Thursday, April 4, 2013

Roger and Me


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Roger Ebert has passed away today, and it is an incredibly sad day.  I know Roger probably wouldn’t want us to be sad.  He sure didn’t want us to feel sorry for him when he was going through his various health issues. He was still writing and reviewing movies and enjoyed it with the same passion, love, and curiosity that has defined his career. He battled his health issues with grace, dignity, and strength.

When I was a young boy growing up, Siskel and Ebert was required viewing every week for me. I have to admit that Siskel was my favorite and still is, but it doesn’t take away from my love and appreciation of Roger Ebert.  They had the magic word and that is chemistry. We see so many shows today like ESPN’s First Take, ESPN’s PTI, and so many various shows where we see people yelling and arguing with each other about various topics.  It started with Siskel and Ebert and they made it look natural because it was. 

They were completely themselves and different, and they were so entertaining and fun to watch. Before Siskel and Ebert, I never knew all that went into a film, from the acting, the directing, the cinematography, the story, the themes, and most of all, the emotions.  Film is an emotional experience.  If we aren’t reacting to what’s happening on screen, why should we bother watching? We need to feel something, whether it’s anger, sadness, laughter.  It’s important to feel something, anything when watching a film. They taught me how to feel something and recognize things in film that I never knew before.

 
I didn’t fully understand and appreciate film until I was around eighteen as I was maturing as a person and becoming more sensitive, aware of the world around me.  That was when I really, truly became obsessed with film criticism. I would tape, at this time, Ebert and Roeper, every single week on VHS tapes and watch them review the new movies. I would watch the episodes over and over and over again and try to learn from them, how to say certain things, pick up on certain things, and how to watch a film. I learned language and film criticism from them. It was the highlight of my week, watching them and hearing their thoughts on the latest movies. It helped inform my decisions that weekend on what movies I wanted to see.

When my mom passed away eight years ago, I went to a local Hollywood Video store that was closing and bought ninety dollars worth of movies and watched movies to keep my mind off it.  I wrote about those movies and developed my sense of who I was as a person and as a writer.  Even now, when days get tough, Amanda and I hit up the movies, and I’m instantly at ease and comfortable. There is something comforting, relaxing, and soothing about being in a dark room, alone with the movie. You enter another world.  I walk out and all of my worries are gone.

Since 2006, I’ve been an online film critic for various websites: 411mania.com, cinema-crazed.com, Matchflick.com, filmfantaix.com, comicbookbin.com, etc.  For seven years, I’ve been writing online and have had tremendous personal success.  I’m humbled and honored by what I have accomplished. I don’t write this to brag or puff out my chest, I say this as saying it wouldn’t have been possible without Roger Ebert being my teacher, even though we never met or spoke to each other. I’ve been able to watch numerous films that I would never have been aware of and view films in an intelligent light. It allowed me to speak to high profile actors/actresses and directors and know what I was talking about, even though I was a nervous, stuttering twenty year old.

What I’m most proud of and still am is the time I was quoted in Richard Roeper’s column on June 6, 2007, which was my mom’s birthday. She wasn’t alive in 2007, but I like to think she had something to do with that.  I was able to have my name in the Chicago Sun-Times, the same paper that has hosted Roger’s reviews for years and Richard Roeper’s column, two of my idols. I consider my top four film critic idols: Gene Siskel, Roger Ebert, Richard Roeper, and Michael Phillips. It brought tears to my eyes and still does, as I write this now.
  
I’ve seen my name in the Kansas City Star newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, and two more times in the Chicago Sun-Times.  It humbles me beyond belief. When I see my name on a DVD cover, I feel so happy and proud.  We are always our toughest critic. I always think of myself as the shy, stuttering kid who is anxious or nervous.  When I see myself quoted on a DVD or quoted in a newspaper, I realize that I’m worth more than that and I can accomplish great things. Again, that is all thanks to Roger Ebert. 

One of the greatest nights of my life was last year in 2012 when Amanda and I were able to meet Richard Roeper at his Oscar party, shake his hand, and take a picture with him. I was able to meet one of my four idols. Sadly, I never got to meet Roger Ebert or Gene Siskel. My dad met Gene Siskel at the race track many years ago and actually got his autograph. He commented on how nice Gene was and how he would talk to you like a friend about sports and about anything. I did get to meet Michael Phillips at the Hostel Part 2 screening, believe it or not, which ended up being his least favorite film of that year, LOL.
The man I am today, confident at times, opinionated about film and anything else, cultured, and able to watch any and all films, that’s all Roger Ebert’s doing. His curiosity has rubbed off on me for cinema. Every Tuesday, I’m looking to buy or rent new movies.  Every Friday, I’m lined up to see a new movie.  Curious. Hopeful. Excited. My hope and dream is to someday be half the critic he is. If I can do that, I’ll have lived a happy life. 

His books are still out there and I’ve read them all and learned a great deal from them.  The reviews are out there on YouTube and online. The legacy and the memories will last forever.  Now, we have online critics and critics all over, but very few that stand out like Roger did.  He was a pioneer, the first of his kind, and an inspiration.  He was respected by many and his opinions on film were must-read material.

Roger, I’m glad you aren’t suffering anymore, but the film world misses you and always will. It will never be the same again.  Thank you for everything, even though we never met. You were such a big influence to me, my writing, and my life.  You might be gone, but you are surely not forgotten.

-Tony Farinella 

“I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try.”

Thursday, January 3, 2013

My Top Ten Films of 2012

 10) SAVAGES
Oliver Stone is back and he still has the same in-your-face intensity that has been present throughout his career.  The stakes are high in this film, and there is never a dull moment.  The unique and well-rounded cast includes Blake Lively, Taylor Kitsch, Benicio Del Toro, John Travolta, Demi├ín Bichir, and Salma Hayek.  Savages is a film that deals with life and death matters in a way that is dramatic, humorous, and never boring.  The music and the cinematography are top notch and really set the mood for this one.  Oliver Stone hasn’t lost his touch, and this was one of the most overlooked and unappreciated films of 2012.  If you like action, suspense, great acting, Savages is a film that you should seek out. You might have missed it during its summer run, but it is out on DVD right now and it will surprise you.
 
9) HOPE SPRINGS
Smart movies for adults are few and far between these days.  Most mainstream films are aimed at the ever important 18-34 demographic. They are the ones that are coming out to the movies, buying popcorn, and spending their weekends inside a theater.  Adults have been dying to go to the movies, but there aren’t enough movies that are for them.  That all changed when The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel came out, which I felt was an OK movie, but the better adult movie is Hope Springs.  The cast includes Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, and Steve Carell and focuses on a marriage that is going through the motions.  At times, it can be painful and heartbreaking to see these two (Streep and Jones) trying to get their mojo back, but it’s done in a way that is insightful, thought provoking and funny without being condescending. 
8) FLIGHT
It’s no secret that Denzel Washington is one of the best actors working in Hollywood and has been for quite some time.  However, he might just give the best performance of his career in Flight.  This is not an easy character to like, root for, and care about thanks to his actions, but Denzel makes it to where we can’t keep our eyes off of him.  We follow his every move and are drawn to him, even as we see him making one poor decision after another.  The last thirty minutes of the film hit me like a hurricane.  This is Denzel at the top of his game in a film that deals with a tough subject matter in an intelligent matter.
7) SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
Robert DeNiro, yes, he’s one of the best actors of all time, although he hasn’t shown it in a long time.  This is one of the best performances he’s given in at least a decade as an obsessed Philadelphia Eagles fan trying to save his son, played by Bradley Cooper, who suffers from bipolar disorder.  There’s also Jennifer Lawrence as the troubled girl that is in his life, even though all he can think about is his ex-wife.  There is football for the men, which I related to as a die-hard Green Bay Packers fan.  There is dancing for the women, which my girlfriend enjoyed.  There is something for everybody in Silver Linings Playbook.  It’s one of the year’s most pleasant surprises.
 
 6) JEFF WHO LIVES AT HOME
Jason Segal can do no wrong in my book, as I think he’s one of the most likable, charming, and funny actors working today. He shows off that considerable charm in Jeff, Who Lives At Home, which also stars Judy Greer and Ed Helms.  It’s a short little film, but it has something to say and Segal and Helms have a lot of fun bouncing off each other with their considerable comedic talents. The third act of the film goes in a unique direction, which put a huge smile on my face. Jeff might live at home, but for now, he lives at number five on my top ten of 2012. This film came and went when it was in theaters, but it’s worth seeing on DVD, without question.
5) LES MISERABLES
I had never seen Les Miserables in any format and to be honest, I had no idea what it was about or how the story unfolded.  Needless to say, I was blown away within minutes of watching this film version.  It’s raw, powerful, and incredibly beautiful.  Hugh Jackman is the heart of the film, and he is perfect for a film like this, considering his history.  Russell Crowe surprised me, and he’s the strong and silent type in the film.  The revolution of the film, however, is Anne Hathaway, in a performance that rocked me to my core and hit me in a way I did not expect.   The film shook me and it took a few minutes after it was over to recover.  Wow.  This is a powerful motion picture.
 
4) BULLY
No other film in 2012 affected me as much as Bully. I was in tears from the start of the film and I didn’t stop crying.  It is not an easy film to sit through or stomach, but it’s reality.  I’m glad this film was made and it needs to be seen.  This shows the harm and lifelong damage that is done by bullying.  It’s a major problem that is ignored, overlooked, and I hope it is brought to light by this film.  It’s a brave film, and I admire all of the families for participating in it and opening up like they did.  Real life is always more powerful and truthful than fiction.  That is Bully, without a shadow of a doubt.  Bully is the best documentary of 2012.
3) KILLER JOE
 
William Friedkin’s Killer Joe is the most daring and unconventional film of 2012.  The minute you see Gina Gershon’s bush, you know you are in store for a film that is going to shock you and get a reaction out of you.  My jaw was on the floor when this one was all said and done, and that’s rare when you see as many films as I do.  It’s violent, gross, bloody, funny, and completely original.  Matthew McConaughey is the actor of 2012, and I hope to see more great film work for him in the future like I saw in Killer Joe and Bernie.  Friedkin is a master at creating controversy and blurring the line between good guys and bad guys. Killer Joe is definitely a film you need to see. You might not like it. In fact, you might hate it.  But you will not be bored and you will be talking after it’s over.

 2) BERNIE   
 
Jack Black sings, dances, and kills in the offbeat and hilarious Bernie. Killer Joe is on my top ten list, which is another film that includes the new Matthew McConaughey, which is shown off in this brilliant piece of filmmaking.  It’s a true story, which makes it all the more interesting.  Black plays the flamboyant Bernie and nails it.  He charms everyone, even after he killed an old woman.  I don’t think any other actor would have been able to pull off this crazy performance but Black.  There are more good actors out there in Hollywood. They just need the right roles. 


1) ARGO
 
Ben Affleck is one of the top three directors working today. 2010’s The Town was my favorite film of that year, and his newest film, Argo, is my favorite film of 2012.  He is a Hollywood pro when it comes to directing, and the last thirty minutes of the film will have you literally on the edge of your seat.  He takes his time with his story, allows his actors plenty of room to work, and has characters that are unique, real, and flawed. Argo is the type of old school Hollywood film that we need more of in today’s film landscape. It’s an intelligent film that shows what can happen when everyone works together during trying times.  This is an incredible film.