Life Itself Movie Review

imgresI wasn’t a reader of Ebert’s reviews. Shame on me. How is that possible, I ask myself, now that I have seen Life Itself?

I’m not sure this film is for everyone. If you love film, you’ll watch every second, waiting for the tidbits that appear amid the footage of his illness and the last few months of his life. I think it was a mistake to devote so much of the film to those last months. The man could make or break a movie in a three minute review. He treated films thoughtfully, with a reverence for the way they shaped of our lives, and he was authentic in every way. Show me more of that! Show me more snippets of his reviews of some of the great films he discussed over the course of his fifty-odd-year career. Instead, the film maker spends way too much time in hospital rooms and focusing on the fabulous wife Charlie, who may be a terrific person, but let’s face it, she isn’t the story.

I don’t mean to trivialize the difficulty of his last years. I get that he was stoic in the face of great pain, and that his rock of a wife, Charlie, was amazingly dedicated to his daily quality of life. But that’s not the whole story; it’s only 10 percent of the story, and they made it the majority of the story. The real story is a career — a lifetime — of seeing us at the movies, and then walking us through each movie’s strengths and weaknesses in an intelligent way. When Scorsese talks about a bad review he got from Ebert during the documentary, and they show Ebert’s comments about part of that movie that Ebert thought was less than Scorsese amazing, you know that the man had the ability to influence the way directors and actors worked, and to affect the industry as a whole. Scorsese cared what Ebert thought — and let’s face it, he doesn’t have to care what anyone thinks. I wanted more of those moments, and fewer moments in the hospital walking through the destruction of Ebert’s jaw and ability to speak.

While I was watching Life Itself, I couldn’t help but think of the movie Continental Divide, a 1981 John Belushi movie about an old school Chicago reporter who makes enemies in organized crime and has to lay low for a few months, so he heads off to Colorado where he is a fish out of water so to speak. Belushi’s character resembled what Life Itself shows of the nightlife that Ebert lived during his early years in Chicago, and I wondered if he had reviewed Continental Divide. He did review it, and not surprisingly, he brought a light touch of a mirror into himself to his description of the reporter.

“One of Belushi’s special qualities was always an underlying innocence. Maybe he created his Blues Brothers persona in reaction to it. He’s an innocent in this movie, an idealist who’s a little kid at heart and who wins the love of Brown not by seducing her but by appealing to her protective qualities. That’s the secret of the character’s appeal. We’re cheering for the romance because Belushi makes us protective, too, and we want him to have a woman who’d be good for him.

What about the movie’s view of journalism? It’s really just a romanticized backdrop, “The Front Page” crossed with “Lou Grant” and modernized with a computerized newsroom. The newspaper scenes in the movie were shot on location in the Sun-Times features department, and one of the quietly amusing things about “Continental Divide’s” view of newspaper life is that in the movie it’s more sedate and disciplined than the real thing. In the “real” Sun-Times features department, there’s a lot of informality and chaos and good-natured confusion and people shouting at one another and eating lunch at their desks. In the movie, the extras (recruited from the Sun-Times staff) forget about real life and sit dutifully at their video display terminals, grinding out the news.”

Funny, this is what I would have written about Roger Ebert’s character as portrayed in Life Itself. There is an innocence about Ebert’s character as he charts his course through cinematic history, as though he doesn’t know his own power. Even as he rips a movie apart, he protects those who made it and leaves the door open for them to shine a bit brighter the next time around.

I wish I’d paid more attention to him in his prime. More important than seeing this movie is going back in time and reading some of his reviews. I’m doing one a day for awhile. See you at the movies, Roger.

Humans and Other Species

Sometimes I’m really funny. Not today.

Facebook tells stories of animals almost like they were people with Facebook accounts. I read one this morning about a baby Rhino who couldn’t sleep alone after watching its mother killed by poachers. There was a sweet picture of baby Rhino cuddled against a person’s knees. We even named him Gertje. So far, more than 750,000 people ‘liked’ the story and many forwarded it as well. I wonder if

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Fourth of July, 2014. Corruptio optimi pessima.

I’m a West Wing girl. I mean, I love The West Wing. I think it’s the finest show ever written for TV, bar none. I think Aaron Sorkin is a genius, and if I could have lunch with one person who is alive today, believe it or not, it would be him.

I love The West Wing because it has taught me more life lessons than anything I’ve ever watched. More than any piece of

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It's Norman's Fault.

I have been pondering who is to blame for the misconception of the “normal” American Family that we all struggle to overcome when our own families don’t quite measure up. Okay, forget the “don’t quite measure up.” Let’s call a spade a spade: Our families look nothing like the Leave it to Beaver, or even Modern Family models that we all love to turn on each week. There is no sign of the real sadness,

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My Ballet Recital

We all have them, those stories from our childhood that are laugh-out-loud funny today, but at the time were like Greek tragedies that we thought would destroy our selves forever. I was having lunch with a friend the other day, and I started to tell her how much I admired her grace in getting out of things. How she could quietly resign from a women’s group of which we were both members. We both wanted

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Meet Reggie, a Cryptologist During World War II

Sometimes my work makes a lucky girl. I do strategic marketing, and we have a client — Extended Family, out of Portsmouth New Hampshire — that is launching something called Ageless Lifestyle, which is all about providing information so you can minimize the effects of age by adopting a lifestyle that allows your body to be its best self all through your seventies, eighties, and nineties. As someone who has been way too busy to

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My friend Maya

I want to pay tribute to my friend, Maya Angelou. She passed away today, and I want to say a few things about her.

Maya was the first one to teach me about good energy. She believed that if you spent time lessening the worth of another by speaking ill of them then the negative energy would be part of you. When you entered her house, you were not allowed to speak of others unless

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A Memory on Memorial Day

My stepfather was an Infantryman in the 11th Armored Division of the 3rd Army. We’re talking Patton’s army. He was awarded a Purple Heart after being injured in the Battle of the Bulge. He and I were not close, and while I knew he fought in the Battle of the Bulge, I never asked him about it. Like so many other missed moments, I’m so sorry I never did. My daughter Sarah did. And, she

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International Turtle Day

Yesterday was World Turtle Day. (Thanks Shanette for telling me.) Did I ever tell you about the Tiffany Turtles?

When the fabulous Sarah, daughter extraordinaire about whom I’m not allowed to blog, was a small child of about four or five, she loved all things animal. We had a parrot (don’t ask what happened to the parrot), rabbits, cats, and dogs.

One day in early spring she decided she wanted turtles. She promised to ace

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Saying Good Bye To Grey's Anatomy's Cristina Yang

Just as we might do for a family member who has end-stage cancer, we have to take some time to prepare for Cristina Yang’s departure from Grey’s Anatomy. I, for one, am not sure I can continue to watch it after she leaves. I believe she might be one of the greatest female characters ever written for TV.

When I tell friends and family that she is my favorite Grey Girl, they tell me she

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