Roger Ebert was one of the first and loudest cheerleaders for Steve James’ epic doc “Hoop Dreams.” Nearly two decades later James returned the favor, gifting Ebert his own doc — a loving but honest valentine to one of cinephilia’s greatest champions. James doesn’t hide from Ebert’s demons, notably his youthful functioning alcoholism. Even his storied wit could be venomous, unleashed upon not only films but his longtime frenemy, Gene Siskel. Speaking of which, “Life Itself” is at least as revealing about Siskel, whose insight and warmth has often been overshadowed by his more prominent and cinephilic TV co-star. Along with the YouTube-enshrined bouts between the two between takes of their show, “Life Itself” also includes one of last year’s most delightful images: a picture of Siskel rocking a ’70s ’stache while standing shirtless with a similarly clothed Bunny at the Playboy mansion. You’ll never see his beloved “Babe: Pig in the City” the same way.
‘The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant’
Hulu (also now on Criterion Blu-ray/DVD)
There are scores of movies without any women — war films, Westerns — but only a handful without any men. Granted, one of them only has six characters. Set entirely inside the home/bunker of an acidic/emotionally sadistic fashion designer (Margit Cartensen), “Petra Von Kant” is one of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s most seething looks at the miseries of love, which is saying something. Charges of homophobia by the gay-ish Fassbinder aren’t out of bounds; Petra is a nasty lesbian stereotype, as is her shallow new girl toy (Hanna Schygulla). But Fassbinder feels deeply for them anyway, and the film’s gradual, glacial pace — with lots of long pauses and copious lounging, plus a few interludes of music-listening — is as hypnotic as a Tarkovsky or Bela Tarr number. It’s a theatrical style movie that turns the limitations of theatrical movies into a benefit.
“Something, Anything” begins where most melodramas end: with a once-mousy woman (Ashley Shelton) ditching her thoughtless fiancee and starting anew. But this being a tiny indie, rebranding one’s self proves tricky. One can sense the glee in Shelton’s character as she keeps removing things, including her job and her cell phone. It’s scary too, though, and watching her try to find stability outside of cozy social norms makes this one of last year’s better underseen films.
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