Monthly Archives: June 2021

“METAMORPHOSIS”— An Appeal for Acceptance

“METAMORPHOSIS”

An Appeal for Acceptance

Amos Lassen

“Metamorphosis” is an appeal for acceptance and fairness that never attempts to dignify nor demonize its protagonist and opposers. An impressive performance by Gold Aceron as Adam,  the teenager struggling his intersexuality during pubescent stages never asks for the kind of pity usually expected on a character escaping the pressures of a minority.

The director J.E. Tiglao captures what the movie wants to achieve. “Everyone has a secret, but not all secrets are bad” according to Angel (Iana Bernardez), a sex worker and 24-year-old returnee to high school who befriends the lonely Adam as he deals with an adolescence more challenging than most. Exploring the often underrepresented theme of intersexuality, “Metamorphosis” follows Adam as he struggles to come to an acceptance of who he is and wants to be while faced with the old fashioned, conservative attitudes of those around him. 

 

Adam is something of an outcast at school, often getting into fights with one particular boy who keeps making a point of throwing homophobic slurs at him during class which go completely unchallenged either by the teacher or fellow pupils. Adam remains very much on the margins, until a beautiful young female student transfers into his class and ends up working with him on a class project. Angel is 24 years old but in a regular high school class with a bunch of 14-year-olds and quickly becomes friends with Adam who offers to show her some of the local sites including a picturesque swimming hole. It’s during their outing that Adam discovers a change in his physique  when he has begun to menstruate.

Adam and his family have always known that he was intersex though he has been raised as a boy which is what he most closely identifies as. The fact that he has started to menstruate forces him to engage on a deeper level with a sense of identity as he struggles to accept the female element of his physical body while also embracing his nascent sexuality. Angel becomes Adam’s first ally, affirming that there isn’t anything wrong with him and suggesting that he change his perspective and think of himself as someone who is both rather than neither. 

Since Adam comes from a conservative home with a father who is a pastor giving sermons about how God created male and female in his own image, this is not easy to do. Obviously concerned for their son’s health, Adam’s parents consult their family doctor who directs them to a specialist in Manila. Dr. Abraham (Ivan Padilla) is sympathetic, but also perhaps too definitive in immediately trying to offer reassurance with “we can fix this” as if Adam is broken and in need of repair. That idea continues to present a problem when it is discovered that he has a functioning womb and vagina, leading the doctor and Adam’s father to conclude that he is more female than male and should therefore have his maleness removed. Nobody really talks to Adam about this. Dr. Abraham tells him that he needs to be “ready” and also that he has to want this himself, but doesn’t make much of an effort to listen to him and tells  him only that “the things that are not needed we will remove”. 

Adam’s father immediately starts referring to him as his daughter and makes arrangements for the surgery without explaining to Adam what exactly will be happening to him. He also thinks about selling their mango farm and moving to another town where no one will know them as if Adam is some kind of dirty secret. Meanwhile Adam has begun to explore his sexuality, attracted both to the handsome Dr. Abraham, and the supportive Angel and uncertain if he should be feeling any contradiction between the two. Only the family doctor points out that many families in other countries have regretted forcing premature confirmation surgeries on children who later came to resent them, and that whatever happens should be up Adam’s decision.  This causes a reconsideration from Adam’s mother who realizes her husband has been keeping valuable information from her regarding her son’s health. 

“Metamorphosis’ presents us with a strong message of acceptance as Adam begins to embrace himself as he is rather than conform to a false binary gender identity.  He gains the courage to be completely himself, emphasizing that intersex identities are not broken or corrupted but beautiful in themselves. He says that if others cannot learn to step outside of socially conservative norms of gender and sexuality then it is they who need to change.

.The film has a good heart and a positive tone in telling Adam’s coping of being different from most people. Adam’s journey to happiness and life-affirming freedom leaves a lasting impression.

“STEAM”— Visiting a Bathhouse

“STEAM”

Visiting a Bathhouse

Amos Lassen

A gay couple goes to a bathhouse for a night of sexual adventure…unaware that a killer lurks behind the steam… In this tale of sex and death, will they survive?

The film follows an attractive young couple who decide to spice things up by visiting a bathhouse but instead find a murderous rampage behind the steam.

 “Steam is fun, thrilling, and scary. It has the perfect combination of love, sex, and death. The horror genre offers a campy quality that fits perfectly with the queer community and that’s why so many of us love horror films.”

The film boasts a cast of LGBTQ+ actors, an intentional move by director Joao Dall’Stella. “We need to tell our own stories without sacrificing the authenticity to please the general audience’s eyes.”

 

 

“SO LONG BILLIE”— A Contemplative Journey

“SO LONG BILLIE”

A Contemplative Journey

Amos Lassen

“So Long Billie” (“Pompei”) takes us on a contemplative journey to the heart of a small community that is governed by unwritten laws, where generations come together and where everyone is welcomed if they can pay their debt. When this world, is confronted with a love that does not respect its rules of “sharing”, trouble begins.

 We feel a little detached and dissimulated with the reality the film is set in even though we understand the basic setting— a land where there are no adults and the children take care of themselves. It is set in a place that has lost its true essence and the new civilization doesn’t really understand where to start. Deep loneliness has set and every day is filled with by strange rules and rituals.

The community of children has small children who have been burdened by a lack of care and this is why rules that are set by their self-appointed leader Toxou (Vincent Rottiers). There are engravings on the walls that they lived in that show their lack of learning and the dissimulated past, present and future in which there is no difference.

The kids need to have money in order to see their elders and if they don’t come up with the money… There is a much older person who these kids seem to owe but it is never clearly mentioned why Jimmy and Toxou work for him but we get the idea that something is owed. Since there is no societal norm for these bunch, they mostly do as they please.

The chaos that is brought out by a lack of guidance blocks the entire steps to growing and ruins the possibilities of finding and understanding love. Love is alien. The major conflict occurs right before Jimmy is supposed to turn 13. The group’s ritual demands that a 13-year-old must have sex in order to make the transition into a man.

The two brothers have had a bond of mutual understanding. Which is why Jimmy and Victor seem more grounded in reality than the others. They share the same house and do everything together. However, when Billie (Garance Marillier) enters the picture, the relationship between Jimmy and Victor slowly falls apart. Bille has a penance for violence and deep-rooted father issues and a family who doesn’t understand her.

 Directors John Shank and Anna Falguères investigate interesting themes of empathy, escapism, and loneliness.  However, except for cinematographer Florian Berutti’s beautiful frames and a consistently gloomy score nothing really comes together. In spite of the three fascinating characters at its center, the film remains empty with a lot left unsaid.

“So Long Billie” tests patience. Victor (Aliocha Schneider) is characterized as the rebel but the film doesn’t reveal more about him. This ignorance is reflected in the drawing of each figure. Billie is an angry, precocious girl, with a veil of ignorance about her character motivation behind the awakening of sexuality. As a result, a large part of the film hangs in suspense between premonition and standstill. Neither the children nor the young people are allowed to break out of their imposed role models. We don’t get the feeling of getting closer to a group of children who have gotten on the wrong track and are all drive-controlled.

“DEAR TENANT” (親愛的房客)— Love, Identity and the Ties That Bind

“DEAR TENANT” (親愛的房客)

Love, Identity and the Ties That Bind

Amos Lassen

In Chinese culture, love is not often said, but rather conveyed by nurture and care in everyday lives. Director Cheng Yu-Chieh‘s “Dear Tenant” captures that intense love from a grieving gay man in a heartbreaking yet heartwarming story.

To many, piano teacher Lin Jianyi (Mo Tzu-yi) is a tenant in his deceased lover Li-Wei’s (Yao Chun-Yao) apartment. In reality, he has been the breadwinner and caregiver to Li-Wei’s 9-year-old son Yo-yu (Bai Run-yin) and Li-wei’s diabetic mother Mrs. Chou (Chen Shu-Fang) for five years. Jianyi’s devotion to Yo-Yu and Mrs. Chou comes out of the love for his late boyfriend Li-wei. However, at the start of the film, when Mrs. Chou spills out harsh words toward Jianyi, there is a hint that Jianyi might have something to do with her son’s death. 

When Mrs. Chou’s other son Li-gang (Jay Shih) comes home and discusses the inheritance of the apartment, it doesn’t sit well with Mrs. Chou. She arranges for Jianyi’s adoption of Yo-yu and becomes closer to Jianyi, even though his mysterious past is hidden. When Mrs. Chou’s health gets worse and dies, Li-gang rushes back and is furious about the adoption and the apartment’s ownership. He accuses Jianyi of murdering his mother, and begins a police investigation that tears the family apart. Jianyi’s love toward his late lover and Yo-yu is unshaken despite the turmoil.

In Taiwan, there exists a discriminating and bigoted attitude toward gay relationships even though gay marriage is legal there. The film shows that reality and we are heart-broken by the stories we hear yet we are deeply touched by their love toward each other.  This is a moving portrait of unconditional love, gay identity, and the ties that bind in chosen family within the confines of their apartment building. “Dear Tenant” brings together intrigue, and an impassioned plea for LGBTQ+ equality.

It’s uncomfortable to see the ostracized, and justified violence against the LGBTQ+ community and the lack of understanding of the depth of love. It’s not till the end that we truly understand the story in its entirety. Everything comes together to reflect an ending that does not suit a love story; “but a love story it is, nonetheless, one forced to overcome the strongest of blockades, grief.” 

“DANCE OF THE 41”— A 19th-Century Queer Scandal

“DANCE OF THE 41”

A 19th-Century Queer Scandal

Amos Lassen

Set in 1901, the police in Mexico City are about to raid a secretive high-society event and arrest 42 men on the charge of homosexuality. Each of the men arrested that night held a prestigious place in society, especially Ignacio de la Torre, the son in law of the Mexican president Porfirio Díaz. The underground club they helped create is a mecca for those seeking to live a secretive and free life away from the public gaze. The number charged, humiliated and imprisoned is 41, with Ignacio walking free, his name removed from the night’s events.

The film looks at life before the raid, saving the police actions for a shocking and powerful final act. Ignacio has just married Amada Díaz (Mabel Cadena), the president’s daughter and his appointment to Congress is assured. However, Ignacio’s political ambitions hide a secret is life lived on the edge of society. His marriage a sham, but it opens doors that otherwise remain closed. 

This soon becomes apparent to his wife, as he avoids the house, spends long nights at work, and struggles to give her sexual attention. Director David Pablos gives us a portrait of a gay man living two separate lives, one acceptable yet impossible and the other free yet full of risk. We also see the devastating effect on his wife, a woman who longs for his affection but feels betrayed by his absence and lack of touch. Her life is torn apart by a man who never loved her and is aloof, ambitious and intensely secretive. Both husband and wife are victims of a society where social rules and oppression dictate a person’s place and purpose. 

As his marriage falls apart, Ignacio meets Evaristo (Emiliano Zurita), a handsome young lawyer. As their relationship grows, Ignacio brings Evaristo to an underground hidden gay where liberation and sexual freedom are the order of the day. Here, men can dress as women, freely engage in sex and discuss their lives. For Ignacio and Evaristo, the club becomes their refuge from the world around them. However, their relationship more difficult to hide. And it’s not long before Evaristo’s love letters are discovered by Amada. 

Ignacio, Amada and Evaristo are all prisoners of society for differing reasons. For Ignacio and Evaristo, it is their sexuality, for Amada it is her gender. It is clear that Evaristo has the most to lose and his choice of a male sexual partner is his downfall. 

Unfortunately we get no exploration of either impact or legacy. The fact that the raid leads to further police action against gay men and lesbians is not here and neither is the fate of the 41 arrested. There simply isn’t enough to tell the full story of the 41 men imprisoned that night and the one who would walk away. 

Nonetheless, “Dance of the 41” is shot with  stunning cinematography of a world of luxury, secrets and lies. The performances capture the complexity of a world where private and public life are in separate universes. While it may not quite deliver on all of its themes,the film isessential exploration of oppression, control, and forbidden love.

“A SEXPLANATION”— Talking About Sex

“A SEXPLANATION”

Talking About Sex

Amos Lassen

In most of the world, sex is just a biological function – there’s a time and a place for it, but talking about it is not a big deal. In the US it has been subject to ongoing panic, with the result that even well-meaning, well- educated parents often have no idea how to talk to their kids about it. For Alex Liu who is gay faced years of shame and uncertainty, poor communication with partners and worry about his private fantasies. In this documentary, he sets out to set that to right.

Liu is known for being undaunted by social taboos but it’s clear that this film has strained the limits of his courage. Amongst other things, he takes on the challenge of talking to his own parents about sex for the first time on camera. We see his fear and get their apologetic explanations of why they said so little when he was growing up. They reflect on their own relationship with humor and break down barriers, and the family come closer together as a result.

This film is designed to educate and to facilitate communication. The joy that Liu finds in the learning process is infectious and gives viewers a new respective on the subject. His openness is reciprocated by many of his interviewees. A conservative politician comes across warmly and a Jesuit priest surprises Liu by talking about sexuality as an important part of what it means to be human.

The film focuses on conversations with scientists, doctors and other experts who look at myths about sex and pose new questions, inviting viewers to wonder exactly what we mean by the term in the first place and explaining the still poorly understood complexity of orgasm. Many will find their questions answered as well as learning surprising facts which has it never occurred to them to wonder about.

 Sociologically, the film explores a historical approach to sex educations that was focused on trying to terrify teenagers with images of diseased genital organs, and looks at how educators today are trying to move beyond mechanics and talk about relationship skills and the importance of consent. There’s some reflection on objections to sex education and on the purity movement, but these do not dominate the film. The message is that society is changing and has room to change further, making room for much healthier and happier sexual experiences.

“HATING PETER TATCHELL”— The Ferocity of Hatred

“HATING PETER TATCHELL”

The Ferocity of Hatred

Amos Lassen

 Peter Tatchell hasbeen violently assaulted over 300 times, had 50 attacks on his flat, has been the victim of half a dozen murder plots and received tens of thousands of hate messages and death threats over the last fifty years, mostly from homophobes and far-right extremists. Christopher Amos envisaged a film that documented how Tatchell’s campaigns generated such extreme hatred.

Tatchell wanted the film to show that social change is possible and how to do it, to inspire the next generation by highlighting freedom struggles through the lens of his own direct action. The end result is impressive, with fast-paced revelations about his school-age radicalism, abusive stepfather and activism against the Vietnam war, anti-gay policing and church bigotry. There’s footage of Tatchell’s defeat as Labor candidate in the notorious 1983 Bermondsey by election described by many as the UK’s dirtiest, most violent and homophobic campaign.

The film also captures Tatchell’s efforts in 1988 to persuade world health chiefs to stop the persecution of people with HIV/Aids; his attempted arrest of  Robert Mugabe on charges of torture, which left him beaten unconscious; and the outing of bishops   who colluded with an anti-LGBTQ+ church despite their own homosexuality.

“NELLY QUEEN: The Life and Times of José Sarria”— The Wearer of the Crown

“NELLY QUEEN: The Life and Times of José Sarria”

The Wearer of the Crown

Amos Lassen

“The right to congregate (think: Pride and gay bars). Out LGBTQ+ politicians. The Imperial Courts. Some people may not know that these facets of an out-and-proud life have a common root in the inimitable José Sarria, but this sweeping documentary will leave you with no doubt about whose crown to kiss in thanks. Directed by Sarria’s long-time friend Joseph R. Castel, Nelly Queen documents the public personas and private losses that shaped one of the most influential queens of our community.”

“From Sarria’s beginnings as a well-accoutered child to his death in 2013, high camp and vintage footage bring to life lost gay bars (like the infamous Black Cat, where Sarria entertained a generation of patrons); the annual trek of Sarria’s alter-ego the Widow Norton; and his 1961 run for public office—the first openly gay candidate in the US. Interviews with Sarria’s friends and members of the Imperial Court contextualize the feats and (theatrical) follies that define Sarria’s lasting impact, elevating his relentless spirit, while inviting us into the intimate moments that helped—or hindered—his quest for an unapologetic life.”

“FEAR STREET”— A Horror Trilogy

“FEAR STREET”

A Horror Trilogy

Amos Lassen

In 1994, a group of teenagers discover the terrifying events that have haunted their town for generations may all be connected — and they may be the next targets. Based on R.L. Stine’s best-selling horror series, FEAR STREET follows Shadyside’s sinister history through a nightmare 300 years in the making.

FEAR STREET PART 1: 1994
Streaming beginning July 2
A circle of teenage friends accidentally encounter the ancient evil responsible for a series of brutal murders that have plagued their town for over 300 years. Welcome to Shadyside.

FEAR STREET PART 2: 1978
Streaming beginning July 9
Shadyside, 1978. School’s out for summer and the activities at Camp Nightwing are about to begin. But when another Shadysider is possessed with the urge to kill, the fun in the sun becomes a gruesome fight for survival.

FEAR STREET PART 3: 1666
Streaming beginning July 16
The origins of Sarah Fier’s curse are finally revealed as history comes full circle on a night that changes the lives of Shadysiders forever.

“BLOOD BORN”— The Birth of Evil

“BLOOD BORN”

The Birth of Evil

Amos Lassen

 Director Reed Shusterman bring us his new film about for the birth of evil, “Blood Born”. After struggling to conceive, Eric and Makayla hire a witch doctor from the Gravida Foundation to help them​conceive​. Ola moves into their ​home, taking over their lives as she puts them through a series of magical rituals. ​As the​ceremonies weigh on the couple​,​ they discover ​that​the​ir​baby might not actually be human, ​leaving them to ​decide if they willing to go for the family they’ve ​always ​wanted. 

Antoine Perry, Rosie Moss, Melanie Haynes, Laurine Price and Cole Gerdes are the stars of the film.

Says director Reed Shusterman :

Having a baby is inherently irrational. It’s hard, expensive, potentially dangerous to the mother, and full of unknowns. In a best-case scenario, you end up with an expensive, part-time monster who, after 20-plus years, will hopefully be a moderately functional adult. But people keep doing it, frequently on purpose. And when they try and can’t, they’ll go to extraordinary lengths to get the family they want. It’s not a big leap to see why Eric and Makayla are willing to believe a weird old lady who promises them a magical solution to their problem. 

 I started development on Blood Born right when my wife and I had just decided to start having a baby. And, in a very literal interpretation of ‘write what you know,’ I wrote about that.

 On one level this movie is about the general fears of pregnancy and parenthood, like what happens to you/your partner’s body and the physical space the baby will take up. But what really scared me into making this movie was how much a baby would change me. I’d no longer be the most important person in my wife’s life. Hell, I wouldn’t be the most important person in my own life. In a certain way, I’d be giving up myself, my being. 

 When this story starts, Eric and Makayla have already given up so much in their attempts to have a baby. Inviting a witch doctor to live with you for a week isn’t any more disruptive to your life than a round of IVF. But as the magic–and impending baby–get more and more real, Eric starts to question whether or not the sacrifices are worth it. 

 I’ve discovered that there’s a lot of overlap between parenthood and making your first feature film. They are freight trains of momentum that cannot be slowed down. They are chaotic, scary, and stressful. But there is discovery in both, of things you’d never expect through, respectively, genetics or a fantastically talented cast and crew. 

 

Blood Born is full of things that are scary and gross, monstrous and joyous. I am enormously proud of this film. It’s a character driven, strange, off-kilter dive into a kind of fear that, to me, is far scarier than killers or ghosts: How, miracle of life or not, the beginning of parenthood is the end of everything you know. And as they say… All babies are monsters.