Life Itself

Roger Ebert had a fantastic life. The medical issues of his last few years were difficult and his passing last year was sad, but his was a life full of high points. The new documentary film Life Itself shows Roger Ebert in all stages of his life, but is most revealing during last portion when he was faced with one health challenge after another.

Though he is best known for talking about movies on TV, mainly with fellow critic Gene Siskel, Life Itself makes it clear the Roger Ebert was an immensely talented writer.

An excerpt from a byline piece he wrote for the Daily Illini after the 1964 Birmingham church bombing is featured in the film. An on-screen commenter opines that the column from this 21-year-old was the best thing written after the incident.

Ebert’s review of Bonnie and Clyde, written early in his tenure as film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times proves to be an accurate assessment of that film’s importance.

Among the film’s highlights are outtakes from his work with Siskel. Their relationship was contentious for many years but got better as they got older and realized the value of their partnership. Several of the show’s producers and Siskel’s widow provide useful perspectives.

As they became famous, they often guested on the Johnny Carson show. In one of the movie’s funniest clips, Ebert trashes the film Three Amigos while sitting next to Chevy Chase, one of the film’s stars. Chase’s takes are hilarious.

While Ebert’s wife Chaz is mentioned prominently in the book Life, Itself, she is even more front and center in the movie. She provides support and caregiving during his health crises and shares numerous meaningful observations.

Some viewers may find the nurses’ suctioning of Ebert’s throat and other hospital scenes hard to watch, but Ebert and Chaz were okay with cameras being there. Chaz mentions Ebert having been hurt by Siskel’s decision not to share word of his terminal illness with Roger. Ebert, in turn, vowed to be open about his cancer, even posing for the cover of Esquire magazine after cancer had affected his appearance.

For fans of movies, especially those who enjoy talking about movies and reading movie reviews, Life Itself is a film you need to see. And Roger Ebert, the critic and the man, is a person you’ll appreciate knowing more about.



I almost walked out of this movie. Now, I want a copy of the script.

“Cosmopolis” is a writer’s movie. It’s a commentary on modern life (sex, violence, morals). Robert Pattinson plays Erik Packer, a currency trader who thinks he has everything figured out. David Cronenberg is the writer (who adapted his script from the novel). He is also the director.

Much of the movie is set in a slow-moving, eerily silent limo. Characters pop in and out. Packer gets out of the limo to eat and tryst. Eventually he reaches his destination—a barber shop—and moves on to a climactic encounter with a man named Benno, played by Paul Giamatti. (The exact relationship between Erik and Benno is unclear. If one is looking for symbolism, one might take him to be Erik’s conscience.)

“Cosmopolis” is filled with scriptwriter sound bites. Like: “Life is too contemporary,” “We die everyday,” “Time is a corporate asset now” and “Violence needs a verdict; it needs a purpose.” While some are effective and memorable, others are throwaways.

Pattinson, who is onscreen throughout the movie, doe not overact, thankfully. He brings an appropriate nonchalance to this strange role He also brings his “Twilight” fame which will guarantee a few ticket sales.

This is not an easy movie to watch. It has the tempo of an old radio drama with many long speeches. Those “Twilight” fans may take a pass though when word gets out that this is a challenging, tedious movie.

How tedious? Well, critic Roger Ebert, in his review of “Cosmopolis,” wrote: “You couldn’t pay me to see it again.” I won’t go that far—I believe that any movie with Giamatti in the cast is worth checking out—but I’d prefer to read the script before watching the movie again.

Book Review: Life Itself, a Memoir by Roger Ebert

A book review on a movie website? Well, yes. Roger Ebert is arguably the best-known film critic in America and he has written a book about his life, itself.

If you’re looking for a trip through Ebert’s long list of movies and movie stars, grab one of his previous books. In Life Itself, he mentions a few moviemakers he’s fond of, such as Martin Scorcese, Woody Allen and Werner Herzog. He shares thoughts about a handful of stars like Robert Mitchum (his favorite), John Wayne and Lee Marvin.

But the main content of the book is his life’s high points and the challenges he has faced. High points have included being named film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times at an early age, teaming with Gene Siskel to review movies on TV and meeting and marrying his wife Chaz. He writes lovingly of visits to London, Venice and Boulder (Colorado). He devotes one chapter to praise for Steak’n’Shake.

Ebert’s challenges have included his alcoholism and his cancer that has left him unable to eat, drink or speak. He also had issues with his mother—her late-in-life alcoholism and her efforts to control his life into adulthood.

The loss of his speaking voice has caused Roger Ebert to focus on writing as a way to communicate. His natural writing talents combine with his lengthy writing experience to deliver remembrances and observations that reveal much about the man.

To write a memoir or autobiography requires a healthy ego. Ebert revels in the triumphs that have occurred throughout his life, but maintains enough humility in this book to remain human and likeable. Read and enjoy.