Life Itself

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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Life Itself

Thursday night in Hollywood, Magnolia Pictures hosted the premiere of the incredible documentary Life Itself. Directed by Steve James, the film tells the story of legendary film critic Roger Ebert. Along the way, it helps us think about not only Ebert’s legacy, but our own love of movies and ultimately our own lives. It’s a beautiful film that opens in theaters and on demand July 4.

Scrolling through Twitter, I noticed something at the Life Itself premiere that touched my heart. Someone at the premiere had left a seat open for Ebert, who passed away in April of 2013, just four months after James started filming. The simple gesture brought a tear to my eye because of just how much Ebert meant to myself and fellow film critics, fans and audiences all over the world. If it had that effect on me, we thought it might have a similar effect on you. Read More »

Battered Bastards of Baseball Trailer

The story of the Portland Mavericks, an independent minor-league baseball team that ruled the Pacific Northwest in the ’70s, is almost too good to be true. Founded by actor Bing Russell, the team counted his son, Kurt Russell, as a member, and brought together a bunch of hopeful oddballs from all over the country. The Battered Bastards of Baseball tells the story of the Mavericks, and it is a nearly unbelievable tale of success and scrappy play. This is a very funny, entertaining film, and one that has more love of the game of baseball than anything else I’ve seen this year.

Watch the Battered Bastards of Baseball trailer below. Read More »

inside-jaws-header

(Note: We’ve bumped this for the occasion of the anniversary of the film’s original release on June 20, 1975.)

For moviegoers, there might not be a more quintessential summer movie than Jaws. (Pun intended.) But even if you’ve absorbed every documentary about the making of Steven Spielberg‘s template-setting blockbuster, you’ll probably find something new in Inside Jaws.

Jamie Benning creates what may be the ultimate fan documentaries, or “filmumentaries,” as he calls them. He’s done the job on the original Star Wars trilogy and Raiders of the Lost Ark; now he turns to Jaws. Benning’s films are like hyper-extended commentary tracks that collate interviews, production info and photos, deleted scenes, alternate takes, and other materials into a hyper-detailed “making-of” portrait. And so Inside Jaws is a 2 1/2-hour commentary track/documentary that will give you an impressive understanding of how the film was made.

Watch it below. Read More »

People vs George Lucas 2 header

By now, Star Wars fans have had plenty of chances to see the 2010 documentary The People vs. George Lucas. Directed by Alexandre O. Philippe, the doc examined the relationship – or lack thereof – between fans and Star Wars creator George Lucas. Filming a few years after the disappointment of the Star Wars prequels, Philippe talked to fans and celebrities about the anticipation for and legacy of those films. The main argument was between how much those films were a result of fan anticipation versus Lucas’ desire to write them, then whether Lucas should or could have listened more to the fans when making them.

Fast-forward a few years and a lot has changed. George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney and his beloved Star Wars franchise is continuing without him, helmed by some of those very fans who watched the prequels from the audience. Seems like the perfect time to come back to the subject and that’s exactly what’s happening. Producers just annoucned the production of The People vs. George Lucas Episode II, tentatively scheduled for release December 2015, right in time for Star Wars Episode VII. Read More »

Quidditch documentary

The FIFA World Cup isn’t without its charms, but any Harry Potter fan worth his weight in Galleons knows that Muggle soccer has nothing on Quidditch. Soon, the rest of the world may come to realize that as well, thanks to a new documentary.

Directed by Farzad Sangari, Mudbloods follows the UCLA Quidditch team on their journey to the Fifth Annual Quidditch World Cup in New York City. I realize that sentence may sound completely absurd if you’re not familiar with the Harry Potter fandom, but trust me, it’s a real thing. Check out the first poster and still, and get all the details on the movie, after the jump.

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Studio Ghibli documentary

We’ve told you about The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, the documentary about Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli. Now we get to tell you that GKIDS, the US distributor which has taken up distribution of some Ghibli titles in the States, will bring the doc to US theaters this year. Read More »

turtle power trailer

Despite their name, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles aren’t really teenagers anymore. This year marks the 30th anniversary of their introduction in a little indie comic originally created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. The fact that the occasion will be marked with a big-budget franchise-starter produced by Michael Bay says a lot about what a weird, wild ride it’s been for these amphibian heroes.

To retrace that journey, Paramount is releasing Turtle Power, a 98-minute direct-to-DVD documentary directed by Randall Lobb. Watch the Turtle Power trailer after the jump.

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