Tag Archives: At The Movies

One Week to Oscar; Thumbs Up to Gene Siskel

It only seems appropriate that Gene Siskel was born the month before the Oscar telecast, just in time to measure up the prior year and share his opinions on who would win and who deserved to. Today, twelve years after his death, Siskel remains an indelible mark on the film critic landscape, a trailblazer in the form. Given his absence and Roger Ebert’s health struggles, the Siskel and Ebert shows I treasured for so many years are now a bittersweet memory.

As one who makes top ten lists, I always looked forward to theirs. Click here for a list of Gene’s Top Ten, year by year, from 1969 through 1998. Of course, the Worst Movies of The Year lists were fun as well. I didn’t always agree with him, but I always enjoyed listening to him defend his choices.

I’ll make my Oscar guesses next weekend. Wonder what Gene would pick?

Happy Birthday, Mr. Siskel. It’s just not the same without you.

The official Gene Siskel website

Top 10s from both during the Siskel and Ebert years

The Gene Siskel Film Center

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At The Movies…Reborn?

Roger Ebert is reviving At The Movies!

From an article in Friday’s edition of The New York Times:

The balcony has reopened. Less than a month after the final episode of At the Movies, the long-running film criticism show, was broadcast, Roger Ebert said he would bring back a version of the series that will be shown on public television next year. In an announcement on his blog at the Web site of The Chicago Sun-Times, Mr. Ebert said the new series, called “Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies,” would start in January and will have as its hosts Christy Lemire, film critic of The Associated Press, and Elvis Mitchell of NPR and a former film critic for The New York Times. In a statement, Mr. Ebert said the revival of the series was “the rebirth of a dream.” Mr. Ebert, who lost his lower jaw to throat cancer, said he would appear in segments on the new At the Movies using a computerized voice but would not debate his co-hosts

This is great news for those of us who have grown up enjoying the various editions of the classic program where two film critics discussed film, usually in an intelligent and thought-provoking manner. Besides promoting the radical ideas of thinking and expressing ideas and opinions, the show was an oasis in an ocean of bad entertainment television more often in search of a sound bite and a celebrity kiss-up than an actual critical review.

Sadly, I don’t see the name of Richard Roeper in that press release. Ebert and Roeper had discussed starting their own program when they were unceremonially pushed aside for a newer, hipper version of the show…a colossal mistake which lasted less than a season and went down in flames like a gasoline-soaked lawn dart.

But as always, go to Roger Ebert’s Journal for the facts…and some of the most entertaining and intelligent conversation on the web.

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At The Movies No More

I knew this was coming down the pike ever since the announcement many months ago, but having just watched the very last episode of At The Movies, I’m still a little saddened.

Like many, I grew up watching Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert over the years, and thanks to their passion and savvy and wit I was exposed to far more films than I ever would have discovered on my own. Long before the Internet – hell, before cable television, the local PBS station would air the show at what usually was an ungodly hour. And since there were no VCRs yet either, only by living a lifestyle that found me awake at those ungodly hours allowed me to luck into their program.

They had a tremendous run and became celebrities themselves, their faux rivalry and fights always good for a joke with Johnny Carson or David Letterman, but it was obvious to anyone watching their interaction that Gene and Roger were brothers under it all. Brothers fight and brothers sometimes say hurtful things, but brothers share a bond that survives the worst of times. Brothers have each other’s back when the chips are down. Sadly, Gene was taken from us way too soon; Ebert’s eulogies and remembrances of Siskel are some of the most heartfelt words I’ve ever read.

Ebert soldiered on with a few guest partners before teaming with Richard Roeper for over six years before his own health forced him to take a back seat. Roeper in turn honored Ebert by engaging with a roundtable of guest critics until the program was disastrously revamped to attract a younger demographic with Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz as hosts. I’ve already beat that dead horse.

When Buena Vista finally realized what everyone else had a year earlier, out went the Bens and in came two of the guests from the Roeper era, A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips. The show reverted to the tried-and-true format of simply showing clips and talking about the movies without all the whiz-bang fluff that was tried the year before. (In other words, the IQ level of the show broke triple digits again). But the damage had been done.

Although it’s not an expensive show to produce, technology now allows movie fans instant access to full trailers, films-on-demand, phenomenal promotional videos and hundreds of websites that distill critical analysis of the latest films and even collect them in a central location. Just like online news feeds are making the physical newspaper obsolete, a show with two talking heads is not as unique as it was in those dark and desperate pre-cable days, no matter how good the hosts are. There are entire networks devoted to clip shows, and ironically they’re aired on one in my town, just another block of time in a highlight world.

The last show went out with a classy look back at its origins and a hint that maybe Scott and Phillips have some future plans up their sleeve. Ebert and Roeper have also mentioned in the past that they were looking at other options. These guys are still around, and I’ll still read them however I can, even as I browse some of those websites that no doubt took their idea and expanded upon it. I won’t have to miss their thoughts and words.

But after thirty-five years, I will miss my weekly fix on television.

At The Movies history

At The Movies official website.

Roger Ebert’s blog.

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Two Thumbs Down…and Out

two thumbs

Just when I was getting used to The Battle of the Bens, the producers of At The Movies pulled the rug out from under me (and more importantly, them) by dropping the current hosts of the program. Yes, Ben Lyons (E network) and Ben Mankiewicz (Turner Classic Movies) got Disneyfried.  In an effort to “go back to its roots”, the producers are bringing two past guest critics onboard – A.O. Scott of the New York Times and Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune.

Roger Ebert is still unable to speak as a result of his surgery (although his writing is as astute as ever); both he and longtime co-host Richard Roeper left Disney last year when producers wanted to change the format and dynamics of the show and retool it for a new, young audience. Oops! That sound you now hear is Disney backpedalling furiously as their decision all but ruined a legacy.

Why they thought a jury of three additional critics – and I use that word very loosely, they were inept and boring – particpating as via monitor was a good use of time is beyond me. Those of us who appreciated intelligent discussion of the medium also wondered why they would try to dumb it down for the masses – certainly there are enough gossip mags and morning shows doing that already. Eventually they toned down the flair and tried to center back on the core of the show – the movies – but by then whatever audience was trying to give them the benefit of the doubt had fled faster than Dodger fans from a day game.

I actually feel bad for Ben Mankiewicz. I always found him concise, literate and willing to defend his opinion with depth and reasoning, and he possesses a wry sense of humor. Hopefully he’ll appear more often on TCM, and if I find that he’s writing reviews I’ll definitely read them. As for Ben Lyons…well, I tried really hard. I was almost at the point where I was so used to it, I wasn’t bothered anymore…I just found Mank’s side of the conversation infinitely more interesting. Lyons came off like one of those people with a microphone on the red carpet at award shows – pleasant but superficial.

Maybe it’s genetic? Joseph Mankiewicz was  a talented producer, writer and director, so maybe some of that gravitas rubbed off on his son. But I always thought Ben Lyons’ dad, Jeffrey Lyons, was a hack – one of those critics who are more interested in getting a pull quote in the movie ad than communicating their opinion. (Lord knows, we have enough of them). Ironically, the senior Lyons was also fired from his gig (Reel Talk) in May.

So it will be interesting to see how the new/old regime fares in September. I’ll tune in, I’m a movie hound. But I’m really waiting for the day when Roger Ebert looks in the camera once again and tells me what’s on his mind. Hopefully, when he does, he’s sitting across the aisle from Richard Roeper.

Two thumbs up when this returns.

Two thumbs up when this returns.

Wikipedia has the history of regime shifts.

The Trib breaks its own story.

I can’t post links to Ebert’s Blog often enough.

Comments pile up (actually, pile on…) at  PopWatch, ABC and even EW.

Budd Schulberg and John Hughes left this mortal coil – R.I.P.

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