One of the best films of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Steve James‘ documentary about film critic Roger EbertLife 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.
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
Despite the terrible news of legendary film critic Roger Ebert‘s passing, the film about the man himself will go on. Steve James, the Oscar-nominated director of Hoop Dreams, took to Twitter to tell everyone that despite the tragic news, he and producers Martin Scorsese and Steve Zaillian will finish Life Itself, a documentary on the life of Roger Ebert based on his memoir of the same title.
We are devastated. But we will continue. We will finish the film.
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.
Roger Ebert, long the chief film critic at the Chicago Sun-Times, and the man who did more to define the popular dialogue about movies than any other person, has died at the age of 70.
The Sun-Times reports his passing. Ebert had battled cancer for many years; the disease infected his jaw and cost him his ability to speak in 2006. Earlier this week he announced a “leave of presence” from his position at the paper, citing a cancerous relapse.
Throughout the past decade, illness did not deter Ebert, who became an even more voluminous writer after losing his power of speech. He used Twitter to create a constant dialogue with his audience and the world at large, evolving from a film critic to cultural commentator. Ebert’s opinions, particularly those on video games, were not always popular. No matter the subject, however, Ebert wrote honestly, with an openness that avoided cheap shots and welcomed dialogue with readers. For a man whose voice and words carried so much weight, he’ll be remembered as someone who listened.
How many people become more vital, and more engaged with the world, in their sixth decade of life? I’ve watched and read Ebert since the late ’70s, beginning with his early sparring sessions with Gene Siskel on Sneak Previews, but over thirty years later the man was more of a cultural force than ever.
Roger Ebert taught me to do what you love, to do it with passion and honesty, and to face difficulties with dignity. He was the cinematic mentor for multiple generations. Ebert inspired countless readers to follow their own voice, but none will ever be quite what he was.