Obituaries

OBITUARY: AT THE MOVIES

By • Aug 21st, 2010 •

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It is with a saddened heart that I write this. This past weekend marked the final broadcast of the 35-year run for the Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel created movie review program. The heads of Buena Vista Television must wear mouse-ears while eating the fries of its subsidiary golden-arched fast-food chain while listening to Hannah Montana when making such decisions.

This slice of Americana and its trademarked ‘Thumbs Up Thumbs Down’ rating system has found its way off the weekly TV GUIDE listings.

As far back as my memory allows, I remember watching Siskel and Ebert review movies. I usually found them after my Saturday morning cartoons and before I went out to play. As I got older and the cartoons were less interesting, SISKEL AND EBERT or AT THE MOVIES (as it is now commonly called) continually kept a captive hold of me.

Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel offered something that was not around back then, real movie reviews. The New York papers had a small box of thumb nail movie reviews in their flimsy entertainment sections that told me nothing.

Sometimes the TV news offered a generic 30 second movie review on the morning show – which I never made a point to watch – wherein some strange-looking hairy-mustached man was talking about a film.

I savored AT THE MOVIES for the film clips. It was more exciting than looking in the Daily News for the movie ads. It fired my imagination and gave me an excuse to bolt out of the door unattended to any movie theater in Brooklyn.

As my penchant for films increased, Siskel and Ebert molded my mind into thinking of film as more than simply a reason to sit in a dark theater and eat popcorn and drink soda. I like to believe that they incubated the cinematic snobbery that I possess today.

A highlight was watching them trade jabs at one another, and at times, I thought one would get up and smack the other over a difference of opinion. Did these two loathe one another? It was great to hear them as they appeared uncensored on THE HOWARD STERN SHOW or when they appeared on some lame late night talk show.

Tragedy struck as Gene Siskel passed away in 1999 due to complications from surgery for cancer. Ebert voiced his opinion about his loving friend and cohort and the question of their love or hate was immediately laid to rest.

To fill in and never to replace, Richard Roeper took the seat next to Ebert.

Roeper had a successful show run. Once again, tragedy returned to the balcony and Roger Ebert, due to thyroid cancer, no longer made appearances on his show.

Richard Roeper hosted the show with various critics, film directors, and celebrity guest hosts including Kevin Smith, A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips. Then the greatest tragedy occurred. The same mouse-ears-wearing think tank revamped the show with two Bens. Ben Mankiewicz of TCM and Ben Lyons from E!

Two words sum this up: Travesty! Horror!

In all fairness to Ben Mankiewicz, it was not his fault. He was stuck with what amounted to a buffoon sidekick. The only saving grace are the clips of Mankiewicz responding to obviously something akin to throw-up from Lyons’ mouth and Lyons reacting with a quick taken aback head jerk and stunned, wide-eyed look of stupidity. If I were Mankiewicz, I would have taken that living breathing Barney Fife and given him a Scorsese type beating.

Roger Ebert defends Ben Lyons and claims that it is not his fault for his lackluster show performance. Excuse me, Mr. Ebert, but yes, it is. He smeared your child with abject heinous deplorable stupidity and you should not take the polite high road and excuse him. If one is presented with a job that requires skills that are out of his range, then do not accept it.

Especially since Lyons’ father is a film reviewer. Especially since this is television. To rectify the casting debacle, Lyons should have been required to hide behind the seat and occasionally mumble something, and for every utterance of stupidity, Mankiewicz should have kicked the seat and thrown popcorn and soda at the crouched, cowering, gentle Ben.

Once the year sentence was done, a pair of film critics were brought to the balcony. Michael Phillips of Chicago and fellow Brooklynite A.O. Scott did the show justice. In recent weeks, they showed clips of Siskel and Ebert reviewing movies, bantering and bickering, and going off in tirades.

And this past weekend, August 2010, after 35 years, Phillips and Scott were the pallbearers for the show that suffered death at the hands of a mouse.

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