“Unbreak Broken: Coming About Book 3” by JK Hogan— Rory’s Story

unbreak broken

Hogan, JK. “Unbreak Broken: Coming About Book 3″, Wilde City, 2015.

Rory’s Story

Amos Lassen

Rory Douglas has not been lucky lately. His marriage is falling apart and he is undergoing intensive psychotherapy trying to understand the results of his own childhood trauma. It seems that the only thing he has going for him right now and that he truly enjoys is teaching photography to gifted high school students. Bennett Foster is a harbor patrol officer who is co-parenting Addison, his teenage daughter, with Jessie, a high school friend. Then he met Addison’s photography teacher and he cannot stop thinking about him. Rory and Bennett soon become friends as they help a young person deal with a friend who is dying and there is sexual tension between them but Bennett knows that he must keep his family together while at the same time Rory is trying to understand these new feelings that he has for Bennett.

While this is the third book in the “Coming About” series, it can be read alone (as I did—I eventually may read the other two but it is not necessary to do so). It is obvious that author JK Hogan did her research to write about Rory’s sessions with his analyst and this is handled well. We go back into Rory’s past so that we can understand him better and we really get to know him. We see him as a hurt and confused men who does not know how to deal with his problems. It took Bennett to bring Rory out into the kind of person he is supposed to be. We feel his frustrations and his hurt and we are with him as he comes into his own. In fact Hogan has done a wonderful job creating her characters all the way through.

“STONEWALL”— The Reviews are In

stonewall poster“Stonewall”

The Reviews Are in

Amos Lassen

“Not the most imaginative or politically trenchant retelling, but entertaining and at times quite moving”. David Rooney for “The Hollywood Reporter”.

We can never forget that the freedoms that we have today as members of the gay community are because those before us dared to stand up, speak out and fight. The birth of the gay liberation movement has been attributed to the Stonewall riots of 1969 in New York City and we have a new film directed Roland Emmerich’s “Stonewall” about what happened that night. It is just too bad that the film is something less than we deserve in order to honor those who were there that night.


It was very different back then in 1969. Many gays were thrown out of their families when they came out and then they left home and gravitated to big urban centers where they could live as the pleased and openly so.

Danny (Jeremy Irvine) was one such young man. Danny had been having sex with the football quarterback in the shadows and this quite upset the coach who happened to be his father. Now Danny could very much have been quite a heroic character but for some reason in this film, he comes across as something of a caricature. With his arrival in New York, he meets a myriad of stereotypes. It is here that any creditability of the film is lost. Stereotypes are just that—commonly held lies that perhaps are based on some truth but by and large are dishonest representations of people. The Stonewall riot that we see here is an insult to those who were in it and it is insulting to those of us who watch it in this film.


But there is some good acting here, namely Irvine as Danny. When the movie begins, we find him in New York, when he walks into a local bar and meets Queen Tooey (Richard Jutras). Danny knows he is gay and he tries to find a place in New York City where there are others like him. We see Danny with is new friend of which one of them, Ray/Ramona (Jonny Beauchamp), has growing feelings towards him. Then the police start pushing hard on homosexuals with non-stop arrests and these are what led to the Stonewall riots.


However, let me warn you that the riots that are a seminal event in LGBT history just become the backdrop for the story of a homeless boy from Indiana looking for friendship in NYC. Roland Emmerich treats a seminal event in the gay pride movement as the mere backdrop to the otherwise vanilla story of a homeless Indiana teen looking for community in New York City. There is none of the spectacles that we have come to expect from Emmerich—he puts spectacle and fantasy away and brings us an event that really happened and changed history and he does so by using the dynamism of 1969’s historic Greenwich Village uprising as a platform to address the epidemic of homelessness among LGBTQ youth. This itself is a great idea especially now that we are in a period of LGBT freedom that is unequaled in our history but he does so through the use of stereotypes.


Expectations for this film were high as we saw in the controversy that accompanied a trailer that was released early on. Let me see that the film is problematic but it should be seen before conclusions are drawn. It is not as bad as some thought it would be but neither is it as good as it could have been. The politics present problems as does the composite main character. There is no subtlety about what the West Village’s Sheridan Square means to Danny, who stumbles it is a kind of a daze. He is stunned by all the “alternative” lifestyles he sees— boys in girls’ clothes, men openly flirting with men and older trolls whose sexual appetites cannot seem to be appeased. Danny was rescued from the trolls by Ray who is a flamboyantly effeminate Puerto Rican with long hair and handmade ladies’ costumes.



Are we seeing a dysfunctional family drama or something else? Because Danny has never really lived an urban lifestyle before he really sticks out. He is amazed by what he sees— the acts of civil disobedience: shoplifting from Village stores, cross-dressing in public and turning tricks for both pleasure and profit. Ray certainly cares for Danny, as does local activist Trevor Nichols (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). After picking Danny up one night at the Stonewall Inn, Trevor brings the kid to meetings and offers him a place to stay directly opposite the Stonewall. The Stonewall happens to be Ray’s favorite bar even though it is dark and nasty.

In 1969, at a time when the “gay community” didn’t exist as anything so unified, Stonewall was a place to meet and connect with others and we see that it captures that in the film.

The film does not ignore that many of the patrons of the Stonewall made money to spend there by having sex with those who would pay for it. I really wanted to like this film and I indeed so like the lead character of Billy. The others do not fare so well. Danny’s fast friend Ray, the actually gay Jonny Beauchamp, lisps and screeches his way through the movie. Danny’s sister who totally supports him (Joey King) threw her acting away when she came on screen.

So many of the other actors are wooden in their portrayals of the characters that changed the course of gay history. What we see is fiction and not what really happened at Stonewall.


Emmerich even with the purest of intentions does have the intelligence to make the film that should have been made instead of this.



“The Disgustings: Save The Date”

Hating Everything

Amos Lassen

‘The Disgustings” is a short film about a couple of gay men who hate and bitch about absolutely everything. They put down the world around them as a way to ignore their own deficiencies.

Writer/director/star Jordan Firstman stars with Drew Droege, and we see where the duo’s alter egos are giving relationship advice that nobody has asked them for.

“xoxo: Sweet and Sexy Romance” edited by Kristina Wright— Lukewarm

xoxo sweet

Wright, Kristina (editor). “xoxo: Sweet and Sexy Romance”, Cleis Press, 2015.


Amos Lassen

There was a time when I looked forward to reading something from Cleis Press but then the company changed hands and the wonderful Brenda Knight walked in search of greener pastures. It now seems that any press other than Cleis is greener pastures. Someone, the press has managed to hold onto some of its regular author of which Kristina Wright is one but I suspect that she and the other will also be looking for new presses to publish their work. This collection of 38 stories consists of selections from two-to four pages but they are lukewarm as compared to what we used to get from Cleis. Here is what one reviewer had to say about this anthology: “The stories are amazingly cheesy, and there’s very little “sexy” in it. Or rather, it’s what a teenage girl might find sexy”. It really hurts to see one of the presses that has published LGBT literature take a nosedive into mediocrity but we can hope that either this will change or the press will disappear completely.

“The Sages: Character, Context, & Creativity, Volume IV: From the Mishna to the Talmud” by Binyamin Lau— Bringing the Talmud to Life

the sages

Lau, Binyamin. “The Sages: Character, Context, & Creativity, Volume IV: From the Mishna to the Talmud”, Maggid 2015.

Bringing the Talmud to Life

Amos Lassen

Rabbi Binyamin Lau brings the Talmud and its world to life in his Volume Four of “The Sages”. Taken together with the other three volumes we get a look at the lives and times of the great Jewish thinkers their followers and their families as well as their ideologies. We get a front seat and see “the historical challenges they faced and the creative wisdom with which they faced them”. What is so amazing here is that as we learn about their worlds we also learn about ours. In the last few years I have ready many books about the great commentators of the Bible but I have never been so pulled into anything like I have been with “The Sages”. I recently heard Rabbi Lau speak at the memorial after the Pride parade in Jerusalem this year and the same compassion that I heard then is in his writing. The series of “The Sages” is the first time that Lau’s work appears in English.

We learn here that the Mishna immediately became a quasi-sacred work with a fixed text that was interpreted, used and studied to explain all other teachings. It was transformed into an authoritative and “canonicla halakhic” and with it began an important and major new period in Jewish history— The Talmudic Age. The Mishna was the basis “for thousands of discussions that involved analyzing its finer points, comparing it to parallel sources, and interpreting each sentence and phrase, thereby creating Talmudic discourse”. It is with the sages of the time that we leave the Mishna era and move into the era of the Talmud.

“The Films of Patricio Guzmán”— Looking at Chile

five films

The Films of Patricio Guzmán

Looking at Chile

Amos Lassen

Coming from Icarus Films is a special eight-disc box set collection Five Films by Patricio Guzmán featuring five of the master documentarian’s seminal works. Filmed over more than 35 years, Guzmán’s films here depict Chile’s path over that time, as she dealt with political trauma and trying to come to terms with its history.

Guzmán’s epic body of work is the unprecedented record of one country’s journey and one filmmaker’s evolution. The box set will be released on Tuesday, September 29, 2015. On the same date the films will also be available on VOD.

Patricio Guzmán was born in Santiago, Chile in 1941 and is one of the leading documentary filmmakers in the world. He studied filmmaking at the Film Institute at the Catholic University of Chile, and at the Official School of Film in Madrid. After the 1973 Chilean coup Guzmán left the country and has lived in Cuba, Spain and France, where he currently resides. Six of his films have premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.

Guzmán’s “The Battle for Chile” is one of the most widely praised documentary films of all time, and was named “one of the 10 best political documentary films in the world” by Cineaste.

The box set includes:

The Battle of Chile: Part One (1975), Part Two (1976) and Part Three (1978), the epic and universally acclaimed chronicle of Chile’s open and peaceful socialist revolution, and of the violent counter-revolution against it in 1973. 

  • Chile, Obstinate Memory (1997), the poignant portrait of a nation battling with historical reminiscences.
  • The Pinochet Case (2001), the haunting story of the landmark legal case against General Augusto Pinochet before and after his arrest in London in 1998
  • Salvador Allende (2004), the poetic and definitive portrait of the Chilean leader; and
  • Nostalgia for the Light (2011), the gorgeous, personal meditation on astronomy, archaeology, and politics.


There are also two major bonuses:

“Talks on the Parasha” by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz— Short Essays on the Weekly Torah Reading

talks n the parasha

Steinsaltz, Adin. “Talks on the Parasha”, Koren, 2015

Short Essays on the Weekly Torah Reading

Amos Lassen

Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz is a teacher, philosopher, social critic and prolific author who has been hailed by Time Magazine as a “once-in-a-millennium scholar.” He has given his life to making sure that the Talmud is accessible and understandable to all Jews and for forty-five years he has worked on a monumental elucidation of the entire Talmud in modern Hebrew, now used all over the world. Rabbi Steinsaltz then partnered with Koren Publishers Jerusalem to launch the Koren Talmud Bavli, a groundbreaking new edition of the Talmud which includes modern English translation, color illustrations and previously-censored passages.

In this volume, he gives us short essays on the weekly Torah portion and he does so with an atmosphere that is warm and that feels personal. It is as if he is speaking directly to each person who reads his work. According to the rabbi, there are many meanings to the Torah and these

“exist independently and are connected to one another, inextricably linked from within and from without”. The Torah is essentially the book of the chronicles of man. With the Torah we can understand not only what happened in the past and what ought to happen in the future, but also the meaning of our lives.

The weekly commentaries that are collected here touch upon one point in that reading and that is a meaningful idea. Many of the essays are based upon discourses the Rabbi delivered over the years that he was at Yeshivat Mekor Chaim, Bat Ayin Yeshiva and Yeshivat Tekoa. There are also essays that were written especially for inclusion in this collection. They are reflective and conversational and because many of them were presented orally the style will be different than in other written works.

From the totality of the Torah we get the history of man, of the Jewish people and of the Jewish individual. It becomes something of a mirror in which we can see the end of existence and our own reflection simultaneously.

“Backstairs Billy The life of William Tallon, the Queen Mother’s Most Devoted Servant” by Tom Quinn— Funny Stories

backstairs billy

Quinn, Tom. “Backstairs Billy The life of William Tallon, the Queen Mother’s Most Devoted Servant”, The Robson Press, 2015.

Funny Stories

Amos Lassen

William Tallon, who died in 2007, was a shopkeeper’s son from the Midlands who rose through the ranks to work for the Queen Mother for more than fifty years. He was known as “Backstairs Billy,” and “he was charming, amusing, occasionally bitchy—and extremely promiscuous”.

Billy adored the Queen Mother and she adored Billy and this might have been because of his high-camp style and outrageous remarks about the well-born, royal press people and advisers, but mostly because he made her gin and tonics just the way she liked them— with nine-tenths gin and one-tenth tonic. We read about the royal family as seen by one of its servants and it is at times outrageously funny, scandalous, sometimes shocking, but always fascinating.

Even with his humble beginnings as a shopkeeper’s son in Coventry to “Page of the Backstairs” at Clarence House, William Tallon, or ‘Backstairs Billy’ as he came to be known, always knew he was destined for a life in the royal circle. He was a collector and fan of all things related to the royal family. Even as a youngster he was fascinated by pageantry and excess.

Billy entered royal service at the age of fifteen and for the following fifty years he became one of the most notorious figures, and most remarkable characters to have ever worked for the royal household.

This book is a supposed biography of William Tallon who was in royal service for 50 years with most of those years serving as the Queen Mother’s personal butler. The author tells us that he never interviewed Tallon and in reality, Tallon never gave an interview to the media or to an author. Therefore this book is based upon reminiscences from Tallon’s acquaintances and friends. There are missing parts about Tallon’s life; especially his younger years. In a book of this kind we usually get photographs but there are none here. I conclude that this is not a biography but rather a history with cute anecdotes and some biographical data.

Yes, there are interesting tidbits about life at Clarence House and what his job entailed but it’s not filled with gossip. Most of the stories are irrelevant and just humorous asides but I must say that we sense the affection that the author has for his subject. There is also an interesting reference to a rumor that there was an organized effort by the royal family’s representatives to interfere with the papers and documents left behind by Tallon.

“Lessons in Leadership: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible” by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks— Power, Authority and Leadership

Lessons in Leadership

Sacks, Jonathan Rabbi. “Lessons in Leadership: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible”, Maggid, 2015.

Power, Authority and Leadership

Amos Lassen

 This is the companion volume the series “Covenant & Conversation” by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks in which he looks at the weekly Torah portions for insights into the nature of power, authority, and leadership. We begin with the premise that no man is born a leader and then let the Torah explores the principles, and perils, of becoming one. Lessons in Leadership reveals the biblical secrets of influence, and they are as relevant now as they were three thousand years ago.

It is important to remember that the Bible was written by people who over three thousand years ago struggled with finding better ways to organize socially especially as they moved from a nomadic society to small communities and then ultimately to larger ones. We are aware how, when going down to Egypt, that the country was already an empire and it was then that Moses and others established the norms of governance for those who had been part of Egypt and who left her with her vices and then began to build something new.

Rabbi Saks looks at the principles of leadership in the Bible as well as the structures of authority and he shows how the struggles that we face today can use the guidance of those who came before us. We seem to have a strong will to refer back to dependency on authority when times are mot good and we are unable to solve certain problems. Rabbi Sacks also gives us insight into leadership: he shows how an individual whose has been grated authority (either human or divine or both) can develop and maintain the self-discipline to develop collective capacity. In the bible we saw how the culture of dependency can change a culture and how a people that had been enslaved for a long period becomes a society in which the members were called upon to take responsibility. It is, as Sacks, says the way to become partners in the “ongoing work of creation”.

It is necessary to understand the difference between leadership as a practice and a calling to all of us to take part while the structures of governance and authority specify the roles we are to take. There are those that lead from a position of authority and there are those who lead without such a position.

In order to survive and continue in a world that is constantly changing, we need to learn about the evolution in our cultures that will allow for the knowledge, wisdom, critical thinking and innovation. Rabbi Sacks show us how the lessons of those who came before us are part of our collective memory and this can indeed help us meet the challenges of leadership and authority. We can find the beginnings of answers to the major questions of authority and leadership in the Five Books of Moses but it is up to us to continue to add to those answers.

We share a partnership with God that goes both ways and therefore the plan of God can be changed by dialogue. It is necessary to learn to listen and when we do so God listens as well. If God, the ultimate authority listens and learns so can we. Here we learn of both divine and human authority but the point is that we can. Leadership is important but it is not an end-all.

“VICIOUS”— They’re Back!!


‘VICIOUS” Season Two

They’re Back!!

Amos Lassen

vicious 1a

Partners Freddie (Ian McKellen) and Stuart (Derek Jacobi) have lived together in a small central London flat for nearly 50 years. They constantly pick each other apart and hold on to petty insults for decades, Freddie and Stuart are always at each other’s throats, cracking snide remarks aimed at the other’s age, appearance and flaws. But beneath their vicious, co-dependent fighting, they have a deep love for one another. And not to worry—their relationship is certainly not characteristic of two gay men living lives together.


Freddie and Stuart are often joined by feisty best friend Violet (Frances de la Tour) and Ash (Iwan Rheon), their young, upstairs neighbor.

Freddie was a budding actor and Stuart worked in a bar when they first met, but their careers are pretty much over and their lives now consist of entertaining their frequent guests, making sure that their aged dog Balthazar is still breathing, and hurling caustic insults at each other.


I have found “Vicious” to be one of the funniest shows that I’ve seen all year. Even now in season two, most episodes open with Derek Jacobi trying to deal with his oblivious mother who hasn’t figured out that he’s gay. When he finally gets her off the phone, we enter his world and the vicious barbs of his partner Freddie. Some viewers have said that the show plays off jokes that might be thought to be stereotypical. Let’s face it, comedy works best when it comes from natural interaction and not inspecting everyone’s political and social standing before a setup.


Stuart and Freddie love each other and now that we have the second season, the show has really set in and we can have many good laughs.