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James Porter

Movie Review: Life Itself (Documentary).

Directed By: Steve James.

Starring: Roger Ebert, Chaz Ebert, Martin Scorsese and Gene Siskel (Archive Footage).

A documentary film that recounts the inspiring and entertaining life of world-renowned film critic and social commentator Roger Ebert.

Roger Ebert has had a big influence on my life in the last couple of years as I really found my passion for film criticism.

Life Itself is a documentary about the life of acclaimed film critic, Roger Ebert, based off of his memoirs also titled "Life Itself". This documentary details how Roger Ebert started reviewing films at the Chicago Sun Times and then went on to work with his partner Gene Siskel, to review movies on Television.

I am not a big documentary watcher but the subject matter of "Life Itself" is one that's very important to me so I was very enthusiastic to see it. This documentary is one that really should be viewed by anyone who has an interest in film or film criticism. For me at least, it made me think about my love of film and what movies do for me.

Roger Ebert affected everyone around him because of his passion and his drive and one of the best things about this documentary is seeing how brutally honest he could be with his reviews but how film makers still respected him for his honesty.

Even today, I still go back and read Ebert's reviews because what he did was put a personal touch on every review he wrote. And that is something that has definitely inspired me, I try to connect with my readers as he did. So many critics put a shield around them and write objectively about films. Ebert always talked subjectively, he used words like "I" and "Myself" all the time in his reviews because he was connecting with his readers and describing his experience with every film he saw.

The film chronicles his career as a film critic but also delves into his personal relationships, with his family. His wife, Chaz Ebert is interviewed throughout and she gave a lot of insight into what Roger Ebert was like outside of his work. She explains his love of life, how he was determined to see as many films as he could because that's what he loved. A lot of the details given surprised me and really interested me. I learned that at one point he was an alcoholic, about his relationships with women and about his upbringing.

The relationship that I was fixated on the most was the relationship with his co worker, Gene Siskel. Siskel and Ebert famously had a love-hate relationship, and that's what made their show so engaging. They would try to persuade each other on their individual view of a film and often it would escalate. We see some behind the scenes footage of Siskel and Ebert and their dynamic was really entertaining to see. I was so glad that the documentary spent a long time on Siskel and Ebert because that's the point of Ebert's life that I really wanted to see.

The film also gives us a deeper look into the life of Gene Siskel, there are a few things that I learned about him, his wife is interviewed and that was also very interesting.

The part of the documentary that surprised me was when we see Roger Ebert in the hospital. He of course became very ill, lost the ability to speak and to walk and I had no idea that this documentary was filmed during Ebert's life, I was expecting it all to be archived footage. Watching Ebert in the hospital was very hard to watch but very inspiring. He lost the ability to walk, eat and talk but never lost his passion for film, he would still write reviews on his laptop in the hospital.

There is a short time spent on the art of film criticism and as a film critic I would have liked to see a lot more of that because it really is an art form that a lot of people don't understand. That is perhaps the only thing I would have liked more of in this film and it is a very minor complaint.

This is a very good documentary, again I don't watch a lot of them so take that with a grain of salt. I thoroughly enjoyed this film, it was engaging, inspiring and it opened my eyes a little bit more to the life of Roger Ebert and what he did. I'm going to give LIFE ITSELF a B+.


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