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When I first heard about the death of the great Roger Ebert, I, just like many others, was deeply saddened. I had lost what felt like a friend. I've always been a great admirer of his work; weather it was his writing, which inspired me to write about films myself, or his work with Gene Siskel and Richard Roeper on television.
His passion for cinema was displayed mostly in his "Great Movies" reviews.
"But I remember the Great Movies. They live on the same shelf in my mind", he said in his book that this film was based on, which shares the same title. His reviews of the best films ever made are filled with the same passion, empathy, and hope for mankind that are expressed by the movies themselves.
"Life Itself" is directed by Steve James; a man whose own career may not be as successful without the critical praise he received from Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert for his great documentary "Hoop Dreams;'' a film about two inner-city kids looking to become basketball stars.
"Life Itself" feels like a final way to say goodbye to Roger Ebert for all of us that admired him; a way to know him and understand who he was even better.
In this film, as is the case with most docs, we are told through interviews and commentary about this man's life; from his childhood till his death. We also see what life was like for Roger and his wife Chaz in the miserable years that they battled with his cancer; their love is one of the more beautiful aspects of the film. Chaz is there with Roger through some of his best days, and she suffers with him as he is going through what were no doubt his very worst days. The love story of Roger and Chaz is not the only love story we are told of in the film: We also learn a great deal about the relationship Roger shared with his longtime TV co-host Gene Siskel. Despite what you may have heard previously about Siskel & Ebert's relationship, behind all of the arguing, we learn that they really loved one another. We're told of how much Roger was affected by Gene's death; and we're told of how concerned Gene was when he thought that Roger may have been leaving the show.
Whenever I'm reading one of Roger's reviews, I feel like I am reading someone who not only had a great understanding of movies: what they are and what they can accomplish, but someone who had a great understanding of life: what it is about and how it will inevitably turn out.
Much of Roger's life was about movies. The final goodbye has been spoken to Roger with a truly great movie in "Life Itself".
How can a movie with a such a big budget, a decent cast and spectacular visuals be considered by the overwhelming majority of film critics as one of the absolute worst movies in recent memory? The answer is simple -- it is stupid. Why is it stupid? The answer to that question may have something to do with the fact that the movie has more writers than there have been "Friday the 13th" sequels. Or it may have something to do with the fact that the producers and director just lacked any concern whatsoever for the script, because their attention may have been for the viewer to be so wowed by the amazing visuals that they would just ignore the script -- no matter how cringe-worthy it may be.
Well, here goes me trying to explain the plot: An asteroid "the size of Texas" is heading to earth. It will crash into earth in about 18 days from when the movie begins. NASA, led by Dan Truman (Billy Bob Thornton), plans to trigger a nuclear explosion inside the Texas sized asteroid to split it in two, driving the pieces apart so both will fly past the Earth. Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis), who is considered to be among the best deep-sea oil drillers in the world, is asked by NASA to go on this deadly mission; on which stands the entire fate of humanity, because according to Truman, there is no Plan B.
So, Henry, along with his team of oil-drillers (Most of whom look like guys you see standing on street corners selling pirated movies out of cardboard boxes) are sent into space to complete this dangerous mission. One of the guys that works for Henry, and is on this mission, is A.J. (Ben Affleck) who is engaged to Henry's daughter, Grace (Liv Tyler); which brings on some of the silliest and cliche-filled scenes that you will ever see --- including Willis chasing Affleck around an oil-rig with a shotgun that ends with Affleck avoiding bullets by zip-lining. There's also the film's pathetic scenes, which exists as an attempt at romance, because, 'hey, we gotta give women a reason to watch our trash'. One of those said scenes is a blatantly silly one that involves Affleck's hands, animal cracker and Tyler's stomach.
Most of the film's critics panned it, because they said it was too loud and too fast: "The movie is an assault on the eyes, the hears, the brain" wrote Roger Ebert. And I certainly don't disagree, but the script was the film's undoing for me. Nothing is more offensive to me than a bad script. The noisiness helps make it a bad movie; the script, however, puts "Armageddon" in the discussion for the worst movie ever made. With lines like "I wanted to say ... that I'm sorry," "We're not leaving them behind!," "Man, what are you doing with a gun in space?!" "Guys--the clock is ticking!" Not to mention a plot that has more holes in it than that combination of every soap-opera ever made; it had me, as a writer, face-palming throughout.
According to the "Criterion Collection" commentary (Yes, this film somehow made it to "Criterion"), many of the errors found in the film were acknowledged by director Michael Bay and known even during filming/production and were left in deliberately (such as fire in space). Bay said, "It's a movie and not many people know about it", so they were kept in for entertainment value. If you read that qoute and ever pay to go see another Michael Bay film, then you my friend are one of the reasons Hollywood continues to crap out garbage such as "Armageddon"
Allen plays Scott Calvin --- a 38 year old, divorced, executive of a major toy company. He is the father of 8 year old Charlie (Eric Lloyd), who lives with his with mother, Laura (Wendy Crewson), and stepfather, Neil (Judge Reinhold)---a psychiatrist, who is a bit of a stick in the mud. I found myself wondering at times during this film if the writers were taking some sort of shot at the psychiatry profession by both writing derogatory lines directed at Neil, and having him fill the stereotype of psychologists that they are nothing more than boring middle aged men in ugly sweaters telling kids that Santa is made up. That is what people think of psychologists, right? Am I the only one?
Young Charlie is spending the night of Christmas Eve with his father, Scott. In the middle of the night, there is a loud noise on the roof of the executive's house. Of course, it's St. Nicholas himself. But Scott does not know that. I mean, what would you think if a strange man in a red suit was on the top of your house in the middle of the night? Kind of creepy. And not to mention, criminal.
The poor Santa falls to his death while on top of Scott's house, which I found to be a bit on the morbid side for a Santa Claus movie, but the writers do their best to gloss over it, which results in many of the film's characters looking somewhat like sociopaths, but death is a natural part of life after all.
Scott and Charlie spend the rest of the night finishing the man who just died in front them's job by delivering presents to the good little boys and girls in the entire world (Just go with it). Their trip ends in the North Pole when they are essentially dragged there by the reindeer guiding their sleigh. There they meet hundreds of elves in, one of whom, Bernard (David Krumholtz), tells them of 'The Santa Clause' (Notice the 'E'), which basically states: If you put on the red suit (Which Scott absentmindedly did) then you are Santa Clause. You have no choice in the matter. Well, you do, but that would mean the end of all joy and happiness in children, and no one wants that. Therefore, Scott Calvin is the new Santa Claus.
What does the film do wrong? Well, besides having an enormous amount of cliche, and very cheesy lines that make your eyes glaze over from time to time, the film has the same plot-hole that probably 80% of the Christmas movie ever made has had: How is it possible to have a world where Santa exists, but some people (Mostly adults) do not believe in him? The reason there are religious people, is because no one can factually prove them wrong. The reason there are atheists, is because no one can factually prove them wrong either. WELL, if the entire point of Santa Claus' existence is to leave presents for children, then there would be factual, physical proof of his existence under every family's Christmas tree every single Christmas morning. So how is there anyone in any of these Santa movies who does not believe in Santa Claus? You would think these people would know which gifts came from where/whom. Do they wake up every Christmas morning wondering 'How'd that gift get here?' 'Where'd that gift come from?' It is blatantly illogical, and has been a pet peeve of mine for several years as I have watched Christmas movies --- and I had to get this off of my chest here.
What does the movie do right? It succeeds in giving the viewer a warm feeling on the inside --- that is a requirement for every Christmas film. The relationship between the boy, Charlie, and his father, Scott (Santa), is genuinely touching in many scenes, and Tim Allen brings the right amount of emotion to his character.
Overall, It is the perfect family Christmas movie --- more so than "Home Alone," or "Elf," because unlike those two films, I am unable to think of a single scene in "The Santa Clause" that sane parents would object to. It is as squeaky clean as any movie I have ever seen, and there is just know way for me not to recommend it.
You may find the cheesiness to be too much, or your heart may be so touched by the warmness of it, that it quickly becomes one of your Christmas favorites. I would say the latter is more likely.
For writers of future Christmas movies: PLEASE figure out a solution to my long-time pet peeve stated above. Thank you.
This is basically Die Hard with The Rock in it, but the stunts are more impressive. I was not a big Die Hard fan, but I do slightly recommend this movie, because of the thrilling stunts and action, and because I like The Rock much more than Bruce Willis.
They finally gave us a squeal! It seems that's becoming the trend in Hollywood. Either rebooting successful films from the past, or making sequels 10-15 years after the last film in the franchise. I was particularly interested in seeing this movie, mainly because I was a kid when the first film was released and remember vividly seeing it in theaters. Since then, I have always wondered what happened to the Incredibles next, and the sequel answers that well, and really picks up right where the first movie left off. The movies, I would say, while not the best in the Pixar franchise, are the most thrilling entries. This is well worth seeing.