Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Christmas Meditation

by Odie Henderson
(Odienator is off today)


I wrote this as an E-mail to a few friends on Christmas Day, 2001. In the ten years since, it has never seen a public light of day, at least not to my knowledge, and I was perfectly fine with that. But when it came time for me to write something for the holiday season, I decided to run it with an explanation of why I did. That explanation used to be here. 

This introduction was originally four paragraphs longer, but I decided to let the work speak for itself. I saved one line from that which has been excised: This is probably the sweetest thing I have written or ever will write.

You can find your friendly neighborhood Odienator causing holiday trouble on December 29th when I run my annual Odie-Tune the News year-end column at Big Media Vandalism. For now, Odienator's far more sentimental alter ego is here to wish you a happy holiday (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc.)

A Christmas Meditation
(written 12/25/2001)

This is my 32nd Christmas.

I do not remember them all. This Christmas is exit 29 on the slowly crumbling highway of my memory. Back at Exit 1, I found myself asking my mother how Santa Claus was going to visit, as we had no chimney. We did have a fire escape, and my quick thinking mother informed me that it would be a worthy substitute.  I never questioned how such a huge person could fit through our little kitchen window--after all, he could fit through an even smaller chimney. When faced with the prospect of reward, logic becomes irrelevant.

My mother put me to bed, and then set about waiting for Santa to knock on the kitchen window. She expected him 'round Midnight. "How many hours away is that?" she asked me. I thought a minute, and then replied "four hours from now." Ample time for me to get to sleep, for if I were awake, I'd get nothin' for Christmas.

Sleep found me easily. For some reason, I had not yet acquired the impatience of a childhood Christmas Eve, that fight for sleep which so eludes us in younger days as we await the treasure the morning would bring. If patience is a virtue, then this was my last virtuous Christmas Eve.

 You can tell this was the 70's...

Amongst my numerous gifts that Christmas, trapped under the Six Million Dollar Man doll, the Instamatic camera that took the now defunct 126 Kodak film, and Scrunchy the Shop-Rite bear, I found the insomnia that would plague me for many Christmas Eves to come.

As the numbers on the exits of memory's highway got bigger, so did my family. I became heir to four siblings, each of whom would find their own Christmas Eve's insomnia buried beneath the gifts of the first Christmas they remember. My siblings became heir to the Christmas Eve traditions my parents first bestowed upon their eldest.

Every year, my parents would pile us into whatever American boat of a car they owned back then, and we'd go sightseeing in the ghetto. No matter how poor the denizens of our humble 'hood were, they always managed to create splendid displays of Christmas lights in their windows and outside their homes. It was as if the government gave out Christmas lights in addition to cheese and peanut butter.

Claremont Avenue was the place to be, as far as Christmas displays were concerned. Claremont Avenue was a one way hill that went from West to East. The show began once it crossed what was once called Jackson Avenue. When we passed the C-Town on the corner, the night was penetrated by an aurorae of blinking, colorful stars. Every house seemed to vie for First Prize in the Christmas pageant.

Being the oldest, I always had a window seat. As my Pops slowly drove down the block, behind cars doing the same, I pressed my face to the window. As my parents discussed the craftmanship and other boring adult details, I would ooh and aah along with my siblings and whomever else was lucky enough to fit in our family boat.

The spectacle only lasted two city blocks, but to us, it was like U.S. 1 from Maine to Key West. This was our Las Vegas, and we had hit the jackpot.

As I left the calm seas of childhood for the choppier waters of maturity, I lived vicariously through the sense of wonder in my siblings' eyes as they opened the presents Santa (and I, once I got a job) left for them. By then, I knew the truth about Santa--not that he didn't exist, mind you, for he did. He just wasn't that jolly old White man Clement Moore wrote about; he was that short Black lady in the corner, watching us open our presents. The one who gave us the ultimate gift.

Time drives on, and here we are at exit 29 on the highway of my memory. I am far older and wiser than I was at exit 1.  I am an insomniac for different reasons. My siblings are all adults as well, too, and they live vicariously through the wondering eyes of their children. I would have thought all my innocence lost, but September 11th reminded me that there was a lot more innocence to lose.

This year, I found myself longing for that more innocent time, a time when March of the Wooden Soldiers was broadcast every Christmas morning. A time when the Yule Log, a hideously boring four hours of footage of a burning log, played on Channel 11 every Christmas Eve. A time when I thought Santa did fire escapes as well as chimneys.  So...

...last night, I got into my car and took a drive down memory's highway. As I crossed Martin Luther King Drive, which was once known as Jackson Avenue, the sky lit up and my childhood returned.  Being the driver, I had more than one window seat. I drove slowly down the block, behind cars that were doing the same, and while I couldn't press my face to the window for fear of crashing, I still found myself oohing and aahing, as well as admiring the craftmanship and other boring adult details.

For that brief two blocks, I was a kid again, experiencing the wonders of Christmas that I had thought I'd lost.

I guess growing up poor in the 'hood gives you an appreciation for things others would find petty, cheap and garish.  But for me and those like me, who have left both childhood and the 'hood, but carry them both in our hearts forever, this was a return to my Las Vegas. And, if only for a fleeting moment, my innocence regained.

Merry Christmas everybody.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Tale Of OdieNary Mischief

by Odienator

In my old neighborhood, October 30th was known as Mischief Night. Halloween was for trick-or-treating; Mischief Night was for treating ourselves to trickery. Some of the kids I knew took to vandalizing property or cars. They’d bust windows or tires, sometimes even set small fires in garbage cans or toss cherry bombs in public mailboxes. There’s a story I once heard about my aunt taking some pictures with her Kodak 126 camera, then mailing the film to 15 Cents a Photo on Mischief Night. Someone threw a cherry bomb or some such device into the mailbox, and blew up most of the mail inside. The post office was able to read the return address on my aunt’s package, and sent her film back to her all burned up on November 1st.
 
My cousins and I weren’t that destructive. We kept most of our mischief to ourselves and their small circle of friends. We threw water balloons at each other (sometimes we’d drop them from the second floor of my aunt’s house) and sprayed each other with whipped or shaving cream. And years before Homey the Clown brought it to mainstream audiences, we beat the shit out of each other with socks filled with tennis balls or flour. Swinging them in the air, we’d unleash our fury on anyone we knew.

One of the neighborhood kids, a sadistic girl too big for her age, would fill her sock full of pennies. She was to be avoided at all costs. Her sock had skull-and-crossbones stitched on it, but it should have had a face with X’s for eyes on it, because a sock full of pennies will knock you stupid. Once, as she was chasing me, I zigged when I should have zagged, and her weapon of choice caught me. I saw that sock coming at me in slow motion, and when it connected, I saw visions of Abe Lincoln doing the Bojangles. She hit me so hard, my cornrows came loose. 

The resulting Pete Puma knot on my forehead was so big I couldn’t wear my cheap, plastic Halloween mask the next day. You remember those: They had a rubber band stapled into them so they’d stay on your head (and pull out your hair). Ironically, I was Bugs Bunny that year, so the Pete Puma knot was a nice touch. Chuck Jones would have approved.

This year, I found a pair of socks like the one filled with pennies that knocked the sense out of me.  Yes, that's my incredibly large clodhopper in this picture. The design on the sock is NOT a commentary on the way my feet smell.
Lest I forget, we did something else that I’m not too proud of: We threw eggs. Not at each other, though occasionally that would happen. We threw them at cars and the Bergen Avenue bus. Now, I NEVER threw an egg at a car, for I feared I’d cause an accident or worse, the driver would immediately stop and tell my mother what I was doing. The bus was another story. I liked hitting the bus, and I rationalized why it was OK: The bus had a schedule and couldn’t pull over for more than a few seconds. That eliminated telling my mother. Kids in the ‘hood had been throwing eggs at the Bergen Avenue bus for generations, so they probably had special Mischief Night training for new drivers. 

Mostly, I was good at it. For a kid who sucked at practically every other sports-related activity, this felt good. I could hit any part of the bus, from the Bergen Avenue sign in the front to the back lights at the top of the bus. I could time my throw so that the bus windshield would drive right into the flying egg. Granted, this is a BUS, a very large vehicle, but just go with me here. Let me have my joy.


God help you if you were on the Bergen Avenue bus on Mischief Night…and your window was open. You were asking to get hit with an egg. There was always someone who didn’t get the memo and wound up with egg on their faces. One year, I was standing on the curb holding an egg and waiting for the bus when the brother of sadistic skull and crossbones sock girl stepped to me. “Hey man, gimme your egg,” he said. I was scared of him, so I handed it over. As the bus came, I saw there were several open windows. In one of them was a dark skinned, bespectacled Black man with an Afro. I saw him looking our direction as the bus passed. Sock girl’s brother threw the egg, catching the man right in the forehead. POW!

“Oh shit!” my cousin yelled.

“Did you see that?! Aw man, did you see that?” asked the egg-thrower, jumping up and down excitedly. Yup, we saw it. We also saw the victim running down the street, swinging something in the air as he ran. I thought it was a sock full of pennies, but as he got closer, I realized it was a belt. The man still had egg dripping down his face. Some of it was on his tie. Pieces of eggshell were stuck in his Afro. His glasses were gooey. It must have taken the angry man about 15 seconds to run from the bus stop on the corner to the middle of the block where we were. The perpetrator had his back to the action, so he never knew what hit him.

“You bastard!” the man yelled, grabbing the kid’s arm and swinging him around in the familiar dance of the ass beating. The belt made explosive sounds as it made contact with ass. WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! “Where is your mother?!” the guy yelled. “Take me to your house NOW!”

I don’t know how, or if, that kid got away—I ran in the house like a coward. But every time he talked shit after that, we’d remind him of that Mischief Night. “ya ‘member when that man jumped off the bus and beat yo’ ass for throwing that egg?” That usually shut him up.

Many years later, I got a taste of my own medicine. I was driving home from the supermarket when these kids egged my car. Unfortunately for them, they egged me as I was pulling into the parking spot near my house. I got out of my car, and discovered the kids were still there. One was laughing and pointing at me.

“Yo, man! You should only egg the cars that are not pulling into parking spots!” I scolded.

“Whatchu gonna do about it?” 

There were three kids. Two looked about 12 or 13. The ringleader who addressed me looked about 15. I assumed he threw the egg, as he was the only kid without an egg in his hand.

“I should make you clean off my car,” I responded.

“You can’t make me do squat, dead-eye!” he said, showboating for his friends.

Suddenly, I felt the little devil of mischief poking me with his pitchfork. I knew what those kids were thinking: He’s an adult, so he can’t do anything to us or he’ll get arrested. As Bugs would say, “They don’t know me very well!”

These were not very observant children. Had they been paying attention, they would have noticed that in my possession was a plastic Shop-Rite bag. Inside that bag was a dozen of eggs I had bought to make a Halloween cake for my niece’s Halloween party. Before I knew what I was doing, an egg mysteriously jumped into my hand. Suddenly, the ringleader stopped shooting off his lip. He and his cronies looked at me with an almost childlike “you wouldn’t!!” expression on their faces. I would.

 I gave chase. I wasn’t always half-blind, and I wasn’t 12 anymore. I was 27. But I was 12 once, and I knew how to throw an egg. Plus, between 12 and 27, I played QB on a football team. So I’d gotten better at hitting targets much smaller than the Bergen Avenue bus. As the kids ran, I pummeled them with eggs. “You’re crazy!” the ringleader screamed. “RUN!” I yelled. “I’ve got more eggs!” 

POW! POW! POW! I hit them three times each as we ran down the hill that constituted my block. I missed twice. As they ran across JFK Boulevard, I yelled out “only hit moving cars next time, you brats!” The ringleader yelled out an obscenity, but he didn’t stop running.

When I told my mother this story, she was livid. “You’re an adult!” she said. “For hitting those poor kids with eggs, you’re going to bust Hell wide open when you go!” I was going to bust it open even more widely; I neglected to mention to her the target of the last egg in my carton. 

It hit the back window of the number 10 Boulevard bus. You're never too old for a little Mischief.

(Author Note: I’m just sitting at home this Mischief Night, but last year at this time, I was in Cardiff, Wales. On Halloween, I was in Dublin, Ireland. The Tale of OdieNary Madness that houses this crazy story is called “Dan Marino Bit Me.” But that’s a story for another time. Stay tooned!)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

I Got It From My Mama


Transcribed by Odienator

When I quote her, readers always ask if I make up the things my mother says. I do not. There is no way in Hell I’m that good a writer. So when you read this true story, be advised that I am quoting my mother verbatim. In fact, I am going to stage this as a little mini-play, so you can have Mom tell you the tale she told me. 

Some things you should know: My mother looks half her age. Once, she got proofed at the casino, but I didn't. Another time, they thought she was my sister's sister. After 5 kids, she still looks good. She and Dick Clark have that arrangement with the Devil, I think. She always has nice clothes and 8 million matching pocket books to go with them.

To set the scene: I went to Mom’s last week. She asked me to fix the E-mail in her PC. My Mom sits on the carpet  in front of a low computer stand with the keyboard on her lap to use the computer, so I had to do the same to fix it. This led to problems for me, which led to the story my brother and I were told by our mother.

ME
(getting up from the PC after several minutes sitting on the floor)
Ow! Ow! (popping noises as joints come to life)

MOM
What’s your problem?

ME
My back and knee are killing me from sitting on the floor like that!

MOM
You getting old, huh?

ME
Cut me some slack. I’m 41 years old.

MOM
You’re what?

ME
I said I’m forty-wuh—

MOM
Fuck boy! You’re older than me!

BROTHER
(Laughs)

ME
How is that possible?

MOM
I stopped aging at seventeen. I gave y’all the opportunity to do so as well. Guess you didn’t take it.

ME
Whatever, Ma.

MOM
Look at this!

(Sits down on the floor, then gets up quickly. She does this several times.)

MOM
See! Just like a teenager. You couldn’t even get up!

(Does it several more times, a few in dramatic, theatrical fashion)

ME
You gonna get stuck down there.

MOM
(getting up)
I’m still young and I still got it.

(My brother and I look at each other. He rolls his eyes.)

MOM
Listen. I went to the track with your father last week. Goddamn penny slot machines ate my 80 dollars. I was wearing this belt--

(Leans to the side so we can see the belt. It says “Kiss Me” on it.)

MOM
—and this fresh little old White man sat next to me. He pointed to my belt and said (in old man voice) “I sure wish I could do that!” Then he said “Don’t worry, I’m not gonna bother you.” I said to myself, I know D-A-M well you’re not. But he was persistent.  “Can I sit here and play along?” I looked at him and nodded.  He was a dapper old man, dressed in a suit with a hat like they wore in old musicals, like what my father used to wear when I was a little girl. I swear, he looked like he could just tip his hat and tap dance away.

(Touches the brim of an imaginary hat, slants to the side and starts mock-tapping)

(singing)
I’m tap dancin’ and singin’ da BLUUU-UUUUES!

(shuffles off to an imaginary stage left. Starts walking back to where she was standing before)

Anyway, after about 5 minutes of me pressing on that stupid ass slot machine, the old man got bold. “Excuse me, but you are so beautiful. Please, can I buy you lunch at the restaurant over there when you’re finished?” I smiled and said, “No thank you, “ but he was not having it. “Oh please?!” he said, touching the brim of his hat and leaning forward. “I’ll be right over there at those slot machines. Look for me, beautiful!”

BRO
Where was Daddy when this was happening?

MOM
He was upstairs shoveling his money into the horse’s ass.

ME
Ma!!

MOM
Anyway, I kept giving my money to the slots, like a jackass. The old man came back. I saw him out the corner of my eye, just shuffling over with his little hat and his dress suit. I’m waiting for Cab Calloway music to start playing and him to start dancing. “I’m back!” he said. “And I still want to take you to lunch, beautiful.” I just wanted him to go away, but I didn’t want to be mean.

ME
That would be a first!

MOM
Don’t make me slap the shit out of you!

(Looks at Odie. She’s serious. Odie moves out of her reach)

MOM
So I told him I was on a diet. “Oh come on, you?!” he said. “You’re perfect, beautiful. Now how about lunch?” He tipped his hat and winked at me. When he realized his charm only went so far, he said “OK. OK. Can I at least give you my phone number? You come here often.” He wrote his number on a napkin and gave it to me. “Don’t make me wait, beautiful,” he said, “I won’t be around forever.” Then he tipped his hat and left. I threw his number in the garbage can after he left.

ME
Just like a woman! Instead of telling him you were married, you teased the poor man! You probably flirted with him like that bear on Bugs Bunny. “Tell me MORE about my eyes!”

BRO
(laughing)
He could have been rich! Wouldn’t you feel messed up if he were?

ME
You’ll be watching the news, and they’ll show his picture and say (in newscaster voice) “The richest man in the state died today. Having no sweethearts or family, he left his multimillion dollar estate to his tap dancing cat named Singin’ Da Blues.” They show the cat, and it has a hat on just like the old man!

MOM
Shit boy, I told you before all that doesn’t matter. You can’t take it with you when you go. What’d I tell you all the time? You’re born with nothing, you die with nothing. All that stuff stays here.

BRO
But if you had it, what would you do with it? Say you hit the lottery. What would you do?

MOM
Spend it. Every last dime.

BRO
But what about our inheritance?!!

MOM
Y’all don’t have an inheritance now! You can’t miss what you don’t have!

BRO
Aw, that’s messed up!

MOM
But also like I told you before: If I got rich, I know a way to take it all with me.

ME
Remind me. How?

MOM
I’d spend it all on me! I’d get a new wardrobe, some new hair. Then I’d go to Nip/Tuck, get me some lipo—

ME
Which you don’t need!

MOM
—get a facelift to get rid of these wrinkles—

ME
Which you don’t need!

MOM
—get my tits put back where they used to be—

ME
JESUS! MA!

MOM
—and when I’m dead and gone, and people come up to look at me in that coffin (crosses arms to simulate resting in peace) they are going to see me looking beautiful and dressed to the nines and they gonna nod and say “Yup. Bitch took it all with her!”

ME
(looking at BRO)
Now I know she’s gone senile. I’m goin’ home.

MOM
Leave if you want to. Go on! You just mad because your mama ain’t creaky like your old ass is. Get back down on the floor and try to get up again! I dare you.

ME
I’m outta here. Bye, Ma.

MOM
I still got it. Rich White men talkin’ to me and everything. You just can’t deal! Your mama still got it, boy!

She damn sure does.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

El Amigo De John Sayles

by Odienator


Odie On Demand strikes again at Roger Ebert's On Demand Blog. This time, it's John Sayles' Amigo, the director's 17th feature.

There is something to be said for the economy in John Sayles' movie titles. He gets his point across in five words or less. The theatrical films he has written and directed bear the names of locations ("Matewan," "Sunshine State," "Silver City," "Limbo") or are deceptively simple descriptive statements ("The Secret of Roan Inish," "The Brother From Another Planet," "Return of the Secaucus Seven," "Amigo"). All 17 titles average out to just under 3 words per movie moniker (actually, 2.5), which means Sayles' 18th movie must star the king of the three word movie title, Steven Seagal. Laugh if you must, but IMDb will tell you Sayles once wrote a film for Dolph Lundgren. Seagal is only a "Marked for Death" sequel away, should Mr. Sayles take my advice.

In the meantime, his 17th film opens September 16th On Demand. "Amigo" follows the path running through much of Sayles' work: It is politically aware, occasionally melodramatic and maintains a certain intimacy despite sprawling across multiple characters and stories. Bitter irony and blatant humanism peacefully co-exist as Sayles' heroes, heroines and villains struggle to maintain the dignity he inherently believes they have.

Read the rest here.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Tell Gobby All About It: Born To Be Bad

by Odienator

(This is part of the Nicholas Ray Blog-A-Thon over at Cinema Viewfinder.)



In 1950, cinematic women lost their damn minds. Eve Harrington longed for the spotlight, and was willing to wrestle it from Margo Channing by any means necessary. Norma Desmond longed for the spotlight too, and was willing to obtain it by shooting a gigolo in the back under the guise of “madness.” These characters are well known, classic dames of the cinema, but there’s another, lesser-known schemer vying for the Bad Girl title in 1950. Her name is Christabel Caine, and the adulation she seeks isn’t from the audience, it’s from Dead Presidents and the rich men who consort with them.  Like Salt and Pepa, Christabel will take your man while making you look like the villain in the process. Then she’ll attempt to divorce him and take half his shit. It doesn’t matter if you’re her innocent cousin or the man she really loves. She’ll toss you under the bus while lying and denying all the way to the bank. “Who me? What bus?” she’ll ask innocently.

Innocent is a trait normally played by Joan Fontaine, the actress who embodies the bad girl whose characteristics are described in the title of Nicholas Ray’s 1950 soap opera, Born to be Bad. Remember how you feared Cary Grant was poisoning Ms. Fontaine with that ominous glass of milk in Suspicion? After Born to Be Bad, you’ll not only root for Cary to be the killer, you’ll be spooning poison into her milk like it was Nestle Quik.  Christabel is unrepentant and irredeemable, and Fontaine relishes the change of pace. She and her director know this is 100% Grade-A soapy kitsch that requires its lead to go full-court bitch, plowing down all comers as she slam-dunks her way into the society pages. Christabel’s surname, Caine, made me think of another unrepentant soap diva, All My Children’s Erica Kane. Since I’ve loved watching my “stories” ever since I was a kid, I knew I’d get a kick out of Born to Be Bad.

Bad is a battle of good and bad Joans, Leslie and Fontaine, respectively. Leslie’s Donna is Christabel’s cousin. She’s engaged to a very wealthy Howard Hughes clone played by Zachary Scott. She is leaving her job after the wedding, and thinks Christabel would be a good fit as a replacement. Christabel purposely shows up a day early, pretending to be embarrassed by her faux pas. In reality, she knew Donna was attending a big socialite party that day, and her cousin would be way too nice not to invite her to tag along. Out of the kindness of her own heart and the stupidity of her own naivete, Donna allows her to stay. Her name may be Donna, but she’s more like another character on Sanford and Son, Lamont. She’s a big dummy for not kicking Christabel to the curb.

Christabel plans to kick Donna to the curb, though. While Donna is out at a bash, Christabel awakens to find cynical, abrasive writer Nick Bradley in the house. It’s a Meet Not-So-Cute, as Christabel is terrified and Bradley, in the guise of Robert Ryan, is suitably gruff and smart-mouthed. Ms. Caine’s loins are intrigued by Bradley, but her brain and her pocketbook remain fixated on Donna’s fiancée, Curtis. With Nick, she enters into what he would later call a “sex attraction,” biding her time before making her move on her sugar daddy.

Christabel’s racket is to feign innocence while underhandedly shaping the scenario to suit her. She uses her uncle and aunt’s influence to get closer to Curtis, then becomes Iago to his Othello. Instead of selling infidelity, Iago Caine peddles golddigger insurance. Curtis is worried that Donna is, to quote Biggie Smalls, trying to stick him for his paper. Instead of hollering “we want prenup, we want prenup!” like Kanye West, Curtis trusts his fiancée because, well, she’s trustworthy. Leave it to Ms. Caine to bring the snake to this Garden of Eden. Christabel becomes that bug in Curtis’ ear, whispering that he should conduct a “test” on Donna to gauge her intentions. Insecure Curtis falls for the bait, never once noticing that his soon-to-be cousin-in-law knows way too much about the ways of the greedy.

“Oh, Curtis, why?!!!” asked the woman in front of me at NYC’s famous (and allegedly pervert-ridden) Film Forum. Until the theater ran Born to Be Bad, I had no idea it existed. This after listening to Joan Leslie talk about her career at the Castro Theater’s Noir City Festival in 2009. (Aside: I covered that festival in 2010). Because Fontaine is so good at seeming to be innocent, that’s why, I wanted to tell my fellow audience member. We know better, and so does Nick Bradley. Ray is surprisingly, hilariously explicit in explaining the real reason Bradley is willing to put up with Christabel and her Christabelshit: Her pussy is da BOMB. Every time Bradley kisses her, Ryan grabs Fontaine and practically swings her around like a rag doll, slamming his face into hers with lip-bruising force. Even Curtis does it. Nobody kisses Donna like that, and when she exits Curtis’ life after being unfairly accused, nobody expects Curtis to start singing Ritchie Valens songs.

Only one other man sees through Christabel’s shenanigans, and Born to Be Bad wouldn’t be the classic it is without him. According to imDB, Mel Ferrer plays Gabriel Broome, but he calls himself Gobby. Gobby paints pictures of society dames, pictures that hang over the fireplaces of mansions throughout town. The pictures are over the fireplace, but Gobby’s personality is IN the fireplace: he’s flamingly gay and absolutely fabulous. I’ve read reviews that question this, but you don’t need to be Liza Minelli to see that Ferrer is clearly testing the censors with his portrayal of the BFF. “You don’t care very much for women, do you?” Christabel asks. Gobby replies “My dear girl, apart from painting my major occupation is convincing women that I'm harmless.” Ferrer’s delivery drips with sarcasm: These are some dumb ass, unobservant women!

Christabel also tries to outsmart Gobby, but he’s not having any of that. “This is Gobby,” he tells Christabel after catching her in a lie, and his reasons for painting her picture have little to do with artistry and everything to do with impending scandal. The price will go up if Christabel is successful, and Gobby’s gallery will be swarmed by a bunch of open wallets and purses.  It’s a tribute to Ray and his screenwriters that the uber-macho Nick Bradley and the anti-macho Gobby get the film’s best lines.  Ryan sinks his teeth into the hilarious macho dialogue: “How many times do I have to tell you how much you love me?” he asks Christabel. And Gobby’s one-line takedown of a society woman at a party is worth the price of renting Born to Be Bad.

Fontaine is excellent, and almost as much fun as Ferrer. After a particularly duplicitious move by Christabel, the woman in front of me yelled at the screen. "TWO FACED BITCH!!!' she exclaimed, much to the approval of the audience. That woman couldn't count. Christabel isn't two-faced. This bitch has EIGHT faces. Fontaine is a joy wearing all of 'em.

Fontaine may be good, but the film's best performance belongs to Joan Leslie. She has to be the beacon of virtue, the victimized, without being so damn boring we don't feel some guilt for loving Christabel's villany. Leslie gives a superb, nuanced turn that's more complex than the film warrants or deserves. My favorite Leslie movie is still The Hard Way (Ida Lupino--she scares the shit out of me!), but Born to be Bad is a fine runner up.

Despite coming out two months before All About Eve, Born to Be Bad shares some eerie similarities. with my favorite movie of all time. Gobby is Addison, Nick Bradley is macho like Bill Sampson and Christabel is obviously Eve. Also like my favorite movie of all time’s Eve and Addison, Gobby and Christabel get exactly what’s coming to them as a result of their unholy alliance. Gobby’s last scene shows that he, like Addison, benefited most from the bad girl’s evil plans. Now if only the filmmakers had spun off Gobby, making him a gossip columnist at odds with Hedda Hopper and Luella Parsons. Now that would have been fierce.

I'm late, but so what, dammit! Click here for the blog-a-thon.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Gonzo the Not-So-Great

by Odienator

Once again, it's Odie On Demand at Roger Ebert's Movies on Demand blog. This time, I review Beware the Gonzo, this generation's answer to 1990's superb Pump Up The Volume. That movie had Christian Slater's career best performance, and played better to me at 20 then it does at 41. I have such affection for it because, to paraphrase Dazed and Confused: I get older but my nostagia stays the same age.

Beware the Gonzo didn't engage me the way Volume did. In fact, Gonzo kind of pissed me off. You can judge for yourself if I were being overly sensitive. Here's a taste:


"Beware the Gonzo" begins with one of those flash-forwarded scenes where something from later in the film is presented to us as a means of foreshadowing. Being out of context, the scene has the tricky role of piquing the viewer's interest while not being a spoiler. It rarely works, and "Beware the Gonzo"'s opening scene is a big spoiler: a beaten up Eddie "Gonzo" Gilman (Ezra Miller) stares into a video camera and tells us that his actions have cost him his best friends, made him lose his girl, gotten him kicked out of school, and almost caused the divorce of his parents (played nicely by Campbell Scott and Amy Sedaris). This is supposed to be an apology to all those he has wronged, but instead, it's one of those politician mea culpas, a whiny "my bad if you were upset" speech that never forgets to be more about its subject than atoning for his wrongdoings. Out of context, it seemed pathetic, but I was willing to grant that I didn't have the entire speech at my disposal. However, it hung over the movie, and as I met the interesting and trusting characters, dread crept in; I kept waiting for the moment when Gonzo would stop being the likeable character he is for much of the film and turns into this destructive monster.

More here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Firing the Help And Shutting Up Little Men

by Odienator

I'm around folks, just not here. I promise a post here soon. In the meantime:

First up: today's piece over at Roger Ebert's On Demand Blog: Shut Up Little Man: An Audio Misadventure



"One question I did want "Shut Up Little Man" to answer, though I know it cannot, is "Why are Pete and Ray's interactions funny?" All Ray does is call Pete all manner of unfriendly gay names, and Pete responds with his catchphrase or by getting into fights with Ray. The rants make little to no sense most of the time. Both Ray and Pete cuss incessantly and it seems endless. If an arguing, fussing and cussing household is funny, then I grew up in an episode of Def Comedy Jam. But to me, it's not funny, and this isn't a generational issue. The "Shut Up Little Man" tapes surfaced when I was in my 20's, around the same time as other audio-verite features like The Jerky Boys and radio station prank calls. Twentysomething guys were the target audience, but I never found any of these items very amusing. Perhaps, as one of "Shut Up Little Man"'s talking heads notes, finding amusement in audio-verite requires the human trait of being voyeuristic and nosy about other people. This isn't a trait of mine, because Kitty Cat, I know what happens to nosy fellows."

More here.

Second, my takedown of The Help over at Big Media Vandalism. I don't hate it like many do, but I also don't love it like many more do, either.


"The Help has been kicking ass at the box office for 2 weeks, and in that time, I’ve read numerous articles defending its subject matter and its storytelling device. Some of these pieces have been extremely condescending, with the writer expressing shock—SHOCK!!!!—that some people (uppity Negroes and “liberal” Whites, this means you) would find the film either patronizing or more of the same “Black story told through White characters shenanigans” Hollywood is known to pull.  Equally condescending have been some of the conversations I’ve had, both online and in person, with people who love the film. I’ve been told that I don’t know how to watch a movie, that I went in looking for problems, and that I was just too Black to enjoy the movie. My personal favorite piece of wisdom came from a White colleague of mine, who looked me dead in my redbone face and told me that Kathryn Stockett, The Help’s author, knew more about the Black experience than I did. Granted, Black women had a hand in both our upbringings, but unlike Ms. Stockett’s influential mother figure, mine repeatedly made it clear that she was not my goddamn maid."

More here.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Things that Ruined My Childhood: The Smurfette Show

by Odienator

Over the next few weeks, I'll be introducing a few new features here at The Odie Blog. Let's start with:

Things that Ruined My Childhood

This banner features items that have given me a different perspective on a TV show, movie, or other media from my childhood. Sometimes ignorance is indeed bliss, especially if that ignorance was brought on by age-specific naivete. What sucks about growing up is that you realize what Scooby Snacks were, why SnagglePuss was pink and constantly having objects shoved up his ass, and why Afternoons were so delightful to Starland Vocal Band. Getting older clues you in to the activity Cyndi Lauper sang about in She-Bop. Girls really DO want to have fun, and as Redd Foxx famously said, "how the fuck do you think they can say no all the time?"

Actually, I'm grateful for figuring all that out. Figuring things out is a good thing. It's when things that were so innocent in your childhood are so twisted by sick and talented individuals that one's childhood becomes totally ruined. That's what I'll be discussing whenever this feature appears here at Tales of Odienary Madness.

First up: In honor of The Smufocalypse occurring this Friday, I give you TV Funhouse's The Smurfette Show.


TV Funhouse was one of the more consistently funny featurettes on Saturday Night Live. Created by Robert Smigel, TV Funhouse was the SNL Digital Short of its time. It was constantly offensive and often the funniest part of the show. It used edited audio clips to send John McCain back to Vietnam while trying to give an actual speech about George W. Bush. He used real audio of the 700 Club and scripted (at least I hope it was scripted) dialogue that had Pat Robertson saying that Lou Rawls was burning in Hell for singing You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine. Apparently the former Budweiser spokesman thought his love was better than God's. 

Smigel also had 60's legend and onscreen wife of Danny Glover, Darlene Love, sing a carol called "Chrstimastime for the Jews." He did the video in Claymation, too. And I won't even go down the road created by Smigel's Ambiguously Gay Duo, who were recently made real in a skit featuring Jon Hamm and Jimmy Fallon as the Duo and co-writers Steve Carrell and Stephen Colbert as their nemeses.

Many times, Smigel's cartoons tried to ruin my childhood and early adolescence. He had Tracy Morgan voicing an unemployed Mr. T looking for acting work in the least appropriate roles for his talent. Animated like the old Mr. T cartoon series, Clubber Lang shows up to beat the hell out of directors who won't let him play Henrik in A Doll's House or do a commercial for feminine hygiene products. TV Funhouse also featured a newly militant Franklin from Charlie Brown teaming up with Valerie from Josie and the Pussycats to give a speech at the Million Man March.


Neither of these ruined my childhood. Mr. T's breakfast cereal did more harm to me as a kid. Whose idea was it to market sharp ass letter T's made out of a Cap'n Crunch-like substance to little kids? It was like eating broken glass. And I was happy to see Franklin's Black Panther routine, even if it were short lived (he short-circuits during a performance of In the Ghetto because there are too many Blacks around). After all, Charlie Brown only had the personality-deprived kid around so that, when he got busted making coon jokes, he could say "but some of my best friends are Black."

The Smurfette Show hit a nerve, though, because it supported all the negative things my adult brain realized about the Smurfs. Debuting in 1981, the Smurfs were a seemingly innocent, if annoying, bunch of little blue creatures living in mushrooms on NBC. They were all male, but I never caught on to that because, outside of Bugs Bunny's transvestism (which was kinda hot, actually), cartoons were the last thing my pre-adolescent brain tried to sexualize. They used the word "smurf" as subsitution for numerous words, which was far less distracting than Strawberry Shortcake's berry talk. The Smurfs had names like Brainy, Jokey, Greedy, Handy and Vanity (not THAT Vanity). They were led by kindly old man, Papa Smurf, who shared the same last name as everybody else.

Then Smurfette showed up, and if I remember correctly, she was designed by Gargamel to destroy the camaraderie of the Smurfs. Unfortunately, Smurfette looked busted. None of the male Smurfs wanted to get with her because she was either too scary looking for them or they were too busy la-la-la-la-la-la-ing each other. After Papa Smurf gave her a makeover blonde coif and some new titties, however, she started raking in the big bucks as the only chick in the village. Papa Smurf knew Plain Janes were evil, and blondes have more fun. 

My older cousins used to say that Smurfette was curing all the other Smurfs of blue balls, which was impossible because--well, never mind. Fast-forward a couple of decades, and TV Funhouse has turned Smurfette into Anna Nicole Smurf.


Voiced by Amy Poehler, Smurfette is now a foul mouthed, bored  reality show ho who likes to party and enjoys rubbing her coochie on everything and everybody. "I'm sick of this BLEEP village," she whines. "Everybody's blue..." She is perpetually horny and hungry, yelling at one of the other Smurfs, "you ate the last piece of pizza, bitch!" She's seen humping her couch and mistreating her assistant, Low Self-Esteemy Smurf.

I now know which Smurf I would have been.



Smurfette is irritable because, as she tells Papa Smurf, "My BLEEP itches!"

 
"You mean your Smurf itches," Papa Smurf corrects her. "Oh yeah," she says, "and I need to master--I mean Smurferbate."

Gargamel, enemy of the Smurfs, is watching The Smurfette Show on TV in his house. "Who green-lit this?" he asks his cat Azrael.


As Smurfette gleefully rides one of her neighbors, Gargamel asks "Why won't they get her any help?!!"

Help is exactly what Smurfette needs, because in a line of dialogue I wish I could wash from my eardrums with Clorox, Low Self-Esteemy Smurf informs us that Smurfette needed to go to the gynecologist because her IUD kept slipping. Gargamel hears this and sends Azrael to portray the pussy who has come to fix her pu--I mean smurf.

When Smurfette is in the stirrups, she asks Dr. Azrael a pertinent question:

"While you're down there, will you pierce my smurf?"

Dr. Azrael is shocked!

Mental note: Do NOT touch her Smurf!

Azrael steals Smurfette, at Gargamel's request, but he gets more than he bargained for when she gets to his house. Looking at Gargamel seductively, Smurfette asks "do you wanna Smurf me?" before climbing on, and rubbing her body against, a large part of Gargamel's person.

His NOSE, people! (God, you've such dirty minds.)

Gargamel can't handle all that good Smurfin', and drops dead on the spot, leaving everything to Smurfette in his will. Her new digs are redesigned by Vanity Smurf, who is well past metrosexuality and even further down the road from heterosexuality.


No matter how much Queer Eye for the Smurf Girl Vanity uses to fix Gargamel's drag digs, Smurfette winds up in the same situations and routines she had in Smurf Village. TV Funhouse leaves The Smurfette Show with one final, unforgetettable glimpse of our heroine, doing what a hard partying celebrity reality show star does best.


After watching this skit, all those innocent visions of the Smurfs I had in my head were destroyed. This is why I'm not going to see the new Smurfs movie. (Lest lightning strike me, full disclosure forces me to admit this is not the only reason). But don't let me stop you from taking your kids, or even just yourself, to see it. Honest to God, I will not pass judgement. And as you're looking at Katy Perry's Smurfette, remember she is voiced by the same chick who appears in videos with cupcakes on her hooters. Don't blame me if that ruins your childhood.

 California Girls, They're Unforgettable...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Saving the Wales

by Odienator

Check out my first piece over at Roger Ebert's Movies on Demand blog! It's about Sleep Furiously, a Welsh documentary available at Fandor for a free 24 hour period on July 29th. It's an unconventional documentary, and I enjoyed its leisurely pace and its observations of rural life in a town beset by change. A snippet below:




"You've got to have characters to make a community."

What does it mean to a community when a school shuts down? Here in the U.S., it means either the state doesn't have any money to run it or the kids have burned it down. In Trefeurig, Wales, however, the dissolution of a school is something far more ominous, especially if it is the only school in town. "Sleep Furiously" uses Trefeurig's school closing as its central event yet only hints at its deeper implications: Youth may be wasted on the young, but the world can't continue to exist without them.

Read the rest here!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Summer of 86, or No, I Have Not Been Sitting On My Ass

by Odienator

Oh, my beloved Tales of Odienary Madness. You are so neglected.

You can blame the job for that, but not entirely. Just because I am not here doesn't mean I'm nowhere to be found out here in the Blog-O-Sphere. This summer I've been contributing to the Summer of '86 series being run by Slant Magazine's The House Next Door in conjunction with Aaron Aradillas of Blog Talk Radio's Back By Midnight and Jamey DuVall and Jerry Dennis of Blog Talk Radio's Movie Geeks United! If this series were a movie, you'd see all those logos appearing on the screen before the opening credits. Alas, it is a blog and podcast series, so you'll just have to use your imagination. 

Please support the aforementioned linked sites, as the series is populated by remarkable commentators and writers--and me too. You can read all the existing House Next Door Summer of '86 pieces here, with more to come throughout the summer. I start embracing the trashier side of my 1986 movie love in August.

The Summer of 1986 was a pivotal moment in my life. I was 16, but I'd just graduated high school. I spent the summer preparing for my freshman year at a Jesuit college, coping with the fallout from losing my eye the year before, and falling in love for the first time. As if life weren't eventful enough, there were plenty of great (and terrible) movies for me to see. After spending the Summer of '85 with a patched eye and a sensitivity to light so painful I couldn't watch any movies, let alone go outside, I was ready to devour the summer movies 1986 had to offer. 

So far, I've done six pieces for the House. As a piece of shamefess self-promotion I really should do more often, here's a piece of my Summer of '86's so far. Click on the link to read the entire piece over at the House.

Running Scared (Peter Hyams, director)

Running Scared is one of the finest examples of The Jungle Fever Cookie Buddy Movie. Pioneered by Skin Game and made profitable by 48 Hrs., the JFCBM purports to promote racial harmony through the magic of macho male bonding between African-Americans and Caucasians. Yet the darker hued partners in these movies were always levels beneath their White counterparts: Lou Gossett was a slave to Jim Garner's slave trader, and Eddie Murphy was a common criminal punched out and called racial slurs by a pre-mugshot Nick Nolte. If that's equality, Amy Winehouse is sober. Running Scared has something no JFCBM has, not even the more balanced Lethal Weapon series: It starts with the two buddies firmly entrenched in a bromance Judd Apatow would envy.

Big Trouble in Little China (John Carpenter, director)

God, I'm such a kung-fu movie geek, which makes me the wrong person to do a piece on Big Trouble in Little China. This is a flawed movie, with a script whose story is best described as garbage. The movie makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. I still can't explain all the sorcery mumbo-jumbo or why the lead villain appears as both a decrepit old man and a ghost who can blind people with light from his mouth. I don't understand how Kim Cattrall's character is involved with its Chinatown heroes, nor how China's main character, Jack Burton, is affiliated with Wang Chi, the character whose fiancée sends the film on its journey. Big Trouble in Little China is more than happy to lazily fall back on its special effects in lieu of anything coherent. With that said, there's something about this movie…

Under the Cherry Moon (Prince, director)

Under the Cherry Moon is terrible, and it really didn't have to be. With a less egotistical, more talented director and a streamlined script, this could have been one hell of an intentionally funny buddy comedy. The male leads play off each other nicely, and a scene of mistaken identity pays off hilariously. Maybe that charming picture would have resulted if Pet Sematary's Mary Lambert got to keep the directorial reins assigned her by Warner Bros. Unfortunately, she was replaced by the film's star. The results are a script that has no idea what it wants to be, and a director who keeps finding ways to put himself into every frame like a celluloid virus.

Labyrinth (Jim Henson, director)

But Labyrinth's fascination for me is its way of merging the darker Jim Henson from Saturday Night Live and those Wilkins Coffee commercials with the sweet, lovely man whose voice and puppetry hosted the Muppet Show and Sesame Street News. As always, I accept his creations as real, and the universe they inhabit benefits from Henson's camerawork and the art direction. The M.C. Escher stairs sequence is especially memorable, as is the one number David Bowie doesn't sing. You'd think a kid who grew up on Sid & Marty Kroft drug-induced puppet freakiness would remain unshaken by its more expensive looking re-emergence, but I was creeped out of my mind by the self-decapitating Day-Glo Fire Gang in the "Chilly Down" number. It was worth it, as they gave me a line I always say to women with too much weave: "Gurrrl, where you goin' wit' a head like DAT?!!!"

Legal Eagles (Ivan Reitman, director)

Meanwhile, Hannah keeps trying to seduce Redford in order to justify actions she'll take later in the film when Terrence Stamp winds up dead. Redford resists at first, especially after Hannah performs one of her pieces for him. Legal Eagles wisely leaves Daddy's lost painting unseen, but no such fate spares us the most hilarious attempt at pretentious, arty twaddle in cinema history. In a huge apartment with no smoke detectors, Hannah plays with large amounts of fire while telling a story about watching some woman burn up in her car. At the end of the piece, she goes behind a picture of herself…and blows the fuck up. As Redford grabs a fire extinguisher to put out her smoldering, burning corpse, he realizes it's just a mannequin. Hannah appears behind him on the couch.

"How did that make you feel?" she asks.
"Like watching that Beavis and Butthead approved, batshit crazy scene again!" said I, reaching for the remote control.

Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling (Richard Pryor, director)

Pryor plays not only the lead but the aforementioned spectral figure, whom the credits refer to as "Alter Ego." The Alter Ego serves the same purpose as Jessica Lange's Angel of Death in Jazz, that is, to walk the victim back through events in his life that led him to his near-death state, but Alter Ego is more concerned with trying to convince Jo Jo Dancer that his fucked up life is salvageable. Alter Ego is first seen pulling himself from Jo Jo's smoldering body post-freebase accident, walking out of the hospital and into traffic stark naked. At first it seems that Alter Ego is the film's comedy relief, but his true purpose is revealed when Jo Jo Dancer solves its opening scene's mystery of how its protagonist wound up in that hospital.

Like his stand-up, Pryor deftly mixes humor and tragedy, subtly tweaking familiar tales from his routines. The results are far more harrowing when played out by Pryor and his actors; subtracted from Pryor's verbal delivery, the comedic focus sort of switches places with the trauma of the actual events. Hearing Pryor tell you the story of him in the hospital burnt to a crisp, comparing himself to fried chicken, is funny and terrifying. Seeing Pryor burnt to a crisp, with doctors working on him in a well-edited and shot sequence, is just terrifying.

More to come. 
So no, folks, I haven't been sitting on my ass. But I will do my best to get my ass over here to this blog more often than I have been. Scout's Honor.