Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Even a Fucktard is Right a Couple Times A Year

Yeah boyyyyy!

S o tonight at the Tray Family "See A Shitty Movie On Christmas Eve Because We're Jewish Extravaganza," Slumdog Millionaire was the movie of choice, and I've gotta say, worst movie I've seen in years. Worse even than Crash or Million Dollar Baby or this Gina Gershon vehicle my cousin directed. (Watch the first two minutes, they're hilariously bad.) And guess who got it right? Armond White, worthless idiot! Of course, he hates everything that isn't (a) a Spielberg film or (b) a bad Eddie Murphy movie, so no surprise there, but you have to give him some credit, being that he was one of only three professional critics to call this piece of shit on crappy frenetic cinematography wheels out, don't you? ( dudes don't count.) Well no, actually you don't.

I have to give Armond credit for one thing, he does get what's wrong stylistically with this movie when he says that it's like a "Baz Luhrmann version of Oliver Twist." Pretty much. I mean, the hero's mom gets set on fire by some religious fanatics when he's five, and the director's main interest seems to be, "hey, look at those pretty bright orange flames! Check out my jumpy handheld camera work!" (His secondary interest is teaching us a tidy little lesson in how religious extremists really suck.)

Other than that, though, Armond is as off-base as ever. It must be hard to go see a total piece of shit and hate it - for the totally wrong reasons. Besides the obvious problems with setting a movie about two kids suffering through some pretty horrific childhoods to M.I.A. (seriously, I just hope this movie doesn't kick off a hipster trend of M.I.A. fans adopting cute little kids from slums in India and then forcing them to listen to 'Paper Planes' all the time the way I was forced to listen to Simon and Garfunkel as a 3-year-old*), the movie sucks for the following reasons. Basically, the whole first hour or more is this obnoxious framing device wherein the titular Slumdog Millionaire watches tape of himself answering questions on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire in a police investigating room (they think he cheated) and then thinking back to the traumatic event in his life where he learned the answers to those questions. So for ex., he knows who invented the revolver because his brother had to shoot a pimp who was prostituting the hero's sweetheart with one, and I guess Brother Bear referred to it as a Colt 45 at the time, ergo, our hero knows the answer. Or, he knows what Indian poet wrote some random song because once upon a time, these creepy dudes pretended to work for an orphanage and kidnapped him and his brother and asked them to sing said song so they could see if they were ready for professional beggar work - which, just to wring maximum sympathy out of the audience, apparently involves getting their eyes blinded out to make them more attractive to passersby. (They run away in time but their cute little friend does not.) In fact, every single answer he knew on the show somehow relates to some wildly traumatic event in his childhood. It's just one disgusting manipulative tearjerking scene after another. Which brings me to another problem with the movie - that, yeah, while it's one thing to portray the slums of Mumbai as a really sketchy, dangerous place, which I'm sure they are, I think you cross a line when the only two good people in the whole movie are the hero and heroine, and everyone else is either a pimp, creepy pedophilic child-beggar pimp, creepy crooked game show host, creepy crooked cop, creepy sadistic cop, flame-throwing religious fanatic, sadistic hired gun, or a selfish, sadistic, totally immoral gangster. Or a giggling slut. That's pretty much everyone, except for the poor fellow-slumdogs who are just there to be like, "go Jamal, rep for the slums, win those rupees!!" I'm not sure if I'd call the movie out-and-out racist or just really dumb, but neither one's a good option.

Armond, on the other hand, (a) thinks the movie doesn't go far enough in making white people guilty, (b) panders to liberals too much, and (c) fails to fulfill the Armond-given duty all movies that aren't stupid black comedies have to educate the viewer in "socially significant" subjects. It's a sort of damned if you do, damned if you don't conundrum. Armond's first complaint is that the movie "absolves the white man's burden" and responsibility for the crappy conditions of India, a former British colony. (The director's a Brit, a point White makes much of.) Well yeah, the movie says nothing about colonialism at all. But should it? My understanding is that India's poor wouldn't be in the abject conditions they're in if the government hadn't ran the economy into the ground for the first thirty-plus years of the nation's existence. That said, just as it would be ridiculous for a free marketeer like myself to leave the movie going, "gee, why didn't they make a bigger point of how Nehru destroyed India's economy with Soviet-aping state planning and protectionism and is largely to blame for the poor conditions in which the protagonist finds himself," it's pretty stupid for White to complain that the movie lacks an anti-colonialist mesage, regardless of how much colonialism is to blame for Indian poverty. That's just not what the movie's about. If you want an anti-colonialist or anti-socialist screed, go to the library.

Complaint 2 is that the movie contains little potted messages for "guilty liberals." For example, the police station where the hero is kept on suspicion of game show cheating bears some plainly non-coincidental similarites to Gitmo. (The kid's waterboarded, electrocuted, etc.) Yeah, I thought it was stupid myself that the director had to randomly remind us in the middle of an Indian game show flick that he's not down with America torturing terrorists, but I thought just a second ago White was pushing for some potted anti-colonialist message in the movie. Like which is it Armond? When they don't go didactic they're chided for assuaging the guilty liberal conscience; when they do go didactic they're chided for... pandering to the guilty liberal conscience! (Question: Why are all of Armond's criticisms always about the audience? Either he's bashing guilty liberals who aren't guilty or liberal enough, or these non-existent "process fanboys" whose sin is liking good directing - can't he ever stick to the movie itself?)

Complaint 3 is that the director should've dug deeper on how it's so ironic that the hero knows all the answers because of his insanely traumatic childhood. To quote from dude's tortured prose itself, "the irony of his game-show ingenuity should portray Jamal’s abuse and indicate the tragedy of mis-education every Millionaire question triggers, including his horrific recollection of ethnic cleansing and matricide.
" (Just as a side note, I'm convinced Armond didn't make it through 8th grade. How can irony portray?) Me myself, I thought the one redeeming aspect of the movie was that towards the end the director fell back from that awful contrivance and tried to tell a half-decent love story. Armond's problem is the exact opposite; he thinks that "Jamal’s reward is [too] self-centered; he’s reunited in puppy love with Latika". Here as in the Curious Case review, Armond wants the director to tell a dishonest story so as to send some political message. Rather than let the character be himself and just be happy that after all his trials and tribulations he's obscenely rich and about to be fucking some model-gorgeous girl he's been in love with all his life, Armond would like the director to re-portray Jamal's abuse. As if it weren't bathetic and pathetic enough the first time. How can he seriously complain that the kid's too self-centered after all he's been through? What would Armond say is the right way to end this shit sandwich? Should Jamal, after winning his "TWENTY MILLION RUPEEES," dedicate the money to fellow victims of ethnic cleansing and matricide? Give it to a charity? Shoot himself in recognition that his life has been irredeemably destroyed by the ravages of colonialization? Really, the only honest part of this whole schlockfest is that the kid doesn't see himself as some kind of symbol or representative of child poverty or colonialist exploitation, that he just takes the money, absconds with the pretty girl and tries to forget about his past.

Finally, this review is eminently representative of the name-dropping excrement that is Armond White's writing. At one point he randomly compares the movie to a Bunuel classic that dropped back in 1950 (this is like if some critic were to go, "Disney's latest: okay, but definitely no Wizard of Oz"), and then actually says that if only more people had attended the recent David Lean retrospective that recently went down in New York, "our film culture" wouldn't be so susceptible to bad movies like this, movies which "betray [their] moral and artistic connection to Dickens, Kipling and Forster's understanding of social organization and individual life patterns." Dude, individual life pattern this. But seriously, does White actually think that if more people went to some retrospective in New York, the global film culture would be less receptive to schlock? How parochial is this guy? The problem isn't that people haven't seen enough Lean, the problem is that most people are stupid and can't tell the difference even if they had. Plus, whenever someone who actually is good, like Fincher, comes along, your Armond Whites of the world shit on him when they should be celebrating the guy and tell you to go see the latest Indiana Jones instead out of pure contrarian fucktardedness.

* This is actually a really great analogy when you consider condescending shit like 'Graceland.'


brandon said...

The big point you're missing/skipping in your "damned if you do/don't" conundrum is that White highlights and discusses the cultural, social, whatever-al significance of those Murphy comedies too. It's not like he's giving them some "pass" because they're goofy comedies.

He's also, in praising those movies, connecting to a history of goofy comedy that until 1970 or so, was a solid and significant filmic tradition in America and the rest of the world. After that point, if it isn't Tati or something, American critics will laugh it off.

Finally, I'm confused as to what you think good criticism is? Often, criticism involves setting-up or contrasting one piece of work with another to better illustrate the point. It's not that say, White wanted Fincher to adapt another Fitzgerald story, but that indeed, Fincher's obsession with technology and trickery led him towards a gimmick story like "Button" as opposed to a complicated, human story like "Diamond...".

One of the things is that for all your conservativism,--with a lowercase C and capital C--and discussion of tradition and like emphatic good, you have ZERO ABILITY to see how White's one of the most historically, precedent-attuned film critics out there. He's constantly connecting movies and move history beyond simple-minded "well this was a crime movie and this is too and so, it's like that movie".

Jason said...

In part I agree with everything you point out Brandon, all of them valid arguments to Tray's deep hatred of White, much more than even I dislike him.

Although I loathe those Murphy comedies, (and I have actually watched a few of them) White does point out those social/cultural things I probably wouldn't otherwise have noticed, however, I still personally find them quite boring. White may be able to point out these things in films like Norbit for example, it still doesn't make it watchable for a lot of people who don't care for fart jokes mixed in with significant cultural/social underpinnings.

As for Tray having "ZERO ABILITY" to see White pointing out historical film anecdotes of todays pretty shitty goofy comedies to pre- 1970's awesome goofy comedies, so what? White may be a pretty awesome critic when comes to being "precedent attuned" that doesn't mean those films he hypes are any good or really have any connection to goofy comedies of yesteryear other than the connection he places on them, usually it's barely there.

The problem I have with White is with the films he hates, usually because of their total disregard to precedents from long ago that do not hold any barring today in regards to whether they're watchable or not. Sometimes precedents should be completely obliterated, and comparing contrasting films from 35+ yrs ago isn't always a good measure of a films worth. He should be a film historian, not a current movie critic.