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Criticwatch's Ben Lyons Quote of the Week (2008)

by Erik Childress

Thanks to overwhelming response, Criticwatch now has its first spinoff. It produces special episodes a few times each year, but The Ben Lyons Quote of the Week will remain on the air as long as the new At the Movies does. Hopefully not that long, I've got movies to write about too.

Get caught up what Ben Lyons is saying in 2009

“Bryan Singer did a great job of balancing the intense scenes of dialogue with also moments where no one is speaking and that helped kind of build the tension at times.”

Well, what the hell else are you balancing scenes of dialogue with? Circus clowns? Donkey shows to distract Hitler? There’s either dialogue or there isn’t. People are talking or they are not. What is so intense about the scenes of the dialogue? You mean the planning in Valkyrie? Then say that. And how do the scenes without dialogue (and none are completely without it) “kind of” build the tension? Just because you only have 45 seconds like your precious Oscar winners, doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to expand on your moronic soundbites. This is precisely why Ben Lyons will continue to be the subject of ridicule. It’s not out of jealousy. It’s not because we have nowhere else to channel our hate. Dumbing down film criticism for the masses merely means keeping it simplistic. Not just thumbs up or thumbs down, which is just a star rating or lottery quick pick in another form. I’m talking about what marketers, studio publicists and quote whores have conspired to do in reducing movie reviews into easily digestible hyperbole even at the expense of just making them up from scratch. Sure, Lyons plays that game too, but he has taken it to a whole new level of dumb. We’re not just picking on this poor little dope. He just happens to be at the forefront of an expanding epidemic and he’s made no effort to prove he’s worthy of this inheritance nor IMprove to throw egg in the face of his distractors. He’s had nearly four months of on-the-job training and we need more Colonel Stauffenberg’s with one eye on what’s happening and keeping a blind eye to the various temptations and hypocrisies that Lyons has relished in. But on with the dumb.

Responding to Mankiewicz’s pan of Revolutionary Road, Lyons came back with:

LYONS: “The honeymoon from Titanic is definitely over. The two of them are fighting as the opening credits to the movie comes up and that tension continues throughout the film.”

Funny, but I don’t remember any honeymoon happy ending when Titanic was over, do you? I seem to recall Leonardo DiCaprio freezing to death and Kate Winslet unleashing him off her raft after promising to “never let go.” Oh, let’s give Lyons a break though. After all that film was a whole eleven years ago and was only the most seen film of his generation. And it’s not like Lyons pays any attention to such superficial things like box office or anything. On the other hand it is very easy to confuse him.

MANKIEWICZ: "There are both fine actors, of course and Mendes does a greet job as he did in American Beauty of showing us the ordinariness of suburban America. But they were unlikeable characters and they didn’t get me to care. There is stuff to like here. No question. But there’s not enough."

LYONS:" I’m confused, Mank, when you say that the director, Sam Mendes, did “a great job” here yet you’re not a fan of the film."

MANKIEWICZ: "Well, I think what I said was he did a great job showing us the stultifying stillness of suburban America."

How can Lyons be expected to remember the ending to Titanic when he can’t remember what a guy sitting five feet from him said 45 seconds ago? Probably too busy thinking up the variety of comments to get himself up in one of the ads. Could he be successful with any of these? Which would you use?

- "Some powerful scenes between Kate and Leo, some great acting."

- "Saw a great supporting performance from Michael Shannon. He’s really, really good as the disturbed younger son of Kathy Bates. I thought he really added a lot of life to the film."

- "The film is tough, it’s depressing and its two great actors at the top of their game going toe-to-toe."

- "I thought it was a wonderful display of acting and high cinema."

Oh, c’mon. What studio is going to pass up on the opportunity to boast the words “high cinema” on their ad? Anyone who has seen a studio junket memo is aware that this is precisely what it looks like under the name of each whore providing 10-12 quotes a piece (or attaching their name to studio-written blurbs.) One of my favorites is when some jackass like Pete Hammond or Shawn Edwards pre-advertise a film as a “big hit” or a “surprise hit” even though the film hasn’t grossed dollar one yet.

LYONS: “Over the years, Adam Sandler movies have grossed about 1.5 billion dollars at the box office and I expect this to be one of his biggest hits yet. See it.”

My mistake. Ben Lyons is obviously an Oscar AND a box office expert as you can see from one of his little bloggy blogs “Beat Ben @ The Box Office”

“It's not a good idea to mess with Adam Sandler at the box office. The most bankable comedic star on the planet is coming off a series of films that have opened huge, and You Don't Mess With the Zohan will be no different.”

And Lyons’ quote for Zohan read:

“Completely original, this is Adam Sandler doing what he does best. Zohan is a classic comedy character that audiences will love for years to come. The most bankable comedic star in Hollywood strikes again.”

Zohan certainly came off as original compared to Lyons who just recycles his own verbage. Whom do you think added up those 1.5 billion Sandler figures for him? Ben’s looking out for you though, making sure you aren’t left out of the conversation when all your friends go see frickin’ Bedtime Stories. Are you as easily influenced by the masses as Lyons clearly is? What did you think, Mank?

MANKIEWICZ: “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”

KAZAAM!!! But what about that guinea pig that Lyons loved so much.

MANKIEWICZ: “You mention the guinea pig getting the big laughs with the big eyes. It wasn’t funny one time. We went there, what, sixteen times with a stuffed animal with big eyes?”

LYONS: “Mank, we were in the same theater everybody was laughing. I was laughing. Those scenes are pretty funny.”

Is it possible that New York publicists have a poster of Ben Lyons in their office with the slogan that reads “Put critics in a theater full of people laughing with free tickets and one of them may laugh too?” What if the Bedtime Stories crowd was laughing at Ben Lyons laughing? Or just Ben Lyons? I guarantee he’s produced more unintentional laugh lines than Sandler & Co. did this year. Take for example:

“I think the live-action family film is a lost art nowadays with so many CGI computer generated films for kids who see a live-action film that plays to the wonder of imagination and takes us on these adventures and has funny lines from Russell Brand that the older audiences will enjoy. There’s lots of that throughout this film.”

In the Spirit of Samuel L. Jackson, whose film (one of the very worst of the year) somehow gets a “rent it” from Mankiewicz, I believe I speak for everyone when I say...


Even if you were to take a brief pause like Lyons did after “nowadays” or inserted a “BREAK” like a telegraph, that sentence makes no sense in any language. Where do you even begin?

“I think the live-action family film is a lost art nowadays” (break)

This is one review before the pair discuss Marley and Me, which admittedly, is being advertised as a family film but is more a film ABOUT family than just about a rambunctious doggie. What did 2008 offer up in the live-action department?

The Spiderwick Chronicles, Penelope, College Road Trip, Nim’s Island, Son of Rambow, Speed Racer, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D, Meet Dave, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, The Longshots, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, City of Ember and High School Musical 3: Senior Year.

Spiderwick and Journey 3-D are perfectly fun live-action family movies that won’t bore the adults. And you want to talk about opening up kids’ imagination? You couldn’t get much better this year than Son of Rambow which may have inspired a few kids to make a film better than Bedtime Stories.

LYONS: “I don’t know where your heart is on this one, Mank. It’s a sweet kids movie and I commend Sandler for trying something different in his career.”

MANKIEWICZ: “I commend him but they gotta execute. Just making it is not nearly sufficient.”

LYONS: “Oh I thought it was a really heartwarming film. I really enjoyed it. I had a lot of fun.”

Awwww, Wittle Wyons had a wot of fun. Probably more than he did this weekend when the long-awaited L.A. Times article by Chris Lee was finally published. Opening by asking if Ben Lyons is “the most hated film critic in America,”, Lee goes on to quote myself and Scott Johnson (of amongst others in tearing Junior a new one. The most amazing quote in the whole piece though comes from one of those rare Lyons supporters. Brian Frons of Disney/ABC-TV says:

FRONS: “This is a guy who, if you sit and talk with him, he really does have an enormous love and knowledge base of movies. Did he spend 20 years as critic for a major newspaper? No. He's very much of the TV generation who don't spend time reading newspapers. I think we have a guy who is giving the information that audiences want to hear about film to make decisions about what to see."

Of course he has to support his boy, but my God! You could sit down at a party and find a guest who loves movies. You might even find one knowledgeable to kick Lyons’ ass in a game of xBox Scene It. I know a lot of guys who didn’t spend 20 years as a critic for a major newspaper who know more about the history of film than Ben Lyons. They are also part of the “TV generation” and I guarantee they’ve spent more than their share of time reading a newspaper or two. Perhaps Frons meant the internet generation who may not have ink on their fingers but read the papers in their online format. Frons may think this is what audiences want to hear about film, but that’s difficult to say when the show doesn’t really have an audience. Just remember - Jerry Jones said a lot of positive things about Wade Phillips too before seeing his Dallas Cowboys get slapped down 44-6 by the Philadelphia Eagles this weekend too. Frons was also the subject of a 2003 online petition to have his duties at ABC removed due to "rudeness" and an "inability to relate to his viewers."

We’ll close this weekend’s column not with lamenting the momentary return of the Critic’s Round-Up (someone stop Christy Lemire from talking about film) but with another of Lyons’ idiotic awards chatter. During his “3 to see”, The Wrestler came in at #2 where he reminded us that:

“Mickey Rourke has already been nominated for every major award of the season and is, surprisingly, the front runner for an Academy Award.”

If he’s been nominated for every major award, then where precisely does the surprise come in for him being a front runner? Reminds me of when George Carlin questioned the idea of an undisputed heavyweight champion. “Well, if it’s undisputed – what’s all the fighting about?” Of all the unbiased critic awards, Mickey Rourke has either won, been nominated or was the runner-up in 18 of them. Sean Penn has 19 honors. Neither here nor there, the buzz on Rourke being a front runner for the Best Actor Oscar began at film festivals back in September. There’s no surprise that he’s one of the biggest horses in the race. Then again, by applying the same logic, Ben Lyons was already one of 2007’s Whores of the Year at Criticwatch and was already being reviled by many professional colleagues and groups up and down the country. And yet, surprisingly, he somehow became the front runner to fill Roger Ebert’s seat. No worries though, because as we approach the end of 2008, Ben Lyons is undisputedly the most hated film critic in America.

“As much as I was watching their romance on screen I was thinking about my own life and where I’m at in my life’s journey on my timeline, a very sort of introspective experience.”

Coming soon to theaters – The Curious Case of Benjamin Lyons. Not sure how they’re going to squeeze 160-plus minutes out of a life barely worth a 22-minute sitcom episode, but we can certainly try. Born under unusual circumstances to one Jeffrey Lyons, Ben started his own production company in 2002, creating segments for Hip Hop Nation. In 2004, MTV hired him to co-host “Your Movie Show” and in 2006 he began hosting segments for the The Daily 10 on the E! channel (where he became their “resident film expert”) and writing the column known as The Lyons Den. In 2008 he joined Ben Mankiewicz to become the heir apparent to Siskel & Ebert’s At the Movies. Ben Lyons enjoys playing basketball and golf, is a die-hard Knicks fan, was a childhood friend of Ivanka Trump and speaks fluent Spanish.

Much of that was culled from his E! bio page and entry over at Wikipedia, which was briefly hacked a few months ago to include the title of “douchebag” amongst his accomplishments. To quote a fellow New Yorker, George Costanza: “If you take everything I've accomplished in my life and condense it down to one day, it looks decent!” It certainly does, doesn’t it? But when you read through the lines and get truly introspective, everyone knows precisely where Ben is on his life’s journey.

From what we can tell from the website, MTV’s Your Movie Show lasted all of seven episodes, focusing half-hours on such cinematic milestones of The Dukes of Hazzard, Into the Blue, The Benchwarmers and Little Man. Being the “resident film expert” on E! is the proverbial tallest midget in the room, but follow in his father’s footsteps he did in becoming the sloppy seconds to the already established and far superior Siskel & Ebert, only to redefine the term of sloppy. To the extent of being called a “starfucker”, he’s built an impressive cadre of celebrity “friends” which he has no problems reminding us all about subliminally on At the Movies and not so much on his blog, Ben Lyons poses with famous people.” If only he put as much effort into learning English as he did Spanish, at least he might have one element of his professional career where he wouldn’t be so incessantly mocked. Alas though, one such element won’t make up to the fact that where Paris Hilton is to celebrity, Ben Lyons is to film criticism.

“This is one of those films that every movie after this will be judged against this film.”

You don’t even need the quotes of the week to make up a list of Lyons’ moron-speak. I started to make a list of his greatest sins as a movie “critic” and just grew so utterly depressed. Feel free to read through all the entries and discover them on your own. Read them the way Lyons reads through the press notes to devise his introductions, just as he did for this week’s “early review” of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, cribbing directly from the film and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story to tell us how the title character was “born under unusual circumstances.” A lot of people seem to agreeing that the film is some kind of “romantic masterpiece” (as Lyons says) while it may easily top my own list for the year’s most overrated.

“Fincher is absolutely amazing. He’s my choice for the director, this year at the Oscars, best director.”

Too bad you don’t have a vote there, Junior. Admittedly, your partner Mank’s foresight for Oscar prognostication (already going on record twice that Slumdog Millionaire and The Dark Knight, the two most honored films of 2008 to date, won’t get Best Picture nominations) makes you look like the show’s expert. But I can’t wait to see the look on your face when neither Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt get nominated, which is looking more and more likely. Got any thoughts on Clint Eastwood’s latest film, Gran Torino?

“Every line is there for a reason.”

Um, thanks?

“I don’t know if I could see any other older actor in this part.”

Really? Not Gene Hackman or Robert Duvall or Tommy Lee Jones or Brian Cox? You don’t think any one of them could have said “GET OFF MY LAWN!” and gotten away with it?

“That’s a scene that’s going to live with Eastwood forever. That’s a great line in a pretty good film.”

A GREAT line? It’s easily the silliest and most self-parodying line in an already silly and unintentionally self-parodying drama. And for all the lobbying you’ve been doing on the show on behalf of your Latino brethren, no support for the Asians, huh?

On Pride and Glory:
“And why does every Latino on screen have to be a drug dealing gangster? Why can’t there be any sort of redeemable qualities in any of the minorities in this film?”

On Nothing Like the Holidays:
“Similar in story arc and emotional tone to a Tyler Perry film but targeted towards a Latino audience it IS important for films like this to be made because far too often in movies Latino characters are only portrayed as criminals, thugs or objects of sexual desire.”

Any bets on his review of The Spirit next week? God, Ben Lyons preaching minority relations is enough to make you want to hear Lou Dobbs review movies. What about this new Will Smith movie, Seven Pounds?

“There’s a cloud of secrecy surrounding this film and it’s a big reason why you haven’t seen it nominated for anything. They didn’t get the movie out there early and get people talking about it. Partly because I think its just kind of average…”

Ho, ho, ho, hold on a moment. We haven’t seen Seven Pounds nominated for anything because the studio has been keeping it secret – and NOT because you just think it’s average? Which is it? And, you, Ben Lyons are telling Sony it’s because they didn’t get the movie out there early and get people talking about it? Perhaps I should take a step back here and possibly assume Lyons is taking a shot at Sony for the way they were excusing critics left and right from seeing the film at the earliest possible opportunities. Here in Chicago, despite the studio mounting an awards campaign for the film, they made a point in keeping two-thirds of the Film Critics Association here away from a Dec. 4 screening – making a particular point about “onliners.” Only after pressure and professional embarrassment was lobbied their way did they setup a last minute screening on the day of our awards deadline, not only informing the membership less than 12 hours before the 10 AM screening but telling them that it was the theater chain to blame for the last-minute screening and not the studio who could have just invited everyone to the first screening and not had any problem. Except, of course, the film being so awful and everything.

Nah, I highly doubt Lyons was going to bat for his fellow critics. His whole argument just kind of falls apart the moment he states he thought the film was “just kind of average.” And since the only “people” who could be talking up the film weeks before its release are film critics, 72% of whom (according to Rotten Tomatoes) would be talking negatively about it, getting it “out there early” wouldn’t have helped the film’s chances any.

“...but Rosario Dawson is great and worthy of some kind of recognition throughout this awards show season. I don’t think she’s gonna get it.”

Does Lyons strike you as the kind of guy that would tell you he’s buying you a nice, expensive gift only to say he’s just kidding? Ladies, take note. He also apparently isn’t fond of May/December romances. In the weirdest and most inexplicable comment during his review of Jim Carrey’s new film, Yes Man, this week, he questioned the choices made by his co-star Zooey Deschanel. Or, at least, one particular kind of choice.

“I don’t know why she plays opposite older guys all the time. She played opposite Mark Wahlberg in The Happening and opposite Will Ferrell in Elf. I wanna see her paired with someone her own age.”

HUH? It’s not like we’re talking Woody Allen and Mariel Hemingway here. Or Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

“She’s far too young to have any chemistry with the funnyman, who is almost twenty years her senior.”

Carrey is 46. Deschanel is 28. OK, so 18 years. Will Ferrell is 41, so 13. But then Mark Wahlberg is only 37. Wait, who in the Sam Hell Crap is Ben Lyons to be giving grief on who is too young for anything? And why is he so insistent on berating this point on Zooey Deschanel? You purport to be a Sundance boy, Benny. Maybe if you weren’t spending your time getting celebrity snapshots you might have seen Miss Deschanel in The Go-Getter with Lou Taylor Pucci who’s only 23 or maybe even The Good Life with Mark Webber. They are only six months apart.

You know, the first movie I ever attended at my very first Sundance was a little David Gordon Green film called All the Real Girls, certainly one of the better relationship films of the past decade and, arguably, Zooey’s best performance. Plus, Paul Schneider was only four years her senior. Ever see that one, Ben? What is this bullshit doing on a movie review show? Did Lyons ask her out once only to be rebuked by someone way cooler, funnier and talented than he’ll ever be? Zooey, I’m here to listen to your story. Oh, such laughs we can have at Ben’s expense and the loose shelf from where his life's journey teeters. Plus, I’m 33 so it will piss him off big time as well.

The Ben Lyons Quote of the Week took a much needed vacation last week, although not too far from where the Boy Dunder co-hosts his little Vegas DJ parties. Unfortunately the Hard Rock’s Body English wasn’t hosting one (or, at least, wasn’t advertising it on their calendar) so I wasn’t able to witness one up close. Maybe next time. But waiting for me when I got back was something I hope you never have to experience outside of this column – a full hour of the new At the Movies. So let’s kick off with last week’s episode where the duo reviewed the film that Sony kept away from most of the Chicago press, Cadillac Records. The film, a Chicago story no less, is an account of the rise of Chess Records and artists such as Muddy Waters, Etta James, Willie Dixon and Chuck Berry. Talk about a greatest hits package, right Junior?

“These are forgotten figures in music and for today’s generation of young people who are influenced by their work it’s important to learn about where some of their favorite artists today were sort of inspired by…and that’s what this is about.”

Yeah, maybe forgotten for you pal because you’re an idiot. Hell, any fan of Back to the Future knows who Chuck Berry is just to get one of the jokes. Wait a second though, if today’s generation are influenced by their work, then by what means are they forgotten? The young ones are influenced, but their favorite artists were “sort of inspired” by this group of legends. Kind of describes the state of music today perfectly doesn’t it? I don’t think any generation or musician needs Ben Lyons speaking on their behalf. Jeffrey Wright certainly doesn’t, the brilliant actor “whose talents far outreach his stardom.” Nor does anymore of Lyons’ Vegas guests. This week it was ColumbusStomp the YardShort getting the namedrop from Lyons:

“I thought Columbus Short was very authentic as the harmonica player, Little Walter, in a really breakout performance…”

And yet so inauthentic is such praise coming from your celebrity-slurping lips that it makes one long for a speech from Rod Blagojevich. We’ve come to expect this as one of Lyons’ recurring themes and while he’s not one for surprises, he’s certainly willing to keep things fresh by issuing a new batch of regular bullshit into the show. If one thing was to emerge from the past two weeks, it was Junior doing his own part to influence a generation of critics by giving us a little Lyons 101 on how to review a movie.

Lesson #1: “Films that are good are the ones that know what they’re trying to be.”

Lesson #2: “It’s a great film because it really switches gears and it doesn’t leave the audience behind which is very difficult for a film to do.”

Lesson #3: “I hate nowadays in movies these sort of subliminal environmental messages and trying to make it relevant to the world in which we live today and it comes off as rather preachy at times.”

Just to recap, Professor Lyons, good films are the ones that know precisely what they are but its OK to switch gears as long as we’re able to keep up unless, of course, you hate any message of relevance that its trying to get across even if that’s the primary focus of the film. Out of curiosity, just where did you stand on An Inconvenient Truth? Ah, but that wasn’t exactly subliminal was it? It knew precisely what it was and preached its environmental message right up front. What about Punisher: War Zone then? Doesn’t that film know precisely what its trying to be? An ultra-violent comic book revenge fantasy so over-the-top that it couldn’t possibly be taken seriously for anything but? I’ll grant you up front that its not a good film, but did we need Moral Orel to show up to review it?

“I don’t find it necessary to show uniformed police officers being stabbed and beaten for no apparent reason. Or old ladies who have their heads blown off for the sake of laughter. It’s just not funny.”

This from the guy who, again, just wanted to see Max Payne shoot people. Clearly this is not a boy opposed to on-screen violence. Is the thought of a man in uniform being gunned down just too much for Lyons to bear? Maybe that’s it. He recommended both Traitor and Eagle Eye, films that featured law enforcement agents being gunned down and killed in public – only in civilian clothes. Funny that his DVD recommendation the following week would be The Dark Knight where the police are a frequent target of attacks by the psychotic Joker. That’s OK though because he’s the bad guy and not the hero doing it, right? But Frank Castle isn’t out there arbitrarily gunning down cops. Sure, he nails one guy, but he was undercover as a crook and it was in error. It’s the psychotic Jigsaw and his doubly psychotic liver-eating brother killing innocents. And not that I ever need to see Punisher: War Zone ever again but I don’t remember them killing nearly as many officers as the Joker does. So what’s the problem?

LYONS: “Some of the action is kind of styilistically cool but by the 500th murder in this movie…it feels like that many people die.”
MANK: “I’m not even sure you’re exaggerating.”
LYONS: “It just gets so over-the-top and the blood squishing…it’s just nauseating.”

Maybe Lyons is more of a PG-13 sorta guy, the kind that movie fans are always crying foul about after one of their precious properties are trimmed down in order to appease the MPAA at the expense of coherence and occasionally thematics. You know, films that know precisely what they are until studio executives see a few more dollars and switch gears on us.

Another new regular to watch out on the show is breaking bad on the trailers they hyped weeks earlier. This may never happen again considering all the criticism they’ve received for the Twilight “3 to see” debacle. But this week they came down hard on Oscilloscope’s Wendy and Lucy. On the Nov. 1 show, Mank introduced the world premiere trailer of the film to which I wrote:

“If one of them had introduced the FULL trailer (which reflects the quietness of the actual film that should give Lyons plenty of time to text through it without missing a thing) with the preface that they had seen it at the Toronto Film Festival (where I suspect Lyons was too busy getting his picture taken to actually choose it over anything else) and loved it enough to make their audience aware of it now – I would have no objection. But neither of them said that.”

Clearly neither of them had seen the film yet. If they had, one of them had to consciously object to it since their reaction to it this week was hardly flattering.

LYONS: “Coming in at just an hour and 15 minutes long, this indie film is slow and downright boring at its core.”

MANK: “Frequently movies are missing a third act. This movie is missing the first act.”

LYONS: “I just feel like the film prided itself so much and was reminding the audience that this is realistic, this doesn’t have music in it, this is boring, this is life and it is not an interesting movie at all.”

It’s not that I’m a fan of the film either. Every time I see one of these “stripped down, bare bones” type of films I often wonder if the filmmaker knows how to write a line of dialogue. If you want to see a superior example of this style of filmmaking, may I recommend Shotgun Stories. But this was the equivalent of someone loaning you their car only to have you let your dog take a dump in it. I’m not saying they should have whored out and given even a “rent it” to the film just as courtesy. But that’s what you run into when you play the hype game over objectivity. It’s now backfired TWICE on them and while the Twilight thing stood out more, this actually made them look worse. That and Mank recommending Madagascar Escape 2 Africa over Milk and Frost/Nixon in his “3 to see” this week.

It wasn’t the only inconsistency on Mank’s plate this week. A little more each week he seems to be taking the time to offer some nuggets of actual film criticism, so maybe its in the show’s best interest to take a little of Lyons’ salary to hire a fact checker. While reviewing Nobel Son, Mank reminded us that:

“Randall Miller directed this. A lot of the cast of Bottle Shock came in to do Nobel Son. It didn’t work as well.”

Except Nobel Son was actually filmed BEFORE Bottle Shock and is so bad that it actually gave the "lot" of Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman and Eliza Dushku the opportunity to reunite with the director of The Sixth Man and Houseguest to make another film, get it into Sundance, released into theaters seven months later and STILL wait three months to see their first film together get ripped by the two Bens. And yet still praised by the two Petes (Travers and Hammond). Eh, I may have said the same thing had I not been informed. Or just looked it up on IMDB.

Mank’s second mistake involved his recap of the relationship in The Reader between a 36 year-old woman and a 15 year-old boy.

“They develop a pattern…sex…then reading.”

Actually, again, it’s the other way around. Reading. Then sex. Go ahead and check. I believe Kate Winslet spells it out quite clearly. And when she talks, believe me, I listen. Where was she when I was asked to participate in the local library’s Battle of the Books? Mank’s third mistake though – kind of unforgivable. While tearing the ultra-lame remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still a new one, Mank wanted to let fans know what they wouldn’t be hearing:

“And you know fans of the original be waiting for that memorable, iconic line Klaatu Barada Nitko…”

Oh Dear God. Nitko? NIT-KO???!!! Why is Mank switching everything around? First dates, then priorities and now letters? It’s only, arguably, one of the ten most famous lines ever uttered in science fiction, although Mank may have number 11 with:

“Patek Pohada Clinto, which I believe in alien means wait for cable.”

Actually I believe that’s the name of Bensenville’s Polish-Indian alderman. Word of advice, Mank: You don’t have to be overly clever to outdo your partner. Just stick to the criticism. Stay away from trying to out-charm Lyons. You didn’t do yourself any favors by being a part of the awards announcement for the Broadcast Film Critics (and Whores) Association standing next to him. And for God’s sake stop taking the bait on Oscar discussion. Lyons is already going to be dead wrong on most things and just because you go the opposite way, doesn’t necessarily translate into being right.

LYONS: “Mank you think the movie gets nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars?”
MANK: “I doubt it. I doubt it. And I don’t even think it’s the best superhero movie of the year. If any superhero movie does gets nominated I’d like to see Iron Man, but I don’t think either of them will.”

Does that count as a double or triple negative? Wrong on calling Iron Man better than The Dark Knight (though great it is) and TWO “doubt it”’s. Considering that The Dark Knight is ranking third in overall awards received and nominated by this writing, I’d say that it has a very good chance and continues to gain momentum. Speaking of Doubt though…

“I think the only performance that’s gonna get any type of Oscar consideration though is Viola Davis. Even though she’s only in one scene in the film, it’s a very powerful moment she’ll probably be nominated for best supporting actress.”

Likely more than a probably there. My colleague and friend, Nick Digilio at WGN Radio is already calling the race for Miss Davis. Mighty bold considering both Penelope Cruz and Kate Winslet are going to be heavily contesting. But back to Lyons’ statement. You think he’s seeing that “Brangelina Oscar Night” comment slipping away? What kind of Oscar expert is he anyway? Meryl Streep is close to a lock for her record-setting 15th nomination. Philip Seymour Hoffman is looking strong in the supporting category. Hell, even Amy Adams is in the running, albeit just outside the top five at this point. ANY kind of Oscar consideration. Again, any short list of potential Oscar nominees automatically includes Streep and Hoffman and saying anything less makes you a fool. Oh wait, Lyons did say something less.

“You know what’s frustrating in the film though, Mank? You don’t get to hear the little boy’s side of the story at all and I felt like he was kinda pushed to the side and was almost an afterthought even though he’s the subject of the film.”

And welcome to the QUOTE OF THE WEEK! We don’t get to hear the little boy’s side of the story? The subject of the film? Why don’t we just get John Sayles to tell you what happened to the trio in Limbo or John Carpenter to tell you if Kurt Russell or Keith David were monsters at the end of The Thing or if Deckard was a replicant? Did you feel cheated when JFK didn’t tell you who the killer was? I don’t believe the movie’s title was Spelled Out. The whole point of the film is that we don’t know what happened. If we heard it from the boy’s mouth, then the film has no point. It’s just another whodunit. Christ, this is hammered home so often by John Patrick Shanley from the opening sermon to the final goddamned line that a fundamentalist goldfish could figure it out. This may go down in 2008 as the dumbest specific thing you have ever said about a singular film. Not noticing editing and coming down on the elements of Film 101 are one thing, but with this you may as well get a giant tattoo across your forehead that reads “I DON’T GET IT” which will help people understand you a whole lot better.

“I think everybody can relate to it in sort of that gearing up for a big moment in your career and the preparation that goes into it and the night before and they really captured the humanity in that.”

As Ben & Ben discussed Ron Howard’s great Frost/Nixon this week, they came upon one of those staple moments of the show in which you wondered if they were really talking about the movie. Early during their run it was comments about how boring or poorly edited the show, I mean, film was. When I heard Junior Lyons speak the chosen words this week, I was reminded of an article last month about his hosting of the Movie Night On xBox 360 in West Hollywood. Talking about the latest Box Office Smash version of the popular Scene It game, Lyons said “It keeps me on my toes. The questions help sharpen my knowledge.” Glad to know he needs a video game to keep those skills sharp. Kinda makes you wonder if it was really David Frost that Mankiewicz was referring to when he ran down the laundry list of:

“Trying to save his career. Trying to do the right thing. Trying to impress people he knew were smarter than he was.”

Is there really any “try” in Ben Lyons though? Sure, he’s trying to get himself quoted by calling I Am Legendone of the greatest movies ever made.” We can’t really say there’s any effort on his part on the show. Even his so-called awards expertise is little more than just throwing out names that anyone could have listed back in January as having potential heat in the race. Let’s listen to Lyons trying to sound smart though:

“And they did some creative license with the historical moments in this. I know that the fourth and final interview wasn’t about Watergate. It was one of the ones in the middle.”

Now, I’m not going to say Lyons is wrong here, because I have yet to see the original interviews. (They are on their way from Netflix.) But for the life of me I cannot find any information to back up that statement. In fact, even on the very DVD description of Liberation’s Frost/Nixon: The Original Watergate Interviews it states:

“The most famous of this series of interviews is in the final segment that focused solely on Watergate.”

So either Liberation Entertainment has their facts wrong or Lyons does. I’m siding with the DVD company here. (But I will be happy to follow-up in this very piece if the opposite turns out to be true.) You see, it was recently commented on a blog that linked to this piece that I have been unfair to Lyons. Imagine that, an actual defense. Specifically to last week’s quote about Gus Van Sant picking the last eight years of Harvey Milk’s life as the right time to tell this story. It was said that I was taking Lyons’ quote out of context and how he was really referring to Oliver Stone’s original decision to tell the story from Dan White’s point of view; a fact that I also quoted almost immediately after the original quote of the week. What said poster failed to recognize is that P.O.V. is not “time”. Right or wrong, that would be the "approach", not the "time". The greater point being is that this column will never just flippantly take something out of context to get a bigger laugh. We don’t need to. Ben Lyons is a walking, talking contradiction and all the ellipses in the world won’t connect the dots between him and intelligent movie criticism.

And he’s set himself up for this by making moronic comments about “not noticing editing unless its bad” and others about the very foundations of filmmaking and storytelling. Every week it seems we’re coming back to Lyons’ statement about Max Payne. Allow us to remind you:

“You know what hurts a movie like Max Payne is the success of the Batman franchise. That obviously is about story and character so they think for all films of the genre it’s gotta be about story and character and this whole backstory of him losing his wife. I don’t care about that. I wanna see Max Payne shoot people. That’s all I want from a movie like this.”

Between that and his fondest memory of James Bond being of a Nintendo 64 game, you wouldn’t be surprised if Hollywood executives were using Ben Lyons as a template demographic when trying to convince one another that if they continue to make these crappy video game movies, eventually one of them will click. Here is a trifecta of contradictions from Junior this week:

“And that’s the thing with Baz Luhrmann he hasn’t really worked since doing Moulin Rouge. He’s directed Nicole Kidman in some perfume commercials but I’m talking about creating character and story. Yes, visually it looks fantastic, the costumes are great. But when it gets down to it, it’s the story and the characters that really just don’t bring this together.”

“So we agree – it looks great but for just under three hours we gotta get some story in there as well.”

“Several of the action scenes are first-rate...But like Australia it’s the story or lack thereof that makes this the worst of the Transporter series.”

So all of a sudden he wants story and character. And don’t make the defense that one is Max Payne, a stupid shoot ‘em up time waster and the other is Australia, a nine-digit epic with major stars and looking for year-end honors. Excuse me, but then what the hell is TRANSPORTER 3!!!??? Lyons says to skip one (“a mindless, silly waste of time”) for not having a story but gives a complaint-filled “rent it” to the other for daring to try and aspire to be like Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. Max Payne and Transporter 3 are equal shit, although we agree that Natalya Rudakova is “one of the worst actresses I’ve seen on screen in a long time.” Let’s move on.

According to a report report, the ratings for At the Movies are down 23% and 1.7 million viewers. I know what you’re thinking. There are actually 1.7 million people watching this? Do those Nielsen boxes factor in people who fall asleep with the TV on after the news while the show plays? An ABC spokeswoman said that while the 25-54 age group is down to a 0.6 from a 0.8, the show has improved in the same group with women. Are they really trying to push that whole younger-and-cuter angle again? Do you see gals creating sleepovers just so they can see Ben Lyons talk about how he “loves women but he hates The Women?” (Full credit for the sleepover concept goes to my mom, who wondered that aloud.) Hey, if Junior can namedrop then so can I.

This week’s curveball came when he threw a shoutout to Kate Jennings Grant who plays Diane Sawyer in Frost/Nixon. Now we can’t find any connection between the two, but since Lyons never throws out a left field name he isn’t intrinsically linked to in some way, especially when the actress to my recollection never even has a line of dialogue in the film, the whole thing seems suspicious. So if anyone can produce a photo of the two or come up with a logical explanation why Lyons would single her out instead of ever mentioning the terrific work of Kevin Bacon or Oliver Platt or even Rebecca Hall (if he HAD to mention a woman) it would be greatly appreciated to satisfy our curiosity.

Back to those sleepovers though. Maybe if there is some female movement across the country instead of a morbid curiosity inspired by these columns, then they can always use a good drinking game. Those Sex and the City Cosmo parties or Twilight literacy gatherings wouldn’t have been able to make it through this week’s game though. Hell, even Karen Allen would have had trouble keeping up every time Oscar was brought up.

MANK (on Australia): “If you’re gonna talk about Oscars here you might be talking about a Cinematography Oscar.”

LYONS (before the first commercial): “Coming up next – two major movies garnering Oscar buzz.

MANK (on Frost/Nixon): “You know I think Frank Langella is probably going to get an Oscar nomination for this and deservedly so.”

LYONS (after Frost/Nixon): “From one Oscar contender to another. Our next movie is Milk.”

MANK (on Milk): “You know, Ben, I look forward to an Oscar race that could well include Sean Penn, could well include Frank Langella, could well include Michael Sheen. That could be a heavyweight battle.”

LYONS (immediately): “As well as James Franco in this too. Don’t forget about him in the supporting role.”

LYONS (previewing the “DVD out now” segment for American Teen, a DVD that won’t even be out for another three weeks on Dec. 21): “It’s one of the best documentaries of the year, but it won’t get its shot at the Oscar.”

LYONS (on Four Christmases): “You say I’m expecting too much from this film. Ben, it’s got five Oscar winners. Jon Voight, Robert Duvall, Mary Steenburgen, Reese Witherspoon, it’s one after another here.”

MANK: “I don’t think anybody thinks this film was going to win an Oscar when they set out to do it.”

LYONS: “I’m not saying its going to win an Oscar but I want a good romantic comedy and this isn’t that.”

Ratings down 23% and alcohol poisoning up 57. Lyons didn’t (or couldn’t) name the fifth Oscar winner in Four Christmases. (That would be Sissy Spacek). Guess it wasn’t a question on Scene It’s Box Office Smash. His inference that Four Christmases should be a better movie just because it contains Oscar winners is simply representative of the kind of lowbrow evaluation that associates a golden statuette with greatness. Did it make Baby Geniuses 2, The Scarlet Letter, Clifford, Trading Mom, Sweet Home Alabama, Just Like Heaven, Legally Blonde or Legally Blonde 2 any better? There are a lot of fantastic movies this very year that probably will be nowhere near the Oscar telecast. In Bruges, Snow Angels and Diary of the Dead to name just a few. You want a film left off the Documentary Committee’s short list? How about Kurt Kuenne’s Dear Zachary, far and away the best documentary of the year, and one that the show ignored several weeks ago in favor of reviewing Role Models a week early and re-reviewing Guy Ritchie’s horrendous RocknRolla? Where was the Oscar talk then? Oh right, still pushing Changeling and telling us how we can look for a Brangelina Oscar night.” Let me tell you something oh Oscar expert. Jolie is not a lock. She’s in the running, but its in one of the tightest races for Best Actress we’ve seen in some time with Kristin Scott-Thomas, Sally Hawkins, Kate Winslet, Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway and Melissa Leo. And by the time Gran Torino is released, who knows, we may have forgotten all about Changeling the way we did Flags of Our Fathers when Clint pulled the same trick in 2006 and 2004 (when Million Dollar Baby stole The Aviator’s thunder.) Ben doesn’t like to think ahead though as he commented at the xBox Movie Night:

“Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are going to get Oscar nominations. Brad for his work in Burn After Reading and Angelina for Changeling”

Not even for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I understand nobody had seen the entire movie at that point, but even a casual Oscar handicapper would say that Pitt is more likely to have a better chance with the film built to be an Oscar machine rather than Burn After Reading. Maybe I’ll be eating crow the morning I’ll be coming back from Sundance when the Oscar nominations are read on the Thursday after Barack Obama’s inauguration, but I’ll be happy to challenge Ben Lyons to an Oscar guess-off or a game of Box Office Smash or whatever. Hell, I’ll go to bat for five random colleagues to challenge him to both and we can see once and for all how hard he has to “try.”

Normally, I’d end on that note, but I’ll leave this week’s zinger to Mr. Mankiewicz. Aside from what may be the greatest thing he’s ever said (“You kick somebody in the face and they don’t bleed, I don’t believe it.”), if you don’t think there’s some subliminal shots taken at his co-host, then he’s happy to remove all the subtext and just give it to you straight. Even though Mank seemed to be defending Transporter 3 and Four Christmases a wee too much for them to be “skip it”s, he did throw this out on the latter to Lyons:

“You’re entirely too harsh on this movie. It’s like you were persuaded by what was maybe the worst trailer I’ve ever seen.”

Ben Lyons persuaded by something? Surely you jest.

“He also picked the right time to tell this story. He picked the last eight years of Harvey Milk’s life.”

As opposed to what? His grade school years? People who have been waiting to see this film made for years would have been in for quite a shock if they discovered Gus Van Sant had gone the J.J. Abrams Star Trek route with it. Freaks and Geeks with Harvey Milk on one side and Dan White on the other. Who knew they knew each other in high school? Hey Dan, I'll trade you your quiche for my Twinkie.

“Originally when the project was conceived, Oliver Stone was supposed to direct, and it was going to be told through the eyes of Dan White, Josh Brolin’s character. And I think it works this time.”

What do you mean, “works this time?” What other time did it not work? That time when it never happened? The Oscar-winning documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk, which you agreed with Mank is great? What frame of reference are you using? They are the only times his story has been told on film so can you focus on this time and not some imaginary project conceived in your short-term memory. Let's go from the real dumb to the real shock this week. Your panning of Twilight.

"I don’t want fine. I want great. I wanna see what all the hype is about. I’ve been hearing about these books and these characters and this love connection and I wanna see it on screen. I don’t want fine. I want big.

So said the boy who recommended we see the trailer of Twilight on one of his first shows as a grown-up movie reviewer. I refuse to ever use the word critic to describe Ben Lyons again. Did I ever? Twilight (the film, and not just the preview) was scheduled to be reviewed on last week’s show. All set up and advertised as the next of their early reviews, it was a no-show on the Nov. 15 telecast. Instead they went with Bolt. My guess was that Mankiewicz couldn’t in good conscience recommend it, therefore negating the age-old 99.5% policy that the show would only go early on a review when it received “Two Thumbs Up.” What I saw this week actually surprised me.

“Many people were excited about this film. I’m the one who told you to go out and watch the trailer. But it just didn’t meet my expectations. You’re not missing out on anything.”

Was that a mea culpa on the part of Ben Lyons? Likely as close to one as you’ll ever get. Maybe it’s the one piece of criticism from myself, Roger Ebert and god knows how many people who saw no credibility in Lyons’ opinion once he recommended a freakin’ trailer as part of his “3 to see.” Guess since he wasted our two-and-a-half minutes back in September, he didn’t want to be responsible for another two hours.

LYONS: “On screen it didn’t work. Maybe it works on the page and I’m not the intended audience.”
MANK: “This film is definitely a victim of its own expectations.”

Good thing your show wasn’t part of that hype, right Mank? This week’s chosen Lyons quote comes from their discussion of Twilight after his co-host (also saying “skip it”) said that he “thought everybody did fine." Interesting that Junior would choose to attack in this manner considering he’s known for coming up wishy-washy on many a show. In this I’m referring to the show’s use of the “rent it” as a form of recommendation. It isn’t really. Any great film worth seeing is worth seeing in a theater. In concept, I understand it. Consumers may not be willing to shell out ten bucks plus on just any ol’ movie. They may choose to just rent it months down the road. But why stop there? Why not expand the review charts even further? If it’s not really a “see it”, but only a “rent it” is it the kind that’s worth actually making the drive to your local video outlet or the kind you could still wait another extra day or two for with Netflix where you don’t even have to leave the house. Why not just wait for cable? Then again, if it’s a “see it” – is it worth the $10 or merely a matinee price? Or should people wait until they are 65 and grab that senior discount? A “rent it” is a moot point anyway. Since you’re reviewing films that are playing in theaters, people can’t rent it yet. Unless it’s an IFC On Demand kind of thing. Otherwise, a “rent it” is still a “see it.” If it’s good enough to rent, then its good enough to see.

In eleven previous weeks on the show, Lyons has played the “rent it” card a dozen times. (Lakeview Terrace, Igor, Appaloosa, Nights In Rodanthe, Flash of Genius, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Max Payne, What Just Happened, Happy-Go-Lucky, High School Musical 3, Splinter, Soul Men). Mankiewicz, to date, has only done it twice for Traitor and Battle In Seattle. So, we’re talking over two months that Mank has grasped the understanding that recommending a movie means recommending a movie in whole. There was no middle thumb. It was either up or it was down, even if it was marginal either way. It also explains what Mank’s numbers on the show have made him look like a softie, in essence saying that 31 of the 50 films he’s reviewed were worth checking out. Using the same scoring system, Lyons has given the go-ahead to 34-of-50. Sixty-two and Sixty-eight percent positive. Those are pretty happy-go-lucky numbers, even for casual film lovers. Just for the hell of it, I gathered what the list of theatrical releases I’ve seen from Aug. 29-to-Nov. 21, roughly the same period that Lyons and Mankiewicz have culled from. I’ve seen 59 releases. How many of those would I have given a “see it” to on the show? Twenty-two. Roughly 37% positive. My colleague here at the site and fellow Chicago Film Critics Association board member, Peter Sobczynski, is at 28% going 50 reviews from Mirrors-to-Bolt. Think that’s too harsh? Want to throw out some glib response how we don’t like movies? (Peter is going positive on Australia and Transporter 3.) Or should we be recommending movies such as Special like Lyons does?

LYONS: “I think you’re too harsh on this movie Mank. I say see it. Partly because Michael Rapaport in the lead doesn’t happen too often.
MANK: There are basically no extras on the street – the kind of thing drives me crazy.”

And, at least, we’re not panning movies due to lack of extras.

“I just thought it was a cool indie film with a great leading performance from an actor we usually don’t get to see in a lead.”

Yeah, we heard you Junior. It was like when you re-recommended Quantum of Solace last week because James Bond films don’t come along too often. By that logic The Odd Couple II should be the greatest film of all time.

MANK: “If you’re a fan of Michael Rapaport you should encourage him to keep working but we’re not going to suspend the rules of what’s a good movie and a bad movie just because I like Michael Rapaport.”

LYONS: “This is a fun premise and an interesting take on superhero films. And I like seeing low budget superhero film and not another just huge multi million-dollar thing.”

You can bleep back the Tivo as many times as you want. You still won’t hear any plural on “I like seeing low budget superhero film.” You’re a good little Lyons, aren’t ya? You sure you’re the one who isn’t “special?” Tell people what’s so cool about Let the Right One In, the better vampire movie in theaters now.

“Something that’s really cool about the movie is that the director of Cloverfield, Matt Reeves, is noew adapting this for American audiences. So we’re going to have this story come to theaters in the upcoming years in English.”

Jesus Christ! Why in the hell is THAT cool?

“A Swedish arthouse film is a tough sell when Twilight is at the Cineplex as well.”

Yes I understand that, but you’re falling into the same trap again by telling people to look forward to a movie that they can not possibly see. Last time it was two months. This time it’s at least two years. For a film that hasn’t even been cast yet. Of all the cool things about Let the Right One In, you pick something that isn’t even relevant to its coolness.

Let’s bring this week’s discussion full circle though with their review of Lake City, a film currently scoring 16 out of 17 negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes where the rating scale is, quite simply, Fresh or Rotten. Lyons spoke:

“Just when you think the movie will meander down some sappy road towards salvation, it will change direction on you, saving itself (and YOU) from another star-studded indie failure. This is not the case. An interesting little film, but not enough to see in theaters. I say rent it.”

OK, so now we’re streamlining the Lyons “rent it” scheme. Get it on cable, Netflix, see it at a neighbor’s – just don’t bother seeing it in theaters? What do you think, Mank?

MANK: “You shouldn’t go see this movie. You shouldn’t see it in your house and you shouldn’t see it in theaters.”

Not even in a house with a mouse eating Green Eggs and Ham? What do you have to say to that, Junior?

LYONS: “No, but to see Dave Matthews like this is pretty cool for fans of his music to see him involved as an actor. Sissy Spacek’s great and Troy Garity in the lead, someone we’ve only seen in supporting roles. All reasons to go out and actually watch this film, so rent it at home.”

Wait a m-m-m-m-inute, Junior! “Go out and actually watch this film, so rent it at home.

“Go out and actually watch this film, so rent it at home.”

I’m sorry, but the line just speaks for itself. You obviously feel strongly enough about these three reasons to GO OUT and see the film, including throwing the Rapaport Lead argument again, so why RENT it. Grow some balls and make a decision. Get off the pot and stop shitting all over this show.

MANK: “This is, I think, as good a movie as you can get, while still being a skip it…A movie that ultimately, just didn’t really ring true. As I said, it’s fine in every way.”

In between that ellipsis, Mankiewicz was given time to deliver a piece of criticism that may have been the most interesting on the show to date. Certainly something that went over the head of Lyons, who would then cut him off to respond with…

LYONS: “Like you said, fine, fine, fine all the way and that would have made it just another Hallmark movie of the week.but it’s not because it changes gears a little bit. I don’t want to give it away but you don’t see certain things coming.”

Lyons already told us. He doesn’t want fine. He wants great. He wants big. That doesn’t necessarily mean story, character and noticeable editing, as long as Max Payne just shoots people. He wants classics of epic and scope and films he can O-O-O-Oscar about. And if doesn’t meet those expectations, well c’est la vie and rent it. Understand now, oh-ye-of-little-rent, Mank?

MANK: “I’m always warning myself against superlatives on this show.”


Mank throws down on the Lyons. Sure sounded that way didn’t it? Maybe for an encore he can remind his co-host that name-dropping is not an admirable quality. This week during Mankiewicz’s “3 To See”, Lyons said that he loves “seeing Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who played McLovin in Superbad, evolve in this film as a totally different character in just his second movie.” We already know that he not only has been seen hanging out with Christopher but that he was also in a party scene in Superbad. So not the biggest shock that he would trump his performance over Paul Rudd, Seann William Scott or Jane Lynch. But when you go back to what he managed to actually praise about Twilight, he offered…

LYONS: “Edi Gathegi is great as Laurent. He’s in it for two scenes.”

In criticizing the film for only giving Edi Gathegi a couple of scenes to spread his greatness, maybe Lyons could have been given another moment to explain why he singled him out amidst the ensemble cast. Maybe it’s because Gathegi was yet another participant in the splendor that was Ben Lyons’ birthday party. In a post on Clinton Sparks' blog (Lyons’ DJ co-host for E!’s SMASHTIME), you can find the following listing:

“The Daily 10 on E! SMASHTIME Saturday's Ben Lyons Birthday at Body English in Las Vegas, NV at The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino with Idris Elba, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Aaron Yoo, Edi Gathegi, BoA Kwan, Sal Masekela & Ben Lyons on October 18th, 2008”

Lyons has now managed to work into At the Movies, the names of his party pals, Idris Elba, Jamie-Lynn Sigler and, now, Edi Gathegi. Too bad his birthday didn’t fall before the release of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. He could have singled out Aaron Yoo as one of the positives. Don’t worry though, we fully expect him to spread some love to Mr. Yoo when the Friday the 13th remake comes out next Feburary. Provided a replacement on the show hasn’t already been made that frees up Junior’s schedule to go out and rent as many Edi Gathegi movies as he can get his hands on.

“Personally, my favorite is Goldeneye cause that’s the first one I saw in the theater. It was the first one for Pierce Brosnan. And that was also groundbreaking outside of just movies cause that’s when the first person action video game Bond franchise was launched which I wasted many hours of my childhood playing.”

I’m sorry, but I thought I was watching a show called At the Movies. Since Lyons has already applied his singular video game mentality into the way he watches movies (“I just wanna see Max Payne shoot people. That’s all I want from a movie like this.”) why should we surprised that he would work in a Nintendo game into the discussion of the best Bond films during the return of the Critic’s Round-Up? Since the last thing I would want to do is mislead readers considering the name of the column, I am heretofore obligated to lead with one of Junior’s potent potables. But on Ben-O-Stupidity meter this week, the needle was most certainly leaning into Mankiewicz’s territory. He wasn’t quite reaching into the depths of idiocracy normally employed on a segment-by-segment basis by his partner, but Mankiewicz’s squint-worthy statements certainly trumped most of Lyons’ face time in this – week 11.

Starting with this week’s early review of Bolt, Lyons had the astute observation that he thought “it fits the Mankiewicz test for animated films – what is it, right? – it’s gotta be fun for the kids and also appeal to the older audiences as well.” That’s a Mankiewicz special, is it? That logic doesn’t translate to at least 90% of critics forced to sit through Fly Me To The Moon and The Pirates Who Do Anything: A VeggieTales Movie. What about films like Chicago 10 and Persepolis? Are those fun for the kids? Since they shouldn’t be going to those movies in the first place, does that put Mank in the precarious position of having to pan them? Let’s see it through Mank’s own words though.

“2008 certainly has been a good year for animation. WALL-E, Madagascar 2, Kung Fu Panda were all sophisticated animated features telling compelling stories.”

At least he only used the word “good” to describe the year in animation. Lyons may have gone with a stronger adjective considering his superlatives for Kung Fu Panda and Horton Hears a Who this year. Really though, Madagascar Escape 2 Africa is worthy of that “sophisticated” category? I guess the rule of three dictates you needed a third and the choices are certainly limited. But if 2008 was good enough to include Madagascar Freakin’ TWO then why not include something like Chicago 10 just to mix things up? Splitting hairs, I guess. Tell us more about Bolt, Mank.

“The film is funny with a sophistication that might actually appeal more to adults…”

There’s that word again. Does saying it bring hope that it may actually rub off on your partner? How’s the 3-D?

“It doesn’t engage in any hacky 3-D tricks like throwing things right at the audience’s face like a toothbrush or peanut butter.”

Um, OK. I seem to have forgotten all about the memorable PB&J3-D from the ‘80s, but is it the gimmick that is hacky or the critic who can’t think of anything more from the 3-D evolution than hauling condiments at the audience? Thankfully kids may not immediately associate the infamous tale of a dog and a can of Jif. Between that and letting us know during the Bond round-up that you would “watch Famke Janssen eat oatmeal” maybe that’s not the only thing you were hoping would rub off. Very sophisticated, Mank. What do you like about the film, Junior?

“This is more than tolerable….Cause this is kinda inside Hollywood and its funny and its sweet and its got some tender moments. And I like that Miley Cyrus is again playing a girl who doesn’t really want to deal with all the things of being famous. She just wants to be a normal girl and I think that’s admirable for young girls to sorta aspire to.”

So little girls should aspire to be famous like Miley Cyrus just so they can be admirable for not wanting to deal with being famous? Your logic is all backwards, Lyons. It’s admirable for little girls not to aspire to be famous. That way they can someday avoid all the hassles that come with celebrity – like the paparazzi, free drugs and eventually having to pose with you in your E! blog and pretending to be your friend. And you’re not fooling anyone, pal, with statements like this:

“What if I told that one of the coolest and most creative films of the fall starred...Jean Claude Van Damme? Is that something you might be interested in?”

We get it. It’s amusing when Tony Reali does it on Around the Horn as he’s just throwing around pop culture references. That’s Martin Landau’s signature line on Entourage. Why would you reference Entourage? Oh, I don’t know. Your pal Jamie-Lynn, she of the three most memorable people to emerge from The Sopranos (your words), returns to the show this week so maybe that’s your little Carol Burnett signal to Sigler?

One of the aspects of the show this column may have to begin keeping track of, solely for the purposes of those who would like a game to go along with their binge drinking during it is how often these guys are going to use the word “Oscar” or “award” during each telecast. A few weeks ago, Mankiewicz had to tell Lyons to calm down over his incessant jangling that Changeling is an awards contender, but this week he’s playing both sides of the fence. Your first drink this week would have come at the tail end of their Bolt discussion. According to Mank:

"Tough race for Best Animated Feature this year. Bolt definitely in the running.”

Yes, we actually knew this since Bolt was one of 14 animated features qualified by the Academy last week. Semantics, I know. He meant more towards the top of those 14. But so what? Of the 14 qualifiers, even I had to look up three of them (Dragon Hunters, The Sky Crawlers, Sword of the Stranger). Those 11 also includes Fly Me To The Moon, Igor, an Australian production ($9.99) that got mixed reviews at Toronto and a film called Delgo that features the voicework of Freddie Prinze Jr. and Jennifer Love Hewitt. We’ve just eliminated half of the competition right there. Just being in the top half of anything puts you in the running. So, not much of a stance by Mank. Assuming the Oscars only nominate three films, as they have six of the seven times since the category’s inception in 2001 (only in ’02 did they nominate five) it’s safe to assume that WALL-E is going to fill one the spots. (Pixar is 5-for-5 in nominations here.) That leaves two slots and six films. I wouldn’t bet against Kung Fu Panda filling one of them. In total that leaves not just Bolt but also Horton Hears a Who, Madagascar 2, The Tale of Despereaux and Waltz With Bashir. And Disney hasn’t locked up two of the nods since 2003. So yes, Bolt is in the running. Just as the Detroit Lions are in the running. Until about Week Four.

Your second drink comes during the debate over Slumdog Millionaire in which we get another of Mank’s patented “calm down”’s. Only he’s not just talking to Lyons but also to “everybody else who has overhyped this movie.” Sure, I guess it’s not as “important” as Flash of Genius and What Just Happened?. We wouldn’t want to overhype those movies now, would we Mank? Lyons actually comes off like the informed one here, explaining how a film with a complete absence of name stars, needs hype and word-of-mouth to get people into the theater. “Get used to me taking about this movie during the awards show season” and “Look for multiple Oscar nominations for this movie,” Lyons said. (Drink!)

LYONS: “It’s a Best Picture nomination, you heard it here first buddy."
MANKIEWICZ: “No it’s not.”

Really, Mank? Not even “in the running?” When you get down to it there are really only five films left to get some significant screening time (that we haven’t seen yet in Chicago) that could have a shot at a Best Picture nod. And they are, in order, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Doubt, Revolutionary Road, Gran Torino and Australia. Their direct competition comes in the form of The Dark Knight, Frost/Nixon, Milk, WALL-E (hopefully) and, yes, Slumdog Millionaire. If you want to be a movie review show, then be that. If you want to play the Oscar gambit, you better learn to play because your co-host’s rub off skills are beginning to rub off on you.

The parting thought on Week 11 comes from Lyons’ final statement of the week which was considered for quote of the week simply in its desperation. He said:

“Unprecedented for us to agree so much but that’s just the way the movies played out this week.”

It's been suggested that the show, in one way or another, has tried to coax more of an adversarial relationship out of the two Bens. With only three films reviewed this week (Bolt, Slumdog Millionaire, JCVD); one of those an early review they can't break bad on, and one receiving universal acclaim that Mank wants calmed down, the odds were already against them (just this week) that they would be duking it out. For giggles I went to the statistics we’ve been keeping for 11 weeks on the show. Up to this week, Mankiewicz was leading the charge in “see it”’s vs. “skip it”’s and “rent it”’s 26-19-2 compared to Lyons’ 19-16-12. There were three films that they each reviewed independently as part of the Critic’s Round-Up (Righteous Kill, Miracle at St. Anna and Religulous) so that leaves 44 films. How many of them do you think they agreed upon? 24. Fifty-four percent. More than half of the time they agreed (13 see it & 11 skip it.) You add in the three see it’s they each gave this week and we’re up to 57% agreement. Hardly unprecedented.

“We understand what the Quantum of Solace is and we’re not going to give it away.”

Ever since the 22nd Bond picture announced its new title, people have been wondering the same thing. What the hell kind of title is that? Obviously after Portion of Alleviation and Bulk of Misfortune were rejected, they settled on a title that would one day provide Ben Lyons the opportunity to make another completely off-the-cuff, dumb-ass statement. He talks about it like it’s the treasure at the end of a rainbow. Gots to find me some of dat Quantum of Solace. The title in fact comes from a passage of dialogue in Ian Fleming’s For Your Eyes Only.

"I’ve seen flagrant infidelities patched up, I’ve seen crimes and even murder foreign by the other party, let alone bankruptcy and other forms of social crime. Incurable disease, blindness, disaster - all of these can be overcome. But never the death of common humanity in one of the partners. I’ve thought about this and I’ve invented a rather high-sounding title for this basic factor in human relations. I have called it the law of the Quantum of Solace.”

Ba-da-BA-DA! There you have it. In the book, Bond said it was “a splendid name for it.” For the law, if not a movie. “Quantum of Solace - the amount of comfort. Yes, I suppose you can say that all love and friendship is based in the end on that. Human beings are very insecure. When the other person not only makes you feel insecure but actually seems to want to destroy you, it’s obviously the end. The Quantum of Solace stands at zero. You’ve got to get away to save yourself."

Ba-da-BA-DA! As any review of the film will tell you, Quantum of Solace picks up almost immediately after the end of Casino Royale and the ads have already revealed that Bond is after revenge for the death of Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd. There is nothing to give away, Ben, although that’s precisely how you setup the clips on the show. So not only are you a dumbass, you’re a liar. Speaking of reviews though, Quantum of Solace got the “early” treatment again which, of course, means a pair of “see it”’s for the film. But if you listened to their review, it was mostly a series of problems with it.

“But I thought the action sequences were out-of-order, the movie is so heavy with action at the start. You literally start the film in a car chase that picks up supposedly 20 minutes where the last film left off and then there’s, like, an hour where NOTHING happens and it really kinda takes the wind out of your sails for being so excited to see this movie.”

Precisely what order did you expect them to be in, Junior? In the first 38 minutes of the film, audiences get a car chase, a foot chase/fight/shootout, an apartment mano-a-mano and a boat chase. I’m sure Sony is thrilled that you just told them that their 100-minute film (the shortest Bond film in history) has a full HOUR where NOTHING happens. Were you texting through it again? How do you conclude that nothing happens for an hour? Even in the final hour there’s a fancy opera shootout, a flippin’ AIRPLANE chase, at least one other quick escape and the big finale. You’re the guy who said you just “wanna see Max Payne shoot people.” So here you go – James Bond gives you at least seven action set pieces in 105 minutes (and that includes close to 10 minutes of credits and that God awful Alicia Keys/Jack White song.) That’s an action sequence on average, every 15 minutes. More than enough to please even fans on the fringe of Bond. You could criticize the editing of the action, except YOU never notice editing unless its bad. You could say that director MarcKite RunnerForster stifles the film’s talking points and doesn’t flesh out the plotting enough. But instead you make an uninformed, obviously false statement because your brain is still on the hunt for the Solace’s Quantum.

Their conversation seemed like it met the bare minimum requirement to qualify the review as worthy of getting the early treatment. Namely just saying “see it.” Suggesting that the Bens agreed to give the film a pass in order to review the film a week early is a rather base accusation that holds no water. They probably did like it marginally and Sony was happy to get any positives out there in the lexicon aside from the trades. Case closed. Just like Summit is going to be happy to get an early review next week for Twilight, which was previewed as being on the upcoming show. Any review for Twilight should set off the sirens for those familiar with Lyons’ recommendations. On one of the very first shows as part of the “3 to see”, Junior said that we should see anything we can associated with the film Twilight, even though the film wasn’t coming out for another two months and all that existed for people at the moment was the release of the new trailer. That means, back in September, there was easily less than a 1% chance that Lyons would go negative on it. And here’s nearly definitive proof. You don’t think he wants to look like an idiot, having hyped up a frickin’ trailer two months ago, only to tell viewers that he was wrong. Tune in next week as Ben Lyons gets in touch with his inner teenage girl while us adults watch True Blood on HBO.

You think we’re jumping the gun on that prediction? Maybe you’d say look at Lyons’ Comic-con interview with Paris Hilton and Darren Lynn Bousman about Repo!: The Genetic Opera. He could help pre-hype that film and still say that “you wanna go home and take a shower and clean off the filth that you’ve just been inundated with,” after seeing it. But that’s just another part of the Ben Lyons publicity machine. Bad interviews. One asks a couple basic questions at a fan convention is not equal to recommending people watch a trailer because he’s so excited about it. There’s a reason most professionals won’t do an interview with someone unless they’ve (A) seen the actual film and much of the time (B) actually liked it. “I can’t express enough how much I loathe this movie,” said Lyons about Repo. Do tell.

“This is not even the Lloyd Kaufman Troma films like The Toxic Avenger and Surf Nazis Must Die. Or one of those or even those old B-movies like Plan 9 From Outer Space. This is not even as good as those pieces of garbage. This is really horrendous.”

You’re on a roll, Junior. Go on.

“I don’t know if words can describe just how awful and disgusting and insulting this movie was to watch…to make. I never thought I’d say this but Paris Hilton is better than this in a lot of ways.”

Like when you wondered if Bousman had hired Hilton because he was familiar with her previous work. (He asked him knowingly.) Can words describe just how “awful and disgusting and insulting” this movie was to watch…or make? Why don’t you ask Mr. Bousman the next time you run into him? Maybe he can make heads or tails on what you said about Soul Men:

“The most impressive aspect of Soul Men is not the chemistry between Jackson and Mac, which is there, but somehow gets smothered in the film’s excessively vulgar language. But it’s their ability, or rather inability, to sing as the duo does do a stand-out job knocking out several songs on the film’s soundtrack.”

So the Jackson/Mac chemistry isn’t the most impressive aspect, although its there, albeit getting smothered by bad language. No, according to Junior Lyons, the most impressive part of Soul Men is how bad Jackson and Mac sing. I’m reading that right, aren’t I? I actually had to go back to the Tivo to make sure I heard that correctly. It’s THEIR ability….to sing as the duo DOES DO a stand-out job? I’ll let the English majors have some fun with that. But what precisely is impressive about two actors knocking out songs if you don’t believe they are singing them well in the first place? There’s no running joke in the film that they are supposed to be bad singers. They may have lost a step in their stage presence, but the singing is supposed to be good. This doesn’t even qualify as faint praise. Basically you’re saying that you were completely impressed by how badly Jackson and Mac’s vocals were. And what movie were these guys watching anyway? Soul Men would need C. Thomas Howell in blackface to ratchet it up to a “skip it.” Maybe Lyons was busy again looking for the quantum of solace.

It was Mankiewicz’s turn with the “3 to see” this week and he managed to pick two films that are almost guaranteed to make my Worst-of-2008 list. Granted, there’s not a whole lot to see out there these days – but just by using Mank’s own “see it” list, he by-passed films like Happy-Go-Lucky, Role Models, Zack and Miri Make a Porno (which was his #2) and even Changeling to put Soul Men at the top of his list. I don’t know if Mank saw it in a “packed house” as he mentioned twice during the show, but I’d be shocked if you could pull a laugh track out of that audience worthy enough for The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer. Mankiewicz apparently has become the prototypical critic that studios hope can be influenced by an audience at a free promo screening. His #3 choice, if you’re checking off films not to see, was Guy Ritchie’s RocknRolla which is somehow getting better for him the more distance he puts himself from it. Mank was the one mentioning Idris Elba this week, but Lyons dropped some other names: “Jeremy Piven and Ludacris in the few scenes they have, the only Americans, make it really enjoyable.” AMERICA – FUCK YEAH!

Lyons couldn’t resist though getting in a plug for another good friend of his. During Mank’s recommendation for the complete series of The Sopranos on DVD, Junior pointed out that “James Gandolfini, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Edie Falco, (were) all iconic characters in the history of television.” Not Michael Imperioli or Lorraine Bracco or even Joe Pantoliano. That’s right, because when we all think of the show we’ll always remember Meadow Soprano, one of the least interesting, least substantial, uninteresting characters past the first season. Of course, she didn’t come to our birthday party either. Maybe if Big Pussy would have shown up you would have mentioned HIS name before Edie Falco, instead of just living up to the moniker on your own show.

“I like Splinter too, I just don’t have the stomach for horror movies. Life is too short. I have to say rent it.”

Where do we begin this week? Do we go straight into Lyons’ new habit of wishy-washy misdirection in his recommendations or how his credibility for objectivity just continues to take hit after hit? How do you go on record saying that you liked Splinter but then only tell your viewers to rent it? Considering Splinter is available On Demand day and date with the limited theatrical release, I suppose you could say that you may as well “rent it” for $6.99 instead of trucking down to a theater in the city and paying parking and $10 ticket prices. But you didn’t say that. You said you liked it, then told us to just rent it because you don’t have the stomach for a genre. You agreed with your partner’s assessment of the film (“Not clichéd at all”) but then told the audience that THEY should only rent it because YOU are a pussy. I’m sorry, but what else does not having the stomach for something mean? I hate watching live surgeries on television. If that makes me a pussy then so be it. Then again, that’s real. I don’t like seeing dogs killed on screen either, but at the end of the day, it’s JUST A MOVIE! Maybe this is your way of following in the footsteps of Siskel & Ebert who were known in their day to go off on films like I Spit On Your Grave and The Hitcher. But they also dedicated part of a show to praising John Carpenter’s Halloween.

“There is a difference between good and scary movies and movies that systematically demean half the human race. There is a difference between movies which are violent but entertaining and movies that are gruesome and despicable. There is a difference between a horror movie and a freak show.”Roger Ebert

In one shot, you have told us precisely how you feel about horror movies and what we can expect in the future from you. Life is TOO SHORT? You’re not the average Joe on the street trying to decide between Saw 5 and Changeling. You’re a film critic! And one who has basically taken over The Tonight Show, the most recognized program in your field. You’re supposed to be the standard, evaluating each film on their own merit when the lights go down, not flip-flopping in the middle of sentences and thinking that “the big franchise movies like Saw or The Hills Have Eyes…get too complicated for their own good.” First off, The Hills Have Eyes is hardly a franchise and even the hardcore horror apologists would have trouble defending the sequel’s complexity. Wonder what you thought of The Reaping, 28 Weeks Later, the Prom Night remake and Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls. After all, they were all horror films and your buddy, Idris Elba, was in it. Or was that before you met him? Once again, in a rehash of their review of RocknRolla, Junior Lyons couldn’t help throw out a reminder that ol’ Stringer Bell “is great, he’s about to be a big star” despite the cat being out of the bag that they co-hosted an event in Las Vegas a few weeks back.

“Nobody does gangster films better than Guy Ritchie…British gangster films at least.”

Nice save there, Junior. Assuming he’s thinking living filmmakers and not all-time (since, frankly, no one believes he’s seen a movie before 1970), one at first must have been crying out names like Scorsese, Coppola, DePalma and Tarantino at the TV screen peppered with enough expletives to make a Teret’s patient say “golly.” By reducing it even further to the prolific “British gangster” genre, Lyons tried to stave off embarrassment but has essentially reduced Guy Ritchie to being Crash Davis. Sexy Beast, Croupier and A Very British Gangster aren’t quite in the same league with The Godfather, GoodFellas or Scarface, but even these other directors with some minor association to the genre have moved on to other projects. Jonathan Glazer went on to do Birth (sorry for that reminder.) Even Ritchie’s boy, Matthew Vaughn, went on to do Stardust (again, sorry) and is currently filming an adaptation of the comic book series, Kick-Ass. Ritchie has made the same movie four times, although since he’s the only one basically still making British Gangster Films I guess then, by default, that would make him the best. As well as the worst.

It’s amazing how you can’t go one segment now on At the Movies without Lyons making a qualifying statement for this column. Like on their “exclusive” early review of Role Models.

“It’s really cool to see David Wain directing. He’s a writer on this as well as Paul Rudd. David Wain, part of the old comedy troupe, The State, from MTV. And it’s different than the Judd Apatow comedies. It has an entirely different brand of humor.”

He is aware that David Wain directing is not a new thing, right? This is not like some cool surprise sprung upon the world of comedy in 2008. Maybe he meant “cool to see David Wain directing…again” since 2001’s very funny Wet Hot American Summer still retains only a minor cult status. But Wain also did last year’s The Ten. Spotty, for sure, but not forgettable if, you know, it was only a year ago and its your job to kind of keep track of these things. And I’d like him to explain how the very funny Role Models is all that “entirely different” than the “R”-rated Judd Apatow films. Oops, was that an early review on my part? Or maybe Universal would like to explain why these guys can wax positive on a film while the rest of us obey the rules. Maybe because they let Ben Lyons visit the set which he brags about on his blog and already made the pre-determination that "David Waine has something special on his hands. This could be a buddy comedy for the ages." He can't even spell the director's name right and yet Universal continues to demean online critics as the ones who break the rules. If they can do it, why can’t we? What’s the big deal? It’s not like we’re sending out mixed signals or anything.

“When I told a friend of mine I was off to see Zack and Miri Make a Porno I was asked with a significant degree of derision I might add, “OH, are you one of those Seth Rogen fans?” Well I paused and pondered a bit before saying “YES, yes I am a Seth Rogen fan. And then I saw THIS movie.”

That’s Ben Mankiewicz setting up his review for Kevin Smith’s latest. There’s no editing there. No tricks. No Obama quotes out of context. Said precisely as written and emphasized in the same way. If I could set up a survey here and ask whether you thought this statement alone was the beginning of a positive or negative review (or a “see it”/”skip it”) I would guess that 95% of you would believe “Mank” was going negative (with a 5% +/- for Palin supporters.) Except you would be wrong.

“Really, without any reservations, Ben (Lyons), I say see it.”

Wait, WHAT? You opened by taking a stand against some “friend” of yours who was deriding Seth Rogen, unquestionably one of the brightest comedic actors working today. You admitted to being a fan, doubling up on the yes’, but then you said “then I saw THIS movie” implying that you WERE a fan until you saw Zack and Miri Make A Porno. In one line you have made one of many possible implications. Maybe you’re tired of Rogen’s shtick. Maybe you hated the movie or his character so much that you won’t be featuring the broadcast trailer debut of his next movie. The viewers clearly would infer that you despised this movie enough to completely reverse your field on Rogen’s body of work. And yet, you had nothing but positive thoughts about it and said see it “without any reservations.” Is the crew playing tricks on you guys again? Like when they misspelled Rachael Getting Married behind Lyons? Did they switch your teleprompter thoughts from Filth and Wisdom to the Smith film? Did you use to be a Madonna fan until you saw her directorial debut “ironically” on the same week as Guy Ritchie’s?

MANKIEWICZ: “Couldn’t be more wrong. This is a terrible, terrible, worthless movie that you shouldn’t give any time to.”

LYONS: “Worthless? It’s definitely not worthless.”

Hold up, let us run back the Tivo to the beginning of this review. Lyons, take it from the top.

“Ben and I have reviewed and discussed films from the likes of Oliver Stone, Clint Eastwood, Spike Lee and Jonathan Demme to name a few. Now I never thought I’d ever add Madonna to that list and I’m not comparing her to the great directors I just mentioned. But, after seeing her directorial debut, Filth and Wisdom, I’m confident that the Material Girl has more good material for movies ahead of her.”

Oh good lord. Having seen this Zero Star film I’m more in line with my Chicago colleague, Peter Sobczynski, who said Filth and Wisdom “may be the single most disastrous film perpetrated by a musical icon since Paul McCartney made Give My Regards to Broad Street." Counter, Junior?

“As expected, the music draws you in as do the beautifully sheik and grungy cast members. Sexually charged, but twistedly funny, Filth and Wisdom is simple but daring and well executed… It’s not contrived or forced in any way… I liked the fact that she removed herself from it. I could watch this movie and have no idea that Madonna directed it and find myself lost in these London characters.”

Color me rightly suspicious after the whole Elbagate incident, but I couldn’t help wonder if maybe there was some connection between Lyons and the Material Girl’s film. We’ve already seen him hanging out with Christopher Mintz-Plasse (picture courtesy of Defamer), which doesn’t make Role Models any less funny but harder to see his review as objective. Is it a coincidence that just a year ago Lyons was in Vegas hosting a costume contest at the Hard Rock’s Body English on the same night that F&W’s star, Eugene Hutz was DJ’ing at the Beauty Bar on Fremont Street? Lyons hangs with DJ’s. Who knows, maybe they partied after hours? Admittedly there’s no concrete proof like Junior and Elba plugging away for each other on different shows, but it’s the kind of possibility that comes with the lack of credibility that we’ve been talking about here for years and that is quickly beginning to branch out on the Scott Johnson’s Stop Ben Lyons blog and Roger Ebert’s “inspired” slam on his replacement without ever mentioning his name.

According to the show this week, Lyons listed his role models as his parents (“of course”), “a few professional athletes and filmmakers like Spike Lee and Woody Allen, to name a few.” It’s too bad that Junior didn’t look up to a better film critic. He could have avoided being mocked so openly by one of the pioneers whom he first thanked for warming up the chair he now sits in today. Now it’s occupied by an Oscar “expert” with no expertise who continues to push Changeling (“The Academy is going to eat this one up.”) despite most of the major Oscar films still sitting in the editing rooms and who thinks Kung Fu Panda is “hands down, the best animated movie of the year.” Maybe this just offends me as someone who believes 2008 has WALL-E and then everything else in the animated department (I’d actually put Kung Fu Panda second on my list) but “hands down?” Not even a mention of WALL-E? His quote on the ads for Panda called it “the coolest kids comedy of the year.” Cool doesn’t exactly translate into “hands down best.” Nothing like what he said about Horton Hears a Who:

“Horton is hilarious! Brilliant from top to bottom. Finally, Dr. Seuss as it was meant to be seen. The first movie to truly capture the magic of ‘The Seuss Imagination.’”

Maybe if Horton made it onto DVD (Dec. 9) before Kung Fu Panda (Nov. 9) and WALL-E (Nov. 18) it would have got the “hands down” and back and forth at a medium pace treatment. Then again, it still might. Let’s also note that Kung Fu Panda couldn’t even make Lyons’ top 10 list for the summer, which found room for The Wackness (“the story of my life growing up in New York”), Bra Boys (which was directed by a friend of his at E!) and The House Bunny (“Even though my dialogue was cut out of the film.”) No mention of Kung Fu Panda and no mention anywhere of the Best Picture worthy, WALL-E, except on his Beat Ben @ the Box Office column where he pimped Wanted and said it won’t be #1, adding "(thanks, WALL-E)." Did the animated robot not pose for a photo with you, Junior? Too complex for you with all that story and character and not enough of that intense diction from Guy Ritchie’s dialogue?

My final thought on the show this week is this. With little opening this week aside from Zack and Miri and the Critics Round-Up seemingly a thing of the past with its second straight absence, the half-hour was filled out with a big studio film they could have easily reviewed next week instead of hyping it as an “exclusive”, a re-review of RocknRolla, and a catch-up review of a film the studio didn’t want anyone to see last week (Passengers). The rest was devoted to a pair of indie films that people can order up on pay-per-view at home. It’s nice to see some time devoted to smaller films, but if these guys really wanted to be taken seriously then they should work on their clock management. Filth and Wisdom and Splinter could easily have been thrown into a single segment. Role Models could have been reviewed next weekend. We heard about Idris Elba’s RocknRolla weeks ago. And why the hell are you running a full trailer for the upcoming Wendy and Lucy?

Again, supporting independent film is a good thing. But have they seen the movie? If one of them had introduced the FULL trailer (which reflects the quietness of the actual film that should give Lyons plenty of time to text through it without missing a thing) with the preface that they had seen it at the Toronto Film Festival (where I suspect Lyons was too busy getting his picture taken to actually choose it over anything else) and loved it enough to make their audience aware of it now – I would have no objection. But neither of them said that. So, in essence, this was just taking the “3 To See” (as long as one of them is a trailer Lyons is excited about) to the next level. A full two-and-a-half minutes that they could have devoted to reviewing any number of films that could use a little show of support on a nationally-syndicated television show. Like maybe Kurt Kuenne’s astounding Dear Zachary (incidentally released by the same company, Oscilloscope), a documentary so amazing that Lyons’ head would literally explode with the amount of legitimate hyperbole he could spew about it. (His dad found time to talk about it on his show, but nobody watches it.) That is, of course, if Lyons could stomach a film about how short life truly can be.

“It’s really important to tell people to go out and see W. so they can talk about it and have an opinion about it and this freedom of speech of course that allows us to go and talk about a film about a current sitting president.”

It’s official. Ben Lyons is the Sarah Palin of film criticism. Honestly, if I told you that came from the Katie Couric interview series you would believe it. THIS freedom of speech. You know that whole thing? That crazy little amendment that allows both Ben Lyons to say dumbass things about movies and guys like me to find new ways to write him up until producers come to their senses and replace him with somebody qualified to use it. Perhaps when Palin loses the election next Thursday and enters her place as the greatest punchline the GOP ever produced, she can replace Alison Bailes on Reel Talk. My God, are these really the only two movie review shows on television? You’re telling me that with all the critics in this country (especially with all the ones being laid off) that we can’t produce a thought-provoking, maybe even fun show dedicated to all things movies? Eight jillion talk shows dedicated to sports, politics, psychiatry and baby daddys and all the cinema has is a pair co-hosted by the LYONS'? Can a producer or a few knowing TV gurus get in touch so we can end this suffering already? The Nielsens won’t even get back to me about the ratings for this show, probably because it’s the only one on television actually measured in Courics.

You would think someone discussing Clint Eastwood’s Changeling would be able to expand on why they believe its so “very well-rounded” other than “in addition to the costumes and the cars being accurate and the sheer size and scope of it.” Both Bens liked the film so there’s obviously no getting around the elements that nearly half the critics out there (including myself) believe that failed and that’s fine. But, for God’s sake, give us something more than another batch of your half-assed Oscar predictions and telling us we need to see it “if you love movies and respect the craft of filmmaking.” This from the guy who has managed to put down editing, story and character in just under two months of being on the air. Can you try to say something agreeable during this episode? How about Happy-Go-Lucky?

“Sally Hawkins is fantastic in the film, that’s why you should see it.”

OK, I can attest to that.

“But I also agree with you when you say there’s no real conclusion here. You’re not coming to any great understanding or change if you will. So, that’s why I’m going to have to say rent it.”

Alright, first off. You didn’t agree with me. You agreed with Mankiewicz there. But didn’t you just say see it because of Sally Hawkins and now you’re saying rent it? All in one sentence too. Go ahead, explain your sudden Maltin-esque ability to change your rating.

“I like to see a comedy with some laughs. I didn’t find myself really laughing that much. Nothing really like belly-aching in this. This British humor maybe went above my head, I don’t know.”

Admitting he doesn’t know is the smartest thing Lyons has ever said on the show. I understand Hawkins’ nomination-locked Poppy isn’t the “classic comedy character that audiences will love for years to come” like Zohan. Your words, Junior. But you’re aware that Mike Leigh isn’t Judd Apatow, right? You understand that comedy comes in all different forms and that there’s a difference between, say, Airplane and Sideways or There’s Something About Mary and Much Ado About Nothing?

“It is very British. I have to say I’m more of a fan of people like Ricky Gervais and Simon Pegg and I think those films are funnier for American audiences. This is kinda just British and cute and sweet.”

British. Cute. Sweet. This from the “critic” who I guess would recommend you see Run Fatboy Run and How To Lose Friends and Alienate People instead of Happy-Go-Lucky. (No offense meant to Pegg. Hot Fuzz = best film of 2007 on my list.) We’ll skip over their review of High School Musical 3 except to mention that Lyons continues to give us his eHarmony statistics by letting everyone knows that he played high school basketball and that he “would wipe the floor with all those kids.” Wow, you can Jordan-up a bunch of high school kids who would rather sing and dance than play sports? Congratulations, Ben. Next you’ll be bragging that you don’t need that fancy equipment to win a game of Murderball. Why are you telling everyone to skip Pride and Glory, Lebron?

“There wasn’t enough action in it for me. I wanna see a chase scene. I wanna see violence. I wanna see a gritty cop movie when you’re going to see something like Pride and Glory.”

And we have the runner-up to the quote of the week. Not enough action? Were you expecting as much from the director of Tumbleweeds? Can we please get a ruling on this? What have you got, Mankiewicz?

“I don’t agree with you about having to see more violence or needing a chase scene for crying out loud.”

There you go, Other Ben. I didn’t like it either, but not for the reasons that your unfortunate partner gave. Can you please educate this kid on a little movie history and give him an example of a top notch cop drama that didn’t rely on bullets and chases to tell its story?

“You look back at a long cop film set basically in New York and Jersey that made a lot of sense you go back to Cop Land.”

Jesus Christ. Seriously? All the cop films out there and all you could come up with Cop Land? C’mon man. Serpico, Donnie Brasco, or how about Night Falls On Manhattan for police corruption and loyalty? Throw a dart at Sidney Lumet’s resume and you’ll hit something. I know you may have consciously been trying to hit upon action-less cop flicks so titles like The Departed, Heat or L.A. Confidential may not have made your point either, but Cop Land (while a decent film) has at least as much action as any of those films. Right, Lyons?

“That movie had Michael Rappaport chasing on the bridge (at this moment he makes an invisible steering wheel). They had the scene on the roof in that movie. There’s action sequences in that movie, Cop Land.”

Remember the famous roof scene from Cop Land? Who doesn’t, right? It should be noted that when Lyons mentions the Rappaport chase, he makes a motion with his hand like he’s driving a car. Vroom, Vroom, Benny.

“I wanna see some of that danger and besides that one scene where he calls for backup there’s really not a lot of it in this movie.”

OK, Junior, it’s over.

“Colin Farrell’s a New York City cop. I’m sorry. I grew up there my whole life. I never seen a cop like Colin Farrell with that accent coming in and out.”

Oh really? What were you doing that you were in a position to see cops "coming in and out"? Does he know how big New York City is? I’ve never met a fat Polish cop either, but I’m sure there’s one on the job protecting us as we speak.

“And why does every Latino on screen have to be a drug dealing gangster? Why can’t there be any sort of redeemable qualities in any of the minorities in this film?”

Hey pal, you’re the one who’s never seen a cop with an accent ya discriminatin’ bastage. Meanwhile you can count the days until they screen Nothing Like The Holidays for you. By then I may have gotten over what I’ve been expecting for weeks. The guy who called I Am Legendone of the greatest movies ever made” was here to pan Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York. And misery truly does love company.

LYONS: “Ben you ever been to Schenectady New York?”
LYONS: “That’s right, the answer is no. Now do yourself a favor and keep that answer if someone asks you to see the movie Synecdoche New York. Sound confusing? Well it is.”

The thing about Kaufman’s film is that it is damn near impossible to sum up on a two-and-a-half minute segment. I’m not even sure Siskel & Ebert could have done it justice, but you could count on them to know to give it the extra minute for debate no matter where the thumbs fell. That was more than a decade ago though. In 2008 we have this:

MANKIEWICZ: “I really had trouble understanding it and maybe there’s some larger point that I didn’t get and that now I’ll be vilified and mocked as the guy who didn’t get the latest Charlie Kaufman film.”

LYONS: “While his other films are a little bit more commercial in their approach and easier to understand, this is difficult because it really makes itself up as it goes along introducing characters out of context. You don’t know if it’s a dream or if it’s in his head. The symbolism behind things, it is a difficult movie to wrap your head around.”

In what universe would you call Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind projects of commercial viability? Not one of those screenplays were designed for audiences to be passive viewers and it’s impossible for a work as complex as Synecdoche, New York to be made up as it goes along. Admittedly, I’m the first one to say this about most of David Lynch’s later work, but Kaufman’s work speaks to greater truths and fears about our daily lives and if you’re paying attention (or have a quarter of a brain) you can see what he’s exploring. If you feel he fails at it that’s one thing, but to simply come out and say you didn’t understand it – as a professional film analyst you deserve to be mocked and vilified. Just as you are for continuing to trump What Just Happened as “an important film” simply because it doesn’t suck as much as Righteous Kill, 15 Minutes or Stardust. (You want a reminder of how good DeNiro can be – go rent The Good Shepherd and then tell me which is more “important.”) Especially after admitting in your “3 to see” (about Religulous) that you “love movies that challenge an audience that run the risk of making people uncomfortable.” Maybe Lyons agrees with you there, Mank. But I don’t know if I’d want support from the kid who thinks W. is “one of the most important films of our generation” and then motions his hand as if the two of you are actually OF the same generation. Whatever next generation of film criticism this show is supposed to be, maybe its time to invest in some morning after pills before the next Lyons is actually promoting ASS as a major Oscar contender. Mike Judge may have been a few years off with his own prediction.

“You know what hurts a movie like Max Payne is the success of the Batman franchise. That obviously is about story and character so they think for all films of the genre it’s gotta be about story and character and this whole backstory of him losing his wife. I don’t care about that. I wanna see Max Payne shoot people. That’s all I want from a movie like this.”

What have we learned from the first semester of watching Ben Lyons on At the Movies? Professor Ben has told us that we almost never notice editing in a film unless it’s bad and just because a movie is dense and layered doesn’t necessarily mean its good. Today’s lesson, Story and Character 101 – it sucks. How dare Christopher Nolan try to elevate Batman into a film that can be labeled more than just another comic book movie? All Professor Lyons needs is to see his heroes shoot people. Next week’s lesson – why Dolph Lundgren’s The Punisher is the best comic book movie ever. Once again, Lyons is confusing the difference between the elements themselves and how they are portrayed. Interjecting a backstory into Max Payne, in essence, is not a bad idea. Max Payne is based within the concept of film noir. He’s a detective solving a case, livened up with some bullet-time gunplay. Video games are not movies though and, in my opinion, vice versa. I like my video games fast and violent. I don’t want to waste time searching for clues and keys and things to put into my backpack. I want to shoot something. In the movies it’s different. I love a good quality kill as much as the next psychopath, but unless such kills are so cool for school that we can put aside caring about anything else and get in touch with our inner ant-burning eight year-old then we need a reason to induce our appreciation for the kill. Max Payne has maybe three shoot-‘em-up type scenes, including one slo-mo(ment) that takes longer than just about every bullet-time moment in the entire Matrix trilogy and is so comically ridiculous that any coolness is lost. Granted, we’re dealing with a plotline that seems straight out of Young Sherlock Holmes, but you don’t condemn the idea of introducing story and character simply because a piece of crap like this does it so poorly. I’m at a loss why anyone would want to see Max Payne since the list of video game movies (Super Mario Bros., Double Dragon, Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Wing Commander, Doom, Resident Evil, Tomb Raider, Bloodrayne, Silent Hill, Hitman, to name a few) has done nothing to inspire confidence that THIS one will be the good one. Why in God’s name then are you telling people to rent it, Ben Lyons?

“Just because Wahlberg loves shooting a gun and nobody does it better.”

Why, because he was Shooter? What career has Lyons been watching? Has Wahlberg been in some John Woo films I haven’t seen? Seriously, is Lyons basing this statement solely on Wahlberg playing sniper Bob Lee Swagger? Or did he miss when Wahlberg said "I believe Charlton Heston is America's best villain because he loves guns so much," at the 2000 MTV Movie Awards? Eh, but that's more of that reality. Ben just wants to see movies where people get shot, so let's go back to the movies. How many can you think of off the top of your head where you associate Wahlberg with firearms? Nobody remembers his Boogie Nights follow-ups The Big Hit and The Corruptor. I remember him freezing up hunting down bad guys in We Own the Night. He was part of a cease fire in Three Kings, although there’s that one moment where he lets off a couple rounds after Clooney is shot. He fires precisely one bullet in The Departed. Basically its Shooter and maybe Four Brothers. But I’m sure Carly Simon and Marvin Hamlisch are reworking their Bond song to include Wahlberg in the lyrics. While they’re at it maybe throw in some talking to animals and a revelation that “You’re So Vain” was really about a premonition Carly had about a nepotistic film critic. (Watch Ben Lyons' "interview with Wahlberg HERE.)

Going through the rest of the show, with Mankiewicz once again poorly trying to pick a fight (“I don’t mean to call you out…”), Lyons again tries to endear himself to women by raving about The Secret Life of Bees. (“It’s nice to see women on the big screen who aren’t obsessed with Manolos and coats and bags. These are real women.”) Lyons needed reaffirming of his “basic belief in the human spirit”, I guess, after seeing Sex Drive, both (rightly) panned by the pair. After Mankiewicz says he counted over 2,000 gay jokes in the film, Lyons let loose by agreeing, “Too many gay jokes. Without any really any humor behind them or any wittiness just for the sake of making a gay joke which is pretty dumb.” However, Lyons then went on to say what would have improved the film.

It needed more of James Marsden who’s unlike you’ve ever seen him before.”

That’s right, Junior. More James Marsden. The primary and virtually exclusive source of every one of Sex Drive’s gay jokes. Too many of them, but you want more of the character who is defined by his homophobia. Good call there, Lyons. Maybe your dad was watching the show when he told us to “hang on for a carload of laughs” about Sex Drive. Speaking of which, is it a coincidence that Lyons and Mankiewicz would somehow avoid altogether bringing up the daddy issues of Oliver Stone’s W.? It’s the primary theme of the movie for God’s sake, not to mention the story of an unqualified moron who rose to the highest position in his respective profession based on little but name recognition. You would have thought at least one of the Bens could have offered the insider's view on this. Did the Critics Round-Up (now down to two with Matt Singer and Christy Lemire) mention it only to subsequently be left on the editing room floor. Even Nixon’s missing eighteen-and-a-half minutes trumps the twenty-two of watching this show, a tortuous task that I’m asked every week about why I continue to subject myself to. Maybe it’s because I find humor in the possibility that I will one day find out that I’m the only person on the planet tuning in. For as Ben Lyons said about Sex Drive this week, “Why should we care about a kid in a zipped-up hooded sweatshirt?” Indeed.

“I found the film to be overtly complicated. Just because it’s really dense and layered doesn’t necessarily mean its good.”

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. How does that one sound? Between not noticing editing and throwing down on dense, layered productions, it’s clear that Ben Lyons has never sat through a film class in his entire life. Either that or he text’ed his way through it the way he’s been spotted doing at press screenings. As always there’s a difference between a film that is “dense and layered” and those that think they are and fail to communicate its POV to the audience. Body of Lies would fall into the latter category if it were really that “dense and layered” to begin with. All a matter of critical opinion of course, although Lyons finding the film “overtly complicated” is a matter of limited intelligence. Can’t wait to hear what he thinks of Synecdoche, New York.

Lyons sounded off about Ridley Scott being “one of the all-time greats” despite his post-Blade Runner resume being overall decent at best. Granted, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down and Thelma and Louise have their enthusiastic supporters but how many are going to serious bat for 1492, White Squall, Matchstick Men and A Good Year? We don’t want to turn this into a debate about Sir Ridley though. Love him or like him, it doesn’t matter. The point being that Lyons only speaks in absolutes like a Sith apprentice.

“Now the key to a great football movie is to be more than just a movie about football greats. Sure the game sequences need to be authentic but to fully capture an audience, a football movie needs to be about life, not just the big game.”

You can tell he’s just been waiting to talk up this movie since his quotes have plastered the film’s ads for weeks. And I think it’s a movie about football, right? No, it’s “More than just a movie about football. It's an emotionally charged, inspiring story of a forgotten American hero.” Thanks Junior, we got it. I like to think that nobody went to see The Express last weekend because they saw your recommendation and were scared off.

We’re not here this week to talk about dense, layered football movies though. Because the real meat came out of the Bens’ review of Guy Ritchie’s Rocknrolla. I will set this up by saying that I believe Ritchie to be one of the worst filmmakers to come down the pike and it wouldn’t surprise me if the whole Madonna divorce action came after the pair had a double feature of each other’s latest projects. (Hers is Filth and Wisdom and one might argue that she made the film to make her husband’s resume look good.) So anything anyone says about Rocknrolla being some kind of “return to form” for Ritchie after his pussy-whipped vanity remake of Swept Away and his practically unwatchable Lynchian-wannabe, Revolver, I always wonder “what form?” And Rocknrolla is the worst of the bunch, so there I said it. My bias revealed.

Now here comes Lyons (pictured above with RocknRolla co-star Toby Kebbell). And I don’t know whether to throw things at the TV or laugh hysterically at the comments he’s making.

“It requires you to be very proactive as in all of Guy Ritchie’s movies to get into the dialogue and you might miss a few words here and there because the diction is so intense.”

Is that a compliment to Ritchie’s writing abilities or a knock on the actors having accents? Sorry I’m too busy laughing at the implication that anyone is “proactive” watching a Guy Ritchie film. Seems you would need to be during something that’s dense and layered too, as long as you understand it. Maybe Body of Lies needed to have more intense diction. Damn you Crowe and your American accent. But onto my favorite quote of the review; good enough to almost win the quote of the week but just missing because I didn’t understand it at the time.

“And the world of movies is adapting to the new school of actors. Not just like older gangsters and younger gangsters but like we said another Tom Wilkinson/Ludacris movie.”

What precisely in Sam Hell is Lyons talking about? Movies are adapting to the “new school” of actors? Is that like saying that Tom Cruise is out and Gerard Butler is IN? Honestly, please help me because I’m not sure, particularly where someone like Ludacris is involved in the discussion. Look out Harrison Ford! At least I didn’t understand it…until I was sitting in a theater awaiting a screening of Quarantine and saw this precede it.

The RocknRolla Trailer

Right there in dialogue form – “there’s no school like the old school and I’m the master” – followed in big capital letters “THE OLD SCHOOL”, followed soon after by “THE NEW SCHOOL.” This guy is taking his cues from the film’s trailer for God’s sake. As a colleague of mine stated after I was relaying this info, “he’s practically reading off from the press notes.” He’s not even knowledgeable enough to separate the spoon-fed information about the film from his own thoughts. Not that there’s much to choose from up there, but maybe he truly needed them because he found RocknRollaovertly complicated.”

Plus he thinks “Idris Elba is about to be a household name.” Now I love The Wire as much as the next television fan who likes their shows dense and layered, but on what planet is Idris Elba on the verge of becoming a household name. Joe the Plumber Households know more names than ever, but if we're on Card Sharks and as contestants we were asked “Out of 100 people surveyed, how many of them were able to identify the actor as anyone but ‘that guy’ or Stringer Bell?” and my opponent said “10”, I would go lower. Sorry, Card Sharks is too advanced for Lyons. Try Jaywalking with Leno. We’re talking about the guy who has gone from one of the best shows ever on television to the likes of The Reaping, This Christmas, Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls and the remake of Prom Night. You probably wouldn’t even find two of those movies on any single DVD collector’s shelf and I don’t care if he is the dude that Denzel clips on the street in American Gangster, he’s not a household name. When you try typing in his name on the friggin’ E! website where Lyons regularly pimps under “all articles”, guess how many results come up? ZERO. There’s an article from 2007 linked on Yahoo from E! written by Ben Lyons (that apparently doesn’t exist anymore) where he calls Elba “slightly recognizable.” Now I know about Yahoo links shifting things out of context and I know what all of you are thinking - “Ben Lyons can write?” But wait. What’s this? Mr. Elba is on Attack of the Show with the lovely Olivia Munn promoting RocknRolla. What again are you doing this weekend, DJ Driis?

“I’m going to Vegas to DJ with Clinton Sparks for Ben Lyons.”

Wow, Ben. Either you’re pimping your own event or you made sure to praise RocknRolla enough to bring Idris Elba in to your little weekly Vegas party. The once “slightly recognizable” household name is now doing you a solid. Chicken and the egg being 20/20 and all, but this is truly what defines a whore in our business. I hope Disney and the producers are really proud of hiring this guy to replace the legacy left by Siskel, Ebert, Roeper, Phillips and so many more qualified and integrity-laced critics. Then again, maybe Guy Ritchie didn’t actually write something in RocknRolla worth paying attention to:

“Times are changing. There ain’t no respecters of the old school.”

“Younger audiences will be quick to label it a classic for their generation, but it just made me feel old.”

No, that wasn’t Junior on Beverly Hills Chihuahua to which he led off his review by saying, “I don’t love dogs,” possibly in some attempt to further throw out his eHarmony features to the ladies watching. It was the 26 year old talking about Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist starring 20 year-old Michael Cera, 22 year-old Kat Dennings, 24 year-old Alexis Dziena and 25 year-old Ari Graynor. Yeah, you’re so old Ben. Don’t tell me you couldn’t relate to any of the characters either. Between the ditzy drunk, the slutty bitch and the one who has doors opened for them because of a famous father, surely some part of you felt you were watching an autobiography.

While a standout quote for the week, I come not to bury Ben Lyons this week, but to praise him. Sort of in the same way that his co-host got passes in the press simply for not being Lyons, its Junior that gets some leeway this week for being the only one making some sort of sense. Back at the not-so-humble beginnings of Siskel & Ebert, the duo made an initial pact to switch the billing of the show each year. One year it’d be S & E, the next Ebert & Siskel. Doesn’t sound right, does it? Alas, it never happened. Just like they never switched bodies a la Barbara Harris & Jodie Foster or Dudley Moore & Kirk Cameron or Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage (ok, I’ll stop.) But there was Mankiewicz this week saying things like “It was funny, that’s what I look for in a romantic comedy. Is it funny? I really don’t care about the romance” and “Biopics in general are essentially worthless in Hollywood, I find.” Yeah, like Raging Bull, Patton, Malcolm X, Ed Wood, A Man For All Seasons, Walk the Line, The Aviator, and Born on the Fourth of July to name just a few off the top. To hell with that worthless Lawrence of Arabia. None of those compare to Flash of Genius. For someone who loves to tout himself as a student of history, precisely how far does Mankiewicz’s movie history go back if he doesn’t recognize a cliché when he sees one?

Not only does he say Flash of Genius is “not like at all like any of those sort of clichéd movies where we see the end coming” to which my colleague Peter Sobczynski could counter the obvious from his own review (“I wouldn’t dream of revealing how it all turns out, except to note that if the case had gone badly for Kearns, we probably wouldn’t be watching a big-screen version of his case right now.”) but Mankiewicz says How To Lose Friends & Alienate People is “really refreshing” because “it steers clear of regular romantic comedy clichés.” Really, BenM? Which ones? The one where the two romantic leads hate each other only to grow fond of one another? The one where the female is in a bad relationship with an even bigger lout? The one where she’s about to give into the hero’s true charms only for a misunderstanding to break them up before the eventual reconciliation? The Storm Before The Calm!

“Ah, you’re wrong again…0-for-2. Would you like to take the show from the top?”

He’s not talking to me there. That was directed at Ben Lyons after he didn’t give “see its” to Mankiewicz’s two cliché-filled darlings and before he recommended Beverly Hills Chihuahua “for the kids” since “it doesn’t matter what its about.” But go back to the shot taken at Lyons. Is it as Anne Thompson at The Hollywood Reporter pointed out?

Some producer has told the Bens that fighting over their reviews will make the show better. Now they're acting like they intensely dislike each other, and don't seem to be having much fun. Ebert and Roeper and their balcony sparring partners debated on a basis of some mutual respect.”

Hard to argue the respect meter nowadays, but what really is going on behind the scenes here? Is Mankiewicz somehow throwing the show to make Lyons look better? The elder is currently surpassing Junior on the see-it/skip-it tip 11-8 even if Junior is winning the ad quote battle 4-1 since the show’s inception. (Mankiewicz got his first this weekend for Flash of Genius.) Precisely how far would he have throw it if Lyons continues to recommend watching trailers and hyping awards buzz in the “3 To See” segment as he did once for Twilight and again this week for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Clearly the producers behind the show don’t want to do Lyons any favors. If you saw this week’s debate over Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married, the show couldn’t even get the damn title right. On the main screen and the one over Mankiewicz’s shoulder, Rachel’s name was spelled as Jenny Lumet intended. But over Lyon’s left, albeit partially obscured, you could see it spelled “R-A-C-H-A-E-L.” A little extra “A” for the effort this week, perhaps, or just a practical joke to highlight Lyons’ incompetence? Ah, but as I said earlier Lyons looked like the practical one this week, calling Demme’s film one of the best of the year to which Mankiewicz lashed out as if Lyons just called his grandfather a drunk. “THAT IS INDEFENSIBLE,” he said (perhaps not quite worthy of the capitalization, but loud enough to make his point.)

This from the guy who just found a way to defend his opinion on the talking Chihuahua movie. Granted, Lyons isn’t exactly top notch on backing up his point, but his partner is going to look like the dummy when the reviews go national and pump Rachel Getting Married into a candidate for one of the best reviewed films of the year. It is currently 84% at Rotten Tomatoes, positioning Mankiewicz roughly in the same territory as that d-bag fifth dentist who wouldn’t recommend Trident. Congratulations, Mr. Mankiewicz you have done the impossible. You made Ben Lyons look like the smart one. And that, sir, is indefensible.

Welcome to this week’s edition of The Ben Lyons Quote of the Week. You might believe that as long as this segment of Criticwatch continues (which will be as long as Ben Lyons takes a breath on this show) the harder it may be to pull out a definitive quote from Lyons Jr. Law of averages says that even subconsciously you will begin to filter out the phrases that make you look like a moron on television, especially if he pays attention to this column, which Daddy Lyons continues to deny he knows anything about. We’re only in the second week of Quoting Ben Lyons, but any doubt that I would be able to continue this past a few months (My God, could the show go on that long?) was subsided when it dawned on me that the inherent film idiot in Ben will always say something stupid. So this week, with so many sentences to pull apart we’re taking a cue from one of the show’s very segment. Only we’re calling it 3 To Hear and then in parenthesis (By Junior Lyons.) And for extra fun this week, there’s a theme. See if you can catch it.


3. (On Nights In Rodanthe) “I think if you want to be a good boyfriend or husband curl up on the couch with a bottle of wine, suck it up and take one for the team.”

2. (On Choke) “We, in turn, feel like we were involved in a really bad relationship and we just want it to be over.

1. (On the show’s wrap-up) “We split on Nights In Rodanthe. I say rent it. I love older women. Ben says skip it.”

Precisely how hard up is Ben Lyons for pussy these days to use the show as his own personal eHarmony? Hey pal, you’re not Larry Sanders. It wasn’t cute a couple weeks ago when you reviewed The Women by saying, “I love women in real life,” and now it’s just getting sad. Women can’t be so lame to fall for your shtick. Of course you do come from a E! viewership, so maybe they do. But you are on the Big Three now, baby. Time for something a little above subpar-fratboy with a sweater. Maybe your subliminal toss-off for Rodanthe was your cue to hopefully bag a Faye Dunaway-type from ABC. The only difference is that the throws of passion you may find yourself in will be diluted when she realizes you don’t have the ratings to reach orgasm. Let’s see where else you made a mockery of the show this week.

When The Notebook was brought up during your partner’s “skip it” of Rodanthe, you called it “a completely different kind of movie.” Really? Star-crossed lovers kept apart by fate and personal issues. Isn’t that the plot of every Nicholas Sparks novel from A Walk To Remember to Message in a Bottle to The Notebook to Nights in Rodanthe? And now for something not-so-completely different:

Not often enough I find films to be both informative and engaging and, most importantly, entertaining and inspiring.” That’s what predicated Battle In Seattle. So “enteraining and inspiring” ranks higher on your critical checklist than “informative and engaging.” Critics routinely face the all-too-encompassing stereotype that we don’t go to movies to be “entertained”, but what kind of inspiration are you looking for? Is it the originality of something you’ve never seen before that reminds you why you love movies in the first place? Is it political or philanthropic? Or is just a word you’ve heard thrown out after underdog sports movies? Seriously, what moves Ben Lyons other than the blood that travels from his head to his shlong?

Period pieces, costume dramas, you’d think I’d say anything but see it,” said the Ben on The Duchess. Great attitude to be reflecting off even a pseudo-professional critic. Is that the hipness factor kicking it? Tellin’ your E! homies that its OK to see something a little girly or could you not let Keira Knightley down knowing that you were going to interview her or that you had already taken a picture with her for your blog?

You’re not to be distracted by pre-conceptions, Ben. You sorta preached that idea during the Critic’s Round-Up of Miracle At St. Anna when you said “it’s important not to be distracted by the controversies that have followed [Spike Lee] throughout his career.” But why would you even be focusing on Spike Lee’s “controversies” when going into his new movie? Just because him and Clint Eastwood got into a little verbal spar over the presentation of race in WWII movies? I get that you’re just making a poor segue into discussing that matter with Matt Singer, but you couldn’t be further from asking the right questions like “Now obviously going out and speaking against Clint Eastwood who the Academy seems to love anything he does, it probably didn’t help Spike Lee’s Oscar chances for this movie.” Since Ben already went on record at least three weeks ago calling St. Anna “One of the best films of 2008. A classic of epic and scope. Honest, powerful and inspiring, it’s one of Spike Lee’s best, and most important films“, he’s already got the Oscar bug up his ass further tainting his awards expertise. The film is bad. Quite bad. Despite the “majority rules” of your round-up, Rotten Tomatoes has the film under 30% positive. The one dissenting voice on the show didn’t come from Mankiewicz (who was conspiculously absent during the segment) but from the Associated Press’ Christy Lemire. Ben wanted to get to the bottom of this obvious travesty:

“I’m from New York City. One of the reasons why I fell in love with film was because of Spike Lee so I know you agree with me that he is a talented filmmaker and I know you probably agree with me that this was an important film to make, so why are you trying to avoid it like the plague?”

First off, Ben, she didn’t avoid it. She saw the movie. She didn’t raise any objections to it because it was made by Spike Lee, was one of those guy/war flicks or nearly three hours long. With the possible recent exceptions of Paul Thomas Anderson and Christopher Nolan, every modern filmmaker with more than a baker's dozen on their resume has pulled up lame on a project or two. Spike has had more than that. So while he IS a talented filmmaker, he is NOT perfect and not immediately granted a pass. Was it an important film to make? Any time you can introduce audiences to a forgotten time in our history, the argument swings to the favorable in that regard. Lemire is just voicing her objections (as quick as she can in this continued lame addition) with a critical eye instead of playing an agenda card and selling out an opinion because of white guilt, how much she likes Spike Lee or reviewing a Disney film on a Disney-owned show.

“I just think for people who aren’t fans of westerns, there isn’t really much in this movie for us to kind of take away from it and maybe apply to our everyday lives now. It doesn’t have a new take on the genre. It’s a great old western.”
– on Appaloosa

You tell ‘em Ben. While I was watching it I was wondering why our prisoners today aren’t transferred by locomotive? Because we all go to Westerns searching for the wisdom to placate our lack of showdowns on city blocks. And didn’t you start off this review calling it a “rent it?” Why are you calling it “a great old western” if you don’t think it’s that great? Perhaps you’re looking for another quote to catch Shawn Edwards for 4th place? Or are you putting on your best Ripken glove or Favre helmet in search of Pete Hammond’s record-breaking 23-week streak receiving a quote? Since your mug replaced the camera spot once occupied by Gene Siskel and then Roger Ebert, you’re on the roll we all feared.

(Sept. 12 - Burn After Reading) - A hilarious comedy from an all-star ensemble cast! Smart, funny and original. Everything you want from the Coen Brothers.
(Sept. 19 - Battle In Seattle) - An all star cast that delivers one tremendous performance after another.
(Sept. 26 - Miracle at St. Anna) - One of the best films of 2008. A classic of epic and scope. Honest, powerful and inspiring, it’s one of Spike Lee’s best, and most important films.
(Oct. 3 - The Express) - More than just a movie about football. It's an emotionally charged, inspiring story of a forgotten American hero.

Joining this week’s Miracle at St. Anna (a quote which I first saw on Canadian television during the Toronto film festival nearly three weeks ago) you got in on that Eagle Eye action with Shawn Edwards, Mose Persico, Chuck Thomas, Gene Shalit and Harry Knowles. (OK – confession – I liked it too.) Is it “a definite must-see” like you called it though? That’s laying it on a bit thick ain’t it? Especially since anyone who saw your “early review” on the show saw you express problems you had with the ending. Many film journalists and movie lovers far smarter than you have often said that an ending can make or break a film; the proverbial breath on the house of cards that its first two acts depended on so those plunking down $10 don’t walk out of the theater with a bad taste in their brain. It’s a simple question. Can a film really be “a must-see” (check that: “a DEFINITE must-see”) if you have issues with the ending? That’s actually the difference between “a great western” and one you wait to rent.

Read Criticwatch's take on the new incarnation of the old Siskel & Ebert/Ebert & Roeper show.

The See It/Rent It/Skip It Tally

Lyons (35-17-28)
See ItBurn After Reading, Traitor, Hamlet 2, Battle In Seattle, The Duchess, Eagle Eye, Miracle at St. Anna, Rachel Getting Married, The Express, Rocknrolla, The Secret Life of Bees, W., Changeling, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Filth and Wisdom, Role Models, Quantum of Solace, Madagascar Escape 2 Africa, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Bolt, Slumdog Millionaire, JCVD, Special, Milk, Let the Right One In, Frost/Nixon, The Reader, The Wrestler, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Gran Torino, Nothing But The Truth, Revolutionary Road, Bedtime Stories, Marley & Me, Valkyrie
Rent ItLakeview Terrace, Igor, Appaloosa, Nights In Rodanthe, Flash of Genius, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Max Payne, What Just Happened, Happy-Go-Lucky, High School Musical 3, Splinter, Soul Men, Lake City, Cadillac Records, Nothing Like the Holidays, Doubt, Seven Pounds
Skip It - College, Babylon A.D., The Women, Towelhead, Surfer Dude, Ghost Town, Choke, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Body of Lies, City of Ember, Sex Drive, Pride and Glory, Synecdoche New York, Passengers, Repo!: The Genetic Opera, Twilight, Australia, Transporter 3, Four Christmases, Nobel Son, Punisher: War Zone, The Day the Earth Stood Still, What Doesn’t Kill You, Wendy and Lucy, Yes Man, The Tale of Despereaux, The Spirit

Mankiewicz (40-4-36)
See ItBurn After Reading, Hamlet 2, Lakeview Terrace, Towelhead, Ghost Town, Appaloosa, The Duchess, Eagle Eye, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, Flash of Genius, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Body of Lies, The Express, Religulous, Rocknrolla, What Just Happened, W., Changeling, Happy-Go-Lucky, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Role Models, Splinter, Quantum of Solace, Soul Men, Madagascar Escape 2 Africa, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Bolt, Slumdog Millionaire, JCVD, Milk, Let the Right One In, Frost/Nixon, The Reader, Doubt, The Wrestler, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Gran Torino, Seven Pounds, Nothing But The Truth, Marley & Me
Rent ItTraitor, Battle In Seattle, What Doesn’t Kill You, The Spirit
Skip ItCollege, Babylon A.D., The Women, Surfer Dude, Righteous Kill, Igor, Choke, Nights in Rodanthe, Rachel Getting Married, City of Ember, Max Payne, Sex Drive, The Secret Life of Bees, High School Musical 3, Pride and Glory, Synecdoche New York, Filth and Wisdom, Passengers, Repo!: The Genetic Opera, Twilight, Special, Lake City, Australia, Transporter 3, Four Christmases, Cadillac Records, Nobel Son, Punisher: War Zone, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Nothing Like the Holidays, Wendy and Lucy, Yes Man, The Tale of Despereaux, Revolutionary Road, Bedtime Stories, Valkyrie

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originally posted: 10/09/08 09:04:42
last updated: 01/05/09 07:51:21
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