Even if Steve James’ documentary Life Itself had just been a straightforward, once-over-lightly bio-doc about the late Roger Ebert, it still would’ve been fascinating, and a valuable look at a major American cultural figure. But James—director of the excellent Hoop Dreams, Stevie, and The Interrupters—turned Ebert’s story into an actual film, using a parallel structure to contrast the critic’s raucous, contentious youth with the gentler, more generous soul he became later. There’s a satisfying thoroughness to Life Itself, which covers Ebert’s illness, his marriage, his love/hate relationship with Gene Siskel, and the controversies in the critical community over his celebrity and his occasionally close relationships with filmmakers. More importantly, James gets into both how Ebert watched movies and how that informed his life, making the case that his influence extended beyond cinema. He was a great writer, who knew how to communicate with ordinary people. It’s a measure of Ebert’s popularity that Life Itself isn’t having its first cable run on one of the movie channels, but rather on CNN, which premiered it last weekend and is re-airing the film tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern, and again at midnight.
January 09, 2015 Cable Pick Of The Day