I watched A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips’ first day out on the At the Movies after replacing Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz. Like many people, I was never that big a fan of the two Bens, though I wasn’t always sure why. Their opinions were no better or different than many other critics (I was surprised at times, both pleasantly and unpleasantly, by the things they liked and didn’t like) and I doubt that when it comes to opinions, Scott and Phillips are going to be any different. They will like things I hate and hate things I like and like things I like and hate things I hate.
But after watching Scott and Phillips, I think I know why the two Bens just didn’t work for me. It wasn’t what they said. It wasn’t even Lyons’ often unbelievably stupid comments on films. It was the two men themselves, their personalities. They always made me, well, nervous. They had this weird intensity and focus that drove me up the wall. This was especially true of Lyons; he’s the sort of person who would walk into a room and the energy level would instantly change (for me, for the worse). I’m not convinced that this was as true for Mankiewicz; I suspect that his freneticism was a direct reaction to Lyons.
So in watching Scott and Phillips, that was one thing I was grateful for. I was no longer nervous and on edge listening to their opinions. These two critics were calm, erudite, intelligent. They made comments, especially in the way they would put a movie in context of other films, that were intriguing.
At the same time, as much as I’m glad to have Scott and Phillips, I have to admit that they are also a bit dull. They may not have the uncomfortable frenetic energy of the two Bens, but at the same time, they also don’t have a great deal of charisma either. Scott seemed particularly uncomfortable this first night.
Hopefully, this might change. As the two newbies grow into their roles on At the Movies, they may loosen up and have a more immediate connection to the viewers. But even if they don’t, I still would rather have them than what was there before.