“One Deadly Summer” by Sebastien Japrisot— Hatred, Revenge and Lust

Japrisot, Sebastien. “One Deadly Summer”, translated by Alan Sheridan, Gallic Books, 2018.

Hatred, Revenge and Lust

Amos Lassen

When she was just nine-years-old, Elle learned that she is the product of the gang raping of her mother; She later uses her sexual wiles to lure her husband, Fiorimond, into a deadly plot against the men whom she believes to be the rapists.

Set in the 1970s, this story of obsession and suspense pulls us in on the first page. We see the story via Elle and “Ping-Pong” and because of this we do not know immediately what that summer was all about. We start with the why of the plot instead of going right into the events. We read of how injury takes us to obsession and then to revenge. Early on we are aware of Elle’s promiscuity and we see that she uses sex to her advantage (she thinks). Sex has powerful consequences as we have seen throughout history— it can build an empire or cause one to fall. Elle understands its power and thusly uses it and she does so calculatingly whether it is coerced, casual or part of a marriage.

Japrisot gives us a portrait of working class life in a typical French village. It is as if we are actually living there, entering homes, working, tending to household duties and family matters, go to the disco on the weekend and so on. We get to know the villagers as things happen (not all of them are good) and we see that an unexpected event can take a person into a strange and different world, almost in a moment.

At first, all we know is that a mysterious young beauty causes quite a scene in a small French town one summer, driving the men wild and tricking one of them into marrying her. We learn that this is because of a long-ago crime in the same small town, and this young woman is now out for revenge. The reader knows that Elle is drawing the men to their doom. I must say that I had a problem with Elle—

she is an unlikeable heroine. She is selfish and cruel, so her influence over the other characters is unbelievable. I really did not care what happened to her. I really cannot say any more about the plot because to do so I would have to include spoilers. I can say that even without any feelings for Elle, this is a fascinating read that reminded me of the “sexy” French novels I would read on the sly when I was a college student. No one writes about sex like the French.

 

“THE SONG OF SOLOMON”— “When the song is finally sung, Lucifer will be unleashed”

“THE SONG OF SOLOMON”

“When the song is finally sung, Lucifer will be unleashed”

Amos Lassen

With The Song of Solomon, Stephen Biro has directed an exorcism film that will please both those who love gore and those that enjoy a deeper meaning with their film viewing experience.On the surface the plot is that of any other exorcism film. A woman named Mary (Jessica Cameron) is suffering from demonic possession and the Catholic Church sends many holy men to battle with the demon in an attempt to save the soul of the young woman. This is where the film stops with any comparison to exorcism films of the past. It is full of biblical references and those that know their theology will enjoy the subtle nuances The dialogue contains clues to what is lurking in the dimly lit bedroom of the possessed.

Jessica Cameron gives a master class in her portrayal of Mary. From the “innocent” looks she gives trying to pass herself off to a shrink to the end of days’ final moments, she owns the role and gives a performance that is impossible to forget. In the fight for her soul, Jim Van Bebber, David E. McMahon, Gene Palubicki, and Scott Gabbey provide the different flavors of priests ranging from the warrior to the defeated and do so with gusto. Maureen Pelamati is also great as Mary’s mother.

Mary witnessed the brutal suicide of her Father and his death unleashed the savage forces of demonic possession in his daughter. The End of Days are upon the world. Famine, drought, looting and chaos is ripping the world apart and the Catholic Church is trying to save an innocent soul from satanic possession. Holy men are sent to confront the possessed, but what is the Holy Church actually doing? It is working on the Second Coming of Christ but before he comes back, the Antichrist must rule for seven years.

The evil that has possessed Mary is stronger than that found in the likes of The Exorcist – it takes priest after priest after priest to try to free Mary from her shackles. However, as the film progresses, it seems that defeating the demon might not be the plan after all.

“The Song of Solomon” takes a modern approach to exorcism and we get a very different view of religion and more specifically, the motivations of the church. This is not a film for those who revere the church.

It isn’t only the gore that pushes boundaries here, the very idea of the exorcist himself and his motivations, his fragilities, his humanity are pushed to extremes we’ve seen particularly in the final exorcism. There’s true thematic power behind the real story of “The Song of Solomon” and those skeptical of religious organizations and the religious right will be up in arms.

Story, acting, directing and effects come together in perfection. Stephen Biro and company have set a very high bar against which every horror film should be measured from now on.

BONUS MATERIALS include:

  • Commentary with Stephen Biro & Jessica Cameron
  • Commentary with Stephen Biro, Marcus Koch & Jerami Cruise
  • Behind the Scenes/Making of
  • Outtakes
  • Photo Gallery
  • Video Interview with Actress Jessica Cameron
  • Video Interview with Writer/Director Stephen Biro
  • Video Interview with Special Effects Artist Marcus Koch
  • Video Interview with Director of Photography Chris Hilleke
  • Video Interview with Actor Gene Palubicki
  • Video Interview with Actor David McMahon

“SUFFERING OF NINKO” (“Ninkō no hunan”)— An Irresistible Priest


“SUFFERING OF NINKO” (“Ninkō no junan”)

An Irresistible Priest

Amos Lassen

Ninko (Masato Tsujioka) is a Buddhist priest who is cursed to be sexually irresistible to all around him. He is a novice Buddhist monk living during the Edo period, based at Enmei-ji, a temple in the mountains. He is, in fact, an ideal monk, adhering to asceticism to learn his religion, dutifully cooking, cleaning, and praying every day. Despite his diligence he has a problem – Ninko attracts females and his popularity is truly astounding. When he travels to the local villages asking for alms a cry goes out, “Ninko’s come!” and he is mobbed by many fawning female fans forcing their way past the other monks so they can get their hands on him.

We see him swamped by a wave of beauties bounding in from the bathhouses and back alleys of the town and from the mountain’s forests and it looks great for anyone interested in the fairer sex. For a Buddhist monk, however, sex with women is a sin so it’s not so great for Ninko.

But it isn’t just the ladies who have taken a liking to Ninko. Two monks have their sights set on bedding Ninko and this vexes him just as much. He blames himself for the lust and suffering he causes in others. He feels he needs more training and that he is not virtuous enough. The head of his temple notes that Ninko has dark desires of his own which he must face and conquer if he wants to put others at ease. These dark desires attract a faceless demon that sets from a series of horrific visions that force Ninko to act.

This demonic meeting leads to a journey that takes the film from ribald comedy to dark horror as Ninko meets Kanzo, the manslayer who takes him on a demon-hunting quest. Their mission is to kill Yama-onna, a sexy lady in red rags who lures men with her physical form into having sex during which she sucks their vitality out. The narrative brings Ninko face-to-face with this creature.

The film goes from live-action to animation and draws upon traditional Japanese arts and crafts. Shoji screens, ukiyo-e, and Buddhist illustrations are some of the techniques used to deliver the story and atmosphere and it is done with ease because Norihiro Niwatsukino, a director, writer, producer, special effects supervisor, and animator has used many mediums from film to animation. He brings visual elegance here so that while the cinematography seen on screen might not be mind blowing, the film remains visually engaging. Ninko may not travel to too many different places but the landscape illustrations that depict Ninko’s travels are vividly drawn. Animation is used quite often and it’s exciting at times such as a surreal sequences of slow motion chases led by women in a village that is alternated with interpretive dance that moves back and forth from live-action to animation. The faces of actors are filled with lust before they are transformed into figures that look like they could have come straight from a steamy sex education manual. The use of animation, song and dance, and drama highlight the film’s genre breaking form that makes it so enjoyable. You will want to know whether Ninko conquers his inner-demons and overcomes the lust of others and all I can say is that the ending will take the audience by surprise.

Norihiro Niwatsukino plunges the viewers into the world of Edo-era Japan making them the witnesses of a weird, surreal clash between celibacy (read: repressed sexuality) and libidinous desires (posing as a dark side of sorts).

This is a fairy tale that takes a comedic turn, borrows a road-movie trope or two, flirts with folklore-inspired horror and ends on an ecstatic note, all the while defying genre classification and filled with potential to become a cult film. The film

blends softcore erotica with a sensual dance performance, bringing ancient manuscripts to life through short animated vignettes that are both naughty and beautiful. They also reflect the unrestrained creativity of their author who is credited as producer, director, writer, editor, animator and VFX supervisor.

“THREESOMETHING”— When Three Is Not a Crowd

“Threesomething”

When Three is Not a Crowd

Amos Lassen

It is good to laugh about sex every now and then and, in effect, we all do so (just not publicly). What could be a great humorous premise for a film then three friends having sex together? First we meet Charlie and Isaac who are best friends yet want to take that friendship to a new level. It is not so difficult to imagine what that level and I understand that between best friends, everything goes… or does it? Everything has changed so quickly regarding sex that there seem to be no taboos left (with the exception of passing gas loudly at a charity function. They will not remember your donation to the charity but you can bet your life that your tootin’ will not be forgotten.

Charlie (Sam Sonenshine) and Isaac (James Morosini) invite Charlie’s friend Zoe (Isabelle Chester) over for dinner and explain that what they really want is for her to join them in a threesome. She is stunned at first but she soon becomes intrigued with the idea. (After all, it is an interesting alternative to desert). Zoe agrees but then cannot decide whether she is only interested in the physical or is looking for love. As you can imagine, this is a comedy yet it gives us things to think about. What we know about sex, intimacy and friendship has certainly changed since our parents were dating and how we got to know each other. Did Zoe and the guys not think that this could get a little weird?

Zoe is a free spirit, a cosmic bohemian wild woman, if you will, who is living in a glass tree house and actually just trying to get herself together. Zoe and Isaac fall in love, fast and hard while Charlie has a crisis of masculinity. It seems to me that our three characters are looking for something that is out of reach and are trying to understand what is best for them. There is a great ending coming which I will not share but if comes only after self-searching and examination. There are some risqué moments here and even though our two male leads play straight men, there is a good deal of homo eroticism, as we might expect. The two guys are good looking and make nice eye candy in various states of undress.

Check back with me in a couple of weeks, all of my opinions could very likely change.

“The Mandela Plot” by Kenneth Bonert— A Journey

Bonert, Kenneth. “The Mandela Plot”, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.

A Journey

Amos Lassen

As the 1980s come to an end, South Africa is in the midst of political violence with the apartheid regime facing death. Young Martin Helger struggles at elite private boys school in Johannesburg where he really does not fit in. Martin’s father is a rough-handed scrap dealer and his brother is a mysterious legend.

 Then one day a beautiful and manipulative American arrives at the family home and Martin is thrown into the struggle. At the same time, secrets from the past begin to come out and old sins come to light and this second-generation Jewish family is torn apart. Martin must rely on alternative strengths to protect himself and fight for a better future.

 “The Mandela Plot” is a literary thriller, a coming of age tale, and a journey through a world that entertains and terrifies equally and is deeply resonant for the present.

After Martin becomes infatuated with a slightly older American woman, Annie, who arrives to join the fight against white oppression, everything changes.

There are plot twists and turns throughout as well as a lot of pain. Bonert’s characters and plots are brilliantly drawn and thought out. What is strange is that there were passages that completely bored me. He also writes with grammatical errors. Aside from having several South African friends in Israel, I know nothing about it and that is what kept me reading. I love the story of the Lithuanian Jews who had fled the anti-Semitism in the early 1900’s and had emigrated to South Africa where they found safety and prosperity even as they tackled the racial laws in the country. (Jews were considered “white”, but still not British or Afrikaner. They occupied their own societal level.)

The characters in Martin’s family and outside life are sketchily drawn, mysterious and his Jewish family’s past is dark and hidden at first. As the story moves forward, the personal secrets become more sordid, the personal violence more bloody, the danger increasing as the country slides into catastrophe.

“50 YEARS OF FABULOUS”— The Imperial Court

“50 Years of Fabulous”

The Imperial Council

Amos Lassen

“50 Years of Fabulous” is a fascinating documentary that celebrates what makes San Francisco a unique, powerful, and heartwarming home for the LGBTQ community. Filmmaker Jethro Patalinghug does this through concentrating on the vibrant history of the Imperial Council, the oldest LGBTQ charity organization in the world.

The Imperial Council was founded in San Francisco by activist and drag queen José Sarria, (who was also the first openly gay man to run for political office in the United States), in 1961 and since then the Council has helped shape LGBTQ life and history in San Francisco. Each year, the colorful Council crowns an Emperor and Empress who become the faces of the non-profit group. The Imperial Council celebrates unity, pride and a dedication to helping others as it advocates for human rights, hosts rousing events, and generates s lot of money for Bay Area charitable organizations.

The documentary combines historical footage and photos with contemporary interviews and delightful performances, spotlighting gay culture that shows the group’s impact, as well as some of the challenges it currently faces.

 Director Patalinghug takes a look at the history of the organization history as it celebrates its 50 year anniversary and now starts to question if there is still place for it in today’s LGBTQ community.

Sarria believed that the community should not just come out of the shadows but be proud of what he called the nobility of being gay. Thus the Court system was created with a system of royal titles to recognize the roles that its members would play.  He intended that the Court would join with other LGBT organizations and lead the move to equal rights.

The organization is part social, part political but its real greatness is as a dynamic fundraising operation that would help fund crucial LGBT services and charities.  It naturally really came into its own during the AIDS Epidemic which devastated their hometown far more than most.  By mounting daily events it raised much-needed millions of dollars to help people pay for medications, rent and even funeral services.

The Council/Court excels in all its traditions especially the annual election and coronation of its Empress & Emperor who must use their year in office to not just further the cause but raise a substantial amount of money.  They all dress up in their elaborate regal drag with their huge wigs topped off with crowns and tiaras, and even the Emperors get to sport gold laurel leaf crowns.

Patalinghug interviews some of the Courts past Empresses and Emperors and what we see is their happiness of being a part of this rather wonderful old organization.  It includes a clip from a 2004 interview with Sarria himself, but the most moving part of the film by far is his funeral held in a Cathedral with the entire Court in their best black drag and dressed up to the nines in his honor.

The latter part if the film is given over to discussing how the LGBT community has both evolved and embraced this new age of technology giving us different perspectives on how we now congregate and interact with each other.  

“BUDDIES”— A Gay Classic Restored— The First Film About AIDS

“Buddies”

A Gay Classic Restored— The First Film About AIDS

Amos Lassen

“Buddies” has finally been released on DVD/Blu ray and as the first film about AIDS, it deserves a special place in the LGBT cinema canon. It looks at friendship and love and what was known about AIDS when it was released in 1985 (which was early on in the pandemic).

 The plot is relatively simple. A gay man, David, who is in a happy monogamous relationship, becomes a buddy to another gay man, Robert, who is dying from AIDS. As they get to know each other, they become closer and closer. The film was written and directed by Arthur Bressan, Jr. who was himself an AIDS victim and died soon after.

David (David Schachter), a naive graduate student, has volunteered to work as a ‘buddy’ for people dying of AIDS. He is assigned to the intensely political Robert (Geoff Edholm), a lifelong activist whose friends and family have abandoned him following his diagnosis. The two men, each with notably different world views, soon discover common bonds, as David’s inner activist awakens and Robert’s need for emotional release is fulfilled. Independent filmmaker Bressan Jr.’s “Buddies” is an intensely personal study of love, death, and the need for activism during the earliest years of the AIDS crisis.

 This is a movie that will make you weep and tear you up and for many this film was how they learned about AIDS. With excellent acting and a literate script, the film is a must-see. The climax is shattering and it is almost impossible to see this film without crying. It is powerful and depressing yet it is also uplifting. The film brings the viewer to the situation that gay men were coming to terms with as we see how people are forced to look at their prejudices. Watching it, you will probably be shocked to see how those who had AIDS were treated.

David begins to see Robert’s politics and he becomes aware that his community is being killed off. Bressan wrote this film in five days and then shot it in nine and the film comes across as being extremely personal. He tried to bring public attention to the epidemic but the movie became his swan song and his legacy.

This was Bressan’s last film and he was lost to AIDS just two years after finishing filming. For the longest time it was almost impossible to see “Buddies”. It had a brief theatrical release but was never officially released on home video. I am lucky enough to have a copy of it that was taped during one of is few cable television showings. Now, come July, 2018 during ‘ “Buddies” is finally making its home video debut. It has newly restored from its long lost 16mm negative, courtesy of Vinegar Syndrome and available in a Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack with special features that include interviews with co-star David Schachter and film historian Thomas Waugh original trailer, production photos and articles.

“WHEN THE BEAT DROPS”— Bucking

“When The Beat Drops”

Bucking

Amos Lassen

When choreographer Jamal Sims learned of the underground dance movement known as ‘bucking’, he decided that it would be the subject of his first documentary as a director. That film is about a group of dancers,  and one special dancer, Big Anthony. Sims learned and explains to us that ‘bucking’ came out of female cheerleading troupes in the South and was taken over by groups of black gay men, who created this dance.  Big Anthony not only spearheaded the movement in the 1990’s in Atlanta, but he was also responsible for creating a network of competitions where the dancers could demonstrate what they do.

‘Bucking’ is flamboyant, outrageous and very showy much the way that vogueing was when it first overtook the black queer crowd in Harlem.  This kind of dancing stayed mainly underground because of the social stigma in the South of men wanting to dance like this.

Big Anthony’s own story is fascinating and touching. He suffered a setback after having been mugged in a grocery store parking lot.  Another dancer is a schoolteacher who lives in fear of being exposed as a bucking dancer and fired from his job.  Flash, another dancer, speaks openly about his struggles with his mother and her crack addition that has caused her to be incarcerated several times. We see the real and painful reality of the dancers once they leave the dance floor. It reminds us of the tough reality of all their lives away from the dance floor.

Sims takes us to the first Big Buck competition.   The standards are very high. Openly gay Sims shares his own passion for dance throughout the whole film and makes this an intriguing and important aspect of contemporary LGBT culture. The documentary uncovers an underground dance movement, bucking, which is predominant in the LGBTQ community, and which centers on a group of dancers in Atlanta, Ga., and one of the pioneers of bucking, identified as Big Anthony. “Just as vogueing was pioneered by members of the ballroom scene, bucking is thriving among displaced troupes of black gay men across the South.” Sims finds a story in the characters of his documentary, which makes this more a narrative feature than a than documentary. What we see is reality.

But this is real life, kids; not fiction. There are other edge of seat moments like when you’re placed in the midst of the first Big Buck competition, where Phi Phi battles it out with a crew from Detroit. Guess who you are rooting for until the very end.

“Beat” also turns into a historical look of the roots of bucking, even though this hyper active film never slows down to the tell the story. Bucking is a style that is fluid, sensual, and thought of as female dance. It was adopted by young, black, gay men in the South and the documentary shows the stigma that the men have internalized for wanting to perform the dance, and because of the social stereotype of the men who participate.

“VIGIL”— A Mysterious Stranger

“Vigil”

A Mysterious Stranger

Amos Lassen

Vincent Ward’s “Vigil” is the story of a stranger who appears in a remote New Zealand farmland at the exact time a farmer accidentally falls to his death. The stranger then grows close to some of the dead man s family, to the point where he and the widow become lovers. However, the widow’s eleven-year-old daughter, Toss (Fiona Kay), who is struggling to come to terms with the death of her father as well as her impending womanhood, believes him to be the devil and begins protecting her family and their homestead.

This movie is as strange as it is compelling with its switches from fantasy to reality. “Vigil” is a powerful coming-of-age tale about a young girl and it was beautifully shot in the back country by a young director. We are taken into the heart of a girl at the edge of womanhood.

The gorgeous New Zealand back-country scenery is amazing and the acting is excellent all around. I see this as a meditation on the transition from child to adult and this is a film that you do not want to miss.

SPECIAL EDITION contents include:

High Definition (Blu-ray) presentation

Original mono audio (uncompressed LPCM)

Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing

Brand-new appreciation by film critic Nick Roddick, recorded exclusively for this release

On-set report from the long-running New Zealand television program Country Calendar

Extract from a 1987 Kaleidoscope television documentary on New Zealand cinema, focusing on Vigil and Vincent Ward

Theatrical trailer

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Carmen Gray

“SMASH PALACE”— Ending a Marriage

“Smash Palace”

Ending a Marriage

Amos Lassen

Australian director Roger Donaldson’s “Smash Palace” is a revealing portrait of splitting up. Al Shaw (Bruno Lawrence), a former Grand Prix racer, married Jacqui (Anna Jemison), a schoolteacher, in Europe and returned to a small New Zealand town to run his father’s car wrecking yard. Their marriage was held together by sex and their daughter, Georgie (Greer Robson). Now after eight years, Jacqui is restless for a change. She wants her husband to sell Smash Palace, the business. Al devotes most of his time and energy to automobiles and lately has been tuning up a sports car for a competition and is renovating another for Ray (Keith Aberdein), his best friend, a policeman (and Jacqui’s lover).

When Jacqui leaves him and takes Georgie with her, Al feels violated. He kidnaps his daughter at gunpoint and takes her into the bush to celebrate her birthday. However, she gets sick and they return to town. Soon Al becomes crazed with jealousy over Jacqui’s sexual affair with Ray and gets back at both of them by holding the policeman hostage and threatening him with death.

Later, after a terrible argument with Jacqui, Al forces himself upon her in their bedroom. But the love she now seeks must include some open space to find out exactly what she is capable of becoming. Jacqui returns to teaching and finds solace in Ray’s arms.

By the end of the film, Al behaves irrationally and has been a straight-talking, direct man who enjoys working with his hands and takes a vast delight in the affections of his wife and the love of his small daughter. He is happy with his work and content to raise a family in peace and quiet. However this does not satisfy Jacqui who is going quietly stir-crazy. She begins an affair with a local cop Al, he husband’s best friend and then leaves him.

Al is jealous and rails against his wife and the cop. But, much more important, he misses his daughter and wants custody. But because he acts in ways that are violent and frightening to his wife (and because her lover is on the police force, which must respond to the domestic emergencies he creates), he works himself into a Catch-22: The more he does to take back his daughter, the closer he is to losing her. Finally, he kidnaps her. He takes her out into the woods where they live together for a time in isolation and happiness but this cannot last. All along the way, this film prefers the unexpected turns of actual human behavior to the predictable plot developments we might have expected, and, at the end, there’s a fascinating twist. 

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

High Definition (Blu-ray) presentation

Original mono audio (uncompressed LPCM)

Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing

Commentary by writer-director Roger Donaldson and stunt driver Steve Millen

The Making of Smash Palace, a 51-minute documentary on the film s production featuring interviews with Donaldson, actor Keith Aberdein, filmmaker Geoff Murphy and others

Theatrical trailer

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Ian Barr, a contemporary review by Pauline Kael and the original press book