Monthly Archives: April 2018

“DOUBLE LOVER”— Twice the Love

 

“Double Lover “ (“L’amant double”)

Twice the Love

Amos Lassen

François Ozon’s new thriller is the story of Chloé (Marine Vacth), a 25-year-old former model, has had several lovers in her life but none of these were serious causing her to think s that she may be incapable of true love. She’s been suffering from mysterious stomach pains, the cause of which, a doctor surmises, must be psychological. So she’s sent to see a therapist. It just takes 12 minutes for Chloé to fall in love with her therapist, Paul (Jérémie Renier). Using various camera effects (double exposure, split-screen, various shifts in focus, and so on), Ozon makes the two appear impossibly close. They move in together, and it isn’t long before Chloé feels like something is wrong. She finds his passport amid the miscellany of items packed away in boxes and discovers that he used to go by a different name. Paranoia sets in as she begins to see Paul in strange places, talking to strange women, appearing miles away from where he claims to be.

The plot grows increasingly delirious and more and more ridiculous. Chloé is sent to another therapist, who looks exactly like Paul and claims to be his brother, though Paul maintains he has no brother. Nothing is as it seems, yet everything is so obvious. The whole film is filtered through Chloé’s perspective, and it exudes an intimate, unhinged feeling. Ozon directs with his usual flair, finding ways to suggest, if often conspicuously, the theme of duality, the great motif of psychological thrillers. Ozon is a fascinating director in that it is difficult to find the thematic and aesthetic threads that hold the film together. Ozon reveres sleazy escapism, and that’s what makes “Double Lover” worthwhile.

Over all, this is a tacky, tawdry film that succeeds in provoking equal measures of perverse titillation and uncomfortable chuckles. The film opens with a close-up of a vaginal examination that dissolves into Chloe’s tears. She is urged by her gynecologist (Dominique Reymond) to see a psychoanalyst regarding her gastrointestinal issues. but Chloe finds her growing attraction to him getting in the way of their therapy. Chloe learns that Paul changed his last name as a young adult and as she digs into his past, she discovers Paul has a twin, who is also a psychoanalyst but one with highly unorthodox methods. Pretending a need to consult him, she is soon involved in an affair that begins to go out of control.

We see Chloe as a morose former model who left behind her modeling days to become a security guard in a museum.“Double Lover” has a memorable dream sequence in which Chloe fantasizes about her twin brother lovers in a steamy three-way and director Ozon pushes boundaries. We have a cinematic web of suspense, shock, eroticism, and power dynamics in this film. Ozon’s camera stares at the bodies of his lovers as they go through the motions of simulated sex or lounge around stark naked. He throws in plot twists that ultimately amount to absolutely nothing. Here are questions that arise: Is Louis really Peter? Is Peter really the evil twin? Whose baby is Chloé carrying? Is Chloé losing her mind? Twins and doppelgangers are the film’s primary subjects, and Ozon uses the doubles motif. He splits the screen, has his actors reflected in mirrors and moves his camera for Peter in the exact opposite way he moves it for Louis.

The explicitness of imagery is a hallmark of Ozon and it makes us take notice. Is this a gay movie? That is a question you will have to answer for yourself but I can tell you that Ozon is an openly gay male.

“EDWARD II”— A Radical but Honest Adaptation

“Edward II”

A Radical But Honest Adaptation

Amos Lassen

I am sure that some of you have seen Derek Jarman’s adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s notorious 16th century play, “EDWARD II”, however, I am pretty sure than none of you have see this beautiful Film Movement remastered version of the film. This is one of Jarman’s most powerful and popular films in which Jarman used his own conventions; anachronistic imagery, modern dress, gay activists battling riot police and Annie Lennox singing Cole Porter. This is the story of Britain’s only openly gay monarch and the persecution that he suffered and Derek Jarman gives it contemporary resonance and relevance by paralleling the injustice with prevailing modern-day homophobia. King Edward II (Stephen Waddington) rejects his cold wife Queen Isabella (Tilda Swinton) and takes a male lover, the commoner Piers Gaveston (Andrew Tiernan) upon whom he grants gifts and power. The court is outraged by the king’s behavior and the queen becomes a g monster whose dresses and jewelry grow more outrageously lavish as her need for vengeance escalates and plotting against the king begins.

Jarman’s “Edward II” is one of the best examples of the “New Queer Cinema” movement of the early 90s. Jarman took Christopher Marlowe’s original play and turned it into a homoerotic, sexually charged, radically relevant work and keeps the play’s power. He blends Marlowe’s prose with contemporary jargon and costumes with positive portrayals of queer sex, profanity and ACT- UP activism. Film Movement has newly restored the film and it is a feast for the eyes and the ears.

“Edward II” reaches back to the past to a play that Christopher Marlowe wrote in 1592 and uses it to illuminate the present and the director’s own homosexuality. Jarman took anachronistic liberties Marlowe to expose contemporary gay bashing and gives us a film filled with “fury, sexuality and radical wit.” I got the feeling that the reason Jarman actually made this movement was to move the audience from complacency by shocking them.

After the death of his father death, Edward II (Steve Waddington) infuriates his barons and his French queen, Isabella (Tilda Swinton), by sending for his lover Gaveston (Andrew Tiernan). Edward and Gaveston talk while two naked men tangle erotically in the background and Annie Lennox serenades the lovers with a Cole Porter ballad. Swinton’s Isabella is elegant and a sexy and becomes a gun-toting, bloodsucking vampire after losing her husband’s affections. But the film is much more than an arresting piece of cinema; it is a cry from the heart. Jarman brings the antique play and its themes into the modern age but I have no doubt that purists will object to the modern costumes and settings and the gay sex and politics. Jarman adds a gay sex scene and shows Edward’s army as gay rights protesters.

The film is dark, uncomfortable, adult and sometimes violent filmmaking it not easy to watch. But that honors the play too. Tilda Swinton as Isabella and Nigel Terry as Mortimer give absolutely brilliant performances as the and easily outclass the other actors.

“Edward II” was made a few years before Jarman died of AIDS and the dark mood of the film plays as an angry cry about Margaret Thatcher and the ongoing repressive and homophobic nature of the British government by pulling out what is relevant from Marlowe to modern times. It’s played in sparse sets with blank walls and dirt floors, and the cast dressed in modern costumes to reflect in a Brechtian way the role of class-consciousness. The film has a rawness and power of purpose that is gripping. Jarman shows not only the brightness of his protagonists but also their dark side.

The film is meant to shock and does indeed do so.

“Jabotinsky’s Children: Polish Jews and the Rise of Right-Wing Zionism” by David Kupfert Heller— The Shaping of an Ideology

Heller, Daniel Kupfert. “Jabotinsky’s Children: Polish Jews and the Rise of Right-Wing Zionism”, Princeton University Press, 2018.

The Shaping of Ideology

Amos Lassen

Note: Some of you might want to have a look at the definition of Revisionist Zionism before reading this review.

Having been a product of a Zionist youth movement, albeit not quite as radical as what was in Poland, I am quite aware of the power of the youth in shaping ideology. In Poland, between the two World Wars, both Jewish adults and youth were instrumental; in shaping the ideology of right-wing Zionism. By the end of the 30s, there were some 50,000 young Polish Jews who were members of Betar, the youth movement that grew out of Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s revisionist Zionist ideology. Poland was home to Jabotinsky’s largest following as well as the place where right-wing Zionism developed. Writer David Heller through extensive archival material has found how the young people in Betar were instrumental in shaping right-wing Zionist attitudes about the roles that authoritarianism and military force could play in the quest to build and maintain a Jewish state.

I believe it is important to stress the importance of “to build and maintain a Jewish state.” This is what all Zionist youth groups shared and they differed on just how to do this, It was certainly not easy to be young and Jewish on the eve of the Holocaust and we see here through letters, diaries, and autobiographies, the turbulent lives that these young people lived. Jabotinsky has been called many names firebrand fascist to steadfast democrat, yet he deliberately delivered multiple and contradictory messages to his young followers, leaving it to them to interpret him as they saw fit. Betar had a surprising relationship with interwar Poland’s authoritarian government and in this book we popular misconceptions about Polish-Jewish relations between the two world wars overturned and we become very aware of the fervent efforts of Poland’s Jewish youth to determine, on their own terms, who they were, where they belonged, and what their future held in store. It is important to remember that we are dealing with young minds here but these young minds had every intention of staying alive and witnessing the birth of the Jewish nation.

This is a chapter in the history of Zionism that has been ignored and often we forget about the importance of our young people. Granted a lot of the Zionist education came from the home, the right-wing Zionist ideology came from the youth themselves. Much of what they developed still has a certain allure today.

Heller reclaims little-known events in Poland before the Holocaust and uses these to produce a highly original work that is a tremendous contribution to our understanding of the origins of the Zionist Right. What he has found are the stories of ordinary Betar members through their letters and diaries and autobiographies and uses these in an attempt to understand the distinctively Polish roots of right‐wing Zionism and how it developed between the two world wars in Poland under the leadership of its founder, Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

We read how Jewish youth in Poland actually understood their political and social options, and how they made sense of a world that was changing its course right in front of them. We forget that right-wing fundamentalism was on the rise throughout Europe and America as well. In effect, this book becomes the first social history of right-wing Zionism. The Revisionism that Heller shows us moves Jabotinsky from the center and we see that interwar Poland and Palestine were in constant negotiation between the leader and his base, and between youth and their elders. Heller analyzes the conditions under which Zionists come to embrace the authoritarian Right and this becomes very relevant to both contemporary life and history.

I was totally mesmerized by what I read and, in fact, I read the entire book in one sitting having been inspired by a group that I had been with earlier that day. I have always considered myself to be a knowledgeable Zionist but I suddenly realized how much I do not know and how much I have misunderstood.

Many thought that Jews were seeking a better world through Communism and were aware of the violence and repression that had accompanied the early years of Soviet rule. There were socialist Zionists who loved “the romance of the Communist revolution, with its promise to promote social justice, abolish unearned privilege, and fight anti-Semitism.”

Jews and Communism went beyond membership in the Communist Party itself. We learn that the apolitical Hashomer Hatzair movement redid itself in the cities of Warsaw, Bialystok, and Lodz and became quite radical. The youth movement’s leadership in central Poland, and soon after in Galicia, were drawing battle lines at their conferences between those who endorsed communism and called for class warfare and revolutionary struggle, and those who did not. This was already in 1925 and those who defended the youth movement’s original commitment to transcend party politics were outflanked by leaders who adopted a pro-Soviet position.

Jabotinsky reached out to the National Democrats, and expressed no concern when they praised him and referred to him as a “Jewish fascist.” There was an apparent symbiotic relationship between Betar and the Polish government. Some saw it as an expression of mutual affection but in reality it was a complex and sometimes-contradictory give-and-take between the Poles and Betar members had no intention of becoming “Poles” and they were above all else Zionists.

Toward the of the 1930’s, Jabotinsky met with the post-Pilsudski Polish officials to put into action his “Evacuation Plan”, which called for the emigration of 1.5 million eastern European Jews to Palestine in the next 10 years. He learned that Polish anti-Semitism was the byproduct of economic rivalry between Poles and Jews in a poor and overcrowded Poland. overcrowded poverty-stricken nation.

Many young Jews were politically promiscuous, frequently changing party affiliations and Poles thought of them as having ephemeral loyalties. By July 1944, Revisionists were meeting with Soviet officials in order to solicit Soviet support for the State of Israel. (p. 246).

When we speak of fascism we begin to understand that there is really no straightforward or objective definition of a fascist. It was said that the Revisionists are Jewish fascists and many Betar members agreed, but many did not. Some Betar leaders suggested that the Revisionist movement had a great deal to learn from Germany’s Nazi Party. Jabotinsky always maintained his belief in democracy, although he was known to say that “fascism has many good ideas”.

Heller maintains, in opposition to others that thought differently that Jabotinsky did not anticipate the Holocaust. Jabotinsky said that Jews needed to leave Europe because of the economic boycott of Jews and not because of the Nazi reign of terror.

I was a bit disappointed that Heller did not cover Jabotinsky’s views with those of fellow-Revisionist Jacob Gens, the eventual Judenrat leader of the Vilna Ghetto under the Nazi German occupation. Jacob Genes had that Jews, while seeking their own homeland, should be unswervingly loyal to the nations in which they live. They should not be separatists demanding special rights or deny patriotic bonds.

A definition of Revisionist Zionism:

Revisionist Zionism (Union of Zionists-Revisionists; abbr. Hebrew name, Ha-Ẓohar; later New Zionist Organization) was the movement of maximalist political Zionists founded and led by Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky in Poland. In the later 1920s and in the 1930s, the Revisionists became the principal Zionist opposition party to Chaim Weizmann’s leadership and to the methods and policy of the World Zionist Organization and the elected Jewish leadership in the Land of Israel. The initial nucleus of the Revisionist movement consisted of a group of Russian Zionists who had supported Jabotinsky during World War I in his campaign for the creation of a Jewish Legion.

the main instrument of economic activity, and to conduct a “political offensive” which would induce the British government to adapt its policy in Palestine to the original intention and spirit of the Declaration. The Revisionists based their ideology on Theodor Herzl’s concept of Zionism as essentially a political movement, defined by Jabotinsky as follows: “Ninety per cent of Zionism may consist of tangible settlement work, and only ten per cent of politics; but those ten percent are the precondition of success.” The basic assumption was that as long as the mandatory regime in Palestine was essentially anti-Zionist, no piecemeal economic achievements could lead to the realization of Zionism, i.e., the establishment of a Jewish state with a Jewish majority in the entire territory of Palestine, “on both sides of the Jordan.”

At its inception, the Revisionist program centered on the following demands: to reestablish the Jewish Legion as an integral part of the British garrison in Palestine, to develop the Jewish Colonial Trust as the main instrument of economic activity, and to conduct a “political offensive” which would induce the British government to adapt its policy in Palestine to the original intention and spirit of the Balfour Declaration.

 

“MIDNIGHT COWBOY”— Everybody Will Be Talking About This Criterion Re-release

“Midnight Cowboy”

Everybody Will Be Talking About This Criterion Re-release

Amos Lassen

“Midnight Cowboy (1969) was the first and only “X” rated film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. It is a very dark and disturbing movie but it is also quite fascinating. John Schlesinger, the director, gives us a very grim portrait of New York City and the people that live there. It is the story of Texas hustler, Joe Buck (Jon Voight) who arrives in New York hoping to score big with wealthy city women and it is very simple and direct. The plot is basically about the friendship between Joe and Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman as a sleazy swindler with a bad leg with a fantasy of escaping to Florida. Together the two men try to survive and get out of the city and movie to Florida. There is an implication that the two may have been lovers (the MPAA saw their relationship in a “homosexual frame of reference”, but the movie is really just a portrait of two damaged men attempting to survive in the cold urban jungle.

Schlesinger uses flashbacks, color which turns to black and white, flash forwards, weird sound effects and many other tricks and they all work quite well. The acting exceptionally fine and the characterizations are well formed. Schlesinger is an inventive director and he handled the relationship between Buck and Rizzo with sensitivity.

Schlesinger did not give into censorship but instead concentrated on the energies of the importance of a strong human connection in life without regard to sexuality.

The movie is entertaining and depressing at the same time. It looks at cultural change and shows how we have been changed from the age of innocence of the 1950’s as we moved into the age of Aquarius of the 60’s.

We get a poignant and beautiful explication of the themes of loneliness and the deprivation of humanity. The characters exist beyond the law and we find ourselves liking them. Jim Buck is endearing because of his optimism and his naiveté even if he tries to be a gigolo and Ratso Rizzo is the common man who we pity as the film progresses. The characters and the motives of the two are interesting.

An interesting fact is that the “X” rating was later changed (in 1980) when it was re-released. That certainly says something about us and how we think. Technically this is a wonderful film and it was revolutionary while being not much more than a simple and sentimental story. The film is no longer the shocking tale it was when first released and it has become a nostalgic look at the way we once thought as it captures the naiveté and upheaval of society in the midst of change. Jon Wright and Dustin Hoffman were legendary screen losers. The complex and tender relationship between Buck and Ratso hints at a homoerotic attraction but that is never explicitly developed.

Although the film has had several DVD releases, this new special edition from The Criterion Collection includes a new 4k digital restoration, multiple interviews and documentaries, screen tests, video essays, audio commentary and much, much more

 

DVD Features include:

New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack

Audio commentary from 1991 featuring director John Schlesinger and producer Jerome Hellman

New selected-scene commentary by cinematographer Adam Holender

The Crowd Around the Cowboy, a 1969 short film made on location for Midnight Cowboy

Waldo Salt: A Screenwriter’s Journey, an Academy Award nominated documentary from 1990 by Eugene Corr and Robert Hillmann

Two short 2004 documentaries on the making and release of Midnight Cowboy

Interview with actor Jon Voight on The David Frost Show from 1970

Interview from 2000 with Schlesinger for BAFTA Los Angeles

Excerpts from the 2002 BAFTA LA Tribute to Schlesinger, featuring Voight and actor Dustin Hoffman

Trailer

PLUS: An essay by critic Mark Harris

“Raised by Unicorns: Stories from People with LGBTQ+ Parents” edited by Frank Lowe— Unique Storytellers, Unique Stories

Lowe, Frank, editor. “Raised by Unicorns: Stories from People with LGBTQ+ Parents”, Cleis Press, 2018.

Unique Storytellers, Unique Stories

Amos Lassen

LGBTQ+ parenting has been a hot topic in the news lately Everyone seems to have a unique way of parenting and that made me think as it did Frank Lowe, the editor of this collection. If someone has a unique way of parenting, do they also have unique stories to tell their children. Why is it that the stories we heard as children no longer suffice for today’s world? Now I have thought about this for a while now but Frank Lowe went a step further and investigated and voila, here is the fruit of his labors— a collection of stories for children of LGBTQ+ parents. This was no easy task as you can well imagine but somehow he collected fourteen stories that as an adult I loved to read.

I must confess that for as long as I have been reviewing LGBT literature, I always face the same problem when I have a collection or anthology to review. Do I look at the book as a whole and review it as such or do I review each and every story? In this case, I am going to look at the book as a whole. I do have a request though. As you read this review and/or the book, think about whether we need to have separate stories for the kids of LGBTQ+ parents. Granted we have unique individuals in our community but then so does every community. I think, however, if we consider the past lives of those who are parents today and the problems they faced getting to be where we are now, perhaps this is what needs to be shared with our children.

This collection has all kinds of stories just as the world is made up of all kinds of people. We are most certainly more accepting of non traditional families than we were when I was growing up and perhaps, indeed, the time has come to “create a literary space for this not-so-unique, shared, but completely individual experience.”

Lowe’s collection “reflects on the upbringing of children in many different forms of LGBTQ+ families.” His selections are as diverse as the colors of the rainbow and there is a story (or even more) for everyone. Sometimes we try so hard to fit into society that we forget that our journeys are different from the non-LGBT world. There are differences even within our shared journeys. Many of the stories are based upon actual events this providing others with a view of how we have lived.

I am not a parent but I love stories and I love each of these stories probably because they are a reflection of ourselves. I  realize that I have not really reviewed the book but talked around it and that is a reflection of how we had to grow up. We had to talk around who we are but those days are over and today our kids can have some really good stories to read and to hear. Start them off with these.

“THE GOSPEL OF EUREKA”— A Light on Acceptance

“THE GOSPEL OF EUREKA”

A Light on Acceptance

Amos Lassen

In “The Gospel of Eureka”, love, faith and civil rights meet head on in a southern town as evangelical Christians and drag queens try to invalidate stereotypes. “Gospel drag shows and passion plays set the stage for one hell of a show!”

Having lived in Arkansas for some seven years, I got to know Eureka Springs quite well since several times a year the town hosts gay getaway weekends. But Eureka Springs is the home of the Christ of the Ozarks statue, commissioned in 1966 by the far-right, anti-Semitic American clergyman Gerald L.K. Smith. Along with that the town is home to the Great Passion Play that retells the persecution, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s also the home to Eureka Live Underground, a drag and dance bar run by a pair of flamboyant and Christian gay men. Portland documentary filmmakers, Donal Mosher and Michael Palmieri, examine the complex and surprising relationships that come together in the town and do so with grace and style.

The film is narrated by Mx Justin Viviane Bond, and with soundtrack contributions from Sharon Van Etten and it is a personal and often comical look at how it is possible to negotiate differences between religion and belief through performance, political action, and partnership, gospel drag shows and passion plays. This is a personal and heartwarming story that will make you laugh out loud, cry within and inspire hope.

Eureka Springs has quite a long history of tall tales and crazy characters yet not many (aside from the residents) know is how diverse this little town (in ARKANSAS!!!) really is. Palmieri and Mosher went there with the idea to show how a community operates based love and acceptance. Everyone in this film is lovable (some may seem a little more absurd than others at time but it’s easy to love everyone there—well, almost everyone [no Yip, I was not referring to you]). From the drag queens to the evangelical Christians we quickly see how much respect that they have for one another.

Migration to Eureka Springs came because of the so-called healing powers the springs in the town and of those that came, most never left. Eureka has a population that is 44% LGBTQ, yet it is considered the biker and Christian capitol of Arkansas making us wonder how such a diverse population finds a way to put aside differences and live together. The answer is acceptance which is a step quite above tolerance (a word I never cared for).

Palmieri and Mosher were asked to go to Eureka Springs to cover City Ordinance 2223 which was to be voted on. The ordinance “sought to protect and safeguard the right and opportunity of all persons to be free from unfair and discrimination based on real or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, age, gender, gender identity, gender expression, familial status, marital status, socioeconomic background, religion, sexual, orientation, disability and veteran status.” It just so happened that while they were there, the two men fell in love with the people of Eureka and just knew they that they wanted and needed to tell their story.

Hence we have this documentary that is about freedom of expression and freedom to be oneself. We see footage of the passion play put on by members of the community juxtaposed by gospel drag shows put on by Eureka Live, a local hot spot. Two entirely different groups of individuals express themselves in their own way over the same common theme, Jesus.

Since I have been to Eureka many times, I can vouch for the fact that this is a true and authentic look at the town and its people Even though some of the lifestyles may be different than others there is a great sense of love, light and acceptance among the members of the community and you really feel it there.

At times, the film is very funny and we see that we are all the same although some of us have fantastic wardrobes with feathers and sequins. “We are all the same. If you cut my arm I bleed the same as you. If we could just learn to look past each other’s differences it would be a much better world to live in.” It’s all about love and acceptance.

No matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on in Eureka, everyone seems to believe in Jesus. (Except for Yip and the rabbi and his family. that has moved to town since the film was made and oh yes and there is another part-Jewish gnome there as well. There is a wide variety of interpretations of scripture and faith.

Both Christ of the Ozarks and the Passion Play have their fiftieth anniversaries this year of which celebrate their 50th anniversary this year and this gives us an idea of how long Christianity has been entrenched there. (There are stories of Anita Bryant’s residency in Eureka). The film follows the actors in the Passion Play with emphasis on the guy playing Jesus through their rehearsal and performance process. Though not as popular as it once was in the late 1960s, it still attracts a crowd, some true believers and others that are just curious.

On the other side of town, there are other activities. There are only 2073 residents (Yip might make that 2074). Eureka is in the northwestern corner of the state, on the border with Missouri, has a large enough number of gay residents, and allies of gays, so a vibrant drag show stays in business. Actually co-director Mosher mentioned that he sees a lot of parallels between the drag show and the Passion Play, calling the latter “Christian drag” ( since they do dress in robes). And so there are two pageants and many ways of proclaiming The Word since even the drag queens love to sing gospel.

“The Gospel of Eureka” is a beautiful celebration of love, which is supposed to be the main tenet of Christianity, after all. The filmmakers are respectful of their subjects and allow all to be heard regardless of point of view. Accordingly, Eureka Springs, despite some discord over a city ordinance that protects the LGBT residents is a place where it is fine to agree to disagree. to disagree.

There is one little story that I would like to share that is not in the movie. Before “Eureka Live” was sold to its present owners, it was just a club for everyone. One Eureka Pride weekend coincided with a weekend of straight truck drivers who like to wear women’s clothing and they were having a fashion show at Eureka Live. Now that is acceptance. I am in Boston now and I miss the South (I’m originally from New Orleans and was evacuated to Arkansas after Katrina). Try to imagine a gay Jew in Arkansas and you will understand why I left… but I have wonderful memories of Eureka Springs.

“ABOMINABLE”— “Some Things Are Better Left Unfound”

“ABOMNIABLE”

“Some Things Are Better Left Unfound”

Amos Lassen

Preston Rogers (Matt McCoy), a wheelchair-bound paraplegic mountain climber, returns to the scene of his wife’s death on a weekend when a ravenous Yeti attacks the wooded community. Bigfoot is a creature which goes by many names and has been spotted numerous times by credible witnesses. He is once again on the prowl and as Rogers attempts to track the beast’s movements and convince his neighbors of their danger, events become even more complicated by the appearance of two hunters (Lance Henricksen and Jeffrey Combs), and a simple headed police chief. Bigfoot lurks around the forest, brutalizing whomever he finds and wreaks havoc.

Using several classic B-movie themes, “Abominable” renews the old by crafting a story that supports its bold scares and dark atmosphere with real characters and believable conflicts in a modern folk tale that lends belief to the supernatural/monstrous element. Not only Bigfoot is a threat and source of both confusion and fear, but also so are humans.. Director Ryan Schifrin constructs a story wherein the bizarre is intimately interwoven with the moments of everyday. As a result, the audience celebrates the cosmic awe and mystery of the Yeti (and all the dangers/thrills it represents) while taking a closer look at mature philosophical ideas. Schifrin brings some impressive moments of tension and characterization with a small budget. His style is both crisp and engaging as is his penchant for charging scenes of seemingly everyday reality with true sinister atmosphere. There is an undeniable sense of hiding malignance and while Yeti is in the shadows for the first quarter of the film, the pay off, when the beast appears, is well worth the weight — easily the most effective Bigfoot to ever terrorize the screen. In “Abominable”, looking out windows is really frightening. “Abominable” makes the night scary again!

I love a good monster movie and if we see horror films as a form of escapism then we realize that it is fun to be scared by a supernatural monster of some kind. We let our imaginations run wild and become taken into a completely unbelievable situation. “Abominable” gives us an hour and a half of a good horror flick: silly dialogue, gore, cameo appearances from a few genre vets, a dash of nudity, and yes, a guy in a monster suit.

Matt has returned to his former home in the wilderness for the first time since a terrible accident that took both his wife and his ability to walk. On the night of his arrival, Preston is left alone and spends his time looking out the window at the cabin next door where a group of girls has arrived for the weekend. Soon, when one of the girls goes outside alone, she is attacked by a giant monster. Preston spends the rest of the movie trying to figure out how to warn the other of the situation and how he can get out of it. The use of paralysis amps up the suspense as the character needs to come up with inventive ways of getting the attention of the girls while also planning an escape. As he thinks about this, we meet a trio of hunters who are out to find the monster.

The Abominable Snowman himself is pretty cool other than his fact that his face was a little hard to take seriously. Director Schifrin is obviously a horror fan and it shows. He knows how to deliver a fun ending and he throws in a nude scene when necessary to keep with b-movie tradition. This modest thriller delivers some gross-out gore in the last third, but most of its running time is spent building up a tidy atmosphere of mounting dread.

In cameo roles we Dee Wallace Stone in the opening scene as the farmer’s wife, Rex Linn from “CSI: Miami” as the farmer and Paul Gleason as the sheriff.

Bonus Materials include:

  • Brand-New 2K High-Definition transfer from the original camera negative
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations of the main feature
  • 1 Surround Audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
  • Audio Commentary with writer/director Ryan Schifrin, Actors Matt McCoy and Jeffrey Combs
  • ‘Back to Genre: Making ABOMINABLE’ featurette (SD)
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes (SD)
  • Outtakes and Bloopers (SD)
  • “Shadows” Director Ryan Schifrin’s USC Student Film (SD)
  • “Basil & Mobius: No Rest For The Wicked” (16:28, HD) Short film written and directed by Ryan Schifrin featuring a score by legendary composer Lalo Schifrin and starring Zachari Levi, Ray Park, Malcolm McDowell and Kane Hodder
  • The original 2005 version of “Abominable” (Blu-ray only, 94 minutes, SD)
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Poster & Still Gallery
  • Storyboard Gallery
  • Collectible Poster

“SHADOW”— Lost in the World of Dating

“SHADOW”

Lost in the World of Dating

Amos Lassen

Jane (Revell Carpenter) is an honest and shy college student who finds herself lost in the college-dating scene. When Allen (Kumasi Hopkins), the guy she has a crush on, does not respond to how she feels, she feels vulnerable to Will whose intentions are far from honorable. We immediately recognize where this film is going as it casts a look at the culture of sexual behavior on college campuses. It is a world of expectation and sometimes forced sexual gratification that can quite cruel and it is something we need to know more about.

 

This movie has a great deal to say but it is impossible to say it all in a short film… nonetheless it is a start. Carpenter is totally convincing and sympathetic as a shy student with a crush on Allen, who happens to be her tutor. He seems to be a generally decent guy who has difficulties with his loyalty to his friend Will. As the “villain” of the piece, Will (writer/director Nicholas Goodwin), the kind of guy who we love to hate.

 

The plot is non-linear narrative and this strengthens the emotional impact.At first, we really do not see much of a problem since we have all been there—had feelings for someone who did not feel the same although the possibility was there. Allen invites Jane to a party and she sees that as something that it is not and she discovers that he invited her as just a friend and nothing more. Jane is crushed by this. But it is not over here. A friend of Allen, Will, who is not what we would call a prime pick, is interested in Jane and he understands what is happening between Jane and Allen and pushes himself on Jane when she is already feeling down. He sweet talks her and brings her drinks and… you know how this ends up.

Goodwin uses a clever approach by deliberately  leaving out key parts of the narrative to focus instead on the emotional what happens afterwards and asking us, the viewers, to fill in what is missing. This works because the director know exactly what he wanted to project and what he chose not to. It is helpful that the characters give excellent performances.

“MERMAIDS”— Recognition and Sympathy

“MERMAIDS”

Recognition and Sympathy

Amos Lassen

“Mermaids” is a story told by a teenage girl whose mother avoids becoming known as the town tramp only because she changes towns so often. The mom in “Mermaids” goes by the name of Mrs. Flax, and is played by Cher with perfect makeup and a flawless body that seems a bit much to hope for, given the character’s lifestyle and diet. Mrs. Flax has a personality trait that leads her to look for and find love affairs with hopeless men that are doomed and then move to another town when her life falls apart. She is hardly and she and the other characters exhibit a tacky trait of consumerism that is exaggerated and out of proportion.

Mrs. Flax has two daughters; a teenager, Charlotte (Winona Ryder) and a grade-schooler, Kate (Christina Ricci). The movie opens with Kate practicing her swimming and trying to match the world record for holding her breath underwater. That supplies one of the movie’s many clues to the symbolism of its title, as well as suggesting the desperation Mrs. Flax inspires in her children. The older daughter, Charlotte, has been driven nearly mad by her mother’s incessant moves (18 by last count). She’s never gone long to the same school, or made many friends, or experienced much normal life. After another romantic disaster, the family moves again, to Massachusetts, where Charlotte makes friends with a young man named Joe (Michael Schoeffling), a kind of handyman job at a Roman Catholic convent. Charlotte is attracted to the nuns, to their quiet ways and cheerful encouragement, but she is more attracted to Joe, who perhaps possesses the secret of exactly what it is adults do when they’re alone (what her mother does with all those men, for example).

The director, Richard Benjamin, tells the story of a strange world in which the realistic and the bizarre exist side by side. Mrs. Flax’s life begins to change, however, in Massachusetts, after she is discovered by Lou (Bob Hoskins), a hefty, salt-of-the-earth type who sizes up the situation and decides that what Mrs. Flax and her daughters need is normality. He tries to contribute some balance to the family routine and has luck on the days when Mrs. Flax is not at war with him. Meanwhile Charlotte is kissed by Joe and becomes convinced that she is pregnant.

Suddenly I understood that as preposterous this movie is, I was enjoying just that. After all, we look at movies to learn lessons and see life reflected back at us. However, sometimes we simply sit there in the dark, amazed by the spectacle. “Mermaids” is not what I would call a good movie but it is fun and not boring.

“BLOOD AND GLORY”— War as Drama

“Blood and Glory” (“Modder en Bloed”)

War as Drama

Amos Lassen

Sean Else’s “Blood and Glory” is a war drama that begins with a bloody skirmish on the mainland where we meet Willem Morkel (Stian Bam), a hard-working Boer family man who loses much when he makes a desperate attempt to save someone important He is eventually captured by the British Army, along with thousands of others. The Boer are not a truly organized military but a collection of farmers and blacksmiths, speaking Afrikaans, struggling to keep hold of their land. Seen as worthless and less than human, they are horribly mistreated when taken to Saint Helena, the largest of the internment camp for traitors. There, Morkel faces off against the ruthless Colonel Swannell (Grant Swanby), a contemptible leader with nothing but hatred for the Boers.

Headstrong and proud Morke refuses to submit to the vicious rule of Swannell, who treats his inmates with a brutal hand. Along the way though, sport becomes the marker for manhood, and it’s not long before rugby is the new battleground. Swannell already has a top-notch team and is looking to take on the Boers, with Morkel forming his own opposing crew.

We see plenty of the conventional human atrocities committed at the camp, as the men are put to hard labor and all sorts of belittlement. Then we head to the pitch per se where the men take to hard hits in a game of honor and survival. Both of these elements, while based on reality even though they are hard to watch and conversely often inspiring. Else builds a great sense of authenticity with the setting and direction and the film always feels genuine and has some terrific performances. It’s a dual language movie and the impassioned words of these men in their native Afrikaans are stirring. The only prominent female in the cast is Charlotte Salt, who has some small but effective presence, even if she is somewhat sidelined (sometimes literally) by it all.

Naturally, watching these men endure the worst Swannell can give out is uncomfortable to sit through, even if it’s all built on tropes of the genre. Beatings and horrific punishments are part and parcel of movies like this. There is a bit of a tonal shift as the film moves into its second half and the story becomes more centered on the sport giving these men what they need to keep going.

The “Blood” part has a gritty edge, not shying away from its ruthlessness.

Morkel is an upstanding “every-boer” with nothing to lose. After being captured and unceremoniously welcomed to the island by the psychotic Swannell himself, he adjusts to the oppressive new circumstances and finding a place among the dislocated prisoners. He is almost immediately

pitted against the smug and sardonic Colonel Swannell, an imperialist and bully, whose position of power make him a proud and dastardly monster. team. Charlotte Salt is a breath of fresh air in the male-dominated ensemble, offering an outsider’s perspective and spiritual dynamic.

They may be browbeaten, but they don’t lose their sense of humor because of a wonderful performance from Patrick Connolly as Finn Kelly, a plucky Irishman and fellow inmate. Just as the oppressive war drama settles in, the film reinvents itself as a sports drama. The team selection and formation are amusing and the performances certainly add to the charm of the sports drama as the prisoners take on the Colonel’s pride and joy.

The film pulls off a seemingly impossible genre-balancing act. The historical backdrop holds its own interest as the triumph-of-the-human-spirit drama carries the story forward. While the tonal shift from bleak war drama to optimistic sports drama is welcome, it does leave the film off-balance.

Rugby fans and history buffs will enjoy the curious genre mix and range of characters. While “Blood and Glory” is somewhat uneven, it’s filled with passion and remains ambitious, spirited and entertaining. enough to keep you rooting for the underdogs through all their trials.