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16 November 2015

'Author! Author!' What? What?

BookCover290Authors make all kinds of absurd claims about their books.  Frankly, that makes me sad.

Take my new book (Please!) Did I Write That Out Loud?, for instance.

I could claim that my new book bursting with entertaining essays about the raucous, roller coaster life of a veteran humorist, public speaker, film critic and stand-up comedian (that would be me) will lift your spirits.

It will, but I won't claim that.

Or, I could promise that you'll go behind the scenes and be amazed at what happened the day I sat down to interview Shirley MacLaine and she wasn't pleased with the lighting.

You will be amazed, but I'm not about to claim that, either.

All I'm going to promise is that if you buy Did I Write That Out Loud? you'll lose a few pounds.*

My new -- and first, I might add -- book covers topics such as why my family doctor broke up with me, what happens when pants begin to have minds of their own and news that the Cold War, a different Cold War, still rages.

I try to write from my heart and my funny bone, so even subjects such as a late-night encounter with paramedics, job loss and my father's late-life crisis are skewed with truth softened with humor.

Or as I like to put it, "We might as well laugh. It's only life."

About this time you're probably saying to yourself, "This is incredible!  Where can I get my hands on a book like this?"

Not to worry.  Just click this link to go to the Did I Write That Out Loud? page at the website.  You can be the proud owner of this hot, hot, hot collection of hilarious and heartfelt essays in paperback for the ridiculous price of only $8.95.

And that's for an exciting new book that's already on the best seller list.  Excuse me.  So sorry, I meant to say the "best cellar" list.

But wait, there's more.  Do you prefer to read books on a Kindle?  We've got you covered for under five bucks.  $4.99 to be exact.

So order away. Just in time for the holidays, Did I Write That Out Loud? is the perfect feel-good solution to the age-old question "What can I get for the person who has everything?"  Well, they don't have this surefire cure for the blues, the blahs and boredom.

You want it gift wrapped? can handle that as well.

Oh, and one more thing.  About that claim that you can lose a few pounds reading Did I Write That Out Loud?:

* You will only lose pounds if you buy this book in Great Britain, British Overseas Territories, the South Sandwich Islands and the British Antarctic Territory, as well as Tristan de Cunha, where the British Pound is used as currency.

13 November 2015

Movie magic: A keystone cop-out

Jack Nicholson and "friend" in "As Good As It Gets"

Thanks to everyone over at Bonaventure Dallas for a memorable Movie Memories evening last night. 

Even though my projector opted to sit down on us a little and offer up only a slightly lopsided image (a keystone issue, according to the unhelpful "help" button), we soldiered on through memories of Hollywood's finest romantic films.

I love performing at the Bonaventure because the audience fills the room with enthusiasm and a willingness to ignore small distractions and get on with the show.

"Hollywood's Great Romantic Scenes" leans heavily on well-known classics like Gone With the Wind, On Golden Pond and West Side Story, of course.  One of the favorite moments for me, however, is the showcase of As Good As It Gets (1997), which resulted in Academy Awards for co-stars Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt.

Thanks again, Bonaventure folks, It was a memorable Movie Memories evening.


03 November 2015

Keep (Jane) Austen weird?


Is there a movement afoot to, ahem, keep Jane Austen weird?

There must be because come February, the undead will meet the coyishly cool in late 18th century England in what promises to be a grisly little action-horror-romance ditty titled Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

I suppose it was bound to come (way, way) down to this in a time and marketplace where no entertainment icon, cinematic or literary, is sacred anymore.

I mean, come on.  We've already witnessed the out-of-sync wackiness of Harrison Ford and Daniel "Beg-Me-To-Stay-On-As-James Bond" Craig lassoing space aliens in Cowboys & Aliens in 2011, Sherlock Holmes sniffing out leads in modern-day New York City on TV in Elementary and the Republican debates.

So maybe we shouldn't be surprised when Jane Austen-ish ladies go for the jugular with bared fangs and not just verbal jabs.  

I suppose if they still sip their afternoon tea with pinkies properly extended, we shouldn't raise too much of a fuss when they go all zombie and start ripping each other to shreds.

Although I guess we won't hear much dialogue about saving face.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is scheduled to open (or slither out from under the door) Feb. 5 at one of the fine cinematic emporiums near you.

Consider this a jot-it-down-moment or a warning, depending on where you stand on the issue of co-mingling the prim and proper work of one of the most esteemed authors of the late 18th and early 19th century with bloodthirsty zombies with what I'm guessing will be deplorable table manners.

"Mary, mind your manners!  I told you to keep your elbows off the dining table.  And that goes for the elbows on those arms you're gnawing on as well.  And must you moan so?"

30 October 2015

Happy Hallo-, Merry next Christmas!

Billy Bob Thornton would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas next year. (Courtesy:

Well boys and girls, it's the day before Halloween.

You know what that means in every store around these great United States and, of course, in Hollywood:  Merry Christmas!

With that comes great news today.  Billy Bob Thornton is coming back as the title character in Bad Santa 2 not this holiday season, but in 2016, according to a story posted on the Variety website.

"Miramax and Broad Green Pictures announced that Billy Bob Thornton will reprise his role as Willie Soke in Bad Santa 2.

"Geyer Kosinski will produce. Miramax will partner with Broad Green Pictures to co-finance and co-produce. Broad Green will distribute in the U.S. during the 2016 holiday season.

"Sierra/Affinity will handle foreign sales with sales starting at the upcoming American Film Market.

“'We’ve been waiting far too long to see Billy Bob’s Willie Soke mess with the holiday season in his own unique way,' said Zanne Devine of Miramax."

Some say you have to be a little twisted or even sick to like this kind of extremely dark, sarcastic humor.

Well 'scuse me and call the doc, I can't wait to see more like this:


22 October 2015

The Oscars: Caught between Rock and a hard place, once again

Chris Rock hosting the 77th Oscars in 2005. (Courtesy:

Nothing against Chris Rock, he's about as sharp and quick as any comedian working today.

But the announcement yesterday that Rock will host the 88th Academy Awards broadcast on ABC Feb. 28 comes as a ho-hum, no big whoop.

Why?  Because it's the 88th year they've been doing this, that's why.  Quick, what's the last thing that inspired goosebumps or made you go "Wheeeeeeee!" the 88th time you did it?

Well, there's that.  But huge bowls of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream don't count.

The Oscars, despite recent attempts to appeal to a younger audience like the 2011 debacle hosted feebly by Anne Hathaway and an extremely detached James Franco, have aged like a stoic, grumpy old grandpa.

And there's this:  The Academy Awards make the huge mistake of being last.  And I don't mean second or third.  I mean the final weak blip on an awards season that begins about six months earlier and drags on and on. 

Need proof?  Well, before the golden statuettes are passed out in late February, the movie industry and keen industry scribes and watchers have already endured the Golden Globe Awards, the Critics' Choice Awards, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the Directors Guild of America Awards, the Golden Bear Awards (Berlin), the British Academy Film Awards and the Cesar Awards (France).

Let's not forget to mention kudos from local film critics groups from every semi-major city in this fine country of ours and a couple of neighborhood associations thrown in for good measure.

That's me, right, at the Academy Awards sometime in the past century.

So by the time the Oscars open with a tired fanfare, the winners' speeches are too-well rehearsed, the bloom is off the red carpet arrivals and, let's just go ahead and say it, the tux tails are dragging.

I have much respect for Rock's ability to seize what little energy is likely to still be in the room by the time late February gets here.  He was sharp and way too fast for the dozing audience when the hosted for the first time in 2005.

Maybe, however, it's time to bring in a fresh face, an outside insider, if you will.

Someone like, well, me. 

I can take a selfie with the best of them.

19 October 2015

You want the 'Truth'?

Robert Redford as Dan Rather in "Truth" (Sony Pictures Classics)

CBS can't handle the "Truth."

In what might very well be a case of reverse benefits, CBS has refused to air commercials for Truth, the dramatic-biography that focuses on Dan Rather's 60 Minutes report on the television network in 2004 that questioned then-President George W. Bush's military service.

The firestorm eventually cost Rather, once a CBS darling, and Mary Mapes, his producer, their careers.

According to a post on the website, "The head of the firm handling media buying for the Sony Pictures Classics-distributed movie told the Associated Press that an effort to buy spots in 60 Minutes, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,The CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley and other programs was turned down by CBS."

Veteran actor Robert Redford, a best director Oscar winner for Ordinary People in 1980, takes on the role of Rather in Truth, while Mapes is portrayed by Cate Blanchett, who took home a best actress Academy Award in 2014 for her fine work in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine.

Despite the fact that CBS is quite possibly giving Truth inflated free publicity by refusing to run the movie ads (which would have generated solid income), I suppose the execs in the carpeted offices thought the situation over and decided when it came to Truth, they'd rather (or Rather) not.


13 October 2015

Good night, sweet cinematic prince

(Courtesy: The Dallas Morning News)

I'd like to say I had some wonderful thoughts to share about Philip Wuntch after the initial shock of the former longtime Dallas Morning News film critic's passing on Monday subsided a little.

But it hasn't subsided a little.  It still feels raw, as I said last night when I first heard the news, like I've been kicked in the stomach by a horse; an angry, snorting, pawing-the-turf horse at that.

So the wonderful thoughts will have to filter through a sense of loss too painful to ignore.

Philip Wuntch, you see, was so much more than an exceptionally gifted film critic, author and film historian.  Philip cheerfully and professionally shared his vast knowledge and insight into the world of cinema, past and present, for over 40 years, first at The Dallas Times Herald, then at The Dallas Morning News until 2006, when he took a "voluntary buyout."

(Click here to read Philip's obituary by Michael Granberry posted on The Dallas Morning News website.)

What I remember most through my sorrow of Philip's passing at 70 after a long illness is the way the extremely sweet, polite gentleman -- always the gentle man -- said "yes" as if it had two syllables.

"Yea-us," he would say when he agreed with something.  It was always such a warm response, almost like Philip got tremendous pleasure out of giving affirmation to a colleague, friend or fan.

For those who never saw Philip with Mimi, his high school sweetheart-turned-loving life mate, just know this:  I have never known a happier couple.  Call them two peas in a pod, life forces perfectly matched or whatever you desire, but I will never forget the aura of warm, loving admiration and the spirit of "we're in this together" that accompanied them whenever I had the pleasure of being in their company.

Suellen and I hosted a small Christmas party one year.  We all laughed and laughed as Mimi and Philip shared how they met and began a life journey together.  I think Philip blushed a little that night.

I spent countless hours with Philip in the '80s, '90s and '00s during the time our film critic paths paralleled at hundreds of movie screenings, film premieres and even the Academy Awards in 1990.

I can't begin to adequately describe the chaos in the press tent behind the auditorium at the Oscars back then.  Movie stars wearing big grins and clutching golden statuettes were paraded through for questions and comments.  Technology for transmitting stories over phone lines wasn't as easy as it is now, and newspaper deadlines arrived at a fast and furious rate.

Yet on that night, my first exposure to The Show for film critics, Philip took time to snap my picture as I wrapped my arm around one of those giant golden Oscars used for stage props.

It was so hectic that night, I never got to really thank Philip for that kind gesture toward a friend and colleague.

I think he knows, though.

Yea-us, he knows.

07 October 2015

Dueling 'Tonight' show hosts? Hmmm

(Courtesy: NBC)

It'll never happen, right?

Well, it did last night.  New Age Tonight show host Jimmy Fallon pretended to pull a hammy during the opening monologue, and dethroned (for no good reason, in my semi-humble opinion) host Jay Leno "tagged in" to continue his own "hammy" monologue as only Leno can do it.

How was it?  Leno was on fire.  Let's just say I haven't heard welcomed rapid-fire comic patter like this since Rodney Dangerfield died.

On politics: "If Democrat Bernie Sanders wins, he'll be the first socialist elected president since 2008."

On the economy:  "The economy is so bad that parents in Beverly Hills are being forced to raise their own children."

Aw Jay, I missed you, man.  Now if Stephen Colbert could just fake, I don't know, a self-induced coma or something, maybe we could get David Letterman back for a couple of weeks.


30 September 2015

Gonged but not forgotten


I had to chuckle when I was contacted by Kimberly Suta of Bunny Hat Productions about helping to spread the word about San Antonio's upcoming Gong Shorts Film Competition on Oct. 19.

My uneasy, slightly painful deep-seated laughter had nothing to do with S.A.'s Gong Shorts Competition, where original short films (3-15 minutes long on DVD) are guaranteed a 3-minute play before audience members are allowed to call for the, uh, gong.

I have memories of another local, live gong show way back in the '70s, you see, where I -- quite by accident, I might add -- was ... uh ...

I was gonged by a chimpanzee.  OK, there, I said it!

According to the first dictionary within reach, chimpanzees are defined as "a great ape with large ears, mainly black coloration, and lighter skin on the face, native to the forests of western and central Africa. Chimpanzees show advanced behavior such as the making and using of tools."


In this case, Deena the Chimp's tool of choice was a gong.

Picture this:  a North Dallas nightspot that featured a live gong show where up-and-coming and/or down-and-going comedians gathered on Thursday nights to wow audiences with their wildly funny wit or get gonged and laughed out of the joint a la a cheap imitation of The Gong Show produced and hosted on TV in the afternoons by Chuck Barris in the mid and late-'70s.

The audience didn't get to vote at the Dallas gong show, though.  A distinguished panel of judges, including, if memory serves correctly, the late, great Jerry Haines, the WFAA-TV personality also known as Mr. Peppermint, the show's organizer and the aforementioned Deena the Chimp.

Deena, you see, was not your run-of-the-mill primate.  Deena was billed by owner and Rent-A-Chimp proprietor Mike Stower as "the world's only stripping chimp."

Obviously, it was a very high class operation.  I had stopped performing comedy for free about then, having heard, "We'd love for you to come out and entertain, but of course we can't pay you anything" too many times.

I was holding steadfast to my rule, too.  But -- to give you some idea of how lean things were about then -- if I wanted to buy lunch, it was very likely that I'd need to sell some blood to do it.

I only agreed to perform at the gong show because of two things:  There was a $50 cash prize, and the organizer assured me that I would win and could breeze in, do five minutes of snappy comic patter and be out of there in a flash 50 bucks richer.

Words I'll never forget (although I'll keep trying):  "I've seen the other comedians.  It's a sure thing.  You will be the winner!"

If I learned anything that night, it was not to underestimate (or perhaps overestimate) a chimpanzee that strips for her bananas.

At about the 3-minute mark, I was rolling pretty good.  I could see the audience responding well to my hilarious material.  I also saw Mr. Peppermint having a good time.  Then my eyes -- about to fill with utter fear -- spotted Deena with the gong mallet in her paw/hands.  (Come on people, don't you know not to give a chimp the mallet at an EXPLETIVE DELETED, EXPLETIVE DELETED, EXPLETIVE DELETED gong show?)

If that wasn't bad enough, Deena must have had a cold.  I saw her fighting back a sneeze just as the audience was really laughing at my Class A Prime material.

Let's cut to the sad chase:  The sneeze exploded.  Deena's mallet hand/paw jerked in the direction of the gong and BLAM! I began thinking about where I might be selling blood for lunch the next day.

The San Antonio Gong Shorts Film Competition, to be held from 7-10 p.m. Oct. 19 at Alamo Street Eat Bar (609 South Alamo Street, S.A., 78205), sounds like real fun, however.  Comedian Jade Esteban Estrada will emcee and, hopefully, see no chimps -- stripper or otherwise -- near the gong.

The deadline to submit a DVD for competition is Oct. 12.  For more information, check out the event's website at

 Oh, and one more thing:

 Why Deena, why?

22 September 2015

Hollywood's quite 'Taken' with Neeson

(Courtesy: EuropaCorp.)

At 6-foot-4, Liam Neeson looms even taller in person than he may look gunning down a gaggle of baddies in a series of often-violent action flicks that include, but certainly haven't been limited to, the highly popular Taken series.

Since 2008 the Northern Ireland-born star, who took a few blows as a boxer back in the early days, has been playing Bryan Mills, a retired CIA operative drawn back into conflict over and over to save first his daughter, then others in a series of three Taken actioners.

If you're a movie star, you can rest assured that your film franchise is working when major TV shows spoof your character, as Jimmy Kimmel Live did with this fake Taken 4 trailer.


Neeson's been appearing on the big screen since the mid-'80s, in movies like The Bounty (1984) and The Mission (1986).

His distinctive look and lumbering style began to really morph into a Hollywood guy-to-be-noticed, however, when Neeson took on the title character of Oskar Schindler in Steven Spielberg's riveting historical-drama Schindler's List in 1994.

It hasn't always been an easy path for the 63-year-old matinee star.  Actress Natasha Richardson, Neeson's wife, died tragically in 2009, just days after a skiing accident and only a couple of months after the Taken debut.

Their son Michael, 13 at the time of his mom's sudden passing, has admitted to getting lost in drugs and alcohol to cope, according to published reports (such as an article posted on the Us magazine website in March).

It looks like the determined son of a cook and a Northern Ireland school caretaker is not going to fade away from the limelight anytime soon.  According to a post on the Variety website, Neeson has signed on the dotted line to star in The Commuter, which will begin production next year.

"(The) plot revolves around a businessman on his daily commute home, who unwittingly gets caught up in a criminal conspiracy. It threatens not only his life but the lives of those around him. Production is set to start sometime next spring," according to the Variety post.

It's fine for Neeson, the man, to travel as he pleases, but it may be time for his screen personas to just stay home for a while.  Those guys are trouble magnets, at least they will be as long as the box-office numbers hold up.