Monthly Archives: December 2018

“The Rabbi’s Brain: Mystics, Moderns and the Science of Jewish Learning” by Dr. Andrew Newberg and Dr. David Halpern— Jewish Neurotheology

Newberg, Dr. Andrew and Dr. David Halpern. “The Rabbi’s Brain: Mystics, Moderns and the Science of Jewish Thinking”,  Turner, 2018. Jewish Neurotheology Amos Lassen The topic of “Neurotheology” has been getting a lot of attention lately in the academic, religious, scientific, and popular worlds. Even so, there have been no attempts to learn more specifically how Jewish religious thought and experience may intersect with neurotheology at least until now, that is. “The Rabbi’s Brain”takes us into this groundbreaking area. The book is a neurotheological approach to the foundational beliefs that arise from the Torah and associated scriptures such as Jewish learning, an exploration of the different elements of Judaism (i.e. reform, conservative, and orthodox), an exploration of specifically Jewish practices (i.e. Davening, Sabbath, Kosher), and a review of Jewish mysticism.  We lookat these topics in an easy to read style that brings together the scientific, religious , philosophical, and theological aspects of the emerging field of neurotheology. We review the concepts in a stepwise, simple, yet thorough discussion, allowing us to be able to understand the complexities and breadth of neurotheology from the Jewish perspective. Issues include “a review of the neurosciences and neuroscientific techniques; religious and spiritual experiences; theological development and analysis; liturgy and ritual; epistemology, philosophy, and ethics; and social implications, all from the Jewish perspective.” Dr. Andrew Newberg is regarded as America’s leading expert on the neurological basis of religion and he brings us a fresh perspective. He summarizes several years of groundbreaking research on the biological basis of religious experience and offers plenty to challenge skeptics and believers alike. If you have ever wondered how Jewish rituals evoke a sense of awe and God’s love by activating the brain’s sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, you will find that out here or at least you will be given the tools to allow you to find your own answer.  Dr. Andrew Newberg, Director of Research at the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health, and Dr. David Halpern, an Orthodox rabbi and resident at the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University, seek to answer questions through an examination of the field of neurotheology and its intersection with Judaism. This is a new field that is impacting academia, science, and religion. It comes from the intersection between neuropsychology and religion, and uses “an integrative examination of consciousness, psychology, anthropology, the social sciences, spirituality, faith, and theology” by which the authors review Judaism’s basic concepts, beliefs, rituals, and prayers, and discuss how they activate certain brain processes. The writers interview rabbis of all denomination and those interviews are included here. They recorded  the brains’ reaction to reciting the Shema prayer and through brain imaging, they found that the recitation activates more frontal lobe activity.  The importance of this book is that it is a useful primer on the core tenets and traditions of Jewish living as well as a review of its major thinkers and their teachings (including those of the rabbis of the Talmud, Maimonides, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, among others). It is also an accessible introduction to a seemingly limitless area of study. Newberg and Halpern provide brief examinations of the intersections between neurotheology and other world religions and we see that a look at Judaism and its relationship to the brain is sure to inspire expanded research both within and beyond the Jewish community.

“COMING OUT: SEASON TWO”— Old Friends

“Coming Out”— Season 2 Old Friends Amos Lassen I often wondered what happened to my friends from the first season of “Coming Out” since I had not heard anything about the release of a second season. We return to Montreal and to Matt, Caroline, Hugo, Geneviève and Olivier some 18 months later and see that they have all changed a lot. “Coming Out: Season 2” features twelve exceptional new episodes of the series. You need not have seen season one to appreciate season two as the references made to the past are all explained . Here are a group of gay people from Montreal that share their troubled love lives and day lives. Matt seems to be the main character; he has returned from New York but one of the first people he meets is his ex-boyfriend (the man he left to get away from – but is there still a spark? We also have the two doctors the husband of one has left her and now lives with her colleague playing ‘not so happy families’ with his two daughters. Likewise we hear from the lesbian social worker, the fabulous Mexican art promoter and many other characters.
This series follows a similar format to the first in that there are twelve episodes that all last around 10 minutes each. They do not waste any time at all but it seems that as soon as we get hooked on what is happening, it is over.

“Mixed Signals” by Cooper West— Everyone Wants to Write a Book

West, Cooper. “Mixed Signals”, Dreamspinner Press, 2018. Everyone Wants to Write a Book Amos Lassen For years now Cooper West has lived under the illusion that she can write fiction… and indeed she can write fiction but it is lousy. I do not think she even tries to improve because she has gone from bad to awful. She has stated that is it her life goal “to support myself via writing.”. You should put the same effort into finding a real job that you put into pretending that you are a writer. I have yet to read something new from West and there are only so many times that a plot can be recycled. This time she has named her characters Frank and Benjamin but you have met them several times before with different names. “Frank Sheldon is trying (not very hard) to put his life back together several years after his dishonorable discharge from the military for “conduct unbecoming.” The handsome son of a wealthy businessman, he’s doing his best to avoid family obligations when he meets eccentric programmer Benjamin Kaplan. Frank is interested, but unlike most people Frank’s ever met, Benjamin isn’t swayed by his name or good looks. Or is he?” Is it not interesting that this Benjamin suddenly appears and now Frank who says he is eccentric, he is interested in meeting him. It doesn’t follow naturally. Then Frank “gets dragged into the drama of his sister’s political campaign” (where did this come from?) yet “he manages to pursue Benjamin under the guise of funding Benjamin’s video game start-up.” Then we get a surprise “unknown to Frank, Benjamin runs a mysterious muckraking news site, and when the now-involved Benjamin takes steps to back down his coverage of Frank’s sister’s campaign, everything starts to unravel. Frank wonders if Benjamin was just using him all along”. (This must be a subplot). A reader wrote, “I really, really liked this one! I was in the mood for a pudgy character and while Ben isn’t exactly fat, he is kind of a recluse with an attitude problem.” Pudgy? She was in the mood for a pudgy character? “I loved how Ben and Frank were so different and total opposites but proved to be something else on the inside.” Yawn.

This was a very sweet read that had me smiling almost throughout the whole book. I loved the secondary characters especially Frank’s father and how he ‘approved’ of Ben before Frank even understood what his father was talking about.

“The plot was CUTE”???? and I enjoyed the way it played out. The only thing was it was too short 🙁 I felt like the ending was kind of abrupt and I just wished there had been more. Although that could be because I did love these characters.” West’s readers match the intellectualism of the plot.

“THE FAVOURITE”— A Dark Comedy Drama

“The Favourite” A Dark Comedy Drama Amos Lassen A frail Queen Anne occupies the throne and her close friend, Lady Sarah, governs the country in her stead. When a new servant, Abigail, arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah. Set in early 18th century England,
“The Favourite” is an elegant, sophisticated and entertaining dark comedy drama from director Yorgos Lanthimos. Lanthimos is out to shock with a little strong sexual content, nudity and very strong language and these are at odds with the beauty of the settings. Three brilliant female characters at the center of the drama, all of them brilliantly performed by fine actresses who know a good thing when they see one and share that with us. Olivia Colman is Queen Anne and has terrible troubles with her legs and performs the duties of the throne with the help of her very close friend Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), who is ruling the nation in her place. Emma Stone is Abigail, a former lady fallen on hard times and when she arrives at the royal palace, she is taken on by Sarah as her new servant (after she eases the Queen’s leg pain with an herbal remedy). Abigail is a mix of great cheek and charm and is soon going to be Sarah’s rival for the attentions and affections of the Queen. Colman, Weisz and Stone are all just great.  The men’s roles are subsidiary, though there is just about space for excellent Nicholas Hoult who spits out epigrams with Wildean vigor. The other men are Joe Alwyn as Masha, Mark Gaits as Lord Marlborough and James Smith as Godolphin.
This feminist period dramedy has an outrageous plot loosely based on historical figures of the time which gives us a glorious tale of jealousy and intrigue. Sarah, the Duchess of Marlborough is the de-facto monarch as she literally controls everything the Queen says and does.   She is also the Queen’s lover and uses this intimacy as a means to keep the Queen in check as much as possible. Anne is lonely and childless having had 17 stillborn births and miscarriages (there is no mention at all of her husband in this drama) and her only solace, besides the Duchess, are the 17 pet rabbits that share her bedroom. 
Abigail is a cousin of the Duchess whose family have fallen on hard times and is now destitute. She is employed as a lowly servant but manages to create some attention for herself when an herbal concoction she creates eases the Queen’s gout. For this she is elevated to be the Duchess’s personal maid, this  makes her privy to some of the very intimate activity of the Queen’s bedchamber, and very soon she is plotting to take over the Duchess’s position in and out of the queen’s bed. The two cousins become mortal enemies and both deviously scheme to make sure The plot is filled with intrigue and double-dealing with this two ambitious women scheming for the patronage of their queen.
The film has three fine roles for women and three talented actresses more give it their all.  Coleman perfectly captures the unbalanced Queen and her massive mood swings that unhinge the Court.  She is perfectly matched my Weisz as the Machiavellian Duchess who has already wrangled a  Palace as a gift from the Queen and is determined to hang on to the reins of power which she thinks are rightly hers.  Stone may be more inexperienced in playing power games, but soon learns how to successfully out play her elders.Olivia Colman balances her portrayal of Queen’s with self-indulgence, self-pity and actual despair. Queen Anne suffers from gout, which she treats herself. never was held responsible for her actions in her life. She is also the ruler of a country and has the last word on questions of taxes and decides on matters of war and peace that directly have an effect on thousands of people.

“NAPLES IN VEILS”— Naples of Romance and Death

“Naples in Veils”  (“Napoli velata”) Naples of Romance and Death Amos Lassen Naples is a center of great art and architecture, but death remains a constant presence there. This is the Naples we do not see often or hear much about.
After a torrid night with Andrea (Alessandro Borghi), Adriana (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) is sure that he is “the one”. Then she is rather disappointed when he doesn’t to show for their date the next day. The good news is he did not stand her up intentionally. The bad news is that is dead. He wasn’t just murdered but  was  also blinded and disfigured. Filled with grief and disappointment, Adriana starts to see a man who looks just like Andrea all over Naples. Lucas (also Alessandro Borghi) was Andrea’s twin brother who was separately adopted out while both were still in infancy. Luca’s planned meeting with Andrea never happened and he needs little encouragement to pick up with Adriana where his brother left off. They agree to keep his presence in her life secret for fear that Andrea’s  killers will then come looking for him. This also includes the police and even Antonio, the detective who is falling for her. Much to her own surprise, Adriana also begins to feel an attraction to him as well, further complicating matters.
This is a psychological thriller with hints of the supernatural and many of the twists and turns come out of the city’s macabre lore.Director Ferzan Ozpetek masterfully commands the film’s seductive mood and even manages to pull off a surprise or two through misdirection. It is a film that has everything— sex, mystery, beautiful photography, great characters and an exciting story. Adriana is  a medical examiner from Napoli who meets Andrea at a party and spends one very hot and unforgettable night with him. Keeping in mind that everything in this movie is an enigma and that nothing is obvious, we follow ghosts down dark alleys like in the great thrillers of the ’40s and ’50s did. Ozpetek brings together ancient culture with modern sensibilities and keeps us guessing. Is Andrea losing her mind? Is she marked for death? Is she in love with a ghost?
Ozpetek celebrates the Naples as an ancient source of mystery and her Baroque palaces and streets are the moody backdrop to the story of lost love and repressed memories. It all begins at a party where an avant-garde play is being performed in a wealthy private home. Pasquale (Peppe Barra), dressed in ancient Roman togs, addresses his standing audience of sophisticates. The party is held in the apartment of Adriana’s intriguing aunt Adele (Anna Buonaiuto).  There Adriana is swept off her feet by the bold advances of blue-eyed Andrea and they spend the night together at her place. He’s sexy and masterful but he doesn’t show up for their first date at the archeology museum the following afternoon or answer his phone.In the hospital, while conducting a routine autopsy on a young murder victim, Adriana discovers an unmistakable tattoo on the youth’s loins that identifies him as Andrea.
The police are already on her trail, led there by some artistic nude photos Andrea took of her on his phone while she was sleeping. With all her latent fears set in motion, Adriana begins to see the dead man’s ghost on the subway and even in her garden, but something always prevents them from meeting until the ghost reveals himself as Andrea’s long-lost twin brother Luca. I cannot say any more about the plot without giving something away but I totally recommend an exciting evening with this film. It will keep you busy thinking about what you see.

“Kafka’s Last Trial: The Case of a Literary Legacy” by Benjamin Balint— Preserving Kafka’s Literary Legacy

Balint, Benjamin. “Kafka’s Last Trial: The Case of a Literary Legacy”, W. W. Norton & Company  2018. Preserving Kafka’s Literary Legacy Amos Lassen
Benjamin Balint’s “Kafka’s Last Trial” begins with Kafka’s last instruction to his closest friend, Max Brod to destroy all his remaining papers upon his death. However, when the time came in 1924, Brod could not bring himself to burn the unpublished works of the man he considered a literary genius. Instead, Brod devoted his life to championing Kafka’s writing and rescuing his legacy. By the time of Brod’s own death in Tel Aviv in 1968, Kafka’s major works had been published and Kafka had been transformed from a little-know writer into one of the mainstays of literary modernism. Nonetheless, Brod left a wealth of still-unpublished papers to his secretary, who sold some, held on to the rest, and then gave the most of them to her daughters, who in turn refused to release them. What followed was an international legal battle to determine which country could claim ownership of Kafka’s work: Israel, where Kafka dreamed of living but never entered, or Germany, where Kafka’s three sisters perished in the Holocaust. Benjamin Balint gives us quite an account of the controversial trial in Israeli courts. It was filled with legal, ethical, and political dilemmas that determined the fate of Kafka’s manuscripts. This is a brilliant biographical portrait of a literary genius, and the story of two countries whose national obsessions with overcoming the traumas of the past came to a head in a courtroom to determine the right to claim Kafka’s literary legacy. Balint explores some of the most challenging ethical problems of our time in this rich courtroom drama. The book combines reportage, biography, and literary criticism and brings to life the cast— principally Kafka and Brod in the past, and Eva Hoffe in the present.

The hunt for Kafka’s rightful ownership begins as a local dispute in an Israeli family court but then becomes “modernity’s most bitterly contentious cultural conundrum of who should inherit Franz Kafka. Perhaps the papers should go to the woman into whose hands his manuscripts fortuitously fell or to Germany, the nation that murdered his sisters but claims his spirit or to Israel, asserting a sovereign yet intimate ancestral right. “Questions of language, of personal bequest, of friendship, of biographical evidence, of national pride, of justice, of deceit and betrayal, even of metaphysical allegiances play a part in Kafka’s final standing before the law.”
“Kafka’s Last Trial” shines light not only on Kafka and the fate of his work, but also on the larger question of who owns art or has a right to claim guardianship of it.”  We can see this as a “meditation on the nature of artistic genius and the proprietary claims any one individual or country has on the legacy of that genius.” We see what defines a Jewish writer by Balint’s dealing with Kafka’s Jewish identity and the struggle by Germany and Israel to claim his legacy.

“A Forever Family” by Rob Scheer—Fostering Change

Scheer, Rob. “A Forever Family: Fostering Change One Child at a Time” , Gallery/Jeter, 2018. Fostering Change Amos Lassen Rob Scheer’s inspirational memoir is about his turbulent childhood in the foster care system and the countless obstacles and discrimination he endured in adopting his four children. He surely never thought that he would be living the life he is now— happily married to his partner and love of his life, the father of four beautiful children, and founder of an organization that makes life better for thousands of children in the foster care system.

But life wasn’t always like this. Scheer grew up in an abusive household before his placement in foster care and had all the odds stacked against him. Kicked out of his foster family’s home within weeks after turning eighteen—with a year left of high school to go—he had to resort to sleeping in his car and in public bathrooms. He suffered from drug addiction and battled with depression, never knowing when his next meal would be or where he would sleep at night. Through true perseverance, he was able to find his own path and fulfill his wildest dreams.

Scheer story gives us a glimpse into what it’s like to grow up in the foster care system as well as showing us the children who are often treated without dignity. This is both a call to action and a candid account of life in the foster care system. We also see that one person can make a difference.
You become aware very quickly that this book is written from the heart. It is both joyful and sorrowful in its humanitarianism and compassion. We sense Scheer’s determination to be the father that he never had on every page. I applaud him bringing his and his partner Reece’s personal journeys to us and for also giving us a first-hand perspective on foster care and adoption. Since they are a  same-sex couple, we gain a great deal.  “A Forever Family” is a story of an abused and discarded young man who spends the early years of his adult life looking for stability, love, and redemption and one of the ways that he does this is by building the family he never had. There were very many odds against him interplay between where he came from with where he’s going is brilliant. He shares all of the little things we often forget and the never ending struggles and setbacks in between. Scheer had suffered frequent abuse at the hands of his birth family and was abandoned and on the street, moving from house to house, never feeling wanted and continuing his mother’s abusive relationships. He simply wanted for structure and normalcy.
He shares the heartbreaking circumstances of his upbringing and gives you gives us glimpses of the abuse, the neglect, and the shame  he suffered. He has applied his experiences in state care to improve the system for the next generation of foster children. Both he and his husband Reece set out to improve the lives of the four foster children who would eventually complete their family. There are legal, bureaucratic, developmental and prejudicial challenges along the way, but their story proves that once you’ve been touched by the lives of children, it is impossible to look away.
We see what’s wrong foster care — it has to be all about the children, but it rarely is. “A Forever Family” brings us the meaning of family as a place of love, nurturing, and care and the meaning of a successful human being means giving back more than you have with the result of gaining more than you have dreamt of. Scheer’s book is raw, brutally honest and inspirational.

“I AM NOT A WITCH”— A Feminist Look at Zambia

“I AM NOT A WITCH” A Feminist Look at Zambia Amos Lassen  Zambian-born Welsh director Rungano Nyoni’s “I Am a Witch” is a satire about witchcraft in contemporary Zambia. When nine-year-old Shula is accused of witchcraft, she is exiled to a witch camp run by Mr. Banda, a corrupt government official. Shula is tied to the ground by a white ribbon and told that she will turn into a goat if she tries to escape. As the only child witch, Shula quickly becomes a local star and the adults around her use her supposed powers for financial gain. Soon she is forced to make a difficult decision – whether to resign herself to life on the camp or take a risk for freedom.
This is spellbinding storytelling with flashes of anarchic humor.  Shula (Maggie Mulubwa) is taken around Zambia by her ‘state guardian’,  Mr. Banda (Henry BJ Phiri) who has her adjudicating court cases and performing various services, for which his financial benefit.  
The general tone of “I Am Not a Witch” is tragic and downbeat, there is are moments of warmth and even moments of the black humor, particularly in the beginning when a village congregation accuses Shula of witchcraft to a bored-looking, skeptical official. One man accuses her based on a dream he had of his arm falling off. Elsewhere, as Shula is expected to adjudicate a trial, the claimant bringing the trial to court can’t turn off his phone.
The film’s central themes of exploitation by elites, patriarchal control, and a lack of individual freedoms are universal, but in rooting the film in such a specific experience (that of Shula’s ordeals as a suspected witch), Nyoni is able to craft a film that speaks to the oppression of women everywhere. Mulubwa has a striking screen presence, her eyes able to switch from fury to confusion to fear in a handful of frames. The camera clearly loves her.
The film does not pass judgement on the cultural practices around witchcraft itself but instead targets the societal pressures around the perception and treatment of women accused of witchcraft, again making sure that the subject matter remains culturally specific while the themes are universal.  Young heroine Shula never says, “I am not a witch”. Even as her journey grows increasingly absurd, her situation more devastatingly dire, and the accusations and atrocities pile up, Shula’s unmoving, placid face observes the mess. Though set in a heightened modern-day Zambia, the structure of Nyoni’s plot is close to classically familiar witch-hunt tales. Following her initial accusation, Shula is abused by a system that simultaneously seeks to punish and exploit her. She finds moments of connection and kindness with others in her same situation, but she is thwarted by the system again, and then it all repeats in predictable ways.
The heart of the story is in the witch camp where Shula is sent both for protection and incarceration. The film’s opening moments show this camp, a mashup of fact and fantasy, where tourists stop to blithely take photos of accused witches. The prisoners sit together with spools of white ribbons tied to harnesses on their backs, attached to heavy pins in order to keep the women from flying off and committing awful, witchy business.
Shula’s story feels simultaneously particular and universal, showing the archaic ways that any society lords power over feminine bodies and lives, no matter the country. The fact that the violence and misogyny of this tale touches a child gives Nyoni’s message gravity. The  final moments give us a vision of brokenness that feels both inevitable and shocking, Nyoni saves the hope for her final image, one that speaks to the ridiculousness, the harm, and the emptiness yet beautifully reveals the true transformative power of Shula’s quiet, uprooted strength. The result is a release that refuses to ignore the cruelty, but also refuses to allow it to have the final say. BONUS FEATURES 
  • Interview with director Rungano Nyoni
  • Bonus Short Film – Mwansa the Great(Directed by Rungano Nyoni | UK/Zambia | 23 minutes | Nyanja with English subtitles ) – While trying to prove he is a hero, Mwansa does the unforgivable and accidentally breaks his big sister Shula’s special mud doll. He goes on a quest not only to fix it, but to finally prove he is Mwansa the Great.                         

“THE LOST VILLAGE”— An Expose of Greenwich Village

“The Lost Village” An Expose of Greenwich Village Amos Lassen Greenwich Village, the epicenter of the counterculture in the 1960s and ’70s, is being turned into an area of chain stores, banks and multi-million dollar condos. Filmmaker Roger Paradiso takes us on a journey through today’s Village as he tries to understand how this gentrification happened. He speaks to journalists, activists, shop-owners, professors and more and finds out how the landlords, politicians and NYU turned the Village into a place that is losing its heart and soul and uniqueness. In New York City beloved neighborhoods have lost their unique characters to the corrosive effects of commercialization and gentrification. This is particularly true of Greenwich Village, the former home of bohemianism that has become victim to these trends. One of the chief villains here is New York University, which has turned diversity into a private campus. We feel director Paradiso’s passion and righteousness but they are just not enough to make a satisfying film. Cohesion and rational arguments are missing here. This does not mean you ca not enjoy the film since you certainly can—- it just could have been so much better than it is.
The film argues that Greenwich Village has become decimated due to market forces. The film begins with images of “For Lease” signs on shuttered storefronts in the area as landlords have drastically raised rents. “Mom and pop” stores and restaurants have closed and have been, replaced by chain stores, banks and high-end retailers. NYU is a principal target here and it is called out because of its high tuition and dorm fees that force female students to resort to, in some cases, becoming sex There are endless complaints about how the school is only available to young people with trust funds but this argument doesn’t really hold since no one is being forced to attend NYU.
The film has many references to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire but to the point of overkill. We hear about the evils of corporate profits and income inequality and about how the presidential election was stolen from Hillary Clinton. A clip from an interview with Judith Malina, co-founder of The Living Theater complaining, “Instead of dealing with art, I’m forced to deal with money.” Haven’t artists always had trouble with money? St. Vincent’s Hospital, the only major medical center in the neighborhood, was torn down and replaced by luxury condos. The film features endless talking heads bemoaning what’s happened to their beloved neighborhood but the arguments are so strident and however sympathetic you might be to them, you begin to tune out. Unfortunately “The Lost Village” wastes  its noble intentions with its rambling, diffuse arguments.  The Village has never lost its mystique as a neighborhood of freedom and beauty but during the last years, it has given rise to a ritual that’s become depressing. A local eating establishment that’s been there for years is suddenly gone and probably forever. Even beloved restaurants have to play by the rules of capitalism and these places have done that— they were popular and profitable. Until, that is, the rent the proprietors were paying suddenly got jacked up by 50 percent. Overnight, the place becomes unsustainable, and it closes. Then it sits as empty and abandoned, for months or even years until the space is taken over by a bank, a chain drugstore, a Starbucks, or maybe a new restaurant, with high-end backing, that no one ends up loving, and a year later it too is gone. This is what is happening to Greenwich Village. We can’t see it happening, but one day we notice. Market forces are on the march in society, and director Paradiso gives us  a top-down analysis of what’s happened to the Village that’s more convincing than not. The film gets very macro, full of thoughts on the rise of the global moneyed elite, all of which is relevant. (They’re the people buying insanely upscale co-ops in the new Greenwich Village.)
Yet “The Lost Village” is a documentary that should have been an elegy for something, but the film doesn’t do the loving and detailed historical work of showing us what it’s an elegy for. It uses half of its 89-minute running time to the real-estate depredations of New York University, and it’s here that the movie is onto something incendiary but seems to be driven by a personal  agenda. NYU, situated in between the East and West Village, has been eating up property for a long time, and the film indicts the university for what it sees as exploitative greed. This is a national problem. NYU, like many other universities, has become a ruthless corporation, but when it comes to demonstrating how that fact has affected the character of Greenwich Village, director Paradiso shows us some modern “ugly” buildings the university has put up. and he interviews the NYU professor Mark Crispin Miller standing in front of a sports center that’s about to be torn down to make room for more faculty housing. NYU is powerful enough to be seen as a land baron but the issue of what’s happened to Greenwich Village is a vastly different story. It has to do with independent landlords and the way the city has allowed and enabled them to do what they are doing and that includes the gradual entropy of outsider culture; the migration of gay culture from the Village to Chelsea; and other factors. Some of this is mentioned in the film, but it’s only mentioned and not explored. There’s not enough in “The Lost Village” about the Village that’s disappearing and about what it meant to people, and maybe still means.  “The Lost Village” has some insight but the spirit of the Village gets lost here. DVD BONUS FEATURES include:
Five Short Films:
1. The Best of the Roman Empire by Anthony Gronowicz
2. Mark Crispin Miller and His Battles with NYU
3. Michael Hudson College Tour Guide from Hell
4. Student Protest Election Night 2016
5. Mandy’s Story

“OLANCHO”— Lawlessness in Honduras

 

“Olancho”

Lawlessness in Honduras

Amos Lassen

Chris Valdés and Ted Griswold directed “Olancho”, a film about
the most lawless province of Honduras, the most murderous country on the planet. Here, the drug trade has taken its toll in human lives and economic damage. But to some musicians, the cartels provide an opportunity.

This is the story of a group of musicians who perform for the powerful drug cartels there. The songs they sing glorify the traffickers who have destroyed their country, and who sometimes threaten the
lives of their loved ones. But in a world where the cartels wield the most power, do the musicians have any other choice? “Olancho” has gorgeous photography and poignancy. This is a spin on the usual immigration story.
The film is about Los Plebes de Olancho, a narco band from Olancho who find themselves on the black list for their music. In their songs they praise drug lords  and they perform at narco parties. This means that either they flee or pay with their lives. “Enter if you want, leave if you can” says at the beginning what should show that you are on dangerous terrain, but that does not quite come over. We are introduced to the world of the musicians. Manuel, one of the singers who managed to escape to America,  wants to return to Honduras and tells his story on the radio. The band members always have a weapon with them, as if they have to sleep with their eyes open. The musicians are sympathetic and have to deal with the usual problems within a group, we do not see the dangers but we hear about
them. We see how the musicians are persecuted, but what we do not see is how the musicians are hunted and have to fear for their lives. Perhaps it’s better that we do not see this. Valdes and Griswold are caught in contradictions, because the danger is so
great yet the musicians show their faces on film. This is something of a
fictional documentary. Despite the predictable moments, Olancho is nice to look at aside from the animal killings and corpses. The Central American state of Honduras has been a land of violence for
years, dominated by rival, merciless Narco clans. The drug barons can be celebrated in songs and glorified, even though they destroy their own land. The band “Los Plebes de Olancho” are such musicians who write songs for the narcos and perform at their parties. A dangerous game, because not infrequently, the musicians themselves are targeted by the drug gangs. “Olancho” does not show enough of the imminent danger that the musicians expose themselves  to by their appearances in the cartels. The documentary is as urgent and potentially exciting as the subject matter is. It is a tension-free, anti-climactic and non-climactic work that cannot turn make the music of “Los Plebes de Olancho” into an equally interesting film. Unfortunately, “Olancho” falls behind its content.