DVD Review: Life Itself

Director: Steve James
Starring: Roger Ebert, Chaz Ebert, Gene Siskel, Werner Herzog, Martin Scorsese, Errol Morris
Producers: Garrett Basch, Steve James, Zak Piper
Country: USA
Running Time: 118 min
Year: 2014
BBFC Certificate: E


When Roger Ebert died back in 2013, the movie blogosphere was awash with tributes to one of the world’s most known and loved film critics. You may have noticed I didn’t join in, but I must admit I’m not as familiar with his work as most. I knew who he was and occasionally checked reviews on his site when linked through from the IMDB, but I wasn’t a regular reader of his blog and his famous TV show with Gene Siskel didn’t air in the UK. I tended to find his reviews reliable though and all the love sent out after his death compelled me to find out more about the man, so I was very keen to watch Life Itself, Steve James’ documentary on Roger Ebert released last year. Luckily Dogwoof have given the film a DVD release in the UK and I was sent a screener to review.

A good chunk of Life Itself is made up of the typical biography/tribute style of documentary, looking into Ebert’s past and the progression of his career. We are told about his early days as the editor of his university newspaper where he wasn’t afraid to make his views known and how he didn’t actually seek out the job of film critic at the Chicago Sun Times, it was just kind of lumped on him. Ebert spent the last 11 years of his life fighting cancer so of course this is explored in the film. A lot is said about his work and relationship with Siskel too. This side of the documentary is refreshingly frank, showing how they had more than their share of ‘creative differences’. Some wonderfully acidic outtakes are shown of the two trying to record adverts for the show and throwing vicious barbs at each other. A later clip shows some more friendly banter though, so the film eventually suggests a mutual admiration between the two critics, both of whom were taken by battles against cancer.

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2015 Independent Spirit Award Winners

It’s Oscar night! Which means the Spirit Awards were last night. While The Academy Awards (Oscars) tend to get all the glory and pizzazz, this is the award show that is held in fairly high esteem around here.

Along with being a fantastic party, the Spirit Awards ceremony also brings together top talent from Hollywood and throughout independent film. Awards are presented for the year’s best achievements in independent film, with statues given for Best Feature, Best First Feature, Best Feature Made for Under $500,000 (the John Cassavetes Award) and many more.

In keeping with its Los Angeles roots, the Spirit Awards takes place each year in and around a beachfront tent in beautiful Santa Monica. Currently in its 30th year, the show remains as original as the films and filmmakers it honors.

Winners are chosen by those in the know: Film Independent Members and Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP) members. Voting members receive select DVD screeners and are invited to attend free screenings of all nominated films before choosing the Spirit Award winners.

Film Independent is a non-profit arts organization. Its voting members include filmmakers, film industry leaders and film lovers. Anyone passionate about the art of film can join as a Member and vote for the winners of the Spirit Awards.

Since starting in 1984, The Spirits have had a lot of fun times at their ceremony. As part of this “rich” history, the main site has put together a list of highlights from each year over the past 29 years (including Sarah Silverman’s vagina).

*winners are marked in red

BEST FEATURE
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Boyhood
Love is Strange
Selma
Whiplash

BEST DIRECTOR
Damien Chazelle, Whiplash
Ava DuVernay, Selma
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
David Zellner Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

BEST SCREENPLAY
Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski, Big Eyes
J.C. Chandor, A Most Violent Year
Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler
Jim Jarmusch, Only Lovers Left Alive
Ira Sachs & Mauricio Zacharias, Love is Strange

BEST FEMALE LEAD
Marion Cotillard – The Immigrant
Rinko Kikuchi – Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter
Julianne Moore – Still Alice
Jenny Slate – Obvious Child
Tilda Swinton – Only Lovers Left Alive

BEST MALE LEAD
André Benjamin – Jimi: All Is By My Side
Jake Gyllenhaal – Nightcrawler
Michael Keaton – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
John Lithgow – Love is Strange
David Oyelowo – Selma

BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE
Patricia Arquette – Boyhood
Jessica Chastain – A Most Violent Year
Carmen Ejogo – Selma
Andrea Suarez Paz – Stand Clear of the Closing Doors
Emma Stone – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

BEST SUPPORTING MALE
Riz Ahmed – Nightcrawler
Ethan Hawke – Boyhood
Alfred Molina – Love is Strange
Edward Norton – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
J.K. Simmons – Whiplash
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Friday One Sheet: Alex of Venice

Continuing what I call the South Korean school poster-art (idiom: a clean, polished picture of a single or pair of characters with a pleasing, but vague background) we have this one for a Mary Elizabeth Winstead starring drama, Alex of Venice. Soft and warm lighting with subtle lens flaring gives off an innocent, glowing impression. And while I’m not absolutely crazy about the dueling fonts in the actual title presentation, I will admit that it does draw the eye and adds a strong visual element to an otherwise simple design. That being said, I like simple.

I Want My Music Video Please! [music]

TOAH3-copy

It should come as no surprise that my three favorite music video directors are Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, and Mark Romanek. A lot of accomplished filmmakers started out making short films, collaborating with musicians back when there was one cable channel that focused solely on the music video art form. For me, music and film are the two things I love the most when it comes to expressing a vision. So I consider the music video to be the best of both worlds. My earliest memories outside of sitting through Spielberg and Zemeckis films in the theater with my dad, often involved staying up late to watch 120 Minutes, Alternative Nation, Headbanger’s Ball, and any MTV program dedicated to binging on videos. So I decided to explore this further by presenting a weekly find, either one I’ve never seen before, or a blast from the past that I think deserves another look. You will definitely find selections from the three names mentioned above including a list of my all-time favorite videos mid-year. For now, let’s talk about the brilliance of Spike Jonze as an inventive visual stylist whom I first adored when his breakthrough Weezer video won accolades back in the mid-90s. I know he still actively makes short films, and of course I consider HER to be one of the best films of the decade so far. I used to be a huge Bjork fan but as of late I haven’t been as crazy about her output, particularly the songs on this record. But I will admit to finding “Triumph Of The Heart” to be an interesting song to say the least, featuring beatbox vocal contributions from Mike Patton of Faith No More. And besides music and movies, I also love cats. Finding this Spike Jonze gem was a welcome start to my weekend, and hope that you feel the same. I wouldn’t necessarily put it up there as one of Jonze’s best, but it’s certainly worth a look for its sheer weirdness.

Cinecast Episode 381 – Eau de Credíts

 
With Oscar night quickly approaching, we’re kind of on our last gasps of fresh cinema to talk about for a couple of weeks; so we enjoy this one as much as we can. Kingsman starring Colin Firth is not really what we expected, so to keep Andrew and Kurt’s experiential bias at bay, special guest, 11 year-old Willem Halfyard helps put things into perspective in a full spoiler assessment of the situation. After the boy’s bedtime, things get naughty as the grown-ups go on to talk about the Fifty Shades of Grey alternative in the much loved (and unfairly dominated) The Duke of Burgundy. Later, Kurt explores more gonzo action cinema including a triple scoop helping of Bourne and the unfairly hated (but loved around here) Domino and Book of Eli. Andrew takes the violence angle in a more classical route with John Ford’s Liberty Valance and animated rabbits killing animated rabbits. Oh and Dan Hedaya always brings the A-game… as do we.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

 

 

     

 

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Trailer: 1001 Grams

Bent Hamer’s quirky, visually formal romantic comedy was one of the most surprising pleasures at last years Toronto International Film Festival. In matters of science and love, if you get down to the most first-principle measurements at atomic levels, it’s more of an agreed upon reference than actual fact. What a novel and unusual way to articulate a life! The film might be on the nose at times and it’s driest of dry Norwegian humour is a bit of an acquired taste, but it is so brilliant and beautiful in how it goes about itself, that I fell in love with 1001 Grams, unequivocally.

When Norwegian scientist Marie attends a seminar in Paris on the actual weight of a kilo, it is her own measurement of disappointment, grief and, not least, love, that ends up on the scale.

Trailer: Spring

Aaron Moorhead & Justin Benson’s Spring is one of those savvy genre films that mixes up two distinct film styles, the Richard Linklater walk-and-talk with the body horror creature feature. The result is something sweet, and something new. Check out our review of the film here, and the give the new trailer, which is about as spoilery as the comparison in the previous sentence, a watch. No worries about spoilers, with this film, the devil is in the details, and the joy is in the execution, the surprises lie elsewhere from the plotting.

A young man in a personal tailspin flees the US to Italy, where he sparks up a romance with a woman harboring a dark, primordial secret.

Fittingly, the film will be released this…wait for it…this Spring.

Trailer: Crimson Peak

Handsomely artificial, lush steam-punk production design, and an excellent cast (Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, and Mia Wasikowska), Crimson Peak, judging by the trailer, seems to continue Guillermo del Toro’s recent ‘inert’ dramatic streak. To put it bluntly, the actors look trapped by the sets and costumes, and the CGI so utterly out of place in this Turn of the Screw/The Innocents kind of homage, that I hope there is much more than meets the eye. Have a look at the trailer below (although judging by the millions of views on Youtube, you’ve probably already seen it by now. Feel free to weigh in on the comment section.

Set in Cumbria, in a crumbling mansion in a largely rural and mountainous region of northern England in the 19th century, young author Edith Cushing discovers that her charming new husband Sir Thomas Sharpe is not who he appears to be.