Let's Go With Pancho Villa!

Let’s Go With Pancho Villa!

Rating: ★★½☆☆
Six villagers join Pancho Villa’s army, and are named the Lions of La Plata. Initially bursting with optimism, the endless battles take a toll on them, both physically and emotionally. Villa’s army wins a number of battles, but each battle costs the life of a Lion until only one remains. Read More…

Dunkirk

Dunkirk

Rating: ★★½☆☆
The portrayal of the evacuation of more than three hundred thousand British soldiers from Dunkirk, France across the Channel back to England, Dunkirk is a disappointment, despite an excellent start. Essentially forty minutes of story shown three times from different perspectives, the film’s main weakness is that it takes a script suitable for a television episode and transforms it into a movie by simply showing the same scenes over and over. Director Christopher Nolan had a vision of a waking nightmare, a mix of terror and confusion. Since he wrote the screenplay and directed the film, he succeeded in transferring his vision from his mind to the screen. As a work of art, that is an admirable achievement. As a portrayal of a key moment in WWII, it is less successful. Read More…

Godfather Mendoza

Godfather Mendoza

Rating: ★★½☆☆
Don Rosalio Mendoza prospers during the Mexican Revolution by remaining friends with both the Zapatistas and the federal forces. Although he has no interest in either side, and is determined to ensure the continued existence of his hacienda by lavishly entertaining both sides, he becomes close friends with a Zapatista general, who serves as his son’s godfather. As the fighting continues, Mendoza fears for the safety of his wife and son, and plans to move to Mexico City, but finds himself faced with a horrible choice. Read More…

Prisoner 13

Prisoner 13

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
A film about a corrupt military officer, who accepts a bribe to release a revolutionary, but unknowingly arranges for his long-lost son to to take the prisoner’s place, Prisoner 13 is essentially a morality play due to the twist ending. While the film does not say much about the Mexican Revolution, it is interesting and must have been quite daring for the time. Given the grim atmosphere, it is recommended for fans of Pre-code film and film buffs but not the average viewer. Read More…

Ironclad

Ironclad

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Viewers of Ironclad may believe that the film is about the fight between King John, who wished to reclaim the absolute power that had been taken from him when he had been forced to sign the Magna Carta, and the barons, who were fighting to preserve the rights of the common people and the nation itself. Cynics may complain that the barons were simply concerned with their own rights, not the rights of the smelly peasants. However, the film is really the struggle of the sex-starved young wife of the castle’s lord to persuade a Templar knight to break his vow of celibacy and satisfy her carnal needs. The story of a leader who gathers a group of disillusioned warriors, preferably seven, to defend a place against huge odds is not new in film history, and Ironclad is not a notable addition to the record. Filled with a cast of solid character actors who have all done better work, the film needed a better script. Still, it is relatively enjoyable and relatively accurate. Read More…

The Torch

The Torch

Rating: ★★½☆☆
Maria Dolores, a wealthy young woman, is preparing for her wedding when the town is occupied by rebels. A chance encounter with Maria Dolores causes the rebel general to fall in love with her, attracted equally by her beauty and her temper. A mix between Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew and Morocco, viewers won’t learn much about the Mexican Revolution but it is entertaining. Read More…

And Starring Pancho Villa As Himself

And Starring Pancho Villa As Himself

Rating: ★★★½☆
Forced to buy weapons on the black market by President Woodrow Wilson’s embargo, Pancho Villa (Antonio Banderas) sells exclusive rights to film his battles against President Victoriano Huerta to Mutual Studios. Although the movie may seem the feverish idea of a screenwriter who is a fan of both early Hollywood and the Mexican Revolution, and tried to jam two unrelated scripts together, it is based on real events. As a loving tribute to the silent film era, it is a success. While the portrayal of Pancho Villa at the height of his power is effective, the film limits itself to Villa, ignoring the rest of the Mexican Revolution.
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Men of the Fighting Lady

Men of the Fighting Lady

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Set on an American aircraft carrier during the Korean War, a squadron of bomber pilots question the value of their mission. Similar to The Bridges at Toko-ri (1954), the two films share much in common including the respectful presentation of the dangers of air rescue and the frustration of married veterans of WWII called back into service, but Men of the Fighting Lady is filmed like a documentary, and appears to be intentionally boring. To be fair, it is an effective documentary. The planes are beautiful, and the bombing scenes use stock footage from the Korean War, which gives the film an authentic feel. Read More…

Pancho Villa

Pancho Villa

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Pancho Villa’s raid on Columbus, New Mexico, which led to the American Intervention in Mexico, is presented as a comedy. To be honest, the screenwriter seems to have done little research, focusing instead on the comedic elements of the script with uneven success. Every scene with Telly Savalas is fun to watch, but it is unlikely that viewers will learn anything about the Mexican Revolution. The action sequences are imaginative if low-budget. In fact, the director seems fascinated with trains, since most of the action involves various scenarios of train collisions. Read More…

The Newton Boys

The Newton Boys

Rating: ★★½☆☆
Tired of picking cotton, an ex-convict teams up with a safecracker to rob banks at night in the early 1920s, recruiting his brothers to help. The film’s strengths are the cast, especially Matthew McConaughey, Skeet Ulrich, Ethan Hawke, and Vincent D’Onofrio, and the presentation of the mechanics of robbing a bank, in particular an explanation of how to use nitroglycerine to blow safes. The script is relatively accurate but Richard Linklater’s direction is merely adequate, resulting in a film that lacks life. Having achieved critical success with the low-budget independent films Slacker (1990), Dazed and Confused (1993) and Before Sunrise (1995), The Newton Boys was Linklater’s first Hollywood film, and he would avoid action films afterwards. Read More…

Man of Conquest

Man of Conquest

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Although the film covers the entire Texan Revolution, it is presented as a chapter in the life of Sam Houston, so viewers will actually learn little about the revolution, especially since the script is a giant mess of inaccuracies. Oddly enough for a film about a revolution, the endless talk about freedom means there is little time for battles. Read More…

Alfred the Great

Alfred the Great

Rating: ★★½☆☆
To the best of my knowledge, this is the only film about Alfred the Great, and it is a disappointment. For a movie with numerous battles, the fight choreography is surprisingly weak. The film avoids a glossy portrayal of the period, and Alfred is genuinely unlikeable, vain and abusive towards his wife. Although the sons of Ragnar Lothbrok led the Danish invasion of England, the script ignores the Lothbrok dynasty, highlighting instead Guthrum, a later leader. Since the script focuses mainly on Alfred’s struggle to choose between the Church and the defence of the kingdom, there is little time left for political complexities. A slapstick comedy without the humor, Alfred the Great fails to explain the role played by Alfred in the creation of England. Read More…

Dragonfly Squadron

Dragonfly Squadron

Rating: ★½☆☆☆
In 1950, an American officer is assigned to train South Korean pilots as war with North Korea seems increasingly likely. If ever there was a film that is a waste of time and money, this is it. For a movie about aviation, there is little air combat. Or entertainment.
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The Last Kingdom Season Two

The Last Kingdom Season Two

The focus in season two moves north to show what has been happening while Uhtred has been keeping Wessex safe for Saxons. Having driven the Danes out of southern England, Alfred wants order, Christianity and an end to Viking rule in Northumbria. Drawn into Alfred’s schemes, Uhtred makes Guthred, a Dane, king of all of Northumbria, both Dane and Saxon. Many mean, nasty people are killed along the way. Meanwhile, Uhtred continues to make life hard for himself, worsened by Alfred’s admission that he does not trust his pagan warlord, leaving Wessex less prepared when the next wave of gold-hungry Vikings arrives, led by the brothers Erik and Sigfried. Read More…

Vikings Season Four

Vikings Season Four

In a season filled with betrayals, plotting, a mid-life crisis and drug addiction, Ragnar Lothbrok’s story finally comes to its end, enabling his sons to step into the spotlight and invade England. Despite my restrained and much deserved criticism of the many idiocies in the plot, I have to say that the battle scenes on Vikings are awesome. Along with Travis Fimmel’s portrayal of Ragnar, they make the show worth watching, but they are brief islands of pleasure within an overall plot that lacks both any logic or connection to historical reality. I used to enjoy Vikings and looked forward to new episodes. Now, it’s something I watch while doing my ironing. Read More…

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…