“Hotshots” looks at a movie!

Life Itself - Movie PosterLIFE ITSELF is a documentary about the life and career of Roger Joseph Ebert, perhaps the most popular, famous, and successful film critic, who died April 4, 2013, at 70, and it is based on Ebert’s autobiography of the same name.

The film includes footage taken over the final four months of Ebert’s life, who died after a long battle with cancer of the thyroid and salivary glands and which caused him to lose his lower jaw so that he could no longer eat, drink, or speak.

However, Ebert never lost his sense of humor, and in one scene toward the beginning of the film, Ebert is in the hospital, and he says to the director through his voice synthesizer, “Steve, I’ll do the jokes here.”

Steve is Steve James, famous for directing the 1994 HOOP DREAMS, a little film about basketball that Ebert championed when it came out, and Ebert’a support undoubtedly helped the film’s success.

The film then goes back into Ebert’s life to his boyhood in Urbana, Illinois, where he wrote, published, and delivered his own neighborhood newspaper; to his time at the University of Illinois, where he was editor of the school newspaper when President Kennedy was killed, and we see and hear about an editorial decision Ebert made because of that event; to how he got his job at the CHICAGO SUN-TIMES and shortly became the film critic; and to his teaming with his rival, Gene Siskel, on the television program that made them the two most contentious and famous film critics in the country.

We hear interviews with the producers of the various TV programs they did, and most fascinating are the outtakes from those programs, which give us even more insight in the relationship between the two critics.

Ebert was a hard drinker in his early days at the Chicago newspaper, and he paid a price in hangovers. But in August 1979 he had his last drink, saying that he couldn’t take it anymore, and when he finally admitted to the public that he was a recovering alcoholic, he hadn’t had a drink in 31 years.

He met his wife, Chaz, at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and she is featured in the film as well, along with appearances by famous directors.

LIFE ITSELF is tough to watch, but also very joyous.