Tuesday, February 16, 2016



Did you miss it?  The Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton, Ewan Macgregor opus that went through Hell to reach the screen came and went in about two weeks.  It’s damned good – you’ll find out when it makes its way to home video.  And you’ll probably join me in wondering why it was dumped by the Weinstein Company like week-old fish. 

This project was Natalie Portman’s baby from the start.  She knows from Westerns – see 2003’s COLD MOUNTAIN.  She snapped up the much-talked-about Black List script by Brian Duffield (Hollywood’s changed so much that The Black List is now where you want to be), pulled together financing, got director Lynne Ramsay (2011’s WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN), a cast…  And on the day shooting was to commence, Ramsay quit.  When she walked so did a lot of the cast, including Jude Law.  That would have killed most small films, but somehow they held it together, director Gavin O’Connor (2011’s WARRIOR) stepped in – dove in is more like it – and grabbed the reins.  On the eve of the film’s release, its distributor, RELATIVITY MEDIA, went bankrupt, and almost took JANE with them.  But The Weinstein Company saved it.  Then they released it with no press screenings, no publicity, and the only TV promotion I saw was Ewan Macgregor’s appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live.   In this business, that’s the way you release a film that reviews can only hurt.  A stinker.  When I caught the movie at the Sherman Oaks Arclight, it was a kick to see three Westerns in the marquee – THE REVENANT, THE HATEFUL 8 – another Weinstein release, and JANE.  There were four other people in the theatre.  We all loved it.  I just don’t get it.


Franco Nero & Joan Collins on the Red Carpet

From Sunday, February 21st through Saturday, February 27th, the Chinese 6 Theatres in Hollywood will once again be the home of the 11th edition of the annual L.A./Italia Film Festival.  Sponsored by the Italian government and various Italian businesses, this week-long celebration of Italian films, fashion and culture features both new and classic Italian films, and films made by Italian-Americans, and all of the screenings are free!  It’s done on a first-come, first-seated basis, and in four years of attending, I’ve never been shut out of a screening.

They’re honoring composer Ennio Morricone, and several films that he’s scored – the current THE HATEFUL 8, THE UNTOUCHABLES, THE MISSION, BUGSY, and DAYS OF HEAVEN.  My only complaint is that HATEFUL 8 is the only Western they’re showing this year.  You can learn all about the event, and find out when the screenings are, by checking out the official website HERE.

Just one word of warning: this event ends the day before the Oscars, which are held right next door at the Dolby Theatre.  In the day before the Oscars, more and more streets get closed off, so when you come to the L.A./Italia screenings, give yourself extra time to find parking.


If you’re a Round-up regular, you’ve been following the progress of WESTERN RELIGION since it first rolled camera in October of 2013, through their screening at Cannes and their L.A. Premiere a few months ago.  You may have read my interview with directorJames O’Brienor learned about my adventures as a poker-playing extra in the film. 

The story of a sinister mix of gamblers who descend upon a tent city in Arizona to compete in a high-stakes poker tournament, it’s just been released on video-on-demand through iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Google Play, Youtube, and on March 1st it comes out on DVD from Screen Media. 


GET-TV is one of the new antenna digital channels, and it’s also available on some cable and satellite systems.  It’s a SONY channel, with lots of good old movies, and Saturdays they feature their Saturday Showdown Block (read my interview with Get-TV senior programming veep Jeff Meier HEREInstead of playing often too-familiar Western series, they’ve specialized in quality shows that only ran for a season or two, and have rarely been shown again.  They’re adding CIMARRON CITY, which ran in 1958, a Gunsmoke-style series starring George Montgomery, John Smith who’d go on to fame in LARAMIE, and Dan Blocker who didn’t do too badly on BONANZA.  They continue to show MAN CALLED SHENANDOAH starring Robert Horton, HONDO starring Ralph Taeger, NICHOLS starring James Garner, WHISPERING SMITH staring Audie Murphy, THE TALL MAN starring Clu Gulager and Barry Sullivan, and LAREDO starring Neville Brand, Peter Brown, William Smith and Robert Wolders.  Incidentally, one of my most popular Round-up features is my interview with Robert Wolders.  You can read it HERE.


I got some ribbing after the last Round-up for writing a book-review of a coloring book.  I may get more ribbing for reviewing RANGER IN TIME – RESCUE ON THE OREGON TRAIL, not because it’s a kid’s book, but because it’s about a time-traveling Golden Retriever.      The novel by prolific and talented kid’s author Kate Messner is the first in as series of four thus far.  Ranger is a 21st century disappointment, a dog flunked from a search-and-rescue program because he was too easily distracted by squirrels.  He’s living with a modern family when he digs up an old first-aid kit in the back yard that somehow zaps him back to 1850 and the Abbotts, a family heading out on the Oregon Trail.  And wouldn’t you know it, that search-and-rescue training comes in mighty handy.

Don’t get bogged down in the science of time travel – maybe it’ll make more sense in the next book, about ancient Rome, but it’s just a MacGuffin to get a modern-day sensibility into a historical tale.   The fact is, it’s hard to get school-kids interested in reading history, and this story, with its nod to Jack London and his brilliant dog’s point-of-view novels, CALL OF THE WILD and WHITE FANG, is exciting, involving, and frank.  I was a little surprised that when other fuel became scarce, the kids had to collect buffalo turds, or chips, to make a fire.  I was startled that, after several family members die along the trail, their graves were purposely driven over by the wagons, to compact the earth, and make it harder for scavenging wolves to dig up.  It’s the kind of creepy but clearly authentic detail that would make a kid want to learn more. 
The book, aimed at 2nd to 4th grade readers, ends with an extensive chapter on the historical research behind the story, and suggestions for further reading. 



Thanks to all of my loyal readers, from more than 100 countries, who keep coming back to the Round-up!  I thought I’d have my interview with Crispian Belfrage about the making of THE PRICE OF DEATH, but I ran out of time, so that will be in the next issue.  Hope your Valentine’s Day was romantic, and your Presidents Day was…presidential!
Happy Trails,

All Original Contents  Copyright February 2016 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved!

1 comment:

  1. Henry I agree with you. When Slow West was released it was showing at only one theater in OC, Bone Tomahawk none and only one in LA. I decided then that if Jane Got a Gun was released I'd better see it the first week which I did and really enjoyed it. One of the main reasons the Western is dead is that theaters won't show them when they do get made. Sad we have to now view westerns basically on DVD or download them.