“FRAGMENTS”— Three Friends

“Fragments”

Three Friends

Amos Lassen

“Fragments” from writer/director Stéphanie Anne Weber Biron introduces us to an unhappy lion mascot, a straight talking girl fed up with sexual double standards and a hypochondriac 18 year old gay guy who just got into med school.

Alex (Connor Jessup), a fed up boy works as a lion mascot and dates an open minded nice girl who feels the urge to encourage her boyfriend to explore his sexuality with another guy. She senses that a gay vibe is coming from him and she’s totally okay with that. Along comes a hypochondriac gay guy who is going to med school (Douglas Smith) and the two become friends.

Stéphanie Anne Weber Biron was the cinematographer of Xavier Dolan’s earlier films and who finds her voice as a director with “Fragments”. We see and hear fragments of feelings in this basically a gay romance. The new friends talk about seemingly everything from sex to anatomy .

“PYTOR495”— A Dangerous Secret

“Pyotr495”

A Dangerous Secret

Amos Lassen

Director Blake Mawson’s “Pyotr4935” is set on one evening in today’s Moscow. Pyotr is 16 years old and is baited by an ultra-nationalist group known for their violent abductions and attacks bolstered by Russia’s LGBT propaganda law. Pyotr has a dangerous secret. He heads out for a hook-up with a guy he’s met on a dating app.

Once there he discovers the guy and his friends actually intend to punish and torture him for being gay. Regardless of his age, they think of him as a pedophile. They realize that they may have gone to far something monstrous emerges taking us into the world of the paranormal. It’s an interesting idea that brings a touch of supernatural horror into a gay-themed short. The film also consciously looks at the situation in Russia, where the gay propaganda laws have allowed homophobes to feel they have impunity to kidnap and torture gay men.

“LIFE AFTER EX”— Newly Single

“Life After Ex”

Newly Single

Amos Lassen

Dylan is a newly single man who needs to put his life back together after his partner has left and while this might not sound like the ideal basis for a romantic comedy, director Jim Fields shows us how it is. The plot takes place at the time before same sex marriage was legal nation-wide.

We are taken into Dylan’s is adult life and are with him from his initial marriage and break-up, to the fallout and aftermath and to the actions that he takes find the perfect partner to spend his days with. We see the false starts and traps of the lonely as we move toward the conclusion that is, of course, inevitable. After all, this is a romantic comedy.

We have faced many of the same situations ourselves so there is a lot to identify with here. By title, a romantic comedy is supposed to be funny but actually the only thing I found funny here is the way Dylan behaves at times. Dylan is an underdog looking for his idealized partner. We have had stories like this time and time again. However, this works to the advantage of the film. Think about how many versions of “Romeo and Juliet” you have seen yet we continue to see them again and again.

This is a story about people and relationships in a world where nothing is perfect, the world we live in today. Dylan Holm (Nicklaus Knipe) is a young web designer who has broken up with his partner Steve (Spencer Wolfe). They were a married couple whose relationship ended because of Steve’s drug problem. In order to get a divorce, Dylan must relocate to another city since gay marriage was not legal across the nation.

Once settled in his new place, Dylan begins his search for a new boyfriend and we see him as “a lonely, kind and intelligent person”. Dylan also seems to be overly needy and this makes us want to root for him. We see Dylan meet new friends and potential lovers and then get engaged and ultimately become the man he was meant to be (but did not seem to know it). There are no surprises here— everything happens as we think it should. So then you ask, why you would want to see a film with a familiar plot and no surprises?

Well, for one thing the way the relationship of Dylan and John (Justin Parker) is wonderful with us feeling their passion and the build up of their relationship was great. The actors have amazing chemistry and even though we know how the film will end, we want to watch what happens. It is all just for fun and that is just fine with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“JAMIE”— Two Friends

“Jamie”

Two Friends

Amos Lassen

Jamie is looking for his first relationship. One Sunday, he meets Ben and the two spend the afternoon together. This short film is a modern take on the blind date. It begins with Jamie carefully avoiding his family to text with a man named Ben.  They agree to meet up with each other for the first time, prompting Jamie to sneak out of the house.

When the two men meet, they share war stories of their past flings.  Instant companionship is found as each man shares his harshest wounds and happiest times with the other. In a very short time, we get a lovely story about coming together and see the results of hooking up online. Short and sweet this is a film that you should seek out.

“PRETTY BOY”— A Birthday Gift

“Pretty Boy”

A Birthday Gift

Amos Lassen

Sean’s father takes him to a motel and gives him a prostitute for his 18th birthday. He must sleep with her to “fix” his questionable homosexuality. This is a different kind of coming-of-age story that looks at bullying, sexuality, fundamentalism, a clueless father, and a “helpful and intelligent prostitute.”

Brilliantly written and acted, the film plays on the emotions of the viewer through moments where we cringe, moments when we cheer, moments where we want to hug the Sean, and moments that provoke tears.

“The Taking of Peggy Martin” by Karen Glista—Seeking Truthh

Glista, Karen. “The Taking of Peggy Martin”, Independently Published. 2017.

Seeking Truth

Amos Lassen

Peggy Martin is a young nurse who works at Rusk, an institution for the criminally insane in East Texas. Her husband, Danny, was supposedly killed in a car accident but Peggy believes that he was murdered and that the murderer is Jasper Johnson killed her husband. When Peggy is summoned to a meeting with Jasper’s mother, Marabelle, she learns that she thinks that Danny was the illegitimate child of her dead husband, Charles. She is filled with doubt and is afraid that the Johnsons will betray her somehow and she feels herself losing control and going insane. In hopes of staying stable, Peggy throws herself completely into her work. She is soon dealing with a

schizophrenic in a straitjacket and by circumstance she finds out that he is Morgan Dubois. When Morgan was a child, he was found burrowed in the ground in the Piney Wood Thicket. Peggy also learns that there is a link between Morgan and her now dead husband as well as to what she is experiencing mentally.

Now if I were to stop writing tight now, I believe that most of you would think that this is an intriguing story and, believe me, it is. But no matter how intriguing a story might be, it must be told in prose that keeps us reading. Before this book, I had never heard of Karen Glista but I can say this—she knows how to write a story. It is not often I read a book in one sitting but that is what happened here. I do not think I even blinked after reading page one. I could, of course continue summarizing the plot but I won’t for fear that I might give away some of the secrets that are revealed.

It is important to remember that Peggy had been raised to care for people and that is about the only good thing that came out of her fundamentalist family upbringing. Unfortunately she had her own problems to deal with while she tried to help others. She soon began to question things that she had always accepted as fact. Because of so many strange happenings, Peggy finds herself on the brink and losing her sanity. Her work brings her even more questions. Since Peggy narrates the story in the first person, we tend to follow her thoughts and root for her. If you like mysteries and psychological thrillers, this is the book for you. If you don’t, read it anyway and perhaps open yourself to new genre. I have the feeling that there is more of the story to come and you want to be up-to-date for when that happens.

“FESTIVAL”— Folk Music at Newport

“Festival”

Folk Music at Newport

Amos Lassen

From 1963 to 1966, director Murray Lerner visited the annual Newport Folk Festival to document a thriving, idealistic folk music movement as it reached its peak as a popular phenomenon. Some of the performers he saw included Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Howlin’Wolf, Johnny Cash, the Staples Singers, Pete Seeger, Son House, and Peter, Paul and Mary. These artists went on to become legends. They are just a few of the singers who shared the stage at Newport and who offered a range of folk music that encompassed the blues, country, and gospel as well as its newer flirtations with rock ‘n’ roll.

The Criterion Collection has now remastered the gorgeous black and white photography. Lerner juxtaposes performances with snapshot interviews with artists and their fans from over four years of the festival and the film gives us an intimate record of a pivotal time in music and in American culture at large.

Most of the performances we see here are abbreviated, yet there is always enough of each act so that its flavor and appeal becomes apparent. The more famous names like Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and Peter, Paul & Mary get a lot more coverage. We see how much and/or how little each has changed over the intervening years. Peter Yarrow was a trustee of the Newport Folk Music Festival and is often heard introducing acts and checking sound levels, moving microphones around and the like. We see that Joan Baez is clearly uncomfortable with her newfound popularity, while Dylan, (before his folk-rock phase) has little of the interaction the other performers seem to enjoy with their fans. The disparate styles of the period — traditional Depression-era folk, folk-rock, protest songs, blues, etc. — are given about equal coverage, and we sense that this very diversity played a role in the genre’s decline even while the film was being made. It’s fascinating to watch Theodore Bikel and Mississippi John Hurt on the same stage, despite being musically at odds. It is great fun watching acts less known to casual folk music fans. What we do not see is the pretentiousness that is often associated with folk protest songs. This is mostly a straightforward celebration of the music.

DIRECTOR-APPROVED BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES

– New, restored 2K digital transfer, approved by director Murray Lerner

-New reconstruction and remastering of the monaural soundtrack using the original concert and field recordings, approved by Lerner and presented uncompressed

– When We Played Newport, a new program featuring archival interviews with Lerner, music festival producer George Wein, and musicians Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Buffy Saint-Marie, Pete Seeger, and Peter Yarrow

– Editing Festival, a new program featuring Lerner, associate editor Alan Heim, and assistant editor Gordon Quinn

– Selection of complete outtake performances, including Clarence Ashley, Horton Barker, Johnny Cash, John Lee Hooker, and Odetta

– PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Amanda Petrusich and artist bios by folk music expert Mary Katherine Aldin

 

“#gods” by Matthew Gallaway— Another Look

Gallaway, Matthew. “#gods”, Fiction Advocate, 2017.

Another Look

Amos Lassen

When I posted my first review of Matthew Gallaway’s “#gods”, I said that I would post another review later once everything sunk it. It is probably once of the most unusual novels I have ever read which meant that I needed time to really think about it. Here are some of my thoughts. Gallaway throws a lot at us. He manages to use several themes— love, music, sexuality, death and resurrection and the nature of our existence.

The novel opens with a murder that seems to be a ritual killing since the body is found in an abandoned building, charred black and surrounded by flowers and candles. At this point, we think that this is going to be a detective novel but soon realize that it is so much more. We are taken on a journey through time with Gus, a New York City homicide detective who is charged with investigating the murder. As he does, he has flashbacks to when he was a child. He remembers seeing Helen, his sister, being abducted by a something with skin that glowed that he thinks of as a god. Gus meets Cecil and the two have sex.

We then move from Gus to Cecil and read about his growing up in the Midwest, being abused when he was a teen by his hockey coach and then learning how to deal with his homosexuality and then running away to New York where he found others like himself.

Just as we abruptly jumped into Cecil’s life, we leave it and come forward to the present when we meet three corporate office workers who have been technically laid off but who continue to go to work every day and still get paid for it. These three decide to start a new religion and they write a text which they dedicate to a former coworker named Gloria who is like a god to them since she was brave enough to quit her job and then do what ever fir her passion.

In the last part of the novel, we get a retelling of Greek myth with the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. Here we see that the Greek gods did not die like others but instead left this world behind them. There is a thread that ties the various parts together and that is that the gods are considering a return to earth and that there is something human about them. However, trying to understand how all this comes together is work that takes the reader away from enjoying the beautiful prose that is here. I recommend that one allow him/herself to be carried away by the language and not by the plot. I am sure that this is the reason that I am having so much trouble summarizing it.

Sexuality here I simply that, just here and really carries little if any importance regarding the characters. Sexuality and sexual politics have no importance when looking at the novel as a whole and this is where writer Matthew Gallaway shines.

The characters are looking for something to believe in but something that is not really a religion and we must understand that faith is not necessarily a word that is tied to organized religion. This faith is that

sense of belonging to a greater whole but not in the realm of traditional Western religion. The sense of belonging is in every aspect of our lives and is something that we need to make space and time for in their lives.

Being the other often comes with a feeling of shame while in this novel, it becomes a source of strength. I believe that is that sense of strength that propels the characters and the plot forward. I could keep going but I do not want spoil the read for anyone. I am quite sure that in another couple of months I will have some more to say and that to me is the sign of good literature— when you continue to enjoy a book even after you have read the last word and closed the covers.

“AUTHENTIC”— Seeking a Connection

“Authentic”

Seeking a Connection

Amos Lassen

Aaron lives a life of fun but there is a sense that something is missing. In his late 20’s, he works in a bank, managing people’s finances, but is unable t manage his own life. Whenever he finds a minute of privacy in his day, he hastily delves into his own fabricated reality that consists of excessive sex, pornography, and masturbation. This is a manifestation of his feelings of intense lack of connection and his own loneliness. He meets a new neighbor and establishes a connection igniting a spark inside that grows and opens a door to achieve the emotional and physical satisfaction he was longing.

“Is Aaron ready to give up his comfort zone? This short film is a portrait of a person desperately trying to find meaning in the compulsive pursuit of climax. In his quest for satisfaction he either doesn’t see his real desires or ignores it deliberately?”

“ALL THE SINS OF SODOM”/“VIBRATIONS”— Two Erotic Classics

“ALL THE SINS OF SODOM”/“VIBRATIONS”

Two Erotic Classics

Amos Lassen

 A pioneer of sexploitation cinema, American film director and screenwriter Joseph W. Sarno’s (1921-2010) was a pioneer of sexploitation cinema. “All the Sins of Sodom” and “Vibrations’’ were shot back-to-back in 1968. “All the Sins” of Sodom” has long been considered one of Sarno’s most captivating films and was thought to be lost.

Preacher’s son Daryl Henning (Dan Machuen) makes a living shooting erotic photographs of young ladies for his eager female publisher Paula (Peggy Sarno). He falls for pretty young brunette Leslie (Maria Lease), and they quickly end up having an affair. After sex, Leslie poses for semi-nude photographs while Henning tells her how he never usually wants to see women again after sleeping with them, but feels smitten with her. She’s delighted, and poses some more. However, when Paula walks in on this, she shares her concerns that Henning’s infatuation with Leslie will distract him from his work.

Henning argues that Leslie is his muse and that she has the perfect face his shoot about the Princess of Babylonia and Sodom. This doesn’t impress Paula who arranges for Joyce (Sue Akers) to pop round Henning’s apartment that evening and applying for the job as the princess. Henning is not interested but takes pity on her and lets her stay at the studio while Leslie continues to visit for photo and sex sessions. Events gradually escalate as Henning grows increasingly dissatisfied with Leslie’s posing, often berating her for not managing to be “evil” enough. Even his lovemaking to her becomes distracted by his lack of artistic fulfillment.

Paula sees Joyce as an obvious solution and Henning resists initially, even though he is taken by Joyce’s naked frame when spying on her as she changes clothes. A tryst with Joyce seems inevitable. When he finally realizes that she is the face of ‘evil’ he is looking for, Paula changes her tune and warns him away from her. But by this time, Henning is enraptured with Joyce and intent on capturing her, both on his camera and in his bed. We do not see most of the outrageous sins we can think of. However, we do get lots of extramarital sex and some light lesbianism. Sarno avoids overt nudity for much of the running time. Even so, the sex scenes are sensual and erotic. The photo shoots are sexy, aesthetic and the highpoints of the film.

Thematically, the script alludes heavily towards Biblical references throughout, fleshing out what is ultimately a tragedy that warns against the temptations of the flesh. The tone of the film is surprisingly dark and the film is a bleak tale without much prospect of a happy ending. The tight, intelligent script and committed performances are what holds our interest.

In “Vibrations”, aspiring writer Barbara (Marianne Prevost) moves to Manhattan to jump-start her career and sex life, but ends up typing manuscripts.  Alone at night, she listens to her sexy neighbor as she entertains herself and her friends with the aid of her vibrator.  When Barbara’s extroverted sister, Julie (Maria Lease), comes to town, Barbara is forced to confront her repressed sexual desires.  During the night, Julie hears a lot of moaning coming from next door. She sneaks into the room for a wild romp and tries to encourage sexually frustrated Barbara to join her. 



It seems that Barbara’s next door neighbor Georgia (Rita Bennett) is a bisexual libertine who stages small-scale orgies in her apartment. Barbara, at the same time, finds herself attracted to Park (Dan Machuen), another aspiring writer who has hired her to type up his stories. But before Barbara can get her romance with Park off the ground, Julia seduces him and leads Barbara into Georgia’s circle of revelry.

The film starts off promisingly with an intense lust/hate relationship between two sisters and their fascination with the sex cult next door. However, after the initial activities begin, we get a lot of repetition. The uncredited cast is attractive and frequently nude, but only the repressed “good girl” sister comes close to a natural performance, sharply contrasting with her sexually voracious sister. Sarno’s statement here is about sex as a freeing ideal rather than a corrupting concept. Julia sees nothing wrong with expressing her physical needs while Barbara has something of a predilection toward perversion. But once she let’s go and discovers the original joys of sex, she’s finally able to stand on her own two feet, and become the strong, independent career gal she claimed she was. The movie closes with Julia tied to the bedposts and Georgia satisfying her with a vibrator.

Bonus Features include an interview with Joseph Sarno, commentary by film historian Tim Lucas and Joe’s wife, Peggy Steffans-Sarno and a booklet featuring liner notes from Tim Lucas.