September 2016 Irish American News Column

Mary Corcoran with 3 of her grand daughters on The Skinny & Houli Show.

Mary Corcoran with 3 of her grand daughters on The Skinny & Houli Show.

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

My pal Skinny Sheahan mocks me on the radio by telling folks “Houli has become a PI, a professional Irishman.”

But, I feel no shame in loving Ireland, the land of my ancestors, and I’m mighty proud to have founded Hibernian Transmedia NFP with my family, to promote and preserve Irish and Irish American culture. We’re currently producing three weekly Irish American radio programs, one of which stars Skinny on the air every week smooching Democrats butts.

Add to that a dozen or so projects in the works with Irish American film, music, and literature and I’m happy to have eejits like Skinny calling me a “PI” while scoffing at my endeavors, although I prefer the term “cultural warrior”.

I’ve certainly paid my dues over the last 40 odd years working with “American culture’’ until I finally decided that most modern American culture is crap, notwithstanding stellar talents like Kanye West and Miley Cyrus.

Irish culture saved me.

I think that’s because Irish culture is as old as the earth itself. Sure America has an interesting history, but Ireland is forever. And exploring our Irish culture is a never ending adventure when we can dive into recent stories like the Easter rebellion or go deep with stuff like St. Patrick’s dialogue in “The Wanderings of Oisin”.

Hibernian Transmedia is also involved with bringing Irish and Irish American filmmakers to Chicago with our 2nd Annual Irish American Movie Hooley, running at the Siskel Film Center September 30th through October 2nd.

I’ve said before how visiting Ireland is a “preview of heaven” and you all have an opportunity to see Ireland as never before when Fís na Fuiseoige or The Lark’s View, makes its Chicago premiere at the 2nd Annual Irish American Movie Hooley on Sunday October 2nd at the Gene Siskel Film Center. The film was shot extensively with drones across all four provinces and seasons in Ireland, and it marries the otherworldly Irish landscape with some of her greatest living poets speaking Irish.

And I say “her” because as we all know, Ireland is actually Kathleen Ni Houlihan.

Here’s what Film Ireland had to say: Fís na Fuiseoige, the directorial debut by west Kerry man Aodh Ó Coileáin brings to the fore the voluptuousness of the Irish language in both the history it carries, its connection to place and the differing understandings of life that it carries… Using the ever increasing quality of drone technology, Ó Coileáin offers us a slow contemplative picture of the Irish landscape seldom captured so evocatively before. With such stunning aerial cinematography, the timelessness of the Irish landscape is evoked as the camera reflects over places as diverse as the Iveragh Peninsula, the Donegal Gaeltacht, Glendalough amongst others. In each of these various locations, a contributor guides us through the connection of the strong links between the Irish language and place, a connection so strong that in ancient Ireland it even inspired its own literary tradition, ‘dinnseanchas’.

This literary tradition still exists on the fringes of Irish literary life as highlighted by the contributions by the Irish language poets in this documentary, who continue to pursue a knowledge of the land’s relationship with language. In their contributions, the Irish language is associated with a reverence to place itself that pays not only homage to the land but evokes a sense of this land as being timeless, as if its history is ever recurring.

Now what about this dinnseanchas in regards to the Southside Irish? Well there’s a connection there as well. The director, Aodh Ó Coileáin, also known as “Hughie” to some members of his family, spent several months in Mt. Greenwood at his Aunt Mary’s home back in the late eighties. Hugh was even a bartender at Gaelic Park in his salad days. No doubt Hugh experienced the unique sense of being “Southside Irish” and the personalities of our streets.

We were lucky enough to have Hugh’s aunt Mary on The Skinny & Houli Show last month, and we phoned Hugh around midnight in Ireland to talk up his film. Check out the podcast from Saturday August 20, 2016 at http://skinnyhouli.com

Take the opportunity to see Fís na Fuiseoige, or “The Lark’s View” on Sunday October 2nd at the Siskel Film Center. And you can meet Hughie there as well, he’s coming to Chicago with his wife and kids and after a weekend as a guest at the Hilton, they are all headed to Aunt Mary’s in Mt. Greenwood to get reacquainted with the dinnseanchas of the Southside of Chicago.

See this film, you will love it, and take the time to meet Hugh and his Aunt, Mary Corcoran, and their delightful family after the screening. Let’s all go for a pint at The Emerald Loop after the show!

Skinny’s buying!

August 2016 Irish American News Column

Doctor Aidan MacCarthy from A Doctor's Sword

Doctor Aidan MacCarthy

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

 

“May you live in interesting times…” is an old apocryphal Chinese curse.

Looking around lately, you’d think we all might be on the wrong end of that curse. The world seems to be spinning faster and faster into a terrifying gyre of violence, racism, false prophets, mendacity and infanticide. And that’s just from the Democratic candidate!

But is this the end of western civilization? Or is it just the beginning of the end? The world keeps on turning and the best we can do is to hang on and pray to Almighty God for the best.

Yes, the world can be a very scary place, but it has always been so. Look back to World War II and the “greatest generation” and you wonder how they survived the horrors of that time and the emotional and physical terror of man’s inhumanity to man. What was the source of their obvious fortitude in those “interesting times?”

Faith, of course.

On Saturday night October 1st, The 2nd Annual Irish American Movie Hooley will screen A DOCTOR’S SWORD, the terrific film about an Irish doctor who survived just about every major horror of WWII.

Dr. Aidan MacCarthy was his name and this extraordinary film will leave you emotionally spent and so very proud to be Irish.

Tara Brady of the Irish Times said about the film. “The doctor was Aidan MacCarthy, one of a family of 10 children from Castletownbere, Co Cork. From his youth, MacCarthy proved a capable fellow: a champion swimmer and the recipient of a Muster senior medal for rugby, he graduated from Clongowes, then UCC, before departing for London in search of work.

Having signed up with the Royal Air Force, he survived the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940, the fall of Singapore and four years in a Japanese POW camp on a diet of maggot and rice soup.

From there he was transported to Nagasaki – he was one of only 38 people out of 780 prisoners to make it after the cargo ship on which they were travelling was torpedoed – where he witnessed the atomic bombing of that city.

His efforts during World War II did not go unrecognised: he received a George Medal for pulling five men from the wreckage of an RAF bomber, an OBE and a Papal Medal. But being part of a more reticent generation, he seldom spoke of his experiences, or about the ancestral Japanese sword that still hangs in the family bar in Castletownbere

A Doctor’s Sword follows his daughter Nicola as she journeys to Japan to discover more about its original owner. It’s a tricky piece of detective work: some 60 years have elapsed since the blade came into her late father’s possession.

Director Gary Lennon makes terrific use of Aidan MacCarthy’s own testimony (recorded for an RTÉ radio documentary that aired just days after his death in 1995), archive footage and Ronan Coyle’s imaginative animation to recount the extraordinary events of the doctor’s life.

Even before the film closes in on Isao Kusuno, the 2nd lieutenant who previously owned the sword, we’re embroiled in a gripping saga, guided by Aidan MacCarthy’s calm, matter-of-fact narration; as capable as ever.”.

A DOCTOR’S SWORD was an emotional experience for me to watch and I am thrilled to be able to present this film to our audience at the Siskel Film Center on Saturday, October 1st at 8PM. The line that clinched it for me is when the BBC interviewer asks Dr. MacCarthy how he survived, “Well, it’s a combination really of my Irish Catholic heritage, my family background, and lots and lots of luck.”

Please join us in Chicago Sept. 30 through Oct. 2nd,  at The Siskel Film Center, for the 2nd Annual Irish American Movie Hooley, where you can meet the producer Bob Jackson and other filmmakers premiering their movies that weekend.

The Second Annual Irish American Movie Hooley is sponsored by 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey, The Emerald Loop, IAN, Hilton Chicago, Kitty O’Shea’s, and McCann’s Irish Oatmeal. For more information and updates about the schedule, go to moviehooley.org.

See you at the movies.

July 2016 Irish American News Column

Finbar Spillane & Kevin Baggott star in BENEATH DISHEVELED STARS

Finbar Spillane & Kevin Baggott star in BENEATH DISHEVELED STARS

Hooligansim

by

Mike Houlihan

 

“When I go see a movie, I want to feel like I’m peeking through a keyhole…just gimme the truth as best you can.”

So says first generation Irish American filmmaker and writer Kevin Baggott. The disciple of the late novelist Nelson Algren, is an “enigmatic cat”, much like his dead mentor.Kevin won the “Best Actor” Award at the Winter Film Fest in NYC last February, (for “Why Do You Smell Like the Ocean?”), and he’s premiering his film BENEATH DISHEVELED STARS to kick off the 2nd Annual Irish American Movie Hooley on Sept. 30th in Chicago.

Baggott’s unique and funny odyssey, about an Irish American guy taking his mother’s ashes back to Ireland, is a tough adventure for this Brooklyn auteur, who plays the lead as well as directing this totally original story that walks a wobbly line between melancholy and zany. Baggott’s character, Bobby, a Brooklyn tenement super, has enough trouble surviving the wacky New York characters in his life, until he gets to Ireland and encounters Irish men and women of epic personalities and things quickly escalate to a mythical stage.

Starring with Kevin Baggott in “Beneath Disheveled Stars” are Nicole Roderick, Vic Martino, Danny Gilfeather, and Ireland’s own Colin Martin. The film also features a terrific original score by Estelle Bajou that transports the audience to Ireland as well as an Ireland of the mind.

Are they just “having some fun with the yank”, or are their motives more sinister? In the best spirit of indie film, Baggott is also the cinematographer of this haunting and comic road movie.

Baggott’s film is the cornerstone of a trio of Chicago premieres scheduled for the Hooley in the windy city this fall. The other two masterpieces are yet to be chosen, but will eventually join BENEATH DISHEVELED STARS on the marquee at the Gene Siskel Film Center, once again the home of the Annual Irish American Movie Hooley.

Kevin’s dad is from Galway and his mom from Cavan. He grew up in the Bronx, where his mother “used to beat me with the Irish Echo when I wouldn’t go to school.”

A street kid who could have easily wound up like Rocky Sullivan in the Cagney classic ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES, Kevin yearned for NYU Film School, but “those bastards wouldn’t let me in.”

He wound up at CCNY, put together his first film on 16 millimeter in Coney Island, The Village Voice raved, festivals clammered, and Baggott’s revenge was sweet. “So they had me going down to NYU every year…to show their students the film.”

Shot in  West Cork in the village of Kilcrohane, Baggott recruited his crew of three for BENEATH DISHEVELD STARS: his wife and a kid from a local farm they hired to work sound, and himself.Without a script he made it up as he went along, meeting the people of the town and recruiting them as characters in the film. They turned out to be terrific actors and briliant improvisers. Kevin told me, “Oscar Wilde says the Irish talk their books away.”

“Everybody we asked, ‘we’re doing this movie, we don’t have any money, we can’t pay you anything, would you like to be in it?” The response that came back was, “Sure I can do that!”

He shot for a month with “a camera the size of a box of cracker jacks” and then returned to NYC to film the beginning of the movie with his friends. It worked, it’s brilliant, and captures the Irish from a unique and funny perspective; that of a guy with “Ireland in his DNA” who’d been away too long.

BENEATH DISHEVELED STARS premiered at the Cork Film Festival in 2014 and the entire village of Kilcrohane turned up to see it, and loved it. “It’s nice hearing a lot of laughter.”

He’ll be hearing it again when the film makes its Chicago premiere at the 2nd Annual Irish American Movie Hooley on September 30th at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

Kevin gets diffident when asked what he hopes the audience will get out of BENEATH DISHEVELED STARS, and after a few hems and haws tells me, “I don’t know.” he said. “I hope they will all move back to Ireland!”

Please join us in Chicago Sept. 30 through Oct. 2nd for the 2nd Annual Irish American Movie Hooley, where you can meet Kevin Baggott and other filmmakers premiering their movies-and of course, you’ll likely feel like moving back to Ireland yourself!

The Second Annual Irish American Movie Hooley is sponsored by 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey, The Emerald Loop, IAN, Hilton Chicago, Kitty O’Shea’s, and McCann’s Irish Oatmeal. For more information and updates about the schedule, go to moviehooley.org.

Irish American News column September 2015

iamh_logo_72x66_pixelsHooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

Never let it be said that I don’t know how to throw a party.

Case in point-Back in the eighties I was living in New York, City visiting Chicago, and dropped by my late brother Danny’s law office. He introduced me to the office manager Monica Dwyer Fox. (She was already a fox before she married one.)

Monica looks at me incredulously and says to Dan, “This is your brother?”

Dan starts giving me the stink eye, “Yeah?”

Monica laughs and says, “I didn’t know you were related, this is the first guy I ever saw naked!”

Former seminarian Dan turned fifty shades of red and stared daggers at me.

Seems my folks were away one night back in the sixties and word around the neighborhood was that “Houli is having a party”. Monica and her girlfriends come in the front door and yours truly is streaking around the party buck-naked and no it was not my birthday. The nude hello was a little stunt, (literally,) which I used to pull in my teenage years to break the ice and loosen up the crowd sometimes at parties.

Now remember this was fifty years ago and shenanigans like that were considered just harmless hooliganism then. Today of course I’d be arrested and sent to jail much like that Duggar kid was for coppin’ a feel from his sleeping sister.

My birthday suit now is very wrinkled and quite a bit larger to accommodate the several watermelons and barrels of beer I’ve consumed over the last fifty years, so it’s probably not the best ice breaker, but lemme tell ya back when I was a teenager I was an Adonis!

Lately I’ve been forced to learn some new tricks to entertain at parties and I’m throwing a party later this month that promises to be a doozy!

It’s the First Annual Irish American Movie Hooley on September 25-26-and 27th at The Gene Siskel Film Center on State Street in Chicago. Please join us for the only Irish American film festival in the world. We’re out to discover the next John Ford, Grace Kelly, Jimmy Cagney, or john Huston.

We’ll be premiering three terrific films with Irish American themes and this is our first year so come on out to the Hooley. After each screening we’ll all be heading around the corner over to The Emerald Loop on Wabash to celebrate the “hooley”.

You can read all about the films we’ve chosen elsewhere in The Irish American News or online or at http://hiberniantransmedia.org/movie-hooley/.

Please say hello when you get to the theatre, I’ll be there Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

I won’t be naked and you’ll be glad I’m not!

But we’ll still have plenty of laughs.

So.

Don’t miss the Hooley!

Irish American News column for June 2015

james-cagney-224x300-1Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

I auditioned for the Clifford Odets play “Awake and Sing” back in the late 1970s when I was a young actor in New York. After I finished reading for the part, the director, Ken Frankel, asked me to sit down. Oh boy, I felt like I had just nailed it. He looked at me strangely and said, “What the hell are you doing here?”

In retrospect of course it was a good question. I was a young Irish kid trying to play a Jewish guy named Ralph Berger. Hey, but I’m an actor, I can do anything, right?

“No,” he said. He went on to explain that it didn’t make a bit of difference how good an actor I was, there was no way I was going to be cast as a young Jewish fella, especially in New York city where there were millions of young Jewish actors. “Are you nuts?”

Of course, I’ve been hearing that question my whole life. But Frankel’s advice was to stick with who I was already, at that place and time. And for me that was a narrowback Irish kid, albeit a shockingly handsome Irish-American lad!

It wasn’t long after that I was cast as Captain Brennan in Sean O’Casey’s classic “The Plough and the Stars.” This was more like it. I did some research and discovered that my grandfather, Denis Cusack, was a member of the Irish Citizen Army back in the day.

Now I was awakened to my own Irish heritage and I went at it with a vengeance. But it was tough to “stick with your own”; there weren’t many films or plays that featured Irish-American stories in those days. It wasn’t like that golden age of Irish American cinema in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s that launched giants like Jimmy Cagney, Pat O’Brien or Spencer Tracy, or directors like John Huston, John Ford, or Preston Sturges.

Now the gangsters were all Italian and audiences relished the anti-hero genius of De Niro, Pacino, and Joe Pesci.

But the Italian-American mafiosos I would never play, and the Jewish American scruffy idealists I should never be allowed to portray, shared their origins with those Irish-American giants in film history.

Children of immigrants all, their stories were forged in the ethnic tenements of New York, Chicago, or Boston. The pinching poverty and bare-knuckled brawling was salted heavily with religion and romance. That stew produced storytellers. I say the best storytellers in this world.

Does talent like that skip generations? No. The ancient myths and romantic tales created by Irish-Americans over just the last two centuries in America are passed on in our DNA. We need to encourage it, and nurture the future of Irish-American cinema. It’s time for a new generation of Irish storytellers to “awake and sing.”

I’ve played tons of Irish-American cops, bartenders and priests in my 40 years since that “Awake and Sing” audition. And I want to keep doing it. But we need to discover the next wave of Irish-American storytellers who can bring their ethnic swagger to the screen.

That’s why we’re now calling for entries for our first annual “Irish American Movie Hooley.” We’re looking to discover the next John Ford or Grace Kelly or maybe you, Eamonn McGillicuddy.

So if you’re an Irish-American indie filmmaker, or you’re related to one, call and tell them to submit to our festival before July 31.

We’ll be screening the best three Irish-American film premieres on Sept. 25-27 at the Gene Siskel Film Center. So tell us your story, show ‘em what you got, and join us in Chicago next September.

And if you need an older fat guy to play an Irish American cop or priest in your film, get in touch!

You can learn more about the first annual Irish American Movie Hooley by visiting hiberniantransmedia.org/movie-hooley.

***

September 2014 Hooliganism Column from The Irish American News

quietman

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

 

I’ll be in heaven next month. Just for a preview.

It’s the annual Skinny & Houli pilgrimage to the holy ground, Ireland! Somebody said, “Ireland is where the hand of God touches earth.” And I will give witness to that.

Last year on the Skinny & Houli trip as I sat in front of a pub, reveling in the fun being had by all, retired CFD Chief Mike Miller, stood outside the pub with me and said, “Well, you were right!”

He then quoted my column from August 2013, where I put the reader at the Pearly Gates and God offered reasons for the trip when He finally said, “Because life is short, kid.”

Mike Miller told me that clinched it for him. Guess what? Mike is back again this year for The Skinny & Houli Return to Ireland Tour. So is Brendan O’Brien, Dori Dillion, Denny Kearns, George & Barb Scully, and Froggie McGuire. And this time Froggie is bringing his girl friend Mary Ellen Duffy!

Those veterans of our shenanigans will be joined by more adventurous souls this year as we go north to Belfast, Derry, Donegal, and back to Dublin to hang out once again at the Fitzpatrick Castle. Yeah, everybody wants to go to heaven.

Can you blame them?

Now I know there will be naysayers shouting, “What do you know about heaven, Houli? What you need is a preview of hell!”

Well sorry to disappoint you negative thinkers but I’ve seen hell already and I don’t care to return.

It was many years ago. I was a young college bum in the company of fellow thespian, Rubenesque Rebecca Gould, who was babysitting her little brother Sheldon in her parent’s Lake Point Tower condo. Becky was blessed with a bountiful bosom that beckoned to me from across the room.

We commenced making out on the couch, and just as I was rounding first base, she burst into tears!

That wasn’t exactly the reaction I was hoping for and then I heard the flash of a Polaroid camera behind me and I looked up to discover little Shelly snickering as he held up a photo of me with my hand up his sister’s blouse.

“Ten bucks, shmuck, and you can take the photo with you!”

I wanted to strangle the lil devil but had images of his dad, Dr. Gould, having me arrested. So I paid up and bid Rebecca adieu. As I waited for the elevator in the hallway I heard her inside crying and arguing with Shelly and finally screaming at the top of her gigantic lungs, “You owe me five bucks!”

So yes I have had a glimpse of hell and her name was Becky Gould.

So remember, September is the final window to sign up for the Skinny & Houli Return to Ireland Tour in October, so if you wanna party with the big dogs, while the lovely Katie Grennan serenades us on her Irish fiddle all over the auld sod, call Cathy Featherstone at 847-542-1539 to book your passage. And remember, “Life is short kid.” so call Today!

I understand that not everybody can make it this year but you can come close to the experience by joining me for one or another of the following great events this month.

On Wednesday Sept. 10th we’ll be celebrating the 5th Anniversary of The Skinny & Houli Show at Lizzie McNeill’s Irish Pub. Join us and meet Irish Consul General Aidan Cronin, our special guest that night on the show, starting at 6PM. Gifts are not required but certainly encouraged!

Wed. Sept 17th hope to see you all at The Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame dinner at Hawthorne Racecourse when Minnie Minoso will be honored along with about twenty sports legends including our old pal from Mayo, boxing coach Marty McGarry, who will be picking up a “Lifetime Achievement Award”. More info at chicagolandsportshalloffame.com

And don’t forget Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day on Friday night Sept 19 at Plumber’s Hall, 1340 West Washington, Chicago. chicagostpatsparade.com for more info.

This is a fundraiser for the Chicago parade and the second annual celebration put together by Local 130 Business Manager Jim Coyne. Forty bucks at the door includes food, beer, wine and soda with live music from “Hey Jimmy” and The Shannon Rovers. I will be there with my friend John Linehan selling our books, so hope to see you there. Last year was a blast!

Finally on Friday Sept 26 & Sunday Sept. 28, please join me in welcoming filmmakers Dave and Colin Farrell to The Gene Siskel Film Centre for the Chicago premiere of their dazzling documentary “A Terrible Beauty” based on the 1916 Easter Uprising in Ireland. This terrific film should be seen by every Irish-American seeking enlightenment. Hope to see you there!

So this month offers us a variety of heavens. And if that doesn’t float your boat, try finding Becky Gould in the phone book, just for the hell of it!

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August 2014 Column from The Irish American News

A Terrible Beauty (Áille an Uafáis) - Cmdt. Ned Daly (Owen McDonnell) prepares to shoot a British Lancer

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

 

I played Captain Brennan in Sean O’Casey’s epic play THE PLOUGH AND THE STARS back in 1977 when I was a green actor with The Syracuse Stage Theatre company.

It was an epiphany for this young Irish-American lad who knew little of the history of Ireland. My knowledge at the time was limited to “The Quiet Man” and Clancy Brothers albums that my older brothers played continuously throughout the sixties.

Brennan was a Dublin chicken butcher and Captain in the Irish Citizen Army, a zealot with fervent dreams of patriotism in the midst of the Easter uprising of 1916. I poured myself into the play and consumed research of the rebellion in songs and stories.

On opening night I asked one of the fellas to take a photo of me in our dressing room, I wore “the full uniform of the Irish Citizen Army: green suit; slouch green hat caught up at one side by a small Red Hand badge; Sam Browne belt, with a revolver in the holster.” I sent the photograph to my mother back home in Chicago.

I had a vague remembrance of mom telling me about her father, my grandfather, Denis Cusack, (long dead before my birth but born in Ireland in 1869), and his being a staunch IRA man. My mother’s emotional response to the photo stoked my feverish performance of Captain Brennan and my rousing embrace of Irish nationalism. It didn’t hurt when I learned the significance of Cathleen ni Houlihan in Irish history.

I was blessed then to live in the world of O’Casey’s genius for eight shows a week as he weaved his story of the people in a 1916 Dublin tenement courageously dealing with the tragic events of Easter week.

That experience was a baptism into my life long search for my Hibernian heritage and a never-ending exploration of our culture. We’ve been blessed indeed with Irish blood, and let’s never forget that a lot of Irish blood was spilled fighting for the freedom of this island nation.

I watched a film recently that brought it all back home, “A Terrible Beauty”.

My friend Barbara Scharres at The Siskel Film Center invited me to take a look at a screener of the film, which she was considering for a September engagement at her theatre. I slid the DVD into my computer and was immediately plunged back into O’Casey’s world of THE PLOUGH AND THE STARS.

“A Terrible Beauty” is a dazzling docu-drama, which covers the six days of the Easter rebellion in 1916 Ireland through the eyes of the men and women who fought and died in that conflict. Yes, many were patriots, but others were just poor unfortunate souls caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The filmmakers, Dave Farrell and his sons Keith and Colin, are also interested in meeting folks with connections or oral history information, perhaps gleaned from relatives, on the events of that week. More info on this fascinating film and project can be found at www.1916film.com.

Please do visit the website for a look behind the scenes of “A Terrible Beauty”. As we quickly approach the centennial of the 1916 revolution, it’s good for our souls to take a look back and connect with our history and the lessons left behind for all of us. I’d love to share the experience of this film with you.

Please join us on Friday Sept. 26th at 8PM or Sunday Sept. 28th at 3PM for “A Terrible Beauty”. Like all great Irish stories you might shed a tear, share a laugh, or have your soul stirred by the spirit of our people.

Let’s show the Farrell family what a great Chicago fáilte is all about. Purchase your tickets now!  Hope to see you at The Siskel in September!

 

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May 2013 Column-Irish American News

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert

 

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

I know a miracle when I see one. And I’ve been the lucky recipient of many blessings in my life.  I’ve benefited from lots of little ones, found a quarter on LaSalle street just the other day, as well as major miracles, like meeting and marrying my wife. People still say, “How did she wind up with that wack-job?”

“Tis a miracle!”

Attributing the tiny victories to my unwavering trust in the Lord is what paves the way for the really big miracles.

And last month I caught a doozie. Now you’ve probably been listening to Roger Ebert stories up the ying-yang over the last several weeks, but I’m hoping you can fit one more into your ol’ wazoo because here’s mine.

We never met in person. By the time I got around to introducing myself he was already in poor health and we communicated by email only.

It was August of 2007 and I was trying to get my indie film, “Tapioca”, into the Chicago International Film Festival. I sent him an email and let him know I was once with the Sun-Times and how “I’m hoping you can help me.”

The friendship started when he responded almost immediately, “Have always enjoyed your writing!”

Yes, I’m counting that as another miracle.

So we began corresponding as I kept trying to push Tapioca in film festivals all over the world, hoping he would watch it and I’d soon be picking up my Oscar.

I pitched him on joining us in Park City Utah when Tapioca was screening; figured he’d be there for Sundance. But he sent regrets, “Won’t be able to attend this year because of srugery (sic).”

Then in November of 2008 we were premiering “Tapioca” at The Siskel Theatre on State Street and I had sent him a DVD of the film hoping to get him to review it. I didn’t hear anything back. Finally a week before the screening I emailed again. He wrote back, “The blasted DVD has disappeared! There’s still time….Just slip it through the slot. Hard for me to get to the door in a hurry.”

I put two DVDs in an envelope with press release and note and grabbed my son Billy, “YougottagetthistoEbert’shouserightnow,notimetolose,justdropitintheslot!”

When Billy returned I wanted all the details, “Whathappened?”

He smiled at me, “He’s got it NOW!”

Then we waited.

And waited. Running to the newsstand every day, (yes it was many years ago in 2008 when people still read newspapers), and searching for his verdict on our film. Nothing.

The day before the premiere I sent him an urgent note, “What’s the deal? Are you going to review Tapioca?”

Billy and I waited by the computer and then his response flashed on the screen.

“I viewed it Mike, but I won’t review it, because I don’t believe my review would do you any good. Cheers, R”

Billy looked at me, “What the hell does that mean?”

It means he hated it. He hated it so much that he’s going to do us the favor of NOT reviewing it. At least he didn’t say, “Your movie sucks!”

Billy looked at me, “Well, yeah he kinda did.”

But I knew there was more to it than that. I didn’t always agree with Ebert’s reviews anyway. I thought “Barfly” was total dog crap and he loved it!

But something about Tapioca had set him off. The film is an allegorical comedy with many Catholic references about the ultimate redemption of an alcoholic man.

Years later I would read of Ebert’s own alcoholism and his “disillusionment” with Catholicism. But I’ll never really know what it was about Tapioca that turned him off.

And he actually was doing me a favor. If he had reviewed it negatively I would have just written him off as a total douche, as I did with another Sun-Times critic who panned Tapioca.

So I replied to Roger, “Okay thanks for taking a look.” And left it at that. Who knows when we’d meet again.

Five years later I was about to premiere my new film OUR IRISH COUSINS, again at the Gene Siskel Film Center. I sent Roger a DVD with my pitch.

We were scheduled to premiere in the middle of March and by the end of February I hadn’t heard anything back from Roger. I forwarded the first email with another request. Nothing.

Now it was the day before the Oscars and I’m checking to see what Roger’s writing about and it’s all Oscars and I figured I had nothing to lose so I send another email.

“Hey Roger! F*ck the Oscars! What about OUR IRISH COUSINS?”

Less than an hour later comes his response, “I’m in hospital. I’ll assign it for review on my relaunched website and hopefully for the CST!”

We wound up with a rave review with 3 stars! You can read that miraculous review at RogerEbert.com.

He even tweeted a plug for the film to his 825,000 Twitter followers on St. Patrick’s Day. I wrote him saying, “I have tears of joy on my face…”

The review came out on March 6th, OUR IRISH COUSINS premiered on March 13th and just a little over three weeks later, Roger died. But not before leaving a delightful gift for our little Irish film.

I went to his funeral mass at Holy Name Cathedral. Had Roger come home to the church in his final days? Lord knows, but I’ll tell you this, I know a miracle when I see one. God keep his lovely soul. Thanks Roger!

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March 2013 column from Irish American News

Photo courtesy of Dean Battaglia

Photo courtesy of Dean Battaglia

 

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

Believe it or not, some people don’t like St. Patrick’s Day.

Jewish New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had to apologize a few years back for making some wise cracks about “drunken Irish” on the holy day. And who can forget the late Princess Margaret’s comment back in 1979 when she told Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne, “the Irish are pigs”, right after the IRA had blasted Lord Mountbatten’s ass to kingdom come.

But other than a few malcontents, we Irish are universally loved all over the world.

How could we not be? We’re the most brilliant, handsome, and joyful race on earth.

Everybody wants to be Irish; including a certain half-black, Hawaiian who claims roots in Moneygall, County Offally, known to many as BO.

Well who can blame him? Being Irish is hip, especially this month.

This is when the Irish Diaspora flexes her muscles and shows the world how ethnic pride is done. Those poofs in the “Gay Pride” parade got nothing on us and we don’t have to take off our clothes and simulate sodomy with the fire hydrants either.

Here in Chicago we celebrate our pride in being Irish all year round.  It’s why you’re reading this story right now you gorgeous people!

And our St. Patrick’s Day festivities began this year exactly two months before the holy day when a thousand rosy faces toasted new Local 130 Business Manager Jim Coyne at the annual Plumbers Hall St. Patrick’s Day Parade corned beef and cabbage fundraiser dinner.

Coyne has lined up Notre Dame Football Coach Brian Kelly as Grand Marshall of the Parade, kicking off on Columbus Drive on Saturday March 16th. There are also rumors that Fighting Irish football legend Manti Te’o’s girlfriend might make an appearance at the parade, so keep an eye on those Irish Faeries on the floats.

Chicago’s love affair with the Irish continued in February, once again at Plumber’s Hall, when 30 judges crowned Bridget Fitzgerald Queen of the 2013 St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Her coronation was preceded by a magnificent speech by outgoing Queen Sara Marie Collins as she bid her subjects adieu.

As one of those judges I can attest to the validity of the election. In spite of Cook County’s reputation and the many text messages, emails, and jokes about bribes being flung my way, nobody was on the take.

How can we be so sure the election was legit? Because Skinny Sheahan was in Florida that day folks.

While Skinny was sun bathing his name was dragged through the mud by many at the fundraiser on Feb. 15th for the Southside Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Bourbon Street was packed with revelers but everybody kept asking me the whereabouts of my radio co-host from The Skinny & Houli Show. “Don’t worry”, I told them, “He’ll be back just in time to dunk his skinny little arse into Lake Michigan for the Special Olympics Polar Plunge!” That’s Sunday March 3rd so come on out to North Avenue Beach to watch him shiver for a great cause.

March Madness won’t be complete of course without the Southside Irish Parade on Sunday March 10th, which triumphantly returned last year after much hard work by Skinny and the SSIP Committee. Everybody is anticipating a very sober and family oriented celebration once again, especially since 19th Ward Alderman Matt O’Shea’s issued his shoot-to-kill edict for anyone seen practicing hooliganism in the public way.

If you’re looking for even more culture this month check out “The Women of Ireland” at The Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet on Thursday March 7th and my favorite Irish band, The Saw Doctors, at The Vic on March 22nd. Very proud to be associated with both shows.

And on Wednesday March 13th at 8:15PM, The European Union Film Festival will present the world premiere of OUR IRISH COUSINS at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 North State Street in Chicago. It could be the most significant Irish film of all time, so you ain’t gonna want to miss that!

Still starved for Irish culture? Check out FREECRAIC.COM, and sate your desire for entertainment, gossip, and giggles this month and every month as we break the stories nobody else will talk about, but everybody wants to know.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day and God Bless all you gorgeous people!

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