REVIEW: The Interrupters

4 01 2015

The InterruptersTo fight violence, you need to know what it is. And in “The Interrupters,” a documentary that follows the CeaseFire group as they work to halt youth violence in Chicago, many somber explanations are proffered that really give us a sense of what these fighters are up against. Violence is learned behavior and also a disease – it’s what these kids expect to be their cause of death.

Steve James’ documentary ultimately proves to be about as untidy as the task of fighting this epidemic. The narrative he crafts out of his observations is rather scattershot, and very little attention is given to developing the arcs of certain important figures in the story.

Still, “The Interrupters” collects some rather moving moments that make the documentary a worthwhile watch. In one particularly somber montage, we see several makeshift mausoleums erected to honor murdered children. What else really needs to be said?

James makes sure we understand the fear that the normalcy of constant violence inflicts on the children of these Chicago communities. But, at the same time, he also makes sure we understand that this problem can’t just be solved by well-meaning white ladies like “The Blind Side” intimates. James unquestionably communicates the passion of these violence interrupters to turning the tide on youth violence, and we can see that they have slowly begun to inspire their community.

“The Interrupters” is at its best in these instances where can see and hear from the boots on the ground fighting the battle. CeaseFire’s CEO Tio Hardiman provides some very profound commentary, as do many other of his foot soldiers.  They do their job with near perfection and noble intent; James, in telling their story, brings merely the latter of those two attributes.  B2halfstars

REVIEW: Life Itself

10 07 2014

Life ItselfFilm critic Roger Ebert inspired many people and touched countless lives, ranging from saving Martin Scorsese from self-implosion to many much smaller-scale interactions.  One such example is a brief response to a blog comment he made to a then-sixteen year-old movie writer who had just decided to try his hand at scribbling down his opinions about film.

In case you hadn’t guessed, that writer was me, and I still count that sentence among the greatest compliments I have ever received.  (It still, to date, features underneath the name of my site in the header of my blog.)  It likely didn’t take him more than five seconds to write, but it may very well have provided the fuel to sustain the site beyond just dipping my toe in the uncharted waters of the blogosphere.

Life Itself,” Steve James’ documentary on Ebert, provides the ultimate celebration of his life and work.  He gathers an eclectic group of friends and admirers, a tribute to just how wide-reaching Ebert’s influence and esteem truly was.  Anecodotes and commentary range from members of the critical establishment like A.O. Scott and Richard Corliss to filmmakers who he befriended over the years, such as Scorsese, Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, Ramin Bahrani (“At Any Price“), and Ava DuVernay (“Middle of Nowhere“).

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