Monday, December 29, 2008

Lyons and Mankiewicz Desecrate Corpse of Siskel, Laugh

Earlier this year, Richard Roeper and Roger Ebert were booted from their syndicated movie review show At the Movies and replaced with Ben Mankiewicz of Turner Classic Movies and the embryonic Ben Lyons, who comes from E! but whose best credential for the job comes from being the loinfruit of film critic Jeffrey Lyons. While Richard Roeper lacked the dearly departed Gene Siskel’s gentle intelligence that was a nice balance to Ebert’s tottering loopiness, Ebert and Roeper were at least solid reviewers whose show was entertainment in its own right. Then came Ben and Ben.

I put a finite amount of stock into movie reviews to begin with because my own taste runs idiosyncratic to most mainstream tastes, and the things I love tend to be universally loathed by critics and even my friends. Someone recently suggested I have bad taste, and I countered that maybe I’m a maverick, and they counter-countered that maybe I’m a maverick with bad taste. Fair enough. Either way, it doesn’t make movie reviews very useful for me personally. I like Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly, because their reviews are informative and well-written even if I don’t ultimately agree with many of their verdicts, but they’re about the only ones I can stand. And yet, as I’ve mentioned before, every week I watch At the Movies. Why? I can’t fully answer that question myself because this show is just terrible, and there’s not even the schadenfreude value I derive from, say, certain Fox News shows.

Then again, that’s not fully true. After all, it is kind of fun to watch Mankiewicz and Lyons snipe at each other like passive-aggressive little bitches for thirty minutes a week. Lyons, who’s about two decades Mankiewicz’s junior, for example, has lately taken to calling his co-reviewer “Mank” and “Manky” on air. Next week, I swear he’s gonna tweak Manky’s nose. It’s amusing to see the vein in Mankiewicz’s forehead throb a little every time Lyons does that. And Lyons has always been ludicrously soft in his reviews, mostly because he clearly has his eye on being more a part of the movie world than just dishing out reviews. To be an effective reviewer, you really do have to euthanize your dreams of actively participating in the field you’re reviewing. But this week, Mankiewicz took Lyons to task after he positively reviewed Bedtime Stories (which is produced by Disney, which produces At the Movies, FYI): “I don’t know where to begin. I didn’t like one part of this movie. You weren’t right, I believe, about any single point you made in this entire review.” To which Lyons chuckled in the vacant way frat boys tend to when you’re verbally castrating them, and they’re confused because you’re using hard words and, hey, bro, can’t we just hug it out or am I gonna have to roofie you again?

Not that Mankiewicz is without fault either. He kicked off his review of Special with, “The name of the movie is actually Special, unfortunately, the movie itself is not.” That’s just...I can’t even.... I can’t. I can’t. Jesus, that’s bad. That’s the kind of clever line you come up with while on hour five of an all-night bender, and you write it down because it’s oh my god so brilliant you’ll make millions off this...but then you sober up in a day or two, look at it, and go, “Oh man, thank god I didn’t drunk text that to anyone.” Then you burn it. And scatter the ashes to the seven continents lest it reform itself. You do not say it on national television.

But Lyons is just the worst, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. Two months ago, Ebert chided Lyons for, well, being an insatiable starfucker. Which again goes back to needing to separate yourself from whatever you’re reviewing. This is a problem with any TV show that reviews movies, though, because there’s usually some kind of ethical problem afoot when the same studio putting out a movie is bankrolling your cushy reviewing lifestyle. (This is, of course, becoming an issue in print media as well as more conglomerates stick their fingers into all sorts of pies, but it doesn't seem nearly as rampant yet.) But watching At the Movies, I sometimes want to break out a flowchart of who-owns-what to figure out why Lyons and Mankiewicz pan or praise movies seemingly arbitrarily. I’m sure following the moneytrail will clear a lot of that up. Lyons is just...unsettling. He looks like that intern you don’t ask to get you coffee because you’re pretty sure he’ll spit in it, or worse. He recently summed up his review of Yes Man with “I say ‘no’ to Yes Man,” which is almost as bad as Manky’s Special quip. He’s just vacant and entitled

There is one good thing about the show, however. Mankiewicz has taken up Ebert’s mantle of creepy overshares. He ended his review of Marley and Me with, “The film got sweet and tender and finally focused, and at the end, in a crowded theatre, I hugged a total stranger.” Thanks for the nightmares, Mank!

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