Monthly Archives: June 2018

“THE CASE OF THE SCORPION’S TAIL”— Special Blu-ray Edition

“The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail”

Special Blu-ray Edition

Amos Lassen

“The Case of the Scorpion s Tail” is certainly representative of 1971 it was released with citizens of the world traveling all over. The film begins in London, where Lisa Baumer (Evelyn Stewart) learns that her husband has died in a freak plane accident. She goes to Athens to collect his generous life insurance policy, she soon discovers that others beside herself are eager to get their hands on the money and are willing to kill for it. Meanwhile, private detective Peter Lynch (George Hilton) arrives to investigate irregularities in the insurance claim. Teaming up with a beautiful reporter, Cléo Dupont (Anita Strindberg), Lynch resolves to find out what is going on before he too ends up dead.

Sergio Martino directed and brings together beautiful views of views of Athens and the Greek coastline and violence as performed by a cast filled with Euro cult talent. “The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail” is an excellent example of the Italian Giallo. It has beautiful women in distress and danger, a killer dressed all in black, gruesome, bloody deaths, and a great soundtrack Bruno Nicolai.

A gorgeous reporter (Anita Strindberg of Lucio Fulci’s “A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin”) and an insurance agent (George Hilton of Sergio Martino’s “The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh) investigate the slashing death of Lisa Baumer and the million dollars of insurance money that was stolen from her. Of course, as they get closer to the killer’s identity, the bodies pile up. Both Strindberg and Hilton are perennial Gialli actors. In this movie, they prove that not only do they look great but also their acting abilities are also superb. Both give believable,, dynamic performances in this suspenseful, well-plotted thriller.

The film is a wonderful example of the many engaging attributes of the Giallo genre and that are put to fine use. Director Martino stages some strong set pieces, with quite a visual flair. George Hilton is a solid and the plot twists are satisfying.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS include

Brand new 4K restoration of the film from the original camera negative

High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

Original lossless mono Italian and English soundtracks

Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack

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

Audio commentary with writer Ernesto Gastaldi, moderated by filmmaker Federico Caddeo (in Italian with English subtitles)

New interview with star George Hilton

New interview with director Sergio Martino

New analysis Sergio Martino s films by Mikel J. Koven, author of La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film

New video essay by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films

Theatrical trailer

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Rachael Nisbet and Howard Hughes, and a biography of star Anita Strindberg by Peter Jilmstad

“YOU WILL BE MINE”— In the Big City

“YOU WILL BE MINE”

In the Big City

Amos Lassen

Marie (Judith Davis) is an inexperienced country girl who moves to the big city to study piano at the conservatory. She is very pretty but she is also naïve and innocent. She will not be entirely alone as she will be moving in with Emma (Isild Le Besco) who was her childhood friend. Emma’s father has recently passed away and her artist mother allegedly moved to New York, leaving her alone in the family’s luxurious Lyon apartment. The childhood friendship sort of ended when Marie failed to return phone calls however, in the excitement of starting at France’s second most prestigious music school, Marie’s innocent excitement allows her to get lost in her situation.

As time passes, Marie and Emma become close friends and Emma seems to be maternal in her caretaking of the less independent Marie but Marie feels trapped. Having had flirtations with course mate Sami, Marie seems keen to explore her developing sexual urges with Sami, a friend from the conservatory but Emma disapproves and makes a no visitors policy a house rule, with Marie breaking it at the very first opportunity. After a disastrous night out, in which Marie’s overt sex appeal brings unwanted attention, Emma comforts her shell-shocked friend. With her studies effected, Marie leaves the apartment for home but restarting a relationship with d Sami (Johan Libereau), she returns to the apartment where the tension remains unbearable.

Director Sophie Laloy’s gets beautifully crafted performances from both Davis and Le Besco makes for compelling viewing. The cold nature of Emma contrasts wonderfully with the warm nature of her Marie. The film is beautiful set to classical symphonies of Mozart, Bach, Chopin and Ravel.

The intimate bond that the two women shared eventually developed into an intense sexual relationship. But as Emma grows more possessive and controlling, Marie struggles to reconcile her feelings of desire with the need to escape Emma’s suffocating passion.

“THE THREE-WAY WEDDING”— Mariage a Trois

“THE THREE-WAY WEDDING”

Mariage a Trois

Amos Lassen

At home, playwright Auguste (Pascal Greggory) meets with his ex-wife and her new lover and assistant to talk about his new play. receives at home the protagonists of his new play. The combined presence of the three makes the day tumultuous and sentimental.

Auguste is struggling to complete his latest play and while looking for something to inspire him, he invites the cast to join him at his country estate. His ex-wife, Harriet (Julie Depardieu), is his leading lady, her leading man, Théo (Louis Garrel), is her new lover. Sensing their attraction, Auguste decides to seduce Fanny (Agathe Bonitzer), his beautiful young assistant join him. Auguste wonders whether he could have a three-way marriage with both women.

 This is a fast-paced sexual dramedy that equally uses the themes of affection, revenge, domination, attraction and resentment in equal measure. Director Jacques Doillon gets wonderful performances from his cast all around and once again we see that no one makes films about sex better then the French.

“Modern Conservative Judaism: Evolving Thought and Practice” by Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff— The Evolution

Dorff, Rabbi Elliot N. “Modern Conservative Judaism: Evolving Thought and Practice”, (JPS Anthologies of Jewish Thought) , University of Nebraska, 2018.

The Evolution

Amos Lassen

Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff is a major Conservative movement leader of our time and in “Modern Conservative Judaism”, he gives us a personal, behind-the-scenes guide to the evolution of Conservative Jewish thought and practice over the last fifty years. I am particularly interested in what he has to say since the only branch of the three major branches of Judaism that I have not yet experienced through membership is Conservative.

Dorff is candid about the tension that comes to be because of seeming constant change laws, policies and documents yet this is what happens when we live in a world that is constantly changing. In this book, for the first time we have the most important historical and internal documents in modern Conservative movement history in one place and this allows us to consider and compare them all in context.

Rabbi Dorff has divided the book into three sections. Part 1: God looks at how Conservative Jews pray and think about God. Part 2: Torah looks at the various

“approaches to Jewish study, law, and practice; changing women’s roles; bioethical rulings on issues ranging from contraception to cloning; business ethics; ritual observances from online minyanim to sports on Shabbat; moral issues from capital punishment to protecting the poor; and nonmarital sex to same-sex marriage.” “Part 3: Israel” looks at Zionism, the People Israel, and rabbinic rulings in Israel.

I suppose we can look at this book as a guide to conservative Judaism as well as an approach to understanding the spirituality and intellectualism of this branch of Judaism. We see what Conservative rabbis and scholars believe and how Conservative Judaism is different from Orthodoxy and Reform. It is easy to read and understand yet it is deep enough to answer many questions. Rabbi Dorff takes us into the thought processes of the movement’s most important authors and thinkers. Conservative Judaism began as a complex movement and it has sophisticated underlying principles. Rabbi Dorff nicely presents us with a way to understand those principles and his introductions to various ideas are clear. Thos is a very welcome addition to the canon of Jewish literature.

“Social Intercourse” by Howard Greg— A Gay Teen in South Carolina

Howard, Greg. “Social Intercourse”, Simon & Schuster, 2018.

A Gay Teen in South Carolina

Amos Lassen

“Social Intercourse” is a clever love story that challenges preconceptions that people are either gay or straight or that the Bible Belt and football necessarily means a homophobic community. Beckett Gaines is a gay teen living in South Carolina, whose world goes through major changes because of a jock.

Jax is the Golden Boy, star quarterback who faces uncomfortable truths about himself and his past. It all begins when Beck’s “emotionally fragile dad” starts dating the recently single (and supposedly lesbian) mom of bully, Jaxon Parker. Neither Beck nor Jax is happy about it. They boys put aside their own differences and try to stop the romance before it becomes serious and they plan to do this at the first ever Rainbow Prom in the town but nothing goes according to plan.. Hearts will be broken, new romance will bloom, but nothing will go down the way Beck and Jax have planned.

We see the challenges of growing up different in a small southern town through the eyes of colorful and unforgettable characters and it is great fun. The story is told through Beckett and Jax as alternating narrators. The two guys are total opposites with Beck being openly gay, choir singing, sassy and proud and obsessed with the Golden Girls and Jaxon, the school’s star football player and ladies man whose reputation is built on the points he’s scored on the field and the ladies he’s scored before and after games. They come together for a mutual purpose of tearing their families apart, so they can return to the safe lives that they knew before their parents started dating. before. As they scheme together, the boys become closer, and things get complicated and we see that there is more to each of the boys than we think, at first. 

Beck is a person who cares about his best friend, and who gets angry at her mother’s mistreatment of her and tries to help her see that she’s more than the negative ideas that she has been led to believe. After his mother walked out on the family, Beck became the adult and took care of his dad. He really wants to protect his father from any more hurt. He sees the life that he has worked hard on after his mother leave slipping away from his control. After all, he is just a teen.

Aside from being a jock, Jax is a nice guy who loves his two moms who saved him from a broken and abusive home, and, like Beck wants to keep his home and family intact. As his mothers’ separate, Jax questions his image of the jock that his entire social life has been built on.

When they come together, Beck and Jax are funny, awkward, and confrontational. They can surely serve as the basis for many good discussions and become good examples of how things can be and should be done. It seems that in order to take a good look at who we are, we often have to be forced to do so as Jax and Beck are both forced to when they look at how they’ve dealt with each other and how they’ve dealt with their parents.

Here is a well-written story of two opposite types finding first gay love in the conservative South that will put a smile on your face as you read. We also see something about family here in the special relationships each boy had. The love and respect each boy gives his parents and the close-knit relationships each boy has with them is a warm and cuddly read that makes us feel good. There are so many ways we can read this and I am amazed at how quickly I fell in love with everyone in the story.

“Trans: Gender and Race in an Age of Unsettled Identities” by Rogers Brubacker— A New Understanding

Brubaker, Rogers. “Trans: Gender and Race in an Age of Unsettled Identities”, Princeton University Press, 2018.

A New Understanding

Amos Lassen

Using the controversial pairing of “transgender” and “transracial” as his starting point, Rogers Brubaker shows how gender and race which have long been understood as stable, inborn, and unambiguous, have opened up in the past few decades in different ways and to different degrees to the forces of change and choice. Now transgender identities have moved to the mainstream very rapidly and ethno-racial boundaries have also blurred. Paradoxically choosing or changing one’s sex or gender is more widely accepted than choosing or changing one’s race and sex has a much deeper biological basis than race. Racial identities are becoming more fluid as ancestry loses its authority over identity, and as race and ethnicity, like gender, come to be understood as something we do, not just something we have. If we rethink race and ethnicity through the lens of the transgender experience (encompassing not just a movement from one category to another but positions between and beyond existing categories) Brubaker shows the malleability, contingency, and arbitrariness of racial categories.

We are at a critical time when gender and race are being re-imagined and reconstructed, and this book explores new paths for thinking about identity. “Trans” lays out current conflicts of identity in a way that can be easily understood. It extends the concept of transgender to examine transracial differences. Brubaker wants us to recognize transracial identities in the same way we accept transgender ones. He asks us to consider new kinds of racial identities that are being created through interracial relations, multiracial movements and generational change. Today the mainstream recognizes transgender yet remains wary of transracial. We still have a huge

controversy over trans identities and settlement is Today we live in “an age of unsettled identities.” To understand the categories of identity and how they are being invoked or subverted, it is necessary to study and work at understanding.

Today American culture is transfixed by ‘trans’ and we must use the space that transgender reveals between culture and biology to understand how we experience race and ethnicity. Brubacker tells us that in the summer of 2015 he became fascinated by the intertwined debates about whether Caitlyn Jenner could legitimately identify as a woman and Rachel Dolezal as black. The debates were dominated by efforts to validate or invalidate the identities that these two people claimed. But at the same time they raised deeper questions about the similarities and differences between gender and race. Unlike transgender there’s no socially recognized and legally regulated procedure for changing one’s race or ethnicity comparable to the procedures that are available for changing sex or gender. However, the term “transracial” brings into focus the ways in which people do move from one racial or ethnic category to another or position themselves between or beyond existing categories.

We can use the transgender experience as a way to think about the instability of racial identities. The distinction between sex and gender allows us to think of gender identity as an inner essence that is independent of the sexed body. This inner essence is understood as natural and changing one’s sex or gender does not mean changing one’s identity; it means changing the way one is recognized and by others. This can also involve transforming one’s body to bring it into alignment with one’s identity. We have no cultural tools for thinking about racial identity as an inner essence that is independent of the body. What is understood as constituting racial identity is located outside of the self and is open to inspection by others. An individual who identifies with an ethnic or racial category to which she is not entitled by ancestry cannot intelligibly make use of the “born in the wrong body” narrative to justify changing racial classification.

While the shift toward public acceptance of transgender has been astonishingly rapid, it has been uneven across regions, generations, institutions, and place.

“CHINA SALESMAN”— Based on a True Story

“China Salesman”

Based On a True Story

Amos Lassen

The way that “China Salesman” has been advertised makes you think that the leads are Steven Seagal and Mike Tyson. In reality, both men are barely in a film that, as the title implies, is about a Chinese protagonist, Uganda-based Telecom vendor Jian Yan (Yuan Li). However, this is not what is bad about the film; “China Salesman” is terrible because it’s 110 minutes of a chest-thumping hero who swoops into a foreign country just so he save them from themselves.

 

Seagal and Tyson both play mercenaries who exploit the much discussed, but rarely specified political turmoil in Uganda. A coup d’état and/or civil war is imminent, and it’s up to Jian and his meek, but otherwise under-developed Chinese colleague Ling Ruan (Ai Li) to put the two warring factions in touch with each other by using their company’s superior cell phone technology. Unfortunately, Jian is held up by politicking, in-fighting, and corporate sabotage facilitated by imperious  Lauder (Seagal) and his vague “native” lackey Kabbah (Tyson), both of whom work for the haughty and hateful European telephone salesmen Susanna (Janicke Askevold) and Michael (Clovis Fouin).

A lot of repetitive, sluggish narrative complications that seem to only exist in order to make Jian look good follow. Jian is handcuffed after his canteen of goat’s milk is replaced with liquor (there are legally-enforced, religious laws against the possession of booze in Uganda). In the first 15 minutes of “China Salesman,” no one looks comfortable speaking Two tough guys lumber around a bar, grimacing and throwing punches in a dispute over who’s going to drink a glass of urine.

“China Salesman” is notable primarily for its patriotic verve. Yan Jian, an idealistic engineer who arrives in Africa intent on representing his country honorably, by meeting the communications needs of his potential clients, cheaply, efficiently and securely — even as devious Westerners resort to sabotage and violence.

After their opening brawl, Tyson and Seagal’s characters rarely reappear. Instead, “China Salesman” features a lot of scenes of IT experts furiously tapping away at their laptops while talking about connection speeds, intercut with the occasional explosion at a cell tower.

The woodenness of “China Salesman,” makes this “weird cinema”.

“THE GOOD POSTMAN”— Meet Ivan

“The Good Postman”

Meet Ivan

Amos Lassen

Bulgarian filmmaker Tonislav Hristov considers some of the possibilities for refugees trying to flee to Europe and those who either seek to welcome or repel them.

He looks at the problem through the lens of Bulgarian village Great Dervent – a name that may once have been accurate but now is ironic. Like many villages in rural areas of Europe it is ‘dying’. Its population is increasingly ageing and the young people migrate away in search of better opportunities. Yet, while the place may only have 48 voters, the viewpoints they hold show a microcosm of the arguments being held in other environments right across the continent.

Ivan is a hardworking postman who speaks to everyone in town on a regular basis. He’s thoughtful contemplating what has been said to him or thinking about what to do next. He has an idea, based on the fact that the village is right on the Turkish border. The border position means Syrian refugees frequently pass through the village in transit to what they hope will be a better life. Ivan frequently phones the European Border Police to report such activity. He believes that these young families could reinvigorate Great Dervent, if only he can be elected mayor and make it happen.

Refugees from Syria and elsewhere pass through the area and are watched closely by the remaining residents and the border guards.

Ivan wants to find a way to save the village. He comes up with the idea of running for mayor and initiating a program designed to bring Syrian families to the village. Adults could attend to the fields, and children could go to a rebuilt school. Ivan shares his bold idea with members of the community as he delivers the mail to them.

Another citizen is running for mayor as a Communist. He believes that his political leadership can revive the village to its old glory days. His prejudice against the refugees spreads and soon there is talk about the bad things that could happen if they let in the outsiders, who are rumored to be worse than gypsies. Both men are surprised by the outcome of the mayoral race.

Director Hristov shows the effects of hatred, fear, and distrust of the Syrian refugees. “Bigotry becomes especially toxic when given expression in hurting communities where poverty, hunger, and inequality are rampant.” This is a thought-provoking portrait of the barriers being built all over the world to protect communities from perceived threats.

“MOTHERLAND”— One of the World’s Busiest Maternity Hospitals

“Motherland”

One of the World’s Busiest Maternity Hospitals

Amos Lassen

Manila’s Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital is reputed to have the world’s highest birth rate and in “Motherland”, we get a look at it. It is more than just a hospital in that it not only provides an expressively etched account of specialized medical care, but it is also a telling perspective on dominant social trends and health care policy issues in the Philippines.

Through conversations and interactions among medical staff, patients and family members at Manila’s Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital, Ramona S. Diaz’s documentary focuses on several major issues subjecting many disadvantaged women to a repetitive cycle of pregnancy and childbirth. Problems include endemic poverty, a pervasive cultural bias favoring large families and a lack of access to education, medical care and family planning services.

As the Philippines’s leading public maternity hospital, Fabella often serves as the destination for Manila’s most impoverished pregnant residents. Up to 150 patients at a time tolerate the overcrowded dormitory-style wards where two women and their newborns may share the same bed, sweltering in the tropical heat because the facility has no air conditioning.

Lea Lumanog is in her 20s and wasn’t even aware that she was pregnant with twins until she checked into the public hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), that specializes in treating premature or underweight infants. When her baby girls are born, she’s so overwhelmed that she just calls the firstborn as “A” and her sister as “B”. She tries to understand the enormity of her new responsibilities and juggle the twins’ care. Once she’s out of the delivery room, the attentive but harried nurses on the NICU ward demonstrate breastfeeding methods and the hospital’s signature “Kangaroo Mother Care” procedures. Because the hospital cannot afford incubators for premature newborns, the staff provides mothers with garments resembling elongated tube tops so that they can snuggle their infants on their chests to keep them safe and warm.

Days pass before her husband arrives for a visit, because he’s too broke to afford transportation to the hospital. Facing a bill of over $1,000, he can only barely afford a $20 payment and that he borrowed from his sister. After he fills out some paperwork, a social worker tells him that a Christian charity associated with Fabella will cover the balance of his expenses.

Lerma is in her mid-30s and has even more to manage. She has just given birth to her seventh child, while her unemployed husband is caring for the others at home. She’s quite open with the new mothers about the challenges of parenthood and she talks about the expenses of a large family and warning them not to have too many kids. Although her child is still under the recommended weight for a healthy baby, she insists on leaving the hospital, coercing her husband into signing the required discharge forms against his better judgment.

Aira Joy Jubilo is just 17 and among the youngest mothers that we meet in the film. She seems to be off to sea and has trouble breastfeeding and her premature baby is slow to gain weight. Although her mother visits the hospital almost every day, her boyfriend continues making excuses about not showing up thus forcing Aira to rely solely on her family for financial and emotional support, even though her mom has several other kids at home.

There is something to be said for a communal approach to having children like the one we see portrayed in “Motherland.” Ramona S. Diaz directed this look at a Manila maternity ward where overcrowding and limited technological resources have forced some solutions that may not be ideal.

The patients are a microcosm of the Philippines in general— poor, Catholic, and already burdened with several children. (No doubt religion is a major factor in many women’s reluctance to use birth control.) Even in the delivery rooms themselves, mothers are often crammed two or more apiece onto beds. Before and after giving birth, they stay in a ward that at first glance seems noisy and cluttered.

What is there is a sense of community like the patients have at home. Hospital staff members (which include a flamboyant transgender doctor) try to encourage good habits for the babies’ sakes, though often their advice falls on deaf ears, as the women are accustomed to deprivation.

“BODY OF DECEIT”— Where is Truth?

“Body of Deceit”

Where is Truth?

Amos Lassen

“Body of Deceit” is one of those movies that are difficult to review. If I say too much I ruin the viewing experience for other for others so this will be a short review.

Some years ago, Alice (Kristanna Loken) was in a terrible accident that left her in a coma in Malta where she was staying with her husband Max (Antonio Cupo), leaving her in a coma for two weeks. Upon waking up, Alice could not remember the accident or anything about Malta. Now she works as a ghostwriter for a best-selling author, but she has been suffering from depression, cryptic nightmares and writer’s block. Max persuades Alice to return to Malta and perhaps something will unblock her mind so she can start working again and meet her last deadline.

Arriving at a beautiful Maltese villa, the couple is welcomed by the beautiful Sara (Sarai Givaty), who Max has hired to help around the house. Sara immediately forms a friendship with Alice, though they are two completely different women. Sara is sensual and self-assured while Alice is mysterious and insecure. Soon after this, a stranger, Castellano (Giulio Berruti), begins snooping around the villa, spying on Sara, talking to Alice and exchanging items with a local policeman. We begin to wonder whether everyone is who they seem to be, or is there a different version of the truth?

From that brief synopsis, you should understand why I can’t say more. We sit on the edge of our seat as we watch but also realize that we really have no idea about what is going on.