Captain Kidd

Captain Kidd

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Although superficially a pirate movie, Captain Kidd is really a fiendishly ambitious confidence scheme. While Charles Laughton was hired to play a straightforward if ruthless villain, his portrayal of Kidd is delightful, but it does not make sitting through the film worthwhile. Read More…

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Rating: ★★★½☆
After a superposse is formed with the sole purpose of hunting them down, famous train robbers Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid relocate to Bolivia and have a thriving career as bank robbers. Admittedly, the movie does not tell the full story of the Hole in the Wall Gang, but it sure is fun. The humor in the movie is due to the actors’ decision to play their irritation at each other’s screw-ups straight, never winking at the camera. Even though it was their first time working together, Paul Newman and Robert Redford have an amazing bond. Read More…

Wooden Crosses

Wooden Crosses

Rating: ★★★½☆
An unblinking portrayal of the lives of a unit of French infantrymen, the movie is not depressing, just grim There is little sense of how much time has passed. Instead, the soldiers try to survive an endless cycle of tours on the front, rest periods behind the lines and far too rare periods of leave. Unsurprisingly for a war film, death is a constant presence in the film, which starts with a dissolve from soldiers on parade to an endless field of wooden crosses, and ends with a scene of dead soldiers marching into the sky, each holding a wooden cross. Read More…

Turn Season Two

Turn Season Two

Love is in the air in the second season of Turn, including a new twist on the story of Benedict Arnold. However, I have to wonder why the producers decided to make a historical show other than to film people plotting and struggling with conflicted romantic entanglements while wearing fancy clothes. While little is known about the period of the Vikings, honestly, a lot is known about the American Revolution, but the producers do not seem very interested in the actual history. Read More…

Against All Flags

Against All Flags

Rating: ★★½☆☆
Errol Flynn brings his trademark charm to the film where he is sent undercover to a pirate republic on the coast of Madagascar, which threatens the key trading route to India. Not the most accurate movie, but at least it is fun. Read More…

The Vikings

The Vikings

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
The fearsome Viking Ragnar Lothbrok kills the king of Northumbria and rapes his queen, who gives birth to a son, who is sent away because he threatens the rule of the current king, but the child is enslaved by Ragnar. The young slave’s life changes when an exiled Northumbrian noble realizes he is the rightful heir to the throne. Stunning scenery does not distract from gaping plot holes. Did someone spill coffee on the only copy of the script, it feels like parts are missing. Aside from the many enjoyable scenes of drinking and tests of strength, it is not a great movie. Read More…

Bloody Mama

Bloody Mama

Rating: ★★½☆☆
Determined to escape grinding poverty, Katherine Barker leads her four sons on a crime wave. The movie is a strange experience. Even by today’s standards, it is pretty weird. Despite the large number of good character actors, it is a nasty, disturbing film. Read More…

Legends of the Fall

Legends of the Fall

Rating: ★½☆☆☆
Legends of the Fall was a passion project for director Edward Zwick, since he loved the book and even gave it as a gift to friends. Sadly, none of that passion made it onto the screen, instead it is painful and boring. Zwick has made many good films, but this is not one of them. Set during WWI and Prohibition, the film is primarily a romance, so the two battle scenes on the Western Front are brief. Read More…

The Bonnie Parker Story

The Bonnie Parker Story

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Yet another crime-does-not-pay film filled with endless snarling between the outlaws. Man, the late fifties sucked for this type of film. Recognizing that she is headed for a career as a prostitute since jobs are hard to get in the Depression, Bonnie Parker, a bored waitress, agrees to work with bank robber wannabee Guy Darrow. Realizing that he is a two-bit operator who prefers to rob gas stations because it is safer, she forces him to rob banks, but they are hunted by a relentless Texas Ranger. Aside from an impressive inaccuracy, the script ups the yuckiness factor when it shows that firing guns turns her on. An unpleasant film. Read More…

Black Sails-Season Three

Black Sails-Season Three

This season deals with the occupation of Nassau by a British fleet led by Woodes Rogers. Or as I like to call it, The British Empire Strikes Back. At the end of last season, Jack Rackham and his crew had captured the Urca gold, brought it back to Nassau and then decided to invest it in a shared trust to defend the island against England. Interestingly, the season starts after Rackham and his partner Max had dealt with the understandably angry Flint and Vane when they had returned from bombarding Charleston into rubble, enabling the writers to avoid explaining how the confrontation was resolved without violence. As ever, the show is exciting. This season is fun, lots of fun, but frustrating, since the writers are mixing fantasy with large chunks of historical accuracy. Read More…

Baby Face Nelson

Baby Face Nelson

Rating: ★½☆☆☆
Baby Face Nelson (Mickey Rooney) becomes a bank robber after he is released from prison but gradually becomes a trigger happy maniac. The role was ideal for Mickey Rooney, who had spent over a decade playing the relentlessly optimistic teenager Andy Hardy, whose response to every crisis was “Hey gang, let’s put on a show!” However, he had came home from WWII to find that there were few roles for a 5’2” adult with a baby face. Aside from several key events, the rest of the movie seems to have been made up. Read More…

The Last Kingdom-Season One

The Last Kingdom-Season One

Based on the historical novel series The Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwell, the series examines the Danish conquest of England from the perspective of Uhtred Ragnarson, a Saxon raised by Danes, who finds himself fighting for King Alfred of Wessex against the Great Heathen Army, a massive Danish army, which invaded England in 866 AD. The show’s greatest weakness is its portrayal of the Viking invaders as moderately bright thugs, rather than ruthless but skilled political operators. Still, it is an interesting examination of the time before there was an England, presenting a nation-building process that was bloody and not guaranteed. Read More…

Machine Gun Kelly

Machine Gun Kelly

Rating: ★½☆☆☆
Playing Machine Gun Kelly, a famous bank robber and kidnapper during the Public Enemies Era, Charles Bronson has his first leading role. Aside from the title character, all of the other characters are fictional. As is almost the entire movie. An incredibly anti-crime movie, every single one of the criminals is repulsive. Populated by nasty characters, it is simply an unpleasant movie. Read More…

Paths of Glory

Paths of Glory

Rating: ★★★★☆
Following a failed attack on a German position, three French soldiers are chosen by lot to be executed for cowardice and are defended by their commanding officer in a court-martial. Although the film is famous for the court trial, the chilling attack on the German trenches is one of the best I have seen in a WWI film. Director Stanley Kubrick was a photographer, so he carefully researched photos from WWI to ensure that the battlefield and trenches appeared realistic. In fact, many scenes look like an old photo coming to life. A harsh portrayal of the cost of scheming among the high command on ordinary soldiers, Paths of Glory is one of the best movies on WWI. Read More…

Ma Barker's Killer Brood

Ma Barker’s Killer Brood

Rating: ★★½☆☆
Although the script states that Ma Barker was so cunning that she was never arrested in two decades of crime, the real J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, had labeled Ma the brains of the Barker-Kasrpis Gang in order to avoid the blame for killing an unarmed grandmother. While the script transforms Ma Barker into a criminal mastermind who makes Walter White look like an indecisive bumbler, the overall story is relatively accurate. Emphasis on relatively. Despite the complete disconnect from historical reality, it is a fun movie. Read More…

The Lady in Red

The Lady in Red

Rating: ★★★★☆
Set during the Public Enemies Era, the film presents the life of Polly Hamilton, John Dillinger’s girlfriend when he was killed by FBI agents. Powered by a brilliant script, the movie moves at a breakneck pace, blasting information about the Depression until the romance between Dillinger and Polly slows things down. Despite the connection to Dillinger, it is really an examination of women in the Depression, capturing the bleak reality of life before the introduction of labor regulations, especially the limited range of career opportunities for women. Read More…

Turn-Season One

Turn-Season One

Realizing that the British have a spy in the rebel army, Major Benjamin Tallmadge (Seth Numrich) recruits childhood friends Abraham Woodhull (Jamie Bell), Anna Strong (Heather Lind) and Caleb Brewster (Daniel Henshall) to form the Culper Ring in order to smuggle information from British-controlled New York to the rebel army. The show is an interesting look at the American Revolution but it would have worked better if it focused more on the spy ring and less on Woodhull’s romantic entanglements. Read More…

Nine Reasons to Watch Peaky Blinders

Nine Reasons to Watch Peaky Blinders

Season Three of Peaky Blinders is available on Netflix starting May 31. I am a huge fan of the show, but I will not review it, or at least not anytime soon, so here are nine reasons to watch Peaky Blinders. Set in Birmingham, England in 1919, a year after the end of WWI, the series presents the expansion of the Peaky Blinders, run by the Shelby family. Read More…

The Battle of the Bulge

The Battle of the Bulge

Rating: ★½☆☆☆
The film was publicly criticized by former President (and former supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe) Dwight Eisenhower as grossly inaccurate, which is a bad sign. Eisenhower’s anger is understandable. Viewers would think that the Battle of the Bulge was a close call, saved only by a few brave, bright men, especially Henry Fonda’s character Kiley, the hero of the film, who has to figure out the Germans’ entire plan by himself. Read More…

Heroes of the Alamo

Heroes of the Alamo

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆
Heroes of the Alamo presents the growing tension between the American immigrants in Mexico and the Mexican government that eventually led to the Texan Revolution. Unlike most films on the Alamo, it focuses on the Dickinson family, rather than Davy Crockett or Jim Bowie. Made in 1937, the acting is stilted, as if the actors have not adapted to sound. Even for the time, this is horrible, almost incompetent. Read More…

G-Men

G-Men

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Attorney James “Brick” Davis (James Cagney) joins the Department of Justice after his friend is shot from behind while arresting a counterfeiter, and becomes involved in the FBI’s campaign against a gang that has committed a wave of bank robberies. The film presents several key events of the Public Enemies Era but does not include any of the actual Public Enemies. Intended to reassure the public, a single gang is responsible for the entire crime wave. G-Men was clearly designed as an apology for Warner Brothers’ previous gangster films, which had caused it to be known as the gangster studio. While the intent is laudable, the film lacks energy, and is only for Cagney fans. Read More…

Captain Blood

Captain Blood

Rating: ★★½☆☆
Arrested for treating a rebel during the Monmouth Rebellion against King James II, Doctor Peter Blood is sent to Jamaica to be sold into slavery on a sugar plantation, where he escapes and becomes the most feared pirate in the Caribbean. The huge success of Captain Blood made Michael Curtiz one of the leading directors in Hollywood, and transformed Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland into stars overnight.
Read More…

Blackbeard the Pirate

Blackbeard the Pirate

Rating: ★★½☆☆
Although Blackbeard operated roughly fifty years after Henry Morgan, he has been placed in Morgan’s era. To be honest, the movie is such a mess that it does not really matter. The script goes all over the place, but it is a surprisingly fun movie, and parts of the story are accurate. Viewers will not really learn anything about the period but they will be entertained. Robert Newton is simply awesome as Blackbeard, whose vocabulary primarily consists of Arr and Belike. Read More…

Vikings Season Three

Vikings Season Three

Showrunner Michael Hirst seems to have taken all of the names of historical figures from a couple of centuries and thrown them into a hat. Every season, he draws several names and writes a plot around them. It is entertaining, but we left accuracy town a long time ago. However, Vikings is a brilliant case study of a family of psychotic conquerors, and Season Three has enough betrayals to satisfy even the most discerning connoisseur. Read More…

The Black Swan

The Black Swan

Rating: ★★½☆☆
Although he became famous leading raids against Spanish colonies, newly appointed governor of Jamaica Henry Morgan enforces the new peace between England and Spain, hanging any pirate he finds. unfortunately, his second-in-command Captain Jamie Waring (Tyrone Power) is more preoccupied with his pursuit of Lord Denby’s daughter Lady Margaret (Maureen O’Hara), than hunting down his former colleagues. While Tyrone Power seems perfect to play a swashbuckler, the romance is flat. One of the first movies filmed in Technicolor, The Black Swan is bursting with color, which compensates for the relatively weak story. Read More…

The First Texan

The First Texan

Rating: ★½☆☆☆
Hoping to start over in Texas, Sam Houston is drawn into the movement to secede from Mexico. The general chronology of the Texan Revolution is correct, at least the dates are correct, but everything else is inaccurate. The movie is so lacking in energy, I wonder why they bothered. Read More…

Black Sails-Season Two

Black Sails-Season Two

None of this happened, but it has ooodles of violence, steamy sex scenes between physically perfect people who are good actors, wearing mostly period clothes, and the constant betrayals are fun to watch, so you can be entertained while pretending to learn something. Kind of.
Sadly, the writers clearly have no interest in the fascinating history of the golden age of piracy. The historical narrative that caused the increase in piracy is not complicated. Black Sails could have been Spartacus on ships, instead it is merely an enjoyable melodrama.
Nothing makes any sense but it is astonishingly melodramatic. However, I have to give credit, the plot moves along at a breakneck pace like a proper soap opera, where a new crisis appears just when the last one was resolved. Read More…

Crossbones

Crossbones

Crossbones was a pirate series about Blackbeard that aired on NBC but was cancelled before its season ended. Those who suffered through it, like myself, understand why it was cancelled. It is less clear why it was greenlit, although John Malkovich’s involvement was probably a key factor. There may have been a more messed-up historical show, but I have not seen it. Read More…

Texas Rising

Texas Rising

Texas Rising, a miniseries about the Texan Revolution, is simply horrible, The writers’ claim to fame is that they produced Hatfields & McCoys, which was really good. This is not good. It is nowhere near good. It manages to be even worse than the recent Bonnie & Clyde miniseries. Admittedly, it gets the dates and places right. After watching this, a high school student would probably pass a history test but this is not meant for grown-ups. Read More…