Monthly Archives: May 2018

“DISOBEDIENCE”— A Complicated Relationship

“Disobedience”

A Complicated Relationship

Amos Lassen

Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio’s “Disobedience” is set in London’s Orthodox Jewish community and depicts the complicated relationship between two women born into this world, whose paths in life have deviated after an earlier affair. What makes this so brilliant a film is how Lelio manages to sidestep overly familiar discussions on sexuality and religious prejudice in order to examine the very nature of freewill when it comes to accepting a love frowned upon by a belief system. It’s a film that is equally romantic and philosophical and I am quite sure that “Disobedience” will be on many ten bests lists for 2018.

It has been adapted from Naomi Alderman’s controversial and gorgeous 2006 novel of the same name. It follows Ronit Kruschka (Rachel Weisz) the estranged daughter of a beloved rabbi who has long since fled to New York to pursue a career as a photographer. Upon hearing about the sudden death of her father, she returns to the London community where she grew up to pay her respects, and finds herself to be something of a ghost. While she is welcomed with open arms and shown kindness, yet her existence as her father’s only child has been eliminated from her father’s newspaper obituary, and a renewed social tension has emerged due to the nature of a previous affair with Esti Kuperman (Rachel McAdams).

Esti is now married to her father’s apprentice Rabbi, Dovid Kuperman (Alessandro Nivola) who lets her stay in their upper middle class home. Since they last saw each other, Esti has become a pillar of the local community and teaches English literature at a local girl’s school. The only thing setting her back from true happiness is that she is incapable of feeling physical attraction to men and knowing that confessing otherwise could jeopardize her devout faith. This becomes even more complicated when she slowly rekindles the relationship she had with Ronit year’s prior.

The film deals with the numerous factors in a person’s life that can stop them accepting their true identity and how that struggle intensifies following the death of a loved one. Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams perfectly communicate the frailty that comes with seeing a former flame following the aftermath of a sudden end to the relationship, and the separate anxieties the two share about the developing nature of their romance.

In the opening scene, a rabbi, Rav Kruschka (Anton Lesser), delivers a sermon at a North London synagogue about angels and beasts, free will, and choosing the tangled lives we live. His tone is doctrinaire, poisonous even, so it’s perhaps no surprise that the frail-looking man drops dead on the spot. Meanwhile in New York, his daughter, Ronit, is putting his words into action. She is a photographer and is in session when she receives a phone call one alerting her to her father’s death, after which she’s seen impassively skating around an ice rink, with a time-out for a random hookup with a man inside a bathroom stall.

We’ll learn why she turned her back on the Orthodox world she was born into yet her personhood will remain foreign to us. Everyone in “Disobedience” is representative and every scene is declarative. With the help of her old lover, Esti, Ronit goes to her father’s home to gather some belongings. Seeing an old radio, Ronit turns it on and we hear a song whose lyrics completely speak to the situation of the two women: “You make me feel like I am home again/Whenever I’m alone with you/You make me feel like I am whole again.”

It is here that Ronit and Esti find themselves alone for the first time in many years. They finally talk about their romantic past in a single long take, and it’s some kind of masterstroke how the tension of their reminiscences and flirtations in tune with the audience’s wondering when the shot will dare to cut away.

At first glance, Esti seems to be an obsequious adherent to orthodoxy. When she passionately kisses Dovid, we understand that this is compensatory and to show that the past with Ronit is indeed the past.. But then she plays with Dovid’s beard, and subtly communicates the sense of the genuine love that exits between this husband and wife—an impression that’s confirmed when Esti later repeats the gesture with Ronit. But theirs is a different kind of love, and we finally get a sense of what that is when the two women are alone and trysting in a hotel room and Ronit casually sends a stream of her saliva into Esti’s mouth.

Director Lelio understands that the community at the center of the film is rooted in old-school tradition, but as it’s physically rooted in a cultural capital of the world, no one here is a stranger to gays and lesbians, and so the reactions to Ronit and Esti’s rekindled love affair never rises to hysterics. Ronit is asked at one point why she isn’t married and response is understood as a matter of course. In fact, in the subtlest of glances exchanged between the women of this community, one senses a certain respect for Ronit having broken away from tradition to find her own path through life. Esti, on the other hand, may have the courage to admit to Ronit that she’s only attracted to women, but she isn’t so brave to stand by her when they’re caught kissing by some friends and her survival instinct kicks in and she bolts from the scene. The film is less about the subjugation of the self to the group than the courage to embrace uncertainty by breaking out of the world one has been born into. And the triumph of the film is the grace and gracefulness of the performances and style.

Repression is a major theme Esti and Ronit have always had a special relationship, and they rekindle a love that becomes more than just friendship. But, of course, this community, and Esti’s marital status, can never allow it.

“ALTERED PERCEPTION”— A New Drug

“ALTERED PERCEPTION”

A New Drug

Amos Lassen

 When the government tries to produce a designer drug aimed at correcting the false perceptions that people develop during trauma and stress, the implications become deadly. When the drug is advertised as a cure for socio-political tensions, four couples volunteer and end up with far more than they bargained for as their past and present are examined while taking different varieties of the new drug. This causes them to doubt their own memory, perceptions and even their own sanity.

Today it seems like whatever the issue is, all we have to do is just pop a pill or get an injection and all will be well. For these miracle drugs get to the market, they had to be tested in a controlled environment before being sold to the masses. We think that a new drug would never hit the market without successful drug trials performed on willing, fully informed people. “Altered Perception” looks at just this topic by showing what could go wrong with these drug trials and why not everything on the market is as safe as advertised.

The film opens with a panel, lead by Walter (Mark Burnham), who are trying to get to the bottom of what happened during a government drug trial of D.T.P., an experimental drug that is supposed to correct false perceptions people have developed during times of trauma and stress. This particular trial focused on three couples with each pair dealing with their own set of issues, but each hope that this drug will be a miracle and do what other more conventional approaches could not do to save their relationships. The panel was created because, though each couple was filmed and monitored at home homes, researchers ignored warning signs and someone has lost their life.

Couple number one is Andrew (Jon Huertas) and Lorie (Jennifer Blanc-Biehn). Andrew is a lawyer and Lorie is a former prostitute. It is clear that they love each other, but both have extreme hang-ups that will not allow them to live in peace together. Andrew knows about Lorie’s past and accepts it, but it bothers him in ways that he cannot explain. Lorie has also accepted her past but feels as though Andrew has not so she picks apart everything he says and always goes back to him not accepting her or her past. They are constantly fighting about something that they cannot change, and the fights begin to become violent and damaging. They both hope that D.T.P. will help them overcome their issues.

Couple number two is Kristina (Jade Tailor) and Steven (Emrhys Cooper) who have extreme trust issues. Steven works in the film industry so he is not home all the time, while Kristina is a housewife who is obsessed with the idea that her husband is cheating on her— she questions everything he says and does. Steven is losing both sleep and jobs because of Kristina’s insecurities especially since he has never done anything to warrant her feeling this way but she refuses to let go of the idea and Steven is starting to want to leave her. Their hope is that the medicine will allow them to work through Kristina’s trust issues so that neither must ever live like this.

The third couple is Emily (Hallie Jordan) and Beth (Nichola Fynn). They love each other and want to get married but Emily is worried that Beth is into men and will leave her for one. Beth has accused Emily’s brother, Justin (Matthew Ziff) of raping her and this is from where she gets the idea. Justin denies this accusation and claims they just had consensual sex. For her part, Emily cannot believe the worst of her brother, and wants Beth to admit that she is lying about it being rape. Beth is hurt that her girlfriend refuses to believe her about something so painful, and the two are firmly rooted into their positions with Justin squarely in the middle. D.T.P. is their last hope to overcome their issues or they will be finished.

The film looks at the questions of does D.T.P. even work? Will this new trial drug be the answer to anyone’s prayers? What could have gone so wrong that someone does not make it through the trial alive? Is it D.T.P.’s fault or is it the fault of the researchers who were supposed to be monitoring the couples?

Each couple has trust issues of some kind formed by their own irrational thinking. While each has very complex and serious issues, we are immediately pulled in. We see that even though each couple is intriguing and matched, everyone is damaged in some way and for some specific reason. The couples all mention that they have tried different approaches to solving their problems. D.T.P. is a drug that is meant to break through all that and give new insight, and the film subtly raises questions as to why any drug would be the answer for anyone in these situations.

It is up to the patient and their doctor to decide whether risks are worth the potential positives associated with the drug, while researchers performing the drug trials are supposed to ensure that the parameters are set in such a way that limits negative outcomes. This did not happen with the D.T.P. trials. Each person was given a different dosage of the drug and a placebo was also given to one person, while none of them knew who was given what or what the potential side effects might be. As with all trials, it was up to the researchers to put a stop to the trial if anything seemed to be going badly. However, these researchers were clearly more invested in getting the drug to market than the safety of the individuals testing the drug. If government does not care in a supposed controlled environment, then what will happen if this drug goes to the masses?

This is a political film underlying the main reasons the public should be wary of some new drugs and drug trials. True, not all drugs approved on the market are bad, but what had to happen to get them to that point? 

We rethink the drugs in our own medicine cabinets. The government and drug companies want to push drugs to make a dollar. Director Kate Rees Davies effortlessly glides between each couple and ensures that no one narrative’s dramatic arc is undercut when we change storylines. However, the auditing sequences do not always work smoothly . Figuring out who is the working on behalf of the auditor and who are the company employees, except the auditor, is a bit confusing. There is a doctor and based on some of the questions, I don’t think he was with the auditor, but at times he seemed to side with them, so it is unclear.

Huertas as the self-aggrandizing Andrew is excellent, with a speech about his insecurities, late in the film, and how it makes him impossible to deal with, even to himself is heart wrenching. Blanc-Biehn creates a sympathetic character out of someone that is manipulative on occasion. Burdock and Fynn as the LBGT couple have outstanding chemistry and they feel entirely realized in and out of the relationship. As the despicable Justin, Matthew Ziff is slimy. Less impressive is Jade Tailor as the paranoid Kristina. She overacts often, and while the character is meant to be over-the-top hysterical, there is no baseline that she goes back to give the audience an idea of how acts between such bouts. This makes her character off-putting at all times. It doesn’t help that she and Cooper don’t have sparks flying between them, so them being married seems an odd match. The film looks at an alarming issue with kinetic style and strong characterizations.

“A BUCKET OF BLOOD”— Horrific and Satirical

 

“A BUCKET OF BLOOD”

Horrific and Satirical

Amos Lassen

Roger Corman was a director who dared to go where others would not. “A Bucket of Blood” is horrific, satirical and layered with subtext about Corman’s own aspirations. Dick Miller stars as Walter Paisley, the ridiculed busboy at beatnik coffeehouse The Yellow Door, whose dream in life is to be an artist. Unfortunately he has no talent and spends his free time squeezing a lump of clay into even lumpier shapes. When he accidentally kills a cat, covers it with clay, entitles the work “Dead Cat”, he is acclaimed a genius by local Beats and this sends his ego out of control. He becomes obsessed with winning the woman of his dreams and moves onto larger pieces (like “Murdered Man”).

The movie is filled with pseudo-hip dialogue and excruciatingly poetry as it takes us back to a time that was. The Yellow Door club is the haunt for the most fashionable beatniks around but for Walter it’s just somewhere to work, as he has a job as a busboy there. He carries out menial tasks but he has ambitions of his own as his heart’s desire is to become a sculptor. Everyone around him denigrates his dreams and does not believe he will amount to anything more than cleaning up after the patrons of his boss, Leonard (Antony Carbone). Only Carla (Barboura Morris) encourages him, and he is grateful for that, but when he finally gets some clay home to his one-room apartment…

Walter was not exactly a simpleton, but he was easily led, and comes to believe what others say. Walter has a solution to his lack of talent that he accidentally realizes when he tries to free his pet cat from the wall of his apartment and stabs it to death by mistake. Suddenly inspired, he covers the corpse with clay, allows it to set, and brings it to the club as an artwork and is met with admiration at the piece’s perceived truth and skill (it has the knife still sticking out of it), and soon the crowd wants more. They get one with “Murdered Man”, a life study of a figure afflicted by a deep crack in its skull, which should give you an idea of what it actually is, an undercover cop Walter panicked and killed when he was accused of holding narcotics. Carla remains oblivious, as does everyone else except Leonard who sees the high prices the art is amassing and keeps quiet about it.

“HAPPINESS ADJACENT”— A Romance

“Happiness Adjacent”

A Romance

Amos Lassen

Since I saw and reviewed Rob Williams’ first feature film some ten years and nine movies ago, I realized that we had a new director who was going to make quality gay themed films and from the moment that I hear that he has a new project underway, I begin pestering him about a screener. I have never been disappointed by the quality and originality of his work. As I could expect, Rob Williams brings us yet another wonderful gay-themed film with “Happiness Adjacent”. This one is actually kind of special for me in that we meet a gay Jewish guy as the main character. For those of you who are not aware, I have personally made it my goal to collect all books and films that deal with the gay Jewish experience so that my younger gay Jewish brothers and sisters will know where to go to find material and it is a pleasure to add this to the canon.

“Happiness Adjacent” is about explores the romance between Hank, a nice gay Jewish boy traveling alone on a tropical cruise, and Kurt, a bisexual man vacationing with his wife, Kate. When we first meet Hank Eisenberg, he comes across as something of a whiner and a “nebbish” (ask your Jewish friends what this means). However as the movie progresses, he becomes quite endearing. While he was not looking for a relationship, he is immediately drawn to Kurt and the two men form an intense friendship connection. They are open with each other about their sexualities— by this I mean that Hank comes out as gay and Kurt as a married man. Hank has his own issues with his past failed relationships and he begins to wonder if Kurt is secretly looking for a bit of action since it seems that his marriage has become quite boring. The two men do sexually come together and it is left to us to determine if what they have is just a vacation fling a chance for both men to find true happiness.

When the film began, as I said, I found Hank to be quite irritating in that he was harping on this being his dream vacation that he looked forward to taking with his best friend Brian who cancelled at the last minute (thus giving Hank a change to use the concept of Jewish guilt to make him seem less than a likeable character). Hank and Brian had compiled a to-do list for his cruise adventure (go to a Mexican beach, be a Pirate, get laid, get over ‘him’, and make a new friend) and now Hank would have to do this alone. I really wanted to scream at him to get a grip and enjoy himself but he realized his predicament and on his own (and after an imagined session with his therapist, a Dr. Mandelbaum), he did so himself and from that moment he became the kind of a guy I want to be friendly with. (director Williams does quite well with the Yiddish terms and Jewish feelings expressed here).

Hank meets Kurt on the very first days of the cruise and the fact that he is a good looking redhead and the very opposite of Hank’s dark Jewish countenance makes for an interesting aspect of their soon to be kindled relationship. But then there’s Kate, Kurt’s wife. At first Hank and Kurt hang out on the ship while Kate deals with her seasickness. But then, after a drunken night, Kurt shows up at Hank’s cabin and they’re off. While Kate is still suffering mal de mer, Hank and Kurt hit the beach and visit a pirate ship. After Kate realizes what’s been going on between her husband and Hank… You will just have to see the film (and enjoy every minute) to find out what happens.

Williams shot the entire film on location on the iPhone 6S Plus and the cinematography is excellent. My only complaint and it is not really a complaint is that old line about being able to sere Hank’s religion through the noticeable outline in his bathing suit outline is a bit old. We can always depend on Rob Williams to provide us with quality filmmaking as he once again proves here. (Is it not ironic that the very next morning I was in a study group with several other people and one was named Eisenberg and another was named Mandlebaum).

“THE ANGEL— Carlos Robledo Puch, Serial Killer

 

“The Angel” (“El Ángel”)

Carlos Robledo Puch, Serial Killer

Amos Lassen

Carlos Robledo Puch (Lorenzo Ferro) was an Argentinean serial killer, whose crimes surprised the police because of their cruelty. He was popularly known in the media as El Angel, because of its sweet and childish face features. Much of the myth that grew up around him came from the disconnect between vicious nature of his crimes and his sweet demeanor and face.

We first meet the curly-haired, liquid-eyed Carlos as the latent homosexual Carlitos who is drawn to schoolmate Ramón (Chino Darin). Ramon becomes his partner in crime, if not in bed. Ramón’s career-criminal parents (Mercedes Morán and Daniel Fanego) encourage him and give him access to guns. Carlitos is armed, cute, upset by unrequited lust. He is totally amoral and it is only a matter of time before he commits his first murder. He seems to have a feel for the drama of symmetry: One of the shootings happens through the hole he’s blowtorched into the back of a safe; another is a double killing of two men sleeping in twin beds, shot simultaneously from a gun in either hand. Afterwards, Carlitos looks impassively at the bodies and wonders if they’re feigning death: “This is all a joke, right?” That chilling moment, however, is almost as much psychology as we get because director Luis Ortega shows more interest in the how than the why. He uses the scenes of violence for black comedy, so that the crime is anticlimactic and the victims are largely irrelevant. Carlitos’ baby-faced, bright-eyed lack of ingenuity suits that agenda perfectly. He’s an unruffled a killer.

Carlitos was a prayed-for child who was treated with nothing but love by his upstanding parents (Luis Gnecco and Cecilia Roth), yet he somehow believes it’s his destiny to be a criminal and calls himself a “spy for God”. He pauses during heinous acts as if he is waiting for applause. We become very aware of the tremendous gulf between his pretty face and the repulsive psychology behind it. Ortega is as dazzled by Carlitos’ appearance as the Argentinean media were by Carlos fifty years ago. The film offers no answers to why someone who is so pleasing on the outside can be so disgusting on the inside.

“THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW: IN COLOR— Unreleased Episodes

“The Jackie Gleason Show: In Color”

Unreleased Episodes

Amos Lassen

From 1966 to 1970, “THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW” was taped in color in Miami Beach, Florida. Jackie entertained the audience with his classic characters, celebrity guest stars, and hilarious sketches – including the beloved Honeymooners.

This DVD contains 4 never-before-released episodes unseen for almost 50 years including 3 unreleased “Honeymooners” sketches. Gleason’s show delivered an hour of entertainment every week consisting of singing, dancing, and lots of comedy and guest stars (Milton Berle, Red Buttons, George Carlin, Nipsey Russell, Phil Silvers, Florence Henderson and Frankie Avalon among others).

It featured the comedian’s most indelible and legendary creation — Ralph Kramden — as well as a gallery of characters he himself created and fine-tuned. But most memorably, Gleason and Art Carney revived their “Honeymooners” roles, with Sheila MacRae and Jane Kean added as the new Alice and Trixie. The chemistry between Gleason and Carney was as wonderful as it was back in the 50s, but Ms. MacRae and Ms. Kean lacked the earthiness and warmth of their predecessors.

Since variety TV shows are a rare commodity nowadays, it is fun to look back at Gleason and the weekly show built around him. The show became a casualty when CBS decided to modernize its programming and many shows and the Gleasons, Skeltons, and “Beverly Hillbillies” were eventually replaced with Archie Bunker, Maude and hipper programs.

Three of the four episodes featured are fairly mediocre and Gleason is fun to watch. But the shows are all incomplete, each 50-minute episode hacked to around 42 minutes and this is never explained.

The show was done in Miami Beach y so that Gleason could play golf year-round. Gleason played his many various characters.

The first episode featuring Phil Silvers in wonderful. Gleason’s introduces Silvers as one of the all-time great comedians, and star of television’s all-time funniest comedy, obviously referring to Sgt. Bilko. Unfortunately the episodes are not well chosen. Red Buttons appears on two shows, doing virtually the same thing. Edie Adams does a kind of half-baked nightclub act, complete with celebrity impersonations that are embarrassing and a very young George Carlin is featured but his standup is far from his best since he had to adapt to the family show-like atmosphere.

The Honeymooners segments are okay, but they’re all slight variations of sketches done better in the past and feel tacked on. Gleason chain-smokes his way through hosting duties and really seems to be enjoying himself most of the time, and that enjoyment is passed along to the viewing audience.

 

“MOSS”— From Adolescence to Adulthood

“MOSS”

From Adolescence to Adulthood

Amos Lassen

In “Moss” director Daniel Peddle looks at the transition from adolescence to adulthood and the awkwardness that goes along with it. While the physical transformation has occurred, the emotional side of things tends to lag behind. We often think that we are men before actually becoming so. Maturity is a non-linear path with many detours and regressions.

On his 18th birthday, Moss (Mitchell Slaggert) is ready to leave home and start a new life. He hopes to escape from what his father (Billy Ray Suggs) who he sees as oppressive. He lives in an isolated southern community where there are more alligators than Life in no way appears to be easy for Moss but he sees and adds an inherent beauty and simplicity to his existence. Moss and his friends don’t have much in the way of worldly possessions but they do have a generosity and sense of calm unlike suburban America. In many ways the inhabitants of this rustic riverside community are far richer they realize. Moss’s father is an outsider artist who collects driftwood to make his pieces.

The film has a natural tone and an other worldly quality that explodes with color. Director Peddle immerses us in the country world of the South and a day in the life of 18-year old Moss, complete with the river, the woods, the quiet and the isolation, while exploring the ideas of self-discovery, identity, love, and loss.

Mitchell Slaggert delivers an unforgettable performance steeped in quiet reflection. Joining Slaggert as Moss’ best friend, Blaze (Dorian Cobb), outgoing yin to Moss’s introspective yang. Expanding the world of young Moss is the mysterious Mary (Christine Marzano).

This is a lush, lyrical look at the “gothic” South, with its breathtaking blue skies, silken waters and green grasses of the region, all laced with the shadows and weight of life.

At first, it’s difficult to follow since the film is quiet, filled with restraint and compelling but unfocused in narrating a fateful day for Moss. The story takes place on Moss’ 18th birthday. His mother died giving birth to him, triggering a rift between the young guy and his father. Moss’ birthday only reminds his father to the grief he’s been denying all the time. The film deals with the boy’s new responsibility as a young adult to deliver meds to his grandmother; but, he’s drifted between temptation of immaturity, the search for adulthood.

All the conflicts are episodically presented in a single day, as the film introduces battles inside Moss. First, Moss battles over his immaturity upon visiting Blaze who lives on a raft. Then, the film introduces Mary, a much older woman which triggers something inside Moss­—between sexual awakening and forever longing for motherly love. Practically, it should be a film about Moss, but, Moss often strays from its main focuses to follow some other characters with apparently no definite motive.

Peddle knows what he wants to convey in this bitter coming-of-age drama, but he simply cannot resist his desire to project his visions without considering the missing links.

“HALLELUJAH! RON ATHLEY: A STORY OF DELIVERANCE”— Kinkiness, Piercing, Branding and Tattoos

“Hallelujah! Ron Athey: A Story of Deliverance”

Kinkiness Piercing, Branding and Tattoos

Amos Lassen

Body artist, extreme masochist, H.I.V.-positive gay man, heavily tattooed freak, former heroin addict, onetime grant recipient from the National Endowment, Ron Athey has turned his life into the most radical kind of performance art.

In his collaborations with a traveling troupe of self-described outcasts, Mr. Athey turns his experiences into mock Christian rituals. In one he is ecstatically tormented with a crown of thorns consisting of hypodermic needles that spill blood across his face as they are inserted into the skull. At the moment of insertion, Mr. Athey, his eyes rolling heavenward, wears an expression of total calm.

This crowning is just one of several blood-letting scenes in Catherine Gund Saalfield’s documentary portrait “Hallelujah! Ron Athey: A Story of Deliverance”. This is a movie that is definitely not for everyone, especially not the squeamish or the sexually prudish. In addition to the blood-smearing, the film offers a methodical catalogue of advanced sexual kinkiness, with scenes of piercing, bondage, branding, flogging, enemas and dildos (everything you never wanted to see).

As Mr. Athey shares that he was born an extremist, having been raised by a Pentecostal grandmother to be a prophet. Anyone who is brought up in such an extremely devout environment is probably bound to have a very developed sense of good and evil, of Jesus and the devil involved in perpetual combat. When Mr. Athey smiles, you have the sense of a performer taking pleasure in being the naughtiest little boy in the world. His performance art is admittedly a desperate act. As an H.I.V.-positive man, he insists he wants to make the most creative use of whatever time he has left. And his performances take body art about as far you can go. The most disturbing excerpt from his work shown in the film is a section from “Martyrs and Saints,” in which impassive white-robed “doctors and nurses” brutally parody invasive medical procedures.

We ask ourselves if Athey’s performances are art or psychodrama, sacred or profane and we realize that they are both. Emphasis is on visceral and spiritual extremes and are obvious attempts to shock.

“IDEAL HOME”— A Surprise Child

“Ideal Home”

A Surprise Child

Amos Lassen

Erasmus Brumble (Steve Coogan) and Paul (Paul Rudd) are a long-term gay couple on the verge of a nervous breakdown in “Ideal Home”, a new comedy film written and directed by Andrew Fleming. Erasmus and Paul have been together many years and produce a successful cooking show on American basic cable TV, hosted by Erasmus himself. The success of the show allows them to lead an extravagant lifestyle and distracts them from their own relationship problems. Then one night, out of the blue, Angel (Jack Gore) shows up at their door with a note explaining that he is the child of Erasmus’ son, Beau (Jake McDorman).

Erasmus had not even been aware of Angel’s existence. Despite this, there is no one else in the world who can take care of his grandson so they decide to take Angel into their home and look after him. As can be expected, the child’s sudden arrival turns their world upside down and the task of parenting proves to be challenging to them. Angel, whom they soon take to calling Bill, is a difficult child and they may be a little too immature to take care of him properly. Yet it is their willingness to learn the tricks of the trade as they go along that shows that they are kind hearted souls. It is their own coming-of-age that is the film’s real driving force and is also the source of most of the film’s humor.

Paul and Erasmus are unapologetically gay and not concerned with having to hide who they are to be accepted by society. Gay parenting is explored in a more naturalistic way, rather than through overwhelming heavy-handedness. The film generates many laughs but they are neither at the expense of its lead characters nor dependent on gay stereotypes.

The film also works because of the balanced lead performances by Coogan and Rudd. They share great chemistry as both a comedy duo and as an on-screen long-term couple who feel like they don’t have to try so hard anymore. Despite their moaning and whining, Erasmus and Paul clearly love each other and part of the fun is seeing them realize that several times over the course of the film.

This is a lighthearted comedy that successfully updates conventional depictions of queerness and family and we get a heartwarming closing montage of real-life LGBTIQ families also reminds us that it’s time to update notions of domesticity and re-define what makes a home ‘ideal.

Erasmus had his son Beau  when he was very young, and wasn’t involved in his life at all. Beau’s son “The kid” (who spends the first half of the film without the men even knowing his name) has grown up with a dad who has exposed him to drug dealing, cursing and homophobia With the arrival of “the kid”, the tension in the men’s relationship is further amplified but there’s genuine emotion in each of the men showing the youngster that they care about him in their own way, and earning his trust.

The comedy comes in the film’s  scathing rebuttals and one-liners and it is dark and often inappropriate. These is also laugh-out-loud humor and a bit of self-referentialism with the very last shot of the film being the greatest moment of all.

Erasmus and Paul make a convincing couple, both in the frequently heated arguments, and in the more tender moments of the film. There is just enough sweetness to balance it all and it is great to see an LGBTIQ+ film looking at the lighter side of tumultuous relationships.

“WITNESSES”— Three Stories

“WITNESSES”

Three Stories

Amos Lassen

“Witnesses” is made up of three intertwined stories, told from the perspective of a pair of shoes, a German shepherd puppy, and a violin. They come together in this powerful Holocaust drama directed by Konstantin (“Costa”) Fam. It was filmed in Moscow, New York, Prague and Brest and is the first Russian production on the Holocaust and the first production to film in Auschwitz (even Steven Spielberg was not allowed to film there).

With neither dialogue nor faces, a pair of red women’s shoes discovered in a store window tells the story of the round up of the Jews and ends on display at Auschwitz in ‘Shoes.’

A German shepherd puppy (‘Brutus’), given as a gift to a Jewish woman, becomes a tool of terror when an SS officer commandeers it after an edict is issued that Jews can no longer own pets.

The three stories come together in ‘Violin,’ which follows a lovingly-crafted instrument from its creation in pre-war Europe to modern-day New York. Discovered by a modern virtuoso, played by Lenn Kudrjawizki, the violin finds its way to the Wailing Wall in Israel for a final concert.