ATM ’11: Ignatiy throws down!

Yes, we watched the premiere of EBERT PRESENTS AT THE MOVIES on Friday night. Sure, we liked it. Heck no, we’re not going to obsessively recap or debate each episode here on C-U Blogfidential because it isn’t a local program. (If our Chicago columnist Michelle Kaffko wishes to revisit ATM, then we’ll budge.) However, given the tangential “Roger Ebert pedigree” our fair twin cities perpetuate year after year, we’ve decided to offer some initial thoughts about the revival engineered by Urbana’s favorite pop culture son since we’re going to be asked about it a multitude of times anyways…

First and foremost, we’re simply happy to see AT THE MOVIES back on the air. It is hardly surprising that Ebert chose to retain the familiar title but he obviously feels the show’s surefire format in its Eighties-Nineties prime was never broken, so why fix what you can gently upgrade instead? Episode #1.1 is relatively polished despite the odd CGI-extended theater set in which sit new hosts Christy Lemire and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky who, while not flawless this first round, prove to be quite likeable on screen. It will be important for them to establish a repartee that both honors and distinguishes from the exchanges made famous by Ebert and the late Gene Siskel; we have a hunch they’re quite capable.

Lemire is the veteran voice of this AT THE MOVIES, having logged more than a decade of Associated Press movie writing, yet she is matched by an assured Vishnevetsky who offers well-considered observations honed by writing for as well as various Chicago based media outlets and societies. The 24-year-old lad will probably earn his stripes in short order but may need to tone down eager beaver tendencies to keep the Internet gadflies at bay. His overuse of an exuberant “But I disagree!” while nearly falling out of his aisle seat, for instance, could quickly become the movie critic equivalent to young Anakin Skywalker’s infamous “Yipee!” from STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE if not reined in a bit.

Still, it’s honest engagement that will endear Vishnevetsky to AT THE MOVIES viewers because we can sense a love for cinema dripping from every word he speaks. Lemire brings an expected poise and maturity to her role although she found herself inadvertently stuck in a “bad cop” position this time. Episode #1.1 featured split decisions through the entire run of current features – NO STRINGS ATTACHED, THE COMPANY MEN, THE WAY BACK, THE GREEN HORNET, and THE DILEMMA – all of which she adamantly thumbed down while Vishnevetsky awarded them thumbs up, begrudgingly in certain cases. We will see how this relationship develops in the near future.

Drop-in segments included: a retrospect of Carol Reed’s THE THIRD MAN by Web columnist and noir fanatic Kim Morgan, a winsome anime-style presence and “Ebertfest” moderator who is married to Winnipeg auteur Guy Maddin (BRAND UPON THE BRAIN!); a clever recreation of the “backstage” teaser trailer for CITIZEN KANE introducing ATM main contributors Lemire, Vishnevetsky, Morgan, Omar Moore, Kartina Richardson, and “the boss” Chaz Ebert; and a “Roger’s Office” segment featuring Ebert reviewing the animated film MY DOG TULIP, his glowing opinion recited by none other than the prolific filmmaker and perennial Ebertfest guest, Werner Herzog! Nice touch, folks.

After a Vishnevetsky pronouncement that “the balcony is closed,” AT THE MOVIES’ closing credits scrolled alongside a vintage recording of Siskel and Ebert opening the very first episode of the show’s original 1975 incarnation, OPENING SOON AT A THEATER NEAR YOU. Like the best outings of its storied past, ATM flew by efficiently and delivered the goods. Current episodes, vintage shows, and bonus material will most likely appear on this just-launched Web site so keep a close eye on it.

~ Jason Pankoke

p.s. As of this post, it looks like all of Episode #1.1 has been uploaded to the Ebert Presents site as multiple segments. Unfortunately we’re not finding code that allows us to embed sample videos here, but you can easily compare the final incarnation with this AT THE MOVIES “demo” produced early last year, pairing Lemire with her previously announced co-host, Elvis Mitchell of National Public Radio.

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