Please, Armond White, Make It Stop!

January 12, 2011

I gave up reading Armond White years ago when his film reviews began to resemble nothing much more than paeans to Steven Spielberg, regardless of the make, model or nationality of the film he was being paid to review. But every now and then I'd pick up a copy of the New York Press and my eyes would find one of his reviews.

While Spielberg's talent and his influence on filmmakers is undeniable, his influence on White is TRULY remarkable.

Take White's review of "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle":

"Finally reaching their white tile El Dorado, they stuff themselves like gourmands, letting a ketchup packet drip into a mouthful of crinkled fries. In 'Minority Report' and 'The Terminal,' Spielberg sparks a thinking viewer's political awareness by evoking the contemporary capitalist reality of our inundation with products. He captures the environment that necessitates moral choice and human connection. Harold and Kumar's jaunt is surrealistically full of similar dilemmas. ... "

I mean, come on.

And if it weren't Spielberg he was bringing to bear in his writings - usually to hold up an example of a better film than the one he was writing about - White would also frequently allude to Brian de Palma, as if he felt the director of "Carrie" needed a booster.

This week While raised the hackles of a few attending the New York Film Critics Circle Awards dinner, when his comments seemed to speak spitefully of the winners of whom he disapproved (i.e., "The Social Network"). His antics, as reported by Gawker, were supposedly enough to prompt Best Actress winner Annette Bening to cry out, "Can't we all just get along?"

White's editor at the Press disputed the report, or at least most of it. I don't know White personally, and I was not present at the awards dinner, so I can't confirm what knives came out or how sharp they were.

But it made me wonder: It has been more than a year and a half since Spielberg's last movie ("Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull") was released. Is White still on his Spielberg kick? Is he going through Spielberg withdrawal?

So I decided to check out his recent reviews, and sure enough I found repeated mentions of Spielberg Spielberg Spielberg de Palma Spielberg. And if a film itself actually made reference to Spielberg (like the use of the theme from "Jaws" in "Little Fockers"), White made sure to mention that as well.

How long can White go without mentioning Spielberg (or at a pinch, de Palma) in a review? I looked back through the last several months of his New York Press writings and this is what I found:

January 5, 2011
"The Social Network":
"Mainstream Consensus names 'The Social Network' the film of the year but everybody knows it lacks the power and popularity of true consensus-making films like 'On the Waterfront,' 'The Godfather,' 'E.T.' and 'Saving Private Ryan.'"

December 21, 2010
"True Grit":
"Moral complexity is the Coens' point, as when Labeouf gets a man in his gunsights then prays before firing, like the sniper in 'Saving Private Ryan.'"

December 14, 2010
"Rabbit Hole":
"Howie's sorrowful obsession with videos of his dead son recalls Tom Cruise's video-mourning in 'Minority Report,' the most heartbreaking allegory for the new millennium's sense of loss."

December 7, 2010
"The Tempest":
"This is, fittingly, [Djimon Hounsou's] greatest role since portraying Cinque in Spielberg's 'Amistad.'"

November 14, 2010
"If [Tony] Scott's coordination was slightly better it would match the mechanical choreography of Spielberg's 'The Sugarland Express.'"

November 10, 2010
Reissue of "Every Man for Himself":
"In a 1980 interview with Jonathan Cott, Godard praised the slow motion death sequence in DePalma's 1978 'The Fury,' and 'Every Man For Himself' repeatedly pays homage to Marguerite Duras' 1977 'Le Camion,' emulating its hypnotic shots of trucks and cars on eerily quiet roads. Through these citations, Godard pursued the essence of cinema as the recording of life."

November 5, 2010
"For Colored Girls":
"[Tyler] Perry's weakness for the lowest common denominator transforms both anger and affirmation into sludge, not great poetic cinema like Spielberg's 'The Color Purple'. . . "
Also: "Despite the cast's good efforts, Shange's themes of female self-denial and varieties of sexual guilt don't ignite. Cat fights between Goldberg and Newton, Goldberg and Thompson are nearly risible, lacking the primacy of the sex-and-religion battles Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie memorably acted out in 'Carrie.'"

October 27, 2010
"Driven by the mercurial flash and depth of Chastain's movie debut (her mixture of uncertainty, temptation and trust are as good as Sissy Spacek in 'Carrie'), Jolene touches on the experience of sexual innocence and graceful experience that has been Ireland's theme in 'The Whole Wide World,' 'The Velocity of Gary' and 'Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont.'"

October 27, 2010
"During long, dull stretches (where TV news broadcasts of aliens killing 5,000 humans provides weak backstory), you might think back on truly amazing apocalyptic narratives: Spielberg's ferry spectacle in 'War of the Worlds'; Paul W.S. Anderson's 3-D dynamism in 'Resident Evil: Afterlife.'"

October 20, 2010
"Jackass 3D":
"Bam's fear of snakes gets aroused with Indiana Jones-style torment."

October 15, 2010
"George's visions, like Marie's experience of the afterlife, resemble cartoon metaphysics: bright light clouded by fuzzy silhouettes. It looks like a Ron Howard imitation of Spielberg."

October 13, 2010
"'Carlos' gives hipsters 'Munich' minus the moral conviction and dramatic cogency that hipsters fashionably distrust."

September 29, 2010
"Let Me In":
"[T]he gruesome bloodletting lacks the beautiful moral symmetry of the all-time great adolescent horror movie, Brian De Palma's 1976 teen classic 'Carrie.'"

September 15, 2010
"Never Let Me Go":
"These sci-fi teens resemble the Pre-Cog characters in Spielberg's 'Minority Report,' but [Mark] Romanek extracts the excitement from this film's premise."

September 1, 2010
"But this context isn't subversive like the theater radical De Niro's portrayed [sic] in the 1970 'Hi, Mom!,' Brian De Palma's first great film that brought radical theater to the big screen."

August 10, 2010
"Scott Pilgrim vs. the World":
"Freely switching between pop idioms, [Edgar] Wright creates the effect once ascribed to Spielberg's '1941' as 'having your head stuck inside a pinball machine.'"

July 20, 2010
"Life During Wartime":
"[Ciaran] Hinds' haunted look is ideal for ex-con Bill; in his best role since 'Munich,' Hinds turns inhumane error into pathos."

June 23, 2010
"Knight and Day":
"Tom Cruise has gotten such a raw deal in the media that after the best films of his career ('Minority Report,' 'War of the Worlds,' 'Lions for Lambs') he deserves to rise back to the top."

June 18, 2010
"Jonah Hex":
"A retaliation scene that ends with ash and cinders is stringent enough to obliterate despair - almost as powerfully as De Palma's 'The Fury' climax."

May 26, 2010
"Exactitude is evident in Jeunet's combination of moodiness and humor. He can shift from pathos to absurdity on a dime - like the Coen Brothers. And he can draw a bead from an action scene to a beatific face - like Spielberg."

May 12, 2010:
"Robin Hood":
"They pretend how history happened (Monty Python-style) but their embarrassing, anachronistic rip-off of 'Saving Private Ryan''s beachfront battle scene shows no feeling for how history is constructed and passed down through ritual, repetition and affection."

March 24, 2010
"For the cinema-savvy, [Catherine] Breillat's film may also recall the opening sequence of Brian DePalma's 1976 'Carrie,' where menstrual blood evokes shame and vengeance (same as in The Runaways)."

March 19, 2010
"Repo Men":
"This frustrating new film also exhibits bald steals from graphic-novel movies, Park Chan-Wook kill fests, 'Minority Report' chase scenes and Tarantino snark."

March 3, 2011
"Alice in Wonderland":
"Instead of the erotic symbolism that fueled Neil Jordan's superb Little Red Riding Hood update, 'The Company of Wolves' (1985), or the philological complexity of Spielberg's Peter Pan remake 'Hook,' Burton emphasizes an asexual, thus less interesting, approach."

February 10, 2010
"The Wolfman":
"And the genuinely malevolent slaughter scenes evoke Goya's richly tragic disasters. This isn't sentimental cruelty like Peter Jackson's silly 'King Kong' remake nor Sam Raimi's ridiculous 'Drag Me to Hell.' But like De Palma's grievous violence, it's artful.
"At the core of Del Toro's performance is the same Oedipal anguish as De Palma's 'Raising Cain'; and though a father-son werewolf clash turns ludicrous, there's a final flourish straight out of 'The Fury.'"

February 3, 2010
"From Paris With Love":
"Besson and Morel raise the stakes above Q.T.'s yahoo quotient. 'From Paris With Love' showcases the most disturbing bloodsplattered walls since Spielberg's 'Munich.'"

So, except for a dry patch in April, it's pretty evident that Armond White can only go one or two weeks before feeling the urge to again praise the god Spielberg (and the demi-god de Palma) from whom all cinematic blessings flow. Enough already.

Armond, you have demonstrated your knowledge of films by the Master. We get it. And we understand that in your opinion most other films do not live up to them. We get that, too. In many cases we'd probably agree.

But waving the Amblin/Dreamworks flag wears thin. Please leave the shrine behind when you write.

Or, if I may quote a Spielberg film, "Stop chasing the mice inside your skull."

copyright 2011 by David Morgan
All rights reserved.