FilmJerk Favorites

A group of unique directors and the essential works that you've got to see.

||| Frank Capra |||
Frank Capra

It goes without saying that Capra is one of the greatest and most beloved directors of all time, especially renowned for his madcap romantic comedies. He is one of the few directors who ever managed to balance whimsy with meaningfulness without loosing the ability to entertain.

Only Frank Capra, with his light hand and good sense of allowing the actors to be their roles, could carry off this tale of a naive average American used by an unscrupulous politician through a nationwide goodwill drive. No one was ever better at having strong yet vulnerable women not only aid, but often come to the rescue, of the leading man.

Frank Capra's final film is a hilarious translation of a Damon Runyon tale set in 1930s New York, as gangster Glenn Ford repays street peddler Bette Davis for her "good luck" apples by passing her off as a well-to-do society lady for her visiting daughter (Ann-Margret in her film debut). This excellent and thoroughly enjoyable remake of his own 1933 "Lady for a Day" is a beautiful swan song to a master storyteller. Widescreen!

In this black comedy about two sweet old ladies whose basement holds a murderously funny secret, Capra utilizes star Cary Grant to his zany, patented “double take” best. Capra’s brilliance in comic casting is demonstrated with such reliable character actors as Raymond Massey, Peter Lorre and Jack Carson who manage to play their parts to the hilt without chewing up the scenery.

Recommended by CarrieSpecht

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Life Itself

By EdwardHavens

June 30th, 2014

Steve James’ touching new film about the late Roger Ebert is one of the hardest films to write about. Practically everyone who has been doing this sort of thing for the past thirty years or so owes the man an astonishing duty of appreciation, and many of us may have never considered attempting it had we not seen him and his success.

Life Itself

His passing was particularly painful, and to watch a movie whose substantively sad ending is still so fresh in our collective consciences was heartbreaking at many times.

Yet, even though we know how this is all going to end, “Life Itself” is ultimately life-affirming, with Roger reminding us how to find the joy in our daily grind even under the most disagreeable circumstances. Roger loved life. He loved his life, he loved his wife, he loved his children and grandchildren, and he loved movies. He even found a way to love his long time rival and “At the Movies” co-host Gene Siskel. It is through his love that we can accept his passing at the end, and it is through his love that we hurt all that much more from that passing.

Love is a major theme in “Life Itself.” Even when the camera is focused on something hard to watch, such as how Ebert was fed without a chin, it is clear the documentarian loves his subject. It is clear that many of the people who are called on to speak about the man genuinely love him, from his friends during his early years of his career and the filmmakers whose careers got a major boost thanks to a “Thumbs Up” from him to the every day film fan who never got the chance to meet him but were affected by his opinions. (It is also a sign of love that there is nary an image or mention of his signature show after the passing of Siskel.)

I’m sorry that this isn’t much of a traditional review. It’s been a hard time writing this, for there is not a single false note in the entire production. We get to learn more about Roger Ebert, the good and not so good, presented in a mostly linearly fashion with the occasional well-timed revisit to the relative-present. Excellent questions are asked (like why exactly did the presumably high-minded Ebert write a screenplay for a B-level sexploitation movie with Russ Meyer?) and answered, low points are balanced with high, and we are left with the sense of better understanding this mythic figure who was an important part of so many people’s lives for so many years. It does exactly what a documentary film should do: it informs, it touches your emotions and it does so in an entertaining fashion.

Ebert once called James’ 1994 documentary “Hoop Dreams” “one of the best films about American life that I have ever seen.” I find myself borrowing from Ebert to call “Life Itself” one of the best films about an American life I could ever see.

My rating: A+