“THE MAFIA ONLY KILLS IN SUMMER”— A Black Comedy About Sicily and the Mafia

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“The Mafia Only Kills in Summer” (“La mafia uccide solo d’estate”)

A Black Comedy about Sicily and the Mafia

Amos Lassen

Arturo is a young boy who grows up in Palermo and he is the focus of this black comedy about 20 years of history of Sicily from 1970s to 1990s. It mocks Mafia Bosses and restores the generosity of the heroes of Antimafia.

Pierfrancesco Diliberto (Pif) is an Italian television star who directed this (his debut in directing) romantic comedy that mixes politics and crime and he also stars in it. in which he also stars as Arturo who narrates the film. He grew up with the mafia and, in fact, his first spoken word was “mafia”. We see that the Sicilian Mafia, in one way or another, has always had an impact in his life. Ever since he was a young boy, Arturo has had a crush on Flora. However, because of the dangerous circumstances in Palermo, he has lost contact with her for a while. His father hearing one of his speeches on television. Arturo’s passion for politics and his curiosity about the criminal activity in Palermo is one of the reasons why he chooses a career in journalism and he will have something of a rough time before he and Flora are reunited.

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Director Diliberto shines when exposing the assassinations perpetrated by the Mafiosi and how the people dealt with them and the romantic angle of the film takes a back seat to that. The film looks at the Cosa Nostra and its pernicious influence on the Sicilian population. Arturo is a kind of everyman and we are with him as he matures and deals with life, love, and the mafia. Palermo was a city back then where denial went hand-in-hand with stifled tolerance and a bloody war for Mafia supremacy was carried on with regular assassinations of rival mobsters and anti-Mafia crusaders. We see this through the eyes of Arturo and it is portrayed with humor and wit (as much as one can do with the Mafia). One critic has called the film, “Forest Gump takes on the mob”. You may not understand how someone can make the mafia and organized crime appear funny and for this alone the film is worth seeing—but there is much more to see as well. The title of the film comes from one of the many disingenuous myths that Arturo, the film’s gullible young hero comes to believe. While the film is very funny there is something very serious here.

The story is related in flashbacks and is a fictional biography of Arturo who was born on the same day as Vito Ciancimino, the mayor with links to the Mafia was elected. On that day there was also a massacre that was planned by a legendary crime boss. We see Arturo as a child and he harbors a crush on classmate Flora (Ginevra Antona).

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The film is set in what was probably the most dramatic in the history of Sicily and Palermo. Arturo learned early that nothing in Sicily is what it seems to be and also that many things can get a person killed. 
What I really like here is that I learned a lot about Sicily as I laughed through the film. The cast is excellent all around and while it is a comedy, it does deal with murders and assassinations.

“Best Lesbian Erotica 2015″ edited by Laura Antoniou— Simply Erotica

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Antoniou, Laura (editor). “Best Lesbian Erotica 2015”, Cleis Press, 2014.

Simply Erotica

Amos Lassen

Desire and hot sex are the topics that we read about in the twenty stories in this anthology of lesbian sex edited by Laura Antoniou. We see just how much times have changed with the variety and diversity of the stories here. Included are works by Lee Ann Keple and Katie King, Deborah Jannerson, Nicole Wolfe, Alexandra Delancey, Nan Andrews, Tin Horn, Sacchi Green, Catherine Lundoff, Avery Cassell, Miel Rose, Lisabet Sarai, Jean Roberta, Anna Watson, Cammy May Hunnicutt, Fiona Zedde, Theda Hudson, Beth Wyle, Andrea Dale, Xan West and BD Swain. It is absolutely amazing what a little liberation will do and we find that now people are much more willing to speak out than ever before. Erotica itself has not changed but now we will have the ability to not only write but to be open about it. Whether the sex comes on the first meeting or later, the fact that we can talk about it is a major accomplishment. What really makes erotica special and we see that here is that fantasies become realities.

Each story is a gift and if I, as a man, can say that I can just imagine what my sisters will have to say. These stories are very hot but they are also well written and believable. We are now part of a brave new world and the women in this collection have stepped up to the plate. If you are looking for an exciting read adventure, pick up a copy of “Best Lesbian Erotica 2015”.

“Best Bondage Erotica” edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel— Exploring BDSM

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Bussel, Rachel Kramer (editor). “Best Bondage Erotica 2015”, Cleis Press, 2015.

Exploring BDSM

Amos Lassen

So many of us know nothing about BDSM and I am constantly amazed at all I learn about it. There is one name that constantly crops up when I do read and that is Rachel Kramer Bussel, the editor of this anthology. She seems to be the authority and is always a step before the rest. Of course one of the things making people curious about bondage and sadomasochism has been the books in the “Fifty Shades” series and the stories here explore fantasies and desires that we do not refer to as vanilla.

There are twenty-one stories in the anthology by such writers as Erin Spinalle, Nichelle Gregory, Jodie Griffin, Annabeth Leong, LN Bey, Elizabeth Coldwell, D.L. King, L.C. Spoering, Jenne Davis, Shenoa Carroll Bradd, Lucy Felthouse, Elise Hepner, Anna Watson, Tim Rudolph, Sommer Marsden, Daddy X, Emily Bingham, Rob Rosen, Corvidae, Robert Black, and the editor, Rachel Kramer Bussel.

What is so interesting in this year’s anthology is that bondage and kinky sex comes about in a variety of ways and from diverse outlets—“yoga, knitting, a birthday gift’ webcam, a collar and so on. However, more than anything else, we see bondage from the perceptions of characters that take delight in intimacy and power as well as each knowing his/her place. And there is tenderness here as well. The stories are well written and fun to read as well as keep us informed on some of the latest trends and activities in BDSM. Once again Rachel Kramer Bussel delivers a blockbuster.

“A Useless Man” by Sait Falk Abasiyanik— Stories from the Turkish

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Abasiyanik, Sait Falk. “A Useless Man: Selected Stories”, Translated from the Turkish by Alexander Dawe, Maureen Freely, Archipelago Books, 2015.

Stories from the Turkish

Amos Lassen

It is interesting that I spent so many years in the Middle East and I never came across the name of Sait Falk Abasiyanik. I have since learned that he was born in Adapazarı in 1906 and died in Istanbul in 1954. He wrote twelve books of short stories, two novels, and a book of poetry and his prose is a celebration of the natural world and he vividly wrote about the struggles of his characters among which we find ancient coffeehouse proprietors and priests, dream-addled fishermen and poets of the Princes’ Isles, lovers and wandering minstrels of another time. I understand that many of his stories are autobiographical and deal with “his frustration with social convention, the relentless pace of westernization, and the slow yet steady ethnic cleansing of his city”. He was limited in his writing by the restrictions that were placed in language and culture by the new Republic but he did manage to hide the greater truths among his words. Today is literature is honored and his name appears on a major and prestigious short story award in Turkey. I understand that nearly every Turk knows by heart a line or a story by Sait Faik.

His stories are filled with intelligence and we sense his sincerity as we read. He feels strongly about love and loneliness and while he is full of surprises, he could not be surprised when he was alive. Each story has what is called a little moment and this is what opens his prose. He wrote with a brutal honesty and with humanity.

The stories reflect the country where he lived and the gossip that was spread and each story has something from his human heart. Sait Falk set his stories in Istanbul after the Ottoman reign and his characters run the gamut of Turkish life. His stories take us away to a certain place and time but they have morals for the present. He alternates lyricism with earthiness, his language is simple and stark yet beautiful. Some say that he wrote for those on the margins of life and there are those critics that maintain that Sait Faik’s work shaped the course of twentieth century Turkish literature. He often said that he would die if he was not allowed to write.

The stories are meditations on natural beauty and village life and while there is truth in them, it is hidden. Themes of lost innocence, unrequited love, misanthropy are here and they are related to us from gorgeous metaphors.

The language combines prose with the magical and they are not always easy to read but it hard not to fall under their spell. It is almost hard to believe that this is the first translation into English and it comes after its author has been dead for some sixty years.

“I Left It On The Mountain: A Memoir” by Kevin Sessums— Rebuilding a Life

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Sessums, Kevin. “I Left It On The Mountain: A Memoir”, St. Martin’s Press, 2015.

Rebuilding a Life

Amos Lassen

I have been waiting to read this ever since I heard that author Kevin Sessums was working on it. I was deeply impressed and moved by “Mississippi Sissy”, his previous book but for some reason, it felt unfinished and I understand that this is where the story continues. While it does not directly follow “Sissy”, it does pick up when the author is 53 and wakes up realizing that he had no idea how he was going to deal with the interview with Hugh Jackman that was scheduled for that day. In the past he had conducted many interviews with celebrities but now he also had to deal with his life that felt like it was no longer in his control and was quickly getting away from him.

He takes us back to when he was a struggling actor in New York, when he worked for Andy Warhol at “Interview” magazine and for Tina Brown at “Vanity Fair”, when he had a lot of anonymous sex and his positive HIV diagnosis and his spiraling downward into addiction.

This is the story of redemption and how it came to Sessums atop Mt. Kilimanjaro or while walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostelo and on the cold beaches of Provincetown. You will read about celebrities such as Daniel Radcliffe, Madonna, Courtney Love and Diane Sawyer and there are also those anonymous companions “corporeal and otherwise” that he had met over the course of his life. Everyone loves the story of a comeback, of “fall and rebirth” and this is one that is a fascinating read. Quite basically, it is Sessums’ story of his fall and his rise (or rebirth, should you prefer). While this is a dark read at times, it is a rewarding experience all around. I often wonder why sometimes it takes us to be knocked silly and lose everything in order to pull ourselves up. Life is not easy and we must learn to take the good with the bad and then differentiate between the two. Sometimes we can’t be bothered to do so and sometimes we are a bit too late and e are overwhelmed when things do not go our way. Reading how Kevin Sessums managed to overcome obstacles, not just once but several times, let us see that there is always hope to lead a good life. It is not always easy to say “I’m sorry” especially when you must say it to yourself and if there is something to be learned here it is that we do have to apologize to ourselves.

Sessums’s storyline goes back to his childhood often when something of the present reminds him of the past. Childhood in Mississippi was during the time that integration was taking place and we are reminded that racial equality is a blemish on our past. It was also a time when Sessums was discovering himself and I can tell you from experiences in my own life that being a “sissy” in the South can be terrible. When he was just 13 years old, he was molested by a minister in his sixties who did so often. When he got to New York in 1978, he came into contact with recreational drugs and glamour of fame but he also learned that there is a price for everything. One of the high prices he had to pay was learning that he was HIV positive when he was fifty years old.

The beauty of biography is entering the life of another person and hear what he has to say. It is not up to reader to agree or to disagree with the writer—the life we read about has already been led. I have learned that in order to move forward it is necessary to release the past and put it far behind us. This is a difficult chore but it is even more difficult to heal because it is arduous and takes time and the ability to forgive. Some of us never get that chance. Sessums is lucky that he has been able to do so. He was able to acknowledge his memories and in doing so he was winning the battle. But his Methamphetamine addiction cost him a career that many of us would anything to have. From that he went to poverty and homelessness. He shares his story with brutal honesty and sometimes with controlled wit. Reading this can help those who battle with drugs and then have to deal with sobriety. It takes a very brave person to bare himself to people he does not know and I am so glad that he has. I have never met Kevin Sessums but he is a Facebook friend of mine so I have been following parts of his story for quite a while. However, reading it in sections or parts does have the same effect as reading the entire book. Forget the name-dropping and the sex and look at the man—we should be proud to have him around— I know that I am.

“APPLES FROM THE DESERT”— Israeli Film and the Reality of Life

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“Apples from the Desert” (“Tapuchim min Hamidbar”)

Israeli Film and the Reality of Life

Amos Lassen

I am constantly amazed at the new Israeli cinema as it takes on subjects that are so relevant to life there today. Here we meet Rebecca Abarbanel who lives in Jerusalem and is the only daughter of an Orthodox Jewish family. (Abarbanel was one of the great Torah scholars and commentators and this gives us an idea about the kind family she comes from).

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Rebecca is not happy with the haredi lifestyle in which she lives and becomes interested in the secular world more and more. One day she runs away with a young man to a kibbutz in the desert.

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At first viewing this seems to be a film about the flight of a young woman from the haredi lifestyle but it is about what drove her away: was it her home life or the haredi life? And, can a critique of the home life be separated from a critique of haredi life?



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The movie is much deeper than that. 

The woman flees to a kibbutz that is the opposite of what she knew: she not only has freedom of choice, but freedom of thought. Science is taught as the opposite of religious belief. It is the symbolism in the film that makes it so interesting and important. The apple in history has always been an important symbol and here it represents an awakening that is not just sexual but defying the law not to eat from the forbidden tree.

“DIVING NORMAL”— An Unlikely Love Triangle

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“Diving Normal”

An Unlikely Love Triangle

Amos Lassen

In “Diving Normal”, Fulton (Philipp Karner), a graphic novelist and Gordon (Scotty Crowe), a library worker are neighbors in Brooklyn. They both fall for the same beautiful girl who is a bit broken. The film is based on a play by Ashlin Halfnight, who adapted the script for the screen with the actor-producers Scotty Crowe and Philipp Karner. The two men were neighbors when one of Fulton’s old high school classmates, Dana (Susie Abromeit), a model-beautiful health worker who’s in recovery for drug and alcoholic abuse, appears. The three of them combat abandonment, addiction and the struggle with conforming to traditional relationships.

Dana carries emotional scars with her and they are deep. Nonetheless and against the advice of her addiction counselor (Tonye Patano), she falls for Fulton and they begin a romance. Just about the same time she becomes friendly with Gordon and she cheers for him while he practices diving at the “Y”. Neither she nor Fulton realize that Gordon has developed feelings for Dana that are stronger than friendship. This could certainly cause things to become uncomfortable.

This is Kristijan Thor’s feature directorial debut and the acting is fine while the plot is a humanistic exploration of the unexpected ways in which relationships come into being, exist and fall apart but even more than that it is a look at the meaning of “normal”. The film is intense and thought provoking. As we watch, we think we know what is going to happen next only to discover that the lives of the characters propel the story forward and we can never really know what they think. We see the complexities of lives that have crossed and intermeshed with each other and that will forever and that each character will be changed forever by what they experience here. I learned that it is really impossible to define the word “normal” because those with whom we come into contact are those that make us who we are.

“THIRTEEN OR SO MINUTES”— Talking It Over

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“Thirteen to So Minutes”

Talking It Over

Amos Lassen

Two straight men have sex with each other and then talk about it afterwards. One of them likes it better than the other and each man speaks about his feelings for the other and they also try to convince each other that they are correct. We do not see them have sex (damn!!) and it is really interesting to hear what they have to say about their first sexual liaison with another guy.

They tentatively agree that this was something that should not have happened but each man was taken in by the beauty of the other man and as this happened they discovered a emotion that they were not aware of having. There is also a message here – “a true humanitarian value” means remaining open to something new. Life happens by chance and nothing is certain. This is a very brave take on how we live.

“UTOPIA”— A Decaying Utopia and Two Boys in Love

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“Utopia” (“Utopies”)

A Decaying Utopia and Two Boys in Love

Amos Lassen

Because Thomas (Pierre Elliott) is thought to be gay, the kids in his poor neighborhood will not leave him alone. Via the Internet he meets Julien who comes from a different neighborhood and social class. It seems that Julien (Romain Poli) is looking for a different kind of experience than those that he usually has. Together the two boys find the suburbs of Paris and they discover utopian architecture that date back to times when people lived in hope of a better future. Seeing this, the boys begin to think about their own utopia—the one that they wish they could have.

Director Manfred Rott uses the device of taking his characters to those kind of places, which while they may look strange today, were built, with the hopes of better tomorrows. Today the buildings look old and decaying yet there is still some hope left in t.

As Julien and Thomas explore the suburbs around Paris and visit vacated utopian architectural projects, they become inspired and boy hopes for his own personal utopia where they are free to love each other. There is something very innocent and sweet in this short film as it deals with the idea of a utopia (or utopias) of the past in contrast too the modern practices of hooking up online.

“Studio 54″ by Hasse Persson— The Legend Continues

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Persson, Hans. “Studio 54”, Max Ström, 2015.

The Legend Continues

Amos Lassen

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We have grown up with the legend that was Studio 54. It opened in1977, at the height of the disco craze, at 254 West 54th Street in New York City. Studio 54 was and still is the world’s most famous disco. Those who frequented the club included Andy Warhol, Elizabeth Taylor, Mick Jagger, Bianca Jagger, Jerry Hall, Debbie Harry, Grace Jones, Michael Jackson, Calvin Klein, Elton John, John Travolta, Brooke Shields and Tina Turner. Once inside there was atmosphere of “unadulterated hedonism” and everyone who was who, who is who and who was going to be who were there. Hasse Persson captured it in photographs. He had been a frequent guest at the club and his photos have become their own legends. He captured the club’s famed revelers, dancers in costume and general, drunken exhilaration by many of these photos have gone unseen— until now, some thirty-five years after it was suddenly closed. Now you can see it all yourself in this wonderful book that documents the craziness.

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“Hasse Persson has had a long career as a photojournalist. Though Swedish born, he spent nearly a quarter century, from 1967 to 1990, working in New York. He has published five books on America and his photographs have appeared in such publications as The New York Times, Time, Newsweek and Life. He worked as the artistic director of the Hasselblad Center in Gothenburg and today he is the artistic director of Strandverket Konsthall in Marstrand, Sweden.”

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