HoF

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…

May 052016
 
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…

Apr 282016
 
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…

Apr 142016
 
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…

Mar 312016
 
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…

Mar 242016
 
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…

Mar 102016
 
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…

Feb 182016
 
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…

Dec 172015
 
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…

Nov 192015
 
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…

Sep 032015
 
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…

Aug 272015
 
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…

Jul 312015
 
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…

Sep 112014
 
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…

Sep 062014
 
The Gangster Wars during Prohibition Timeline

Prohibition began in the United States when the Eighteenth Amendment, which banned the production, transfer and sale of intoxicating beverages, came into effect on January 17, 1920, and it was repealed on December 5, 1933. The United States would be transformed during those thirteen years. The law was unpopular from the beginning, and speakeasies, illegal bars, quickly sprung up across the nation. The Prohibition Bureau, which had been formed to enforce Prohibition, soon became riddled with corruption. Before Prohibition, criminals had operated small gangs, limited to extortion, gambling and prostitution, and squabbling over neighborhoods, but bootlegging offered wealth beyond their wildest dreams. Despite the huge wealth, the gangs fought vicious wars over territory, until the more organized, ruthless gangsters formed a national network that would spread its tentacles across the nation by the time Prohibition was finally repealed. Here is a timeline to help understand it.
Read More…