Although the House of Representatives shut down the federal government earlier this month, it was unable to shut down America's enthusiasm ... for "Gravity" starring Sandra Bullock.
The three-dimensional science-fiction film, about an astronaut set adrift in space after a catastrophic incident, opened to $55 million and near-universal praise from critics and audiences alike; its current score on Rotten Tomatoes (a website that aggregates reviews from all over the country) rests at an almost-unheard-of 97 percent.
And yet, not everyone is impressed. There is a minor but vocal 3 percent of professional critics who did not feel the tomato was fresh enough to recommend. Who are these cynical, unhappy people?
Enter Armond White, long regarded as modern film criticism's resident contrarian (if put nicely; "insufferable troll" if you aren't in the mood), who in his review compares "Gravity" unfavorably to the sci-fi picture "Supernova" — a film that currently holds a 10 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes — and whose director petitioned to have his name removed from the credits.
How did White reach such an extreme conclusion while the rest of the world seems to unanimously enjoy "Gravity"?
While perusing the claw machine in the lobby after a recent screening of "Gravity," I discovered what appears to be Armond White's personal diary. Some sample entries:
— "OCT. 3, 2:15 p.m. Good afternoon, diary. It's Armond White here. Just got back from a screening of Alfonso Cuaron's new film, 'Gravity.' Holy cow. What a movie! Incredible. Indescribable. Immersive. Like being in space yourself. And Sandra Bullock gives a performance that is — dare I say it — OUT OF THIS WORLD. A revelation to behold. Truly the motion picture event of the year — maybe the decade. So pumped about this movie, diary! Can't wait to see it again! In fact, I'm about to sneak into the next showing. I can not overstate how massively cool this movie is! Made me feel like a kid again. Armond out!"
— "OCT. 3, 5 p.m. Dear diary, Armond here. Troubling news. The reviews have started pouring in, and it looks like my esteemed 'colleagues' thought 'Gravity' was pretty good, too. Currently, it has a freshness ranking of 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. 100 percent?! That cannot stand. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone is calling it 'transcendent' and 'some kind of miracle.' How could your instincts have been so off base, Armond? Of course a tool like Travers would like this movie. 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes? Not for long. XOXO, diary."
— "OCT. 3, 7:25 p.m. Diary, for the first time in my life, I am experiencing writer's block. I've been sitting here trying to brainstorm reasons why 'Gravity' underwhelmed me, how the hype is unjustified — but I keep coming up blank. Kenneth Turan from the Los Angeles Times is calling it a 'visual astonishment.' Kenneth Turan! Is that the kind of bedfellow you want, Armond? Of course not! Armond White has no bedfellows. Armond White sleeps alone, and naked!"
— "OCT. 4, 8 a.m. I woke up this morning to find a fully written review waiting on my desk. Five stars and two thumbs up? What were you drinking last night, Armond? Certainly not your usual cocktail of Haterade and Next-Level Film Criticism. I've been sabotaged by vodka. Either that, or Turan snuck in my consciousness last night via astral projection and wrote a review using my unconscious body. Going to the DMV now to renew my license without ANY of the necessary paperwork — that should put me in the right mood to tell the world what a steaming pile 'Gravity' is. Wish me luck, diary. Sometimes I think you're the only one who understands me."
— "OCT. 4, 11 a.m. Was able to channel all of the negative energy at the DMV into a few lines of a review (but no license!). Here's a sneak peek:
"Gravity? More like Gravi-DON'T. In Alfonso Cuaron's new thriller, Sandra Bull-crock and George Looney prove once and for all that in space, no one can hear you yawn. 3-D? More like 3-DON'T. There is no need to see Sandra Bull-hockey's acting in ANOTHER DIMENSION. Two was enough, please and thank you."
— "OCT. 4, 1:15 p.m. Which film would be more outrageous to trumpet over 'Gravity:' 'Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace' or 'Battlefield Earth?' I don't want to overplay my hand, diary."
— "OCT. 4, 2:30 p.m. I paid the boy who brings me groceries to type my review while I dictated. He asked why I didn't just email it myself. As if you, idiot squire, would begin to understand the internal mechanisms of genius that guide the film criticism of Armond White! If you don't like how I do things here, go run groceries for Turan! I hear he prefers artisan cheese over the canned stuff — although anyone with half a brain knows everything tastes better out of a can. Rube!"
— "OCT. 4, 4 p.m. My editor at the New York Press called. He says the review seemed too nice and wondered if I was feeling OK. I checked, and I'll be blasted if that squire boy didn't rewrite my words to favor 'Gravity.' I bet he's on Travers' payroll!"
— "OCT. 5, 5:30 p.m. Had to rewrite to hit my 5 p.m. deadline. To get in the proper frame of mind, I first walked through a puddle of water in my socks, then put my shoes back on. Film is not meant to be enjoyed. It is meant to be suffered. I derive no pleasure from watching film. Unless, of course, we're talking about 'Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance' — which might be the crowning achievement of the 21st century. But what else would you expect from a thespian the caliber of Nicolas Cage? Armond out!"
Ryan Jackson thinks you should see "Gravity" on the biggest, loudest screen possible, and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.