HoF

Nov 232017
 
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…

Nov 022017
 
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…

Oct 262017
 
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…

Oct 122017
 
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…

Oct 052017
 
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…

Aug 172017
 
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…

Jul 272017
 
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…

Jun 012017
 
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…

May 182017
 
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…

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Apr 272017
 
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…

Mar 302017
 
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…

Mar 092017
 
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…

Mar 022017
 
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…

Feb 092017
 
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…

Feb 022017
 
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…

Dec 012016
 
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…

Nov 172016
 
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…

Nov 102016
 
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…

Nov 032016
 
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…

Oct 272016
 
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…

Sep 222016
 
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…

Jun 022016
 
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…

May 262016
 
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…

May 122016
 
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…