Monthly Archives: February 2020

“RAIGA: GOD OF THE MONSTERS”— A Mixed Experience


A Mixed Experience

Amos Lassen

“Raiga: God of the Monsters” is a lot of reasonably well done giant automation scenes of Kaiju Eiga destruction with three main battles (and a flashback battle) against tanks, planes, helicopters, battleships — and even giant fish monsters. We also have a lot of lame comedy, mostly centered around a hapless guy who is constantly beset upon by his three daughters.

We also get some very silly Japanese leaders including a couple of soldiers,  a few other school girls, the hero’s buddies, and a sequence featuring someone who is probably the Japanese equivalent of a stand-up comic.As a whole the film is filled with very lame comedy.  

“Raiga” is a parody that brings a wacky, at times aimless anime-like flair to its action. It’s so absurd, that by the end, the giant monster bends over and pees on buildings to mark its territory. Then again, that almost makes sense biologically.

Because of the micro-budget, the Defense Minister, his assistants, and gung-ho military advisers operate from a single, tiny room, chewing on their options to rid the city of Raiga. The armor-clad military team suggests the next uber-weapon, the minister boasts how this new plan will work, the assistants always agree as to not offend their boss.

There’s also a smaller story, that of a single father and his three daughters. Director Shinpei Hayashiya’s “Raiga”  makes no pretense about taking itself seriously. Raiga’s design earns menace, comedic intent aside.

“SKELETON OF MRS. MORALES” (“El Esqueleto De La Senora Morales”)— A Mexican Black Comedy

“SKELETON OF MRS. MORALES” (“El Esqueleto De La Senora Morales”)

A Mexican Black Comedy

Amos Lassen

“The Skeleton of Mrs. Morales” is a 1960 Mexican black comedy film adapted from horror master Arthur Machen’s 1927 story The Islington Mystery by screen writer Luis Alcoriza. Critics consider it as one of the hundred best Mexican films of all time. It is about a quiet taxidermist Pablo Morales (Arturo de Córdova) who suffers the demands of his prudish and hypochondriac wife Gloria (Amparo Rivelles). After twenty years of a terrible marriage, he decides to murder her. Performances are over the top and there is an ironic, final twist to the story.

No one could blame Pablo for murdering his wife. In 20 years of marriage, she turned into a frantic hypochondriac, faking illnesses and giving herself bruises to implicate Pablo. He kills her, puts her bones in acid, and displays then in the window of his taxidermy shop. The humor is sadistic and twisted. The film sides with Pablo completely – he’s flawless and the absolute victim. There is A Catholic presence in the film— a priest and a congregation visit almost daily, empathetic to Gloria as she feigns various illnesses, posturing for their pity in a bed surrounded by religious symbols. It’s a ludicrous act, yet the church sees her as a saint. At the same time, Pablo is outside playing with kids, puppies, and working during the day. The contrast is wondrously skewed and the religious hypocrisy does not stop.

Cordova’s performance is brilliant. Halfway through Pablo is in a bar with friends discussing murder and he is confident about killing his wife and even arrogant about it. No crime is perfect. Pablo let a detail slip his mind, setting up a brutally morbid, comically ironic twist ending that makes this movie so special.  After talking about religion as a joke and warnings that God will judge, Pablo’s oversight comes at a cost. Amoral as the film seems to be, the final moments bring judgment to all, and a righteous end to a farce that focuses on death.

Two-thirds of the film is about the wife’s cruel treatment of the husband, and of her ability to make everyone see her as the victim. This is essential for the story to work; our sympathies are with the husband and must remain so even when he takes his revenge, it helps establish the characters of the various people manipulated by the wife, including a local priest, two biddies from next door, and her siblings. The setup of the perfect crime is brilliant, in that the husband uses his wife’s own wiles to clear himself, while setting up a situation where the most damning piece of evidence against him actually works to his benefit. This is not a movie for the squeamish; we get to see just enough of the taxidermist at work to put us on edge.

“CLAY PIGEON”— A Laughable Hippie Revenge Saga


A Laughable Hippie Revenge Saga

Amos Lassen

“Clay Pigeon”  is an amateurish, heavy-handed vanity project for producer/co-director/star Tom Stern that flopped when it was released in 1972.

Stern is Joe Ryan, an ex-cop and Vietnam vet who’s now a homeless, cart-pushing hippie living on the streets of Hollywood. In one of his many random acts of sticking it to The Man, Joe steals a cop’s motorcycle and takes it on a joyride before getting tossed in jail, where he’s made an offer by rogue FBI agent Redford (Telly Savalas): go undercover and infiltrate the heroin smuggling operation of L.A. drug lord Neilson (Robert Vaughn). When Joe refuses, Redford sets him up to be mistaken for Neilson in some nonsensical attempt to draw Neilson out of hiding. All come together for an impressively bloody shootout at the Hollywood Bowl. Stern (who has never directed another movie) and co-director Lane Slate (who went on to write numerous TV movies and a few theatrical releases.

Other than the finale, nothing works in “Clay Pigeon.” Redford’s plan makes no sense (and why is Savalas, for no reason, shown in one scene shirtless and staggering around a fleabag hotel room with his hands in restraints? In the next scene, he’s wearing a suit and whatever was going on in the hotel room is never referenced again). The film is mainly just Stern walking around or going to strip joints, or hanging out with some free-loving lady friends who can’t help but throw themselves at a smelly homeless guy. Stern has a couple of nude scenes, including one where he and two full-frontal hotties in all their ’70s glory frolicki in a swimming pool threesome, a scene producer Tom Stern, in conjunction with co-director Tom felt was a necessary component to the development of the character played by star Stern who tries to make some big social statements throughout.

“Death Club 1981-1993: +DVD by Christian Death”— For the Collector

“Death Club 1981-1993: +DVD by Christian Death”

For the Collector

Amos Lassen

Death Club” is essential to Christian Death/Rozz fans what “Crackle” is to Bauhaus devotees—a sampler of the band’s best years with Rozz as front man, plus some extra little goodies to make this album worth buying to anyone who already owns all of the albums highlighted here.

The only album cuts NOT included are those from “The Iron Mask”(understandably, as it’s only re-recordings of most of these songs anyways), “The Rage Of Angels” and Christian Death’s various live releases, which weren’t particularly good anyways. Included though are the semi-hard to find “Invocations” studio cuts, which include “Haloes”, “This Mirage” and the rarer “Spectre(Love Is Dead)” as well as plenty of DVD extras including video clips from a live show, their appearance on “Media Blitz” and interviews with both Rozz and Rikk Agnew from the band’s early days.

For the uninitiated, buy this album and think of it as Christian Death footnotes. Then go buy the albums you can find still. The CD is  a “best of ” of sorts and not a bad one at that. There are some tracks that are rare and hard to find.

The DVD is a great deal. The interview with Rikk is cool, the two or three songs they did on some public access station actually sound really good while the video quality, as can be expected, is poor but can be overlooked. The 1990 reunion show in Phoenix fine and it is great to see the band playing all of Theatre Of Pain and a couple extra tracks as well. However, the club is really small, the sound is so-so. Rozz’s voice has changed, drugs have taken hold and it makes a huge difference. Rozz and Eva O look like they’re just going through the motions to get paid and score dope. It’s almost sad in a way because the edge they had is gone, the sense of rebellion is over and they’re reuniting solely because they know people will show up to hear the early material; their best. But that’s far better than dropping out and into mainstream society.

It is hard watching—- in 8 years, he’d be dead. And the years in between were filled with addiction, alcoholism and increasing despair. At one time Rozz was an artist who dabbled in drugs. Then, he became an addict who dabbled in art. While a lot of his material was sub-par, he did leave behind a legacy. Christian Death was death rock. The first and the best.

The DVD has a concert of the “Only Theater of Pain”

“German, Jew, Muslim, Gay: The Life and Times of Hugo Marcus” by Marc David Baer— A Man of Many Names and Identities

Baer, Marc David. “German, Jew, Muslim, Gay: The Life and Times of Hugo Marcus”, Columbia University Press, 2020.

A Man of Many Names and Identities

Amos Lassen

Hugo Marcus (1880–1966) was a man of many names and many identities. He was born a German Jew, converted to Islam and took the name Hamid and became one of the most prominent Muslims in Germany before World War II. The Nazis renamed him Israel and sent him to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp before he escaped to Switzerland. He was a gay man who never called himself gay but he fought for homosexual rights and wrote queer fiction under the pen name Hans Alienus during his decades of exile.

Writer Marc David Baer uses Marcus’s life and work to tell us about German Jewish history and anti-Semitism, Islam in Europe, Muslim-Jewish relations, and the history of the gay rights struggle. We see that Marcus created a unique synthesis of German, gay, and Muslim identity that positioned Johann Wolfgang von Goethe as his intellectual and spiritual model. Marcus’s life gives us a new perspective on sexuality and on conceptions of gay identity in the world of interwar and postwar Europe. His story is unconventional to say the least and it reveals new aspects of the interconnected histories of Jewish and Muslim individuals and communities (including Muslim responses to Nazism and Muslim experiences of the Holocaust).  Marcus is an exceptional yet little-known figure and in his book, we see, though him, the complexities of twentieth-century Europe’s religious, sexual, and cultural politics.

I am fascinated by what I read here and in fact I felt like I was reading a detective story and not a biography. Baer recreates Marcus’s life and times and it is a page turner that changes our assumptions “about Jewishness, homosexuality, Muslim-Jewish relations, orientalism, and the challenges of modernity”.

Today fluidity of identity is not surprising but Marcus’s identity crashed into the changing realities in the transition from Imperial to Republican to Nazi Germany in the early twentieth century. Hugo Marcus had a unique life and his life is a unique story. We have other accounts of gay Jews fighting their double stigmatization as well as the lives of German Jews attracted to or indeed converting to Islam during this period. The story of Hugo Marcus links complex questions of identity to institutional histories and their dislocation in the German-speaking world. His life ended in having his ashes thrown over a pauper’s grave in Bern.

“Being Functional: A Memoir” by Atticus Blake— Believing in Self

Blake, Atticus. “Being Functional: A Memoir”, Amazon Digital Services, 2020.

Believing in Self

Amos Lassen

Atticus Blake shares himself with us in his memoir of his life between the ages of 9 to 31. He says that it was “During which time I was indoctrinated into the Christian faith and eventually left religion behind, along with a multitude of other irrational beliefs. I was a true believer who leaned on God and the teachings of the church for all things. However, as with many Christians, this clashed with my true inner self, whom I hid from the people around me in order to appear functional. I am gay, I was married and have children, I am obsessive-compulsive, and was overcome with severe debilitating panic attacks. That was until the power of reason overcame my fear of learning, and I came to believe in my self (sic), and accept who I really am.”

Told in no particular order, this is his story of “love, sex, religion, God, Jesus, homosexuality, teenage angst, burglary, crime, guilt, suffering, shame, birth, death, suicide, creationism, pseudoscience, real science, pornography, drugs, loving women, loving men, escapism, obsession, shitty bosses, sexual fantasy, football, divorce, the theory of evolution, Charles Darwin, American life, picking up random partners, falling in love with a best friend, falling in love with a God, fearing a God, leaving the faith, and eventually atheism.” And it is fascinating.

I have never experienced much of what he went through yet I found so much here to relate to. However, the book needed a good editor to catch the errors.

The story is heartfelt and even though it is about a subject we have read many times, it is told with a great deal of emotion and pain. Blake is a fine writer and if you can overlook the errors this is a read not soon forgotten.

“Queer Korea” edited by Todd A. Henry— Looking at Gay Korea

Henry, Todd A., editor. “Queer Korea”, Duke University Press, 2020.

Looking at Gay Korea

Amos Lassen

Koreans have “faced successive waves of foreign domination, authoritarian regimes, forced dispersal, and divided development” since the end of the nineteenth century. Through all of this, “queer” Koreans were ignored, minimized, and erased in narratives of their modern nation, East Asia, and the wider world. Now we have this interdisciplinary study that “challenges this marginalization through critical analyses of non-normative sexuality and gender variance.” The authors included look at both personal and collective forces and extend individualized notions of queer neoliberalism beyond those that have been typically set in Western queer theory. They also look at a range of topics  including “shamanic rituals during the colonial era and B-grade comedy films under Cold War dictatorship to toxic masculinity in today’s South Korean military and transgender confrontations with the resident registration system.”  We gain new ways of understanding the limits and possibilities of human liberation under exclusionary conditions of modernity in Asia and beyond.
This is a fascinating look at Korea and a work of scholarship that brings together historical, social science, and cultural analysis that shatter myths about Korean sexuality and relationships and gives voice to those who have had no voice thus bringing Korean queerness into the mainstream of Korean and East Asian studies.

Table of Contents: 

Acknowledgments  vii
Introduction. Queer Korea: Toward a Field of Engagement / Todd A. Henry  1
Part I. Unruly Subjects Under Colonial and Postcolonial Modernity
1. Ritual Specialists in Colonial Drag: Shamanic Interventions in 1920s Korea / Merose Hwang  55
2. Telling Queer Time in a Straight Empire: Yi Sang’s “Wings” (1936) / John Whittier Treat  90
3. Problematizing Love: The Intimate Event and Same-Sex Love in Colonial Korea / Pei Jean Chen  117
4. Femininity under the Wartime System and the Symptomacity of Female Same-Sex Love / Shin-ae Ha (Translated by Kyunghee Eo) 146
5. A Female-Dressed Man Sings a National Epic: The Film Male Kisaeng and the Politics of Gender and Sexuality in 1960s South Korea / Chung-kang Kim  175
6. Queer Lives as Cautionary Tales: Female Homoeroticism and the Heteropatriarchal Imagination of Authoritarian South Korea / Todd A. Henry  205
Part II. Citizens, Consumers, Soldiers, and Activists in Postauthoritarian Times
7. The Three Faces of South Korea’s Male Homosexuality: Pogal, Iban and Neoliberal Gay / John (Song Pae) Cho  263
8. Avoiding T’ibu (Obvious Butchness): Invisibility as a Survival Strategy among Young Queer Women in South Korea / Layoung Shin  295
9. Ripples of Trauma: Queer Bodies and the Temporality of Violence in the South Korean Military / Timothy Gitzen  323
10. Mobile Numbers and Gender Transitions: The Resident Registration System, the Nation-State, and Trans/gender Identities / Ruin (Translated by Max Balhorn)  357
Contributors  377

“The Ungodly Hour” by Laury Egan— On Mykonos

Egan, Laury A. “The Ungodly Hour”,  Interlude Press, 2020.

On Mykonos

Amos Lassen

Dana Fox is leading a weeklong photography workshop on Mykonos and she falls in love with the place. She also falls in love with a local policewoman, Cybele Karabélias, a local policewoman. However, her vacation turns fearful when a series of gruesome murders shakes the town.  She ignores the threat of danger and continues taking photos without knowing that the murderer is edging in. She is unaware that she has something that he wants and neither does she fear the dangers around her. She just continues with her photographs.

I can’t quite put my finger on what pulled me into the tory but I was immediately hooked and could not stop reading. Laury A. Egan’s descriptions are done well to made me feel like I was experiencing the novel myself.

Dana Fox did not realize that she might have photographed the killer and that as a result, she could be the next victim.  

Author Laury Egan brings in the themes of homophobia, violence, sexual violence, domestic abuse, child abuse and molestation, death of parents through  depictions of homophobic protests and bullying, sexual harassment, attempted sexual assault, sadism, and violence. In amazing ways, everything comes together and is quite an intense read. Because this is a mystery/thriller, I can’t say any more about the plot without giving something away but I can say that this is one of those books that stays with you after the covers are closed. This is the second book I have read by Ms. Egan and she has found a real fan here.

“The Dirty South: A Thriller” by John Connolly— The Becoming of Charlie Parker

Connolly, John. “The Dirty South: A Thriller”, Atria/Emily Bestler Books , 2020.

The Becoming of Charlie Parker

Amos Lassen

John Connolly takes us back to the very beginning of Private Investigator Charlie Parker’s astonishing career with his first terrifying case. In 1997, someone is slaughtering young women in Burdon County, Arkansas but no one wants to admit it.

A former NYPD detective is in jail in Arkansas and is stricken by grief. He is mourning the death of his wife and child and searching in vain for their killer. His obsession with avenging his lost family leads his life to take a shocking turn. Here is the birth of a conscience and a hunter as Charlie Parker comes into himself.

As Charlie is deeply mourning the loss of his wife and daughter and  searching for their killer, he comes to a small town in Arkansas that is dealing with a series of murders. Charlie decides to help. Set in a small town. We see life there with all of its decay and decadence as well as the struggle for survival in a county that has been left to be  in financial poverty and without hopes and dreams for a better future. Then the lure of money and power brings out the worst in people who have been deprived of both for far so long. The town seems to be filled with corruption and evil and as Charlie Parker passes through he sees that there is nothing there for him as he is on  his own personal quest for resolution. But then there is another murder and Charlie is drawn into the investigation.

We are taken in time to see Charlie, while he is still raw before the Charlie Parker we get to know in Connolly’s books. This is something of a prequel that takes us to the months after the murders that shape Parker’s life. We learn about a man coming to grips with his loss and how he will chose to move forward. To say anymore would ruin the read.

“The Loud Minority: Why Protests Matter in American Democracy” by Daniel Q. Gillion— Influences on Voter and Candidate Behavior

Gillion, Daniel Q. “The Loud Minority: Why Protests Matter in American Democracy”,  (Princeton Studies in Political Behavior), Princeton University Press, 2019.

Influences on Voter and Candidate Behavior

Amos Lassen

Richard Nixon coined the phrase the “silent majority in 1969 in response to Vietnam War protests and later used by Donald Trump as a campaign slogan. It refers to the wedge that exists between protestors in the street and the voters at home. Professor Daniel Q. Gillion explores and upends this view by demonstrating that voters are directly informed and influenced by protest activism. As protests grow in America, every aspect of the electoral process is influenced by this loud minority, “benefiting the political party perceived to be the most supportive of the protestors’ messaging.”

Through historical evidence, statistical data, and detailed interviews about protest activity since the 1960s, we see that electoral districts with protest activity are more likely to see increased voter turnout at the polls. Protest activities are also moneymaking endeavors for electoral politics— voters donate more to political candidates who share the ideological leanings of activists. Protests are a signal of political problems  and encourage experienced political challengers to run for office and hurting incumbents’ chances of winning reelection. While the silent majority may not speak by protesting themselves, they clearly call for social change with their votes.

This is an exploration of how protests affect voter behavior and warn of future electoral changes by looking at the many ways that activism can shape democracy. We see that the ‘silent majority’ is not always swayed by the ‘loud minority’ of protesters. Daniel Gillion’s gathered evidence highlights protesters’ influence at each stage of the political process―in donations, party conventions and primaries, voting behavior, and grassroots social movements. We see the growth of a social movement society and the power of protest to defend (and challenge) democracy. Protests do influence politics, particularly in our current polarized climate.

Protests are “ideologically linked clusters of events that send signals to the body politic.” The politics of protests have become a firm part of ideological partisan conflict in the United States and can directly affect elections: by increasing voter turnout, increasing campaign contributions, and motivating higher-quality candidates to run for office.