'Ebert Presents at the Movies' Premiere Recap
by Piet Levy, posted Jan 21st 2011 11:16PM
Roger Ebert may have lost his voice due to complications from cancer of the thyroid and salivary glands, and the movie review show he pioneered with the late, great Gene Siskel may have been canceled. (Thumbs) Down, perhaps, but not out.
Ebert, 'At the Movies' and those all-powerful thumbs have been resurrected on PBS, making their return Friday in 'Ebert Presents at the Movies.' The show reflects in part the classic format -- two critics debating the latest releases -- and is even being filmed at the Chicago studios the first Siskel and Ebert movie review show was shot. Except this time, there are some new primary hosts: Associated Press film critic Christy Lemire and 24-year-old Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, a virtually unknown blogger Ebert personally plucked for hosting duties -- as well as fresh features and new guest contributors.
I've got to admit, I was so excited about the return of a show I've followed through all its iterations for 15 years, I practically plopped down on the couch thumbs extended upwards, and truth be told, I have nothing but thumbs up to give all around for this show, although I do have some notes.
A moderate thumbs up to Lemire and Vishnevetsky. It's likely the two will improve with time, in terms of chemistry and on-air presentation, so it's not fair to compare them to the exceptional Siskel and Ebert, or even the excellent A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips, previous hosts of 'At the Movies,' just yet.
In the first episode, each host read their reviews with exuberance, but their vocal deliveries were one note and a bit awkward (too many pauses interrupted the flow). That same slightly stilted presentation came through in the back-and-forth debates. That said, each critic defended their positions succinctly and clearly, expressed the same level of passion analyzing each film (be it popcorn fare like 'The Green Hornet' or Peter Weir's epic drama 'The Way Back'), and interruptions were kept to a minimum. So, all in all, a good start, and hopefully in time, the pair will be more natural on camera and with each other.
Thumbs up to the sentiment behind a new occasional segment devoted to classic films hosted by film blogger Kim Morgan. But the premiere segment itself, an homage to Carol Reed's exceptional mystery 'The Third Man' (whose zither score by Anton Karas is the inspiration for the show's new score), earns a moderate thumbs up. Morgan tried to smash too many points into her allotted time, and the analysis of the film was at times too broad for people who are familiar with the work, and then at other times, too detailed for people who have never seen it. Finding a balance may be tricky to pull off, but if Morgan goes into these segments with a narrower focus, and ideally, finds a time peg to hang the bits on (such as reviewing a classic film on its anniversary, or a film that's a clear inspiration to something currently in theaters), they can be more relevant.
A huge thumbs up to the beautiful balcony set by George Allison. It's reminiscent of a movie palace, far better than the last sets on 'At the Movies.' Really exceptional work. Also, a thumbs up to the cute segment introducing the contributors on the show, filmed in the fashion of the trailer for 'Citizen Kane.'
And finally, a big, big thumbs up for the return of Ebert to television. The Chicago Sun-Times film critic will be contributing a recurring editorial segment called 'Roger's Office.' In the premiere, Ebert reviewed an animated film called 'My Dog Tulip' (playing in select art houses), with filmmaker Werner Herzog warmly reading his poignant words on his behalf. It's great to have him back on TV.
What did you think of the show? Thumbs up? Thumbs down? Will you stick with it?
Click here to see when 'Ebert Presents at the Movies' is playing in your market.