Monthly Archives: May 2021

“YEARS OF LEAD: Five Classic Italian Crime Thrillers 1973-1977”— 3-Disc Limited Edition

“YEARS OF LEAD: Five Classic Italian Crime Thrillers 1973-1977”

3-Disc Limited Edition

Amos Lassen

During the 1970s, Italy experienced intense uncertainty and instability. Political corruption and widespread acts of left and right-wing terrorism and a breakdown in social cohesion and a loss of trust in public institutions such as the government and police were responsible for creating an atmosphere of cynicism, paranoia and unexploded rage. This was expressed in a series of brutal, morally ambiguous crime thrillers which came out of the atmosphere of violence and instability and defined the so-called Years of Lead.

This box set consists of five films from the heyday of the “poliziotteschi” – the term used to describe this diverse body of films.  Vittorio Salerno’s “Savage Three” (1975) and Mario Imperoli’s “Like Rabid Dogs” (1976) show random acts of violence committed by vicious young sociopaths that threaten the fragile fabric of respectable society. In Massimo Dallamano’s “Colt 38 Special Squad” (1976) and Stelvio Massi’s “Highway Racer” (1977), renegade cops battle red tape and political corruption and go to new and morally dubious methods to dispense justice. Class dynamics are explored in Salerno’s “No, the Case is Happily Resolved” (1973) where an innocent man finds himself under suspicion for a savage crime committed by a highly respected member of society.

The poliziotteschi were more ideologically varied and often considerably more nuanced and proved a huge hit with theatergoers, who responded to present-day social concerns. The films feature a line-up of Euro-cult stars, including Joe Dallesandro (The Climber), Ivan Rassimov (Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key), Maurizio Merli (Violent City) and Enrico Maria Salerno (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage), this collection of stylish, hard-hitting Euro-crime thrillers showcases the range and breadth of the genre and is a must-have for newcomers and grizzled veterans alike.

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS

  High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentations of all five films, restored from the original camera negatives, including a brand new 2K restoration of Colt 38 Special Squad exclusive to this release

  Original lossless mono Italian audio

  Original lossless mono English audio on Colt 38 Special Squad

  English subtitles for the Italian soundtracks

  Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack on Colt 38 Special Squad

  New visual essay by critic Will Webb

  Interview with director Vittorio Salerno and actress Martine Brochard on Savage Three

  Interview with actor Joe Dallesandro on Savage Three

  Interview with cinematographer Romano Albani and historian Fabio Melelli on Like Rabid Dogs

  Interview with assistant director Claudio Bernabei on Like Rabid Dogs

  Like Rabid Dogs music sampler

  Interview and introduction by composer Stelvio Cipriani on Colt 38 Special Squad

  Interview with editor Antonio Siciliano on Colt 38 Special Squad

  Interview with historian Roberto Curti on Highway Racer

  Interview with director Vittorio Salerno on No, the Case is Happily Resolved

  No, the Case is Happily Resolved alternate ending

  Trailers

  Poster galleries

  Reversible sleeves featuring original artwork

“THRESHHOLD”— A Paranormal Dilemma

“THRESHHOLD”

A Paranormal Dilemma

Amos Lassen

Virginia (Madison West) is acting crazy again and her family thinks that she might be back on drugs. She insists that she is possessed. Virginia had joined a cult where they “did something” to her and this guy that bonded them together, in some occult fashion. She believes that they can inhabit and experience the other’s body.

This man can make Virginia do things including hurting others and herself. The bond can only be broken if one of them dies. Virginia thinks he wants to kill her for that reason and she wants to find and kill him first.

Virginia’s brother, Leo (Joey Millin) humors her. He drives Virginia across country to find the man who is believed to be in Las Vegas. If they don’t find him, she agrees to return to rehab.

This is a small, intimate film that is structured as a road trip. As Virginia and Leo drive to Las Vegas, they laugh, fight, and sight-see.. Because they are siblings, there is no romance is removed and we focus on their paranormal dilemma. Like Leo, are not sure if Virginia is possessed or merely hallucinating.  There is a dark malevolence that permeates the film, but the threats are intimated rather than explicit. Leo witnesses some unnerving incidents, but they are essentially harmless and could be coincidence.

The “slow burn” plot structure provides a menacing atmosphere, psychological complexity, and overall ambiguity. As more and more strange things happen, Leo begins to doubt his rational beliefs and has to come to terms with the fact that Virginia might not be that crazy. Millin and West are believable as the estranged brother and sister, and deliver strong performances with a natural, easy chemistry that makes both of their characters relatable.

The slow burning sense of oppression that the film aims for feels constantly out of reach. By the time the film ends, Leo is convinced that his sister is sane – but there’s not enough proof in the film itself to convince the audience and that’s a problem. The final climactic scene is divisive even though it works. It depends very much on how invested the viewer is in the characters and their situations. The horror plot disappears in favor of the siblings relationship but the script doesn’t provide enough information for the ending to work.

The entire film was shot on two iPhones and the interplay between the two characters is refreshing and more interesting than the horror elements.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

  High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation

  Original 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio

  Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

 

  Brand new audio commentary with directors Powell Robinson, Patrick R. Young, producer Lauren Bates and lead actors Joey Millin and Madison West

  Crossing the Threshold, a feature-length documentary on the making of Threshold

  Elevating iPhone Footage, Color Correction Breakdown

  Something from Nothing, Indie Genre Director Roundtable

 

  The Power of Indie Horror,  Acting for Unconventional Film roundtable discussion moderated by Zena Dixon

 

  The Sounds of Threshold original soundtrack

  Threshold original outline script

 

  Trailer and original teaser

  Image gallery

  Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Coffee and Cigarettes

 

  FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated Collector booklet featuring new writing on the film by Anton Bitel

“PUZZLE” (“L’uomo Senza Memoria”)— A Giallo Film

 

“PUZZLE” (“L’uomo Senza Memoria”)

A Giallo Film

Amos Lassen

A man who believes his name is Peter (Luc Merenda) struggles with amnesia after a car accident. He is stranded in London with no memory and no identity that he can recall. An attempted murder and a strange series of events lead him to the discovery that his name is in fact Ted and that he has a beautiful wife, Sara (Senta Berger) who is waiting for him in Portofino. He goes to Italy hoping to find his identity and there he finds that Sara believes that she had been abandoned by her husband knowingly and has taken steps to rebuild her life with the help of her best friends and Luca (Duilio Cruciani), the straight-talking and slightly infatuated young child who is her next door neighbor. Sara and Ted together try to understand the mystery of his missing months but there are murders, international criminal plots, betrayals, but they are bothered by a mysterious woman with a hidden agenda (Anita Strinberg) and George, a mystery man with allergies (Bruno Corazzari). Things become more peculiar, more complicated, and more dangerous for the  couple.

Directed by Duccio Tessari we are taken on a journey into the jet-set cosmopolitanism of the giallo film. The film is really about Sara’s response to these peculiar events, and her development and growth as a character. Most of the characters are engaging but Sara is the only rounded figure. After a brilliantly suspenseful Hitchcockian moment about the plaster cast of her broken leg, she uses a chainsaw in her defense. “Puzzle” shows Tessari’s ability to conjure up fascinating gialli without resorting to an overload of style and trickery.

Bonus features:

Commentary Track by Kat Ellinger, Editor-in-Chief of DiaboliqueMagazine.com and DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS Podcast Host, Italian and English Theatrical Trailers of Blood and Black Lace and The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, Liner Notes by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of The Giallo Canvas: Art, Excess and Horror Cinema, Giallo Poster Gallery

 

 

 

“OMERTA: THE ACT OF SILENCE”— The Truth about Loyalty and Respect

“OMERTA: THE ACT OF SILENCE”

The Truth about Loyalty and Respect

Amos Lassen

There was a time when political power and legal jurisdiction belonged to men connected on the inside. Then one man discovered that the Omerta of loyalty and respect was just smoke and mirrors. Set in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn when the neighborhood was run like its own city-state and not as a residential community, we see that the Mafia erected invisible walls of security for those who lived within. It was not difficult to gain the trust of the community because one was either with them or against them. What this one man learns that becoming a soldier in the Mafia means nothing more than being a pawn in a deadly and where money is more important than life and empty promises are the only reward, things became clear. Those with a monopoly on power were subject to failure. Reno gained a taste of power when he was 18 and never looked back. Even with the bloodshed and constant battles on the street, Reno biggest war was with himself and how he felt about Tommy, his best friend and confidant. The toxicity of that relationship is what “Omerta” is about.

“ZEROVILLE”— The Summer of 1969

“ZEROVILLE”

The Summer of 1969

Amos Lassen

In the summer of 1969, seminary student Vikar (James Franco who also directs) comes to Los Angeles with a Montgomery Clift/Elizabeth Taylor tattoo positioned on the back of his head. He hopes to get into the film business but ends up building sets for major productions. He gets something of a start when he makes friends with Dotty (Jacki Weaver), a veteran editor, and Viking Man (Seth Rogen), a maverick director.

As the years pass, Vikar finds his skills as an editor and becomes a top cutter for producer Rondell (Will Ferrell) as he builds his reputation as a visionary who make art from anything. When he see aspiring actress Soledad (Megan Fox) at a party, Vikar becomes obsessed with her and works on becoming part of her life, which she shares with her daughter, Zazi (Joey King). 

Vikar is a brooding young man with his eyes on the prize, who gets the chance to prove himself through set construction. This gives him a chance to roam the Paramount lot, observing filming and meeting Dotty, who takes an immediate liking to him and teaches him about  editing. With a cast of known actors, “Zeroville” somehow misses the chance to be interesting, concentrating more  on Franco’s ego instead of giving us a story set during a critical time in the evolution of Hollywood. 

The story follows Hollywood changes throughout the 1970s when studio business gives way to independent risk-taking, and then back to the establishment for the 1980s. “Zeroville” wants to be everything, but just doesn’t make it even though it is a fun film to watch. It is scattered, getting easily lost in its own style.

“Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?”— An Unanswered Question

“Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?”

An Unanswered Question

Amos Lassen

John Scheinfeld’s film, “Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?” begins with Tom Smothers saying that when you mention Nilsson’s name, people either respond right away and with great excitement or they’ve never heard of him at all. The film tries to answer just that even though it never does so.

Harry Nilsson was a songwriter and performer in the 1960s and ’70s who had several big hits of his own as well as several covers. He also wrote “One (Is the Loneliest Number)” for Three Dog Night and “Cuddly Toy” for the Monkees, and he was the mind behind the cult children’s cartoon “The Point.” Nilsson died in 1994 at his home in Agoura Hills, California.

 The movie “Who Is Harry Nilsson?” is carried by the music but this is not one of those music documentaries where you will stop watching and still not know what the subject sounded like. Nilsson’s tunes are permeate the film and stay with the viewer when it is over. 

We learn Nilsson’s early tragic story, some of it related through old tapes of Nilsson and learn how his career began, how his classic LPs were made. His producers, collaborators, and lawyers all have something to say and so also do his friends and admirers— Jimmy Webb, Yoko Ono, Brian Wilson, Robin Williams, Micky Dolenz, a couple of the Monty Python guys, Randy Newman, and more. Everybody’s has a story about Nilsson, and everyone has their theories and impressions of why he was the way he was. He partied hard, never got over being abandoned by his father, and was determined to ruin his own success. 

Nonetheless, with all that we hear, Harry Nilsson remains an enigma. We see that he tried to withhold the more emotional parts of himself, to hide his pain and his anger and appear happy. No one really knew what the man inside was like. He was a notorious character, and he played the part of that character we do not know who he really was.

Born into poverty, Nilsson learned to entertain himself and how to get by. When he moved to Los Angeles in the late ’50s, he lied his way into a job. He never behaved like a  rock star—he was gawky and nerdy but he had a great sense of melody and a beautiful voice. Nilsson became the musician’s musician and was admired for his crazy arrangements and his insistence on satisfying his own muse above everything else. He was also everybody’s favorite drinking buddy, which was his ultimate undoing.

Scheinfeld relies on talking heads, vintage performance clips, and Nilsson’s own audio diaries to bring us the story of Nilsson’s rise-and-fall-and-redemption and he emphasizes what an out-of-control person Nilsson became in the ’70s before illness, activism, and a more settled family life caused him to mellow. We see that his personal life was complex and contradictory like his music. This is a reminder of a talented and gifted man.

SPECIAL FEATURES: 

  Deleted Scenes (SD) 

  Additional Interviews (SD) 

  Music Video for ”Loneliness” with Introduction by Yoko Ono (SD) 

  Original Theatrical Trailer (SD) 

“There Is Nothing So Whole as a Broken Heart: Mending the World as Jewish Anarchists” by Cindy Milstein— Renewing Jewish Anarchism

Milstein, Cindy. “There Is Nothing So Whole as a Broken Heart: Mending the World as Jewish Anarchists”, AK, 2021.

Renewing Jewish Anarchism

Amos Lassen

Cindy Milstein’s “There Is Nothing So Whole as a Broken Heart” speaks to those of us who are unhappy with systemic violence and injustice. We have begun to see contemporary renewal of Jewish anarchism  that comes out of a history of suffering (that comes out of enslavement and displacement, white nationalism and genocide). It is also drawn out ancestral resistance, strength, imagination, and humor–all qualities, and wisdom, sorely needed today. The book is a collection of essays of which many are written from feminist and queer perspectives that look at both past and contemporary trauma “in ways that are humanizing and healing.” We see how to move from grief to joy. By seeing how Jewish anarchists have created, with love, their own ritual, cultural, and political practices, we are able to find ways to repair the world and ourselves.

The collection is diverse and gorgeous and dares to say what so many of us feel.  We learn about Jewish culture and history and how anarchist, radical, LGBTQ, Jews have made them their own. We read about the struggles people have while dealing with oppression and/or privilege and finding understanding and acceptance. We see how to create community and develop organizing practices for world and self-repair. We have not had much to read that bringsQueer solidarity and Jewish community as a source for liberation. The history of Jewish anti-fascist resistance organized by Jewish women and other LGBTQ people is been in the closet for years. I was not really fond of the anti-Israeli-Zionist and pro-Palestinian liberation aspects of the book since I am a very active gay pro-Israel Zionist but I can see how some feel that the conversation is dominated by right wing, Zionist Jews.  We also see that the power of radical left Jewish community is impressive. I am not here to criticize the feelings of the writers but to look at the book as a whole and I do not have to agree with what is included even though it goes against what I believe. What is important is that this is a book that we need to read and understand.

 

 

“The Magician: A Novel” by Colm Toibin— The Life of Thomas Mann

Toibin, Colm. “The Magician: A Novel”, Scribner, 2021.

The Life of Thomas Mann

Amos Lassen

Colm Toibin’s “The Magician” is “epic family saga set across a half-century spanning World War I, the rise of Hitler, World War II, and the Cold War.”It begins in  a provincial German city at the turn of the twentieth century, where the boy, Thomas Mann, is raised by a conservative father, bound by propriety, and a Brazilian mother who is as alluring as she is unpredictable. Young Mann hides his artistic aspirations from his father and his homosexual desires from everyone. He is fascinated by one of the richest, most cultured Jewish families in Munich, and he marries the daughter Katia and they have six children.

On a holiday in Italy, he finds himself desiring a boy he sees on a beach and he writes “Death in Venice”. He becomes the most successful novelist of his time, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature. He is a public man with a private secret. He was expected to lead the condemnation of Hitler. His oldest daughter and son were leaders of Bohemianism and of the anti-Nazi movement and shared lovers. Mann fled Germany for Switzerland, France and finally America.

Through wonderful research and imagination, Tóibín brings us the life of a writer whose life is driven by a need to belong and who had to hide his desires. “The Magician is ascomplex as it is readable and enticing in its portrait of Mann, his wife Katia, and the times in which they lived from the first world war, through the rise of Hitler, World War II, the Cold War, and exile. We follow Mann from his young life, with his unspoken artistic aspirations and a strong attraction to men that he cannot admit to himself. We see Mann as an author who spends his days either writing or reading with a full inner life. We read how he wrote some of his best books are his life during two world wars and exile in America.

Mann had early hints of his homosexual tendencies yet he married Katia Pringsheim, the daughter of a Jewish mathematician Mann was never quiet about his feelings and his fears and life was greatly influenced by Nazism and Hitler. He andKatia had six children but she sometimes weak and ill yet she was Thomas’ office manager and the first reader of his novels. Reading abbot what she thought of his work is fascinating.

Mann was an angry man and one of the intellectuals and writers who disagreed with Hitler. However, he was afraid to publicly act on that. Instead, he and his family fled Germany and temporarily lived in other European countries and finally in the United States.
Mann was an extraordinary writer and was aware that he had a special gift and intelligence and was able to tell wonderful stories but he lived with psychological problems.

Toibin storytelling is magical and he gives us a fine picture of Mann and his literary contributions to the world.  This is another must-read from a master writer and one of the significant voices of our time.

“Leonard Cohen: The Mystical Roots of Genius” by Harry Freedman— A Different Look at Leonard Cohen

Freedman, Harry. “Leonard Cohen: The Mystical Roots of Genius”, Bloomsbury Continuum, 2021.

A Different  Look at Leonard Cohen

Amos Lassen

The world lost a great man with the death of Leonard Cohen. He was one of the great poets and musicians of our time. With Harry Freeman’s “Leonard Cohen: The Mystical Roots of Genius”, we get a look at his unorthodox life and how his personal experiences with religion and spiritual made him the man that he became.

Cohen’s music is filled with allusions to Jewish and Christian tradition, Kabbalah and Zen. If we take his classic “Hallelujah” as an example, we see much of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) and the influence it had on the lyricist. Looking at other lyrics, we also see the influence of the Jewish religion. Cohen was the grandson of a rabbi and he was raised in a traditional observant Jewish family.

There were family problems, Cohen’s father died when he was just nine-years-old and his mother went into depressive states and Cohen himself suffered from dark periods. His nanny who was Irish Catholic took him to church with her and he became aware of and familiar with Christian traditions. We see that in the way he moves back and forth in early songs and he does so with ease. His spirituality is evident everywhere and we become aware of his delving into mystical Judaism and the Kabbalah. He also became interested in Zen and in 1990 he moved into a Zen monastery as a permanent resident and it seems that he became a Buddhist monk until his death in 2016.
There have been several books written about Cohen since his death but none of them, until now has gone deep into his soul. This is not a biography of the man but rather a biography of the the landscape of his soul. We look into each song or theme to better understand Cohen’s life story. We read of how his knowledge of

Judaism, Christianity and other spiritual traditions were part of his self-identity and guided the way he made sense of the world. He drew on spirituality for inspiration and as a way “to create understanding, clarity, and beauty.”

Freedman explores song by song how Cohen reworked myths and prayers, legends and allegories” and leads us to an understanding of Cohen’s life as we gain, insight into the man and his music.

 

“Selected Poems of Emanuel Xavier” by Emanuel Xavier— Reviewing a Friend

Xavier, Emanuel. “Selected Poems of Emanuel Xavier”, Queermojo, 2021.

Reviewing a Friend

Amos Lassen

I first met Emanuel Xavier in person some 14 years ago at the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans. I was already familiar with his poetry and I loved it so meeting him was a highlight of that weekend. We became friends immediately this making it difficult for me to be objective about what he writes but I soon found no need to let how I personally felt about the man influence his poems. Each and every poem, in his “Selected poems of Emanuel Xavier” is a gem and I as I sat rereading many that I had either read before or heard him read made me realize just how important he is, not only to the LGBTQ community but to the larger world of literature.

Xavier came to us after being homeless and a victim of a hate crime and was soon recognized as both important and controversial. His poems fill the reader with inspiration and give us a sense of power. Seeing one of our own become so respected is very special yet he has never lost where he came from. Here he brings us 28 of his poems that are personal, political and social. He shares what he went through as a gay Latino in a world that was often homophobic. We cannot help but feel the pain he suffered and rejoice at his success. He had been sexually abused in childhood, grew up in a one bedroom apartment with his mother and her boyfriend. He came out as a teenager during the AIDS epidemic and soon found himself living on the streets. Returning home, he was not allowed to discuss his sexuality and had to lead a life filled with secrets. It was not until later that he found gay New York along with the drugs that were part of it. Working at a gay bookstore, he had the chance to meet people, including gay writers and was introduced to the works of those who frequented the store and discovering that much of what he read was a reflection of his own life. Discovering a community of people pf color, he became a “pier queen” and began to put his thoughts into words. The rest of this you can read in the preface to the book. I wanted to emphasize what he came out and for us to be ready to see what that background brought to us. Through the collected poems here, we follow Xavier’s journey and we feel his pain and rejoice in his successes. In the very first poem, Xavier sets an unexpected tone for what is to follow, “We will keep on smiling, from the dancefloor, and we will keep on smiling from the bar…”.

I am so pleased that we have “Deliverance” here in all of his brutal honest verse. I remember my reaction when I first heard Xavier read this and then my reaction when I read it at home by myself. It was then that he became a literary and personal hero of mine.

“Where were you when I was three

Getting fucked up the ass by older cousin…”

“After all I am still your son

I am still your little boy

Aren’t I?

Daddy?”

You can clearly see how personal this poem is as it reflects the poet’s journey but we see something else in this collection. In sharing his voice, Xavier also lets rise the voices of those we do not often see or hear, those who have been cast aside by society. Desire and compassion merge as we read and we find ourselves checking our inner feelings. At the same time, the past, the present and the future merge within us just as the poet moves from the poetry of anger and rage to the poetry of wisdom. It seems that Xavier does not know the meaning of the word fear as he writes about our community of the queer, the transgendered, those who do not fit into what the American Dream came to represent. That dream is for all of us as we see in the final pem, “Beside Myself”. “Yes worry. Your time has come and gone…”.But we can resurrect that time and make sure that our community is one for all of us especially after reading what it has cost us. Let Xavier’s prophetic voice guide you are you read and reconsider who you are by looking at the truths of the poet’s life. We immediately feel that humanity exists and it is ours to claim.