Paul Heinz

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Filtering by Tag: Siskel and Ebert

Siskel and Ebert

A few days ago a friend of mine and I were discussing movies – what makes a good one and whether a well-executed movie that aims low is better than a poorly-executed movie that aims high – and I recalled a movie review of Siskel and Ebert. As I told it, Ebert was reviewing a Heather Locklear monster movie of some kind - Swamp-something-or-other – and Ebert gave it thumbs up, only to be challenged by Siskel for having given a thumbs down just a moment before for a drama that didn’t quite hit the mark.

And since time travel is possible through the magic of youtube, I can rest easy knowing that although I may not remember someone’s name a minute after he introduces himself, I can recall with stunning accuracy a twenty-eight year-old memory involving two people I never met discussing movies I’ve never seen.

Man, I miss these guys. Some of my most indelible memories are of their movie reviews. I vividly recall their reviews for “Once,” “The Accidental Tourist,” “Fatal Attraction,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” and on and on. Very often what they said was as interesting or entertaining as the film itself. Sometimes more. 

Last night my wife and I watched “Baby Boom,” which I had never seen before, and after it was over I gave her four reasons why I thought it was a bad film. She humored me, and then humored me more when I said, “We gotta see what Siskel and Ebert said about this.” Sure enough, there it was on the internet. Siskel surprisingly liked the film. Ebert did not. Score one for Roger on that one.

But there were many reviews of both Gene’s and Roger’s that I disagreed with. Ebert put “Minority Report” at the very top of his list of best movies of 2001 – I’m still scratching my head over that one. But that was half the fun. They had opinions, but more importantly, they had personalities behind the opinions, and I genuinely liked both of them whether or not I agreed with them.

By coincidence, I just finished reading Ebert’s memoir, Life Itself, and I highly recommend the read, if for no other reason than the short chapter in which he espouses the virtues of the eatery Steak and Shake. That alone is worth the price of admission. But what I’m really going to take away from the book is a list of art that I haven’t yet explored and that is sure to be thought-provoking: certain movies by Altman and Scorsese, any movie by Bergman or Fellini, and writings by Studs Terkel and Thomas Wolfe. These will keep me busy for a while, and when I need a little break I can go to and take in a few reviews. I could spend a whole week doing nothing but.

Roger Ebert

An eerie coincidence: two nights ago, I spent a half an hour watching an old Siskel and Ebert movie review at of one hell of a week for movie lovers.  During that week in 1982, they reviewed Tootsie, The Verdict and Sophie’s Choice.  Not too shabby. 

The next day I found out that Roger Ebert had died. 

This news jolted me, as I’d just been watching the forty year-old Ebert offer his witticisms the night prior, and though the news saddened me, I’d already felt the loss of no longer being able to watch new versions of the great show both he and Gene Siskel left behind.  Fortunately for us, two other film lovers have helped catalogue these old reviews at (though I notice the website was down earlier today.  We can only hope this was because of too many hits and not because the powers that be at Disney/ABC – the owners of all the “At the Movie” episodes from 1986 through 2010 - have thrown their weight around and filed a lawsuit.  For more on the stupidity of Disney/ABC, click on a blog of mine from a year ago).

Siskel and Ebert’s show was part of my life due to my mother’s influence, when in the 1970s we tuned into the show “Sneak Previews” on PBS.  We even watched for a while after Siskel and Ebert’s departure, but before long we turned back to the critics we’d grown to love at their new show, “At the Movies.”  Always interesting, sometimes enlightening, and almost always entertaining, the weekly show helped to solidify in me what was already becoming a fascination with the movies.

For any of you who missed how insightful and entertaining movie criticism can be, look no further than their 1990 discussion (at minute 14:40) of the anti-Semitism accusations people made of Spike Lee for his film, Mo’ Better Blues. As both a film lover and a Jewish man, Siskel handles the subject deftly, while Roger Ebert displays his innocence by admitting he didn’t even know the characters were supposed to be Jewish (I didn’t either back in 1990).  It was a grown-up discussion before the days of the Internet when name-calling and browbeating weren't the norm.

Both Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert will be missed, with or without a video record of their contributions to film criticism, but what’s mindboggling to me is how a similar show can’t succeed today.  Aren’t their two skillful writers out there who’ve got some personality and who can provide movie lovers with a show in the same vein as “At the Movies”?  Even an Internet-only broadcast would be acceptable to me.  If one exists that I'm simply not aware of, please leave a comment at the end of this blog.

An aside: I should also note that in 2011 I happened to be listening to an Amy Winehouse song at the same time I later found out she was dying, and now Roger dies hours after I watch a review of his.  For those of you whose blogs I read, watch out.

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