Saturday, August 05, 2023

The Dead is my favorite John Huston movie

Why is The Dead my favorite John Huston film? Well, I could direct you to my original review of Huston's adaptation of the classic James Joyce story. Or I could just show you the final scene. Back in the day: I cried so hard at the end of this movie, two colleagues had to help me out of the theater. No kidding.

Sunday, April 09, 2023

Celebrating Ward Bond’s birthday with... Hitler — Dead or Alive

On this date in 1903, actor Ward Bond was born in Benkelman, Nebraska. And I think it would be a nifty idea to celebrate the occasion by watching Hitler — Dead or Alive, an ultra-low-budget 1942 B-movie starring Bond as an ex-con who tries to collect a bounty on Adolf Hitler. No, I'm not making that up.

Back when I taught a college course focused on war movies, I often screened the final minutes of this obscure oddity, to give students an inkling of American attitudes during the early days of US involvement in World War II. Because even though the movie was an unabashedly cheesy Poverty Row production --  it dared to be a fantasy-fulfilling slice of cheese: At the end of the flick, Hitler is shot by Nazis who don't recognize him after Bond and his buddies shave off Der Führer's  mustache. Again: I'm not making that up. Start looking around the 1:04 point in this video, and you'll see what I mean.

When I saw Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, and marveled at the movie's climactic killing of  Der Führer, I couldn't help thinking of Hitler -- Dead or Alive. But I swear: I didn't know Tarantino actually was a fan the '42 film until he spilled the beans to Playboy in a 2003 interview:

When it came to Inglourious Basterds, there was a movie done in 1942, Hitler —Dead or Alive. It was just as America had entered the war. A rich guy offers a million-dollar bounty on Hitler’s life. Three gangsters come up with a plan to kill Hitler. They parachute into Berlin and work their way to where Hitler is. It’s a wacky movie that goes from being serious to very funny. The gangsters get Hitler, and when they start beating the fuck out of him, it is just so enjoyable. They shave his mustache off, cut off that lock of hair and take his shit off so he looks like a regular guy. The Nazis show up, and Hitler, who doesn’t look like Hitler anymore, is like, “Hey, it’s me!” And they beat the shit out of him. I thought, Wow, this is fucking hysterical.

Yes, it is. Who would have guessed that a hardline conservative like Ward Bond actually was Antifa? 

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Flashback: Ethan Hawke and Me at 2011 Houston Cinema Arts Festival

I honest to God did not know until just a few minutes ago that a complete version of this existed on video: My 2011 Q&A with Ethan Hawke at the Houston Cinema Arts Festival, where he received a lifetime achievement award. At first, Hawke is introduced by Richard Linklater, and graciously accepts the prize, in concert with a screening of "The Woman in the Fifth." We start chatting around the 11:25 mark. He's very funny, and very forthcoming. And I have a lot more hair than I do now. (Sorry: You will have to click the link, because I am unable to embed.)

Sunday, January 08, 2023

Let the Revels Begin: Houston Film Critics Society Announces Nominations for Annual Awards


The Houston Film Critics Society — of which I am a founding/voting member — has released the list of nominations for the annual HFCS Awards. Winners will be announced Feb. 18 at the Midtown Arts & Theater Center Houston (MATCH).

 And yes: I am very happy to see so many nominations for RRR.  


Best Picture

The Banshees of Inisherin


Everything Everywhere All at Once

The Fabelmans

Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio




Top Gun: Maverick

Women Talking


Best Director

The Banshees of Inisherin


Everything Everywhere All at Once

The Fabelmans


Women Talking


Best Actor – Leading Role

Austin Butler, Elvis

Tom Cruise, Top Gun: Maverick

Colin Farrell, The Banshees of Inisherin

Brendan Fraser, The Whale

Jeremy Pope, The Inspection


Best Actress – Leading Role

Cate Blanchett, Tár

Viola Davis, The Woman King

Danielle Deadwyler, Till

Emma Thompson, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande

Michelle Yeoh, Everything Everywhere All at Once


Best Actor – Supporting Role

Brendan Gleeson, The Banshees of Inisherin

Barry Keoghan, The Banshees of Inisherin

Ke Huy Quan, Everything Everywhere All at Once

Mark Rylance, Bones and All

Ben Whishaw, Women Talking


Best Actress – Supporting Role

Jesse Buckley, Women Talking

Kerry Condon, The Banshees of Inisherin

Jamie Lee Curtis, Everything Everywhere All at Once

Stephanie Hsu, Everything Everywhere All at Once

Janelle Monáe, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery


Best Screenplay

The Banshees of Inisherin

Everything Everywhere All at Once

The Fabelmans


Women Talking


Best Animated Feature

Apollo 10 1⁄2: A Space Age Childhood

Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish

Turning Red


Best Cinematography

Avatar: The Way of Water



The Fabelmans

Top Gun: Maverick


Best Documentary

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed

Bad Axe

Fire of Love

Good Night Oppy



Best Foreign Language Feature

All Quiet on the Western Front

Argentina, 1985


Decision to Leave



Best Original Score


The Banshees of Inisherin

Empire of Light

The Fabelmans

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

Women Talking


Best Original Song

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, “Lift Me Up”

Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio, “Ciao Papa”

RRR, “Naatu Naatu”

Till, “Stand Up”

Top Gun: Maverick, “Hold My Hand”


Best Visual Effects

Avatar: The Way of Water

The Batman

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever


Top Gun: Maverick


Best Stunt Coordination Team

The Batman

Everything Everywhere All at Once


Top Gun: Maverick

The Woman King


Best Ensemble Cast

The Banshees of Inisherin

Everything Everywhere All at Once

The Fabelmans

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Women Talking


Texas Independent Film Award

Acid Test

Apollo 10 1⁄2: A Space Age Childhood


Deep in the Heart: A Texas Wildlife Story

Facing Nolan

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Jean-Luc Godard? Jack Palance wasn’t impressed.

So there I was in my hometown of New Orleans in 1991, attending the junket for City Slickers and seated at a table with Jack Palance. I wanted to ask a question I figured that he hadn’t been asked a zillion times before, so I tossed him this one: What was it like to work with Jean-Luc Godard in the 1963 international co-production Contempt?

Palance smiled at me — indeed, almost winked at me — and replied.

“Godard, I thought, was a good filmmaker, but he was so… Well, I remember, we had a question about a scene that we were doing, and I thought maybe there was something I should be doing, and he said, blatantly, ‘You know, of course, that I am considered one of the great filmmakers today.’ And I said, ‘No, I didn’t know that. Why don’t you tell me about it?’ And so he goes on like this.

 “He was one of those guys, one of those directors — I’ve worked with a few of them, and my God, they’re infuriating! Because suddenly he’s walking out there, and he’s throwing things, saying, ‘And then you will do this! And then you will do that!’ And you stop and say, ‘Hey! I'm not going to do what you’re showing me anyway. So don’t show me!’

“See, he was doing that with all the actors. Like, ‘And now, I think if you touch the glass on the table…’ And you know you’re not going to touch the glass after he’s shown you something like that.”

And yet, for all that, Palance said Contempt had its funny moments. Sort of.

“I think one of the most memorable things for me in that film was doing a scene with Brigitte Bardot. We were in that red car, a little red car, and we had a scene where she and I just drive away. We’re going off to something. No dialogue. And we’re set up somewhere in Italy, and Godard’s got his camera way over there. He’s sitting on a box, hunched over, and he wore a hat, looking like a very, very artistic picture of a director.

“And so, we start to drive. We drove by, and we could hear his voice saying, ‘All right, we will do an encore. We will do it again, please.’ So you come back — there’s no explanation of what went wrong — and you do it again. And then you do it again. And do it seven, eight times — just driving by the camera, nothing else. And nobody says, ‘Faster,’ or ‘You're looking at the wrong direction,’ or some goddamn thing.

“So, as we got back this time, I said to Bridget, ‘Look, if he says we’re going to do it again, you and I are going to lunch.’ And as we drove by, we heard the voice saying, ‘Tell them we will do it again’ — well, we just kept driving.

“It’s true. We went off into the mountains, had a nice lunch, came back — and so help me God, he had not moved! He was sitting there, and as we approached, he said, ‘Tell them we will do it again!’

“And that was Jean-Luc Godard…”

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Must-See TV for Me: Netflix’s Clusterf**k: Woodstock ‘99

Yes, I will be watching when Netflix premieres the docuseries Clusterf**k: Woodstock ’99 on Aug. 3. My son probably will be watching, too. Because, well, back in 1999, we were there. And on the final evening, I was very sacred.

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Something about abortion

I have posted this before, and if you don't care to read it again, I won't be offended if you scroll by.
While I was in college, a girl I was dating told me she was pregnant — and that I had to be the father. This was in the early 1970s, the pre-Roe era, when abortion was illegal in most places – especially in New Orleans, one of the most Catholic cities in America, where we were living at the time. Still, with relatively little difficulty, we found out about a legit doctor in town who routinely performed abortions for $200. I borrowed the money, and the problem was solved.
Years later, I discovered, well, there’s no lead in my pencil, and I could not have been the father. I should have suspected something was amiss when the girl more or less vanished from my life soon after the procedure. But I never blamed the girl, because at the time I was so traumatized by the episode that the campus shrink wrote me a letter to bring to my draft board, saying I should never be in the military. (Believe it or not: I actually got my draft notice the day of the abortion.) I would joke afterwards that I probably was the only person you’d ever meet who beat the draft by fucking. But a gay friend corrected me: “Well, by fucking a WOMAN, maybe.” LOL.
Now I look back, however, and I suspect — no, make that, I KNOW — that no Supreme Court ruling, no law passed by a state legislature, will ever completely end abortions, or prevent doctors from performing them. All you have to do is know the right people, and have enough money. If you don’t, however, you really are fucked. And that shouldn't happen to anyone.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

First Look: Alex Winter’s The YouTube Effect

In his other life, actor Alex Winter of Bill and Ted fame is an accomplished documentarian. Among his credits: Downloaded (2013), a fascinating study of Napster and the filesharing revolution; Deep Web (2015), an illuminating overview of the Internet’s non-indexed substratum, with special attention paid to the (alleged) Silk Road mastermind Ross Ulbricht; and Zappa (2020), the definitive cinematic biography of maverick musician and Mothers of Invention founder Frank Zappa.

And now Winter has a new one: The YouTube Effect, which will have its world premiere June 11 at New York’s prestigious Tribeca Film Festival.

What’s it all about? According to the PR announcement:

“The feature documentary takes viewers on a timely and gripping journey inside the cloistered world of YouTube and its parent company Google; investigating YouTube's rise from humble beginnings in the attic of a pizzeria to its explosion onto the world stage, becoming the largest media platform in history and sparking a cultural revolution, while creating massive controversy in the age of disinformation. In the fourth quarter of 2021 alone, YouTube brought in 8.6 billion dollars in advertising revenue, a 25 percent increase in its year to year results. While traditional media is struggling, YouTube is thriving.

The You Tube Effect examines how the platform has become a lightning rod for online radicalization, surveillance, algorithmic capitalism, the proliferation of misinformation, and of course, influencers and cat videos.

 “The feature doc is thrilling, shocking and hilarious, but always highly compelling, and above all, entertaining. YouTube is a world populated by some of the most brilliant minds in tech, business, media and politics, as well as pranksters, trolls and conspiracy theorists. The YouTube Effect gives viewers exclusive access to all of the key players.”

 And speaking of cat videos on YouTube: 

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

The Power of the Dog Takes a Big Bite Out of the Houston Film Critics Awards

This just in: The Power of the Dog, Jane Campion’s sweeping study of family dynamics set against a background of the American West, has swept the top honors given this year by the Houston Film Critics Society. (Full disclosure: I am a founding — and voting — member of this group.) 

In addition naming Dog the Best Picture of 2021, HFCS has honored Campion for Best Director and Screenplay; Benedict Cumberbatch as Best Actor; and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Best Supporting Actor.

But wait, there’s more: In the Original Score category, Jonny Greenwood’s score for Campion’s drama tied with Hans Zimmer’s score for Dune.

“As a year of uncertainty in movies concludes,” HFCS president Doug Harris said while announcing winners of the organization’s 15th annual awards, “one sure thing is how quality and creativity create screen magic at any time. No matter how we savor film, creative movies that portray people confronting challenge and change will continue to find an audience that appreciates them.”

Among the other winners: Jessica Chastain was voted Best Actress for recreating Tammy Faye Baker in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, while Ann Dowd was rewarded with the Best Supporting Actress prize for her heart-wrenching portrayal of a grieving mother in Mass. That film also received the first HFCS award for Best Ensemble Cast.

The winner of the Texas Independent Film Award – for the best film made in Texas – is Sean Baker’s Red Rocket, which was filmed in and around Texas City, Kemah, and Galveston. The HFC’s Cinematic Achievement Award, given to the person, enterprise, or Texas-based operation that the group feels has contributed the most to film culture in Texas, goes to Well Go USA. Releases in 2021 by this Plano-based company included Escape from Mogadishu and Raging Fire

 “Each year,” Harris said, “the Society presents our awards after thoroughly reviewing the year’s films. We select our nominees in December before casting final votes early in the new year. As professional journalists who believe in the power of film, we are thrilled with the range and substance of this year’s winners.”

Here is a full list of winners for the 15th annual Houston Film Critics Society Awards. 

Picture: The Power of the Dog. 

Director: Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog. 

Actor: Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog. 

Actress: Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye. 

Supporting Actor: Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Power of the Dog.

Supporting Actress: Ann Dowd, Mass. 

Screenplay: Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog.

Cinematography: Greig Fraser, Dune.

Animated Feature: The Mitchells vs. the Machines.

Original Score: (tie) Hans Zimmer, Dune; Jonny Greenwood, The Power of the Dog. 

Original Song: “Wherever I Fall – Part I,” Cyrano: music by Bryce Dessner and Asron Dessner; lyrics by Matt Berninger and Carin Besser .

Foreign Language Film: Drive My Car. 

Documentary Feature: Summer of Soul. 

Texas Independent Film Award: Red Rocket. 

Visual Effects: Dune: Paul Lambert, Tristan Myles, Brian Connor, and Gerd Nefzer. 

Stunt Coordination Team: No Time to Die.

Ensemble Cast: Mass: Reed Birney, Ann Dowd, Jason Isaacs, and Martha Plimpton; Breeda Wool, Michelle N. Carter, Campbell Spoor, Kagen Albright, Michael White.

 Cinematic Achievement Award: Well Go USA.

Friday, December 31, 2021

Ten Reasons Why I Won't Miss 2021

Why I won’t miss 2021:

Had to battle prostate cancer again.


Dealt with a month-plus scare when it looked like I might also have lung cancer.


Pipes froze and burst in my attic during February Freeze, causing water damage throughout my house.


Spent over two months living alone in Extended Stay while waiting for insurance adjuster's estimate, searching for a contractor, and getting repair work done. 


Anne stayed with our son and his girlfriend with our cat; I needed to stay where I had reliable WiFi for writing, Zoom interviewing, and long-distance teaching.


Needed to have my doctor up the dosage of my antidepressants.


Even with the drugs, I had anxiety attacks -- many, but far from all, attributable to the ongoing COVID pandemic -- that caused me to bust multiple deadlines and sorely test the patience of my incredibly patient editors.


While at Extended Stay, I tripped one night on my way back from the bathroom. Wrenched my arm while breaking my fall, but it could have been worse: One inch or so further to the right, and I would have banged my head on a dresser and likely killed myself. 


Had to comfort my son when his and his girlfriend’s dog died of old age while his girlfriend was out of town.


Never forgot for a moment during ANY of this the hard lesson I learned during my formative years as a welfare worker: There were MANY people who were having a MUCH worse time than me. God bless and keep them – and me – during a (hopefully) better and COVID-free 2022.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

In Response to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's Bush League Shenanigans


In the interest of full disclosure: I am a member of the Critics Choice Association, so I cannot claim to be at all objective in this matter. However, since I share the sentiments of CCA CEO Joey Berlin — and have his permission to reprint this message sent to me and other members of the organization today — here goes.

And by the way: Views expressed are not necessarily those of any other publication or organization with which I am affiliated.

Also: Go to hell, Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Go directly to hell. Do not pass Go. Do not collect any TV network money.


To the Membership,

Perhaps you saw the Friday afternoon news dump from the scandal-ridden Hollywood Foreign Press Association announcing that it plans to present Golden Globe awards on the very day that we will be presenting the 27th annual Critics Choice Awards at the historic Fairmont Century Plaza.  This comes despite the fact that we announced the date of our show back in May — and the fact that we had been presenting our awards on the second Sunday in January for several years running (not counting last year, when COVID pushed everyone back a couple of months).

The purpose of this memo is to reassure every CCA member that our 27th annual Critics Choice Awards show is going to be our biggest and best yet and can only be helped by this hostile announcement from the new leadership of this other group.  If it is appropriate, I encourage you to share the gist of this message with your viewers, listeners, readers and followers, the louder the better.  Our friends in the industry understand all of the above, but it would be wonderful if the greater public did, too.

I believe this desperate move by the HFPA to try and undercut the Critics Choice Awards and the tremendous support we are receiving from all the major studios, networks and streamers is...really good for us!  For years we’ve been trying to draw the comparison between the tainted HFPA and the legitimate Critics Choice Association — which has five times as many members and no stink.  Our awards are the considered judgment of almost 500 active critics and entertainment reporters who cover film and television and collectively reach virtually every entertainment consumer in the US and Canada every day.  While the CCA proudly lists and displays pictures of all its members on our website, the HFPA has long hidden its tiny membership.  Only now is it attempting to come clean after having been very publicly disgraced for its prejudice, its crassness, and it's highly questionable business practices.  So, yes, let's make those comparisons!

In fact, in their desperate search for new legitimate members, some of you have been approached about joining them.  From their perspective, that makes sense.  After all, CCA members are already vetted and proved to be respected working critics and journalists.

From our perspective, we do feel bad for those HFPA members who are legitimate members of the foreign press and are suffering from the fact that so many companies have chosen to stop working with them.  We are even more sympathetic with the many members of the foreign press who have been unwelcome in the HFPA for decades, despite the fact that their collective reach is probably greater than the 80-some odd members of the HFPA who blackballed them when they sought membership.  This is why the CCA created its new International Branch, to accredit important and influential members of the foreign entertainment press who had been unable to join HFPA.

And please note that while that other group is entirely about their one big television show (and dispensing the riches it has generated), the CCA has long been a diverse and inclusive organization that is true to our mission all year long - to help audiences find the good stuff, and to help the people who make the good stuff find their audiences.  That's why we are presenting the Critics Choice Documentary Awards on November 14, and why we are hosting the Celebration of Black Cinema & Television on December 6 and the Celebration of Latino Cinema on December 9, as well as our other Critics Choice events.

Onward and upward!


Joey Berlin


Friday, October 08, 2021

Zooming with Mye Hoang — Director of the A-Meow-Sing Documentary Cat Daddies

Call it Kedi — American Style, and you won’t be far off the mark.

Cat Daddies, Mye Hoang’s irresistibly appealing documentary, is so insightfully observed, beautifully crafted and warmly empathetic that even normally feline-averse viewers will want to sing its praises and hold it close to their hearts.

Not unlike Kedi, Ceyda Torun’s splendidly graceful 2016 film about the multifaceted feline population of Istanbul, Cat Daddies will be pure catnip for anyone who can’t get their fill of their favorite four-legged friends on YouTube and Instagram. In sharp contrast to Kedi, however, Hoang’s documentary is less about the fiercely independent critters themselves than the bonds that form between men (and, sometimes, the women in their lives) and the cats who deign to be their comrades.

Hoang, a Dallas-born, Los Angeles-based producer and director, turns her camera on a diverse array of guys, ranging from a cross-country trucker to a homeless New Yorker to a movie stuntman whose romance with a stuntwoman is sparked by their shared love of cats. Much of the movie is light, even celebratory, as it pushes back against stereotypes of various sorts, and shows how companionship with cats can be therapeutic, inspirational — and in at least one case, high remunerable.

However: Cat Daddies was filmed largely over the course of 2020, a year when COVID-19, California wildfires, and other disasters amped stress levels, all of which Hoang duly acknowledges — sometimes as as subtle allusions, sometimes as front-and-center threats — in many of the multiple narratives she interweaves throughout her film. It’s a tricky balancing act, but she pulls it off with wit, intelligence, and compassion.

As Hoang says in her director’s statement:

“We all know the stereotype of the crazy cat lady. And many of us have that friend, the one with the Instagram feed dedicated exclusively to cats. Self-described ‘Crazy Cat People’ are a force to be reckoned with — a community that’s here to stay and has only grown stronger in the age of social media.

“I watched over the course of a few years as my husband [filmmaker Dave Boyle] transformed into a bona fide crazy cat person after we adopted our first cat. However, something else changed inside him — something deeper. He seemed to grow into a softer, more patient and compassionate person. This inspired me to find more men who had undergone a similar transformation, and document their stories.

“As I dug deeper on ‘Cat Instagram,’ I discovered dozens of men who seemed to be living their best life with their feline companions. Their stories ran the gamut — from firefighters in South Carolina who unapologetically dote on their ‘fire cat,’ to an unhoused immigrant on the streets of New York who always puts the needs of his cat above his own. Many of the subjects are the very embodiment of the traditional definition of ‘manliness’ — the aforementioned firemen, a stuntman, a truck driver. All of them unapologetically dote on their beloved pets in a way that I found very touching.

“I see Cat Daddies as both a collective portrait as well as a time capsule, documenting a challenging year in which people desperately needed hope, relief, and companionship. It may not convert everyone to love cats, but I hope seeing images of men caring for these little creatures wins over a few skeptics and becomes a catalyst for compassionate change.”

Cat Daddies will premiere this weekend at the Dallas International Film Festival, followed by screenings at the Newport Film Festival and the Tallgrass Film Festival. Here is my Zoom interview with Mye Hoang.