Siskel and Ebert Tribute
November 10th, 2009
NC: Hello, I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to. When you hear the word "critic," what's the very first thing you think of?
[cut to a photo of the Nostalgia Critic]
NC: [blushing] I know, I know. But aside from me, what's the first thing you think of when you hear the word "critic?"
[cut to a photo of the Angry Video Game Nerd]
NC: NO! GET HIM OFF SCREEN! All right...aside from me and the Nerd, what's the first thing you think of when you hear the word "critic?"
[cut to a photo of a man in a tribal outfit holding a violin]
NC: [in disbelief] Why would you...all right, aside from me, the Nerd, and...Half-Naked Violinist Running Down the Street...screw it. It's Siskel and Ebert!
[clips and photos of Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert play]
NC (VO): And to be honest, how couldn't you? They're probably the best-known movie critics in all of media. Their trustworthy tagline "Thumbs Up" and "Thumbs Down" is still being used even today. But what is it about them that's so damn memorable? It's ironic that the lasting impression movies leave on them creates a lasting impression that these two leave on us. Don't try to understand that sentence- your brain will explode. So what is it about them that work, that always kept us watching?
NC: Well, let's take a look and find out. This is my official tribute to my favorite critics of all time, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert.
[The tribute's intro plays]
NC (VO): As a television duo, they got their start in 1975 on PBS. It was on a local show called Opening Soon At A Theater Near You, which was later retitled Sneak Previews. Look at Ebert's hair- it looks like a hairpiece! And Siskel...hell, he actually has hair.
NC: Ha! I can match you- I had goofy hair in the past and no hair right now! [chuckles defiantly, then sobs]
NC (VO): As the show continued to evolve, the title changed to Siskel & Ebert & the Movies, and then eventually just Siskel & Ebert. Yeah, look at that cheesy '80s opening. Could you ask for anything cornier?
[Siskel & Ebert opening plays with sitcom-style credits superimposed for Gene Siskel, Roger Ebert, and Mary-Kate Ashley Olsen]
NC (VO): Actually, at the end here when they start to argue, I would always joke about what I thought they were saying. "Did you kill the hooker?" "No, I thought you killed her." "I didn't kill her, I thought you killed her!" "It was your job to kill her, remember?" "Oh, we'd better change our identities." Now the idea of putting movie critics on TV was nothing new. In fact, a lot of critics had done it before. But this was one of the few times where the formula was putting two critics together so they could compare and analyze their opinions.
EBERT: You didn't like this movie?
EBERT: You didn't like little Norman?
NC: Most critics would just go on by themselves, delivering their review much like how they would write it for an article.
GENE SHALIT: This movie is filled with wonders for every family- for kiddies and for daddies and, of course, for "mummies."
[pathetic comedy horn music plays as the Critic mockingly shrugs his shoulders]
NC: But that's where Siskel and Ebert differed. They didn't just speak their written review or spew out one-liners. They talked about it, like how most people do.
[on-screen caption: "The Wizard"]
EBERT: Now, what do I know about Nintendo? Very little. But I know this: I once got to the second level of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and so in this movie when they talk about "Hey, I got to the third level" and they show the screen, even dummy like me- I know enough that they only got to the first level.
NC (VO): But not only did they talk about it, they talked about it in an intelligent way. These were two bright guys who adored movies and adored analyzing what's good about them and bad about them.
EBERT:...has a whole speech about McDonald's stores in Amsterdam that is fun to listen to. The things they talk about are so quirky.
SISKEL: I think...I think that this guy is writing some of the most original dialogue since David Mamet.
NC (VO): But, as you'd imagine, they didn't always agree. And this is where the show really shined: the arguments. People loved to see these two go at it.
EBERT:...reminded me of Clark Gable in the way that he handled this role.
EBERT: This is going to astound you, but I'm giving the movie Thumbs Up.
SISKEL: It does astound me. Are you okay?
EBERT: I think if people go with the right state of mind, they're going to have a terrific time.
SISKEL: Yeah, have a couple of martinis.
NC (VO): But their bickering was only fueled by their opposite personalities. Gene Siskel seemed much more stuck-up and snooty than Ebert, which usually meant he would nitpick a movie and measure its pros and cons.
SISKEL: I don't like this Joker's voice. But it's the drawing style that really distinguishes Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.
NC (VO): Roger Ebert, on the other hand, seemed much more emotional and personal, which means he would analyze a movie as a whole, more like an experience.
EBERT: It's amusing, it moves, and somewhat to my surprise, I liked it.
NC (VO): Because of this, they offset each other perfectly. Their arguments would get so heated that people actually wondered if they really hated each other. Even on other shows they would always go for the low blow.
SISKEL: It's Valentine's Day, I'm trying to decide whether to get Roger the 30-pound box of chocolates or the 60-pound box.
[The Critic makes a "burn" pose]
EBERT: You know those ankle rings- you can hang upside down and they're supposed to [points to Siskel's bald head] you know, bring a lot of blood to the scalp? It might help. I don't know.
[The Critic mimics being punched]
DAVID LETTERMAN: So you guys are getting along pretty well, then?
NC (VO): It's true that their relationship was very hard to figure out. They claimed they never hung out outside of work, but the way they acted sometimes, you'd swear they were brothers fighting over a toy truck.
SISKEL: It's Thriller Week on Siskel & Ebert at the Movies, and we've got three new...
EBERT: It's called AND the Movies, not AT the Movies.
SISKEL: That's this week on Siskel...& Ebert...& the Movies. And the asshole. And that's Roger.
NC (VO): In fact, this video of them shooting a promo has gotten a ton of hits on YouTube just for that very reason.
SISKEL: Roger is the only guy in the history to ever answer "Yes" to every question he's asked at McDonald's.
NC (VO): But for as many insults each of them could take, they always dished back double the amount.
EBERT: When they saw Gene walking in with...a little kid behind the counter called for the manager and said, "Mr. Jones, can you come out here? You can understand Mr. Siskel, can't you?"
NC (VO): But at least they could agree on one thing: they both fucking hate Protestants.
EBERT: Goddamn Protestants. Biggest thing that happens for them on Sunday is a bake sale.
SISKEL: No, they've got to decide what color yellow tie to fuckin' buy.
[cut to the Critic with a shocked look on his face]
EBERT: That's right. The only fucking religion that has the Reader's Digest as a prayer book.
NC: I would just like to point out that, um, not all critics are prejudiced against certain religions. I, for example, am only prejudiced against these: [the names of various religions quickly scroll by: "Baha'i Faith, Confucianism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Shinto, Taoism, Wicca, The Force, Druze, Jainism, Methodist, Catholic, Muslim, Gnosticm, Rastafari Movement, Mandaeans and Sabians, Unitarian, Universalism, Hellenistic, Magick, Left Hand Path, Scientology," before finally ending with "Whatever religion the Oompa-Loompas practice"] Especially the middle one.
NC (VO): Their personalities were so likable that they've been satirized time and time again. My personal favorites are the Animaniacs episode...
SLAPPY SQUIRREL: If you wanna go on national TV and shred someone's career to pieces, you have the right. But when you do that, remember: don't go listin' your home address in the phone book!
[A missile hits a mansion, blowing it up. In front of the mansion is a mailbox with the names "Hiskell and Eggbert"]
MARY HARTLESS: The home of Hiskill and Eggbert unexpectedly exploded today!
NC (VO):...and this episode of The Critic, where Siskel and Ebert actually supplied their own voices.
SISKEL [brandishing a broken bottle]: Hasta la vista, Porky!
EBERT: Cueball in the side pocket! [punches Siskel]
[The two fight]
NC (VO): The cool thing about them is that even if you don't agree with their review, they're still incredibly fun to listen to. Like I love how Ebert actually thought Congo was supposed to be bad.
EBERT: And it's supposed to be funny. This movie was written by John Patrick Shanley. It's in the same mood as his movie Joe vs. the Volcano. It was hilarious!
NC [unconvinced]: Yes...and, uh, Dominic from Video Game Confessions does a good British accent.
NC (VO): Some of their arguments didn't even make sense. Like one of my favorite scenes that, sadly, you can't see all of, is when they're reviewing The Lost World.
SISKEL: Now, why couldn't that little creature have been more friendly?
EBERT: These are wild beasts.
SISKEL: I know.
EBERT: They exist from a time long- millions of years- before man. They're not friendly.
SISKEL: But no. I have three children, Roger, and I have decided I will not buy them a dinosaur as a pet.
[Ebert opens his mouth in disbelief]
NC (VO): Ebert holds this expression for eight seconds. Eight seconds- I counted. They just look at each other in silence until Ebert finally moves on to the next movie.
NC: How do you respond to that? Say "I never got a chipmunk to drive my car?" "Never hired an orangutan to cook my food?"
- Suburban Commando Clip with Christopher Lloyd* Christ! I was FROZEN today!
NC: There you go. I knew that'd come in handy.
NC (VO): In 1998, things started to take a turn for the worse. Siskel was checked into the hospital for treatment of a brain tumor. But did that stop the guy from reviewing films? Fuck no! He actually did the reviews from his hospital bed with a picture posted like he was right there. Which was a little creepy, but it still showed he had balls. But hell, if there's a way to get something done, you just take that way to get it done. Isn't that right, Ma-Ti?
[A still picture of Ma-Ti, which changes based on his mood, appears with the caption "Ma Ti Live from Beating Heart Hospital"]
MA-TI: Oh, yes, Critic, just do your best and you will succeed.
NC: Yeah. That guy has balls, doesn't he?
MA-TI: Yes, Critic, he certainly has strong, plentiful balls.
NC: Oh, by the way, what the hell are you doing in the hospital?
MA-TI: I'm having my balls removed.
MA-TI: I'm officially a pussy.
NC: Well, I don't know if that officially makes you...
NC (VO): Siskel eventually returned back to work, but you could already see his health starting to deteriorate.
SISKEL [slurring his voice]: Armageddon is appropriately named, because while you're seeing it, you will feel as though you've been in combat.
NC: He seems slower and more tired. He barely even aruged with Ebert as much as just smiled at him.
EBERT: Cut so quickly...
EBERT: ...that there's no stretch of action./ I gave The Rock Thumbs Up...
SISKEL: Oh, did you?
EBERT: But this film...
EBERT: And when it stops for drama, like when they're all saying goodbye to each other...
SISKEL: Oh, yeah.
NC (VO): But as always, he kept to it, like the true professional that he was. But as the shows went on, Siskel just seemed to get slower and slower until he checked himself back into the hospital for further treatment of the brain tumor. And, sadly, it was the last time he'd ever check himself in. Gene Siskel died from complications of the surgery in 1999, leaving a great legacy behind him. Ebert did an entire show dedicated to his friend and associate, and even to this day it's still pretty hard not to get teary-eyed while watching it.
EBERT: Whenever he interviewed someone for his newspaper or for television, Gene Siskel always liked to end with the same final question: "What do you know for sure?" Okay, Gene, what do I know for sure about you? Well, you were one of the smartest, funniest, quickest men I've ever known, and one of the best reporters. And I know for sure that seeing a truly great movie made you so happy that you'd tell me a week later your spirits were still high. People always asked if we really hated each other, and one thing I know for sure is that we didn't.
[A dedication consisting of Siskel's picture and the years of his birth and death are shown]
NC (VO): But as Ebert showed us, the show must go on. So the continuation began. A replacement was needed to fill the seat, and several guest critics were tried out. Some of them were good, some of them were bad. They even got Harry Knowles in there somehow. How the fuck did that happen? Shouldn't he helping He-Man and Masters of the Universe?[A picture of Gwildor from "Masters of the Universe" is shown] But I digress. They finally found a replacement: Richard Roeper, a much younger and more energetic critic compared to Roger Ebert, but sadly, not quite as up to par with Gene Siskel. Roeper simply seemed too young to be talking on the same level as Ebert about a lot these films. For example, Ebert's favorite movie is Citizen Kane. Roeper's is Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Nothing wrong with that- I like the movie, also- but it does certainly show the difference between the two.
ROEPER: All right, come on, I'm being punk'd, right? Now let's do your real review.
NC (VO): Even though it's obvious Roeper really enjoys and admires movies, Siskel and Ebert practically breathed movies, from what they wrote to what they talked about. Everything was movies. Roeper was a columnist before he became a critic, and because of this, he sort of fell into the same traps that most critics on TV do: trying to slip in the one-liners.
ROEPER: That's like saying the napkin's good in a bad restaurant.
ROEPER: I'm a hipster who knows what's right for the kids.
ROEPER: I swear, it seems like English is a second language for her.
ROEPER: The obvious joke is Half Past Dead would be a documentary about Steven Segal's career.
NC (VO): But now, to his credit, he seems like a nice enough guy. His columns are funny, he has a great respect for Ebert, and I really liked how he always promoted lesser-known actors from the films he reviewed. But, sadly, disaster struck again. Ebert was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and underwent radiation treatments on his salivary glands. An emergency operation resulted in him losing his voice. Because of this, Ebert had to leave the show to Roeper and, sadly, would never return. The show now starred Roeper and a series of guest critics. But after not being able to agree with the new direction the producers wanted to take it, Roeper left as well.
ROEPER: Eight years ago, Disney and America's most beloved and respected film critic, Roger Ebert, gave me the opportunity to take the seat in the balcony once occupied by the great Gene Siskel. My gratitude will never cease. I want to thank everyone who tuned in and shared their passion for movies. It's been my privilege.
NC (VO): It now appeared that the television legacy of Siskel, Ebert, and Roeper was officially gone. And it was instead replaced by these two douchebags, Ben Lyons and Ben Manken...Monkeywich...(Mankiewicz) I hate them already. The show tried to incorporate a lot more interviews, opening nights, and a bunch of other gimmicks that just didn't seem like the original show. Because of this, the show did poorly, and has since then been replaced again by two more critics, Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott. They're a little better, but still not the same. That wonderful chemistry and creative energy that only Siskel and Ebert had would never be recaptured. But, then again, maybe it shouldn't be. That's probably what made them so great to begin with: they both shared an understanding and companionship that no other person could duplicate. I think that's what makes it all the more special and all the more lasting. Plus, both Richard Roeper and Roger Ebert are still writing. And despite his operation, Ebert says he feels fine. Actually, I think he looks kind of cool. I mean, he has a permanent smile on his face. That's actually kind of awesome. In fact, I tried having a permanent smile once, but it only lasted two days.
NC: In fact, every time I smile now, it hurts like a bastard. [laughs then grabs his face]...Jesus whore!
[Photos of the critic meeting Roger Ebert are shown]
NC (VO): In fact, I actually got to meet Roger Ebert at a book signing near Chicago. He autographed one of my favorite books of his, Your Movie Sucks.
NC: In fact, I have the book right here. Look at that pissed-off face. I can only hope to see so many bad movies I get that pissed off. So, let's see exactly what he wrote: "Your Movie Sucks...but you don't! Roger Ebert." Ha! You hear that! Anyone who doesn't like me out there: Roger Ebert, one of the greatest critics of all time, says I don't suck! Only my movies suck! My movies suck! Ha! Wait...
NC (VO): So if you haven't watched your share of Siskel and Ebert's wonderful reviews, you can check them out at siskelandebert.com, where they literally have every episode they've ever done all the way from 1986. That's unbelievable. Give a watch and see why these two are considered the greatest movie critics of all time.
NC: I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to.
MA-TI: He certainly has strong, plentiful balls!