HoF

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.
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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.
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Jul 312014
 
The American Transcontinental Railroad

Victorious in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), the United States acquired California and New Mexico. A year later, gold was discovered in California, luring hundreds of thousands of people across the plains. However, the new territories resembled distant colonies rather than parts of the republic. It took six months of hard, dangerous travel to cross the plains. The other options were sailing around South America or sailing to Panama and crossing the fever-ridden isthmus. The government approved the construction of a transcontinental railroad in 1862, but construction was slow until the American Civil War (1861-1865) ended, when labor and materials became available. The Union Pacific, which started from the Missouri River, relied mainly on veterans, while the Central Pacific, which originated at Sacramento, turned to cheap Chinese labor. Paid in government bonds, both companies competed to lay more track and qualify for more bonds. When the two tracks met at Promontory Point in Utah on May 10, 1869, a six-month-long trek by wagon had been replaced by a week-long trip on a train, thus linking the two sides of the nation.
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Jul 312014
 
Transcontinental Railroad Timeline

Victorious in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), the United States acquired California and New Mexico. A year later, gold was discovered in California, luring hundreds of thousands of people across the plains. The government approved the construction of a transcontinental railroad in 1862, but construction was slow until the American Civil War (1861-1865) ended, when labor and materials became available. The Union Pacific, which started from the Missouri River, relied mainly on veterans, while the Central Pacific, which originated at Sacramento, turned to cheap Chinese labor. Paid in government bonds, both companies competed to lay more track and qualify for more bonds. When the two tracks met at Promontory Point in Utah on May 10, 1869, a six-month-long trek by wagon had been replaced by a week-long trip on a train, thus linking the two sides of the nation. Here is a timeline to help understand it. Read More…

Jul 172014
 
Beneath Hill 60

Rating: ★★★★☆
Beneath Hill 60 examines the war under No Man’s Land, which was fought by thousands of German and Allied (mostly British, Canadian and Australian) miners, who had only received a few weeks of military training. This is not a film for claustrophobes. The director understands that battling face-to-face in the dark, far under the ground, is a primal fear, therefore it is always hot, sweaty and badly lit in the labyrinth of tunnels. In fact, the miners’ war was a struggle to stay sane, not to win the war. An excellent film that examines a little-known part of WWI, Beneath Hill 60 deserves to be seen by more people. Read More…

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Jul 102014
 
Aces High

Rating: ★★★½☆
Late in WWI, a burnt-out squadron commander in the Royal Flying Corps finds out that his newest pilot is his girlfriend’s brother. The new recruit soon discovers that the reality of aerial combat is far from the chivalry he had imagined, and the odds of his survival are almost non-existent. The pilots drink every night to cope with their fears, and the commander can not get into his plane unless he has had several drinks first. The portrayal of burnt-out pilots hiding their terror beneath endless carousing is not new, but it is all put together brilliantly with stunning aerial scenes. Read More…

Jun 262014
 
Flyboys

Rating: ★★½☆☆
Flyboys gets most of the facts right, so viewers will actually learn a little about the war. However, the movie is not about the real Lafayette Escadrille, it is just a generic WWI aviation film that happens to feature Americans fighting for France. The film is gorgeous, and the producers clearly loved flying, but the amazing aerial footage is not matched by the cliché-ridden screenplay. Read More…

Jun 122014
 
The Trench

Rating: ★½☆☆☆
In the summer of 1916, the British army prepared for the Somme Offensive, the biggest offensive of the war. While hundreds of thousands of soldiers massed in the rear, a small force was left to hold the trenches. The movie examines the experiences of one platoon over two days before the start of the offensive. The Trench shows that the Battle of the Somme was a disaster, but the script only touches on some of the reasons, as if it was more concerned with paying tribute to the soldiers than actually explaining why it was such a disaster. Filled with bland characters, I actually found myself wishing for nice stereotypes like a troublemaker, an intellectual and a ladies man, maybe an immigrant or ethnic minority. The director’s desire to create a snapshot of the period right before the Somme Offensive is laudable but the film is boring, just boring. Read More…

May 292014
 
Black Sails Season One

Set twenty years before the events of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Treasure Island, which revolves around the search for a treasure that had been hidden by Captain Flint, Black Sails shows how Flint had found the treasure. A weird mix of history and fiction, the portrayal of the pirates as independent operators who are dependent on a kingpin of crime who fences their stolen cargoes and feeds them leads on potential targets weakens the show. While the overall story is silly, the ships are gorgeous, and the scenes at sea make up for the tawdry soap opera that fills most of the episodes. The series was fun, but it never really rose above a teenage boy’s hormone-driven fantasy of rock-hard abs, plentiful sex and admittedly cool battles. Read More…

May 012014
 
Korean War Timeline

Overshadowed by the Vietnam War, the Korean War (1950-1953) is known as the Forgotten War in North America and Europe, but it deserves more attention since it was the only war fought under the authority of the United Nations and it was the only time that the United States and China faced each other on the battlefield. Read More…