Thursday, April 4, 2013

Roger and Me
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:,,,,, 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.”