“A HEARTBEAT AWAY”— “Sometimes you need to play God”

a heartbrak away

“A HEARTBEAT AWAY”

“Sometimes you need to play God”

Amos Lassen

 “A Heartbeat Away” is the story of an Israeli pediatric cardiologist sent to Africa to perform lifesaving operations in Tanzania, where every day five children die from heart conditions. Dr. Akiva Tamir and his team examine hundreds of children, of which only a handful can receive the treatment which will save their lives.

h2

When 6 year-old Julius arrives at the clinic in critical condition, Dr. Tamir is forced to decide if he should  operate on this child, who has very little chance of surviving. Dr. Tamir and his team take the viewers on an emotional roller-coaster ride as they deal with the most serious question of who to treat and who will be left to die. The experienced physicians find it hard to detach from the emotional bond they establish with their small patients.

h1

“A Heartbeat Away” is a riveting human drama, swinging on the pendulum between science and faith, hope and despair, life and death. At the center of the drama are the human doctors who have been thrust into the position of gods in the midst of Africa.

“Bury Me When I’m Dead: A Charlie Mack Motown Mystery” by Cheryl Head— “The City that America Forgot”

bury me when I'm dead

Head, Cheryl. “Bury Me When I’m Dead: A Charlie Mack Motown Mystery”, Bywater Books, 2016.

“The City That America Forgot”

Amos Lassen

Meet Charlene “Charlie” Mack a private investigator in Detroit, Michigan, sometimes known as the city that America forgot. Charlie was born and raised there and has been able to build a respectable and respected private investigations firm. She has worked hard, make the right choices, and is relentless with her. She has a top-notch team of investigators in Gil Rutkowski, Don Acosta, and Judy Novak who are very skilled, trustworthy and loyal. Charlie has two problems—the struggle with her sexual identity and a mother who is dealing with the early-onset of Alzheimer’s.

Charlie and her team soon find their way to Alabama trying to find a missing person. They figured this would be a routine case but it was soon more complex than they could have imagined when they discover that they do not have the answers that they need and there are secrets that go back some forty years that block their path. It did not take long until the case turned into a double murder investigation and Charlie was attacked. Soon the investigation became very personal and trust seems to be non-existent.

I am not a regular mystery reader and, in fact, the only time that I really read mysteries is when I am asked to review one. If this is the kind of book that I have been missing, then I need to change my reading habits. I found myself turning pages as quickly as possible and I ad no idea what was to come next. I also loved the descriptions that Cheryl Head provides. It all began at the Reliable Restaurant when its owner, Leonard Abrams, discovered that Joyce Stringer, one of his account executives, had been stealing inventory from large orders. Then Joyce disappeared and Abrams hired Charlie to find her.

As I said earlier Charlie took the case at the same time that he was dealing with her mother’s Alzheimer’s. Charlie was also on the cusp of a relationship with Mandy, a police officer so she really had her hands full. What really made this a special read was that I had no idea what would happen next and I realized that there was no way to outthink author Head. Now all I have to do is wait for the next Charlie Mack mystery to come along so that I can once again be taken away from the daily grind and lose myself in another good book.

”Pride Parades: How a Parade Changed the World” by Katherine McFarland Bruce— The Beginning

pride parades

Bruce, Katherine McFarland. ”Pride Parades: How a Parade Changed the World”, NYU Press, 2016.

The Beginning

Amos Lassen

There are not many of us left who can remember what it was like in America before we had gay pride. It all began on June 28, 1970 when two thousand gay and lesbian activists in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago paraded down the streets of their cities. This was a new kind of social protest in that it was marked by “celebration, fun, and unashamed declaration of a stigmatized identity”. We move ahead some forty-five years later and we find that over six million people annually participate in 115 Pride parades across the United States. Today, these marches come together with church congregations and college gay-straight alliance groups and there dance routines and marching band numbers as friends, straight and gay alike come together to cheer and to have a good time.

I had already left the United States when that first pride parade took place and was living in a place where there supposedly on gay people. I had moved to Israel to help build a country and yes there were gay people there but they were very deep in the closet and meeting only in public parks under cover-of-night. When I returned to the states, I faced Hurricane Katrina and was evacuated to Arkansas, where we also know there are “no gay people”. Once again I was back in the closet with no gay pride.

Then I moved to Boston in 2014 and I became introduced to gay pride and I was floored. I rode in my first pride parade and saw people lined up on both sides of the street cheering us on. Not only had pride come a long way, so had I.

Katherine McFarland Bruce takes us through the history of pride in beautiful prose and we hear the voices of the participants. “Pride Parades” is the story of Pride from its beginning in 1970 through 2010. She presents a convincing case for the importance of Pride parades as cultural protests at the heart of lesbian, gay, Through interviews, archival reports, quantitative data, we get a look at pride parades in such diverse places as New York City, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Burlington, Fargo, and Atlanta. Bruce shows how these pride parades have become venues for participants to challenge the everyday cultural stigma of being queer in America through a different kind of protest. These protests are coordinated, concerted attempts to improve the standing of LGBT people in American culture.  Pride parades are cultural protests as well as solidarity parties, tools for visibility and commercial opportunities for the benefit of all.

“THE RUINS OF LIFTA”—- What Happened

the ruins of lifta

“The Ruins of Lifta”

What Happened to Lifta

Amos Lassen

Lifta is the only Palestinian village that was abandoned during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that has not been destroyed or repopulated by Jews. The land and its buildings are at the western entrance to Jerusalem, and Lifta is a beautiful place (I did some of my IDF army duty nearby). While Lifta has such beauty and a wonderful history, it is not a place that tourists visit and I feel sure that many do not even know that it exists. Today, Lifta is threatened by an Israeli development plan that would convert it into an upscale Jewish neighborhood and change its character forever. With the support of the Palestinian and Jewish “Coalition to Save Lifta”, the town has become a battleground between developers, the Israeli Land authority, and its defenders. The unique history and architectural treasures of Lifta have made it a candidate to become a UNESCO World Heritage site if it attains certain Israeli government approval.

l1

In this new documentary, filmmakers Menachem Daum and Oren Rudavsky introduce us to Lifta and to the conflict that revolves around the underpinnings of the Holocaust and the Nakba (the Palestinian exile of 1948). It all begins with filmmaker Menachem Daum’s parents’ experiences during the Holocaust. This perspective has deeply influenced Daum’s views of non-Jews, the Polish people, and Palestinians. He is an Orthodox Jew who grew up among Holocaust survivors and began questioning the narrow views of his community. Here he sets out to examine those views by establishing a personal relationship with a Palestinian. He first meets Yacoub Odeh, who was expelled from Lifta in 1948 and now leads the struggle to save the ruins of his village from Israeli plans to build luxury villas on the site.

lifta2

When Daum, learns that Lifta was once a place where Jews and Palestinians got along, and that his own loving and revered uncle might have been involved in Jewish militia attacks on Lifta, he searches for family members as well as Israeli and Palestinian witnesses and historians. These include Benny Morris, Hillel Cohen and Palestinian lawyer Sami Arshid. He also meets members of the “Coalition to Save Lifta” including Yacoub, Daphna Golan and Ilan Shatyer and tries to decide to join Yacoub’s campaign with Dasha Rittenberg, a Holocaust Survivor in New York who is a close friend. In a move at reconciliation, he sets up a climactic encounter between Dasha and Yacoub among the ruins of Lifta.

lifta3

Rudavsky and Daum present this unique story as a microcosm of the Middle Eastern conflict, with brutal honesty and compassion. Rudavsky shares that, “Through an open discussion with some of the most thoughtful inhabitants of the land, we have sought to impart what we have learned to a wider public.”

“WILD IN THE STREETS”— A Midnight Movie

wildi in the streets

“Wild in the Streets”

A Midnight Movie

Amos Lassen

“Wild in the Streets was originally released in the turbulent year of 1968 and has been one of the most-requested Midnight Movies. I did not see it when it came out but was aware of the positive reputation the film has gained over the years. Unfortunately, for me at least, I felt let down by this anti-youth picture posing as a rebellious teen flick. The lead role of Max Frost was originally offered to singer-songwriter Phil Ochs, who turned it down after reading the script and believing that it portrayed the counterculture movement in a negative light. So, the part went to charismatic Christopher Jones, who unfortunately doesn’t exactly infuse the character with as much likability.

w1

Jones plays the sneering egotist to the hilt, and makes it hard for the audience to actually support him. His political goals are motivated by a mix of sheer boredom and a senseless need for power and affection; yet hiding beneath this slimy veneer is a true love for children. This, however, is not enough make his political campaign anything more than personal gain. This is the film’s major problem: for a film obviously aimed at the young teenagers of the time who were, the “heroes”, we see them as self-indulgent kids.

w5Max Frost is built up as the hero of the youth movement of the late 60s and the parallels between the young upstart and Adolph Hitler’s uprising can’t be overlooked (the obvious hand motions and frenzied speeches being the most obvious, and then there’s the dictatorial laws he inflicts on the over-30 crowd and young Gestapo in all-black uniforms). He constantly calls his youthful followers “troops” and “babies.” Not only is he and his followers a nasty whitewashing of the popular hippie explosion of the decade, but the idiotic youth that voted for the drug-addled tyrant are just as much a target of the script, showing them as easily manipulated by the media.

w2

The best element of the film is the incredible musical score by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, including the superb 60s anthem “Shape of Things to Come.” I finished watching the film and was quite angry about the 1960s counterculture movement, which might have been the ulterior motive of the filmmakers in the first place.

w3

Unhappy teenager Max Jacob Flatow, Jr. (Christopher Jones) becomes sick and tired of his emasculating mother (Shelley Winters) and runs away from home after ripping apart the living room and blowing up his father’s new car. He grows to be Max Frost, a multi-millionaire in the music industry who makes top dollar selling his great rock records and publishing music by young artists. The pack of punks making up his group includes Richard Pryor in his first major appearance on film, hook-handed Larry Bishop, perpetually high blonde nymph Diane Varsi, and 15-year-old Kevin Coughlin (who is actually the earliest positive gay character I’ve seen in cinema, free of stereotypes and proud of his homosexuality).

w7

After learning that 52% of the population is under 25 years old, Max capitalizes on a musical appearance at Senatorial candidate John Fergus’ (Hal Holbrook) political rally by instigating his own political campaign to infiltrate the Senate, then become President of the United States. He recruits supporters from his nationwide fan club, and even steals Fergus’ son Jimmy from him, transforming him into a jive-talking asshole, much to the chagrin of his mother (Millie Perkins).

w4

“Wild in the Streets” was aimed squarely at the younger teenage audience that bought records and listened to the Top 40 stations. This audience can believe, if only temporarily, in the greatness of a performer. For this audience, “Wild in the Streets” needs no serious political comment and no real understanding of how pop music and the mass media work together. It’s a silly film, but it does communicate in the simplest, most direct terms.

“TELL ME THAT YOU LOVE ME, JUNIE NOON”— Lovable Misfits

junie moon

“Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon “

Lovable Misfits

Amos Lassen

Three lovable misfits band together in “Junie Moon”. Each character’s “sordid” background story is related to us through dramatic flashbacks and we see how they come to accept themselves and find happiness. Director Otto Preminger succeeds, among other things, in making human entertainment out of a rather unlikely story of three handicapped people trying to build a new life together.

j1

Junie Moon (Liza Minnelli) has been scarred on the face and arm by acid. Arthur (Ken Howard) suffers strange psychosomatic seizures and Warren (Robert Moore) is a homosexual paraplegic. So it’s like they don’t have a lot going for them.

junie2

Preminger seduces us into accepting their situation by treating it as entertainment; if Preminger had played on our sympathy, everything would have fallen apart. We might “feel sorry” for people like the three in “Junie Moon,” but that wouldn’t bring us into the theater. Instead Preminger tells us a story, keeps it moving and directs most of it like a comedy, some of which is on the heavy-handed side, especially his development of the Robert Moore character. Moore, a director himself, turns in a marvelous performance, but it almost gets buried beneath the homosexual affectations written into the script. I had the feeling that in the scenes involving homosexuality, Preminger was going for cheap laughs that he doesn’t reach for elsewhere.

j3

Moore has enough charm to carry the role and Minnelli is quite good as Junie Moon; Ken Howard is restrained and pleasant as the third member of the trio thankfully, because otherwise things would have gotten too loud. And there is a first-rate supporting performance from James Coco.

j4

The trio meet in a hospital and view themselves as freaks, and when released together find solace by living together in a house they rent from a wealthy eccentric, Miss Gregory (Kay Thompson).  Junie manages to find Arthur a job with the aging bachelor Mario (James Coco), who runs a nearby fish market. Soon afterwards, an anonymous phone caller tells Mario that Arthur is a homosexual because he lives with one and Mario fires him as a result. A guilt-ridden Mario, who is falling in love with Junie, lends the trio money to take a vacation at a fancy seaside resort. It leads to a few devastating and a few happy events. Arthur tells Junie he loves her but she now mistrusts men so much that she’s reluctant to make love again. They finally do, and the next day Arthur dies in Junie’s arms. At his funeral, Junie, Warren, and Mario are the only mourners.

junie5

The book on which this is based introduces us to the trio having had bad experiences dealing with the world and getting others to accept their handicaps. They bond together to discover their real self and sense of worth. The film which tastefully takes the three and makes them into three-dimensional humans causing the film to become a plea for tolerance.

“After Sara’s Year” by Mark David Gerson— My Friends Are Back

after Sara's year

Gerson, Mark David. “After Sara’s Year”, (The Sara Stories), CreateSpace, 2016.

My Friends Are Back

Amos Lassen

About a year ago I raved about a new book, “Sara’s Year” by Mark David Gerson and remarked that once I finished it, I sat down to read it again. I was probably hoping to find something I missed the first time. I understand that others were drawn into the story as I was and so Gerson wrote a sequel which also proudly stands on its own.

Sadie Finkel has had quite a past and this is what makes her the woman that she is. We sense that there is something going on inside of her but for whatever reason, we do really want to know what it is. There is no doubt that her past has been traumatic. In a sense we are like her as each of us holds onto something that we do not want to share with others. But now the time has come for Sadie to face those issues and to try to understand whether she is the victim or the victimized… and as she does, so do the readers.

I understand that this is the second novel in the “The Sara Stories” about a Jewish family in Montreal and its dynamics. You might wonder why I used Jewish here and question whether Gerson has narrowed his audience by portraying a woman bound to her heritage. Let me assure that this is not the case at all. Judaism has a wonderful history and heritage and it is the perfect backdrop for the novel. Jewish readers will see it as more than just a backdrop and perhaps even as a character in itself. As in all literature our own backgrounds play into what we read and being Jewish myself made me read this perhaps differently than a non-Jew might.

I really love that we feel the author’s love for his characters. I could not help but think that Gerson based these characters on people that he has known; they are just that real. Our Sadie Finkel, for example, manages to win us over and put us off at the same time; she unsettles us and she is totally sympathetic and dear. But Sadie is not alone in being wonderfully depicted. We also learn about the lives of Bernie, Mac and Erik. It is Sadie’s story that is the spine of the book but she is not alone here. Everyone has a story and how we react to someone depends on how we perceive that person (based many times on their story). Gerson paints his characters with such color and humanity that we are quick to perceive who each character is. That does not mean that he gives us all likeable characters but he does shows us what brings each character to the point when we meet him/her. I found here that the more we got to now each character, our impressions changed. There are plenty of surprises here.

I want to stress that knowing about one’s past allows us to understand their present and this is where Mark David Gerson excels. We learn about family and familial relationships, about loves and losses and about passion which is the single word I would use if asked to say one word about “After Sara’s Year”. It is secrets that our characters together and endear them to us.

I found this to be quite an emotional read and I actually found my eyes welling up with tears several times. Holding onto the past can both be hurtful and rewarding and it is also a cleansing experience. I find there is no better feeling that being exhausted after a read yet even with that feeling that there is a sense of disappointment in that there are no more pages to turn.

I have deliberately stayed away from summarizing the pot because I want each and every reader to have the same wonderful experience I have had here. Gerson presents us with a woman that we feel nothing for at first and then grow to love. That’s all I can say but that is more than enough.

“SAVED”— That Good Old Religion

saved

“Saved”

That Good Old Religion

Amos Lassen

Mary (Jena Malone) is a happy young lady who attends the American Eagle Christian Academy where she is a proud member of the Christian Jewels singing group. Her single parent mother (Mary-Louise Parker) is also flying high after having a good year after having been named #1 Christian interior designer for the greater Baltimore area. What neither is aware of it that trouble looms on the horizon.

saved1

After her boyfriend, Dean (Chad Faust), tells her that he thinks he is gay, Mary has a vision of Jesus and decides after much soul-searching to go to bed with Dean to put him back on the right path away from evil. Dean’s parents later find magazines with photos of naked men and they understand that their son is gay and send him to the Mercy House Christian Treatment Center to eradicate his “spiritually toxic affliction.” Mary fees that God as deserted her and se begins to understand a little something about the way she is living.

saved2

Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore), the manipulative head of the Christian Jewels and the most outspoken and zealous believer in the senior class, leads prayer groups for Dean, and when she finds out that Mary is pregnant, turns against her big time. For kindness, Mary has to look to Cassandra (Eve Amurri), the school’s only Jew and a person who prides herself on going against the in-crowd. This rebel’s best friend is Roland (Macaulay Culkin), Hilary’s wheel-chair bound cynical brother. Not even Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan), the principal of the Academy and the secret lover of Mary’s mother, can handle the chaos that ensues leading up the grand finale of prom night.

saved4

 

This is a satire that pokes fun at the rigidity of proud, angry, and intolerant fundamentalist believers. It is not, as some critics have said) anti-Christian, rather it ridicules intolerance forms while making a case for the spiritual practice of hospitality. Brian Dannelly directs from a screenplay co-written with Michael Urban. Hilary’s faith is built upon her need for attention and power over others and, in effect, she is a zealot. The crusade against wickedness so takes her in her that she has no energy left for the heart and soul of the Gospel, which is loving one’s neighbor.

saved5

The film follows the traditional pattern of many other teenage movies. There’s a clique ruled by the snobbiest and most popular girl in school, and an opposition made up of outcasts, nonconformists and rebels. What makes this different is that this time it is that the teen queen, Hilary Faye, is the loudest Jesus praiser at American Eagle Christian High School. Her opposition is a group of kids who do not meet with her approval. Her brother Roland is in a wheelchair and rejects all forms of sympathy. He horrifies his sister by becoming Cassandra’s boyfriend. There’s also Patrick (Fugit), member of a Christian skateboarding team and the son of Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan), the school’s widowed principal who is carrying on an affair wit Mary’s mother. Patrick is thoughtful and introspective and isn’t sure he agrees with his father’s complacent morality.

saved6

The first half of this movie sharply satirizes the values of Hilary Faye’s values and those of her born-again friends. When Mary sacrifices her virginity to conquer Dean’s homosexuality, she’s a member of Hilary Faye’s singing trio, the Christian Jewels, and a high-ranking celebrity among the school’s Jesus boosters. But the worldly Cassandra notices her pregnancy before anyone else does, and soon the unwed mother-to-be is hanging out with the gay, the Jew and the kid in the wheelchair. Patrick, who is having his own rebellion against Pastor Skip chooses to be with the rebels.

PhotoELF Edits: 2009:12:09 --- Saved as:  24-Bit  98% JPEG YUV444 --- batch crop --- crop 2009:12:07 --- Batch Resized

PhotoELF Edits:
2009:12:09 — Saved as: 24-Bit 98% JPEG YUV444 — batch crop — crop
2009:12:07 — Batch Resized

 

 

The film argues that Jesus would have embraced the cast-outs and the misfits, and might have leaned toward situational ethics instead of rigid morality. “Saved!” is an important little film as well as an entertaining one. It has a political message by showing that Jesus counseled more for acceptance and tolerance than some of his followers think. By the end of the movie, mainstream Christian values have not been overthrown, but demonstrated and embraced. Director Brian Dannelly, also wants to be a peace offering in the culture wars, suggesting that the polarization of our society is a smoke screen for our own internal confusion about values, morals and desire.

Extras on the DVD include one audio commentary by director and co-writer Brian Dannelly, producer Sandy Stern, and co-writer Michael Urban, and another commentary by stars Mandy Moore and Gena Malone. There’s also a “Heaven Help Us” featurette and some deleted scenes and bloopers.

“The Vampire and the G.I.” by J.P. Bowie— A Paranormal Story

the vampire and the GI

Bowie, J.P. “The Vampire and the G.I.”, Wilde City Press, 2016.

A Paranormal Story

Amos Lassen

It is 2034 and the war in the Middle East is finally over. Veteran Cole Everett has returned home to Los Angeles has returned home and is set on rebuilding his life and reconnecting with Sean Martin his cousin who is a private detective. However when learns that Sean’s partner is a vampire and even though the world has changed and vampires are finally accepted by society, Cole cannot understand why anyone would want to mingle with the undead. when he learns that Sean’s mate, Arturo, is a vampire. Then Cole meets Arturo who introduces him to Rafael to whom he is very quickly attracted and how has to reconsider how he fells about vampires.

Cole gets a job at a high tech company as a security guard and then becomes suspicious things are not as they appear. He has to decide whether he should notify the police or just take a change and keep working there. It took Cole a while to realize that Arturo was okay and that it was okay for Sean to love him.

This is a sequel to J.P. Bowie’s “The Vampire and the P.I.” which I have not read but that did not stop me from enjoying this book. Even though I am over vampire stories, I will have a look at the other book.

Cole’s meeting Rafael also showed him how much he had missed about vampires and Rafael totally captivates him from the moment they met.

This is a fun book that requires no extra thought and is a great get-away read for couple of days J.P. Bowie, as usual, tells a good story.

“FRANCESCA”— The Return

francesca poster

“Francesca”

The Return

Amos Lassen

Fifteen years ago, Francesca, the daughter of the renowned poet and playwright, Vittorio Viscont disappeared and now the community where she lived is stalked by a psychopath inspired by Dante’s “The Divine Comedy” who is determined to get rid of the “impure and damned souls” that live there. Moretti and Succo are the detectives assigned to finding the killer. Francesca has returned, but she is not be the same girl that she once was. The detectives are in a race against time to stop the murders.

francesca1

The plot is fairly simple. There’s a murderer on the loose who wears a leather coat and gloves and a fedora that obscures the face. The murderer is a woman who is some sort of personal vendetta killing spree. Each of the murders curiously makes a reference to Dante’s “Inferno” and each of the victims in some way connected to the cold case of the disappearance of a little girl named Francesca. daughter of a noted literary historian, some fifteen years earlier.

fran2

Francesca is the story of a slasher told in the manner of a classic giallo film replete with sexual licentiousness, sexual impotency, and sexual deviancy. The film looks like it was taken directly from the age of giallo and we see this in the attention to detail. We are very aware of the directors, Luciano Onetti and Nicolas Onetti’s love and admiration for the genre is clear.

fran5

However something is missing and it is probably because I did not get a sense of urgency and fear that were such parts of giallo films. Moretti and Succo and their investigation do not appear to be motivated by any sense of urgency to find and stop this killer. There is also less gore than we are used to seeing in the classic form.

fran4

The film is a visual feast so the fact that the narrative is lacking does not really matter as we are wrapped up visually by the film. The Onettis recreate the giallo feel with the music, cinematography, set decoration, costume, special effects and performances. “Francesca” is impressive technically and aesthetically and is certainly worth seeing.