Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Sundance Review: Life Itself - 4 stars

Well, this isn't a big surprise.  I admit that I'm predisposed to like a documentary about Roger Ebert.  But director Steve James did a great job of adapting Ebert's memoir, and it was even more moving than I thought it would be.

Using photos and video clips (of which of course there are many), Life Itself tells the life story of film critic Roger Ebert.  We learn about his days as a bachelor and a heavy drinker, his career as film critic of the Chicago Sun Times, his partnership with Gene Siskel, and the cancer that would eventually take his life.

I don't think you have to be a fan of Ebert or of film criticism in general to enjoy this movie.  In fact, I would have liked to hear more about how he advanced film criticism and inspired so many other critics.  There is some time devoted to the argument that he and Siskel dumbed down criticism by simply saying "thumbs up" or "thumbs down". 

But for the most part, it focuses on Ebert the man.  We see some really difficult footage of Ebert suffering in the hospital, going through rehab, and arguing with his wife, Chaz.  I have read a lot about Ebert's medical troubles, but I had no idea how bad things got.  It's also very interesting to see the struggles his wife went through as his caretaker.

As hard as that stuff is to watch, it's also very inspiring.  I think at one time or another, all of us have gone through or will go through similar health issues.  We'll either be the sick one or the caretaker.  It's nice to see that despite the reassurance and the presence of mind he exhibited in his blog, Roger was a normal man going through hell.  He got frustrated and upset just like any of us would.  And while Chaz was an incredible caregiver and loving wife, she had her frustrations too.  Sometimes she had to fight with Roger to get him to get out of his wheelchair and walk up the stairs.

This is a wonderful movie, and I really have a hard time being objective about it since I was such a big fan of Roger Ebert.  Many of the clips in the movie are available on YouTube.  The clips of Gene and Roger fighting while trying to record promos are great fun, and I always enjoy seeing them argue passionately about a movie.  I'm one of those people who will spend time on just to watch their old shows. 

Just so you know where I'm coming from.  I'm a fan and I feel like this movie was made for me.  Hopefully you will enjoy it too.

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