Movie Review: “Life Itself” – A True Inspiration

Written by Samah Ali July 28, 2014

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From the director of “Hoop Dreams” comes a beautiful and inspirational documentary retelling Roger Ebert’s memoir, Life Itself. Steve James, an old friend of Ebert, dedicated his picture to the man who broke barriers in the film industry, giving constructive criticism to film duds and classics over the past fifty years. Featuring his early beginnings, family life, career, and health, the doc articulates Ebert’s revolutionary experience in the film world.

“Life Itself” gives an educational overview of how Ebert began writing and his fluke appointment as a film critic to the Chicago Sun Times. Since his accidental position, Ebert has constructively paved the way for film critics and became a profound voice received by readers, including the writers, directors, and producers of the features. His success transcended into his television special with Gene Siskel, “At The Movies,” where the two critics discussed current blockbusters and argued their opinions to millions of viewers. The film showed his life, post-television, and his last few days fighting thyroid cancer. Being the icon he was, he never failed to post updates on his blog and discuss the latest films with his following.

“For me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy.”

Special attention is focused on Siskel & Ebert’s television program and it’s revolutionary introduction to another element of the film world. The two began as competing writers, and despised each other when they began the project, yet their fire fuelled the show’s success by relating their discussions with conversations between audience members. Giving the average person a voice, their viewership built throughout America and began their infamous “Two Thumbs Up” trademark, establishing the beginning of film critics’ impact to a film’s revenue. Their relationship blossomed throughout their careers and grew into respect after Siskel’s death from terminal brain cancer. Both are recognized as film critic icons that started a movement within the writing community.

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Feeling rather touched and motivated throughout the doc, Ebert’s work has inspired various filmmakers, actors, and directors just by mentioning their work. A truly influential voice that moved filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Ramin Bahrani with his recognition and simple gestures that have resonated in their lives. It puts the film critic experience in perspective, as I personally benefit from his unconscious path, considering the somewhat arrogant but self-expressing fulfillment when writing about films. It is a vulnerable position, stating your opinions on a film, but due to his ruthless, compassionate, significant work, he is a film figure that deserved to be recognized.

“At his heart, he really believes he’s a populist.”

“Life Itself” ultimately captures the unintentional, groundbreaking work of Ebert as he carved an influential career in the film industry and inspired filmmakers to learn and exceed his critiques. As seen in his final days, his uplifting spirit was truly inspirational and showed how the power of words can inspire and encourage people in their darkest days. James articulates Ebert’s views and experiences skillfully, making the documentary a delight to watch and an educational gem for anyone interested in film history and criticism. Three thumbs up for this feature, the last one from an inspired newbie hoping to influence others. Bravo!

RIP Roger Ebert & Gene Siskel

 Rating: 9.5/10

theatrical poster for "Life Itself"

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About Samah Ali

Samah Ali

With a deep admiration for film, television, and music, Samah spends most of her free time expressing and sharing her love for the arts. Studying Creative Writing at Western University, she enjoys writing about film & music and shapes her passions with the latest movie or album available.

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