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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 »

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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 »

Steve James Life Itself

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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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 »

Life Itself

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 »

Roger Ebert

Steve James‘ documentary Life Itself, about the life of film critic Roger Ebert, is well into post-production. It looks as if the film will be finished early in 2014 and, to simultaneously help raise the final funds to finish the film as well as allow fans to see it early, the production has started an IndieGoGo campaign.

You can find the link to the IndieGoGo here. For as low as $25, you’ll get a link allowing you to stream the movie once it’s finished and well before the theatrical release. With a higher donation, you can attend live screenings, visit the editing room, and much more. All funds raised in the next month (they’re aiming at $150,000) will go towards post-production items such as original music, animation and graphics, color correction, audio mixing, music licensing and archival footage. Read More »

The Making of Return of the Jedi

Anticipating, debating and dissecting Star Wars movies is nothing new. Thirty year ago, with the final Star Wars film Return of the Jedi just hitting theaters, film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert defended the latest Star Wars film on ABC’s Nightlne with Ted Koppel. Their opposition was critic John Simon, who wrote for National Review and New York Magazine. Simon hated The Empire Strikes Back and Jedi while Siskel and Ebert loved them. At one point, Simon condemns the films for being Disney like and Siskel and Ebert praise that statement. We know what happened some years later.

The discussion then segues into a debate about highbrow film versus movies as pure entertainment. It’s a fantastic look back in time and proof that, three decades later, these issues will never be settled. Especially in the case of Star Wars. Read More »

Russ_Roger

It was inevitable that Roger Ebert‘s life story would end up on film in some manner. A documentary or two seemed the most likely method, but a couple producers have something else in mind, and are putting together a dramatic feature.

The film is called Russ & Roger Go Beyond, and it has a script by Christopher Cluess (SNL, The Simpsons) that tells the tale of the collaboration and unique friendship between director Russ Meyer and critic as they worked together on Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Ebert scripted the film for the b-movie mogul whose drive-in cheapies featured outrageously busty women, strange comedy, and plenty of sordid thrills and violence.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, co-written by Ebert and Meyer and directed by Meyer, wasn’t quite like the director’s other “bosomania” efforts. It was originally developed as a sequel to the trashy drug melodrama Valley of the Dolls. (Where “dolls” meant pills, not women.) But Ebert and Meyer eventually scripted the film as a spoof of the original and, as Ebert said, ”a satire of Hollywood conventions, genres, situations, dialogue, characters and success formulas, heavily overlaid with such shocking violence that some critics didn’t know whether the movie ‘knew’ it was a comedy.” Read More »

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