Sunday, February 15, 2009

Shine On You Crazy Armond

Of all the film critics I read on a regular basis, few make me want to crumple up said publication into a tennis ball-sized wad, shove it into my mouth, spit it out, and jump up and down upon it, than the New York Press's Armond White. A contrarian among contrarians, White's reviews typically combine the cheap baiting tactics of the most attention-starved internet message board troll, and the nonsensical rantings of a mental patient plagued by visions of malicious gnomes. Most tiresome of all is his continuous one-man war on so-called "hipster cynicism" - pictures that suggest a dark side to human nature (There Will Be Blood), families (Before the Devil Knows You're Dead), and economic poverty (The Wrestler), while championing lowbrow horseshit like Norbit.

In addition to his just plain wonky taste in flicks (his recent year-end "Better Than" list concluded that Transporter 3 > The Dark Knight, RockNRolla > Slumdog Millionaire, and CJ7 > Wall-E), White is guilty of just about every fallacy in film criticism, from continuously damning certain filmmakers no matter how much they mature (David Fincher) and rigourously defending others no matter how low they sink (Luc Besson), to explicitly stating that anyone who might like a film he dislikes is a complete moron. In his own mind, he doubtlessly sees himself as a Richard Matheson-inspired Last Man on Earth/Messiah type, ranting from his high tower at the mindless zombie hordes that they should be rediscovering Eric Rohmer's films or buying tickets to the latest Tyler Perry Jesus-fest, rather than killing their brains with the help of Tarantino and Todd Haynes.

And what's more, most of his arguments are just as easy to poke holes in as wet tissue paper. After recieveing numerous complains that he never reviewed Wall-E during its initial run, and that it seemed a little cheap to simply write it off as "ugly, end-of-history cynicism," Armond went on to damn it a little more in-depth in his review of Coraline. That film, he insisted, along with Monster House, Persepolis, and Waltz with Bazshir , elevated the medium of animation, wheras Pixar's recent efforts maintained its status as a "babysitter's ghetto." Mr. White doesn't go into why he feels compelled to call a teriffic depiction of the ups-and-downs of family like The Incredibles, or a beautiful tale of personal achievement and artistic integrity like Ratatouille "ravishing junk." He does, however, take a lot of time call out Wall-E on its apparent cynicism: the notion of human beings reduced to hover chair-bound sloths, leaving our planet to go to waste.

I've got to wonder- does Mr. White not believe that we are slowly destroying this planet? Does he not believe that Americans are natural resource gluttons, when the cold hard evidence proves that we consume staggeringly high percentages more than other countries? The roly-poly spaceship inhabitants of Wall-E are a caricature of ourselves - they aren't meant to be taken literally, but they do have their basis in what we can see if we look right out of our windows. The reason that Wall-E ends happily is because, duh, it's still a kid's movie. They're not going to end a kid's movie with "so, eventually, you'll get like wicked fat, and you'll die. The end." The bulk of the film still carries a powerful ultimatum for young and old alike to get off our asses and take care of this planet. The fact that Wall-E looks to the future, whereas Coraline looks to the past with its Grimm Brothers-inspired plot and reassertion of dependency upon one's parents suggests that Mr. White is probably uncomfortable with the reality on his doorstep butting heads with his militantly rose-tinted worldview.

The Press's Feb 11-17 issue contained White's review of Gomorrah - a recent Mafia pic/art movie from Italy - where he once again falls upon the same hackneyed "wasn't as good as such-and-such-a-film" rhetoric, this time with pathetically laughable results. Gomorrah, he asserts, is weak tea compared to The Godfather. Holy shit, really?! Stop the muh'fuh'in' presses. A recent crime film that just came out in select theaters is not as good as a movie that almost everyone agrees is one of the two or three greatest films of all time. Taking up a full page of newsprint to say this makes about as much sense as writing an op-ed about how water is wet. I haven't seen Gomorrah yet, but imagine if you asked me "Hey Jack, how was My Bloody Valentine 3D?" and I said, "Psshaw, it wasn't no Casablanca, that's for darn tootin'." You'd probably, and correctly, think I was an asshole, even before I preceeded (as Crazy Uncle Monkeyshit does in the same issue) to compare Luis Bunel to Nacho Libre and mean it as a compliment.

So why the hell do I keep reading the guy? Every Wednesday I skip merrily home from work and pick up the New York Press from the news kiosk across the street with the blind glee of a puppy bounding toward and eight-lane highway. And I only read the Press for Armond's reviews (and for Tony Millionaire's comic Maakies): Lord knows that the sophmoric gibberings of Josh Bernstein only come in handy for me when I run out of lavatory paper. So why do I keep reading this guy if he pisses me off so much? Could be a lot of reasons. First and foremost is his steadfast defense of Steven Spielberg and Brian De Palma, two of the critical consensus' biggest mainstream-auteur punching bags - he even summed up exactly my own feelings about the not-great but still hugely underrated Black Dahlia. The second is the sheer outright hilarity of some of his most nonsensical writing: his reviews for Hellboy: The Golden Army and Hamlet 2 actually made me wonder if he had scrawled them while drunk, which is to say nothing of his assertation that the terrible C. Thomas Howell vehicle Soul Man predicted Obama's presidency, nor his long-running man-crush on Jason Statham.

But no, the real reason I have this silly love-hate relationship (or more of a love-hate-hate-hate relationship) with Armond White is because the guy, shithouse-rat crazy he may be, is intelligent and always fiercely honest. In a field where most film criticism is little more than "the acting is very strong" or "it could have been a reel shorter here or there," Armond White is one of the few who really consider what popular entertainment means. Even though I disagree with him, like, 85% of the time, I keep reading him for the ones where he gets it right. And when he does, boy does he ever. So thank you, Armond White, for keeping film criticism interesting and colorful, at the very least. Keep on shinin'.


Blogger J.L. Carrozza said...

When I want strange but informed and educated opinions, I always read Roger Ebert's work.

I don't always agree with his opinions, but he always raises interesting criticisms about films I sometimes even adore in a very thoughtful and insightful way.

He deeply criticizes A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, for example, for glorifying psychopathy by making Alex heroic and enviable which Ebert found morally repugnant (Anthony Burgess also allegedly hated the film for this reason). I actually half agree with this sentiment: Kubrick did do that, but perhaps by depicting in a way devoid of negative emotional association, Kubrick shows us even more vividly how absurd a world in which psychopathy reigns supreme is. If you look beyond how outwardly terrifying a character like Alex is, they actually seem quite pathetic and absurd on the inside.

8:35 PM  
Blogger J.L. Carrozza said...

Armond White seems cut from the same cloth, still I'd have to read his writing before I could make a judgment.

Ebert, I know, is a person genuinely passionate about cinema who simply states his opinions honestly which often do not conform to those of many fellow film critics.

White could be the same thing, but sometimes someone like this can be a wolf in sheep's clothing. They can seem like ballsy folks but actually be bitter, nasty people who just became film critics so they can have an outlet to publish their complaining. On the other hand, people who seem like the latter can also be the former.

8:39 PM  
Blogger J.L. Carrozza said...

Actually, I think I read his review of THE DARK KNIGHT when the film came out.

The person I read was like the only critic who gave it a negative review early on and called it a work of "Hipster nihilism with a repugnant theme of evil vs. evil very akin to THERE WILL BE BLOOD."

He's actually right on most counts. THE DARK KNIGHT is often a gloomy film, the nihilist 20-something hipster types were the first to sing its praises and it does have that theme. But how is the theme of two negative sides fighting each other bad? It's the most prevalent type of conflict globally and depicted in cinema shows that two wrongs don't make a right. A lesson long overdo in this day and age.

9:10 PM  
Blogger Dr. Criddle said...

A lot of White's recent imfamy came from his Dark Knight review, which a lot of non-NY Press readers found through Rotten Tomatoes and didn't take kindly to being called suckers for buying into the philosophy of a dark and more morally ambiguous Batman.

His write-up had a lot of venom in it directed at anyone who'd take Aaron Eckhart's line to heart ("You can either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain"). For regular readers who have been following his Me vs. the Cynical Hipsters crusade, it was just water off a duck's back. But for some dude in Minnesota who just wondered who the 2-odd-percent of critics who didn't like The Dark Knight were, it was kind of confusing and upsetting.

If there's one thing that bugs me the most about Armond White, it is his putting down of a movie's fans and admirers, which I really don't think is a critic's place to do.

9:10 AM  
Blogger J.L. Carrozza said...

"If there's one thing that bugs me the most about Armond White, it is his putting down of a movie's fans and admirers, which I really don't think is a critic's place to do."

The good thing about that is that, when you make that mistake (I can attest through MST3K) you get JUST what you deserve and sometimes more from a lot of people who have little restraint in how far they'll go.

2:18 PM  
Blogger J.L. Carrozza said...

In other words, White is probably still getting insulting, mean spirited hatemail from Batman fans nine months later.

2:20 PM  
Anonymous Jenny said...

ironically, that viddied it on the screen dude seems to take a liking to him and see A Clockwork Orange as a good,amoral film. Though I could definitely see Alex as patheticic in a few parts.

8:04 PM  
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5:30 PM  

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