|AAAAHHHH!!!! Still scarier than anything on Walking Dead.|
Thursday, October 23, 2014
Nikki: After last week’s barnburner of a season opener, this week slowed things down a tad as the group tries to figure out their new dynamic together, after having been apart for so long. Split up into groups, they had various adventures, tragedies, and traumas, all of which are difficult to talk about. Back together, there’s some reticence in the group, some confessions, and a lot of mystery hanging in the air — are they different people now? Do they still work as a unit or will they ultimately realize they’re better off apart?
This week’s episode introduces us to
Father Gabriel Stokes, bringing yet another alumnus of The Wire into the fold. I couldn’t help but expect Carver to slap
some cuffs on D’Angelo as soon as he saw him, but I very quickly dropped that
notion when Stokes became a mystery unto himself. Why are there scratch marks
all over his parish, which appears to be clean and ordered on the inside? Why
weren’t all the stained-glass windows shattered? Were they too high for the walkers
to reach from the outside? I’m assuming this is a priest who locked out his
flock, leaving them to the walkers and watching them die, and the reason he
didn’t want to go to that supermarket with the walkers in the watery basement
is because they were all his parishioners and former friends. But I’m hoping
the revelation will be a little more complicated than just that.
What were your thoughts, Josh? Did Father Stokes lie when he was answering Rick’s three questions, or cleverly work around them?
Josh: As a former reader of the comic series on which the show is based, I often wonder how different it would feel to watch The Walking Dead if I didn't find myself constantly comparing it to the source material — not in terms of quality (as I believe the mediums too disparate to evaluate in parallel) but strictly regarding the content. The show and the origin comics are certainly distinct, but it's inarguable that storylines and plot points from the source material are frequently pulled into the show. And any time the action hews closely to an existing sequence of events from the comics, it becomes very difficult not only to view the proceedings objectively but also to discuss them in this forum without feeling somewhat disingenuous. This week's episode is a great example of that, as both the character of Father Gabriel and the transplanted Terminites/Hunters story seem fairly exact in their replication of the comic's material.
For example, the episode's final line is a word-for-word quote from the last panel of issue #39:
This kind of thing makes it practically impossible for me to answer your question about Father Gabriel, because all I can seem to picture is what the comics have told me is coming next. Perhaps I'm not trying hard enough to break away from that foreknowledge and imagine other scenarios; there is certainly plenty of room for the writers and producers to take the story in new directions rather than simply replicate what Kirkman has already done, and they've done a serviceable job of that in the past. However, at the moment all signs point to a rather direct adaptation, maybe more so than ever before.
That being the case, I am left at somewhat of a loss as to the best way to discuss it. I hate spoilers as much as anyone, and the last thing I want to do is compromise our readers' (or your) enjoyment of what's to come by saying too much. What I will say is that your one-sentence assessment of the clues' implications strikes me as a perfectly simple and reasonable explanation, albeit somewhat obvious, as you pointed out. Then again, oftentimes that kind of restraint serves to lend needed authenticity to fiction. I suppose we'll have to wait and see.
Now on to what I feel perfectly comfortable discussing, which is most everything else. 'Strangers' offered up a lot of conversation, but all of it came across as very natural to me, stepping nimbly from issue to issue and gradually clearing the air of conflict to re-set the stage for the season, nicely bonding this expanded group into something more like what it had come to be before the Governor's final attack on the prison splintered it into pieces again. In particular, the early exchange between Carol and Rick was perfectly pitched and beautifully written, culminating in the idea that he now needed to ask Carol's permission to join her group. I also loved the way Tara chose to level with Maggie about her role in the Governor's militia, and how easily came Maggie's forgiveness — testament to the way her father raised her, I'd say.
Much like last week, however, I think my favorite aspect of this installment was Carol and her ongoing struggle to reconcile what happened with Lizzie. In each discussion she had throughout the episode – with Tyrese, with Rick, with Daryl – she says little, but Melissa McBride's remarkable performance offered up a depth of emotion and internal strife that radiated from every small look and word and action. Her character continues to surprise and impress me, and I long to see what they have in store for her next.
Because, of course, at the end of the episode, Carol and Daryl take off together with the gas and supplies she had planned to use for her departure from the group, chasing after another car that bore the same distinctive cross in its window as the one that kidnapped Beth. I'm thinking this will be one of those times when the next episode will abandon RickCo. and the Bob-B-Q storyline entirely in favor of giving us a window into what's been going on with Maggie's long-lost little sister since last we saw her.
What do you think?
Nikki: Bob-B-Q, haha!! I am calling him that from now on. :) Carol continued to be the highlight of the show for me, as you say, and I think it’s that almost eerie calm from her I like so much. As someone pointed out in the comments last week, there’s something almost sad about it, as if after a life of being abused by the man she once loved, of watching people die, of watching her own daughter suffer at the hands of walkers, of having to watch both of her surrogate girls die (one by her own hand), something in her has just snapped and she’s become distanced. When Sophia walked out of the barn she was screaming and crying and pleading with Rick, but we haven’t seen that side of her since. She doesn’t show any emotions: she didn’t rail and argue and scream against Rick when he left her in the suburb. She didn’t flinch once as she was covering herself in zombie goo. She didn’t look scared when she walking amongst them. She didn’t jump or show any fear when Tasha Yar was suddenly in the room. She didn’t hop up and down and leap into Daryl’s arms, just quietly smiled. She gives a small smile when Rick acknowledges Carol as their new de facto leader in this one. She can’t talk to Daryl the way she once did, and her dialogue has become as reticent and terse as Daryl’s usually is.
I’m working on a book on Sherlock right now, and one aspect of the character of the great detective is his dire fear of being bored. He will do almost anything to avoid being bored, and when he is, then everyone around him needs to look out. I find with Carol there’s a similar thing happening here: she’s filled with so much pain and anguish that she cannot let out that she needs to keep herself busy just to stop the emotions from entering in. Why was she getting that car ready? When Daryl asked her, she just said, “I don’t know,” and almost looked frustrated, as if she genuinely didn’t know why she was doing this. But I think she needed to separate herself from the others and get back on the road so she could drive into more zombie packs and continue to fight, blow up, plot, scheme, do ANYTHING except just sit and relax and try to enjoy the company of others. The moment she stops acting, she starts thinking. And she will do almost anything to avoid doing that.
I think these early episodes are leading up to one hell of a moment for Carol; this could be Melissa McBride’s Emmy season (if, you know, the Emmys could actually look at anything other than the fucking obvious... this is the same awards show that overlooked Tatiana frickin’ Maslany, so I use “Emmy” as a metaphor for “one’s talents being recognized,” even though that’s no longer in the Emmy handbook... okay, rant over). I think she’s going to have a nervous breakdown of some kind, and I hope it won’t be the undoing of her. Let’s hope it’s less Jungle Hair Claire from Lost and more of a catharsis that allows her to put this pain behind her and move forward to a happier future. She deserves it more than just about anyone.
Back to the Bob-B-Q and Father Stokes, my friend Colleen (who often comments here) messaged me and asked if perhaps the guilt of Father Stokes lies in the fact that it was HE who introduced the idea of cannibalism to the group. Is it possible that the Terminites are in fact part of Stokes’s flock? Could he have been the misguided shepherd who provoked it? This could tie in with what I was saying: he could have locked them out of the parish, then watched out the window as they sat below it, eating one another and glaring at him as if to blame him for what they were forced to do. Either way, it was an utterly hideous and creepy way to end the episode. A friend of mine watched the episode late at night, and then had to go outside to walk her dog and the streetlights were out. She’s braver than I am!
Any final thoughts, Josh?
Josh: You just had to bring up the squirrel baby, didn't you?
It's true that things look exceedingly dire for poor Bob Stookey, but I thought they were looking pretty dire for him already. And no, I'm not just talking about he and Sasha's happiness as they played their Half Empty, Half Full game and made kissy faces at each other (though it's true that sort of thing rarely bodes well in this universe). More specifically, his peculiar behavior after Abraham's 'Save the World' speech and the banquet that followed – when he kissed Sasha and then went outside and stood staring back at the church, first smiling, then crying, and generally looking for all the world like he was about to leave for good – had me totally convinced that he'd been bitten when the zombie pulled him under the water at the food bank. And if that was the case, then what does that mean for the freaks we last saw gnawing on his shinbone? I'm holding out hope for something a lot worse than indigestion.
Bits & Bobs:
• “People are just as dangerous as the dead, don't you think?” “No. People are worse.”
• The church, by the way? Unmistakably Methodist, in spite of Father Gabriel's collar and title. I'd recognize an old southern Methodist church anywhere, and white clapboard with a tin roof and the big square steeple? Might as well be a flashing neon sign. I'd almost guarantee it.
• Rick's speech to Carl, and Carl's response. “We're strong enough that we don't have to be afraid, and we don't have to hide.” Oh, Carl. Hide anyway.
• “Rule #1 of scavenging: there's nothing left in this world that isn't hidden.”
• The waterlogged walkers looked amazing – super creepy, and very Italian style, I thought. So much slime.
• Rick and Michonne's discussion of the now-missing sword (which is bound to pop back up sometime, don't you think?): “I miss Andrea. I miss Hershel. I don't miss what was before. Don't miss that sword.” Well, I DO.
• Per Abraham, I vote that walkers should hitherto be referred to only as 'the undead pricks.'
Until next week, sleep well, you guys. Two eyes open.
Nikki: I just had to pop back in here (because yes, I love having the final word) and say that YES YES YES I agree with you on Michonne’s sword!! Someone mentioned last week (I thought it was in the comments, but I must have seen it elsewhere...) that someone needs to start a Kickstarter campaign for Michonne’s sword, and I completely agree.
And I also agree that it looked like Bobby got bit when he went under the water.
And speaking of squirrels, what if Carol snaps and fashions one of Daryl’s squirrel carcasses into a squirrel baby?! :::shudder:::
Until next week!
Thursday, October 16, 2014
So, kids, here’s your question of the day: what’s worse than being eaten alive by a zombie? Being eaten alive by a zombie that is on fire.
Yep, the ante has been upped, the gore is gorier, and the badassery is epic. The Walking Dead is back!
Nikki: There’s a lot to cover in this truly fantastic season opener (might be the best premiere that the show has ever had, in my opinion), but I want to start with what I thought was the best part: forget Shaft and Jules from Pulp Fiction, there’s a new bad motherf*&#er in town, and her name is CAROL. From slinging AKs over her shoulder and using fireworks to blow up a gigantic gas tank, obliterating a crowd of zombies and opening up a chasm for the zombies to walk through and take out everyone in Terminus, smearing herself with zombie guts the way Glenn did in season 1 (only without the fear) and calmly walking into the compound amidst the walkers and taking out the guards one by one, THEN managing to disarm and throw down Tasha Yar when it looked like Tasha had the upper hand... un... freakin... believable.
Suddenly Dirty Harry isn’t the baddest mofo in a poncho.
In the midst of all of the AWESOME that Carol represented in this episode, we have to pause for a moment and realize just how far she has come. In the beginning of the series she was a minor character, a battered wife who was as shy and feeble as a mouse, who wouldn’t dare speak out against anyone or anything for fear her husband would “teach her a lesson.” She was fiercely protective of her daughter, and when her daughter was turned by the walkers, it was one of the most devastating moments on the series. Rick had to step up and put a bullet through Sophia’s head, and Carol was forced to watch it happen.
She didn’t mourn long, because in the midst of all this, Carol had hardened. She learned to appreciate Daryl’s gruffness and the way he took matters into his own hands, and she began doing the same. At the time we complained that the writers were doing her a disservice, having her move on from the death of her daughter like it was nothing, but now I can see what they were doing with her: she was learning how to live in this world.
She learned how to shoot and defend herself. She took on two little girls at the prison as her surrogate children and taught them how to similarly harden their hearts against the harsh world around them. When she realized that an apparent flu going through the prison was going to turn some people into walkers, she took matters in to her own hands and killed them. Rick found out, and he drove her out to a nearby suburb and left her there as punishment. Anyone who took matters into their own hands without coming to a democratic decision was not welcome in his group.
Upon her reunion with Tyreese, Mika, Lizzie, and Judith, she not only had to confess to having killed Tyreese’s lover, but when Lizzie killed her own sister just so she’d have a new zombie friend to play with, Carol handled the situation with an eerie calm, and then had to harden her heart even further to kill Lizzie, recognizing she was a danger to all of them.
It is in the midst of all of this horror that she emerges the quiet, resilient, focused hero of this episode. The awesomeness of her entering the compound was topped only by the reunion between her and Daryl, something fans have been clamouring for for almost a year. And just when it seemed we had our perfect moment, Rick comes up and sees her with new, wizened eyes. He now knows that Carol actually was acting democratically, doing something for the good of the group, and that it’s that hardened resolve that has just saved their lives and will keep on protecting them. Everything about Carol made me unbelievably happy this week.
What were your thoughts on the episode, Josh?
Joshua: What a way to start a season.
When the last one ended the way it did – with no real confrontation at Terminus save the brief losing skirmish that landed our home team in boxcar jail and awaiting the bat and the blade – I got the impression that a lot of folks were disappointed. The episode was, I thought, terrific, anchored by Rick's vicious, worm-turning encounter with the Claimers, but the tone of his reunion with the rest of the group was understandably dampened by the dire straits in which they found themselves. Rick had his confidence, but it didn't appear that they had much else.
Of course, they couldn't see Carol from there.
Still, the true beauty of leaving before the denouement, aside from the masochistic pleasure of narratively dangling from the cliff all summer, is that we got to come back to this tremendous ass-kicking of a premiere.
The entirety of the opening section, leading right up to the unseen explosion from outside, was as close to perfect emotional torture as anything I've seen on the show. The voiced-over montage of everyone gearing up in the boxcar, splintering wood and sharpening zippers and preparing for war, was a great way to get the blood pumping, and the way it was instantly defused by the gas grenade from above did a brilliant job of yanking the rug out from under us, all in the span of only a minute or two. Then it was straight to the executioners, a sequence that felt custom designed to give me a heart attack. The sight of them all bound and bent over the trough as the bat-wielder took practice swings in his smeary butcher's apron, the idle chatter from he and his partner as the moment of truth closed in, and the sound of that saw whining in the background all the while… the tension was practically unbearable. And tempered only slightly by the fact that Adam Boyer, the actor playing the bat wielder, was – no kidding – my son's counselor at summer camp last year, the knowledge of which admittedly took a bit of the punch out of things for me.
Still, he played it perfectly, and it was a rough sit, that sequence. I watched two episodes from last season in preparation for the premiere: the fourth, and the final. The re-watch of the fourth – Carol's banishment in 'Indifference' – was probably the only reason I recognized the blonde kid down on the sucky end of the trough as the dim-bulb boyfriend from the young couple that Rick and Carol encountered in the house there, with the girlfriend who barely made it through the next few backyards. It was a nice callback to include him, and though it was practically subtext considering how long ago that episode aired and how minor the role had been, I also liked thinking about how it must have set Rick thinking about Carol in those moments. How ironic that she was crouching so near at the very same time, all streaked with walker juice like Rambo in warpaint and poised to save his life.
You're absolutely right about how far Carol has come, and it's such a joy to watch her in action now. Everything she did in this episode, from the very first moment she appeared, just oozed confidence and capability. I think watching the dynamic between she and Rick will prove to be a highlight this year, because I don't believe for a second that everything's just a-ok between them now that he's seen the error of his ways and they've hugged it out. Nonetheless, the two of them are very close to the same page these days, and if they can work together, they'll make one hell of a management team.
Which brings me to the point I'm most anxious to discuss with you, and one of the few places where I really felt the hands of the writers this week: namely, Project exTerminus. Why was everyone else was so opposed to Rick's suggestion of going back in and taking care of the rest of the Terminites? They seemed to want to portray it as unreasonable ruthlessness on Rick's part, but isn't that same brand of gee-whiz hesitance favored by the rest of the group the thing that cost them the prison? Have they all forgotten Woodbury so quickly, or did it simply not change them the same way it changed Rick? More philosophically, at what point does a certain level of humanity become a detriment to one's survival?
This seems to be a point they're setting up as one of the driving forces behind the season, considering the 'THEN' opener and closer intended to grant us insight into the events that led to the Terminus community turning toward the brutality they eventually espoused. Then again, it's one hell of a long way from kill-or-be-killed to guess-what's-for-dinner, in my mind, so I'm intrigued by the notion of seeing them try to connect those dots.
What do you think?
Nikki: OK, first, NO WAY on the batter being your son’s camp counselor, that is so hilarious (and must have been really weird to watch... and, um, unsettling?) And second, I didn’t actually remember the blond guy at the end as being one half of the creepy couple in the house; now I have to go back and watch that episode. I did, however, recognize him as Penguin from Gotham. And I couldn’t figure out why they were using him in such a small role, and now you’ve perfectly answered that question for me! Amazing.
For me, this episode is all about a line that’s uttered near the end. Eugene explains that he was on the inside and saw the government’s plan for a chemical that would wipe out all of humanity. He said all it would take is merely “flipping the script” to turn that same idea on the walkers and take out all of them, saving humanity in the process. And it was that little phrase — flipping the script — that seemed to sum up this entire episode for me. Carol flipped the script on who she used to be. The people of Terminus were actually once good people, as pointed out in the THEN portion, who were raped and killed and abused until they flipped the script, took out the baddies, and became the baddies themselves. The same guy holding Denise Crosby’s character as she was tossed into the train car (her son, perhaps?) is now the one standing in front of the blood-catching tubs, asking the guys for their quotas so he can enter it into his books.
You ask a pertinent question: how does one go from being the victim to being the perpetrator? Does it always have to be such a leap? Carol went from a victim to a hero, but many people lost their lives along the way. As you say, to go from victim to cannibal is a little wait... what?! for me, but maybe something snapped. They didn’t eat everyone — when Rick threw open that one train car to let the guy free, the freaky dude with all the hair and tattoos was the same guy who we saw in the THEN flashback tossing Crosby back into the other car after having raped her. He’s out of his mind when he comes out of the train car, so god knows what they’ve been doing to him (all deserved, but anyway...) but it’s one thing to seek revenge: it’s quite another to become the bad guys.
So maybe the reluctance to take out the rest of the Terminites stems from exactly that: they want to stop that cycle. In this moment, they’re the heroes, and they want the script to stop flipping. They saved themselves, and the best they can do is steer people away from Terminus. Maybe they’ve decided they can’t save everyone, and need to start focusing on themselves? Would the Terminites actually seek revenge on them, or just stay and take more innocent souls? If I were in that situation, I’d probably just want to get out of there as quickly as I could, too. Only later would I perhaps have some regrets and concerns about not having finished the job.
I’m hoping they actually play out the flashbacks in subsequent episodes and this isn’t the last we see of the Terminus folks, though. As my husband said, an entire season of following signs to get to one place ends in one giant shoot-em-up and then they move on; was that a build-up to a whole lotta nuthin’? I would argue it’s a build-up to a whole lotta Carol Epicness, and for that it was totally worth it, but there is something to building up a place for over a dozen episodes, only to take care of it quickly and move on. Then again, I like them better when they’re on the move and not stuck in one place. As you say, this was the ending everyone wanted last season, and it was all the sweeter having to wait for it. Next week will be the new beginning.
Any last thoughts, Josh?
Joshua: I think you might be right about the flashbacks continuing – likely as we follow Gareth in his pursuit. Any survivors of the chaos at Terminus have no reason to stay there any more, and it's only logical that they'd go after Rick & the gang as the supposed authors of their destruction (though I'd argue they brought that on themselves when they started luring fellow survivors to harvest like sheep). Regardless, I don't think we've seen the last of them, or yet felt the full ramifications of our heroes' decision to simply walk away.
Beyond that, the season is suddenly wide open, and I love that breadth of possibility. The nature of keeping them nomadic allows for lots of variety, and like you, I'm hoping things stay that way, at least for a while. We still have Beth's sort-of kidnapping to explain, and then there's the matter of that post-credits appearance by you-know-who (YES), but otherwise, anything at all could happen. And considering the source, it undoubtedly will.
Thanks for having me back this season, Nikki! When things get this dark, it sure is nice to have a hand to hold.
Tuesday, October 07, 2014
I have come to realize that Brooklyn Nine-Nine might be my favourite show on television right now. Last year started off a little bumpy, but by the end of the season it was the most consistently funny and sharp show on television. Just two episodes in this year, it’s even better. This week’s episode featured an A plot of Terry trying to get a vasectomy (which Jake somehow thinks means lopping off his penis) and Jake trying to talk him out of it as they investigate a stabbing that happened at a hipster chocolate milk bar called DRK MLK (haha!!) while the B plot was about Holt and the precinct getting evaluated by a woman (played by Kyra Sedgwick) whom Holt sees as his arch-nemesis.
Boyle: I got a vasectomy. No big deal, just numbs you all the way from trunk to skunk for about a year.
Terry: It’s... not supposed to!
Jake: Trunk to skunk?!
Jake: Guys, if the Sarge wants to chop off his penis that is his choice.
Terry: That is NOT what a vasectomy is! If you guys don’t get back to work I’m gonna start firing detectives.
Santiago: And blanks! Sorry... I just never think of jokes.
Jake: So look, we’ll work this thing together and afterwards I will be your friend chariot to the penis removal of the century.
Holt: Good news, our evaluation will be done by Chief Deputy Brant. We have a good rapport, he was once my captain.
Boyle: So he’s kinda like our grand captain.
Holt [face remaining unchanged and stoic]: That... was amazingly funny.
Terry and Jake try the chocolate milk and both look like they’re going to be sick.
Jake: Oh! Aw... it’s SO bitter. What’s wrong with this chocolate milk?!
Hipster douche: Dark milk isn’t chocolate milk. This is teat to mouth raw cow’s milk. The bitterness of the dark chocolate brings out the sourness in the milk!
Jake: That’s the worst part of both of those things!!
Holt: Captain Wuntch. Good to see you. But... if you’re here, who’s guarding HADES?!
Jake [in waiting room as Terry is wheeled out]: Hey, how’d it go, is his voice all high-pitched now?
Doc: What? No, of course not.
Jake: Of course not.
Terry [high on drugs]: Jake, the doctors made me into a superhero! I’m SO STRONG! [looks at his fingers] Gasp! And they made me black!
Doctor: He’s on a lot of medication. We weren’t able to do the procedure, your friend is so large that...
Jake: That you needed a bigger saw to cut through his dingus?
Jake: The text reads, ‘Your ideas are dum-dum batter in a stupid pancake you steaming pile of human fences.’
Terry: I assume that was autocorrected from ‘feces.’
Terry: When’s the last time you had a carrot?
Jake: Well, it’s my least favourite kind of cake so, rarely.
Jake: You wanna know the other thing that drives up premiums? Unwanted genital removal!
Wuntch: Spot checks are done. Needless to say I am thoroughly underwhelmed
Holt: Huh. From your expression I would have guessed constipated. Or chilly.
Holt: Where did you get this?
Santiago: I just went down to One Police Plaza and applied some of my signature Amy charm.
Gina: And when you wouldn’t stop they just gave it to you?
Gina: And when you wouldn’t stop they just gave it to you?
Thursday, October 02, 2014
I first became serious about filmgoing when I was in high school. Before my husband and I started dating, we went as friends with a couple of other people to see a film (War of the Roses) and then once we began dating a couple of weeks later, films became our main source of entertainment, aside from concerts. I was still in high school, and Siskel & Ebert’s At the Movies came on every Sunday, and I watched it religiously. I often disagreed with them (and often agreed with them) but whether you loved or hated them, you could tell they were passionate about what they did.
When I went to university, I was probably going to see three or four films a week. I graduated from At the Movies to reading Ebert’s film criticism books. I started taking film courses. And then I went to grad school in Toronto and started seeing even more movies, sometimes more than one a day. By the time I was working, I would take a week off to go to the Toronto International Film Festival, doing 30 films a week and writing about them. And inevitably, I’d cross paths with Ebert. He was usually focused and heading to his next film, but he’d always smile at people and give them his time if they walked up to him. I heard stories of him walking out of screenings and complaining about the way things were run, but so did all of the other critics. The Ebert that I saw on the street seemed to be a nice guy.
And then I had kids. And we all know what happens to your regular movie-going then.
Recently I went to see the film Life Itself, a posthumously-released documentary about Roger Ebert’s life, and his final months. As many know, he was diagnosed with throat cancer, and eventually lost his entire lower jaw and all of the skin attached to it. In his final few years, his throat would be bandaged and his bottom lip would just hang there, with his mouth perpetually looking like it was pulled up into a massive grin.
The documentary is beautifully done by Steve James. Ebert probably had his pick of who would be the director to recount his life, and the director of Hoop Dreams — one of Ebert’s all-time favourite films — seems like an obvious choice. Steve handles his subject matter carefully but honestly. There are interviews with people who worked with Ebert in the early days at the Chicago Sun-Times, a paper he refused to leave even when he was getting lucrative offers from other outlets over the years. Drinking buddies, fellow journos, and even directors and actors whose careers he made (or broke) through his reviews all weigh in on this man.
But of course, the one we associate most closely with Roger Ebert would be his partner and frenemy, Gene Siskel. Theirs was a volatile relationship both on-screen and off. At one point I leaned over to my friend and whispered, “You should see the YouTube video with the outtakes of them” and I barely had the sentence out of my mouth before they showed it in the movie. If you want to see the height of two guys hating each other, check this out.
And yet, make it to the three-minute mark and you can see the good-natured ribbing and the deep caring they had for one another. In Life Itself, it’s revealed that Roger was deeply hurt when Gene died, because he died not having told anyone — including Roger — that he was ill. Roger refused to do the same thing. You can tell that Ebert misses Siskel terribly, and they have several other people in the documentary talking about how close they were, despite their prickly nature towards one another. However, that closeness was, of course, laced with antagonism, and it’s in the interviews with Gene Siskel’s widow that this comes out the most. Despite how many times she talks about them being close, she usually has one barb or another about Ebert, as if the pain Siskel felt from their relationship outweighed the good. She tells a story of Ebert grabbing a cab in front of her when she was eight months pregnant, then waves it off as if she’s past it, but clearly she still carries around her annoyance of him.
Ebert’s wife, Chaz, is the hero of the film. I adored her. They married when he was 50 years old, and she stuck by him right to the end, and even now you can see how protective she is of him in her interviews. You can see him getting frustrated with various medical procedures in some scenes, and she remains calm throughout. She was clearly his rock throughout their marriage, and he hers. The portrait of them as a couple was one of my favourite things about this documentary.
But the stand-out interview is with one of his granddaughters, who talks about how she grew up sitting on the couch next to Grandpa Roger, watching one film after another. In one of his final weeks, he uses his voice software on his computer to chat with her, and tells her excitedly about the new documentary he was watching, 56 Up (I am obsessed with the Up Series, so I was thrilled to see that this was one of the last movies he reviewed). She sits by him, hanging on every word, asking excited questions as he passionately nods and gestures at her, then begins furiously typing to her again. She talks to the camera of how her entire childhood is marked by watching films with him, and that he taught her everything he could about film when he could. Her voice catches with emotion as you see the waves of reality wash over her face, knowing that her days of watching films with Grandpa Roger are numbered. But I thought, could you imagine learning about the history of 20th century film with Roger Ebert at your side as your personal film-viewing companion?
His was an extraordinary life, and this is a beautiful film.