Thursday, November 27, 2008

At the Movies ratings drop 23%

I have looked for ratings info for At the Movies but have not been successful. This blog post from the LA Times, as well as the recent Variety blog post, suggests that the show has seen a significant ratings drop--unsurprising to us long time viewers. The following post was originally found on the Los Angeles Times Entertainment blog.

Minus Ebert, 'At the Movies' sees ratings drop 23%
05:16 PM PT, Nov 26 2008

The people behind "At the Movies" are discovering that life can be hard without Roger Ebert.

Earlier this year, Walt Disney Co. revealed plans to shake up the syndicated movie-reviewing show. Longtime co-host Ebert, who'd been off the program recovering from cancer surgery since 2006, announced his departure, along with on-air partner Richard Roeper. The duo were replaced by a younger team, Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz, sometimes jokingly referred to as "Ben Squared."

The new "At the Movies," which premiered in September, has already earned raspberries from some critics. Audiences don't seem impressed, either. Ratings for the first two months have slumped 23%, to 1.7 million total viewers, compared with the same period last year, according to figures from Nielsen Media Research. Among the crucial category of adults ages 25 to 54, the program is off 25% (from a 0.8 rating to a 0.6).

But ABC Media Productions, the unit that produces "At the Movies," sees a silver lining. The revamped program has shown improvement since the September premiere among total viewers and its target demographic of women ages 25 to 54, a spokeswoman said. Comparing the new guys with Ebert and Roeper is also unfair, she added.

"You are comparing hosts who had been nurtured for years to a team that just started two short months ago," the spokeswoman said.

The big test for "At the Movies" may come over the next few weeks, as movie studios roll out their slate of holiday films and Oscar contenders, and as viewers may look more to critics for guidance.

--Scott Collins

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Criticwatch - Friends in small roles and the measure of greatness

Erik Childress from Criticwatch gives his weekly assessment of At the Movies. A few of Erik's highlights follow.

First, he referencess Lyons's favorable review of Quantum of Solace:

It was like when you re-recommended Quantum of Solace last week because James Bond films don’t come along too often. By that logic The Odd Couple II should be the greatest film of all time.

. . .

Then he quotes Ben on the Swedish film Let the Right One In:

“Something that’s really cool about the movie is that the director of Cloverfield, Matt Reeves, is noew adapting this for American audiences. So we’re going to have this story come to theaters in the upcoming years in English.”

Jesus Christ! Why in the hell is THAT cool?

“A Swedish arthouse film is a tough sell when Twilight is at the Cineplex as well.”

Yes I understand that, but you’re falling into the same trap again by telling people to look forward to a movie that they can not possibly see. Last time it was two months. This time it’s at least two years. For a film that hasn’t even been cast yet. Of all the cool things about Let the Right One In, you pick something that isn’t even relevant to its coolness.

. . .

Finally, Erik reminds us that Ben actually gave a shout-out to TWO of his friends this week (the other was for his BFF McLovin'):

In criticizing the film [Twilight] for only giving Edi Gathegi a couple of scenes to spread his greatness, maybe Lyons could have been given another moment to explain why he singled him out amidst the ensemble cast. Maybe it’s because Gathegi was yet another participant in the splendor that was Ben Lyons’ birthday party. In a post on Clinton Sparks' blog (Lyons’ DJ co-host for E!’s SMASHTIME), you can find the following listing:

“The Daily 10 on E! SMASHTIME Saturday's Ben Lyons Birthday at Body English in Las Vegas, NV at The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino with Idris Elba, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Aaron Yoo, Edi Gathegi, BoA Kwan, Sal Masekela & Ben Lyons on October 18th, 2008”

Lyons has now managed to work into At the Movies, the names of his party pals, Idris Elba, Jamie-Lynn Sigler and, now, Edi Gathegi. Too bad his birthday didn’t fall before the release of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. He could have singled out Aaron Yoo as one of the positives. Don’t worry though, we fully expect him to spread some love to Mr. Yoo when the Friday the 13th remake comes out next Feburary. Provided a replacement on the show hasn’t already been made that frees up Junior’s schedule to go out and rent as many Edi Gathegi movies as he can get his hands on.

Read the complete Criticwatch Ben Lyons Quote of the Week here

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Taking Stock: Why Cinemark Shouldn't Get Your "Milk" Money

Originally posted at, the arrogance and hipocrisy of Cinemark CEO and Prop 8 supporter Alan Stock are stunning:

[T]hose pissed off [about Prop 8] have been making their voices and pocketbooks heard by levying boycotts against some of the people who donated vast sums to the campaign for Proposition 8, which has to be one of the stupidest ways anyone ever came up with to announce to the world that they have too much money. One of these worthies is Alan Stock, whose position as CEO of the Cinemark theater chain has made it possible for his new enemies to make him the center of a gesture so improbably perfect that even Schwarzenegger might have to let out a low, admiring whistle.

"No Milk for Cinemark" is a Facebook-based campaign designed to encourage people to make whatever effort they must to not see Gus Van Sant's Milk, which stars Sean Penn as the martyred gay rights activist Harvey Milk, and which is one of the most highly touted pictures of the year, at a Cinemark chain theater. The movie opens November 26; it only took the protest organizers a few days to hit their initial goal of thousand names, so what happens between now and then is gravy. Whatever one thinks of boycotts in general, it's hard to imagine that Milk himself wouldn't have had a few choice things to say about the idea of a company whose boss spent close to $10,000 to prevent gay marriage benefitting from a movie that celebrates his own efforts to prevent the adoption of legal measures designed to make the lives of gays worse. The third-largest cinema chain in the country, Cinemark was last in the news some ten years ago as the result of a long, drawn-out battle with the Department of Justice, which alleged that the design of the theaters' stadium-style seating was discriminatory against disabled patrons. (Cinemark finally settled the case out of court.) In Stock's defense, it should be noted that it makes all the sense in the world for him to be really concerned about what people can and can't do in California, since he lives in Plano, Texas. Reportedly his hobbies include staring straight ahead, parking in handicapped spaces, casting long, lingering gazes at the pool boy when he has his shirt off, and receiving e-mails and phone calls from people who want to know, since he has so much cash to spread around, how's about he help out with their mortgage?

"Two geeky guys" vs. "pathetic old putz"

From, this story (possibly apocryphal) suggests that the attacks on Ben Lyons are getting to his dad. Just one question--how are Roeper and Phillips "two geeky guys" and Lyons and Mankiewicz not?


What Loudmouth Movie Critic Bashed the 'Old Putz' His Son Was Hired to Replace?

A tipster wasn't naming names when s/he sent word of one film critic's rather vocal dissing of another, more "highly respected" critic at a press screening eariler this afternoon. But the math seems easy enough, even for us: A father, a son and a "pathetic old putz" who's no longer on the air? Show your work after the jump.

Overheard at a press screening. Well-known but little respected TV critic whose son is also a well-known but little respected TV critic, trash-talking highly respected older critic who was replaced by his son.

He called the older replaced critic a "pathetic old putz," and suggested he should be thankful he still has his print column. As well, he suggested that the older critic's original show wouldn't work anymore because nobody wants to watch "two geeky guys." He glowed about how successful his son was at 27, appearing on at least six different networks. And that he didn't understand all of the anger directed at his son because it's only film criticism and that's nothing serious (even though that's what he does as well).

Arrgh. We did have it pegged as a Jeffrey Lyons/Ben Lyons/Roger Ebert love-in — until that part about "six different networks." The Facebook group I Have a Photo With Keira Knightley!!! is not considered an actual network, is it? Any other 27-year-olds with bad-critic fathers we've overlooked?

Monday, November 24, 2008

At the Movies 11/23/08: "See the trailer, Skip the movie"

Bella & Edward to Ben: "Dude, we thought you liked us. WTF?"

Ben Lyons arrived as the host of At the Movies with incredibly low expectations. Somehow, he found a way to meet them in one of his earliest episodes by including the trailer for the movie Twilight in his list of "3 to See". That is, he could only bring himself to list two movies to see and wasted the third by recommending the trailer to an as yet unreleased movie which is the most over-hyped of the year even though he could not vouch for the film's quality.

Alas, we come to the long awaited episode of At the Movies where the Bens review Twilight, in which we cannot help but expect some gushingly Lyons-tacular praise to come out of his mouth. But it seems that our young Ben has painted himself into a corner. By jumping onto the coattails of the Twilight hype bandwagon, Lyons is now put in the unenviable position of defending a movie that has a mere 44% rating on the Tomatometer and was called a "girly version of the Lost Boys" by his predecessor. The alternative would be to compensate for his earlier silliness by slamming the movie after it is released.

Lyons seems to have chosen the latter option. "I'm the one who told you about the trailer," he admits, although with far too little embarrassment. I mean, really--who recommends a trailer? But he cannot recommend Twilight. Further attempting to redeem himself, he says "Maybe it works on the page and I'm not the intended audience. I know 15 year old girls will see it five times but I felt left out." This from the guy who disliked High School Musical 3 but could not bring himself to say "Skip it".

So, Ben now finds himself forced to disassociate himself from having the cultural level of a teenage girl. But not the kind of cool teenage girl who smokes and swears and watches Truffaut movies at the local university art-house theater--they have already abandoned At the Movies--but the kind that watches E! because it has a real "film expert" AND Keeping Up with the Kardashians (OMG! What more could you want?). You know, the kind of teenager who would get a daily verbal ass-kicking by Juno and not even realize what happened.

Twilight was fine, Ben continued, but "I don't like fine. I want great, I want to see what this book is all about." Suddenly, he veers into hyper-critical territory--fine isn't even good enough for a "Rent it". All this seemed more like redemption than movie criticism. "Hey everybody, I really didn't like Twilight! See, I am a good critic," he seems to be saying. But that would have been more convincing had he not recommended the trailer in the first place.

Or, for that matter, returned to his regular approach during the rest of the show. Responding to Mank's critical review of Special, Lyons replies, "I think you are being too harsh on this movie . . . I just though it was a cool indie film starring an actor who doesn't get a leading role that often." That is, not great but fine. So "See it!"

As for the rest . . .

On Lake City, he says that "It's good to see Dave Matthews like this". If Matthews wants to act, fine, I hope he does well. But I am not exactly banging down his door demanding that he fill the Dave Matthews void of recent years.

On Milk--which both liked--I thought the most interesting comment was from Mank, who said, "I am always trying to avoid hyperbole on this show . . ." Read: "I am always trying to distance myself from this fool sitting over here." A bit more subtle than telling Lyons to "Calm down," but we get the picture.

Finally, Mank gave his "3 to See," where a new pattern is emerging--after Mank gives his recommendations, Lyons talks about his famous friends. This time, Mank recommends Role Models, after which Lyons cannot help himself. "I love seeing Christopher Mintz-Plasse who played McLovin' in Superbad who's totally evolving in only his second role." Those of us who read Erik Childress's Criticwatch Ben Lyons Quote of the Week a few weeks ago will remember that McLovin' and Lyons are BFF and that Ben just cannot avoid gushing over his friends. So, expect Role Models to be on Lyons's "3 to See" for the foreseeable future.

Even their web site sucks

I went to the At the Movies Web site the other day and realized how crappy it is. You can see clips of recent episodes (a feature with dubious value, at this point) but other features are sorely lacking. The "blog" has not been updated since September 28--that is almost two months ago. But by far the least useful feature is the "Local Showtimes." I typed in my Oakland zip code and the page barfed back an alphabetical listing of the showtimes in every media market in California.

How do I know this? If you look at the image below (click for a larger version) you will see Oakland near the middle (although there were many other entries that I cut off from the screen shot). You will also see both Eureka and San Diego--about as far away from Oakland you can get and still be in California.

There are also two listings for San Francisco but only one for Oakland. Do I get both SF channels in Oakland? Of course I do, because virtually ALL local channels in Oakland are based in SF.

Thanks, guys. You have taken a perfectly simple feature that is well executed on the site of every national retail store and found a way to make it confusing and awkward.

Friday, November 21, 2008

"A girly version of The Lost Boys"

Richard Roeper: Critic of the undead

Robert Pattinson in 'Twilight' sure to draw legions of teen girls
by Richard Roeper

This weekend, millions of teenage girls across this great land will flock to movie theaters to swoon over the suddenly famous Robert Pattinson, who stars as a vampire with brooding good looks, a permanently tilted head and well-gelled hair in the much-anticipated "Twilight."

Much-anticipated if you're a 14-year-old girl, that is. I can't imagine any grown man, or any woman past a certain age, eagerly anticipating this movie — but given the volume of Twilight books sold by Stephenie Meyer, I guess the fan base must extend beyond the tween girl crowd.

I found "Twilight" to be a stylish, overwrought, S-L-O-W and extremely girly version of "The Lost Boys," without the two Coreys and the rocking soundtrack. It's positively dreamy, I tell ya. I'll take an episode of the raunchy, bloody and trippy "True Blood" on HBO any time.

Article continued here . . .

Oscar! Oscar! Oscar!

Not unlike Oakland: There's no hair there

It is certainly fun watching and predicting who will win an Academy Award. Unfortunately, some "film critics" see this as merely an opportunity to get a big fat blurb on a movie poster. Something like, "the Academy is going to eat this one up", or that this is an "incredible film that will surely be talked a lot about during Oscar season." Of course, I didn't make these up--I didn't have to. Ben Lyons went to the little trouble of throwing up these blurbs and Erik Childress form Criticwatch went to the even greater trouble of keeping track of them. And not only from Lyons but from MANY other critics as well. Erik read through hundreds of reviews so that you don't have to. The conclusion:

Criticwatch has been tracking these quotes since 2003 and in that time, 61 of the 79 films exposed to this sort of pre-Oscar hype have either failed to get a single nomination or get the nod specific to its Lyons-esque boasts. Studios and their advertisers are never going to ignore such buzz when selling their films, but maybe its time they start backing up that praise. Less than half of the above films we’re sent out to critic’s groups for consideration at the end of the year; a sign of no faith in their ability to garner awards attention. Even though its becoming increasingly more clear that critic organizations are steering the ship towards Oscar and not just the bloggers and prognosticators that Patrick Goldstein recently demeaned. But more on that later. As one of those prognosticators myself, a word of advice beyond calling out Ben Lyons as no more of an expert than Stephanie Meyer – remember – just because Larry King says you’ve already won, doesn’t make it so.

Oh, one more that I would add to the list:

Look for a Brangelina Oscar night. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are going to get Oscar nominations. Brad for his work in “Burn After Reading” and Angelina for “Changeling.”

Stunning insight and sounding cool at the same time--or at least trying really hard to. I bet you can't guess who said this one. I'll give you a hint: it wasn't Roger Ebert.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Stupidest documentary of the year

A penetrating view of San Francisco from a guy who has never been there before. With everybody walking around smoking pot and loitering in the parks, you wonder how anything ever gets done around here. Presumably, hippies are to blame for the rise of homelessness here, not the cutting of social services and the decline of wages. Or the skyrocketting price of real estate--San Francisco is one of the few places in the country where real estate is still a "good" investment, assuming you can afford it.

Bill O'Reilly offers these words of unwisdom--"every city has a tenderloin district, North Beach in San Francisco is that." Thanks for doing your homework, Bill. There is a neighborhood in San Francicsco that is actually called the Tenderloin.

Not that Bill cares--he called for Al Qaeda to bomb San Francisco a few years ago.

Boycott Sundance?

I certainly will not be in Park City, Utah come January, but that's just because I never have the time or the money to go anyway. But there is a real question that has been raised about whether the Sundance Film Festival should be boycotted. Why? According to an article in Variety:

The festival has been fielding calls and emails from activists calling for Sundance to pull its films from a Park City fourplex operated by Cinemark Theaters, whose CEO, Alan Stock, contributed $9,999 to the Yes on Prop. 8 campaign.
. . .
Cinemark is among the most prominent companies that have come under fire for their connection to the Yes on 8 campaign, with threats of boycotts being fueled via viral campaigns. No organized effort has yet materialized, but the threat of a boycott has inspired concern among some firms given that activists have proved especially adept at organizing, via the Internet, large-scale demonstrations across the country.

The article continues:

"I think it's also time for the Sundance Film Festival to leave Utah. And for any gay and gay-friendly producers to pull their films," wrote John Aravosis, editor of Americablog.

More fuel was added to that effort Monday when the Associated Press reported that Sundance had asked for funding help from the governor's office. But Sundance executive Sarah West denied that organizers asked for more money and insisted that the meeting had been on the books for weeks.

First off, I have absolutely no problem with Prop 8 boycotts. Some No on 8 organizers are reluctant to go this route, worried about upsetting people and being divisive. But let's not forget that one of the first victories in the Civil Rights movement was the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56. This was when Black people actually, and not figuratively, were forced to sit in the back of the bus and stood up for their dignity and human rights. Ultimately, the boycotters won.

According to the article, "[Californians Against Hate] plan[s] to launch a boycott this weekend of A1 Self-Storage because its owner, Terry Caster, and his family members gave more than $600,000 to the Yes on 8 campaign." Sounds good to me. These people have gotten rich off of our paying for their services. Having an opinion is one thing, but using that money to take away people's rights is another. I would love to give $600,000 to the No on 8 side to counter Terry Caster, but I don't exactly have that kind of cash sitting around. Instead, I would be willing (if I had anything in storage) to take it out of A1 and use my measly $30 a month (or whatever it costs) toward a less bigoted company. That seems more than fair to me. Not to mention the fact that there are actually small businesses based in San Francisco that donated to Yes on 8! These people obviously have no respect for the people that they are supposedly serving and should be run out of town.

Having said all this, I am much more ambivalent about a Sundance boycott. Not because I have anything at stake, but because the connection to Prop 8 seems much more tenuous. Of course, there is nothing wrong with applying some pressure and asking--or demanding--that they move their location. But it is not clear to me that the organizers of the festival are really to blame for anything.

The boycott is a powerful weapon. When used it can be very effective. I am certainly willing to go farther than those who don't want to boycott anybody. But we should focus our efforts against those who are really to blame.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Variety blog slams Lyons

Anne Thompson from the Thompson on Hollywood blog at slams Ben Lyons
At the Movies: Stopping the Two Bens

My Sunday night At the Movies habit is so deeply ingrained that I keep watching, even when it's a train wreck. The film discourse between the two new young hosts, Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz, is dismayingly shallow. A new website has launched devoted to getting rid of Lyons. And one of the show's co-founders, Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert, who had to leave the telecast because he lost his voice, has posted a list of dos and don'ts for would-be critics. It's not a stretch to figure out one target for this critics' primer. UPDATE: efilmcritic's Erik Childress is running a Lyons quote of the week on his CriticWatch blog.

E! Entertainment's Lyons, for one, loves running photos in his blog of himself posing at the Toronto Film fest with stars like Keira Knightley. He once came up with this sage line: "I love women in real life, but I hated 'The Women.'" And he chose as one of his picks-of-the-week--usually saved for pointing viewers at things they should not fail to miss-- the trailer for the upcoming vampire flick Twilight. The now-you-see-it-now-you-don't critics' corner, which has been disparaged in many quarters, has not yet been killed off entirely, it seems. One of its stronger participants, IFC's Matt Singer, says he has been scheduled to shoot another one.

Ratings have plummeted, by as much as 20%, depending on the demo. But the show's producer, David Plummer, denies that At the Movies ever approached former host Richard Roeper to return. For one thing, it was Roeper's choice not to renew his contract. (Roeper could not be reached for comment.) He's been working on setting up his own syndicated show. As to rumors about replacing Lyons or Mankiewicz, "that story has no merit," said Disney ABC.

Meanwhile Ebert remains a powerful print and internet presence, and has added his trademark thumbs up and down (which Disney ABC failed to retain for the show) to his blog.

That's right, I finally got around to picking up before somebody else took it from under me. There have been a few technical difficulties in getting this set up correctly, and those may continue through the day, so please be patient and just refresh your browser if the page does not show up correctly the first time. At the moment, it all seems to have worked itself out. Of course, will redirect you to You can also email me now at

While I am making changes, feel free to add a comment below if there are any other improvements to this blog you would like to see. I received an email yesterday recommending a non-Ben Lyons critic I should check out and I think I might do that. As I find the time, I might post info on more critics who are actually worth reading besides just Roger Ebert, who I am sure you are all familiar with anyway.

Medved's insipid Prop 8 distortions

The "film critic" Michael Medved has added his words of unwisdom to the discussion around Prop 8 in an article titled Insipid Prop 8 Distortions:

First, Proposition 8 “outlawed” nothing --- it “banned” nothing. The Proposition, echoing a prior decision of the voters of the state in Proposition 22 eight years ago, added 14 simple, unequivocal words to the state Constitution: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

The “previously legal same sex ceremonies” (authorized by four justices of the state supreme court in a divided decision a mere five months ago) have not been “outlawed.” Contrary to the tenor of the report, no jack-booted state troopers will come crashing down doors to bust-up the tender and loving commitment ceremonies of same sex couples. Even before the court decision, civil unions were available with identical rights to marriage, and those civil unions are still available after Proposition 8. The voters cast their ballots to eliminate confusion in the Constitution (confusion introduced by meddling jurists), not to interfere with private behavior of any kind. It’s absurd and dishonest to suggest that the proposition “outlawed” anyone’s relationship or expressions of love.

Very enlightening, except that it is not true. Prop 8 didn't clear up any "confusion introduced by meddling jurists", but took away rights guaranteed by the California Supreme Court. We now have gays and lesbians who have been married in the last few months who can maintain their marriage (according to Attorney General Jerry Brown), but others who cannot now have a new marriage. Ah yes, that's avoiding confusion.

As far as "jack-booted state troopers . . . crashing down doors", what do you think would happen if Gavin Newsom started handing out marriage licenses to gays and lesbians again? The same as happened last time--he would be ordered by the courts to stop. And if he refused, he would probably risk going to jail.

Yes, Medved, civil unions are still available. Good point: the back of the bus is nice and clean, just like the front of the bus. Separate and equal, as they used to say--in the 19th century.

Finally, this is coming from the man who said that Brokeback Mountain losing the Oscar was because, "there's a growing backlash against the relentless promotion of homosexuality." So don't be confused by his "support" of civil unions. For Medved, it is a lesser-evil in order to keep people in the closet.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

CriticWatch: At least he didn't say Goldmember

The world through the eyes of Ben Lyons

It was the stupidest thing to come out of the mouth of Ben Lyons since, well, the last stupidest thing to come out of his mouth. Somehow, I missed it. I must have been writing down something else Lyons said on At the Movies that was stupid and had to stop paying attention for a moment and I refuse to tape the show. Watching it once is more than enough for me.

Fortunately, we have Erik Childress from CriticWatch, reviewing this week's At the Movies, to pick up the slack. He describes Ben's answer to the question of what his favorite James Bond movie is. Lyons responds:

“Personally, my favorite is Goldeneye cause that’s the first one I saw in the theater. It was the first one for Pierce Brosnan. And that was also groundbreaking outside of just movies cause that’s when the first person action video game Bond franchise was launched which I wasted many hours of my childhood playing.”

Erik continues:

I’m sorry, but I thought I was watching a show called At the Movies. Since Lyons has already applied his singular video game mentality into the way he watches movies (“I just wanna see Max Payne shoot people. That’s all I want from a movie like this.”) why should we surprised that he would work in a Nintendo game into the discussion of the best Bond films during the return of the Critic’s Round-Up?

Erik also mentions the creepy old man moment when the four-man Critics RoundUp answered who each of them thought was the best Bond girl. This times, it was Mank's turn, who said he would "watch Famke Janssen eat oatmeal". Close your blinds, Famke. You might have to ask that bearded creep with the goofy voice outside your window to "calm down" himself.

In fact, Erik even recommends a drinking game based on taking a shot every time Mank tells Lyons to "calm down". That is certainly much more civilized than the alternative--drinking every time Lyons says something stupid. Even Karen Allen in Raiders of the Lost Ark would have a tough time getting through the one.

Read the entire CriticWatch - Ben Lyons Quote of the Week here.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Thumb and thumber

One of the casualties of the original At The Movies was the end of the thumb-based rating system, which was denied to the new show by the copyright holders, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel's widow . Since then, we have been stuck with a number of other options, most popularly the 4- or 5-star ratings as well as lesser known systems such as the San Francisco Chronicle's "Little Man", and even a tomato-based rating system.

Behold, the return of the thumb--not as a replacement of the stars but in addition to them on Ebert's Web site next to the list of movies in theaters and new on DVD (but not new reviews of the week). And yet, I am left dissatisfied. The great benefit of the Siskel & Ebert thumb-based rating system was its utter lack ambiguity. Of course, that is also a draw back, but it really defined what was great about the old show--two guys who were highly educated and with refined tastes breaking it down for the masses on a very basic level. We wanted their learned and insightful opinions but without any academic gushing about Foucault and Levi-Strauss and Post-Modern this and that. Do you recommend it or not? Is the thumb up or down?

This new system provides one or two thumbs, both (if there are two) pointing in the same direction. What does this mean? I'll break it down:

= 3.5 to 4 stars

= 3 stars

= 2.5 stars

= 2 stars and down

This is based on a quick look at some of the "thumbed" reviews, but unless somebody can find an example that differs from this, I think it is accurate. That means zero to 2 stars get the same rating. Of course, part of the fun at this level is discerning the difference between a 1.5 star movie and a 0.5 star movie, not to mention zero stars. That is always a shock--man, he REALLY hated, hated, hated, hated, hated that movie, he couldn't even spare a star.

First problem--by tradition, Ebert has only one thumb, not two. I remember getting annoyed with people in the past who would say "I give it two thumbs up!" You can't do that--you can only give one thumb, and the other thumb is provided by another person. If Ebert and Siskel each only get one thumb, then so do you. That is what makes it meaningful--two thumbs up means that two discerning critics liked it, not that one person really liked it. Either Siskel or Ebert could be wrong--the split vote would tell us that. But it is quite rare that they were both wrong. If you disagreed with two thumbs pointing in the same direction, then it is probably you who were mistaken.

Second problem: the star-to-thumb conversion is algorithmic. That means you can program a computer to do it. Not HAL 9000 or the WOPR with a fancy artificial intelligence system, but any fool with a Commodore 64 and a 50 page book on programming. You don't even need to calculate the conversion, just create a static list the program can use to look up the conversion. That's even less complicated than converting Fahrenheit to Celsius, a classic beginners programming problem.

Sorry to get all computer geek, but here is where this is important--this conversion was not done by a critic (read Ebert or his editor Emerson) but "calculated"--or converted--by a script on the Web server. This isn't a new review like the "Great Movies" feature--which is excellent. Some Web programmer was just told to have the page serve up thumbs in replace of stars. The reader gets no value added to the review--in fact less, since we now don't know exactly how good or bad two thumbs up or down are.

The thumbs add nothing to the review and are an unnecessary distraction for two reasons. First, for now the thumbs are difficult to read. Look up and down the list of "thumbed" movies on Ebert's page and you will see that the thumbs are so small that you really have to stop and look at what direction the thumb is pointing. Compared to stars, where more are simply better PERIOD, it requires us to do more work to figure out what it means, when all the real work was done by the critic (Ebert) when he designated the stars in the first place.

Second, I still believe that 4-stars is the best rating system, better even than 5-stars, which I get confused by because I am always trying to convert it back to the 4-star system. I know the difference between a 3, 3.5, and 4-star movie in a 4-star system. I have no idea what the difference is between a 3, 3.5, 4 and 4.5 star movie in a 5-star system. But this is probably because I have read Ebert's reviews far more extensively and have done so for far longer than I have read any other critic, so maybe it is just my problem.

So what is this all about? I suspect it is a copyright thing. Maybe Ebert had to use thumbs in order to avoid losing the copyright. More likely, it seemed like an opportunity--if only Ebert is allowed to use the thumbs, why not use them? At the moment, it seems random and poorly executed. It doesn't add anything to what is already a great site and a relatively unambiguous rating system (in spite of the problems of any numerical rating system). And I don't see them advertising " the only movie review site that uses a thumb-based rating system!"

Don't get me wrong--Ebert is still the best in my book. Always will be. It will take another critic 20 years of brilliant and prolific writing to even threaten to replace him. But this computer-generated thumb system looks like a confusing step backwards to me.

At the Movies, 11/16/08

A yapping puppy nipping at the socks of film criticism
This week's At The Movies saw the return of two features of the show. First, the Critics RoundUp, which generally seems pointless but this week brought a voice of reason to the discussion. The focus was on Quantum of Solace, and while both Lyons and Mankiewicz said "See it", Variety's Joe Leydon said "Rent it" and Matt Singer said "Skip it". Singer seemed to hit the nail on the head--the movie has an "identity crisis" and it "doesn't know if it wants to live in the real world or be an escape from it".

Too bad he was not given a longer time to explain this to the audience--instead we got another endorsement from Lyons of this movie because, "At the end of the day, this is James Bond and these movies don't come all that often, so I say See it." Again, another bad reason to recommend a movie. Imagine giving a "See it" to Attack of the Clones because Star Wars movies don't come out that often. Those of us that like our Star Wars know that we have to see it and we will, the question is can you recommend it. Ben, please don't get confused by the terminology.

The second returning feature was Mankiewicz telling Lyons to "calm down" once again. This time it was regarding Lyons's very positive review of Slumdog Millionaire. I have not yet had a chance to "See it", although for the record I also did not "Rent it" or "Skip it", I just had to put it off until next weekend. I am definitely looking forward to it because of many positive reviews, but it does not exactly help to hear the comment by Lyons regarding the show's use of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire that "The way the TV shows has a universal appeal, I think the film does, too". If I were Danny Boyle, that is not exactly the comparison I would be hoping for.

Finally, I mentioned previously that Ben seems to gush a bit over messages in movies. As I said before, I love a good message movie, especially all the political documentaries in the last few years. But Ben goes on to make comments like "Miley Cyrus [in Bolt] wants to be a normal girl and I think that is admirable for young girls to aspire to." Yes, I hear that Hannah Montana has the same desire, not sure if that makes it something "admirable for young girls to aspire to". How about becoming a scientist or a writer?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The return of the Critics Roundup

According to Joe Leydon, the Critics Roundup will return this week to At the Movies to discuss the Quantum of Solace. I am not familiar with this guy's work, but I will say that his comment on his blog shows a level of self-awareness and modesty that our young Ben could learn much from. Nonetheless, I still do not see any reason to bring back the Critics Roundup, also known as "when five critics are better than two". Ben & Ben's discussion of Quantum last week was not terribly enlightening, maybe they hope this one will clean it up. More likely, they need another reason to to talk about Quantum to improve their ratings this week.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Life of a Tortured Mediocrity

Lyons and Mankiewicz are not the only critics who do not recommend Synecdoche, New York. Far from it--this will be one of the more controversial films of the year. It currently has a 66 on both Metacritic and the Tomatometer--that is "fresh", but not by much. Holy wars will be fought over whether it is an excessive, overly long exercise in navel-gazing or a brilliant, experimental take on the life of an artist. I tend much more toward the latter.

Charlie Kauffman is not the first director to make a movie about the process of filmmaking, 8 1/2 being only the most famous example. What is different about Kaufman is that he seems like somebody who could spend his entire life writing and directing this sort of project. Of course, Synecdoche, New York is only the second film of Kaufman's in this genre after Adaptation, and this one is about somebody working in theatre and not film. Nonetheless, Kaufman loves the self-referential and the blurring of the lines between art and reality so much that we can't help but expect him working along these same lines more in the future.

Kaufman is a master of this type story and he is far from having exhausted his talents, even if it seems like he is covering the same territory as his previous films. Synecdoche succeeds in a very careful balancing act of creating a bizarre, surreal comedy on the one had and a poignant, aching drama of anxiety and failure on the other. In the hands of another writer or director this material could easily descend into an annoying mess of cinematic excess littered with clever scenes, random oddities, sound and fury. But this does not feel like a tired old retread by somebody who is remaking the same story over and over--although a fear of doing this is one of the subjects of the movie. No, this is a deeper, even more complex, look at the same themes Kaufman has looked at in the past and it succeeds brilliantly.

Philip Seymour Hoffman stars as the "Charlie Kaufman" character--a theater director named Caden Cotard living in Schenectady*, New York. Caden eventually finds that directing plays written by other people just isn't satisfying enough and winning a MacArthur Genius Grant allows him to finally make the intimate play that he always wanted to write. This rambling work written on the fly over many years--based on Caden's life--is the "synecdoche" in Synecdoche.

This is the rough outline of the story, but anybody who has seen Adaptation or Being John Malevich knows that plot highlights simply do no justice to a Charlie Kaufman movie. Like those two, the subject of this film is actually the warped mirror of reality that Kaufman shows us, and Kaufman is interested both in the new version of reality and the process of warping in itself. The casting of the play with characters based on Caden and his theater troupe, who then go on and cast another set of characters, and so on, is just one part of this twisted delusion.

As I said above, this could have easily devolved into self-absorbed excess, but the real story underlying the bizarre and unexpected is Caden's anxiety with his life and his career. He constantly thinks he is sick and dying, finding blood in his urine and stool, feeling his body slowly give up on him. His career as a director feels unsatisfying, being a big fish in a small pond directing The Death of a Salesman in a small town instead of his own work in Manhattan. But as the story progresses, the comedic anxiety develops real poignancy.

For example, Caden's wife (played by Catherine Keener) leaves him and takes their daughter with her to Germany. Caden's attempts to contact her find him encountering surreal barriers which could easily have resulted in so many "my, isn't that clever" moments. Instead, there is real anguish in these developments which, had they appeared in a "straight" film without Kaufman's breakdown of reality, would have likely played out as merely overwrought melodrama. These strange obstacles are both appropriately surreal and while at the same time portraying the real gulf between father and daughter.

Part of what Kaufman is doing here is displaying the craft of drama. For example, we later see a scene of a funeral in the play-within-a-play with all the features of a scene of Hollywood sorrow, including a priest delivering a powerful eulogy and rainfall on cue. One could take this as Kaufman showing off how he plucks our heart strings and that this is just a wink and a nod to let us know what he is doing. I think that is part of it, but I can't dismiss the real sense of anxiety in the film as just a trick being played on us. On the contrary, what we see is Caden's life being taken over by his project as he eventually becomes so numb to reality that he can only express it with the phony tools of his trade.

Years go by, people get older, the world around him descends into chaos, and Caden is no nearer the completion of his play. All he has produced is an enormous monument to his own inadequacy. Maybe, we think, he would have been happier back in Schenectady.

* It turns out that "Synecdoche" rhymes with "Schenectady" and is "a term denoting a part of something is used to refer to the whole thing".

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A jury of their peers?

AFI-FEST is a week long film festival in Los Angeles sponsored by the American Film Institute. The festival launched the world premier of Doubt and Defiance. Included on the "International Feature Competition Jury" is a fellow you may have heard of. The gushing, I must say is Lyons-esque--they must have asked each jury member to provide their own bio:

Lyons is one of the most sought after young film critics in Hollywood. At the ripe age of 26, Ben is the resident film critic and entertainment correspondent on The E! Network, co-host of Nickelodeons “My Family’s Got Guts” and is one of the new hosts of televisions most popular and respected movie review programs, “At The Movies.”

Lyons has taken over the reigns from Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper and is currently starring in the next generation of the acclaimed series “At The Movies” alongside Ben Mankiewicz. Ben’s movie reviews and celebrity interviews are seen on “E! News”, “The Daily 10”, and E! Online as well as in his signature segment and webpage called, “The Lyons Den”. In addition Ben covers film festivals, award shows, red carpet premieres, and visits movie sets with Hollywood’s biggest stars for the E! Entertainment Network.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Olbermann wants you to protest Prop 8

And Michael Medved does not. So you should probably go if you are in the Bay Area on Saturday.

FIGHT THE HATE - No to Prop 8
Saturday, Nov. 15, 10:30am
San Francisco City Hall

Medved: GOP should be less like me

Supposed "film critic" and right-wing lunatic Michael Medved wrote an essay on the losses of the Republican Party last week that seems to have ruffled some feathers among conservatives. He writes:

In other words, the undeniable facts about the recently concluded election offer a complete, consistent, and powerful rebuttal to the misguided notion that running to the right as a “true conservative” pays off more than going after moderate and independent voters. In every state of the union, no matter how bright red its hue, comparisons between McCain’s results and those of statewide Senate and gubernatorial candidates suggest that Republicans do better when they target the rich cache of votes at the center of the political spectrum . . . Appealing to the political center shouldn’t involve abandoning ideals but it may require adopting a more cooperative, pragmatic, non-ideological tone.

Good suggestion, Medved--"Don't be a right wing asshole, moderate voters hate that!" This is coming from a man who is an apologist for slavery, the genocide of Native Americans, corporate greed, and other "lies" about America.

Medved, you can lead the way. Just stop uttering nonsense and stupidity and maybe other conservatives will follow your lead.

PS If anybody has a more appropriate picture that I can use of Medved in the future, please let me know. I find it painful just looking at this smug idiot.

CriticWatch: The Quandry of Bollocks

Don't worry, I'll protect you from Ben Lyons!

Erik Childress reviews At the Movies this week starting with the new Bond movie:

Ever since the 22nd Bond picture announced its new title, people have been wondering the same thing. What the hell kind of title is that? Obviously after Portion of Alleviation and Bulk of Misfortune were rejected, they settled on a title that would one day provide Ben Lyons the opportunity to make another completely off-the-cuff, dumb-ass statement. He talks about it like it’s the treasure at the end of a rainbow.

Erik refers to Ben's comment, roughly paraphrased: "I know what the Quantum of Solace is, but I'm not going to tell you." Damn, we just got served by the all knowing Lyons. It's ok, he still doesn't know what "synecdoche" means.

On a non-Lyons note, though, I have to say that Quantum of Solace suddenly seems like a much less stupid name compared to Portion of Alleviation and Bulk of Misfortune. What happened, Sony Pictures, couldn't think of any better ideas? How about Fortress of Solitude? Oops, already taken. Or Articulation of Ineptitude? No, that would be your job, not the title of the movie.

The biggest problem, of course, is that Ian Fleming would have never named his books any of these. This seems to be a generalized problem now that all (?) of Fleming's novels have been made into movies. Tomorrow Never Dies wouldn't be bad, except that it is way too close to the Beatles great psychedelic song Tomorrow Never Knows from the Revolver album.

Man, I never get sick of those guys . . .

Erik continues:

Lyons couldn’t resist though getting in a plug for another “good friend” of his. During Mank’s recommendation for the complete series of The Sopranos on DVD, Junior pointed out that “James Gandolfini, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Edie Falco, (were) all iconic characters in the history of television.” Not Michael Imperioli or Lorraine Bracco or even Joe Pantoliano. That’s right, because when we all think of the show we’ll always remember Meadow Soprano, one of the least interesting, least substantial, uninteresting characters past the first season. Of course, she didn’t come to our birthday party either.

Oh Ben, can't you stop thinking about all your cool friends for just a second?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Mass hysteria sweeps through SF

Courtesy of /Film, a small public event starring some guy from some movie (ok, it's Robert Pattison from Twilight). They expected 300-500 people at the Stonestown Mall, next door to my alma mater SFSU, and over 3000 turned out. Teenage girls threw trash cans through windows, set police cars on fire, and chaos ensued.

/Film writes:
Apparently a few of the teenage fans were trampled, and one girl reportedly broke her nose. The event was cancelled for safety reasons. Some fans had traveled with their families from Los Angeles, Hawaii and Arizona.

I may feel compelled to go see the movie due to all the hype, but no, for my own safety and the safety of others, I will NOT see it on opening weekend.

I understood the British humor

Reviewing Happy-Go-Lucky, Ben Lyons said "Rent It," because it doesn't have any conclusion and because the British humor went over his head. I think that doesn't give the film sufficient credit--it takes a character who seems very simple and shows how she has to deal with some complex situations. Her ability to do this is interesting, revealing, and most importantly very entertaining. As far as the British humor, compared to something like The Office (UK), which does throw around a lot of British pop culture references, I thought the humor in Happy-Go-Lucky was totally accessible. Leave it to Lyons to find a (bad) excuse not to give a movie a better recommendation.

The first few minutes of Happy-Go-Lucky had me interested but skeptical. Yes, Sally Hawkins is exuberantly happy, not letting anybody get her down and even laughing off the theft of her bicycle. This is fine, I thought, but I may not be all that impressed with another feel-good story about how this strange woman is just so happy all the time. Maybe it is just a little too cute. But the film does much more than this. We ultimately see Poppy in a number of unexpected circumstances that really test her good cheer. We laugh at her goofball antics, but come to admire her resolve and toughness.

Some of the best laughs come from her interaction with an uptight driving instructor, who has a dismissive attitude toward his students and is overly protective of his car. He even has an obscure set of descriptions for every circumstance a driver might find themselves in--changing lanes, driving in a roundabout, turning on a busy street--which are far more confusing than simply saying, "check your mirrors" or "look both ways." Suffice it to say, I will never look at my rear view mirror--or the Washington Monument, for that matter--the same way again. But he assures Poppy that he is the teacher and this is the only way she is going to remember and if it doesn't work, it is all her fault. She plays along and laughs it off, which he doesn't exactly appreciate.

It also turns out that Poppy is an elementary school teacher herself--to the great chagrin of her driving instructor, who cannot imagine her teaching anybody anything--and faces some unexpected challenges with her students. Better yet, it seems that her entire clique of pub-crawling friends are teachers who need a stiff one after rough day at the office.

Initially, Poppy comes off as just a goofy ditz. But what is so gratifying is the way that she confronts and deals with the little difficulties in life--as well as a few that are quite difficult and uncomfortable--without becoming cynical or bitter. We keep thinking that at some point she will meet her match--maybe we won't see it in the movie, but she just doesn't get how screwed up the world really is.

But this is not some "happy-go-lucky" goofball without any stress in her life. Quite to the contrary, she is a thirty-year-old with a full time job and a difficult sister, who has decided that she is not going to let life's challenges bring her down. She's not the one who doesn't get it--on the contrary, it's all the people who have decided to make their lives difficult by letting the world get to them that don't get it. Poppy has figured out how to laugh off all of life's pains and annoyances while the rest of us are too busy being frustrated and holding a grudge. It turns out that goes for the driving instructor more than anybody, especially when he learns that his attitude will only get him so far.

I don't think that Poppy actually grows throughout the film. That is, this is not a coming-of-age story with a convenient moral that the hero learns--although the driving instructor certainly learns a few things from Poppy. What happens is that we have learned something--that this simple, silly character is actually a strong, intelligent, and mature woman who knows much better at how to deal with life's difficulties than we might have expected.

At the Movies, 11/9/08

All in all, a pretty dull show, I thought. Almost no disagreement, the only sign of it papered over by the "Rent it" designation which can be taken as either a recommendation or not, depending on how the critic presents it.

The show started with a review of Quantum of Solace, with Mank introducing himself as "I'm Mankiewicz, Ben Mankiewicz." Lyons made a surprisingly sour response: "The acting community is relieved knowing that you will not be acting any time soon". Maybe he should have just said, "Boy, am I an asshole or what!" because that is about the effect that it had. Even worse, this is coming from a guy who has supposedly performed small roles in The House Bunny and Superbad. No, Lyons, the acting community is NOT relieved knowing that you have been doing some "acting". Maybe you should stick with "film criticism". Or something else entirely.

The review of Quantum did not get much better. Lyons referred to the movie as having "Jackie Chan style stunts". Now, I don't know what acrobatic training Daniel Craig has been doing over the last year, but unless there is a scene of Bond kicking the ass of 8 guys with a ladder while naked and preparing a souffle, I doubt this is true. But what's worse, Ben and Ben both said "See it" but then spent the entire time talking about what a lame movie it was. "The movie is so heavy with action at the start," Lyons says, which he definitely likes, but then he says he was bored for an hour. So go out and See it!

On Soul Men, Lyons says that Bernie Mac and Samuel L. Jackson seem to be too young and hip for their parts and that they were trying for older characters like The Bucket List or Grumpier Old Men. Fair criticism, I suppose, except I have no idea why you would single out those movies as targets Soul Men failed to reach.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas got two "See Its". I saw it this weekend and can recommend it as well, but Lyons praise in particular was a bit much. "This is a movie that will most likely remain with you for the rest of your life!" he gushed, begging for his name to be put on the poster. Yes, it's a good movie, but it's no Schindler's List or Life is Beautiful, a really heartbreaking story of the Holocaust told through the innocent eyes of children. I hate to say it, because I love a good movie with a message, but Lyons just sees a "message movie" as a green light for glowing praise, even when the movie is just pretty good.

Finally, two points. It seems pretty clear that the multi-critic talking heads segment--or, "Why Settle For Two Critics When You Can Have Five"--is dead as it has been gone for three weeks in a row. As far as I can tell, this was the only real "innovation" of the show under the new critics, although it was an innovation taken from cable news where it makes even less sense than it does here. So good riddance.

Second, Ben and Ben may want to do a post-show review at some point as they may learn something about what they are saying. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, for example, in spite of all the gushing, did not create as involved or, dare I say, interesting a discussion as any of the other reviews. Mank didn't even include it in his "3 to See", although maybe he just wanted to give it a positive review without telling Lyons to "calm down" again.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Downey fire coincidence

I was going to say irony, but that would clearly be incorrect . . .

Anywyay, early last week Robert Downey, Jr.'s crotch was set on fire. Fortunately, quick thinking crotch-saver (and Sherlock co-star) Jude Law was nearby to put out the fire.

In other news, Downey Studios in Downey, CA caught fire yesterday. It turns out this is the set of the TV show Bones, appropriately enough.

No to h8

There is an argument that is quite popular among morons that says allowing gay marriage is simply a gateway to allowing marriage animals, trees, and inanimate objects. Unfortunately, a small number of people seem to have taken this a bit literally recently. On November 4, California voters decided by a slim margin to give rights to chickens and take away rights from gays and lesbians. As you can imagine, this has pissed some people off.

How did this happen? I believe that part of the reason is that there has been so much anxiety about the presidential election that a lot of people took their focus off the issue of gay marriage. Also, it seemed like the polls were a bit all over the place and it was a bit hard to tell what was really going to happen. Finally, the Catholic and even more the Mormon church turned out voters and donated money to the Prop 8 cause to help it become the most expensive proposition campaign ever. Unfortunately, even though he opposed Prop 8, Obama was not very loud about the issue and the Yes on 8 campaign even sent out mailers to African-American voters that made it sound like he supported the proposition.

Suffice it to say, a lot of people woke up with a hang-over on Wednesday. Literally, of course--as I drove home on Tuesday night through Berkeley and North Oakland, there were mobs of people outside of every bar celebrating Obama's victory. But when they woke up on Wednesday it became clear that Prop 8 had passed and gay marriage in California had ended. So much for the celebration.

The vote was so close that many people can't help but believe that we still have a fighting chance to change this. Even Schwarzenegger opposed Prop 8, suggesting that there is an opening to force our political officials or the courts (who allowed gay marriage in the first place) to do something about this.

By Thursday, people started organizing. A message went out over Facebook inviting people and it spread like wildfire. At 5:30pm on Friday night, a few hundred people gathered at UN Plaza on Market Street. We marched down to the Castro and then over to Dolores Park in the Mission, by which time there were several thousand people. It is too bad this had not happened before the election, but at least now we have a chance to fight.

Some of my favorite slogans:
- No more Mr. Nice Gay
- Do I get to vote on your marriage now?
- Even chickens have more rights than I do
- Tax the Mormons

Friday, November 7, 2008

With friends like these, who needs friends?

I just noticed this on Ebert's Movie Answer Man Q&A:

Q. I was delighted to see TCM playing several classic horror films like "Cat People," "Freaks" and "The Thing from Another World," which I DVR'd with the intention of having a night-long classic horror fest on Halloween. But on the big night, all my guests booed the idea of a black & white playlist and left shortly after. Is there something I can do to get people excited about seeing these movies or do I just need to seek out new friends for movie night?
Chris Kelley, Ill.

A. These people are not your friends. Even how you word your question indicates you will never be happy with them. No one who dislikes b&w should be allowed to view a motion picture.

Protest Prop 8 tonight in SF

Date: Friday, November 7, 2008
Time: 5:30pm - 7:00pm
Location: Market and 7th to Dolores Park
City/Town: San Francisco, CA

Is Sarah Palin the Ben Lyons of politics?

You thought this was finally her end--maybe not.

The question has already been posed in the reverse--and answered. But maybe now Sarah is following Ben's lead--taking mediocrity and a famous name and leveraging it into a television career. From The Hollywood Reporter:

Of course, even if the McCain-Palin ticket loses, the Tina Fey look-alike still has a job in politics for at least another two years as governor of Alaska. A spokesman for Palin did not return calls for comment.

But the candidate has undeniable onscreen charisma as her "SNL" performance proved last weekend. And though the Palin Express sometimes veers off the tracks -- as it did in her notorious interview with Katie Couric -- Americans enjoy celebrities as much for their contretemps as their talent.

Most industry insiders believe a talk show is the probable route for Palin. Although daytime syndication can be tough sledding, it would take a personality of her stature to break through the clutter, and her folksy red-state persona could be just the thing to connect with this female-skewing audience.

One producer/packager said he has held internal staff meetings about how to best parlay Palin's appeal and skills, with a daytime talk show the likely vehicle. "I see her less as a variety-show host like Ellen (DeGeneres) and more of a single-topic host like Tyra (Banks), or maybe what Jenny Jones used to be," said Chris Coelen, CEO of RDF USA.

Sorry, looks like the definitive answer is that Palin is the Jenny Jones of politics. I guess that is a step up--Jones may be appealing to the lowest common denominator, but its not like she was asked to host Meet the Press.

She was invited

Some are asking "How did Boa get into Ben Lyon’s party?"

Answer: She was invited.

Boa was actually asked to perform at Ben Lyon’s birthday party at Body English in Las Vegas. From the pictures below, the Boa seems to be getting friendly with the DJ…. and the DJ seems to be checking her out (in video). If she wants her music to get air time, this is a smart move….

For those not aware, BoA Kwan is the "Britney Spears of Korea", somewhat notorious in these parts for being one of many "stars" who attended the birthday bash of "film expert" Ben Lyons. I am not sure which is more sad: that Ben Lyons crew asked her to perform, or that she said yes.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Film Threat adds a rule

"Do your homework!" says Scott Mendelson at Film Threat in response to Roger Ebert's rules for critics. This is less scathing than Ebert's article, but he details how some critics make assumptions regarding how much or how little a film made:

I jumped over Dennis Harvey of Variety back in September for lazily assuming that Changing Lanes was a box office disappointment while Crash was a mega-smash (they both made about $95 million worldwide). It’s a common phenomenon, especially when dealing with alleged financial success or disaster. But don’t just make blanket statements that aren’t backed up by the facts. And don’t call a movie a critical failure when its failure was merely financial. And don’t brand a movie as a financial disaster without actually checking the numbers. This happens most often when writers want to appear snarky and cool by trashing a film or actor. It’s amazing how rarely writers make mistakes that prop up a film or filmmaker.

Could an earlier ‘Milk’ release have killed Prop 8?

In Contention asks this question. I am skeptical, but definitely excited about the movie. They write:

A large portion of the film is dedicated to the fight against Proposition 6, a 1978 ballot measure that would have cost homosexuals working as educators their jobs. Their careers were at stake 30 years ago. Yesterday, it was their right to wed — and with wicked political conniving, the proponents of Prop 8 made this year’s fight about school in the end, just like Prop 6. “They’ll teach gay marriage in schools,” ignorant imbeciles would scream. “They’ll tell my son it’s okay for a man to marry a man.” Well, “they” would be right, but that’s beside the point.
. . .
Some of the film’s most inspiring and, indeed, captivating moments come during the sequence that details the Prop 6 fight. Consistently, Harvey Milk (Sean Penn’s career-best portrayal) makes the point, to paraphrase, “We have to make them understand that they know us.” That message, I think, might have carried a lot of heft if voters had made it to the polls four weeks later.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Worse than Ben Lyons - Cell phone lady

I went to see Rachel Getting Married this weekend and I find myself agreeing with Lyons over Mankiewicz on this one. It was funny, gut wrenching, awkward, and painful, just like ordinary family life.

Unfortunately, one of Ben's followers seems to have made her way to my theater based on his recommendation. In the middle of the movie, she gets up to answer her cell phone. That would be annoying enough, but she is not sitting on the aisle and has to climb over her friend to get out of her seat, then walks up the aisle STOMP! STOMP! STOMP! STOMP! to the exit.

A couple of minutes later, she walks back in, this time sitting in the aisle seat. That's fortunate because of course her cell phone goes off again! Apparently, THIS is the call she was waiting for, the last one was just a robocall to make sure that she knew that unless you vote for Prop 8 the state is going to require kindergarten teachers to show gay pornography every day to their students. Anyway, off she goes again, STOMP! STOMP! STOMP! STOMP! All this while the Princess Diaries is sitting in an AA meeting and breaking our hearts with a tragic story that I won't spoil.

Thanks a lot, Ben Lyons. It looks like your film-going behavior is rubbing on regular people. I guess that means you are an effective film critic.

Well, how about that . . .

I was skeptical until the last minute. "Isn't Dick Cheney going to lock up all the Black people for one day in order to surpress the vote?"

Apparently, not . . .

Oh, and "Red State/Blue State" my ass! Obama won Virginia and possibly North Carlina. Now THAT is change I can believe in.

Suck on that Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ben parties with BoA

Some YouTubery of Ben Lyons birthday party featuring the "Britney Spear of Korea", which I originally found on a Korean pop blog:

A few choice comments from her disappointed fans:
- Who is Ben Lyons?
- she’s doing birthday parties for nobodies now? ugh

Medved to Maher: I hate Muslims more than you

According to, the "film critic" Michael Medved challenged Bill Maher to an anti-Muslim hate-off. It was close, but it looks like Medved won:

Some of the movie is undeniably laugh-out-loud funny, and Bill Maher does raise some provocative questions, but the film's edited in such a way that he wins every single argument. Worst of all, the movie gives radical Islam something of a free pass, suggesting that murderous extremists are no worse than sincere Christians who run a Bible theme park in Florida.

Only in Medved's delusional fantasy world are Muslims--whom Maher accuses of having a "violent" religion and all but blames them for the Holocaust--made to appear no worse than the goofy Jesus guy who believes in the the second coming of Christ. Quite to the contrary, as I wrote elsewhere, Maher thinks Christians are merely stupid but Muslims are pure evil. That's not good enough for Medved.

That's not change we can believe in . . .heheh . . . smirk . . .gurrgle . . . blech

Election Day special: John McCain - worse than Lyons? Oh yeah. Two of his creepiest moments below.

First, check out this SNL appearance from a few years ago. I am surprised it hasn't gotten more airplay during this election cycle. It is McCain at his creepiest. When I originally saw it I thought "This is so gross, isn't this guy going to run for election again?" Little did I know that he could outdo himself:

Of course, I am not sure if any of this is as creepy as Palin on SNL last night saying she would shut down NBC if she gets elected. She had a hard time making it sound like a joke.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Criticwatch non sequitor of the week

Erik Childress at Criticwatch writes on Madonna's latest movie, quoting Lyons:

“Ben and I have reviewed and discussed films from the likes of Oliver Stone, Clint Eastwood, Spike Lee and Jonathan Demme to name a few. Now I never thought I’d ever add Madonna to that list and I’m not comparing her to the great directors I just mentioned. But, after seeing her directorial debut, Filth and Wisdom, I’m confident that the Material Girl has more good material for movies ahead of her.”

Oh good lord. Having seen this Zero Star film I’m more in line with my Chicago colleague, Peter Sobczynski, who said Filth and Wisdom “may be the single most disastrous film perpetrated by a musical icon since Paul McCartney made Give My Regards to Broad Street." Counter, Junior?

Ah, yes, list a series of great directors, then add Madonna's name. "Oh, not that she belongs on the list. But there she is. Just in case you want to quote me out of context. That's Lyons, with a 'y'."

Erik then continues, this time quoting Mank:

“When I told a friend of mine I was off to see Zack and Miri Make a Porno I was asked with a significant degree of derision I might add, “OH, are you one of those Seth Rogen fans?” Well I paused and pondered a bit before saying “YES, yes I am a Seth Rogen fan. And then I saw THIS movie.”

That’s Ben Mankiewicz setting up his review for Kevin Smith’s latest. There’s no editing there. No tricks. No Obama quotes out of context. Said precisely as written and emphasized in the same way. If I could set up a survey here and ask whether you thought this statement alone was the beginning of a positive or negative review (or a “see it”/”skip it”) I would guess that 95% of you would believe “Mank” was going negative (with a 5% +/- for Palin supporters.) Except you would be wrong.

My thoughts exactly. I was utterly baffled by this comment and its relation to the rest of his review.

Joe the Bachelor

And you thought that Ben Lyons was the biggest fool on TV . . .

According to some guy who supports McCain and was at the SNL after party:

As popular as John and Cindy were at the party, the real star was Joe. Over 6 feet, tan, with rippling muscles and a beaming smile of disbelief, he was like Mr. Clean at a soap convention. As you can imagine with the embodiment of Joe Six Pack, Joe the Plummer [sic] can hold his liquor, that’s for sure. While we were downing shots of Makers Mark, Joe got buttonholed by Ben Affleck’s agent (Patrick-something from Endeavor, I think?) There was some serious talk about Joe appearing as the star on the next season of The Bachelor. Whether McCain wins or loses, believe me, Joe Wurzelbacher has already come out a winner.

Not sure what they could do with this. They could have done a "Joe Millionaire" fake-out, except that everybody already knows that he only makes $40,000 a year (even though he seems to think he makes $250K+).

Alternately, they could make him a "film expert" on At the Movies and use him as a replacement for Mankiewicz.

Then they could rename the show Dumb and Plumber.

Lyons lowlights, 11/2/08

Maybe Ben is trying to tone down some the idiotic, blurb-happy commentary he has been throwing around. Maybe, as Mank suggests, he is "calming down". In fact, this is the second week in a row that Mank has asked Lyons to "calm down" after hearing what he thought was an overly positive review (last week it was The Secret Life of Bees, this week Changeling). I couldn't imagine Siskel telling Ebert (or vice-versa) to "calm down", at least not without a serious smack-down thrown back in return (Siskel: "This coming from the guy who liked Cop-and-a-half?!")

(check it around the 3:45 mark)

Damn, that's some good TV--two real guys with strong opinions, a good friendship, and a grudge. That intro with the theme song makes me sad . . .

Anyway, one comment which Ben seemed to catch mid-idiot--or "midiot", if you will--is this comment about Rocknrolla:

Nobody does gangster films better than Guy Ritchie . . . British gangster films, anyway.

Now, maybe I haven't seen enough "British gangster films" lately, but I don't know anybody who would start a sentence like that unless they are dying to be loved by the film industry.

On the horror movie Splinter, which Mank recommended, Lyons says:

I like it, too. I just don't have the stomach for horror movies.

What?! "It's good, but I am not a fan of the genre . . ." Don't get me wrong, I don't think a critic should give a positive review to a movie they don't like, which Ben has done before. But to not recommend a movie because you discount an entire genre--and then say it was a pretty good movie anyway--just boggles the mind. Good thing there aren't too many Shakespeare movies out these days. "I'm not crazy about this old stuff. I want some violence, I want some chase scenes. I just didn't get all the British humor."

Finally, on Passenger, he says:

You just find yourself looking at your watch thinking, man, I got to get out of here.

Apparently, he left his cell phone at home during that screening.