“Life Itself” is Moving Tribute to My Movie Critic Idol

imageSteve James’ documentary about the life and times of populist film critic Roger Ebert, Life Itself (A), is a fascinating glimpse at an improbable hero who shape shifts from newspaperman to TV personality to blogger, all the while espousing a singular passion for cinema and for living. The filmmakers showcase the ailing journalist in his final days but capture his jubilant and life-affirming spirit. The journey successfully introduces us to his resilient wife Chaz, who helps personify his boundary breaking social consciousness, and explores his relationship with famed filmmaker Martin Scorsese and film critic rival turned best friend Gene Siskel. Little-known supporting cast members including the bar denizens with whom he cavorted and even the dog who used to accompany the reviewer on his “dog of the week” movie segment provide hearty appearances. The film is a touching tribute to a man who helped several generations access the mode of cinema as a potentially life-changing medium. Criss-crossing through history, testimony and even snippets of some of the movies he loved, the film is a marvelous memoir come to life. It’s an inspiring documentary for people who appreciate the big picture.