Entertainment behind the scenes
Theoretical “thumbs up” for relaunch of “At the Movies”
Many of the movies entering theaters in the next few weeks may be forgettable afterthoughts unfurled on the post-summer masses, but at least some of the reviews promise to be memorable now that a pair of veteran critics are back at the helm of the influential TV show “At the Movies.”
The series, a descendant of the longtime vehicle for Roger Ebert and the late Gene Siskel, relaunched at the weekend with familiar faces Michael Phillips (right) of the Chicago Tribune and A.O. (Tony) Scott of the New York Times.
While comfortable on the screen, their mild-mannered personalities tended to cancel each other out. Politeness and consensus ruled as the cerebral duo joined every other critic on the planet in trashing Sandra Bullock’s “All About Steve,” and then heaped praise on Mike Judge’s “Extract.” Even when they offered differing recommendations, on the Patton Oswalt drama “Big Fan,” it turned out that they were more or less on the same page anyway. Perhaps the contents of the untouched coffee cups separating them on the austere set need a little spiking.
Speaking of recommendations, the “see it,” “rent it” and “skip it” designations remain. The show is unable to use the famous “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” assessments, which are controlled by Ebert and the Siskel estate.
“At the Movies” slid into irrelevance in the past year after syndicator Disney installed a pair of fresh-faced critics quickly branded as lightweights. The studio had taken the dramatic step after failing to reach a new contract with Ebert, who has not appeared on air since leaving in 2006 to undergo thyroid surgery that has since robbed him of his voice.
In his absence Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper, who came aboard after Siskel died of a brain tumor in 1999, kept the flag flying with a series of guest co-hosts, including Phillips and Scott. The revolving door kept things fresh, and tensions occasionally surfaced when the opinionated Roeper shut down his less-polished guests: Perhaps an edgier third critic, such as Roeper or former guest host Robert Wilonsky of the Dallas Observer, would restore a gladiatorial tone to the show.