Friday, July 3, 2015

Good Story 111: Life Itself

Julie and Scott had this great idea for a TV show where they argue about movies every week... and then realize that Roger Ebert already had that idea. They spend an hour talking about him instead. Episode 111, Life Itself: a documentary about Roger Ebert.

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  • Roger Ebert's website


    1. One of my favorite reviews was of the secret best Batman movie:

      Not only did they both get it, they're a few of the only reviewers who gave the movie the credit it deserved. Gene was wrong about the Joker, though. Mark Hamill was incredible.

      Also notice how Roger picks up (this is back in the early 90s, too) how animated movies are capable of much more than simple distractions for kids. This was pre-Pixar and about the time Disney was just make its comeback with Beauty & The Beast, not to mention before anime and Studio Ghibli made a splash over here.

      They were always my favorite reviewers and I grew up on them, even keeping track of Roger after Gene's unfortunate death, but I've never met a reviewer that has managed to get it on the same level those two did. Sure I disagreed with them at times, but I still got the feeling they understood the movie and just didn't like it. Whereas now, it frequently comes across as the reviewing marking down a superhero movie for having a superhero in it.

      But Roger Ebert was always the opinion I weighed most against my own. He had a good way of explaining the art in a way an idiot like me could understand. It is a shame that I didn't get to see his opinions on movies like "Summer Wars" or "The Lego Movie", because I'm fairly sure he would have had some very interesting things to say about them, but I can only pray he knows them now.

      As for Shymalan, I only liked his first three movies. "The Sixth Sense", "Unbreakable", and "Signs", were all very creative and tight movies that were helped by Disney reigning him in. All the signs and symbols are there and not as hammy as they are in his later movies.

      In other news, I just saw "Inside Out". Possible future material for Good Story? :)

      1. Great post, JD! I love how Roger Ebert was a titan of his profession, but not pretentious and dismissive of animated films. His review of My Neighbor Totoro is one of my favorites, and I geek out a bit that he used the phrase "life itself" therein, a decade before publishing his memoir.

        I'm a fan of Summer Wars as well, and Hosoda's Wolf Children was a really touching story.

        I like to go to Ebert's archives to read his reviews of films I like, it's so often an affirming experience when he really enjoyed something I did, too.

      2. Inside Out - yes, a definite candidate for Good Story! It was amazing.

        I agree that the two reviewers together were better than separately. But, like Philip, I still like to go pull Roger's old reviews and get a thrill when we agreed. :-)

        Joseph Susanka pointed me to Scout Tafoya's videos series "The Unloved" which focuses on movies that were disasters when they came out but have grown in stature (or which she appreciates more) in the years since then. Here is her commentary on The Village which is only about 8 minutes long. It made me want to watch it again.

      3. That was a pretty good video that helps point out a lot of the best moments of the film. The movie is looked down on more because of what Shymalan went on to do and less of what the film actually is. But I still don't think it's anything great. I think it would probably be a better movie without the twist at the end or the monsters true identity and the whole community and society commentary feels very half-baked compared to his earlier films.

        *Spoilers for "The Village" and his other movies incoming*

        Shymalan's first movies themes were wrapped very tightly together, the prophetic boy and the broken man who need each other, the unbreakable man and the man of glass who see the same broken world, and the lost family and searching for a way back again. Every element fits together on the story level and the character level while still keeping an engaging supernatural tale at the same time.

        In "The Village", it's a story about a community running away from reality, which is, I'll admit, a good premise. But unlike the first three movies, the elements used are so obvious that it blunts the impact. The characters literally telling the audience about justice and family with herky-jerky speeches were just a step back from what he did before. It made the story and outcome very predictable since the characters go out of their way to spell it out to the viewer. Of course, everyone saw the twist coming before the end, but that isn't what I mean in this case.

        The monsters are actually themselves, sure, but they literally wear costumes to emphasize that point which we got every time one of the older people spoke. The world is a horrible place, but this village is supposedly better, which only makes sense if this village is entirely different than ones that no one is ever allowed to see which is the equivalent of screaming in your face that this isn't the real year and the adults are the monsters again. It would have worked better if it didn't feel like a Twilight Zone episode I'm pretty sure has already been made.

        The backstory gnaws at me, too. They're running away from society, got it, so why don't they just join an Amish community instead of this elaborate set-up? In fact, why pretend it's another year at all? It just feels like needless lying to the younger people. The whole backstory is very convoluted if you dwell on it unlike any of the other three movies.

        All that said, I don't consider it a disaster like, say, The Happening, or The Last Airbender (The show was so much better). But I think it more as a misfire. It has a lot of the elements his first three movies had, but they just aren't used nearly as well and the whole thing comes off more unnatural than it should.

        I really hope he can get back to basics one day, but it's looking less and less likely with every passing film.

      4. I guess I'd have to see the movie again to respond to a lot of your "everyone could see this coming" comments. I don't know that that is really the case. Since we have such different takes on the movie, I don't want to argue about the points because we could go back and forth for a long time. For example, I don't know why they wouldn't join an Amish community but you are putting a lot of your own sensibilities on the characters at that point. The Amish have contact with the modern world. These people wanted nothing to do with anything modern. Obviously we could go back and forth on these issues. I think the point was to show us a community where we didn't know what time period they were living in. To consider what it would be like to be raised in isolation and how those choices are not perfect either. And so forth ... again. :-)

        I liked it. My whole family liked it. That's all I can say. We weren't going for a "twist" or for a typical "Shymalan" movie. We were just interested in seeing it, well after it had been panned by all the critics. And we were surprised to find ourselves liking it. That is part of what made us try The Lady in the Water, which we also really liked.

        The Village didn't work for you. But it really worked for us. That's part of what makes talking about stories so fascinating.

      5. Right. That's why I enjoy this podcast so much. Even when it steers on to movies I don't like so much I still find it enjoyable.

        Roger Ebert was the type of reviewer who always had me thinking about films, even when I didn't care for them so much. He was, and probably always will be, one of the best.

    2. Sorry for going off-topic. Anyway, what did you think of his list of favorite movies?

      Those are some excellent ones, if I do say so.

      Speaking of favorites, there was a video in "The Unloved" series focusing on another one of Roger Ebert's favorites, Joe Vs. The Volcano:

      1. No worries! I'd have answered but was snowed under by an unexpected work project and barely had time to eat and sleep. :-)

        I am not sure if I'd seen that list before or if I knew he loved those movies because I'd read the first two of his Great Movies books. I've seen most of the movies on that list but only liked two of them (Citizen Kane, The General) and I'm not sure if I'd list the ones I like as the "Greatest Films." I definitely recall not liking Joe Vs. the Volcano but I watched that long ago and a different viewing might yield different results. :-)

        I'm definitely going to watch more of The Unloved series soon.