Sunday, April 25, 2010

'True Grit' train (and horses) arrive in Granger, Texas

One of the draws of Joel and Ethan Coen filming True Grit in Granger, Texas, was the railroad line that runs right next to the strip of wide street where much of the filming there will take place. Today the actual train to be used in the film arrived in town, attracting even more tourists. It's a beauty, with a coal tender, a Pullman car and a freight car attached.

Filming, by the way, appears to have been pushed one more day to Tuesday. The set looks very ready for action, and as you can see the security guards have arrived. I also noted a Paramount truck with New Mexico license plates! Bring on Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin. Guys, be sure and make a stop five miles down the road in Taylor for some barbecue while you're in the area.

The horses arrived Sunday as well...

Here are a few more shots from the street. You can find a whole lot more photos from the set here.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Granger, TX, gets its dirty close-up in True Grit

Joel and Ethan Coen's version of True Grit is days away from filming, and it's the second biggest news in Granger, Texas. First is the kolache sale at Sts. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church, where the ladies of the church cooked up about 5,000 of the delicious Czech pastries--in traditional flavors like poppy seed, prune and apricot--in the church's recreation center Saturday. Down the road tourists were crawling around the downtown strip where Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon will encamp starting Monday.

The wide, red-brick stretch of downtown--all of a block or two--is now covered in a layer of dirt to simulate Fort Smith, Arkansas. Workers bustled about Saturday putting on the finishing touches. Wagons, barrels, period signs dotted the storefronts that have been retrofitted Old West-style.

Granger is an old-school Czech community where the last U.S. Czech language newspaper is apparently still printed and many residents, even if they don't speak the language, retain a hint of a Czech accent. I asked and was told the editor does it with a computer now and the editions seem to be few and far between. The church's community center was bustling with people leaving with pizza boxes filled to the brim with kolaches. During filming, the center will serve up food for the cast and crew (they should probably ask the church ladies to teach them kolache making). Outside a tent is already up nearby for the movie's wardrobe department.

One woman wondered what they'd do with all the dirt that was toted in. "I just hope they can get it off of there," she said.

Click on the photos to see larger versions of them. You might want to compare with these photos I took a couple of weeks ago. You might also note what appears to be a gallows in one of the last photos!


Friday, April 23, 2010

'Waco' film on track with Kurt Russell, Adrien Brody, Sharon Stone?

That's what Production Weekly tweeted:

Kurt Russell, Adrian (sic) Brody & Sharon Stone attached to Rupert Wainwright's "Waco," which plans to film this fall.

It's the story of David Koresh and the 1993 Branch Davidian raid in Waco. (Should I mention I have a big box of Koresh sermons on cassette tape sitting next to me as I type this? They fell into my hands recently...) Take it for what it's worth since they didn't even bother to spell Brody's name correctly.

The big question is where it will film, since Bob Hudgins of the Texas Film Commission said the film will not qualify for film incentives, a stance that led to this recent "award" from a civil liberties group. Hudgins questions the facts as presented in the script based on a review by people portrayed in the film by name.

I talked to director Rupert Wainwright last year when the film got its share of free publicity over the incentives flap. "We have spent a lot more time investigating this story than the head of the film commission of Texas has," he said then.

Wainwright and co-writer James Hibberd, a University of Texas grad now writing for The Hollywood Reporter, also scoured court transcripts and brought on documentarian Michael McNulty (Waco: The Rules of Engagement) as a consultant.

Wainwright went so far as to hint that unnamed federal officials had put pressure on Texas officials to quash the film. That's a charge Hudgins flatly denied.

It's a film standoff that points to the vagueness of the content clause, added in 2007 by Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, in response to the film Glory Road, which some say exaggerated racism within college basketball.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Did Terrence Malick have a small screening of "Tree of Life?"

That's the word being spread through Facebook. Tree of Life is not making it to Cannes, it appears, but it also seems close to completion. The said secret Terrence Malick film screening was in Austin. Here's what was said about it (and take it with a grain of salt):

"It will not make Cannes. The visual effects aren’t done, but the footage that we’ve worked on is near complete. The reason for the delay in post is because of the amount
of detail IMAX 70 MM requires. I can assure you that the results are worth the wait."

Any of my readers there? I promise not to tell if you spill the beans...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tim O'Brien says My Lai massacre too important to forget

Words have power. Sometimes more power than the writer anticipates. Tim O’Brien realized that one day as a line of fans snaked before him waiting for him to personally autograph a book. A mid-twenties man in line seemed to sway nervously. O’Brien figured the man was another would-be writer with an unpublished manuscript seeking advice from the master. But as the man approached the table, he said something that sent O’Brien back to Vietnam: “I think you knew my Dad.”

The resemblance was uncanny and unmistakable. This was the son of Mad Mark, an assassin Green Beret whom O’Brien did indeed know in the trenches of Vietnam. Mad Mark carried an enemy’s nose in his pocket. He was a true believer. He did his job and O’Brien’s nonfiction war account, If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, listed him by his first name only. Wasn’t that enough to hide his true identity? Who would read this book by a then-unknown writer anyway?

The son was but an infant when Mad Mark came home and worked for a while as a short-order cook. Then Mark blew his own head off, and the son grew up and started searching for his father in any way he could. He joined the Army, learned to use a weapon just like the old man. But he never found his father until he turned the pages of O’Brien’s book. Because words have power. Sometimes they float around like a bottle in the murky sea until the right person opens them. That’s when a writer may have regrets.

“I regret hurting people, and I realized I should have disguised him better. I’m not talking about pulling punches,” O’Brien said Wednesday to a few hundred people--most students grudgingly attracted through promised extra credit—gathered in the Southwestern Writers Collection at the school that shall forever be known as Southwest Texas State University (some call it Texas State). “My job here today is to make you uncomfortable.”

O’Brien teaches a class or so every two years in the MFA creative writing program there. (I’m a grad of the program but O’Brien came after my time and I’d never met him until this day.) Part of his contract as holder of the Endowed Chair in Creative Writing is to give a few readings for the campus. It’s easy stuff: stand in front of a lectern and read your own words. He could do it in his sleep.

But the ghosts wouldn’t let him. He’d spoken to an undergraduate class and realized how little they knew about the Vietnam War, his main subject matter, his obsession, his demon. The students had read “The Things They Carried,” the short story from his book of the same name, but they didn’t know the first thing about My Lai. O’Brien’s mission this day was to make it real for them. “That’s like living in Texas and never having heard of the Alamo,” O’Brien said of the students’ ignorance of the event.

My Lai was what the American troops called the Vietnamese area in Pinkville (another made-up troop name for the pink area on the map that identified it as an all-out, anything-goes war zone). On March 16, 1968, 105 American troops massacred anywhere from 200 to just more than 500 mostly women and children in the area. For four hours they shot the Vietnamese in the heads, slit their throats, scalped them, threw hand grenades at them. They took breaks to smoke cigarettes, eat candy bars, tell stories. Not one enemy bullet came at them the entire time.

O’Brien’s novel In the Lake of the Woods alludes to the massacre and a man’s repressed memories of being a part of it. O’Brien read briefly from that work, but he gave just as much time to reading the transcripts of court martial hearings for the soldiers, most famously William Calley, the only man among them to be convicted. “What were you firing at?” one soldier was asked in the trial. “At the enemy, sir. They weren’t human beings.”

One young man with a military-style haircut and wearing fatigue shorts walked out early on when O'Brien's talk started getting brutal. Another Iraq War vet said he was trying to get his own stories down on paper. O’Brien was in My Lai one year after the massacre and saw a combination of fear and utter hatred in the eyes of villagers. It was a look he didn’t understand until My Lai became a headline, a source of shame. “It was as if a black curtain had come up,” he said of the revelation.

I (the guy writing this post) was a child when this was going on. Vietnam was white noise on the television in the background as I played with my toys. And I get O’Brien’s point here about the power of words. “The abstraction dulls the senses,” he told the students. “Atrocity is a numbing word. We lose a moral compass when we hear the word.”

Why was his lecture this day something different? Because his fiction comes from a place of truth, and that’s what it’s all about. “I do not believe in the erasure of history—a nation’s history or a person’s history,” he said and went on to quote from another of his Vietnam stories in The Things They Carried: “Every sin here is fresh and original.”

Sounding like the repentant Minnesota-born Methodist he is, O’Brien asked the crowd, “What do you know about yourselves? I did participate in evil.”

But despite the brutality of much of his talk, O’Brien reasserted his belief in humanity. He said he’d recently encountered during his 20th anniversary tour for the book the real-life model for the young girl whose photograph sustains a soldier in “The Things They Carried."

“She doesn’t look the same as in her college yearbook photo, but her eyes were the same,” he said. “The human spirit does have the ability to sustain.”

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Richard Linklater, Jack Black and a baseball film?

That's maybe what's next for Richard Linklater, but this article is a bit murky about it (read the very bottom). What we do know is he's been wanting to do a semi-autobiographical film about baseball--Linklater played briefly at Sam Houston State. Jack Black? School of Rock 2: East Texas Twang perhaps? It's all so confusing...

Mystery solved. It's called Bernie.