“Film EXPERTS(?!!?) Ben Lyons (L) and Ben Mankiewicz (R) are shown in this combination photo of publicity images released to Reuters July 22, 2008. The Walt Disney Company named the two men on Tuesday the new hosts to replace Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper on the popular movie-review show “At the Movies,” in the wake of the influential critics’ departure from the program.” (Emphasis is all mine).
Disney does it again.
At The Movies (also known as Siskel & Ebert and then Ebert & Roeper, and then most recently Roeper and “rotating co-host”) has been killed and resurrected as a horrible disfigured incompetent frankenstein version of its previous self. The rotating co-host of At The Movies had recently “unofficially” become Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune, ironically my least favorite of the rotating co-hosts (I would have loved to see A.O Scott of The New York Times or Robert Wilonsky who was also good). Phillips and Roeper however were SO MUCH better than the “NEW” At The Movies, I cannot accurately articulate it in words…in my lifetime. Ever.
Let’s start at the very beginning which is to say that I don’t listen wholeheartedly to movie reviewers, I don’t go, “Oh – so and so likes it – let’s go!” but what I do like to do is read/listen to a few different reviewers that I don’t find to be totally off base (Roeper included) and judging on the kinds of things they say, help me decide which movies to see since I don’t have the time (or the money) to see them all. This has been a pretty good system for me, as it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie that I hated and wished I hadn’t spent my money on. Goal achieved! So Adam and I have tivo’d At The Movies and used to enjoy catching it on weekends.
I read online sometime in June or July 2008 that At The Movies was getting canceled. I was disappointed, but I had already had to absorb the new “see it”, “skip it”, or “rent it” nonsense rating system instead of the thumbs up/thumbs down rating system. This was apparently due to the fact that the latter is owned by Ebert and as contract negotiations dragged on I guess Disney decided it was best to just move on and try to force their new inane rating system (devised by an intern over the summer perhaps?) down our throats while we still had a familiar face (Roeper) delivering them. So since May 2008 the show has been a little less than it should have been. But now I know that the truly horrible changes were still to come.
The new formatting totally sucks. The set, graphics, and entire production is cheap and terrible looking. A far cry from the “theater seating” look that was so appropriate (and pretty good looking) of the old show. The new show has the two “hosts” standing at a counter (one behind it, and one in front of it) and it is a totally uncomfortable way to watch them talk about something. You feel like there is no way they can actually have a serious debate or even a conversation about any issue because they are standing there together, facing the camera and not each other at all. It also feels like they could just dart off stage at any moment. At the end of the show they did sit in chairs (on the still horrible set with the still horrible graphics) but the chairs were so close that they were touching, and it remained completely uncomfortable to watch.
The show does have a somewhat interesting new segment that brings in a “critic roundup” where they have three guest critics (all very young) that comment on one of the movies they are reviewing. Unfortunately however this did not work either because the critics were given far too little time to articulate any point of view other than “yes” or “no”. It didn’t help that on the segment I saw, the critic from IFC (Independent Film Channel), Matt Singer was quite knowledgeable and so made Ben Lyons the new idiot co-host of the show seem even more incompetent than he obviously is.
Onto the meat, the new “hosts” (I use that term very loosely). Actually, Ben Mankiewicz was pretty good. He seemed knowledgeable and well spoken and more importantly he seemed interested in actually discussing the films, rather than just looking pretty for the camera and getting his sound bites in. Which brings us to the idiocy that is Ben Lyons. This dude is absolutely ridiculous. I cannot believe the producers of this show think that throwing a pretty face at viewers will help us ignore the fact that the guy is a complete moron that doesn’t seem to even know anything about film (he hails mostly from the E! channel). It’s not that I disagree with his point of view on films…it’s more that he doesn’t seem to have one.
Also, let’s talk about the fact that Ben Lyons, who is obviously the worst kind of star whore (see his blog, which is essentially pictures of him with famous people), with his E! Entertainment credentials is actually a conflict of interest reviewer. It’s like having Karl Rove come in as an “independent commentator” on Fox News to talk about Obama’s or McCain’s speeches. Rove is CLEARLY not an objective observer, he has an obvious stake in the Republicans winning the election, just as Lyons has a stake in certain movies doing well, and/or maintaining relationships with actors, directors, producers, writers, etc., in order to keep getting his interviews and oh so important photo ops. This is a total conflict of interest.
And as if to really solidify my viewpoint that this show is a pandering ridiculous revamp that is now intending to not actually review films, but to create even more PR and spin for the Hollywood machine, Lyon’s choice for ‘Three to See‘ (a fairly new feature where they pick the three best films currently in theaters) was not even a FILM! Yes, you read that correctly. Mankiewicz picked Hamlet 2 and Towelhead as his picks and Lyons said that people should watch the trailers for Twilight. A TRAILER? Wait, let me rephrase that…A FUCKING TRAILER? A trailer for a giant Hollywood machine of a movie coming out in November 2008? That is your current movie pick? You fucking idiot. Don’t EVER show up on my TV ever again.