“RADIANT SEA”— “A Young Man and the Sea”

radiant sea poster

“Radiant Sea” (“Lichtes meer)

“A Young Man and the Sea”

Amos Lassen

“Radiant Sea” is a romantic coming-of-age film about Marek (Martin Sznur) who starts as a trainee on a container ship bound for Martinique. Full of anticipation, he leaves his parents’ farm in Western Pomerania and goes on board at St. Nazaire. Marek wants to find freedom and falls in love with the enigmatic sailor Jean (Jules Léo Sagot).


On his trip across the Atlantic, Marek may not actually become a sailor, but he does grow up. In an intimate and documentary-like style, German filmmaker Stefan Butzmühlen follows a young man who is looking to find himself on board a cargo ship headed for the island he yearns for. This journey across the sea becomes quite a personal voyage. Marek is fleeing from his parents’ cold farm in Western Pomerania, Germany to move to more to the sun and he goes first to Dunkirk and then to Saint-Nazaire, where he boards a cargo ship together with a Frenchman, Jean with whom Marek discovers love and passion flood which he brings into the existential void that he is seeking to fill. The intimate and sexual encounters on the open sea move the two characters into an odyssey, at the end of which they will find the island they yearn for, together… or do they?


The two sailors walk on solid ground once again when the ship arrives on the island of Martinique. However, even though they both now find themselves in the same outer place, they each attempt to keep themselves afloat in their own inner space. It is that inner place that is emphasized in this film.


Butzmühlen builds the film up on two parallel levels. The first is the portrait of the intimacy that exists between Marek and Jean that we see in the obvious glances and the vigorous sex scenes between them. The second is the documentary-like gaze at the world that around them: the hierarchy of the workers on the cargo ship is presented down to the finest detail, the work taking place on the freighter is captured in long sequences and to the strings the opera “Madama Butterfly”.


Both the music and the beauty of Martinique gives us captivating images as in a nighttime stroll dotted with countless fireflies. The voiceover (by Marek) becomes another of the film’s tools. It narrates the interactions between the two men while they stay silent, contributing to the documentary-like feel. Director Butzmühlen gives us an interesting voyage filled with unaffected honesty.

“Circle, Arrow, Spiral: Exploring Gender in Judaism” by Miriam Kosman— Men, Women and Judaism


Kosman, Miriam. “Circle, Arrow, Spiral: Exploring Gender in Judaism”, Menucha Publishers, 2014.

Men, Women and Judaism

Amos Lassen

Regarding gender, there are many questions in Judaism and as many questions as there are, there are also that many answers. Are men and women equal in Judaism? Is equality even a Jewish goal? If it isn’t, how do we reconcile a just God with inequality?. In a society in which it is no longer clear who brings home the money and who fixes the meals, who changes the baby and who changes the tires or what it really means to be male or female. Should gender make any difference in our lives, or should we all just do what we are good at and forget labels? Is gender indeed a label or is it a biological fact?

These are questions that arise time and again in a society where norms are changing rapidly . Going past the great divide between the “men-and-women-are-equal-but-different” camp, and the “Judaism-is-patriarchal-and-must-change” camp, “Circle, Arrow, Spiral: Exploring Gender in Judaism” presents us with a shift in paradigm. Miriam Kosman goes into Midrashic underpinnings of the struggle for equality and its philosophical ramifications and explores how female angst plays a cosmic and important role in awakening humanity to a crucial process. Later, in the second half of the book, author Kosman addresses some of the more delicate issues relating to men and women in Jewish law (the marriage and divorce structure and public versus private roles) and she explores them by way of the paradigm she has set up in the earlier chapters. This new, for some,

paradigm looks at the entire male/female dynamic and offers insight into navigating this crucial relationship in real life more successfully. In doing so, we push to the side early diatribes and look at the power of the female force in history, in society, and in relationships. We see how the entire universe is divided along the fault line between male and female and all of life is an everlasting and seemingly non-ending dance between these two forces. This is a book about who we are as human beings, as men and women – and as Jews.

Kosman draws on Jewish sources, particularly Kabbalistic ones, as well as second-wave feminist theory, postmodern thought, contemporary psychology and sociology, and then offers a sweeping theory of gender as it manifests itself in Judaism. For Kosman, the traditional Jewish conception of male and female roles is not a challenge to be overcome, but rather it represents a sophisticated and delicate framework for enabling the “female force” to manifest itself within individual relationships and within history more broadly. If we obscure the difference between men and women in the service of egalitarianism or other contemporary trends, we may actually find a counterproductive effect. It could silence the female voice.

There will be issues here that not everyone will agree with but this is an important way of looking at gender and gender roles. Everyone who has interest in Jewish intellectualism and its tradition and who is uncomfortable with easy dismissals of its wisdom when it comes to gender in the modern world will find something of importance here and not always immediately. I found myself, for example, spending a lot of time thinking about what I read and then trying it make it applicable to the way we live now. This can be very difficult for those of us who have been raised on the idea of patriarchy and Judaism.

The book centers on a midrash from the Talmudic tractate of Chullin. Translated it says the following:

“Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi asked: It is written, “And God made the two big luminaries” (Genesis 1:16) And yet first it says, “The big luminary and the small luminary.” [If they are both big, why is one later called small?] [Rabbi Shimon answers his question by explaining how the two equal-sized luminaries became unequal in size:] The moon said to the Holy One, Blessed Be He, “Master of the World, two kings cannot share the same crown.”

He said to her. “Go and make yourself small.”

She said to Him, “Because I said something proper before You, I should make myself small?”

He said to her, “Go rule by day and by night.”

She said to Him, “What is the advantage in this? What is the value of a candle at noontime?”

He said to her, “Go, so that Israel may count the days and the years through you.”

She said to Him, “The sun is also necessary for counting the times and the seasons, as it says, ‘And they [both the sun and the moon] will be for signs at the appointed time; (ibid.,14)

[He said,] “Go, so that righteous ones will be called by your name. Jacob the Small One, Samuel the Small One, David the Small One.”

He saw that she was still upset. The Holy One, Blessed Be He, said, “Bring an atonement for Me that I diminished the moon.”

Even with the gendered language and it is important to remember that Hebrew is a gender specific language, we see that this is not about gender on the surface. The moon is pained because she is diminished and she wants equality. This midrash has been interpreted to refer to the Jewish people and their desire and longing for the messianic age. Each month when the Kiddush Levana prayer is recited on the new moon, the Jewish liturgy looks at this mystical yearning for the restoration of the moon to her former glory.

In both the Kabbalistic and in a variety of ancient cultures, the moon is associated with women, and this midrash is also often understood to refer to male-female relations as they manifest themselves in the world. We see that the sun bestows light while the moon receives it. Kabbalistic literature uses biological reality in describing the male archetype as the giver and the female archetype as the receiver. Kosman continually clarifies that she is dealing with conceptual symbolic categories, and that every woman or man has both these feminine and masculine forces within her or him. Therefore we must appreciate these traits separately in order for them to interrelate meaningfully. The “circle” of the book’s title relates to the moon, and to the female archetype, while the “arrow” of the title refers to masculinity and to the sun. The “spiral” then describes the ideal interaction that takes place between the forces, relating to one another in a dialectical manner but ultimately pushing forward to create a synthesis that is more than the sum of its parts.

Aside from using the sun as power, conquest and hierarchy, Kosman looks at it in terms of Western Civilization. We surely see this in the phrase that “The sun never sets on the British Empire”. We use a form of the word “light” to classify the European movement of philosophical and scientific revolution, while the moon, on the other hand, represents dependence and interconnection. What we need is to know how to listen and then validate whoever is doing the giving.

Author Kosman connects this with the spirit of the “East”. This ability to receive, or “empty oneself out” is not a passive stance, and it’s no secret how much energy and rigor is demanded by a life seriously devoted to one of the Eastern mystical traditions. Yet when placed directly beside the sun, it is easy to see how the contributions of the moon might get overshadowed. Kosman reads the midrash in Chullin as presenting two stages where the first stage is a cosmic ideal of equality, represented by the notion that God originally created the sun and the moon as the same size, as it says toward the beginning of Genesis 1, “and God made the two big luminaries”. Even the moon herself fears that no one is going to take her contributions as seriously as that of the sun. The second stage is a revision of that original plan in which, God responds to the moon’s frustration by, diminishing her. She is baffled by this response, but He assures her that it is not punishment, rather it may offer an even more dynamic solution to her problem. With her diminishment comes her ability to wax and wane, to at times reflect the sun’s light and other times be separate from it. There is a kind of active reciprocity that results between the sun and the moon, a dynamic relationship that gives the moon a degree of autonomy in when she will reflect the sun and when she will not.

We see that the moon, being small, can therefore be present in both day and night while the sun by its nature obliterates the darkness around it, the moon is conditioned to exist in both darkness and light and it also has a particular awareness that results from the smaller size, and this is in regard to her relationship to God. We know that in Judaism, righteousness is not solely a product of great abilities or accomplishments. In this midrash, God reminds the moon that in the Bible, great Jewish heroes like Jacob, Samuel and David, are called “small.” These men are distinguished by not just their external achievements but that they were able to achieve them when they were small. They were aware that they were small and vulnerable and were able to have God in their lives.

There are still questions after looking at this midrash. Why does God ask the moon to bring an atonement for Him? Despite everything that has happened, does God ultimately still regret diminishing the moon? This is a powerful dynamic that is described here and while many are quick to characterize traditional religious notions of gender and gender difference to be outmoded and even immoral, Kosman uses this Talmudic story to present a more complex picture. Equality is clearly a value here, but equality sits alongside of vulnerability and interdependence. When the moon is diminished she obtains a heightened sensitivity of how underappreciated her message of “receiving” really is, and this causes her into making it more manifest in the world. Gender imbalance creates a structure in which both forces exist separately and can then interact meaningfully with one another. It is Kosman telling us that in this midrash God tells us to understand our smallness and underneath the surface there is the history of quiet presence from which we derive humanity and that humanity comes from God.

For Kosman, the diminishment of women is not unique to Judaism. She speaks of women in the broader sense. She considers the mistreatment of women and the devaluing of female contributions that has taken place throughout human history. Here, Judaism has generally been among the least egregious offenders, although it’s inevitable that Jewish texts will to some extent reflect surrounding cultural conceptions. She also believes that Jewish practice contains within it the tools to address, and ultimately remedy this unfortunate state of imbalance. In the separation and distinctions of gender within halakha or Jewish law, Kosman sees a sophisticated system that distinguishes male and female archetypes from one another in order that a sort of dialectical relationship develops between them. The goal is a powerful, proactive collision “between opposites, who, by maintaining their disparity even as they meet the other, create something entirely new.”

Kosman cites here the historical Jewish practice of differentiating between the types of Torah study done by men and women. Talmud study is traditionally the domain of men, though Kosman does point out that there are many prominent examples of women in Jewish history who were highly versed in Jewish texts. Kosman connects the legalistic aspects of Talmud study to the male archetype, “the halakhic aspect of Talmud requires the verbal give-and-take process of accessing the truth through argument in order to be understood.” She also dismisses any notion that women are intellectually incapable of such study. Yet she contends that women will often be inclined toward a different mode of Torah study, one that emphasizes insight over argument, and experiential knowledge over abstract hypothetical scenarios. The Talmud itself contains both of these and they are both within particular legalistic give-and-takes, and in the broader weaving together of halakha with aggadah, stories that enrich, deepen and even sometimes undermine the Jewish legal discussions at hand. The appreciation of aggadah is challenging and requires careful study, but it is ultimately not a conquest of reason but rather an experience of delighting in its subtle insight. We feel this in the midrash in Chullin about the lost light of the moon – Kosman offers a compelling interpretation of the story, but there still remains an air of mystery to the midrash that rational analysis cannot fully explicate. On of the things I learned from studying and listening to Aviva Gottlieb Zornberg discuss midrash is that it can move and delight us without necessarily offering a tight logical progression of ideas.

For Kosman, however, the interplay between female and male forces is built into the Talmud and is part of what gives it its resonance and its power. The fact that more Jewish women study Talmud in the contemporary world is a positive development that can certainly highlight and bring these feminine elements of the Jewish tradition into greater relief. There is a danger in emphasizing male Torah study paradigms for both men and women— it risks sublimating the female voice. Kosman suggests, somewhat radically, that “discovering a paradigm for women’s Torah study, which validates and strengthens those gifts that women bring to the world, may require an entire restructuring of thought.”

We do not get a direct opinion about female rabbis from Kosman but we can imagine how she feels by looking at the schema she has developed showing that the male voice emphasizes hierarchy and power while the female voice is quiet; to dress it up in male clothing is to risk denigrating the female voice’s unique contributions. Of course there is the argument that the American Orthodox Rabbinate is not only about religious authority; it also involves pastoral counseling, or caring for and supporting congregants in their times of need, and these are roles that one could conceivably imagine a women fulfilling as or even more successfully than a man. Kosman would not see this as a viable argument in favor of women’s ordination, rather it is proof that the system is working as it stands. For a male communal Rabbi to be successful, he must incorporate male and female elements into his work. This give and take between male and female forces is built into the structure of Judaism and should be present in all of its major expressions. Men are who gather monthly to bless the new moon and this is not an omission of women but the opposite, In Judaism, the sun sensitizes itself to the loss and yearning represented by the moon. The real challenge in Judaism is how to take care of those differing forces while keeping the goal of interaction that propels us ahead. Kosman certainly gives us a lot to think about and she reminds us that in moving forward we can possibly lose some of what she has to say. She shows us that serious thought can make us stronger Jews and we can only hope that her words do not fall flat.

Jewish gender distinctions in more generous terms, and also in appreciating the complicated nature of their task at hand. While many have touted recent innovations in women’s formal leadership within the Orthodox community as an exciting wave of the future, Circle, Arrow Spiral quite poignantly reminds us of what might potentially be lost in this move “forward.” Kosman demonstrates the potential for what serious and broad thinking about Judaism can look like within a context of deep faith and commitment. It would be wonderful if major debates in the Modern Orthodox community would take place within, or at least respond to, such a well thought-out conceptual framework.

“AMOROUS”—- Four Young Londoners



Four Young Londoners

Amos Lassen

Four young Londoners who are tired of the pressures and expectations of big city life, move to an isolated country cottage. The make up strange new rules and rituals to help them combat their complacency and cynicism. They also test social conventions and their own inhibitions by living communally, swapping partners and exploring unconventional relationships. As might be expected, their new personal and sexual bonds are tested by the arrival of an ex-lover. Joanna Coates’ film is sensual and atmospheric with soft, dreamy cinematography that makes the film feel intimate feel considering the physical and emotional relationship of the four characters.


Charlotte (Hannah Arterton), Max (Josh O’Connor), Jack (Daniel Metz) and Leah (Rea Mole) develop a utopian commune in the secluded English countryside. They are totally uninterested in what is going on in the world around them and so they foster a place in which imagination replaces societal rules. As an expression of their newfound freedom, the foursome establishes a polyamorous lifestyle in an effort to breakdown interpersonal boundaries while also avoiding any romantic connections that might tear them and the commune apart.

The commune becomes a place for the characters to seek out their true selves and find happiness. The film tests the theory that societal norms serve as burdens for human beings and that free of moral guidelines and everyday stress, people might just be able to enjoy life. We have learned from history that most communes attempt to exist in the guise of utopia but fail because of egos and/or lack of direction. There is either too much leadership, or not enough. In the case of “Amorous”, the characters have learned to exist equally and cooperatively and this relieves them of destructive egos and power dynamics. Director Coates avoids a  discussion of the economic structure of this commune thus leaving us wondering how this foursome will survive in seclusion in the long run; but then the film does not claim to be a microeconomic analysis of this world. Rather, it functions as a psychological study of natural human behavior.


“Amorous” proposes the philosophy of using avoidance and ignorance as a form of protest. For Charlotte, Max, Jack and Leah, the world outside is a hopeless place. Instead of trying to fix something that is too far-gone, they have chosen to start their own form of existence in the hope that the rest of the world will just leave them alone. Of course that means that they must assume that the evils of the world around them will not enter their paradise.

We get quite a bold look at sexuality and the human condition. The film is shot beautifully with each frame crafted in a way to give us a deeper look into the psychology of the situation. With no exposition, Coates presents the audience with a scenario and allows them to come to their own judgments and conclusions. We do not wonder if it will last or not as it exists solely in the now. This is most certainly not a new topic and many of us have dreamed about an abundance of love, sex and friendship even if it is in conflict with the ideology of a soul mate. Here we get a different view of love— one that seeks to mythologize a polyamorous union instead.


Our four friends draw up schedules of partner-swapping including different and same-sex combinations and hang it on the door to the “marital bedroom”, reminding me of my college dorm days.

We watch as sexual relationships develop slowly and patiently, mostly overnight at first and then just a secret smile the next morning, and again later on through the daytime and we see them coupling wherever and whenever. Their collection of unusual rules and rituals helps loosen their inhibitions as they move towards a deeply unconventional joy.


The house belongs to Leah, who seems to be the conceptual leader of the group and obviously the four young lovers can afford the lifestyle and it doesn’t look like anybody ever goes to work, much less pay the monthly bills or shop for groceries. In the four protagonists just are (together) and only vaguely defined in terms of characters and motivations, far away from reality.

The film is innovative in the way it combines depictions of all kinds of sexual activity in the beautiful and naturalistically shot surroundings. This is paradise in all of its elements of undefined work towards the idea of an idealized, imaginary community. The argument is to explore the ways in which the world could be organized differently in terms of politics and society, as well as emotionally and intellectually. Max, Charlotte, Leah and Jack have no connection to the outside world. What they had are of the past. We do get hints that Leah’s parents would disapprove of her lifestyle and that Charlotte has an ex-boyfriend. The four have made themselves are outcasts who reject the mores of conventional society and likewise are rejected . What we really do not know is exactly they are rebelling against. The film plays a “purely” aesthetic role and dismisses all functionality in favor of lyricism.


There is a distinct sense of mystery and intrigue that immerses us into world and leaves us groping for answers. The depiction of sex and nudity conveys the subjectivity of both her male and female cast in equal measure. Somewhat frustratingly, however, beneath the film’s beautiful veneer of generational malaise, not much really happens. Because of the lack of exposition, it is difficult to know the characters and when a fifth characters attempts to join them, we get an incredibly empty and mundane encounter. This could very well be a comment on the “other” that is based upon individualism or xenophobia even though these themes are not dealt with specifically. We get no real sense of direction in the film and this could be a mirroring of the bewilderment of today’s disenfranchised youth.

“EAGLES”— Two Israeli Veterans



Two Israeli Veterans

Amos Lassen

Efraim (Yossi Polack) and Moshka (Yehoram Gaon)are two veterans of Israel’s War of Independence who decide to embark on a lethal murderous rampage against the young disrespectful generation on the hedonistic streets of Tel Aviv.


Dror Sabo’s “Eagles” bring us cane-and pistol-wielding vigilante war heroes who blow away every annoying twenty something they can get in their cross-hairs. As they do, they muse about the romance and the Israel that might have been. The film, for me, at least, comes across as an allegory for contemporary Israeli discontent. Yossi Pollak and Yehoram Gaon are perfect as disillusioned old warriors whose age has made them invisible to everyone including law enforcement. Their feelings of loss and longing mesh with their willingness to mow down all the “bastards” (“nevelot” in Hebrew and the name of this film in Israel).

We follow former IDF soldiers Efraim and Moshka as their dull, monotonous lives are thrown for a loop after a friend is killed in a fatal hit and run collision. The film, for the most part, revolves around the pair’s efforts at avenging their friend’s death and their subsequent transformation into vigilantes. At first, watching it we see it as a small drama that explores the problems and indignities that come with aging, Efraim comes across as bitter as he faces old age. But then the movie changes gears radically and we see the two men who are out to revenge their dead friend’s murder. Comedy takes over and the two try for retribution for the accident that took their friend. I am not really sure that this is comedy, however and in effect we are laughing as the law is being broken.


There is also a subplot where we learn that both men had affairs with the same woman in the past. Neither of the plots is ever wrapped up. While there are some funny moments this is, by and large, a grim movie. We hear complaints about naked babies on television and the younger generation’s lack of manners and we realize that the men are struggling with no longer being relevant.

We see Efraim and Moshka in flashback as young survivors of war and displacement and we understand how much they endured during the 1948 conflict. They are left traumatized when a mutually adored woman and lifelong love is struck and killed by a car. Walking along the together one evening, they share their grief. This soon becomes tragic when they are forced to defend themselves after words and punches are exchanged with a group of thugs. That incident becomes the cathartic release of pent-up resentment that Efraim has long-been craving although Moshka is actually far more troubled by the incident. When they have a chance encounter with the man who killed their friend, they move toward self-styled justice, and soon they are on a killing spree, setting out to right the selfish wrongs of Israel’s younger population. At about the same time, Dina (Noa Barkai) their late friend’s daughter, is trying to track them down. She only recently learned about their past with her mother.


We certainly see the symbolism of old and new Israel in conflict as well as a personal picture of two disenfranchised elders. Pollak and Gaon are convincing as men struggling with their ages and they are driven by memories and passions that no longer hold any significance. What is perfect irony is that what Moshka and Efraim see as the shallowness of the 20-somethings is also the very hedonism that they themselves desire.


“Eagles” is a tough, cold and disheartening film. The actions of Efraim and Moshka occasionally seesaw between real warmth and inhuman villainy and their self-righteous journey makes it hard to have sympathy for them. I am sure that the film will engender debate just as other movies of importance do.

The film is based on a novel by Israeli author, Yoram Kaniuk and I understand that HBO is reworking the film for American audiences. The Israeli fighters will be replace by Vietnam War veterans who go on a murderous rampage in Miami.


blood rage poster

“Blood Rage”


Amos Lassen

When Maddy (Louise Lasser) takes her two sleeping twins, Todd and Terry, to the local drive in to make out with her lover, the two boys sneak out of the car and watch other couples make out. Terry is violent and discovers how to use of a hatchet but blames his brother, Todd for what went down. framing his brother for the incident. The film flashes forward ten years and the unfortunate Todd (Mark Soper, playing both brothers) is incarcerated in a mental institution. Because we know from the start who the murderer is, there is no tension in the film and there is no attempt to confuse the audience with which one of the brothers is on screen at any one time; we are then watch the film for the brutal but effective murder scenes.

bood rage1

Arrow Video has gone all out with this blu ray release and offer three distinct versions – the theatrical release, renamed as “Nightmare at Shadow Woods”, the harder home video release and a new composite cut of the two – all of which have been remarkably cleaned up and remastered. The home video cut is superior, retaining the gore and cutting the pace-killing extra scenes. Yet

Blood Rage is a film that defies criticism; the acting remains terrible, the cinematography flat and the script either abysmal or inspired, depending on how one reacts to dialogue like “It isn’t cranberry sauce”, “I’d say this big bird is ready for carving” and “Looks like you’re going to get to meet the rest of the family; my psychotic brother just escaped”. Nonetheless I love this movie. It is cheap, daft and totally entertaining. I am not sure whether we scream with laughter or we scream with fear. “Blood Rage” is both a slasher film set at Thanksgiving and an identical twin story.

blood rage2

Todd is locked up in a mental institute and Terry is left tending to Thanksgiving dinner. We then learn that Todd escaped and, we’re led to believe he’s the psychopath when in reality (which is blurred), it is his evil twin who is sitting at the Thanksgiving table. Terry “loses it” upon seeing his mom with a new boyfriend, Brad, who’s just proposed to her on Thanksgiving. We know nothing about her former husband and the twins’ father.

Terry has a total of nine victims and the film is filled with nudity, severed heads, torsos, and limbs. When we consider that the movie was made in the 80’s, we see just how much gore is here. It only takes about five minutes in the beginning to figure out where the film is going and the real begins as we move down that road.

Maddy is given the news by Todd’s doctor that Todd has snapped out of his trance-like state and has begun to remember what happened, blaming his brother Terry for the murder and claiming his innocence. Refusing to believe him, Maddy carries on with her Thanksgiving celebrations, which includes breaking the news to Terry that she is about to marry her boyfriend Brad (William Fuller) and this causes Terry to go crazy. An unwelcome phone call tells Maddy that Todd has escaped and this pushes Terry him into a murderous rage that sees the unstable twin embark on a night of bloodthirsty terror. The question is which one of the twins will get the blame?

blood rage3

“Blood Rage” has some decent gore beyond the usual throat slitting and chest stabbing. Louise Lasser plays it her part as an eccentric and a kook yet manages to gain our sympathies for the grief that her children have given her. She also comes into her own at the end and is the most interesting character in the film. Mark Soper also does a good job in handling the dual roles of Terry and Todd (although the filmmakers could have used a better ‘lookalike’ than the one they did during the one scene where the two brothers are in the same shot). I know I said the acting was terrible so please understand the above as related to that statement.

“Blood Rage” is a slasher movie that places itself firmly in the middle of the genre output of the 80s. It is gorier than most of the other non-franchise slashers and it does try to add a bit of intensity by beginning with a brutal kill and barely letting up for most of the running time.

Some of the Blu ray extras include:

As stated earlier you get three cuts of the film, and a direct video transfer of the opening with the correct title on.

An audio commentary by the director which is a little on the dull side. You can tell this was a job for hire as he seems to talk more about distribution wrangles more than any stylistic choices.

A series of interviews with Producer/Actress Marianne Kanter, lead Mark Soper and most interesting, Louise Lasser. Ed French talks about the effects and Ted Raimi gives a quick interview regarding this, his first role.

There is also a dull look at the locations of the film, some outtakes and a booklet featuring the writings of Joseph A Ziemba. More comprehensive than the film needs but also not a great deal to excite any devotees of this outlander of ’80s slasher horror.

“AYA ARCOS”— The Intellectual and the Prostitute

aya arcos


The Intellectual and the Prostitute

Amos Lassen

Edu (Cesar Augusto) is a writer and something of an intellectual and is having something of a creative crisis. He meets Fabio (Daniel Passi) a young twenty-one year-old hustler and falls madly in love with him. While their relationship is shaky, they seem to love and support each other even with emotional outbursts and disagreements. Whether this relationship will last is questionable. In Rio de Janeiro lives are lived with excess. Then there is the fact that Fabio is probably HIV positive and this terrorizes Edu but he is so much in love with Fabio that he just pays no mind to that.


Suddenly their passion for each other changes and each seems to want to cancel the other and this is how we see them. This is writer/director Maximilian Moll’s first feature film and if this is a hint of what we can expect from him then we have a new brilliant director among us. It is totally interesting to see how he uses tenderness in the film about two mismatched med who stay together because of sex.


Yes, this is a melodrama but in this case, that is a positive description. Edu is willing to continue the affair as long as Fabio uses protection when they have sex and when he has sex with other men. Edu cannot stop him in his profession as a hustler but he can influence what he does. I also see the city of Rio as a character in the film because as a backdrop it influences the film and the action.


It is impossible to ignore the danger that the two men face because of the threat of HIV and I found this interesting in that today many seem to forget the disease and take unnecessary risks.


This is a low budget movie with a high sexual level and even when we do not see it, we sense its influence. Some might find it to depressing in that it rains throughout the film and for Edu who is an accomplished writer he lives cheaply and with only that which is an absolute necessity (This includes the meager furniture in his apartment. The film is constantly well focused on the characters and how they live.


We might think that the reason Edu cannot write is because he is so busy with Fabio. As the hustler, this is Daniel Passi’s film. For him, being paid for sex is his lifeline. This is a rough film because of Fabio’s being a prostitute. The film has been on the festival circuit and has been garnering prizes.

“His Steadfast Love and Other Stories” by Paul Brownsey— Everyday Lives and Big Questions

his steadfast

Brownsey, Paul. “His Steadfast Love and Other Stories”, Lethe Press, 2015.

Everyday Lives and Big Questions

Amos Lassen

Paul Brownsey is a former philosophy professor at Glasgow University who knows how our everyday lives contain big questions but he looks at and deals with them with wit and humor. “His Steadfast Love and Other Stories” is his first collection of stories and it contains sixteen wonderful tales that are short and filled with humor. In the stories he looks at aspects of gay life and the human condition and he does so with a discerning eye and witty prose. Some of the characters are extraordinary; among them are God, the Queen and Judy Garland.

He starts off with quite a bang having God as a character in the very first story but this is not the loving God that we usually hear about. This God seems to have learned something from the people who follow him—that love between two men is not good and not how things are supposed to be in His plans. The God that Brownsey writes about is an observer of humanity and human relationships. Certainly the first story, narrated by God, fits that description; who knew that He, like so many of His worshippers, was so intent on destroying love between men? God knows how these relationships begin, last, are torn asunder and come back together. God tells us about Jamie and Alex (whose relationship was on its last leg) have a foundation based upon spoken criteria.

In “True in my Fashion,” the narrator first admits to a single white lie he has told his lover, and then discusses the elaborate mechanisms he creates to keep his lover from finding out the truth. A lie is a very strange foundation for a long-term relationship, but what we see is the myth making that a couple (any couple) engages in over time.  In “Continuing City” we read of a relationship by mail between two men that lasts a quarter century. It began with a one-night stand and then went on for some twenty-five years as an annual correspondence. It lasted longer than any physical relationship that either man had during that time.  

Simon and Barrett are the characters in “Human Relationships under Capitalism”. They were originally business partners and lovers but when the business went downhill so did their relationship and they dissolved what had taken place for nineteen years. I have no doubt that some of us will recognize ourselves in some of the stories. “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” puts all of the emotions we experience with someone else during a relationship–infatuation, moving in together, settling down, and infidelity, break-up into a week and a half. It also makes fun of the lesbian stereotype of instant marriage. How many times have we met someone who was great in the sack and we see him as a permanent partner while this is not at all what he feels—So much for that relationship.

According to the blurb for the book and I agree totally, we find out that Judy Garland did not die in 1969 but instead “ended up wowing her fellow residents in a Scottish care home on karaoke night” and God “is a camp old queen trying to split up a gay couple”. You cam also read ‘how to talk to Her Royal Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (etc., etc.) when lecturing her about gay rights” or read “if a relationship where two men don’t actually see each other for twenty-five years can withstand them meeting face-to-face again. This is just part of the fun that awaits you. Inside of these stories or even bigger questions about the meaning of life and they will keep you thinking. The stories are full of fun and the prose is wonderfully evocative and deep as we look at long-time gay couples that struggle with approval and acceptance from themselves, from each other and from society. Granted there is a lot of implausibility here but there is also great fun.

“HOW TO WIN AT CHECKERS (EVERY TIME)”— A Dark Coming of Age Story

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“How to Win At Checkers (Every Time)”

A Dark Coming of Age Story

Amos Lassen

Do not let the title mislead you—this movie is not about playing checkers at all; rather it teaches us about ‘fair’ systems with unfair practices, the futility of believing in karma, and life among the lower class residents of Thailand. It is based on two short stories by Rattawut Lapcharoensap that director Josh Kimi brings together to create an examination of how brotherly love can be misunderstood. Additionally it looks at sexual politics in Thailand and the famous kathoey (ladyboys). The film was made using flashback by it shows two specific events that he young Oat (Ingkarat Damrongsakkul) is reminded of through a dream he is haunts him regularly. One of these events is the image of his brother Ek (Thira Chutikul) accidentally self-immolating when mixing homemade methamphetamine.

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The title of the movie comes from the book that young Oat picks up at the market one day. Ek has told him that he will only take him out drinking one night when he beats him in one their regular checkers games.

Thailand has a compulsory draft lottery for all of its male citizens at 21, and they are held in public. Oat watches his brother’s attempts to deal with the reality of being too poor to bribe his way out of it, and his desperate attempts to earn money at the local cafe. The draft is quite an issue because Ek is the primary source of income for him and his sister, but also because of rising tensions in the south, and the fact that his rich boyfriend Jai (Arthur Navarat) has bribed his way out. When Oat attempts to help by stealing said bribe, Ek is only placed in a more perilous position, being forced to work as more than just a bartender for the local extortioner and crime boss. This is a story of the triumph of the will over the forces that conspire against the individual. Thailand is considered progressive with regard to LGBT people, and Ek and Oat’s frank friendship with local pre-op woman Kitty (Natarat Lakha) supports this. The film is critical about the issues that surround gays in both in military life and prostitution.

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As Oat tries to learn how to best his brother in checkers, he learns that for someone to win, the opponent has to lose, whether it’s fair or not. This is quite a gritty film but it is never exploitative even while it treads a line between incendiary subjects, it is restrained. The film was made with flashbacks and even with flashbacks-within-a-flashback. Oat, as an adult, (Toni Rakkaen) remembers events from ten years earlier, when his older brother Ek (Thira Chutikul) faced the draft lottery.

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Let’s look back in time for a few moments. Ek is openly gay and has been dating Jai since they met at high school and they are very much an ‘item’ even though Jai is everything that Ek isn’t. He’s rich, tall, and white. What is waiting for the two lovers is as they are about to have their 21st birthdays they will have to take part in the compulsory State Lottery to see if they will have to do Military Service or not. Jai’s wealthy father gave money to the local Crime lord to bribe the Officials so that his son makes a good draw, but Jai doesn’t share with his Ek. However young Oat overhears the deal going down and when he cannot convince Ek of what he has heard, he takes matters in his own hands and tries to steal some money so that his big brother will also be safe from military duty.

However, Oat’s plan fails and Ek has to face losing his job as a bartender and becoming an escort so that the family can eat. He refuses to buy his way out of the army and he refuses to believe that his Jai would ever agree to being party to such an arrangement.

That Ek and Jai are gay does not matter to anyone and even Oat accepts his brother’s sexuality and never even thinks about it. There is also a subplot of teen who is transitioning and he/she was excused from the draft with no questions.

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This story of social inequality could easily have become melodramatic but the director Josh Kim has successfully avoided that and this is because of the concentration on friendship rather than stereotypes. This is Korean/American filmmaker Josh Kim’s first feature-length dramatic film and it beautifully flows with warmth, contemplation and social criticism. In fact, it is Korea’s submission to this year’s Oscar race and this alone speaks for the wonderful film that we have here.

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The two dominant themes here are coming-of-age and family and the film is a balanced look at life in Thailand, a country where the opportunities and privileges enjoyed by the rich, and the hardships endured by the poor are far more visible than they here in America. It is also wonderful to see that the sexuality and gender identities of the characters are almost incidental. Yet, the film does not avoid the less pleasant aspects of the life Ek lives. It is a life in which Ek cannot protect Oat from seeing and, to some degree, eventually becoming part of. (This includes work in the sex trade, as well as some degree of unsavory conduct that we never learn about in detail). It is suggested is that Oat grows up to play the games of the haves in order to escape his status as a have-not.

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The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Nikorn Sripongwarakul and the wonderful music score is by Boovar Isbjornsson.

“DROWN”— What Makes a Man?

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What Makes A Man?

Amos Lassen

Len Smithy (Matt Levett) is the Australian Iron Man champion at his local rescue station and swimming club. He’s following in his father’s footsteps, but he has a secret that he doesn’t really understand. He continually tries to prove his manliness but he is internally suffering because of secret homosexual desires. When Phil (Jack Matthews) arrives at the lifeguard station, things begin to come to a head. Not only does Phil save a young boy on his first day, he takes Len’s Iron Man title. It just so happens that he is also good looking and gay. Later when the guys are on their way to Sydney to celebrate, Len decides to punish Phil by stripping him naked to humiliate him. He also forces Meat (Harry Cook) his best friend, to dig a hole to bury him in up to his neck. I found “Drown” to be a wonderful look at masculinity that is centered on a straight man trying to find himself. The queer aesthetic of beautiful male bodies shown in soft-focus adds to the beauty of the film. Matt Levett as Len is brilliant and he oozes repressed homophobia and is unable to reconcile his own proofs of masculinity with his deeply buried, same-sex lust. Dean Francis’ script gives us Len who is caught in his own private trap. There is also a sense of childishness here but that I will leave for you to discover for yourselves. In actuality, the way I see it at least, this is the story of a man who is pushed into self-exploration because of his own self-hate. He is unable to accept himself and literally drowns in his own internalized homophobia and self-disgust.


I see the film as a herald to those gay men who are too ashamed to deal with themselves and waste their lives in the closet. He is well built and has won numerous competitions and he should have a sense of security which would mean that he is above being questioned about anything. That, however, is not the case and many of the questions that he faces are his own. His mind is preoccupied with the memory of a woman he saw swimming in the sea who would not return to shore and ultimately drowned because he could not save her.


When Phil is sent to work at Len’s station, he saves a boy on his very first day and Len feels that this shakes his status and threatens it. This also reminds Len of the fact that he had failed to save a life. But Len has other concerns about Phil. Len has worked very hard to build his masculine identity yet he is aware of the attractions he feels for other males that are inconsistent with what he feels is true masculinity. He suffers greatly from his internalized homophobia and feels that he could never be one of “them” because he has to be a “real man” and everyone knows that “real men” are not attracted by members of their same sex. Because Phil inspires his lustful feelings, Len feels that he must make him suffer.


Even though there is no overt sex seen in the film, it is boldly homoerotic due to the many beautiful and tanned bodies that we see. There is a sense of sensuality that we see along side the brutality that is in response to it. Len is entranced by what he sees in Phil but he is unable to let himself enjoy it. Levett as Len turns in a powerful performance and he is onscreen almost the entire film. We watch as his self-destructiveness reaches a climax and we see that he cannot deal with the pressure that this causes.

Meat, his best friend, finds Len’s aggression to be disturbing and he has an idea of what is happening to Len and tries to help him. Meat has his own issues but we really never know what they are but he is a whole character. Phil is a complex character who has had to become tough because of his work as a lifeguard. The way he responds to Len’s bullying shows us a guy who has put himself into a situation that can become explosive yet that might be part of the attraction of working on the beach. He has masochistic tendencies in that he is able to take whatever is dished out, and that is what makes him a more compelling object of obsession. It is very clear that something is going to happen.


Still, it’s clear that sooner or later something’s got to give. We see that it’s not just his fitness and lifesaving skills that Len has difficulty with. His attraction to Phil is something he doesn’t want to deal with. Phil, at the same time, is well aware that he is gay and he has a boyfriend but he keeps that quiet at the station. Tension begins to grow, and as Len finds it increasingly difficult deal with his feelings, they threaten to erupt in extremely dangerous ways.


The film is a bit confusing at first because it is not presented in a linear fashion— it moves around to different moments in the story. At first it can be tough to keep track of where you are but as it begins to reveal more about what is happening and who these people are, the whole thing opens up to become increasing tense and absorbing. Early on there is a scene of Len and “Meat” (named so because of his enormous penis) digging on the beach, while Phil is lying on the ground drunk. However, it only slowly reveals what is going on, and quite how horrific it could become.

It is how we see Len that pulls us into the film. We see his inner conflict and realize his self-doubt and insecurity are held together by a shaky concept of ‘manliness’ and what it is to have self-worth. And when that is challenged, he brutally lashes out in order to try to hold on to that and when he does Len pulls others into his web to do his bidding and prove his own superiority in his own mind.


It is quite easy to assume that there is going to be a romance and everyone will live happily forever as the seashore. Maybe Len will come to terms with his self-hate, accept himself and he and Phil will walk off holding hands into the sunset. But it quickly become clear that this is the case at all and that is something very dark looming over the characters.


There is nothing pretty or nice about this film and it will certainly not make you smile or feel good but you will think about it a lot. It challenges and affects us as we see the brutality of homophobia and how dangerous it can be to live a life built on denial and incomplete and erroneous concepts of what masculinity is.

“Puppet Boy” by Christian Gaines— Wonderfully Diverse

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Baines, Christian. “Puppet Boy”, Bold Strokes Books, 2015.

Wonderfully Diverse

Amos Lassen

Eric is looking for the right idea for his first movie—he is a new filmmaker and all around him there are things going on—there is something to do with a school play, there is a young man who is financing himself as a gigolo, there is a girlfriend with a lot of baggage and a housebreaker tied up downstairs. Each of these is good to develop into a film script but the problem is that they are actual events going on right now.

Then there is Julien, a good-looking actor wannabe who has transferred into Eric’s class and while some may think that is great, Eric sees him as a rival and a distraction and an unnecessary distraction. Nonetheless, Eric cannot stop thinking about him and even with his girlfriend Mary to get his mind free. (Do not think you know where this is going—). Eric and Mary begin a project that comes close to the line between reality and fantasy filmmaking. Soon Julien and Eric become close friends and Eric is ready for something more but has idea whether Julian reciprocates that feeling. Of course, Julien just might be using Eric for his own selfish purposes.

There is a lot going on here especially with Eric’s attraction to Julien and we watch as the skepticism that Eric initially felt for Julian becomes fascination and sexual. Some of you might have already guessed what you think will be but there are other alternatives. Julien might only be a muse; or maybe a boyfriend except that Eric has a girlfriend, Mary. The two of them have been together since they were twelve and it is doubtful that Eric will walk away from that…or will he? We do see that both Mary and Julien are a bit more complicated than they seem at first.

I love the diverse cast of characters here and I want to just note that we finally have bisexual characters here. There are also no labels used (except for the one I just mentioned)—try and remember the last time you read a novel that had no labels. Sexuality is not an issue here; there are more interesting issues to deal with.

Our setting is a fancy Christian high school in Sydney, Australia and because it caters to the elite, there are plenty of issues and insecurities among the student body and the faculty. We get a good look at bisexuality even though it is never referred to or labeled as such. I am sure that many of you have noticed that three of the groups that make up the LGBT community have moved into the mainstream but the bisexual community remains marginalized even today. It is even marginalized among the members of the LGBT community as if to say it doesn’t really exist. We tend to lump bisexuals into the gay and lesbian components of our community and we rarely hear about or from them. In many cases, bisexuality is characterized as some kind of flaw that prevents someone from being whole. Then there are those who see it as a kind of compromise position.

Perhaps the best way to approach is the way writer Christian Baines has done with the discarding of labels. I believe the big difference is in visibility—we can usually tell if someone is gay but it is difficult to see bisexuality—if we are not told that someone is bisexual we would probably never know that to be the case. Bisexuality has not had role models and those who were bisexual did not dwell on it. Sexual fluidity was different in the 80s and 90s and there were those who slept with both sexes but who did not feel that it was necessary to make an issue of it. It seems like the sexual openness of the following years opened the closets for gay people and closed the bisexuals back into the closets. Being gay was something fascinating but being bi means being indecisive or so some think. It is so very interesting that the world has become pro LGBT and we are okay with the idea of bisexuality as people but not as a culture; something I have never understood.

Baines shows us that in order to write about bisexual characters, we must remember how bisexuals fare in society. I could continue this but I am here to review a book and not to give a lecture on sexuality. All that I really care about and I hope others feel the same way is that characters should be depicted as they are. Our society loves labels and we are obsessed with being help able to have people fit into categories and this is very different than what I have seen in other countries.

Baines succeeds with the creation of all of his characters because he does not look at the labels; he looks at feelings and not gender. We do not always know why we like some people and not like others. This can be sexual or not and we also must remember that sex does not always exist with physical attraction.

They can want sex and nothing else, or be totally in love with little or no sexual attraction. They can be messy, selfish, and screwed up, and to me, that’s interesting. That’s more reflective of what we’re like as people. The characters in “Puppet Boy: or not role models nor were they meant to be. I understand that the author created the characters before he created their sexuality and we see that Eric’s first and primary goal never changes. This is not a romance but rather a look at coming-of-age and dealing with sexual fluidity. We read of Eric’s sexual exploration and it is not important whether or not he accepts himself as bisexual. He is who he feels he is.

I love that there is so much to think about while reading this and there are thoughts that linger after closing the covers. For me, that is a sign of good literature.