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.
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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…

The Last Kingdom Trailer

The Last Kingdom Trailer

Yet another historical series starts this week. Although the two shows are on different networks, The Last Kingdom is a kind of sequel to Vikings, which presents the adventures of Ragnar Lodbrok, since Ragnar’s sons lead the initial invasion that conquers all of England, except for Wessex. Alfred, king of Wessex and a devoted Christian, is determined to drive the pagan Vikings out of England and unify the kingdoms into a single English nation. Despite his fierce faith, Alfred has a frail body, so he reluctantly relies on Uhtred Ragnarson, a Saxon who was raised by Danes, to lead his armies. Mistrusted by most Saxons because he openly worships the Norse gods, Uhtred struggles as much with his own loyalties as with his many enemies. Read More…

The Last Command

The Last Command

Rating: ★½☆☆☆
The Last Command examines the origins of the Texan Revolution and presents the siege of the Alamo, placing Jim Bowie firmly in the hero’s role. Unbelievably lame, it is more historically accurate than John Wayne’s version but it is also much less fun. Read More…

The Bastard Executioner Trailer

The Bastard Executioner Trailer

Kurt Sutter, creator of Sons of Anarchy, has a new show, The Bastard Executioner, which will premiere on September 15.

Although the show is set during the reign of Edward I, who was the bad guy in Braveheart (1995), it will deal with Wales, not Scotland, but it seems likely that there will be a lot of violence. Read More…

Gallipoli

Gallipoli

Rating: ★★★★☆
Gallipoli is actually two movies: a buddy movie that takes place in Australia during the early months of WWI, and the Gallipoli Offensive, which was too complex to be explained in the last third of the film. Examining the loss of innocence in Australia during WWI, Gallipoli is not a movie with beautifully choreographed battles or gritty action scenes, just a brutal look at men sent to die far from their homes in a pointless campaign. Read More…

Vikings Season Two

Vikings Season Two

Swiftly resolving the conflict between Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) and his brother Rollo (Clive Standen), the second season explores England as Ragnar comes into contact with Wessex, the most powerful English kingdom. At the same time, he also has to deal with repeated betrayals from his allies. Coming into his stride, Travis Fimmel creates a spellbinding if unlikeable alpha male. While Ragnar is fascinating to watch, it seems like showrunner Michael Hirst is just settling for a crowd-pleasing version of the Sopranos with boats and beards. Read More…

Hell on Wheels Season Four-each season has less and less to do with reality.

Hell on Wheels Season Four-each season has less and less to do with reality.

Returning to Cheyenne with his Mormon wife and baby, Cullen Bohannon finds himself struggling to feed his family, and is reluctantly drawn into the struggle between Thomas Durant, head of the Union Pacific, and John Campbell, provisional governor of Wyoming, for control of Cheyenne and the railroad. Little on the show makes any sense, and this season achieves the dubious honor of being the most historically inaccurate season so far. Read More…

Hell on Wheels Season Five Trailer

Hell on Wheels Season Five Trailer

Following in the footsteps of Breaking Bad, Hell on Wheels’ fifth and final season will be broken into two parts. The first part premieres tonight. Cullen Bohannon has left the Union Pacific and joined the Central Pacific as its new chief engineer, while he searches for his missing wife and son. It is a silly plotline, but I am happy that the show will examine the Central Pacific. Read More…

Texas Rising Trailer

Texas Rising Trailer

Texas Rising, a five-part miniseries about the Texan Revolution and the Texan Republic, premieres on the History Channel tonight.
Read More…

Black Sails Season Two Trailer

Black Sails Season Two Trailer

Season Two of Black Sails starts tonight. I enjoyed the first season, so I am looking forward to the new season. Judging by the trailer, there will be even nastier pirates, and more background. One of my main criticisms about the first season was the lack of historical context, there was no explanation of why hundreds of sailors suddenly decided to go into the lucrative yet risky business of attacking armed ships to steal their cargoes. In addition, the series will expand the pirates’ world to include London and the American colonies, in particular South Carolina, which is important since the real pirates were part of a much larger economic ecosystem than Nassau.
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Hell on Wheels Season Three-A bizarro-world version of the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad.

Hell on Wheels Season Three-A bizarro-world version of the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad.

Yay, the writers finally read a book about the railroad, but their addition of a few historical facts to the fantasy land that had been built in the previous two seasons simply creates a bizarro-world version of the Transcontinental Railroad. The series essentially consists of Bohannon and Elam working together to save the railroad. Wow, if Cullen Bohannon was not so tough and did not have a faithful, almost silent, black sidekick, the railroad would not have been built. Read More…

Boardwalk Empire Season Five Trailer

Boardwalk Empire Season Five Trailer

The first episode of the fifth and final season of Boardwalk Empire airs tomorrow night. While previous seasons had been separated by a year or a year and a half, the fifth season begins in 1931, seven years after the end of season four. Prohibition is clearly coming to an end, and Nucky Thompson is preparing to adjust to the disappearance of the juicy profits from selling illegal alcohol, while Charles “Lucky” Luciano is trying to organize the various gangs into a national commission. Eight episodes seems a bit short given the number of storylines: Chalky White is on the run; Nelson Van Alden is hiding in Chicago; Al Capone has gained control of Chicago; Lucky Luciano seems to have become a powerful gangster; and Nucky is trying to set up new connections in Havana. Hopefully, the final season will maintain the level of the last two seasons, which were my favorites, but it will still be sad to see the series end. Read More…