Tag Archives: two thumbs up

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Film/TV, Reviews

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

Outguess Ebert – nail all 24 Oscar winners and win a share of $100.000!

Leave a comment

Filed under Editorials, Film/TV, Reviews

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Editorials, Features and Interviews, Reviews