Tag Archives: roger ebert
Life Itself (2014)
Directed by Steve James
It seems that if you’re a film critic, your opinion of Life Itself boils down to whatever your opinion is of Roger Ebert. Those who disliked him, and have accused him of dumbing down film criticism by chewing up the art form in order to make it digestible for mass audiences, have disliked the film. And those who loved him for his wit, knowledge, and simple yet elegant prose, have championed it.
Now is the time of year where we humans rewatch our favorite holiday flicks, the ones we’ve seen a million times and can stand to see a million times more. Planes, Trains & Automobiles and Home Alone 1 & 2 come instantly to mind for me, and I know I’m not an island in that regard. We all tend to revere the same handful or so, largely due to the fact that there really aren’t too many that are transcendent.
In holding dear to our tippy-top favs though, it’s easy to forget about the ones that are just plain very good—or even hear about them. The ones I’ve listed below have yet to get their due, which is a damn shame, because they’re a lot of fun. They may not be perfect, but each has something unique and beautiful to offer. You may not end up watching them every single year, but you may toss them on every couple or so.
Zachary Levy’s film, Strongman, is one of the rawest and best cinematic portraits in recent history. In it, he follows Stanley ‘Stanless Steel’ Pleskun, the self-proclaimed ‘strongest man in the world at bending steel’. Over the course of the film, we intimately see Stan’s ups and downs, which are at times comedic, at times tragic, and at times, that perfect, indescribable mix of both. This is a film one watches and never forgets, and thinking back on it later, you almost feel as though you’re thinking back to a chapter of your own life, even though you may have nothing in common with Stan’s experiences and surroundings. It’s that vivid.
I reviewed Strongman a few weeks ago, and I recently had a chance to sit down with Zach and chat about his film. The interview is spoiler-free, so if you haven’t seen the film yet, no worries. But do yourself a favor and see it soon. It’s currently available on iTunes and on DVD.
My Streets (2009)
When I was sixteen, I made an extremely bad feature-length film called The Velvet Autumn. It’s two hours and thirty minutes, and it makes absolutely no sense.
The reason it doesn’t make any sense is because at that time in my life, I was obsessed with the visual construction of a movie, and I didn’t yet understand that you don’t just construct images, you construct them in a way that expresses a story. I was consciously working off of the Raging Bull hypothesis—that you create the images first, and your story will come later. Scorsese did a better job at this than me, although he had access to much better materials and had way more experience. But in any event, The Velvet Autumn, and Raging Bull alike, are proof positive that the hypothesis is incorrect—you gotta have the story first.
The late, great Ray Harryhausen. (1920-2013)
When I was a little kid my grandpa showed me King Kong, the 1933 one. King Kong doesn’t look real, but it looks good, because it looks right. Looking ‘right’ is the key.
Special effects are perhaps film’s biggest point of separation from the other arts. In literature, if you want a monster in your story, you just describe it. But a movie has to convince you what you’re looking at is real, even when you’re looking at the most not real things humans can dream up. This takes a perfect synthesis of human imagination, technology, and innovation.