Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Devo, Nada Surf and the punk rock leader of Iceland

I don't usually write about music, but stick with me one this one:

If you haven't heard, Devo has released "Something for Everybody," its first official album in two decades (Though you owe it to yourself to check out the surf rock album from their side project Wipeouters). It's also an amazing album by an amazing band that has unfairly been tagged as "one-hit wonder" for "Whip It," a song that at times makes me cringe from its overexposure.

The problem is Devo was a one-hit wonder only to those who weren't paying attention. Ask a real music fan and they'll rave about the band's more rocking early sound and then go off on how much of our modern sounds owes a lot to the ground Devo plowed.

I've seen Devo in concert twice, once in 1982 in Austin, and again a couple of years ago in San Antonio when they were trying out some of the new music and hammering out the old hits (they've got a good dozen of them in my mind) like they were in a time warp. What they really were in was the start of their Blue Dome Period. The new album pumps and shakes and winks like it's 1982 all over again. And it somehow sounds brand new.

What I'd forgotten is how political Devo is. These are the boys from Kent State, and they showed it in San Antonio when they critiqued poor hapless George W. Bush. The new album also has a political/social edge with songs like "What We Do" and its "Feedin' and breedin' and pumpin' gas/cheeseburger, cheeseburger, do it again..."

I wandered into Austin's Waterloo Records to buy the Devo album. While I was there I scanned the offerings for Nada Surf, a band I love but haven't fully investigated. I noticed the hipster at the counter looked oddly at my music choices. I'm guessing it was the Nada Surf purchases. Maybe this is why I'm not a regular music writer: I had no idea that they were the "one-hit wonders" who did "Popular" back in '96. I instead know Nada Surf for thoughtful creatives songs like "Blonde on Blonde" and "See These Bones."

It seems, like Devo, Nada Surf was unfairly branded a one-hit wonder! I don't know what this says about my musical tastes or the haplessness of the music business, but I do know that Iceland recently elected a punk-rock mayor for its largest city.

That's right, Reykjavik's new mayor is Jon Gnarr, who once toured with the Sugar Cubes and promised free towels at city pools and a Disneyland at the airport as part of his political platform. Somehow that strikes me as proof that Devo was right all along.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

'Open Gate' shoots in East Texas

Bob Hudgins of the Texas Film Commission passes this along from The Hollywood Reporter about an indie film shooting in East Texas:

Tyler Hoechlin and Agnes Bruckner are starring in the indie film noir, Open Gate, directed by Dan Jackson and produced by Molly Mayeux, which has begun filming in Atlanta, Texas.

Hoechlin plays a rodeo clown and bull fighter in a small East Texas town, who discovers that the bulls are being used to traffic drugs.

The film is being produced by A Certain Film Prods. in association with Dahlia Street Films.

Lots more about the film here.

Jackson is a graduate of St. Edward's University, where yours truly teaches creative writing.

Monday, June 28, 2010

'Friday Night Lights' a ratings winner?

The one given about Friday Night Lights has been that it's well-written and gets really crappy ratings. That's ending this summer. The show has been in first place or tied for first for five straight weeks as its fourth season airs on NBC. Could the show conceivably get picked up for a sixth season if this continues? You bet.

The big irony is the cast and crew are preparing to bid the show farewell as the last few of the 13 episodes for season five are being shot in Austin (They will air first on DircTV in the fall under the deal NBC struck with the satellite provider). Read my Dallas Morning News column from last Friday for Connie Britton's take on this.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Will 'Tree of Life' sprout at Venice Film Festival?

I love this photo, which came from here, of Austin resident Terrence Malick and Brad Pitt walking in Los Angeles recently in matching Members Only-ish jackets. The Playlist wonders whether FX work and further Malick tinkering may keep the mostly Smithville-shot film Tree of Life out of the Venice Film Festival.

Here's a good examination of the film that Malick has been working on forever from PopMatters.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Meet the real couple behind Linklater's 'Bernie'

The real-life Marjorie and Bernie

See an update with new details here.

Richard Linklater's planned next feature starring Jack Black is called Bernie, and apparently the Bernie in question is Bernie Tiede, a 39-year-old Carthage ex-undertaker who admitted to the 1996 killing of wealthy widow Marjorie Nugent. Here's Texas Monthly's take on the crime.

Linklater is appaently looking at a fall shoot.

The story was also the subject of a TV drama that aired on the USA Network in 2006.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Hey author, Learn to write a really bad query letter now!

Literary agents are catching on that writers are slowly driving them insane via weird and wacky query letters.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

(Almost) everything you ever wanted to know about Friday Night Lights' Connie Britton

Connie Britton interviewed by Reel Women's Sherry Mills.

Connie Britton spoke at length at Saturday's meeting of Reel Women, both about her career and about the television series Friday Night Lights. Here are some of the highlights:

On Friday Night Lights:

+ No, a sixth season will not happen.

+ She got teary-eyed recently while reading the script to the final season's tenth episode which is about to go before the cameras.

+ The fifth season will wrap up a lot of loose ends.

+ Look for orginal cast members to all return for the final episodes.

+ She was hesitant to do the show after playing the coach's wife in the film version of Friday Night Lights because the film role was so small. Peter Berg promised a larger role in the TV show.

On her background:

+ She went to Dartmouth but majored in Asian Studies, not theater, and spent a semester in China. Despite her major, she starred in many of the college's theatrical productions and raised the ire of some theater majors/profs.

+ Until recently she held a small grudge for the lack of support she got at the time of her graduation. She went back to the school to give an address and put it all behind her.

+ She attended the Neighborhood Playhouse after being rejected by other theater programs.

+ Her big break came in Edward Burns' low-budget The Brothers McMullen. She was visiting her sister in Washington D.C, and almost didn't show up for the NYC audition. The film was shot in the cast and crew's spare time and thus has a lot of continuity problems. Burns met Robert Redford on an elevator and handed him a tape of the completed film. It went on to win the Grand Jury Prize at Redford's Sundance Film Festival.

+ She is single, dating an L.A. writer and has two rescued dogs, one from Austin.

More in my Dallas Morning News column this coming Friday.

Carolyn Osborn's novel harks to Galveston in 1950s

Carolyn Osborn of Austin is clearly one of the finest short story writers to ever come out of Texas (though she was born in Tennessee!). Now her first novel Uncertain Ground is out. It tells the story of a young woman coming into her own in 1950s Galveston. Here's my talk with her about it in today's San Antonio Express-News.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Linklater to go home to East Texas for next film

The word is Richard Linklater's next film is called Bernie and Jack Black is set to star. Here's how he described the film during a recent talk in NYC (My sources say he hopes to shoot it in the fall using a lot of non-actors from East Texas):

"It's a film I wrote about ten years ago," he noted. "[And it's] set in a little town of Huntsville, East Texas, kind of a little black comedy. It's my Fargo in East Texas, where I group up, so it's crazy local with fifty characters. It's about a funeral home assistant who befriends this old lady. It's kind of a true crime story."

Want to meet this undertaker, who actually kills the old lady in question? Click here.

A witch of an actress moves to Austin

Just heard this today. Beth Broderick--you remember her from Sabrina the Teenage Witch--apparently moved to Austin, Texas, a few months ago. The big irony: she was just cast in the TV series Lonestar (formerly Midland), which will shoot a few hours down the road in Dallas.

Friday, June 18, 2010

John Schneider does Hazzard-less duty in 'Doonby'

Tommy Warren, John Schneider and director Peter Mackenzie on the set.

"Omar" Kent Dykes (left) jams.

The Doonby cast.

You know him as Bo Duke of The Dukes of Hazzard or perhaps as Daddy Kent on Smallville, but John Schneider has been knocking around Austin's Spiderwood Studios shooting a part in Doonby. Spiderwood's Tommy Warren sent along these photos from the film shoot, which includes an appearance by Omar and the Howlers.

Also in the cast are Ghostbusters' Ernie Hudson, Robert Davi of Die Hard and the always dreamy Jennifer O'Neill of Summer of '42.

Schneider even found time to appear at the opening a shopping center in Fredericksburg.

Here's how filmmakers describe the Doonby story:

This is the story of a small Texas town and a mysterious, yet talented drifter who gets off a Greyhound bus one afternoon to change and improve the lives of all he comes in contact with. It is a story of greed and envy, evocative of classics like John Steinbeck’s ‘The Pearl’ and the dark side of Capra’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. Its shock ending could have been inspired by J.B. Priestley’s immortal play ‘An Inspector Calls’.

It will be an entertaining movie, played out against the backdrop of the classic country and blues music that is performed in Leroy’s Country Blues Bar by some of the greatest stars of this genre. The powerful and disturbing message is contained in its unexpected sting in the tail which will likely inspire furious debate in a country deeply divided over social issues. A powerful viral marketing campaign is being planned to get the word out to millions of moviegoers around the world about this piece of masterful storytelling.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dog the Bounty Hunter goes to 'Austin High'

As a graduate of Austin High School in the wonderful city of Austin, Texas, I'm very amused by the currently shooting low-budget comedy Austin High, which has the tagline "what would happen if a group of high school stoners grew up and became the faculty at their own high school?" As one of the first people every kicked out of in-school suspension at Austin High (we were having too good a time), I'm doubly amused.

Now comes word that Dog the Bounty Hunter is in the film. If nothing else this film will certainly be a guilty pleasure. Maybe they can they find a way to include our old fight song: "Beer, beer, for old Austin High..."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Turns out Texas is not alone in film content clause

A provision in the Texas film incentives program barring funding for films that portray the state in a negative light has brought some recent controversy, specifically involving a fictional take on the real-life events at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco and, to a much lesser extent with Robert Rodiguez's Machete.

Now The New York Times tells us other states are getting in on the act. What nixes funding in Michigan? Cannibals, my friends.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Big 12 survives to play another day

One of my lesser-known writing gigs is blogging about the University of Texas Longhorns football team for The Austin Chronicle. It's been a wild last few days with Nebraska and Colorado leaving the Big 12 and Texas on the verge of going to the Pac-10 and taking half of the remaining teams along. The drama ended today with the announcement that Texas and the remaining members are keeping it together. Here's my goofy blog post about it.

I also spoke on the air to a West Virginia radio station through Metro News about the tempest. You can hear it here.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

'Good Guys' off to poor ratings start

The Dallas-shot series is a lot of fun, but the first two episodes of the Fox show have tanked in ratings. Can The Good Guys find an audience? Stay tuned (and hope others do, too).

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Debra Monroe's memoir goes deep into what makes a family

Debra Monroe was my teacher when I was getting my MFA in creative writing at the school that shall forever be known as Southwest Texas State (some call it Texas State now). I sat down with her recently to talk for this piece in today's San Antonio Express-News. Her memoir On the Outskirts of Normal is a wonderful book you should all check out. It's caught the eye of Vanity Fair and will be featured in O Magazine in August.

Here's a taste of the interview:

"I'm fine, but I will never be who I was before," Debra Monroe said recently in the living room of her central Austin home.

The Texas State University creative writing professor is talking about the illness that nearly killed her, but she could just as easily be talking about the entire spectrum of challenges that make up her memoir "On the Outskirts of Normal: Forging a Family Against the Grain" — moving to Texas and shedding an abusive marriage, adopting an African-American newborn girl from San Antonio and creating a new kind of family in a Wimberley cabin, seeking peace with her own abused mother and — most important — affirming her own inner strength and ability to love.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

'Lonestar' to shoot at Las Colinas

Despite a late look at Austin (word is one or both of the showrunners is living there), Twentieth Century Fox Television reps confirmed the series Lonestar (formerly titled Midland) will shoot in North Texas, specifically at the Studios at Las Colinas, where The Deep End previously shot. More in my article in today's Dallas Morning News.

The cast includes: Bryce Johnson, Mark Deklin, Jon Voight, Adrianne Palicki, James Wolk, Eloise Mumford and David Keith

Still no word on the future of Chaos, the CBS series poised to film in North Texas this fall if a deal can be wrangled between the network and Twentieth Century Fox Television.