Fans of film journalism will love this documentary about the noted Chicago critic Roger Ebert, although the movie is just as much about his battle with the cancer that took his life in 2013. It's a lively, fast-paced doc, but even at two hours it feels oddly truncated as the two topics seem to fight for screen time. Fortunately both are potent: the story of Roger's love of cinema and the footage of his astoundingly cheerful refusal to let illness get him down.
Based around Roger's eponymous autobiography, the film quickly traces his background as a film lover who rose through the ranks at the Chicago Sun-Times to become an unusually resonant film reviewer, able to express opinions and even high-minded cinematic observations in ways that were never cynical or snobbish. He found national (and even global) fame through his TV programmes opposite rival Chicago critic Gene Siskel, which began in 1978 and standardised their "thumbs up"/"thumbs down" verdicts. At age 50, Roger met his wife Chaz at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and her children and grandchildren became his. In 2002, he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and underwent a series of surgeries that by 2006 made it impossible for him to speak. But he carried on writing reviews and making public appearances (speaking through his computer) until his death.
Filmmaker Steve James had startling access to Roger during the final year of his life, following him to hospitals and rehabilitation centres. Looking at his cancer-ravaged face is difficult at first, but Roger's smiling eyes and constant joking reinforces his optimistic, matter-of-fact approach to life. And he keeps reminding James that this documentary has to show everything, never flinching away from the truth. As a result, the film is a remarkably intimate look at how Roger and Chaz faced the illness and made difficult decisions along the way. This adds an emotional layer to the documentary that's remarkably moving, putting Roger's work into the context of his life and death.
Continue reading: Life Itself Review
He was well known for an extraordinary turn of phrase he made during a press conference in 2002, but former Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld did not impress everyone. Following the harrowing 9/11 attacks in 2001, Rumsfeld drew criticism from all across the America for becoming one of the key figures in enforcing the both the war in Iraq which began in 2003 and ended in 2011, and the war in Afghanistan which started less than a month after 9/11. It is often wondered whether or not Rumsfeld would've become President of the United States had Ronald Reagan enlisted him as Vice President over George W. Bush. Either way, Rumsfeld changed attitudes with his notion of 'known knowns', 'unknown unknowns' and, of course, 'unknown knowns'.
Continue: The Unknown Known Trailer
In the early 1970's, drama student and former Miss Wyoming Joyce McKinney met 19 year-old Kirk Anderson at Brigham Young University, Utah. They embarked on a relationship but some time later, Kirk fled Utah and in her words, 'vanished', after finding out that Joyce had miscarried. But she didn't give up so easily; she hired private investigators to look for him, where they eventually found him living in England.
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The second film comes from the venerable Errol Morris, who was last seen polling the political landscape through a heart-to-heart with ex-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in his excellent The Fog of War. His latest film is called Standard Operating Procedure, and, unlike Gibney's film, the director attempts to take the whole mess in while focusing on what the photographs from Abu Ghraib were really being used for. In his usual fashion, Morris does away with voice-over and allows the interviewees, many of whom were part of the MP squad pictured in the photographs, to use their answers to sculp the unheard question.
Continue reading: Standard Operating Procedure Review
Gates centers on two pet cemeteries: one that's gone bankrupt at the intersection of two highways in southern California and the other booming up north in Napa, California. The story caught Morris' eye supposedly when he saw a story in the San Francisco Chronicle headlined "450 Dead Pets To Go To Napa," detailing the move of all the dead pets from the failing graveyard to the thriving one.
Continue reading: Gates Of Heaven Review
Also according to that site, Morris said he had to switch gears mid-stream when those same townfolk caught onto his film concept and threatened to kill him. The outcome is a series of engrossing and rather endearing series portraits of the eccentric populace (mostly with all limbs intact). For many fans of Morris' quirky and fascinating body of work, Vernon is the hidden gem, filled with memorable moments, faces, and dialogue.
Continue reading: Vernon, Florida Review
McNamara presents a series of thoughts about modern society, particularly involving war. He offers 11 slogans of wisdom, each forming a separate chapter in Morris's documentary (i.e., "Empathize with your enemy" or "Never say never"). From these simple maxims, Morris weaves a tapestry that involved McNamara's terms as Secretary of Defense under Kennedy and Johnson, as a strategist during the firebombing of Japan during WWII (presented as a frightening assault that America has brushed under the "good war" carpet), and as one of the leading and perhaps guiltiest specters of the Vietnam War.
Don't let the film's cheesy title dissuade you. Following this sideshow of horror-lab special effects we are plunged quickly into a non-stop exploration of the weirdness that is Leuchter's life and mind. Morris follows the trail of Leuchter's madness with appalling lucidity, revealing in a surprising and frightening way what most of us could have guessed to begin with: This Leuchter guy is seriously messed up.
Continue reading: Mr. Death: The Rise And Fall Of Fred A. Leuchter Jr. Review
Talk about your creepy documentaries, "Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr." is the weird, disturbing, interview and re-enactment account of an acquiescent electrical engineer who was once the country's foremost authority on execution equipment.
A death penalty supporter but an advocate of humane execution, through years of self-taught expertise in electrocution, lethal injection and other forms of government-sanctioned death, Fred Leuchter -- a balding, thick glasses-and-pocket protector science wonk -- became a consultant to many states on the safety and lethal efficiency of their chosen forms of capital punishment.
Without any accredited medical training, he devised the hands-free, nearly infallible lethal injection system currently used to extinguish most death row inmates in America. Before that, he designed and built -- in his basement-- equipment for testing the reliability and safety of electric chairs. Then moved on to building the chairs themselves.
Continue reading: Mr Death: The Rise & Fall Of Fred A Leuchter Jr. Review
Fans of film journalism will love this documentary about the noted Chicago critic Roger Ebert,...
He was well known for an extraordinary turn of phrase he made during a press...
In the early 1970's, drama student and former Miss Wyoming Joyce McKinney met 19 year-old...
Has documentary filmmaker Errol Morris met his match? Usually, this insightful director offers subjects who...