Saturday, January 16, 2016


I was in a treehouse exactly once. My grandmother’s neighbor’s kids built it in their backyard. On the day I was invited up, we were visited by an owl. This owl lived in the tree in front of my grandmother’s, and from her attic window we could see the hole where the bird resided. Now, owls have this rep for being wise, but this was the stupidest owl I’ve ever seen. It was always colliding with its tree like it was intoxicated, for starters, and it kept bringing home trash instead of food. (We watched this thing religiously.) It flew with the clumsiness of William Katt in The Greatest American Hero.
Anyway, it’s the middle of the damn day, and who should visit us in the treehouse but this owl. I assume he was on his way home from some bender, because he made a crooked beeline for yours truly. In an attempt to duck the owl, I fell out of the tree. Drunk-ass owl continued to fly home, where I guarantee you, he crashed.
I tell this story because I am about to free fall from the SLIFR Treehouse. Time is the owl, and this post marks my sudden exit. Let’s get started!
My mother used to tell me that you know you’re getting old when people—friends, mentors, idols and relatives—started dying all around you. As of late, cancer has ravaged my family; I will soon be without at least 2 of the four people who are suffering, people who have influenced me, nurtured me, guided me and raised me. Previously, I got to watch a beloved aunt slowly destroyed by cancer, and my mentor, friend, boss and idol Roger Ebert also succumbed. I am so beaten down by all this that I haven’t had much of an emotional response to the deaths of David Bowie, Alan Rickman and Grizzly Adams’ Dan Haggerty. Cancer got all of them too, and it almost feels like the universe is taunting me. But I’m all cried out and have gone comfortably numb in a valiant attempt to save my own sanity.
Sanity, however, was in short supply at AMPAS. I don’t know why anybody’s wringing their hands over the complete lack of color in the Oscar nominations. There’s a great article over at the Unexplained Cinema website that does a better job detailing the why’s of this phenomenon than I can. The only person of color I had in my Oscar nominations contest predictions (by the way, I won!) was Benicio Del Toro for Sicario. I guess he split the “minorities in scary places of brown Otherness and/or suffering” votes with Idris Elba. Sorry, Benny of the Bull.
Gone With the Wind was on the same day as these colorless Oscar nods! I joked about how Gone With the Wind was counterprogramming for Republicans who didn't want to watch the GOP debate. Was it a coincidence that TCM did this or were they being funny? I’m sure it was coincidence, as GWTW is on TCM as much as Robert Osborne is. Gone With the Wind is to TCM what The Beastmaster was to 80’s era HBO.
That scroll at the beginning of Gone With the Wind sounds exactly like the sentiment I heard when I bravely attended a Tea Party rally in Cincinnati back when I lived in that hellhole (sorry, Brian, for being mean to your state). And Rhett and Scarlett represent those sentiments better, and in more entertaining fashion, than a debate whose biggest star is the color of Tang. But the far bigger irony of Gone With the Wind being run yesterday was that it coldly reminded us that an Academy far Whiter and more outwardly racist than the one that exists today somehow found a way to nominate Hattie McDaniel, a person of color! And she won, too! Today’s Oscar should be ashamed by this; he should beat his own naked ass with that sword he’s holding in front of his cock.
It’s funny how The Revenant, a movie where right wingers saw Leonardo DiCaprio get raped by a bear (he wasn’t!) and which twisted the hell out of its true story can get a pass on accuracy, and 12 Oscar nominations, but Straight Outta Compton gets scrutinized. All movies lie—they used to call it “dramatic license”—but only certain ones field the complaints. I’m resigned to The Revenant winning Best Picture, but I hope the ghost of Davy Crockett shows up at the ceremony to call Leo a pussy when he accepts his Best Actor Oscar. “I killed me a bear when I was only three, bitch!” Davy will yell. “How old are you? 50?”
As for Compton, I gave it four stars not because it was perfect (it ain’t remotely perfect) but because I admired its craft and I was stunned by how unapologetically angry it was despite it being in the biopic genre. One of my favorite scenes of the year was when Paul Giamatti yelled at the cops who were arresting NWA in front of his studio. The movie plays this moment so well, because I bet every Black person watching this was thinking “Shut up, Paul Giamatti! You’re going to get NWA SHOT!” The movie knows you’re thinking it, too.
Yes, you can tell who produced this movie, but I still don’t think it makes these guys saints. There’s some ugly stuff here. Yes, there was a lot of ugly stuff they didn’t put in, but this was no full whitewash. The amorality of it was refreshing. “Calibrate your own anger” about it, I wrote in my review.
Dennis, I think Carter Burwell’s going to win the Score Oscar over Morricone. The Hateful Eight overture was indeed great, but that’s all I remembered about his score! Burwell’s music stuck with me, even if Carol didn’t.
To answer the questions you posed, Dennis:
Four of my favorite moments of 2015 were in Creed:
1. The one-take boxing match.
2. Michael B. Jordan vs. the motorcycle guys in his montage.
3. That moment “Gonna Fly Now” kicks in.
4. The last shot of the movie, which is a thing of beauty.
I dug the Chi-Lites scene in Chi-Raq, as well as any time Sam Jackson opened his mouth.
Three of my favorite moments of 2015 had to do with songs.
1. Tom Noonan’s song over the end credits of Anomalisa, “None of Them Are You” was fantastic! I suppose I liked it so much because it meant Team America: Arthouse Edition was over, but never mind that.
2. Martin “Gilfoyle on Silicon ValleyStarr’s singing of “I’ll See You in My Dreams” to Blythe Danner, and her reaction to it. I wrote about this at Roger’s site.
3. Meryl Streep, whose attire in Ricki and the Flash weighed more, and was more metallic, than Aunty Entity’s in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, singing “Cold One”. All three of these songs deserved Oscar consideration in the “Should be Nuked” Best Song category. Instead, we’ve got OSCAR NOMINEE Fifty Shades of Grey.
My least favorite movie of the year was Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, a racist, sexist piece of shit that far too many critics loved. In another movie club I won’t mention, it was Whitesplained and mansplained to those of us who were critical about its treatment of its minority and female characters. It won two awards at Sundance, which is why I’ll never go to Sundance. (Runner up: Irrational Man, Woody’s worst movie ever.)
My biggest disappointment was The Hateful Eight, but I was also disappointed by Tomorrowland (which made my ten worst list) and Dope. Dope and Compton have similar problems, but where I think Compton overcomes its tonal problems, Dope does not. Any scene with Roger G. Smith in Dope is a great one (and when he’s in Chi-raq also), but Dope hops on a soapbox that felt like an incredible pander to its audience. It made me give the film a negative grade.
My favorite 2015 moviegoing experiences were both at festivals. In January, I went to San Francisco’s Noir City (which I’ve done for the past 7 years and will do again next week). This is my favorite film festival, 11 nights of noir at the Castro Theater, watching movies with an appreciative audience. I get dressed up in my suit and my world-famous hat, drink bourbon and pretend I’m a tough guy.
The other experience was a new one. In September, I went to the Gdynia Film Festival, whose artistic director is my Ebert site colleague and friend Dr. Michał Oleszczyk. It was fascinating to experience a festival that catered to its country’s films specifically. I met some famous people and I learned a lot about Polish films and got to see how Polish audiences responded to them. And I saw some good stuff! One film, called The Lure is playing at Sundance this year. Dennis, you’d love it as much as I did—it’s a horror musical about man-eating mermaids who come on shore to find love! Shot in garish color!
The one movie on my ten best list I’d ask people to look at is Call Me Lucky, Bobcat Goldthwait’s powerful documentary about comedian/political satirist Barry Crimmins. It’s not an easy film to watch (it dredged up a lot of old trauma for me—Crimmins and I have something in common). But it is an essential documentary, superbly done.
I’ll bring back La Meryl for my closer. Ms. Streep said that today’s film criticism was sorely lacking in female voices, which is true. In my younger days, I read so many female critics: Pauline Kael, Judith Crist, Kathleen Carroll, Susan Wloszczyna, Sheila Benson, etc., in addition to Roger and Archer Winsten and even Sexy Rexy. I hadn’t even realized that the universe had changed and become so male. So I agree with Meryl.
But in addition to this, I add that we need more diverse voices of color in film criticism as well. We’re both pretty fucked, unfortunately: The consensus is that women will only give good reviews to Nancy Meyers movies and can’t sit through The Revenant (my mother watches Lucio Fulci movies, so fuck whoever thinks this about women). And I can’t tell you how often people are surprised that I know about things besides Black movies. I was talking about at a party and someone said “GASP! You know about Fellini?” I responded, “You do know Fellini was Black, right? Billy Wilder too! He was passing!”
When that’s not happening, people mistake me for the only Black critic they’ve heard of, Armond White. Now, I’ve met Armond, and he’s probably far more insulted that I’m being mistaken for him than the other way around.
My point here is that diversity matters in the arts and in criticism, and not the fake-ass diversity bullshit I keep getting fed that’s been manufactured by the same PR firm that created “post-racial America.” True diversity, because the current "diverse" situation is predominantly White, predominantly male and totally bullshit. I like exploring the viewpoints of those who aren’t like me, because I may learn something I didn’t know. Why shouldn’t readers or viewers also experience the viewpoints of LGBT people, or women, or people of color?
Just like Dope, I ended with a soapbox lecture and a question! I did that shit on purpose!! NYAAH!
Dennis, thanks for having me in the Treehouse with such wonderful co-conspirators. You have all taught me and entertained me. Let’s do this again sometime!
Uh-oh! Here comes that fucking drunk owl to knock me out of here. Peace out!
Odie Henderson is based in Clifton, New Jersey and makes his living writing computer code, but is better known in online circles as a film critic for who also writes extensively for his own sites, Big Media Vandalism and Tales of Odienary Madness. In 2013 he programmed a film series at the Off Plus Camera Film festival in Krakow, Poland and has been known to perform a karaoke version of EU’s ”Da Butt” upon request.


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