Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”) presented “Life Itself,” the documentary about Roger Ebert, last night at the majestic Virginia Theater in Roger’s home town of Urbana, Illinois, where Roger watched films as a boy and as a college student at the University of Illinois. He told us he had always thought there was “a firewall between filmmakers and critics” until he read Roger’s book, which described his friendships with a very few directors. He was sorry to miss that opportunity, but thought it made him “freer” to create the candid portrait that Roger would have wanted as a critic, as a journalist, and as a man.
“Film the man, not the icon,” was the direction James got, according to Roger’s widow, Chaz Ebert. And the movie is frank about Roger’s struggles with alcohol and the transformation of his life when he finally found deep, romantic love with Chaz at age 50. It is also frank about his last days, his courage, resilience during his illness and ultimately his peace with the end of life. It is moving to see his deep engagement with movies, with his friends and family, with his longtime rival and partner Gene Siskel (the outtake footage of their show is even more hilarious than the appalling 70′s outfits and hairstyles), with his passionate romance with Chaz, with journalism as a craft and writing as an art, and his passionate online presence once he could no longer speak.
Roger always said that a film should be an empathy device to help us understand and connect to each other. While this movie shows that even the greatest film is a virtual experience compared to genuine in-person interaction, it lives up to his highest standards as a critic. The entire audience gave it thumbs up.
Cameron Diaz stars in the revenge comedy, “The Other Woman” this week, so it is a good time to look back at some of the highlights of her remarkably varied career.
Director Charles Russell said he wanted to give Diaz the full movie star glamor treatment in her first feature film appearance in “The Mask,” with Jim Carrey.
She was anything but glamorous in one of the finest indies of all time, “Being John Malkovich.”
And she did a wonderfully silly dance in “Charlie’s Angels.”
She was game for anything in “Something About Mary” and showed her gifts as a dramatic actress in “My Sister’s Keeper” and “In Her Shoes.” No matter what she does, her complete commitment and high spirit always make her a pleasure to watch.
We’ll be seeing her again in the upcoming raunchy comedy “Sex Tape.”
I am delighted to be able to present an exclusive clip from “Ida,” the new award-winning film written and directed by Pawel Pawlikowski.
Poland 1962. Anna (newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska) is a beautiful eighteen-year-old woman, preparing to become a nun at the convent where she has lived since orphaned as a child. She learns she has a living relative she must visit before taking her vows, her mother’s sister Wanda. Her aunt, she learns, is not only a former hard-line Communist state prosecutor notorious for sentencing priests and others to death, but also a Jew. Anna learns from her aunt that she too is Jewish – and that her real name is Ida. This revelation sets Anna, now Ida, on a journey to uncover her roots and confront the truth about her family. Together, the two women embark on a voyage of discovery of each other and their past. Ida has to choose between her birth identity and the religion that saved her from the massacres of the Nazi occupation of Poland. And Wanda must confront decisions she made during the War when she chose loyalty to the cause before family.
I’ll be at Ebertfest through Sunday and will update when I can. Tonight I’ll be at the opening event, a screening of “Life Itself,” the crowd-funded documentary about festival founder, Roger Ebert.