Published at: June 18, 2002, 7:56 a.m. CST by headgeek
I love walking into a theater with moderate level buzz for a film with a title that has a promise.
POOLHALL JUNKIES was the title with the promise of greatness this time out. Before I ever came to the fest the title leapt out at me and said, “Watch me! Watch Me!” So, being the good geek that I was, I called it up on IMDB and found that it had Christopher Walken, Rod Steiger and Chazz Palminteri. Well that sounds great. Then I noticed that it seemed to star some guy named Mars Callahan, who also seemed to have written and directed the film. It also had that Lex Luthor guy from SMALLVILLE (Michael Rosenbaum) along with little Ricky Stratton all grown up… um, I mean Rick Schroder.
Who was this Mars Callahan?
Well he had made a little movie called ZIGS that I had never heard of… This went from a must see to a… Could suck real bad feeling.
Around Day 3 of the festival while I was throwing back free Crown & Cokes, Apple Martinis, Cosmopolitans and Tequila Shots with Jeffrey Wells of Reel.Com fame. Jeff had seen POOLHALL JUNKIES and liked what he saw. Looking at the schedule, I decided to see it this past Thursday.
Thursday morning comes and I get a phone call telling me that I have to do my Film Jury Duty with Emmanuel Levy and Anne Thompson at 11:30am - “Good,” I think… I’ll do Jury Deliberations and then go straight into POOLHALL JUNKIES. A couple of hours go by and I suddenly get the message that, Emmanuel Levy has been delayed in Los Angeles and that we would not all be getting together for Jury Stuff till 5:30pm… Suddenly I find myself unable to join Quint, the lovely Auntie Meat and the rest of the festival attendees at the screening. I figure, “This is the price you pay for a week of free partying and wildness in Vegas!” It was also the first time I was certain that I would be missing a great movie. You see, if the movie gods force me by hook or by crook to miss a movie that I was fully intending to attend, then those same Movie Gods are going to be setting me up to miss a great friggin movie! Without fail!
Imagine my delight when on the last day of the festival, if by a miracle, the T.B.A. at 4p.m. was filled with a note saying POOLHALL JUNKIES! Yippee!!!! Praise the Programmers!!! Trevor and Mike Rule!!!
4 p.m. approaches as I’ve lost untold riches on the number 1 on the roulette wheel. I thought if I be an even grand every hour on the hour on the number 1 that I’d win, but I tried this every day for 8 days and it didn’t work. Moriarty lied to me. Fucker.
Ok, so I break my penniless ass away from the pit of hell, and settle into my seat for POOLHALL JUNKIES. Elliot Gould wound up attending (God he ruled in CALIFORNIA SPLIT earlier in the fest), as did famed ex-Variety scribe Emmanuel Levy.
The film starts to a mostly filled auditorium.
This is a fucking cool movie!
This is a film with a beating pulse that stays in tune with your own… A movie that just oozes cool throughout. You are probably familiar with the genre… Films like SWINGERS and MADE…
When you see names like Walken, Steiger and Palminteri… that doesn’t guarantee a good film. They can be great in great films, but they can also be great in terrible films. We’ve seen that way too many times. When you see their names in a movie though, this is the film you are hoping to get. A movie that makes you feel cooler for breathing in the presence of.
All 3 of these guys spout monologues that are just gold. Not one, not even two, but several. The scenes that these scene-stealers love to breakaway into bites that you chew up again and again.
However, the movie features Rick Schroder in a damn fine role. And introduces Mars Callahan as an honest to goodness star, not only on screen, but off screen.
Ok, ok, enough of the praise praise, what makes this so good right?
From the opening loving montage of pool ephemera to the closing shots of the film, this movie is one of the best pool hustling movies out there. It isn’t going for the dramatic pit of hell that Paul Newman’s Fast Eddie Felson found himself in the phenomenally great THE HUSTLER… Nor is it as slick as Scorsese’s outing with Eddie in THE COLOR OF MONEY. However, I prefer this film to Scorsese’s COLOR OF MONEY, and really… The two best pool movies ever shot had Fast Eddie Felson as a character, until now.
POOLHALL JUNKIES pulls up right behind THE HUSTLER, and only doesn’t pass that one simply because the pure dramatics and seedy desperation of Paul Newman, the sleaze of George C Scott and the unforgettable beauty of that fatman Jackie Gleason… well, they are iconic beyond words.
But what about POOLHALL JUNKIES? What makes it so good right? I keep skirting the issue. But let’s break it down.
The opening montage follows and pours over the instruments of pool like the items in Jem Finch’s box from the opening of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Soon we find ourselves in a dark pool hall with a scrap of a kid playing a pool hustler as Chazz looks on. The kid is spouting off about the big national pool tournament having scouted him and how even though they had filled all 50 spots, they would be making an exception to let him in to the tournament. This young man is saying how he isn’t going to be a pool hustler, but a professional player, because… he never misses. Chazz tells the boy to not play with this man, because he’s a hustler… and the only thing you can learn from a hustler is how to lose. Of course it’s all handled better than my pathetic description… it feels momentous, like an origin sequence, and at the end we see Chazz drop the boys invite into a trash can as he plays the hustler…
CUT TO 15 years later…
We see Mars playing pool with a man that apparently is part of drug gang headed by Glenn Plummer (SHOWGIRLS infamy). He’s been beating this man all night long and has been making Glenn like it. With his charm and presence he doesn’t make you hate him for beating you, but makes you love to see him play. When Chazz takes Mars aside to tell him to step up the hustle, make this opportunity pay off we see a different Mars. Mars’ Johnny Doyle is every bit as adept at the ‘hustle’ as he is at the game of pool. Now, I’m not going to tell you what happens from here on out, simply because watching this movie unfold… hearing the dialogue coming from these guys and watching how it all plays out is simply a blast.
The way they shoot the game of pool, the music that they cut to, the dialogue snapping off the screen and dancing in your head, it all weaves together to make a movie that just intoxicates.
There’s this one scene between Walken and Callahan towards the end of the movie… its one of those scenes you carry with you for the rest of your life when you’ve seen it… one of those perfect Christopher Walken monologues like only he can deliver. It is an inspirational speech that starts with, “Have you ever watched one of those animal channels?” if memory serves… The following ‘life lesson’ from the animal kingdom is so fucking rich, so great, so wonderful, that the audience I saw it with was cheering throughout the delivery… acknowledging that this was a great moment from the very second to second that it was being given to us. When the speech was over… the camera follows Walken out of the john, the audience cheering at a great moment delivered by a great actor… But the punchline… the coup d’grace was to fall upon the young Mars Martin. If when the camera showed us his face, he wasn’t a changed man from that speech… if his balls hadn’t just dropped… if he couldn’t beat Apollo fucking Creed in a footrace on a beach somewhere outside of Los Angeles… if couldn’t risen up with the will to survive… well then… Well then every word Walken said would have the impact of that fucking CG monkey in LOST IN SPACE!
The camera turns onto Mars Callahan’s face and FUCKING A! The audience roars with approval. This is it. This is that moment, that shot, where the actor you are looking at has just stepped out of anonymity into stardom. This is that moment in the montages of his career later in life, where you point and say… POOLHALL JUNKIES WAS THE GODDAMN BOMB OF POOL MOVIES!
This is a movie about knowing who you are, about being that person no matter what the world may ask of you. It is a film about the love of that chalk on your hands and the feel of that felt beneath your fingers and the sound of those stones crashing together and that rush upon the rack lifting off. This is a movie about pool. The games on, off and beside the tables.
This is also a movie that apparently every shortsighted studio in Hollywood passed on. WHAT ON EARTH ARE THEY THINKING?
I’m convinced Miramax is dead. They can no longer spot gold in dem dar hills. Go back to the early nineties when Miramax found jewels like this and built a crown and a dynasty of cool about them.
The major studios… I understand why they passed… I mean, by god, studios are not about finding talent and cultivating them into stars… studios have become about proven bank ability. They don’t really scout talent anymore, until it wins the Kentucky Derby.
With POOLHALL JUNKIES this is an easy damn sell. After the film, Mars Callahan came out and charmed the living bejeesus out of the audience… the sort of charm that folks would eat up on Letterman or Leno, if you pushed him. He did his impressions of Walken and the other cast members to the great delight of the audience. This is a commercial film. You cut a trailer to Walken’s bathroom speech and you have a film that will play strong.
And the great thing is… the movie has a helluva lot more to offer than just that speech. If a movie like this slips through the system, then give up hopes of finding future talent in independent cinema. It seems the used-to-be INDIE Distributors are doing nothing but looking for Oscarbating material only. They’ve forgotten how to sell quality entertainment made for cheap. They no longer want to find gold, they just want dilute the gold they have in hand by cutting it with non-precious materials over the years till it is devalued to nothing more than trinket materials. They cut their coke to such a degree it gets you as high as a double dose of Ex-Lax.
If POOLHALL JUNKIES plays your festival… DON’T MISS IT! You’ll be seeing more from Mars Callahan, I guarantee it. This is a major new talent in front of and behind the screens.