“THE RING’S JOURNEY”— Happy Birthday, IUdi

 

“The Ring’s Journey”

Happy Birthday Udi

Amos Lassen

Matti Harari and  Arik Lubetzky co-directed “The Ring’s Journey” with a cast that includes Amit Farkash, Israel Atias, Tomer Shechori, Tamir Baider, Dov Glickman, Shmulik Levy and Esti Zakhem.

 

At his 18th birthday party, Udi experiences the trauma of his life when his childhood sweetheart, Raphaela, leaves him and kisses his younger brother Lior who plays basketball for Maccabi Tel Aviv. Udi takes to his room for three years and disconnects from any human contact. He puts on weight and dedicates his life to “The Lord of the Rings”.  

Then when Udi turns 21, Lior informs him that their grandmother has passed away and left a will stating that if Uri marries within a month he will receive five million dollars.  However, if he doesn’t get married the money will go to the Friends of the Earth charity in Jaffa. His grandmother also left a ring with a mysterious electrifying power: If a girls puts the ring on but doesn’t love the guy her finger will be electrified. Udi then decides to leave the room and search for a bride in the outside world.

Joining Udi on his search are three others: Raphaela, who is now an up-and-coming model, his brother Lior and Lior’s childhood friend, Bechor.  Lior and Bechor are both gay but still in the closet and terrified by it. Udi looks for a bride amongst various unusual people including a transvestite, a dwarf and a Bedouin and they all for one reason or another, remind him of characters from “Lord of the Rings”. We go on a journey that is not soon forgotten in this very clever and funny movie.

 

” A WOMAN, A PART”— Having It All and Dissatisfied

“A Woman, A Part”

Having It All and Dissatisfied

Amos Lassen

Maggie Siff is actress Anna Baskin. She has a role in a hit show, but feels that the writers aren’t doing right by her character. She is also dealing with the end of a bad relationship with an addict, and a some addiction issues (to prescription drugs) of her own. In many ways, she is the stereotypical famous person who has everything and yet finds herself dissatisfied.

Writer/director Elisabeth Subrin brings us a film that unfolds without much narrative structure, and feels distant and meandering at times. Anna, a mid-40s actress is tired of her empty role in a sitcom and comes home from Los Angeles to New York for a reunion with several former acting friends. Upon her return to New York, she flushes a bottle of pills down the toilet and takes an air mattress from the closet but does not inflate it giving us a hint about how deflated she is herself.

When she first appears in New York this time, it’s at a birthday party of a friend, Kate (Cara Seymour), whose reaction to seeing her is a mix of excitement and anxiety. We learn that Kate harbors some resentment for Anna believing that she used their stage show ten years ago. Anna’s sense of situational irony says a good deal about her. She uses her financial success as a source of condescension toward others who would ask about her work in good faith. During a night of drunken karaoke between Anna and Isaac (John Ortiz), another buddy, we see that even though they are each smiling on the outside, they are hurting on the inside as they realize they’ll never be able to recapture their youth.

The film explores middle age as a time of attachment, loss, anger, envy, and guilt. Anna has mysterious autoimmune disease which has drained all her energy and caused her to sink into depression. She has been taking drugs for the disease and is hooked on them. She has reached a point where she wants to quit acting. Her manager Leslie (Khandi Alexander) suggests that she take some time off to consider the possible consequences of a lawsuit and the end of her career if she were to break her five-year contract and so she goes to New York City where she was once a member of a 1990s experimental theatre troupe, trying to work out some closure on her conflicted past. As Anna, Maggie Siff skillfully captures and conveys the emotional vibrations of a woman in a tricky transitional period in her life and career. Oscar is an ex lover who is married with a kid, but his relationship is shaky. He’s excited to have Anna around again, but you wonder if it’s real friendship he’s after, or the attention she can bring to his career that is not moving forward.

The revolves around the more general themes of addiction, gentrification, sexism, burnout, and plot friendship. Director Subrin looks at women in the entertainment industry, and the demands and expectations that constrain them. The title of the film suggests that Anna is not just the part she plays, yet she seems to have trouble getting away from it. The works as a critique of the film industry and Anna represents every female actress of a certain age searching for meaningful work. Anna’s opposite, Nadia (Dagmara Dominczyk), has given up her own work to be the rock of her family; her husband, Oscar, depends on her to be the stable one at home. But Nadia doesn’t want to be the rock anymore. We see a kind of respect for the characters and their flaws in this small film that explores gender as one woman tests her own self-perception.

“THE OLIVIA EXPERIMENT”— Asexuality

“The Olivia Experiment”

Asexuality

Amos Lassen

Olivia (Skye Noel) is a 27-year-old grad student who has started to suspect that she is asexual. To help clear up her issues, she accepts a friend’s offer to try sex with her own boyfriend. However, much goes wrong in Olivia’s first attempt to have sex.

Olivia she goes on a journey to better understand the nature of her self-diagnosed asexuality and to document her “experiment” (allowing the director, Sonja Schenk, to conduct real interviews with men and women of all ages and sexual orientations who frankly discuss first sexual encounters, sexual identity likes-dislikes and the meaning of the act to each individual. These interviews are feathered through the story as a subtle comment on what is happening to Olivia).

Being a virgin is depicted as having a mental disorder and the film is a bit too superficial and cliché-ridden thus making attempts at humor seem silly. While Olivia is attractive and intelligent, she has never been drawn to either men or women and has resolutely remained a virgin. Rejected by an asexual support group and told by faculty advisor that she should “live a little,” she reluctantly agrees to her freewheeling friend Felisha’s (Jen Lilley) generous offer to loan out her hunky, blond, surfer-type boyfriend Julian (Brett Baumayr) for some no-strings-attached sex. The ensuing “Olivia Experiment” becomes the subject of a documentary film that she decides to make with the help of her lesbian camerawoman friend C.J. (Michelynne McGuire).

The experiment quickly goes awry when Olivia responding to Julian’s genial sexual invitations with hysteria and she comes across as neurotic. The other characters, including Olivia’s gay roommate (Dan Gordon), her overbearing mother (Barbara Lee Bragg) and a nerdy mathematician (Kyle More) are simply broad stereotypes. By the time that Julian instead hooks up with C.J., who has suddenly discovered that she’s actually bisexual and we are quite bored.

The endless pressure to have sex is a theme that will resonate with many. We wonder, at first, if Olivia’s so-called asexuality is more emotional way than an actual (self) diagnosis. Her roommate, James seems to think so. We see what Olivia does not see, that the answer to her predicament is right in front of her

“NEW BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR & HUMANITY”— A Three Film Series

“NEW BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR & HUMANITY”

A Three Film Series

Amos Lassen

In 1973 and 1974, Kinji Fukasaku made a three film series known as “Battles Without Honor & Humanity” (after the title of the first installment), in which he traced the complicated infighting of Hiroshima gangs from 1946 to 1970. In Fukasaku’s world, yakuza adhere to codes of honor when it’s in their best interest, but otherwise they bully and kill indiscriminately.

Fukasaku begins the series with a still picture of an atomic blast, establishing the series as a critique of the “in-the-ruins generation” that was born in the rubble of World War II. The series starts in the Hiroshima refugee camps of 1946, where a group of young men get involved with the black market and ally themselves with the region’s crime “families.” Bunta Sugawara stars as the toughest of the lot, who watches his friends’ idealism get swamped by the job’s necessities. Over the next four films, the story doesn’t change. For 25 years, the yakuza families swap loyalties and butcher each other, while Sugawara does his best to stay out of their and make a living.

Altogether we get some seven-hours of double-crossings and random hits that make it hard to understand alliances even when a helpful narrator explains the action. Broken up into its component parts, though, the series becomes invigorating with “wild and tacky” violence. In a typical Fukasaku fight sequence, a man picks up a severed hand and slaps his enemy with it, in a shot that lasts less than a second. To bring some order to the chaos, Fukasaku frequently freezes the film so that we can identify the players. Fukasaku used a documentary style and unflinching bloodletting in an attempt to “understand peace through violence.” He openly questions whether the legendary Japanese sense of duty was wiped out by the atomic bomb, or whether it was always just an ideal for tourists and old movies, never meant to be taken seriously.

In the early 1970s, “Battles Without Honor & Humanity”, the series was a trememndous hit in Japan, and it began a trend in realistic, modern yakuza films based on true stories. Although Fukasaku had intended to end the series, he was convinced by the studio to continue it with leading man Bunta Sugawara, telling separate, but fictional stories about the yakuza in different locations in Japan.  In the following paragraphs, we look at three of the films.

In the first film, Bunta Sugawara is Miyoshi, a low-level assassin of the Yamamori gang who is sent to jail after a bungled hit. While there, family member Aoki attempts to seize power from the boss, and Miyoshi finds himself stuck between the two factions with no honorable way out. 

In the second film, “The Boss’s Head”, Sugawara is Kuroda, an itinerant gambler who steps in when a hit by drug-addicted assassin Kusunoki goes wrong, and takes the fall on behalf of the Owada family. However, when the gang fails to make good on financial promises to him, Kuroda targets the family bosses with a ruthless vengeance. 

In the “Last Days of the Boss”, Sugawara plays Nozaki, a laborer who swears allegiance to a sympathetic crime boss, only to find himself elected his successor after the boss is murdered. Restrained by a gang alliance that forbids retributions against high-level members, Nozaki forms a plot to exact revenge on his rivals, but a suspicious relationship with his own sister (Chieko Matsubara) hurts his relationship with his fellow gang members.

SpecialFeatures include:

– High Definition digital transfers of all three films

– High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations

– Original uncompressed mono audio

– New optional English subtitle translation for all three films

Beyond the Films: New Battles Without Honor and Humanity, a new video appreciation by Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane

New Stories, New Battles and Closing Stories, two new interviews with screenwriter Koji Takada, about his work on the second and third films in the trilogy

– Original theatrical trailers for all three films

– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Reinhard Kleist

– Illustrated collector’s book featuring new writing on the films, the yakuza genre and Fukasaku’s career, by Stephen Sarrazin, Tom Mes, Hayley Scanlon, Chris D. and Marc Walkow 

Disc 2 – Integral Version – Limited Edition Exclusive

– Integral version [105 mins]

A Guide to Lovecraftian Cinema – brand new featurette looking at the many various cinematic incarnations of writer H.P. Lovecraft’s work

“THE LAST BAND IN LEBANON”— An Unlikely Comedy About War

“The Last Band in Lebanon”

An Unlikely Comedy about War

Amos Lassen

Itzik Kricheli and Ben Bachar’s “The Last Band in Lebanon stars Ofer Shechter, Ori Laizarouvich, Ofer Hayoun, Israel Katorza, Dana Frider, Salim Daw, Itzik Kricheli, Daniel Gal, Hisham Saliman, Ehab Elias Salami, George Iskandar, Jamil Khoury, Ami Anidjar and Rudi Saada) and is set in Lebanon in 2000 after Israel Defense Forces let the area after having been there for 18 years.

However left behind were Shlomi, Asaf and Kobi, three members of a military rock band who woke up the next morning and discovered they were the only ones there having been mixed up in a major drug smuggling scheme orchestrated by their corrupt commander.

They are stranded and clueless in a “no man’s land” between Israel and Lebanon with a gang of Hezbollah fighters on one side, disgruntled members of the South Lebanon Army on the other, and no combat experience. Now the three soldiers must find a way to return to Israel with a guitar as their only weapon.

“PULSE”— A Strange Computer Virus

“PULSE”

A Strange Computer Virus

Amos Lassen

 

A strange computer virus is spreading through Japan and it shows grainy images of people senselessly mulling around their computers and asking “Would you like to meet a ghost?” Soon doors were sealed with red tape and the population starts to drop sharply. A group of young people get wise to this strange phenomenon and attempt to track down its origin. Soon smoke begins to loom on the horizon and city streets are empty.



“Pulse” uses the trappings of horror movies to give a meditation on urban loneliness. It’s an apocalyptic ghost story with some strange images and a surprising turn toward the end. This virus seems tooffer a portal to the afterlife (“Would you like to meet a ghost?”), with deadly consequences for the residents of Tokyo. One of director Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s achievements is to present a distinctive and disquieting picture of Tokyo.

“Pulse” follows two intersecting storylines. One involves a young woman (Kumiko Aso) who works at a plant nursery in a high-rise building, whose investigation of a colleague’s suicide leads her to some very dark places. The second story follows a computer-illiterate student (Haruhiko Kato) who teams with a female geek who’s researching paranormal phenomena on the Internet.

These characters encounter mysterious and frightening images on their computer screens (and, sometimes on their TVs). The pictures are linked to various disappearances, as victims hide themselves in rooms sealed with red tape, then melt into walls and leave behind only a smudgy residue. The sequences are effective in their restraint; there is no shock scenes or gore.

Director Kurosawa is less interested in tying up loose ends than in creating a sense of melancholy and depicting psychological states like dislocation. In “Pulse,” characters ponder the terrifying possibility that the afterlife is one of eternal isolation, which reflects their own sense of estrangement. This is an intriguing notion, but Kurosawa works in roundabout ways, which some viewers will find far too slow and repetitive.

“Pulse” opens with the strange suicide of a young man, leaving his 3 friends to ask the usual question of why he did it. No sooner does they begin investigating the death then they begin experiencing strange events of their own. Meanwhile, across town, college student Kawashima decides he should try the “Internet” after hearing so much about it. However, his first experience is a bad one, as the first web page that pops up on his computer screen is one that inquires, “Do you want to see a real ghost?” Spooked, Kawashima shuts off the computer, but the computer has a mind of its own, and begins turning on by itself, connecting to the Internet, and returning to the same spooky website over and over again. We ask the questions as to why are people suddenly disappearing all over the country and who is going around sealing doors with red tape?

Kurosawa creates a intriguing and frightening “straight” horror film with an underlying theme of the loneliness prevalent in modern Japanese culture. This is the world we know, but it is suddenly completely different. There is a hopeless look and feel to the film from the very beginning and it continues until the bitter end. Everything we see seems to be in the shadows even if it is day or night.

Despite the presence of technology, the people are always alone, even when they’re among friends. The movie posits the question: Are we really still “connected” to our fellow human beings anymore? The film answers that we are not. With the growth of technology, we’re actually more isolated.

 

Every shot and sequence is covered from head to toe in doom and gloom, and phantoms easily and effortlessly appear out of every corner and every patch of shadow. The mise-en-scene in “Pulse” is brilliant and breathtaking without fantastical or magical backgrounds. Because this is the world we know, but not the world we know, and this is very unsettling.

There are phantoms who are in effect definitions of the word. They seem to quiver and slink and quite literally move in disjointed, “inhuman-like” ways. The coming and going of the phantoms are effective, and each time they appear, it is frightening. There is one particularly good scene where a character is inside a loud arcade, only to suddenly realize that he’s utterly alone. How it happened is a mystery to him as well as to us.

The film has global impact in that we see that the problems of our characters are the problems of the world. Many horror movies are so limited in scope that it’s sometimes difficult to sit through 90 minutes of our heroes trying to convince the world that “something evil” is out there. The world of “Pulse” is presently being invaded by beings from another dimension, and as a result there is a worldwide ripple affect as everyone begins to experience similar events. Slowly but surely, the world starts to thin out, but not in the loud and splashy way you expect. Like most of “Pulse” even the end of the world is quiet and unassuming. There are none of the usual horror film theatrics, no slashers, no blood and no fangs yet this is one of the scariest films I have ever seen.

Kawashima’s story runs parallel to that of the three friends, and they seem unrelated at first, but eventually merge in the end. The film is moody and spiritually terrifying. It delivers existential dread along with its frights. Setting his story in the burgeoning Internet and social media scene in Japan, Kurosawa’s dark and apocalyptic film foretells how technology will only serve to isolate us as it grows more important to our lives. 

“Gay Slayer : The True Story of Colin Ireland” by Scott Farrell— A Criminal Life

Farrell, Scott. “Gay Slayer : The True Story of Colin Ireland”, CreateSpace, 2016.

A Criminal Life

Amos Lassen

Colin Ireland was called a serial killer “wanna-be” who deliberately murdered five gay men just to see if he could do so. as part of a New Year’s resolution. His extreme planning and attempts to hide evidence made investigators’ jobs more difficult. He would call police stations and give little hints thereby taunting the police. Ireland chose homosexual males because he figured that they would be less sympathetic victims and if he did not succeed, he thought that gay man would be less likely to go to the police.

Ireland had had a terrible childhood and seemed to be always be involved in some kind of criminal activity. I just do not understand why anyone would consider writing a book about this. It certainly demanded more research and we barely get a full story here.

 

 

“The One Who Taught Me Everything” by John Harris— Accepting Onseself

Harris, John. “The One Who Taught Me Everything”, (True To Myself Memoir Book 1), CreateSpace, 2017.

Accepting Oneself

Amos Lassen

In “The One Who Taught Me Everything”, we meet John, a man in the Midwest young man who is unsure of where his life is taking him. He has a girlfriend he doesn’t love, and he works for his father but he would he’d rather be writing. He tells his story through his diary and we see him face a bad period when everything seems dark. But then he meets Richard, a caring, smart, and good looking gay man and everything changes. Richard shows John that he may just be gay himself and John gives in to his true desires, and his relationship with Richard makes him a new person and he man he believes he was meant to be. He goes to college with plans to become a writer, and he and Richard seemed destined for a long and wonderful life together. However, Richard doesn’t want to keep their relationship a secret, and John isn’t willing to come out to anyone. When tragedy strikes, John realizes that a man always has things that are expected of him, even if they’re at odds with the things he wants for himself.

As we read we feel the entire range of emotions and truths. John understands that though he is in love with Richard he’s not ready to be public about it. For John it was a step harder in figuring out he was gay and what is he suppose to do finding this out.

John learns from Richard, and the two men fall in love but there is oppressive heartache in their relationship. John is afraid to be openly gay in the small town where they live, knowing that his father would be furious. He is expected to take over his father’s business, but John wants to be a writer.There are moments of happiness and moments of sadness. It is important to remember that this was written in 1964-65 and it was difficult to be openly gay.When his father dies, John has to make a decision to sell the business or take it over as his father wanted. He chose the latter and stopped his dreams of becoming a writer and being with Richard. The two men broke up. John wasn’t strong enough to accept himself openly and lost Richard even though both men were deeply in love with each other.

Today, John Harris, a 28-year-old bisexual man currently single and living in a small apartment in New York City who sees the world as a community united by feelings. I do not know it this is a memoir of his own life but surely there is part of him in the book.

 

 

“The Gays of Our Lives: The Unvarnished Memoirs of an Aging Fruit” by Denial Leonardo Murphy— A Book of Fairy Tales

Murphy, Denial Leonardo. “The Gays of Our Lives: The Unvarnished Memoirs of an Aging Fruit,”, Creative Types, 2016.

A Book of Fairy Tales

Amos Lassen

The Gays of Our Lives” is a book of “fairy-tales” that follow a group of “fruity friends from Flint, Michigan, or Murdertown USA (as it has been dubbed by the New York Times”. There are also other stories that introduce us “to quirky queers from the larger world”. Flint is a factory town and a difficult place for gay people as we see by the lives of the characters here during forty years. We read about lovers who come and go, about friendships and about the lucky ones who grow old. The guys travel to exotic destinations such as Mykonos, Istanbul, and Venice. As they do, they learn that living a gay-old life has both joys and disappointments. They realize that traveling is much more when done with others like themselves. The stories are loving and filled with gossip and there is a wonderful cast of truly strange guys. And yes, the author’s first name is Denial.

 

“My Life, In and Out: One Man’s Journey into Roman Catholic Priesthood and Out of the Closet” by Charles Benedict— Choicws

Benedict, Charles. “My Life, In and Out: One Man’s Journey into Roman Catholic Priesthood and Out of the Closet”, Purple Spekter TM Press, 2017.

Choices

Amos Lassen

Charles Benedict shares the confusion he felt growing up as he struggled with his sexuality and his desire to become a Roman Catholic Priest. He devoted the first thirty-three years of his life and studies to serve the Church and then discovered the life he loved and the beliefs he taught were in conflict with his hidden secret of his life that kept him from accepting his true self and potential.

Benedict grew up in a religious family that made it seem like he didn’t belong or fit in because something was wrong with him. His parents discovered he had a secret boyfriend at sixteen but Charles denied he was gay and gave into strong fears of rejection and disappointing those he loved. He lied to the world and buried his sexuality inside his soul. There was nothing wrong with Charles to begin with. Fourteen years passed before he finally accepted his homosexuality and came out—nearly four years after he had been ordained a Roman Catholic Priest. He voluntarily left the priesthood and rebuilt his life as he discovered the happier man within. Today, after al rough period, he is happily married to his wonderful husband and has supportive friends and family to share his life with. Now he wants everyone who struggles with their sexuality to know that even though it took him thirty-three years to love himself, the truth set him free. He clearly shows that no matter what any religion says, God loves you.