By John Esther
**"Life Itself" opened in limited release last weekend (July 4th) and is currently playing at Landmark Century Theater here in Chicago — FIND SHOWTIMES.**
As someone who spoke to Roget Ebert at the Sundance Film Festivals, it was a bittersweet experience to see the late film critic at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, not at the Eccles Center or on a Park City bus, or on Main Street, but rather through the medium of film.
Making its world premiere at Sundance's MARC Theater to a sold out crowd, the latest film by noted documentarian Steve James (The Interrupters; Stevie; and Hoop Dreams), Life Itself chronicles a man who became the world’s most famous film critic.
Born and raised in Illinois, Roger grew up, studied and spent nearly all his early life in Urbana until he was accepted as a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago. At the same time, Roger was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times. It was clear from the beginning, Roger was a natural writer. Due to his work load, however, Roger never earned his PhD, which was probably a good thing for his television career later as most Americans do not care to consume film criticism offered by people with PhDs.
Although a prolific writer on various subjects, including life in Illinois (Illini History: One Hundred Years of Campus Life), this “Chicago character” began his film critic career in 1967 writing for the Sun-Times. The fact that Roger would continue to write for the Sun-Times, the same publication until the year of his death, some 46 years later, is astonishing when you consider the advent of social media, the demise of legitimate film criticism in the United States, and the treatment of popular film reviewers by corporate media.
Of course, what made Roger famous was his film reviewing on television. During the mid-1970s Ebert co-hosted a weekly film review show, Sneak Previews, produced by Chicago’s public network, WTTV. When Gene Siskel, a film critic and journalist for the Chicago Tribune, joined three years later the show was picked up by major television and broadcasted weekly on ABC.
What was initially intended to be a show about film reviewing, Siskel & Ebert & and the Movies, soon started taking its focus off of the movies and onto its odd couple film critics. Gene was a philosophical, east coast trained, conservative reviewer, who just happened to be thin and balding while Roger was a neo-liberal populist who happened to have lots of hair and few extra pounds. How they would react to each other mattered to audiences more frequently than the movies they discussed. Thanks to the show, the books, the reviews, etc., by the late 1990s Roger’s popularity grew to the point where he was the third most recognizable Chicagoan — behind Michael Jordan and Oprah Winfrey. Considering our anti-intellectual, fitness-obsessed, youth-centric culture, Roger’s popularity is quite an American anomaly for an overweight, bespectacled, gray-haired guy who reads and writes for a living.
While Life Itself offers an amusing recount of Roger’s formidable years, career and relationship with Gene, its real value comes in Steve’s documentation of his last year on earth. Originally diagnosed with cancer in 2002, for the next decade Roger would go through various surgeries, remissions and cancers. Eventually his face would be drastically altered, eventually leaving a hole in it. Rather than hide or manufacture an untrue image, Roger, and company, invites us to watch his pain, his decay and his courage in the face of death. Whatever you think of his film criticism over the years (or his liberal politics in general), it is hard not to have respect for and sympathize with this man who was generous with his time and talent.
Steve, a fellow Chicagoan, obviously admires and respects his subject, but that does not prevent him from offering criticism on Roger’s life and career. Unlike the protagonists in so many of those Hollywood movies that were the subject of his reviews, Roger was all-too human. Roger was an alcoholic; he could be arrogant; he could publish reviews that would contradict his liberal beliefs. Of course, knowing how much Roger cherished honesty found in the best of documentaries, this kind of criticism from the filmmakers on their subject would have only made Roger happy.
Filled with pathos, nostalgia, reference and joy, whether you knew Roger from near or afar, as a documentary, Life Itself offers an exceptional film-going experience.
For those who sat with Roger at Sundance, Life Itself reminds us that no longer would there be quick chats with the gregarious film critic before a sold-out screening at Sundance, or watching Roger get bombarded by elderly viewers (in terms of Sundance Film Festival goers) for Sundance Film Festival recommendations, nor would there be another incident of a film critic being photographed by strangers as he walked down Main Street, Park City, UT.
Now, Roger’s life is relegated to our memories, his work and at the movies.
by Laine Pepp
Old Style and Jameson present Chicago’s first annual Chicago Nightlife Awards on Tuesday April 1st, honoring and recognizing those industry professionals that spend their nights making sure we all have a good time. With that being said, we all are looking in our closets (or at least I am) wondering what to wear for the big night.
The Nightlife Awards are a chance for us to push the limits with our fashion, certainly not a night to blend in; a night for tighter pants, shorter skirts, higher heels, and bolder make-up. With the spirit of honoring and recognizing those industry professionals that are behind our favorite drunken nights, I also want to recognize some of the hottest/best dressed and encourage that we channel our fiercest Chicagoans while getting dressed Tuesday night.
Top 10 Films of 2013
Happy New Year, friends!
I am certainly hoping that 2014 is a much better year at the movies than the generally dismal 2013. Though it seemed most films released last year were garbage, there was luckily a handful that didn’t suck, and out of those, even a few genuine works of art.
In accordance with the New Year’s ritual, I’ve compiled a list of films of 2013 that I felt were the best. Here’s what I came up with...
by Pawl Schwartz
Got Sony's special gaming bundle featuring the PS4 with the PS Vita for Xmas? Well, we’re going to give some help to those getting into the handheld system for the first time, because let’s be honest, there is a large amount of absolute crap out there for the Vita, but there are also a lot of games that make it far beyond worthwhile. We’re here to make sure that you find those games, and don’t end up with stinkers like the Call of Duty game or Valhalla Knights 3.
1. Killzone: Mercenary: KZ:M takes first place quite easily, and for more reasons than the graphics, which are of course, beautiful. No, it’s the playability and the use of Vita features that make this game gold. When you hold down the right trigger to bring up the iron sights, you can tilt the vita to aim instead of using the right joystick. This feature may seem simple, but it makes the game infinitely easier, and is a feature that every Vita shooter should have standard now, or else they will all pale in comparison.
2. Mortal Kombat: The revitalization of Mortal Kombat on 360 & PS3 is one of the best fighting games I have ever had the pleasure of playing, and now here it is on Vita! The graphics are a little less crisp with lots of anti-aliasing problems, but the game plays smoothly and comes with loads of extra content just for the Vita. The replayability is also through the roof, and that is exactly what you need for Vita, a game cartridge that you can just leave in when you are on the go and play over and over any time.
3. Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time: Some of the best graphics on the Vita coupled with a smooth-n-sneaky platforming experience make SC:TIT (hehe) the best platformer you can buy for the handheld system. I had never played a Sly Cooper game before, and I was worried that it was going to be too much of a kiddie game for me, but instead, it hits that sweet spot of ‘fun for all ages’ that actually means it. Lots of playable characters and even more in terms of collectibles.
4. Rayman Legends: This game is simply gorgeous. There is no discernable difference at all between the graphics on the console versions of this game and the Vita version. Smooth, crisp cartoons with 3D bosses. This edition of Rayman follows the path of Rayman: Origins before it, and is a 2D sidescrolling platformer instead of a 3D one as it had been before, and it works wonders on the franchise. This game is Super Mario World level as far as masterfully wraught sidescrolling gameplay goes. The icing on the cake is the musical levels. These levels are timed so that as you run forward through them, you do everything in time to the music.
5. Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate: If you love Metroid games, then this is for you. The companion to Batman: Arkham Asylum, it does not deliver in cloning the experience of the real game, but it is a great game in its own right. You will scour Arkham Prison looking for power ups like the batclaw and the line-launcher so that you can get into new areas and defeat villains.
6. Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation: No dumbing down of the gameplay, this game plays like any Assassin’s Creed (built on the same engine as ACIII), but with its own gameplay twists. Your character is Aveline, a female Assassin, and you are in Louisiana during the Fench and Indian war. Running around New Orleans is a blast, and, the most fun part: Aveline has three different disguises she can switch between: Fancy Lady, Slave, or The Assassin.
7. Resistance: Burning Skies: I know I just applauded the hell out of Killzone: Mercenary, but if you want a cheaper FPS, this is your best bet. It doesn’t have tilt-aiming, but it is longer than KZ:M and more challenging.
8. Tearaway: Tearaway is beautiful and original. So why is it at the bottom? Well, it’s quite short. I beat it the day I got it. But as far as quality and gameplay go, you couldn’t find a more fun game on the Vita. Tearaway really uses all of the Vita’s features, and with a nice twist. You’ll find that you can stick your fingers through the back of the screen and into the game to tear into the game world and help out your little envelope-headed character (not joking). The game is also meta as hell, putting the player into the game in a million ways, for example, your face is the sun for the whole game, and the main mission of the game is for your character to break out of videogame world and meet you. Amazing gameplay, original graphics, blistering platformer-y fun. Too bad it’s short as hell.
Thebus and Salt from 4,000 Miles
by Andrew DeCanniere
Last Friday, I saw a play that I’ve been eagerly anticipating all summer, 4000 Miles, written by Amy Herzog and directed by Kimberly Senior, at Northlight Theatre. The play is centered around a twenty-something named Leo Joseph-Connell (Josh Salt) who unexpectedly shows up on the doorstep of his grandmother, Vera Joseph (Mary Ann Thebus)’s West Village apartment, the decor of which seems frozen in time, as though virtually nothing has been changed since the late 1960s.
Though at first we know very little about why Leo shows up unannounced — and in the middle of the night, nonetheless — or why it seems as though he has no place else to go and no one else to turn to in New York City, the blanks soon start to be filled in for us. It turns out he has found himself in New York City at the end of a cross-country bike trip, which he began with a close friend of his, who has recently passed away. Though being his grandmother’s roommate wasn’t necessarily what he envisioned when he arrived on his bicycle, his prior plans — staying with his girlfriend in her dorm room — have fallen through.