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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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Almost twenty-five years ago, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert sat down with Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese to talk about the future of cinema. At the time, Scorsese had yet to release Goodfellas, Spielberg had yet to win an Oscar and George Lucas had to to commit to the Star Wars prequels. Each was already incredibly accomplished, but not even close to the peaks of their success.
Looking back at the conversation, it’s fascinating to think about where these guys thought cinema would go, how they themselves would help push it there, and what they were wrong about. Of course, earlier this year Spielberg and Lucas once again talked about the future of movies and their predictions were much more pessimistic. I wouldn’t bet against these guys.
Check out the fantastic 50 minute interview below. Read More »
Right now I want to remember Roger Ebert by posting a series of video compilations featuring some of the best moments from the Pulitzer-winning film critic’s television reviewing days, which he shared alongside Gene Siskel and Richard Roeper. The videos were compiled by Clement’s Corner, and posted on youtube a few years back. In loving memory of Roger.
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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 »
Over the past year and change, Roger Ebert has written a new chapter in his more than forty-year career as a major film critic. Now some of the earliest days of that career are online thanks to the Library of Congress and SiskelandEbert.org, which presents raw tape archives of the early episodes of Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert’s film review shows that aired for decades, starting in 1975. Read More »