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Hammerle On … 'Wish I Was Here,' 'Life Itself'

Robert Hammerle
August 13, 2014
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“Wish I Was Here”

“Wish I Was Here” joins “Begin Again” as the two legitimate hits of the 2014 summer season. Directed by Zach Braff, the film provides an utterly delightful mixture of humor and pathos that you simply can’t miss.

Here, Braff plays Aidan Bloom, a struggling actor in Hollywood searching for any type of movie or TV role. He lives with his wife, Sarah, and two young children, and they all have to rely on mom’s boring technical job to support the family. On top of that, the entire family embraces cursing as an art form, and seldom have you ever seen it used where you quickly end up laughing at that which you would normally condemn.
hammerle-wishIwashere.jpg Kate Hudson plays his wife, and as an actress she has been lost in cinematic space for some time. Here, however, she is sensational as a quiet woman tolerating sexual abuse at her job in the name of family solvency.

The children are played by Pierce Gagnon and Joey King, and they are genuinely funny. King, only 14, has proven her worth in films like last year’s otherwise forgettable “White House Down” and the intriguing horror film, “The Conjuring.”

When Aidan’s father, Gabe, played lovingly by Mandy Patinkin, shocks everyone with the news that he is dying of cancer, the Bloom family is thrown into chaos. Forced to remove their kids from a private Jewish school because Gabe had been paying for it, Aidan decides to fill his free time by home schooling his children. That disaster quickly goes nowhere, as mom discovers when she comes home and finds the kids duct taped to a chair, soundly sleeping, as a boring educational program appears on the home TV.

I must note that nearly all of the humor in this film centers on Jewish themes, something that will delight all of my Jewish friends – or at least the cynical ones. As an example, Aidan confronts an aging rabbi for advice, and I will paraphrase the exchange:

Aidan: Doesn’t God want everyone to be happy?

Rabbi: No! If you want happiness read our Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson cared about happiness, not God. God wants you to care for your family.

In the end, this film is about just that, rediscovering the meaning of family. Aidan and his goofy, eccentric brother, Noah, played with wonderful unrestrained joy by Josh Gad, find a way to reconnect with their dying father, and it’s hard to imagine that you won’t be fighting back tears as Sarah did watching that moment.

Much like he did with “Garden State” (2004), Mr. Braff has brought us a film that shows us how to find joy in a confused life. Are you curious if I add that you will again hear Paul Simon sing “Obvious Child” as you did in my recently reviewed film of the same name?

“Life Itself”

As a guy who acknowledged long ago my passionate love affair with movies, the late movie critic Roger Ebert was a guy whose opinions I always followed. Without question, his TV show with Gene Siskel brought movie reviews front and center in many lives.

Ebert passed away last year after a seven-year fight with thyroid and jawbone cancer, and he and his family put up a heroic struggle. Ebert married his wife, Chaz, when he was 50, and she inspired him to the point that he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

This documentary begins with his childhood and scans the beginning of his career at the Chicago Tribune, where he was hired as a young movie critic when an opening developed. The film does not ignore his nightly adventures at several local Chicago pubs, leading him to a severe alcohol addiction where he eventually joined AA before his marriage.hammerle-lifeitself.jpg

The film, directed by Steve James, spends a great deal of time on Ebert’s last years, where his face was terribly disfigured as a result of numerous surgeries. Losing his jaw and lower teeth, you could literally see the bandages taped around his neck when looking through his mouth. It certainly wasn’t pretty, but Ebert never lost his sense of humor.

The strength of the movie focuses on his longstanding relationship with his TV partner, Gene Siskel. It began with difficulty, as Siskel was the reviewer with the competing Chicago Sun-Times and they didn’t even correspond during their first five years of employment.

However, their rivalry and competitiveness was constantly demonstrated during their mutual reviews, and they would plow into each other with unashamed glee. One friend described them at their peak as Siamese twins joined at the ass. They were at all times a treasure to watch.

Both Siskel and Ebert’s widows appear with multiple interviews concerning their husbands’ relationship. Honest and open, they both demonstrated that our boys’ tastes in women could never be criticized.

Tragically, Siskel died of brain cancer while in his 50s and Ebert followed him years later. They both embraced films not just as an art form, but as a reflection of our daily lives. You could be entertained and still be touched emotionally, and in many ways the cinema was an educational process.

Ebert was a pompous SOB, and he held no opinion more important than his own. Yet, while he hobnobbed with many of the stars, he still pulled no punches. As an example, both he and Siskel helped Martin Scorsese out of a very dark moment in his life, and they became good friends. Yet Scorsese laughed while being interviewed, noting how Siskel later skewered his directorial talents in the Paul Newman film “The Color of Money” (1986).

While this seems a bit absurd, I still have a connection to both gentlemen when I leave a theater and mull over my thoughts. To use Ebert’s memorable line, “See you at the movies.”•

__________

Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis. When he is not in the courtroom or working diligently in his Pennsylvania Street office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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