Tag Archives: Roger Ebert

The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith: Steve Jobs Q&A

The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith: Steve Jobs Q&A

Via The Q&A Podcast.

I listened to Jeff Goldsmith’s onstage interview with Aaron Sorkin, which he conducted after a screening of “Steve Jobs.”

I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I sure intend to. Any movie written by Sorkin is worth my attention, and the fact that it was also directed by Danny Boyle makes it a can’t-miss-it for me. If the first movie I watch from a director includes a beautiful underwater scene shot inside The Worst Toilet In Scotland, then that director has won him or herself a lifelong fan.

Jeff’s interview affirms something I suspected: a move made by these two people can’t possibly be careless work. After listening to this hourlong interview, you may or may not think this movie was a good idea. But it’s hard to not come away thinking that its makers went into it with the highest aspirations and an intention to do their very best work.

With biopics, I often get the impression that the filmmakers had an idea for a fictional story that they’d wanted to tell for years, and wound up casting a familiar, real-life figure as the lead character in that movie. This was the case with “Wired,” a 1989 movie based on a biography of John Belushi that was produced under similar circumstances to “Steve Jobs.” It was the life of a famous, recently-deceased person, based on a biography that many people had found fault with.

Even the 2013 Steve Jobs movie that starred Ashton Kutcher made that same mistake. I saw that one on its opening weekend.

(Forgive me. I had no choice. I knew I’d be talking about it on a podcast the following week.)

That flick told the life story of Steve Jobs, the fictional character of folklore. He was born in a log cabin that he built with his own two hands. He was so disengaged during the filming of “The Godfather” that Francis Ford Coppola had to feed him each of his lines through a radio earpiece; he pitched a no-hitter while tripping on LSD; and died a hero of workingmen everywhere when he managed to drive more steel with his powerful arms and mighty hammer than a newfangled steampowered contraption could in the same span of hours.

Throughout the production of “Steve Jobs,” Sorkin has been upfront about producing a fact-based portrait that uses obvious storytelling conceits. For instance, yes, the first public demo of the original Mac ran into a snag when Steve insisted that the computer speak, and the team couldn’t get the code to fit inside 128K of system memory. In reality, though, the crisis had been solved long before the launch event.

On that basis, I’m okay with the liberties Sorkin and Boyle took. But I do understand the concern. How many people, because of the movie “Amadeus,” think that Antonio Salieri was a mediocre composer and killed Mozart? Or that John Dickinson was indifferent to the cause of American independence, because of “1776”? Or that Gus Grissom panicked and blew the hatch of his Mercury spacecraft prematurely after splashdown, causing Liberty Bell 7 to be lost to the sea and almost getting himself killed, because of what they saw in “The Right Stuff”?

We tend to believe what we see, and a screenwriter imposes a streamlined, easy-to-grasp clarity upon a narrative that reality doesn’t. (“Truth is stranger than fiction, because fiction has to make sense.”) This must be an unpleasant experience for Jobs’ friends and family. They knew the man for all of his depth, without having to streamline anything or condense several people into a single composite character. What chance is there that Laurene Powell Jobs is going to recognize anything in the man that Michael Fassbender is portraying? How rough must it be to wonder and worry about what sort of conclusions about Steve that audiences will be taking away with them?

I know something of this. “Life Itself” was a documentary, not a biopic. It was based on Roger Ebert’s own memoir. It was made by Steve James, Roger’s personal choice of director, who also made “Hoop Dreams,” one of his favorite documentaries. The guiding hands of Roger and his wife Chaz were directly involved in the production, every step of the way.

And it’s a terrific documentary that I hope you’ll all see. I knew Roger for more than half my life, and that’s the only reason why the doc felt strange to me. It was accurate and affectionate. It even used some of the photos I took when we were out together. But of course, two hours of interviews and found footage can’t possibly convey the man I got to know and love through a quarter-century of experiences and conversations.

So I certainly respect any negative comments that Steve’s actual friends and family might be making about Sorkin’s movie. I hope to see the movie myself. But I’m not as excited to see it as I am about a bunch of the heavy dramas that the studios are releasing here in Awards Season. Or the “Peanuts” movie. I’ll get to it eventually.

I do hope that the people who knew Steve well will find the time to sit down and write or record their memories of him. Even if they only leave their testimonies to a university library, even if they demand that these stories remain sealed until after their own deaths. Because without a wealth of first-person narratives, future historians — and future filmmakers — will have to connect the dots on their own.

Services

Roger wasn’t just well-loved. He was also _broadly_ loved. He was also an iconic source of pride for the city of Chicago, just as the Golden Gate is for San Francisco or the “Left Turn Only” sign is for Boston.

So his memorial services are more complicated than the usual. When I heard that funeral services would be public, I wondered if the Cubs were out of town because surely, Wrigley Field would be the only venue capable of hosting such a thing, right? I’m told that Holy Name Cathedral, site of today’s memorial, has a capacity of roughly a thousand. I’m certain that people will be turned away.

Yesterday, about a hundred or more of Roger’s friends and family gathered in a small chapel for a private service. His wife, Chaz, didn’t eulogize Roger. She testified, in many senses of that word. She paced around the wood-paneled room like the trial attorney she once was, speaking with resolution and without notes. And she spoke of her love for Roger the way that a deeply religious person speaks of their love for God.

“This is the day The Lord has made,” Chaz began. Many in the room were able to complete the verse from the 118th Psalm: “Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” She said that she felt that and said it every morning when she woke up next to Roger. “He was a humble man who walked with kings. And he was my prince.”

I learned more about Roger’s final days. He was hospitalized and on painkillers, but his mind was at its usual full luminosity. There was a curious difference in his final days, she said. Roger, of course, communicated largely through handwritten notes. During the last week, he started to initial and date them. Chaz wishes she’d saved them. Roger went through countless sheets of note paper throughout the day and nobody had any idea that he’d be gone.

Roger did get in one last joke. His family asked him if, after he died, he could send some sort of sign that there was life beyond the grave. They were kidding around. Roger was an agnostic, not an atheist, but he was a skeptic at heart and didn’t go in for that kind of theatrical nonsense.

So they were surprised when he agreed, earnestly and seriously. “Well, what will the sign be?” they asked. “When the first female black president is elected,” he responded.

Roger was about to leave the hospital and begin home hospice care. That’s a form of end-of-life treatment, but it indicates that he was healthy enough to leave the hospital and everyone, Roger included, expected him to have many more weeks or even months. His death was sudden and peaceful, like the light from an incandescent bulb gently fading out after a lamp is switched off. It was as if Roger knew that he’d be dying at 1:40 PM on Thursday and he was eager to stay up and experience the whole thing.

This pleased me. I lost both of my parents within about a year of each other due to terminal illnesses. Mom and Dad’s final week of life was like watching a sand castle eroding and crumbling piece by piece in the face of a slowly-advancing tide.

Instead, Roger got to enjoy his last days on earth. His bed was surrounded by those who loved him, and they continued to hold his hands long after he went.

Chaz then invited anybody with thoughts to share to step up and take a turn at the podium. Seeing so many people from so many backgrounds underscored Roger’s unrestrainable affection for people. Here I speak both of “people” as individual and as a species.

A member of the community of film critics (I’m sorry that I didn’t note his name) explsined something very important about Roger very well. Roger was a special person in any group he found himself in. But rather than do what politicians often do, which is to dumb down and put on phony airs,

(“aw, shucks, they maht call me ‘Senator Cole’ up thar in Warshington. But here with you’n’all, ah’m just yer pal Jesse. Incidentally, I call your attention to the scuffmarks on my Western-style boots, which you’ll readily recognize being consistent with one who ‘clears brush’ and…well, the word escapes me but my staff tells me it a kind of maintenance that the fences on a ranch periodically require.”)

…he would elevate everyone else, pointing out their aspects and achievements that made _them_ special as well. Every time Roger introduced me to a friend of his, I shook their hand thinking that this was one of the most incredible people I’d meet all year. Roger’s enthusiastic introductions were genuine. He was as excited as I was when I got to tell millions of people how awesome this new “iPhone” or “iPad” thingy was. He’d made this fantastic discovery and he wanted to share it.

==*==

I’m writing this on my iPad from the guest room of my pal Ben’s house. Crimeny, there are so many things I ought to be writing instead (including editing an interview with the principals of a really cool creative project that will launch on Kickstarter this week). I’m not really back in that kind of work mode yet.

What a weird trip. As the shock of Thursday’s news began to recede enough for the logical centers of my brain to get more airtime, I started to think about Roger’s funeral arrangements. Despite tremendous affection for his Catholic upbringing, Roger wasn’t religious and neither is Chaz. I imagined that there’s be a small service for his immediate family and then a memorial a couple weeks later.

A higher lifeform than I would have thought “Well, still, no harm in getting a suitjacket over to the dry cleaners just in case, right?” but alas, I yam what I yam. I learned about the public memorial on Saturday, at around dinnertime and scrambled to get a game plan together.

Needless to say, I was hoping not to have to realize “there is in fact an amount of money I’m not willing to spend to attend my friend Roger’s funeral.” The airlines’ salivary attitude towards last-minute travel is legendary and God only knows what they would charge someone who, in effect, is saying “I am desperate to travel a thousand miles on 12 hours’ notice.”

When I have to book last-minute travel for an Apple event, it’s an “ouch” moment for my credit card. I learned, though, that the tables turn slightly when the airline discovers that a plane is about to take off for Chicago in ten hours whether there’s a bag of money — er, a passenger — in that one remaining empty seat or not. There was definitely a markup, but it’s not like I felt I needed to take a bag of peanut-butter sandwiches so I could afford to eat during the trip.

I’ve mentioned in the past that I’ve been a strong fan of traveling light. This trip is pushing that idea to its limit. It feels freaky to be heading to an airport carrying practically no more than what I’d be taking if I were headed to the coffeeshop to do a few hours of writing.

Scratch that up to how quickly I needed to put this trip together and what a leap of faith it was. I hadn’t yet been contacted by Roger’s family about the arrangements. All I knew was that there was a public service. Didn’t know for sure that I’d get in (I reminded myself that Roger was a famous person and beloved by his city) or what I’d really be doing during my 16 hours in Chicago. I doubted I could enter the cathedral holding an empty garment bag.

Really, the only solution was to travel with just a little shoulder bag containing my iPad, a razor and a toothbrush, and a dress shirt and tie carefully folded and protected from the rest of it inside a big Ziploc bag. Otherwise, I flew out wearing the clothes I’ll wear to the service: black blazer (brushed down as best as I could), black 511 Tactical pants, black sweater vest.

(Here we see the advantage of choosing “clergyman casual” as my mode of daily dress.)

I did think my chances of getting in for the service were rather better than just good. It’s just that I didn’t want to bother the family, who surely had more than enough problems on their hands what with needing to assemble a service for a legend on just a few days’ notice. By the time my connecting flight to Philadelphia landed, the details about the private service on Sunday were in my Inbox.

(Sometimes, things just work out. I chose a flight that was (a) available and (b) reasonably affordable. But it turned out to be a perfect fit for the schedule I didn’t know I’d be following.)

It was only a minor leap of faith. And even if it had failed, it would have pleased me just to be in Roger’s city.

I rushed to pack and assemble what I needed on Saturday night. I’m wearing my tactical pants (the kind the FBI wears; it has a discreet but ample number of extra pockets here and there) instead of dress slacks because I discovered that I don’t own any. I don’t even own a pair of dark casual slacks. Nothing that would be conventionally appropriate for a funeral.

A sad thought struck me that night, during a weekend loaded with sad thoughts about Roger. He was my eldest close friend by a couple of decades. This was the first time that a friend of mine had died. I lost my grandparents and my parents, more or less on schedule, and each time I went out and bought something appropriate. It wasn’t really important that I keep that stuff clean and ready for “the next time.”

I guess I’ve just entered that age when I should start expecting to lose friends. This trip was hard to throw together because I’ve never had to do it before. In ten year’s time, I imagine, I’ll have a suit hanging in my closet and I won’t need to spend a half an hour trying on different combinations of things. I’ll know how to book the travel, and I’ll know that the important thing is to just get there and trust that the details will sort themselves out, either from the family or through friends.

I guess I should be happy that this experience is so new to me.

Can’t imagine any reason whatsoever to be happy this weekend, though.

I am slightly cheered by the sudden thought “You should be grateful. The only person who never has to deal with watching his friends die is the one person in a social group who goes before all the rest.”

It’s true, and it doesn’t make me feel much better. But it’s kind of clever, I suppose.

Time to dress for the service. Love to all.

Roger

About 20 minutes ago, I learned that Roger had passed away.

I’ve lost one of my favorite writers of all time. I’ve lost one of my most trusted, respected, and generous advisors on all subjects that could possibly matter to a modern human being. And I’ve lost a great friend of more than 20 years.

But I still have him in the form of the finest and highest standard of what it means to be a journalist and critic. All my life, Roger Ebert has always been the bar I’ve tried to reach. I never will. But his example has made me stronger through failure.

For years, I resisted the thought of writing down a few notes and organizing what I would say when this day came. I think having such a draft on my Mac would have acknowledged that someday, Roger would be going away.

(Roger released his own statement about his “leave of presence” this week. Prepared and excellent, to the very end. See what I mean about the Ebert Standard?)

I will collect my thoughts and share them tomorrow. Tonight, I’m just going to let myself be sad.

Follow Roger Ebert, Win Me A Cheesecake!

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Okay. At this point, I’m really starting to worry that Roger Ebert isn’t going to have 100,000 Twitter followers by the end of the year.

In early October, I was serenely confident that Twitterer #79,797,834 would have more Followers than I by Halloween. I was just as certain that he’d break 100,000 by January 1.

I mean, come on. Ashton Kutcher and Britney Spears each have about 160 as many followers as Ebert. Have they won Pulitzers? If they have, and they declined to accept them, then admittedly that shows a laudable commitment to the creation of art as opposed to the pursuit of glory and maybe they do deserve to sit at the top of the Twitter tree.

I’m inclined to doubt it, though.

Roger Ebert is the Samuel Johnson of our age. Captain of thought, wielder of the sharpest eye and keenest wit, observer of all, sage and insightful commentator on much, sitting in arrogant judgment of nothing and nobody.

It kills me that he doesn’t even have as many followers as Mary-Kate Olsen (87,493). This ain’t right, people.

Pamela Anderson (aka the Ghost of Olsen Twin Future) has 94,643. If you’re somehow OK with her having more Followers than Roger Ebert, you should further know that Karl Rove has 95,154.

I’m certain that Roger doesn’t care that Rove has more followers. Roger Ebert is one of those finer specimens of Humanity. But if Roger gets to 100,000 before Rove does, I’m equally certain that Rove’s big round pink melon will redden with fury and then pop like a balloon, causing the man to disappear behind a snowstorm of shredded 2000 Florida ballots. Do you really need another reason to pitch in and encourage people to follow Roger?

And of course, there’s also the fact that Roger has the one of the highest signal-to-noise ratios on Twitter. There have been days when I retweeted so many of his links and comments that I considered just handing Roger my Twitter password for the next ten hours or something.

If you haven’t clicked any of those links and started Following Roger Ebert, I have no hope that any of the following will sway you. But here goes, nonetheless:

If Roger Ebert has 100,000 Followers or more by January 1, I win a free cheesecake.

Seriously. 100,000 Followers for Ebert = free cheesecake for Ihnatko. Not one of those Mrs. Dainty models from your grocer’s freezer, either: I’m talking the kind of profound cheesecakes that could kill you if you ate the whole thing and grievously injure you if it fell on top of you.

Yes, there’s a wager involved. I kind of shot off my mouth when Ebert first joined Twitter. I was certain that in no time at all, his account would get BoingBoinged and Farked and Metafiltered. Maybe one of our society’s more useful celebrities would mention Roger’s Twitter potency during an appearance on Letterman.

Hell! Oprah herself would definitely push Roger Ebert’s Twitter account over the 500,000 mark. One day, she’d start her show with a sequence of electronic pips that causes the core software of her viewers to go into Command Acquisition mode. “Join Twitter,” she would then say, not breaking eye contact with the camera lens. “Follow Roger Ebert. Await further instructions.” And then a second sequence of tones would close the channel and she’d welcome the cast of “It’s Complicated” onto the sofa.

Either way, People Would Follow Him. How could the Twitter community fail to put Roger into the top 500? The fuse was lit; the rocket would lance into the heavens.

He’ll surpass me by Halloween,” I announced. “He’ll break 100,000 by the end of the year.”

Thus the wager: in a turn of events eerily similar to the ones which sent Phileas Fogg around the world for 80 days, if either of these predictions are met, I will win a free cheesecake.

I remind all of you that I am a print journalist in a rapidly collapsing market. Further, the winter of 2009-2010 promises to be one of the coldest on record. A free, premium cheesecake will provide me with the fats and calories I’ll need in order to generate and conserve precious body heat and survive into the Spring.

None of this doing it for you?

Let’s try a new tack, then: if Roger Ebert hits 100,000 Followers by January 1, I will write, record, and post an entire audiobook in a 24-hour period.

No joke. I’ll do it. We will choose a day in January. I will write the whole thing from start to finish on Ustream or something so you can see I’m not just digging out an unpublished manuscript from existing inventory and spending the rest of the day eating cheesecake and having a good laugh at your expense. I will write the story, I will record it, and I will post it, all within a 24-hour span of time.

I mean, it’s OK by me. I have a whole day I can devote to writing and recording. What I don’t have is a huge, premium cheesecake or the financial means with which to purchase one. I’d much rather have the cheesecake than the 24 hours. I had hoped to simply allow things to run their natural course, but as I said, there’s now just a week left in the year and it’s entirely possible that Roger won’t get the necessary 10,000 new Followers per day.

Any way you slice it — mmm, sliced cheesecake — sorry, any way you slice it, it’s completely in your best interests to Follow Roger Ebert, and to encourage 70,000 of your friends to do the same.

Follow Ebert today, Cheesecake and Storytime tomorrow. Revolutions have been founded, fought and won on flimsier slogans. Onward to glory!

The Adam Hughes Corollary to the Gene Siskel Movie Test

From Roger Ebert’s review of “GI Joe: The Rise Of Cobra“:

“G. I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” is a 124-minute animated film with sequences involving the faces and other body parts of human beings. It is sure to be enjoyed by those whose movie appreciation is defined by the ability to discern that moving pictures and sound are being employed to depict violence. Nevertheless, it is better than “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.”

The late Gene Siskel had a famous test for evaluating a movie. He noted that “It’s amazing how many movies aren’t as interesting as a documentary of these same actors sitting around talking over lunch.”

A wise and shrewd observation. And with just a slight modification, it might offer us a way out of this horrifying era of awful, awful movies based on comics, toys, games, and other bits of pop culture ballast.

I present a new guideline. It takes the form of a cautionary question for every studio, every producer, and every 19 to 23 year old actor and actress who gets paid $4 million based on how good they look in a slightly sprayed-down tee shirt:

“Before making a movie based on a licensed property, ask yourself: is this movie going to be less entertaining than just Googling for Adam Hughes drawings of these same characters?”

This simple little test will avert endless future catastrophes. But please…don’t just take my word for it.

Ebert’s one-star review of “Catwoman:

“The director, whose name is Pitof, was probably issued with two names at birth and would be wise to use the other one on his next project.”

Adam Hughes’ Catwoman:

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Ebert’s two-star review of “Superman Returns:

Superman is vulnerable to one, and only one, substance: kryptonite. He knows this. We know this. Lex Luthor knows this. Yet he has been disabled by kryptonite in every one of the movies. Does he think Lex Luthor would pull another stunt without a supply on hand? Why doesn’t he take the most elementary precautions? How can a middle-aged bald man stab the Man of Steel with kryptonite?

Adam Hughes’ Lex Luthor:

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Ebert’s half-star review of “Josie And The Pussycats:

Josie and the Pussycats are not dumber than the Spice Girls, but they’re as dumb as the Spice Girls, which is dumb enough.

Adam Hughes’ Josie And The Pussycats:

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Ebert’s 1-1/2 star review of “Elektra:

“Elektra” plays like a collision between leftover bits and pieces of Marvel superhero stories. It can’t decide what tone to strike. It goes for satire by giving its heroine an agent who suggests mutual funds for her murder-for-hire fees, and sends her a fruit basket before her next killing. And then it goes for melancholy by making Elektra a lonely, unfulfilled overachiever who was bullied as a child and suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder. It goes for cheap sentiment by having her bond with a 12-year-old girl, and then … but see for yourself. The movie’s a muddle in search of a rationale.

Adam Hughes’ Elektra:

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Ebert’s two-star review of “Attack Of The Clones:

In the classic movie adventures that inspired “Star Wars,” dialogue was often colorful, energetic, witty and memorable. The dialogue in “Episode II” exists primarily to advance the plot, provide necessary information, and give a little screen time to continuing characters who are back for a new episode. The only characters in this stretch of the film who have inimitable personal styles are the beloved Yoda and the hated Jar-Jar Binks, whose idiosyncrasies turned off audiences for “Phantom Menace.” Yes, Jar-Jar’s accent may be odd and his mannerisms irritating, but at least he’s a unique individual and not a bland cipher. The other characters–Obi-Wan Kenobi, Padme Amidala, Anakin Skywalker–seem so strangely stiff and formal in their speech that an unwary viewer might be excused for thinking they were the clones, soon to be exposed.

Adam Hughes’ Padme and Yoda:

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Ebert’s one-star review of “League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen:

“The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” assembles a splendid team of heroes to battle a plan for world domination, and then, just when it seems about to become a real corker of an adventure movie, plunges into incomprehensible action, idiotic dialogue, inexplicable motivations, causes without effects, effects without causes, and general lunacy. What a mess.

Adam Hughes’ Mina Murray and Mister Hyde:

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Ebert’s two-star review of “Spider-Man 3”:

The great failing of “Spider-Man 3” is that it failed to distract me from what a sap Peter Parker is. It lingers so long over the dopey romance between Peter and the long-suffering Mary Jane that I found myself asking the question: Could a whole movie about the relationship between these two twentysomethings be made? And my answer was: No, because today’s audiences would never accept a hero so clueless and a heroine so docile. And isn’t it a little unusual to propose marriage after sharing only one kiss, and that one in the previous movie, and upside-down?

Mary Jane by Adam Hughes:

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I believe I’ve made my point here, yes? To see more art by Adam Hughes, check out his site, “Just Say AH!” or his Deviant Art gallery.

Oh, and yes of course looking at Adam Hughes’ take on characters from “G.I. Joe” is better than watching the “The Rise Of Cobra.” Witness Scarlett and the Baroness:

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