The Balcony Is Closed. (For Good.)
July 24, 2008 9:55 AM   Subscribe

Roger Ebert reflects on "Siskel & Ebert", its origins, and his departed friend and enemy, on the occasion of his show's ending (after many permutations and forms). And they're taking the thumbs with them.
posted by WCityMike (92 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
As someone who grew up in the Chicago metro area, "At the Movies" was my first introduction to literate, interesting media criticism. And this was at a fairly young age — if I had to guess, I'd not be surprised if they had my attention as early as age 9 or so, maybe even earlier. The spirited back-and-forth between these two guys who actually knew what they were talking about and who weren't afraid to be brainy with a television camera in front of them definitely had an influence on my childhood.
posted by WCityMike at 9:58 AM on July 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


.
posted by roll truck roll at 10:02 AM on July 24, 2008


I get choked up at stuff like this. I watched it back in the 70s. It makes me feel old.
posted by zorro astor at 10:06 AM on July 24, 2008


He sold out long ago.

Read Tony Scott in The Times if you want unfettered, independent critique of films.
posted by Zambrano at 10:12 AM on July 24, 2008


Yes, we're planning to continue the traditional format in a new venue, and taking the thumbs along with us. I'm involved in that, and it will be a great consolation.

So "taking the thumbs with them" actually means something different from what I thought it meant when I first read the post (which was that they'd be gone for good too).
posted by chrominance at 10:20 AM on July 24, 2008


He sold out long ago.

Bullshit.

Can you point to any real examples where Ebert showed preferential treatment to any film to placate a corporate sponsor?
posted by wabbittwax at 10:21 AM on July 24, 2008 [5 favorites]


Also, your favourite film critic sucks.
posted by wabbittwax at 10:24 AM on July 24, 2008


I remember working at blockbuster when I was a teenager, and noticing how you saw Janet Maslin and Peter Travers putting their simpering adjectives on every piece of shit movie we stocked on our shelves. "A rollicking thrill ride" and "A frantic rollercoaster" were the kinds of things that Travers really liked to shit out for cover blurbs. As I stocked things, I realized how infrequently you found that kind of garbage on the cover with Siskel and/or Ebert's name following it. Sure, you saw the occasional "two thumbs up" or something, but hey if a movie gets a good review they're going to point it out. I opened a copy of rolling stone we had at the counter and went to the movie review section, and noticed that Travers' column, may he spend his afterlife being eternally sodomized by production execs, had a whole section of just these blurbs, hardly even in full sentences. "Mean Girls: A delectable comedy." etc... People, presumably, simply paid him for the blurd, and he would publish it in a column of paid blurbs for the sake of the quote being published somewhere.

When I realized that Siskel and Ebert didn't do that shit was when I first started liking them. For all their problems, I still respect the hell out of that show.
posted by shmegegge at 10:25 AM on July 24, 2008 [4 favorites]


People, presumably, simply paid him for the blurd

this will be my new word. It's the word for that worthless endorsement on a video cover or movie poster. Blurb + Turd = Blurd.
posted by shmegegge at 10:26 AM on July 24, 2008 [14 favorites]


This actually made me cry, dammit. I've gotten to the age where all the things of my youth, that I thought were eternal, are going out of their way to remind they're not. It's not comforting.
posted by tommasz at 10:27 AM on July 24, 2008 [6 favorites]


Great article. I'm now watching them together on the tv-as-nostalgia-generator service known as youtube. What are your prime directives? Did you ever identify with Dumbo? That was a damn fine show.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 10:27 AM on July 24, 2008


chrominance: "So "taking the thumbs with them" actually means something different from what I thought it meant when I first read the post (which was that they'd be gone for good too)."

Ebert almost certainly is never returning to the air; his recovery from cancer has been valiant but has left him in a condition in which I'm fairly sure he can't co-host a television show. And Siskel, of course, has passed. So I can't really see that it's Siskel & Ebert anymore, especially since Roeper is nothing near brainy. (And I say this having been in Chicago 10 years, so I've gotten a greater dosage of media exposure to him than the average person.)
posted by WCityMike at 10:33 AM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Siskel & Ebert taught me just how much I could love movies, and more importantly the disservice you do yourself by taking one critic's word as gospel.
So many times I leaned in my preferences towards one of them - "yeah, he really gets it", I'd think - only to have my preferences swapped by a surprising disagreement between the two of them.

Christ, I wish politics was like the Siskel & Ebert show.
If one point of view limits your movie going experience, I gotta think it makes the rest of your life a lot more dull, too.
posted by Tbola at 10:34 AM on July 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


I liked Siskel. Ebert is obtuse when he doesn't just have bad taste.
posted by DU at 10:34 AM on July 24, 2008


I saw this announcement on Ebert's website a couple days ago. I loved Siskel and Ebert together.

I go to Roger Ebert before I see a movie. I agree with him the majority of the time and I trust his judgment. He's the anti-Gene Shallot.
posted by LoriFLA at 10:36 AM on July 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


May 2008: "True, after all that surgery, I still lack the power of speech."
posted by WCityMike at 10:37 AM on July 24, 2008


Funny thing for me was always how my opinions of the two changed over the years. I started out almost always agreeing with Gene Siskel & thinking his opinions made a lot more sense to me. My first impression of Roger Ebert was that he was a miserable, angry, obnoxious guy with a big ego... Gene seemed calmer and his insights more thought-out and less self-righteous to me. But then it felt like their personalities gradually seemed to change over time, or maybe mine did. To my surprise, I started shifting to agree with Ebert more. I don't know if it had anything to do with his marriage, but it felt like when Ebert got married he began to really mellow and give better and more open-minded reviews, as Siskel gradually became more uptight and cranky. By the end, I liked Ebert and Siskel kind of got on my nerves.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:39 AM on July 24, 2008


Oh - and I want to share the S & E moment that sticks out in my mind the most:

They are reviewing Altman's Kansas City. Ebert goes first, a poetic review about texture and mood, etc.
Then Siskel dismisses Ebert by saying something to the effect of: "everything you just said was taken from the film's promotional materials!"
Ebert - Fucking. Flips.
The raw emotions their disagreements could sometimes bring out in each other... boy.
They were a fun place to visit, but I sure wouldn't want to live there. =D

(I tried to find it on youtube, but couldn't)
posted by Tbola at 10:44 AM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


I was going to say almost the exact same thing, miss lynnster. I liked Siskel a lot better than Ebert, particularly in the early 80s when they were still at WTTW, but Ebert did seem to become better with time. I don't know if Siskel got worse, or if Ebert did change that much.

(One of my personal "gee whiz" moments was being taken on a tour of WTTW for some class I was taking at Northwestern, and getting to sit in the actual chairs on the set. Also, standing in the little fake kitchen used for the Frugal Gourmet, who was a Big Deal back then.)
posted by briank at 10:46 AM on July 24, 2008


"He's the anti-Gene Shallot."

Gene Shallot?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:51 AM on July 24, 2008


So I can't really see that it's Siskel & Ebert anymore, especially since Roeper is nothing near brainy.

I dont think Roeper was every supposed to be brainy. His shtick is being some kind of north side everyman, if not an outright anti-intellectual. At least that's what I've been able to figure out from the few times I've read his column. I assumed they gave him the job to counter Ebert's sometimes academic treatment.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:55 AM on July 24, 2008


He sold out long ago.

Ebert really likes movies, even the Hollywood ones that most MeFites would love to hate, and he has to focus to some degree on "popular" film because those are the kinds of movies that his audience tends to watch (with some Herzog thrown in).

Generally speaking, I think his writing is much better than his tv work, for obvious reasons.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:59 AM on July 24, 2008


Mmmmm, shallots.
posted by fixedgear at 11:02 AM on July 24, 2008


crash, I cry every time someone doesn't cut that guy.
posted by cortex at 11:05 AM on July 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


I remember watching the show and seeing them get into it, chewing each other out over various movies they were discussing.

The show didn't even feature any new movies, its was "our favorite classic movies now out on VHS."

What a wonderful show.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 11:12 AM on July 24, 2008


I like Ebert, but Roeper has never clicked with me. In an ideal world, they'd replace him with David Denby or Anthony Lewis.
posted by longdaysjourney at 11:16 AM on July 24, 2008


Tbola: Kansas City
posted by eyeballkid at 11:22 AM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


His work with Russ Meyers was the best work he ever did.

But they've replaced Siskel and Ebert with such a dunce that it has made me miss Siskel and Ebert all over again.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:22 AM on July 24, 2008


The outtakes: 1, 2, 3. Absolutely hilarious. Previously on Metafilter.
posted by Mapes at 11:24 AM on July 24, 2008 [4 favorites]


Dammit! Gene Shalit.
posted by LoriFLA at 11:24 AM on July 24, 2008


Outtakes on YouTube.
posted by SteveInMaine at 11:36 AM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sneak Previews was one of the first non-kid shows I have memories of my dad putting on (the other being Dick Cavett). I pretty much grew up watching the various permutations of the show as it would get moved and renamed, but I haven't been able to watch At The Movies since Ebert left. Roeper's just such a tool.
posted by mkultra at 11:37 AM on July 24, 2008


I knew this was coming, but it still makes me sad.
posted by spilon at 11:42 AM on July 24, 2008


You know what I hate? People who dismiss critics, claiming they'd rather go see a movie their neighbor recommended. Sorry, but I'll listen to a guy who's seen and studied a thousand movies, instead of a guy who sees 5 or 10 a year.

Obviously, ever critic is different, but the ones who genuinely care about the art form (like Ebert) are well worth paying attention to.
posted by davebush at 11:48 AM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


I suppose the new Disney show won't be much worse than it was when the constipated, self-righteous Richard Roeper took over as the "main" host, but I won't be surprised if it becomes utterly unwatchable. Roger Ebert, whatever else you may think of him, has a distinctive personality and point of view, something that can't be said of his various replacements.
posted by blucevalo at 11:48 AM on July 24, 2008


every critic is different
posted by davebush at 11:50 AM on July 24, 2008


I'm right there with Miss Lynnster and Briank. I started out hating Ebert, and gradually came to agree with him more and more over the years. He did like too many brainless popcorn adventures, but at least he admitted they were just that.

Ebert's writing is also quite good. His book "Roger Ebert's Book of Film" is an amazing treasure trove of wow-I-hadn't-noticed-that-befores.

I don't know how the new guys will do, but I had the pleasure (?) of sharing a table with Ben Mankiewicz in Vegas one night a couple years back, and he's a pretty funny and smart guy, anyway.

Sorry, not much of an anecdote.
posted by rokusan at 11:53 AM on July 24, 2008


From Astro Zombie's link:

Lyons and Mankiewicz To Replace Ebert and Roeper


This sounds like such a car wreck that I will be utterly compelled to watch.
posted by Dr-Baa at 11:53 AM on July 24, 2008


eyeballkid: Thanks, that's a great example of 10+ years of memory significantly changing an event in my mind. I remembered Ebert flipping out, in reality he just seemed bitterly insulted.
Still - it wasn't enough (and still isn't) to make me try to watch Kansas City. ;)
posted by Tbola at 11:55 AM on July 24, 2008


everything ends.
posted by Senator at 11:56 AM on July 24, 2008


People still think it's cool and hip to hate on Roger Ebert?

I agreed with some of his opinions, and disagreed with others. Such is life, and art.

But, he actually gave a damn, which is more than you can say about most critics today, and I guarantee he knows more about movies, film, and cinema (I make the distinctions on purpose) than anyone here, and probably is among the top 10 most informed people in the industry.

What today's critics (especially internet-based critics) and most readers don't seem to understand is that critique and insult are not interchangeable. Sometimes the proper role of the critic is to recognize success, not just point out failure.
posted by Ynoxas at 11:56 AM on July 24, 2008 [5 favorites]


Ebert victorious.
posted by ORthey at 11:58 AM on July 24, 2008


People still think it's cool and hip to hate on Roger Ebert?

Let's remember through our jadedness that people still like and dislike people and things regardless of whether it's cool or not.
posted by ORthey at 11:59 AM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ebert almost certainly is never returning to the air; his recovery from cancer has been valiant but has left him in a condition in which I'm fairly sure he can't co-host a television show. And Siskel, of course, has passed. So I can't really see that it's Siskel & Ebert anymore...

Oh, yeah, I assumed Ebert was never going to have a TV show again; my reference to the thumbs was specifically to the thumbs system Siskel and Ebert came up with, which was recently the source of an odd kerfuffle regarding the show's production. I took it to mean that we'd start seeing online reviews from Ebert and Roeper or something utilizing the thumbs trademark.
posted by chrominance at 12:04 PM on July 24, 2008


Ebert sold out?

I guess by this you mean "His reviews are approachable and he rates movies in their own context; Police Academy LXVIII stands a chance to get a few stars if it's a good movie compared to other mindless teenage comedies--even if it's total shit as art and has zero importance compared to, say, The Seventh Seal."

If that's what you were trying to say, thanks for your insight, I agree.
posted by maxwelton at 12:05 PM on July 24, 2008


I disagreed with Ebert at times - my takes on some of his reviews were the equivalent of WTF? Did this guy stay to the end of the film or cut out early? - but I always had the impression that he was a guy you could have an impassioned but thoughtful debate with over film. I always liked that about him; too many other critics either came across as shills or as overly intellectual snobs.

I'm glad he is still writing.
posted by never used baby shoes at 12:16 PM on July 24, 2008


I always look forward to watching some variation of "Siskel and Ebert" on Monday... wherever I have lived, it seems the show always aired very late Sunday night in syndication, and I always taped it, or TiVoed it. However, whenever a damn football game ran late, and the show wasn't recorded within my 3 hour taping buffer, I was upset.

I was very bummed about the loss of Gene Siskel, and then the loss from tv of Roger Ebert, and now I will miss Roeper and his rotating co-host.

But as long as Roger keeps writing, I will continue to enjoy his criticism.

Still, it's disappointing to realize that I will no longer be able to watch the show that inspired me to love movies.
posted by newfers at 12:20 PM on July 24, 2008


I still remember Roeper giving Lord of the Rings a thumbs down because it "had too many characters" and the ending was "too confusing and open-ended." What a wiener. I think Ebert wanted to bash his head in.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:25 PM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Though I often disagreed with his judgments, I quite liked Ebert's prose. What struck me is how often he'd veer from whatever film he was reviewing into a solemn meditation on aging, limits, life and death. His reviews seem like precursors to the farewell above-- as, I suppose, is in the nature of things...
posted by darth_tedious at 12:27 PM on July 24, 2008


I admire people who have the guts to love things unabashedly. So far all I have managed is chocolate cake.
posted by srboisvert at 12:28 PM on July 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


Don't know if you guys know it or not, but Mike Royko wrote a pretty amusing column back in the '70s when the Dolls movie came out, about he and Roger and drinks at the Billy Goat (ChiFi meetup spot and origin of the SNL cheezborger skit). Ebert's definitely got a lot of class just on his own, but I think some of it's from exposure to Royko, too.
posted by WCityMike at 12:55 PM on July 24, 2008


Obligatory: I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.

Also, a list of Ebert's worst reviews. He's probably the greatest of all time at succinctly destroying a crappy movie, as he does here to the likes of Baby Geniuses and Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo.
posted by DecemberBoy at 1:04 PM on July 24, 2008 [6 favorites]


Ebert rocks. His movie books have taught me more about movies, loving movies, what to look for in movies, why certain movies are awesome or despicable...thanks to Ebert, I can ENJOY movies. Smart dude.
posted by davidmsc at 1:08 PM on July 24, 2008


> Also, a list of Ebert's worst reviews.

If you're in the mood to read some good reviews of bad movies, go to Ebert's site, choose the "Advanced Search" function in the reviews section, and filter it so that only the zero and half-star reviews show up. So many choice quotes, but the last line of his review of "Mad Dog Time" is one of his best;

"Mad Dog Time should be cut into free ukulele picks for the poor."
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:15 PM on July 24, 2008


I prefer to get my film reviews from Earl Dittman, of Wireless Magazine.
posted by davejay at 1:19 PM on July 24, 2008


DecemberBoy: Ebert may be great at destroying a crappy movie, but he's apparently also good at crapping on a good one.

He didn't like The Usual Suspects? Really?

(vague) SPOILERS ahead:

He calls it "manipulation", but it seemed to me that he had a serious problem with a movie reminding him of the big difference between what someone tells you reality is and what reality is. While I admit that I wouldn't like "unreliable narrator" gimmicks to be overused, Ebert comes off sounding almost betrayed by the revelation, as if it risked undermining his entire preferred art form. I keep imagining him looking at that Magritte painting: "What the hell do you mean this isn't a pipe? Look at it! It's a pipe!"
posted by roystgnr at 1:25 PM on July 24, 2008


And they're taking the thumbs with them.

They can have my thumbs when they unwrap my cold, dead hands from around them.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:35 PM on July 24, 2008


If you enjoyed the knowledgeable, opinionated, semi-antagonistic and often hilarious dynamic between Siskel and Ebert, I have to re-recommend the Reel Geezers, featured last month right here on the blue.
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 1:41 PM on July 24, 2008


WCityMike -
The one where Mike Royko's utterly appalled that that mild-mannered kid in the corner who gabs about the movies could have come up with this trashy boob-fest? Good times.

According to this, Box 10, Folder 119 of the Chicago Newberry Library's Royko collection contains the only extant copy of "FOX! The Adventures of a Suburban Guerilla" (screenplay by Roger Ebert and Mike Royko, Sept. 1974).
posted by ormondsacker at 1:42 PM on July 24, 2008


From the bad reviews, this one for The Dukes of Hazard
The movie stars Johnny Knoxville, from "Jackass," Seann William Scott, from "American Wedding," and Jessica Simpson, from Mars.
posted by Brainy at 1:58 PM on July 24, 2008


I live in Lincoln Park not very far at all from where Ebert does. I only know this because I've seen him out taking walks with a caretaker a few times. The most recent was actually just last weekend.

I always liked their show. I'm glad the format will live on even if it's not on proper TV. Disney will probably just replace it with a soulless promotional vehicle, sort of like Gamestop's gaming magazine. Yes, a gaming magazine published by a game store will be objective about things!

I've always liked his review writing as well, even when I disagree.

He seems like a really nice dude (even when he's being delightfully bitter and mean in that outtake video). I'm glad he's getting better and not worse, and look forward to whatever becomes of the thumbs.
posted by sparkletone at 2:04 PM on July 24, 2008


I missed the outakes the first time they were posted and they are hilarious, thank you!
posted by arcanecrowbar at 2:08 PM on July 24, 2008


Police Academy LXVIII was complete shit compared to Police Academy LXVII.
posted by nushustu at 2:14 PM on July 24, 2008


While I admit that I wouldn't like "unreliable narrator" gimmicks to be overused, Ebert comes off sounding almost betrayed by the revelation, as if it risked undermining his entire preferred art form.
"Because we see the events in flashbacks, we assume they reflect truth. But all they reflect is a point of view, sometimes lied about. Smart films know this, less ambitious films do not. [...] The wonder of "Rashomon" is that while the shadowplay of truth and memory is going on, we are absorbed by what we trust is an unfolding story. The film's engine is our faith that we'll get to the bottom of things."

posted by ormondsacker at 2:14 PM on July 24, 2008


Film critics pull a twofold duty. On one hand, they need to recommend movies for others to see; on the other hand, they need to write essays that are interesting in their own right.

I've never particularly cared about the first duty, and I used to think everyone was with me on this. I used to think that critics justified their existence to newspaper editors by saying that they advising people on which movies were worth watching, but that was a bit of a sham. Ratings were an incidental side-effect of their real role, which was to write illuminating essays that use films as a jumping off point. But now I'm pretty sure that I was wrong about that. People expect their movie reviewers to give stars or numbers out of ten or thumbs up. The worth of a reviewer often decided by how well he shares your personal tastes.

The difference is something the difference between a book reviewer and a literary critic. Book reviewers use their space to present evidence or justification for a recommendation or condemnation. Literary critics usually don't recommend books at all; they use their space to discuss wider themes and tropes that are brought up by the book, or just to say anything at all related to the book that's interesting. I guess you could say that in the same way, there's a difference between movie reviewers and film critics.

Everyone fills each role to at least some extent, of course. But reviewers tend to fall pretty cleanly into one camp or another. The New Yorker team (I'm thinking of Kael, Denby, and Lane) are unabashedly film critics. Unlike most reviewers, they don't give films ratings, and you're often left wondering whether they even liked the movie at all. Kael and Lane in particular have aesthetic priorities that are unknown to anyone else on earth. But they're great to read! Denby's review of John Q always stood out to me as a perfect example of criticism rather than a review (I wish I could find a copy online). His piece was a jumping off point to talk about the public perception of the health care system and why the movie fell into propaganda. It was the kind of discussion you'd have with a smart friend after leaving a movie; it was open and freeform and not constrained to just talking about the worth of the viewing experience. Some other film critics are much more tightly allied with academic literary criticism, like Andrew Sarris. I'm sure these guys do not see their primary role as being one of public advisor.

Roger Ebert was a movie reviewer. He was pretty vocal about his role - he thought that he did what he did in order to lead people to good movies. He's best known for his "two thumbs up" trademark. To say this isn't to bash him. There is a place for movie reviewers, and the linked article makes me realize that back when he started his show, we were in sore need of them. He was a crisp, clear, and witty writer, and I admire his style. He's good at generating excitement and communicating his love of good movies. And when he pans a movie, it's usually hilarious (I love the end paragraph to his review of The Village). But I'm usually not too interested in the content of his reviews. Too often, too much space is dedicated to describing the plot that they feel like book reports. Whenever he picks up on an interesting thread, it's usually dropped pretty quickly. Even his Great Movie pieces are pretty book-reportish.

What I always wished is that Roger Ebert would become a critic instead of a reviewer. I wish he would write longer pieces; I wish he would drop the thumbs shtick; I wish he'd spend less time talking about how we should spend our dollars. Part of me worries that he just wouldn't be that good at it. On the occasion when he decides to briefly write about "great art" he starts talking about "the human condition" or something else trite. But it's hard to tell how good he'd be, because he never goes that deeply into anything. What I wish is that Ebert would start having discussions about movies rather than acting as a commercial force.
posted by painquale at 2:17 PM on July 24, 2008 [6 favorites]


They were the perfect combination of salty Jew and buttery Catholic.
posted by Devils Slide at 3:15 PM on July 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


painquale, Ebert had an amazing capacity as a film critic that didn't get brought out so much in his more public capacities, as you mentioned. If you'd like to see that side of his perspective, watch the commentary tracks he did for the DVD releases of Dark City and the Criterion version of Seven Samurai. I was completely blown away after I watched his commentary on Dark City- his capacities as a film intellectual far exceed what he usually put out to the public, which is impressive considering that (as others have noted) he's far more intellectual than most movie reviewers out there.
posted by baphomet at 4:01 PM on July 24, 2008


Oh, and a word to the wise: Don't rent (or dog forbid, purchase) the remake of 3:10 to Yuma based on the Ebert's four star rating. The only way I can justify his unbelievably generous review of the most trite, unbelievable--I'm talking Grand Canyon sized holes in the plot. Shame on the normally intriguing Elmore Leonard and the person(s) responsible for the screenplay--mind numbingly dull Western I've seen in the past 20 years is that the usually dependable uncle Ebe was on heavy duty painkillers when he watched and/or reviewed it. It wouldn't pass muster as a TV movie on TNT or TBS, much less as a vehicle for Russell Crowe and Christian Bale.
posted by Devils Slide at 4:34 PM on July 24, 2008


They were the perfect combination of salty Jew and buttery Catholic.

An excellent summation, sir.
posted by wabbittwax at 5:21 PM on July 24, 2008


too much space is dedicated to describing the plot


This has become way, way too true in almost all reviews. It seems to me like a lazy way to fill space. Not just Ebert -- all the top gun type reviewers seem to do it these days. I like the movie makers to tell me the story, thanks.
posted by Trochanter at 5:28 PM on July 24, 2008


DU: "I liked Siskel. Ebert is obtuse when he doesn't just have bad taste."

I liked Ebert. Siskel was obtuse when he didn't just have bad taste.

Tastes great. Less filling.

In saying that, I love them both. I love the fact they both hated and loved each other, cuz that's about how we all felt about them I think. We hated them and loved them at the same time.

Siskel was arguing for the artistic integrity of the medium, whereas Ebert was arguing for a film that was fun and smart and worth the ticket value. Siskel was high-fallutin' while Ebert was more on my level. Even if he really isn't in real life (eats escargo or bathes in rose petals or whatever) he approached his criticism knowing his audience was ..well, guys like me.

I hated Gene. I loved to hate Gene. I'd be rooting for Ebert when they argued. No doubt I'm sure there were just as many fans like me as there were fans rooting for Siskel. We coulda all put on jerseys, ate nachos, drank beer, and cheered towards the balcony. So, I say I hated Gene, but it's in the same way people hate whatever sports team that goes up against the team they love. So in that regard, I loved Gene as I love any man, woman, or child who appreciates good cinema. Both men were arguing for the best the cinematic medium can offer. How can anyone begrudge them for that?

This was my 'rule of thumb.'

If Siskel was thumbs down and Ebert was thumbs up, I was relatively sure I'd like the film. Even if it wasn't my cup of tea normally, I'd find something in it I liked. This worked I'd say around 80% of the time.

If Siskel was thumbs up and Ebert was thumbs down, I just didn't go. I'm sure I missed out on some great movies, and there's many other variables that'd fall into play which would certainly overrule Siskel & Ebert. I'd say this still worked a slight majority of the time.

If both Siskel and Ebert gave a film a thumbs up, that was like a beam of light from heaven illuminating the marquis. I can't recall a film both men liked that I didn't. There must be some, but I can't recall a one.

I love to love and hate them both, but mostly I love to love Roger Ebert. Here's hoping he has many more movies to see before he's through, and that he sees them in as little discomfort as possible.
posted by ZachsMind at 5:58 PM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


This has become way, way too true in almost all reviews. It seems to me like a lazy way to fill space. Not just Ebert -- all the top gun type reviewers seem to do it these days. I like the movie makers to tell me the story, thanks.

In fairness, half of any Siskel & Ebert clip from twenty years ago is Roger or Gene VOing the plot over clips from the movie being reviewed.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:09 PM on July 24, 2008


(That is to say, any complete review clip -- a lot of the old reviews you'll find on YouTube cut the summary and just jump to the bickering.)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:10 PM on July 24, 2008


Baphomet: "...watch the commentary tracks he did for the DVD releases of Dark City and the Criterion version of Seven Samurai."

I can't say I saw Dark City yet, but I can definitely vouch for Seven Samurai. Ebert's commentary was great fun and illuminated a film I've already seen many times and loved immensely. Somehow he made me love it even more.

You have to admit, for a couple boys from the midwest, Gene and Roger have had one hell of a ride.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:26 PM on July 24, 2008


TheCardCheat: "If you're in the mood to read some good reviews of bad movies, go to Ebert's site, choose the "Advanced Search" function in the reviews section, and filter it so that only the zero and half-star reviews show up."

Battlefield Earth
"...a film that for decades to come will be the punch line of jokes about bad movies."

Charlie's Angels
"...is eye candy for the blind."

Death Wish II
"...slinks onto the screen and squirms for a while, and is over."

Freddy Got Fingered
"...doesn't scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels."

Highlander 2: The Quickening
"...is the most hilariously incomprehensible movie I've seen in many a long day - a movie almost awesome in its badness."

My personal favorite Roger Ebert diss ever.

Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo
"...Schneider is correct, and Patrick Goldstein has not yet won a Pulitzer Prize. Therefore, Goldstein is not qualified to complain that Columbia financed "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo" while passing on the opportunity to participate in "Million Dollar Baby," "Ray," "The Aviator," "Sideways" and "Finding Neverland." As chance would have it, I have won the Pulitzer Prize, and so I am qualified. Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks."
posted by ZachsMind at 7:02 PM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ebert also does a very good commentary track on Citizen Kane, where he really breaks down the visual mechanics of that movie.
I really enjoyed the way the commentary starts - right off the bat he's talking very quickly, as if he has so much to say, he's not sure he can fit it all into the duration of the movie. His enthusiasm for movies - as I've said many times - really taught me how much there is to love about films.
Good stuff.
posted by Tbola at 7:04 PM on July 24, 2008


Ooh! My favourite Ebert bash:

Godzilla (1998)
"...It was the festival's closing film, coming at the end like the horses in a parade, perhaps for the same reason."
posted by Tbola at 7:07 PM on July 24, 2008


But they've replaced Siskel and Ebert with such a dunce that it has made me miss Siskel and Ebert all over again.

Wow. Look at these chukleheads.

The unspoken rule about movie critics is that they're not supposed to look like actors, but regardless, they are supposed to love film as an art form and as entertainment, to be film geeks of one type or another. I don't think these guys fit the bill.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:06 PM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, and a word to the wise: Don't rent (or dog forbid, purchase) the remake of 3:10 to Yuma based on the Ebert's four star rating. The only way I can justify his unbelievably generous review of the most trite, unbelievable--I'm talking Grand Canyon sized holes in the plot.

Well, he's certainly not out on a limb with his rating. I admit that I haven't seen it, but apparently Ebert's view was the view of the vast majority.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:24 PM on July 24, 2008


That one about barrels is priceless.
posted by ORthey at 1:26 AM on July 25, 2008


The Mike Royko column.

In it, Ebert suggests that his intent was to make Beyond the Valley of the Dolls as a "parody of dirty, violent movies." Guess that didn't quite work.
posted by SteveInMaine at 3:35 AM on July 25, 2008


I've not seen 3:10 to Yuma, but a person whose opinion on film I highly respect said it was a fantastic feature up until the very end.

Without spoilers, the alleged story is that Russell Crowe had a test of wills with the director over the status of his character, and the movie is much worse for it. Basically a time-of-shooting rewrite, which probably never goes well.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:33 AM on July 25, 2008


The awesomeness of 3:10 to Yuma is less in the story itself than in the character development and performances, and the way the two main characters evolve because of each other. I love the movie, because I love the subtleties of the performances (the heavy-handed, unsubtle habits of the Russell Crowe character are actually a very sly and very subtle insight into the character). I can see why some people don't like it, I guess, but I love it, it's a movie which really makes you sit up and notice the actors' skill, nothing is accidental. I am actually kind of glad that the balcony is closed, I never really got into it after Siskel died (even though I hated him as a reviewer), I read Ebert online and in print, and I loathe Roeper (except for the times when he pissed Ebert off so much I was waiting for the smackdown to start).
posted by biscotti at 9:33 AM on July 25, 2008


The roundup of Ebert's Most Hated kept me el-oh-elling most of this morning, but I was sobered by his review of the forty-year-old war flick The Green Berets:
At this moment in our history, locked in the longest and one of the most controversial wars we have ever fought, what we certainly do not need is a movie depicting Vietnam in terms of cowboys and Indians. That is cruel and dishonest and unworthy of the thousands who have died there.

It is not a simple war. We all know it is not simple.

...In one remarkable speech, John Wayne tells the journalist: "Out here, due process is a bullet." Is that our policy? What is our policy? The film doesn't make it clear. Judging by "The Green Berets," we seem to be fighting a war for no particular purpose against a semi-anonymous enemy. There is no word about democracy or freedom, nationalism or self-determination. It appears that the war has been caused entirely by the enemy and that the enemy commits atrocities because he enjoys them. There seems to be no other issue.
Say what you will about the man, he's been a national institution for a a full cycle of American history. Not only are the above sentiments depressingly evocative of The Current Ugliness, but Ebert is a guy who told John Wayne "Your movie sucks." That must've been a pretty ballsy maneuver at the time. It sounds like John Wayne could still kick your ass pretty hard back in '68.
posted by cirocco at 9:54 AM on July 25, 2008


Cirocco: "...sounds like John Wayne could still kick your ass pretty hard back in '68."

John Wayne could still kick our asses now. And he's dead! He could even kick Chuck Norris' ass!
posted by ZachsMind at 10:00 AM on July 25, 2008


Well, he's certainly not out on a limb with his rating. I admit that I haven't seen it, but apparently Ebert's view was the view of the vast majority.

Those reviews are truly baffling. I'm not a film expert by any means, but generally like to think of myself as a cinephile with pretty decent taste (who doesn't, right?) and at least a rudimentary knowledge of the medium. I honestly can't remember the last time I was so clearly in the minority regarding my impression of a movie compared to the vast majority of critics, and competent ones I respect at that.

As I mentioned I generally like Elmore Leonard's writing and believe most of his work translates well to the screen, but the story and screenplay were so weak that the rather simple plot could not generate much drama or suspense, particularly given some of the absurd, senseless twists in the story. Ordinarily I manage to suspend disbelief and overlook certain unbelievable parts of the story as long as the overall plot is strong enough to warrant it, which unfortunately wasn't the case in 3:10. Of course, Westerns are usually not the most complex genre to begin with, but given strong enough performances and direction they can still work beautifully, as they did in Unforgiven. Under Eastwood's effective direction, Unforgiven's powerful cast turned in economical yet brilliant performances, which can't be said of Crowe and Bale's barely adequate performances in 3:10 to Yuma. Bale and Crowe's passable turns were not enough to salvage the weak storyline given that they were barely two dimensional characters, and the weak plot didn't provide them with much of a foundation to build on. Incidentally, imo Ben Foster turned in the film's finest performance as the outlaw Charlie Prince.

Beyond that, there was really nothing to draw in the viewer, or at least this viewer. Every other aspect of the film seemed unremarkable-- the cinematography, editing, set design, costumes, make up, score etc. were at the level of a forgettable made for TV Western. In fact, I'd recommend the made for TV Western Broken Trail (which is based on a true story), starring Robert Duvall and Thomas Haden Church over 3:10 to Yuma any day. Duvall also starred in another Western with a somewhat similar story to Broken Trail called Open Range with Kevin Costner (who also directed), Annette Benning, and the amazing Michael Gambon.
posted by Devils Slide at 5:11 PM on July 25, 2008


> LoriFLA: He's the anti-Gene Shallot [sic].

Say...combine Gene Shalit's moustache with Roger Ebert - and then you'd have something!

> Biscotti: it's a movie which really makes you sit up and notice the actors' skill

I've always thought the highest achievement for an actor was not when you noticed their skill as such (during the movie; afterward is a very different thing), but when you completely forgot it was an actor and were engaged directly by the character. It can be a subtle distinction, and maybe also depends on what an individual viewer is watching for. But usually when I "notice someone acting", it's not a good thing.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:10 PM on July 25, 2008


But usually when I "notice someone acting", it's not a good thing.

I think it's one of those things where if you're geeked out about a discipline, you can't not notice. Really good, really effective cinematography will make me stop and think about camerawork right in the middle of a film or show sometimes—not all the time, thankfully, because that'd be overly jarring—because it's good enough that I kind of notice, hey: that was solid.

But, yeah, at the same time: watching someone Rilly, Rilly Acting isn't so great. Ebert wrote up a nice Oscar gutting a few years back where he explained the awards in terms of replacing the word "best" with "most": Most Acting, Most Directing, Most Costume Design. And there's very much an element of that play, both with good actors and bad.
posted by cortex at 10:30 PM on July 25, 2008


> ... Most Acting ...

Suddenly I have a craving for someone else's milkshake...
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:40 AM on July 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've always thought the highest achievement for an actor was not when you noticed their skill as such (during the movie; afterward is a very different thing), but when you completely forgot it was an actor and were engaged directly by the character. It can be a subtle distinction, and maybe also depends on what an individual viewer is watching for. But usually when I "notice someone acting", it's not a good thing.

I absolutely agree. When I say you notice the skill, I specifically mean when you think about it afterward, or when you watch it again with particular attention to the subtleties and nuances and layers. I do not mean "ACTING!!!!!"
posted by biscotti at 6:15 AM on July 26, 2008


Greg_Ace: Say...combine Gene Shalit's moustache with Roger Ebert - and then you'd have something!

Jason Giambi?
posted by mkultra at 8:10 AM on July 26, 2008


I've always thought the highest achievement for an actor was not when you noticed their skill as such (during the movie; afterward is a very different thing), but when you completely forgot it was an actor and were engaged directly by the character. It can be a subtle distinction, and maybe also depends on what an individual viewer is watching for. But usually when I "notice someone acting", it's not a good thing.

I absolutely agree. When I say you notice the skill, I specifically mean when you think about it afterward, or when you watch it again with particular attention to the subtleties and nuances and layers. I do not mean "ACTING!!!!!"


Yeah, I was thinking of drinking milkshakes too. I thought DDL was good & I liked the movie. But I agree with the whole "most" thing... as DDL ACTED I found myself giggling. Because there was so much of it. He was... (clears throat, raises right arm gracefully to the sky)... ACTING! Thank you!
posted by miss lynnster at 10:19 AM on July 26, 2008


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