Our 10 favorite reviews from Siskel, Ebert, Roeper, and “At the Movies”


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After more than 35 years on the air and hundreds of episodes, “At the Movies” — formerly “Ebert & Roeper,” formerly “Roger Ebert & The Movies,” formerly “Siskel & Ebert,” formerly “At the Movies” again, formerly “Sneak Previews” — shot its final episode earlier this week for broadcast this weekend. In humble admiration for decades of outstanding work, we present our ten favorite reviews from the history of the show in no particular order.

“Cop and a Half” (1993)

Possibly one of the most infamous reviews of the Siskel & Ebert era, “Cop and a Half” was one of those delightful cases where the two not only profoundly disagreed about a film, but did so by speaking about it with far more intelligence and sincerity than its filmmakers ever likely intended. A lesser critic than Ebert would’ve been undermined by the images of precocious Norman D. Golden II firing a water pistol at Burt Reynolds’ crotch flashing across the screen for this comedy about a kid joining the police force, but by the time Ebert surmises, “‘Cop and a Half’ is not any kind of masterpiece, but it’s not dumb and it’s not boring either,” one is more willing to suspend their disbelief.

However, not Siskel, who waits patiently until Ebert finishes to deliver a perfectly contemptuous “Wow, where’s your big red suit and beard, Santa?” Ebert wrote years later that Siskel never could get over the review, saying “One day the mail brought an autographed photo of Norman D. Golden II, the eight-year-old co-star of “Cop and a Half,” thanking me for helping his career. I thought that was nice of the kid, until I recognized something familiar about his handwriting.” (Ebert would get Siskel back in 1996 when he convinced Siskel to “twist his thumb” for the only time when Siskel rescinded his endorsement of “Broken Arrow.”) [SS]


“Hoop Dreams” (1994)

When you cover the Sundance Film Festival for television, your mandate goes something like this: stars, stars, stars. Stars bring in advertising dollars, stars headline the majority of the movies that find national distribution, and thus stars have the most relevance to a national audience. Highlighting a three-hour documentary with no name talent before it had even premiered at Sundance breaks every rule in the entertainment news book, which is why this very early review of Steve James’ “Hoop Dreams” shows Siskel and Ebert at their advocate best. They were confident that “Hoop Dreams” was one of the best documentaries either of them had ever seen, and that was all that mattered. These men took their jobs as tastemakers very seriously, and when they felt strongly about a movie they didn’t hesitate to say so. [MS]

“Kingpin” (1996)

Siskel and Ebert’s early advocacy of “Do the Right Thing” and “Hoop Dreams,” and later with Ebert’s later efforts on behalf of films like “Monster,” proved invaluable to their success, but they didn’t limit themselves to championing “important” films. The Farrelly brothers found no bigger backers during the early part of their career than the “At the Movies” duo, who could barely contain their giddiness during a review of “Kingpin.”

Although their professionalism prevented them from being completely reduced to trading punchlines like a couple of awestruck teenagers who had seen their favorite comedy for the 25th time, Siskel and Ebert come perilously close, with Siskel speaking directly in camera to the Farrellys to “thank them personally” for making him laugh so hard. “Kingpin,” ultimately, wasn’t a hit at the box office, but Siskel and Ebert’s embrace of the film not only turned it into a cult hit, but has been said to have influenced the Farrellys to push the boundaries of taste even further with their next film, “There’s Something About Mary.” [SS]

Watch the review

“Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood” (1996)

As demonstrated by “Kingpin,” Siskel and Ebert didn’t just take “important” movies seriously; literally any film could provide them the jumping off point for a serious discussion. This terrific review of a not-so-terrific Wayans Bros. movie addresses issues of race, stereotyping, and guilt and explores the very nature of comedy and satire in cinema, all in just four minutes. Also admirable is the fact that Ebert’s honest enough here to admit that he’s unsure how he feels about the film. In the world of television, where authority on a subject is based less on actual knowledge than the appearance of confidence in one’s own intellectual certitude, that’s not easy to do. [MS]

Watch the review

“Frozen Assets” (1992)

However, there were some things Siskel and Ebert could be sure of. Siskel would admit four years later to walking out of “Black Sheep” after he could no longer stand the sight of Chris Farley, but yet he stayed for the entirety of what he and Ebert agreed was “the worst comedy ever made.” Or at least that was before Siskel feared the filmmakers might actually use that line for marketing purposes and amended it to “the second worst comedy ever made,” setting off one of the show’s funniest discussions ever about what kind of reparations could be made in the afterlife to atone for such a film — Ebert suggests “months and months and months in a beautiful valley, with honey, and nectar, and zephyr-like breezes.” The Corbin Bernsen-Shelley Long sperm bank comedy was never released to DVD, and I’d like to think this review is why. [SS]

Jackie That 70s Show

Jackie Oh!

15 That ’70s Show Quotes to Help You Unleash Your Inner Jackie

Catch That '70s Show Mondays and Tuesdays from 6-10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Carsey-Werner Company

When life gets you down, just ask yourself: what would Jackie do? (But don’t ask her, because she doesn’t care about your stupid problems.) Before you catch That ’70s Show on IFC, take a look at some quotes that will help you be the best Jackie you can be.

15. She knows her strengths.

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14. She doesn’t let a little thing like emotions get in the way.

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13. She’s her own best friend.

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12. She has big plans for her future.

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11. She keeps her ego in check.

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10. She can really put things in perspective.

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9. She’s a lover…

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8. But she knows not to just throw her love around.

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7. She’s proud of her accomplishments.

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6. She knows her place in the world.

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5. She asks herself the hard questions.

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4. She takes care of herself.

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3. She’s deep.

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2. She’s a problem solver.

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1. And she’s always modest.

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The Guilt-Inducing Ghost Wife Haunts the Movies

The Guilt-Inducing Ghost Wife Haunts the Movies (photo)

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The AV Club‘s Nathan Rabin coined the term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” to describe characters like the one played by Kirsten Dunst in “Elizabethtown,” ebullient, impulsive types who’ve apparently waited all their lives to meet and instantly imprint on subdued male protagonists.

I’d propose there’s a counterpart to the MPDG, though I don’t have nearly as catchy a name. That would be the guilt-inducing ghost wife, filmed in ethereal late afternoon light, fragile, frequently desexualized, a specter of memory and failure haunting our tortured, widowed heroes — why couldn’t I save her — in visions, flashbacks or more fantastical set-ups.

Idealized and resented, ghost wives are both saint and tormentor, instrumental to the plot, spurring our mourning hero on to seek revenge, redemption or resolution. Like the MPDG, there’s a distinct subjective quality to their characterization — they’re along for the ride, but they don’t get to tell the story. Unlike the MPDG, being dead, the best they can hope for is to be banished or joined in the afterlife.

Here are six examples from the last decade. Spoilers follow for “Inception,” “Shutter Island” and other films on this list.

07202010_inception_mal.jpg“Inception” (2010)
Directed by Christopher Nolan

To call Mal, played by Marion Cotillard, the main antagonist in “Inception” is skirt the fact that she only exists in the mind of Leonardo DiCaprio’s master dream thief Cobb, who is actually his own worse enemy. Cobb’s tormented by the loss of his wife, whose death he believes he’s responsible for, though at first we don’t understand why. And so his guilt congeals in the form of a ghost in the machine, with Mal bursting into Cobb’s carefully planned extractions to gum up the works.

The press notes describe the evening dress-clad Mal as a femme fatale (her name even means “bad” in French), but that implies she has agency and an agenda of her own, instead of being an acknowledged pale shadow of someone long gone, an especially fleshed-out projection. Even as an apparition, she’s only half adversary — the other side manifests as a prisoner of Cobb’s regrets, trapped in the basement of his subconscious, where he can visit and brood until forced to choose between her (and death) and moving on (and life, or at least a choice that represents it). For all of her initial mystery, Mal turns out to be mainly a figure of pop psychology.

07202010_shutterisland_delores.jpg“Shutter Island” (2010)
Directed by Martin Scorsese

Mourning a late spouse has become a new specialty of Leo’s — in Scorsese’s most recent film, he plays US Marshal Teddy Daniels, whose investigation into the vanishing of a patient from an isolated hospital for the criminally insane is hampered by visions of his departed wife Dolores (Michelle Williams), who despite having died in a fire appears suspiciously damp in these hallucinations. Dolores highlights another not uncommon aspect of the ghost wife, which is that their supernal air can disguise considerable personality complications or flat-out craziness.

There’s no doubt that there’s a trauma at the heart of “Shutter Island” — all of the imagery, even the flashbacks to the Holocaust, are just shadows cast by it. But given how wracked with guilt Teddy is, isn’t the ultimate reveal of what set everything in motion is a little… anticlimactic? That was Dachau back there as some sort of metaphor, wasn’t it? His shouldering the culpability for what occurred carries a whiff of melodramatic martyrdom or even condescension. Ultimately, Dolores, like Mal, is a broken doll, who required protection from herself.

07202010_solaris_rheya.jpg“Solaris” (2002)
Directed by Steven Soderbergh

More so than the Tarkovsky version, Soderbergh’s take on Stanisław Lem’s story puts the relationship between its central psychologist (played here by George Clooney) and his late wife (Natascha McElhone) ahead of everything else. The alien ocean planet of the title seems, like the subconscious panoramas of “Inception” and the visions of “Shutter Island,” to be at heart an in-between place where memory can be made flesh — “we don’t want other worlds, we want mirrors,” as Kelvin’s friend Gibarian puts it in a posthumous video message.

Literal flesh, in this case — Rheya, who committed suicide years ago, appears like a dream to Kelvin in his sleep, after he arrives at the space station to investigate what’s apparently driven everyone stationed there mad. Unlike a dream, though, she’s still there when he awakes, a being created by alien forces from Kelvin’s memories of the woman he lost. And, because she’s just (and only) as Kelvin remembers, she’s desperately in love with and in need of him and just as desperately unstable and unhappy. He finds himself trying to atone for his abandonment of her the first time around just as she finds out what happened to her early incarnations and prepares to let the past repeat itself.


Put Julia Roberts On Hold: Seven Big-Name Movies That Have Yet to Reach Theaters or DVD

Put Julia Roberts On Hold: Seven Big-Name Movies That Have Yet to Reach Theaters or DVD (photo)

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Plenty of films don’t ever see a theatrical release, but it’s rare in this day and age for something not even get released on home video in the U.S., especially if it stars Julia Roberts or Jim Carrey. The latter, of course, has seen it happen with “I Love You Philip Morris,” the dark comedy from “Bad Santa” writer/directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra that premiered at Sundance in 2009. It can currently be enjoyed on transatlantic flights, but may never screen again Stateside thanks to legal issues.

With issues both economic and otherwise, there’s a growing collection of films gathering dust, the latest possibly being the leftovers at Overture, where chief executives Chris McGurk and Danny Rosett resigned amidst speculation the company would be sold. It’s made the fates of Matt Reeves’ “Let Me In,” the Edward Norton-Milla Jovovich prison drama “Stone” and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s directorial debut “Jack Goes Boating” uncertain, to say the least.

There’s a good chance all will be released or find new homes, but whereas high-profile films were once immune from getting the cold shoulder, their relatively big price tags and limited appeal to niche audiences may mean they not even make it to Netflix. Here are a few that won’t be coming to a theater near you anytime soon.


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