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.
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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…

The Gangster Wars during Prohibition Timeline

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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The American Transcontinental Railroad

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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Transcontinental Railroad Timeline

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…

Beneath Hill 60

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…

Aces High

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…

Flyboys

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…

The Trench

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…

Crossbones Season One Trailer

Crossbones Season One Trailer

I hope that people like pirates because Crossbones is coming out roughly a month after Black Sails finished. Crossbones is the vision of Neil Cross, who worked on Spooks (MI-5 in the United States) and created Luther. I have not seen Spooks, but I am watching Luther now, and I am loving its moral complexity, where the lead characters wrestle with the gap between the law and their own moral codes. John Molkovich plays Edward Teach, the unofficial leader of the pirate colony at Nassau. Richard Coyle is Tom Lowe, an English secret agent sent in to the pirate republic to kill Blackbeard, the leader of the pirates, so presumably the assassin will become conflicted as he grows to admire the pirate leader. Black Sails was fun but far from amazing, so there is room for another pirate show. My main concern is that it is shown on NBC, rather than one of the cable networks. Read More…

Black Sails Season One

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…

Korean War Timeline

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…

The Road to Glory

The Road to Glory

Rating: ★★½☆☆
It is a romance movie masquerading as a war movie. The Road to Glory is not one of the better-known WWI films, and after watching it, I understand why. The romance is dull, there is little action until the climax, and the script does little to educate viewers about the war. Read More…

Battleground

Battleground

Rating: ★★★½☆
A young recruit is assigned to a platoon in the 101st Airborne Division the night before the division is rushed to Bastogne to block the German surprise offensive during the Battle of the Bulge. Unlike the patriotic war movies produced en masse by Hollywood during WWII, the film is an honest look at WWII, portraying the soldiers as human beings with faults. Battling fever and frostbite, the men constantly grumble and dream of wounds that would send them home, but they endure and continue to fight. In particular, the script captures the perspective and confusion of the soldiers. Throughout the film, the men have no idea what is going on. Read More…

Boardwalk Empire Season Four

Boardwalk Empire Season Four

Another season of Boardwalk Empire, another season of watching characters die or leave the show. Mostly die. Actually, the number of dead or departed characters approached Game of Thrones-levels. This season, Chalkie White (Michael Kenneth Williams) faces the threat of Doctor Valentin Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright), a gangster from Harlem, who plans to expand into Atlantic City, and is the first character on the show to question the social order that made African-Americans second-class citizens. Read More…

Turn Season One Trailer

Turn Season One Trailer

AMC’s Turn is the newest entrant into the crowded field of historical dramas, although it is unlikely that AMC’s other show Hell on Wheels will last another season, since it was barely renewed last year, so AMC undoubtedly hopes that Turn, which starts this Sunday, will work. The series is set in 1778, when the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) had reached a stalemate following the surrender of a British army at Saratoga the previous fall. By that stage of the war, the British were stuck inside New York City, while the rebel army could not force its way inside. Turn presents the exploits of the Culper Spy Ring, which was organized by Major Benjamin Tallmadge, after General George Washington, commander of the Revolutionary army, asked him to recruit spies to gather information about the British. Read More…

Quantrill's Raiders

Quantrill’s Raiders

Rating: ★½☆☆☆
The story of the sack of Lawrence, Kansas led by guerrilla leader William Quantrill during the American Civil War, it is very silly and a little boring. A perfect example of the mediocrity of far too many B-movies, it sets a new standard in changing the facts.
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Dishonored

Dishonored

Rating: ★★★½☆
A widow recruited to spy for the Austro-Hungarian Empire against the Russians during WWI proves to be a skilled secret agent but her mission is complicated when she falls in love with a Russian spy. Dishonored is not the most historically accurate movie but it is worth watching. Aside from Marlene Dietrich basically being Marlene Dietrich, director Josef Von Stemberg lets scenes move at their own pace. Given the recent wave of modern blockbusters that seem to be composed of a relentless barrage of action set-pieces apparently modelled on rollercoaster rides, it is a nice change of pace to just relax and soak up the atmosphere. Read More…

Attack

Attack

Rating: ★★★½☆
As the Allies drive the Germans back to Germany in late 1944, morale is low in Fragile Fox Company because an entire squad was slaughtered when Captain Cooney, the company commander, was too scared to lead the rest of the company to support them. When the Germans launch a surprise offensive, Cooney leaves Lt. Costa’s men dangerously exposed, and the death of each soldier sends Costa further over the edge. Although set during the Battle of the Bulge, viewers will learn little about the battle. Director Robert Aldrich had a lifelong hatred of traditional authority, and the enemies in the film are the American authority figures who repeatedly fail the men. While Jack Palance’s vengeance-driven Lt. Costa is suitably intimidating, the standouts are Lee Marvin as a manipulative, corrupt battalion commander and Eddie Albert as the cowardly, bullying company commander. Read More…

Vikings Season Two Trailer

Vikings Season Two Trailer

In the first season, Ragnar Lodbruk (Travis Fimmel) became the first Viking to reach England, finding a wonderful place where the locals conveniently store their gold in houses of worship guarded by unarmed men who pray to a dead god. After defeating his rival, Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne), Ragnar should have been satisfied, but while performing a mission for King Horik (Donal Logue), he was seduced by Princess Aslaug, and his ambitious brother Rollo (Clive Standen) was seduced by Horik’s rival. It appears that this season will deal with two issues: the brothers will resolve their differences, presumably with sharp objects, and Ragnar will have to reconcile two families. While squabbling Vikings expressing their feelings by trying to kill each other will undoubtedly be entertaining, I am looking forward to Ragnar’s new English opponent, King Egbert of Wessex, the most powerful of the English kingdoms. Read More…

Run Silent, Run Deep

Run Silent, Run Deep

Rating: ★★★☆☆
The story of the captain of an American submarine who disobeys orders to take revenge against the Japanese destroyer that sunk his previous submarine, it is a good movie with a remarkably tight script and very tense action scenes. Written by an ex-submariner, Run Silent, Run Deep’s greatest strength is its amazing technical detail and cramped interiors which were actually filmed on a sub loaned by the Navy. Read More…

Pretty Boy Floyd

Pretty Boy Floyd

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
The story of Pretty Boy Floyd, a bank robber during the Public Enemies Era (1933-1935) is relatively accurate but boring.The soundtrack is great, the acting is not. Despite a stern law and order message, the movie is almost camp, but it is too serious to be fun.
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Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie and Clyde

Inspired by the success of its miniseries Hatfields and McCoys (2012), the History Channel teamed up with Lifetime (both are part of the A & E network) to produce a two-part miniseries on Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who robbed banks and grocery stores during the Public Enemy Era (1933-1935). Unfortunately, the miniseries is boring, inaccurate crap. While many movies treat historical facts as items in a supermarket that can be put back on the shelves if they are inconvenient, Bonnie and Clyde sinks to new depths. The script is a Bizarro-world version of the real outlaws that leaves out most of the members of the Barrow gang, makes Bonnie the mastermind, scrambles the real events beyond recognition, and has a demented, glory-hungry Bonnie mail pictures of themselves to the newspapers because she would rather be famous than live. Oh, and Clyde has visions of the future. It is actually worse than the 1967 version with Warren Beatty, and I hate that movie. Do not watch this. Read More…