CATEGORIES CinematicalThey're serious. They're grown-ups. They wear black jackets and they use big words. If you missed the Sept. 5 debut of its post Lyons/Mankiewicz resurrection, Buena Vista Entertainment has rolled out an online look at the updated, No Bens At the Movies reboot.
The sentiment expressed by At the Movies' official website is clearly, You know those two boneheads we hired to replace Ebert and Roeper? Don't worry, we canned 'em. The site's main page now features a dauntingly somber photo of critics A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips, alongside a video preview trumpeting "serious reviews, by serious journalists." It's a big ol' slap in the face to Ben and Mank, but it gets the point across -- Buena Vista screwed up by hiring The Legacy and the Chucklehead, and now they desperately hope to repair the damage by replacing them with, well, actual film critics.
The clips of new reviews are like a big, frosty glass of water after enduring the Bens' desert of stupid. In one clip, Phillips and Scott actually engage in -- gasp! -- thoughtful deliberation about the tone of Big Fan, with Phillips telling the unimpressed Scott that he misreads the black comedy as a naturalistic drama. Watching smart critics say smart things, on subjects in which they're actually knowledgeable makes one nostalgic for the days when Siskel and Ebert were a weekly must-see.
Judging from these first reviews, there's still a little too much plot overview compared to actual criticism, but that's the nature of the art form these days; audiences seem to want the full Cliff's Notes of the plot before they see a movie anymore. But the level of discussion is so far above what Lyons and Mankiewicz offered (Phillips notes that Extract doesn't offer "any big polemical point" and calls director Mike Judge an "observant humorist") that it feels petty to quibble with the show's established format.
And hopefully we'll get more of Scott's wry, conceptual humor, as evidenced by his introduction to the pair's review of The Burning Plain. If this is the sort of thing to which we can look forward, then At the Movies may indeed be back on track, once again raising the level of discourse on cinema instead of catering to the lowest common denominator: