Monday, August 31, 2009

Criticwatch: Giving credit where credit is due

So here we are. The end of the Ben Lyons Quote of the Week in spinoff form. Criticwatch will always have an eye out when he crosses our field of vision, but no longer will he have a major network venue to inch film criticism closer to the world of Idiocracy. It’s a glorious time. Proof that the written word can make a difference after all the talk from the powers that be and Mankiewicz who said, “this is a TV show and the notion that only people who qualify to talk about film criticism are people who have written for a newspaper seems silly." Disney never wanted to cop to sagging ratings on the show, so maybe the constant criticism by this column and Scott Johnson over at really did have a hand in the change.

That is Erik Childress from Criticwatch giving his final Ben Lyons Quote of the Week. He continues with a top ten list of Ben Lyons' worst quotes of the past year:

10. "And it seems like this is going to be the one film we’re gonna see of this franchise. It wasn’t like Zack Snyder was trying to setup the sequel. I really appreciate that.”

9. “I like Splinter too, I just don’t have the stomach for horror movies. Life is too short. I have to say rent it.”

8. “If someone said to you and told you this was the same directing team that did No Country for Old Men, I wouldn’t believe you unless you said it was the Coen Bros.”

7. “It helps me improve my movie knowledge, and it's a lot of fun to play either alone or with some of the homies when they come over.”

6. “It’s really important to tell people to go out and see W. so they can talk about it and have an opinion about it and this freedom of speech of course that allows us to go and talk about a film about a current sitting president.”

That's five, you can click here to read the rest.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Back to bad habits

Ben Lyons certainly did not excel in his role as a "serious film critic" during his tenure on At the Movies, but he seemed to realize that some of his more ridiculous hyperbole needed to be toned down--or at least heard the voices of reason telling him to do so. That did not stop him from making all sorts of gaffes, but at least he did not once again call some silly action movie the greatest film ever (more on that below) and backed off his early Twilight hype.

But since getting canned, he has fallen right back into his old habits, and it will doubtless be only a short time before he returns to being the complete fool he was before he was hired by ABC/Disney. Granted, this move already started before the ink was dry on A.O. Scott's contract, as witnessed in the interview below Lyons did with the stars of New Moon--that would be the second film in the Twilight series for those of you over 13 years old:

Unless I missed it, Lyons does not call the original Twilight a "really great film," or the next one "highly anticipated," but for somebody who gushed all over the series, then was forced to backtrack and call it the tenth worst film of the year (it was lame, but it wasn't that bad--The Spirit and The Day the Earth Stood Still didn't even make his ten worst list) this just seems to confirm what we all thought--he really loved Twilight but embarrassed himself by gushing all over it while pretending to be a serious film critic.

This interview was done while he was still presumably working for At the Movies. Since he was fired, Lyons wrote this on his Twitter page on August 17:

@wilcassettes sadly back in LaLa land. quick trip for a cameo in a @iamqueenlatifah movie with @thefatjew. Crazy!! 10 year reunion coming up

That's right, we're not going to have just The House Bunny to kick around anymore but some other movie as well.

But now, we get a full defense from Ben Lyons of some of his past behavior, specifically his claim that I Am Legend is "one of the greatest movies ever made." A reader of this blog left a link to an interview Ben did where this came up--I kept meaning to listen to it but the one hour running time kept making me think that I must have something better to do with my life. Fortunately, Erik Childress from Criticwatch took one for the team and summed it up for us. You can read his entire article here, but I'll give you a few highlights. First, on being asked whether he really believes this statement about the movie, Ben says:

Lyons: Yes, I do. OK, listen I’m going to explain it to you. This is a film that I saw and it blew my head to bits and I grew up in New York and it looked unlike anything I had seen before and I grew up on Will Smith. I think it’s an emotional movie, it’s funny, it made 700 million dollars around the world and inspired a prequel so there’s obviously a connection that people have made to the story. There are certain movies that just speak to you and that’s a film that I connected with and I won’t (inaudible) hide my opinion when that’s what I’m being paid to do. I love that film. That film is awesome. Every time I watch that film I notice new stuff in it.

Erik responds:

Is there anything sadder than a so-called professional film critic who grew up on Will Smith? Actually yes. It’s one that needs to justify their own feelings about a film by inciting the rule of the almighty public dollar. See, look at all the money the movie made so clearly I’m in the right. There is no quicker moment that you can call bullshit on any critic or moviegoer who jumps to that well to defend their opinion. Even Ben Lyons himself, I suspect, would scrunch his face at someone who said Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is good because it’s the highest grossing film of the year. But there he is whipping out figures to back up his opinion. It didn’t inspire a prequel (still in the planning stages) because of some fantastical, emotional connection to the story. It’s BECAUSE it made 700 MILLION DOLLARS worldwide. Chicken and the egg maybe since it can only make money if people go see it and recommend it. But how many crappy movies have made a dime at the box office? Even Wild Wild West made over $110 million. The best of Lyons’ defense though was yet to come.

It might be fun to watch Lyons try to regain the fan base that he lost by slamming Twilight but life may be just too short to devote too much time to that either.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Criticwatch: Hyping till the end

Just as Ben Lyons is about to go off the air, I find myself on vacation in smoky Santa Cruz, CA, and I have not yet been able to watch this weekend's episode of At the Movies. So I'll hand it over to Erik Childress from Criticwatch to sum things up with his Ben Lyons Quote of the Week:

Lyons: And until next week, as always, we’ll be At The Movies.

Erik then continues:

There is something perfectly poetic if those are the final words we ever hear from Ben Lyons on this show. Hyping something that cannot possibly be, said before all the facts are in. As of the Aug. 15 airing we are now officially in the two-week period before the new season of At The Movies begins with Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott. Traditionally a period where Siskel & Ebert took a couple of weeks off and either ran reruns or taped a special recap show to air, could the same be true of the now defunct coupling of Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz? My Tivo, too dumb to recognize reruns of The Daily Show but smart enough to notice an At The Movies repeat when it sees it, is showing just that. The Aug. 22/23 airing is slated to be a rerun of their Aug. 7 show. You know – the one where they had twice promised a G.I. Joe review only to be shunned from the screenings like the rest of us. If this stands that only leaves Aug. 29. Will it be a repeat, a special show, or have we indeed seen the last of Ben Lyons under the title first made famous by Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel? If it is, Junior gave us quite a sendoff, delivering his own brand of a greatest hits package reminding us why no one has anything positive to say about his tenure.

Click here to read the entire review

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Criticwatch: One season wonder

Erik Childress from Criticwatch gives us the Ben Lyons Quote of the Week:

Lyons: This is a true story so if she is a little whiny that is the character she's embodying.

Erik then continues:

Basically what you're saying then, Ben, in your review of Julie & Julia is that because the film portrays the real-life Julie Powell as she is we should just accept that person, flaws and all, since it remains true to them - no matter how self-centered, dim, or flaccid they come off when trying to relay their thoughts on a subject. Awwww, has someone been hard on Ben lately?

Not precisely sure when the big news came to Ben Lyons, but the public became aware on August 5 that he and co-host Ben Mankiewicz were being replaced on At the Movies. After just under a year on the air, Lyons and Mank officially aligned themselves with the Jean Doumanian season of Saturday Night Live. One and done. Cut short. After the PR tour during Oscar season to counteract all the bad publicity the show had got, the Associated Press article they finally opened to, the spin that the ratings were not on the downswing, attempts to localize them as Chicago celebrities and rumors that it would be cheaper to keep them on for another year to fulfill syndication contracts than to dump them, the Bens will be no more on the show come September. Replacing them will be hometown boy, Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune, and New York's A.O. Scott who will be flown in every couple of weeks to tape a pair of shows. Funny that the reason Scott was initially taken off the guest host roster is because producers didn't want to have to fly him every week. No, they chose instead to fly in Ben Lyons every week. Well now they can fly him out.

Click here to read the entire article

Monday, August 10, 2009

At the Movies: Ben & Ben

Julie & Julia: A movie about a more experienced and knowledgable--if less attractive--chef and a younger, better looking newcomer who is utterly incompetent. Now that sounds so familiar . . .Just because Ben Lyons has been fired, that doesn't mean we won't have him to kick around for a few more weeks. Phillips and Roeper continued several weeks after their replacements were announced and we can expect the same this time around.

But wouldn't it be terribly ironic if just as his tenure was coming to the end, Ben Lyons delivered an intelligent, subtle, thoughtful commentary about a film, that enlightened us as to how the film works, displayed a deep grasp of film history and theory, and dazzled us with a poetic display of criticism that redeemed all of his past transgressions? Yes, that would be terribly ironic, but it hasn't happened yet. Don't keep your fingers crossed.

This episode was filmed on August 4--the day before the firing was announced--as Lyons mentions on his Twitter page. The shows are filmed two shows at a time, so it will not be for another two weeks before we see Lyons' sad, post-firing face on the show. In the meantime, we get these nuggets of un-knowledge.

On Julie & Julia:

Lyons: First off, I think we are both keen observers of the obvious when we say that Meryl Streep is terrific.

I hate to say it, but that just might be a bit of an overstatement. Forget I Am Legend for a moment. I know it's hard, but just try. Now, let's take Ben's critique of the G.I. Joe movie. First, his positive reaction on Twitter:

Just saw the new G.I. Joe trailer on ABC during the Mavs vs. Nuggets game...WOW! That ish looks crraaaaaaaaaazy...Go Joe! Look forward to it

I don't know who in their right mind would have that reaction to the trailer--much less the ridiculous thought of even having a G.I. Joe. But Ben later backtracks and says that he does not have high hopes for the movie because it does not have the "heart-and-soul of G.I. Joe."(Devin Faraci, the critic sitting next to Lyons in the interview--who later went on to give the movie a positive review--commented that he did not realize G.I. Joe had a heart-and-soul)

Now, those are two contradictory opinions on the same movie which he has not seen, and yet I think both of these are evidence that Ben Lyons is not a "keen observer of the obvious."

But speaking of stupid comments with the word "soul" in them, let's try Lyons' comment on the movie Cold Souls, taking on Mank's defense of the concept of the movie:

Lyons: I agree with you, a terrific premise, but I'm not so sure about the execution of the film. When you have a film that's dealing about people's souls and trading souls, the movie's got to have a soul. It's gotta have some heart and some compassion behind the lens.

Oh dear, you didn't really go there, did you? He even has a bit of a smirk on his face--slightly concealed by the director's generous cutting to a side view of both critics away from a close-up of Lyons--which seems to express how self-satisfied he is with such a clever turn of phrase. This side shot also shows Mank in his standard, steely-eyed stare across the aisle that seems to say "shut up you idiot before I smack the hell out of you!"

Friday, August 7, 2009

Malicious attacks from behind a computer screen

I did not write this and no, it is not real (other than the part about the Bens getting fired) but it is pretty funny

Lyons And Mankiewicz Fired From At The Movies
5 August 2009 (

Disney and AMC Media Productions today announced the firing of Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz from the movie review show At The Movies. The show, a descendant of the popular Siskel And Ebert At The Movies show from the eighties and nineties, suffered poor ratings and the scorn of thinking people everywhere due to the complete vapidity of its hosts.

Of the firing, maligned host Lyons managed to maintain a typically enthusiastic outlook. “This firing is the best thing that ever happened to television, movies, or entertainment media in general!!!” said the deposed host with his trademark big toothy grin.

Lyons’ co-host on At The Movies, Ben Makiewicz, greeted the news with relieved exhaustion. “If I had to sit across from that fucking dumbshit for one more week, I swear to God I was planning on detonating a tactical nuke,” raved Makiewicz. He added: “I’ve actually heard K-Mart mannequins give more insightful film criticism than that grinning asshole.”

A spokesperson for Disney said that the move was inevitable given the rapid decline in ratings. “We tried everything in an effort to make this show work. We tried teleprompters, sock puppets, and casual Fridays. We even attempted to replace him with a CGI version of Ben Lyons giving marginally decent reviews. In the end, we realized that the guy simply knows nothing about film whatsoever,” said Janine Freese of AMC. “In response to this catastrophe, we have also fired our entire development team. They should have known that Lyons was a wet hamburger during the first interview.”

The response from show founder Roger Ebert, still recovering from salivary cancer, was predictably effusive. When asked for a comment, Ebert replied, “FFfffflllluccgkkking rllrlrright!”

Makiewicz said that, with his new freedom, he intends to review films that contain no CGI effects whatsoever in an attempt to “clear his palette.” As for his counterpart, Makiewicz offers this advice: “Rot in hell, you stupid fucking retard.”

As for the unpopular Lyons, he says that the unexpected sabbatical will do some good. “The most popular aspect of my career was being pushed aside by this reviewing thing,” said Lyons with a smile. “Now I can get back to doing what fans expect of me, namely, posing for photographs with the marginally famous.”

No word yet on whether he knows how to spell the word “film”.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

This should be awkward

Heads up L.A.--this is coming at you tomorrow. Talk about bad timing . . .

5th Annual HollyShorts film festival opening night celebration at DGA theatre hosted by E! Entertainment Television personality and co-host of the nationally syndicated, “At the Movies” Ben Lyons

July 28, 2009 Hollywood, CA—Ben Lyons, E! Entertainment Television personality and co-host of the nationally syndicated, “At the Movies,” will host the 5th annual HollyShorts Film Festival (HSFF) opening night celebration, which takes place on Thursday, August 6, 2009 at the DGA Theatre in Hollywood. NBC’s “Open House” and “1st Look” correspondent, Viviana Vigil, will be the special guest presenter. The announcement was made today by Daniel Sol, Festival Director, HollyShorts Film Festival.

“We are delighted to have Ben Lyons, one of the sharpest correspondents in the industry today hosting the HollyShorts Opening Night Celebration and can’t wait to gather the top and fastest rising talent in Hollywood all under one roof,” said festival organizers Theo Dumont and Daniel Sol.

Ben Lyons is one of the most sought after television personalities in Hollywood. At the age of 27, Ben is the resident film critic and an entertainment correspondent on E! Entertainment Television, co-host of Nickelodeon’s “My Family’s Got Guts” and co- host of televisions most popular and respected movie program, “At the Movies.” Ben is also a regular correspondent for ABC’s Good Morning America.

“It is a great honor to be involved with the HollyShorts Film Festival this summer. I have always respected and admired short films and find that they are a great way to get familiar with the next generation of talented filmmakers,” said Lyons.

. . .

BREAKING NEWS: Ben Lyons fired!

Seriously, I am not making this up

Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips, N.Y. Times' A.O. Scott take over 'At the Movies'; Ben Lyons, Ben Mankiewicz out

by Phil Rosenthal, Chicao Tribune (Tower Ticker blog)

A year after its extreme makeover of "At the Movies" went over like "Land of the Lost," Disney's ABC Media Productions said Wednesday it is overhauling the Chicago-based syndicated TV program yet again in hopes of reconnecting with its respected past.

Gone are Ben Lyons of E! Entertainment Television and Ben Mankiewicz of Turner Classic Movies, the cable hosts Disney chose last summer to front what it called "the next generation of the series," in favor of a return to dueling newspaper film critics, Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune and A.O. Scott of the New York Times.

Both Phillips and Scott filled in for Pulitzer Prize winner Roger Ebert opposite fellow Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper in the earlier incarnation of the program, which traces its roots to Chicago public broadcaster WTTW-Ch. 11 in 1975, when Ebert was first paired on-air with Gene Siskel, the late Chicago Tribune reviewer.

The new pair will make its debut when the series begins its new season Sept. 5 on ABC-owned WLS-Ch. 7, where the show is produced for syndication by Disney-ABC Domestic Televison.

“We are thrilled that A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips will be lending their well-respected and influential voices to At the Movies,” Brian Frons, who oversees ABC Media Productions as president of daytime for the Disney-ABC Television Group, said in a statement. “They are regarded by millions of people as authorities in film criticism and will take the series back to its roots of one-on-one film debate that was established when the show first began with Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel.”

Ebert and Roeper split with Disney last summer as their old show underwent several changes. Some such as a new theme song and set were minor. Others, such as the hiring of Lyons and Mankiewicz and including the input of other critics, were major. Very little of it seemed to gain a foothold, particularly with those who had been drawn to the original show.

Siskel and Ebert and later Roeper and his counterparts engaged viewers by talking about films -- both big and small, domestic and international -- in a sophisticated way that allowed them to share both their obvious love of movies as well as for spirited, well-considered debate.

Mankiewicz would escape much of the criticism directed at the revamped "At the Movies," most of which targeted Lyons, whose inability to articulate his opinions undercut his cinematic knowledge and critical skills.

Too often Lyons sounded as though he were dictating a blurb for an ad, rather than giving serious counsel as to whether a consumer should buy a ticket, rent a DVD or skip a film altogether.

“We tried something new last season and we think the world of Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz," Frons said. "They did everything we asked of them and they have been complete professionals. However, we’ve decided to return the show to its original essence – two traditional film critics discussing current motion picture and DVD releases. We thank them for their hard work and dedication this past year and wish them nothing but the best on all of their future endeavors.”

Phillips has been the Chicago Tribune's film critic since 2006. He has written for about entertainment and the arts for the Los Angeles Times, San Diego Union-Tribune, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Dallas Times-Herald and the Twin Cities weekly City Pages, and also covered movies for Minnesota Public Radio, WGN-AM and MSNBC.

"I can't wait to mix it up with Tony, who's one of the sharpest critical voices in the nation," Phillips said. "To co-host a show with such an extraordinary legacy is a privilege and an opportunity. I know we're both humbled by that legacy, and we're eager to get people thinking--really thinking--about movies and to guide cinema lovers in the right direction. And perhaps some unexpected directions."

Scott has been a film critic at the New York Times for nearly 10 years and been a frequent guest on PBS' "Charlie Rose," NPR’s "Talk of the Nation" and other radio and television programs. Before joining the Times, Scott was the Sunday book critic at Newsday and a freelance contributor to dozens of publications, including the New Yorker, Wall Street Journal and The New York Review of Books and Slate.

“I’m overjoyed and honored to be joining 'At the Movies,' and especially excited to be working with my colleague Michael Phillips, one of the most intelligent and wittiest critics around,” Scott said in the announcement. “This show, with its long history and rich tradition, stands for the idea that there is a place on television for vigorous argument and independent thinking about movies.”

Phillips, 48, and Scott, 43, have the respect of readers and their peers, but whether the new team enjoys the same kind of chemistry that Ebert shared with Roeper and can engage in the show's old brand of lively give-and-take will be among the challenges in regaining the show's standing.

"I have the highest regard for both Michael Phillips and Tony Scott," Ebert said by e-mail.

Siskel and Ebert were anything but polished themselves when they made their WTTW debut, but that may have been part of their charm. The pair went national on public TV in 1978, moved to commercial syndication with Chicago Tribune parent Tribune Co. in 1982 and then to Disney in 1986. Siskel died in 1999 and Roeper was named his successor the following year.

Ebert had to leave the program in 2006 because of health issues that have robbed him of his voice, but his name and imprimatur remained with the program until the split with Disney last summer.

A sign of trouble had surfaced a few months earlier as the show dropped its use of "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" as shorthand for a recommendation or rejection of a film. Ebert and Siskel's estate owned the trademark on the thumbs.

"At the Movies" will continue to employ the “see it,” “skip it,” or “rent it” ratings system it adopted at that time.

“I loved working on this show, every moment of it,” Mankiewicz said through Disney. “It was an honor to continue a broadcast legacy not merely started by Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, but created by them. No doubt the show is in good hands."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Criticwatch: Party pooper

Erik Childress sums up this weeks episode of At the Movies, starting with Ben Lyons' dismissal of Thirst:

This week’s show was a happy affair. 9 out of 10 “see it”’s and certainly some great movies to boot (Funny People, In The Loop, World’s Greatest Dad). Lyons turned out to be the party pooper this week, delivering the one “skip it” on the final film they reviewed, Park Chan-Wook’s Thirst. In fairness, I would have pooped on the perfect show too. According to the show’s review aesthetic, I would have gone with “rent it”, but I am certain that I could back it up better and maybe bring something to the discussion about why I thought it ultimately failed as a film rather than an experience. After all, we know how Lyons feels about horror fare.

Looking over his Quote of the Week you might think he’s still reviewing Orphan from last week. Thirst is an entirely different beast though. Anyone familiar with Park’s previous work, particularly his Vengeance trilogy (Old Boy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Lady Vengeance), knows he possesses a rather dark sense of humor amidst the violence. Some critics have even gone so far as to call it a black comedy. Suggesting Thirst is unintentionally funny is so off the mark it boggles the mind, although Lyons tries to cover himself by wondering if some of the jokes were lost in translation. Yeah, that Korean vampire humor always goes right over my head too. It might be hard to label it in the video stores as anything but horror, but any student of even a decade’s worth of film is aware that there are various subsets of the genre and not all of them require giant scares. Never during Thirst was I thinking “hey, I’m not scared at all here.” Park was chasing something more than just making us jump in our seats and if that’s all Lyons was focusing on, maybe that’s why he was so bored.

Click here to read the rest of the story

Monday, August 3, 2009

At the Movies: Forgetting Ben Lyons

We got a fairly uneventful episode of At the Movies this week, but next week's episode promises the review of the highly unanticipated G.I Joe movie. Recent evidence suggests that Ben will play it safe and pan the movie, but it might be fun to see what sort of mental gymnastics he might pull to defend it.

Summing up his review of In the Loop, Lyons says:

Lyons: Stay in the loop on good movies this summer and "See" In the Loop.

Oh, please don't. One Gene Shalit is at least one too many.

At the end of the show, the Bens gives their DVD picks inspired by the newly released Funny People:

Lyons: The Cable Guy is a bizarre and twisted character driven comedy that still remains one of Apatow's best.

Now, I liked The Cable Guy, but it was produced by Apatow, who neither wrote nor directed. It doesn't even feature the standard Apatow ensemble--like Apatow-produced films such as Superbad or Forgetting Sarah Marshall. It's really a Ben Stiller/Jim Carrey movie. And it's not as good as any of the "real" Apatow movies, which are just as--or perhaps more--crude but also more grown-up and intelligent.

If he really wanted a blast from the Apatow-ian past, he might have recommended something a bit more obscure like the DVD for Freaks and Geeks or Undeclared. This pick just seems a bit poorly thought through, which leads to the somewhat hyperbolic "one of Apatow's best" comments.