Friday, February 4, 2011

At the Movies

I grew up watching At the Movies with Siskel and Ebert. Never agreed with anything they ever had to say. That's not exactly true but definitely for most of my childhood. At the time I was too young to have a discerning opinion when it came to movies. Any movie where characters fell down, threw around cuss words, got kicked in the penis, most likely made it into my must see list. I remember being so confused when Siskel and Ebert gave "The Great Outdoors," two thumbs down. Say what? You guys wouldn't know funny if it farted in your face! I took it as a direct attack at me and my comedy sensibilities. I had only seen the tv trailer, but still, I was certain it was a gem. Someone got shot with a bow and arrow, a bear attack, John Candy is... fat. I've seen enough. Instant. Classic.

In my teens I started to make films of my own, and started to take movies and myself pretty seriously. In community college I saw Citizen Kane for the first time and thought I was pretty hot shit. Did I mention I owned A Touch of Evil, and at the time would act surprised that you never saw it. Really? The opening shot is revolutionary! I'd let you borrow it, but it was really hard to find. For the first time I was watching Siskel and Ebert with a new found respect. What they did was fucking important. I was important. Movies. Or I should say, Film, was important. They introduced indies that I would have no way of hearing about, they showcased classics, they were my pre-film school, film school.

I even watched after Siskel sadly passed away and was replaced by Richard Roeper. The show changed. The chemistry was different. It lost a little bit of magic. I still watched. I was attending a film school now, in the downtown area of Chicago. Surrounded by real film buffs. People that took themselves very seriously, wore black, and chain smoked outside of the film building. After a semester I realized I was not one of these people. I switched majors over to television writing so I could be more loose and fun, goof off a little, and not take myself so seriously. This was the real me. The same kid that loved the trailer to the "Great Outdoors."

When the revamped At the Movies came back on the air in 2008, I am not proud to say I was recording it, and watching it. In an attempt to reach a younger audience the two hosts were a bit younger, hipper? I don't know? Likeable? Not really? Interesting? Uhhh... I don't remember loving the show but I don't remember hating it as much as most people. I mean people really hated it. Ben Lyons got the brunt of the hatred for his love of everything mainstream, once calling I am Legend, "one of the greatest movies ever made." (that's a real quote. seriously.) They only lasted a season before they got the axe.

I was living in Los Angeles now. Long graduated from Columbia College of Chicago and working on the TV show, "The New Adventures of Old Christine." Working as a Producer's Assistant was draining me physically and creatively and I eventually quit my job, the equivalent of jumping off a cliff in this industry, to figure myself out. I decided around this time that I really wanted to try my hand at writing feature length screenplays.

In 2009, At the Movies decides to go with a more established pair in A.O. Scott, from the New York Times, and Micheal Phillips from the Chicago Tribune. Like all new hosts I was a bit weary of these guys, but they quickly won me over.

I feel like they were the closest thing to what made Siskel and Ebert really good. They felt lived in. Confident. Comfortable. They were funny. And they had great chemistry. It was one of my favorite shows to find on my dvr. It was a real bummer when I found out Disney, who owns the rights to At the Movies, was canceling the show after 24 seasons, due in part to poor ratings. Ebert wrote, "Blame the fact that five-day-a-week syndicated shows like 'Wheel of Fortune' went to six days. Blame the fact that cable TV and the internet have fragmented the audience so much that stations are losing market share no matter what they do. Blame the economy, because many stations would rather sell a crappy half-hour infomercial than program a show they respect."

Recently, Ebert announces he is planning on revamping the show himself and bringing it back to PBS where it originally aired. Sounds great! I'm pumped. I waited months. Wait, you're not bringing back the seasoned vets in Phillips and Scott? But who? Unknown talents? Uh, okay. I guess I'll give it a try. Got to admit, I'm not as excited anymore, but what the hell. Fake enthusiasm. Let's do this!

Another chapter...

You decide for yourself

As for me, my ultimate goal is to one day soon have my own film reviewed by At the Movies.  Stay tuned.


  1. I remember 'Sneak Previews', man that was a long time ago! I loved watching gene and roger argue about film even though it was all over my head. Later on, it was great seeing them on Johnny Carson.....and of course they would argue. Didn't really watch the later reincarnations, but saw a little of the ebert and roeper as I had been reading richard roeper's sun times column for years

  2. This was a really cool piece, actually. Surprise, surprise. I liked how you followed the shows history with your own. It was like a great New Yorker article without the big words.

  3. Ha! Thanks? No, I know who I am. Fuck big words. Thanks Joey for checking us out! I since added a couple paragraphs to round out my history with film to catch the "viewers" up to date with where I'm at now. I meant to do it before but I always worried about taking away from "the movies" with my own personal stuff. It's a tough balance. But thanks! And thanks for forcing me to want to make more of an effort. Haha


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