“THE SCANDALOUS FOUR”— Two Secret Affairs

the scandalous four

“The Scandalous Four”

Two Secret Affairs

Amos Lassen

Penelope is forced to marry Jonathan but there is no attraction between the two. As a matter of fact, Jonathan is more interested in spending time with the butler than with his wife. Penelope finds a way of reuniting with the love of her life and manages to hire him as the gardener. “The Scandalous Affair” is about two secret affairs in one household that soon lead to major scandalous situations.

scan1

The story begins at the start of a loveless marriage of convenience. We immediately see the obvious lack of connection between the bride and groom and this creates a painful awkwardness to which we become witness. The themes of repression and denial which were once so prevalent in the social mores are the themes of the film. The characters were entirely believable and each takes an unusual journey. We look with nostalgia as an escape from our current worries and trials.

scan2

back nostalgically as an escapist reaction to current concerns. We have seen many movies about the redeeming power of love but the great sense of creative energy here is what makes this film work so well. We see the transformational combination of truth and love and how this really works. This is a chamber film with a small number of people who experience changes in their lives. We see their internal changes after they have accepted their differences, which by the outside world would be considered intolerable and scandalous.

scan4

The story unfolds in a way that gives insight into each individual’s struggles and dilemmas, creating a feeling of genuine care and interest for the destiny of these quirky and brave characters. We get a testimony to the free spirit that resides in all of us regardless of our gender, class or the age that we live in. Christianne Van Wijk has written a fine screenplay and Jennifer Ussi has directed quite a memorable movie.

“WE ARE TWISTED F***ING SISTER!”— Glitter Rock

we are twisted

“WE ARE TWISTED F***ING SISTER!”

Glitter Rock

Amos Lassen

For about ten years, glam rock heroes ”Twisted Sister” packed bars in New York before their eventual rise to the top. This the first film that focuses on Twisted Sister’s pre-fame and the band’s subsequent struggles. The band is truly unique in that their overnight success actually took ten years and director Andrew Horn lets us experience everything Twisted Sister went through to do it. The band is made up of ferocious and funny musicians.

we1

As a bar band staple, Twisted Sister would play four to five nights a week and ran through multiple sets each night as they played to packed crowds. While record labels refused to touch them despite their live reputation, the band kept on pushing and refused to give up. Dee Snider was the band’s front man and he eventually took over the writing process and helped the band find success as an established and original act. He has remained steadfast that Twisted Sister exists only as himself, Jay Jay French, Mark ‘The Animal’ Mendoza now comprise the band and there have been multiple lineup changes in the past. The end of the band comes with drum legend and fellow New York native Mike Portnoy who takes over for A.J. Pero who was the original drummer but he died quite suddenly this year.

we3

Filmmaker Horn recounts the band’s earliest days, before they would become one of the biggest heavy metal bands of the 1980s. When Twisted Sister got their big break in 1983, its aggressive sound helped sell millions of records. The band’s over-the-top live shows drew sellout crowds and its music videos defined early MTV.

we6

Known as “the band that killed disco”, there were no overnight successes. The documentary is the never-before-told story of the 10 grueling years leading up to the band’s breakout success and this is recounted directly by its members, managers and biggest fans.

we4

Twisted Sister recently announced it will embark on a 40th anniversary farewell tour in 2016, fittingly titled “Forty and F— It.” The unexpected death of longtime drummer A.J. Pero changes things a bit. This quintessential rock is a film that obviously speaks to Twisted’s legion of fans, but will allow a whole new audience to experience the ’70s NYC suburban rock club scene in all its sweaty, grimy, glittery glory, and what it took to become its undisputed masters.”

we5

In the mid-1970s, Twisted Sister claimed glitter rock for their own, cross-dressing their way to headlining every club within 100 miles of New York City, from New Jersey bowling alleys to Long Island beach bars. With gigs six nights a week, they were the most successful live bar band of suburban New York, selling out 5,000-seat shows fueled by their no-holds-barred stage presence and aggressive metal set lists. But by the early ‘80s, they found themselves hugely popular with local audiences but without a national following or a record deal. When Twisted Sister finally got their big break in 1983, they’d go on to become one of the biggest glam rock bands of the decade, their over-the-top live shows drawing sell-out crowds and their music videos defining an early MTV network. This! is the mesmerizing, never-before-told story of the ten grueling years leading up to the band’s legendary career.

“Lust and Wonder: A Memoir” by Augusten Burroughs— In Love

lust and wonder

Burroughs, Augusten. “Lust & Wonder: A Memoir”, St. Martins Press, 2016.

In Love

Amos Lassen

Many authors have looked at the meaning of love in their works and everyday there are new books published on that theme. Here is Augusten Burroughs attempt to deal with love and he not only explores what it means to be in love but also what it means to be in lust and what it means to try to understand it all in this memoir.

It seems just yesterday that I first read “Running with Scissors” and got my first taste of Augusten Burroughs but it was actually 2003 and about a dozen books ago. His childhood is behind him (as much as one can put his childhood behind him) and now he is looking for love and relationship (and feel free to send him my number). As he travels the journey toward love, he gets involved in relationships that do not work. He shares this with us in his unique snarky and brutally honest way. I really love that Burroughs is man enough to admit that in searching for love, he is also searching for who he is.

The beauty of Burroughs is his vulnerability, honesty and humor. He is afraid to say what he feels. If you have read him then you know that his past was difficult and because of that he continues to question the choices he has made.

Having read of that he has published, I must say that this is his most intimate memoir in which he really discusses his personal life in all of its honesty and all of Burroughs trademark irreverence. This is certainly the most mature book that he has written and it so interesting to read what a boy has to sat about his own adulthood. His choices in life and his personal responsibility take center stage here and they propel the book forward. He also shows that he made some wrong choices in the past but he can deal with those as he goes on to make better and more mature decisions. Burroughs has developed quite a style in his writings and he manages to use opposites a great deal. I have already remarked about his snarkiness but he is also insightful and raw yet funny and witty.

In this memoir, Burroughs brings us up to date on his life and we see him here as a man who shares the truths of his inner being with us. He hides nothing. When I first began reading Augusten Burroughs I found myself languishing on his every word so reading him took a good deal longer than other writers. I still do not know why I do that but I can guess it is because I feel that every word is deliberately chosen. I can’t scan or skim Burroughs—every word is important to me and I want to believe that every word is important to him. The words come together to give pictures of the author’s thought and I am afraid I might miss something if I skip a word.

Burroughs writes with such honesty and lack of embarrassment that he makes me want to live that way but unfortunately I am not in a position to do so. Now I know it is not easy for someone to share his failures at love and it takes a brave person to admit that he was fooling himself in the area of love. He goes a step further and shares what he thinks and how he deals with the facts of his life and what happens when he faces the (actual) facts. We learn of three relationships and how Burroughs learned something from the first two so that the third will work and work for a long time. The beginning of the book is heavy reading because we read of the struggles that have recurred after he thought he had vanquished them.

The story is a conventional one. We read of Burroughs as he develops his professional life, failing and then succeeding at relationships. What makes this special is that Burroughs brings his unique sensibility to them. There’s a touch of sadness throughout as he realizes the uncertainty of never knowing whether a relationship is succeeding. He is able to deal with his past and it is his past that protects him from being defeated by his own destructive behavior. The real focus here is on relationships. The first was with Mitch that just never got going; the second one with Dennis lasted ten years and the way we read it we see the partnership but we do not see romance. Then there is THE relationship with Christopher that led to marriage. We also learn a bit more about his relationship with George that we read about in “Dry”.

The Augusten Burroughs who wrote this book is the Augusten Burroughs of “Running with Scissors” with his caustic wit, brutal honesty, and his neuroses. He lets us into soul and even though we may have not gone through the same experiences, we can empathize with him because we, like him, are human and know that this takes a little narcissism and a lot of struggling to find the relationships that we hope will complete us.

The ending leaves us feeling positive and with hope that this relationship will succeed and that we will also succeed in what we attempt. There is some advice that Augusten gives us and I thought I would leave you a few tidbits: Ask for a straw when you have something to drink, do not ask your partner what bothers him about you and observe your future partner’s dog to learn how he will treat you.

“THE MUTILATOR”— Hunted

 

the mut poster

“The Mutilator”

Hunted

Amos Lassen

A teenager who accidentally committed matricide finds himself being hunted together with his girlfriend and mates by his now crazed father. It all starts when a boy decides to clean his father’s gun for his birthday but he accidentally shoots and kills his mother in the process. As we could expect, when his father comes home he loses it. He drags the body into the gun room, puts the sign that his son wrote for the guns on her body, and starts trying to get her to drink wine. The movie jumps ahead a few years and the boy has grown up and has a girlfriend and is now a college student. We see him at his summerhouse as he gets it ready for colder weather and he has brought some friends with him. What no one knows is that his father is hiding in the garage waiting to kill anyone who enters. If you like home horror movies, you will love this film. It seems like it was made in someone’s backyard and director Buddy Cooper seems to have gotten a group of friends together to make a movie.

mutilator1

Amateurism is evident throughout and like other slasher films it begins with a prologue that shows a lovely family. Little Ed, Jr. has just finished cleaning his father’s guns and his mother is baking a cake for her husband’s birthday. Junior looks at one of the guns and accidentally shoots his mother, killing her.

We move to the present day and Ed (Matt Mitler) is now a well-adjusted, beer-nursing college student with nothing to do on Fall Break. Luckily, his estranged old man calls him up and insists that he needs to come o the family condo and close it up for the winter, so Ed’s buddies decide to take an impromptu beach trip to help him do so. Upon arrival, we see that they should have stayed home since this Fall Break will be their last if the homicidal maniac prowling the grounds has his way.

mutilator2

Now this is a movie that works despite itself. Sometimes you feel as if you are watching a beer commercial and then it becomes really cheesy which is a plus here. We can’t really take slasher movies too seriously so “cheesingness” adds to the camp of the film. First we see little Ed blow his mother away and then we see him drinking with his friends.

mutilator3

Once the everyone gets to the condo, they poke around the house. For a guy who has nightmarish visions involving his dad abusing him, Ed has a lot of respect and reverence for the old man as he proudly shows off all the hunting trophies he accumulated over the years. Everything seems to be done in an almost improvised manner, but there’s something very authentic about it all, from the southern accents to the incredible earnestness of the actors who seem to be happy to be there making a movie. As such, the film is watchable even when it shouldn’t be. By the way, the first kill (aside from Ed’s mother) comes some 35 minutes into the movie.

mutilator 5

There is no mystery about the killer’s identity or motives. The characters are routinely dumb and say dumb things and they fill out the expected stereotypes: there’s the chaste, virginal girl who stymies Ed’s attempts at sex, while the more amorous couple look for any opportunity to have sex anywhere. Then there is a redheaded fool who is a sex-crazed beer-guzzler. Even when the slashing starts, these guys are still just prowling around the house, unknowingly isolating themselves for the killer who spends the movie lurking in the shadows, waiting to attack. While it’s pretty repetitive, Cooper chose a great setting and a perfect location for slashings. If you want to know about gore, there is plenty and it is realistic and grisly and Cooper does a great job of mixing inanity and violence. By far the most notorious and infamous of the kill scenes is when a girl is gutted by a fishing gaff through the crotch.

mutilator4

I understand that director Cooper’s initial idea was to have a gory effect for every single murder, which is something that not many slasher films have achieved. The performances here are very poor and the whole production, aside from the special effects, looks overwhelmingly amateur.

There’s not much suspense here, which is probably what the feature lacks most but it fun to watch. “The Mutilator” is underrated and undeserving of its poor reputation. It does start slowly, but after 30 or so minutes of tedium, it really comes alive with some gruesome gore effects and macabre tone. It is unsettling and dark and very campy.

“LIVE FROM THE HOUSE OF SOUL FEATURING CHARLES BRADLEY AND THE MENAHAN STREET BAND”— Going Back

live from  the house of soul

“Live From The House Of Soul Featuring Charles Bradley and the Menahan Street Band”

Going Back

Amos Lassen

Daptone Records, an independent label that has set the standard for the recording of soul music in now launching a video series of artists that have performed in the backyard of their studio that is known as the House of Soul. The first installment of “Live From The House Of Soul” and features Charles Bradley at his best with the Menahan Street Band. Bradley has worked very hard and has paid his dues time and again. He has worked and lived from Maine to Alaska doing all kinds of day jobs and then singing in his off time. He finally came back to Brooklyn, his hometown. His voice is distinctive with its roughness but we also hear a voice that has experienced much.

live1

Each note he sings and each of his gruff inflections reflect his extended, sometimes difficult, personal path. Bradley is a kindred musical spirit and singer whose performances are filled with raw power and poignant beauty.

live2

This “Live From The House Of Soul” is a new series that lets us get an intimate look into the legendary stable of Daptone artists as they perform at home. I understand that the series will be completely produced in-house and feature the tough sound that Daptone has become famous for. More episodes are currently in production.

live3

This Live From The House Of Soul -Track Listing:

“Love Bug”

“Where Do We Go From Here?”

“Victim Of Love”

“Confusion”

“The World (Is Going Up In Flames)”

“Crying In The Chapel”

“Strictly Reserved For You”

live4

The DVD also includes bonus music videos for “Where Do We Go From Here?” “Strictly Reserved For You,” “The World (Is Going Up In Flames),” and “Heartaches & Pain.”

“Our Young Man” by Edmund White— The Power of Physical Beauty

our young man

White, Edmund. “Our Young Man”, Bloomsbury, 2016.

The Power of Physical Beauty

Amos Lassen

Guy is a very handsome Frenchman who leaves his industrial French town to become a model in New York City and is soon at the top of the fashion world. He becomes the sweetheart of the vibrant gay community at Fire Island. He has the unique ability of never seeming to age and at thirty-five-years-old, he is still modeling and still reaping attention and presents from older men who believe he is still 23. What drives Guy are his memories of having grown up poor but he is in a sense living a life filled with lies and he lies not only to gain wealth but also to find love. Edmund White shows that the power of physical beauty leads Guy to live a life that is not really his and he is not alone in this. The novel is set in the age of disco and then moves forward to the AIDS epidemic that so terribly devastated the gay community. We see that beauty can deceive and enslave as well as fascinate and it can also lead to a life of hedonism and a lack of real feelings. White unites wit with pathos as we read of a man who cannot distinguish who he is from who he thinks he is. He is “our young man” even if he is only young in the way we think about him.

Guy’s life in New York began when he met a modeling scout while on a church trip to Paris and who brings him across the ocean with plans to make it very big in the world of fashion. Being gay in France was no problem for Guy but when he gets to New York he faces a life he had never thought of. His arrival here was at the beginning of the AIDS era

and he finds himself enchanted by the world he found yet he was horrified at what the disease was doing to this world. Experiencing the freedom that he found at Fire Island brought him his own sense of freedom and his own comfort with his sexuality and this was unlike anything he had ever encountered before. He is soon a fixture with A-list gay men and in a world of high spending. Guy is in a world of beauty but it also a world filled with fear as AIDS makes it way toward devastation of the community.

Had it not been for AIDS, this would have been a time of great sexual freedom. Guy meets “the baron”, a very wealthy live-for-today man who is pulled in by his physical charms. It is significant to note that Guy really never loses neither his naïveté nor his sense of adolescent morality. These do not help him as he discovers himself in a world where pleasure reigns and extravagance is inherent. Because he is so handsome, he becomes a target for the affectations of those who want to be seen with a man of beauty and his vulnerability makes him a target to be manipulated by those that are attracted to him. Fire Island was a world unto itself and what we see that it was carefree and poisonous at the same time. White gives us quite a look at it and he does through writing that is sensuous and so alive that words jump off of the page. White is also a careful cultural observer and he mixes sensuousness and observation that really allow us to get a clear picture of how it once was (and will never be again).

I recently read a review of “Our Young Man” that maintains that White gives us Guy who is too separate from us, so much so that we do not get to know him. I think that it was White’s purpose that that be the case and that Guy should remain enigmatic therefore forcing us to come to terms with who he is rather than presenting us with a character that he tells us everything about. Personally, I enjoyed the challenge of trying to understand Guy’s character. Furthermore he become a composite ideal of physical beauty and the way we react to it. Even as I write this today, I am baffled by his character especially since I finished the book some three weeks ago. There is something very haunting and very passionate about Guy even though I am not sure what it is. I want to believe that is was not just his beauty that drew me into him. Yes, he is an enigma and his best characteristic is his physicality but I believe there is something else there that I still am unable to define. Granted, he does not seem to have much going for him in the personality department and he is most definitely a narcissist but I want to believe that there is something there. His “Dorian Grey” life style unfortunately limits him and yes he does count time based upon his physical changes but I really want to see him as more than just a vacuous pretty face. He sees himself as an object of adoration because of his beauty and that categorizes him but what he does is so similar to people we all have known. He is, most certainly, not a stand-alone person.

I understand that the character of Guy has been written as a person who is a blank and that is not easy to do but White has done so with grace and style. Unlike Oscar Wilde’s “Dorian”, we do not read of evil or cruelty. In Guy’s mind staying beautiful is the goal especially since he uses his beauty so freely. I often wonder how it is possible to describe someone that has no redeeming qualities without making him seem totally shallow. Guy is not devoid of emotion and basic human principles and this is perhaps what makes him such a mystery. The fact that he works so hard to keep his beauty is an attribute that does show that he cares about something.

For me, the merit of good literature is that when I close the covers of a book, I continue to think about. I have found this to be the case with all of White’s oeuvre. “Our Young Man” certainly fulfills that and I am quite sure that this is evident in this review. I just hope it will keep me thinking until another new book by Edmund White is written and published. He is one of the authors that I always look forward to reading and while I may not always agree with what he says, I have a great time thinking about what he writes.

Actually this is just the first part of my review and I am anxiously awaiting a finished copy of the book due out in April when I am sure I will have a great deal more to say.

“UNDER THE SUN”— A Look at Korea

under

“UNDER THE SUN”

A Look at Korea

Amos Lassen

“Under the Sun” is a document of life in Pyongyang, capital city of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as experienced by one girl and her parents in the year that Zin-mi prepares to join the Korean Children’s Union on the ‘Day Of The Shining Star’. As the family receives instruction on how to be ideal patriots, director Vitaly Mansky’s watchful camera captures details that some Koreans might prefer be left unseen (from comrades struggling to stay awake during an official event  to Zin-mi’s tears at a particularly difficult dance lesson). This is a fascinating study in state propaganda and the darker truth that remains just outside the frame; revealing cracks in the propaganda image of happy people living in paradise.

under3

The family that we see was assigned to the filmmaker by the government of North Korea and the crew was accompanied at all times by minders “to prevent them from getting lost’. The locations were pre-selected and the performances were orchestrated to depict suitably passionate levels of patriotism. All the footage was heavily examined by officials so that there would be no mistakes. The idea was to show a typical family in “the best country in the world”. It’s no surprise that the smiles look forced every once in a while. What’s more unexpected is just how much Russian documentary filmmaker Vitaly Mansky is able to reveal even though there were such rough restrictions imposed upon him. The documentary about the family really becomes a look at the mechanisms and effects of indoctrination and propaganda.

under7

Mansky spent a year in North Korea, supposedly in order to document the life of an average family. Of course, as previous attempts at showing life in the most totalitarian state in the world have demonstrated, it is impossible for a filmmaker, or any foreigner, to work without being constantly monitored. Mansky has used his film to show the essence of the state mechanism. He presents in detail how it is possible to make a documentary on North Korea and effectively show how indoctrination functions and propaganda is made. 

under the sun

The beginning of the film announces that, on the birthday of Kim Il-Sung, along with hundreds of other children, eight-year-old Zin-mi, the family’s daughter, is going to join the Korean Children’s Union (an equivalent of the pioneer organizations in most communist countries before the fall of the Berlin Wall). Government watchdogs were assigned to the film crew as “guides” and to make sure that this ceremony goes without a hitch for the highly respected Russian filmmaker.

One of the early scenes shows a lecture in Zin-mi’s class, repeated several times until a satisfactory performance is produced by both the teacher and the children. Mansky left the two full repetitions of these “rehearsals” in the film, and tells us right from the start what audiences are to expect.

under the sun2

For the sake of the nation’s international image, Zin-mi is put into the spotlight, and so are her parents at their workplaces. They play the main roles in their environments, and have to be perfect actors. Whether it is a family lunch, a meeting between Zin-mi’s father, an engineer, and workers in his cloth factory, or her mother’s day in the milk factory, there are always one or two attendants on hand setting up the scene, dictating the finer details of the mise-en-scène, ushering and instructing the participants what to say, how to act or react, and what kind of facial expression to assume. 

With these restrictions, the director could not hope to show the reality of life in Korea. We are constantly reminded of the “Great Leader” Kim Il-Sung and the “Great Brilliant Commander” Kim Jong-Un, whose portraits hang on every wall. By simply keeping the actual staging of the scenes in the film, Mansky shows us that in North Korea, life itself is carefully staged and rehearsed. 

under the sunn1

There are rare scenes of “reality” on the streets and on public transport and they show a striking contrast between the grey, everyday life and the explosion of colors and sounds in the very carefully choreographed mass dances and rallies involving hundreds of smiling participants. 

under4

Just how forced these smiles are, we can see in several between-the-shots close-ups that Mansky managed to film, and in one powerfully moving dialogue with Zin-mi, the only moment with the protagonist is caught without the attendants’ supervision. Mansky turned the imposed limitations into a huge advantage and simply let the fourth wall fall showing the sheer brutality of the North Korean state machine and the misery of living in this society. Without revealing a single detail of the functioning of the state apparatus, Mansky has conveyed its very essence.

“PATHS OF THE SOUL”— When Fact Meets Fiction

paths of the soul poster

“PATHS OF THE SOUL”

When Fact Meets Fiction

Amos Lassen

Director Zhang Yang brings documentary and fiction together in this account of a band of pilgrims who make a 2,000-kilometre journey on foot to Lhasa, the holy capital of Tibet. The film is a document about the simplicity of spiritual life on the world’s highest plateau, where the thin air makes each and every humble gesture an arduous task. This is the record of a singular real-life journey: a months-long pilgrimage, on foot, to Tibet’s holy capital.

paths1

The film follows a group of Tibetan villagers who leave their families and homes to make a “bowing pilgrimage” (laying their bodies flat on the ground after every few steps) along the 2,000-kilometre road to Lhasa. Though the pilgrims all are equally devoted to the journey, they all have different reasons: one traveler needs to cleanse bad family karma; another, a butcher, wants to wash the animals’ bloodstains from his soul; and yet another, sensing the end is near, hopes that prayers and prostrations will break the chain of cause and effect determined by his life’s actions. A lot happens during their months on the road— a baby is born, they meet fellow travelers, and they are put to the test by harsh snowstorms and physical fatigue. However, can deter them from their ultimate goal including the threat of death which is a very real danger in this high altitude where a common cold can take one’s life.

As you watch, it is important to remember that this is a fictionalized portrayal of an actual event even though Zhang chose to shoot in documentary style, over the course of an entire year, with non-professional actors and no script. The result is a film that mesmerizes like no other. We find ourselves caught up in a rhythm that bears witness to these very real actions of dedication on the winding roads of Tibet.

paths4

 

 

 

The journey is one of redemption, faith, and devotion. A group of Tibetan villagers leave their families and homes in the small village of Nyima to make the pilgrimage. They united in their remarkable devotion, each of the travelers embarks on this almost impossible journey for very personal reasons. The photography is stunning and the journey pulls us in totally as we watch a study of faith unlike any other and that inspires us to think about our own life journeys. I suppose we can call this a road movie but there has never been a road movie quite like this.

This is so much more than simply a long walk down a national highway. This is an act of Buddhist devotion requires participants to prostrate themselves every few yards while trucks and cars zoom past. It is a stunning study in faith and spirituality that will inspire many viewers to think about big and small questions of life.

Even though the film offers no comment on the touchy topic of Tibetan political history, it’s important to note that the onscreen title of “Paths of the Soul” is shown in Tibetan script, and is preceded by the official seal of China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television. What makes this significant is that many Chinese films with religious and spiritual themes have been disapproved at the official level.

paths5

Simplicity is the key to every aspect of the movie. Zhang keeps his camera at a distance and there are few close-ups. Zhang gently shows how Buddhist beliefs and practices are woven into every facet of life in a remote village in Mangkang County, part of China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. It seems perfectly natural when Nyima (Nyima Zadui) and his uncle, Yang (Yang Pei), have a very relaxed conversation and decide the time is right for a pilgrimage to Lhasa. For Yang, the trip is especially important: His brother died before being able to make the journey, and Yang himself has never traveled beyond his village.

Soon there are eleven people ready to make the journey and we never have any question about the motivations of the pilgrims. Personal spiritual fulfillment is just part of the process: The higher goal is to pray for the well-being and happiness of others. For young male participants Rigzin (Rigzin Jigme) and Mu Qu (Mu Qu), the trip to Lhasa is very much about honoring two people who died while building a house in the village.

I must admit that even though I took a few courses in religion in college, I was totally unfamiliar with the actual procedure of this particular pilgrimage and I found it to be amazing to see the devotion here.

The pilgrims wear long aprons made of animal skin and protective wooden boards affixed to palms of hands for when they dive to the ground. Following this the pilgrims touch the earth with their foreheads and clap the boards together to complete the ritual. Through rain, snow and blistering heat, and at altitudes of 12,000 feet, the seven-month trek continues.

Opposite the slow progress and physically harsh nature of the pilgrimage are the illuminating and inspiring stops along the way. In a lovely sequence, the group is given shelter by a kind old farmer and repay him by plowing his barley fields. The birth of a baby is incredibly touching, and there’s a positively exquisite scene in which the group dance and sing while camped on a riverbank that is visually gorgeous.

paths6

The group has financial problems just short of Lhasa. With pragmatism to match their devotion, they simply stop for a while to work as laborers and car-wash attendants before pressing on to the final destination. Sequences in Lhasa include beautifully filmed visits to sacred temples and fascinating conversations with holy men.

Many who see this film will experience a sense of discovery and wonder as the journey moves forward and I should mention that this is not an advertisement for Buddhist recruitment. Cinematographer Guo Daming delivers any number of beautifully framed wide shots showing the 11 hardy devotees as they make their way across landscapes varying from dusty and desolate plains to beautiful green pastures and forests. There is no music score and this punctuates the film and its message of striving for serenity and peacefulness.

“BED BUDDIES”— Friendship and Sex”

bed buddies poster

“Bed Buddies”

Friendship and Sex

Amos Lassen

 Reid Waterer is one of my favorite directors of gay short films and he always has something new to say. “Bed Buddies” is a contemplative film that looks at the value of friendship, over sex. We meet two gay friends who try to understand what went on when they woke up after sleeping together. This is considered a comedy but I am not sure that this description really fits. After a night of heavy drinking, three best friends wake up in the morning and realize that they have shared more than friendship. Here we question the meaning of the word “love”.

bed buddies1

Before this, the three shared brotherly love and now there is the question as to whether that brotherly love has become more serious. Then there is also the situation that there are three of them and is it possible that they can love each other equally. So here is where the idea of comedy intersects with intellect and there are serious questions that do not have easy solutions. How do we define friendship and is it more important than sex? We do not often get short films that give us so much to think about and as I sit here the only other one I can think of right now is Waterer’s “Performance Anxiety” in which two straight men are to have gay sex on camera.

“Bed Buddies” starts Dylan Wayne Lawrence as Jared, Daniel Lipshutz as Brent, Enzo Nova as Danny and Colin Van Wye as Kort.

“Friendship Fog” by Peter Halsey Sherwood— Looking for Love, An Urban Fairytale

friendship fog

Sherwood, Peter Halsey. “Friendship Fog”, Xlibris, 2015.

Looking for Love, An Urban Fairytale

Amos Lassen

It is so appropriate to have read this book now with Valentine’s Day coming very soon. It is all about love and those have been in love and those who are seeking love. It all begins on the Fourth of July where four young people meet in Friendship, Maine. This is a comedy yet it manages to give us a strong message about love and friendship. Our four characters include Clifford Bowles, a very wealthy man who is the head of a media empire, Divine Living. His business acumen is great but his personal life is chaotic as he goes through middle age. His best friend is Van Dillon, a well-respected theatrical agent who lies to drink and whole life is now in the hands of a very good-looking veterinarian. Orlanda DeCardinier is something of an enigma. She is a psychic career coach who seems to be involved in everything and then there is Laura Trelawny, a frazzled psychiatrist who surprisingly enters the lives of the other three with a secret that has an effect on all. We are with these characters as they span their lives through decades of trying to understand friendship and love.

Some of us who have been in relationships will find the story to be recognizable. It is the four characters that propel the story and while I can’t tell you how, you will just have to trust what the author and I have to say. Sherwood has created some very real characters here that deal with very real situations.

This is actually a look at love and acceptance and how the characters (and the readers) deal with both. While we may not want to admit it, the nature of relationships has changed as has the definition of love (which is interesting since it is such a hard word to define). Like mankind, relationships change and redevelop over time and many times love becomes a byproduct instead of the core of a relationship. What we see here is that relationships might have worked out much better if they had begun with love and then developed other aspects. Out characters go from Maine to Manhattan and they keep us laughing while dealing with serious issues. Here we explore the heart and the mind and see that love is sometimes just friendship.

If we look at ourselves and try to remember what we meant when we used the word “love”, we should be very surprised. We see how the friendships of youth and youthful love shape our characters and Sherwood uses the very literary exercise of flashbacks and musings of the mind to present this to us. (I have often thought that if I could go back in time before making a commitment, I would be so much better off). Our characters do just this until they are faced with a secret that could change everything. The journey that they take is the journey we have taken and granted their journey may be filled with more sarcasm, humor and sensitivity, they are similar nonetheless.

This is a rough book to review because it is so easy to give something away and I am biting my tongue as I write. I found myself hoping that things would go well for the characters and every time I thought that they would, there was a twist and for that reason I suggest that you set aside several hours before you start reading because you will become so involved you will want to keep at it. With our lives today being so unpredictable, I thought it was great that so were the lives of the characters unpredictable. While it is still early in the year, I can nevertheless say that this in one of my best reads of 2016. Now some of you may feel that I talked around the book and not to it and you are right. I want you to talk to it.