UnNews:Review:Ebert biopic a triumph dispite occasional flaws

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5 April 2013

Kevin Spacey, Martin Mull (as Leonard Maltin), and Philip Seymour Hoffman in a scene from Ebert. This is one of several key scenes shot in Super 8 format.
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By Sid Cynic
UnNews film critic

Ah, Roger Ebert. A man who loved movies as much as I loathe them. Seriously, why the hell do they cost a whopping $10 dollars, or $12 for 3D? Why do I pay almost $20 dollars to see a film in IMAX? Not real, 15-perf 70mm IMAX, mind you, but that digital crap they pass off as IMAX nowadays. Sheesh!

Anyway, back to the subject of this review. Ebert is the latest film from one of Ebert's favorite directors, Martin Scorcese, working from a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin and is now playing in limited release.

Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman (2005's Capote) gives a tour de force performance as the legendary film critic, as does two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey (The Usual Suspects and American Beauty) as his late sidekick, Gene Siskel.

Although Hoffman barely resembles Ebert, he gives a convincing performance as his character becomes a film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times in April 1967, after Eleanor Keen retires; as he becomes the first film critic to win the Nobel Prize in 1975; as he teams up with Gene Siskel that year to host a local movie review TV show. Each "thumb up" or "thumb down" seems genuine in every scene, whether praising Babe or being baffled by Good Burger.

Siskel and Ebert often disagreed on films, and their heated debates are very tense, gripping, and engaging. The cinematography (courtesy of Rodrigo Prieto, Argo); the music (courtesy of John Williams); the editing (courtesy of Lee Smith, best known for his work with Christopher Nolan); the performances by the two actors -- everything helps sell the tension in these heart-pounding scenes.

You can see the sadness in Hoffman's face as Ebert deals with the 1999 death of Siskel from a brain tumor and the seeking of a co-host. Ebert auditioned several until he settled on Richard Roeper (Mark Hamill), also of the Chicago Sun-Times. Several health problems such as cancer force Ebert to leave the show in 2006, and he takes the thumbs with him. The CGI to remove Hoffman's jaw looks faker than Disney's attempt to de-age Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy.

The story has a few minor problems that push suspension of disbelief to its breaking point. Such examples include Ebert preferring The Godfather Part III to The Godfather Part II, or giving the 2004 Garfield movie three stars out of four. The Godfather Part III, really? Nobody likes that movie. Nobody! It's a fact. And a rave review for Garfield??? That's as believable as Dances with Smurfs -- I mean, Avatar! Bill Murray gave a better acting performance in Space Jam... and he played himself!

But that's only a minor nitpick. Scorcese ably tells the story of Ebert's life and untimely death as if we're watching the real thing. I highly recommend this film if you can catch it, but it will probably only play for a week and make no money.

Three thumbs up! or something like that.