Monthly Archives: May 2017

“Graybeard Abbey: Metaphors, Mumblings and Meditations” by Gavin Geofrey Dillard— A Year on the Farm

Dillard, Gavin Geoffrey. “Graybeard Abbey: Metaphors, Mumblings and Meditations”, self published, 2017.

A Year on the Farm

Amos Lassen

Just last week I found myself thinking that it has been a while before I could sink myself into a book of poetry and lo and behold, I learn of Gavin Dillard’s new collection of free verse, koans, haiku, and traditional waka form. But “Graybeard Abbey” is more than a collection of poems, it is a journal of a year on the poet’s small tea farm in Southern Appalachia. Dillard writes of the seasons the woods and field. animals, and life with eight kittens. I remember the first time that I read Dillard and was amazed at the beauty of his romantic poetry and he had been elevated to gay icon status. His writing has changed and now he writes about paganism, naturism, and Taoism “for emotional content, spiritual edification, and poetic flavor”. Perhaps romanticism is gone but that does not change the beauty of the word and there is much reverence and irreverence here just as there is profundity balanced against silliness. What we really see it the poet as authentic man and that peace and quiet can be found in the solitude of the woods and with nature. Dillard has found on his farm what he has searched for and he shares that with us. It is his originality and boldness that makes me who he is.

 

 

 

 

“THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE— A Thriller

“The Bird with the Crystal Plumage” (“L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo”)

A Thriller

Amos Lassen

“The Bird with the Crystal Plumage” is a thriller whose scares are on a basic level and works mostly by exploiting our fear of the dark. We keep following the hero into dark rooms, dark alleys, dark parks, dark corridors and dark basements. Of course this gives us a sense of uneasiness especially since the room in which we are watching the film is dark. makes us very uneasy. That’s what thrillers are all about, of course, and that is why this one works.

“The Bird” is the story of a guy who stumbles into a police search for a maniac murderer. At first, he is suspected of being guilty, and then becomes in involved in a deadly relationship with the killer, who wears black gloves, a black cape and black hat. He leads the hero on an investigation that turns up all sorts of interesting characters, including an artist who eats cats, a pimp who has to add “so long” at the end of every sentence to keep from stuttering, and an association of retired pugilists.

Then every once in a while, someone gets killed, but violence is not what this thriller is about. Thrillers use anticipation, fear and a feeling of impotence and work best when the viewer is afraid for the hero or his girl friend, and can’t help them, and they can’t help themselves.

For example, there is one scene that comes when the hero’s girl is alone in their apartment and the killer starts hacking away at the door. The lights are out and the phone is dead, and the girl collapses into hysteria and crawls around on the floor. We desperately want her to pull herself together and do something but she doesn’t and the killer keeps hacking away.

It starts simply with Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante), American writer in Rome, walking alone at night and he sees a lovely girl (Eva Renzi), on the inside balcony of a modern art gallery struggling for a knife with a black-coated man. She is wounded and falls, trapped within. Dalmas is trapped without. The girl recovers, but Dalmas finds himself involved in a series of murders that lead to many beautiful young dead women and to the near-death of his own beautiful young mistress (Suzy Kendall).

“The Bird With the Crystal Plumage” has no interesting ideas about its ideas and so we see it as a generally conventional, somewhat sophisticated and often scary murder mystery.

The film was made in 1969 and was the directorial debut of Dario Argento, a native of Rome who had previously worked as a film critic and had written or co-written a handful of movies. He took the giallo genre and used it to create this film of stunning murders. It is an extremely polished and confident film with excellent pacing and photography.

Argento lets the narrative talk for itself, and there is plenty of squeamish material for the more imaginative.

Tony Musante, who portrays Sam with a level of believability and sympathy. Suzy Kendall does what she has to in the role of his girlfriend Julia, who is essentially a potential corpse throughout the whole film. She looks wide-eyed, cowers in corners and moans about the fact that the police keep bothering Sam and comes across as the stereotypical “girly” role. Sam treats her as an object, and she responds as one. I stop hear on discussing the plot so I do not give anything away,

SPECIAL FEATURES include:

– Brand new 4K restoration of the film from the camera negative in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, produced by Arrow Video exclusively for this release

– High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations

– Original mono Italian and English soundtracks (lossless on the Blu-ray Disc)

– English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack

– Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack

– New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films

The Power of Perception, a new visual essay on the cinema of Dario Argento by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of Devil’s Advocates: Suspiria and Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study

– New analysis of the film by critic Kat Ellinger

– New interview with writer/director Dario Argento

– New interview with actor Gildo Di Marco (Garullo the pimp)

– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Candice Tripp

– Double-sided fold-out poster

– 6 Lobby Card reproductions

– Limited edition 60-page booklet illustrated by Matthew Griffin, featuring an appreciation of the film by Michael Mackenzie, and new writing by Howard Hughes and Jack Seabrook

“DOBERMAN COP”— Detective for Hire

“Doberman Cop” (“Doberuman deka”)

Detective for Hire

Amos Lassen

Jiri Kano (Sonny Chiba) is a small town detective from Okinawa who has been hired by a woman who wants him to find her daughter Yuna who disappeared five years ago. When a prostitute’s body is burned beyond recognition in an apparent arson the police says that this body is the missing girl’s. Unconvinced that this is the girl Jiro starts to investigate on his own.

One day the police needed Jiro’s help when a madman was holding, Miki, a pop star, prisoner in an apartment on the fortieth floor. Miki looks like the missing girl Yuna and when Jiro presses her about her identity the Yakuza who are in charge of her career put up obstacles in his way to convince him otherwise. The question remains as to whether this is the girl who Jiro has been looking and has now put his life in danger by crossing the Yakuza?

Jiro is like a fish out of water as his rural upbringings clashes with the way big city folks do things. Early on it is apparent that this is not a typical Yakuza films as Chiba’s character carries around a pig in a sack a pig. The pig pops up throughout the film at the most opportune times. We learn that Jiro brought the pig from Okinawa to give the police department as a present. When they refuse to take the pig, it becomes Chiba’s personal pet.

The action is more in the style of bar brawls then that of expert martial artists. It is the rawness of the fighting choreography that helps us understand the simple character of Jiro. In the course of events, Chiba learns that the bikers, hookers, & small-time crooks of Tokyo are the “real” people, the best people, while the yakuza big shots & the police are equally to be mistrusted. As a cop himself, he is in a rather ambiguous position, but sides ultimately with society’s riffraff. The girl he came to take back to Okinawa should be turned over to the police, but he would rather take her home.

SPECIAL FEATURES include:

– High Definition digital transfer

– High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations

– Original uncompressed mono audio

– New optional English subtitle translation

Beyond the Film: Doberman Cop, a new video appreciation by Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane

– New video interview with actor Shinichi ‘Sonny’ Chiba

– New video interview with screenwriter Koji Takada

– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s book featuring new writing on the films by Patrick Macias and Tom Mes.

“MADHOUSE”— A Slasher with a Touch go Giallo

“Madhouse”

A Slasher with a Touch of Giallo

Amos Lassen

Julia (Trish Everly) teaches deaf children for a living and is good at it. However, she has some skeletons in her closet, one of which is an identical twin. Five days before her birthday she goes to visit her twin Mary (Allison Biggers), who’s been deformed by a rare disease and is a bit insane as a result and is in a hospital. During the visit Mary threatens and mocks Julia, giving her flashbacks to a childhood where her twin would abuse her every year on her birthday with the help of a mean Doberman.

Not long after her visit, Mary escapes from the hospital and no one seems to really care about it. Soon people start are attacked and killed by Mary’s dog (including the deaf child Julia’s befriended). The rest of the film follows the final days leading up to the twin’s birthday as people around Julia die.

The film was directed and co-written by Ovidio G. Assonitis is what I would call a fun horror film. We see that Julia carries a fair bit of emotional baggage around with her. When she learned through a kindly priest named Father James (Dennis Robertson) that her sister’s condition has worsened and that she now suffers from even more horrible deformities, she begrudgingly agrees to go and visit her wayward sibling for the first time in years.

Around the time of Julia’s visit, strange murders start occurring in the area and Julia learns that the killings have been carried out by a giant dog matching the description of the one that her sister used to terrorize her in her younger days. She cannot help but think that her sister is back to her old tricks again. All of this happens on Julia’s birthday and while her boyfriend, Sam (Michael MacRae) is out of town. She then learns that Mary has escaped from the hospital and Julia just knows that her sister is going to be looking for her. The murder set pieces are presented with style and blood.

EXTRA FEATURES include:

– Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative

– High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition presentations

– Original Stereo Audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)

– Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

– Brand new audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues

– Brand new interviews with cast and crew

– Alternate opening titles

– Theatrical Trailer, newly transferred in HD

– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Marc Schoenbach

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Booklet featuring new writing on the film

“HELI”— The Relentless and Senseless Violence of the Mexican Drug War

“Heli”

The Relentless and Senseless Violence of the Mexican Drug War

Amos Lassen

Heli must try and protect his young family when his 12-year-old sister involves them in the brutal drug world of Mexico. Heli (Armando Espitia) works the night shift at the same auto plant as his father. His life is one of routine until his 12-year-old sister, Estela (Andrea Vergara) finds excitement in her relationship with the older Beto (Juan Eduardo Palacios), who is going through a brutal training program to join the corrupt federal police force. Estela agrees to marry Beto and run off with him once he sells two packages of cocaine that he stole from his police superiors. However, when the officers notice the theft, they kidnap Beto, Estela, and also Heli, who had disposed of the drugs after discovering Beto and Estela’s plan.

While the film contains brutal acts of violence, there real theme here is about being a witness and thus we see the characters as onlookers. We see that the police force corrupt and engages in needless and meaningless torture. Director Amat Escalante emphasizes that that Mexicans we see have stopped being witnesses who fight the injustices around them and instead become mindless spectators. He repeatedly uses discomfiting images to prove his thesis that the Mexican populace has been lulled into complacency by cartels and inept government agencies. At the same time, the bleak worldview seems to be a bit too forced to be emotionally convincing. Unfortunately, Escalante allows his cynicism to overcome his empathy. However, while this is distracting, it can be overlooked when we get to the end of the film.

Escalante won the best directing award at the Cannes Film Festival for his minimalistic style amidst controversy surrounding his film’s content. The title of the film is the name of a young man who is undeservingly caught up in the fallout from the theft of cocaine. For the length of the film, we watch him and his family struggle against misfortune that comes to them without reason or meaning.

We are taken deep into Mexico’s drug-fueled violence that has no end in sight. The film opens with a bound-and-gagged man having his face pressed into the bed of a pickup truck by an unseen assailant’s boot. When the truck pulls over, another body is unloaded, carried to the top of a freeway overpass and hung by the neck for all to see. We then go back in time to explain who these men are and how they got here.

“Heli” leaves little to the imagination with its barrage of carnage. There are several acts of animal cruelty as the film shows the chaos brought on by drugs. Even if you want to forget what you see here, it is almost impossible to do so.

“ART AND HEART: The World of Isaiah Sheffer”— A Celebration

“ART AND HEART: The World of Isaiah Sheffer”

A Celebration

Amos Lassen

Isaiah Sheffer was a much-loved cultural figure in New York City for decades and made an indelible mark on the city he called home. Director Catherine Tambini shares his story in hr documentary and she does so with style. She celebrates Sheffer’s life and impact through archival material, interviews with friends and colleagues, and stage performances. We are taken into the life of the man whom many knew only as the host of Selected Shorts on public radio and or as the driving force and artistic director of Symphony Space, the originator of Bloomsday on Broadway and the comic genius behind the Thalia Follies. Sheffer was an actor, director, musical librettist and lyricist, and a cultural entrepreneur. He was a husband, a father, and a mentor to many.

Although he had a successful as an actor, playwright and director, it wasn’t until he and his artistic partner Allan Miller organized a 1978 marathon Bach concert at an abandoned Upper West Side movie theater that Sheffer really made a name for himself. The two men embarked on a years-long project to gain the funds to restore the venue that caused them to become involved a lawsuit that took 11 years to settle.

Symphony Space was eventually refurbished into a two-theater complex that included the old Thalia movie theater that was rechristened the Leonard Nimoy Thalia in recognition of the actor’s significant financial support.

We see and hear vintage interviews with Sheffer as he speaks about the creation of his signature projects some of which were those already mentioned and an annual marathon reading of James Joyce’s “Ulysses”. By listening, we understand that here was a man that has a wonderful personality and charm.

Sheffer died in 2012 at the age of 76 and left behind w wonderful legacy. He certainly left his mark on the city he loved. We hear from quite a list of celebrities including Morgan Freeman, Stephen Colbert, Leonard Nimoy, Jane Curtin, Fionnula Flanagan, Stephen Lang and Fritz Weaver and from his family members, Ethel Sheffer, and Susannah Sheffer.

“Live Through This: Surviving the Intersections of Sexuality, God, and Race” by Clay Cane— Understanding Misunderstanding

Cane, Clay. “Live Through This: Surviving the Intersections of Sexuality, God, and Race”, Cleis Press, 2017

Understanding Misunderstanding

Amos Lassen

I often wonder when the race wars that take place in America will stop and I cannot help but think that there is a great deal of misunderstanding going on here. Cane Clay tries to help us understand that misunderstanding or whatever it is and his book comes at a very opportune time in our history.

We are all aware of the high rate of murder of transgender women as well as the battle of faith and sexual orientation at churches across the country. It certainly seems like what is happening is more a war of ideologies. Huge prejudices harm how we have compassion and understanding. I do not use the word tolerance here because tolerance is not acceptance. In “Live Through This”, we have a collection of essays about one man’s (Clay Cane) journey to self-acceptance at a time when his faith, sexuality, and race are incompatible with “societal norms” (although I am not sure that “norms” is the best word here).

It is Cane’s goal that through his insightful writings, he will inspire us to go past the stereotypes with consideration. A stereotype, after all, is just a publicly held lie. will plant seeds of consideration and inspire readers to stretch beyond stereotypes. When we learn more about the minorities in this country that are on the fringe, we can better understand who they are. Cane writes clearly and from the heart and that is something we all need to strive for— to life and act from the heart.

 

“To Die in Spring: A Novel” by Ralf Rothmann— A Young German and World War II

Rothmann, Ralf. “To Die in Spring: A Novel”, Farrar, translated by Shaun Whiteside, Straus and Giroux, 2017.

A Young German Soldier and World War II

Amos Lassen

Walter Urban is a tough man and as a father he is difficult. He is a dark and silent man who enjoys alcohol and these make it hard for his son to get close to him. Walter is curious about his father’s experiences in World War II. His son gives him a gift of a blank notebook and asks his father to write down what he remembers from that time but Walter dies and left only a sketchy outline. This makes the younger man only more determined to find out what went on with his father who left him with the job of filling in the missing sections of history. Walter, it seems, and his outspoken friend seventeen-year-old outspoken friend, Friedrich Caroli, were training to become milkers on a dairy farm in northern Germany hen they were tricked into volunteering for the army during the spring of 1945. These were the last, and in many ways the worst, months of the war. War can drive anyone to madness and things got so bad that Friedrich deserted his post leaving Walter…

Beautifully written, we are taken into the mind of a German soldier who had to deal with the madness of the last months of the War. I was not sure that this was a book that I wanted to read until I began it and was pulled in by the wonderful details that author Ralf Rothmann provides. It many seem strange that a German soldier would write to beautifully but the whole idea of the book is quite novel in that we do not really hear much from the German soldiers who has to carry the war and its atrocities. I soon found myself turning pages are quickly as possible and stunned by what I read. In fact, I finished reading the book yesterday and cannot help thinking about it.

 

 

“THE CURSE OF THE UNKISSABLE KID”— A Love Story

“The Curse of the Unkissable Kid”

A Love Story

Amos Lassen

Mark Marchillo’s short film opens as we meet Josh (William Leon), a middle school student who is hiding on top of a toilet in one of the bathrooms on the last day of school before the summer break. We soon see why. School bully Ryker (Joseph Haag) comes into the boys’ bathroom and slams open all the stall doors looking for Josh. Ryker is unsuccessful because Josh was actually hiding in the girls’ bathroom. Josh escapes for the moment, but as he is quietly sneaking back to class, Ryker sees him, tackles him to the ground, and proceeds to bully him.

The next scene is in the school office, where the two boys are being disciplined by a somewhat bored principal (Drew Droege), tired of dealing with Ryker’s bullying and Josh’s inability to fight back (which he describes as negative energy). The principal is more interested in getting the “end of the school year paperwork” done than dealing with the situation. Besides he has not yet done the crossword puzzle in the morning paper.

The nest time that we see Josh, he is meeting up with Caitlyn (Liv Southard) and Clark (Christopher Bone) at the town fair. Caitlyn is Josh’s one friend who looks after him, doing things like running interference at the principal’s office. Clark is described by Caitlyn as someone she met at day camp who is rich. Ryker has also come to the fair and when he sees Josh, he immediately chases after him. To escape, Josh hides in an enclosed tent. where a gypsy (Lee Meriwether) tells him that she can solve all his problems and she sells him a magical potion to do just that. Outside the tent, Josh drinks some of it before reading the fine print on the bottle. The print states that he will disappear in 24 hours unless he experiences the kiss of a “true love” before then.

Immediately Josh goes to Caitlyn for help, but the magic isn’t there and they are interrupted by her mom. Then Josh runs around town trying to get kissed. He gets really desperate as parts of his body begin to fade. Caitlyn comes to his aid and sets up a kissing booth. With no takers, Caitlyn agrees to kiss him but it still doesn’t break the spell. Then Clark comes up and gives Josh an extended kiss and it works and soon Clark (whose real name is Harry) and Josh are a couple. Josh has discovered who he really is.

“The Curse of the Unkissable Kid” is unusual in that it is so very different from a typical family comedy film about pre-adolescent kids dealing with bullying and coming of age. Until recently, American films avoided anything involving sexual tendencies that are not between a boy and a girl. The point of the short film is that it is okay for boys to express their true feelings and inclinations even when they are different from most of their peers

Winners of the Cannes Film Festiva— LGBT Movie “120 Beats Per Minute” Is A Major Cannes Winner

Winners of the Cannes Film Festival

LGBT Movie “120 Beats Per Minute” Is A Major Cannes Winner

“!20 Beats Per Minute” won the second biggest award at the fest, the Gran Prix and the Queer Palm, for the best LGBT movie, as well as the prestigious Fipresci award for the best film at the festival from the International Federation of Film Critics. Reviews have been almost universally positive, with many already hailing it as a new gay classic.

The film takes place in the early 1990s when AIDS having already claimed countless lives for nearly ten years, Act up-Paris activists multiply actions to fight general indifference. Nathan, a newcomer to the group, has his world shaken up by Sean, a radical militant, who throws his last bits of strength into the struggle.

The movie is based around director Robin Capillo’s own experiences with the activist group, and is told in docudrama style.

You can take a look at the full list of winners in the main competition at Cannes below:

Main Competition Winners

Palme d’Or: Ruben Östlund – The Square

Gran Prix: Robin Campillo – 120 Beats Per Minute

Jury Prize: Andrey Zvyagintsev – Loveless

Best Director: Sofia Coppola – The Beguiled

Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix – You Were Never Really Here

Best Actress: Diane Kruger – In the Fade

Best Screenplay: Yorgos Lanthimos – The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Lynne Ramsay – You Were Never Really Here

Camera d’Or: Léonor Sérraille – Jeune Femme

Short Film Palme d’Or: Qiu Yang – A Gentle Night

Special 70th Anniversary Award: Nicole Kidman