In case you haven't noticed, the new 'At the Movies' with Christy Lemire and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky has been running strong for a few weeks now on public television. Thanks to the wonders of that handy little world known as the Internet, we've not only got online clips from the new incarnation of Roger Ebert's classic program, but also the original installments -- dating back 36 years to its very first broadcast on Chicago public television in 1975, when it was called 'Opening Soon.'
As originally envisioned, the show was a "news magazine about movies" where Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel sat down to discuss and review films. As the years progressed, Siskel and Ebert's thumbs became synonymous with film criticism, with the pair not only showcasing the benefits of a critique, but also the validity of differing viewpoints (not to mention Ebert earning a Pulitzer Prize for his work).
Now, after the abysmal Ben and Ben world, Ebert has taken the show back to its roots on public television in a new format -- one that's miles ahead of the co-opted, Ebert-free version, but could be all the stronger with a little old-school flavor.
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Digging back to that first show, with Ebert's plaid and Siskel's wild, Burt Reynolds 'stache, the feel is homegrown, yet slick. Well-produced, the men sit there and seriously discuss current films, with sound bites like "[One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest] had the audience tearing up the seats with joy," being part of a larger critical banter.
The new format takes all that was learned over the years and condenses it into a quick-paced discussion format. The sound bites remain, but Lemire and Vishnevetsky thrive when they start to fall out of that punctuated discussion and really react and discuss the film. It helps that they have wildly different cinematic mentalities and interests (she's inspired by films like 'Magnolia,' he by older films like 'Play Time').
Unfortunately, the show also falls into a smiley, "I know I'm being taped" feel that will, one hopes, dissipate with experience. It can work for a comedy chat, but stokes feelings of disconnection when smiles overcast a serious discussion. From moment one, Ebert and Siskel were relaxed, casual and comfortable on camera -- sitting in those movie seats, with the screen behind them, it was like watching two argumentative friends discuss movies before the lights dimmed and the feature began.
Where the new show hits it out of the park is with the guest spots. The wildly diverse -- in both tastes and backgrounds -- supporting team fleshes out every reach of cinema. Thus far, Jeff Greenfield has discussed political films, Kim Morgan dug into the beauty of 'The Third Man,' and Kartina Richardson offered up a highly interesting and beautiful intellectual discussion of 'Black Swan.'
Some claim that the world of criticism is over, but 'At the Movies' has once again reminded us that there is an inherent charm and vigor in battling viewpoints, and that might be its biggest strength. The show is a great reminder that there are many opinions, and none have to fall into a "you're an idiot, you're wrong" reactionary complaint cycle people tend to love these days.
[Hat tip to Slashfilm]