Tuesday, September 1, 2009

At the Movies, with Phillips and Scott

Obviously not Phillips and Scott.

I was always an huge fan of Siskel & Ebert's movie review show. They brought their enormous expertise about movies to the table and boiled their opinions about the movies they reviewed down to something most moviegoers could understand. If they gave it their "thumbs up," we knew it was good - or we at least knew enough about why they liked or disliked something to form our own opinions about whether it was worth our time and money.

The show was never quite the same after Gene Siskel's death. There was an interim time before Richard Roeper joined the show, where Ebert was joined by guest critics. It took me a while to trust Roeper's thumb when he joined, but he proved to be a good counterpoint to Ebert - a good amount of experience an expertise combined with a slightly more youthful perspective. And of course when Ebert had cancer surgery, the show was back in limbo for quite a while, with Roeper appearing alongside numerous guest hosts until he ultimately left the show in 2008.

Undoubtedly, the nadir of the show's reputation came with the addition of Ben Mankiewicz and Ben Lyons in 2008. I'm not sure why anyone thought this was a good move. Mankiewicz is (barely) tolerable, but Ben Lyons was ... not. Both guys have a fairly impressive cinematic pedigree (Lyons being the son of noted film critic Jeffrey Lyons and Mankiewicz being on the same family tree with legendary screenwriter/director/producer Joseph L. Mankiewicz), but their film credentials were questionable at best. They seemed horribly miscast in - and a giant step-down from - the seats originally filled by Siskel and Ebert.

So color me thrilled that a new incarnation of the show is beginning this weekend with new hosts Michael Phillips (of the Chicago Tribune) and A.O. Scott (of the New York Times). Both critics subbed frequently for Ebert while he was recovering from surgery, and both have a long list of film credentials. They're highly respected critics, but they don't look down their nose at the mainstream.

Knock 'em dead, guys.

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