As your most annoying friend will remind you, Shakespeare spent his downtime during the bubonic plague writing King Lear. Pandemics inspired Florentine poet Giovanni Bocaccio’s The Decameron, gave Isaac Newton space to formulate the basics of early calculus, and influenced one of Edvard Munch’s most haunting masterpieces. Great work arises from history’s darkest ebbs, in other words—and now COVID-19 can claim as its own a TV series in which Nicolas Cage will play Joe Exotic. Variety reports this week that Cage will step into the cage as the eccentric zookeeper in an adaptation of Leif Reigstad’s original article for Texas Monthly. Reigstad’s story first introduced the world to the wild tale that’s captured a quarantined audience via a hit Netflix docuseries. On Friday at 11 a.m. Central, he’ll join the New York Times for a live video discussion of the article.
Remarkably, this new, eight-part show from American Vandal showrunner Dan Lagana is the third scripted Joe Exotic series to be announced in recent months. Saturday Night Live star Kate McKinnon is still attached to play Baskin in a show based on Wondery’s “Joe Exotic: Tiger King” podcast, while Rob Lowe recently teased that he’s also in talks with his 9-1-1: Lone Star producer Ryan Murphy about putting their own spin on it. Still, this is the only Joe Exotic project to use Reigstad’s impeccably reported story as a framework—and of course, it’s the only one to star Nicolas Cage, a man who collects dinosaur skulls, counts an octopus among his pets, and once took acting lessons from a cobra. In that respect, Joe Exotic seems like the ideal match of man and material, even if the part seems relatively restrained for Cage.
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Robert Rodriguez Directs an Episode of The Mandalorian
Disney Plus’s The Mandalorian managed to wrap principal photography on its second season before the coronavirus forced an industry-wide shutdown, meaning we can still look forward to the show’s return in the fall. Now we can also look forward to seeing how Robert Rodriguez would put his spin on the Star Wars universe. To celebrate Star Wars Day on May 4, the Austin director shared a photo of himself cozying up to Baby Yoda, “the biggest star in the universe,” by way of revealing that he helmed one of those upcoming episodes. Rodriguez joins a raft of new Mandalorian talent, including Ant-Man director Peyton Reed and actors Rosario Dawson and Michael Biehn, and he brings with him an obvious affinity for sci-fi and Western tropes that should lend itself well to The Mandalorian’s tales of ruthless outlaws traversing the space-desert. Plus, just think about how many guns he could hide underneath Baby Yoda’s little cloak!
— Robert Rodriguez (@Rodriguez) May 5, 2020
Alamo Drafthouse Names New CEO, Launches Alamo on Demand
Alamo Drafthouse cofounder Tim League announced this week that former Starbucks executive Shelli Taylor will take over the reins as chief executive officer of the Austin-based theater franchise, with League moving on to his new role as executive chairman. It’s a bit of a symbolic sea change for the Alamo, which has been more or less under League’s direct control ever since he and wife Karrie first opened the doors in 1997. Taylor marks a rare outside hire for the company, and she comes from a more traditional corporate world than that of the enthusiastic film geeks who have traditionally overseen operations. (Prior to this, Taylor served as president of the national gym chain United PF Partners—about as opposite from the Alamo’s beers-and-burgers-and-B-movies model as you can get.) The move comes at a pivotal moment for the Alamo, which—like all movie theaters right now—is struggling with the logistics of reopening in a world still gripped by the pandemic. Figuring all that out will be Taylor’s first priority, while League will continue to lead the Alamo’s board of directors and shift his focus to its more creative endeavors.
Among those is the just-announced Alamo on Demand, a streaming library curated by Alamo programmers and drawn from studio partners like Lionsgate, Sony Pictures Classics, and Magnolia, in addition to League’s own Drafthouse Films and Neon. Likened to an online “video store” (itself an endangered species these days), Alamo on Demand offers the chance to rent or purchase recent theatrical releases like Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Knives Out, and Pain and Glory; cult favorites like Forbidden Zone, Miami Connection, and Santa Sangre; and eventually even some new films, all carefully selected and sorted by the Alamo team. It’s the next best thing to being there—or at least, as good as it’s likely to get for a while.
Dallas’s Jonathan Majors Stars in Trailer for HBO’s Lovecraft Country
Matt Ruff’s 2016 novel Lovecraft Country blurred the racial terrors of Jim Crow-era America with the eldritch monsters of H.P. Lovecraft, and as you might expect from that description—and a production team that includes Underground’s Misha Green as well as Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams—its upcoming HBO adaptation promises an unsettling mix of horror both social and supernatural. In the just-debuted trailer for the series, we’re introduced to sci-fan Atticus Finch, played by Dallas actor Jonathan Majors, as he goes hunting for his missing father (The Wire’s Michael K. Williams) with the help of his friend Letitia, played by Friday Night Lights alum Jurnee Smollett-Bell. What he finds is a small-town world where terrifying threats lurk in the woods—and that’s before the giant, metaphorical monsters start tearing into people. Lovecraft Country is slated to debut this August, when the summer heat and simmering tensions are at their peak.
Selena Gomez and Other Stars Make Cooking Shows Out of Quarantine
Coronavirus lockdown has prompted a boom in home cooking shows, as celebrity chefs like Rachael Ray and Martha Stewart—along with many otherwise famous people—have increasingly shared their kitchens with social media. And unsurprisingly for a format that’s based on food and showing off, Texas has been leading the pack. Saturday Night Live alum and Austin transplant A. Whitney Brown shared his tips for cooking “Motherf—ing Beans” using fresh peppers, nopalitos, and a whole lot of stray F-bombs and cigarette ash. Dallas-bred comedian Iliza Schlesinger and her husband, chef Noah Galuten, started cohosting the cooking segment “#Don’tPanicPantry” on their Instagram accounts, featuring simple recipes that are heavy on pasta. More recently, Queer Eye’s Antoni Porowski—who’s been sheltering in place in Austin since the virus halted production on the show’s sixth season—launched the weekly Show Me What You’re Working With, where the food and wine expert helps ordinary viewers figure out what to make from the humble ingredients in their fridge.
This week, HBO Max announced that Grand Prairie’s Selena Gomez will also star in her own ten-part cooking series for the forthcoming streaming service, one reportedly inspired by Gomez’s kitchen experiments while she’s been stuck at home. Each episode of the as-yet-untitled show will find Gomez taking culinary pointers from a different master chef, while also spotlighting a different food-related charity. It’s all something of a dream come true for the singer, who says in a statement, “I think I’ve been asked hundreds of times in interviews if I had another career, what would I do, and I’ve answered that it would be fun to be a chef.” And again, what better time than a forced quarantine to put those pipe dream projects in motion?
THIS WEEK IN MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY
Not to be outdone by her husband, King Pandemic, Camila Alves McConaughey has also gotten into the family business of beaming into your home: she joins Austin’s Easy Tiger restaurant chain for her own “bake along” on Instagram Live, Friday, May 8, at 8 p.m. Central. Those who want to join in can pick up a bake-at-home set or sourdough starter (the must-have quarantine accessory), while Easy Tiger will match every order by making a loaf of “Community Bread” for needy families. It’s all part of a continued campaign of outreach from the McConaughey clan, which this week also saw McConaughey sharing his appreciation for teachers in some throwback photos, as well as by surprising the nine-hundred-plus staff members of the La Porte Independent School District with a “howdy” during an online meeting. Unfortunately, McConaughey wasn’t able to get his video working. Still, the educators deemed it “amazing” to hear some words of reassurance from the actor and newly adopted spiritual guide—or at least from a disembodied voice that sounded a hell of a lot like his.
But if you wanted that uplift directly from McConaughey’s face, you could also tune in to the Positive University podcast, where he popped up to offer yet more of his thoughts on keeping our heads up amid this crisis—even if it drags on for another two years, as McConaughey just sort of casually, horrifyingly suggested. (Of course, McConaughey was only using that figure to illustrate his larger point about conserving our energy and focusing on the day-to-day, and he is not, to the best of our knowledge, privy to some kind of elite celebrity information on epidemics.) The actor also shared the secret of his success, which he attributes to a fear of embarrassment over not trying his absolute best—an embarrassment he wishes more people could feel. “It sucks to be embarrassed,” McConaughey added. “That’s why it’s called ‘embarrassed.’” Look, they’re not all gonna be pearls, okay?
What drives @McConaughey to be great? His answer was surprising and not something I’ve heard before. I loved it. What about you?
Listen to our full interview via my Positive University Podcast (iTunes, etc). pic.twitter.com/ZgQGG7V75X
— Jon Gordon (@JonGordon11) May 4, 2020
As proof of McConaughey’s own refusal to be embarrassed, even where arguably warranted, he also devoted one of this week’s installments of “McConaughey Takes,” his movie trivia series on Instagram, to discussing the 2001 romantic comedy The Wedding Planner. You may remember the critically drubbed film as the one where McConaughey romances Jennifer Lopez while wearing a pair of tiny glasses, a series of drab V-neck sweaters, and an oddly streaked, orange-blond mop that made him resemble a boy band member who moonlights as an orthodontist. The movie was not, in other words, one of McConaughey’s highlights, which probably explains why his “McConaughey Take” largely focuses on how the film was churned out quickly to get ahead of a looming writers’ strike. (It’s a detail McConaughey remembers, he says, because “I got paid extremely well.”) But he also reserved some plaudits for Lopez, saying he admired the work ethic of the “quad threat”—a sentiment he also shared this week in a series of social media exchanges with Lopez, who suggested that they “do it again soon!”
McConaughey was noticeably more animated while discussing his role as Dallas in Magic Mike, heaping praise on director Steven Soderbergh. As he pointed out, if you’re gonna play a male stripper, doing it with Soderbergh is probably the way to go. He also revealed that Soderbergh won him over by telling him that Dallas was “pretty connected to UFOs,” which McConaughey called “a roofless, lidless, take it to astrologic [sic], go cosmo on this guy” piece of direction that allowed him to create one of his most memorable characters. (As with his Wolf of Wall Street video, McConaughey’s been telling this anecdote for going on eight years now, but what do you want from him? The story’s the story.) “I miss Dallas,” McConaughey concludes, on an unexpectedly poignant note. Hey man, we all do. Maybe someday, when this quarantine is all over, McConaughey can tear off his rumpled loungewear and get back to breakin’ some laws, instead of telling us how to follow them.