Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Top Notch Television: Ebert Presents At The Movies

When the syndication years of At The Movies ended last year, I felt that it was a real shame that such a phenomenon started by Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert in their many "movie review" shows, in which they started syndicating in 1986, was coming to an end. While the show began to enter a slump, Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott were doing a fine job resurrecting the show, but it just seemed as if enough was enough. However, some of else felt that movie discussions were still appropriate for television, and Roger Ebert couldn't agree more. On that note, he created Roger Ebert Presents At The Movies (later shortened to Ebert Presents At The Movies), in which the format would be structured like the original show and the thumbs format (thumbs up for good, thumbs down for bad), which was pulled from the show in 2007, would return. The decision to resurrect the show was a great decision indeed.

Ebert Presents At The Movies features Christy Lemire of The Associated Press and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of MUBI.com. Originally, Elvis Mitchell from Public Radio was supposed to sit opposite of Lemire, but was soon dropped and replaced by Vishnevetsky. To me, Lemire tends to be a mainstream critic that reminds me of many of the good critics that review films. She is a great presenter with a great sense of humor, who has a wide range of cinema knowledge. Vishnevetsky, on the other hand, is a rebel when it comes to film criticism. He has very interesting tastes when it comes to films. A mad scientist of sorts. Vishnevetsky seems to look for the artistic attributes of a film and how that in itself made him feel. His knowledge of films is also really extraordinary. In one of the first episodes of the series, we learned about the films that inspired Lemire and Vishnevetsky to become critics. Lemire's happened to be familiar films (such as The Wizard Of Oz and No Country For Old Men), as Vishnevetsky's choice were more vague (such as Shoah and many silent films from back in the 1910's and 20's). That right there demonstrated the two different types of critics on the show and how they ultimately form a great chemistry.

The best part of any version of At The Movies is when one critic likes a film and the other doesn't, especially when one critic strongly likes the film and the other critic strongly dislikes the film. A prime example would be when Roger Ebert liked A Cop And 1/2 and Gene Siskel despised the film with a passion. Not only did this lead to a debate on this particular episode, but it was brought up in the list of worst films (Siskel named this film his worst film of 1993), and in other future episodes. While Lemire and Vishnevetsky are not as cutthroat as Siskel and Ebert could sometimes become, there were some pretty strong opinions. Such instances include Justin Bieber's Never Say Never, which Lemire liked and Vishnevetsky didn't, and Film Socialisme, which Lemire disliked and Vishnevetsky liked.

Another great aspect of Ebert Presents At The Movies is that the show is not just two critics reviewing films and then discussing (or sometimes debating) them afterward. There are also segments from guest contributors. You have journalist Jeff Greenfield, reviewer Kartina Richardson, who reviews movies so smoothly and artistically, thirteen year old Jackson Murphy, and the list keeps going on. Then, of course, you have Roger Ebert's own segment, "Roger's Office," where he submits something to the program, whether it be a review or thoughts on a specific cinema related subject. While Ebert lost the ability to speak due to a surgery in 2006, he continues to review and his opinions and love for cinema continue to remain strong. He has people read the reviews for him, and in most cases, it's Bill Kurtis who speaks for him.

At the moment we speak, Ebert Presents At The Movies is showing archives of classic material. The first of these episodes was an episode of Sneak Previews with Siskel and Ebert. The particular episode was "Going To The Movies With A Critic," which shows you how the two do their job. From the way they evaluate films to where they sit in the theater to whether or not they take notes to everything else in between, we learn a lot about the two of them and how they complete their job. The film they happened to be reviewing was "Black Marble," which incidentally Ebert liked a lot and Siskel thought wasn't as good. It's great to see such throwbacks that would be very hard to see without this show.

Ebert Presents At The Movies is a great edition to PBS, which runs off of the WTTW network in Chicago, the network that gave Siskel and Ebert their big break. I feel that this is a perfect reference to the cinema of now and then. This show, which is produced by Ebert's wife, Chaz Ebert, has a great cast of contributors that make the show great. Along with contributor segments and reviews of films coming to cinema, there is also "Hot & Now," in which the critics make their recommendations to films that are coming to DVD. I also like the ending of each episode, in which you see a segment of either a previous episode of At The Movies, or a past review from Roger Ebert.

What ever the reason, this show should be something to check out, especially if you're a movie buff. Even if you're unable to catch it on TV, you can easily find the show online. When you watch the show online, the reviews are separated by film, as are the segments. Nonetheless, watching this show online is still a great experience, and not much different from watching the show in general. Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert are influences to my style of writing and watching them, whether through the archives or through the legacy that they have either left or are leaving behind, is a plus in my book. Christy Lemire and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky are doing an excellent job as chief critics, and I look forward to seeing them reviewing, discussing, and debating even more films. I would definitely give this show two thumbs up, but since Roger Ebert trademarked the use of thumbs, I will say that this show is simply excellent!


  1. I was disappointed with last week's "At The Movies." How relevant is a 30 year old discussion regarding who is funnier Mel Brooks or Woody Allen?

  2. I agree with Norm - it definitely seemed outdated, especially since Brooks hasn't made a comedy in years. Still, it can be debated today: looking at their entire careers to date, which of the two is funnier? My money was then and is still now on Mel Brooks.

    Nice piece. I enjoy the show as well. Still bummed about Philips and Scott - they were improving over time.