Monthly Archives: November 2020

“Requiem for a Female Serial Killer” by Phyllis Chessler— Into the Mind of Aileen Wournos

Chessler, Phyliss. “Requiem for a Female Serial Killer”,  World Encounter Institute/New English Review Press, 2020.

Into the Mind of Aileen Wournos

Amos Lassen

Aileen Wournos was a unique female serial killer. She was a prostitute who murdered seven adult men and her case issues raised issues that are still unresolved today. I found myself challenged by my ideas of how I thought about prostitutes, serial killers and American justice.

Author Phyllis Chessler knew Aileen Wuornos and was involved with her and she speaks in Wournos’s voice as well as her own. Wournos, while at outlaw, was also a damaged person filled with anger and rage, the subject of childhood and women’s abuse. Chessler has been haunted by her association with Wournos whom we see here as a woman who was broken. She was impaired cognitively, an alcoholic and suffered traumas in life. She, quite simply, had had enough and the results of that were deadly. Yet, here the portrait that we get of her is quite different from what we have seen before. We go behind-the-scenes and are introduced to her with great sensitivity yet Chessler manages to somewhat detach herself from the woman. We cannot help but question if Wournos suffered post-traumatic stress after having lived a life of hell. She was certainly affected by what she experienced as a prostitute but was she evil before that? How did she become a predator after having been prey for so long? What happened to the system that was supposed to protect her? These questions are left to the reader to answer.

We get “both an imagined interpretation of the crimes of Aileen Wuornos, the female ‘serial killer, ‘ and a description of the way that feminists in the US responded to her trial and execution.” We also see how prostitution can severely damage a person. Probing the issues of life and death, madness, justice (or the lack of it) and the trial for justice, the death penalty and trauma from rape, we get a new look at the Aileen Wournos that we thought we knew.

 

 

“Rambling Prose: Essays” by Steven G. Kellman— Poking Fun

Kellman, Steven G. “Rambling Prose: Essays”, Trinity University Press, 2020.

Poking Fun

Amos Lassen

 Steven Kellman’s “Rambling Prose” is a collection of essays filled with wordplay and surprising insight that explore the human experience through literary analysis. 

Kellman looks at animal rights, silence, mortality, eroticism, film, and language through a critical perspective and gives us complex investigations of eternal human questions that raise more questions than they answer.

Kellman’s explores moments in history and challenges us to understand the world through his prose. Hr looks at the implications of language that tend to define the cultural impact of words. He is educating and witty as he entertains us.

 

“Jewish Bible Translations: Personalities, Passions, Politics, Progress” by Leonard Greenspoon— Evaluating Translations

Greenspoon, Leonard. “Jewish Bible Translations: Personalities, Passions, Politics, Progress”, Jewish Publication Society, 2020.

Evaluating Translations

Amos Lassen

Leonard Greenspoon’s “Jewish Bible Translations” is the first book to examine Jewish Bible translations from the third century BCE to our day. “It is an overdue corrective of an important story that has been regularly omitted or downgraded in other histories of Bible translation.”

Greenspoon examines a wide range of translations over twenty-four centuries through the historical, cultural, linguistic, and religious contexts of versions in eleven languages: Arabic, Aramaic, English, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Russian, Spanish, and Yiddish. He looks at many Jewish translators including Buber, Hirsch, Kaplan, Leeser, Luzzatto, Mendelssohn, Orlinsky, and Saadiah Gaon and shows their “their aspirations within the Jewish and larger milieus in which they worked.”

He examines principles, styles, and techniques and their choice to emphasize either literal reflections of the Hebrew or distinctive elements of the vernacular language and their underlying rationales. Here are new insights about their shared characteristics and the limits they faced and we see how Jewish translators and interpreters influenced the style and diction of the King James Bible.

Accessible and authoritative for all from beginners to scholars, Jewish Bible Translations enables readers to make their own informed evaluations of individual translations and to holistically assess Bible translation within Judaism.

“HomeComing: A Mister Puss Mystery” by Michael Craft— A New House

Craft, Michael. “HomeComing: A Mister Puss Mystery”, Questlover Press, 2020.

A New House

Amos Lassen

In the third volume of the “Mister Puss Series”, writer Michael Craft reintroduces us to Architect Brody Norris and his husband, Marson Miles. They are building a new house and preparing to move into it when Brody is asked by Sheriff Thomas Simms to don his sleuthing outfits and come in to help on a new case. But Brody does not work alone; he  gets a bit of help from his Abyssinian cat, Mister Puss.

Set in the town of Dumont, Wisconsin, the residents are excited that their favorite son, actor Thad Manning, is coming home from Hollywood to direct a film about his youth. A site for screentests is set up on the town commons and we learn that there is even a role for  Mister Puss as well as for a number of extras. However, on the day of the tests, someone is found murdered and there are suspects everywhere.

This is so much more than a mystery though. Writer Craft explores the meaning of the word “homecoming” and what “home” means. Craft also brings back the cat that we came to love in the first two books in the series.

When Thad and his wife, Paige return to Dumont, there is a sense of excitement in the town. Thad has come home just at the same time that Brody is coming to his new home. Both men experience strong emotions about their concepts of home.However, the murder upends everything and as Sheriff Simms, along with Brody, investigates the crime, questions about the meaning of home come to the fore. We are taken through various looks at the definition of the word as the two men work at solving the murder. We see that the murder and the Thad’s and Brody’s homecomings are only “incidentally linked”. However, Brody’s begins to see his coming home to be linked to solving the murder and he begins to have serious looks at the people of the town, studying them as he searches for motives.  Because this is a mystery, I cannot say more about the plot except to tell you to keep your minds on Mister Puss who always has something to say.

Writer Craft brings us unique characters and wonderful descriptions of small town Wisconsin. The prose is lively and the story is compelling.

 

“Esther in America” by Dr. Stuart Halpern— The Impact of the Scroll of Esther

Halpern, Dr. Stuart, editor.  “Esther in America”, Maggid, 2020.

The Impact of the Scroll of Esther

Amos Lassen

“The Scroll of Esther” or Megillat Esther has been an inspiration throughout history. It has had great impact on this country. Rabbis and ethicists, abolitionists and artists, preachers and presidents, have understood and used the text to speak to an issue that was taking place. “It has offered solace to immigrants, forged solidarity, impacted politics” and individuals have realized that deliverance and salvation comes from our own actions and how we relate to what is going on both personally and nationally. Today, once again, America finds itself having to deal with the limits of power, gender issues, bigotry and antisemitism and the implosion of our republic.  The scroll of Esther, shows us how to find the strength and the will to deal with such issues but it is up to us to open our eyes and our minds to it.

 “Esther in America” looks at the inspiration that has been gained from the scroll from as far back as the story of Sojourner Truth and Puritan society when women took the initiative to find a way from the problems that they were forced to deal with. We later see the Feminist Esther as we relook at the story of Vashti as a women who dared to say no to a man who was above her. Women in Persia were silenced until both Vashti and Esther exercised their mouths to stand up to the powers that were.

Moving to the Diaspora, we see the expansion of the role of women who dared, like Esther, and stand up for themselves. We look at pop culture and see how the example of a strong woman influenced women to be who they were. We see their roles in presidential politics as first ladies and influences on their husbands and male peers and we look at today’s morality and see how the classic story of Purim has influenced the world today. The Biblical text has become a way to look at courage and ingenuity as far back as the Revolutionary War and still serves as such today. What we really see is that we must use what we have for good and that we all have the ability to do as Esther did and speak out and act. The Megillah has left its impression on the history of this country.

 

“Erato: Flash Fiction” edited by Alex Freeman, T.C. Mill and Guinivere Charles— The Erotic Imagination

Freeman, Alex, T.C. Mill and Guinevere Chase, (editors). “Erato: Flash Fiction”, The New Smut Project, 2020.

The Erotic Imagination

Amos Lassen

“Erato” is a collection of fifty erotic short stories filled with diverse characters, themes and settings. We go back in time, go to the future and also stay in the present as we are thrilled by unique language and fascinating characters who explore the gamut of sexuality and eroticism. Taken together this is a celebration of sensuality in all of its forms. I felt as if I was on a journey to a dream world.

We have stories from both experienced storytellers and new talent “who caress the senses and linger in the mind.” The stories are short enough (6 pages or less) to read over a cup of coffee in the morning before work, during a break or just before bed. Literarily speaking the book is filled with special treats for all people and for all tastes. I love the creativity of the writers and enjoyed the kinkiness of some of the selections. It is not often that each selection in an anthology is a good read but that is certainly true here and each story expands the imagination as it has something to say about the way we live today.

I have always had a hard time reviewing anthologies because I have to decide whether to look at the book as a whole or go through each selection and write about it (this is not an option here with fifty stories). You might think that I am making general statements here when I say the entire book is an exciting read but I am not. I am sincere in saying that. I am sure that every reader will find stories here that will take them away. Because of the variety and diversity of the stories, there are stories for everyone.

 

 

“As Far As I Can Tell: Finding My Father In World War II” by Philip Gambone— Searching for his Father

Gambone, Philip. “As Far As I Can Tell: Finding My Father In World War II”, Rattling Good Yarns, 2020.

Searching for His Father

Amos Lassen

 Philip Gambone, a gay man takes us into his life as he thinks about why he never told his father the reason why he was rejected from the draft during the Vietnam War. His father, never talked about what he did as a soldier in the Second World War. There was something missing between father and son and that sense of mystery is the backbone of “As Far As I Can Tell”. I remember having dinner with writer Gambone when I first moved to Boston some nine years and he told me about the book he was planning to write. I am amazed at how much time has passed since the day we sat in Zaftig’s Restaurant in Brookline, Massachusetts and had this conversation. That book is here now, the result of seven years of Gambone’s thoughts about who his father was. We see his dad as a quiet man and we read how Gambone relived his father’s journey while at the same time dealing with the emotions that came upon him as he explored his and his father’s lives. It challenges the reader as well since we feel some of the same emotions as we read how a father saw history and human civilization colored by war. I found it impossible not to be moved by what I read.

Gambone combines family memoir, travelogue and meditations on war to bring us his story and we learn what is was to really feel war as it is being fought. Through chronicling his father’s army service, Gambone learns about his father and what the two men shared and what held them apart. We cross time and place as we read how the author came to forgive both his father and himself. Written in gorgeous prose, many of us are taken into a world that we have lived but do not talk about. For Gambone, connection emerges— we are all not that fortunate yet watching how he reaches that point is filled with beauty and grace. I felt that this is a book that the author had to write in order to be at peace with himself and this makes it a courageous look at how we live. Our pasts never leave them and by facing them, we come out stronger and often better people. It is difficult to explore what we do not know, especially in our own families and Gambone dares to do that and succeeds wonderfully. We do not often have to be caged by the ideas of what is expected of us and by reading this, we see how to break free of that constraint. It is not easy but the rewards are great. Literature is meant to make us think and Gambone gives us a great deal to think about.

 

“HE CAME FROM THE SWAMP: THE WILLIAM GREFE COLLECTION”— A Maverick Filmmaker

“HE CAME FROM THE SWAMP: THE WILLIAM GREFE COLLECTION”

A Maverick Filmmaker

Amos Lassen

I had no ides what to expect as I sat down to watch the four disc collection, “He Came from the Swamp”. I had no idea who William Grefe was and as I watched the first film, I thought to myself that this was going to be a collection of campy films that I would soon forget. Yes, some of the films are indeed campy but they are also great fun. We see killer sharks and human jellyfish and living mummies and a lot of outrageous exploitation fare. The movies are  Grefé s most outlandish features and all new to Blu-ray. Taken together we get “a macabre menagerie of demented jellyfish men (Sting of Death), zombified witch doctors (Death Curse of Tartu), homicidal hippies (The Hooked Generation) and seductive matrons (The Naked Zoo) not to mention the ubiquitous go-go dancing college kids to create one of the most wildly entertaining box-sets of all time!”

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS

  Seven William Grefé films, all newly restored from the best surviving film elements: Sting of Death (1966), Death Curse of Tartu (1966), The Hooked Generation (1968), The Psychedelic Priest (1971), The Naked Zoo (1971), Mako: Jaws of Death (1976) and Whiskey Mountain (1977)

  Brand new, extended version of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures definitive documentary They Came from the Swamp: The Films of William Grefé

  High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentations on 4 Blu-ray discs

  Original uncompressed mono audio for all films

  Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

  Fully illustrated collector s booklet featuring an extensive, never-before-published interview with William Grefé and a new foreword by the filmmaker

  Reversible poster featuring newly commissioned artwork by The Twins of Evil

  Reversible sleeves featuring newly commissioned artwork for each of the films by The Twins of Evil

STING OF DEATH (1966) + DEATH CURSE OF TARTU (1966)

  Brand new introductions to the films by director William Grefé

  Archival audio commentaries for both films with William Grefé and filmmaker Frank Henenlotter

  Sting of Death: Beyond the Movie Monsters a-Go Go! a look into the history of rock ‘n’ roll monster movies with author/historian C. Courtney Joyner

  The Curious Case of Dr. Traboh: Spook Show Extraordinaire a ghoulish look into the early spook show days with monster maker Doug Hobart

  Original Trailers

  Still and Promotion Gallery

THE HOOKED GENERATION (1968) + THE PSYCHEDELIC PRIEST (1971)

  Archival audio commentaries for both films with director William Grefé and filmmaker Frank Henenlotter

  Hooked Generation behind-the-scenes footage

  Hooked Generation Original Trailer

  Still and Promotion Gallery

THE NAKED ZOO (1971) + MAKO: JAWS OF DEATH (1976)

  William Grefé s original Director s Cut of Naked Zoo

  Alternate Barry Mahon re-release cut of Naked Zoo

  Original Mako: Jaws of Death Trailer and Promo

  Still and Promotion Gallery

WHISKEY MOUNTAIN (1977) + THEY CAME FROM THE SWAMP: EXTENDED CUT (2020)

  Whiskey Mountain Original Trailer

  Still and Promotion Gallery

  They Came from the Swamp: The Films of William Grefé the definitive documentary presented for the first in High-Definition and in a brand new, extended cut

Extras subject to change

 

“HABERMANN”— Czechoslovakia, 1945

“HABERMANN”

Czechoslovakia, 1945

Amos Lassen

Czech director Juraj Herz’s “Habermann” is set in German-Czech inhabited Sudetenland and begins with a scene of cruelty and destruction. An angry mob loots houses while forcing the inhabitants into the streets and towards railroad cars. People are beaten and humiliated. One woman’s face is even smashed into the urine-soaked portrait of her country’s leading politician, someone she never voted for and cared for even less.The ground she kneels on will be Czechoslovakia once again and she was married to a German. So coming in contact with a smelly Hitler-portrait is the least of her worries. We then flash back eight years. The woman’s husband, August Habermann, is a well-liked industrialist of German heritage who was born in the Sudetenland, where Germans and Czechs have co-existed in relative peace for hundreds of years. Even when the country is annexed by Nazi Germany via the Munich Pact, he expresses doubt that things are really going to change. He concentrates his work, his Czech wife Jana and their newborn child.

When the Nazis finally arrive, some of his Czech workers take up arms and pamphlets. He tries to protect them the best he can, but is unable to stop the extortion, torture and killings perpetrated by the Nazis. He cannot imagine that what friends and co-workers have in store for him might be even worse.

For director Herz the war is of lesser importance than what it turns people into. While some of the characters become heroes or at least show some morality, others use the vagaries of war as an excuse for a free-for-all and there are  turncoats, informers and cowards on the Czech side. Habermann’s fate is not determined by what he did during the war, but by anguished victims eager to blame anybody and envious, greedy workers who are suddenly in power.

The birth of Habermann’s daughter, the Munich Pact, the girl’s christening and the arrival of the first Nazis seem to have all happened in one afternoon and this is confusion since it is not possible.. Other scenes are also confusing and that is because there is so much going on.

Mark Waschke as Habermann turns in a beautiful performance as do  Hannah Herzsprung and Karel Roden as his wife and best friend. This is a serious film about a subject that long deserved its due. Its flaws are neither fatal nor do they completely take away its impact. They just limit what could have been an important film to being a decent film about something important.

“Habermann” opens with families are torn apart, women are tossed around and mud splattered everywhere and goes on to chronicle the post-war Czech backlash against German occupiers. The story is told from the viewpoint of the oppressors, Sudeten Germans, who until the 1938 annexation of the Czech province lived as immigrants outside their country, in some cases for hundreds of years. Chief among these is August Habermann, a principled mill owner whose strong morality is opposite to the violence that we see.

This  is a portrait of a town that is devoid of normality or everyday activity, and this  depiction undercuts the eventual emotional escalation. It is a morality-play with stock figures of Hitler Youth, a traitor, a double-dealer, and others. It is less concerned with ideas of redemption or salvation. The majority of the characters are concerned solely with themselves—-they are desperate opportunists for whom other people are barriers or distractions. The moral Habermann comes off as almost saint-like but his ethical purity achieves nothing. The film doesn’t try to understand or define the tragedy of the story it tells and allows its small tragedies to stand on their own.

The tension between the Czechs and Germans was already manifest in the 1930s with Czechs usually working in inferior jobs. August Habermann is the one positive character. He employs Czechs without prejudices, before the war and even during the war. His best friend is a Czech forester (who has a German wife) and he marries a Czech wife, Jana, who turns out to be half-Jewish but it also a devout Catholic and relatively loyal to the German cause. She wasn’t really aware of having a Jewish father; however, the birth certificate is aware of that as are Habermann and some officials.

Habermann’s younger brother Hans is an enthusiastic German nationalist who joins Wehrmacht at some point. He returns partly crippled from the Eastern front. We see that the Nazi propaganda machine was trying to hide totally elementary facts such as the fact that the Germany army was punished by Stalin. Informing citizens about these events was potentially fatal.


The film doesn’t really portray Czechs as some innocent heroes facing purely bad and vicious German foes. The main hero is a German, after all, and much of the Czech resistance movement that Habermann indirectly helps to support is very primitive.  His wife and their daughter are expelled not because she is Czech and Jewish but due to her loyalty during the war. For Germans, the Sudentland was a beloved homeland. When the Nazi army arrives, Habermann greets them with an elegant “Heil Hitler, Sirs” 🙂 and makes them sure that he is neither a communist nor a Jew and he would collaborate with them.

The film tries hard to be an epic but does not succeed. It does, however, succeed as an interesting view of history.

“THE UNTOLD STORY”— Pure Horror

“THE UNTOLD STORY”

Pure Horror

Amos Lassen

Herman Yau’s “The Untold Story” is a move you will never forget. After severed limbs are discovered along a Macao beach, local detectives are sent on a search for the suspected killer. Their findings take them to the Eight Immortals Restaurant and its new owner, Wong Chi Hang (Anthony Chau-Sang Wong). Trough pressure and some unorthodox methods, they finally break Wong and get him to confess to the grisly murders of an entire family.

The film is brutal and has many layers to it but this is not a film for everyone. At times I thought I was watching a buddy cop comedy, at other times it seemd to be a documentary but it is, above all, a horror film that is well made, well written, and a very comprehensive story. The comedic elements are very funny and help to create some levity in what is a very dark tale overall.

The film has been heavily cut for many years because of explicit scenes of sexual assault and rape and violence against children, including at least one decapitation.

All manner of violence and gore is created with 100% practical effects and no extraneous CGI. There is no holding back as the antagonist goes around chopping up bodies, stabbing people in the face and head with paper receipt spike sticks, etc. The high level of gruesome carnage is maintained the entire time.

With its new 1.78:1 restoration, the film looks and sounds excellent. It’s as if the film was shot just this year, instead of in the early nineties.

There is a lot of special bonus content— various interviews and Q&A sessions, as well as the feature-length documentary. 

The acting is wonderful throughout especially from Anthony Wong as the owner of the Eight Immortals Restaurant in Macau. Business has been booming under Wong’s ownership. However, one wonders what has happened to the original owner of the place, Cheng Lam. When a mother and her two children find dismembered arms on the beach, the Macau police, led by Officer Lee investigates.

The arms belonged to the mother-in-law of Cheng Lam and Wong is asked about Cheng Lam. Wong claims Cheng sold him the restaurant and left. However, letters from Cheng’s family in the Mainland begin to arrive. Meanwhile, when a new hire sees Wong cheat at mahjong, he confronts Wong. Wong becomes unstable and kills the new hire. Realizing that he cannot move the corpse, he comes up with an idea. He chops up the body and uses the flesh for his pork buns.

As the police continue their investigation, Wong’s other hire Pearl gets suspicious of Wong, especially after constantly receiving the letters from Cheng’s family. When Wong suspects she has told the police something, he rapes and ultimately kills her as well. The police connect Wong to the dismembered arms and have him arrested. When Wong is sent to prison, he attempts suicide after receiving a vicious beating from Cheng’s brother Poon. At the hospital, a failed attempt at escape force the police to take drastic measures in order for Wong to confess.

Rated Category-III (Hong Kong’s version of the NC-17 rating), this is truly one of the most disturbing films to come out of the Jade Screens. Director Herman Yau has crafted his tour-de-force with this visionary tale of a psychotic madman’s downhill spiral and his efforts to not be judged in any way, even though the audience knows what a psychopath this man was.

To make the film more entertaining in a way is a break from the madness. The Macau cops are seen as a group of chauvinists who ogle the hookers that lead Detective Lee is always carousing. In practically every scene, Danny Lee’s veteran cop is seen with a hooker on his arm. His group has one female, Bo (Emily Kwan) who is  coerced into doing more on the job by her fellow cops. However, she takes the reigns dutifully when it comes to solving the crime.

The film is shocking  so if you have a weak stomach or heart, it is highly recommended that you do NOT see this movie. If on the other hand, you are in the mood for something different, you do not want to miss this.