Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bring film criticism back to the nerds, yeah!

I tend to be slow when it comes to news of great personal importance. If it doesn't air on CNN or show up on the Twitter pages I follow, I have no idea that it happened.

When I read this, I wanted to make a post about this, even if blogs all over the web have already had their say. Being a lifelong fan of At the Movies since the Ebert & Roeper days (and then watching pioneers, Siskel and Ebert battle it out on the web archives), this piece of news interested me greatly.

I made my monthly Internet trip to Stop Ben Lyons! yesterday and nearly died of extreme happiness. Disgraced film critic, Ben Lyons was recently fired from At the Movies, along with his co-host, Ben Mankiewicz.

Lyons is the son of film critic, Jeffrey Lyons. Before his stint on At the Movies, Lyons made frequent guest appearances on his father's film criticism show, Reel Talk, which was canceled earlier this year. Obvious nepotism aside, he eventually became the supposed "movie expert" of E! Entertainment and wrote a column for E! Online called "The Lyons Den." In recent years, he is infamously known as the joke who referred to I Am Legend "the greatest movie ever made."

Last year, ABC hired Lyons and Mankiewicz in hopes of taking the TV icon of film criticism, At the Movies in a new direction, or most importantly, to attract younger viewers. Mankiewicz, grandson of screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (Citizen Kane) and grandnephew of director Joseph L. Mankiewicz (Cleopatra, All About Eve), was previously known from his introductions of classic films and cartoon shorts on Turner Classic Movies and as co-host the talk radio show, The Young Turks.

Ratings for At the Movies dropped by 23% during the 2008-2009 season. Many placed the blame on the new set (instead of the traditional balcony, they had a very un-cinematic high-def TV screen), the lousy music, and the critics' round-up (which I admittedly liked, and was disappointed to see it fizzle out), but mostly, the show's two critics had to carry most of the malicious burden--especially Lyons. Sites and articles criticizing Lyons populated the Internet, such as Stop Ben Lyons!, Criticwatch's Ben Lyons Quote of the Week, and Roger [Ebert's] Little Rule Book.

On August 5th, it was announced that ABC made the wise decision (that they didn't make last year) to replace Lyons and Mankiewicz with A.O. Scott of The New York Times and Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune, both of whom filled in, rather fantastically, as Richard Roeper's co-host during Ebert's absence from the show.

Who said free speech is dead? I'm sure the constant attacks had something to do with the inevitable axing of Lyons.

I'm not someone who likes to see people fail. I was actually hoping that Lyons would become a better film critic as time passed, but it never happened. He constantly had that ridiculous smirk on his face and felt a neccessity to praise the most obscure actors in a movie. It seemed like he never recovered from his controversial decision to place the Twilight trailer on his "3 To See" list earlier in the season. I initially thought it would be fun to watch Lyons week after week making strangely idiotic comments, but I could only suffer so much.

The things that Lyons have been criticized for are things that I might be guilty of doing at one point or another, so I do feel an iota of empathy for him. But then again, I don't get paid for making a fool out of myself on national TV while being considered by some as a legitimate film critic.

The new season is set to air on September 5th. And that is also when I will start watching At the Movies again. Scott and Phillips are both insightful, clever, and witty film critics. These two have the potential to create brilliant banter and I wish them all the best as the new hosts of At the Movies. This partnership has the potential to rival the good ol' days of Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. Just maybe...


  1. This is fantastic news Marcy. I stopped watching At the Movies when I heard Lyons and Mankiewicz were taking over. Their just boring to watch and its not funny when they argue over a certain film. I'm very happy to see that ABC made the wise decision to kick them out and replace them with Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott. I enjoyed Phillip's appearances on the show when Roeper was doing it. I had seen Scott in some of the episodes and I fairly enjoyed them. I cant wait for September 5th.

  2. marcy reserves the official right to review, but i am sneaking this in, anyway. i may have been the last person in tucson, if not the world, to see '500 days of summer' at a movie theatre. it was 100% empty except for me. so, it's obviously too late to say 'wait for it to come to your tv'.
    this is not a date movie, boy does not get girl...boy gets kicked in kicked by the girl, in a twist on the old plot line of boy meets girl, they find bliss, but he cheats, and she is devestated. in the final 15 minutes, he redeems himself and they live happily ever after...not! here, the girl is in total control, she tells him not to get serious, but he does, and he is devestated when she dumps him. typically, we are told, it is the girl who can't handle just being friends with benefits; but here we are turned inside out, or upside down.

    the odd twist is that i was talking with a 20 year old girl yesterday. she had just been cheated on by her 'boyfriend', and he actually told he to go see this movie, apparently for its educational value.

    anyway, what was of more interest to me was the actors, zooey deshanel, who, when she was an ingenue of 20 or so, was my favorite actress, adorable beyond words. she made a movie called 'manic' with...who remembers names...and it was a great little, hand held camera, lots of close-ups, indie piece, almost worthy of her prowess as the next kate hepburn to my addled mind. it just hasn't worked out. she has gone on to be involved in mostly second rate projects, and is now turning 30 without ever having pulled it together. there may be two reasons for this; (1)she is really more interested in singing than in acting - she does have a good voice, but here again, whatever her potential, she seems to be in no hurry to get there. (2) alas, there is this hair issue, which seems to be totally out of control as she gets older. she may actually have some neurosis about her looks, and is trying to hide behind her hair.
    btw, i really felt badly for...what's his name...but in the very end it seemed he was going to be ok. and he is aging better than zooey.

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