Fan Fare

Entertainment behind the scenes

Theoretical “thumbs up” for relaunch of “At the Movies”

By Dean Goodman
September 7, 2009

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.”

meet_the_hosts1The 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.


Wow it’s stunning how much of a pretentious douchebag A.O.Scott comes across in the relaunch episode. The humility he had while filling in with Roeper is completely gone. Unfortunately spiffy insightful comments are far from entertaining when delivered by a dead fish.
Say what you will about Lyons but his reviews were fresh and intelligent. He also was able to present his remarks with presence. Too bad the producers bowed down to those in ivory towers.

Posted by Gregor | Report as abusive

How come you didnt bother to NAME the “lightweights”?
Wasnt it Ben Lyons of E tv? I forgot his partner’s name.

There is also that other show” reel talk with lyons & bailes” which is ben lyons father & a UK lady. Here that show comes on @ 1am so I dont get how it gets ratings.

Posted by lilkunta | Report as abusive

Of course it is not the format, it was Siskel’s and Ebert’s distinct and specific perspectives on motion pictures that made Sneak Previews and then At the Movies variously insightful. The fact that they would argue their points with each other demonstrated that they were comfortable in their position with themselves and with each other (and weren’t posing in either instance).

It’s hard to imagine the Disney corporation capable of conjuring that, no matter how much money they have.

Posted by Alfred | Report as abusive

I do have to wonder if they decided to go back to “Serious” stuff why they didn’t bring back Roeper to go with Phillips.

Posted by Joe Siegler | Report as abusive

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