Steve James Life Itself

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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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.

Read More »

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 »

Life Itself

“A vast, entertaining and thought-provoking look at Roger Ebert the man and icon.” That’s how I described Steve James‘ documentary Life Itself when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Now you can see some of that film for yourself.

Based on Ebert’s autobiography of the same name, the documentary tells Ebert’s life story via the framework of our own love of the movies. James, who is best known for Hoop Dreams, takes great care 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.

Magnolia picked up the film out of the festival and is bringing it to theaters and on demand on July 4. Now, the first Life Itself trailer has been released. Check it out. Read More »

Life Itself

The release of the new Life Itself poster is as good a reason as any to talk about the film. Hoop Dreams director Steve James adapts the book by the late Roger Ebert to create a vivid, detailed, and moving portrait of the film critic. Life Itself is not wide-eyed deification, but a clear-minded portrait of Ebert that is both funny and unflinching. It’s a great film that champions Ebert’s vision of film and writing as a means to reach other people, moreso than the simple data of his life-long tenure as a film critic. It’s a film worth seeing. For now, see the poster below. Read More »

raiders-spielberg-ford

There are many reasons to be sad Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert are no longer with us. One reason, way down on the list, would be their occasional specials dedicated to the films of a particular director. Every once in a while, the legendary Chicago critics would dedicate an episode of their show not to a bunch of new releases, but to the art and beauty of one single filmmaker’s body of work.

One such example is a 1984 episode aired close to the release of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, on the work of Steven Spielberg. This is thirty years ago, which is nuts considering how much Spielberg has done since. But in 1984, Siskel & Ebert were already looking back at his development and filmmaking language in an episode of the show. Watch the Steven Spielberg Siskel and Ebert episode below. Read More »

Life Itself

One of the best films of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Steve James‘ documentary about film critic Roger Ebert Life Itself, has just been picked up for distribution by Magnolia Pictures. The company reportedly beat out several suitors including IFC, Oscilloscope and The Weinstein Company. They’re looking at a summer theatrical and on-demand release followed by a screening on CNN.

Read our wildly positive review hereinterview with the director here and the full press release below. Read More »

RogerEbert550

In the realm of movie criticism, people love absolutes. This movie is better than that movie. This movie is 2 stars and that one is 5 stars, etc. However, if you actually critique movies for a living, you quickly realize not all movies are created equal. There are times and circumstances where films that may not be equal are given similar grades for different reasons. Speaking personally, did I love Man of Steel for what it was and give it a positive review? Yes. Was the grade the same or higher than films on my top 10 of the year? Yes. But Man of Steel didn’t make the list because it served a different purpose than those films.

One person who would have totally understood that is Roger Ebert. Ebert was a big proponent of context in criticism (hence giving a thumbs up to Benji the Hunted but not Full Metal Jacket, as seen in Life Itself) and recommending The Longest Yard and The Honeymooners over War of the Worlds. Below, watch those two clips to hear Ebert explain his reasons for movie review ratings. Read More »

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