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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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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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 »

Cinema Had Too Many Sequels and Remakes In 1976

In 2011, saying that Hollywood releases too many sequels, remakes and reboots is so common place, it’s gone beyond cliche into a whole new category that doesn’t yet exist. Still, the sentiment remains an irrefutable fact. Of the top ten highest grossing films of the year so far, only one isn’t based on a previous property and that’s Bridesmaids, which – one could argue – is a spin-off, at least in tone, to several other movies.

This trend of remaking and repackaging the same material over and over isn’t anything new but putting a start date on it is difficult. One site might have a good place to start though: the 1970s, arguably the greatest decade in cinema history.¬† In 1976, that’s 35 years ago, a year before George Lucas released Star Wars and only one year after Steven Spielberg created the “summer blockbuster” with Jaws, legendary film critic Gene Siskel felt the same way we all do now. Hollywood was making too many sequels and remakes. Really? In 1976? Watch the clip and get a little background after the break. Read More »

Roger Ebert Predicted The Future Of Film In 1987

We all know that Roger Ebert is a genius when it comes to film, but it turns out he’s a fortune teller as well. The year was 1987. Cable TV was in its infancy and many of us had to get up from the couch to change the channel. Betamax was still trying to compete with VHS and recording a TV show required a VCR and an alarm clock. Renting movies from a video store was a family event and the average movie ticket was around $5. In short, things were incredibly different from how they are now.

At the same time Ebert, who was currently on the air with Siskel & Ebert, was doing an interview with Omni Magazine and the famous Chicago Sun-Times film critic was asked about how fierce the competition between television and movies would be in the future. His answer, given almost 25 years ago, was just about right on the money. Read what he said after the jump. Read More »

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