Monthly Archives: October 2017

“Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl” by Andrea Lawlor— A Gender Fluid Shapeshifter

Lawlor, Andrea. “Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl, Rescue, Rescue Press, 2017.

A Gender Fluid Shapeshifter

Amos Lassen

Paul Polydoris tends bar at the only gay club in a university town that seems to live on politics and partying. He is studying queer theory and he enjoys just “being around”, writing zines and spending time with his lesbian best friend. And enjoying quite a social life. There is something else about Paul that he keeps a secret and that is that he is a shapeshifter. Paul is able to transform at will to enjoy adventure whenever and wherever he can. We are with him as he is o his journey exploring LGBT archives of both pleasure and struggle.

Andrea Lawlor has set her first novel in 1993 and by doing so we get a look at the history of the early ’90s when queer politics were guided by ACT UP and Queer Nation. Paul experiences a world in which AIDS has taken its toll and devastates our community and when we dared to speak up. The music was hot and the pain was at times unbearable. Along with Paul we face questions of who we are both sexually and publicly.

Granted, the premise of a shapeshifter may be a bit difficult to take but I found it refreshing and an interesting way to look at queer radicalism in years past. This is a very funny and clever novel of a gender-fluid hero/heroine that is totally original. Writer Lawlor is witty and she uses that to explore our not so distant path that is in my ways a part of our liberation. We really see how others saw us and we can better understand the present by seeing how it once was. This is a “nostalgic trip back to the queer 90s wrapped up in a speculative temporal-space odyssey that inspires a meditation on gender, love, sex, identity, home, atmosphere, place, and love.” Isn’t that all there is?

“THE TOWER”— Collective Flight

“THE TOWER”

Collective Flight

Amos Lassen

Set in East Germany during the last ten years of Communism, Christian Schwochow’s “The Tower,” is a German mini-series about the lead-up to a moment of collective flight. When the end came for the German Democratic Republic, it came quietly in the form of a radio broadcast with an official voice announcing to the populace that there would no longer be any restrictions on border crossings. What started as a trickle of refugees became a deluge. “The Tower has multiple story-lines and large cast of intersecting characters that shows what life felt like to those who lived at that singular time in an unchanging political system before the rules changed, seemingly overnight.

Richard Hoffman (Jan Josef Liefers) is a surgeon at a clinic in Dresden, with burn tissue all over his back that is a painful and eternal reminder of the 1945 firebombing of his hometown when he was a child. He is married to a nurse (Claudia Michelsen) and they have a teenage son named Christian (Sebastian Urzendowsky). Richard has been carrying on an affair with his secretary that has resulted in a child who is now 5 years old. Hoffman goes back and forth between the two homes, and his wife supposedly knows nothing about the second family, although you can see her give him a couple of sharp glances on occasion. The mistress wants Hoffman to get a divorce however he knows that is impossible due to professional and personal reasons. The Hoffman family is part of the bourgeoisie in “The Tower” ; they are an elite group of doctors and book publishers and musicians. Their private lives are as chaotic as their public lives are appropriate. In such a political system, lying is a necessary skill.

Meno (Götz Schubert) is a book publisher who works with authors to remove potentially problematic passages in their novels. He is a man who loves literature, and he has been forced to become a censor. He hates this and it takes a psychological toll on him especially when he is assigned to work with an author (Valery Tscheplanowa) who refuses to edit her novel about the Red Army’s rape of German women upon invading the country and she is thrown out of the Writer’s Union because of this and we see her as an exile in her own country, all publishing doors closed to her. Meno is haunted by her and Hoffman’s mistress (Nadja Uhl) is desperate for her lover’s protection and attention, and becomes a liability when he turns his back on her and their daughter. While these are private matters, they get the attention of the Stasi, who can use it to blackmail Hoffman. 

Director Schwochow keeps these plot-lines moving smoothly and briskly, filming everything in a cold green-tint, suggesting that the world behind the Iron Curtain is devoid of color. The film is at its best strongest when it shows the direct connection between State control and private life. We see this clearly in Meno’s relationship with the censored author and in Christian’s increasing trouble with authority. Christian’s schoolwork is propaganda, and school papers are graded according to whether or not they express the proper “class attitudes.” Christian starts getting in trouble for reading non-approved books, and his parents become very uneasy. He was raised in an intellectual household, and yet in public he is meant to toe the party line. His parents encourage him to live the same kind of life that they do life that they do but he is unable to comply with their wishes. It is heartbreaking to see Christian change from a sweet teenager to tough-minded veteran of multiple authoritative organizations.

There is danger that Meno faces when he tries to smuggle the author’s banned manuscript out of the country to more welcoming publishers in the West. Meno moves from a laughing, confident man to a ruined shell of an individual and we see what politics have done to talented minds like his.

As the film moves into 1988, the scenes get shorter and the pace becomes more relentless, hopping from one person’s arc to the next and then back. In the final half-hour of the film, individuals face the crack-up of the State in their own individual ways and the demand for freedom and liberty destabilizes the entire atmosphere. Characters look at one another with an open sense of awe and fear in their faces as they wonder if this is really happening. “The Tower” is a powerful and engrossing look at the moment in history when the tide started turning and when the people are shaken out of their apathy.

“THE NIGHTMARE”— Fantasy and Reality

“THE NIGHTMARE”

Fantasy and Reality

Amos Lassen

Director Akiz plays with concepts of fantasy and reality, as we move from one dream sequence back to reality while never being quite sure if the incubus that Tina (Carolyn Genzkow) is haunted by is a nightmare or a living creature. The plot evolves slowly a girl’s vision to a fright fest at a party. There is some kind of creature that is sexual but never explained.

 

Tina is 17 years old and seemingly has everything a girl her age could wish for. Then one night after an intense party, she begins to have severe nightmares and is haunted daily by a hideous creature. Her parents do not believe her story. The only one with whom she feels she can talk about her fears is her psychiatrist.  

The film transplants Johann Heinrich Füssli’s famous painting of the same into the modern Berlin party scene and we experience an assault on the senses by the electronic soundtrack and strobe lighting during a rave that is the film’s opening scene. In its own way, the rave is aligned with the heightened and overwhelming emotions of adolescence especially for Tina who is suggested to have a history of psychological concerns. The rave, we think, has something to do with her vision of her own death before it is revealed to be some kind of hallucination.

At this point, the line between fantasy and reality is almost non-existent and it is up to the viewer to decide what they believe is happening. When the creature arrives it seems, to all intents and purposes, to be real. Its intentions and origin are mysterious and the only clue we get comes in a, as are its origins. The most potent clue comes in a sequence when Tina is at school and is asked for her interpretation of a poem by Blake that other students have claimed is about birth. She agrees that it’s about birth but it is also about an abstract and growing nameless feeling.

Although the film has no intention of defining what this little monster is, Tina is encouraged by her psychiatrist to make physical contact with it. Tina must befriend this externalized manifestation of her own anxiety but she fears social rejection. Akiz seems to be aiming for a visceral and palpable reaction in this dark tale that makes for creepy and affecting viewing.

 

“FAITHFUL”— Struggling

“Faithful”

Struggling

Amos Lassen

Lauren (Clarissa Hoffmann) is still in love with her husband Ron (Ellis Miller) even though he has already moved on and in a relationship with another woman (Sarah Schulte). The more distant he becomes regarding Lauren, the more she is set upon getting him back even with the fact that he is involved with someone else. Even though Lauren has always wanted to be a doctor, she quits medical and seems not to understand that she and Ron are unable to work on the marriage if they do not see each other and that he is already involved with someone else does not seem to be important to her.

Lauren manages to get Ron to go to counseling, but he’s equally unwilling to work with the therapist (Eddy Lee) causing her to become even more upset. Lauren is growing more and more upset and desperate.

May-Anne (Cynthia Aileen Strahan), Lauren’s fellow student and friend and Lauren’s mother, Mrs. Clarice (Eve Coquillard), are very concerned over Lauren’s fragility that is a result of all of this but have no idea about what to do. As the situation nears a crisis, they intervene even though there is really nothing they can do to help. When the situation inevitably reaches a crisis they’re forced to intervene even though there may be quite literally nothing either of them can do to help.

What we really see in “Faithful” is a look at a marriage that failed through the eyes of one of the female participant. Along with the failure of the marriage the loss of comes self-esteem making the fallout so much more intense. It is not easy to watch Lauren demand explanations from her former husband and it hurts to hear what Ron has to say to her. It is the case that his love affair was meant to hurt her. The marriage is over and as much as we come to care for Lauren, it is difficult to accept her behavior and she needs to accept the fact that her husband has moved on. It is difficult for Lauren to accept that her marriage has failed as it means that she too has failed. Lauren just is unable to let go.

The screenplay is well written and the actors and direction is excellent. This is not an easy film to watch and it will say with you after the screen goes dark. As Laura reminds us that she has been exclusively faithful to her husband, we wonder if she has been too faithful. Director Niklas Berggren knows what he wants us to see and why and this is probably in the hope that can understand and relist what he is doing here.

Clarissa Hoffmann turns in a bravura performance as Lauren. Because Laura tried so hard, we often feel that she is a pain until we come around and realize what is happening. Not only is she trying to save a marriage that cannot be saved, she is also trying to save herself. As Ron, Ellis Miller is detached but he also seems to understand Laura’s need to not give up. need to hold on. As I said before that the acting is excellent all around, I want it be understood that I am specifically referring to Cynthia Aileen Strahan as Mary-Anne and Eve Coquillard as Lauren’s mother.

“HIGH LOW FORTY”— Connecting

“High Low Forty”

Reconnecting

Amos Lassen

Director Paddy Quinn’s “High Low Forty” introduces us to two long estranged brothers who reconnect on a road-trip home to say goodbye to their hardened father who is dying.

Billy (Kurt Finney)  was unexpected dishonorably discharged from the Army and this caused him to angrily leave the family home in Texas after his father completely disowned him. He has never had the chance to say goodbye to Joe his teenage brother. We move forward ten years and Joe (director Quinn) has finally located Billy in Los Angeles to tell him that their father is dying.

Since they have not been in touch, the two brothers are total strangers and Joe has to work really hard to persuade Billy to drive back home with him to Texas in his old truck to see his father for the last time.  As they travel, Joe learns his brother is gay and this fuels arguments not just because Joe is homophobic, but because he is offended and hurt that Billy didn’t feel he could share the information with him.

Over the next few days on the road, the brothers attempt to discover more about each other and disowning the stories that they made up over the years that they did not share their lives and were in denial, each about the other.

Billy has never forgiven his father and will never be able to do so but he eager to re-establish his close relationship with Joe even though they have a lot to work through and compromise on. While there are really no surprises, the movie succeeds because of the chemistry between the brothers and the powerful script. We are left to wonder how this all ends.

 

“ANATOMY OF A MALE BALLET DANCER”— The Athlete as Artist

“Anatomy of a Male Ballet Dancer”

The Athlete as Artist

Amos Lassen

Documentary team David Barba and James Pellerito are with Brazilian ballet star Marcelo Gomes as he crosses the career landmark of his 20th anniversary with American Ballet Theatre. Gomes has been a rare dancer who is a versatile leading man and\  the best partner of his generation. The filmmakers take us on an intimate journey from Gomes’ native Brazil to the stage of the Metropolitan and beyond to show just how much dedication and discipline are necessary for one to reach the top and how much physical stress is imposed on the body in the process.

Through the use of archival footage, rehearsal and privileged backstage footage and dressing room interviews, we see Gomes as a charming personality, a serious artist, and a fun-loving regular guy. The film was made over a period of seven years and it highlights spends as much time highlighting his aptitude for partnering. Several ballerinas including Misty Copeland, Polina Semionova and Diana Vishneva speak of Gomes’ technique, sensitivity and connection that makes him such a generous and Gomes’ dedication to his art is as inspiring as “the breathtaking grace and strength of his dancing.” The filmmakers have traveled the world in order to film him on stages in Athens, Saint Petersburg, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro.

In 2003 Gomes became the first major ballet dancer to come out on the cover of the LGBT magazine “The Advocate”. When local training in Brazil had taken him as far as he could go, Gomes left home at 13 and came to the United States. Gomes is very attached to his family, especially his mother. Ballet in Brazil back then, was strictly for girls and he grew up as the only male in ballet class. He had to deal with the bullying of other kids at school as a result of his feelings that he was born to dance.

He was encouraged by his gay uncle Paulo and Paulo’s longtime partner, Wolf, who often took him to the ballet. Paulo died of AIDS in 1993 but Gomes has remained close to Wolf and the example of a stable long term relationship made it easier for Gomes to accept his sexuality. After divorcing Gomes’ mother, Gomes’ father started a new family, and despite repeat invitations, he has not been to see his son dance in New York in more than 10 years. This is painful for Gomes. We see the grueling rehearsals that Gomes participates in and they usually end with him slumped on the floor and we also see his triumphant performances. Preparations and body maintenance are every bit as riveting as performances. There are daily rigors in the gym and endless stretching, massages and other treatments required for ankles that often seemed to be deformed from swelling. Ballet is seen as a career path that is taxing on the body. At 37, Gomes has had surgeries for torn ligaments in one ankle and tendonitis in the other. He lives in fear of injury.

Gomes lives with an absence of ego and a sense of gratitude. He is very much in touch with his roots and is deeply respectful of ballet history. He is very much aware of the time limit on his performing years and he understands that he is nearing the end. He has already begun moving into the next phase of his life as a choreographer.

Unfortunately, the fact of the economic impossibility of getting footage from Gomes’ anniversary performance at the American Ballet Theater along with the disappointing absence of his father gives us a film that is missing something. Nonetheless the closing footage of Gomez posing in Central Park is visually stunning.

“MONTANA”— Coming Home

“Montana”

Coming Home

Amos Lassen

Efi, (Noa Biron), a young woman returns to her hometown in Israel after the death of her grandfather and she begins an affair with a married teacher in the debut feature from Israeli filmmaker Limor Shmila looks at how Efi confront secrets of her past when she returns the town of her youth.

Efi returns to her hometown of Acre and immediately gets involved in the problems of various people from her past. Shmila uses a low-key, deliberate sensibility that we see in the keenly reflected in the uneventful narrative of Efi’s subdued exploits in and around her small-town environment. After discovering an illicit affair, Efi falls in love with a married woman. Efi is a mysterious and conflicted character but her exploits really do not deliver any great shocks yet the film is interesting in its different view of Israel.

“FAMILIES LIKE YOURS”— Becoming Parents

 

“Families Like Yours”

Becoming Parents

Amos Lassen

Six different LGBTQ families are the focus of “Families Like Yours”, a new documentary by Argentineans filmmakers Rodolfo Moro and Marcos Duszczak. We meet Patrick and Juan Luque Duffy whose surrogate gave birth to triplets to add that they are raising along side their son. Actor Denis O’Hare and his husband Hugo Redwood faced a lot of homophobia and bureaucracy before the got their son. Trans man Aspen Hawke and his wife Mandy both work with LGBT youth and they adopted ended up adopting two teenage lesbians who had really been abused by their biological families and then by their foster homes. Erwynn and Will Umali Behrens were married to women when they first met and both were already parents and their ex-wives have not had a easy time with the way things turned out.

Chris Crespo’s wife Jane Switzer was told by her doctor that she needed to hurry if she wanted to give birth and with the help of a sperm donor she indeed gave birth to triplets.

All of the stories are moving and inspiring and we really see the new family as it exists.

“WHISKY GALORE”— The War is Coming

“Whisky Galore!”

The War is Coming

Amos Lassen

As World War II is making its way to the Scottish island of Todday, Captain Wagget (Eddie Izzard) and the Home Guard, work to set up military order, hoping to protect the locals through observation and border protection. However when stockpiles of the neighborhood’s whisky are depleted due to rationing, there is a drought for the bottle-draining locals and panic sets causing the cancelation of future events, including the weddings of both of postman Macroon’s (Gregor Fisher) daughters.

Then there is a miracle that occurs in the middle of the night— a cargo ship crashed in the nearby sea and Macroon and his neighbors realize that they’re in possession of 50,000 cases of whisky. Now the residents hope to restart everyday life now that there’s alcohol to share but Wagget is determined to follow though his orders and maintain regulation, and searches for the missing whisky.

Macroon is a lifelong resident and widower who has raised his daughters Peggy (Naomi Battrick) and Catriona (Ellie Kendrick) now are the verge of marriage. Todday residents are forced to hide the whisk from customs agents, Mr. Brown (Michael Nardone), Macroon’s nemesis.

This is Gillies Mackinnon’s remake of the original film that was made in 1949 and it is great fun. Much like the original, Mackinnon’s movie sets out to celebrate the Scottish Islanders as they trick the British establishment. However, this remake also places emphasis on the complexity of family relations, and the difficulties faced by parents once their children leave home.

The gorgeous cinematography highlights the beautiful surroundings of the Hebrides and the way people lived in a simpler time. I can only wonder why the film was remade since it is so much like the original in an almost identical way to the original. I imagine that this is because it is not easy to access the original.

“GEORGE ROMERO BETWEEN NIGHT AND DAWN”— A Limited Edition Blu-ray and DVD Set

“George Romero Between Night And Dawn”

A Limited Edition Blu-ray + DVD Set

Amos Lassen

George Romero’s name is linked with his living dead films, but this set shows that he is more varied than that. After the success of his first feature “Night of the Living Dead”, Romero began a series of projects that demonstrate that he was a master filmmaker.

“There’s Always Vanilla” is about young drifter Chris and beautiful model Lynn begin a tumultuous relationship that is doomed from the outset. Chris returns to his home city of Pittsburgh and moves in with an older woman upon whom he begins to rely for emotional and financial support.

“Season of the Witch” (released theatrically as Hungry Wives) is about Joan Mitchell a bored, unhappy suburban housewife who gets mixed up in witchcraft and murder when she tries to escape the confines of her humdrum suburban lifestyle.

In “The Crazies” we go back with Romero to horror as sees Romero returning to firmer horror territory as the inhabitants of a small Iowa town suddenly plagued by insanity and then death after a mysterious toxin contaminates their water supply.

When we take these three films together, we get a better picture of Romero’s broad themesand skilled craftsmanship. The set is filled with bonus material that includes:

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

  • Original Mono Audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-rays)
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Reversible sleeve for each film featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx
  • Limited edition 60-page booklet featuring new writing on the films by Kat Ellinger, Kier-La Janisse and Heather Drain
  • THERE’S ALWAYS VANILLA (1971)

Brand new 2K restoration from original film elements

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx