Ripe for a kicking: Hollywoods love-hate relationship with Rotten Tomatoes

Twenty years after its launch, the movie-review aggregators verdict is now seen as vital to a films success or failure. Is the site too influential for its own good?

Twenty years ago, the internet was a very different place. Google was a fresh rival to Alta Vista and Lycos. Apple computers looked like boiled sweets, and we dialled up to surf the net, having installed the software via CD-Rom. The movie world of 1998 was also somewhat different: the box office was ruled by meteorite movies and Adam Sandler; Harvey Weinstein was an Oscar winner; and The Avengers was a lame, retro spy comedy with Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman. It was into this climate that Senh Duong launched Rotten Tomatoes known in the business as RT a site that has transformed both worlds, although nobody seems quite sure if it has done so for better or worse.

Duongs idea was simple to compile movie reviews and it still drives Rotten Tomatoes. He was inspired by his love of Jackie Chan and Jet Li movies and would scour the internet looking for reviews of them. So why not put them in one place? Duong already had a full-time job, he says. Rotten Tomatoes was a side project I worked on in the evenings. He single-handedly designed and coded the site in just two weeks. It was very laborious. Every page was manually assembled using HTML. Every review was manually searched for, read and quoted.

In the same way that, say, lastminute.com and Expedia compare plane ticket prices, Rotten Tomatoes review aggregation has turned out to be super-useful, particularly as it boils all those reviews down to a single, convenient percentage score. It then boils down that score even further, to a simple graphic of a tomato. In the same way that Siskel and Ebert gave a thumbs up or a thumbs down, or the man from Del Monte tasted a pineapple and said yes or no, so Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer separates movies into fresh or rotten. If at least 60% of a movies reviews are positive, it is graded fresh, signified by a ripe, red tomato. Less than 60% and it is rotten, signified by a green splat. Over 75% gets you a certified fresh logo, like a sticker on a quality piece of fruit. (The 1998 Avengers movie, if you were wondering, scored a supremely rotten 5%.)

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Lady Bird a hit with critics and Rotten Tomatoes. Photograph: Allstar/A24

Today, movies supposedly live or die by the ripeness of that virtual fruit. Rotten Tomatoes has become the one movie site to aggregate them all. The Tomatometer appears not only on Rotten Tomatoes site but also on ticketing sites such as AMC cinemas and Fandango (which has owned Rotten Tomatoes since 2016). It comes up on Google searches, iTunes, SoundCloud, in Twitter and chatroom discussions and (as long as the rating is fresh) in movie studios marketing campaigns. It is a news item when a movie achieves a 100% fresh rating, as recently happened with Paddington 2 and, before that, Greta Gerwigs Lady Bird.

With its dominance and prominence, Rotten Tomatoes is becoming the story and not always in a good way. After Lady Bird got its 100% score, for example, one critic opted to lob a green splat into the mix, not because he hated the movie, but because everyone else liked it so much. I had to consider whether to cast Lady Bird as fresh or rotten in the context of a perfect score that people were using to trumpet Lady Bird as the all-time best-reviewed movie on RT, Cole Smithey tweeted. In other words, Rotten Tomatoes status as a neutral measure of critics opinions comes into question when it starts to influence those opinions.

The possible gaming of Rotten Tomatoes scores has taken on more sinister aspects lately. Earlier this month, Facebook announced it had taken down the page of a group called Down With Disneys Treatment of Franchises and Its Fanboys, which was attempting to orchestrate a mass troll assault on the Rotten Tomatoes score of the superhero movie Black Panther. Alongside the critic-designated Tomatometer score, Rotten Tomatoes also gives each movie an audience score, determined by registered users and represented by a popcorn bucket: red and full for positive; green and tipped-over for negative. The anti-Black Panther group sought to lower the movies audience score by bombarding the site with negative reviews. It claimed to have programmed bots to create fake user accounts. It also said it was acting in the name of DC comics, the main rival to Black Panthers (Disney-owned) Marvel, but suspicions of far-right motivations persist, particularly because the same group had previously targeted Star Wars: The Last Jedi (also Disney-owned) on account of its supposed social justice warrior concepts.

Rotten Tomatoes has denied the attacks succeeded, but at present The Last Jedis Tomatometer score is 91% (a critical Yay!) while its audience score is 48% (a public Meh). Was this discrepancy the result of far-right bots or genuine audience division? Either way, it didnt matter much: The Last Jedi is now the ninth-highest-grossing movie in history. Black Panther is likely to be a billion-dollar movie, too.

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Paddington 2 perfect score.

When movies bomb, however, the studios have been quick to blame Rotten Tomatoes. Last summer, Hollywood resorted to tomato-shaming to spare its own blushes over colossal failures such as Baywatch (Tomatometer score: 18%), The Mummy (16%), King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (29%) and Pirates of the Caribbean 5 (30%). The critic aggregation site increasingly is slowing down the potential business of popcorn movies, complained the website Deadline. Director Brett Ratner called Rotten Tomatoes the worst thing we have in todays movie culture and the destruction of our business. He may have been stung by the fate of Warner Bros blockbuster Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which Ratners company co-produced; it earned a malodorous 27%.

The situation came to the boil with Batman v Supermans 2017 follow-up: Justice League. For Warner Bros, the movie was a big deal: a superhero team-up with an estimated $300m budget. So, eyebrows were raised when Justice Leagues Rotten Tomatoes score did not appear on the site as expected, once an embargo on critics reviews lifted. Even when those reviews were available on other sites and the movie was previewing in cinemas, Rotten Tomatoes webpage for Justice League was blank. Instead, the excuse ran, Justice Leagues score was to be announced on Rotten Tomatoes new web show, See It Or Skip It, in which presenters provide context and conversation around the movie of the week before revealing its all-important Tomatometer score. For Justice League, that score was a decidedly unripe 43%. By the time it appeared on the website, it had dropped to 40%.

Some observers smelled a conspiracy, since Warner Bros holds a 30% stake in Rotten Tomatoes parent company, Fandango (Universal owns the other 70%). Rotten Tomatoes, however, denied Warner Bros had anything to do with the decision: We are absolutely autonomous, like any news organisation, it said. There is no outside influence on anything we put on the site. If the studio was secretly trying to bury bad news, it didnt work. The incident ultimately generated negative publicity for Justice League, Warner Bros and Rotten Tomatoes.

Duong left Rotten Tomatoes in 2007 to pursue other digital media projects. When I started it, he recalls, I was only thinking of its positive impact that it could be really useful to film fans. And to studios: they could use the Tomatometer to promote their good films. I wasnt thinking at all about how they would react to the poorly reviewed ones. He notes that Warner Bros didnt complain about Wonder Womans 92% rating, which it used in its own promotion.

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi targeted. Photograph: Allstar/Lucasfilm

Often, though, studios find subtle ways to control Rotten Tomatoes message, or, if necessary, stop it getting through at all. They may screen a movie before its release to a receptive crowd a fan-filled festival screening, say, or a cherrypicked selection of sympathetic critics to get a decent Tomatometer score on the board early and hopefully set the tone.

The biggest blockbusters are withheld from critics, or their reviews are embargoed, until very close to the movies release date. Occasionally (when the studio knows its got a real stinker on its hands) they are not screened for critics at all. As a result, no Tomatometer score appears until the very last minute. Last summer, for example, Sony embargoed reviews of The Emoji Movie in the US until just a few hours before its release. Critics gave the movie an RT score of just 6%, but it achieved a healthy opening weekend of $24.5m (17.5m) in the US. Family movies are generally less susceptible to the power of the tomato, anyway: few parents ever dissuaded an eager six-year-old by arguing the data.

Can Rotten Tomatoes really make or break a movie? It definitely has an impact, says Ethan Titelman, a senior vice-president at the Hollywood market research firm National Research Group (NRG). According to NRGs annual survey, 50% of regular moviegoers frequently check the site, often immediately before buying their cinema tickets. And 82% are more interested in seeing a movie if it has a high Tomatometer score, while two-thirds are deterred by a low score. Furthermore, Titelman adds, its influence is growing and broadening out. Once it would have been for your tech-savvy early adopters, but it has actually doubled its influence over moviegoers aged over 45 in the last couple of years alone.

Then again, a study by University of Southern Californias Entertainment Technology Center crunched the data on box office returns v Tomatometer scores for the biggest 150 movies of 2017 and found the correlation to be pretty much zero meaning that, in general, Rotten Tomatoes doesnt affect movies positively or negatively. Despite anomalies such as The Last Jedi, it also found a high correlation between critics scores and audience scores, which suggests that everyone tends to agree when a movie sucks. When Hollywood executives complain about Rotten Tomatoes scores, the researcher concluded, theyre really complaining about their audiences tastes because its basically the same thing.

Steven Gaydos, the executive editor of Variety, dismisses the studios complaints out of hand: Its really a case of shoot the messenger, he says. If Rotten Tomatoes reflects the consensus of opinion on a movie and the movie is bad and therefore doesnt do well, what part of that is Rotten Tomatoes doing something nefarious or terrible? Studios today bank on fewer, bigger movies, each of which can represent an investment of half a billion dollars in production and marketing costs, Gaydos points out. Also, a movies opening weekend typically accounts for one-third of its total box office. So, you can imagine how much pressure there is to get an opening weekend that has not been damaged or diminished by a bad Rotten Tomatoes score. Everything is at stake.

Rotten Tomatoes may not be killing movies, but it could well be killing movie criticism. Not only by attempting to bypass professionals and build buzz with the fans, but also by its inherent premise. Rotten Tomatoes only registers if each review is positive or negative (its rival Metacritic, by contrast, assigns a percentage score to each individual review, then calculates the average). A movie that everyone agrees is simply quite good could therefore be 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, while movies that are more challenging, controversial or experimental are more likely to divide critics and get a lower score. The system favours safety and consensus. As well as movies, Rotten Tomatoes is grading the critics: if a reviewer goes against the grain, the Tomatometer score is proof that they are wrong.

Its self-censorship, says Varietys Gaydos. Critics have trained themselves to [pretend to] take seriously movies that they dont take seriously because the danger is not having a job and not being relevant, being aged out of the discussion. The numbers bear out this trend. The median Tomatometer score for movies grossing more than $2m was 51% during the 2000s and 53% during the 2010s. In 2017, though, the year of crashes such as Baywatch and Pirates of the Caribbean 5, the median was 71%. Either critics are enjoying movies more or movies are better than ever.

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Warner Bros didnt complain about Wonder Womans 92% rating, says RTs founder. Photograph: Clay Enos/AP

Gaydoss fear is that Rotten Tomatoes is replacing nuanced, thoughtful film writing. We used to read Andrew Sarris and Pauline Kael arguing, and now were looking at a picture of a green tomato or a red tomato. We have to see what weve lost here, people!

Film-makers have expressed similar sentiments. Martin Scorsese complained that sites such as Rotten Tomatoes have absolutely nothing to do with real film criticism. They rate a picture the way youd rate a household appliance in Consumer Reports The film-maker is reduced to a content manufacturer and the viewer to an unadventurous consumer.

Others disagree. The New Yorker critic Richard Brody argued that Rotten Tomatoes has the merit of putting reviews by critics who write for smaller outlets alongside those who write for more prominent ones, which is all to the good. Duong also defends his brainchild: In regards to this fear that people would only look at the score and not read the reviews, its not supported by data. When I was there, 85% to 90% of users who went to a movie page on Rotten Tomatoes clicked on a review and left the site. Its not surprising when you think about it: its a page full of links with enticing quotes.

When Duong created Rotten Tomatoes in 1998, Hollywood released many more titles than it does now, and they were reviewed by a handful of significant critics: major newspapers and magazines, syndicated critics such as Siskel and Ebert. The media elite, you could say. Today, the situation has flipped. Hollywood releases fewer movies and they are reviewed by hundreds, possibly thousands, of critics. You could see this as democratisation and diversity of the media, or the emergence of a cacophony of critical voices. However, the proliferation created an opportunity at the top to simplify and aggregate the multitude into one overarching meta-entity: essentially, a new media elite. Depending on how you look at it, Rotten Tomatoes either showcases organic, heirloom varieties like an upmarket grocery store, or it blends all difference into one homogeneous, easily digestible puree. The fruit is either half-ripe or half-rotten; its all a matter of taste.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/feb/26/rotten-tomatoes-hollywood-love-hate-relationship

And the Oscar goes to … Wonder Woman! Can a superhero film take home best picture?

Patty Jenkins blockbuster torpedoed sexist stereotypes and triumphed at the box office. Now it faces its biggest challenge: winning over Academy voters

Dickenss line, It was the best of times, it was the worst of times seems strangely appropriate to the world of comic-book movies in 2017. Over the past couple of years weve seen some of the worst superhero films ever committed to celluloid , among them Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. Yet weve also been treated to more glowingly reviewed comic-book films than ever before.

Rotten Tomatoes rates X-Men spin-off Logan, Marvels Spider-Man: Homecoming and The Lego Batman Movie all among the years best-reviewed films. And thats to not mention Marvels new effort, Thor: Ragnarok (amazingly at 98% at the time of writing) and Patty Jenkins groundbreaking Wonder Woman (92%).

Indeed, Warner Bros is so delighted with the excellent response to Jenkins movie that it is prepping Princess Diana of Themyscira for a full Oscars run, perhaps hopeful that the Academys recent injection of more younger voters and more female voters might help catapult the superhero epic to a best picture nomination at the very least. It seems a fair shout: Warners The Dark Knight remains the only superhero movie ever to win an Oscar in the major categories (posthumously for Heath Ledgers spiky turn as The Joker, which won him the best supporting actor gong in 2009), while Jenkins previous film Monster saw Charlize Theron win the best actress Oscar for her portrayal of the serial killer Aileen Wuornos.

Its hard to imagine future superhero movies carrying such cultural weight as Wonder Woman. Not only was it the best movie about a DC superhero since The Dark Knight, it also registered way beyond its core audience of geeks, winning praise for Jenkins deft use of warmth and humour to torpedo sexist narratives. It became so much a part of the 2017 conversation that the film-maker found herself caught up in a row with James Cameron over what a strong, powerful female hero should look like.

Still, if 2017 really is to be the year in which the genre movie finally takes over the Oscars, there may be better candidates than Wonder Woman. For big ideas and visual panache, Denis Villeneuves Blade Runner 2049 ticks all the existential boxes, and there have been few more impressive films than Matt Reeves War for the Planet of the Apes, with its brooding, dystopian vision and gasp-worthy technical audacity. Some might argue that Wonder Woman is not even the best superhero movie of 2017, an honour that could be handed to James Mangolds mesmerisingly dark and brutal Logan.

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Patty Jenkins. Photograph: Lower/SilverHub/Rex/ Shutterstock

And yet Oscars often go to the most Oscarly movies, rather than the best ones. The question for Academy voters might be whether Jenkins big-hearted superhero epic suits the moment better than any of the alternatives. Its more than possible to make a case for Wonder Woman to defeat the odds and emerge triumphant, even if we dont know what the competition will be.

Film historians might look back on 2017 and note that this was the year in which certain previously untouchable Hollywood moguls found themselves publicly excoriated, leading to a change in attitudes towards the treatment of women by men in positions of power. What better way to honour that profound societal shift than to celebrate a totem of strong feminity, a superhero who refuses to be kept in the box that society has placed her in; who is comfortable with her own strength but avoids the puffed-up boastfulness of her male counterparts? It would be a triumph against the odds, but this is a well-reviewed movie that has struck a tone with many, and stranger things have happened.

In the unlikely event that Gadot finds herself on stage at the Dolby theatre in Los Angeles celebrating a best-picture win for Wonder Woman, there will be many who take that as a sign that these are not the worst of times after all.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2017/oct/24/wonder-woman-superhero-movie-oscar-best-picture-gal-gadot

All by myself: how the greatest solo film performances worked their magic

With Anne Hathaway set to star in a film that she will carry on her own, we ask: what can she learn from previous high points of single-actor shows

In Les Miserables, Anne Hathaway won an Oscar for crying but how is she with cryo? Shes just signed up for O2, a race-against-time movie centred on a woman who wakes up trapped in one of those sci-fi hypersleep pods so beloved of the Alien franchise. It sounds like a juicy premise for a tense thriller O2s amnesiac protagonist must escape before her air supply runs out but it will also see Hathaway join a cinematic club currently dominated by men: movies that are solo showcases for one actor. What could Hathaway learn from other recent examples?

Buried (2010)

This claustrophobic horror combines two of human beings greatest fears: being buried alive and having no access to a phone charger. Entombed in a crude coffin somewhere in the Iraqi desert, Ryan Reynolds has to try and extricate himself with only an ailing Blackberry to hand. Will he make the right call? Reynolds dials down his usual glibness in favour of escalating panic, but much of Burieds power comes from director Rodrigo Cortss decision to stay right there in the box with him. There are no cutaways to the surface, no tension-relieving flashbacks, no whiff of fresh air or escape. It is a nightmare-inducing tactic, and perhaps one Hathaways as-yet-unconfirmed O2 director should adopt.

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Tight spot Ryan Reynolds in Buried.

Locke (2013)

There arent many laughs in Dunkirk but some wags have pointed out that, with his shearling-trimmed jacket and face-obscuring mask, Tom Hardy seems to be secretly reprising his role as Batman baddie Bane. In fact, his Spitfire captain arguably has more in common with Welsh cement wizard Ivan Locke, another pro stolidly piloting a vehicle south, uncertain about what awaits him. Writer-director Steven Knights completely BMW-set chamber piece turns a series of hands-free phone conversations during a late-night motorway haul into a surprisingly affecting thriller. Lockes hands may be glued to the steering wheel, but Hardys agitated eyes suggest a man achingly adrift. When it comes to acting solo, the eyes have it.

Cast Away (2000)

After some scene-setting preamble and a jolting plane crash, Robert Zemeckiss desert island survival tale zeroes in on Tom Hanks for two whole hours. Perhaps because of the affection with which the Forrest Gump star is held by audiences, this Crusoe karaoke made over $400m worldwide. Crucially, Cast Away hinges on a four-year time jump and Zemeckis paused production for an entire year so Hanks could downsize himself from doughy FedEx drone to gaunt, loincloth-wearing crusty. That might be beyond Hathaways more modestly-budgeted $10m effort, but perhaps she could befriend a rolling cryo-maintenance droid called W1L5ON?

All Is Lost (2013)

More trouble at sea, with Robert Redfords yacht abruptly holed by a rogue shipping container somewhere in the Indian Ocean. With his technical equipment totally banjaxed, the 77-year-old unnamed sailor is totally becalmed but carries on, even as things inexorably get worse. With no radio, phone or even volleyball to talk to, it is an unusually taciturn performance from Redford, but the old hand is terrific at physically communicating his mariners various thought processes as he furrows his brow to improvise solutions to a cascade of life-or-death problems. Fewer lines can mean more impact, so maybe Hathaway should buy a red pen now.

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Sinking feeling Robert Redford in All Is Lost. Photograph: Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar

Gravity (2011)

Alfonso Cuarns Oscar-winning orbital rollercoaster technically starred two headline actors: Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. But after a space disaster, were soon down to just Bullock, a biomedical expert with minimal astronaut training who must suddenly engineer a safe return to Earth. Despite the nominally realistic setting, writer-director Cuarn adds dreamlike touches his camera floats through Bullocks polycarbonate visor; a key character unexpectedly returns and he really nails the ending. Having making us fear for Bullock as she spins through space as an insignificant speck, the final, Imax-ready shot renders her 50ft tall. Hathaway should insist on a similarly epic finale.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2017/jul/24/actors-solo-anne-hathaway-02

Spider-Man: Homecoming at last a superhero film for millennials

With an authentically awkward star turn from Tom Holland, the latest outing for Marvels web-slinger is perfectly tuned for a teenage audience

Comic books arent for children any more, and neither are comic-book films. Yes, you can take the kids to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but the parents next to me, who had brought their five-year-old along, should start setting aside some cash for therapy. The Marvel cinematic universe has a lighter tone, but in the past decade big-screen superheroes have been aimed more at eternal adolescents rather than actual ones the people who can now afford the toys their parents never bought them, who lived to see the secret passions of their youth become studio tentpoles and newspaper thinkpieces.

This is a big part of the reason why Spider-Man: Homecoming, despite being the sixth Spider-Man film in 15 years, feels so fresh and lively. Its the first costumed caper in what feels like forever to be aimed squarely at the high-school crowd it so vividly portrays, replete with an actor who was actually a teenager when he pulled on the tights. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to the Millennial Spider-Man.

The quiet genius of Jon Watts film is the way it casts Marvels cinematic cash cow, the Avengers, as uncool grownups who just dont get what the kids are up to. Robert Downey Jrs Tony Stark can break the sound barrier in his Iron Man suit, but cant avoid or understand the daddy issues that come into sharp focus around Peter Parker. Chris Evans Captain America makes an appearance, hilariously memefied into a public service announcement in which he tells kids to keep fit and stay in school precisely the sort of paternalistic patter regarded as white noise by anyone under 18.

As Spider-Man, however, Tom Holland feels far closer to the average teenager, smartyet insecure, and with a mouth that just wont stop. Yes, hes as awkward in the suit as he is out of it, but Spider-Man: Homecoming never sets up a hackneyed nerds-v-jocks scenario. Instead, it depicts high school in a way that most people in their teens would see as being perfectly normal.

Its not Peters playing in a band or other school activities that make him uncool, its his decision to quit them. His longtime nemesis Flash is part of the same academic decathlon team as Peter, but hes also the go-to DJ at parties. The characters diversity is presented casually and without comment, and is certainly closer to real-life New York than the monochrome casting of previous Spider-Man outings. The film even opens with an extended nod to teen YouTube culture something that may well seem alien to the sort of people (like me) who are surprised to learn that the scene-stealing Zendaya has 8 million Twitter followers.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is a superhero film for a generation that isnt mine, and that is what makes it special. Yes, it is also a cash grab by a studio keen on milking as many demographics as it can, but there is something joyful in seeing a baton passed as nimbly as this, in seeing the characters and archetypes that mean so much to me take on a new lease of life. Its a film that is funny but never ironic, as sweet as it is silly, with characters who can shrug off injury but cannot avoid heartache. I cant wait to see it again.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2017/jul/10/spider-man-homecoming-tom-holland-superhero-film-millennials

Tim Pigott-Smith obituary

Stage and screen actor best known for his role in the TV series The Jewel in the Crown

The only unexpected thing about the wonderful actor Tim Pigott-Smith, who has died aged 70, was that he never played Iago or, indeed, Richard III. Having marked out a special line in sadistic villainy as Ronald Merrick in his career-defining, Bafta award-winning performance in The Jewel in the Crown (1984), Granada TVs adaptation for ITV of Paul Scotts Raj Quartet novels, he built a portfolio of characters both good and bad who were invariably presented with layers of technical accomplishment and emotional complexity.

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Tim Pigott-Smith in the title role of Mike Bartletts King Charles III at the Almeida theatre in 2014. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

He emerged as a genuine leading actor in Shakespeare, contemporary plays by Michael Frayn in Frayns Benefactors (1984) he was a malicious, Iago-like journalist undermining a neighbouring college chums ambitions as an architect and Stephen Poliakoff, American classics by Eugene ONeill and Edward Albee, and as a go-to screen embodiment of high-ranking police officers and politicians, usually served with a twist of lemon and a side order of menace and sarcasm.

He played a highly respectable King Lear at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2011, but that performance was eclipsed, three years later, by his subtle, affecting and principled turn in the title role of Mike Bartletts King Charles III (soon to be seen in a television version) at the Almeida, in the West End and on Broadway, for which he received nominations in both the Olivier and Tony awards. The play, written in Shakespearean iambics, was set in a futuristic limbo, before the coronation, when Charles refuses to grant his royal assent to a Labour prime ministers press regulation bill.

The interregnum cliffhanger quality to the show was ideal for Pigott-Smiths ability to simultaneously project the spine and the jelly of a character, and he brilliantly suggested an accurate portrait of the future king without cheapening his portrayal of him. Although not primarily a physical actor, like Laurence Olivier, he was aware of his attributes, once saying that the camera does something to my eyes, particularly on my left side in profile, something to do with the eye being quite low and being able to see some white underneath the pupil. It was this physical accident, not necessarily any skill, he modestly maintained, which gave him a menacing look on film and television, as if I am thinking more than one thing.

Born in Rugby, Tim was the only child of Harry Pigott-Smith, a journalist, and his wife Margaret (nee Goodman), a keen amateur actor, and was educated at Wyggeston boys school in Leicester and when his father was appointed to the editorship of the Herald in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1962 King Edward VI grammar school, where Shakespeare was a pupil. Attending the Royal Shakespeare theatre, he was transfixed by John Barton and Peter Halls Wars of the Roses production, and the actors: Peggy Ashcroft, with whom he would one day appear in The Jewel in the Crown, Ian Holm and David Warner. He took a parttime job in the RSCs paint shop.

At Bristol University he gained a degree in English, French and drama (1967), and at the Bristol Old Vic theatre school he graduated from the training course (1969) alongside Jeremy Irons and Christopher Biggins as acting stage managers in the Bristol Old Vic company. He joined the Prospect touring company as Balthazar in Much Ado with John Neville and Sylvia Syms and then as the Player King and, later, Laertes to Ian McKellens febrile Hamlet. Back with the RSC he played Posthumus in Bartons fine 1974 production of Cymbeline and Dr Watson in William Gillettes Sherlock Holmes, opposite John Woods definitive detective, at the Aldwych and on Broadway. He further established himself in repertory at Birmingham, Cambridge and Nottingham.

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Tim Pigott-Smith as the avuncular businessman Ken Lay in Lucy Prebbles Enron at the Minerva theatre, Chichester, in 2009. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

He was busy in television from 1970, appearing in two Doctor Who sagas, The Claws of Axos (1971) and The Masque of Mandragora (1976), as well as in the first of the BBCs adaptations of Elizabeth Gaskells North and South (1975, as Frederick Hale; in the second, in 2004, he played Hales father, Richard). His first films were Jack Golds Aces High (1976), adapted by Howard Barker from RC Sherriffs Journeys End, and Tony Richardsons Joseph Andrews (1977). His first Shakespeare leads were in the BBCs Shakespeare series Angelo in Measure for Measure and Hotspur in Henry IV Part One (both 1979).

A long association with Hall began at the National Theatre in 1987, when he played a coruscating half-hour interrogation scene with Maggie Smith in Halls production of Coming in to Land by Poliakoff; he was a Dostoeyvskyan immigration officer, Smith a desperate, and despairing, Polish immigrant. In Halls farewell season of Shakespeares late romances in 1988, he led the company alongside Michael Bryant and Eileen Atkins, playing a clenched and possessed Leontes in The Winters Tale; an Italianate, jesting Iachimo in Cymbeline; and a gloriously drunken Trinculo in The Tempest (he played Prospero for Adrian Noble at the Theatre Royal, Bath, in 2012).

The Falstaff on television when he played Hotspur was Anthony Quayle, and he succeeded this great actor, whom he much admired as director of the touring Compass Theatre in 1989, playing Brutus in Julius Caesar and Salieri in Peter Shaffers Amadeus. When the Arts Council cut funding to Compass, he extended his rogues gallery with a sulphurous Rochester in Fay Weldons adaptation of Jane Eyre, on tour and at the Playhouse, in a phantasmagorical production by Helena Kaut-Howson, with Alexandra Mathie as Jane (1993); and, back at the NT, as a magnificent, treacherous Leicester in Howard Davies remarkable revival of Schillers Mary Stuart (1996) with Isabelle Huppert as a sensual Mary and Anna Massey a bitterly prim Elizabeth.

In that same National season, he teamed with Simon Callow (as Face) and Josie Lawrence (as Doll Common) in a co-production by Bill Alexander for the Birmingham Rep of Ben Jonsons trickstering, two-faced masterpiece The Alchemist; he was a comically pious Subtle in sackcloth and sandals. He pulled himself together as a wryly observant Larry Slade in one of the landmark productions of the past 20 years: ONeills The Iceman Cometh at the Almeida in 1998, transferring to the Old Vic, and to Broadway, with Kevin Spacey as the salesman Hickey revisiting the last chance saloon where Pigott-Smith propped up the bar with Rupert Graves, Mark Strong and Clarke Peters in Davies great production.

He and Davies combined again, with Helen Mirren and Eve Best, in a monumental NT revival (designed by Bob Crowley) of ONeills epic Mourning Becomes Electra in 2003. Pigott-Smith recycled his ersatz Agamemnon role of the returning civil war hero, Ezra Mannon, as the real Agamemnon, fiercely sarcastic while measuring a dollop of decency against weasel expediency, in Euripides Hecuba at the Donmar Warehouse in 2004. In complete contrast, his controlled but hilarious Bishop of Lax in Douglas Hodges 2006 revival of Philip Kings See How They Run at the Duchess suggested he had done far too little outright comedy in his career.

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Tim Pigott-Smith as King Lear at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2011. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

Television roles after The Jewel in the Crown included the titular chief constable, John Stafford, in The Chief (1990-93) and the much sleazier chief inspector Frank Vickers in The Vice (2001-03). On film, he showed up in The Remains of the Day (1993); Paul Greengrasss Bloody Sunday (2002), a harrowing documentary reconstruction of the protest and massacre in Derry in 1972; as Pegasus, head of MI7, in Rowan Atkinsons Johnny English (2003) and the foreign secretary in the Bond movie Quantum of Solace (2008).

In the last decade of his life he achieved an amazing roster of stage performances, including a superb Henry Higgins, directed by Hall, in Pygmalion (2008); the avuncular, golf-loving entrepreneur Ken Lay in Lucy Prebbles extraordinary Enron (2009), a play that proved there was no business like big business; the placatory Tobias, opposite Penelope Wilton, in Albees A Delicate Balance at the Almeida in 2011; and the humiliated George, opposite his Hecuba, Clare Higgins, in Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf, at Bath.

At the start of this year he was appointed OBE. His last television appearance came as Mr Sniggs, the junior dean of Scone College, in Evelyn Waughs Decline and Fall, starring Jack Whitehall. He had been due to open as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman in Northampton prior to a long tour.

Pigott-Smith was a keen sportsman, loved the countryside and wrote four short books, three of them for children.

In 1972 he married the actor Pamela Miles. She survives him, along with their son, Tom, a violinist, and two grandchildren, Imogen and Gabriel.

Timothy Peter Pigott-Smith, actor, born 13 May 1946; died 7 April 2017

  • This article was amended on 10 April 2017. Tim Pigott-Smiths early performance as Balthazar in Much Ado About Nothing was with the Prospect touring company rather than with the Bristol Old Vic.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/apr/09/tim-pigott-smith-obituary

Pepe the Frog creator kills off internet meme co-opted by white supremacists

Matt Furie concedes defeat after months of attempting to wrench back his peaceful frog-dude who had been appropriated as a racist hate symbol

The creator of Pepe the Frog has symbolically killed off the cartoon frog, effectively surrendering control of the character to the far right.

Matt Furie, an artist and childrens book author, created the now-infamous frog as part of his Boys Club series on MySpace in 2005. Pepe took on a life of its own online as a meme, before being eventually adopted as a symbol by the alt-right in the lead-up to last years US election.

In September, Hillary Clinton identified Pepe the Frog as a racist hate symbol, and Pepe was added to the Anti-Defamation Leagues database of hate symbols.

Furie launched a campaign to Save Pepe, flooding the internet with peaceful or nice depictions of the character in a bid to shake its association with white supremacy and antisemitism.

But he now seems to have conceded defeat, killing the character off in a one-page strip for the independent publisher Fantagraphics Free Comic Book Day. It showed Pepe laid to rest in an open casket, being mourned by his fellow characters from Boys Club.

Furie had been attempting to wrench back his peaceful frog-dude whom he has often said he imagined as an extension of his personality for more than six months. Pepes passing has been interpreted of his ceding control of the character.

Shaun Manning wrote in Comic Book Resources that the rehabilitation of Pepe was always going to be a struggle, and its hard to imagine Furie taking much joy in creating new Pepe strips knowing that, whatever his own intentions, the character would be read through tinted lenses.

While its unlikely Pepes official death will stop extremists from co-opting his image, this was, perhaps, the most effective way for Furie to reclaim his character; Pepes soul has returned to his creator. Rest in Peace.

Angela Nagle, a writer and academic whose book on the culture of the alt-right will be published at the end of next month, told the Guardian Furies campaign to reclaim his creation, while understandable, had been misguided.

I can see why he must be dismayed that his own creation is being used in this way, so I dont blame him for trying. In general though, I think its a dead end, yes.

One of the ways the alt-right resisted easy interpretation was through the kind of subcultural elitism and vague ironic in-jokey tone that Pepe represents well, she wrote.

Critics of the alt-right have a tendency to try to outdo them at their own game by trolling the trolls. This should be rejected in its entirety and not reclaimed in any way … There are many wonderful ideals for us to reclaim like beauty, utopianism, internationalism. Let them have their tedious nihilistic juvenile symbols.

Furie wrote in Time magazine last October that the experience of having his copyrighted creation appropriated as a hate symbol had been a nightmare.

Fantagraphics issued a statement denouncing the appropriation of the mellow, positive-vibed frog that he is in the hands of his creator, which had led to it being categorised as a hate symbol, causing Furie significant emotional and financial harm.

Having your creation appropriated without consent is never something an artist wants to suffer, but having it done in the service of such repellent hatred and thereby dragging your name into the conversation, as well makes it considerably more troubling.

Furie and Fantagraphics have been contacted for comment.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/08/pepe-the-frog-creator-kills-off-internet-meme-co-opted-by-white-supremacists

Oscar winners 2017: the full list updated live

All the winners from the 89th Academy Awards, as theyre announced during the ceremony

Best supporting actor

WINNER: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water)
Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea)
Dev Patel (Lion)
Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals)

Best makeup and hairstyling

A Man Called Ove
Star Trek Beyond
WINNER: Suicide Squad

Best costume design

Allied
WINNER: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Florence Foster Jenkins
Jackie
La La Land

Best documentary

Fire at Sea
I Am Not Your Negro
Life, Animated
WINNER: OJ: Made in America
13th

Best sound editing

WINNER: Arrival
Deepwater Horizon
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Sully

Best sound mixing

Arrival
WINNER: Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
13 Hours

Kevin
Kevin OConnell wins at the 21st attempt for sound mixing for Hacksaw Ridge. Photograph: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Best supporting actress

WINNER: Viola Davis (Fences)
Naomie Harris (Moonlight)
Nicole Kidman (Lion)
Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures)
Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea)

Best foreign language film

Land of Mine
A Man Called Ove
WINNER: The Salesman
Tanna
Toni Erdmann

Best animated short

Blind Vaysha
Borrowed Time
Pear Cider and Cigarettes
Pearl
WINNER: Piper

Best animated feature

Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
My Life As a Zucchini
The Red Turtle
WINNER: Zootopia

Best production design

Arrival
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Hail, Caesar!
WINNER: La La Land
Passengers

Best visual effects

Deepwater Horizon
Doctor Strange
WINNER: The Jungle Book
Kubo and the Two Strings
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Best film editing

Arrival
WINNER: Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Moonlight

Mahershala
Mahershala Ali, winner for Moonlight. Photograph: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Best documentary short

4.1 Miles
Extremis
Joes Violin
Watani: My Homeland
WINNER:
The White Helmets

Best live-action short

Ennemis Interieurs
La Femme et le TGV
Silent Nights
WINNER: Sing
Timecode

Best cinematography

Arrival
WINNER: La La Land
Lion
Moonlight
Silence

Best score

Jackie
WINNER: La La Land
Lion
Moonlight
Passengers

Best song

Audition (La La Land)
Cant Stop the Feeling! (Trolls)
WINNER: City of Stars (La La Land)
The Empty Chair (Jim: The James Foley Story)
How Far Ill Go (Moana)

Kenneth
Kenneth Lonergan wins best original screenplay for Manchester by the Sea. Photograph: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Best original screenplay

Hell or High Water
La La Land
The Lobster
WINNER: Manchester by the Sea
20th Century Women

Best adapted screenplay

Arrival
Fences
Hidden Figures
Lion
WINNER: Moonlight

More to follow, as they are announced…

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/feb/27/oscar-winners-2017-the-full-list-academy-awards