“Two Natures” by Jendi Reiter— Coming of Age

two natures

Reiter, Jendi. “Two Natures”, Saddle Road Press, 2016.

Coming of Age

Amos Lassen

We have had so many coming of age stories that it seems like that the genre has played itself out. I figured that if there would be any more written, they would have to be really spectacular. That is exactly what Jendi Reiter’s “Two Natures” is.

Set in the early 1990s, Julian Selkirk is a fashion photographer in New York City. Julian had grown up in Atlanta with an abusive alcoholic father. The church condemned his sexual orientation and he was alienated and ashamed. His faith was lost and he knew he had to find some way to regain it. He needed to find his identity and so he looked for it by having had affairs with three men.

There was Phil Shanahan, a personal trainer who was quite tough and determined to find success. Richard Molineux, the second lover was a fashion magazine editor who gave him his first big break and then there was Peter Edelman, a left-wing activist with a secret life.

The 90s were a rough time for gay men. The AIDS epidemic was devastating the gay community and the racial tensions in New York were severe. Julian is concerned with beauty and he is not relationship oriented (or so he thought). After all his career is based upon how people look. We would tend to think that a person like this is probably shallow but that is not the care with Julian. As he finds his way, he learns that there is much past the initial impression and short relationships do nothing for the psyche. He uses his art as a way to pay his dues to society. He remains hurt about the rejection that he received from religion and tries to make up for that by losing himself in the nightlife of New York until he realizes that this is only a substitute for his faith which he never really lost—he just subjugated it to other desires. The spiritual crisis he suffers is much like the kind that so many gay people are forced to deal with as they try to understand why they are rejected by their religions. Here the key word is “religion” and it is not as some may think, “God”. There is certainly a big difference between the two.

Julian is determined to make it big in New York even though he feels like an outsider. As he experiences gay culture in the big city, he has to deal with suffering, pain and grief as he also struggles with God. He is often distracted (and if you live in a big city, you know what I mean). However that distraction does not really interfere his looking for love and acceptance. He uses his craft of photography as a way to change the world and to protect himself from it. It is quite easy to hide behind a camera just as so many today hide behind their computer screens.

Julian realized that the world is so much bigger than what he could see through a viewfinder and he ventures out into it. He wants to find what is real in this world and garbed in his two natures of beauty and truth, he heads out for the smorgasbord of life.

We get quite a look at New York of the 90s and the hedonistic behavior that came before and during the onset of AIDS. It is a pleasure to read a novel that is literary in all of its aspects. I also found that the issue of faith that is so important to me is beautifully handled here. For those who are dealing with this issue, there is much to be learned here. We so often substitute things and events that are near for the goals that we search and one reviewer put it perfectly when he says that at that time “Style and become God, sex has become a [contact] sport and jobs, money and survival are always around the corner somewhere else”. We all know someone like Julian and many of us see ourselves in him. The highest praise that I can give this book is to say that “I love it” and I do. Julian is an everyman and in that he is a composite of so many gay personalities. You owe to yourselves to read this wonderful novel.

“Modern Love” is now named “Do You Take This Man”

Anthony Rapp and Jonathan Bennett star in MODERN LOVE  Photo by: Andrew Hreha © Modern Love, LLC.

Anthony Rapp and Jonathan Bennett star in MODERN LOVE
Photo by: Andrew Hreha
© Modern Love, LLC.”Modern Love” is now named “Do You Take This Man”

“Modern Love” is now named “Do You Take This Man”

Directed By: Joshua Tunick

Cast: Anthony Rapp, Jonathan Bennett, Alyson Hannigan, Thomas Dekker
This intimate drama tells the story of Daniel (Anthony Rapp) and Christopher (Jonathan Bennett) on the eve of their wedding. When a long-lost friend of Christopher’s shows up and the day’s stresses begin to spiral out of control, the couple must rely on their close friends and family to see them through. Co-starring Alyson Hannigan, DO YOU TAKE THIS MAN… is an insightful and realistic look into what it takes to make a relationship work in 2016.

“RAIDERS!: THE STORY OF THE GREATEST FAN FILM EVER MADE”— Three Childhood Friends

raiders

“RAIDERS!: THE STORY OF THE GREATEST FAN FILM EVER MADE”

Three Childhood Friends

Amos Lassen

“Raiders” is the true story of three childhood friends and their journey to complete a shot-for-shot remake of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. After Steven Spielberg’s classic film was released 35 years ago, three 11-year-old boys from Mississippi began what would become a 7-year-long labor of love and tribute to their favorite film: a faithful, shot-for-shot adaptation of the action adventure film. The New York Times calls their film “a testament to the transporting power of movie love.” They finished every scene except one— the film’s explosive airplane scene.

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Then some two decades later, the trio reunited with the original cast members from their childhood in order to complete their masterpiece. “Raiders” is the story of this project’s culmination. It chronicles the dedication of the friends to their artistic vision and this is mixed in with movie magic “to create a personal, epic love letter to a true modern classic”.

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 Special features include more than four hours on bonus content such as dual audio commentary tracks, deleted scenes, outtakes from the Adaptation, Q&A footage from the Adaptation’s 2003 premiere, a photo booklet featuring storyboard art from the Adaptation and an HD digital copy of the film

In 1982, three 11-year old boys in Mississippi, Chris Strompolo, Jayson Lamb and Eric Zala, set out to remake their favorite films of all times. They filmed the whole thing shot by shot except for the famous exploding airplane climax. Then some twenty-five years later they set out to correct this omission.:

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Filmmakers Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen followed filmmakers once they learned of and saw the guys’ “Raiders of the Lost Ark: Adaptation” that took the then youngsters seven summers and all they money they could scrape up from their birthdays and Christmas presents. Using the basement of one of their mothers’ house, they made their shot-by-shot recreation of the film they so deeply loved.

Coon and Skousen began their documentary just when the three began planning the completion their film: to blow up a full size airplane and finish the last scene. The documentarians capture the enthusiasm of these adult children living their dream even when one of them risked losing his job.

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In one scene the documentary looks at the Nepalese bar scene from the original and then went on to set, one of their mother’s basement on fire without any real safety equipment on hand. This had to be scary for the boys’ family. Coon and Skousen show the dedication and spirit, even through the tougher times of production.

Anyone who’s ever had a passion project or loves the original film will enjoy this. Gradually Skousen and Coon bring in these kids’ more personal back-stories. They were the children of divorce.  Comic book nerd Zala was often lonely, but his life changed when he got a girlfriend, a young woman who got involved in their project. When local media began to show an interest, Eric and Chris were shown with props made by Jayson who got little to no mention and this caused resentment.  While Chris and Eric remained friends, Chris accused Eric of selling out his dreams with his 9 to 5 job, yet Eric stood by his friend as he began to get into the Hollywood drug scene until things became impossible to ignore.

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Therefore the twenty-fifth reunion of cast and crew to shoot that last, expensive scene, is, quite an achievement.  There are still multiple problems in achieving their dreams with Eric on the cusp of losing his job when he needs more time due to weather delays.  At first, watching these grown men spend thousands to finish a childhood endeavor seems crazy but we also see the passion they shared.

The original film embodies the spirit of adventure, which is what inspired the boys to begin with. It was an impossible task even then so there was no real reason to not finish it now. As we see all these different people from their lives come together to help make this dream a reality, we begin understanding that this project is immensely inspiring involved.

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Things certainly don’t go where we imagined they would. There’s stolen girlfriends, drugs, fractured friendships and difficult family situations. It seems as if anything that could go wrong, did for these wannabe filmmakers. Still, 30 years later, they could not forget this project from their youth. It gave them something when everything else was going wrong, and it’s a dream that their families have always wanted for them. It doesn’t matter how well done the finished product is because their fan film is the definition of persistence, imagination, and dedication. Watching them complete their movie gives us hope that we can accomplish all the goals we once dreamt of achieving.

 

“Prince of the Sea” by Jon Michaelson— A Paranormal Seaside Romance

prince of the sea

Michaelson, Jon. “Prince of the Sea”, Lethe Press, 2016.

A Paranormal Seaside Romance

Amos Lassen

Jonathan and Paul have been together for ten years but the fire and passion of their relationship is not nearly what it was. Jonathan though that a vacation for just the two of them at the beach might reignite things for them so he chose to rent a cottage at Tybee Island off of the Georgia coast. Jonathan had grown up there and this was a very special place for him and he looked forward to sharing it with Paul.

However, Paul went to Chicago to deal with a client and left Jonathan alone and even more upset than he had been about where their relationship was going. He decides to go on to the cottage alone and there he had surprise meeting with a very mysterious stranger. This helped to take his mind off of Paul and gave him the chance to find love for while. Soon Jonathan was in a dark place he knew nothing about.

Jon Michaelson excels at writing descriptions and the way he painted the island had me feeling that I was actually there. There is a sense of mystery about the stranger. I usually do not read novels about paranormals but the wonderful writing really drew me in.

This is a cleverly crafted a tale that combines mystery, romance, myth and well developed characters.

“Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America” by Ari Berman— The Story of the Voting Rights Act

give us the ballot

 

Berman, Ari. “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America”, Picador, 2015.

The Story of the Voting Rights Act

Amos Lassen

Not much has been written about what happened after the dramatic passage of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in 1965 and the forces that came into being. Ari Berman tells this story for the first time. He chronicles the transformation of American democracy under the VRA and the counterrevolution that has sought to limit voting rights, from 1965 to the present day.

Millions of Americans gained the right to vote and the bill is considered to be the crowning glory of the Civil Rights Movement but here we are fifty years later and we are still fighting over race, representation, and political power. Lawmakers continue to devise new strategies to keep minorities out of the voting booth and the Supreme Court has declared a key part of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional.

Through meticulous archival research, in-depth interviews with major figures in the debate, and on-the-ground reporting, Berman takes us into the issue. We go back to the demonstrations of the civil rights era to the halls of Congress to the chambers of the Supreme Court. And from these we gain new insight into one of the most important moments in American history.

Berman begins with the Bloody Sunday march and tells us that John Lewis, not Lyndon Johnson, was the main character here. The passage of the VRA is only the beginning of the story. People needed to be registered to vote, and proved to not be easy. There were also various legal roadblocks that had to be overcome along the way. Berman covers this thoroughly, he references many court cases and explains them. On March 7, 1966, the Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of the VRA in an 8-1 decision. However, the dissenting vote by Justice Hugo Black focused on Section 5 of the VRA, “preclearance.” Preclearance means that “states with the worst histories of voting discrimination [must] clear their voting changes with the federal government” Section 5 of the VRA, as well as Section 2, are constantly referenced throughout Berman’s account and understanding these sections of the law are the way to understand the legal strategy that opponents of the VRA would pursue in their attempts to scrap this legislation. Berman says, “Section 2 became the sword of the VRA, the offensive weapon used to strike down discriminatory electoral schemes, while Section 5 became the shield, the defensive mechanism preemptively protecting minority voters from discriminatory voting changes”

Once the VRA was upheld in 1966, there would be other challenges in court which would either chip away or enhance the VRA over the years. A chief concern of its supporters was that the Voting Rights Act would have to be renewed by Congress every five years. Then with the presidency of Richard Nixon, key provisions of the VRA were set to expire in 1970. The Nixon Administration, which had pursued the southern strategy, was willing to extend the VRA but eliminate Section 5 (77). Congress, however, passed a new VRA bill that “emerged stronger than the 1965 one,” and President Nixon, feeling political pressure, decided to sign the VRA extension in June 1970.

Political and legal challenges were always on the horizon and a conservative counterrevolution was built and it gained ground build and gain ground, but the VRA is always renewed by Congress. It was renewed in 1975, then in 1982 for 25 years, and yet again in 2006 for another 25 years. When Congress passed the 2006 extension, the House vote was 390-33, and the Senate followed with a unanimous vote of 98-0 . Georgia Republican Lynn Moreland who entered Congress in 2005 said, “We need 218 votes in the House, but we’ll only need five votes on the Supreme Court”.

Berman tells us that those states with the longest histories of voting discrimination were now the ones being discriminated against. Shelby County v. Holder was the case that overturned part of the VRA in a 5-4 decision on June 25, 2013 and this freed the states from federal oversight by invalidating Section 4 of the VRA. In striking down Section 4, Section 5 became a body with no life in it” (280). In the wake of this decision, many states have gone ahead and passed strict Voter ID laws, which are, nothing more than voter suppression laws. Berman tries to offer encouragement by suggesting that a new generation of activists is building. However, I do not see them.

This is quite a fantastic read as it looks at contemporary history. It is a well-written and carefully researched account of the difficult struggle of black Americans to gain and maintain their constitutional right to vote. Berman’s inclusion of wonderful stories of dedication and courage and short biographies of the characters, both the good guys and the bad guys make this read like fiction.

The struggle is viewed through the eyes of John Lewis, one the true heroes of the civil rights movement. This took place before leadership of the Republican Party was captured by southern reactionaries. The book is both inspirational and depressing because it seems that the struggle is being won by the reactionaries. seem to be winning the struggle.

I have no doubts that conservatives will be very angry about this book. The hope that we get in the beginning is dashed by the end. Voting remains fundamentally an issue of power, so it cannot be viewed or treated neutrally. Those with power want to keep it. We see here the blatant and sneaky ways white Americans and especially Republicans hang onto the power they have.

“Ariah” by B. R. Sanders— Changing Cultures

ariah

Sanders, B. R. “Ariah”, Zharmae, 2015.

Changing Cultures

Amos Lassen

Ariah’s magical training has been stopped and he is forced to rely on a mentor, Dirva, who is not who he claims to be. Ariah is drawn into a culture wholly different from the one that raised him. As his friendship with Dirva’s brother becomes romantic, he slowly learns how to control the dangerous magic in his blood. Life finally appears to be coming together for him but love and security are cut short by a military empire bent on expanding its borders. Arian finds himself dealing with war, betrayal, passion, and confusion while his journey leads him beyond the walls of the Empire, and into unfamiliar territory within himself. He will soon discover just how much he’s willing to give up to find his place in the world, and he’ll learn what it means to sacrifice himself for freedom and for love.

“Ariah” won the Speculative Fiction category of the Bisexual Book Awards and explores both bisexuality and polyamory. The book is about the Ariah’s psychological journey and moral growth. Everything begins when Ariah sets off on a journey to apprentice with a mentor who can help him navigate his magic. Ariah is a mimic and shaper. He can draw out emotions and shape them and feel them himself. Sometimes it was confusing for him, especially when he’s forced to follow Dirva to his hometown.

The story highlights polyamourous relationships, yet monogamous relationships are the greater majority. Ariah came into his own sexuality, but at first, he did not seem to want to have sex with another man while he slept with women whenever he had that option. As he came into himself, I wondered why Sorcha had to showcase femininity to justify his attraction to him. Ariah was not involved in a love triangle. He had multiple love interests and each love was valid.

Ariah did not know how to address folks who do not fit into the gender binary and it confused him to be surrounded by non-binary or those who chose not to adhere to a gender at all.

For a book that isn’t about humans, Ariah is one of the most profoundly “human” stories I’ve ever read but then I do not read a lot of speculative fiction. This comes across as a very personal book that works on our emotions and how we perceive identity, gender, power, culture, language, sexuality and love.

The book puts heavy weight on empathy and power and how these are transformative. Ariah’s journey is one of cultural, emotional, geographic, ideological, temporal, sexual, and spiritual aspects. . So it’s fitting that it begins with a physical journey. He’s just traveled from his home city to Rabatha, the city of his new mentor, in the middle of the powerful Qin empire, where he experiences a rude awakening. Even though he is 30-years-old, he is still not fully an adult and his world is one of questions.

He’s always been a member of an oppressed race and his was not always comfortable. He actually lived in a state of denial. But when Ariah arrives at his new home, he moves outside his comfort zone for the first time in his life. He confront the reality of his oppression and the oppression of his people in a way he’s never had do before. This changes him and he becomes conscious of his own vulnerability. “Ariah” explores the ramifications of this deeply. In fact, these themes of vulnerability and accountability play off each other all through this story. The story makes us think about the definitions and limitations of our own society that we have just accepted without questioning or examining.

This book is a coming of age story, a love story and a fantasy that captures and reflects the loneliness, the isolation inherent in marginalization.

“Funny Bone” by Daniel Kelly— Laughing at Ourselves

funny bone

Kelly, Daniel. “Funny Bone”, Bold Strokes Books, 2016.

Laughing at Ourselves

Amos Lassen

“Funny Bone” is a collection of short stories about humor. “Men get into all kinds of predicaments that poke at the funny bone” and here we see how this works in erotic literature. We meet a witty gay guy who becomes a stand-up comedian when his straight co-worker offers to bottom for him. We read about college party boys make their gay virgin dorm mate into a sex machine with no off button. There is an employee who to the private island home of his boss to advocate for same-sex spousal benefits and gets scared silly by a proposal that he cannot turn down; a doctor explains why his specialty is the butt of jokes and a newly single man discovers that nothing puts a smile on his face quite like a “cherry pop”. Everyone in this anthology is looking for a laugh.

I must say this is not what I expected from Daniel Kelly after having read his other work so it was quite a surprise to see him move from mystery to comedy and erotica.

Some of the stories connect with each other yet each can stand-alone. I had several laughs but there were a few instances where I did not get the humor of non-consensual sex. However once I crossed that point and just read for pleasure, I enjoyed the book. Comedy, it is sad, is the most difficult genre to write in because there will always be those who think that something is not funny. To them, I say sit back and relax and let your mind go free. There is plenty to enjoy here.

“The Unintentional Time Traveler” by Everett Maroon— A Journey Back and Forth in Time

the unintentional time traveler

Maroon, Everett. “The Unintentional Time Traveler”, Lethe, 2016.

A Journey Back and Forth in Time

Amos Lassen

Jack Bishop is fifteen-years-old an epileptic. Because of this he cannot get a driver’s license but he knows a lot about automobiles and engines. He has agrees to be part of a clinical study on epilepsy and he suddenly realizes that he is in a totally different body then he was before the study began. He has become

Jacqueline, who defies the expectations of her era. In the past, he has been visions during his seizures and he assumes that is what has happened. He steals a horse thinking that at any moment, he will once again become Jack but that does not happen. Jack/Jacqueline is caught between two lives and epochs, and must find a way to save everyone around him as well as himself. Jack is self-deprecating and sarcastic.

Writer Everett Maroon looks at the topics of gender, sexuality, identity and gender non-conformity. We move between time periods as Jack and as Jacqueline and our main character discovers that he returns to whichever time to find that life has literally gone on without him. He doesn’t remember much because of his duality of character and time. because the Jack who did it wasn’t him—or was, but was living life as a Jack who was separate in time. The story begins in a straightforward and linear way and becomes disconnected the longer Jack spends in a different time and body, or when Jack goes back to reset things.

Maroon draws us in quickly and takes us on a journey into the past. I found myself wondering about how much of our identity is dependent on our current physical bodies and whether identities change along with our bodies or if we can we transcend the physical.

While gender and sexuality are essential features of the storyline and they are handled lightly as characters explain and demonstrate their importance. This is an entertaining adventure story that is well written and that also gives us a lot to think about.

”More Sex, Drugs & Disco” by Mark Abramson— As It Was

more sex drugs and disco

Abramson, Mark. ”More Sex, Drugs & Disco”, Wilde City, 2016.

As It Was

Amos Lassen

Mark Abramson follows “Sex, Drugs & Disco,” with the second volume in his diary about life in San Francisco. Here we begin on January 1, 1980 with optimism for the new decade. In the 80s, San Francisco represented freedom for gay men from around the world, and he was there to write down the details of many of his tricks, love affairs as well as everything else that he can remember.

Many had no idea that these times were special or that the AIDS epidemic was going to devastate our community. The gay men of San Francisco lived a hedonistic life style and this is Mark Abramson’s personal look at the city as it tried to fight the rising death toll. Abramson’s diary entries are similar to those in his previous books. Abramson gives his own conclusions along with his feelings of fatigue and fear as the party that was once San Francisco became a funeral for many in his community.

We meet the characters from his life, learn about sexually transmitted diseases and businesses that could have been run so much better. This is quite a valuable document of the day-to-day life of a gay man at a time that it seemed that everything was on the verge of crashing.

“THE NEST”— Free to Be

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“THE NEST “ (‘O NINHO”)

Free to Be

Amos Lassen

On leave from the military, handsome twenty- something soldier Bruno travels to Porto Alegre determined to find his estranged older brother Leo. Director Filipe Matzembacher gives us a look at a vibrant queer community that happily embraces Bruno and invites him into their alt social scene. Through these unconventional new friends, Bruno discovers a new space where he is free to explore his sexuality. Away from home, he’s found a new family and found himself, and he and his lost brother feels closer than ever.

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Bruno (Nicolas Vargas), still wearing his military uniform when he checks in at a Porto Alegre inn. We see him, at first, as a typically polite soldier. We soon see that the seemingly disciplined and obedient young man is preoccupied though; and that his mission in this city in the south of Brazil is personal. While searching the city for his estranged brother, Bruno comes into contact with several queer bohemians who quickly see past his uniform and recognize him as one of their own.

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The structure of the film is tough to describe. Though listed as a “feature,” it plays more like an anthology, one divided into four 25-minute episodes. I was moved by some parts more than others of course, and everyone is likely to have their own favorite episode.. Bruno and his friends may not have expected much from their breakfast with an old man, who lived across the street, but they soon discover that they have more in common with this freethinking lonely man than they thought.

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The overall idea of the film is Bruno’s search for his brother and four significant connections he makes along the way. While I was pulled in wondering where was Bruno’s brother, I realized it was never about that. It’s a study of how important human connection with those who understand us can be, especially when those who don’t can be so unkind.

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It is a melancholic and captivating film that follows a young man, who while searching for his long-missed brother, finds a home amongst his brother’s friends and memories.

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Bruno discovers a new space where he is free to be himself and explore his sexuality. Away from home, Bruno finds a new family.