Friday, March 26, 2010

Thumbs Down. Wait! Thumbs Up...?

As I've already nattered on at length about my enjoyment and fascination with film and theatre criticism, I was incredibly pleased to see that the deliberately dumbed-down version of At the Movies was scrapped (dumping Ben Mankiewicz and Ben Lyons) and brought back up to snuff by bringing on two critics, A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips, who actually think and care about movies. I also really liked reading this brilliant essay by Noel Murray at the AV Club rightfully praising the re-revamped show.

I particularly dug and related to this section:

"Some cineastes have blasted Siskel & Ebert for their thumbs-up/thumbs-down reductionism and their dispatching of movies in three minutes of conversation, but those nay-sayers likely didn’t watch the show week-in/week-out. I’d argue that Siskel & Ebert did more to foster a broad interest in artful cinema than any critic ever has.

At the least, they showed that it was possible to talk about the movie business on television without having it be all about money or gossip. It just about crushes my soul when I tune in the red carpet coverage on Oscar night—or even the cable news coverage on nomination day—and suffer hosts who clearly haven’t seen or even heard most of the movies they’ve been assigned to cover. The guiding principle of most movie coverage on television is that viewers are interested in celebrities, not the work that makes celebrities."

Emphasis mine.

So I was definitely disheartened to read shortly thereafter that At the Movies is being cancelled. That this announcement immediately follows the news of Variety letting go of its chief film critic Todd McCarthy and its chief theatre critic David Rooney made the cancelation of the series all the more upsetting.

However, all is not lost. Roger Ebert has just announced that he and his wife, Chaz, are in the planning stages for producing a new film criticism show. He offers some details, but only some. Fortunately it sounds less of a "pie in the sky" plan and more of a "we actually have a few balls rolling" deal. This makes me hopeful.

I also agree with Mr. Ebert when he writes that he and his wife "believe a market still exists for a weekly show where a couple of critics review new movies."

There has to still be a market for a show where people talk and think about the work that makes celebrities, not just the celebrities themselves (or rather, what the celebrities are wearing). There has to be a market for a show where reasonably intelligent people to cut through the thick fog created by the PR machine and go, "this movie is Garbage!" (and let me tell you, it's refreshing to watch the archived shows and hear the late Gene Siskel exclaim that about a film with such conviction; it's almost unheard of in this day and age where the bulk of mainstream commentary on film is so soft-pedaled). And there has to be a large enough demographic out there that actually cares about movies, and wants to think about what to go see.

Anyway, I am hopeful.

I guess that's it for me for this week. Have a good weekend, folks. I'll catch y'all on Monday.

Not knowing where to shove his thumb,

James "Suggestions?" Comtois

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Blogger isaac butler said...

Don't you think the place for this really is online? A ten minute youtube segment about each movie?

1:26 AM  
Blogger MattJ said...

that's so 2006 isaac! :)

james, I really don't want to tell you where to put your thumb!

2:06 AM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

That's an interesting point/idea, Isaac. I mean, there's now a whole big question of the best format for a show like this. You do have (audio) podcast roundtable discussions on sites like and, where the critics talks about a single movie for 10-30 minutes, which are quite fascinating to listen to. Then you also have speciality cable networks that are pretty much (for lack of a better term) micro-specializing in subjects and topics.

Yeah, I'm not sure how to answer that, especially since I often find the older segments on At the Movies either being far too short (Siskel and Ebert having to cut to commercial just when they're getting warmed up) or the perfect length (they really said all they need to say in their segment on the Chris Farley/David Spade vehicle Black Sheep).

Perhaps a combo? Like when The Daily Show offers extended versions of interviews online: you get the 3-4 minute segment on TV (for folks really just wanting an idea of whether or not they should see the movie in question) and the expanded version online (7-10 minutes) for folks (like Yours Truly) who want to hear the critics really get into the film.

7:54 AM  
Blogger Sean said...

Jordana and I have a guilt pleasure - The Rotten Tomatoes Show on Current. I'm sure you can find it online, since Al Gore started Current and also invented the internet. The hosts talk about the movie EXACTLY like your friends talking shit, but they also host videos that people send in. It's very funny, very smart, and totally free of bullshit.

3:52 PM  

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