Ugly Realities vs. Ridiculous Fantasies


An ugly reality will lose out…

Not that it matters, but 12 Years A Slave was awarded Best Movie of the Year at Sunday’s Golden Globes awards.   That’s nice if  you care about that sort of thing.   It was even nicer Armond White didn’t show up to drop any F-bombs and pull off his pee-pee and take a whiz in public.   Probably too busy licking his wounds over being expelled from the NY Film Critics Circle and that matters even less.

In the 18th century, William Wilberforce said of slavery, “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.”

In 19 words Wilberforce hits on what makes 12 Years A Slave must viewing for any conscious human being who wants a realistic, unflinchingly honest and terrifying brutal two-hour trip through the American Holocaust.    You may have to watch it peeking through the fingers of your hand in front of you face, but you can never say again that you did not know.

The story of Solomon Northrup is based on fact. Django is nothing more than an Italian spaghetti western relocated to America so Quentin Tarantino can film his fetishes and fantasies about slave-fights, Black bounty hunters roaming the South killing Whites with impunity and his desire to say “nigger” as many times as he damn well pleases.

12 Years A Slave is a movie. Django Unchained is a cartoon.

...vs fantasy.

…to a ridiculous fantasy.

12 Years A Slave was the best movie of 2013. Period. End of sentence. I do not need the official stamp of awards and I don’t need the consensus of the crowd who line up like lemmings for a Tarantino masturbatory fantasy but go mental when a Black director and a Black screenwriter tell the true story of a Black man taken and held against his will by a vicious slave owner.

If others prefer cartoons like Django Unchained, fine. I ain’t mad atcha and where you spend your movie-going money doesn’t phase me in the slightest.  It’s fine by me if anyone really believes a Black bounty-hunter could wander around the antebellum South shooting and killing as many White men he wants with impunity and without punishment.   It didn’t happen and it’s a joke, but Tarantino is quite the joker.   He made his best film with Pulp Fiction  20 years ago and has floundered since trying to follow-up with a second act he doesn’t seem to have.   Say what you will about Jackie Brown, Kill Bill 1 and 2, Inglorious Basterds, and Django Unchained (we’ll forget Death Proof because even Q.T. wants to), but you can’t say Tarantino is challenging himself as a filmmaker or the public as an audience anymore.


Steve McQueen, Lupita Nyong’o and Chiwetel Ejiofor may have Oscar gold in their future.

But don’t get all up in my grill telling me I don’t know my history and that I’ve been brainwashed by Whites and I’m some sort of self-hating dupe because I prefer movies that challenge me and force me to think and not simply sit there like a spastic drooling in my popcorn at the stylized and vulgar bullshit of a race pimp like Tarantino. Comparing Django to 12 Years is like comparing a Bugs Bunny cartoon to The Godfather.  It’s not a serious comparison and we can’t’ have a serious conversation about it.   Seriously.

Given a choice between a harsh reality and an amusing fantasy on slavery, I’m not at all surprised most opt for the fantasy. Just a bit disgusted.  There may be an intelligent, reasonable and rational argument to be made that Django Unchained is a superior and more honest depiction of slavery than 12 Years A Slave.   I just haven’t found an intelligent, reasonable and rational person make it yet.

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Throw Off the Chains and Shake Off the Haters.

“12 Years” director Steve McQueen is congratulated by actor and activist Harry Belafonte (photo credit: Star Pix)

Personal matters have prevented me from updating the blog as frequently as I would like.  Hey, that’s the the way of the world, y’know?

In 2013 there may be better movies than 12 Years A Slave. There are certainly far more “entertaining” movies than 12 Years A Slave.

With few exceptions such as Fruitvale Station, there are no movies in 2013 that mean something more than 12 Years A Slave.

Django Unchained is entertainment. 12 Years A Slave is edutainmentHarry Belafonte noted the historical significance of the film in his address to the New York Film Critics Circle Awards honoring director Steve McQueen’s monumental cinematic accomplishment.  Unfortunately, the news that came out of the awards was the asshole actions of Armond White, the barely professional curmudgeon, contrarian, and crank who passes himself off as a film critic.   White proved his trolling tendencies by going all the way off as soon as Belafonte finished speaking as Variety reported.

Armond White, film critic

“I am not a contrarian; everyone else is a conformist.”

As soon as McQueen took the stage, White started shouting from his table at the back of the room. “You’re an embarrassing doorman and garbage man,” White boomed. “Fuck you. Kiss my ass.”

White hated 12 Years A Slave as he hates any movie widely acclaimed by other critics.   But disagreeing is never enough for White.  He also has to prove his taste is vastly superior to yours.   This sort of bad behavior is nothing new for White who goes out of his way to be a dick.  If we all acted like Armond White we should commit mass suicide for being such raging douchebags.   There’s nothing to admire about a hack and troll who screams abuse and drops F-bombs on better men than himself. I think for myself, I decide for myself and I don’t need a damn fool like White to do either for me.

White has denied he screamed the insults, but it fits his pattern of crude behavior.    If he ever directed a movie it would be called 50 Years An Asshole. 

I’m bored talking about a troll and a hack like White. Lost in his b.s. is what Harry Belafonte, someone who has done more for Black culture by accident than White has done on purpose, said about 12 Years A Slave and Steve McQueen. The squeaky wheel shouldn’t always get the grease nor snatch all the headlines.

Belafonte said in part:

A lot’s gone on with Hollywood. A lot could be said about it. But at this moment, I think what is redeeming, what is transformative, is the fact that a genius, an artist, is of African descent, although he’s not from America, he is of America, and he is of that America which is part of his own heritage; [he] made a film called 12 Years a Slave, which is stunning in the most emperial way. So it’s a stage that enters a charge made by The Birth of a Nation, that we were not a people, we were evil, rapists, abusers, absent of intelligence, absent of soul, heart, inside. In this film, 12 Years a Slave, Steve steps in and shows us, in an overt way, that the depth and power of cinema is there for now the world to see us in another way. I was five when I saw Tarzan of the Apes, and the one thing I never wanted to be, after seeing that film, was an African. I didn’t want to be associated with anybody that could have been depicted as so useless and meaningless. And yet, life in New York led me to other horizons, other experiences. And now I can say, in my 87th year of life, that I am joyed, I am overjoyed, that I should have lived long enough to see Steve McQueen step into this space and for the first time in the history of cinema, give us a work, a film, that touches the depths of who we are as a people, touches the depths of what America is as a country, and gives us a sense of understanding more deeply what our past has been, how glorious our future will be, and could be.

I think that the Circle Award made a wise decision picking you as the director of the year. I think we look forward in anticipation to what you do in the future. But even if you never do anything else, many in your tribe, many in the world, are deeply grateful of the time and genius it took to show us a way that it should be. Forever and eternally grateful to say that we are of African descent. Thank you.


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Armond White Gives the Finger to Roger Ebert’s Thumb

There are  minor irritants in my world whom like a pesky mosquito buzzing around my ear, I don’t really want to be bothered with because they’re needy attention whores and when I write about them it only gives them the attention they crave and do not deserve.  But because they are writers like me (well, not exactly like me because they’re better known and bigger assholes than I am), and offend me with the damage they do to the craft of journalism  Armond White makes a return trip for another verbal waterboarding.

White, appearing on a podcast set his sights on America’s most popular movie critic Roger Ebert as the target of his withering scorn:

I do think it is fair to say that Roger Ebert destroyed film criticism. Because of the wide and far reach of television, he became an example of what a film critic does for too many people. And what he did simply was not criticism. It was simply blather. And it was a kind of purposefully dishonest enthusiasm for product, not real criticism at all…I think he does NOT have the training. I think he simply had the position. I think he does NOT have the training. I’VE got the training. And frankly, I don’t care how that sounds, but the fact is, I’ve got the training. I’m a pedigreed film critic. I’ve studied it. I know it. And I know many other people who’ve studied it as well, studied it seriously. Ebert just simply happened to have the job. And he’s had the job for a long time. He does not have the foundation. He simply got the job. And if you’ve ever seen any of his shows, and ever watched his shows on at least a two-week basis, then you surely saw how he would review, let’s say, eight movies a week and every week liked probably six of them. And that is just simply inherently dishonest. That’s what’s called being a shill. And it’s a tragic thing that that became the example of what a film critic does for too many people. Often he wasn’t practicing criticism at all. Often he would point out gaffes or mistakes in continuity. That’s not criticism. That’s really a pea-brained kind of fan gibberish.

What’s White’s problem?  Nothing but a serious case of jealousy of a better known and far more respected competitor..  It really gets no more complicated than that.  He’s become the Jason Whitlock of film criticism and if you know anything about sportswriting you know how much of an insult that is.  If you don’t, here’s what it means.  White and Whitlock make their daily bread by writing hatchet pieces designed to inflame and not inform, heap scorn on the abilities of competing writers and spend countless hours gazing lovingly in mirrors at their own reflection.

"Why yes, I AM egotistical and arrogant. That a problem?"

Ebert, along with his colleague Gene Siskel, took film review out of its haughty, rarefied air of elitism and they made it about two guys that just liked movies.  Their PBS program, “At the Movies” streamlined movie reviews to  three-to-five minute summations and a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” rating system.   It wasn’t profound or scientific, but it wasn’t trying to be.  What’s so bad about that?   Andrew Sarris and Pauline Kael were better writers and more important critics than the Chicago based duo, but far less popular or imitated.   Siskel and Ebert helped make film criticism cool and fun, two words that have never been associated with Armond White.  White makes a mistake common to a pompous braggart: He thinks what he does as a film critic is important.  It’s not.  Film criticism is to films what a bun is to a hot dog; an accompaniment, not the main ingredient.    No one ever stood in line and plunked down nine bucks to watch a critic read his latest review.

White is perfectly within his rights to believe the Internet has allowed too many amateurs and wannabees to crowd into the movie reviewing pool.  He is welcome to dog out Ebert if he believes the guy is a lousy critic, but he makes himself look small and petty when he says “…he does NOT have the training. I’VE got the training. ”

Who else doesn’t have the training? Mr. White is happy you asked and even happier to tell you.

We got film critics who are employed professionally by legitimate publications, and we have the world of the internet film writers. The internet has become so pervasive and overwhelming that the internet has stolen the impact and prestige and effect that traditional professional film criticism used to have. As a result of that I think that people who are now employed by the mainstream media are so intimidated by the internet that it seems, when you read mainstream published film critics, that they’ve simply given up being film critics, because they’re afraid of losing readership, because they’re afraid of losing their jobs, probably because publishers and editors simply want to get readers and appease readers, rather than inform and instruct readers. And I think that leads to a kind of anarchy where there are very few people writing about film who know what they’re talking about and who are rigorous about having standards in film. The anarchy, I think, comes from the fact that in mainstream media and the internet, most people who are writing about films are simply writing from a fan’s perspective instead of a truly critical perspective. So what used to be termed “film critics” now is almost meaningless, because you just got a free-for-all of enthusiasms rather than criticism.

Chew on the irony that a guy whose reviews are primarily read on the Internet is slamming the Internet for ruining film criticism by opening up the field to more film criticism. Hypocrisy is the greatest luxury isn’t it?

Criticsm can and should aim higher than whether a movie is four stars, two thumbs up,  or better than sex evaluation.   A review can invoke emotion, thought and a depth that goes beyond an arbitrary scoring system.   While film criticism isn’t essential to the enjoyment of a movie, neither is it worthless.   It is pure elitism to state only a chosen few are capable of properly critiquing the cinema.   White can whine and bash critics more popular (and better) than him if he wants, but this is one bell that can’t be unrung.

You guys might have perhaps come across something I wrote/said somewhere, where I said that I think no one should be allowed to make a movie before they’re 40, although there are obviously a whole lot of exceptions to that. We’d have no Citizen Kane if that were so. But I kind of feel that way, and I certainly feel that way about criticism. I think really, there should be no film critics – okay, let’s change the age – there should be no film critics younger than 30. Because before that you don’t know enough about art, you don’t know enough about life.

Got that, all you aspiring young film students? Go do something else for the next 20 years or so and don’t come back until you’re not so wet behind the ears and get off my lawn, you damn kids. As for you punks with your blogs and You Tube videos, you don’t know nothin’ about nothin’ either, so you can get lost too!

It’s not as if White has about anything to say about movies that is particularly important or even very interesting. This is a man who thought Precious, was the worst portrayal of Black Americans since The Birth of A Nation but says Norbit is a gem and despises Christopher Nolan’s Inception and praises Michael “Transformers” Bay as unfairly maligned auteur. It’s  really kind of funny to watch an angry, bitter man flail around impotently and sneer at the very people who could make him as popular as Roger Ebert ever was if he wasn’t busy being such an insufferable DICK.

Haters gonna hate.

Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel and their evil thumbs.

Armond White Abuses “Precious.”

Armond White, film critic

"I am not a contrarian; everyone else is a conformist."

There’s one in every crowd of film critics.  The one critic who doesn’t simply march to the beat of a different drummer;  he has his own original soundtrack.  That’s Armond White, film critic for a website you don’t read named the New York Press.   White has carefully crafted a reputation as the skunk at the garden parties.  If the vast majority is going one way on a film, he tacks in an opposite direction and when he goes after a particular movie that irks his sensibilities he doesn’t stop pummeling it until  he’s licking the blood off his knuckles.

The do-it-yourself aspects of the Internet made anyone with a laptop a critic whether they had the knack for it or not.  That really annoyed the professional critics who found themselves suddenly increasingly irrelevant.   So if being smart isn’t working anymore, how about just being incredibly nasty in temperament?  This is White’s house special.

The vast majority of critics have practically guaranteed Precious as a stone cold lock for Oscar nominations, White disagrees mightily.  In his review  White guts the film saying, “Not since The Birth of A Nation” has a mainstream movie demeaned the idea of black American life as much as Precious.”

That’s not simply a pan, but White was equally unsparing of director Lee Daniels and executive producers Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry.

Shame on Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey for signing on as air-quote executive producers of Precious. After this post-hip-hop freak show wowed Sundance last January, it now slouches toward Oscar ratification thanks to its powerful friends.Winfrey and Perry had no hand in the actual production of Precious, yet the movie must have touched some sore spot in their demagogue psyches. They’ve piggybacked their reps as black success stories hoping to camouflage Precious’ con job—even though it’s more scandalous than their own upliftment trade.

Winfrey, Perry and Daniels make an unholy triumvirate.They come together at some intersection of race exploitation and opportunism. These two media titans—plus one shrewd pathology pimp—use Precious to rework Booker T. Washington’s early 20th-century manifesto Up From Slavery into extreme drama for the new millennium.

Eddie Murphy in "Norbit"

"Norbit" cost Eddie an Oscar, but Armond White thinks it rocks!

I used to believe it was easy to write a negative review until I had to actually sit through bad movies when I was a stringer for Columbus Dispatch film critic Frank Gabrenya.   That’s when I realized the time wasted on bad movies, bad books or bad music makes them not much fun to trash.

Armond White is the sort of haughty, pompous and self-important critic the Internet has made pretty much irrelevant.   Of course he’s entitled to slam any film he thinks is a waste of time and celluloid, but his Precious review is nothing more than a full-blown rant against African-American celebrities he finds annoying.    The movie itself is irrelevant.  It’s just the punching bag White pastes pictures of Oprah and Tyler on to swing at.

How seriously can anyone take White when no sooner has he compared Precious unfavorably to The Birth of A Nation, D.W. Griffith’s notoriously racist Valentine card to the Ku Klux Klan  and Black politicans lording it over White citizens (Griffith would have been the guest of honor at tax day tea parties rallies against Barack Obama) than he follows it up with this jaw-dropping paragraph.

The hype for Precious indicates a culture-wide willingness to accept particular ethnic stereotypes as a way of maintaining status quo film values. Excellent recent films with black themes—Next Day Air, Cadillac Records, Meet Dave, Norbit, Little Man, Akeelah and the Bee, First Sunday, The Ladykillers, Marci X, Palindromes, Mr. 3000, even back to the great Beloved (also produced by Oprah)—have been ignored by the mainstream media and serious film culture while this carnival of black degradation gets celebrated. It’s a strange combination of liberal guilt and condescension.

That’s right, folks.  White is saying when it comes to making a contribution to cinema and uplifting the race, Precious can’t hold Meet Dave, Little Man and Norbit’s collective jock straps.

I haven’t seen Precious yet, so I can’t offer an opinion whether it deserves the hammering White gives it or it’s a bona fide masterpiece.   However, the ugly way White goes about eviscerating it only makes me more sympathetic, not less, to this unconventional underdog of a movie.

There’s a line between coherent criticism of a failed film and just ripping into as so to draw attention to your review.  White waits until the last paragraph to cross it where he drop kicks lead actress Gabourey Sidibe dubbing her a “hippopotamus.”    That goes beyond harsh.  That is just cruel.

It’s possible White is really drinking the haterade and truly finds Precious to be a totally repugnant movie.  But it’s hard to take seriously his disgust when he hails a piece of excrement like Norbit as an “excellent film.”   How is Eddie Murphy swaddled in layers of latex as an grossly offensive and vulgar bastardization of Black women less offensive than comparing an overweight teenager unfavorably to the third-largest land mammal?

I mean, Norbit?   Seriously?  How can White write a sentence like that with a straight face?

There’s something vaguely admirable about holding a contrary opinion in the face of nearly unanimous praise.   Precious may prove not to live up to its hype.  Great.  White will have the satisfaction of saying he was right when everybody else was wrong.  But his sledgehammer rhetoric and praise for trash come off as a grab for attention.

Armond White is playing a hustle to get some attention for a review that would otherwise go largely unnoticed.  I regret to the extent that I have assisted him in this endeavor.    On the other hand, I’m providing a public service by exposing White’s tirade as the mean-spirited mugging  it  is.

Can you find the "hippopotamus" in this picture?