'Life Itself' recounts the surprising and entertaining life of world-renowned film critic and social commentator Roger Ebert - a story that's by turns personal, wistful, funny, painful, and transcendent. The film explores the impact and legacy of Roger Ebert's life: from his Pulitzer Prize-winning film criticism and his nearly quarter-century run with Gene Siskel on their review show, to becoming one of the country's most influential cultural voices, and finally to Roger's inspiring battles with cancer and the resulting physical disability - how he literally and symbolically put a new face on the disease and continued to be a cultural force despite it. Written by
In the past 25 years I have probably seen 10,000 movies and reviewed 6,000 of them. I have forgotten most of them, I hope, but I remember those worth remembering, and they are all on the same shelf in my mind.
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I first discovered Siskel and Ebert by accidentally waking up early one morning and turning the television on to see two guys getting into a heated debate over a movie called DEAD AGAIN. It's funny but it's a moment in my life that I'll never forget because it opened my eyes to other movie lovers and the show would also introduce me to all sorts of movies that weren't playing at my small town theater. LIFE ITSELF, based on the book of the same name, covers the life and career of film critic Roger Ebert who is of course best known for his television show with Gene Siskel. The book was a wonderful read and especially for fans of Ebert but director Steve James does an extremely good job at bringing it to the screen even if we really don't see anything here that we didn't read in the book.
With that said, there's no question that the film is highly entertaining and especially when it deals with the rather love-hate relationship between Ebert and Siskel. There's no doubt that these moments are the highlight of the film as we get to see some classic clips of the two on their show but also some memorable outtakes as well as their appearances on talk shows, including an intense one on Carson where Ebert rips Chevy Chase who is sitting right there. The film also covers Ebert's personal life where we get interviews with the likes of his wife as well as Siskel's widow. Filmmakers Werner Herzog and Martin Scorsese are also on hand and discuss their relationship with Ebert. Of course, the hardest part to watch about this film are the scenes involving Ebert in the hospital where we see how much pain he was in towards the end of his life. These scenes really are hard to watch but at the same time it leaves you in amazement that he was able to continue writing on his blog at such a high level.
LIFE ITSELF has some flaws including the structure of the story but I doubt any fans of the critic are going to be disappointed. I think the 115-minute running time was fine for a general release but it seems like there's probably a lot more that could have been included.
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