Life Itself

“Unusually moving, director Steve James's keen profile of the late, great Roger Ebert works both as a compact appreciation of the reviewer's vast public impact, as well as an unflinching peak into a cancer patient's final months, fraught with pain, hope and constant treatment. James is after the kind of warts-and-all portrait he delivered with his mighty Hoop Dreams. But the documentary gains immeasurably from these hospital scenes, Ebert straining, always rebounding with a wisecrack communicated via talk box or on paper. And when he loses his temper, that's important to see, too.
“Ebert was a sparrer, a happy combatant, and the movies were always a springboard to a conversation. His life's work is well-represented here, beginning with some gloriously geeky photos of the cherub-cheeked Illinois newsman, promoted to film critic in his mid-twenties after making tough calls on the editorial floor. He's smart to include voices of dissent—including Chicago's revered alt-journalist Jonathan Rosenbaum—who rail, collegially, against thumbs-up reductionism. Life Itself is about a reviewer, but also a revolution: Working with Gene Siskel, Ebert turned his job into an egalitarian platform for millions of viewers and bloggers.
“Still, the doc gains its universal impact in smaller, earthier revelations. Martin Scorsese comes close to tears speaking of Ebert's encouragement during a dark phase in his life. The city of Chicago, especially its late-night watering holes, becomes a window into the off-camera moments of a raconteur and showboat. The subject's alcoholism is addressed unflinchingly, as is the silver lining that emerged from his defeating drink: meeting future wife Chaz, who is never less than supportive. Best are the offhand remarks from a gallery of beautifully crude friends.” - TimeOut, New York 


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