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Life Itself - Blu-ray Review

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Life Itself - Blu-ray Review

3 stars

There was only one thing Roger Ebert loved more than movies: Life Itself. So says the tagline of Steve James’ (Hoop Dreams) documentary about the life and work of the world’s most famous movie critic. Best known as half of the bickering pair Siskel & Ebert & the Movies, Roger Ebert helped popularize the “thumbs up, thumbs down” approach dismissed by some as simplistic. But the public loved it, and in the 1980s Siskel & Ebert spread from Chicago to the rest of the country.

Roger influenced not only audiences but also filmmakers who, in interviews, credit him with boosting their careers. But the documentary is at its best when depicting Roger’s relationship with sparring partner Gene Siskel. Early episodes of Siskel & Ebert felt stiff and awkward. Before long, though, the two were arguing like an old married couple. Gene’s widow says that by the time of his death in 1999, Roger had grown to respect and love him.

After briskly covering Roger’s early years and career highlights, Life Itself settles in on its (unfortunate) main topic: the cancer that eventually took his life. This part is long, draining and hard to watch. Roger allowed filming in his hospital room, even during a medical procedure where his throat was suctioned. The same frankness is seen in the stark, black-and-white 2010 Esquire magazinecover that shows his face without a jawbone. Throughout his life he displayed this openness and honesty, whether in a memoir that discussed his alcoholism or in critical reviews of friends’ movies. (One interviewee, longtime friend Martin Scorcese, admits that Ebert disliked The Color of Money.)

Roger’s wife Chaz said he’d always had a macabre side; maybe that’s why so much of Life Itself takes place near his death. It really dwells on the man succumbing to cancer. Watching him struggle to climb stairs, for instance, is painful. Is that scene necessary? Do we need to hear why he gave the order Do Not Resuscitate, against his wife’s wishes?

Instead of such morbidity, director Steve James should have included more stories of Roger’s sense of humor. His books like I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie are laugh-out-loud funny. A deleted scene in Life Itself tells of his public feud with Rob Schneider. In 2005, Rob mocked another critic who panned his movie Deuce Bigelow: European Gigolow, over the reviewer’s lack of a Pulitzer prize. In response Roger wrote, “Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks.” Life Itself could use less doom and gloom and more funny anecdotes like that. It’s likely the way Roger would want to be remembered.

Life Itself - Blu-ray Review

MPAA Rating: R for brief sexual images/nudity and language
Runtime:
120 mins
Director
: Steve James
Cast:
Roger Ebert, Chaz Ebert, Gene Siskel
Genre
: Documentary
Tagline:
The only thing Roger loved more than movies.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Look at a movie that a lot of people love and you'll find something profound no matter how silly the film may seem."
Distributor:
Magnolia Pictures
Official Site:http://www.ebertmovie.com/
Release Date:
July 4, 2014 (limited)
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
February 17, 2015
Synopsis: Acclaimed director Steve James (Hoop Dreams) and executive producers Martin Scorsese (The Departed) and Steven Zaillian (Moneyball) present Life Itself, a documentary film that recounts the inspiring and entertaining life of world-renowned film critic and social commentator Roger Ebert—a story that is by turns personal, funny, painful, and transcendent. Based on his bestselling memoir of the same name, Life Itself explores the legacy of Roger Ebert's life, from his Pulitzer Prize-winning film criticism at the Chicago Sun-Times to becoming one of the most influential cultural voices in America.

Life Itself - Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - February 17, 2015
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles
: English SDH, French, Spanish
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD); BD-Live
Region Encoding: A

Magnolia Pictures’ 1080p transfer looks good overall, especially in recent footage. The film consists of new digital camerawork used for interviews, as well as photo stills and old clips of VHS videos. Scenes of Chicago streets are sharp and vivid, with a broad range of color. Not surprisingly, the older SD archived footage fares a little worse visually with somewhat washed-out colors next to the bright, detailed HD interview segments. Given these unavoidable flaws, the film looks as good as it can. Deleted scenes have not been color corrected. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is mostly dialogue that’s clear and distortion-free. Even the older clips sound good, without noticeable glitches or distracting flaws. Many scenes use a narrator whose voice is amazingly similar to Roger’s.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • None

Special Features:

The biggest special feature is almost 23 minutes’ worth of deleted scenes. The best are more funny anecdotes about Roger, especially those involving Gene. A posthumous Sundance tribute is touching, although much of it is already included in the movie. Third is director Steve James interviewing himself, which also feels redundant. Then there’s an AXS TV featurette on Life Itself and the movie trailer.

  • Deleted Scenes (22 minutes)
  • Sundance Tribute (7 minutes)
  • Interview with Director Steve James (10 minutes)
  • AXS TV: A Look At Life Itself (2 minutes)
  • Trailer (2 minutes)

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