“Life Itself”: Ebert & Friends & Family & the Movies

Ebert!

A recently unveiled statue of Roger Ebert, seated outside the Virginia Theatre in his hometown of Champaign, IL. Photo by Anne Golden, from our 2014 road trip.

When film critic Roger Ebert passed away in April 2013, I wrote at length about the influence that he and his longtime TV debate partner Gene Siskel had upon my life. That entry is intro enough to explain why, when I heard there was a new documentary about Ebert, it was an obvious pick for my summer must-see list.

One contemporary peer labels Ebert “the definitive mainstream film critic”. Another, less charitable fellow in his field dismisses Ebert’s longtime TV career as doing their practice an injustice. (“Consumer advice is not the same as criticism.”) Several came together for the special occasion of Life Itself.

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Notes for a “Cinderella” Reboot Nobody Needs

Walt Disney's CinderellaThis weekend I revisited Walt Disney’s twelfth animated classic Cinderella for the first time since the late 1990s. Of all the numerous Disney films our family has owned in multiple formats, this is one of several that rarely saw repeat viewings even when my son was a toddler who insisted on watching every animated movie over and over again until I hated it.

As with many older Disney films, parts of it have aged better than others. I’ll admit I had trouble staying conscious all the way through. Even if I’m alone in this struggle, the film is now over sixty years old and therefore in need of a gratuitous overhaul on shallow principle. In the spirit of today’s remake-happy medium that thrives on second-hand ideas, the following notes are my suggestions to downconvert this one-time children’s favorite for the modern, unsophisticated audience that Hollywood executives so dearly crave:

1. We need to believe that Cinderella’s dad would have good reasons to want to marry the wicked stepmother. As drawn and acted, she’s a horse-faced harpy. Was she, once upon a time, a gregarious looker? Were they married for so long that her looks and demeanor have simply deteriorated over time? Was the marriage that hard on her? What does that say about dearly departed Dad? Cinderella’s trauma at his loss means he wasn’t an unlovable tyrant, so the only other sensible option is that he was a spineless doormat forced into marriage by this conniving harridan. Clearly we need copious non-linear flashbacks to Dad and Stepmom’s deceptively happy wedding day before it all went wrong, when he turned into Walter Mitty and she became Miss Hannigan from Annie.

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