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Reviewing the Reviewers

It’s been an interesting last five weeks witnessing the variety of guest reviewers fill in on Ebert & Roeper while Roger Ebert is out recovering from surgery. I’ve been watching this in some form ever since Gene Siskel and Ebert’s Sneak Previews days, but I have to admit the show lost a lot of since Siskel died. Richard Roeper has slowly grown on me, but he still stikes as someone who’ll grudgingly rave a film if the lead actress is a hottie. Seeing Roeper with these guest critcs really drives home the point that Ebert gives the show a gravity and credibility.

It could be a warning sign that E&R‘s first three guest critics all come from the entertainment biz: Jay Leno, Kevin Smith, and director John Ridley (who didn’t leave much of an impression with me). Leno surprised with his eloquence and fairness, and Smith was his usual affable self — but people working within Hollywood don’t have any business reviewing films. I tend to think they’re biased, favoring films if their colleagues are involved, even when they clearly aren’t. Hopefully this is a stunt and not the sign of some future trend.

It all sort of underlies the lack of real criticism existing in our current media landscape. Most of what we see and read is just fluff passing as news. Which brings me to the fourth guest critic, entertainment reporter Toni Senecal. The bubbly Ms. Senecal used the word “awesome” more than once and demanded a high-five from Roeper. In other words, she was horrible. It reminded me of the time Siskel and Ebert departed their first syndicated venture, At the Movies, to be replaced by the dreaded trio of Rex Reed, Dixie Whatley, and Ned Flanders-esque Bill Harris. Remember them? Like having a hearty steak dinner replaced with a bag of marshmallows, I tell ya!

Some form of deliverance arrived last weekend in the form of guest critc #5, Michael Phillips of The Chicago Tribune. Phillips came across as credible, interesting, witty and fair. So what if he wasn’t as telegenic as the others? His stint came as a relief — but let me point out that in five weeks, they’ve only had one bona fide film critic in the guest spot. Guess it really is true what Marge Simpson said: “Did you know there are over 600 critics on TV and Leonard Maltin is the best looking of them all?” And finding someone with the intelligence and charisma of a Roger Ebert must be a herculean task.

3 Thoughts on “Reviewing the Reviewers

  1. Phaedra on September 9, 2006 at 8:19 pm said:

    I’m so glad I’m not the only person who was bothered by Toni Senecal’s “bubbliness.” Worse than that, it seemed that if a movie was geared to the young, hip and trendy, she was all over it whether or not it was actually any good. I suppose we all have our personal biases; it’s a matter of whether we have the depth to recognize them. I’m eagerly awaiting Ebert’s return.

  2. Matt, I haven’t seen the recent fillins, but the producers would do well to get Adam Kampenaar or Sam Van Hallgren from the Filmspotting podcast – insightful, entertaining, they’ve got it.

    Love your blog, by the by.

  3. Thank YOU, Bob and Phaedra!

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