“Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor” by Yossi Klein Halevi— Through Israeli Eyes

Halevi, Yossi Klein. “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor”, Harper, 2018.

Through Israeli Eyes

Amos Lassen

Writer Yossi Klein Halevi makes an attempt to end the impasse between Israelis and Palestinians in “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor”. We are immediately aware that he with Palestinian suffering and longing for reconciliation and he explores how the conflict looks through Israeli eyes.

In a series of letters, Halevi explains what motivated him to leave his native New York in his twenties and move to Israel and take part in the renewal of a Jewish homeland. He committed himself to see Israel “succeed as a morally responsible, democratic state in the Middle East.”

This is the first time this has been done by an Israeli author. Halevi directly addresses his Palestinian neighbors and describes how the conflict appears through Israeli eyes. Halevi looks carefully at the ideological and emotional stalemate that has defined the conflict for nearly a century. He is both provocative and lyrical and as he brings together the ideas of faith, pride, anger and anguish that he feels as a Jew living in Israel and he uses history and personal experience as his guide.

Halevi’s letters speak to his Palestinian neighbor and to all concerned global citizens, hopefully helping us understand the painful choices confronting Israelis and Palestinians that will help determine the fate of the Middle East. He does not shy away from the difficult questions and these include the ideas of people hood and choseness the Holocaust while at the same time acknowledging his neighbor’s “darkest biases.” The letters are filled with faith as expressed through sincerity, humility and gorgeous prose. We do not have to agree with any thing that is written here but we must allow ourselves to disagree when feeling necessary to do so. Halevi demonstrates that there are those who are willing to listen, “if only we’d talk.” It is important, of course, to understand why we returned home to Israel after the proclamation of the State.

Halevi lives with the hope that one day both sides come together in peace. He wants us to better understand the Israeli side and therefore perhaps humanize Israelis in their minds and convince them of his arguments of the necessity for peace. This is a wonderful idea that is not new and the real problem is in the execution. The letters primarily give a short history of the State of Israel and a number of arguments to justify her existence and actions over the years.

We go back to the story of Israel that we are all familiar with— the same story that Jewish children have learned in religious school— the centuries old connection to the land, the exile and the return. Halevi admits that the haganah expelled and massacred a handful of Arabs during the independence war, and he laments the Hebron massacre in the early 90s. Each concession he makes is always carefully rationalized in a way that leaves the basic Israeli narrative intact. It is as if he was saying that he Jews may have a few bad players but they are generally good while the Arabs are intransigent and even their children are bloodthirsty for Israeli blood.

Halevi is brutally honest about Israel’s obstacles to peace with its Palestinian neighbors. Jews have yearned to return to Zion for two millennia and now here, they’re staying.

I call you “neighbor” because I don’t know your name, or anything personal about you. Given our circumstances, “neighbor” might be too casual a word to describe our relationship. We are intruders into each other’s dream, violators of each other’s sense of home. We are incarnations of each other’s worst historical nightmares. Neighbors?

“Autonomy: The Quest to Build the Driverless Car And How It Will Reshape Our World” by Lawrence D. Burns— Changing Our Way of Life

Burns, Lawrence D. “Autonomy: The Quest to Build the Driverless Car And How It Will Reshape Our World”, Ecco, 2018

Changing Our Way of Life

Amos Lassen

There has been a great deal of talk lately about driverless cars and this is something that many of us have a hard time understanding. All of the automobile countries are involved in a race to build and perfect the vehicle that will change all of our lives. Lawrence D. Burns is a veteran insider of the automotive industry and in his book, “Autonomy”, he shares what he knows on the subject.

Burns is a former General Motors executive and now serves as advisor to the Google Self-Driving Car project. In his book, he presents a history of the race to make the driverless car a reality. In the past decade, Silicon Valley companies including Google, Tesla and Uber have put themselves into positions to change and revolutionize the way we get around by developing driverless vehicles while at the same time auto companies (General Motors, Ford, and Daimler) have been fighting back by partnering by with new tech start-ups. It is no longer a question of whether the self-driving car will disrupt the automobile industry but now rather a question of when, how, and who will do so.

It is predicted that the first driverless car will likely hit markets in less than five years and it is sure to change lives. Burns explains how this new technology will impact our lives (removing the hassles of driving, parking, and refueling our cars, to eliminating 90 percent of road fatalities and drastically reducing our carbon footprint, and automating yet another segment of blue collar industries thus putting more workers out of their jobs). Just think how the smart phone has so tremendously changed the way we live now.

We are already a part of a technological revolution that promises to fundamentally change how we interact with our world. To understand all of this we need to be aware of the past, able to understand the present and ready to move into the future. A chronicle of the past, diagnosis of the present, and prediction of the future. Along with the driverless car, there will be many more changes and technological advances.  Burns was one of the first people to understand the enormous implications of driverless cars. His  involvement with those who have invented and commercialized this technology makes “Autonomy” not only a fascinating read but a very important read as well.

“Chesapeake Requiem:


 A Year with the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island” by Earl Swift— An Isolated Community Facing Extinction

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p style=”text-align: center;”>Swift, Earl. “Chesapeake Requiem:


 A Year with the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island”, Dey Street, 2018.

An Isolated Community Facing Extinction

Amos Lassen

Earl Swift gives us a look at a two-hundred-year-old crabbing community in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay as it faces extinction from rising sea levels. Tangier Island is a 1.3-square-mile strip of land in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, an hour’s journey from the Virginia coast. Swift’s book is both the natural history of an extraordinary ecosystem and a meditation on a vanishing way of life based upon man’s relationship with the environment.

Tangier Island, Virginia is a unique American community. It was mapped by John Smith in 1608 and settled during the American Revolution. Today 470 people live there and they do so between two worlds— the modern world of the 21st century and the past. It is a twelve-mile boat trip across the nation’s largest estuary to reach the place and the water that surrounds the island is not always easy to cross. This same water has for generations made Tangier’s fleet of small fishing boats a chief source of the Chesapeake Bay blue crab and Tangiers is the soft-shell crab capital of the world.

But Tangier is disappearing. The same water that has long sustained is now eating away the land and since 180, the island has lost 2/3 of its size. Today the shoreline loses fifteen feet a year and this means that the island first American town to feel the effects of climate change.is the will likely succumb first among U.S. towns to the effects of climate change. Experts predict that without intervention by the federal government, the islanders could be forced to abandon their home within twenty-five years. The conservative and deeply religious Tangiermen think about the end times.   

In “Chesapeake Requiem”, we get an intimate look at the island’s past, present and shaky future. Swift has spent much of the past two years living among Tangier’s people observing its long traditions and odd ways. This is the moving story of a world that has, quite nearly, gone by and a in-depth report on Tangier’s future. The destiny of the island foreshadows what can happen to many other coastal communities in the not-too-distant future.

“SIMON’S QUEST”— An Allegory

“SIMON’S QUEST”

An Allegory

Amos Lassen

When HBO’s “True Blood” began its run on prime time television, I was surprised at how many people took it as it was and not as an allegory/satire on the way the LGBT community was treated in this country. In fact, I still know people who refuse to see that aspect of the series. Now along comes Marley Yaeger’s 22 minute “Simon’s Quest” that uses the same idea but so much better.

Simon is a gay werewolf who must come to terms with his condition in order to start dating again or condemn himself to a life alone (While I am not [yet] a werewolf, I have been there and done that.) The short film is set in a world in which monsters are just beginning to “come out” and become publicly known and it is hard to miss seeing that the way they are treated is much the same as the way the LGBTQ+ community was treated not so long ago. Token acceptance and tolerance were not acceptable to those who were regarded as different and sinners in some places while in other places there were no problems.

In the alternate universe of the film, vampires, werewolves and demons are real and live in society along with everyone else. Of course, we understand that their interactions and relations with non-monsters are not always good. “Simon’s Quest” begins with an infomercial of a fire and brimstone televangelist selling weapons designed to kill “monsters” as they are collectively called. But not everyone is antagonistic and violent. We hear of support groups to help “monsters” accept themselves for who they are.

We meet Simon (Johnny Pozzi), the subject of a documentary and see right away that he has problems with self-esteem. But then his case is quite special since he had just begun to deal with coming out as gay when he discovers that he is also a werewolf. We can imagine his fear in trying to maintain contact with others. By and large, society disapproves of both of these aspects of Simon.

His support group activities are both sad and funny and he wins us over immediately. I saw something of myself in Simon and wanted to yell at him that it does get better. However Gwen (Talley Gale), the photographer making the documentary serves that purpose and is determined to help Simon. However, her assistant, Robert (Lucas Brahme) is not sure that this is the best thing to do. Writer/director Jaeger brings us a wonderful little film that has a great deal to say. Try to find this one— you won’t regret it. (And yes, that is Tim Cox in the picture below.

“TRUTH OR DARE”— A Horror Movie?

“TRUTH OR DARE”

A Horror Movie?

Amos Lassen

“Truth or Dare” is not campy nor emotionally involving enough to be more than the sum of its awful parts. This is a PG-13-rated horror movie where college seniors are persecuted by a haunted version of Truth or Date, a party game that’s more menacing than Twister, but not as dangerous as Spin the Bottle. Now those of you who follow my reviews known that I rarely give a negative review in the first sentence but have a look at this and you will understand why. In fact, I am surprised that I wrote more than one sentence.

The makers of “Truth or Dare” have tried to make their protagonists just sympathetic enough that we care what happens when they try to impale themselves on a pool cue, or gouge out an eye with a fountain pen. Unfortunately, director Jeff Wadlow and his three credited co-writers don’t humanize their immature subjects and/or make them die amusingly sadistic deaths and the film overall seems to hate itself.

There are a few scenes that serve our canned expectations of who these characters are and what their pre-graduation lives are like. But many of these assumptions are based on superficial generalities. We have several stock types  ion. Our heroine is, of course, reserved Olivia (Lucy Hale), a moral-minded, smarter-than-average piece of nothingness who gets roped into one last pre-college spring break by her flirty best friend Markie (Violett Beane) Markie brings along a number of their mutual best friends, including Ronnie (Sam Lerner), a leering but harmless horndog, and Brad (Hayden Szeto), an indistinct supporting character whose most exciting trait is that he’s openly gay. Now here is a cast of famous people, yes? I have never heard of any of them before and after this bomb of a film, I do not think we shall see them once again on the screen.

Brad and Ronnie are the most under-developed characters in the film but they are not as offensive or bothersome as Lucas (Tyler Posey), a prize for Olivia and Markie to fight over and law student Tyson (Nolan Gerard Funk—who?) an in-your-face attitude of a garden variety jock, a quality that’s mildly amusing given his chosen area of study.

Ronnie is a one-note joke who screams “no homo” before he is teased with the possibility of giving another guy a lap dance. As with Lucas, Ronnie has a moment where he suggests that he’s capable of growing out of his adolescent need to hit on any woman in sight. But this isn’t college (as we know it—the place where young adults are supposed to learn who they are or maybe who they want to be).

Brad’s queerness is almost exclusively defined by his fear of coming out to his police officer father. The reaction that Brad’s dad gives him after he comes out is supposed to be unexpected, but it’s not, really, once you consider the confusing paternal tone that defines “Truth or Dare.”

Here a sentient game of Truth or Dare is a messed-up parenting tool. These bright young things are going learn to be truthful to themselves, even if it means hurting themselves or others during the learning process. Because apparently, stabbing yourself in the eye when you fail to come clean in a job interview is a fitting punishment. And surviving trauma since considering ways to come clean to your best friend about your not-so-secret crush on their boyfriend builds character. 

The joke is on our heroes, but this time, every cruel punch line is seemingly pulled at the last minute. We’re supposed to like these victims, not gasp in horror and delight when they’re compelled to die campy deaths by an evil game.

When we meet Olivia, she seems like a decent person, as she’s planning to spend the spring break of her senior year of college volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. But her friends put a wrench in this and take her to Mexico where they booze it up, beach it out, and French kiss like crazy. They’re very ugly Americans, setting themselves up to seem like they deserve all the devastation and death they’ll soon encounter.

At any moment, a roomful of strangers, your closest friends, or dead bodies could transform into fiends who demand the revelation of sensitive secrets or the performance of mean-spirited stunts: coming out to a homophobic parent, breaking your best friend’s hand, or having sex with your best friend’s boyfriend.

The dares can also be deadly, like finishing a bottle of booze while walking along the edge of a roof, or stealing a cop’s gun and making him beg for it. But there is no mystery here and this is a silly horror flick that is unconcerned with its silliness. But every once in a while there are flashes of the darkness that one wishes that the film had used more often. The amiability of the group of college pals is built upon a delicate web of deceit that quickly comes undone when they’re forced to tell the truth, and the disclosures become increasingly nasty and vicious— one character must confess while having sex to loving someone else; another must declare a cringe-inducing connection to a friend’s father’s recent suicide. In this most cynical and black-hearted of films, even the kindest of people are filled with sinister secrets.

“DISOBEDIENCE”— A Complicated Relationship

“Disobedience”

A Complicated Relationship

Amos Lassen

Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio’s “Disobedience” is set in London’s Orthodox Jewish community and depicts the complicated relationship between two women born into this world, whose paths in life have deviated after an earlier affair. What makes this so brilliant a film is how Lelio manages to sidestep overly familiar discussions on sexuality and religious prejudice in order to examine the very nature of freewill when it comes to accepting a love frowned upon by a belief system. It’s a film that is equally romantic and philosophical and I am quite sure that “Disobedience” will be on many ten bests lists for 2018.

It has been adapted from Naomi Alderman’s controversial and gorgeous 2006 novel of the same name. It follows Ronit Kruschka (Rachel Weisz) the estranged daughter of a beloved rabbi who has long since fled to New York to pursue a career as a photographer. Upon hearing about the sudden death of her father, she returns to the London community where she grew up to pay her respects, and finds herself to be something of a ghost. While she is welcomed with open arms and shown kindness, yet her existence as her father’s only child has been eliminated from her father’s newspaper obituary, and a renewed social tension has emerged due to the nature of a previous affair with Esti Kuperman (Rachel McAdams).

Esti is now married to her father’s apprentice Rabbi, Dovid Kuperman (Alessandro Nivola) who lets her stay in their upper middle class home. Since they last saw each other, Esti has become a pillar of the local community and teaches English literature at a local girl’s school. The only thing setting her back from true happiness is that she is incapable of feeling physical attraction to men and knowing that confessing otherwise could jeopardize her devout faith. This becomes even more complicated when she slowly rekindles the relationship she had with Ronit year’s prior.

The film deals with the numerous factors in a person’s life that can stop them accepting their true identity and how that struggle intensifies following the death of a loved one. Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams perfectly communicate the frailty that comes with seeing a former flame following the aftermath of a sudden end to the relationship, and the separate anxieties the two share about the developing nature of their romance.

In the opening scene, a rabbi, Rav Kruschka (Anton Lesser), delivers a sermon at a North London synagogue about angels and beasts, free will, and choosing the tangled lives we live. His tone is doctrinaire, poisonous even, so it’s perhaps no surprise that the frail-looking man drops dead on the spot. Meanwhile in New York, his daughter, Ronit, is putting his words into action. She is a photographer and is in session when she receives a phone call one alerting her to her father’s death, after which she’s seen impassively skating around an ice rink, with a time-out for a random hookup with a man inside a bathroom stall.

We’ll learn why she turned her back on the Orthodox world she was born into yet her personhood will remain foreign to us. Everyone in “Disobedience” is representative and every scene is declarative. With the help of her old lover, Esti, Ronit goes to her father’s home to gather some belongings. Seeing an old radio, Ronit turns it on and we hear a song whose lyrics completely speak to the situation of the two women: “You make me feel like I am home again/Whenever I’m alone with you/You make me feel like I am whole again.”

It is here that Ronit and Esti find themselves alone for the first time in many years. They finally talk about their romantic past in a single long take, and it’s some kind of masterstroke how the tension of their reminiscences and flirtations in tune with the audience’s wondering when the shot will dare to cut away.

At first glance, Esti seems to be an obsequious adherent to orthodoxy. When she passionately kisses Dovid, we understand that this is compensatory and to show that the past with Ronit is indeed the past.. But then she plays with Dovid’s beard, and subtly communicates the sense of the genuine love that exits between this husband and wife—an impression that’s confirmed when Esti later repeats the gesture with Ronit. But theirs is a different kind of love, and we finally get a sense of what that is when the two women are alone and trysting in a hotel room and Ronit casually sends a stream of her saliva into Esti’s mouth.

Director Lelio understands that the community at the center of the film is rooted in old-school tradition, but as it’s physically rooted in a cultural capital of the world, no one here is a stranger to gays and lesbians, and so the reactions to Ronit and Esti’s rekindled love affair never rises to hysterics. Ronit is asked at one point why she isn’t married and response is understood as a matter of course. In fact, in the subtlest of glances exchanged between the women of this community, one senses a certain respect for Ronit having broken away from tradition to find her own path through life. Esti, on the other hand, may have the courage to admit to Ronit that she’s only attracted to women, but she isn’t so brave to stand by her when they’re caught kissing by some friends and her survival instinct kicks in and she bolts from the scene. The film is less about the subjugation of the self to the group than the courage to embrace uncertainty by breaking out of the world one has been born into. And the triumph of the film is the grace and gracefulness of the performances and style.

Repression is a major theme Esti and Ronit have always had a special relationship, and they rekindle a love that becomes more than just friendship. But, of course, this community, and Esti’s marital status, can never allow it.

“ALTERED PERCEPTION”— A New Drug

“ALTERED PERCEPTION”

A New Drug

Amos Lassen

 When the government tries to produce a designer drug aimed at correcting the false perceptions that people develop during trauma and stress, the implications become deadly. When the drug is advertised as a cure for socio-political tensions, four couples volunteer and end up with far more than they bargained for as their past and present are examined while taking different varieties of the new drug. This causes them to doubt their own memory, perceptions and even their own sanity.

Today it seems like whatever the issue is, all we have to do is just pop a pill or get an injection and all will be well. For these miracle drugs get to the market, they had to be tested in a controlled environment before being sold to the masses. We think that a new drug would never hit the market without successful drug trials performed on willing, fully informed people. “Altered Perception” looks at just this topic by showing what could go wrong with these drug trials and why not everything on the market is as safe as advertised.

The film opens with a panel, lead by Walter (Mark Burnham), who are trying to get to the bottom of what happened during a government drug trial of D.T.P., an experimental drug that is supposed to correct false perceptions people have developed during times of trauma and stress. This particular trial focused on three couples with each pair dealing with their own set of issues, but each hope that this drug will be a miracle and do what other more conventional approaches could not do to save their relationships. The panel was created because, though each couple was filmed and monitored at home homes, researchers ignored warning signs and someone has lost their life.

Couple number one is Andrew (Jon Huertas) and Lorie (Jennifer Blanc-Biehn). Andrew is a lawyer and Lorie is a former prostitute. It is clear that they love each other, but both have extreme hang-ups that will not allow them to live in peace together. Andrew knows about Lorie’s past and accepts it, but it bothers him in ways that he cannot explain. Lorie has also accepted her past but feels as though Andrew has not so she picks apart everything he says and always goes back to him not accepting her or her past. They are constantly fighting about something that they cannot change, and the fights begin to become violent and damaging. They both hope that D.T.P. will help them overcome their issues.

Couple number two is Kristina (Jade Tailor) and Steven (Emrhys Cooper) who have extreme trust issues. Steven works in the film industry so he is not home all the time, while Kristina is a housewife who is obsessed with the idea that her husband is cheating on her— she questions everything he says and does. Steven is losing both sleep and jobs because of Kristina’s insecurities especially since he has never done anything to warrant her feeling this way but she refuses to let go of the idea and Steven is starting to want to leave her. Their hope is that the medicine will allow them to work through Kristina’s trust issues so that neither must ever live like this.

The third couple is Emily (Hallie Jordan) and Beth (Nichola Fynn). They love each other and want to get married but Emily is worried that Beth is into men and will leave her for one. Beth has accused Emily’s brother, Justin (Matthew Ziff) of raping her and this is from where she gets the idea. Justin denies this accusation and claims they just had consensual sex. For her part, Emily cannot believe the worst of her brother, and wants Beth to admit that she is lying about it being rape. Beth is hurt that her girlfriend refuses to believe her about something so painful, and the two are firmly rooted into their positions with Justin squarely in the middle. D.T.P. is their last hope to overcome their issues or they will be finished.

The film looks at the questions of does D.T.P. even work? Will this new trial drug be the answer to anyone’s prayers? What could have gone so wrong that someone does not make it through the trial alive? Is it D.T.P.’s fault or is it the fault of the researchers who were supposed to be monitoring the couples?

Each couple has trust issues of some kind formed by their own irrational thinking. While each has very complex and serious issues, we are immediately pulled in. We see that even though each couple is intriguing and matched, everyone is damaged in some way and for some specific reason. The couples all mention that they have tried different approaches to solving their problems. D.T.P. is a drug that is meant to break through all that and give new insight, and the film subtly raises questions as to why any drug would be the answer for anyone in these situations.

It is up to the patient and their doctor to decide whether risks are worth the potential positives associated with the drug, while researchers performing the drug trials are supposed to ensure that the parameters are set in such a way that limits negative outcomes. This did not happen with the D.T.P. trials. Each person was given a different dosage of the drug and a placebo was also given to one person, while none of them knew who was given what or what the potential side effects might be. As with all trials, it was up to the researchers to put a stop to the trial if anything seemed to be going badly. However, these researchers were clearly more invested in getting the drug to market than the safety of the individuals testing the drug. If government does not care in a supposed controlled environment, then what will happen if this drug goes to the masses?

This is a political film underlying the main reasons the public should be wary of some new drugs and drug trials. True, not all drugs approved on the market are bad, but what had to happen to get them to that point? 

We rethink the drugs in our own medicine cabinets. The government and drug companies want to push drugs to make a dollar. Director Kate Rees Davies effortlessly glides between each couple and ensures that no one narrative’s dramatic arc is undercut when we change storylines. However, the auditing sequences do not always work smoothly . Figuring out who is the working on behalf of the auditor and who are the company employees, except the auditor, is a bit confusing. There is a doctor and based on some of the questions, I don’t think he was with the auditor, but at times he seemed to side with them, so it is unclear.

Huertas as the self-aggrandizing Andrew is excellent, with a speech about his insecurities, late in the film, and how it makes him impossible to deal with, even to himself is heart wrenching. Blanc-Biehn creates a sympathetic character out of someone that is manipulative on occasion. Burdock and Fynn as the LBGT couple have outstanding chemistry and they feel entirely realized in and out of the relationship. As the despicable Justin, Matthew Ziff is slimy. Less impressive is Jade Tailor as the paranoid Kristina. She overacts often, and while the character is meant to be over-the-top hysterical, there is no baseline that she goes back to give the audience an idea of how acts between such bouts. This makes her character off-putting at all times. It doesn’t help that she and Cooper don’t have sparks flying between them, so them being married seems an odd match. The film looks at an alarming issue with kinetic style and strong characterizations.

“A BUCKET OF BLOOD”— Horrific and Satirical

 

“A BUCKET OF BLOOD”

Horrific and Satirical

Amos Lassen

Roger Corman was a director who dared to go where others would not. “A Bucket of Blood” is horrific, satirical and layered with subtext about Corman’s own aspirations. Dick Miller stars as Walter Paisley, the ridiculed busboy at beatnik coffeehouse The Yellow Door, whose dream in life is to be an artist. Unfortunately he has no talent and spends his free time squeezing a lump of clay into even lumpier shapes. When he accidentally kills a cat, covers it with clay, entitles the work “Dead Cat”, he is acclaimed a genius by local Beats and this sends his ego out of control. He becomes obsessed with winning the woman of his dreams and moves onto larger pieces (like “Murdered Man”).

The movie is filled with pseudo-hip dialogue and excruciatingly poetry as it takes us back to a time that was. The Yellow Door club is the haunt for the most fashionable beatniks around but for Walter it’s just somewhere to work, as he has a job as a busboy there. He carries out menial tasks but he has ambitions of his own as his heart’s desire is to become a sculptor. Everyone around him denigrates his dreams and does not believe he will amount to anything more than cleaning up after the patrons of his boss, Leonard (Antony Carbone). Only Carla (Barboura Morris) encourages him, and he is grateful for that, but when he finally gets some clay home to his one-room apartment…

Walter was not exactly a simpleton, but he was easily led, and comes to believe what others say. Walter has a solution to his lack of talent that he accidentally realizes when he tries to free his pet cat from the wall of his apartment and stabs it to death by mistake. Suddenly inspired, he covers the corpse with clay, allows it to set, and brings it to the club as an artwork and is met with admiration at the piece’s perceived truth and skill (it has the knife still sticking out of it), and soon the crowd wants more. They get one with “Murdered Man”, a life study of a figure afflicted by a deep crack in its skull, which should give you an idea of what it actually is, an undercover cop Walter panicked and killed when he was accused of holding narcotics. Carla remains oblivious, as does everyone else except Leonard who sees the high prices the art is amassing and keeps quiet about it.

“HAPPINESS ADJACENT”— A Romance

“Happiness Adjacent”

A Romance

Amos Lassen

Since I saw and reviewed Rob Williams’ first feature film some ten years and nine movies ago, I realized that we had a new director who was going to make quality gay themed films and from the moment that I hear that he has a new project underway, I begin pestering him about a screener. I have never been disappointed by the quality and originality of his work. As I could expect, Rob Williams brings us yet another wonderful gay-themed film with “Happiness Adjacent”. This one is actually kind of special for me in that we meet a gay Jewish guy as the main character. For those of you who are not aware, I have personally made it my goal to collect all books and films that deal with the gay Jewish experience so that my younger gay Jewish brothers and sisters will know where to go to find material and it is a pleasure to add this to the canon.

“Happiness Adjacent” is about explores the romance between Hank, a nice gay Jewish boy traveling alone on a tropical cruise, and Kurt, a bisexual man vacationing with his wife, Kate. When we first meet Hank Eisenberg, he comes across as something of a whiner and a “nebbish” (ask your Jewish friends what this means). However as the movie progresses, he becomes quite endearing. While he was not looking for a relationship, he is immediately drawn to Kurt and the two men form an intense friendship connection. They are open with each other about their sexualities— by this I mean that Hank comes out as gay and Kurt as a married man. Hank has his own issues with his past failed relationships and he begins to wonder if Kurt is secretly looking for a bit of action since it seems that his marriage has become quite boring. The two men do sexually come together and it is left to us to determine if what they have is just a vacation fling a chance for both men to find true happiness.

When the film began, as I said, I found Hank to be quite irritating in that he was harping on this being his dream vacation that he looked forward to taking with his best friend Brian who cancelled at the last minute (thus giving Hank a change to use the concept of Jewish guilt to make him seem less than a likeable character). Hank and Brian had compiled a to-do list for his cruise adventure (go to a Mexican beach, be a Pirate, get laid, get over ‘him’, and make a new friend) and now Hank would have to do this alone. I really wanted to scream at him to get a grip and enjoy himself but he realized his predicament and on his own (and after an imagined session with his therapist, a Dr. Mandelbaum), he did so himself and from that moment he became the kind of a guy I want to be friendly with. (director Williams does quite well with the Yiddish terms and Jewish feelings expressed here).

Hank meets Kurt on the very first days of the cruise and the fact that he is a good looking redhead and the very opposite of Hank’s dark Jewish countenance makes for an interesting aspect of their soon to be kindled relationship. But then there’s Kate, Kurt’s wife. At first Hank and Kurt hang out on the ship while Kate deals with her seasickness. But then, after a drunken night, Kurt shows up at Hank’s cabin and they’re off. While Kate is still suffering mal de mer, Hank and Kurt hit the beach and visit a pirate ship. After Kate realizes what’s been going on between her husband and Hank… You will just have to see the film (and enjoy every minute) to find out what happens.

Williams shot the entire film on location on the iPhone 6S Plus and the cinematography is excellent. My only complaint and it is not really a complaint is that old line about being able to sere Hank’s religion through the noticeable outline in his bathing suit outline is a bit old. We can always depend on Rob Williams to provide us with quality filmmaking as he once again proves here. (Is it not ironic that the very next morning I was in a study group with several other people and one was named Eisenberg and another was named Mandlebaum).

“THE ANGEL— Carlos Robledo Puch, Serial Killer

 

“The Angel” (“El Ángel”)

Carlos Robledo Puch, Serial Killer

Amos Lassen

Carlos Robledo Puch (Lorenzo Ferro) was an Argentinean serial killer, whose crimes surprised the police because of their cruelty. He was popularly known in the media as El Angel, because of its sweet and childish face features. Much of the myth that grew up around him came from the disconnect between vicious nature of his crimes and his sweet demeanor and face.

We first meet the curly-haired, liquid-eyed Carlos as the latent homosexual Carlitos who is drawn to schoolmate Ramón (Chino Darin). Ramon becomes his partner in crime, if not in bed. Ramón’s career-criminal parents (Mercedes Morán and Daniel Fanego) encourage him and give him access to guns. Carlitos is armed, cute, upset by unrequited lust. He is totally amoral and it is only a matter of time before he commits his first murder. He seems to have a feel for the drama of symmetry: One of the shootings happens through the hole he’s blowtorched into the back of a safe; another is a double killing of two men sleeping in twin beds, shot simultaneously from a gun in either hand. Afterwards, Carlitos looks impassively at the bodies and wonders if they’re feigning death: “This is all a joke, right?” That chilling moment, however, is almost as much psychology as we get because director Luis Ortega shows more interest in the how than the why. He uses the scenes of violence for black comedy, so that the crime is anticlimactic and the victims are largely irrelevant. Carlitos’ baby-faced, bright-eyed lack of ingenuity suits that agenda perfectly. He’s an unruffled a killer.

Carlitos was a prayed-for child who was treated with nothing but love by his upstanding parents (Luis Gnecco and Cecilia Roth), yet he somehow believes it’s his destiny to be a criminal and calls himself a “spy for God”. He pauses during heinous acts as if he is waiting for applause. We become very aware of the tremendous gulf between his pretty face and the repulsive psychology behind it. Ortega is as dazzled by Carlitos’ appearance as the Argentinean media were by Carlos fifty years ago. The film offers no answers to why someone who is so pleasing on the outside can be so disgusting on the inside.