|LIFE ITSELF (director: Steve James; screenwriter: inspired by the memoir Life Itself by Roger Ebert; cinematographer: Dana Kupper; editors: Steve James/David E. Simpson; music: Joshua Abrams; cast: Werner Herzog, Richard Corliss, Errol Morris, A. O. Scott, Chaz Ebert, Roger Ebert, Martin Scorsese; Runtime: 120; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Zak Piper/Steve James/Garrett Basch; Magnolia Pictires; 2014)|
thumbs up documentary on America's most
popular, intelligent and influential
modern-day movie critic."
by Dennis Schwartz
inspired by the memoir Life Itself by
Roger Ebert. Life Itself is a lively thumbs
up documentary on America's most popular,
intelligent and influential modern-day movie critic.
Steve James ("Hoop Dreams"/"Reel
Paradise"/"Stevie") gives the heartfelt film plenty of
heart in his warm direction and perceptive
unsentimental depiction of the acclaimed movie lover
critic. After a battle with thyroid cancer, a
wheelchair-bound and often hospitalized disfigured
(loss of jaw) and unable to talk or eat without a
feeding tube Roger Ebert, takes comfort in the love
from his adoring wife and filmmaker pals. Roger passed
away at age 71, in 2013. The hospital footage of Roger
looking so sickly was not an easy watch, as one can
only reflect on his courage and admire him for
continuing to work in such discomfort.
the curious viewers, Roger introduced them to films
that weren't mainstream. For aspiring critics, he
showed those who were film lovers that an ability to
write, empathize and think could lead to a decent
paying job as a reviewer and also to the possibility
of achieving pop culture fame.
shows the confident Roger, the son of a Chicago
electrician, who went from his college newspaper
editor job to being a reporter for the Chicago
Sun-Times and then out of the blue was asked by the
paper to be its movie critic in 1967 and then being
the only movie critic to win a Pulitzer Prize.
Overcoming obesity, alcoholism, a lonely bachelor
life, a rough screenwriting debut with Russ Meyer's
campy Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, and a bout
with self-loathing, Roger will find his perfect wife,
the black Chaz, and at age 50 they marry and find love
and happiness together for the next two decades.
pic interviews Roger's saloon pals in Chicago, his
colleagues on the newspaper, and other movie critics
and directors he had an impact on to get their views
on the popular media figure. A big slice of the film
is about Roger's long-time relationship with TV
partner Gene Siskel (which I thought was too much
coverage). It was that program's national popularity
that made Ebert a household name across America. By
showing never before seen out-takes from that show,
James gives us further insight into the complicated
relationship between the rival movie critics from the
Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune--viewed as
argumentative brothers wrestling for control of the
relationship, who loved each other despite showing
genuine acrimony to each other.
Though criticized for his populism and big ego, Roger was nevertheless committed to recognizing unknown and arty filmmakers he deemed deserving of a chance to reach a wide audience. Roger, it's pointed out, generously championed early films by James, Errol Morris, Martin Scorsese and many others. All those filmmakers credit Roger with helping them immensely in their chosen field, giving them a jump-start that if not given might have left them unnoticed. It's an uplifting, informative and entertaining and moving film experience that I'm sure Roger would have praised as sound film-making--sincerely showing how Roger accepted death as part of the living process and lives on through his rich words.
REVIEWED ON 8/9/2014 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ