Roger Ebert’s ‘Life Itself’ Debuts — A Beautiful Masterpiece

My father introduced me to Roger Ebert at a young age, and my fandom has since spanned decades. In fact, I fancied I’d emulate his career, which was the original aim of this blog. After watching ‘Life Itself,’ I feel more determined than ever.

My favorite Ebert reviews were for the films he frowned upon, because it always affirmed his resident-bad-ass status. For example, when Rob Schneider took out a full page ad in Daily Variety to attack the credentials of a film critic who bashed “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo,” saying “He didn’t win a Pulitzer Prize because they haven’t invented a category for Best Third-Rate, Unfunny Pompous Reporter Who’s Never Been Acknowledged by His Peers,” Ebert boldly joined the battle, saying, “As chance would have it, I have won the Pulitzer Prize, and so I am qualified. Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks.” Another personal favorite involved Kick-Ass, with Roger Ebert’s negative review inspiring barbs about his age from the movie’s angry filmmakers. Ebert nutshelled his cutting response on twitter, simply saying, “Them: I was too old to get it. Me: My problem was that I got it.” And let’s not forget his infamous feud with Vincent Gallo, who called Ebert a “fat pig” in reaction to his negative take on ‘The Brown Bunny.” Ebert replied with a play on Winston Churchill, saying, “It is true that I am fat, but one day I shall be thin, and he will still be the director of ‘The Brown Bunny.'”

Though Roger Ebert allowed us into his life with movie reviews, blog posts, interviews, and his own television shows, ‘Life Itself,’ gives us a new look at the legend. Directed by Steve James, the film lets us in on the lighter side of Roger Ebert, with a beautiful glimpse at the love he shared with his wife, Chaz, who clearly kept him going during his more challenging days, which Ebert always met with joy. He poetically described her impact on his life, saying, “Her love was like a wing pushing me back from the grave.” We also get a window into his iconic partnership with Gene Siskel, with funny videos of their feud, which eventually transformed into a loving friendship.

There’s no doubt that Ebert’s life work is inspirational. But what’s more inspirational, is how he lived his life. He was happy in the face of great difficulty, he refused to let his illness define him, and even in the most physically challenging state, his family and his writing brought him joy. I feel grateful for this incredible glimpse into Roger Ebert’s life.

Watch the trailer below, and see the film on the big screen. That’s how Ebert would have wanted it.

Vintage Quote of the Day — Roger Ebert on the MPAA’s Hypocrisy

“The MPAA’s R rating is definitive proof that the organization either will never give the NC-17 rating for violence alone, or was intimidated by the subject matter. If it had been anyone other than Jesus up on that cross, I have a feeling that NC-17 would have been automatic.” The late, great Roger Ebert, addressing an issue while reviewing Passion of the Christ that’s now gaining even more momentum. The man was always ahead of his time.

Ebert Reflects On Gene Siskel With AARP.org

Roger Ebert interviewed with AARP, and because I love all things Roger Ebert, I’ve posted some quotes from the interview below. Enjoy!

On the health care system

“I have had only positive experiences. I have been lucky to benefit from wonderful doctors — and, on the daily firing line, nurses and nurses’ aides, who are there in the middle of the night. I strongly believe in universal health care, and find it incredible that ours is the only major industrialized nation that doesn’t offer it. The arguments against it are hogwash, and it’s a tragedy that many seniors have been persuaded to vote against their own self-interest.”

On what film critic Gene Siskel means to him

“What he means to me is in the present, not the past. He was remarkably intelligent, observant and incisive. I valued his advice. We shared many things. I often think of his definition of “lip flap.” That’s when people speak without saying anything. I think of it often when listening to celebrities and to politicians of every party.”

On his plans to retire

“If I retired, what would I do then? Exactly the same as I am doing now, but without being able to write? Unthinkable. The ideal would be to retire into a better occupation. If all you do is stop working, then what does that say about your job? Leisure can be exhausting.“

On the best part of growing older

“It’s all worth remembering. The silver lining is that there is more to remember. Since my mind remains intact, the bad part is that my body can’t keep up. That’s built in, so there’s no use fretting.”

Movie Review: The Help — Does it Downplay Racism?

I saw ‘The Help,’ and I loved it. Then I told a friend, who quickly explained the controversy surrounding the film. Upon reading the reviews, and then revisiting my memory of the film, my opinion has changed — but not by much. So what is all the fuss about exactly? To quote Roger Ebert, it’s a “story that deals with pain but doesn’t care to be that painful.”

The film is based on Kathryn Scott’s novel, and it follows Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) and Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), who are maids in Jackson, Mississippi, during the early 60’s. Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone) is a recent college graduate and aspiring writer, who hopes to expose the way “the help” is treated in Mississippi by publishing a book with first-hand accounts. To accomplish this, she must interview the maids in town, who take the huge risk of getting caught.

The movie is gaining so much criticism primarily because it downplays racism. Most of the racism in the film involves using segregated bathrooms and verbal disrespect. In fact, there are only two scenes of violence throughout the entire movie. The first involves a verbal recounting of Aibileen’s son who was murdered, and the second involves a maid who stole a ring from her boss so that she could pay for her child’s education. When she’s arrested for the theft, a police officer beats her, but the camera cuts away before you see the completed act. So is this film just a Disney version of racism?

It’s no secret that Hollywood is financially driven, and an increase in violence leads to a decrease in ticket sales. Unfettered truth is difficult to watch on screen. For example, I might be the only Jewish person that hasn’t seen ‘Schindler’s List.’ Why? Because I can’t handle it, and because movies are a safe haven for me that I use to take me out of reality — not to smack me in the face with it. One critic suggested that when Aibileen recounts her son’s murder, there should have been flashbacks of the act. I disagree. There’s a way to imply violence without physically showing it. Remember the famous shower scene in ‘Psycho?’ Hitchcock implied the stabbing without showing the act itself. There’s nothing wrong with that. The problem with this film is not that the violence isn’t shown, it’s that it’s barely even discussed. It borders on rewriting history, and there’s a danger in that.

Though there are certainly problems with watered-down recounting of history, the film is still one of the most enjoyable movies I’ve watched in a long time. Emma Stone is proving to be a formidable acting force, having quickly tossed away her high-school-girl persona from ‘Easy A’ into much more demanding roles. And Viola Davis is outstanding. Her relationship with the young white girl she cares for had me in tears throughout most of the film. It’s worth watching — flaws and all. OVERALL RATING: 4/5 DISHES

Roger Ebert Apologizes for Ryan Dunn Tweet — Sort of

Roger Ebert has sparked a venomous conversation about his recent Ryan Dunn tweet, when Ebert said, “friends don’t let jackasses drink and drive.” As a result, Ebert apologized — or further explained himself. He said his tweet was “not intended as cruel” but rather, it was “intended as true.” I have mixed feelings about this. First, I’m not sure it’s necessary to state the obvious at a time when Ryan Dunn’s friends and family are grieving. But to quote The Superficial, “Instead of being behind the wheel of a Porsche, if Ryan Dunn had ran down the street randomly firing a gun . . . ” would you still call Ebert an insensitive prick? I’m not sure. This might be the best time for a public lesson — insensitive or not.

Roger Ebert Still Hates ‘Thor’ — Won’t Apologize for Movie Review

Leave it to Roger Ebert stand firm amidst harsh criticism. In a nutshell, Ebert hated Thor, and the Thor fans attacked him. Instead of apologizing or re-evaluating his review, Ebert explained his points, and as expected, I’m once again flooded with Roger Ebert love. I’ve posted some choice quotes from his non-apology below. Sit back and enjoy it, because no one can engage in a war of the words quite like Roger Ebert.

On Fan Hatred of his Review

After my “Thor” review hit the fan, I was pummeled by outraged comments. A large number cited factual inaccuracies and speculated that I had not seen the movie at all. Some stated that as a fact. One called for me to be fired. Of course I saw the movie. I haven’t spent 44 years at this to start making things up now. I might indeed question how many other movies some of my correspondents have seen, since they confused “Thor” with a good film.

On getting one of the robot’s name wrong in his review

With some films every frame seems to register. Others have a strange quality of slipping wraith-like through my mind without hitting any brain cells. If the robot was named the Destroyer, the best reason for my failure to recall its name was that I just didn’t give a damn.

On His Inaccuracies in describing the film’s plot

Obviously my mistake was to get into the plot at all. One of my weaknesses is to play with the logic of preposterous movies like this. I consider that an amusing exercise, to be read as entertainment and not taken so damned seriously.

On Thor Being a Bad Movie

Does it make a movie “good” because you “like” it? No, it doesn’t, and I have liked a lot of bad movies. It is helpful to separate one’s immediate amusement from more lasting standards. “Thor” is a minor superhero movie with a boring back story and an underwhelming weapon (his hammer).

Roger Ebert Annihilates ‘Battle: Los Angeles’ — Filmmakers Run for Cover

I have to give Roger Ebert some unneeded credit from The Dishmaster.  He’s so brilliant, I often pinch myself about having lived with him in the same era.  In his Battle: Los Angeles review, Ebert basically tore the film to shreds, calling it, “noisy, violent, ugly, and stupid.”  He also asked whether they give “razzies for special effects,” saying that “the lazy editing style assumes nothing need make any sense visually.”  As an example, Ebert said, “From time to time, there’ll be a closeup of Aaron Eckhart screaming something . . . and on either side of that shot, there will be unrelated shots of incomprehensible action.”  To put the nail in the coffin, Ebert closed his review by citing the “Generations of filmmakers [who] devoted their lives to perfecting techniques that a director like Jonathan Liebesman is either ignorant of, or indifferent to. Yet he is given millions of dollars to produce this assault on the attention span of a generation.”  If you’re familiar with Roger Ebert, then you know that you might want to stay out of his way when he hates your movie.  Just ask Rob Schneider and Kick-Ass.  To read a list of the best quotes from Ebert’s review, Movieline laid it out quite nicely.

Vintage Celebrity Feud: Roger Ebert v. Vincent Gallo

The Brown Bunny

Chloe Sevigny’s recent Playboy interview drew my attention to a very old feud, which was just juicy enough to recount.  In 2003, Sevigny starred in The Brown Bunny, a movie written and directed by Vincent Gallo.  The film gained a lot of negative attention because Sevigny performed “unsimulated fellatio” on Gallo.  Translation?  She actually blew him — it wasn’t movie magic.   When the film debuted at the Cannes Film Festival, Roger Ebert said it was “the worst film in the history of Cannes.”  Gallo didn’t take his comment lightly, and began a very funny war of the words with the greatest wordsmith that ever lived.  Gallo called Ebert “a fat pig with the physique of a slave trader.”  Ebert then retorted with a play on Winston Churchill’s famous quote, saying, “It is true that I am fat, but one day I shall be thin, and he will still be the director of The Brown Bunny.”  Gallo, who still hadn’t learned his lesson, said he put a hex on Roger Ebert’s colon.  Ebert was unphased, saying, “a colonoscopy is more entertaining to watch than The Brown Bunny.”  The irony of this feud is that Gallo later re-edited the entire film, and Ebert ultimately gave it a thumbs up, claiming that he rescued it.  There’s still a lesson to be learned here, though — don’t mess with Roger Ebert.

Roger Ebert Refuses to Use His Star Rating on ‘The Human Centipede’

If you look at Ebert’s review for ‘The Human Centipede,’ you’ll notice that he put “unrated” in parentheses where the stars should be.  Huh?  Originally I thought that Ebert’s “unrated” meant “zero stars,” but after reading his review, I realize Ebert is one clever mofo.  Here’s what he wrote: “I am required to award stars to movies I review. This time, I refuse to do it. The star rating system is unsuited to this film. Is the movie good? Is it bad? Does it matter? It is what it is and occupies a world where the stars don’t shine.”  This post is more about how much of a writing rock star Roger Ebert is, and less about the movie.  All you have to do is read the review to discover that the movie is too vile to exist.  I haven’t seen it and I’m already disturbed.  

‘Kick-Ass’ Isn’t Very Happy With Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert gave ‘Kick-Ass’ one star, and called it “morally reprehensible.”  He mostly had a problem with the gratuitous violence of an 11 year old girl, which led to many cracks about Ebert being an old fogey.  In fact, ‘Kick-Ass’ actor Chris Mintz-Plasse, tweeted to Ebert directly, saying “it just isn’t your kind of flick sir.”  In response to the age criticism, Ebert used twitter to say in 16 words what would take most people 500.  He said – “Them: I was too old to get it. Me: My problem was that I got it.”  See the trailer below. 

Update: Kick-Ass tanked at the box office on Friday.  It made $7.5 million and is estimated to cap at $19 million.  That’s way lower than the studio hoped.  Roger Ebert reigns supreme.