makes it sound like a portrait of Stone, (the trend-setting investigative journalist who died in 1989) it is also about those that follow in his footsteps. Stone self published “I.F. Stone’s Weekly’ in which , he took on the sins of the U.S. government and mainstream media. He was the original political blogger of whom we get a thumbnail sketch of life and we sense his spirit as we watch the documentary.

We see Stone in clips where he explains his reporting methods. He didn’t call government officials, and he wasn’t even accredited to attend a White House press conference. He went into back rooms and pored through documents and transcripts to learn what was really going on.

In 1964, when President Lyndon Johnson and his Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, engineered the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the two contrived acts of North Vietnamese “aggression” that were used as a trigger to launch the war in Vietnam but the mainstream media didn’t discover or acknowledge the truth (the U.S. had misrepresented the incident for years). I.F. Stone got to that truth the week after it happened and this is just one of the many scoops he nailed while under the mainstream radar. Michael Moore says that Stone revealed the power elite while they his behind their image of authority.

I.F. Stone was known as “Izzy” and was one of the great journalists of the 20th century and in this film we not only learn about him but also about other independent reporters who are carrying on the tradition of renegade muckraking that Stone almost singlehandedly put on the map in the postwar era.

The movie features Amy Goodman, whose global news program “Democracy Now!” is on the radio, TV, and the Web, and John Carlos Frey who reported a cataclysmic story about 200 Mexican immigrants whose bodies were discovered in mass graves in Brooks County, Texas, 70 miles from the border. We also hear from “Rolling Stone” writer Matt Taibbi, and the Glenn Greenwald from the “Intercept”. We see as Carl Bernstein says that it’s a lot easier to keep a president in check, or even to bring one down, when you have an editor as civic-minded as Ben Bradlee, his boss at the Watergate-era Washington Post.

 “All Governments Lie”, however, focuses on big game like the rush to the Iraq War, which it uses to illustrate the thesis that the mainstream media has become a tool of government and corporate power.

The propaganda that paved the road to the war in Iraq (the acceptance of WMDs, the Colin Powell testimony, even the preposterously alleged Saddam/Al-Qaeda “connection”) went, for the most part, unquestioned by the mainstream media, notably The New York Times. That is what made the Iraq War an opportunity for independent journalism. Watching the film, we are very aware of  the anti-mainstream-media arguments that are repeated so often, and so broadly, that they become a rule that says that all media is controlled by advertisers and that reporters aren’t allowed to question the System. Greed, corruption, and government-sanctioned criminality are hidden in fake news stories.

“All Governments Lie” suggests that the kind of fearless independent reporting practiced by I.F. Stone is alive and well — and that if anything, it’s becoming even stronger. The film’s arguments about fake news (the Kardashians, etc.) undeniable. At the same time, our attention spans and the general dislocation from reality has led to a society that is into conspiracy theory as well as an “outsider” presidential candidate who lies more often than the government does.

One of Stone’s key tenets was that almost any problem in democracy can get fixed if the press brings it to light, “but if something goes wrong with the free press, the country will go straight to hell.” The film was already completed Donald Trump gained the presidency in a way that may yet make Watergate look insignificant by comparison. What we see with Trump’s rise to power is the steady degradation of corporate media that led to this. The film holds “friendlier” administrations (like those of LBJ and Obama) accountable for misleading the public, and the press for cheering them on. Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader o talk about the manipulations and worse that mark every administration.

The film is a call to arms for anyone interested in honest, issues-based journalism, and a well-deserved recognition of regulars who have done this work for decades and what we see is an antidote to the spectacle-driven corporate media that assisted in the rise of Donald Trump.

“UNLOCKING THE CAGE”— Protecting “Nonhuman” Animals

“UNLOCKING THE CAGE”

Protecting “Nonhuman” Animals

Amos Lassen

From filmmakers Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker, we get a real-life legal thriller about one man’s lifelong quest to protect “nonhuman” animals. This is a PSA-style piece advocating nonhuman-rights activism that follows Harvard law professor Steven Wise over a three-year span as he attempts to help pass legislation that would recognize the personhood of certain nonhuman animals. Hegedus and Pennebaker worked for three-year efforts s to uncover animal rights violations.

Animal rights lawyer and activist Steven Wise has been fighting for non-human rights for 30 years. In 2011, he and his team at the NonHuman Rights Project upped the ante when they filed lawsuits on behalf of four captive chimpanzees. Their goal was to prove to the courts that animals have the rights of a “person” in “Unlocking the Cage.”

Steven Wise and his dedicated team of professors, attorneys and law school students who have spent years fighting for the rights of the animals that cannot fight for themselves in a court of law. This film helps us understand it all better. The directors have, essentially, divided the film into two distinctive parts.

For about the first half of “Unlocking the Cage,” Steven Wise and the members of the NhRP search the state of New York for suitable “clients” to present before the court. The search has its highs, when they find Merlin and Reba at the Bailiwick Zoo in Catskill, NY, and lows, when they learn that Reba died and, shortly after, Merlin does, too. The team faces an uphill battle to find the right chimp to represent but they keep dying. Eventually, of course, they do find their clients.

Once the search process is over, the movie goes into the actual litigation for the court. The legal drama unfolds in a succession of appearances in the NY lower courts, then, all the way to the state Supreme Court.

For decades, animal rights lawyer Steven Wise took on individual cases on the behalf of cats and dogs, but with 160 animals being killed with every heartbeat, he decided to reach higher.  Along with his team, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), Wise began to fight for personhood rights for cognitively complex animals like elephants, chimpanzees and dolphins.  In December 2013, Wise and his legal team filed three lawsuits using writs of habeas corpus to attain the release of four chimpanzees.  What he was doing, in effect, was unlocking the cage.

Wise, who has received national media coverage for his efforts, more than likely had a lot to do with the passage of new laws protecting animals.  The filmmakers then follow Wise as he searches for candidates to push his agenda.  We see amazing evidence of just how intelligent these animals are, from chimps using computers to conversing with researchers using sign language. 

Eventually the team settle on Hercules and Leo, two chimps in an ambulatory study at Stony Brook and the legal drama begins.  Wise has many pitfalls to sidestep in his arguments with judges frequently citing the animal welfare laws which have failed him in the past.  One judge takes exception to Wise’s comparison of the apes’ situation to those of slaves (he also cites former laws which excluded similar rights for women and children). The film is both heartbreaking and heartening at the same time and equally as what we see is a profound examination of animal rights issues and a portrait of a heroic activist.

The focus is on the efforts of Wise to rewrite the book on personhood, starting with higher-order mammals like primates, pachyderms, and cetaceans. The title refers to an actual book, Wise’s Rattling the Cage, which advances a “theory of mind” that puts some animals on a cognitive level with humans.

Wise and his team push several cases up through the appellate system of New York State, which happens to hold a number of chimpanzees in less-than-ideal conditions.

We go on visits with chimps and see their startling abilities to communicate. We see others that are being held in terrible conditions. Wise and company are very careful not to demonize their litigants, who are often quite attached to their charges, but who acting out of ignorance or profit motive. What’s most interesting here, on the dramatic front, is the genuine engagement they achieve with judges and state’s attorneys encountered along the way, suggesting that even opponents of the rebranding of animals from “things” to persons are interested in keeping the discussion open.

    Co-directors Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker have a knack for knowing how to make a documentary that finds just the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally and intellectually.

Unless you’re made out of stone and have no compassion or humanity, you’ll find yourself rooting for the chimps. Ultimately, “Unlocking the Cage” is a captivating, alarming, gripping documentary.

“THE FIVE YEAR ITCH & OTHER SHORTS”— Comedy, Romance, Fantasy, Drama

“The Five Year Itch & Other Shorts”

Comedy, Romance, Fantasy, Drama

Amos Lassen

Filmmaker Andy Halliday is a New York writer and actor whose work is new to me but whose credentials including working with Charles Busch make him a person whose work I want to see. Andy says that it is his to make films about gay men and women, and in doing so explore the realities of what happens beyond “coming out”. He chooses to deal with sex, drug addiction and getting older. Here we have five short films that are candid and full of heart and humor. It just so happens that there is great eye candy of the men.

The films were made from 2004 to 2012 and on tight budgets and resources. We immediately sense the director’s passion for his work and that he is truly an independent.

“The Five Year Itch” – 43 minutes

Matt and Greg have had a tough four years and as they go into their fifth year, life and love have become a bit easier. They want to celebrate their relationship and decide to do so with a group of their other “married” friends.

“Call Me Sometime” – 24 minutes

Billy has been in rehab for the last two months and he was determined to get his life in order and to be sober. However….

“Something Beautiful” – 37 minutes

Cory decides, after three days of drugs, that the time has come to change his life. He tries to get his friends Tommy and Charlie to do the same and what he learns is that each person must find the path for him and that we are not always the same as others.

“Slightly Dangerous” – 40 minutes

This is a film that is still in progress that is wonderful high camp. We have “drama, lust, suspense, witch’s magic, a crazed serial killer, and some very sexy guys”.

“A Day in the Life of a Lost Boy” – 14 minutes

What does one do when he is an attractive, talented young man can’t go a day without sex and drugs. Here is the day in which he tries to do so.

“THE FUTURE OF WORK AND DEATH”— Technology, Work and Death

“THE FUTURE OF WORK AND DEATH”

Technology, Work and Death

Amos Lassen

Sean Blacknell and Wayne Walsh bring us a provocative documentary in which worldwide experts in the fields of futurology, anthropology, neuroscience and philosophy consider the impact of technological advances on the two certainties of human life: work and death.

“The Future of Work and Death” looks at the exponential rate at which mankind creates technologies to ease the process of living. Then as we set out on the next phase of advancement with automation and artificial intelligence driving the transformation from man to machine, what we see here is a realistic look into the future of human life.

The documentary includes experts on this such as author Will Self, futurist Gray Scott, transhumanist Zoltan Istvan, and neuroscientist Rudolph Tanzi. Not only do we learn something here, the film often surprising, and always engaging.

We hear a dialogue that is as exponentially terrifying and increasingly utopian. Not only do filmmakers have to traverse a complicated narrative concerning the implications of technological advancement, but they also balance the arguments in terms of outlooks, themes and prejudices.
 We would think that a film concerning work and death would seems to be morbid but these are just themes that consume our lives. We spend huge amounts of time doing the former and apprehensively awaiting the latter, so much so that a film about these concerns will not only find its place with a large audience, it is also essential viewing. This is a film that is fervent and a thriller. It uses talking heads, animations, techno music, archival footage and much more to give us a collage of computer-aged conundrums. The main threat is that technology is advancing at such a rate that humanity is ill prepared and dangerously incapable of handling such a responsibility. Putting this into the everyday context of work and death, we get quite a complex and fascinating film.

 Both filmmakers freely admit to being frustrated by other attempts to tell a story such as this and that such films didn’t ask the questions which they wanted to hear. We soon understand that we are a part of an enormous conversation in which the result is a forceful film that delivers a coherent commentary on one of the most apparent yet ignored subject matters of our times. The frenetic pace and short run time is the perfect complement to a story about technology and life and it gives an urgency to it that is thought-provoking and compelling and the film allows for the inevitable philosophical debates which will ensue. Like all good documentaries, the film does not attempt to answer the questions it posits; instead it lets us think about what we have seen. Very few conclusions are drawn and even among  the scientific, anthropological, futurist speakers who appear on screen, there is no sense of a specific thread that emerges, except that we all need to start thinking more about it this. The film does an incredible job of challenging us. engaging.

The film charts human developments from Homo habilis, past the Industrial Revolution, to the digital age and beyond as it looks at the shocking exponential rate at which mankind has managed to create technologies to ease the process of living. As we embark on the next phase of our adaptation, with automation and Artificial Intelligence signifying the complete move from man to machine, this film asks what the implications are for the human purposeful fulfillment, making money and ageless immortality.

“MURDERS AT BARLUME”— A New Detective Series

“Murders at Barlume”

A New Detective Series

Amos Lassen

“Murders at Barlume” is a colorful new mystery based on the novels by Marco Malvaldi. It is set in the idyllic beach resort town of Pineta on the beautiful Tuscan coast where we meet Massimo Viviani (Filippo Timi), the recently divorced owner of the bistro, Barlume. Massimo is a man who loves puzzles of all kinds, and his sharp mind comes in handy when he frequently moonlights as an amateur detective, helping to solve strange crimes along with the gossipy gang of eccentric septuagenarians who come to his bar. The series is an irreverent mix of mystery, comedy and Italian charm.

From the producers of Detective Montalbano comes a new series of quirky Italian mysteries! In the idyllic town of Pineta on the beautiful Tuscan coast, recently divorced Massimo Viviani owns the local watering hole, Barlume. He also moonlights as an amateur detective, solving strange crimes with the gossipy gang of eccentric septuagenarians who frequent his bar.

Vivani and the ladies share a passion for chats, cards and drinks and a peculiar eye for discovering murders often causing them to put themselves into situations that are the cause of a lot of trouble. Vivani’s guesswork annoys the investigations of Detective Vittoria Fusco, the police officer in charge in town, who asks for his help in solving cases.

Below are synopses of the first six episodes:

1.”The King of Games” (Episode 1 of 6)

Massimo gets enmeshed in a tricky mystery after a car accident claims the lives of a prominent political aide and her son.

  1. “The Highest Card” (Episode 2 of 6)

The Barlume gang investigates rumors about a local restaurateur, and Massimo has to hire a new waitress.

  1. “The Crap Tombola” (Episode 3 of 6)

The funeral of Massimo’s uncle is interrupted by the murder of a local pharmacist, and some of the Barlume gang are suspects.

  1. Game For Five

Massimo investigates the murder of a young girl found in an abandoned building, and his love life goes from zero to complicated.

  1. “Chinese Whispers” (Episode 5 of 6)

Massimo finds the body of a well-known psychic in the trunk of a car, and the Barlume gang finds a suitcase full of money.

  1. “Action-Reaction” (Episode 6 of 6)

A Russian man collapses and dies while drinking at Barlume, and Massimo has to solve the case to save his business.

The characters have great chemistry and there are a lot of laughs. The acting is excellent all around.

“A CHANGE OF HEART”— Meet Hank

“A Change of Heart”

Meet Hank

Amos Lassen

Jim Belushi is Hank, a frustrated man who is fearful of diversity. He realizes that his Central Florida town is adhering less and less to the white, straight profile with which he’s comfortable. Then after suffering a heart attack, Hank’s life is saved by a transplant — from a Puerto Rican drag queen. Soon, Belushi is taking new steps in a new direction.

“This is a story about acceptance and learning about one’s true self, and Jim Belushi did an amazing job,” said producer Emilio Estefan. “There is a lot of Latino humor, and the message completely resonates with what is going on in our country right now. The timing for this film couldn’t be better.” However, I have to disagree with the film resonating with our country. It is not funny and quite simply is one of the worst films I have ever seen. It is dated and it stereotypes Miami’s LGBT community which is filled with homophobia.

Hank who had to retire from the Fire Service because of his weak heart. He runs his own bug-spraying business in Florida and cares little about his house and his marriage both of which have gone to seed. In fact, his wife, Deena (Virginia Madsen)  is leaving him and moving out.  Hank refuses to accept the fact that his youngest daughter Josie (Aimee Teegarden) is gay and has a girlfriend Teddy (Cody Horn). He also cannot accept that his oldest daughter, Laurie (Dawn Olivieri) has a new Cuban boyfriend, Carlos (William Levy) and that he really wants to marry her. We get quite a barrage of homophobic and racist jokes.

It then happens that Hank has a heart attack on the same night a young gay Latino hairdresser dies and everyone assumes that he is the donor of the new heart that Hank gets there and then. When Hank cannot perform when he seduces the voluptuous Ruthie (Kathy Najimy) and then he finds himself getting his hair streaked and liking everything that is remotely “gay”.  Now this former burly beer-swigging slob who was addicted to fried food begins wearing drag to wow the crowds by performing at the local gay club, and coming home to cook the latest food fashion.

As he struggles to accept his new persona, the Hospital then tells him that he received the heart of a heterosexual Japanese sushi chef, and he is not ‘gay’ after all!  This explains why he can make sushi out of the blue.

The movie was filmed in 2014 and has just been released which is a pity for all involved. The story plays with stereotypes as it tries to make this mess plot convincing. It patronizes both the LGBT and the Latino communities in such a clumsy manner that makes it a total insult to anyone with a mind.

“CHICKEN”— Richard, 15 Years Old

“Chicken”

Richard, 15 Years Old

Amos Lassen

Writer-director Joe Stephenson, in his first feature film, follows a 15-year-old boy named Richard (Scott Chambers) who suffers from learning difficulties and lives a troubled life with his beloved but erratic and abusive older brother “Polly” (Morgan Watkins) in a seedy and rundown old caravan on someone else’s countryside property. With his brother too busy either working or drinking to really spend much quality time with him, Richard creates his own little world including talking to his chicken, Fiona, his only friend.

One day, Richard meets Annabel (Yasmin Paige), the seventeen-year-old daughter of the family that is threatening to evict Richard and his brother from their land. As the friendship between Richard and Annabel grows, his family bonds become stretched to breaking point as dark secrets and devastating future possibilities are revealed. Richard’s learning disabilities are unspecified but he is a teen with a sunny outlook, who lives his lonely existence in the countryside under the domineering eye and frequently violent hand Polly. Richard’s isolation and desire to be loved are emphasized from the outset by his desperate attempts to win his sibling’s affection with breakfast and his one-sided conversations with his chicken best pal, Fiona.

Annabell’s friendship starts to offer some hope for Richard. Stephenson uses his camera well to emphasize Polly’s dominance by frequently letting his features fill the frame. When “Chicken” starts to build up emotionally, Chambers keeps it small making Richard believable and sympathetic. Annabell has just enough edge to keep the dynamic between her and Richard believable. Richard’s character offers a continual ray of hope and by the time confrontation builds to climax we care what happens not only to Richard but to Polly as well.

“Chicken” is a gentle yet powerful film and the sensitive handling of its characters means their stories and individual plights – whether it’s Richard feeding his beloved chicken or Polly trying desperately to find work – never feel rushed or glossed over. This is a film that feels real and hits home with emotion.

Scott Chambers plays the troubled but utterly loveable Richard with a sensitive naiveté and quiet pathos. It’s a pleasure to be in his company and heart breaking whenever he is mistreated or the complex world around him gets too much for him to bear. Paige is wonderful as Annabel; she exudes charm and likeability as well as an emotional complexity that comes into play once she becomes irresistibly invested in Richard’s life. Morgan Watkins is a rising star who brings a believability and an empathy to a potential very unlikeable character.

This is a small film that packs a big emotional punch. It is deceptive in its initial simplicity and is full of relatable humanistic and emotive details.