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Garrett Basch, Steve James, Chaz Ebert, Mark Mitten and Zak Piper - A variety of stars were photographed on the red carpet as they attended the Producers Guild of America's 26th Awards ceremony which was held at Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles, California, United States - Saturday 24th January 2015

Garrett Basch, Steve James, Chaz Ebert, Mark Mitten and Zak Piper
Garrett Basch, Steve James, Chaz Ebert, Mark Mitten and Zak Piper

Steve James, Chaz Ebert and Garrett Basch - A host of stars were snapped as they attended the 20th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards which were held at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles, California, United States - Thursday 15th January 2015

Steve James, Chaz Ebert and Garrett Basch
Steve James, Chaz Ebert and Garrett Basch

Video - Timothy Spall And Jack O'Connell Arrive At National Board Of Review Gala - Part 1


'Mr. Turner' star Timothy Spall and 'Unbroken' star Jack O'Connell arrived among the many filmmakers and actors at the 2015 National Board of Review Gala, held at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York.

Continue: Video - Timothy Spall And Jack O'Connell Arrive At National Board Of Review Gala - Part 1

Life Itself Review


Very Good

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

Steve James, James Alex and Independent Spirit Awards - Steve James, Alex Kotlowitz Saturday 25th February 2012 27th Annual Independent Spirit Awards at Santa Monica Beach - Press Room

Steve James, James Alex and Independent Spirit Awards
Steve James, James Alex and Independent Spirit Awards
Steve James, James Alex and Independent Spirit Awards

The Interrupters Review


Excellent
This gripping and very long documentary traces a year in the life of a Chicago neighbourhood that's plagued by youth violence. And by focussing on charity workers working to interrupt the cycle, the film finds some real hope.

Gary Slutkin, a medical doctor who worked in Africa for 10 years fighting cholera and Aids, has applied the principles of epidemiology to tackling inner-city violence. His organisation CeaseFire hires former gang members as Violence Interrupters, working in the streets to encourage young people to stop killing each other. Ameena is the daughter of notorious gang leader Jeff Fort, Cobe was in and out of prison until having a son made him rethink his life, and Eddie is haunted by a murder he participated in at 17. All three are now making a positive difference in their communities.

Continue reading: The Interrupters Review

The War Tapes Review


Excellent
We have an embarrassment of information when it comes to the Iraq War. Unlike previous conflicts, in which information took too long to get back from abroad, or was too heavily censored to retain much of its impact, Iraq offers us all the dirty reality in whatever format we'd prefer. There's emails from relatives and friends serving there, documentaries like Gunner Palace and Off to War which skimp not at a bit on the mucky details, rough-and-ready memoirs (John Crawford's The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell being just one of the excellent more recent examples), and even blogs written by grunts just back from getting IED'd. In short, there's no excuse if one doesn't have at least a smattering of an idea of what it's really like "over there" -- unless one just really don't want to know. This is not to say that Deborah Scranton's fantastic new documentary The War Tapes is in any way unnecessary, in fact, it highlights just how good Scranton and her collaborators are at what they've done; given how much competition there is out there.Scranton's idea about how to put together this film about the tour of duty (March 2004 to February 2005) of a company in the New Hampshire National Guard is rather brilliant in its simplicity: Give some digital cameras to the troops and see what they come up with. Of course, luck had a hand, given a different unit (out of Charlie Company's 180 soldiers, 10 agreed to go along with the project) Scranton could have ended up with nothing but shots of soldiers in embarrassing positions. Fortunately, the men who came forward had stories to tell, and the ability to tell them. Her volunteers mounted their cameras on their helmets and carried them in battle -- which mostly consisted of guarding convoys of supply trucks ferrying overpriced food to Halliburton-run mess halls; "a war for cheese," they call it. Their footage, and running commentary, makes for a raw and enthralling 97 minutes of a conflict perhaps no uglier than others, but certainly no prettier.The War Tapes focuses mostly on three of the volunteers: Stephen Pink, a tightly wound but acerbically funny 24-year-old carpenter; Mike Moriarty, a chubby 34 year-old family man with a deep pit of rage welling inside; and Zach Brazzi, a 24-year-old college kid and Lebanese immigrant whose leftist political views don't keep him from deeply loving combat. None seem particularly excited about the war, comfortable with what they're doing there, or confident in the results ("It will be a better country in 20 years because we were there... I hope," is a typical comment), but there's a resigned comedy to their situation, just something to get through. Their reluctance to be seen as a mouthpiece for any particular point of view is palpable and refreshing, perhaps more so because they know their words are being preserved for posterity. Whatever their views are, the men seem to know that no matter how much footage they capture of interminable convoy security details broken up by the occasional IED or ambush -- plenty of those -- there's little use trying to explain it to a civilian. The film's opening words, taken from Pink in the middle of a vicious Fallujah firefight -- "November 29th, I want to kill... This will have a lasting impact on me for the rest of my life." -- is about as close as these men will get to letting the rest of us in.That doesn't mean that the soldiers of The War Tapes don't have nothing to say, because from the evidence recorded here, these guys (a personable trio, to say the least) have a hard time shutting up. Moriarty is especially voluble on the subject of Halliburton, whom he has nothing but contempt for (despite being a diehard Bush man, like most of the Guardsmen), seeing them as nothing short of war profiteers, selling the military a pile of unnecessary goods and lining the Vice President's pocket while doing it. Bazzi and Pink are each full of the cynicism of soldiers, ridiculing the idiocy and waste of the conflict erupting around them, yet powerless to do much about it. Their confusion is so heart-rendingly captured that when the bullets begin to fly (viewers are often in the uncomfortably thrilling position of being in the front seat of a Humvee as it tears down an Iraqi highway towards a column of smoke marking a recently annihilated vehicle), you cringe all the more for the men trying to evade them. And when the unexpected happens, such as a nighttime accident in which their vehicle accidentally kills an Iraqi civilian woman, the tragedy is stomach-churningly real.The War Tapes may not have a position on the war that it wants to push, but that's beside the point. These men have a point of view, plenty of them in fact, they just may not make sense to mere civilians. And that's as it should be.How do you start this mower?

To Live And Die In L.A. Review


Good
Tough as nails cop drama has an on-the-edge cop (Petersen) doing anything he can to take down the counterfeiter (Dafoe) who killed his partner. Extremely bloody and gruesome, To Live and Die in L.A. shows exactly how painful it can be to get shot, butchered, and burned alive. In other words, there's a whole lot more dying than living going on here... Music by none other than Wang Chung.

Stevie Review


Bad
With no demanding actors, expensive special effects, or enormous film crews, documentaries are probably the easiest movies to make. Yet, since the genre looks at very specific topics, documentaries are probably the hardest movies to make appeal to a general audience. Michael Moore does it best when he combines broad, relevant issues with biting humor. Not coincidentally, his latest documentary, Bowling for Columbine, received universal acclaim and box-office success; it was one of the most entertaining films of 2002.

Stevie is the latest film by Steve James, the Academy award-winning director of the powerful, intimate documentary Hoop Dreams. But this is one of the most tedious films of the year, a two-hour ride through rural, southern Illinois, in a town where lifeless cattle graze all day, where old church steeples cast extended shadows across vacant street corners, and where the landscape distributes ramshackle country houses across the horizontal planes like raisins scattered through a bowl of Raisin Bran. Are you still awake?

Continue reading: Stevie Review

Hoop Dreams Review


Excellent
Before Hoop Dreams, they didn't make documentaries like this. Non-fiction films were almost invariably a series of talking heads placed against a backdrop of some kind of studio drapery, intercut with archival footage. After 90 minutes, some critical, cultural subject (say, the Vietnam Memorial, the plight of undernourished children) would be illuminated -- with the goal of driving the audience to either run immediately for a museum or to make a donation to some relevant charity.

Hoop Dreams was something different: A three-hour film that documented the lives of two underprivileged black youths, William Gates and Arthur Agee, both trying to make it from high school and street pick-up games to college and eventually professional basketball. Filmmakers Peter Gilbert, Steve James, and Frederick Marx followed these "hoop dreams" for five long years, cutting a mountain of footage into what has become one of cinema's most beloved and enduring documentaries. (At the time, it was the highest grossing doc ever.)

Continue reading: Hoop Dreams Review

Reel Paradise Review


Good
In June 2005, my friend Mark Frauenfelder moved his family (with wife and two young daughters) from first-world America to third-world Rarotonga, a small island in the South Pacific, for reasons that are best left explained in Mark's copious writings on the subject. By October, they'd moved back to civilization, having experienced rundown accomodations, the perilous difficulty of living virtually off the grid, hungry insects, and a series of debilitating illnesses in a land unprepared to deal with epidemics. I can totally understand why he left.

John Pierson's adventure in Reel Paradise is hauntingly similar, though somewhat more successful. As old-school indie film supporter, producer, and star of IFC's Split Screen, Pierson found himself bored after four years of dragging himself to student film festivals and low-budget junkets, and he struck on the idea of visiting the most remote movie theater in the world. He found it -- or one of them, anyway -- on the Fijian island of Taveuni, a 300-some seat movie theater which he promptly purchased.

Continue reading: Reel Paradise Review

Prefontaine Review


Good
Slightly less-realized than late-to-the-race competitor Without Limits, Prefontaine is still a reasonably good retelling of the life story of Steve Prefontaine, the opinionated and brash distance runner who choked during the Munich Olympics and died in an untimely car crash before he could redeem himself in Montreal in 1976. Prefontaine focuses more on tertiary characters than Limits, some of which are interesting and some of which are not, but really gets annoying for its mock-documentary style. Namely, the actors are "aged" and interviewed in the present day, talking about Pre, complete with subtitles identifying who they are. The problem, of course, is that it's all fake -- and the last thing you want to feel when watching a biography is that you're being lied to.
Steve James

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Steve James Movies

Life Itself Movie Review

Life Itself Movie Review

Fans of film journalism will love this documentary about the noted Chicago critic Roger Ebert,...

The Interrupters Movie Review

The Interrupters Movie Review

This gripping and very long documentary traces a year in the life of a Chicago...

The War Tapes Movie Review

The War Tapes Movie Review

We have an embarrassment of information when it comes to the Iraq War. Unlike previous...

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Stevie Movie Review

Stevie Movie Review

With no demanding actors, expensive special effects, or enormous film crews, documentaries are probably the...

Reel Paradise Movie Review

Reel Paradise Movie Review

In June 2005, my friend Mark Frauenfelder moved his family (with wife and two young...

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