Life Itself

2014

Biography / Documentary

Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Certified Fresh 98% · 205 reviews
Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Upright 88% · 10K ratings
IMDb Rating 7.8/10 10 16084 16.1K

Plot summary

The surprising and entertaining life of renowned film critic and social commentator Roger Ebert (1942-2013): his early days as a freewheeling bachelor and Pulitzer Prize winner, his famously contentious partnership with Gene Siskel, his life-altering marriage, and his brave and transcendent battle with cancer.



September 23, 2023 at 06:43 PM

Director

Steve James

Top cast

Martin Scorsese as Self
Werner Herzog as Self
Hugh M. Hefner as Self
Barbara Harris as Albuquerque
720p.BLU 1080p.BLU
1.08 GB
1280*720
English 2.0
R
23.976 fps
2 hr 0 min
P/S ...
2.23 GB
1920*1080
English 5.1
R
23.976 fps
2 hr 0 min
P/S ...

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by Sergeant_Tibbs 8 / 10

A love story about accepting mortality. Powerful and wonderful.

Above all, Life Itself is a love story. It didn't matter who it was about, it ends as a love story about dealing with mortality. You can imagine that Roger Ebert would've been proud to have been at the centre of such a heartbreaking and inspirational story. Steve James' documentary opens on Ebert's reason for loving cinema. It's about learning empathy for those sharing this journey of life with us. It's something that Life Itself certainly does for Ebert. I never knew much about him before his death. I live in England so I never even heard of him until I found the internet and then he was only a name or the picture on his old website. He was someone people loved to bring up whether to agree or disagree with his opinions. I don't think I even read one of his reviews until after he died, all I knew where his Oscar predictions and the fact he claimed Synecdoche, New York the best of the decade.

And so, Life Itself gives me my first glimpse of the brotherhood between Siskel & Ebert. Before the film becomes a love story of Ebert and his wife Chaz, it's a love story between two men. The film takes their most electric moments and it fills you with the fiery passion for cinema, something that's too easily diluted over time. The film's montages are full of a warm energy, and they're wonderful to watch, even if the storyline can be a little muddled. You wonder on why they focus on certain details at particular points, but the reasons emerge. It's difficult to see Ebert in his last months with his jaw skin drooping, but his smile beams through and it's great to see such an attitude. At its best the film is pure poetry, and the tributes at the end made me weep. Accepting death brings a wind of peace. I wish it had more structure so it could be a favourite, but it's powerful stuff as it is. Very revealing documentary that digs comfortably into a deeply personal vulnerable spot.

8/10

Reviewed by StevePulaski 10 / 10

Please excuse my oversimplifications

(Full, more complete review on Influx Magazine.)

"When did you first want to become a film critic?" is the question I get asked the most, second only to the obligatory "what is your favorite movie?" I always respond to the first question with the same story; I was a four-year-old boy, "reading" the "Tempo" section of the "Chicago Tribune," and by reading, I mean looking at the pictures of the movies in there, cutting them out, and pasting them to a scrapbook I would make. When I finally developed the ability to read, I would "read" some of Roger Ebert's reviews in the "Chicago Sun-Times," and by read, I mean study and honestly look at his writing structure, often rereading sentences of his over and over that struck me as comedic or ones that hit home harder than I was ever used to being hit. To say Ebert was an influence on me and my writing is still a monumental oversimplification.

Even more of an oversimplification than what I'm about to say concerning Steve James' long-awaited documentary "Life Itself," based on the life and memoir of film critic Roger Ebert. I laughed, cried, talked back to the screen, voiced my own opinions, and indulged in some of the most gratifying and entertaining two hours of my life watching his documentary unfold. Frequently I wasn't subtle in showing my emotions, pervasively tearing up when I saw the way his loving wife Chaz Ebert would help and assist Roger in any way, shape, or form he needed, and sometimes just laughing or cheering at the hilarious and often vulgar banter him and his colleague Gene Siskel would exchange on the set of their show "Sneak Previews." While all this was happening, the whole time wishing, hoping, and grieving to be half the film critic he was, leaving a tenth of the impact he did on a culture and an industry.

The film chronicles the humble beginnings to the meteoric rise to fame Roger Ebert endured, coming from your average family in Illinois to becoming known and recognized at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign for his persistent editing and managing of the school's newspaper, "The Daily Illini." Eventually, Ebert became the youngest film critic to ever hold the professional position for the "Chicago Sun-Times," the liberal, blue collar, working class paper that directly competed with the wealthier and more conservative "Chicago Tribune" right across the street. Ebert worked to breed life and an identity in the field where, before his time, film reviews were written by whomever happened to go to the movies that weekend under the name "Mae Tinee" - look at that name very closely.

It wasn't long before Ebert became known in the newspaper circle, winning the Pulitzer Prize early in his career, developing a TV show with the "Chicago Tribune's" film critic Gene Siskel, in one of Television's most charismatic and checkered relationships in the medium's history, to his personal bouts with alcoholism, to becoming one with the industry's actors, directors, writers, and so forth. Numerous colleagues of Ebert speak out on his impact on an unrecognized industry, like film critic A.O. Scott of "The New York Times," who labels Siskel and Ebert's Television show as a work of "transgressiveness" for the medium, being that these two men were who they were, verbally fighting about each others opinions on film, not complimenting and making classy remarks like "I see your point" at the completion of each others sentences. They fought over opinions like you and your relatives do with political opinions and exchanges over the dinner table.

Ebert also made the casual man appreciate film for its aesthetics, its beauty, and its capabilities, commenting on the film medium as "a machine that generates empathy," in a speech more beautiful than anything I could be given a year to cook up. He gave quieter independent films an outlet on his show with Siskel, so that you and I would know them more than just "some arty movie playing downtown."

James is all encompassing with "Life Itself," tirelessly trying to capture everything that occurred in Ebert's life, and not only miraculously succeeding, but doing succeeding overwhelmingly, to the extent one would assume impossible in just two hours that were destined to race past, as they did. James develops on Ebert's long checkered bouts with cancer, multiple different surgeries, to even showing the last few months of his life, which were largely spent in hospitals with a tireless Chaz right by his side. A cruel but necessary juxtaposition of events comes when we see home video footage of Ebert walking with his step-grandson in Europe for lengthy periods of time contrasted with an ailing but determined Ebert struggling to walk on a treadmill at a rehabilitation facility, wheezing and becoming short of breath from just a few steps.

"Life Itself" is destined to be the most emotional, moving documentary I see all year, if not the most emotional, moving film I see all year. Its detailing of a life so grand, a person so complex, and a man so original and captured in the spirit of himself in a delightfully open way makes for a film that I struggle to summarize in a way that gives it proper credit. In that case, I close my review of my current favorite documentary of 2014 in a softly poetic way, rather than a didactic or smarmy way, republishing an ode to Roger Ebert I wrote on part of my eighth grade class in 2009.

Ode to Roger Ebert

Film Critic, Columnist, like a brother. Reviews movies like none other. Bias towards him, and the ones that came. But other reviews can never be the same. One star. Two stars. Three stars. Four. Others make reviewing seem like a chore. I like Ebert for evermore.

Directed by: Steve James.

Reviewed by cvaleallen 10 / 10

Thumbs Way Up

As someone who literally grew up at the movies--my mother took me to anything and everything from my infancy right through my early childhood, until I was old enough to go by myself--my love for and fascination with film is deeply entrenched in my way of thinking, my way of writing, my way of viewing life. And Roger Ebert (with Gene Siskel) was a vital discovery, someone whose opinions were always worth hearing (or reading); someone whose love for film and his way of thinking about it seemed to legitimize my lifelong instinct to appraise and quantify the value of what I was being shown on the big screen. It was all right to question things, or to accept the questionable.

I was staying at my favorite hotel in London some years ago (the mid 80s, as I recall) with a writer friend from Oslo (another lover of film and theater). She and I were having a late-night post-theater meal in the lounge when Roger came bustling through on the way to his room. I nearly levitated from my seat at the sight of him, and after he'd passed from view, I tried, a bit deliriously, to explain to my friend who this man was, and his importance to the world of film. She was awe-struck when I spoke of the format of the show, of two men agreeing or disagreeing over forthcoming films. There was nothing like it anywhere outside of the U.S.

As I watched this documentary, I kept remembering that evening at Brown's Hotel way back then, thinking that Roger would have given this film a wholehearted thumbs up. It is wonderfully coherent, and offers insights into the man, into his extraordinary talents and his tremendous enthusiasm, not just for film but for life and the people he loved. It's not hard to understand how difficult it was for his remarkable wife Chaz to let him go.

Like all good films, it left me sated but sad, missing those years of the wonderful weekly excitement of sitting down with my daughter (now also a lifelong film buff) to watch Sneak Previews and, subsequently, At The Movies. This is a film *not* to be missed. It succeeds on every level.

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