“THE MYSTERY OF HAPPINESS”— “Love, Friendship and the Pursuit of Happiness”

the mystery of happiness

The Mystery of Happiness (“El misterio de la felicidad”)

“Love, Friendship and the Pursuit of Happiness”

Amos Lassen

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Santiago (Guillermo Francella) and Eugenio (Fabian Arenillas) are best friends and business partners. They understand each other without words, they care for each other, they need each other. One day Eugenio (Fabian Arenillas) disappears without leaving any clues behind. Santiago notices his absence right away, but only realizes what has happened when Eugenio’s wife, Laura (Ines Estevez), tells him with certainly that Eugenio has left. Santiago and Laura begin a journey in order to find him and end up discovering that they prefer to stay together in this quest rather than finding out where he is. This is a film about love, but goes  far beyond it,  pushing boundaries and exploring the ideas of loyalty and estrangement.

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Perplexed and upset, Santiago and Laura begin a journey to find Eugenio, only to discover that true happiness can sometimes mean losing everything. The premise is simple. Santiago and Eugenio are lifelong buddies and live “a clockwork existence that starts every day as they drive side-by-side to work together, listening to the exact same radio station and laughing at the exact same time. At work they ping-pong tasks back and forth; fittingly enough they’re also paddle partners and frequently team up at the court. They hit the racetracks, they hit the sauna, they go shopping. If they can’t do something together, they certainly do it at the same time”.  

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Santiago has no problem with the routine but Eugenio did evidently. Santiago and Laura begin a journey of existential redolence as they start looking less for Eugenio and more into their own lives and what they want from them. Eugenio’s disappearance unsettles their lives in ways they can’t even begin to comprehend at first, so that Santiago must question his own life and Laura must find new purpose to her life. This is a movie about self-worth and happiness. At first Laura and Santiago act as if they are victims of a terrible disaster. They console each other between bouts of outrage and disbelief. Some questions are answered, others are completely dropped by the end. The “mystery” of the title is misleading and there is a lot of entertainment here.

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“THE PRICE OF PLEASURE”— Porn for Profit

 

te price of pleasure

“THE PRICE OF PLEASURE”

Porn for Profit

Amos Lassen

Pornography has come of age in the United States. It is now one of the most visible and profitable sectors of the cultural industries in this country. The estimate is that  the pornography industry’s annual revenue has reached $13 billion. At the same time, the content of pornography has become more aggressive, more overtly sexist and racist. This documentary features the voices of consumers, critics, and pornography producers and performers. We learn how pleasure and pain, commerce and power, and liberty and responsibility come together and become part of our sexual identities and relationships.

It seems to me that the film attempts to castigate and stigmatize both pornography and the porn industry. It does this by looking at the way it exploits and focusing on the ill effects of porn. The movie tries to turn the concept of the porn star into that of a low life individual who exploits him/herself and makes a living from that. But like other businesses, the porn industry is indeed exploitive. Included are

interviews with militant feminists and psychologists who tend to distort the truth, and we see that the film really doesn’t want to open up the floor for everyone and allow two sides of the discussion and issue. Rather it completely attacks America and American values for being so blatantly obsessed with sexuality. It never really tries to attack the roots of this obsession that can tend to involve our own sense of cynicism, curiosity, and absolute sexual awakening. The film explains that the injection of porn in our world is a statement about our desensitizing. However, in reality, it is statement about us accepting sexual practices for entertainment, comedy, and or enlightenment.

The porn industry has moved far from where it once was and this film seems to want to say that it is a way to get children to perform and it shows computer images of naked children having sex with adults (who are computer animated). There is what is called legitimate pornography in the world today as well as amateur and child pornography but these are exceptions. This is never explained. Nor is the fact that pornography is not a gateway to child pornography nor has it been proven to be ever explained.

The film was made direct-to-video film that was made in 2008 and intended, obviously, as a means of stimulating conversations in college classes on sociology, sex, and gender. The questions raised during the course of the narrative seem to be answered quickly and superficially. In a Diane Sawyer clip we learn that the industry makes $13 billion a year. The head of the Free Speech Coalition, the porn industry’s lobbyist group formed in 1991, says on camera that the lawmakers he approaches are usually apprehensive at first. But “when you explain to them the size and scope of the business”, they tend to change their minds. Those who have money have power, and those who have power can exert influence on legislators, just as the Free Speech Coalition has done so far.

“The Price of Pleasure” has a curiously voyeuristic feel to it and there doesn’t seem to be enough research and revelation here to make it anything more. I think many of us would like to know how the porn industry that had once been considered as seedy, become part of the cultural and economic mainstream?” We understand that it is all about money. On the Internet, where there exists an estimated 420 million pages of porn online, is where young people now get their first exposure to erotic images in many cases.

“The Price of Pleasure” really doesn’t really go too into the idea of pornography as something that might be traced to a base and basic instinct. We get two male teens talking about porn and three females talking about it, and that’s pretty much the extent of it. I recently heard that Time Warner and CBS are just two of the media giants that make a huge profit off of pornography every year s we see that major corporations play a part in the porn industry. This film needs more data and m more interviews with whistleblowers. This certainly isn’t the result of investigative reporting. It is, rather, a sociological overview that seems intended as a conversation starter.

The film is filled with clips and talking heads— TV clips, movie clips, Internet Web site clips, porn clips, and interviews with young people on camera. It is interesting that the picture quality of a completely nude young woman auditioning for a porn role is almost as sharp as HD, while interviews with two young women talking about the effect that porn had on their development are grainy and the picture is poor.

There is a wealth of extras:

Norm Chomsky on Pornography

Porn Performers on The Business

Generational Divide: 3 Generations of Porn Stars Speak Out

 Donkey Punch featurette

Extended Interviews with Experts Pornography as Sex Education

The film could have been so much more effective if it had covered more ground.

“ONCE UPON A TIME VERONICA”— A New Drama from Brazil

once a time veronica“ONCE UPON A TIME VERONICA”

A New Drama from Brazil

Amos Lassen

 “Once Upon A Time Veronica” (“Era uma vez eu, Veronica”),  is a sensual character study of a young woman facing emotional and professional crossroads. Veronica (Hermila Guedes) has newly graduated from fresh medical school and faces a critical period of her life. There are decisions to me made and doubts to be faced both about her career and about her life. Her father is ill and her sex life in a mess and filled with chaos. This is what we might call a backwards fairy tale. We learn about Veronica as she navigates adventures, desires and misfortunes.

 Set in Recife, Brazil, Veronica struggles to find balance in her life. She lives with her father who is suffering from a terminal illness and her job as a doctor puts her near others who are dying. She is unable to become part of a permanent relationship and this really bothers her. Veronica does not know what she wants out of life and she often sees herself as a patient who is in need of care. She unloads all of her feelings into a tape recorder. We see her as a depressed woman. She is existentially bored.

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Veronica’s story is one that takes place during her first year as a doctor, dealing with patients that either won’t take her seriously or describe vague headache symptoms. She is not achieving her goals in life because she is unable to determine what they are.  She responds with sarcasm to those who give her love and is indifferent to the man she sleeps with. As she records her feelings on tape, we sense her feelings of displacement and apathy almost as if she is a caged animal. The theme of displacement here is powerful and by the time we reach the end of the film, Veronica has bought a car and a house hoer her father and herself. She takes a job in a private hospital where she will be dealing with patients who are affluent for the most part. Perhaps Veronica has lost herself and in doing so, she is no longer displaced. We do not know if she is really happy or if depression will come back on her—we have experienced her journey as she slowly examined her life and her feelings.

The director, Marcelo Gomes, gives us a film that is tactile and experiential and it has a great deal to say about how we feel when our expectations do not match reality. The film  opens at Laemmle Theaters in LA on November 28, 2014.

“FOUR MOONS” (“CUATRO LUNAS”)— Four Gay-Themed Shorts from Mexico

four moons

“Four Moons” (“Cuatro Lunas”)

Four Gay-Themed Shorts from Mexico

Amos Lassen

“Cuatro Lunas” has brings together four gay-themed stories that run from the first discovery of adolescent same-sex feeling through to desire as one gets older. These are four stories about love and self-acceptance: An eleven year-old boy struggles to keep secret the attraction he feels towards his male cousin. Two former childhood friends reunite and start a relationship that gets complicated due to the fact that one is afraid of getting caught. A gay long lasting relationship is in jeopardy when a third man comes along. An old family man is obsessed with a young male prostitute and tries to raise the money to afford the experience.

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Sergio Tovar Velarde wrote and directed the films. He has recruited quite a cast—Antonio Velázquez, Alejandro de la Madrid, César Ramos, Gustavo Egelhaaf, Echánove Alonso, Alejandro Belmonte, Karina Gidi, Gabriel Santoyo, Sebastian Rivera and Juan Manuel Bernal. The films taken together send out a message of love, acceptance and freedom. The genius here is that we see these four different stages of life and the thin line between love and hate. We see all of the details of each film as we see love and recognition come into play. We also see that love is the same emotion regardless of the ages or gender of those involved. The stereotype does not exist here but there is a credible look at the  way we live.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mV3KkvbKJUY

“TRANSPARENT”— A Major Life Change

transparent

‘Transparent’

A Major Life Change

Amos Lassen

Morty Pfefferman is a retired professor who is transitioning from male to female. It is also all about family as Morty, now Maura, has three children. We see here the issues of blood ties and what composes a family.

 Early on, after Maura has come out to her children and moved from the family home into the trans-friendly Shangri-La apartment complex, she returns to her old house. Sarah (Amy Landecker), the eldest Pfefferman child, lives there with her girlfriend. It’s Friday night and Maura is lighting candles, performing for the first time a ritual typically conducted by women. She starts to sing the blessing over candle lighting on the Sabbath, but mistakenly starts in with the melody for Hanukkah candle lighting. She laughs, gently, and begins again.

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“Transparent” has the divorced father as its focus and we watch as he navigates a major life change: transitioning to living life full-time as a woman. We see simulated sex and occasional full-frontal nudity, and hear swear words such as  “f–k” and “s–t.” Some characters smoke pot and drink socially. I suppose that it is way to say that the film is about the search for truth and the desire to live openly. Maura is complex but she is also likeable. Most of the other characters also have secrets- and we do get the sense that this family shares love and connections all the while heading toward dysfunction. The plot deals heavily with sexual identity and follows characters in same-sex relationships and in relationships with multiple partners. Scenes include simulated sex and full frontal nudity. 

This is an honest and tender look at both family and transgender issues. Yet it is far from perfect. Shelly (Judith Light), Maura’s wife is something of a cartoon as she struggles with what her husband is going through. She reminded me a bit of a Jewish mother in the way that she pushes her son to date Raquel (Kathryn Hahn); quibbles over the purchase of tofu cream cheese; insisting on bringing extra mustard and so on. I found it difficult to empathize with her.

As Maura’s evolution takes place, the lives of her children unravel. Ali is jobless, seemingly aimless, and throws herself into various sexual entanglements. Josh (Jay Duplass) has lost his job, sleeps around, and is beginning to reckon with the fact that he was taken advantage by a babysitter when he was a teenager. Sarah, a stay-a-home mom, has left her wealthy husband for an ex-girlfriend and seems first giddy, then perhaps rueful, about the choice. Now they must decide as to whether to adjust to their father’s new gender.

 The Pfefferman children’s share their desires with their father Maura—they really want to settle down, fall in love and feel fulfilled. There is a lot to think about here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yawvtaFwfZs

“Tangled Roots” by Marianne K. Martin— Looking Back

tangled rootsMartin, Marianne K. “Tangled Roots”, Bywater Books, 2014.

Looking Back

Amos Lassen

One of the authors I always look forward to reading is Marianne Martin and she never disappoints. “Tangled Roots”, her new book, is quite a story. We meet Addy Grayson, now an old woman who has lived through a great deal. During the Civil War, she was at the mercy of Sherman; her lover was murdered and she has had to live as a widowed woman in the South where, unfortunately people openly talk about their biases. Addy was lucky that she did not lose her land or her family and she has held on to her secrets. It’s a different world now and Addy is raising her grandchildren in it and she is not sure that she will make it through. The novel is set in 1916 and while the country is not as advanced as it is today, for Addy it is plenty modern. She knows of the fears that her granddaughter Anna faces.

Anna and Nessie, her best friend have dreamed of getting jobs and making enough money to go away to college, learn a career and making a difference in the world. They have actually dared to love each other at a time in history when that was the love that dared not speak its name. Looking at the south at that time, dreams like theirs were forbidden.

Anna is the daughter of very comfortable white landowners. She has everything going for her and her father expected her to marry well. It was also expected of  and demanded by her by the society of the time. Nessie, on the other hand, came from a family who had been slaves prior to the Civil War and she is expected to keep her land and protect her family.

This is a story about having the right to choose and Martin brings us these two women and shows how they come to terms with the times and love each other regardless of the circumstances. As girls, the two were constant companions and as the world was turning upside down with the somewhat newly freed slave population and overt racism and restrictions on women, they grew to love each other. They had to face unbelievable and unacceptable choices which determine how their relationship was going to last. Interracial relationships were heavily frowned upon as were partnerships of two people of the same sex. Anna and Nessie have to find a way to deal with a Southern community that is all too eager to destroy what they have. They can only love each other secretly. They are forced to live according to the way others think they should.

Marianne Martin writes of their passion for each other and as she does, we get a look at how it was back then and there is no comparison to the way we live now. It was a world based on stereotypes and we all know that a stereotype is a commonly held lie. Martin has created two wonderful characters here and they manage to stay strong in what they believe even though the times will not let their love bloom. We get to know both Nessie and Anna and they seem to be very, very real. I believe that many of us have forgotten how things once were for same/sex couples and this is a brutal reminder. What is really interesting here is how Martin brings to civil rights issues together—race and sexuality and then writes about them with carefully chosen beautiful language. She does the same with the emotions of the characters and I found myself swept up in the story—so much so that I did not stop reading until I finished the book.

“Wicked Reflection” by Hank Edwards—A Nameless Threat

wicked reflection

Edwards, Hank. “Wicked Reflection”, Wilde City Press, 2014.

A Nameless Threat

Amos Lassen

 Kirk Stanford dreamt about the day when he will be able to buy his own home but when that finally happened there were a few surprises. As soon as he moved in, strange occurrences took place. Suddenly there were messages on the mirror in steam and he was warned about an unnamed threat. Someone was also trying to break into the house trying to find something yet Kirk has no idea what it is.

Kirk and Damon, his boyfriend, checked into the history of the house and they learned that the former owner was murdered and there were threatening letters written to him by someone  named Sam.  When the person who tried to break in several times returned one more time, Kirk and Damon realized that they might be murdered before they ever learn the truth about the mystery.

I have read Hank Edwards several times and I always enjoy his work and while this is not the first paranormal mystery he has written, I am going to say that it is his best. Just as Kirk and Damon wonder about what is going on, so did I and I had no hints or clues how to solve the mystery. This is one spooky read. This is also a romance and if you have read Edwards before, you know that he is a fine romance writer. Kirk and Damon share their love with the reader.

Kirk did not know that his new house came with a resident ghost. When he saw the messages on the mirror, Kirk was not sure whether he was being warned or being threatened. Then he learns that his neighbor caught someone trying to break into the house and chased him away. Is into wonder that Kirk was beginning to have misgivings?

The next thing was the appearance of a private eye and with that the mirror messages became more cryptic. Kirk really has nowhere to turn except to Damon and the two of them soon are fighting to stay alive and wondering if the ghost could save them. At this point, my summary ends because if I were to continue, I might spoil a “fun” read.

One of the aspects of Hank Edward’s writing that I have always liked in the way he builds his characters. The seem so real that we can imagine them into the room with us. We watch as the strong Kirk of the beginning becomes a shattered person as the novel continues. Just as he is pulled into what is going on, so are the readers and at times we are not sure if Kirk (and Damon) will survive.

There was no way for me to guess what was to happen and so I read the story very quickly sitting on the edge of my seat.

“(A)SEXUAL”— No Sex Please

asexual poster

“(A)SEXUAL”

No Sex Please

Amos Lassen

Let’s face it—we live in a sex-obsessed world and because of that there are many stereotypes and misconceptions, and a lack of social or scientific research  about asexuals; people who experience no sexual attraction. They are struggling to claim their identity. This documentary, “(A)sexual”, looks at the two words “No thanks” as a legitimate sexual preference. We have a community that challenges current paradigms and understandings of human sexuality.  Over the last few years we have seen a huge growth in enlightenment and understanding of human sexuality and sexual preference.  There have been huge strides in technology and these have resulted in people being able to find communities with similar taste and attractions and this has opened our minds on morality, sexuality, and personal relationships. David Jay is a good-looking young man in his 20’s who told his parents that the was asexual and then he built a network of support and information about others who feel the same way.

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The definition of an asexual person is one who is not sexually attracted to either the opposite sex or their same gender.  Most of the people who express themselves as such have no desire to go along with society’s expectations of them and have no sexual intercourse at all. The film looks at the  usual assumptions that are thrown around about this group of people and then invalidates them.  There is no proof that they were abused as children or that they are impotent, inexperienced, scared, just out of a bad relationship or just physically incapable.  David Jay tells us that asexuality is not a choice one makes as it is in one’s make up just like being gay is.

 David Jay’s story is fascinating and I do not think that I have ever been so challenged by a movie as I was watching his story. I have never really thought about the impact of a sexual relationship in creating intimacy in a relationship or about the challenges that are faced with sex and the electricity and energy it creates and it becomes clear that our behavioral attributes are part of relationships.

His group is called  AVEN (Asexual Visibility Education Network) and it was started in San Francisco to give the group some visibility, and they chose to participate in the Gay Pride March.   Dan Savage the witty Sex Therapist says that perhaps LGBT should be changed to Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgendered, Genderqueer, Questioning Women, etc., etc. and now a group wants to add asexual. Neither to Savage or to me does this makes any sense at all. Why would asexuals want to join the Pride march, one that celebrates all the freedoms that gay people have fought hard just to be able to have the sex they want when what they want is the right not to have any sex at all?

A problem I had here was that throughout the film there were constant comparisons of asexuality with homosexuality and the only thing that they share in common is that they are both considered to be deviant from what  society considers as its  norm (whatever that means). Then there is the problem of understanding romance without sexual intimacy.

asexual

 David Jay explains that he has devised a strategy for evaluating and building relationships known as ‘the three Ts': time (the amount of time you dedicate to a person), touch (physical or verbal expressions of feelings) and talk (clearly communicating expectations for the relationship). Then it kind of made sense— an asexual can date, fall in love and even marry (as they did during this film) without wanting to have sex with their partner.

 At the end of the film David is interviewed two years later.  AVEN is still growing strong, but David has had a major re-think.  It’s not that he wants to have sex BUT now aged 29 he has come to the conclusion that the fulfilling relationship that he so craves with one person can only be complete and reach intimacy if he has sex.   Including this last interview and seeing this very earnest young man struggle with reality of his beliefs didn’t make us doubt how sincere he is but it certainly is confusing. left me more than confused than him.   

“THE DREAM CHILDREN”— Finding Meaning in a Superficial World

the dream children

“The Dream Children”

Finding Meaning in a Superficial World

Amos Lassen

Steven Evans (Graeme Squires) is an Australian TV personality but he lives a life of superficiality. The sad thing is that he created this himself and now he wants to find some meaning in his life. He has been materialistic  and the fact that he is a known celebrity puts him in a special category. The only time that Steven feels that he gets away from his world is when he goes to the ocean where he has meaningless sexual encounters. Steven does have a partner, Alex, (Nicholas Gunn) who decides that it is time for them to become fathers but Steven is reluctant. However that soon changed when he finds the situation to be filled with love and he soon feels a very strong bond to his new family.

the dream

That changes, however, when an unexpected visitor arrives and a series of events pushes Steven and his family into a situation of loneliness, grief and self-destruction. As a celebrity, Steven was is very hot and in demand and both men and women love him. He has a secret that only Alex, his biggest fan knows and partner knows. However, Steven knows that if he wants to continue in his career, he must remain in the closet totally.

Because of having to deceive everyone both Alex and Steven are not happy and they search for ways to deal with this. Steven does so by having anonymous sex with strangers and Alex  throws himself completely into his project of building a new home for himself and Steven on the beach. Then at a meeting with his architect, Alex changes the house design to include a nursery.  This throws Steven off but once he eventually realizes that Alex is really serious about starting a family, he slowly accepts it.

There is one problem though. At the time the film takes place (early 2000’s), gay adoption was not yet legal in Australia and neither was gay marriage. Alex met a very pregnant young woman, Nerine, who is having a hard time financially and does not want to keep her baby. He and Steven are willing to pay for it and Nerine, while apprehensive of giving her baby to two gay men, agrees to sell them her child. They name him Sammy and he becomes an integral part of their lives.

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We get a sense of the happiness that has come the two men until a couple of years later when Nerine turns up at their home with a very rough companion and Steven’s and Alex’s world is turned upside down.

The film is directed by Rob Chuter, a noted Australian director and he chose not to downplay the passion about the subject matter, and  he reminds us  of how very difficult some situations were, and still are, for same sex couples. The two leads are both excellent and buff enough to participate in naked sensual lovemaking scenes, but that they are both very talented well-known Australian actors. Make sure you have tissues handy; there is a lot of emotion in the film.

“THE WAY HE LOOKS”— Opens Nationwide on November 7, 2014

presents

THE OFFICIAL BRAZILIAN ENTRY
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
87TH ACADEMY AWARDS®

“THE WAY HE LOOKS”

A FILM BY DANIEL RIBEIRO

Starring Ghilherme Lobo, Fabio Audi and Tess Amorim

Opens Nationwide on November 7, 2014

View Trailer
YouTube Trailer: http://youtu.be/rcb0VnB2vnQ
Vimeo Trailer: https://vimeo.com/104667446

Winner of the FIPRESCI Prize and Teddy Award, Berlin International Film Festival
Winner, Audience Award, Frameline Film Festival
Winner, Audience Award, Outfest 
Winner, Audience Award for Best Feature, NewFest

Set against the music of Belle and Sebastian, Daniel Ribeiro’s coming of age tale, THE WAY HE LOOKS is a fun and tender story about friendship and the complications of young love. Leo is a blind teenager who’s fed up with his overprotective mother and the bullies at school. Looking to assert his independence, he decides to study abroad to the dismay of his best friend, Giovana. When Gabriel, the new kid in town, teams with Leo on a school project, new feelings blossom in him that make him reconsider his plans. Meanwhile, Giovana, grows jealous of this new found companionship as tensions mount between her and Leo.
96 Minutes • Drama • Not Rated • In Portuguese with English Subtitles
OPENING NATIONWIDE ON NOVEMBER 7, 2014

NEW YORK – TBD
LOS ANGELES – SUNDANCE SUNSET CINEMA & PLAYHOUSE 7
WASHINGTON, D.C. – LANDMARK E-STREET CINEMA
SAN FRANCISCO – TBD
BERKELEY – LANDMARK SHATTUCK CINEMA
PHILADELPHIA – LANDMARK RITZ AT THE BOURSE
SEATTLE – SUNDANCE CINEMAS SEATTLE
HOUSTON – SUNDANCE HOUSTON

OPENING NOVEMBER 14, 2013

SEBASTOPOL, CA – RIALTO CINEMAS SEBASTOPOL
DENVER – LANDMARK MAYAN THEATRE
SAN DIEGO – LANDMARK KEN THEATRE
ATLANTA – LANDMARK MIDTOWN ART CINEMA
COLUMBUS, OH – GATEWAY FILM CENTER
TEMPE, AZ – HARKINS VALLEY ART CINEMA

MORE CITIES/DATES FORTHCOMING