Nearly five months ago, I was thrilled to hear that Roger Ebert was returning the thumb to the airwaves:
"Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies," a weekly half-hour film review program, was announced today [10 September 2010] by its producers, Chaz and Roger Ebert. The program continues the 35-year-old run of a reviewing format ["Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down"®] first introduced by Gene Siskel and Ebert and later by Ebert and Richard Roeper. It will return to its birthplace, launching nationally on public television...
I love quality storytelling in all media. But finding the gems in among all the garbage can be a real challenge. So I value professional critics' opinions in helping me budget the time and money I spend on entertainment; I may not always agree with what critics say, but I appreciate their informed insights. This is especially true with film. If I'm going to sacrifice an estimated two hours of my life and spend upwards of $10 on a movie, it damn well better be worth it. In high school, "Siskel & Ebert" were my go-to critics for all things film; as an adult, "Ebert & Roeper" helped me gauge my DVD rentals and purchases and movie theater visits. Unlike comix, film is not my forte. Consequently, in the years since Ebert and his collaborators have left the air, movies have barely been on my radar. The return of AT THE MOVIES was exciting, welcome news indeed.
A press release from 3 January 2011 announced, among other details, the program's premier date (21 January), primary critics (The Associated Press's Christy Lemire and Mubi's Ignatiy Vishnevetsky), website ("It will include material from the show, and a great much more created especially for online"), and progressive philosophy...
This is ... a new Golden Age for film viewing, he [Ebert] said. With the rise of video on demand (VOD) via cable and such streaming services as Netflix, Amazon and Mubi, many moviegoers have immediate access to thousands of titles. "To reflect that, we'll have a regular segment called 'Hot and Now,' reviewing films that home viewers can actually watch right then and there after the show goes off the air."
So, how is EBERT PRESENTS AT THE MOVIES? Two weeks in, I'm quite enjoying it. Lemire seems to approach films as experiential wholes; Vishnevetsky as collections of technical parts. After watching a clip from a current film, they'll summarize it, discuss it, occasionally debate, pass judgment with either a "thumb up" or a "thumb down," and move on to the next film. It's a familiar and comforting formula. Perhaps too comforting. Lemire and Vishnevetsky are so polite with each other when they disagree that opportunities for deeper critical insights have been missed. I want to see sparks -- like those between Ebert and Siskel and, later, Ebert and Roeper -- and from those sparks I want to be enlightened. Hopefully, as their working relationship grows (it's only been two weeks after all), Lemire and Vishnevetsky will be more inclined to drop their guard and speak their minds. In addition to the familiar back-and-forth, the new AT THE MOVIES also features an "Ebert" segment and one-or-more "from the field" segments. Ebert's segment features him typing a review from his office while a voice-over reads it and film clips play, culminating in a literal "thumb up" or "thumb down" judgment from the program's namesake; his meaningful presence lends authority and a nice continuity to the viewing experience. The other segments highlight film classics and themes presented by a variety of top-notch reviewers, providing the audience an intermission of sorts to symbolically step outside from the theater for a bit. To end the program, each episode has wrapped with an amusing excerpt from the original AT THE MOVIES; it's fun, and I hope the producers continue the practice.
The new AT THE MOVIES really is an enjoyable show, inspiring me to reactivate my Netflix account and pay attention to movies again. It can be watched weekly on PBS or viewed anytime online. See you on the balcony.