Trailer for Roger Ebert Documentary “Life Itself”

A new trailer is out for the documentary Life Itself, which recounts the life of movie critic Roger Ebert. It seems appropriate that someone who did so much for movies now will have a movie about this life. Steve James directed the film from executive producers Martin Scorsese and Steven Zaillian. The trailer looks great and as someone who grew up watching Ebert on television and reading his reviews, I am looking forward to the movie. Check out the trailer.

The film gets its name from Ebert’s memoir, which was named Life Itself: A Memoir.

Will you see Life Itself? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Watch “The Education of Gore Vidal”

    Thanks to PBS, “The Education of Gore Vidal,” a documentary about the writer who passed away Tuesday, is available online for free viewing today through August 9. The 2003 film originally aired on PBS’s American Masters series and includes interviews with a number of people, including the late George Plimpton and Paul Newman. Of course, the film also features Vidal, talking about his life, pondering history, and dropping the witty remark here and there. In one of the interesting segments, Vidal explains why he chose Aaron Burr as the subject of one of his historical novels.

    If you prefer watching it on television, some PBS stations will be running the film too. But if you cannot wait, you may either watch the first 20 minutes below or go to to watch the whole 84-minute version. [November 2013 Update: Unfortunately, PBS no longer has the video for The Education of Gore Vidal online, but you may check the PBS link for more on Gore Vidal and also to see if they have responded to requests to repost the video. For now, check out the below Charlie Rose show segment featuring highlights of Gore Vidal’s appearances on that show.]

    What do you think of “The Education of Gore Vidal”? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures (short review)

    If you are a fan of director Stanley Kubrick, check out the documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures (2001). Although the film does not feature interviews with the notoriously reclusive Kubrick, the late director’s voice comes through clips of his movies and through many people who knew and worked with Kubrick.

    I recently re-watched one of Kubrick’s early films, Paths of Glory (1957), the outstanding WWI film starring Kirk Douglas. Seeing it for the second time, I noticed many of the Kubrick touches in the camera angles and story themes and fell even deeper in love with the great film. I have always been a fan of Kubrick’s films, but watching Paths of Glory made me want to know more about the director, so I rented A Life in Pictures on Netflix.

    At 2 hours and 22 minutes, director Jan Harlan’s A Life in Pictures is not a lightweight overview of Kubrick’s career, but covers all of his movies with comments from many who worked with the director such as Jack Nicholson, Nicole Kidman, Malcolm McDowell, Steven Spielberg, and Tom Cruise, who narrates the film. Martin Scorsese, a director who is knowledgeable about film history, provides additional insight, as does Kubrick’s widow (who had a small but important role in Paths of Glory).

    The documentary covers films such as The Killing (1956), Spartacus (1960), Dr. Strangelove (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), The Shining (1980), Full Metal Jacket (1987), and Eyes Wide Shut (1999). I particularly enjoyed the insight and behind-the-scenes stories about the underrated and misunderstood Eyes Wide Shut. While A Life in Pictures may not change your views of the films or tell you exactly who Stanley Kubrick was, the documentary helps peel back a few layers to give you a greater appreciation of Kubrick’s works.

    Conclusion? Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures is an entertaining documentary about one of the great American directors that is worth your time if you have any interest in film history or in Kubrick’s films.

    What is your favorite Stanley Kubrick film? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Love & Marriage: The Loving Story (Review)

    In light of the recent news about President Obama and Vice-President Biden stating their support for gay marriage, the recent HBO documentary The Loving Story (2011) about a marriage law in the 1950s takes on an added significance.

    In 1958, Richard Loving, who was white, and Mildred Jeter, who was black, traveled from their home in Virginia to Washington, D.C. to get married. After their wedding, they returned home to Virginia where after five weeks police roused them from their bed in their home at 2 a.m. and arrested them for violating a law that banned interracial marriages. At the time, twenty-four states had laws banning interracial marriages. In January 1969, a judge accepted their guilty plea for the crime and sentenced them to one year in jail but suspended the sentence if the two left Virginia for 25 years. The Lovings, who wanted to go home, challenged the case all the way to the Supreme Court, which heard the case in Loving v. Virginia.

    Although a unanimous Supreme Court eventually ruled for the Lovings in 1967 by finding that the Virginia law violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, the Lovings spent roughly nine years as criminals between the time they were arrested and the time they won the case in the Supreme Court. The documentary tells their story during this time.

    One of the great things about the documentary is the amount of video footage that was taken of the Lovings and others at the time the events were happening. Among the many images, the film includes never-before-seen footage taken by filmmaker Hope Ryden while the case was pending before the Supreme Court. It is interesting to see the couple meeting with lawyers and hear Mildred Loving explain why they decided not to attend the Supreme Court argument. The documentary is a fascinating portrait about another time period that was not that long ago, and it brings to life the two human beings at the center of one of the great Civil Rights cases of the 1960s.

    Nancy Buirski, who made the film, first had the idea to make the documentary after reading Mildred Loving’s obituary in the New York Times in May 2008. In the February 2012 ABA Journal, she explained, “Not only was this an overlooked story but also. . . you read about them . . but you don’t know very much about the people involved.”

    Singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith had a similar reaction when she read Mildred Loving’s obituary in the newspaper. Her response was to sit down and write a song, “The Loving Kind,” which became the title track of an album she released in 2009.

    They changed the heart of a nation,
    With their wedding vows;
    From the highest court in the land,
    Their union would lawfully stand;
    Simply Mildred and Richard,
    That’s how they’d be remembered;
    They proved that love is truly blind;
    They were the loving kind

    Richard and Mildred Loving stayed together until Richard was killed in a car crash in 1975. They had three children and they will forever be linked together. On the fortieth anniversary of the Loving v. Viginia decision in 2007, Mildred released a statement saying that all people, including gay men and lesbians, should be allowed to marry because, “That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.” Decades earlier, Richard summed up the Loving case too. When lawyers explained the various legal theories to the Lovings, Richard simplified the point, “[T]ell the court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.”

    Conclusion? Check out the film, which is on DVD and on HBO and online for subscribers. While the movie goes at a leisurely pace to let the story unfold in the participants’ own words and you know how the story comes out, it is still an interesting time capsule that reveals the human side of two regular people who quietly stood up to an injustice.

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    Missed Movies: Project Nim (short review)

    Project Nim (2011) is a fascinating documentary that follows the life of Nim, a chimpanzee who was part of an experiment in teaching chimps to communicate. Nim Chimpsky, named with a humorous nod to linguist Noam Chomsky, became famous for his ability to use sign language as part of a study by Herbert Terrace, a Columbia University behavioral psychologist. The documentary shows the ups and downs of Nim’s life where he is repeatedly removed from his environment in the name of science. The film asks questions about the role of communication and our human relationships to animals.

    Although the movie shows Nim repeatedly abandoned, it also features several people who cared very much about the chimp. Ultimately, it’s the human stories in the film that make the movie compelling. While Nim’s behavior is interesting to the scientists because it tells us about chimps, the behavior of the people in Nim’s life is what makes the film interesting. Because it tells us more about us.

    Bonus Review (Because why should you trust me?)
    : Ethicist Peter Singer wrote an interesting essay about the film, the science about animals’ use of language, and the ethics of scientific experiments on primates in the New York Times Review of Books.

    What did you think of Project Nim? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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