Archive for category Film

A Note on Reviewing

A Note on Reviewing

Amos Lassen

Now that i have entered a new website, I thought I would share my thoughts on book reviewing and react to several comments I have received. I have been asked several times how I select the books I review. My selections are based on two sources. I have been reviewing for years now so publishers send me review copies. There is also the option that I use that if I see a book that I think looks interesting and I have not received a free review copy, then I buy it and if  it is worthy of a GOOD review, I report on it.

I have also been asked why I never give a bad review or if I do I balance it with good points. My purpose in reviewing is to incre4ase awareness of a larger world. If a book does not deserve a good review, I choose not to write about it. My ultimate purpose is to get people to read and if I write about book that has no redeeming value I defeat my purpose.

The other remark that I have received and I have expected it is “Why am I so “hung up” on the Jewish gay issue. There are several reasons for this but by and large it is because I am Jewish and gay and know what I went through reconciling that. It is not a question of being a Jewish issue, it is a religious issue and I have tried to make my reviews read so that any religion or minority group can be interchanged with the word “Jewish” and what the books that I review say can apply to any situation, any minority, and any religion. I am sure some think, “there he goes again with that Jewish business” and to some degree you are right. Just substitute yourself for the word “Jewish” and I think you will understand what I am trying to say. I have also been awarded a grant to write a book about growing up Jewish and gay in the South so quite naturally I spend a lot of time reading books about the subject. My reviews are an exercise for me to voice my opinion and if you feel they do not apply. Just skip over them.

Books for women? I know I have not written much here but I have finally begun to receive books on the subject, so stay tuned. I have a review I am working on now and hopefully there will be more in the future. In the meantime let me just say keep reading.

I have had one major disappointment. I am in contact with many authors and publishers and when I see raw talent, I will go above and beyond so that people are aware of the author. Recently I met a new vibrant young author, a poet who had just self-published his first book. I felt that people had to get to know him and I pushed that book like I have never done before and quite naturally the writer and I became good friends–or so I thought. I introduced him to many, many writers via facebook and other means. I wrote to people I know and told them that they had to read this book and I even went as far as to name it number one on a list I prepared for Lambda Literary Foundation. Shortly afterward my life hit a crisis with the infamous Amazon affair and I really needed a friend. Where was he? Nary a word from him yet his book continued to climb to the tops of many lists and he did so well that he opened his own press and managed to get a nice group of writers to publish with him. We are were scheduled to have lunch to discuss the rift between us when he decided that he had to go away for the weekend and was never heard from again. His poetry recently appeared in major publications and he won a place on the American Library list for which I nominated him and so on and so on. Am I bitter? I guess I am a bit but I learned that when someone writes a book and wants me to review it, I will but I will never go out of my way again and then get slapped for it. We all have our day and his will come.

On a positive note, I am currently moving over 5000 reviews of GLBT movies and books to this site so be patient. This will be the official archive of my reviews. Thanks for reading.

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“THE WHORE’S SON”–accepting the truth

 

“The Whore’s Son”

Accepting the Truth

Amos Lassen

Coming-of-age films seem to be the thing lately and “The Whore’s Son” (Picture This) takes a new approach—how does a child learn to accept the fact that his mother works as a prostitute. How will a son feel when he finds out that she was a prostitute before he was born and has remained in that profession his entire life? The sad thing is that this question gives an interesting premise for a film but it is not realized under the direction of Michael Sturminger. He seems to do everything right—his actors are good, the script is literate, the cinematography is beautiful but these things for some reason just do not fit. The dialog is so bad that it is often embarrassing. The story which is great falls short and everything that happens is totally expected.

The title makes us expect a look at the seamy side of life—it is a tame film that looks at a young boy’s feelings toward his mother. Ozren (played wonderfully by young Stanislav Lisnic) has somewhat of a crush on his own mother, Silvija, who loves her son but in quite a moody way. Ozren believes she works as a waitress and as Silvija goes to work each night, Ozren is left with her widowed sister and he is usually in bed before she returns from work.

Politics also plays a part in the film. Silvija’s brother, who also cares for Ozren occasionally, is a loyalist to Tito. The adults in the film try to keep the boy unaware of his mother’s occupation but as he reaches puberty he begins to question her work. He has already been called a whore’s son by the driver of one of Silivja’s tricks and he begins to understand what the word “whore” means. As Ozren matures, he becomes more and more infatuated with his mother and she, meanwhile, begins to attract a more upscale clientele. As she gains wealth, Ozren begins to lust after her. She finally moves into a more expensive apartment and Ozren takes a job cleaning at a strip club. It is then that he realizes what his mother is.

From this summary, it is easy to see what a wonderful movie could have been but what we get seems to be both unfinished and underdeveloped. The movie covers fourteen years as it tells the story of the son and the mother who are Croatian refugees living in Germany. The standout of the film is Ozren who comes across as sensitive and his performance is indeed worthy enough to warrant seeing this film.

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“THE SHVITZ”–the story of bathhouses

 

“THE SHVITZ”

The Story of Bathhouses

Amos Lassen

I just finished watching a new documentary that is amazing, “The Shvitz” (Docurama) a documentary by Jonathan Berman. This is the story of the bathhouse in America and how it is not our exclusive property. “Shvitz” is a Yiddish word for “sweat” and therefore, quite naturally, “The Shvitz” is Yiddish for bathhouse. For those of you who do not know what Yiddish is, it is a language spoken by the Jews of Eastern Europe which is now a dead language. Many of the words we use today come from Yiddish—schmuck, delicatessen, schnooze (as in “I am going to take a short schnooze”). It seems that we have thought that one of the contributions gay society has made to the civilized world is the bathhouse. Not so. The Eastern European Jews who came to American brought the idea of the sweat house with them and lovingly nicknamed them “shvitzes”.

Life in the “shvitz” was unlike life anywhere else. There was a sense of comradie, a sense of belonging and going to the baths was, in most cases, a ritual usually observed at the minimum of once a week. Unlike gay men, people went to sweat and get clean, to meet with friends and to exchange the news of the world. Nudity was the rule; men would sit for hours, buck naked, and enjoy each other’s asexual company. It is hard to imagine a group of gay men sitting around naked and just talking. For us the bathhouse is a symbol of unbridled sex and orgiastic activity.

Jonathan Bergman has created a look at the bathhouse as we never have known it. This is a funny and lively look at a world that is no more. We go behind the bathhouse doors to explore the atmosphere of the last American steam baths. The cinematography is gorgeous and the cast of characters is not one you will likely forget. There are butches and lawyers, models and rabbis, gangsters and gay and they are all naked. The one thing they all do in common is “shvitz” (sweat).

The bathhouse is largely an Eastern Europ0ean tradition that has by and large disappeared from the landscape of America. Yet there is a secret world of the bathhouse that still exists in large cities where there may be one or two “Shvitzes” left. Now basically coed, they are a remnant of a world that seems to be gone forever. They are the opposite of the high tech spas and fancy gyms that have sprung up with the maturing of the baby boomers who do not want to be identified with the world of their fathers. In the past, bathers would take a break form the routine life and wash away their troubles. They would find conversation, rejuvenation and unlikely friendships. (Unlike gay bathhouses where one can find little conversation, lots of sex, and unlikely friendships that usually dissipate after orgasm). The “Shvitz” reflects the evolution of modern life and is now little more than a passing resemblance to what it was.

“The Shvitz” captures the spirit, the warmth and the togetherness of an age old ritual that is quickly becoming a passing memory. For that reason alone, this is a worthwhile film to see.

Also on the DVD are two short films, “The City” ( a look at the changes in urban life) and “The Third Avenue El” which gives a picture of the modern city that most of us will never have the opportunity to know.

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“THE NEXT BEST THING”–poor Madonna

“The Next Best Thing”

Poor Madonna

Amos Lassen

“The Next Best Thing” has a lot going for it. Rupert Everett is a charming and gay leading man, the script is based on a very cute idea—a straight woman and a gay man decide to have a child. The problem is the leading lady, Evita herself, Madonna, just can’t act. As Evita Peron she won a Golden Globe but she has not acted decently in any movie she has made besides that one role. I was all ready to be entertained by this film and I was entertained by the scenes without Madonna.

The plot in a very concise way goes like this—two best friends, a gay male (Everett) and a straight female (Madonna) spend the night together, she gets pregnant, they have a son whom they raise together and then she meets a straight man she wants to marry and the whole mess gets messier.

The premise for the movie is good but the script is just awful—there is no continuity, the characters are completely underdeveloped and Everett comes out looking as the bad guy. The child is somewhere and we hate everyone in the movie. The bad guy is the bad guy, the good gay guy is the bad guy, the child is the bad guy, and the boyfriend is the bad guy and so on and on. Madonna is obnoxious. For someone who cries all the time she looks beautiful. She plays a woman let down by one man too many and when she sleeps with her gay fried, she gets pregnant. And then the movie slides toward a mudslide. Now I love Madonna—when she sings and she still is looking good but she is not an actress—wait—she is an actress—a lousy one. A stellar cast with Madonna and Everett, Benjamin Bratt and Lynn Redgrave should make a stellar movie. Instead the made a real stinker. Maybe that is why it moved so fast—so we would not see how bad it is. In fact, it is so bad that it is good. Madonna’s vapidity mesmerized me, Benjamin Bratt astounded me at how bad he was, Rupert Everett—I love you but you were terrible and Lynn Redgrave had a few seconds on the screen and was lost.

I rarely give anything a bad review—if something is bad, I choose not to write about it and I would not have written about this movie if I thought it was really bad. But this is not just really bad—it is politically too correct and pitifully awful. Rupert Everett, I am so sorry.

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“THE HOURS”–better late than never

“The Hours”

Better Late than Never

Amos Lassen

This is not the first time I have sat down to review “The Hours”. For whatever reason, I have had trouble getting my thoughts down in print. “The Hours” is not an easy, mainstream film. It is a mega film with some of the best acting we have seen in quite a while. It has won major awards and is based upon a novel that won the Pulitzer Prize. It has been granted glowing reviews and for that reason, you would think that it would have greater appeal.

It is not regular Hollywood fare. Things that happen in the movie are left up to the audience to decide what they mean. The ideas presented are controversial and people will not only argue the movie’s merit but about what exactly takes place in the film. A viewer’s interpretation says more about the viewer than it does about the movie.

The film takes place on a single day I the lives of three women at different periods. During that day, each woman makes a decision that will influence the rest of her life. Many people were caught off-guard by the film. They were expecting more in the vein of what Hollywood usually produces. How the picture even managed to get a PG-13 rating is a mystery to me. There is suicide and homosexuality in the film and these are topics that usually earn at least an R rating if not an X. There is a great deal of extreme emotion in the film and although not violent, it is very intense.

I classify “The Hours” as a great film but only for those who can take the challenge of thinking about it long after it is over.

There is no question that it deserves all of its critical praise. It is original and the originality of technique of tying together three separate stories in different points in time is a technique most are not familiar with.

The story of the 1920’s is the story of Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) as she tries to write her novel, “Mrs. Dallaway”—the story of a day in the life of a woman named Clarissa. The second story is about Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) who is reading Woolf’s novel. The third story is set in contemporary times and is about Clarissa Vaughn (Meryl Streep) who essentially is Mrs. Dallaway living in modern New York City. Each of these actresses give outstanding performances as well do the rest of the actors in the film.

From what I see and feel, the movie is about art but in a broad definition of the word—the three arts here are writing a book, baking a cake and giving a party. Each woman finds frustration and drive in the need for perfection. It also deals with the difficulty in making decisions. As we discover who we are, we experience loss and accumulate grief over the years of our lives which only makes us more aware at how much our decisions cost.

One of the first things I noticed in “The Hours” is that there are more characters than usual that are if not gay, bisexual.

The movie is a symphony of despair. There are a lot of depressed people in this movie but the movie itself is not depressing because of the artistry of the performances. Three fascinating different stories, edited together into a complex and intriguing drama is a monumental motion picture that should not only be seen but cherished.

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“THE HAWK IS DYING”– bizarre obsessions

“The Hawk is Dying”

Bizarre Obsessions

Amos Lassen

Strand Releasing has a big hit on tap for us this summer and the release of “The Hawk is Dying” is sure to create an audience. The movie stars two time Academy Award nominee, Paul Giamatti who has quite a role here. He plays George Gattling from Gainesville, Florida who is unhappy and lonely. He details cars and lives with his sister, Precious who is also a malcontent and her mentally ill son, Fred (Michael Pitt). When Fred’s dad deserted the family some twenty years earlier, George began to raise Fred. George has virtually no love life except for a casual sexual relationship with a young psychology student who could probably be his daughter.

George and Fred have one passion in common, the sport of kings, falconry. By training falcons and hawks, George feels a sense of the past that he thinks is nonexistent in the modern world. However whenever he attempts to train a bird, the result is death of the animal. George and Fred try to catch a hawk and while doing so ties his own fate to the fate of the bird. Hawks that are kept in cages will sometimes starve themselves to death rather than submit to being caught. In an attempt to find meaning in his life, George refuses to eat or drink until the hawk he has caught does.

As tragedy comes to the family, George’s obsession with the hawk increases and he is so bent on taming the wild bird that he borders on insanity and he alienates and bewilders those around him. The hawk and man are at odds—as George locks himself into a battle of the will with the bird, the bird would rather die than give in.

The movie is based upon Harry Crews’s semi-autobiographical novel which he published in 1973. We meet bizarre characters who drive themselves, by their obsessions, to the very limits of human experience. The compassion of the film as seen through George’s determination to tame the hawk. This gives beauty and humor to the film as if George is one who marches to the beat of a different drummer. This obsession of George’s pulls at the viewer and drags him into the film in a way I did not think was possible. Giamatti gives another Oscar caliber performance but he is not alone. The entire film is imbued with great acting by a superior cast. The movie moves you like few can do. Michael Pitt as the mentally challenged Fred gives a performance of sheer beauty and he rises to new heights in a supporting role.

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“THE FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS”–over the top

“The Flight of the Conchords”

Over the Top

Amos Lassen

I came across the two DVD set of “The Flight of the Conchords” quite by accident and I am so glad I did. I really needed a good laugh and I got more than expected. This set in the first season of the HBO series and as usual the cable channel has kept its reputation high The two guys, Jermaine Lement and Bret McKenzie who are known as Flight of the Conchord are New Zealanders, known for folk parody. In the series they come to New York with the determination to conquer America one fan at a time.

The two disc set contains twelve episodes that deal with such topics as unrequited love, criminals who have no concept of what they are doing, wild parties and the one fan of the duo. The episodes are pure fun and it is the delivery of the material that makes each show amazing. Bret and Jermaine approach each situation with utmost seriousness and this adds a good amount of wit to virtually every comment they make. The humor is subtle—it is far from loud guffaws but it is smiles all the way through. The show is unique in a very strange way—it is low key with great performances. All of what makes great comedy is in this series. It is both funny and silly and the music is wonderful as it expresses our innermost thoughts.

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