NOTE: Life Itself is now in theaters and on demand. To mark the occasion, we’re republishing our interview with director Steve James that took place following the film’s premiere at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.
Steve James credits Roger Ebert with launching his career. It was Ebert’s championing of James’ first film Hoop Dreams, at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival, which put that film on people’s radars. James scored an Oscar nomination and the film enjoyed a successful box office run. Afterwards, the two remained friends and James was eventually tasked with directing Life Itself, a documentary based on Ebert’s memoir.
Soon after filming began, Ebert tragically passed away. James endured and finished the film in time for the 20th anniversary of the beginning of his relationship with Ebert, the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. It’s a gorgeous, heartbreaking look at the career of the man many consider to be the most influential film critic in history.
During Sundance I was lucky enough to talk to James about the film. We discussed his approach to the story, balancing the tragedy with humor, the relationship between critic and filmmaker, and the choice to include Gene Siskel’s story. Check it out below. Read More »
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Editor’s Note: The following review was originally published on January 20th 2014 after a screening at the Sundance Film Festival. The review is being republished as the movie is hitting theaters.
A movie about the life of a film critic might sound a tad indulgent, but there’s never been another film critic with the influence and character of Roger Ebert. Almost anyone who’s ever seen a movie in the US (and many other countries) has heard his name or taken one of he and partner Gene Siskel’s patented “Two Thumbs Up” recommendations to the box office. As a young film fan, I remember scouring the TV Guide searching for the Sunday morning broadcasts of Siskel & Ebert, and devouring every episode. In particular, I’ll never forget an episode where Ebert dissected Quentin Tarantino’s camerawork in Pulp Fiction. It opened my eyes to a whole new world of film language. Ebert had that effect on a lot of people.
If Ebert opened up that world to people then Steve James‘ latest documentary Life Itself opens Ebert to the world. Based on Ebert’s autobiography of the same name, the film tells Ebert’s life story, yes, but it does so via the framework of our own love of the movies. Great care is taken to specifically illustrate not only how Ebert changed the face of film criticism, but how he helped us all discover our own passion for the movies.
Make no mistake though, this isn’t some simple love letter. Life Itself is a warts and all dissection as well as a beautiful tribute. Issues such as alcoholism, struggles with weight, ego and sex are all part of his story. This is a vast, entertaining and thought-provoking look at Ebert the man and Ebert the icon.
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Editor’s Note: The following review was originally published on January 22nd 2014 after the film’s premiere at Sundance. The review is being republished as the film is being released in New York and Los Angeles this weekend, and expanding in the coming weeks.
In the case of an action movie like The Raid, I can’t fault anyone who wants to set plot aside and simply enjoy the action. With The Raid 2, that approach becomes impossible. Writer/director/editor Gareth Evans puts lofty goals fully on display in this sequel, which expands in every direction relative to the original. The action is bigger and more diverse, the story is more complex, and more emphasis is placed on dramatic performances even as the film’s physical demands intensify. Where the first was a tightly controlled action film that jettisoned all but the skeleton of a plot, this sequel is a huge crime tale featuring several criminal organizations competing for power, the police trying to catch up, and one young cop caught squarely in the middle.
Premiering the film at Sundance in a prime slot is a strange experiment of sorts. The Raid 2 isn’t a thing for general audiences; this is a hardcore genre movie. The swirl of Evans’ dramatic ambitions are punctuated by ultra-violent choreography, like a machine-gun snare drum tracked into a piece of classical music. It’s a tricky balancing act. The Raid 2 navigates the test awkwardly at best, because the story never connects as solidly as do the film’s thousand punches. Read More »
The Sundance sci-fi The Signal, almost a mystery as much as it is a science fiction piece, played really well at the festival this year. While I didn’t get to see it, Peter loved the film, and it was quickly set for a summer release by Focus Features. But The Signal remains a mystery to most potential audiences — and that’s where these new images and a viral video come in. None of these materials will give away what’s going on in the film, but they probably will make you a lot more curious about seeing it. Read More »
Focus Features has announced a release date for their Sundance film: The Signal‘s release date is set for Summer 2014. This shows tremendous confidence in William Eubank‘s sci-fi thriller, which was one of my favorite films from this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
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While we wait for Terry Gilliam‘s new film The Zero Theorem to hit theaters in the US (which will happen… sometime) we’ve got a few new tidbits for you to check out. One is a “making-of” featurette on that film, showing some of the means with which Gilliam, his crew, and stars Christoph Waltz, Melanie Thierry, Lucas Hedges, Ben Whishaw, Tilda Swinton, David Thewlis, and Matt Damon brought the story’s weird vision to life.
Even as that movie moves towards theaters, Gilliam is really going back to shoot The Man Who Killed Don Quixote once more. He’s scorned the idea of using Kickstarter to finance the film when asked about such an idea in the past, but now seems to be more open to the process. Quotes on that are below, too. Read More »
Briefly: The 2014 Sundance Film Festival is over and done but the we’re still seeing the effects of the fest on film distribution. Three of the festival’s more popular films were just picked up for future release. The first is Infinitely Polar Bear, the Bad Robot-produced dramedy starring Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana. Sony Pictures Classics acquired the rights. No release window has been planned yet but the movie is wonderful. Read our review here.
Also now headed to a theater near you is Ping Pong Summer, Michael Tully‘s ode to the Eighties, which has been picked up by Gravitas Ventures and Millennium Entertainment. They’re planning a theatrical run early this Summer. Read our review here.
And finally, Timo Tjahjanto and Kimo Stamboel‘s Japanese action film Killers, produced by Gareth Evans, was picked up by Well Go USA Entertainment. It’ll be out in the fourth quarter of this year. Thanks to The Wrap.
There’s an implied threat in the title of the film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Those words together suggest menace and victimization. An image forms, not of a woman out for an enjoyable stroll, but of one who might not make it home.
A reversal of that threat is the core of this vampire film written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour. Luminescent black and white photography buttresses a very spare approach to story. Into the tale are woven supernatural tropes, and elements of westerns and ’50s rebel movies. Shot in California but set in Iran, with dialogue in Farsi, the film’s images and characters are a collision of Iranian and American cultures, specifically with respect to social politics of sex and gender. This is an inversion of classic horror, because it is not about victimization of the person described in the title, but rather that person’s retaliation against forces that seek to dominate and subjugate.
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