Monday, March 27, 2006

I Miss Gene Siskel

When Wendy and I were first married, I remember watching Sneak Previews on PBS. This was before we had cable TV, back in the early 80s. Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, movie critics of the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun Times respectively, bantered back and forth about the latest releases in the theatres.

These discussions could become quite animated with the younger but also more urbane and witty Siskel needling the older Ebert when the two were at odds over whether to give a film their ultimate recommendation--two thumbs up. Ebert was not going to play Costello to Siskel's Abbott, despite the physical parallels there. So the two would often trade barbs back and forth in a manner similar to how a conservative Republican might discuss politics with a liberal Democrat.

I lost track of their program once it moved off of PBS. The show seemed to change names and move around more than a shady traveling salesman. Then Siskel died prematurely a few years back (I have to say prematurely because he died at the age I will become this year). Ebert carried on, but the show just was not the same without Siskel.

And I feel the same about movies lately too. I can't remember the last time I saw a good movie, let alone a great one. We need critics who are passionate enough about movies to keep Hollywood movie executives from pushing bad movies on us. Upon a recommendation in my AARP magazine last week, we rented The 40-year-old Virgin. To be fair, it had some funny moments. To be truthful, those moments were overshadowed by the gratuitous use of vulgar language and obscenities.

Do people really talk like that in real life? I could see a constant stream of "f" words maybe in a movie like, say, Gangsta Rappers Join The Navy, but why in a movie that purports to be a romantic comedy?

Last night I made my annual pilgrimage to The Ann Arbor Film Festival (AAFF) in my quest to the support the arts in my local community. For an $8 ticket, you see a collection of short films, usually including some social documentaries, experimental videos, animated features, etc.

Again, there were some films that were cleverly done, but not enough to give me hope for the next generation of filmmakers. I remember looking forward to one short that was to feature a cyclist's ride through Copenhagen, Denmark. I like travel features.

This was, however, a confusing kaleidoscopic collection of images that flickered from one subject to the next so quickly that all I could gather is that Copenhagen seems to be near water of some kind and there appears to be a lot of flowers there too. (Or something that looks like flowers.)

Actually, the way this film and some other AAFF film clips were presented reminded me of a neurological test I endured about ten years ago when a technician tried to induce a seizure in me by flashing very bright and indiscernible images at varying speeds. I never experienced a seizure but found the experience to be very intense. It's not the kind of intense movie-going experience I want, though. I'll settle for some good old-fashioned mood-building celluloid story-telling.


Blogger Michael said...

Boy I agree with you on the state of movie-making these days. I still enjoy going to the movies and I can always find *some* redeeming feature in just about any flick, but sometimes it's a struggle. The other trend that really has me scratching my head is remaking old movies. Has Hollywood run out of original ideas? Seems like every other film that comes out is a new version of some old film lately.

12:48 PM  
Blogger OldHorsetailSnake said...

What you need is "The Maltese Falcon." But they don't make 'em like that anymore...

3:57 PM  
Anonymous kristy said...

I always thought of them more as Laurel and Hardy myself.

I'm seen a bunch of movies lately, and the best of the bunch was a film called The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. I've yet to see any advertising for it, but it's kind of a modern day western, and Tommy Lee Jones' first effort as a director (he also stars in it). He becomes almost a surrogate father to this border patrol kid. Very well done. See it if you get the chance.

4:24 PM  
Blogger Deb said...

I miss Siskel too; two thumbs down for the new partner.

5:00 PM  
Anonymous Maria said...

You really hit the nail on the head! Siskel made the program and it has gone down hill ever since his death.

I saw 40 Year Old Virgin and was appalled. I posted about it last summer. My view has not changed a bit.

5:29 PM  
Blogger WordWhiz said...

I could not agree more!!!

And I LOVED the old Sneak Previews! It wasn't the same after the death of Gene Siskel.

8:34 PM  
Blogger schnoodlepooh said...

I miss good movies also. Don't know what's wrong with me.

Hey! I added your link to my buddies! You are one of my favorites - REALLY! I just haven't gotten everything updated yet. sorry, I should have added your link FIRST!!!

7:35 AM  
Blogger bornfool said...

I'm from the Chicago area, so I grew up watching Siskel and Ebert. I think they were on a local channel even before they went on PBS. Ebert and that other guy just don't have the same dynamic that he and siskel had.

8:35 AM  
Blogger poopie said...

If you haven't seen "The Constant Gardner" check it out. I was mesmerized.

11:27 AM  
Blogger 4evergapeach said...

I am so glad I'm not the only one that feels this way. I don't go to the movies any more and rent them very seldom. A friend recently recommeded "Walk the Line". I think I may get it just because I like Johnny Cash.

We don't have cable or dish. Just a metal pole stuck up in the sky. So we don't get many channels. Flipping through the channels one afternoon I caught the very beginning of a movie that I ended up watching in it's entirety. One of the best movies I've seen in a long time. The movie? The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. I never thought I could enjoy an old black and white movie so much. Those were the good old days.

8:11 PM  
Anonymous tim t said...

hey bro, nice blog, great readers, see ya this summer, tell wendy said hi. still running from the bats. tim t.

9:23 PM  
Anonymous Melissa said...

I have to say I feel the same way. I can't stand movies with a lot of cussing. There is a movie I saw this week that just came out on DVD, King Kong. It was surprisingly good I thought.

7:01 PM  
Blogger LZ Blogger said...

So do I! There was nothing like Siskel & Ebert. There were a GREAT team! ~ jb///

7:11 PM  
Anonymous bonnie said...

I always liked the "Godfather" movies, due partly to James Caan's (Spartan!) performances.

9:11 PM  
Blogger Anne said...

What I want to know is why they cant make movies like the previews. They know what they want..we want a movie that lives up to the preview. But most of the time the preview is just a trap to get us to watch a totally different movie than what we were promised. I havent seen anything good in a really long time.

1:10 PM  
Blogger Gypsybobocowgirl said...

I was a big Siskel and Ebert fan, but more a fan of Siskel than Ebert. I would see everything that Siskel gave a thumbs up. Nowadays, I just see anything that has Matthew McConaghey in it--not nearly as effective in finding good movies, but hey, it's easy on the eyes.

9:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


1:07 AM  

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