Tag Archives: Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies

At The Movies: First Take

And so it begins, again

The latest incarnation of the classic film review show is called Roger Ebert Presents: At The Movies, and the first episode hit the airwaves tonight, back on PBS stations where it belongs. The format is largely the same – two critics discussing films – although they have added some additional resources focusing on issues like classic cinema and film as social impact. And yes, those seats are once again in the balcony.

The critics are Christy Lemire (from the Associated Press) and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (Chicago Reader, blogger for Mubi.com). Skewing even younger than the roundly trounced Two Bens model, the rapport between the two seems comfortable, although time will always tell in that regard.

I immediately liked Lemire, who looks like a cross between Natalie Portman and Meredith Viera. She’s well-spoken, makes and defends her points well, and looks comfortable in the lead role. And I’ll play both sides of the gender coin by saying that it’s good to finally see a woman as a regular on this show, and she is as attractive as she is smart. I’m not yet sold on Iggy; he tends to tangent into a review of a different film in an effort to validate his points on the one he’s reviewing, and he sometimes doesn’t find his way back to close the loop.

They’re off to a funny start – he likes everything, she didn’t like anything.

The one side featurette was interesting, as Kim Morgan was shot in a hazy black-and-white motif discussing The Third Man. Her analysis touched on the famous score, the use of angles, lights and shadows, and (of course) Orson Welles and one of the most famous movie entrances in film history. Morgan’s review was probably the highlight of the show, and if the idea is having her discuss a classic film every episode, well…thumbs up from me.

Video: Kim Morgan on The Third Man

Lem made an odd comment afterwards (“she would not steer us wrong“) which made me wonder how an AP critic could have gone this long without having seen the film, but it was probably bad phrasing. And Welles made another appearance of sorts, as someone imitating his voice narrated a video that gave viewers a peek behind the scenes to meet “the new guys”, as it were.

Speaking of famous voices, much has been made about the part of the show where Roger will join in using a specific computer program that “speaks” hs voice as he types. In the course of his long career, Ebert has probably used every viable word in he English language, so inflection aside, this looked interesting. A few months ago a Youtube clip showed this process, but the heavily digitized voice sounded like Stephen Hawking; an electronic monotone just like you’ve heard from every talking computer in sci-fi history. I figured they were keeping the real thing under wraps for the show’s debut.

When the big moment arrived and Roger started to “speak”, I was horrified – “he sounds like Schwarzenegger!” I exclaimed. Thankfully the next words I heard were “this is Werner Herzog reading Roger’s words”. I don’t know if this idea is a placeholder while they continue to work on the Ebert voice application, or a creative decision to use guest narration, but I really hope it’s the latter. What better tribute for a great writer than to have a parade of actors, directors and other film giants bring them to life every week?

But idiosyncracies aside, I’m thrilled to have the program back on the air and look forward to watching it every Sunday. The closing credits included two nice touches – a clip of the original program’s intro featuring a very young Roger and Gene Siskel, and the production company’s title card with an animated Roger in an homage to Harry Lime’s famous entrance. And I will never tire of seeing this wonderful video that will open and/or close each episode.

Roger Ebert’s journal and website

At The Movies official website

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Roger Ebert, 2011

Santa arrived ten days early.

Wednesday, following up on past announcements, came the word that Roger Ebert Presents At The Movies is set to debut next month. While the balcony remains, its occupants will be different, as will the participation of the namesake. The new show, produced by Roger’s wife, looks to maintain the focus of the original show while updating the set and turning the reins (mostly) over to others, since Ebert has been unable to speak for close to three years.

From the announcement:

“The show will return to WTTW, Chicago Public Television, where Gene Siskel and I first taped “Sneak Previews” in 1975. The station still has our original seats, but we are constructing an all new set. Our critics of course will be back in the iconic balcony, and will be using the famous “thumbs up / thumbs down” rating system. Next week, executive producer Chaz Ebert will make an announcement regarding the co-hosts and contributing critics for the new show. She will also describe our website, with new and original content.

For me, this is the continuation of a journey that began 35 years ago with a local WTTW program at first titled “Opening Soon at a Theater Near You.” My wife Chaz and I have been working for two years with many others to bring the format back to television. I believe we will present critics in the show’s long tradition. Chaz is taking the leadership responsibilities as Executive Producer. I will be involved in all aspects, and will contribute regular segments of my own.”

VIDEO: A teaser with Christy Lemiere and Elvis Mitchell as the hosts.

Supposedly Mitchell is already off the program; not certain whether Lemiere will survive. But after viewing the clip I could see what they meant about the Mitchell/Lemiere dynamic – there was no apparent connection between the two. I’ve never found Mitchell to be a presence; even on his own interview program he seemed detached and out-of-place. Some people are better off behind the camera; Mitchell might be one of them. When the Ebert/Roeper show was initially cancelled, Ebert and Richard Roeper announced that they would move on to another project together. Why not Roeper in that other chair?  

My personal choice would be Ben Makiewicz, although both he and Ebert might be thinking once bitten twice shy. The colossal failure of the “Two Bens” version of the show had everything to do with the initial gimmick-laden format and the preening superficiality of Ben Lyons; Mankiewicz looked like the lone adult trying to take the high road. Lyons has since found a perfect role at the star-sucking E Entertainment network; Mank has settled back in to Turner Classic Movies where he and Robert Osborne are a constant gift to viewers.

The most disturbing part of that clip is the horrific digitized voice in Roger’s segment. We’ve all heard about the dynamic project to assemble a database of Roger’s own voice from his decades of sound clips; like many I assumed that meant Roger would type an essay and the computer would “read” it using those assigned clips of Roger’s voice like an audio ransom note. Lets hope this generic Stephen Hawking-like clipped speech is merely a placeholder until the real thing is ready. If not, I would rather they hire an impressionist to fake it. Or use five minutes of the show to revisit an older title using the actual voice and image of a younger Roger Ebert.

So Santa – there’s still work to do. But thank you for Ebert in 2011.

Here is the list of stations carrying the show.

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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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