Trial by Fire
The film plods at points, trudging along, and there are a few misguided narrative "devices" tacked on, but still, "Trial by Fire" bristles with anger.
Roger's review of "Poolhall Junkies"
Roger was such a generous man—and not only as a person, but as a film critic. His passion for the movies was clearly present in each and every piece he wrote, and if you were a regular reader, you’d soon realize he could forgive a bad movie, but never a lazy one, even if it was somewhat better.
That’s why I choose “Poolhall Junkies” as “My Favorite Roger.” It is not, in fact, my favorite review of his (I wouldn’t be able to choose just one) and the movie in question is far from one I like or even dislike. It’s a “meh” of a movie; it has good elements, but also terrible ones.
But the review Roger wrote about it pretty much symbolizes “My Favorite Roger”: not as in “my favorite piece,” but as in “my favorite thing about Roger Ebert as a film critic”. When you read it, two things become clear: 1) he’s not crazy about the movie; and 2) he loves the enthusiasm of its young director.
“This is a young man's film, humming with the fun of making it,” writes Roger in one of his characteristic language constructions that made him such a great writer. He may analyze the movie’s problems (and he will), but he can’t stop himself from falling in love with the passion he shares with Mars Callahan for the movies.
But that’s not all: as he used to quote, Roger never failed to recognize he was “the man who goes to the movies,” which means he always watched them with the same glee a regular filmgoer might experience. That's why he was able to see Christopher Walken appear in “Poolhall Junkies” and comment on his entrance with an observation like “[he’s] one of the few actors in movie history who always draws a quiet rustle of pleasure from the audience the first time he appears on the screen.”
I find that very touching—both as a reader and as a film critic myself. For Roger, writing about movies never ceased to feel like a privilege—one that he felt he shared with the filmmakers themselves: “[The film] finds a voluptuous enjoyment in the act of moviemaking. You get the sense that ‘Mars’ Callahan, who I have never met, woke during the night to hug himself that he was getting to make this movie.”
I get the same feeling when I read Roger’s reviews: that he frequently woke up during the night to hug himself in awe of earning a living by watching and writing about his passion. And that's the mark of a true writer.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...