Sunday, November 13, 2016
IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE – A FILM REVIEW
After watching Ethan Hawke gamely slog through the bloated and rambling MAGNIFICENT 7 reboot, it’s a pleasure to see him given a real chance to act again, in the small but ambitious new Western, IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE, now in theatres and available on Amazon, iTunes and Vudu. It’s written and directed by the aptly named Ti West, better known for horror films – V/H/S/, HOUSE OF THE DEVIL – than oaters, but he makes a strong impression in his first stab at the genre.
Hawke plays Paul, a troubled drifter headed to Mexico with his horse and dog, whose stop for provisions in a small town turns into a nightmare. Gilly (James Ransome), the town bully with delusions of grandeur, tries to draw Paul into a fight, which leads to a hateful act I’ll not reveal, and Paul’s subsequent quest for revenge. Here Paul comes into conflict with the town’s Marshal (John Travolta), who was urban the last time he was a cowboy. He's sympathetic to Paul, but he’s also Gilly’s father.
A couple of young ladies, sisters running the hotel, feature prominently: beautiful red-headed Ellen (Karen Gillan of DR. WHO and SELFIE) is Gilly’s girlfriend, who sees his shortcomings, but considers him the only man in town with a future. Her younger sister Mary-Anne (Taissa Farmiga) is less self-absorbed, and attracted to Paul as a man, and as a way to get out of the town.
Hawke with Taissa Farmiga
The action is exciting, the plotting sensible, the performances uniformly strong – West knows very well how to create characters and structure dramatic scenes, adding humor without getting cute. There’s a particularly nice extended conversation between Paul and Mary-Anne, where both excel – especially the quirkily frantic but endearing Farmiga.
It’s a good film, although not notably original. The bully son of the prominent townsman wasn’t exactly new in ’55 when Anthony Mann used it so well against Jimmy Stewart in THE MAN FROM LARAMIE, and it became an annoying familiar cliché on episodic TV. You can argue whether the opening, feature a fine turn by Burn Gorman as a man of the cloth, is an homage or a steal from the opening of THE SHOOTIST. But what is inarguable is that the scene takes twice as long here as it does in the Wayne film: virtually every sequence in this film is a bit too long, a few much too long. West is his own editor: he needs to turn the scissors over to someone a bit more ruthless.
Also, the town is too underpopulated. At one point, one of the sisters comments that she’s not a whore, and if that’s what you want, you can find it at the saloon. But we never see a whore, or saloon girl, or any female other than the sisters in the entire film. Similarly, Travolta’s Marshal worries about his position in the town if he should let anything bad happen to his son. But the town appears to consist of less people than you can count on your fingers. It would work if it were said humorously, or if he was a madman presiding over a ghost town, but clearly there just wasn’t the budget for extras.
The music score by West’s frequent collaborator Jeff Grace is at times Morricone-derivative but effective. The cinematography by Eric Robbins is handsome, and his exteriors evoke Andrew Wyeth paintings. Particularly striking are the costumes by Malgosia Turzanska, who did the same chores on the excellent HELL OR HIGH WATER. The Blumhouse Film is expected to go to disk on December 27th.
AUTRY’S INDIAN MARKETPLACE DRAWS HUGE CROWDS
This Saturday and Sunday tremendous crowds once again descended on The Autry for the annual American Indian Arts Marketplace, where two-hundred artists from over forty tribes presented their work under an immense tent. Painting, sculpture, jewelry, textiles – every medium and every form imaginable were included. Among my personal favorites were a marble bison carved by Robert Dale Tsosie, traditional Hopi carved figures by Bendrew Atokuku, and the first prize for sculpture, an irornwork by Jason Reed Brown.
Outside of the tent, in addition to art and craft demonstrations and fry bread, there were kiosks with informative representatives for different concerns. Kenneth Van Wey of the U.S. Department of the Interior Indian Arts and Crafts Board (I.A.C.B.) was eager to discuss the problem of fraudulent ‘Indian art’, and the Indian Arts and Crafts Act passed in 1990, which forbids passing off as ‘Indian Made’ any art from a different source. The problem is widespread. Pendleton Woolen Mills recently reached a settlement for misleading labeling of blankets as “Indian Product.” Part of the settlement includes Pendleton donating over forty-thousand dollars to the Red Cloud Indian School’s Heritage Center in South Dakota. Also, coordinated searches and seizures were made in New Mexico, California, and the Philippines, leading to the arrest of three New Mexicans for trying to sell Filipino jewelry as Indian-made. Learn more at www.doi.gov/iacb
Kenneth Van Wey
At the next tent, Jim Davis of TLC, the nonprofit The Language Conservancy, reminded me that starting in 1879, it was official U.S. policy to try to erase Native American language, a policy that lasted in some cases into the 1990s. As a result, 90% of Native American speakers are over 65; the languages are disappearing. TLC’s mission is to save the many Native American languages by teaching them to the children of the various tribes at their reservation schools, as well as beyond the reservation. To this end, they’ve produced dictionaries and teaching programs in Crow, Lakota, Dakota, Hidatsa, and other languages. They’ve dubbed Berenstein Bears videos into Cherokee! They’re active in the Dakotas, Oklahoma, Minnesota and elsewhere. You can learn more at their website, http://www.languageconservancy.org/
The next booth belonged to our local independent station, KCET, who are marking Native American Heritage Month with a new short documentary series, TENDING THE WILD, which they are producing in collaboration with The Autry. It’s available both digitally and on TV, and can be seen at The Autry as part of the California Continued exhibit. Subjects include GATHERING MEDICINE, CULTURAL BURNING to prevent wildfires, and KEEPING THE RIVER, about the importance of salmon for Indians of the Klamath River. Other related documentaries include HEALING THE WARRIOR’S HEART which examines the important role of military service in Native life, and tradition and ceremonies’ roles in reintegrating soldiers into civilian life. You can learn more, and watch several of the shows, here: https://www.kcet.org/category/native-american-heritage-month
You never know who you’ll run in to at these events, and I was delighted to meet Saginaw Grant, who plays Chief Big Bear in the recent LONE RANGER movie, and Screaming Eagle in THE RIDICULOUS 6. And he has seven more projects in pre- or post-production. As I was leaving, who was coming in but LONGMIRE star Zahn McClarnon, who was also in last year’s BONE TOMAHAWK, and has a lead role in the upcoming AMC Western series THE SON, starring with Pierce Brosnan.
Zahn and me
A WORD ON WESTERNS TUESDAY AT THE AUTRY!
This Tuesday, November 15th, producer and Western historian Rob Word hosts his next A Word on Westerns event at the Wells Fargo Theater. This time the topic is MAKING WESTERNS – STORIES BEHIND THE SCENES. Rob will be looking at what skills and qualities makes for a convincing Western actor – the ability to ride and shoot and wear a ten-gallon hat without looking like a half-pint? Those sharing their opinions and experiences will be Oscar-winning actor Louis Gossett Jr., whose Westerns include THE SKIN GAME, BLACK BART, BONANZA, and ROOTS; actress Rosemary Forsyth, whose starred in SHENANDOAH, TEXAS ACROSS THE RIVER, and the series KUNG FU; and Norman Powell, who produced LAZARUS MAN and GUNSMOKE movies, and was production manager on WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE, THE BIG VALLEY, and Sam Peckinpah’s THE WESTERNER. Doors open at 10:30! And head across the way for lunch and more conversation after!
OKLAHOMA! SATURDAY NOV. 19TH AT THE AUTRY!
As part of their continuing ‘What is a Western?’ series, the Autry presents OKLAHOMA!, the 1956 film version of the Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein Musical that revolutionized the Musical form in the way it told its story directly through song. Starring Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones, Rod Steiger and Gloria Grahame, it’s directed by that master of the Western, Fred Zinnemann, whose HIGH NOON will be shown in December. OKLAHOMA! will be introduced by Josh Garrett-Davis, Gamble Assistant Curator of Western History, Popular Culture and Firearms. The 35mm print will be screened at 1:30 pm in the Wells Fargo Theater.
‘CALAMITY JANE’ ANIMATED FEATURE IN THE WORKS
Calamity Jane thinking of Lucky Luke
French animators Henri Megalon and Remi Chaye, whose current animated feature, LONG WAY NORTH concerns a Russian aristocratic girl searching for her grandfather, will next tackle the extremely American story, CALAMITY JANE: A CHILDHOOD OF MARTHA JANE CANNARY, according to Deadline: Hollywood. The film will focus on Jane as a little girl who was orphaned at ten. As Chaye explained to DEADLINE:HOLLYWOOD’s Anita Busch, lone women and girls in the western frontier had few options for employment beyond laundry and prostitution, and some brave souls decided to try and pass as men.
Calamity Jane thinking of Wild Bill, at his grave.
While the feminist angle is certainly a hook, Calamity Jane is not a major pop-culture figure in the U.S., despite the Doris Day musical, and the popular character in DEADWOOD, played by Robin Weigert. But she’s a much bigger character in Europe, because of the long-time popularity of the Franco-Belgian comic strip LUCKY LUKE, which has been running since 1946, in which she was a major character. Says Chaye, “We knew her as kids. She is part of the childhood of every French person.”
AND THAT’S A WRAP!
Soon I’ll be writing about my visit to the set of ABILENE, a new Western about Wild Bill Hickok, starring WESTWORLD’s Luke Hemsworth and Kris Kristoffereson, and my days at the American Film Market, tracking down new Westerns. I just found out that the RED NATION FILM FESTIVAL is going on right now in Pasadena, and will continue through November 21st. You can find out more at their official website: http://www.rednationff.com/
LATE BREAKING NEWS – Just learned that lovely Lupita Tovar, one of the very last stars of early talkies, has died at 106. Among her several Westerns she co-starred with Gene Autry in SOUTH OF THE BORDER, and was the female lead in Universal’s Spanish-language version of DRACULA.
Lupita and Gene
All Original Content Copyright November 2016 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved
Wednesday, November 2, 2016
FIRST FULL ‘BEN HALL’ TRAILER!
Here is the first full trailer for THE LEGEND OF BEN HALL, Matthew Holmes’ terrific Western about the Bushranger who was Australian equivalent of America’s Jesse James. The parallels between the frontier periods of both countries are fascinating. Interestingly, this is actually the second trailer. As you can read in my True West article HERE, a Kickstarter campaign raised the money to make the first trailer, which was used as a ‘proof-of-concept’ to raise the money for the feature itself!
MOMENTUM ACQUIRES ‘BRIMSTONE’ FOR MARCH RELEASE
Writer/director Martin Koolhoven’s dark Dutch Western BRIMSTONE, starring Dakota Fanning and Guy Pearce, will hit U.S. theatres and VOD in March 2017. Pearce plays a vengeful preacher and Fanning an innocent woman who goes on the run when framed for a crime. The sagebrush psychological thriller was shot in Germany, Hungary, Tyrol Austria, and the Motherland of Spaghetti Westerns, Almeria Spain. British-born Pearce is no stranger to the genre, having cut his teeth on the Aussie SNOWY RIVER: THE MCGREGGOR SAGA series, and made an indelible impression in the Aussie Western feature THE PROPOSITION. Also in the cast are GAME OF THRONE stars Kit Harington and Carice van Houten.
GET-TV ADDS ‘THE OUTCASTS’ TO WEEKEND WESTERN LINE-UP!
Get-TV is adding the 1968 Western series THE OUTCASTS, starring Don Murray and Otis Young, to their Saturday Western line-up. The one-season hour-long drama features Murray as a former Confederate officer turned bounty hunter, and Young as an ex-slave and Union soldier who partners with him. Don Murray first made a splash as Beau in BUS STOP (1957), followed by HATFUL OF RAIN (1958), and his Westerns include THESE THOUSAND HILLS (1958), FROM HELL TO TEXAS (1959), and his portrayal of Buffalo Bill in the 1966 remake of THE PLAINSMAN. Otis Young, a fine actor who rarely got the quality of roles he deserved, soared when he was cast opposite Jack Nicholson and Randy Quaid in THE LAST DETAIL (1973).
Don Murray & Otis Young
Get-TV has consistently shown high quality short-run Western series that have rarely been seen since their initial release – see my Round-up interview with Programming Veep Jeff Meier HERE.
OUTCASTS is being added to their current playlist, which includes Audie Murphy in WHISPERING SMITH, CIMARRON CITY, TOMBSTONE TERRITORY, THE RESTLESS GUN, and LAREDO.
Keep your eye for the OUTCASTS episode TAKE YOUR LOVER IN THE RING: it won a ‘Best Edited Television Program’ Eddie for Norman Colbert; Anthony Lawrence’s script was nominated for a WGA Award; and Hugo Montenegro’s score was nominated for an Emmy.
AMERICAN INDIAN ARTS MARKETPLACE NOV. 12 & 13 AT THE AUTRY
If you care about Indian art, this is an annual not-to-be-missed event! Two-hundred artists from over forty tribes will be presenting their work in an immense tent. Painting, sculpture, jewelry, textiles – every medium and every form imaginable. And it’s included with the price of museum admission.
AND THAT’S A WRAP!
I’ll have plenty more to tell you about in the next Round-up – the next Word of Westerns, an upcoming animated Western, video reviews and more.
But I wanted to acknowledge the birthdays of a pair of great silent film child stars. October 29th was the 98 birthday of Baby Peggy, now called Diana Serra Cary, the still wonderfully vital last of the silent stars, and author of THE HOLLYWOOD POSSE and WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY PEGGY?
Coogan with Charlie Chaplin
in The Kid
And the 26th would have been the 102nd birthday of Jackie Coogan, who died in 1984. The movies’ first great child star was the son of vaudevillians. Both stars sadly share the tragedy that they were robbed blind by their parents, leaving them broke when childhood stardom ended. ‘The Coogan Law’ was written to protect kid actors. Jackie had a long career, four kids, four wives – and one of them was Betty Grable! He became a star again in the ‘60s playing Uncle Fester on THE ADDAMS FAMILY, but is best remembered by Western fans as Stoney Crockett on COWBOY G-MEN. My mentor in the film business, Saul David, was in the Army with Coogan during World War II, and told me this story. Coogan was still frequently recognized, and once, when they and several other soldiers were showering, a soldier asked him, “Aren’t you Jackie Coogan?”
“Yes,” he replied, and with a chuckle added, “Take a good look, kid. That’s the one that was in Betty
Grable.” The soldier was so shocked at Coogan’s disrespect towards his own dreamgirl (and Coogan’s ex-wife) that he threw a punch that knocked Coogan out cold!
All Original Contents Copyright November 1, 2016 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved