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Video: Movie critic Ebert reflects on ‘Life Itself’

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    >>> a personal look at the life of one of the best-known film critics of our time. roger ebert is out with a new autobiography and natalie sat down with him recently.

    >> good morning to you, matt. roger ebert 's battle with thyroid cancer left him without his jaw and the ability to speak and eat. but he has not lost his voice as america's most beloved and prominent film critic and now blogger. in fact he's busier than ever with a new memoir called "life itself."

    >> at that moment i was thinking i don't like it.

    >> they were the famed duo that gave us the trademarked, thumb's up or thumb's down at "at the movies."

    >> initially, roger ebert and gene siskel were film critics . they were stars, their routine became legendary.

    >> we have to review the character on the screen, gene, not your theories about what these guys are like.

    >> but it came to a saddened when gene siskel died of cancer in 1999 . three years later, ebert was diagnosed with thyroid and salivary gland cancer. the disease took his lower jaw and his ability to speak, eat and drink.

    >> top on my list is " citizen cane ." now he speaks through alex, his computer-generated voice. we sat down to talk about his new memoir, "life itself."

    >> you did not know at the time that you had thyroid cancer , that you would never be able to speak again. as you began to realize that, what went through your mind?

    >> there was never a time when anyone told me i would never speak again. naturally, i felt awful. but i had to accept reality.

    >> a reality that included a new voice. and when ebert blogs, over 100 million people are reading. no surprise, last year, he was awarded a webby for person of the year.

    >> the conversations that you have with your readers online, writing your blogs, how much is that like sitting down at the dinner table with you, roger ebert ?

    >> with facebook, twitter and the comments on my blog, i feel i'm involved in an actual conversation with me, the social media really are social.

    >> but his bluntness online took some heat this summer, after "jackass" star, ryan dunn 's deadly crash. dunn had posted this photo of himself drinking before the accident. ebert tweeted -- friends don't let jackasses drink and drive. he later explained in his blog, i was probably too quick to tweet. but recently told us, the tweet was the truth. for ebert , honesty is the best policy. even when it's about his own appearance.

    >> you say the best thing that happened to you was when they showed a full-page photo of what you look like now in "esquire" magazine. why is that?

    >> well, this is what i look like, so there's no purpose in hiding it. what you see is what you get.

    >> your memories growing up are so descriptive about having root beers and frosty mugs with your father.

    >> i find that when i am actually writing, memories appear in my mind.

    >> vivid childhood memories , he writes i was born inside the movie of my life. he describes a good life. eating steakburgers at the steak and shake and chuckles candies at the movies. a childhood as american as a normal rockwell painting.

    >> i was always extroverted. now i am forced to live more within my mind.

    >> a beautiful day .

    >> ebert credits his wife of 20 years for encouraging him to keep going. he writes, she was like a wind pushing me back from the grave.

    >> chaz is a force of nature . when she decides on something, her determination is awesome. she knew i could still work as a film critic and she was right. she has done a great deal to make that possible.

    >> ebert still travels to film festivals , attends at least five screenings a week, and with his wife, chaz, produces " ebert presents at the movies."

    >> gene siskel , who you spent 23 years with, you two had a little bit of that love/hate relationship.

    >> it's thiler week on " siskel and ebert week at the movies."

    >> you said if you had a sitcom it would be called "best enemies." he really was like a brother to you. if he were alive today, what woe say to you now?

    >> he would have been wholehearted in my corner through the troubles. although as a way of life we shared a deep understanding of one another. he would also have continued to make jokes about me. well, at least you don't need a bookmark any more to find your chin.

    >> well, we saw roger walking in and they said, one of everything to go.

    >> you once asked your doctor to put coca-cola through your g-tube. why?

    >> i still have cokes once in a while . i like a caffeine.

    >> these guys, right? this is eventage.

    >> while ebert may be robbed of his ability to eat and drink, he still enjoys some guilty pleasures. two thumbs up. there's a beautiful passage in the book, really talks about how roger looks at life and ha he's been through. can you read that for me?

    >> we must try to contribute joy to the world . that is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. we must try. i didn't always know this, and i'm happy i lived long enough to find it out.

    >> i feel i'm lucky that i can still do what i love, and be of some use to people. it's a waste of time feeling sorry for yourself. because it doesn't change anything or help anything. you just have to keep on keeping on.

    >> and matt, one thing that roger ebert told me is that a lot of people say he's courageous for continuing to do and be busier than ever. but in fact, he says, that's not the case. because he continues to be the same person. he's just doing what he always did. don't call him courageous.

    >> a remarkable guy.

    >> he really is. so vibrant.

IMAGE: Roger Ebert
Daniel Boczarski  /  Getty Images file
Film critic Roger Ebert has written some stellar lines over the years.
updated 9/13/2011 12:45:39 PM ET 2011-09-13T16:45:39

I confess, I don't always agree with Roger Ebert's movie reviews (I loved "Senna" and "The Usual Suspects," he ... didn't), but I almost always love the way he writes them. The acclaimed critic isn't one of those people who just lives in a theater 24-7. He brings his whole life and his entire understanding of human nature, plus a great sense of humor, into his reviews. Sometimes it just takes him a few sentences to completely sum up an entire film or even a trend in moviedom. Often, the movies that made him suffer the most give us the most delightful reviews.

Here are some of his gems.

The Pullet Surprise
My favorite line of his is a classic. Back in 2005, Rob Schneider complained that another reviewer who didn't like "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo" wasn't qualified to review it because he didn't have a Pulitzer Prize. In response, Ebert wrote, "Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks."

Scoop: Loss of voice was 'awful' for Roger Ebert

Where the stars don't shine
"I am required to award stars to movies I review. This time, I refuse to do it. The star rating system is unsuited to this film. Is the movie good? Is it bad? Does it matter? It is what it is and occupies a world where the stars don't shine."   —From review of "The Human Centipede"

Tell us how you really feel, Roger
"I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it."   —From "North" review

Story: Lights, camera, awful! Movies we hate the most

Soft-soap job
"One of the details that "A Christmas Story" gets right is the threat of having your mouth washed out with Lifebuoy soap. Not any soap. Lifebuoy. Never Ivory or Palmolive. Lifebuoy, which apparently contained an ingredient able to nullify bad language. The only other soap ever mentioned for this task was Lava, but that was the nuclear weapon of mouth-washing soaps, so powerful it was used for words we still didn't even know."  —From"A Christmas Story" review

A kiss is still a...
"(Rhett Butler) tells Scarlett in a key early scene, 'You need kissing badly. That's what's wrong with you. You should be kissed, and often, and by someone who knows how.' For 'kissed,'' substitute the word you're thinking of."    —From "Gone With the Wind" review

Over the rainbow
"...The elements in 'The Wizard of Oz'' powerfully fill a void that exists inside many children. For kids of a certain age, home is everything, the center of the world. But over the rainbow, dimly guessed at, is the wide earth, fascinating and terrifying. There is a deep fundamental fear that events might conspire to transport the child from the safety of home and strand him far away in a strange land. And what would he hope to find there? Why, new friends, to advise and protect him. And Toto, of course, because children have such a strong symbiotic relationship with their pets that they assume they would get lost together."  —From "Wizard of Oz" review

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A galaxy far, far away
"It's as goofy as a children's tale, as shallow as an old Saturday afternoon serial, as corny as Kansas in August — and a masterpiece. Those who analyze its philosophy do so, I imagine, with a smile in their minds. May the Force be with them."   —From "Star Wars" review

Airsickness bag, please
"Was there no one connected with this project who read the screenplay, considered the story, evaluated the proposed film and vomited?"  —From "Last Rites" review

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He's a poet
"This is an old idea, beautifully expressed by Wordsworth, who said, 'Heaven lies about us in our infancy.' If I could quote the whole poem instead of completing this review, believe me, we'd all be happier. But I press on."    —From "Baby Geniuses" review

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Where's that bus?
"Watching 'Mad Dog Time' is like waiting for the bus in a city where you're not sure they have a bus line."    —From "Mad Dog Time" review

Are you a fan of Roger Ebert? Discuss with us on Facebook.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is TODAY.com's movies editor.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

Photos: September movies

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