“APP”— A Techno Thriller

APP

“APP”

A Techno Thriller

Amos Lassen

The new Dutch film “App” is a straightforward techno-thriller that hopes to enhance the experience with a unique second-screen phone app experience. Moviegoers already pull out their phones far too frequently in theaters, so if you think this sounds like a nightmare scenario you’re not alone. Anna (Hannah Hoekstra) has her hands full with a boyfriend, classwork and a brother in the hospital, but her life grows even more out of control when a mysterious app appears on her phone. IRIS is helpful at first, but soon we see that the malicious app is spying, sharing compromising photos and videos and manipulating the electronic world around Anna with deadly consequences.

Anna is greatly attached to her Smartphone and she reminds that, “The more means of communication people have available to them the less they communicate.”

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Anna’s always on and instantly available, but it’s not until she wakes up the day after a big party that she discovers the app she didn’t know she needed. It’s been installed on her phone without her consent and immediately starts making her life easier. IRIS is a self-described personal assistant, capable of setting reminders, updating calendars and more, but “she” soon goes about controlling more questionable parts of Anna’s life too.

Surprising and compromising videos start appearing and it seems that Anna’s phone is the source for that. However, no one believes that the phone is acting on its own and instead Anna finds herself ostracized for being so cruel. Any attempts to uninstall the app are fruitless so she sets out to discover the who and the why behind it all.

Director Bobby Boermans and writer Robert Arthur Jansen keep things moving at a solid pace and the resulting story gets more than a little crazy as more is revealed, but it wisely keeps the scale small and manageable. The story uses thriller trappings in service of a slight commentary on the ever-encroaching technological tide of devices and information. Indeed we see that the more things we have doing things for us the less things we’re doing for ourselves or with other people. Human contact and the natural order of life are being more and more compromised, or enhanced, by technology. And maybe that’s not as good of a thing as we think.

This is a great idea for a film but here we do not see anything exceptional about it. Anna is smart and capable both intellectually and physically, and it’s incredibly refreshing to see. The men in her life are never the determining factors or catalysts for action in the same way they often are in American films. Hoekstra makes Anna a convincing character in both her dramatic delivery and her physical prowess, and she is charismatic.

I can’t really say much about the plot because this is a mystery so let me just say that while this is not a great film, it certainly is an interesting one.

The home video release includes extensive bonus content:

  • Director Bobby Boerman’s commentary
  • Special Effects bonus featurette
  • Original APP theatrical trailer 

“REGARDING SUSAN SONTAG”— The Life of a Thinker

 reagarding susan sontag

“REGARDING SUSAN SONTAG”   

The Life of a Thinker

Amos Lassen

“Regarding Susan Sontag” (which incidentally airs this week on HBO) is an intimate look at the life of one of the most influential and provocative thinkers of the modern age. Sontag was “endlessly curious, passionate and gracefully outspoken throughout her career” and she emerged as one of the most important literary, political and feminist icons of her generation”. This beautiful film gives us a look at Sontag’s life “through evocative experimental images, archival materials, accounts from friends, family, colleagues, and lovers, as well as her own words as read by Patricia Clarkson”. 

Portrait Of Author Susan Sontag

Sontag discovered books early and remained infatuated with them her entire life. But she will be remembered as a cultural critic and writer whose writings still are relevant and resonate today. Susan Sontag thought of writing as “an instrument for tuning into reality as much as you can,” and she wrote about anything and everything. Some of her topics included her promiscuity, her array of past girlfriends, her thoughts on cancer and AIDS, her thoughts on Iraq, and her thoughts on drag queens. We see all of that in this film. But what comes through the film more than anything else is Sontag’s inhuman intelligence even in the face of death; the story of her outsmarting doctors who gave her a month to live (she went on to live for decades) is unforgettable.

“Regarding Susan Sontag” is an appropriately respectful and reflective documentary about the late writer, essayist, and filmmaker, an elegant tribute that resisted the impulse to become hagiography. It contains interview clips, photographs, and animation, as well as snippets of Sontag’s writing, read by actress Patricia Clarkson, and it all comes together seamlessly. It captures the truth if not the precise essence of Sontag.

Director/ co-writer Nancy Kates chronicles Sontag from her early years of marriage and motherhood, which were upended by the independence she found living in France. The film focuses on some of her most influential writings-—her pointed observations on camp, photography, and feminism to her groundbreaking ideas about illness, AIDS, and 9/ 11. We also see Sontag’s relationships with famous women, including Nicole Stéphane, Lucinda Childs, and Annie Leibovitz.

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There is no sentimentality here—this is a film that is as full of life as was its subject. There are interesting remarks from friends and former lovers— but the most poignant comments come from her younger sister, who had a heart to heart with Sontag as the writer was near the end of her life.

 Director Nancy Kates clearly admires Sontag but is also ready and willing to acknowledge her weaknesses and to admit that not everything she did lived up to the standard of groundbreaking work like On Photography. Kates keeps a satisfying balance between personal biography and an assessment of Sontag’s wide-ranging professional output, stretching back to the late 1940s, when a 15 year-old “Sue Sontag” wrote impressively smart editorials in her school paper. Sontag was incapable of settling into a conventional life. She left her child in the US while studying in England and Paris; after divorcing his father, she would have relationships mostly with women. A number of former partners appear here, and while all seem to still hold her in esteem, some describe an egotist who could be insensitive to loved ones.

Though Kates grows more interested in the details of Sontag’s relationships and her bouts of cancer than in later output like the best-selling novel The Volcano Lover, the picture makes sense of her evolving intellectual approach to the world and of the ways in which she came eventually to feel “a sense of failure.” This is a film not to be missed.

“Understanding and Teaching U.S. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History” edited by Leila J. Rupp and Susan K. Freeman— Filling in the Gaps

understanding and teaching

Rupp, Leila J. and Susan K. Freeman (editors). “Understanding and Teaching U.S. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History”, (The Harvey Goldberg Series). University of Wisconsin Press, 2014.

Filling in the Gaps

Amos Lassen

While it is not yet taught in American classrooms and I have my doubts that it will ever be taught in classrooms, LGBT history gives us a fuller understanding of history as a whole and it provides a fuller contextualization for the modern world. This is the first book designed for university and high school teachers who want to integrate queer history into the standard curriculum. It contains inspiring stories, classroom-tested advice, and rich information and is therefore a valuable resource for anyone who thinks history should be an all-inclusive story.

“Understanding and Teaching U.S. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History gives us so much insight for teachers and in the introductory essay, the editors show us why LGBT history is important and they give us the proper

global historical context, showing that same-sex sexual desire and gender change are not new, modern phenomena. The book is filled with ideas for teachers in diverse educational settings to provide narratives of their experiences teaching queer history. The book contains a topical section of seventeen essays on such themes as sexual diversity in early America, industrial capitalism and emergent sexual cultures, and gay men and lesbians in World War II. The contributors include detailed suggestions for integrating these topics into a standard U.S. history curriculum, including creative and effective assignments. A final section addresses sources and interpretive strategies well suited to the history classroom. For these reasons alone this is a welcome addition to the LGBT literary canon. It will help teachers at all levels navigate through cultural touchstones and political debates and provide a fuller knowledge of significant events in history.

The book combines the scholarship, methods of teaching, and source guides as this one does thereby making it an extremely useful resource. We also have resources that others have used. The book covers wonderfully the major questions in the field of LGBT history and also provides ideas for working with student-based challenges.

“THE RED TENT”— Meeting Dinah

the red tent

“The Red Tent”

Meeting Dinah

Amos Lassen

Dinah was the daughter of Jacob and mentioned briefly in the Hebrew bible. In Anita Diamant’s “The Red Tent” she becomes a major character and in fact tells us her story. In doing so we get a look at the traditions and turmoil of ancient womanhood. She tells us about her mothers who were Jacob’s four wives—Dinah’s tale begins with the story of her mothers, the four wives of Jacob— Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah. The women love Dinah and give her gifts that are to sustain her through a hard-working youth, a calling to midwifery, and a new home in a foreign land. Dinah also tells us of the world of the red tent, the place where women were sequestered during their cycles of birthing, menses, and illness; of her initiations into the religious and sexual practices of her tribe; of Jacob’s courtship with his four wives; of the mystery and wonder of caravans, farmers, shepherds, and slaves; of love and death in the city of Shechem; and of her half-brother Joseph’s rise in Egypt.

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I am quite sure that many never expected to see Dinah emerge as a full-bodied character, a woman who was a lusty midwife and who took her destiny into her own hands and that is what Anita Diamant did with her novel, “The Red Tent”. After all, all that we really know of her in the bible is that she was raped and that her brothers avenged that horrid act.

Diamant, in her novel, took the shards of Dinah’s story that were in a fairly short chapter in the book of Genesis, and gave us a layered tale of sisterhood, friendship and love. The book was recently adapted into a mini-series for television that stars the Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson as Dinah, Minnie Driver as Leah and Morena Baccarin (as Rachel, Iain Glen as Jacob, and the Israeli actress Hiam Abbas as Queen Re-Nefer. The new film draws heavily from Diamant’s novel, which that has brought about a new literary genre based on Bible stories.

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The film version takes liberties with Diamant’s text. The story details how Jacob accumulated his four wives and how they all came to love the arrangement, so long as they could retire to the red tent now and then to talk and celebrate their life-giving abilities. “In the red tent, we surround ourselves with healing hands and loving voices, and we give thanks for the knowledge that life comes from between our legs, and that the cost of life is blood.” Dinah eventually grows up, goes through some terrible events but she is a survivor.

“The Red Tent” fleshes out the story of Dinah, the only named daughter of Jacob, whose scant mention in Genesis 34 unleashes one of the Bible’s greatest stories. But its ambitions make this two-night production feel scattered. It is a female-centric story yet it is not a feminist look at the bible. We hear nothing about God, yet “The Red Tent” is an enjoyable tale of one woman’s survival, and maybe it’s unfair to expect a cable miniseries to draw viewers with unknown actors who look just like their biblical counterparts might have. Between the issues of race, tribalism, rape and consent, “The Red Tent” covers a lot of ground.

Whether you believe it to be truth, fiction or somewhere in between, the Bible is always difficult to adapt to film or television. There is a lot of plot but not much dialogue, narrative and transition and very little character development.

“The Burning Bush” by Robin Anderson—- Getting Older and Having Fun

the burning bush

Anderson, Robin. “The Burning Bush”, CreateSpace, 2014.

Getting Older and Having Fun

Amos Lassen

Here is another new satire from author Robin Anderson and this time he deals with getting older yet he does so in a very humorous way. I love the title, “The Burning Bush” simply because it is so irreverent. Here we have an aging (well she is really old) who we call BB and her friend Clarissa who let us know that old folks need sex too. Both women enjoy seducing young men who they later destroy. But now, since they are older, they realize that what they once had has faded like old roses and they must find new ingenious ways to trap the guys. They are determined to have nothing stop them from having their fun (and their men).

This little poem by author Anderson has a lot to say about the plot of this book in a few short lines:

“Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”

“Turn away Miss Shelagh La Verna For reflected grief will see you yearn

Yearn for those glorious days of yore


When lovers cried, Shelagh! More, more, more!

Those flames are dead; no longer kindled


Your lonely ashes with tears are mingled.”

Anderson always seems to go where other writers don’t and I think that is one of the attractions of his writings. He creates new characters in every book and these characters not only tell their stories but also keep us reading and laughing all the way.

If you have never read Robin Anderson then you should—his writing is crisp and fresh and always fun.

“Crisp and Golden” by Robin Anderson— Daddy Dearest

Crisp & Golden Cover.indd

Anderson, Robin. “Crisp and Golden”, CreateSpace, 2014.

Daddy Dearest

Amos Lassen

I stand in awe of Robin Anderson. I do not know how he does it—Anderson has the ability to write seemingly nonstop and he constantly has new books with new ideas and new characters. Reading Anderson is akin to reading the great satires of Jonathan Swift with the difference being that Anderson’s satire does not really hit us until we close the covers. As we read we are treated to great humor and wonderful tongue-in-cheek plots and characterizations.

I so want to relate the plot of “Crisp and Golden” but that would be a disservice to anyone who has not yet read the book. Once again we have an unbelievable cast of characters that are totally believable and the only way you will understand this sentence is to read the book. The setting is Manson Mews whose name is changed to The Corpse (instead of its original name, The Copse. With that sentence you should be able to understand where this book is going. Our two main characters are Crispin Catchpole and Myles Golden (Hence the title “Crisp and Golden”), two men who are in love with each in their special ways. Crispin’s father, Christopher does not agree with the way his son lives and the name of the place. He has ideas of his own and he has partnered with a team who plan to clean everything up. The blurb tells us that the book is full of venom, vengeance and vitriol and while this indeed sound ominous, they provide great fun in the novel.

Since I am relating any of the plot to you, I can only say that this is one of the books that is fun to read while making us think at the same time and if for no other reason, this is a wonderful read. I also love that author Anderson has dedicated this book to me and to Sophie, my Jack Russell Terrorist. I do not want anyone to think I am short changing them by not saying more but once you begin to read you will understand why I have only written what will not give anything away.

“ANGELS WITH TETHERED WINGS”— Not Your Usual Zombie Film

angels poster

“ANGELS WITH TETHERED WINGS”

Not Your Usual Zombie Film

Amos Lassen

I thought I had seen and read enough about zombies but then along came a new film from Babaloo Studios and directed, written and edited by Steven Vasquez (who always has something interesting to say or to see in his films). “Angels with Tethered Wings” is a zombie movie so to speak (it his zombies in it) but is totally fresh and lots of fun. It also has some very good-looking young gay men who bare it all for the camera and for us. I found it interesting that this film came when it did because on the same day I read an article professing the mainstreaming of porn. Now I would not say that “Angels” is porn because what we see is integral to the story; the film is an erotic drama and so nudity is important to the plot. Without it, I am not sure that we would understand what is being shown us.

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The story comes to us in three parts and they all share the theme of hope and forgiveness. Grant Gleason (Cory Tyndall) does something wrong but for the right reason (Remember Robin Hood?). This is quite a dark film about living and loosing and it is full of twists and turns. So you may wonder from where the zombies—from where else than beyond the grave? Grant tries to right by wrong but it backfires and the lovers that he helped to become free become trapped. It gets a bit more involved but for that you will have to either see or get a copy of the film. By the end of the film we are certainly aware of all the double-dealings and double crossing. The cast is quite cute and clever.

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Aside from the already mentioned Cory, there are the following: Brandon Rife (Timothy), an ex porn star on the run, very hot Addison Graham as Jessie, Timothy’s lover, Trip Langley as Cody who is both Timothy’s number one fan and number one tormentor, Naiia Lajoie is Vanessa, a conniving woman, Robby Valls is Chewy, Andrew Vega is Nicky, Cameron Ellis is Lewis, the hard of hearing wannabe thug and Ivan Bohman is Lawrence, a down on his luck man with a dream.

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I would not say that the acting is of the caliber of the Academy Awards but the idea for the film is smart. We have, of late, seen a myriad of movies about LGBT life and while many are very good, there have not been many fresh and new ideas. Perhaps this is the reason that I enjoyed “Angels” so much. It is unlike anything we have seen before and the cast seemed to have enjoyed themselves making this film. Their feelings are felt by the viewer who becomes part of the film as he watches and tries to analyze the crazy goings-on. This is one of those films to be simply enjoyed and anything more is, as we say in Louisiana, lagniappe. I do not know when the film will be available for everyone so keep your eyes and ears open for it.

“The Snow Garden” by Christopher Rice— Drawn Together

the snow garden

Rice, Christopher. “The Snow Garden”, Pocket Star, 2004

Drawn Together

Amos Lassen

It is winter at Atherton University and three freshmen find themselves drawn together by both fate and a compulsion they do not understand. The three come from totally different backgrounds and college seems to be the way to have a better life and a chance to break away from the lives they had been living. However, as we all know, the past does not go away quickly or easily….

Atherton is a modern campus that prides itself in diversity. We meet Kathryn, a San Francisco girl running from dark sexual secrets back home; her black, militant lesbian roommate, April; her best friend, Randall, a mysterious well dressed gay student and his roommate Jesse, an enigmatic and apparently irresistible sex god. Then there is Tim, gay muckraker for the campus paper; and Dr. Eric Eberman, an art history professor with a theory about Hieronymus Bosch. “Eberman is sleeping with Randall, and the news of his wife’s sudden demise makes for a panicky recall of events of nearly 20 years ago. Randall, having just broken up with Tim, is finding it harder and harder to resist Jesse’s mysterious magnetism, but in order to find out whether Eric is a murderer, starts sleeping with Tim again to probe Eric’s past. Kathryn finds herself drawn to one of Eric’s misfit grad students, and April, seems to exist just to counterbalance the XY pH of the overall trend of the book.

“The Snow Garden” is a mystery but unfortunately it is a bit pretentious. Here we see gay as protagonists but author Rice seems to use them as mouthpieces for his own philosophies. The book starts off with promise and the plot does capture us but as we continue to read we begin to wonder what is really going on and is Rice trying to pull us in to become characters in the story. It is hard to keep things organized as there is a lot of jumping back and forth between characters of which there are too many. The book is well written and it is creative but the content needs to be more finely tuned.

Christopher Rice has created a darkly disturbing, graphic, twisted vision of the hellish side of human nature and this is what made it a difficult read for me. It bothered me that there seemed to be no hope.

“A Density of Souls” by Christopher Rice— Envy, Passion and Murder

a density of souls

Rice, Christopher. “A Density of Souls”, Miramax Book, 2000.

Envy, Passion and Murder

Amos Lassen

Meredith, Brandon, Greg and Stephen are four high school students in New Orleans learn that friendship is fragile. Brandon and Greg are football players and realize the hero status they gain with their participation in the school’s sport. Meredith, for whatever reason, joins the in-crowd of bulimic students while Stephen becomes the object of homophobic taunting. Just as they are making new alliances at school, two violent deaths threaten to tear them apart and ruin the bond that the four once shared. We then meet them again five years later when new information about their friendship emerges and what was once thought to be an accident becomes reclassified as murder. As truth comes out, we learn other secrets and violence begins to threaten the entire city of New Orleans. We see that there is, indeed, a dark side to being a teen in the modern age.

New Orleans is the perfect setting for the novel—the climate and the traditions of old Southern aristocracy and family history are as much a part of the plot as are the characters.

The four friends watch their friendship be destroyed by a sexual incident that takes place just before the foursome enters high school at Cannon, an exclusive prep institution of learning. Stephen is ostracized by his three former friends, who become the most popular kids on campus, who’d just as soon forget the way they behaved to one who had been past of their lives. Author Rice gives us quite a look at the privileged high-school students. The book’s narrative is filled with envy, passion, and rage. Since I am familiar with New Orleans, I immediately recognized so much including the school where the four study.

Stephen Conlin, whose father committed suicide, is a sensitive homosexual boy who quickly becomes the victim of cruelty and derision from the school’s popular crowd, led by his former friends, Greg and Brandon. However, these two bullies are covering up a painful childhood secret in their persecution of Stephen and Meredith knows what it is.

But before we learn what it is, there is a terrible hurricane, a student dies and another student has a breakdown, a parent is institutionalized, a gay bar is bombed, a paternity is discovered and several families fall apart.

The story opens with Stephen, Greg, Brandon, and Meredith and we see hem as innocent children, but not for long. What Rice shows us is that the truth, in essence, is that the friendship bonds we make in our childhood shape us through our entire lives. Something takes place between these friends that forever change the paths their lives take as they enter their adolescence and they are forced to deal with homosexuality, crimes against humanity, alcoholism, domestic violence, and suicide are just as much main characters as the four friends. When a hurricane hits New Orleans, emotions and secrets play out amongst the characters, shocking secrets are revealed. Not only does the storm do heavy physical damage, it also emotionally affects our characters. The way it all ends is shocking.

With topics such as high school popularity, homophobia, family secrets, madness and rage, we know we are in for an exciting read. This is Rice’s first book and it opened for him simply to walk through and be regarded as an important voice in LGBT literature.

“STAINED GLASS WINDOWS”— Gay People and the Church

Shirley-Phelps-Roper-stained-glass-rainbows

“Stained Glass Rainbows”

 Gay People and the Church

It is easy to see the battle over gay rights in the West as being between LGBT people and the Christian Church. However, that’s to ignore the fact many Christians believe in gay rights, and nor does it really deal with what the bible or even the major denominations say about homosexuality (despite what you may think, the Catholic Church’s official position is that being gay is fine, it’s just homosexual acts they have an issue with – which is admittedly extremely problematic). The new documentary Stained Glass Rainbows takes a look at the subject, and you can watch the trailer below.

 ‘Stained Glass Rainbows” looks at the most controversial subject facing America today: the collision between the LGBT community and the Christian church. Can gays be Christian? Is homosexuality a sin? Is there a gay gene? Is there such a thing as an ex-gay? Both families and churches are being torn apart over these divisive issues. The film brings together the voices of the left, the right, the middle, and helps bridge the gulf through its dialogue. From gay pride parades to anti-gay protests, “Stained Glass Rainbows” confronts the controversy of faith through the hearts and minds of people on both sides of this uncivil war.

The filmmakers claim that the movie is ‘neither pro gay nor anti gay. Instead it examines the issues surrounding homosexuality and faith within a Christian context. How will you and your church respond to the LGBT people in your community?’