Monthly Archives: July 2018

“HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS AT PARTIES”— A Very Gay Non-Gay Movie

“How to Talk to Girls at Parties”

A Very Gay Non-Gay Movie

Amos Lassen

Set in London, 1977, Enn (Alex Sharp) is a shy suburban teenager who sneaks out to after-hours punk parties. One night, Enn and his friends meet some teens that seem like they’re from another planet; in fact, they are from another planet and have come to Earth to complete a mysterious rite of passage. Enn falls for beautiful alien Zan (Elle Fanning) and sets off on an adventure that will test the limits of their love. The movie is directed and co written by John Cameron Mitchell (“Shortbus” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”). Though it may not seem like a gay movie at first, there is a whole lot of allegory and “The Advocate” called the movie “John Cameron Mitchell’s queerest work yet.”

Three teenagers are out to make mischief in Croydon, a suburb of London. They don’t know what they are doing buts it’s loud, disruptive, dangerously disorganized. The energy is electric. In a club, a basement where sounds blast into your brain, the boys bounce and squeal with the crowd. Out in the street they hear different, almost melodic, music coming from a house near by. They investigate and talk their way into a ritualistic after party where performers are dressed in vinyl and behave like members of a Californian cult.

There Enn meets Zan, a blonde innocent with whom he connects in some ethereal way. He is a virgin and his feelings for Zan have a purity that breaks through the cynical shell into a heartscape of undiscovered emotion. Nicole Kidman is there as a rock grandmother, dressed by Ziggy Stardust, as are Matt Lucas as a cult enforcer and Ruth Wilson as weird sex on legs. Later, when the credits roll, we realize that these Americans are aliens. It’s the Queen’s jubilee in London and the three mates on their pedal bike are blown away by the visitors from Planet Cult.

Enn talks of anarchy and doing better than his parents’ generation. When the boys alight at a rundown mansion for the gig’s afterparty, things take a turn. The interior is furnished with nightmarish installation art. Their hosts are aliens they begin to chant in a cultish choir lulling everyone into a euphoric stupor. We are compelled by an undercooked love story, and troubled by unexplained cosmic politics.

As Zan attempts to compile life experiences to add to her colony’s hive mind, romance, apparently, blossoms. There are a handful of half-formed ideas: parents eating their young; rebellion (of course); going after new experiences; and crossing the political gulf. These stray strands become lost and we become troubled by unexplained cosmic politics, and convinced of the liberating shiver of punk energy.

The film’s tagline is “Talk to the girl. Save the world,” but at no point does Earth’s fate hang in the balance, and talking to Zan is no great challenge for anyone. As far as intergalactic romance and the worrisome generational divide goes, I really do not have an idea of what is going on here. We have undeveloped themes and ideas, a mess of incongruent scenes, and, when its over, we have a sense of relief. I was completely disappointed.

“WONT YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?”— Our Man Fred… Rogers

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

Our Man Fred… Rogers

Amos Lassen

For over 30 years, Fred Rogers came daily into homes across America. His television program, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was made up of Fred and his cast of puppets and friends who spoke directly to young children about some of life’s heaviest issues simply and directly. In one sensitive segment, co-star Francois Clemmons talked about coming out of the closet to Fred Rogers and this film also looks into the rumors about Rogers’ own sexuality. I am somewhat embarrassed to say that seeing director Morgan Neville’s film here is the first time I met Mr. Rogers. I was out of the country for many of the years when it was broadcast and when I was here I just never got around to it.

Early in “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” we see a clip from the 1968 premiere episode of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood in which the leader of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe”, a puppet named King Friday XIII, announces his plans to build a wall around his kingdom because of his fear of change. Today we see the obvious irony in light of president Donald Trump’s repeated calls for a wall at the Mexican border. There is tension generated by the clashing notions that Fred Rogers was both an iconoclast in children’s entertainment and that his pleas for kindness, understanding, and basic human decency never quite took hold in American society and this is the theme of Neville’s documentary.

Now some 50 years after the idea of the beloved PBS series, many of the world’s problems remain depressingly the same. The film exhibits a steadfast belief that Rogers’s philosophy of love and acceptance can be useful as more than just a nostalgic balm in troubled times. Through carefully curated archival footage and interviews with those most intimately involved with Rogers over the years, we see the seemingly simple yet surprisingly radical methodology employed by Rogers during his years on the air.

Rogers’s 1969 senate testimony helped to secure the $15 million needed to keep public television alive is the film’s centerpiece yet a series of smaller, more intimate moments reveal the soft-spoken man’s unique worldview. The archival footage, like that of his heartwarming conversation with 10 year-old Jeff Erlanger about how the young boy deals with his sadness and disability, helps to show us a man determined to speak honestly and directly with, rather than down to, children of all ages. In clip after clip, Rogers addresses such topics as death, depression, anger, divorce, even Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination, connecting with children not by protecting them from harsh truths, but by helping them to face and cope with them.

While Neville depicts Rogers as something of a saint, he also touches on a number of Rogers’s personal and professional struggles. Rogers’s relentless perfectionism led one of his sons to describe the challenge of having “the second Christ as a father.” That perfectionism also caused Rogers, who was overweight as a boy and teased for it, to be obsessed with weighing in daily at exactly 143 pounds—a number which, according to his personal numerology code, means “I love you.” Even Rogers’s professed belief in accepting everyone for who they are is brought into question when François “Clemmons, who played Officer Clemmons on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood”, discusses his boss’s insistence that he remain in the closet so as not to put the show’s funding at risk.

Every unflattering fact unearthed about Rogers is offset by a dozen glowing ones, including Clemmons praising his boss’s eventual 180 on homosexuality. But Neville wisely keeps the focus primarily on Rogers’s message rather than his private life. Doing so allows the filmmaker not only to explore Rogers’s ways of reaching children and how he remained steadfast in his convictions despite his core beliefs falling out of favor. We see Rogers as a living, breathing example of love, tolerance, and openness to a world dead focused on building walls rather than tearing them down.

Mister Rogers was the writer and producer of his show and also did the voices for 10 different puppets. Lessons on loneliness and friendship are mixed with more edgy commentaries on the assassination of Robert Kennedy, the Challenger disaster, and other events. During a time when some communities were having trouble with interracial bathing in swimming pools, Mister Rogers invited an African-American policeman (Francois Clemmons) to join him soaking their feet in a common tub.

Rogers was mentor of openness and goodness, and lived his own belief that “The only thing that really changes the world is when someone gets the idea that love can abound.”

“WEST 40s”— The Lives of Single 40-Something Gay Men

“West 40s”

The Lives of Single 40-Something Gay Men

Amos Lassen

“West 40s” is a new gay web series from Mark Sam Rosenthal and Brian Sloan about five NYC friends approaching middle age from different directions.

“In their 30s, they’d meet strangers on the Hell’s Kitchen sidewalk and have sex in less time than it took to climb the four flights up to their apartments. But now past 40 they’re all wondering what they want for the long haul – and questioning whether they can still make it up those stairs!”

The show stars Dalton Blaine, Dan Domingues, Jeff Hiller, Matthew Montelongo, John-Andrew Morrison, and Rosenthal and offers a comedic take on aging, the age gap, social apps, gay birthdays, drag lingo, clubbing, dating, and more. Have a look at episode 1.

“DOOM ASYLUM”— A Demented Coroner

“DOOM ASYLUM”

A Demented Coroner

Amos Lassen

The basic story of “Doom Asylum” is simple— a demented coroner uses autopsy equipment to kill off the teenagers who trespass on the long-abandoned asylum he inhabits. Released in 1987, “Doom Asylum” is a mix of gore, gags and Goth girl groups. When a group of horny teens wind up on the grounds of a creepy abandoned asylum, they think they’ve found the perfect place to party. What they do not know is that inside the building is a freakishly deformed maniac, driven to madness by the tragic loss of his fiancée in a car accident. He has a collection of grisly surgical tools at his disposal and it’s only a matter of time before the youngsters begin meeting various gory ends at the hands of the ghoulish Coroner. Directed by director Richard Friedman the film combines outlandish gore and a smart-talking villain to give us a wildly entertainingly blood-spattered slasher.

Filmed in New Jersey, “Doom Asylum” is filled with cheesy glory. After a violent car accident, a man discovers his mutilated lover’s body beside him (he clutches her bloody hand while crying like a baby). Burnt and mutilated himself and thought to be dead, he awakens from the coroner’s slab, killing two men and taking refuge in the basement of an asylum that eventually becomes abandoned. Ten years later, a mixed group of teens arrive at the asylum one sunny day and meet Tina and the Tots, an obnoxious all-girl punk band practicing there. The two rival groups become fodder for our flesh-rotted killer, who kills the teens using a variety of medical instruments.

Obviously meant as a satire on the slasher scene, the killer (Michael Rogan) constantly speaks in wisecracks. The gore effects are for the most part too over-the-top to be really effective. The dialogue here is (intentionally) inane and absurd. Years before her “Sex and the City” success, Kristen Davis plays a brainy type. The movie is filled with cheesy eighties humor and tacky horror spots. The film could have gone wrong in so many ways, but instead turns out to be a real treat. As we approach the conclusion, the horror certainly tightens. There is quite a lot of incredibly cheap looking gore here and what I really like is that this is a film that makes fun of itself. It’s intentionally overdone in spots and is not a movie to take seriously. It’s just fun.

Bonus features include:

Archival Interviews with producer Alexander W. Kogan, Jr., director Richard Friedman and production manager Bill Tasgal

Morgues & Mayhem – a brand new interview with special make-up effects creator Vincent J. Guastini. Movie Madhouse – a brand new interview with director of photography Larry Revene.

Tina’s Terror – a brand new interview with actress Ruth Collins

Brand new audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues

Brand new audio commentary with screenwriter Rick Marx

Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing,

Original uncompressed PCM mono audio , 1.85:1 and 1.33:1 versions of the feature

High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative S

till Gallery, Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Justin Osbourne

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Fully-illustrated collectors booklet featuring new writing by Amanda Reyes

“STREET MOBSTER”— A Violent Killer

“Street Mobster”

A Violent Killer

Amos Lassen

Japanese action director Kinji Fukasaku’s “Street Mobster” is the story of a violent killer who will stop at nothing to satisfy his lust for blood. 

Released from prison, gangster Isamu Okita plans to start his own gang and begins a reign of terror using beatings, prostitution, stabbings, and murders to fight his way to the top of the gangland world. “Street Mobster” takes us into Japan’s criminal underworld, where anything can be had for a price.Street Mobster” gives us a look at the rise and fall of a reckless street punk caught in the crossfire of a bloody turf war raging in the mean streets of Kawazaki.

When Okita Isamu (Bunta Sugawara) re-emerges onto the mean streets of Kawazaki after five years in prison for brutal crimes, he comes face to face with prostitute Kinuyo, who immediately names him as one of the participants in her brutal sexual assault years earlier that left her shell-shocked and forced to stay a sex worker. While the two outcasts form an unlikely bond, Okita returns to his criminal ways. He is approached by veteran gangster Kizaki (Noboru Andô) who encourages him to round up a group of local street punks to shake up the uneasy agreement between the two rival yakuza groups, who between them control the city s bars, gambling dens and entertainment areas. However, when the new outfit goes too far, they find themselves caught in the middle of a violent reprisal, before an offer of patronage appears from an unlikely source.

In the opening scene, Isamu says, “I like fighting and girls, but not gambling.” This is pretty much what the film is about. Isamu sets forth his doomed fate from the outset: his birthday is on the day Japan lost the war; he is fatherless, from a broken home, with an alcoholic mother who drowned in a river. After reform school, he moved into gangs, abused and raped women and fought a lot, before taking a share in a local brothel. Having done a stretch in prison for attacking the ruling Takigawa gang, he is out and about, looking for action. The word on the street is that the Takigawa gang has gone corporate and is ruled by a small business elite that is now in stiff competition with the rival Yato gang. Isamu decides to drive a wedge between the two rivals and carve out a little respect for himself and the expendable street kids that the bosses have used and abandoned.

The picture looks great for a Japanese film from 1972 and has style and a great narrative.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS include:

High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation

Original uncompressed PCM mono audio

Optional English subtitles

Audio commentary by Japanese cinema expert Tom Mes

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 Jasper Sharp

“How the Other Half Looks: The Lower East Side and the Afterlives of Images” by Sara Blair— How New York’s Lower East Side Inspired New Ways of Seeing America

Blair, Sara. “How the Other Half Looks: The Lower East Side and the Afterlives of Images”, Princeton University Press, 2018.

How New York’s Lower East Side inspired New Ways of Seeing America

Amos Lassen

New York City’s Lower East Side has been long viewed as the space of what Jacob Riis notoriously called the “other half.” The Lower East Side was also a crucible for experimentation in photography, film, literature, and visual technologies. In “How the Other Half Looks, Sara Blair takes an unprecedented look at the practices of observation that emerged from here, showing how they have informed literary and everyday narratives of America, its citizens, and its possible futures.

We begin a journey in the mid-nineteenth century and continue to the present experiencing the career of the Lower East Side as a place where image-makers, writers, and social reformers tested new techniques to better understand America. We see the birth of American photojournalism, the writings of Stephen Crane and Abraham Cahan, and the forms of early cinema. During the 1930s, we watch the emptying ghetto bring about contested views of the modern city, animating the work of such writers and photographers as Henry Roth, Walker Evans, and Ben Shahn. After World War II, we learn the Lower East Side became a key resource for imagining poetic revolution, as in the work of Allen Ginsberg and LeRoi Jones, and exploring dystopian futures, from Cold War atomic strikes to the death of print culture and the threat of climate change.

What we really understand from this journey is that the Lower East Side has inspired new ways of “looking—and looking back” and these have shaped literary and popular expression as well as American modernity. Our journey blended visual and aural evidence as we see how creative writers, journalists, photographers, poets, and so many others focused on what they think they saw and heard in the Lower East Side.

Sara Blair takes us through the literature and the art of Jacob Riis, D. W. Griffith, Paul Strand, Henry Roth, Ben Shahn, Allen Ginsberg, and Gary Shteyngart, among others. We become aware of historical and stylistic differences and understand that this is due to the Lower East Side’s always changing and always the same, she constantly returns to the question of time. We are reminded of how much cultural work we do to continue imagining the project of America.

After reading this, we cannot help but think differently I about the Lower East Side, as “a place of entry not just for historical newcomers to the United States but for understanding how we’ve come to view and imagine this rich, ongoing, incomplete experiment we call America…It’s about the way history lives and continues to shape our lives in images, and how we might learn to look back more acutely at that history, at a time when we urgently need to learn from it.”

“DON’T SWALLOW MY HEART, ALLIGATOR GIRL!”— Love and War

“Don’t Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl!”

Love and War

Amos Lassen

“Don’t Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl!” begins with a helpful intro that explains that the Apa River dividing Brazil and Paraguay was the scene of horrific battles in the 19th century when hundreds of thousands of Paraguayans were slaughtered. Those events continue to shape the lives of people on the border. Brazilian adolescent Joca (Eduardo Macedo) is madly in love with his Paraguayan Guarani peer Basano (Adeli Gonzales). She, however, rejects him.

Things at home aren’t so good for Joca. His mother Joana (Claudia Assunção) has been depressed for 10 years, ever since her husband left the family, so he has been raised by his older brother Fernando (Cauã Reymond). Fernando is known as “December” in his anti-Paraguayan bikers’ posse whose members are named for the months of the year (except for the leader, Telecath (Marco Lóris), who presumably has self-loathing issues since his mother was Guarani). The Calendar Gang, as they are called, keep rumbling with their Paraguayan counterparts, headed by Alberto (Marcio Verón), whose girlfriend is sleeping with Fernando, but that’s not such a big problem since Alberto has set his sights on his cousin Basano, just turning 15.

As the narratives flow (and come together) into one another, Guarani bodies mysteriously float down the river in eerie imitation of nearly a century and a half earlier. It takes some time for us to realize these aren’t phantom corpses but real ones. Their deaths are ultimately connected to Joca’s family. The core of the film is Joca’s love for Basano. Another important theme is the threatened survival of indigenous culture. The Apa river is the dividing line and the meeting place between the two cultures. The dead bodies that float by and the sword that Joca retrieves from its depths recall not just recent political turbulence in the region but the 19th-century war that decimated Paraguay. For Basano, who spurns the advances of her cousin Alberto and has no interest in “anything with anyone,” Joca’s love represents a particular danger, because to join him on the other side of the Apa would mean forgetting her identity, her people and her language.

Writer/director Felipe Bragança brings gang warfare, political history lesson and impossible love story together and while this is a well-crafted and often stylish film, it could have been so much stronger. Every part of the landscape serves as a reminder of the past; swords are retrieved from the river and  bodies are seen floating past on the currents. The ghosts of old grievances are everywhere.

“I AM ANOTHER YOU”— Following Dylan

“I Am Another You”

Following Dylan

Amos Lassen

As Chinese filmmaker Nanfu Wang travels in the United States from one city to another, she eventually meets a charismatic young drifter named Dylan. She is fascinated by his rejection of society’s rules and she decides to follow him with her camera on a journey that takes years and takes her across America and explores the meaning of freedom. But as Nanfu goes deeper into Dylan’s world, she discovers something that makes her question her entire worldview. This is a profound, inquisitive, sensitive film that explores experience with all of its complexities and misunderstandings.

This film made me question my own perception of reality. For about three-fourths of the film, I thought tht we were meeting a privileged white kid who chose to live on the streets and I was amazed at how well he is treated by strangers. He seemed to be escaping from the dogma of the Mormon church and the closed-mindedness he grew up with. I understood his need and desire to escape that. But what I did not know was that the way he was living was not by choice. We, unfortunately, tend to judge others by their appearance and I realized that this is what I was doing with Dylan. He is actually making the best of what he has to live with. He is sincere and completely disarming; a human being who just happens to different. He is a non-conformist with a powerful personality who gives us a fascinating glimpse into his intentional transient lifestyle. He makes us aware of the ways that sex, race, cultural experience/expectation, socio-economic and familial support origin impact an individual.

“FREE AND EASY”— A Traditional Crime Satire

“Free and Easy”

A Traditional Crime Satire

Amos Lassen

When a traveling soap salesman arrives in a desolate Chinese town, a crime occurs and sets the strange residents against each other with tragicomic results. “Free and Easy” is a farcical look at traditional crime narrative. Geng Jun’s direction creates bizarre tension throughout the film that combines absurd and nonsensical skits with stunning visual interpretation of an abandoned landscape.

Set in a desolate factory town of northeast China we meet a “Christian” evangelical, a monk trying to spread the gospel, a crooked traveling salesman, a man in charge of reforestation, an adept student of kung-fu with a gentle mind, two cops with doubtful coherence and other loony characters.

Geng Jun’s comedy gives us a gallery of sympathetic, if not colorful and peculiar characters. We have crooks that are incompetent, cops who are inept, masters and bureaucrats who are amateurs. These characters come and go off screen to appear again later in constantly shifting ridiculous alliances. Behind the simplicity of the premises hide subtle ways of forging improbable and silly links between them. They are bored, loony and misplaced. The events in the film are delivered quietly even though it is a comedy. The location itself is a character— a village in a state of decay in the middle of a wasteland where the silence is heavy and the colors are grey and brown.

“Free and Easy” is a gentle piece of dark humor in which patience is a virtue. Zhang Zhiyong is a soap salesman with a predatory con. He comes into town and introduces himself to a bystander, offering him a free sample of a bar of scented soap. When the mark sniffs it, he falls unconscious, allowing Zhang to lift his wallet and valuables. At least that is how it is supposed to work. Christian convert Gu Benben is so congested he does not fall over like the others. Actually, the Christian evangelism is just an excuse to hand out flyers for his decades-missing mother. Xu Gang, the phony dispossessed monk does not inhale either, but when the fumes from the freebie finally fell him, Zhang finds he has nothing worth stealing.

 

Soon news of Zhang and his knockout soap reach the local constable, but instead of hunting the con man, corrupt copper Zhang Xun tries to use the soap on Zhang’s new pretty landlady, Chen Jing, but she wants absolutely nothing to do with him. Her husband Xue Baohe understandably resents Zhang Xun’s pursuit of his wife but he has other problems distracting him. Someone has been harvesting the trees he has been planting along the highway as part of a rare re-forestation campaign thereby putting his own position in considerable jeopardy.

Granted, Zhang Zhiyong and Xu Gang might not be perfect, but there is no question Zhang Xun is the scummiest villain in the film which and this is in keeping with popular attitudes towards the People’s Police.

 Regardless, the ensemble is excellent all around, especially Zhang Zhiyong. Xue Baohe probably pulls off the most surprises as the formerly cringe-inducing forester Xue. Xu Gang gives the film further complicating human dimensions as Xu Gang the impostor monk, who seems to feel a need to live up to the role he has fraudulently assumed.

“Free and Easy” is a dry comedy that casts a cynical, eye on contemporary Chinese society. The cops are the worst, but there is no shortage of grifters looking to pull a fast one.