Monday, August 3, 2009

Meet Rotten Tomatoes' Most Hated Film Critic

Note from Luke: This post is long. Really long.

Photo by Nigel Parry

Say hello to Armond White, a man deemed the worst film critic on Rotten Tomatoes because of his tendency to discard widely respected films and embrace ones that get trashed. This post is being written because Armond's reviews are in some cases so confounding that I've taken it upon myself to decide whether he's going against the grain in order to increase his traffic and further his career (a method that's definitely working) or if he really, truly feels this way about the films he watches. I'm going to look at 3 movies he loved and 4 that he hated to find the answer. Let's start it up.

The Dark Knight

Critic Consensus: "Dark, complex and unforgettable, The Dark Knight succeeds not just as an entertaining comic book film, but as a richly thrilling crime saga."

Armond White: "Ledger reduces The Joker to one-note ham-acting and trite symbolism. If you fell for the evil-versus-evil antagonism of There Will Be Blood, then The Dark Knight should be the movie of your wretched dreams. The Dark Knight is the sentinel of our cultural abyss."

Ok, to Armond and anyone else who feels this way: the movie is called The Dark Knight. There's a possibility that the film could be a little dark. Its tagline is "Welcome to a World Without Rules." Absolutely brilliant deduction that the film lacks morality. What could White have possibly been expecting? Song and dance numbers? A CGI Judy Garland cameo? Chris Columbus as guest director?

I remember not being able to take my eyes off the screen when Ledger's Joker was involved. He reinvented a tired, worn-out character and won a posthumous Oscar for it. Sounds like ham-acting to me.

Get used to these three traits from White: 1. He has a stubborn way of praising people and film studios he loves and bashing ones he can't stand, regardless of the films he's reviewing. 2. He comes off as an egotistical blowhard, partly because 3. He views himself as a moral compass on par with God, Gandhi, and Magnum P.I.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Critic Consensus:
"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a noisy, underplotted, and overlong special effects extravaganza that lacks a human touch."

Armond White: "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is more proof [Bay] has a great eye for scale and a gift for visceral amazement."

I don't think anyone can argue that Michael Bay knows how to blow shit up. It's the little things Bay struggles with (character development, plot, reality). Bay found out long ago that if he blows things up, uses lots of slo-mo shots and finds a hot babe and makes her bend over in jean shorts, his films will reach the $100M plateau within weeks.

If you read Armond's full review of Transformers (click here for it), his points kind of make sense. He acknowledges Bay neglects plot for spectacle. He acknowledges slo-mo Megan Fox shots with a fighter jet flying overhead. White knows how to write, and he knows how to argue. This is what makes his reviews so infuriating. Such an articulate guy should be able to recognize a fantastic film with ease. But he doesn't. Want another example?

The Hangover

Critic Consensus: "With a clever script and hilarious interplay among the cast, The Hangover nails just the right tone of raunchy humor, and the non-stop laughs overshadow any flaw."

Armond White: "Rising-star Bradley Cooper and gang represent the dirtbag element that has become acceptable in contemporary comedy."

Remember what I said about Armond White, Moral Compass and his tendency to be stubborn? Both traits are in play here. He notoriously trashes the raunchier, better written R-rated comedies in favor of lighter, easier to write and produce efforts (see the next film).

Here's the full review. He grouped it together with The Proposal, which makes sense because the two movies are pretty much identical. And for those of you waiting for an "Armand White is ratard" joke, sorry, it's not gonna happen. Except it kind of just did. Moving on.

Dance Flick

Critic Consensus: "Dance Flick scores a few laughs thanks to the Wayans brothers' exuberance, but it’s ultimately a scattershot collection of gags without much direction."

Armond White: "It isn’t highbrow -- or encumbered by scruples -- but the Wayanses retain their vulgar, adolescent derision of sex, class and race. In this bow down to Hollywood millennium, their irreverence is almost subversive."

The Wayans' irreverence isn't subversive, it's lazy. Jokes about race, gender and class are incredibly easy to make. Similar to Michael Bay, they've found a money-printing film making method that requires little to no creativity. Find a popular genre, spoof it for 90 minutes with "White girls can't dance, LOLZ!" jokes, collect check, laugh all the way to the bank. And we keep falling for it. Apparently Armond does too.

White calls Dance Flick "more invigorating than Chicago, Dreamgirls or Hairspray." That's not my area of expertise, so I'll let the ladies and Dan Bardin handle that one.

Star Trek

Critic Consensus: "Star Trek reignites a classic franchise with action, humor, a strong story, and brilliant visuals, and will please traditional Trekkies and new fans alike."

Armond White: "This Star Trek sells cuteness, sentimentality and explosive F/X as if Starship Troopers, Minority Report, Mission to Mars or even Blade Runner or The Matrix (all visionary standard-setters) never happened."

I had a blast watching Star Trek, just like 95% of the critics on Rotten Tomatoes. If that gives me the emotional capabilities of an early teenager, Armond, so be it. You're above us all. And yeah, I agree, Star Trek is exactly like Blade Runner and Mission to Mars. Have any of you actually watched Blade Runner? I had to for a film class. The Harrison Ford voiceover was cheesier than the deuces Kraft's CEO drops. And Mission to Mars? Um...what? You mean this Mission to Mars?

White didn't feel that Star Trek deserved its own review; he grouped it with X-Men: Wolverine. Good call. Those films were equally enjoyable.

Transporter 3

Critic Consensus: "This middling installment in the Transporter franchise is a few steps down from its predecessors, featuring generic stunts and a lack of energy."

Armond White: "Forget the Oscar bait, Transporter 3 is the only movie you need to see this season."

I haven't seen this one. I'm sure I'd enjoy it, but definitely not as much as Armond did. You really have to read the review to fully comprehend it. He says Buster Keaton is nodding appreciatively (wherever he is) and Spielberg should take notes. And let me tell you something, Armond White LOVES Steven Spielberg. Loves him. Transporter 3 is the most glowing review I've seen Armond write.

I'm starting to figure something out about White's taste in films. He values visuals over dialogue every single time. This is why he loves Michael Bay, the Transporter series, and dismisses The Dark Knight and well-written comedies. He wants to be told a story visually, which is fine, but it doesn't explain his hatred for Pixar.


Critic Consensus: "Another masterful work of art from Pixar, Up is an exciting, hilarious, and heartfelt adventure impeccably crafted and told with wit and depth."

Armond White: "All this deflated cinema and Pixarism mischaracterizes what good animation can be (as in Coraline, Monster House, Chicken Little, Teacher’s Pet, The Iron Giant). Up’s aesthetic failure stems from its emotional letdown."

This review is so far out there that I have to quote a little bit more of it: "Today, nobody dares mock Pixar. This absurdity clarifies contemporary news media’s unprincipled collusion with Hollywood capitalism."

Why didn't I realize it before? The Disney/Pixar tandem has effectively brainwashed us all into believing they make great films and are worth spending money on! White not only slapped Hollywood in the face, but also threw his fellow critics under the bus who dared to enjoy Up (and 97% of them did).

White revealed just what a badass he is with 4 simple words: NOBODY DARES MOCK PIXAR. His hatred of the studio is so predictable that, when Up had a 100% going for a while, someone actually wrote "Enjoy this while it lasts, Armond White hasn't turned in his review yet."

It's in this case that I think White is going against the grain simply to get attention. There are so many contradictions in his review that there's no other explanation.

"Emotional letdown?" Did he get there 20 minutes late? Oh wait, he didn't. He said the first 20 minutes were over-sentimentalized. Makes sense. On the contrary, as I've already written about, those first 20 minutes were incredible. The entire theater was silent, absorbing the story.

Yes, Up was manipulating our emotions. That's what great movies do. They take us places and make us feel things that wouldn't have been possible if we weren't there. White still hasn't figured that out.

Read that sentence again: contemporary news media's unprincipled collusion with Hollywood. What proof does this guy have of collusion? What kind of a conspiracy theory is this? Does Pixar really make horrendous films? Have we all been brainwashed?

No, we haven't. My conclusion is that Armond White is an articulate, intelligent, ego-driven and stubborn film critic who values visuals over dialogue, shuns raunchy comedies, and has an irrational hatred of Pixar and an irrational love of Jason Statham. In most cases he actually feels the way he says he does about films he watches, and in Pixar's case it seems he puts on a show in order to generate attention and traffic.

His career is generally respected amongst his peers, so it looks like he'll continue to have a job reviewing movies. There are users on Rotten Tomatoes that have urged him to kill himself or contract cancer, and some have threatened to kill him themselves. It's not quite that serious. Let's just enjoy his reviews and accept them as transcendent comedy. Thanks for all the laughs, Armond. Keep up the hilarious work.

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