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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With Mark Ruffalo moonlighting as a superhero these days, it’s easy to forget he’s one of the best actors currently working. Infinitely Polar Bear, written and directed by newcomer Maya Forbes, not only serves as a reminder of Ruffalo’s chops, it’s arguably his finest performance to date. He plays Cameron, a bipolar father of two, who is forced to solely care for the kids when his estranged wife Maggie (Zoe Saldana) goes to graduate school hoping to improve the family’s financial situation.
So you’ve got a bipolar man, barely able to keep himself together, forced to take care of two young girls when their African-American mom goes away hoping to get a white-collar job… in 1978 Boston. Yes, Infinitely Polar Bear is weighty with issues of race, economics, and gender, but Forbes deals with them carefully and thoughtfully in a hilarious, heartwarming film. Read More »
Zach Braff‘s Wish I Was Here is now infamous because of the controversy surrounding Braff’s Kickstarter campaign. But let’s not allow that to cloud the real picture –Braff’s fans coughed up $3.1 million for his second feature film because they loved his first movie. Garden State connected with teens and college-aged twenty somethings in a manner that rarely happens, almost in the way that a song or a poem connects, rather than a movie. Fans have been waiting over a decade for Braff to go back behind the camera for a follow-up. This year at Sundance they got it.
Wish I Was Here is a real crowd pleaser, earning a standing ovation at the Premiere screening at Park City’s The Marc theatre. The film is very funny; when the lights came up I was hurting from laughter and sniffling a bit. (Must have been the cold temperature of Utah, right? Yeah that has to be the reason…) It is my favorite movie of Sundance this year (thus far).
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Mike Cahill‘s I Origins might be the best science vs faith movie I’ve seen since Robert Zemeckis’s Contact. That is a very huge compliment coming from me, as Contact is one of my favorite films.
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Friday morning I spent 85 minutes with Tom Hardy as he drove a car while fielding phone calls over a Bluetooth connection. It’s not as glamorous as it sounds; it’s a movie at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Locke, directed by Steven Knight (Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises), is a an incredible acting exercise with the spotlight shining on Hardy, and Hardy alone.
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The films by director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett always have one thing in common. They are obviously influenced by an intense passion for movies, but are not overtly obvious about referencing those movies. In that sense, The Guest might feel like something you’ve seen before. It’s got the basic feel of a stalker film from the late ’80s or early ’90s, but filtered through the action of Quentin Tarantino, the music of John Carpenter, the ideas of James Cameron and almost too many others to mention. There’s action, sci-fi, horror, comedy… you name it, this movie has it. The result is a fresh, fun film that crescendos from title to credits with suspense, laughs and violence. Read More »
Ask someone what the quintessential Sundance movie is and they might say something with well-known stars, directed by a popular independent filmmaker, in a story about finding one’s place in the world. Which, on the surface, is Lynn Shelton‘s Laggies, starring Keira Knightley, Chloe Grace Moretz and Sam Rockwell. But Laggies breaks from that mold by spinning those festival tropes in an original, likable way.
Knightley plays Megan, a 28-year-old struggling with the inevitability of adulthood. To cope she befriends — and moves in with — a high school girl (Moretz) and her single dad (Rockwell). It might sound a bit creepy, but Shelton’s direction and the three lead performances instead lead to a sweet and interesting, if never spectacular film. Read More »
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The Babadook is the best possession movie in years, a vigorous and very intense horror film about a family on the edge of sanity. This isn’t a gore showcase, but a wild emotional roller coaster. (If you need a tonal touchstone, go to Polanski films such as Repulsion and The Tenant.) There is a monster of sorts, but the movie would almost be just fine without him — the actors put each other through hell and writer/director Jennifer Kent drops us right in there with them. Read More »