Monthly Archives: February 2019

“GAME FACE”— Two Underdogs

“Game Face”

Two Underdogs

Amos Lassen

Michiel Thomas’s “Game Face” presents honest opinions and interviews from athletes who feel held back  by feeling discrimination about their performance based on their personal lifestyle and sexuality.  They become determined and rise against the odds and show their peers and the LGBTQ community that they’re worthy contenders  and not just in their sport, but in society.

The film follows two underdogs: transgender Mixed Martial Arts fighter Fallon Fox and Terrence Clemens, an openly gay College basketball player.  Other than being athletes facing unfair judgement, Fox and Clemens prove themselves to be role models by always taking the high road.  Clemens’ criminal past gave him a wake-up call to self-improve, and Fox’s spirit is as unbreakable as her physical build.  

The film doesn’t go beyond being a typical recollection of inspiring underdog stories.  It is not as strong as other films on the topic but it certainly should be seen.

 In the wake of the high-profile coming out announcements of professional athletes like basketball player Jason Collins and football player Michael Sam “Game Face” could not be more topical. The documentary goes behind the headlines to share the intimate and emotional stories of two queer athletes of  Fallon Fox and Terrence Clemens.

Clemens bore the brunt of homophobia when an unfounded rumor spread about him having sex with a guy. He faced fear, just like all closeted queer people f: he was outcast by his teammates and friends. Meanwhile, Fox also experienced one of the worst outcomes of coming out: her parents rejected her when she announced she was transitioning from male to female.

When Fox is later outed in the media, it becomes clear that her biggest challenge is educating people. Misunderstanding, assumptions, and confusion about transgender athletes are everywhere and largely incorrect. Many assume that Fox has advantages as a “man” competing against women. Not only does Fox have to steel herself against boos from the crowd, but she also has to raise awareness about what being transgender really is.

The film follows Fox’s journey as she trains not only to compete but to persevere against criticism and media attention that distract from the sport. “I’m a fighter,” she says. “I never take the easy way out.”

Thomas skillfully interweaves the two stories to illuminate the similarities and differences in the challenges that the two athletes face. (Racial identity here is not addressed; both athletes are black.) What appears central to both of their stories is how they appear, initially, to be alone in their struggle to break new ground.

Hope, accordingly, comes in the form of support from straight allies and other queer athletes at Pride parades, awards events, and social networking. While LGBT acceptance and rights have made gains overall, coming out in sport remains a risk, as interviewee Jervon Wright relates how he lost his college basketball scholarship when he was seen kissing his boyfriend.

Although both athletes share the goal of simply being accepted like everyone else, the truth is that as pioneers nothing will ever be simple or like everyone else. Luckily, both of our subjects seem to be up for what is required of them in the hope that in the future, others will get the chance to live out their dreams.

With professional athletes coming out being an important story right now in the LGBT community, several documentaries chronicling the lives of these people are beginning to emerge. One of the latest is Michiel Thomas’s Game Face. The film tells the story of transgender MMA fighter Fallon Fox and gay basketball player Terrence Clemens, two athletes sharing parallel struggles in their quest to find respect in the sports world.

There is much progress still to be made towards acceptance and understanding towards LGBT athletes in the sports world. Any documentary seeking to tell the stories of these people is a positive step in the right direction. This film finds two compelling narratives and presents them in such a manner that they have the ability to change people’s minds. Through honesty and integrity, and a little support from a famous gay athlete already blazing a trail, we follow Fallon and Terrence on a journey to self-acceptance and helping others by talking publicly about the challenges they have faced.

Transgender MMA fighter Fallon Fox is  the first female fighter to be out publicly. By the time she begins her MMA training, she has already transitioned to being a woman but she fears that she will be found out. If her trainer, other athletes, and her gym find out, what will that mean? Will anyone want to fight her? Will the reputation of the gym be damaged? As she works her way up the ranks and starts building a name for herself, a day comes after a match where her secret comes out in the media. She receives some support but ultimately she is faced with a deluge of controversy, people saying she shouldn’t be allowed to compete, accusations of unfair advantages, confusion, fear, and mistruths being thrown in her direction. She does her best to not let the negativity affect her and wherever she goes she continues educate those around her who may not understand her situation. As the controversy grows, she is forced to focus on the fighting to prove that she is worthy of being there. The flip-flopping messages of support and hateful criticism she continues to receive demonstrate the need for her to continue being an activist outside of the ring. Progress still needs to be made, as she is still continually denied her license to fight in the UFC league. They don’t yet believe she qualifies to fight in the women’s league even though she meets the International Olympic Committee’s requirements for transgender athletes.

Terrence Owen longs to play basketball professionally. Coming out of high school, he did not have any luck finding college scholarships to play and ended up having a run-in with the law and being jailed for 10 months. Upon his release he finds a trainer that is supportive and non-judgmental. The trainer worked with Terrence to develop goals and used a contact of his to find him a scholarship at a small two-year college. His goal was to play at that school and then hopefully be scouted to play for a large 4-year college and go on to play professionally. Under all of this, he was struggling to keep the fact that he is gay a secret, fearing what revealing this would do to his scholarship and career chances. Over the next two years, he continues to feel like an outsider from the rest of the guys in the locker room and this burden is chipping away at him. Along the way, NBA player Jason Collins publicly came out as gay. Terrence saw this as a beacon of hope and reached out to Collins for advice, which he freely offered. Collins told him that no matter what, he had to be truthful to himself. When the team wins a championship that year, he is offered several scholarships to play at other schools.   At that point, he decides to finally tell his teammates, coach, and friends that he’s gay. When he finally comes out, he receives nothing but support, even from those he wasn’t expecting.

At the beginning the film struggles to find its footing. The setup and introduction to these two subjects is blunt and somewhat confusing. However, once we get to know them, the film is strongest when it finds the intimacy of its two subjects. Beneath all the controversy and hate is a fight common to most in the LGBT community. The impact is felt when we see the ripple effect these coming out stories are having on people.

Continuing to tell these stories is so very important. There are many educational strides still to be made and each one of these challenges people’s perceptions and attitudes. It is hoped that an individual’s outlook is changed for the better. Here is the power that cinema can have and why it’s important to keep pushing forward as we fight for equality and respect in sports.

“PHANTOM LADY”— A Consummate Crime Classic

“PHANTOM LADY”

A Consummate Crime Classic

Amos Lassen

From, Robert Siodmak, one of the masters of the film noir, brings us a  consummate crime classic, “Phantom Lady.” It all begins with Scott Henderson (Alan Curtis) having a fight with his wife and going to a bar to drown his sorrows. There he strikes up a conversation with a mysterious, despondent lady who agrees to accompany him to a show uptown. She does not tell him her name. Upon arriving back home afterwards,  Scott is met by the police who inform him that his wife has been strangled with one of his neckties and he is the prime suspect. He has a solid alibi but who was his companion is nowhere to be found and no one remembers seeing them together. Scott is charged with murdering his wife and  it falls to his devoted secretary Kansas (Ella Raines) to find the phantom lady and save Scott from the electric chair.

The film has stylish cinematography, cruel characters and memorable performances from Ella Raines and Franchot Tone. The film is a combination of the styles of Alfred Hitchcock and the old German psychological films, full of the play of light and shadow, of macabre atmosphere, of sharply realistic faces and dramatic injections of sound. People sit around in gloomy places looking blankly and silently into space, music  comes forth from empty darkness, and odd characters turn up and disappear. It is all very studiously constructed for weird and disturbing effects. However, a plausible, realistic plot is missing. This is the story of a girl’s endeavors to prove her sweetheart innocent of a murder he didn’t commit but it becomes tiresome after a while. The monotonous pace does not help. Ella Raines as Carol Richman gives a moody performance as the curiously frustrated girl, and Franchot Tone, who shows up late in the picture, play a neurotic fellow bewitchingly. When Scott picks up the mysterious woman that refuses to tell him anything about herself, they go to a show to see Estela Monteiro (Aurora Miranda) who becomes very angry that both women, she and the mystery woman are wearing the same unusual hat. When Henderson returns home, he finds Police Inspector Burgess (Thomas Gomez)  and two of his men waiting to question him about his wife’s murder. Henderson has a solid alibi, but the bartender, taxi driver and Monteiro deny seeing the phantom lady. Henderson cannot even clearly describe the woman.

Carol is secretly in love with Henderson and sets out to prove his innocence. She starts with the bartender. She sits in the bar night after night, staring at and unnerving him. Finally, she follows him home one night. When he confronts her on the street, some bystanders step in to restrain him. He breaks free, runs into the street and is run over. Later, Burgess offers to help (unofficially); he has become convinced that only a fool or an innocent man would have stuck to such a weak alibi. Policeman Burgess has learned that the drummer at the show, Cliff  (Elisha Cook, Jr.) had tried to make eye contact with the mystery lady. Richman dresses provocatively and goes to the show. Rhythmic inter-cutting between Cliff’s frantic drumming and Richman’s leers gets the going back to his apartment. There he brags that he was paid $500 for his false testimony. However, he becomes suspicious when he accidentally knocks over her purse and among the spilled contents finds a piece of paper with details about him. Richman manages to escape, leaving her purse behind. After she has gone, the real murderer, Henderson’s best friend Jack Marlow (Franchot Tone) shows up at the apartment and strangles Cliff.

Marlow who is supposedly away on a job in South America, pretends to return to help Richman. She tracks down Monteiro’s hat maker, Kettisha (Doris Lloyds). One of her employees admits to copying the hat for a regular customer and provides her name and address. With Burgess away on another case, Richman and Marlow go to see Ann Terry (Fay Helm)  and discover her under the care of Dr. Chase since the man she was to marry had died suddenly, leaving her emotionally devastated. Richman is unable to get any information from her but does find the hat. Marlow suggests they wait for Burgess at Marlow’s apartment. However, while she is freshening up, Richman finds her purse and the paper with Cliff’s particulars in a dresser drawer. He admits he became enraged when Henderson’s wife refused to run away with him; she was only toying with him. That is all of the summarizing that I can do and please note that I wrote no spoilers.

 

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

  High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation transferred from original film elements

  Uncompressed Mono 1.0 PCM audio soundtrack

  Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

  Dark and Deadly: 50 Years of Film Noir, an insightful archival documentary featuring contributions from Robert Wise, Edward Dmytryk, Dennis Hopper and more

  Rare, hour-long 1944 radio dramatization of Phantom Lady by the Lux Radio Theatre, starring Alan Curtis and Ella Raines

  Gallery of original stills and promotional materials

  Reversible sleeve featuring two original artwork options

  FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by author Alan K. Rode

“STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER”— Sexualized Murders

“STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER”

Sexualized Murders

Amos Lassen

Several highly sexualized murders is rocking a prestigious fashion house in Milan. Ambitious photographer Magda (Edwige Fenech) and her on-off boyfriend, Carlo (Nino Castelnuovo), team up to crack the case. But, with the motorcycle helmet-wearing killer who bears a grudge against the agency’s employees, it is surely only a matter of time before they too end up feel his anger.

The film is replete with kitschy fashion shoots, back alley abortions, blow-up sex dolls and some very indelicate humor and it is one of the most notoriously sleazy gialli picture ever produced. Director Andrea Bianchi brings us the story of a killer stalking various people associated with the modeling studio.

After a guy is killed, we see a model who looks quite pleased with herself show off her wares along this row of guys, one of whom is this photographer, who runs along behind her  and gives her the old “You could be a model” treatment” and eventually has her in bed. He actually takes her into the modeling agency the next day where everyone is ok with her. The photographer, Carlo, has an on-set tantrum, and a few more people are killed by a leather-clad psychopath. It turns out that the fashion business we are watching is a mixture of softcore sex and sadism and where men treat women as sex objects and very little else. Carlo worries that people might think he’s the killer.

There’s a rather long stalking sequence with more killing, more leather-clad, car-driving psychopaths. Then hot male model Stefano, a misogynist like every man in the film gets his genitals cut off, while his girlfriend gets her breast cut off. Then after a while the killer is revealed and there is  a long explanation about who it is, whereupon it is revealed that what happened in the beginning was the woman was having an abortion, and it went wrong.

When a fashion model Evelyn dies of a heart failure during a back street abortion, the abortionist returns her lifeless body to her house and leaves it in a bath tub. He covers his tracks hoping to deceive the authorities by making it look like she died of natural causes. Later that night a killer wearing a motorcycle helmet dressed in black leather kills the abortionist by cutting out his heart. Evelyn the recently deceased model worked for the Albatross modeling agency with her former co-workers photographer Carlo, his sexy assistant Magda (Edwige Fenech), Giselle (Amanda) and her over weight husband Maurizo (Franco Diogene). When Mario a photographer is viciously murdered by a killer dressed in black leather wearing a motorcycle helmet the others soon fear for their lives and wonder who will be next?

Giallo’s are known for their exotic and strange titles, as much as they are remembered for their violent set pieces and excessive amounts of naked flesh on display.” Strip Nude for Your Killer” is more than just some suggestive title thrown together by a producer. Director Bianchi has the actors do just what the title suggests ‘Strip Nude for Your Killer’ as victim after victim is murdered with little or no clothes on. The film is sleazy and has more full-frontal nudity then any Giallo I have ever seen.  Surprisingly Andrea Bianchi’s film is well crafted and has some inspired moments like when the obese Maurizo tries to seduce one of the models and  at one point threatens to hit her with a vase before she agrees to have sex with him. There are several murder scenes that rival some of the most violent giallo’s ever released and another aspect of this genre that has long been one of its strongest selling points is nudity and there is plenty of it on display in this film. The plot may not be its strongest asset still it is reasonable throughout. The film has enough sleaze and nudity to enchant even the most dedicated Giallo fan.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

  Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative

  High definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

  Original lossless mono Italian and English soundtracks

  English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack

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

  New audio commentary by HORRORPEDIA.com s Adrian J. Smith and David Flint

  Sex and Death with a Smile, a new video essay by author and critic Kat Ellinger on giallo and sex comedy icon Edwige Fenech

  A Good Man for the Murders, a newly edited video interview with actor Nino Castelnuovo

  The Blonde Salamander, a new video interview with actress Erna Schurer

  The Art of Helping, a new video interview with assistant director Daniele Sangiorgi

  Jack of All Trades, a new video interview with actor and production manager Tino Polenghi

  Two versions of the opening scene: tinted and untinted viewing options

  Original Italian and English theatrical trailers

  Image gallery

  Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys

  FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Rachael Nisbet

“THE PRISONER”— Arrested

“THE PRISONER”

Arrested

Amos Lassen

Peter Glenville’s “The Prisoner” was controversial when it was initially  release and still today it remains a complex, challenging and multifaceted exploration of faith and power. It was banned from the Cannes and Venice Films Festivals for being anti-Communist and considered damaging elsewhere as pro-Soviet propaganda.

In an unnamed Eastern European capital, an iron-willed Cardinal (Alec Guinness) is arrested by state police on charges of treason. The police had the job of securing a confession from him by any means necessary.  A former comrade-in-arms from the anti-Nazi resistance (Jack Hawkins) was to conduct the interrogation. He knew that the Cardinal will never yield under physical torture so the Interrogator instead sets out to destroy him mentally by breaking his spirit rather than his body.

“The Prisoner” is a tense, thought-provoking and disturbing drama about the endurance of the human spirit. It takes the potentially intriguing and electrifying subject of a cardinal being forced to endure months of harsh interrogation and adds over-the-top performances.

The Cardinal and the interrogator  fought against the Nazis in the Second World War. Now attempts to break the cardinal are poorly received and as the months pass, the interrogator begins utilizing various methods and begins to make an impact. The film occasionally cuts to a romance between a guard (Ronald Lewis) and a married woman (Jeanette Sterke) but this subplot is quickly abandoned.

The movie rarely leaves the confines of the interrogation room. This could’ve been a fascinating look at the interplay between two very different men but the screenplay uses the most stilted dialogue imaginable. These characters are never allowed the chance to develop through their words and every line spoken sounds  too thought out and rehearsed and unfortunately  this takes away the natural element to the character’s speech/ there’s absolutely nothing natural about the things these characters are saying.

We, in the audience, remain in the dark about what the cardinal’s been arrested for. A lot of time is spent trying to convince him to confess to something treason related, but by the time we finally find out what he’s been charged with (in the last 25 minutes), it’s impossible to care.  Oscar winner Alec Guinness gives a performance that’s more perfunctory and this prevents  the audience from sympathizing with him. There’s a certain amount of distance that’s required when playing a character of this sort, but Guinness never convinces us he’s playing an actual person instead of a holier-than-thou figure. Hawkins is fine as the interrogator, though it’s not made entirely clear why he feels such loyalty towards the cardinal. They served together but his reluctance to really hit the man with all he’s got feels strange (they are supposed to be enemies, after all).

This is a heavy drama pitting a heroic religious figure against Iron Curtain totalitarianism. This intimate but minor drama is at best an interesting character study but it could have been so much more. Most of the film depicts the cardinal’s losing battle and his gradual breakdown, despite his great intelligence and enormous will, and the interrogator’s subtle skill. 

Director Peter Glenville and cinematographer Reginald H. Wyer provides an array of striking, austere camera work outside the two-character scenes, while the interrogations understandably focus on the two lead performances. The church sequence that opens the film is excellent, with Guinness carefully passed a note warning him of his imminent arrest. There is a lack of universality and timelessness (and timeliness) that it aims for. clearly shooting for. The film is a testament to Alec Guinness’s enormous range.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:

  High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

  Original lossless mono audio

  Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

  Interrogating Guinness, a new video appreciation of the film by author and academic Neil Sinyard

  Select scene commentary by author and critic Philip Kemp

  Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain

  FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Mark Cunliffe

“KOLOBOS”— A “Slasherama”

“KOLOBOS”

A “Slasherama”

Amos Lassen

Sometimes there are no words to describe how I see a film and this was the case with “Kolobos”, a very smart slash fest from the late 90s. It never got the respect it deserves and that could be because of the gore in the film. Hopefully this new release will bring new fans and viewers. It is the work of filmmakers Daniel Liatowitsch and David Todd Ocvirk.

A group of youngsters arrive at a snow-covered house under the guise of participating in a ground-breaking new experimental film. With the entire property fitted out with cameras, their every move will be recorded. But when the house locks down, trapping the youngsters within, it soon becomes clear that something strange is happening. It is certainly not the average slasher film. Some see it as an imitation of slasher king, Dario Argento.  It has visual style, graphic murders, a charming cast and is an example of what happens when everything comes together.

The film begins with a lengthy subjective sequence in which a badly mutilated girl is taken to a hospital, where her wounds are treated and she begins to recover in a room there. She begins experiencing flashbacks to the previous day.  Then we see five young people responding to a classified ad seeking adventurous, open-minded people for an experimental film. We meet a low budget soft porn/horror actress, a struggling stand-up comedian, a smartass fast food worker, and a clean cut college guy. The fifth person is Kyra (Amy Weber),  an anxiety-ridden young psychiatric patient prone to sketching gruesome images. The “actors” convene in an isolated house where video cameras monitor their every move, though the director stops by to offer them some pizza and offer some general guidelines about the project. Unfortunately, after he leaves, the windows and doors are all sealed with unbreakable metal plating, and lethal booby traps that kill the young people at unexpected times.

“Kolobos” is an intelligent, stylish and creepy film that was made by people who appreciate the genre and at the same time acknowledge its weaknesses. One of the personas is an actress who appeared in the fictional slasher movie franchise, ‘The Slaughterhouse Factor’. The group sit down to watch the films one after another and mock the poor continuity, cheesy deaths and silly plot and they could, in effect, be watching many eighties titles. It is this recognition however that allows those same characters to do the right thing once captured by a psychopathic killer. The house is filled with ingenious death traps that are set off when one of the victims crosses an area that is covered with red lasers. This means that every step they take could be the wrong one and it helps add to the tension

The five fight desperately to survive and show emotions of paranoia and fear in how they have become the victims of unprovoked murder. The first slaughter takes us by surprise because it’s so unexpected and from then gore is everywhere. The effects are excellent and include an eye impalement, disembowelment and an acid shower. There are some tight pulsating sequences and a sense of the macabre in all the aspects of terror.

Kolobos starts very well but doesn’t manage to keep the suspense at the same level all the way through. It just seems to throw too much of everything in to the final forty minutes, which lessens the impact a tad. I was extremely disappointed with the final twist. Even though it is far from perfect, it is one of the best slasher films. It was directed with style, panache, a fast pace and a great cast.

DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

  Brand new 2K restoration from the original negative

  Original Stereo and 5.1 audio options

  Audio commentary with co-writers and co-directors Daniel Liatowitsch and David Todd Ocvirk

  Real World Massacre: The Making of Kolobos – brand new featurette on the making-of Kolobos including interviews with Daniel Liatowitsch, David Todd Ocvirk and co-writer/producer Nne Ebong

  Face to Faceless – a brand new Interview with Faceless actor Ilia Volok

  Slice & Dice: The Music of Kolobos – a brand new interview with composer William Kidd

  Behind-the-Scenes Image Gallery

  Super 8 short film by Daniel Liatowitsch with commentary

  Original Trailer

  FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Fully illustrated collector s booklet with new writing on the film by Phillip Escott

“TOUCH ME NOT”— Researching Intimacy

“Touch Me Not”

Researching Intimacy

Amos Lassen

Writer-director Adina Pintilie’s  “Touch Me Not” follows the emotional journeys of Laura, Tomas and Christian as they teeter on the border between reality and fiction. This gives us  a deep and empathetic insight into the lives of these three characters. We sense that they have the desire for intimacy but they are also afraid of it. They work at overcoming old patterns, defense mechanisms and taboos, so that they can be free. The film is really about how we can find intimacy in the most unexpected ways, at how to love another without losing ourselves. We see sexuality portrayed with a frankness we have not seen before in a feature film. The focus of this coming together of fiction and documentary is actually the pleasures and pains of bodily contact between people. We see that in sex, we should be able to relate to both our and another’s body completely and without reservations. Here “consensual, mutually pleasurable sex represents a utopia of touch that we should try to find in other arenas as well, rather than an object of interest for its own sake.”

What there is of narrative, is divided between the perspectives of its two principal characters, Laura (Laura Benson) and Tómas (Tómas Lemarquis), as they try to leave behind repressed relationships. Laura is deeply uncomfortable about being touched, and now for sexual satisfaction, she’s been hiring hustlers and rent boys to masturbate in front of her. Her reluctance about sex is a result of trauma of ambiguous origin, though it’s perhaps tied to the bodily suffering of her father, whom she occasionally visits in hospice care. 

After Laura  tries and fails to strike up a conversation with her regular rent boy (Georgi Naldzhiev), she begins booking other sex workers, mostly for conversations about how she might overcome her sexual anxieties. Her interviewees include Hannah Hofmann, a transgender prostitute, and Seani Love, a BDSM specialist and they are both real-life sex workers. In Laura’s discussions with them, the film brings together the fictional character’s motivations, what seem to be her honest reactions and Pintilie’s perspective on sexuality. This clouds the established boundaries of self and other and story and fact.

Laura’s story intersects with that of Tómas, a young man with alopecia who goes to a kind of clinic on touching, hosted in room somewhere in the hospital. It looks like a prison cell. In the class that meets there, assigned partners get to know each other by running their hands over each other’s faces and honestly describing their sensations and reactions. Tómas’s assigned partner is a man with spinal muscular atrophy named Christian,  (Christian Bayerlein), a non-actor and real-life activist for the rights of the disabled, whose interactions with Tómas are the moral center of the film. 

Christian must use a wheelchair for mobility, as he has limited use of his limbs, and his chin is often streaked with spittle. When Tómas reports his reactions to touching Christian’s face, he speaks of the sensation of feeling someone else’s saliva. Later, Tómas expresses concern that he’s wounded Christian, but the man reassures him that, in reality, “there is no good or bad,” just reactions that should be addressed honestly. When Christian and Tómas speak to each other, they de-sentimentalize the disabled body radically: Christian speaks openly of the particular experiences he has as a disabled man, both in negative and affirming terms, and he isn’t bashful about including sex among those experiences. 

Christian, who has to live with many physical impairments, talks candidly about what turns him on, what turns him off and his love life with his long-standing girlfriend. They both participate in a workshop on body awareness attended by people of all ages, with and without disabilities. As we watch, we also look at our own preconceived opinions and ideas of intimacy.

There’s a lot of explicit sex and a lot of frank sex talk in the film. The film uses a blend of documentary and narrative fiction, meant to pierce through preconceived notions about what sex is, who “gets” to have good sex, how we perceive one another (or don’t) as sexual beings. 

Many of the people in the film are non-actors. Many have disabilities. One of the recurring scenes is a group therapy session, where people are led through different exercises, similar to what happens in an acting class.  When Christian speaks about his sexuality, he does so with openness: “I love my penis because it’s the only part of my body that functions normally.” 

In “Touch Me Not,” sex is not just about the act itself. It’s also about the issues around the act, the damage and unmanaged trauma that we carry into the bedroom. I am sure that there will be people who won’t like this film for all kinds of reasons. It is not easy to watch simply because it is difficult for us to divorce ourselves from what we see on the screen.

“DO IT YOURSELF”—  A Black Comedy/Thriller

 

“DO IT YOURSELF” 

A Black Comedy/Thriller

Amos Lassen

Irony is very difficult to get on film and only a few directors like Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino have succeeded in doing so. We now have another name to add to that list, Dimitris Tsilifonis and he makes using irony seem so simple.

“Do It Yourself” is an escape film and if you are not sure what that means, hold on. Alkis (Konstantinos Aspiotis), is a small-time crook who agrees to star in a fake video that will be used to restore the public image of a corrupt businessman. When Alkis realizes that his accomplices are going to kill him, he only has a few hours to organize his escape from the porn studio in which he is imprisoned, using his wit, digital skills and a toothbrush. Director Tsilifonis brings us his feature film debut with this movie.

Alkis is strong armed by an ex-cellmate, to make the video. in which the confession will help restore the reputation of a corrupted businessman. Yet immediately after filming, he  realizes that his accomplices have no intention of letting him out alive. He is trapped in a working porn studio and hunted by hitmen eager to knock him off and he has only one option – to escape from the other crooks. This is a fast paced, interesting adventure movie. When Alkis realizes that his accomplices are going to kill him, he know that he only has a few hours to escape from the porn studio.

Director Tsilifonis has said that it was his underlying intention to satirize the unrealistic expectations that pop-culture films build up to. in the viewer. We see that in the  references to other films and viral videos and Tsilifonis is open about making no effort to hide his cinematic influences as a film director. The same is true for the characters in his film, who feel very wary of the situations they are in, comparing them to their favorite crime dramas. Tsilifonis says that his film explores what is real in our era of “fake news “ era and tries to persuade the audience to “Search for yourself”. He doesn’t characterize his film as an action movie even though there is a lot of action in it. Instead, she sees his film as a mockery of the unrealistic expectations that pop-culture films build up in viewers. At every opportunity, he tried to use comedy in the fight scenes.

This was to be a film about the information and misinformation that exists in the web and the fake stories that have prevailed over the past few years. These stories come in very convincing manners, with photos, sources and concrete proof, but on a closer look they fall apart. This is a black comedy which starts like one more of those viral Facebook posts which claim that someone discovered that tries to push us to examine each and every little thing closer. Our director’s aim was to create a film that belongs in the 21st century and to him this century is summarized by three words: information, misinformation, and disinformation. We are the first generation to experience both the benefits and the consequences of the information age. The film creates a complex world that is presented as real and it opens with the caption “Based on a True Story”, while in reality it’s as fictitious as can be. This is a story about people who are deeply influenced by pop culture, the unrealistic expectations they have formed, and the

harsh comical reality that comes when they’re faced with these real fake Hollywood circumstances. It is a film that uses all the contemporary filmmaking tools that a director has and it is a love letter to nerds, techies, and geeks who often are the only people to catch particular references. It is also a film that showcases the potential that mainstream cinema could have. It doesn’t take itself seriously, but still respects its audience. So we can say that it is a black comedy, that pretends to be one more piece of “fake news” that overwhelms our newsfeed as it tries to comment on the irrational era that we live in. It is an escape movie, full of suspense and laughter with, good performances and music and we are totally engaged in it.

“MARILYN”— Rural and Gay

“Marilyn”

Rural and Gay

Amos Lassen

We have all spent a lot of time patting ourselves on the back for the progress we have made regarding the LGBT community and we forget that there are still places where rights mean very little. We see that in “Marilyn”, Martín Rodríguez Redondo’s  new film. “Marilyn” is a nuanced story of rural oppression, prejudice, and homophobia, where characters are pushed to their limits.  It is based on a real event.

Marcos and his family work as ranch hands. His father and brother handle the heavier tasks and  Marcos stays home close to his mother. Each family member has his/her future laid out before them but Marcos bides his time waiting for Carnival, the one moment when he can be his true self. When the father dies suddenly, the family is left in a rough and vulnerable situation. The sudden death of his father leaves the family in a very vulnerable situation. The ranch owner wants them to leave, and Marcos’s mother pressures her son to take over the work in the fields. Nicknamed Marilyn by the other teenagers in town, Marcos is a target for desire and discrimination.

Set in rural Argentina, we meet Marcos while he is  in high school. He’s a good student. His father works taking care of cattle for a landowner and he respects his son’s academic accomplishments and wants to give him more opportunities by enrolling him in a computer class. 

Marcos’s  mother is stern and  does not care for Marcos’ work at school. When Marcos comes home with his semester’s grades, she tells him that from now on he is to work on the farm. His father disagrees and tells him to ignore the derision coming from his illiterate mom and brother. This shows how important education is and that it can make a difference a bit of education. He is also separated from his mother and brother because he is gay and does not hide it.

His hypocritical mother is ok with Marco’s tendencies when it suits her like when he dyes her hair and adjusts her clothes but  she finds him repulsive because he is not and will not become a Latino super macho. When Marcos loses one of the only two allies he has in town, his life heads downhill.

Everything hinges on Marcos being not just a victim of circumstances, but a person we relate to. We want him  to have a better life. As Marcos, Walter Rodríguez delivers a performance, conveying just enough vulnerability behind his delicate body language and beautiful eyes. We see that Marcos knows exactly who he is from the start but it is the bigots in his family and neighborhood who start finding out and confirm their suspicions that changes things.

The rest of the cast is also excellent. Catalina Saavedra’s portrays his mother as a thing full of hatred without ever devolving into snarling. We don’t learn what her problem is with Marcos—it might be because of religion, ignorance or disappointment but it really doesn’t matter.  Her disgust and behavior does matter, however. The same goes for the people around town and a few outsiders who come in and out of the story. It is from them that we get  tension and even though we hope it will all end well, we  feel that it won’t.

Marcos feels uncomfortable in his own skin, not knowing who he is, apart from whatever relationship he happens to have with his family and his best friend. Eventually, he becomes an object of desire… and of discrimination.

Marco manages to build a small wall around himself, within which he creates the world for himself – he is a young man who likes to wear women’s clothes, put on makeup and he is in a relationship with Federico. With a carnival soon approaching, Marco is excited and happy that he can finally dress up and be himself, but what follows is a horrible, dramatic event that takes us to an even bigger misfortune.

This is a film that hits hard and I do not think it is possible to watch it without tears. We see what young men like Marco go through on a daily basis, may it be somewhere in Argentina or anywhere around the world. (Spoiler here— you might want to stop reading). The consequences of the boy’s struggles lead to an unthinkable tragedy; we see what makes a person wonder why would a young man, a teenager, commit such an atrocious act?

“Marilyn” is based on the true story of Marcelo B, who is now perceived as Marilyn and who was sentenced to life in prison for shooting and killing his family members. He also became one of the first people to be in a gay marriage while behind the bars. We see Marco’s persona prior to the deaths of his mother and brother, probably so that the audience can understand  the process of consequences after a person’s inner self gets ruined by their close ones, leaving them completely broken and frustrated. This is an honest portrait of a man who is in need of a transformation and is trying to find his own manner of existence, even if his journey of self-discovery ends in a tragedy.

“Origins of the Kabbalah” by Gershom Scholem— An Esoteric World of Jewish Mysticism

Scholem, Gershom. “Origins of the Kabbalah”, (Princeton Paperbacks), translated by Allan Arkush, Princeton University Press, reprint 2019.

An Esoteric World of Jewish Mysticism

Amos Lassen

I have tried many times to read and understand the Kabbalah and always have a great deal of trouble. I even used those idiot guides such as “Kabbalah for Dummies” and still nothing. I imagine it takes a very special person to work with someone else to unlock the mysteries of the Kabbalah and unfortunately I never had the chance to sit in one of Gershom Scholem’s classes when I was at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Scholem was one of the most important scholars of our century.  Gershom Scholem (1897-1982) opened up a once esoteric world of Jewish mysticism, the Kabbalah, to concerned students of religion. The Kabbalah is somewhat undefinable but I believe that it is a rich tradition of repeated attempts to achieve and portray direct experiences of God: its twelfth-and thirteenth-century beginnings in southern France and Spain are discussed in “Origins of the Kabbalah”, a crucial work in Scholem’s oeuvre. The book is a contribution not only to the history of Jewish medieval mysticism but also to the study of medieval mysticism in general and is of interest to historians and psychologists, as well as to students of the history of religion.

This study provides a painstakingly detailed history of Kabbalah’s rise among medieval French and Spanish Jews. It describes the first publication of Jewish mystical texts and investigates the growth of their influence on Jewish religious life. We also get descriptions of  secret traditions of Jewish Gnosticism, which describe a Creation story that is so numerological and esoteric, it makes the New Testament book of Revelation look simple. While it is not an easy read, it is thought provoking. It also helps to remove much of the confusion concerning the Kabbalah which is a rich tradition of repeated attempts to achieve and portray direct experiences of God. The basic thesis of this book is that the Kabbalah originated in one chronologically limited time-span (13th century) and in one geographically limited area (Provençe, France and Gerona, Spain). Scholem writes, “Once the ice of ignorance has been broken and the charlatanism that dominated the field has been overcome, the way will be open to further fruitful research. Jewish studies as well as the history of Oriental and Western religions will benefit equally from a more penetrating study and discussion of the problem of the Kabbalah.”  Here is a spiritual relationship ready and willing.

“Arab New York: Politics and Community in the Everyday Lives of Arab Americans” by Emily Regan Wills— Politics and Arabs in New York

Wills, Emily Regan. “Arab New York: Politics and Community in the Everyday Lives of Arab Americans”, NYU Press,  2019.

Politics and Arabs in New York

Amos Lassen 

Numerically, Arab Americans are a small proportion of the population of the United States yet they have been the target of political scrutiny.  What we seem to forget is that most non-Arab Americans know little about what life is actually like within Arab communities and in organizations run by and for the Arab community. There are  large political questions that are central to the Arab American experience and it is important to see how politics are integrated into Arab Americans’ everyday lives. 

 Author Emily Regan Willies does just that in  “Arab New York”, her new book.  She looks outside the traditional ideas of political engagement to see the importance of politics in Arab American communities in New York. She focuses on the spaces of public and communal life in the five boroughs of New York, where lives the third largest concentration of people of Arab descent in this country. “Many different ethnic and religious groups form the overarching Arab American identity, and their political engagement in the US is complex.” Regan Wills examines the way that daily practice and speech form the foundation of political action and meaning.  She does through interviews and participant observation with activist groups and community organizations.

We look at  the following main topics “such as Arab American identity for children, relationships with Arab and non-Arab Americans, young women as leaders in the Muslim and Arab American community, support and activism for Palestine, and revolutionary change in Egypt and Yemen.” We see that in order to understand Arab American political engagement and see how political action develops in Arab American contexts, it is necessary to understand Arab Americans in their own terms of political and public engagement. We find that they are profoundly engaged with everyday politics and political questions that are not conventional politics. 

Regan Wills expands the existing literature on Arab Americans to include more direct engagement with politics and discourse. The study is also  an appropriate introduction to Arab American communities, ethnic dynamics in New York City and elsewhere in urban America, and the concept of everyday politics.            

The book captures the politics underlying the everyday lives of Arab Americans and does so by focusing on the ways in which Arab Americans understand and assign meaning to their political roles in society.