Tag Archives: Michael Phillips

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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Filed under Editorials, Features and Interviews, Reviews

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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Filed under Editorials, Features and Interviews, Film/TV